DHARMA TALKS BY ZEN MASTER SENSHIN
Today, let’s look into the core of our existence, our true nature.
True nature cannot be experienced without being inspired by, and realised through, this great matter of life and death. In other words, who it is that is born into this physical body? Who is it that lives this life – what is that? And, as the physical body ages, it begins to slow down, decay, and eventually quits. It just stops working. So, what is that that dies? When the body dies does that mean that everything is over? Some people believe that while other people do not. These questions point towards that with which all beings from the origin are all endowed. What is it that is not born, does not live, and never dies? Could that be what the Buddha, the Bodhisattvas and the Ancient Ones offer us through koans, sutras, and spiritual parables?
In our attachment to our physicality, we lose sight of that which lives through it. That which sees, that which feels, that which smells, that which hates, and that which is listening to this talk now. We hold onto that external aspect of our being without experiencing the force that manifests as the running our physical being. What is that?
In coming together to practice, the first thing that we see is our attachments. Our legs feel a bit sore. Quickly, the back, neck, and shoulders also become uncomfortable. If you have a body, there is always going to be complaints. But how would it be, if you did not have a body? How is it when you do not hold onto your idea of your physicality? We need our physical being but what do we need it for? How do we use it? How can we use our physicality, and not be used by it? When confronted with discomfort, or sadness, anxiety or joy, anger or happiness, can we simply observe it all? Do not invest in a single thing that pops into your mind or you will lead yourself down the path of confusion and despair! Whatever is observed, allow that activity to just happen but watch carefully as those extraneous thoughts and sensations naturally play out and end, all by themselves. Everything is just as it needs to be.
We use practice to deepen in our capacity to observe. We observe not only sensations in the body but also how we interpret our perceptions. Instead of simply seeing the wooden-warmth of the floor while sitting, the brown-green of the grasses while walking, the colorful array of foods when eating, we comment endlessly about what we see; we judge how the salad tastes today compared to how the salad tasted yesterday. We lose sight of what we are experiencing. We lose moment after moment of smell, taste and touch and so on as we are not aware of seeing with and through essential mind – the true mind that experiences, that perceives. We are split off from our pure experiences because we are thinking about what we are doing rather than just experiencing the immediacy of the activity at hand. Whatever it is that is running through your mind in this moment does not matter one smidge. Focus only on your out-breath. One does not need to apply extraneous thought to participate completely in that.
The Sutras teach us that a concept of self is a delusion and yet we are continually surprised when our thoughts and experiences do not align. I used to believe this, but I can now see that it is not true. If we take the time to meticulously and quietly observe not only our beliefs but also the source of their creation, right there, is the truth.
In training, as in daily life, we see clearly where we are attached. We already know what we believe or do not believe. As we bring all our energy together, into one seamless single-pointed focus, all the conceptual threads that make up the beliefs of a you and a me, dissolve, as nothing outside or inside mind exists. To experience this source, is to understand how our minds work. To clarify the working of mind is zazen.
In that way, we use zazen to focus. As the practice of long, slow exhalations deepens, the tanden strengthens. Our focus sharpens, and that shift from what was, to what is, occurs naturally. What is that which observes, and simultaneously experiences the letting go, is the letting go? What is that that cannot hold or reject one single thing? When we are not creating and looking through the blur of a fantasy, we experience, then become bright and clear.
The Ancients have said that experiencing true nature can occur suddenly or after years of cultivation. Sudden or gradual experiences happen and consume everything that we think we are, or are not. The ringing of a bell, or the whack of the clappers, or the sight of the morning star, penetrates through the fog of our consciousness to reveal essential nature. True mind is vivid and clear. Dualism falls away. Sense of self and other does not come into being. We are aligned in oneness with every single thing and in that alignment there are no filters and no self.
Then we know for ourselves what is hot, and what is cold. We know for ourselves what is truth, and what is untruth. Greed, anger, and ignorance have no foothold. We experience everything from our essential nature, and everything we experience, is true nature.
When experience informs our lives in this way, there is nothing in which we can call my own. We borrow a car, a house, a jet, a body and yet at some point, everything returns to its original state – we are that original state!
From that clear and pure state of mind, we can then use what we have borrowed. And in so doing, we begin to repay the debt owed to our parents, teachers, and all beings.