Posted inHenry's Messages

Winning and Losing

November 22, 2014

There is a place where all is well, and thus there is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. Where we are free in a way that is unimaginable. Where there is abundance of love in every moment.


A few thoughts about our practice….

First, letting go. To be free we don’t try to let go of things. Instead, we let go into things, into our experience, not of our experience. That’s how we let go of ourselves. We let the experience, whatever it is, win. We, on the other hand, lose. And that defeat is the greatest blessing.

The one we hoped would win was made up to begin with, made of empty space, or not even space, so as long as it keeps winning, we are thoroughly caught in Shakyamuni Buddha’s third “poison” or “fire,” which is delusion, ignorance, misunderstanding. As long as we are trying to manipulate and change our experience we – our self – are still sitting in our imaginary driving seats. But nor can we try to oust ourselves – that’s once again just the self trying organize things. We can only let our experience, just as it is, win.

This is because any phenomenon, whatever it is, is in fact nothing but the “stark reality,” as Yamada Koun calls it, of the great single Dharma of Zen. It is our entire salvation, refuge and liberation.

Secondly, the role and place of opinions. It’s helpful not to let opinions derail our practice. They will inevitably keep coming up…

This politician is good, that one is bad. This country is good, that one is bad. This store is good, that one is bad. They will come up about our very training too. We should do more of this in the zendo, less of that (maybe so). The teacher should be more this or less that (undoubtedly so). The group should be less this and more that (maybe so). The center should be more this and less that, this style of Zen should be more X or Y.

All these opinions could be right or wrong – who can ultimately say? But for sure they are themselves a wonderful opportunity, a great point of practice. They are the very tip of the blade of that stark reality pointing right at our hearts. Are we going to let it open our hearts? Each opinion is nothing but a chance to open our hearts. Or are we going to let our nursing of the opinion win once again?

Holding an opinion is inherently painful. Yet it’s a kind of pain we are all very used to, and may not even notice. Somehow it seems preferable to a condition of groundlessness, of not knowing “where we stand.” It’s a reflex for many of us: we like to know where we stand. Perhaps it helps us to feel that we also know what we’re standing on. We would rather keep whipping up illusions out of thin air and “stand” on them.

But if we turn things around, maybe we can learn to lose. Then we can discover the pain of holding an opinion, and allow that very pain to open up our hearts. Rather than giving in to its persuasive power, instead we may discover the truly remarkable land beyond opinions pro and con, which our Third Chinese Ancestor Sosan tries so hard to share with us in his Verses on the Mind of Faith.

There is a place where all is well, and thus there is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. Where we are free in a way that is unimaginable. Where there is abundance of love in every moment.

But it’s not la-la land. It’s not a place were there’s only sugar and sweetness, where we float off into a radiant everlasting sunset. So where is it? If it’s not somewhere else, and not some other time than this very moment, where could it be? And when?

In the end, this world is nothing but a mirage conjured by our self, and our self is a brilliantly engaging genie conjured out of nothing at all.

Every moment, every phenomenon, every experience, is a great opportunity, a great gift, a great invitation. Let’s try and help one another receive it.


By Henry Shukman, from our May 22, 2013 newsletter.

Image: Rocket-Red-Orange By Hans, CC0 Public Domain, from

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