The Form and Shape of Practice

When we come to practice we have to put some  limitation on our life. It’s like a bowl of water. If you put water into a flat dish it doesn’t have much depth, but if you have a nice deep bowl it will hold a lot of water. It has form and some shape to it. Practice has to have some form and shape. It can hold some deep water and when there are  turbulent waves on the surface there is a ballast of calm deep  water. This is one of the things that people struggle with in  our society because there is so much opportunity, and it  keeps us strung out. The things that only a king would have  had in the past, every one of us has the opportunity to have  today. It’s amazing. The kings were some of the most  distraught people because they had so much and had to  protect it. It’s hard to put limitations on ourselves but necessary. If we want to practice, we have to put some  limitation on our activity which can be a big relief because then we don’t have to run after everything  we see. We don’t have to own everything that’s advertised. One TV might be enough.

Master Mumon says, “Don’t discuss another’s faults.” That’s right. Just look to yourself, examine  your own life. Don’t blame others for what is happening to you. “You made me angry.” No. “You did something and I got angry.” “You walked by and made me fall in love with you.” No. “You walked by  and I fell in love.” In other words, take responsibility for your own feelings, take responsibility for your own thoughts, and your own actions: don’t blame. If you can refrain from blaming, then you can  examine yourself in a very clear way, no matter what, even if, as the sixth ancestor says, someone else  is in the wrong. This is a very important point. Even if someone else appears to be at fault, do not fall into fault-finding. See if you can do that. See what that brings up for you. Don’t explore another’s affairs; just take care of your own life. Don’t gossip, don’t pick into someone else’s life. Just make sure that you are doing the right thing. Make sure you are following your own intentions. As the saying goes, if you want the tiger’s cub, you have to go into the tiger’s cave. If you really want something, you really have to put yourself on the line. But better to just do it, without looking for something. This is one secret of practice. The koan “mu” is one of the fundamental koans, maybe the first koan that many students receive. If you recite “mu” all day long with the idea of having kensho, it won’t work. If you think that by sitting zazen you’ll become enlightened, you will be waiting a long time. Just sit.

Dogen Zenji has a saying from the Genjokoan. “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self.“ If you want to study yourself you have to forget yourself. This is
Genjokoan. How do I study the self by forgetting the self? Another way of saying this is, to attain the Buddhadharma is to attain the self, and to attain the self is to forget the self. According to Buddhadharma there is no self. The self is not exactly a self. It’s a dynamic flowing of elements; a dynamic flowing of Buddha nature. There is nothing you can grasp. So to forget the self is to forget our
idea of self, to forget our idea of who we are. It is a turn toward our true self. The only way to do that is to not hanker after anything. Then we can see clearly who we are. And when we bow, we bow in
gratitude. When we have some insight we bow in gratitude. That is all. We bow to our true self, or better yet, we just bow.
Instead of trying to get something from practice, or from the Dharma, it’s better to serve the Dharma. Buddha and Maitreya are servants of the Dharma, “It.” What is the example of the Buddha?
To serve the Dharma—to serve the truth. That’s all there is. When you serve, you’re fed.

— Sojun Roshi (from a talk on February 18, 1992; reprinted from the March 2010 BZC Newsletter.)