Standing in Our Own Way
by tendo zenji
[Download or Listen to this talk: Standing in Our Own Way]
In our study of the lineage from Torei Zenji’s Record of the Transmission of the Lamp we are following a thread of men who have broken through to their original nature and then continued with the practice deepening and maturing. This presents to us the essence of the Buddhism of Zen, that is awakening to our Original Nature. This is continuously emphasized in Rinzai Zen where the talks, interviews and constant exhortations are to see past our small selves and confront reality as it is. Other approaches and sects have come to downplay awakening, to focus on other aspects of the practice. But it is the case that all methods, in fact practice itself, are merely upaya, skillful means, to assist us in this endeavor. To quote Dahui “...in investigating the ultimate principle take awakening as the standard.” (Letters of Dahui, p. 288)
This continual exhortation toward awakening can create its own barrier. That is it gets entangled in our egos and becomes reified. “Break through” becomes an object that one must attain, an object to seek after, grasp and hold onto. The self employs many strategies in order to hold on and seeking after this shiny object in order to become an awakened ego is a prime example. Think of all the glory and benefits of being able to casually drop into idle Zen chatter ones attainment. Then at other times it turns it around and rejects it. “It ain’t no thing”, “it’s overblown,” “this is all just old talk” and so on. One can become sullen about the whole thing, one can rationalize it claiming that “I’m just here for the samdahi, resting in emptiness is TRUE meditation” and on and on.
Hearing other peoples stories can inspire us or it can be disheartening. It’s one thing to hear about great Chan masters one after the other “crushing samsara,” but as the years add up knowing that there are those who have had insight or deeper insights or more insights can lead to these negative thoughts. There is always something more, some reason for our selves to use to desperately hold on. But the question comes up again and again is why do some practitioners “break through” and others do not? The canonical answer would be that the causes and conditions are not ripe. We can’t of course really know for any given individual what the causes and conditions for awakening are, but there are some features that crop up again and again.Read the rest of this entry »