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Lecture by Sojun Roshi
This lecture is reprinted from the December 2002 Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter.
††††††††† Today is the fourth day of sesshin.† To begin, I want to remind us about breathing. I know you wonít forget to breathe. Whether you forget or not, you will breathe. I want to remind us to allow our breath to be deep, and to let go of tenseness when we find our breath rising up in our chest. When we inhale, our lower abdomen expands. When we exhale it contracts. This is where we should focus our attention. If you have pain in your legs and donít know what else to do, put some strength into your exhalation. In Soto Zen, we mostly follow our breath. Rinzai students put a lot of strength in the lower abdomen on the exhalation. When you donít know what else to do, rather than uncrossing your legs, you might try putting some strength in your lower abdomen when you exhale.†
††††††††† Student:† If you donít know what to do and you donít want to uncross your legs, do you just grit your teeth and bear it?
††††††††† Sojun:† Instead of gritting your teeth, try letting go. You canít fight it. Itís not a battle. Itís a letting go. Whatever appears, let it be. Thereís a saying: ďThe cool breeze blows through the empty hall.Ē The only approach that works is to open up and let whatever appears just to pass through.
††††††††† Student:† But is it better to uncross your legs than to fight to it?
††††††††† Sojun:† No. Itís better to fight it than to uncross your legs. Otherwise, youíll never find your way. You have to go through your battles. This is sometimes called the battleground of the heart and mind. Itís also been called the comfortable way. You have to go through your battles until you give up and let go.
††††††††† So let your mind follow your breath. The first thing is posture. Establish your posture. Really put effort into posture and then let the mind follow the breath as the rising and falling of your lower abdomen. You can tell that youíre getting tense when your breath becomes rough and shallow. Be aware of that. Realize when your shoulders are getting tense. Fear or anxiety makes us tense up. At some point we have to drop our resistance and say, ďItís okay.Ē Then we rise to a different level.
††††††††† Our resistance is the problem. We usually have to go through many painful, difficult periods of zazen until we allow ourselves to let go. Thatís why seven days is a good opportunity, because it wears us down.
††††††††† Student:† I keep hoping that the pain will go away as the week goes on.
†††††† †††Sojun:† Thatís the problem. Thatís why it doesnít go away. Anything you hope for is a problem.
††††††††† Student:† And Iím afraid that, as the week goes on, itís going to get worse.
††††††††† Sojun:† We should have a sign over the zendo door: ďAbandon all hope, ye who enter here.Ē Hope is resistance, hope is fighting. Itís saying, ďI wish it would go away. I hope it goes away.Ē But the more we hope it goes away, the more itís right there! The more we hope it goes away, the worse it gets. Instead we should say to our fear or our pain, ďOkay, you can be here with me. You can stay here. Iím sitting zazen. Youíre welcome to stay here too. Howdy.Ē But if we say, ďPlease go away,Ē this is what pain answers back: ďSays who?Ē
††††††††† Give up hope of anything you want. The Second Noble Truth says that wanting is the cause of our suffering. When we say, ďI wish it would go away,Ē thatís the cause of our suffering. Having what we donít want is the cause of suffering. Zazen is to drop body and mind. Let go of ego. Let go of self. Itís not just words. We have big strong egos, which keep us from realization.
††††††††† The important thing is to be compassionate with yourself and not to blame your surroundings, not blame the practice. Sometimes we have people come to sesshin and blame us for making them do these things. They say, ďItís all your fault.Ē But the most compassionate thing we can do is look for the problem within ourselves and, at the same time, not blame ourselves for it. When we really take on our own suffering and our own difficulty, we have compassion for everyone. We look around and see that everybody is having a hard time, and we feel compassion for their difficulty.
††††††††† The suffering that we are going through is the basis of our enlightenment. I know that is not what we picture as enlightenment. We think that enlightenment will be the end of our suffering, but enlightenment abides right in the midst of it. Our suffering will bring it out. We have to get to the bottom of our suffering. We have to go down all the way to the bottom of it. Then enlightenment will spring forth.
††††††††† Student:† I feel like I am flunking Buddhism over and over.
††††††††† Sojun:† Me too. Weíre all in the same boat. Iím a failure. Weíre all failures. The main thing is not how successful you are at being perfect. Iím not talking about how to be perfect. Iím talking about how to do something completely. Each one of us does the best we can. Thatís the main point. If we do our best, that is already an expression of enlightenment.
††††††††† Enlightenment is not at the end of the road. Itís within our effort. When you have the hardest time and it seems like you are failing, thatís actually pure practice. To have this difficult time and stay with it and do your utmost, thatís pure practice. Suzuki Roshi used to say that the people who have the hardest time often turn out to be the most enlightened Zen masters. So you never know.
††††††††† Student:† When I listen to you, I think, ďSomeday I will have this giant letting go and everything will be great.Ē
††††††††† Sojun:† Just let go, and everything will be what it will be.
††††††††† Student:† But arenít I just going to fall back into hoping?
††††††††† Sojun:† Maybe and maybe not. You are already predicting the future. You are already predicting that youíll fall back into your old ways. Just stop the whole thing! Be where you are. Just be where you are with what you have. Thatís all.
††††††††† There will always be something missing. Thatís okay. Itís not how much you have. Itís not a matter of quantity. Itís a matter of thoroughness. It means to unify your body and mind so that whatever you do includes everything. When you do one thing without ego, without self-centeredness, thatís thoroughness.
††††††††† Student:† And the results donít make any difference?
††††††††† Sojun:† Itís not that the results donít make any difference. Itís just that weíre not attached to the results. Of course results make a difference. But if it doesnít turn out according to your dream, donít be attached to that. Each one of us has our own perfection which includes all of our so-called mistakes.
††††††††† Student:† What about when our mistakes hurt other people?
††††††††† Sojun:† When you hurt somebody, you have compassion, you feel repentant. ďIím sorry.Ē Thatís a form of repentance, an aspect of enlightenment. What to do when we hurt others, what to do when we hurt ourselves, and what this means in a deep sense, not just a superficial sense, these are good questions. Just acknowledge. Turn around and continue on in a careful way.
Rohatsu,† Day Four,† 1995
Last revised 1/20/03.
Copyright 2000 Berkeley Zen Center.
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