One of the most fundamental tasks to be engaged in when we first enter the gateway of Zen training is the need to be clear about our life question. It is important to be very clear about this one point. What is it that we are seeking? What are we looking for? What questions do we have about this life, the nature of reality, about why we and so many others suffer? What is death? Indeed, what is life? What am I?
Many of the great teachers of old encourage us to dig deep and clarify our great question for ourselves. Zen Master’s Dahui, Dogen, Bankei, Rinzai, all were driven to clarify their lives through the practice of great doubt. For Bankei it was the question, “what is bright virtue?” It became his life koan. Finally, after many years of sustained practice his doubts were settled when he realized that “all things are resolved in the unborn!” For Zen Master Dogen, the founder of Soto Zen, his struggle was with his great question, “If all beings have the Buddha-nature what need is there to practice?” Dogen carried this great doubt for over twenty years. Finally after much sincere practice it was resolved for him when he had the experience of “body and mind fallen away, fallen away body and mind.”
At the bottom of great questioning lies great awakening.
If you question fully, you will awaken fully.
Be like the teachers of old. Clarify your own question, this great question that compels you to undertake a spiritual discipline. Ground your zazen in this mind of great doubt. Then you will have a guiding light that sustains you along this journey until you awaken, a journey that at its darkest times can be frustrating, confusing and maybe even at times, feel hopeless. Sit with your doubt until it breaks open completely and you too awaken. This mind of great questioning is at the heart of zazen.
Even when we have gained some insight along our way, some peace of mind, we have to continue to ask whether deep in our hearts, are we truly at peace? Seeing our question clearly we will know if we have truly come to rest. Not seeing our question clearly we can find ourselves muddling along beguiled by various temporary insights. We are carried away and confused by the same turbulent moods that affect us in other areas of our lives and our practice can fall by the wayside of delusion. We find we have no strength and are swayed by the vicissitudes of our self-centered emotional fluctuations. Even long-term practitioners can be unclear about this fundamental point.
When we first begin it is fine to be uncertain, to just have an inkling, a sense of the question, a sense that there is something driving us. But as we continue to practice our question should begin to come into focus. If not then we are not sitting the zazen of our Zen ancestors but are engaged in some other activity on the cushion. Zazen is about seeing our question clearly, this great doubt that for some feels like a red hot ball in their stomach burning to be resolved. We learn to sit through this doubt, letting go of self, of various insights that arise, sitting through our doubt again and again. We are sustained in our practice by our vow and our determination, until one day we naturally awaken fully to this great source that we are and all doubts are resolved. Our questions fall away and our heart truly comes to rest. Then, with our next breath, with our next step, our practice continues anew. Awake to the truth that I and all things are embraced and carried along by this great stream of prajna wisdom we naturally continue our spiritual cultivation, vowing to uproot our beginningless obstructive karmic patterns so that our life is lived in service of this Great Buddha Life that we are. Our Bodhisattva vow is born.
Please, practice sincerely giving rise to the mind of faith, doubt and determination and clarify your question. Practice until you see this truth that you are and then clarify, clarify, clarify so that you can manifest your life in harmony with this vast Buddha Dharma.