Beginning; taste the tea, feel your legs, listen to the incense
‘Wake, wake! Time waits for no one!’
Sakyamuni Tathagata Buddha
At 15 I felt I was on the way to being something I didn’t want to be, and I took responsibility for that, for me that’s where my Zen training began, in that personal realization of myself, even at that stage there was something I thought I was supposed to get, Enlightenment, to get me out of that, when in fact the first realization you have is just that, I need to swim up the stream, - then it’s really on. When we talk about Enlightenment in popular culture we often think it means going off to a mountain and getting some wisdom that frees you automatically, but in fact Enlightenment is far closer to home and far less romantic, and your first Enlightenment is when you take responsibility for where you are, what you are doing and the consequences. We’re not just talking about the consequences of your career choices or something like that, or superstitions about a next life or Hell or heaven, the consequences of who you are as a person and the person you want to be, how you live and the damage you do to yourself and other’s around you and being real about minimizing that, not running away from that. And the potential consequences of the good things you do in your life also and taking responsibility for that.
Some of us do run away from that, put a great deal of energy into blaming the world for who we are, and the noise we think the world is. Then someone thinks they might take up meditation, and I’ll say that there’s an industry out there of self anointed gurus using meditation to manufacture narcissism, because that’s what you're doing if you sit to block out the world and yourself. Good meditation—or as we say in Buddhism, Right Meditation is realizing yourself and growing. That’s what the Zen master Hakuin meant when he used to say ‘meditation in Action’, taking responsibility for yourself and going with that, other wise you have made Hell for yourself.
To do that you have to, as I did , find the middle way through your life, to do that you need to become a friend to yourself. Friendship isn't all happy, and it isn’t all easy. You have to become the sort of friend to yourself that will say ‘hey, yes we could throw a brick through a window, but no. Not today, and again not tomorrow’, that’s not an easy friendship. That’s a friendship that steps back as takes a look at yourself and owns how you contribute to your outcomes completely. In the Buddhism there is a Pantheon of Bodhisattvas, Guardians etc., while in other traditions they may have superstitious undertones, in Zen Buddhism the correct way to look at the pantheon is as examples of how we can be, what we can find within ourselves. Among them we find Fudo Myoo, a Demon that has been turned into a protector, in Zen, that’s how you have to become, not conquering Demons but a friend, it’s still an ugly friend. The best friendship you can make is the one where you are not trying to control, that in the long term wastes less energy and time in your life, it’s the shortest road to contentment, self fulfilment. Notice that Buddhism didn’t turn the Demon into a beautiful Deva, instead the Demon remains a demon, but harnesses it’s demon strength to do good things, that’s the meaning of Zen training. Were not chasing some beautiful and un-attainable goal here, we are taking responsibility for our Bullshit.
There are two kinds of difficulty to train through, when you are faced with the worst crisis, you haven't slept, you are under pressure and you can’t think about next week, the other crisis in your life is when things are easy and cruising along, that's where you can fall asleep, you don’t care about the taste of food, you live as though rich, that’s where your Zen rises and shows you through that, if you want to be effective in the world, this has to get into your bones, so this is not always the polite, beautiful way, it’s direct, and out of that real Compassion arises.
When you come to the temple, there are many beautiful things here and it’s a beautiful place, but you will still have to bring your ugly self, the joke goes denial is a long river, it is indeed, you will come and sit with Not-self, you are constantly in Not-self, even though you might not realize it, when you start to realize that and give away attachment to ego that is Direct Seeing called Ken-sho in Zen, Directly seeing into your true nature.
Zen is more than just self help, in my observation few Self-Help mindfulness gurus talk about Compassion, quite a few do a good job of reinforcing narcissism instead, presenting why you should be right and the rest of the world is wrong, that lacks responsibility, natural ethics. Compassion, true friendship grows out of self empathy, that grows into empathy for others around us, that is Compassion, natural ethics grows out of that. Zen is not the religion of making little ducks walk in a line, it is the way of Compassion, sitting to grow. Compassion is a non-negotiable factor in Zen, this is not the way of mixing philosophy and meditation and thinking your way through your life, Hinnayana— Vipasanna way works for no one ultimately, you can make a very narcissistic practice out of that, where your meditation leads to reciprocal narrowing of consciousness, that’s ego delusion, yes you can meditate yourself into even deeper delusion if you are just meditating for self confirmation. Nor is this the tradition of wishing your way through life, that’s also a narcissistic path, again laden in self confirmation through reward belief when things go right and blame when things don’t. And especially Zen is not the religion of being the biggest team, again that’s confirmation bias.
Originally Published in the Booklet Moon Viewing for the Zen Temple, written by Mujyo Zenji