“Breathing in, I see myself as still water.
Breathing out, I reflect things as they are.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
* Swan feather floating on Hatchet Pond, Hampshire, England
For Zen students the most important thing is not to be dualistic. Our “original mind” includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self‑sufficient state of mind. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few..
In the beginner’s mind there is no thought, “I have attained something.” All self‑centered thoughts limit our vast mind. When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something.
The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless. Dogen‑zenji, the founder of our school, always emphasized how important it is to resume our boundless original mind. Then we are always true to ourselves, in sympathy with all beings, and can actually practice.
So the most difficult thing is always to keep your beginner’s mind. There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen. Even though you read much Zen literature, you must read each sentence with a fresh mind. You should not say, “I know what Zen is,” or “I have attained enlightenment.” This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner. Be very very careful about this point. If you start to practice zazen, you will begin to appreciate your beginner’s mind. It is the secret of Zen practice.
When you relate to thoughts obsessively, you are actually feeding them because thoughts need your attention to survive. Once you begin to pay attention to them and categorize them, then they become very powerful. You are feeding them energy because you are not seeing them as simple phenomena. If one tries to quiet them down, that is another way of feeding them.
– Chögyam Trungpa
from the book “The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation”
Be aware of everything that arises in your mind immediately, as though watching your face in a mirror. Identify your emotions as the enemies that have spoiled your past lives, and will spoil your future lives, too, if you fail to cut them at the root as soon as they appear.
There is no emotion that you cannot be rid of, because emotions are simply thoughts, and thoughts are just like the wind moving through the empty sky. There is nothing to them.
However, in just the same way that someone who attains a high position may find that his worries and difficulties increase, so too, when you set yourself the ambitious goal of getting free from samsara, you may find that your thoughts and habitual tendencies seem even stronger and more numerous than before.
If you fall immediately under their power, your practice will be interrupted. It may stagnate, to the point that you end up as an old hermit only interested in making money. Or you could stray into an intellectual approach, endlessly acquiring more and more knowledge. But if you can manage to overcome your wild emotions by concentrating on sustained calm and profound insight, you are sure to make steady progress on the path.
When your mind is distracted, you can be bitten by a mosquito without your even noticing it. But when your mind is quiet, you will feel a mosquito bite straight away. In the same way, the mind needs to be relaxed and quietened if it is to become aware of its empty nature.
The practice of shamatha is done for this reason, and through such practice even a person with strong emotions will gradually acquire self-control and inner calm. When the mind comes to a stable state of relaxed concentration, your habitual tendencies fade away by themselves, while altruism and compassion naturally develop and expand. Eventually, you will come to a state of ease in the unceasing flow of the absolute nature. Why are all of us beings wandering in samsara?
As Chandrakirti said:
Beings think “I” at first, and cling to self;
They think of “mine” and are attached to things. They thus turn helplessly as buckets on a waterwheel,
And to compassion for such beings I bow down.
~Dilgo Khentsye Rinpoche
Humans are set apart from other types of sentient beings by their ability to naturally connect with sharp intelligence and with nonviolence, loving-kindness, and compassion. From the moment we are born, we are constantly chasing after happiness, thinking of ways we can become happy and free from suffering, and we actively try to bring those desires to fruition. The propensities toward loving-kindness, compassion, and nonviolence we display in following this quest for happiness demonstrate what makes human beings unique.
For any species of sentient being to continue existing, the members of that species must have affection for each other and they must support each other. In order for our human community to survive, we must nurture and sustain connections of love, compassion, nonviolence, and altruism. These connections are what will allow us not only to survive, but to make our lives meaningful. If we concentrate on ensuring that these connections are present, that in itself will be enough.
All of the Buddha’s teachings are based on refraining from harming others and engaging in helping others. It is therefore of great importance for Buddhists to have these two principles as the ground of their practice. The roots of Buddhist practice are the attitudes of altruism and non-harm. In other words, the roots of Buddhist practice are loving-kindness and compassion.
– 17th Karmapa
In this talk, as well as covering the basic step-by-step method of how to sit zazen, we place this practice as a central ritual of the zen school, a symbolic enactment of the Buddha’s own awakening under the Bodhi Tree.
Zen master Dogen asked his monks if they sat zazen to become enlightened? If so, then why is the Buddha, who is already enlightened, pictured sitting in zazen?