21. This Frozen Mass

Menzan talked about “the frozen blockage of thought and emotion”; how it obstructs our practice and our life.

To understand what he meant, we need to distinguish between emotion and feeling. Feeling is our lived, momentary, felt response from moment to moment, fluid. Emotion is frozen feeling.

Something arises in the body. We then say “I am anxious”, then we speculate why we might be anxious, and the whole process of rumination starts. The thought and the emotion aren’t separate.

And we may imagine that this frozen mass obstructs our mind, but in fact it obstructs our heart. It is there like a blockage in the throat, preventing the heart emerging into the world.

If we do not understand this, our Zen will be too cognitive, it will lack feeling: Zen is not our liberation from feeling, but our liberation into it.


22. Zazen Mountain

Zen is sometimes described as “the mountain still state”, and we are often admonished to sit like a mountain. Monasteries were frequently named after mountains; Teachers too.

At the most obvious level, the mountain can be seen as representative of equanimity, imperturbability. Whatever storm is raging, the mountain is undisturbed.

We can also see the mountain as the expression of something eternal. So, when we enter the mountain still state, we enter the same state as the ancestors and patriarchs.

But fundamentally, the mountain is the ground made visible, unavoidable. Whilst the ground beneath the feet of our thoughts is overlooked, the mountain is the ground thrown upwards. And the ground is being.


23. Time

My teacher, Nancy Amphoux, asked her teacher how she should practice zazen.

He said “You should practice zazen eternally”. Nancy said that at first she took this to mean that she should practice for the rest of her life.

Eternity means timeless, throwing away linear time. So, Now ceases to be a point and instead becomes vast space, containing everything. We could call it the eternal present. It is not that it is undifferentiated, rather that everything is vivid and whole. Things do not cease to exist, but they do not exist in the usual way, and so we call it Nothing, No-thing.

Time is the cornerstone of the house of delusion. If the stone is removed, the house must fall.


24. With All Of Us

Because zazen is wholehearted action in the present moment, it breaks down the false distinction between physical and mental.

For example, we will often come to zazen tired, or anxious, or distracted. We put our body into balance, and our breathing comes into balance. We breathe like a baby; from the belly, intercostally. And what we thought of as our mental process changes too.

Our heart sits on top of our breath.


25. Dreams

The dream state and the waking dream state.

In dreams we imagine–at least later–that what we see is unreal, although really it is just our fractured heart taking on one form after another. We feel fully. We exert ourselves fully. We are always implicitly asking, “What is this?” How can we dismiss it so easily?

In the waking dream state, we cannot say that what we see is unreal, but why? We concede easily that what we see is what our culture and our language can see, and concede–less easily–that our emotions are flung randomly onto this thing or that, like paint falling from high windows. And the same question: “What is this? What is this?” And thus, a false world created. How different? How different?

In our dreams what we feel cannot be doubted. In our waking dream state what arises cannot be doubted. And the whole waking world conceals itself in the heart. Should the heart open, a world will spring out. The only true one.

Demons are the creators of false worlds. Equanimity is walking on the heads of these demons, partly in tenderness, partly in scorn.


26. Suchness

Stillness is not the ceasing of activity; stillness is suchness.

When we see being direct, our normal categories fall away. Because linear time falls away, we call it timeless, and so, it is still.

Because causality falls away it is vivid, not a waystation to or from anywhere else.


27. Karma

Question: If I do a good act, but with a conscious intention of doing good, does that negate the karma?

Answer: There are two dualistic assumptions buried in your question.

The first is that we can separate ourselves from ‘our’ experience, so there is an ‘I’ acting in ‘The World’. This is counter to our belief that practice is wholehearted action in the present moment, when our ordinary distinctions fall away, vivifying reality.

The second is that our actings take place in linear time, and that good or bad actings in the past have good or bad consequences in the future. But we say that the act and the consequence arise at the same time, the flower and the fruit occur at the same time, and this same time is all of time.


28. Heart Chanting

When we chant the Heart Sutra, we’re not just making a noise.

But we are making a noise. Seen from the concrete perspective, it’s just noise.

Seen from the abstract persective, it’s just meaning. But both these persectives are expressed and transcended by the simple action.

If we see zazen as a concrete act, we understand neither zazen or the concrete. If we see it abstractly, it’s lost too.


29. The Ground of Zazen

We can talk of our practice and life in terms of form and emptiness, or delusion and enlightenment. We can also talk of both in terms of ground and space, earth and sky, heaven and earth.

In Inmo, Dogen comments on the phrase:

Those that fall to the ground get up relying on the ground. To get up without relying on the ground is, in the end, impossible.

One of the most difficult things for people to experience when they start zazen is their ungroundedness. They are caught up in a storm of thought and emotion. And through practice, they learn to experience falling back into the feeling, experiencing body, the ground.

We can experience this physically. If we sit properly, allowing our weight to drop down through our sit bones, then we can receive a reciprocal push upwards from the earth, up our spine and up through the top of our head.

This falling down and getting up is the activity of our lives. And in this activity, we actualise heaven and earth.


30. Delusion

A principal way in which we maintain ourselves in delusion is imagining that our life and practice should be something other than it is. We locate delusion in the wrong place. We imagine that our transient thoughts and emotions are obstacles, and if somehow we got rid of them, we wouldn’t be deluded any more.

But this is precisely the idea that is the engine of delusion. When Dogen says that delusion is carrying the self forward to experience the myriad things, and realisation is the myriad things expressing and experiencing themselves. By ‘myriad things,’ he doesn’t just mean trees walls and sky. He means everything, including our thoughts.

If we obsess on our thoughts, it is as if we take all the light and concentrate it on that, so that everything else – the body, the senses, the breath – is in darkness. Throwing the light over all experience makes the dualism of thought and world impossible to sustain. We see the tremor and evanescence of our thoughts as one aspect of our aliveness, which is to say, the aliveness of everything.