The Journey – Rebuilding The World On A Spiritual Foundation
“Man is spirit.” — Winston Churchill
If we are ever going to rebuild and renew the world and humanity, it must begin with personal responsibility and a real commitment to the principles of peace, loving-kindness, compassion, benevolent service, and the cultivation of real Wisdom. This will require real effort toward establishing lasting peace within one’s own heart and mind first. When this self I call “Myself” changes, the world will naturally change. The individuals healing and renewal, becomes the worlds healing and renewal, just as the Buddha declared on that day of his own healing, “All beings are Buddha.”
All Life Has Meaning and Purpose
Shikantaza — “Just Sitting” reveals the meaningfulness of life. We will never come to know the meaningfulness of life in our comings and goings, our striving, and our craving. Shikantaza is about accepting ourselves, accepting our world, just as it is, and just as it isn’t. Without adding, without detracting, we embrace, we hold, we experience, we simply accept ourselves. This is the first gate on the Path. Accepting yourself will be the hardest thing you will ever do. Accepting your world will be even harder. This is why we sit. You can study the Dharma, the Sutra’s, the ancient teachings of the Masters, all the way back to Shakyamuni, for your entire life and still remain in ignorance, until you have accepted yourself and your life. Shikantaza is the light that will guide you in your darkness. It is the truth which will set you free.
You may think you understand, but words cannot describe it, its essence is immeasurable. It is not something one can understand. It is not dependent upon human intellect. The fullness of Shikantaza cannot be taught, cannot be acquired, it can only be known. You will not believe me until you have experienced it for yourself. Then no one will believe you, until they experience it for themselves.
Shikantaza is, in all things and matters of life, the relinquishment of dualistic views and approaches. We may “think” of the mind as separate from the body, but neither can exist without the other. There has always been persons who think of themselves separate from Nature. Our very existence is, the natural world. So, we sit to reawaken to our true-nature. Our true-nature is non-dualistic. Dualism is the breach between reality and our ideas about reality — but not to be mistaken as “two”. Like neighbors, dualism and non-dualism live side-by-side. No road or path runs through the middle. In order to realize this we must learn to embrace dualism and non-duality in equanimity. By dualism I mean, the individuals responsibility to find their “Way Home”. By non-dualism I mean, what follows personal responsibility is always “relationship” or “community”. We all need each other. This is the marking of a true and authentic spiritual path or practice. We must make the journey on our own two feet, only to meet others, making the journey on their own two feet, along the way who will help us complete our journey.
Whenever the Monks of Pine Wind come together for a meal we pray:
“This food is the gift of the whole Universe, each morsel is a sacrifice of a life, may we be worthy to receive it… As the lotus flower does not adhere to water, we will feel no rain, for each of us will be shelter for the other; We will feel no cold, for each of us will be warmth for each other; There will be no more loneliness, for each of us will be companion to the other.”
This is the journey and the destination, and the vehicle is Shikantaza.
“There is a reality prior to heaven and earth…”
Shikantaza is beyond our dualistic perceptions of right and wrong, good or bad, holy or unholy. When the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree, and Jesus in the desert, Mara (the demon of temptation) came to visit them. In both accounts, Mara attempted to trick them with illusion, what I identify today as “cravings for more, better, or different.” In the end Mara departs realizing that both were beyond illusions. Both, were rooted in a “reality prior to heaven and earth,” a vision larger than ones self. This innate ability to not be moved by illusions comes naturally only to those who “Just-Sit”. Both the Buddha and Jesus, after years of learning and developing understanding, still retreated to Shikantaza, to bring it all together. Shikantaza is the gateway to a Reality larger than self, which exists beyond our thoughts of heaven and earth as two; as you and me as two; as the journey and the destination as two, as the healing of the world and your personal healing as two.
“When its all falling apart where do I find refuge?”
If we never realize our “true-nature,” where do we expect to find refuge in times of difficulty, or meeting the sometimes overwhelming challenges life presents us? If we never experience the depth and profoundness of Shikantaza, how do we expect to know the answer to the question? Our “true-nature” is enlightenment. It can only be realized in the silence or serenity of Shikantaza. Before his own realization the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree; Jesus went alone into the desert; and Moses before him, to the mountaintop: All of the sages and prophets throughout history, always returning to — “Just-Sitting”.
The “Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch,” of Zen teaches us to “take or find refuge in the Buddha, within ourselves.” It does not say to go looking for another Buddha, or to believe in any other Buddha but, the Buddha within you. If we cannot find refuge within our own Buddha-nature, we will find it nowhere else. Taking refuge in our own Buddha-nature is “coming home”. Here we realize our “original face,” the face of a Buddha, our “true-face” before we began masking our face to disguise our fear, driven by the illusion of inadequacy, left by Mara.
Shikantaza is the natural ground for transformation. After taking refuge in our own Buddha-nature what naturally follows is, “Taking refuge in Dharma,” the Natural Behavior or Law of the Universe. Here all the habitual and unhealthy behaviors of our past conditioning drops away. We walk, talk, sleep, eat, work, play, chop wood, and collect water “authentically”. Here the “Donning of The Masks” ends and we are able to see ourselves and others as we truly are. Our behavior begins to produce new results and reinforces our self-confidence and sense of real meaning and purpose.
“Zen by nature, is relational.”
The Spirit of Shikantaza is “Community”. “Community is the Spirit, the Guiding Light…” Practice or Zen Training is never about “more, better, or different”. It is not about feeling better, accumulating more or wealth or security, or a different life. It is about “relationship,” what the Buddha identified as one of the two markings of all life — “interconnectedness”. We are interconnected, we are “related”. Shikantaza is the conduit by which, and through which, results in our awakening to our interconnectedness or relationship; and our “interdependence,” the second marking of all life. We need each other, we need the natural world. It follows that Shikantaza is the means that we see that for ourselves, and seeing, we cultivate the Wisdom necessary to “be related” with each other and the whole of Nature.
Sangha, is not just some sentimental or romantic affair between members of a particular group.
“A sangha is a community of friends practicing the dharma together in order to bring about and to maintain awareness. The essence of a sangha is awareness, understanding, acceptance, harmony and love. When you do not see these in a community, it is not a true sangha, and you should have the courage to say so. But when you find these elements are present in a community, you know that you have the happiness and fortune of being in a real sangha.”
Sangha, is a force for transformation, a vehicle for awakening or enlightenment. Relationship with others can be and usually is challenging, but when grounded in the context of the Buddhist Sangha, they can become the battleground for freedom. Freedom from all the cultural and social trappings which keep us from being truly related.
Sangha is the place where we can learn to drop the ego, to drop the self that relates with others in fear rather than freedom. When both ego and self drop away what is left is relationship, the ability to “be related”. Free from Mara’s temptations, we can find refuge in another, in others, we find refuge in each other. We are able to see each other, and in seeing, we come home.