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16. Stillness

Dogen said [in Gyoji]:

Master Bodhidharma sat in stillness facing the wall, but he was not learning Zen concentration.

and also [in Fukanzazengi]:

Zazen is simply the peaceful and joyful Gate of Dharma.

Stillness is suchness. We fall backwards into it from the discriminating mind. It is always present. The trees are still. The wind is still. It is suchness, not the absence of movement.

At great cost, the ego keeps us suspended several inches above the ground. Zazen is not learning concentration. It is learning to fall.

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15. In Memoriam: Nancy Amphoux

When I started practice, I was very interested in koans. I asked Nancy about them. She said, brusquely “Don’t concern yourself with koans. Your life is the koan”. At the time, I can’t say I found this an entirely satisfactory answer.

In Rinzai, koans are used as a teaching device to prod the student towards a different experience of reality. “Koan” originally meant something like an official pronouncement by the Emperor, something universal and unchallengeable.

Of the two characters which make up ‘koan’. ‘ko’ means universal and ‘an’ means wood or desk; so, something written down which has universal application.

Dogen uses a different character for ‘an’, which means something like ‘pushing with the hand’ [to heal]; so for him, Koan is both the universal and the personal, emptiness and form, and this is how he sees zazen too. So Nancy was right.

She wasn’t frightened of death, but she was frightened of her heart stopping beating. In her last moments she chanted the Heart Sutra over and over, fainter and fainter.

Her heart has never stopped beating.

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14. The Hidden River

Nancy said that when we practice, it is as if we become aware of a huge underground river running through our lives.

The desert does not bloom. The mirrors do not shatter.

Yet something both very deep and very simple manifests itself.

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13. The Second Noble Truth

All Buddhist teachings, no matter how apparently esoteric, refer to our actual experience, particularly during zazen. If we cannot find them in our actual experience, then we cannot accept them.

The Second Noble Truth is that the origin of suffering is our attachment to desire, which is defined as greed, ignorance and hatred.

If we examine our actual experience during zazen, where is greed to adhere? Or ignorance? Or hatred? And if they have nowhere to adhere, surely this is the liberation of all things, all beings. Not at some imaginary future time, but this time.

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12. Emptiness

The foundation sutra for Zen is the Prajñāpāramitā Sutra, the teachings on Emptiness. The Heart Sutra, which we chant after sitting, is a very abbreviated version. In it we say that “form is nothing other than emptiness, emptiness is nothing other than form”.

Emptiness is thus not another world, or something to aspire to. It is a way of describing this world, this experience. It is infinitely faceted. One can say that it is dependent origination; nothing exists separately and independently of anything else. Equally, one can say that because emptiness cannot be grasped – one cannot seize space – it is a way of describing the ineffability of all being.

The world eludes the web of words. And one can say that it is a way of describing our experience when self consciousness drops away. The world is empty of you, and so, is luminous.

The teachings on Emptiness are themselves empty.

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11. The Metaphor of Space

Kusen collaboration artwork by Margaret Kerr

Buddhism is full of metaphors of space.

And space is not conceived in an abstract way, but rather as the absence of obstruction. Hence Buddhism being described as a path, or a way.

We are free, but not lost.

Likewise Emptiness.

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10. All Living Beings

The Bodhisattva vow, “All living beings, I vow to save them,” at first blush seems impossible. Surely it is much more practical to vow to save ourself?

But we cannot save ourself. The ego is the fulcrum of dualism. A fist cannot unclench itself.

We can however liberate all beings from us. And this liberation is “All living beings.”

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9. Sitting is Buddha

In Zazen, do we rely on ourself? Or do we rely on Buddha?

In some schools of Zen, there is a plain reliance on the self. Sitting is the means by which we accumulate the capacity to experience enlightenment. Equally, in other Japanese traditions, particularly Pure Land, reliance is on the other, on Buddha; faith, devotion, surrender feature prominently.

Dogen’s view is that we rely neither on Self or other. We do not sit to become a Buddha and we do not sit in devotion to something other than ourself which we call Buddha. Sitting is Buddha.

We are lifted up by the same ground.

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8. Shoji: Life-Death

If all things have real form, then everything–particularly what we commonly regard as negations –has real form. Thus, ‘No Self’ exists just as much as ‘Self’ in the total Full Dynamic Functioning.

So, ‘Negation’ is not a kind of absence, but a full presence. And if this is so, ‘Not Self’ can be obstructed by ‘Self’, just as easily as the other way around.

Things do not fall in and out of existence in a logically coherent world. Existence and Non Existence are two aspects of Full Dynamic Functioning, and are always present. Whether they are present to us doesn’t matter.

So Death isn’t the absence of Life. Winter isn’t the absence of Spring.

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7. The Buddhist State

Whosoever says that the Tathāgata goes or comes, stands, sits or lies down, he does not understand the meaning of my teaching. And why? ‘Tathāgata’ is called one who has not gone anywhere, nor came from anywhere.

Diamond Sutra, verse 29

The Buddhist state is instantaneous, immediate and cuts off past and future.

Tathāgata means ‘thus come’ or ‘thus gone.’

The name itself is a description of reality: not ‘existence’ (because that would entail dualism), not ‘no existence’ (because that would entail nihilism), but something luminous hovering in the background, behind our conceptualisations.