People who know nothing about Buddhism imagine that practice precedes awakening. The person puts in, as it were, the hard yards of practice, then gets the reward. They heroically scale the mountain of enlightenment, acquire a higher consciousness, and similar narcissistic drivel.
In Buddhism one of the fundamental ideas is Bodhicitta; awakening the aspiration for enlightenment.
A related idea, certainly in the Chinese tradition, is that of original enlightenment. The belief all beings, originally and fundamentally, have Buddha Nature but that somehow, this has been covered over, obscured. And to uncover it is not the accumulative work of lifetimes, but momentary. You just don’t know which moment.
We come across the word ‘faith’ in the Classical Chinese texts a lot, such as the Third Patriarch’s Verses of Faith Mind or the Awaking of Faith In The Mahayana. The ‘faith’ that’s talked about is faith in that underlying quality of Buddha Nature.
More prosaically, people don’t just start practice on a whimsical basis; saying, “oh well, maybe this is true, maybe not. I’ll just try it and see how it goes”.
No! People have an insight, however partial, incomplete, transient or outside their conscious awareness, that they’re not in control of their own lives in the way that they’ve thought they were. That their lives are like a dream, like an accident in fog, like a cascade.
That awakening to the interdependence of life, the impermanence of life, takes them into practice. That awakening is true, because that’s actually how things are. And once they’re in that stream of practice, they – we – stay there. They can’t unlearn their realisation.
In a sense, that first glimpse of awakening is identical to complete and perfect awakening, even if temporally and conceptually they may be very far apart. The Flower Garland Sutra says so, unequivocally.
It’s for that reason that in chapter 37 of the Shobogenzo, Body and Mind Study of the Way (at least in the Nishijima translation), Dōgen starts with a very surprising sentence. He says the Buddha’s truth is such that if we intend not to practice the truth we cannot attain it. If we intend not to open our heart to the truth, it becomes more and more distant.
It’s a complete reversal of what we imagine. We might well think, “I have to fervently and constantly intend to seek the Buddha’s truth”. But Dōgen is saying No! No! Because the Buddha’s truth is reality, we have to set ourselves against it.
To fail to grasp it you have to intend not to. You must, to put it poetically, make yourself into a demon, or a hungry ghost, or an animal. You have to set yourself against that reality of interdependence and impermanence. And keep doing so. It’s an outrageously joyful and life affirming position, quite different from brave little me escaping the dark world.
In your practice, although you imagine you experience endless noise, you also experience great spaciousness. Whether you’re aware of that doesn’t matter. In your life you will experience many, many, many states. Each is a door. You should understand that without you forming and maintaining a clear intention not to pursue the Buddha’s truth then
everything is your ally