Posted inDogen, Henry's Messages

Message from Henry: Two Thoughts

November 13, 2014

As Dogen said: “I went to China. Body and mind fell away. I found the Dharma. I went with empty hands, and I returned with empty hands.”



Someone recently asked whether Zen doesn’t encourage the seeking of a certain kind of experience, and even an attachment to it, with its talk of kensho. It’s a good question.

Kensho – seeing reality or our actual nature – is basically what happens when all seeking and attachment have fallen away. That’s a precondition for it.

It’s a paradox. It’s one of the hardest things about this practice – we want something to happen, whether to become calmer, more at peace, to sleep better, to be less reactive with our coworkers and family, to have lower blood pressure, to be happier – whatever it may be – yet for any of those “results” to have any chance of arising, we have to practice without seeking anything at all.

This is where the notion of intention can be helpful. We have a reason for practicing, an intention. But having established that, we then put it on the shelf, forget about it, and just focus on the practice itself. Which means: this in-breath, this out-breath. Here and now.

No anticipation whatsoever.

If we mix any “purpose” or “result-seeking” into our  actual practice, isn’t that just another thought arising, which we welcome, acknowledge, and let go of? The principle of practice is that all we need is right here, right now. There is nothing more to seek. We simply give ourselves to the practice in this moment. In a sense, all the good things we may be hoping for from practice arise from precisely this gradual discovery – that this moment as it is is enough, it is in fact all we need. In fact it’s all there is.

Sufficient unto the day of the cares thereof – don’t worry about what tomorrow may bring; today’s cares are enough. But the same is true of this moment. Sufficient unto the moment are the cares thereof. If we can just let ourselves settle into this moment – now, here, right now, this breath, this phrase, this sitting on a chair – then we can start to find the true treasure of practice.

Then, if any other “dividends” come, whether better sleep, better relationships, or even a revelatory experience of our real identity, in a sense it is “just gravy” – because we know we are already right with the world.


What is the real value of lineage in Zen?

This is something hard to measure because it’s basically immeasurable. From the first “transmission,” when Buddha held up a flower and Kashyapa smiled, and the two of them recognized one another fully and perfectly, and Buddha saw that Kashyapa saw as he saw, the lineage of Zen has been both the vehicle for its great treasure, and the treasure itself.

It’s partly about surrender – we don’t just give ourselves up in Zen. We give up ourselves in the context of a great web of relationships that in fact transcend time and space. Because of this, when we give up our self, we receive something, something can at last reach us. What is this? The unnameable. The Dharma. Nothing. Everything. And yet better than any of those.

As Dogen said: “I went to China. Body and mind fell away. I found the Dharma. I went with empty hands, and I returned with empty hands.”

And yet, what a difference between the empty hands with which he went, and the empty hands with which he returned. In the most real way, we ourselves are still benefiting today from those very “empty hands” with which he returned from China. They are the lineage itself, which holds us all in its limitless embrace.

Image: Flowers, from, CC0 Public Domain

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