Zen is like an “undigested bit of cheese” It forces you to examine the spirit of your past and future. Then the spirit of your present becomes clear. This is the only place to express the joy of life.Letting go of both past and future. Once you have realized this you buy the biggest goose in the store. … and give it away. ~ Charles Dickens-Martie Georgia
‘Ending The Pursuit Of Happiness’ by Barry Magid
How many times in your Buddhist studies have you heard, “May you be happy ” or countless variations. How many of us have struggled attempting to be happy all the time like the the literature and some teachers seem to suggest?
Well relax. You don’t need to be happy every minute of the day. As stated in the quote above, you need to be free; then happiness will pass through your life freely along with sorrow, pain, anger and all the complex emotions that make up being human. To cling to happiness is as much an error as clinging to unhappiness. Neither has any permanence. They come and go.
Using a well known story to illustrate the point.: A husband asked a Zen master to intercede on his behalf with his wife. She had a very uncharitable nature. The Zen master went before her and put his fist under her nose and said “If your hand was always like this what would you call it?” “Deformed.”, she said He then held his hand wide open and again asked the same question. She answered the same, “Deformed” He then said, “If you know that much you are a good wife” and walked away.
It may be that there is a tendency in the teaching of Buddhism to assume that we are all so enmeshed in the First Noble Truth of suffering that we need to be firmly directed to a happier place. This is not without merit as long as we eventually realize that there is no escape from suffering. Life is suffering. We just learn, eventually, not to cling to it just as we learn not to cling to happiness.
Happiness is a byproduct of not clinging. It is not a goal. It cannot be forced by an act of will. Clinging less allows more space in our lives for happiness to enter naturally.
In this article I will attempt to share with you the flavour of Zen using quotes and personal observations. First the beginning.
The Flower Sermon ~ The origins of Zen Buddhism are ascribed to the Flower Sermon, the earliest source for which comes from the 14th century.
It is said that Gautama Buddha gathered his disciples one day for a Dharma talk. When they gathered together, the Buddha was completely silent and some speculated that perhaps the Buddha was tired or ill. The Buddha silently held up and twirled a flower and twinkled his eyes; several of his disciples tried to interpret what this meant, though none of them were correct. One of the Buddha’s disciples, Mahākāśyapa, silently gazed at the flower and broke into a broad smile. The Buddha then acknowledged Mahākāśyapa’s insight by saying the following:
” I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvāṇa, the true form of the formless, the subtle Dharma gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.”
Zen asks questions beyond the scope of intellectual understanding and demands answers in kind. It shakes people loose from their habitual thought patterns. When you are told that all but the bull’s tail can pass through the eye of a needle, it will not help you to reach for a tape measure.
“By becoming attached to names and forms, not realizing that they have no more basis than the activities of the mind itself, error arises and the way to emancipation is blocked.”—Buddha
A flower and a smile. The sound of a swept pebble striking a stand of bamboo. The response to a stubbed toe. Endless examples of Dharma asking us questions. Lightning strikes and thunder answers. Spontaneous and natural. Beyond conceptual thought in the blink of an eye.
This brief “call and answer” has lead to Zen being called the Lightning School Of Buddhism by some. It can be misleading. This sudden awakening is almost always proceeded by many years of of very intensive work. A bucket has to be well used before the bottom will drop out of it.
Zen seeks the Dharma in our ordinary every day existence.”In the Genjokoan (Actualizing the Fundamental Point), Zen Master Dogen writes:
“When one first seeks the dharma, one is far away from its environs. When one has already correctly transmitted the dharma to oneself, one is one’s original self at that moment.”
In other words. “Be one with the Dharma”, Go further. Be Dharma. We are life- just as it is- in every moment. There is no Dharma separate from us to be one with. We express and perceive Dharma with every breath and action whether we realize it or not. Realize it in this very moment. Just be. Dharma happens. 🙂
Zen is focused on direct experience rather than words, letters, lectures, video’s etc.
We have all heard the phrase “Do not mistake the pointing finger for the moon”. Let’s examine that phrase in terms of our deepening understanding of the Dharma.
When we first begin we don’t even know what a finger is or how it points or even that it is pointing to something. This is the beginning of our studies. Finding out the basics . Learning how to look and where to look.
We start to see the finger in all it’s variations. Sutras, books, videos, teachers, an endless list. Some people get so involved in the sheer volume and variety of this that they completely forget the true function of the finger. At some point we have to look away and start looking for the moon.
After many, many thousands of stares at fingers, first, then looking for the moon, we begin to realize that we now have a general idea where the moon is and begin to rely less on the pointing finger. We start to see moonlight directly and begin to follow that back to it’s source.
As our practice deepens we realize that moon light is touching everything equally, dew drops, oceans, us and pointing fingers. We then let go of the finger and pointing all together. Pointers are everywhere.
We finally realize that we are actually the moon itself and the moon light and all it touches. We are interconnected with all things so making a distinction between things becomes meaningless. No thought of fingers or moons.
So to paraphrase, ‘When we begin…No finger- no moon…Finger – moon…Moon light – moon…No finger- no moon.” Full circle. Back where we started. Nothing special and yet…to put it in a less wordy more Zen context: “Unseen, the moonlight, Hidden behind rolling clouds, Nothing left undone.”
Of course the moon has always been there, accessible to us, and we can, at anytime in the process, look directly at the moon depending on our capacity to see. Our willingness to let go and just look.
This extends to all areas of our practice. If you think that you have gained something from sitting, you are mistaken. If you think you have lost something by sitting, you are also in error. Sit to sit, just as it is, just as you are. Perfect 🙂
Just this. Life as it is from moment to moment. Zen moments. ~ Martie Georgia