on zen

Listen to this spiritual talk. You may download, but please do not repost.


Let’s start by revisiting this “On Zen” verse from the National Teacher, Dai-o Kokushi (Japan, 13th century), and see where we end up after that. He says:

There is a reality even prior to heaven and earth.
Indeed, it has no form, much less a name;
Eyes fail to see it; it has no voice for ears to detect.
To call it Mind or Buddha violates its nature,
For it then becomes like a visionary flower in the air.
It is not mind, nor Buddha.
Absolutely quiet, and yet illuminating in a mysterious way,
It allows itself to be perceived only by the clear-eyed.
It is Dharma, truly beyond form and sound.
It is Tao, having nothing to do with words.
Wishing to entice the blind,
The Buddha has playfully let words escape his golden mouth.
Heaven and earth are ever since filled with entangling briars.
My good worthy friends gathered here,
If you desire to listen to the thunderous voice of the Dharma,
Exhaust your words, empty your thoughts,
For then you may come to recognize this one essence.

So, we come here to sit together in the silence of the environment of our respective rooms. We’re not having conversation; we are simply sharing the silence. Outside and in. And we come because we desire to recognize and realize that one essence of which we are all manifestations, we are all products, we are all part, we are all forms. We come to recognize the formlessness out of which we have emerged, and within which we exist.

And we have these three active qualities in us that, if we nourish those qualities, or as we nourish those qualities, we come to recognize and realize the essence of what we are, the essence in which we live. And those qualities are: great trust, great doubt, and great determination. We trust that as we practice, the realization that is available to us and that we are what we are, will become clear to us over time, through our practice. We trust that what we’ve experienced of Essential Nature as it manifests in everything we see, everything we taste, everything we hear, everything we touch, everything we think – all of that – we trust that that is what is, that that is what manifests in us as we take our little steps through our daily life.

Great doubt. I think that’s what keeps us questing, what keeps us practicing. We can’t know in any moment what is the origin of anything, what is the source of everything, or anything. We can’t know how form is exactly emptiness and emptiness is exactly form. We can’t know that in our minds. And yet we stay within our practice in order to remain open to whatever that is. We don’t know what it is. It’s not doubting that. It’s not doubting anything. It’s not doubting that we’ll ever know. It’s just an openness, I believe. And this is the way I experience it. It’s an openness to the possibility that realization may come. But then again, what is it that we’re going to realize?

We don’t really know what’s behind everything. We don’t have any dogma that explains what’s behind everything. Meister Eckhart said: “If I had a god I could understand or describe, it wouldn’t be God.” We don’t know what God is. We don’t know what Tao is. We don’t know what Essential Nature is. What we do know is that God, Tao, and Essential Nature underlie everything that we are and everything that we see. And as we stick with our practice, we do that out of the determination to continue to ensconce ourselves, if you will, within the reality of Reality.

That sounds so esoteric and weird. But I don’t know that there are any words to express or to convey the fundamental nature of why we’re here doing what we do. There may not be any reason to even try to answer the question. Why are we here? Why are we doing this? Why do we come and sit in silence, for tonight anyway, for an hour – and when we go on retreats, for hours at a time? What is it that we’re trying to find? We don’t know. That’s doubt. We keep doing it. That’s determination. And we trust that some realization will occur. That’s trust.

I think that’s why we’re all here together doing this practice. Many of us have been doing it for year upon year upon year, and we still do it. And how fortunate for us that we have partners, that we have peers, that we have companions, that we have friends, with whom we can share this most enveloping experience that we have when we sit. Where can we have this kind of togetherness? Where else can we have it? So, exhaust your words, empty your thoughts and then you may come to recognize this one essence.