251. Faith Mind

We don’t sit facing the wall because zazen is an individual practice; it isn’t.

We are always practicing together. Not practicing, together. Practicing Together.

We sit facing the wall because we are sitting with all beings.

If we were facing each other we will be sitting with these beings, not necessarily all beings.

And when we sit, one more person sits with us. You could call this person Vast Compassion Space.

It is as if the door of the tiny room of the Self is unlocked, and the prisoners there are released into this vast space, to express, to change, to live, to go.

Were this person not to appear, the door would remain closed. Each prisoner would remain locked into their repetitive forms and gestures.

You could also call this person Faith Mind.


252. All the dust illuminated

The last time my first teacher Nancy Amphoux came to Scotland we sat in a dusty room in Glasgow Street.

In the afternoon while we were sitting, bright sunlight shone into the room, illuminating all the dust hanging in the air.

The light was still, the dust was still, neither obstructed the other.

The smoke from the incense moved amongst both, the dancing of a life.

In Buddhism we keep coming across, in a slightly disguised way, the idea of a person.

Who or what is walking the Way if not a person?

Who or what is balanced, if not a person?

And indeed we can see walking as a kind of dynamic balance. The integration of apparent dualities within a living whole, ‘opposites’ reconfigured as two aspects of something which is dynamic and alive.

We need to find this true person. And our mind cannot find it. All it can ever find is a person who has been cut in half, and no matter how hard we try we cannot restore that person to life.


253. Mudita

In early Buddhism, the four virtues of practice were said to be Metta, Karuna, Upekkha and Mudita, usually translated as loving kindness, compassion, equanimity and empathetic joy.

We’re very familiar with the first three, but not the fourth. Does this matter and, if it does, why?

It seems to me that the first three, when the fourth is excluded, make possible a kind of christianised buddhism, where the purpose of practice can be seen as the making of a great person, and, to aid that, the three virtues can be seen as personal attributes, cultivated by this person. So this person is benevolent, kind, steadfast. But the larger space is thrown into shadow by this inflated person, and joy is forgotten.

But if we take the four qualities together, I don’t think we can see the practitioner as a great, or potentially great person, but rather as a co-arising and relational person, and the qualities cease to be personal qualities, but rather are the qualities of a re-enlivened and re-envisioned open and relational space within, around and between us, which we directly experience when we practice.

Buddhism is a house built on these four foundations. The fourth might seem tiny, barely noticeable, but its removal will cause the house to buckle and tilt, imperceptibly at first. The house can remain standing for a very long time. But fall it will.


254. Practice buddha

We talk about zazen in lots of strange ways. We say, for example, that it isn’t the person practicing, but zazen practicing zazen, or Practice Buddha practicing zazen: the language is just an expedient means to drop off the primary dualism between self and world.

If the self can be dropped off, we can understand that there are two aspects to Impermanence, which correspond to Dogen’s formulation, in the Fukanzazengi, of zazen as the dharma gate of peace and joy.

The first is ceaseless arising and perishing, which is within our normal experience. We can understand and accept that this arising and perishing is the dynamic functioning of something whole, which we cannot see, as we are part of it, but if we only understand Impermanence from this perspective, then our practice is unbalanced: it is only the cultivation of equanimity, peace.

The second is the ceasing of this arising and perishing, which we can experience directly in zazen. It is as if each being-moment becomes like vast space, becomes like a mountain: it does not move, it does not flow. And this is joy.


255. Dragons see palaces

Kusen 255 collaboration ‘Inter’ by Blair Thomson

(heavy rain is falling)

In the Mountains and Waters Sutra, Dogen says that when human beings see water, fish and dragons see palaces. He doesn’t say that the fish and dragons are mistaken. He also says that although human beings see mountains as still, they are always walking.

Within this ocean, are there palaces, or not? Within this mountain, is there movement, or not?

This being moment is completely manifested, like a mountain. It isn’t dependent on past and future. This being moment is completely liberated within interconnectedness. It flows in all directions, like the ocean: from past to future, from future to past, from present to present. This manifestation and liberation is our life.


256. You are nothing like me

Master Rinzai said that there is a true person who is always coming and going through our face.

Rinzai is, in his own vivid and embodied words, talking about Buddha nature, non duality and so on. And whether this dart of his own words finds a gap in the armour of the Self for you, who knows? But either way, his authentic and heartfelt expression is this true person.

Buddhism has no interest in how the world is constructed. It is not science. It is not psychology. It is not religion.

Its interest in truth is in the truth of you as a human being: who you are, what you can be, and how you can express yourself, and your enfoldment within this greater being of all things. The you that is like a little bird singing.

I am nothing like my teacher and you are nothing like me – because the function of a teacher isn’t to make you like them but to make you like you, because – not you but this ‘you’- is the true person.


257. Like a womb

In the Tathagatagarbha sutra, Buddha nature is portrayed figuratively as a little Buddha inside each sentient being. Each being is a womb for the Buddha.

An ignorant or self centred person might imagine that through practice they would actualise a personal Buddha.

Except, the Buddha which is represented in each sentient being is the same Buddha. These same buddhas form a kind of fabric, containing all beings, like a womb. Each being is like the embryo in this womb of Buddha.

It is like space: in this moment, is the breath inside you yours, or not?

Is the dynamic space inside you as the expression of this breath yours, or not? How can we distinguish this inner space from the greater space which holds us?

Yet if Being collapses, space likewise collapses.

All these little tiles create the vast space of the temple.


258. The four merits of meditation

The four merits of meditation are said to be intuitive wisdom, compassion, equanimity and empathetic joy – but these are not personal qualities.

Yet when the restless dust and debris of the self is stilled, it is as if it forms an archway, through and around which the vast living space containing these qualities can be actualized.

Through which all the mute things can be given voice.


259. The cause of suffering

What is the cause of suffering? We often imagine – wrongly – that the Buddha said that desire was the cause of suffering. But he didn’t. He said that the cause of suffering was the three poisons of ignorance, attachment and aversion.

The most important of these three is ignorance: the other two follow on from that. Ignorance is a confusion about our true nature: instead of understanding our nature as relational, we falsely think we are beings encased in a self. Thinking in this way, it is only natural to want or to keep what we like, and discard what we don’t.

We confuse ourselves so easily because our society’s usual way of thinking of desire is to think of it in terms of a lack: something is missing.

The point isn’t technical, it’s of fundamental importance. If we misunderstand desire, if we can’t see it as the pulse and flow and expression of this great being, then we will aspire to a buddhism of false equanimity, a buddhism which is empty and lifeless. With the ghost of suffering inside.


260. This twelve foot square room

Sometimes, when we are sitting together in this twelve foot square room, it is as if we are halfway between the individual and the universal: we are sitting on the same ground, breathing the same air; there is the same drone of karma for each of us, and the same opening into common vast spaciousness when that noise drops away.

It is as if this small room is a rock in the middle of a torrential stream: no one can jump from bank to bank, but we can land here. And here we can understand that this rock is the whole world. And although it is tiny, all beings may stand.