Please read a brilliant essay by Issho Fujita on posture from Dharma Eye.
Issho Fujita described our practice as “One Piece Zen”. That is, rather than the individual striving of this person, our practice expresses the dynamic unity of all beings, all being, all space.
The trap is to picture a cosmos, with us within it. To escape that trap, we need to feel this dynamic unity as something real, not imagined. That’s why the posture is so important.
In our posture, we have the actual experience of dynamic wholeness and aliveness with our liberated spines. We have the actual experience of vast dynamic space with our liberated breath.
So, our posture, from the perspective of the self, is the symbolic enactment of the two facets of this dynamic unity, and the unity itself. And, when body and mind is dropped off, this enactment is no longer just symbolic, but real.
What we need to understand about impermanence is that both time and being are momentary, and they aren’t separate.
That’s why Katagiri is able to say that each moment is the universe. Because it is the momentary wave of everything.
It’s hard to see this in our normal life. But we can see it in zazen. The wave of each moment, crashing against the cliff of practice.
1. During a Mondo, someone asked my late first teacher Nancy about Master Tozan.
Nancy said to this person ‘Is Tozan here, or not?’
The person said – ‘He’s not here’. Nancy struck him, playfully.
Then she asked again: ‘Is Master Tozen here?’
The person said ‘He is here’. Nancy struck him again.
Alive or dead? Nancy? Tozan? You and me?
2. The ignorant person thinks that this person, whom they call their self, is their possession; and where this person appears in the heart or eye or mind of someone else, then this simply is echo, or shadow
But this person is not a half finished fortification.
This person is multitudes. Being is numberless.
The Tibetan word for Samsara (‘khor ba’) literally means circling. Just going round in circles; blown here and there by karma.
Nirvana is not trying to do something to fix our karma, nor trying to perfect the self, nor making ourselves more wise or more compassionate. All of this is just samsara.
It is simply to stop fabricating. To just allow this experience to flood through us.
My first teacher Nancy said that zazen is like a huge underground river in our lives. We can’t see it, but it’s there. And a river, obviously, is a path, a way. Likewise, the ground above it. Likewise, the space above it.
Within the dream of the self, although the deaths of others are regrettable, they’re not fundamental: the primary issue is the death of this person. The Buddhist writer David Loy says the fear of death is itself a repression of a more fundamental fear: the fear that the self doesn’t exist, now. The fear of non existence is pushed away into the imaginary future.
What if each death, each birth was the fundamental thing?
We do not practice within the dream of the self; we practice with all beings. Not this person, with all beings, but with all beings. Within all being. When we soften the eyes we see more clearly. Not the landscape of the self, but uncountable worlds. When an eye closes a world closes. When a hand opens a world opens. This unexpressibly vivid expression.
Fujita described Zazen as ‘one piece’ Zen.
The one piece is everything.
The difficulty with this perspective is that we tend to oscillate between the individual and the universal.
And between self abnegation and self inflation.
Unless we challenge the individualistic assumption that is as natural to us as breathing. More, even.
But we should try:
Examine our actual experience. Our experience now is not that we are practicing with others, but we are practicing together.
Each of us with our sincere effort within this body of practice.
My first teacher, Nancy Amphoux, asked her teacher – “How should I practice Zazen?”
Her teacher replied – “You should practice Zazen eternally.”
She said that she thought at first that what he meant was that she should practice Zazen for the rest of her life.
To practice eternally, it’s as if we are the ground on which all beings and all moments walk
Or the space within which all beings and all moments live.
Taigen Dan Leighton described the various aspects of our practice as ritual enactment and expression.
It isn’t moving slowly towards the Buddha, a speck in the ghost cave of the future. It is the living activity of Buddha now. It isn’t forming the thought of gratitude, and then giving form to that thought in the symbolism of bowing. No.
Awake-awareness, compassion, gratitude, generosity: they are not qualities of the self. They are pillars holding up the roof of the world.
When she was alive, I often thought Nancy Amphoux, who introduced me to zen, was a terrible teacher. It took me a long time to realise that I was a terrible listener.
When I last saw her, a week before she died, she gave me a bird’s feather. She explained that years before, when she’d been driving in France, she saw a fox attacking a bird. She stopped the car and got out. The fox ran away, but the bird was already dead. Some of its feathers were scattered on the road, and Nancy took them, and kept them.
As people came to say goodbye to her, she would tell them the story and give them one of the feathers. As she finished telling the story to me she gave me the last feather and said “There, all gone”
Often in the teachings, an apparently humble thing: a cat, a pillow, a broken ladle, a dead bird, symbolises the alive wholeness of everything, but unless we feel it, our understanding is useless.
I lacked even that understanding. And I didn’t ask her who the fox was, either