A Life of Giving

If you have spent any time in a Zen center it would be surprising if you hadn’t come across a famous fascicle by Dogen Zenji called Genjo-koan. Reading the whole piece is like encountering one koan after another, line by line, all of which illuminate the nature of self and reality. There is so much to savor and digest in this larger piece but for now I thought we’d savor one line that appears early on in the fascicle and what it means for our practice.

“The myriad dharmas advancing and confirming the self is realization.” Paul Jaffe (trans.)

In your zazen take up this koan of “the myriad dharmas advancing and confirming the self is realization.” Breathe these words sinking deeply into the self. See that this is the nature of our life right now. The myriad dharmas of this life, the sound of the car going by, the sensation of this breath, the light from the sun warming your skin, your lover’s laughter, the rumblings of this mind, all of these things, seen and unseen, come forth and confirm the self that is each one of us right now. Everything in this life, everything that we meet, is endlessly giving of itself so that we may come into being.

In engaging a practice such as insight or koan zazen, know that one day, you will see through the illusion of inside and outside, of separateness, and your life will fall away into the ungraspable vividness of this groundless moment. And you will realize that you in turn, by your very nature, are also effortlessly giving so that others, trees and beings and stones and sky, may come into being in their unique way. These ten thousand things make up the life of each one of us. How can a sense of gratitude not arise when we realize this truth of the power of giving that is the deepest nature of this life.

When we awaken to this reality we can live a life of awakeness and ease. Not knowing this as the root of our lives we suffer. Practice is coming to experience this personally so that we can rest in the eternally non-abiding nature that we are. Resting in each dharma as it arises, in each sound, smell, taste, touch, thought, this present experience, we are simultaneously resting in this vast life that knows no boundaries. This great vast treasure house that is our true nature. How wonderous is this! All of the koans we study with a teacher help us to awaken to this power of giving. Listen to Master Yunmen’s pointing out so that you may discover for yourself the light of this life of giving.

Great Teacher Yunmen when addressing his students spoke of it in this way:
“Everyone has a light. When you look at it, you don’t see it, and it’s dark and dim. What is everyone’s light?”
He himself answered on their behalf, “The kitchen pantry and the main gate.” He also said, “A good thing isn’t as good as nothing.”

What a curious thing for Yunmen to say! Why can’t we see it when we look at it? What is this light? If you can answer this you will also know why a “a good thing isn’t as good as nothing.” So, tell me, how would you answer?

So much of our lives are spent in attempting to solidify this small self that we think we are, withdrawing into this enclosed life of me and mine. Some of us may live a life of fear and anxiety and constantly seek and reach outside for some peace of mind. But peace of mind is to be found in your experience right now. In studying your self through your zazen, through your practice-effort, one day you will be able to verify, as the Buddha did upon seeing the morning star and say, “How marvelous, all beings just as they are, are perfect and complete.” The house of separateness and seeking falls down and the great treasure house is revealed as your very life itself. Can you see your light right now?

So let us embark on this practice together. Whether we know it or not our practice is always the practice of the universe, the practice of the endless giving that is the nature of this very life. This great universal life that gives of itself effortlessly so that each thing may come into being. Be careful that you don’t fall into the practice-delusion of thinking your practice is just for you. Although our initial aspiration to enter into a path of practice may be to ease our own pain and suffering it is important to always remember that in practicing for ourselves we are always practicing connected with and for all beings whether we see this or not. And indeed that all beings are always practicing, always giving by their very nature, always manifesting this perfection whether they know it or not. Let us vow to drop the practice-arrogance that can also creep in!

In taking our seat, in resting in this breath, in taking up a koan, in opening out to the sounds of the world, we see how our life right now is the practice of this vast ungraspable nature and that its effects extend far into this universe. This is the root of the Bodhisattvas vow not to enter complete liberation until all beings are liberated. When we see that all beings, inanimate and animate, are our very self then it is impossible to exclude them from this freedom. As long as anyone, rocks and stones, sky and beings, are not verified as free then I am not free. So let your life release into your experience right now. Open out to everything that is present in your life, sounds and feelings, thoughts and sights. Let everything move through you, as you. Let yourself be this effortless giving that is this ungraspable treasure house of life. Knowing this in your bones let yourself freely be your life, this life of ten thousand things that is always giving of itself with abandon.

See the perfection. Give your life freely. Know this light that you are.