Those of us who practice are lucky when we encounter difficult times. Before that, we coast along in a comfort zone, thinking that bad stuff will be taken care of and the good guys will win and everyone is going to live happily ever after. We waste a lot of our lives playing along in that deluded state.
Recently I’ve been hearing from people who are caring for the troubled, sick and dying. So many trials and tribulations; so much turning and churning, agony and fear for those who are trapped in delusion. Even now you can get caught in the flow of samsara, or delusion. Yet you’ve also learned how to pull back to the center. That’s the point: to stay in this centered place of non-distracted awareness. We are lucky when difficulty arises and we can come back to the point of our practice.
This non-distracted awareness is a breakthrough experience that cannot be described or conceptualized. If you think you have it, it’s a sure sign that you don’t. The very thought that you “have it” is your conceptual mind. You have to go beyond that. You must poke through the flow of egocentric thought that gives rise to samsara. That’s the mind that churns back and forth with its judgments. “I like this. I don’t like that. Right, wrong, up, down, black, white.” That mind. It’s not the Buddha Mind we speak of in practice but rather the egocentric ruminating mind, the mind that produces the world of samsara or delusion.
If you look in a Buddhist dictionary, “samadhi” is defined as a form of concentration, usually on a single point. What is this point you must come to? And where is it? Masters spend years reaching a point that, in a sense, cannot be found. Here’s a hint: the Buddha says that you are the universe. The old masters refer to you as “creation unfolding.” Yet how many of you are comfortable with just being yourselves? Let’s explore this.
Scientists tell us that the universe began with a big explosion and that some day it’s going to implode into a space smaller than an atom. You can’t imagine the universe, so just imagine your house imploded, squeezed down into something smaller than the tip of a pin. Be honest, you can’t really conceive of it. Scientists say the whole universe is going to implode—but where is that point of implosion? This is such an astounding revelation! It’s nowhere, that’s where it is. None of that occurs without your mind to experience it and nobody can prove that anything exists outside of your mind. You may produce a picture in your mind. You may even produce a picture that you hold in your hand, but all you’re showing me is what’s here right now. You cannot show me the past; you cannot show me the future. The only thing that you can ever experience is this single point: now.
Dzogchen masters tell us to meditate with eyes neither open nor closed, just looking down into space. That doesn’t mean looking down and scoping out the floor or the wall, seeing zigzag patterns and cartoon characters. Just look blankly at a single point in space and contrive nothing. Dzogchen masters don’t meditate or do anything, they just sit there. Shikantaza, which is the highest form of Zen meditation, is the same: not doing anything. This is the most difficult form of practice. I don’t mean sitting there thinking you need a bigger car or that Sally Jean is really cute or wondering what people think of you. That’s being asleep and you can do that forever quite easily.
Sit here now and experience this point that the scientists can’t locate. They can’t locate it because you are that point and in that state there is no self or other and the dualistic mind simply drops away. It doesn’t mean non-existence.
This now is simply pure awareness but it is not unfeeling or cold. It can appreciate sunsets, relish flavors and savor aromas. It resonates with compassion wherever it experiences suffering, even though all suffering is illusory and empty. Now is just a process that is moving on. We watch children go from babies to toddlers to teenagers and adults. We see friends suffering in sickness and others dying. We are watching waves lash upon the shore. This is samsara but it’s also the amazing dance of creation. If you can penetrate through the delusional wall of the egocentric mind, you can sear away the ignorance that has you believing you are separate from the universe. Once that drops away, the world of oneness appears and it is free of fear and suffering.
The Heart Sutra says, “It completely clears all pain.” Do you believe that? If you don’t, that may be why you can’t take this forward step or turn the light inward. This beautiful dance will free you from all anxiety. Once I reach this single spot and simply allow the waves to rise up and settle down, I will experience my life in a totally different way. I will not waste it. I will continue to cultivate and refine it forever.
This point of single-minded concentration is and always will be eternal. And yet, most of us don’t feel that it is important enough to make even a lukewarm effort to actualize it. There is nothing else that is equal to it. Everything else you do in life will turn to ashes.
Every day we watch the frustrations and convulsions, the frantic blindness of those who cannot see because they live entirely in their heads. This is not to speak unkindly of them because they are in great suffering. We watch these people cry out, “I am competent! I can control the things around me!” That’s delusion and if you believe that, then you simply haven’t been attentive. Look carefully. Things are dropping away. From the time you are a child, things come and go—pets, relatives, friends, the changing seasons. It all happens right here in front of you.
Maezumi Roshi used to say that it’s alright if you don’t get it because you are still safely in the hands of the Buddha. That’s true. It’s okay if you don’t get it because you can’t go anywhere else. You are in fact this very point. But do you want to tumble in nightmares, tossed by fear and anxiety and crushed by delusion? Why not step out into the bright sunlight of the enlightened life?
The whole focus of our practice is to realize and actualize the enlightened life. I believe that, for a moment at least, true spiritual actualization is possible. This is what Dogen Zenji means when he says that you will taste the water and you will know it is wet. Your knowing is unshakable. Forget the theories, the charismatic people convincing you of this or that. Once you taste the water you know. You become secure and exhibit an amazing form of confidence.
Difficulties are all part of the dance. Sit and the flames of samsara subside. Few people will take this most precious opportunity to heart despite the fact that it is our only place of refuge. This very point is the only way out of the crazy dilemma you’re in.
A talk given at the Hazy Moon Zen Center on Jan. 26, 2002.