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Berkeley Zen Center

Lecture by Sojun Roshi

This lecture is reprinted from the March 2004 Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter.

The Old Buddha Communes With the Pillar
(Continued from last month)

One thing we must be careful about in our practice is to not do something mechanically. Because our practice is somewhat repetitious, it's easy to not be fully present within our formal activity. Practice has a rhythm to it, and real practice-genuine practice-is to find the life in each moment; to bring to life each moment of practice, even though we do what seems like the same thing over and over again. There's no way that we can repeat something. Life does not repeat itself. Every time we sit, it's a completely new experience. Every time we work on something, it's a new experience. If we have a held-over idea about sitting, bowing, working, or relating, and stick to that, thinking, "I've done this before," in a way that separates ourselves from our present activity, then it's easy to miss the point.

It is usual to engage in a practice in order to acquire something, or to benefit in some way. "What's in it for me?" "What am I getting out of this?" That kind of question is one-sided. It's not a fundamental question. It's a question that comes from the surface of our small mind. The direction of our practice springs from a different basis. The purpose of practice is to "commune with the pillar,"-how to be at one with our self as an individual and our big self which has no boundary, to realize our true self as the whole universe, not just as an idea, but to actually merge. Suzuki Roshi talked about "Resuming our true nature." Dogen talked about it as taking the backward step to illuminate the self.

The fact is that the longer we practice, the less we acquire, which is the opposite of our usual goals. Usually the goal of our striving is "The harder we work, the more we get." That's the usual understanding of our effort. But in leading a life of Dharma, the harder we work, the more effort we exert, the more we are able to let go of until we can stand up, completely free. So the goal or the purpose of practice is to touch the fundamental reality; to see our life as it really is, free from partiality and ignorance, and to live according to that understanding. According to our understanding of Buddha dharma, we all share the life of one great being which manifests in endless forms and ways.

It is nice to be able to come to a place where we can sit zazen and relax, and it may help us in our stressful life. But when we begin to practice, it is necessary to stretch our self completely. And at some point we have to exert enough effort to go beyond what we feel is our limit. Then we can experience our self completely. The only way we can do that is to merge with our activity. Sesshin gives us that opportunity. At that time our entire body/mind is fully and harmoniously functioning to its utmost.

Zen practice is not always extreme. Sometimes we are very casual, but we have to be willing to put our self in that position, and to engage at the extreme limit of our ability. This is where we find our true intimacy. What we acquire is just our self, nothing more or less. When Dogen Zenji returned from China they asked him, "Well, what did you find, what did you come back with?" He said, "I brought nothing, except the understanding that my nose is vertical and my eyes are horizontal."

To be continued…

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