Zen practice begins with the good news. We are all of us fully present and perfect beings, the embodiment of this prajna wisdom that is the nature of this boundless Great Life itself. It is our deepest source, always unknowable and unnamable yet undeniably present in the fleeting beauty of this breath, this sight, this sound or smell. It is seen in the moving of our hands and feet. It is vividly present in our everyday interactions. Right now, here, as our present experiencing itself. Let this truth sink into our hearts, deep into our hearts. We are prajna wisdom itself. How healing is this! There is no need to seek for it elsewhere. Isn’t it wonderful to know that from the very beginning we are home. And we have a practice to help us to awaken to this truth. We have this great gift of zazen and koan introspection that has been passed down through generation after generation to help us see this Great Life that is our life. More and more I am so grateful for the gift of zazen, this gift of zazen and koan that illumines this truth. So please, settle deep into your practice, into your zazen, settle deep into this beautiful one breath or your koan. Rest in it. Settle into this body and mind that is your life. Have faith in the power of your zazen and in doing so you will find that you are already abiding in this mind of Great Trust that is this groundless Great Life itself.
The Buddha teaches us the three marks of existence, sabbe sankhara dukkha, (all conditioned things are suffering), sabbe sankhara anicca, (all conditioned things are impermanent), sabbe dhamma anatta (all things are without self). These three marks are interrelated. None of them stands alone. Please, do not think that he was saying that the ten thousand things of this life are inherently suffering in and of themselves. That would be depressing news. Viewing our life in that way would be raising a self where there is no self, creating an illusion of permanence where there is no permanence. Viewing the things of our life and of this world as suffering, can create a desire for a transcendence or rejection of this life. With such a view dualities such as ‘self’ and ‘other’, pure and impure, are created and then all too often all the ills that follow such a path follow. We can see it in the greed when we accumulate for ourselves and in our exploitation and treatment of the ‘other.’ It is visible in the misogyny that is present is so many of the worlds religions, in our treatment of sexual and racial minorities, in our corporate greed and in our careless destruction of this planet.
The Buddha said that I teach one thing, the cause of suffering, the path, and the release from suffering. It is only when we are unable to verify, to see, that all things are naturally without self that those very things may become a cause of dukkha in our lives. It is our confusion about the true nature of this life that leads to suffering. We see a self when things are naturally without self, we see things as permanent when by their very nature they are impermanent. We are asleep to this truth of sabbe dhamma anicca, sabbe dhamma anatta.
Our practice of zazen and koan introspection is our key to freedom. When we truly awaken to this Great Life that we are, we will naturally see its great functioning and the ten thousand things of this life will shine with this realization and illumine our way. Then at this time as Zen teacher Mumon tells us, “we will walk hand in hand with all the teachers of the past, and see them face to face. We will see with the same eye that they see and hear with the same ear.” We will see them face to face because we will realize they have the same face, the face of the ten thousand things, your face, my face. We will come to know this One who sees and hears with my eyes and your ears. This One who is vividly awake right now.
Know that your practice of zazen is itself the manifestation and actualization of this Great Life. In your zazen try and hold onto a thought, a feeling, a sight or a sound and you will see them disappear like snow flakes falling on snow. We see this life of impermanence that is the flowing of our life. Through the power of our zazen we understand that it is because things are naturally without self that they are naturally at peace. Right now in this very body and mind what is your self? Where is your self? Where in this body and mind do you find something permanent? When our ancestor in the Zen path, Hui-K’o, stood before Bodhidharma and said, please, teacher, my self is not at peace, please give me peace? Bodhidharma instructed him to bring him the self and he would give it peace. Hui-K’o searched and searched, probably for many years, until finally he realized that he could not find anything to call a self? Then Bodhidharma said, There! I have brought it peace! What peace did Hui-K’o experience? Can you attest to it yourself?
Great Zen Master Ma shares the same good news as the Buddha and in his own eloquent words he tells us, “you can never fall out of the arms of the universe.” This is the good news of practice. Take this up as a koan. Breathe these words deeply. Let them permeate this body and mind. Allow the boundaries between self and other to be transparent and see how you are nourished and held. All beings, sentient and insentient are embraced and held in these arms. Look deeply into your life right now. All of it was given to you. Is being given to you. The coming together of your parents. The food that you eat, the air that you are breathing right now, the ground that you walk on, the sounds that fill your ears, the zafu that supports your body, all of it is the great giving of the treasure house of life itself, sustaining us in our practice, moment after moment, sustaining us in our lives. More than sustaining, these things, these ten thousand dharmas make up the life of each one of us. This is the life of non-abiding as it says in the Diamond Sutra, your life right now, my life right now. Can we see this?
I am reminded of the line we chant during oryoki meals, the formal meals that are conducted during intensive sitting retreats. We recite, “First, seventy two labors brought us this food, we should know how it comes to us.” What are these seventy two labors? What is this food that sustains us? What goes into making up this moment of your life right now? This food is not just the food on your plate. It is the hard labor of tending the crops, the efforts of the sun and earth, the wind and the rain, the people who receive our money in the shop. It is the labors of the digestive organs, the movement of our blood, the breathing of our skin. It is the turning of the planet and the movement of the oceans, the rising of the moon and the setting of the sun. Where does this chain of causes and conditions begin or end? Where do we freeze reality and say this is me, not that, or that but this and only this? Do we notice the fear and anxiety that arises when we divide the world into ‘me’ and the ‘other’ and then proceed to compound delusion by giving it some sort of illusory permanence? Our life is the coming together of innumerable causes and conditions, these thoughts, these feelings, these sights and sounds, the food of our body and mind, all of it coming together to make up the life of each one of us. To say make up is not quite true either. They are each one of us. All of these innumerable causes and conditions arise from the power of giving. Open your heart to this power of giving. This is the life of sabbe sankhara anicca, sabbe dhamma anatta. How is such a life expressed? As no other than your every day life, in the reading of a book, a conversation with a work colleague, in driving your car, receiving a kiss on the lips from your loved one.
Let your heart be moved by this truth of sabbe sankhara anicca, sabbe dhamma anatta. If you have not yet experienced it for yourself, if you have not yet awoken to this truth, then let your heart be filled with a great longing for this realization. Let the longing be part of the food of your practice, part of the food of your life, and vow to continue until you can confirm this truth for yourself. Vow to continue until your heart is truly at peace. Be diligent. Practice sincerely. Know that you are perfect and complete just as you are. You are this Great Life, this great limitless Life manifesting right here and right now as you. Please verify this for yourself!
Some words from Walt Whitman.
Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love,
And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,
And mossy scabs of the worm fence, heap’d stones, elder, mullein and poke-weed.
A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.
Walt Whitman: Leaves of Grass