Monday, May 26, 2014

The Mystery of Zen

The people I meet in America who have some idea of zen seem to think it is some deep difficult, mystical thing. Either that or they think is is some aesthetic idea or principle that includes things plain and natural as in Zen decorating. Zen is deep. It is anything but mystical. Most of all it is not complicated at all. What makes it difficult is that we are trying to understand the teachings that are hundreds if not thousands of years old and from a culture that could not be more different from our own. We lack the context in order understand what is being said. I will attempt to open up the mystery of zen and zazen buy pulling aside the curtain and showing how the trick is done in simple English that those who have grown up in the west can understand. Nearly everyone's mother or father has taught them zen but they did not know it." If you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging." If that had be quoted by Dogen Zenji we would all be oohing and awwing over the deep and clear understanding of the Master. The problem. of course, is that we do not know how to stop digging even if we figure out we are in a hole. The hole is metaphorical. It would be true if the hole were in fact a hole in the ground, but the aphorism is as true if the hole is one cannot stop running around with more to do than could ever be possible, or cannot stop feeling depressed, or gambling or drugs or debt are the problem. In the old days they spoke about the great suffering of old age, disease and death. The Buddha spoke of suffering, unending suffering was the hole he used as an example. So now we have understood that we are in a hole, what then do we do about it? The old bald guys figured out a solution. It is just to stop. Stop digging. Sit down. Stop. When I tell people this they immediately say "What then?". Do I count my breaths? Label each thought? Recite Mantras?. What the hell does think about not thinking mean?" We seek to understand but there is nothing to understand and no understanding. My teachers gave no instruction other than to sit down. Just sit there. Stop digging. Nothing else is necessary. If you are in a hole when you sit down you will be surrounded by hole, but you have stopped creating more hole. You mind will play games, you might pretend you are not really in a hole, but the hole remains. You might start thinking about pretty much anything but sooner or later the fact that you are in a hole will be inescapable and you will begin to get hungry or need to go to the bathroom so you begin to look for a way out. When the way becomes clear, move on the way. There is nothing more to it than that. Just sit. Just stop digging. This is such a universal prescription that I doubt anyone in the world has not heard it. It is not the exclusive property of zen, Zen does not own the copyright. It is simply the essential nature of zazen. The next great zen teacher of today is the person who made the Nike shoe ad slogan "just do it." Now that you can see a way forward, just do it. Just go forward. Ooops lost the way? Another hole? Just stop digging, just sit. The path is that way? Just do it. Soon as this moment is taken care of the magic of Zen begins to work on your life. The holes get shallower, the path easier and more clear. Soon there is little digging, little stopping and just less effort in getting through the day. It might take a while but as the days get easier, There might be a little energy left for dancing on the way. This is not some magic that removes all obstacles or pitfalls from your path. My path has led me through a disabling disease that ravaged my body, a diagnosis and intervention that arrived just steps before the grim reaper. I have a legacies from this devastating disease that will limit my physical ability for the rest of my life. I passed through all this with barely a bump in the road because I just did what was clearly the path forward. Without the gnashing of teeth, the wailing of "why me?", the where will I get the energy? and what about the money for all this? I just did it. I had the amazing support of others. I am foolish enough to think that making a valiant effort to take care of each moment up until I needed taking care of helped assure that there were people and resources there when I needed them. The ancients talk about the inexhaustible energy of the Bodhisattva. A fancy way of saying if one does not waste energy on digging a bunch of holes, there is energy enough for all that rises on the path. Even if the mountain seems impossible to climb, take a few steps, sit and rest and then take a few more and sooner or later the mountain has been climbed. Be Well, Reverend Fudo Michael Koppang