As prisoners most of us are touched keenly by how unpleasant and stressful daily living can be. When we were free, our desire to attain satisfaction resulted in our incarceration. Now we endure the pain of separation from loved ones as well as the loss of opportunities to have a meaningful life in society. And yet we lummoxes continue to follow this same desire during our life of incarceration. Maybe it’s dumb luck that we have discovered the teachings and practices of Buddhism. But the teachings are clear that it isn’t luck that will get us out of the mess we find ourselves in. If we will have liberation, it will come at the cost of rightly applied effort in meditation and study of the Dharma. How we keep our mind is our responsibility. The Buddha taught that we have a condition of mind that causes suffering. He called this condition “delusion,” which means that we follow the mistaken view that the appearance of “things” actually exists. We ignore that, in actuality, everything that we experience, including our own notion of self, is impermanent, formless, and without independent self existence. Originally, before thinking intermingles with perception, Mind perceives the world as an ever-changing process of undefined reality. This perception of the world as it is beyond conceptual defining invokes within a sense of boundless freedom, wholeness and empathy. But quick as lightning thinking moves in on this first impression and repackages it into dualistic terms. It takes the first presentation of reality and re-presents it in a narrow dimension. This process of thinking is not a problem in and of itself. In fact, it is necessary for us to get on in life. The problem is that we receive this narrow view and mistake it for the ultimate reality. Instead of bringing the two views together wherein the original perception of boundless reality provides the greater context for the re-presented conceptual reality, we instead lose the whole picture and settle for the incomplete representation. Instead of the experience of freedom and wholeness offsetting the notion of separateness the notion of separateness triumphs and gives rise to the predominance of desire and fear. Nevertheless, the first impression of the world as it is before the mind translates it into a world of this and that goes on within us even though we ignore it. This ignorance is a thorn in our ind and the poison of this thorn causes desire and fear, like and dislike. Ironically this suffering is what has brought us to appreciate the dharma of liberation. But honestly it is very challenging to develop a practice of regular meditation. It’s tough to sit still when our daily lives are a mess of constant confusion and frustration. Dogen gives us simple advice in his Fukanzazengi: “Let go of all involvements and let the myriad things rest.” This advice is easy to understand but hard to follow, yet it is the core method of zazen practice. The thorn of ignorance poisons the mind with the agenda of control, grasping, rejecting, gaining and losing. So our practice is to let go. We let go of controlling and manipulating our experience which includes unruly thoughts as they arise as we sit. We do not greet them with the strategy of changing them or getting rid of them. Such a strategy is one of ignorance and suffering. But zazen is the practice of wisdom and liberation. When thoughts arise instead of following our normal preferences of like and dislike, we simply acknowledge them without judgment. Later in the Fukanzazengi Dogen says “Sit solidly in samadhi and think not thinking. How do you think not thinking? Beyond thinking.” We place our attention on that which does not render experience into narrow concepts. When thought arise we are aware of them without identifying with the thinking process and naturally habitual thinking disintegrates. This space of non-attached awareness is original Mind. In original Mind thoughts become liberated from attachment. The, in turn, no longer deluded, we become liberated from attachment. Zazen is a natural process of letting go which is awakening from forgetfulness and realizing our true Mind. Thoughts are seen to be impermanent, formless, and without independent self existence. They are no longer a hindrance. We see beyond their illusory nature and experience the greater context of boundless knowing within which thinking now serves a purer purpose. “Whoso perceives that all characteristics are in fact no characteristics” says the Diamond Sutra, “his perception is the Tathagata.” What arises in this space that remains when thoughts are known to be a form of emptiness is what Dogen called “great ease and joy”. This is a colorful way of describing samadhi. This samadhi is the nature of the unconditioned Mind; the original Mind before thinking and beyond thinking. The conceptual mind gives deference to the original Mind, delusion gives way to clarity. With this samadhi comes enthusiasm and aspiration for regular and steady practice. In samadhi, there is nothing for the thorn of ignorance to stick into. It is boundless and free from grasping, rejecting, gaining and losing that arise from delusion. But still we must let go. There is no room for attachment to any experience , even this samadhi. As the Sandokai says, “to encounter the Absolute is to yet enlightenment.” We must be free from freedom so that freedom can express itself in our lives in compassionate action for all beings. Remember just as there is this thorn in our mind that poisons our true experience of life and inspires us to clamor selfishly after unquenchable desires, so also there is within us the Mind that is ever free. It is from this Mind that aspiration for liberation arises and this Mind is realized by zazen. It is not far from you. It is you. But you must practice; you must let go and dispel the habit of ignoring the enlightenment that is already preventing itself in every living moment of your life.
With bows, Jiryu