Wake Up

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Anyone who has any exposure to Soto Zen tradition has likely heard that zazen practice has no goal. We are not sitting in meditation to achieve enlightenment. We are not doing zazen to acquire psychic powers, intuition or great wisdom. Any or all of these may occur but not if we establish them as goals, not if we sit in order to achieve them. Peace of mind may be the most popular reason that people begin meditation, but during the practice we discover that it’s so illusive, all we can do really is practice. In looking back on our practice after time, we realize that we have become more peaceful, more settled; but this happens only when we stop striving towards that goal.

I have been rereading a book by Kosho Uchiama, Roshi, and he has a couple of expressions or ideas - word combinations that I had forgotten about, that are very appropriate. Any time you hear a teacher speak, he may be saying exactly the same thing another teacher has said (there’s not that much to say about Zen). It is just the combination or choice of words that can strike a chord, ring a bell. A couple of things that Uchiama has in this book gave me a little new insight. Let’s assume, or just say it, that there is a goal in zazen. The goal is zazen! Uchiama Roshi says repeatedly, “We are waking up to zazen” in this practice. We’re not waking up to enlightenment; we’re not waking up to an intuitive relationship with God or with the Great Buddha-Mind. Yeah, maybe, but that makes it a goal, something to work for, something to be expected. That which is expected generally doesn’t occur.

“Waking up to zazen;” a very simple way of putting it. If the goal is zazen, we practice just to perfect the practice. The founder of Soto Zen, Dogen Zenji said, “enlightenment and practice are the same.” When you sit in zazen you are expressing your innate enlightenment, there is nothing to achieve. Except maybe more perfect practice. Perfection is supposedly unattainable, but we can always improve. We’re also told never to think of the practice being better or worse today than some other day. No comparison, or evaluation, just sit. But we do have days that are better than others, and we can almost always trace this to our practice. But it is the effort that is important. The effort we put into zazen in order to perfect it. It isn’t that we are learning how to do this better or do that better, to be good or, or quick at clearing the mind; it doesn’t matter how well we do, what matters is the effort.

There are no real stages of development, because everybody, everyday should be making the same effort. When the posture becomes comfortable and we get sleepy and drowsy, then we need a little more effort. When we forget that the posture is the most important thing, we start thinking about the results of the practice. Like how enlightened I am… Naw, we just have to keep going, keep putting forth that effort. And the goal of the practice is waking up, but waking up to zazen.

Let’s go back to this impossible achievement and talk about the Four Great Vows of the Bodhisattva Ideal.

“Sentient beings are innumerable, I vow to save them all.” That’s a pretty tall order. Intellectually, this is not attainable.

“Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to extinguish them all.” How can you do that? We’re deluding ourselves constantly. Well, one way is just to recognize that we’re in the midst of a delusion; that we are creating something for ourselves out of our small mind.

“The Dharma is immeasurable (Dharma is the truth about reality that changes from moment to moment) I vow to attain it.”

“The Buddha-Way is endless, I vow to follow it to the end.”

All ideals are intellectually unobtainable, but the effort that we put into doing it, trying to do it… Vowing to do the impossible requires great effort, and it’s the effort that makes it work. When you are sitting in zazen, you are practicing enlightenment; you are a Buddha. And when you save yourself from suffering, you are saving all sentient beings. Because we’re not independent, we are all One. When you recognize delusion for what it is, then it ceases. And it ceases for all beings. If you put your effort into saving all other beings, when you save them, you save yourself. It is the effort, not the result. The “other shore” is unobtainable, but everybody gets there (little chuckle), with effort. You know, you don’t lie on your back and eat chocolates, watch movies, and achieve the shore of enlightenment.

Without the goal of enlightenment, we practice because we are Buddhas and this is the Buddha practice… Awakening to zazen.