Zen practice is about meeting and sharing what’s alive in each moment. It’s about freeing ourselves from our moldy habits and rigid preconceptions so we can let go into the freshness of each moment.
It’s time to meditate.
Your mind settles as you turn your attention to what the body feels like. Without judging these feelings, you simply notice how things are with the body.
Your posture is upright and relaxed. Your mind is also relaxed. You’re awake and interested. You settle your attention on your breath. The breath becomes like a mooring for your attention.
Each breath appears in the light of your unbiased, open attention. There is no sense of wanting things to be different.
Time passes. Then, you suddenly realize that your mind has wandered off to ponder a project you’re excited about. You’ve lost tack of the breath. You’re carried away in thinking. Then, you notice, “Oops, I meditating,” and you gently but firmly let go of these thoughts.
You return your attention to the breath. Your attention rests at its mooring. You begin again.
And by devotedly returning to the breath, over and over again during meditation, you discover, in a deep, clear visceral way, that each moment in life is alive, utterly open, and freeing.
We discover that we are not trapped or stuck in our day dreams, worries, plans, or habitual thoughts. Each moment is pure potential.
You can always let go and begin again.
Zen Buddhism invites us to meet all of life mindfully, with tireless attention, openness and curiosity. Whether we are sitting, standing, walking, or lying down, we practice meeting life in this way. We deliberately carry the spirit of sitting meditation into every activity in life.
“Be One With It!”
To highlight this point, the founder of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, Reverend Taizan Maezumi, encouraged his students with the phrase “be one with it.”
Reverend Shunryu Suzuki, the founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, emphasized Zen mindfulness by saying things like, “Our minds should always be subtle enough to adjust our conduct to our surroundings.”
Along these same lines, a defining exchange between a teacher and student in the Zen tradition focuses on how to “be one with it.” The conversation took place in 9th Century China between the teacher Nansen and Joshu, his disciple.
What is the Way?
Joshu asked Nansen, “What is the Way?” With these words Joshu was asking something like, “What is the goal of Buddhist practice and how can I reach it?” Nansen said, “Ordinary mind is the Way.”
“Ordinary mind” can also be translated “everyday mind.” That means Nansen’s answer could also be thought of as, “Everyday mind is the Way.”
Puzzled, Joshu then asked a follow up, “How can this ordinary, everyday mind with it’s confusions and frustrations be the way to Awakening, much less Awakening itself?”
In response, Nansen clarified what he meant by “everyday mind” with a question of his own. He asked Joshu, “Why do you insist on reducing everyday mind to opposites: confusion and understanding, frustration and happiness, good and bad? Ordinary mind is vast, open, and empty like space, how can it be reduced to thoughts, judgments, activities, and feelings?”
It’s not that confusion and understanding or sadness and happiness are separate and distinct form everyday mind.
They’re just not the whole story.
Things and experiences, emotional states and states of mind, all arise in our awareness. And in awareness they last for awhile, and then cease
These experiences, emotional states and states of mind are like waves on the vast ocean of ordinary mind. Waves are not separate from the ocean.
They’re like the clouds that appear in the open playground of the sky. The clouds reveal the nature of the sky.
These impermanent, everyday waves point to the ocean-like qualities of mind. These ordinary clouds reveal the sky-like, unbiased, vastness of everyday awareness.
What meeting the various things and activities of everyday life with attention and care shows us is that ordinary mind is always unbiased and flexible. It is always fresh, open, and up to the task. It’s the ocean-like source, inseparable from the waves.
Ordinary mind is the vast, open potential we experience whenever we learn something new, whenever we imagine, create, discover, solve a problem, think or feel. The fresh, unfixed and open potential of everyday mind makes growth, learning, letting go and change possible. It’s alive!
Ordinary mind makes a life free from craving, indifference, ill will, and cruelty possible.
And, it is through mindfully engaging with the ordinary things and activities of our everyday, regular old, down-to-earth life that these things and activities begin to reveal themselves together with the open, unbiased awareness we “light them up in” as the mysterious, complex, grace they are.
Norman Fischer puts it this way:
“Everyday actions, ordinary things, speaking to someone, having breakfast, cleaning the dishes and so on, these things… are, in fact, something wonderful, vast, unknown, mysterious. If only we could let go and shed ourselves of our pre-conceptions, our limited ways of looking at things, we could find joy and satisfaction on a religious level, not just with smoke and incense and peace and quiet or chanting and ritual, but with everything. Really with everything in our lives.”
“This is the Zen message and understanding. To let the light inside of everything shine forth. And I think that is what makes Zen practice so wonderful, the recognition that it’s not about special activity — it’s about each and every activity. To recognize, as Nan[san] says, the vastness and openness of all our experience is to see the truth of the Heart Sutra’s saying, “Form is not other than emptiness, and emptiness is not other than form.” Everything is empty, but emptiness is not something special: it has no reality outside of that which appears. There is no other realm of emptiness in the distance. There is no other God than the God that appears right here and now, in each moment of experience, if only we could release ourselves to the actual dimension of that experience.” ~ Norman Fischer
Sharing the vast freshness and liberating openness of the ordinary mind in each living moment. This is a wonderful fruit of practice.
Practicing Everyday Zen
The quotes in this post from Norman Fischer are from a talk he gave in 2001 called Practicing Everyday Zen. I highly recommend spending some time with the whole talk.
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The steeple on the left in the photo is on the Gloucester UU Church. That’s where we meet.
I hope your life goes well this month!