41. Stone Birds

Our metaphors become like stone birds.

A familiar one is the image of serene reflection: the moon reflected in water. The moon [enlightenment] is clearly reflected in the still water [the tranquil mind]. Someone tries to convey a feeling-state through an image, and then the image becomes an aspiration: something to gain, something to lose.

And all of this is to practice, and to judge practice, from the perspective of the self. But that isn’t our practice.

If the water is enlivened, it doesn’t break the moon. If the sky is suddenly aflock with birds, it doesn’t shatter the light


42. The Five Skandhas

We practice from the perspective of the Buddha, not the Self.

At the start of the Heart Sutra, there is an exchange between Śāriputra, one of the buddha’s historical disciples, renowned for his wisdom, and Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Significantly, it is Avalokiteśvara rather than Śāriputra who, whilst sitting in zazen, realises that the five Skandhas are empty, and hence all suffering is relieved. You could say all suffering is relieved because Avalokitesvara, the five Skandhas and Emptiness are all synonymous.

Were Śāriputra, from the position of the self, to perceive the emptiness of the five Skandhas, suffering would not be relieved. The whole world would become suffering.

So, the suggestion is not that in zazen we see Emptiness, but rather that the five Skandhas see the Emptiness of the five Skandhas. And suffering falls away.


40. The Four Dharma Seals

The Four Dharma Seals are suffering, impermanence, no-self and nirvana.

The second and third are the crucible of our lives. If we think of the self as real, fixed, permanent, then the unavoidable truth of impermanence will cause us to suffer. We are always one step closer to falling.

If we see the insubstantiality of the self, that is the liberation of all beings. Impermanence can then be seen as the dynamic functioning of interconnectedness, and we can live at peace with all sentient beings, undarkening the world by no longer throwing the dust of the self over it.

We have a choice. We either fall down or stand up. And, of course, we do both.


39. The Life of Each Thing

Our aim isn’t to eradicate delusion, but to actualise space.

Within vast space, each thing can have its own life.

Although it is natural to wish that our demons were gone, only demons can kill demons.


38. Compassionate Mind

Compassionate Mind is essential for practice.

The noise in our head is like a small child. If we follow the noise, it will never grow up. If we hate or ignore the noise, we cut out our own heart. We need to hold the noise in vast, compassionate space; vast compassionate awareness.

It is this space which allows it, and all beings, to live.


37. Total Exertion

Non-Buddhists conceive of the Universe as things within space. And in the space between things there is room for judgement, room for manipulation.

For Dogen, the realm of nonduality is the realm of intimacy. It is not that there is no differentiation, but there is no gap, no void.

And within that intimacy, each dharma totally occupies its own space. One dharma does not obstruct another, just as one moment does not obstruct another. The total exertion of one dharma–the exemplar of exertion being zazen–is the total exertion of all dharmas, because there is no separation.

The total exertion of one dharma makes real the whole Universe.


36. Awareness

In zazen, we cultivate unadorned awareness. We simply allow our experience, without making any judgement.

This awareness operates at a number of levels. Most obviously, we are aware of our ego sustaining chatter. Then we are aware of our strategies to avoid our experience–distraction, fatigue, agitation, and so on.

And deeper still, we are aware of our habitual attitudes towards our experience while sitting: anxiety, frustration, hopelessness, resignation and so on, and this habitual attitude mirrors our attitude to our life generally, and so what is unconscious becomes conscious.

Awareness is like a deepening ocean. As it becomes deeper, it becomes clearer. And so, everything is illuminated.


35. Unburdening the Heart

Often our posture is quite poor. We slump, and it is as if our head weighs heavily on our body. Which is to say, our mind weighs heavily on our heart.

When we sit, we allow the spine to uncompress; the head is light and the torso can relax and fully breathe, giving the heart its full space.

The heart is not the seat of the emotions. Emotion is frozen feeling. It is part of the mind, not the heart. The mind is that mass of thought and emotion by which the ego perpetually talks itself back into half existence.

The heart is momentary felt experience. It is always there.


34. Obstacles

We should distinguish between obstacles and delusion.

Obstacles are straightforward: a persistent tune, an idea that keeps returning, a scenario that keeps regurgitating itself. These seem a serious obstruction to our practice, but they’re not.

Delusion is our taking a position towards them. One aspect of delusion.


33. The Balanced State

A person prone to waking in the night, who imagines himself an insomniac, would be unaware when he is asleep.

Similarly, although when we sit we are frequently in the balanced state, we cannot see it, since there is no one to see. It is as if we oscillate between the dreams of the mind and the dreams of the body.

My teacher would say that we are always passing through the balanced state, in this movement between body and mind.

It is not that there is a something. It is not that there is a nothing.