Equipoise

[This text was first published in The Diamond Sword, a collection of talks by Kongo Roshi, Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago, first edition 1987, second edition 1992, pp 61-65.]

We are celebrating O-Higan. O-Higan is significant because of the balance found at the equinox. This reminds me of the relationship between zazen and Tai Chi Chuan. For many years I have assisted Professor Huo in teaching Tai Chi Chuan in this room. (The Temple is temporarily located in the Chinese Cultural Academy in Evanston where Professor Huo teaches Tai Chi and other Chinese arts.) I think a great deal could be learned from the principles of Tai Chi, which can be applied to everyday life and related directly to our zazen practice. A common question and a common problem that most individuals face when taking up the practice of Zen is how to transfer it to everyday life. (This is only a beginner's questions. Later on the problem is how to maintain this transferral.) Tai Chi and O-Higan can give us some answers. The equinox is a time when there is perfect balance between day and night. What is this perfect balance? Equipoise. Are you familiar with the word equipoise? Balance and counterbalance are always brought into play. In Tai Chi Chuan practice the feet constantly alternate between positive and negative. One foot is solid while the other foot is in transition, and then this shifts. The positive transfers to the other foot as the weight is redistributed.

The positive foot becomes 70%, the negative 30%, and then the negative foot moves on and becomes positive again, and all of the time we are going through the motions of the Tai Chi Chuan form itself. But what is this perpetual alternation between positive and negative doing? This is, first of all, creating a balance, just as when one takes up the practice of zazen. Then after you practice Tai Chi a month, years - and the same is true with zazen - the practice does you. You don't do the practice.

This constant alternating that is taking place implies a perpetual adjustment. So we are creating equipoise during Tai Chi Chuan. This is true with zazen, also. Always make subtle adjustments during zazen. Practice equipoise. Constantly "Check, check, check, check, check. Become alive. Be alive; wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Always now, now, now. Falling asleep? Now. Now. Back again. Back again. Always. And again, back again. Back again." Until the practice becomes you, and you are now the observer.

Tai Chi Chuan is not just an exercise or a fighting art. It is based upon the philosophy of the universe, its bible being the highest work of Chinese philosophy, the I Ching - but not in the way we tend to use the I Ching as a fortune telling book. We don't know which door to go out of when we are leaving the house. "Should we go out the front or the back? Let's toss a few coins to find out." That is really degrading. It is completely the opposite of Zen confidence. It is like looking in the newspaper to see what Omar has to say. No, you must do all of the work, all of the time! Always. Always. I am talking to you right now. Do you know what I am doing? What I hope you are doing. I'm practicing equipoise. I don't have a formal printed lecture or notes. I'm listening. You think I am speaking, and I am, but I am not speaking, I'm listening. It's like driving a car. "Turn right here. Don't overturn. You are going into the next lane. Bring it back this way." In order for me to be listening I must make constant adjustments. When beginners drive a car they almost go off the road. You become adept at driving - no problem. The car drives itself. In fact you have to be careful that the car doesn't drive itself.

This matter of equipoise must become perpetual. Don't take it for granted. Never take it for granted. And never look for enlightenment to happen to you. This is a farce. Don't seek enlightenment. Equipoise will become a constant in your everyday life when your everyday life becomes, indeed, your every-moment life, and this comes about when you remember to constantly maintain your balance from moment to moment. When this constant invisible shift, this alternation takes place in your mind so you are always balancing and counterbalancing, then this state of equipoise of enlightenment. Now zazen is perpetual. You read books about enlightenment, kensho, and satori, and they are so ludicrous, so far off beam. Don't bother about theoretical stuff. Here. When? Now.

I told you, remember, about Thelonius Monk's ring with "Monk" spelled on it diagonally. I have a videotape of his son, who has inherited this ring. He turns it upside down, and it says "know." His father told him to always know. If you always know, then there is no doubt. Right? "Hey, what's happening? What's happening? I don't know." Then comes confusion, then comes anxiety, then comes indecisiveness. Lack of confidence can lead to craziness in some form or another. But equipoise is even beyond "Always know" - it is "always be." It's work. It is constant. Frequently I am asked, "Are you enlightened?" by newcomers and strangers who call. I say, "I don't know." I really don't know. You figure it out. Let me know. Better yet, keep it to yourself. I don't want to know. Things are rough all over. Life in a big city is too rough. I have no time for that monkey business. Sunryo Suzuki was asked that question and said, "no." Better yet, "No, I don't know." Enlightenment, satori, heaven? Talk about dreamers - people should buy a kyosaku stick and carry it in their hip pocket. Then you can pull it out every once in a while and self-administer. Anyway, this is an important point. Don't worry about enlightenment.

Extend the O-Higan equinox idea. There was absolute balance last night at 9:30, or somewhere around that time, and then the balance began to shift. When the foot is positive, it shifts subtly and becomes negative, and this alternation goes on perpetually. Bring this into your everyday life. Be the watcher. Be the listener. That's all. You don't have to worry about thinking then. Watch. Turn the light inward. Always watch. Always listen. Then always know. Always be.

Door slamming is the best example of behavior that is far removed from this, and we all do it. In other words, we don't even hear our own noise, we are so far removed from our own selves. The mind is around the block someplace, or maybe ten years back somewhere, and we slam doors. We don't hear ourselves in action. What is Zen, if not everyday life? Be conscious. If there is such a thing as enlightenment, let it be. If not, don't worry about it. Listen. Hear the mind speak. Hear the mouth speak. Hear what activity the body makes. Watch it in action. Hear it in action. You are driving the car inside. You don't have to worry about enlightenment, you don't have to read another book - none of that. Watch, listen, create and maintain perpetual equipoise. This is a beautiful word - equipoise. Maintain that balance always. Then the balance maintains you - no problem.