We hear a lot about the pain of samsara, and we also hear about liberation. But we don’t hear much about how painful it is to go from being completely stuck to becoming unstuck. The process of becoming unstuck requires tremendous bravery, because basically we are completely changing our way of perceiving reality, like changing our DNA. We are undoing a pattern that is not just our pattern. It’s the human pattern.
– Pema Chödron
from the book “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”
With thanks to Just Dharma Quotes
It is easy to imagine that
the Buddha, the awakened one, is something
that awakening to reality will happen
some time other than now.But as long as we continue to think in terms of time
we will deceive ourselves.The “you” who is chasing enlightenment
will never become enlightened.
Instead of striving towards some distant goal that
you will never reach, I invite you to stop and ask:
How am I avoiding the enlightenment
that is already present in each moment?
How am I seeing separation where it doesn’t exist?
Some say that there may be a vaccine next year and that only in the spring of 2022 the pandemic will have settled. If the restrictions are taken off too soon, there may be new cases appearing. Some people who are infected may have no symptoms while they could infect others. We do need to reflect upon our wisdom, if we were to get sick, how we can deal with this situation in the best possible way.
What this means for us in our training is that we do need to have patience. It is not about yesterday and today only, but we need to continue our efforts. We need to see how we actually can live within challenging situations. We receive the wisdom of Vimalakirti.
Vimalakirti says, “because society is sick, that is why I get sick. We need to have a huge mind and not only see our own life.” Vimalakirti taught us how we can greet and support someone who is sick. Now how about if we ourselves get sick? This is what Vimalakirti is teaching us now.
Monjusri visits Vimalakirti, yet both encounter each other with a bright mind, that it is hard to know, who is the sick person. When we get sick, we easily get depressed, we cannot go outside and depend on others’ support. We feel this as a heavy burden. Yet Vimalakirti does not even look as if he is sick. His state of mind is bright and clear, and the person visiting him does not feel any pressure put on him.
Monjusri asks him: “You are sick yet you do not look sick. How are you managing?” Vimalakirti answers: “If sickness catches us and we fall into sickness, that becomes a heavyweight for us. Of course, I am actually sick. I have symptoms of sickness. Yet what truly makes us sick in mind are those attachments, memories, grudges which we carry around from the past. And because of these arising, that is why we feel the pressure. It is because of those past unclarities, that we feel heaviness.”
These are not extraneous thoughts, yet they do colour our experience of the moment. We cannot get stopped by them. Our physical body which we have received from our parents may get sick, and since we identify with this body, that is why we create our own heaviness. We, of course, may get sick, yet it is not our body alone that feels the sickness, it is mainly our mind that feels the sickness.
Ikkyu Zenji said in his death poem:
“The body that I have borrowed, today I do return it.”
Because we only see the physical body, we are not aware of the huge mind, which uses this body. Of course, we do not want to get sick, yet going through the experience of sickness, we need to bring forth wisdom which helps us rise above this physical experience. We cannot stay stuck in our body only, this would be a big mistake.
It is important that we do not feel stuck in our sick body, or else we create an even greater sickness than our physical one. This is what we need to awaken to. We may feel bad, have pain, have difficulty breathing, have no appetite, or sense of smell, yet we cannot let our mind get drowned within this experience.
Over 100 years ago in Japan, the poet Masaoka Shiki lived, he practiced zazen from a young age. He said that Zen was about being prepared to die anytime, yet later in his life, he said that he realized when he was sick, when he did not know how long he had to live, he said that Zen is not about being prepared to die anytime but Zen is about receiving this life energy anew each moment, receiving the energy to live.
There is a flower that blossoms in June in yellow colours, this flower must have been all around, in this season he was ready to face his last moment of being sick with tuberculosis. The pain must have been huge, while the students gathered around only wished to give their teacher some relief. In this uncertain situation, he gave the first two lines of the poem, then again was struggling to get some air, the students had tears running down their cheeks. They wanted to take the pain onto themselves. They quietly sat by his bedside, waiting, when Masaoka Shiki gave the last line of the poem: Is this the Buddha? Masaoka clearly looked at his own sickness, and when the end neared he called his students and gave this poem: The Hejima flower is blooming, mucus is filling up my throat, is this the Buddha?
Someone who has died is said to become a buddha yet also someone who is awakened is called a buddha. Masaoka gave this poem, his breathing must have been difficult, when this mucus fills his throat, that is the last moment. He speaks about himself as if he is watching himself from high above. It is about himself, yet his state of mind is quiet and filled with wisdom.
That is what Vimalakirti is saying, that we cannot stay stuck in our body, that we cannot drown in our suffering, if we down then we are at the end. That is not how it should be. From a high level, we can reflect upon our state of mind, we can review our state of mind. It is the mind that uses this body, the mind is not stuck in this body. It does need to depart from this body at one point, yet we can awaken to our true nature and share this experience with many.
I may be suffering but there are others who suffer even more. If there is a chance, I would like to use my life to help others, to support others. That is what we need to see as important in our life, Vimalakirti is teaching us.
(calligraphy by Shodo Harada Roshi: The Mysterious Not Two)
Some people come and ask me whether a person who’s come to realize impermanence, suffering and non-self would want to give up doing things altogether and become lazy. I tell them that’s not so. On the contrary, one becomes more diligent, but does things without attachment, performing only actions that are beneficial.
And then they say, “If everyone practiced the Dhamma, nothing could be done in the world, and there’d be no progress. If everyone became enlightened, nobody would have children, and humanity would become extinct.” But this is like an earthworm worrying that it would run out of dirt, isn’t it?
~ Ajahn Chah
Throughout your Dharma practice, you must never push yourself, but on the contrary, you should try to be at ease and to do only what is possible at the moment. If you push yourself beyond your capacity you may shock your entire nervous system, thus producing an extremely negative reaction; you may even give up trying to deal with your delusions altogether.
Even though we are adults we have the minds of children. A child’s mind requires especially tender care; we need great skill and patience to deal with it. It cannot endure being squeezed, or pushed beyond its limits. Yet many spiritual seekers are perfectionists whose egos impel them to try and advance too quickly. They are severe and ruthless toward themselves and end up in a state of tension. They become frustrated and angry with themselves and everyone around them. Of course, it is good to strive for perfection, but we must be practical. It is best to go by degrees, step by step. Otherwise, you are likely to jump in too quickly and break your leg. To succeed in your Dharma practice it is best to be at ease, relaxed and down-to-earth, to adjust the intensity of your practice day by day according to your situation.
– Lama Yeshe
With thanks to Just Dharma Quotes
To sit through sesshin ( a period of intensive meditation) is to be in the middle of a refining fire. Eido Roshi said once, “This zendo is not a peaceful haven, but a furnace room for the combustion of our egoistic delusions.” A zendo is not a place for bliss and relaxation, but a furnace room for the combustion of our egoistic delusions. What tools do we need to use? Only one. We’ve all heard of it, yet we use it very seldom. It’s called attention.
Attention is the cutting, burning sword, and our practice is to use that sword as much as we can. None of us is very willing to use it; but when we do—even for a few minutes—some cutting and burning takes place. All practice aims to increase our ability to be attentive, not just in zazen but in every moment of our life. As we sit we grasp that our conceptual thought process is a fantasy; and the more we grasp this the more our ability to pay attention to reality increases. One of the great Chinese masters, Huang Po, said: “If you can only rid yourselves of conceptual thought, you will have accomplished everything. But if you students of the Way do not rid yourselves of conceptual thought in a flash, even though you strive for eon after eon, you will never accomplish “it”.” We rid ourselves of conceptual thought” when, by persistent observation, we recognize the unreality of our self-centered thoughts. Then we can remain dispassionate and fundamentally unaffected by them. That does not mean to be a cold person. Rather, it means not to be caught and dragged around by circumstances.
Beck, Charlotte J.. Everyday Zen
Teachers are pointers,
If one attaches oneself to a signpost
One can never continue onward.
Hsin, Wu. The Magnificence of the Ordinary (The Lost Writings of Wu Hsin Book 2)
– Shunryu Suzuki
from the book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”
~Thich Nhat Hanh