21.

The Heart Sutra begins:

“The Bodhisattva of Compassion, practicing the highest wisdom, realises the five skandas are empty, and thereby relieves all suffereing”

 

In other words:

The Bodhisattva of Compassion, practicing zazen makes real the emptiness of all experience, and so relieves all suffering

 

The passage is a mythical way of talking about practice. When we practice, we are practicing not from the position of self, but from the position of Buddha, Kanzeon. We are not cultivating compassionate awareness, we are compassionate awareness. Practice is the palace of Enlightenment, not the door. Emptiness is the release of all things into their infinite, ungraspable nature.

 

 
20.

The final chant after sitting is a dedication that any merit we gain from chanting the Heart Sutra is not retained by us, but is for the benefit of all beings. But really, the dedication is wider than that; it embraces our sitting too. Our sitting is itself a devotional act. The doors of the heart are thrown wide open. And so, zazen is not the cultivation of compassion,, it is its expression.

 

In this context, we can understand the first vow “All living beings, I vow to save them”. Imagine the opposite: “I vow to save myself”. It’s not possible. You can’t save yourself, you can only postpone the catastrophe. We are saved by the vow. It shelters us and all beings. All beings are saved.

 

 
19.

Dogen said [in Gyoji] “Master Bodhidharma sat in stillness facing the wall, but he was not learning Zen concentration” and also [in Fukanzazengi] “that zazen is simply the peaceful and joyful gate of dharma”.

 

Stillness is suchness. We fall backwards into it from the discriminating mind. It is always present. The trees are still. The wind is still. It is suchness, not the absence of movement.

 

At great cost, the ego keeps us suspended several inches above the ground. Zazen is not learning concentration. It is learning to fall.

 

 
18.

When I started practice, I was very interested in koans. I asked Nancy about them. She said, brusquely “Don’t concern yourself with koans. Your life is the koan”. At the time, I can’t say I found this an entirely satisfactory answer.

 

In Rinzai, koans are used as a teaching device to prod the student towards a different experience of reality. “Koan” originally meant something like an official pronouncement by the Emperor, something universal and unchallengeable.


Of the two characters which make up ‘koan’. ‘ko’ means universal and ‘an’ means wood or desk; so, something written down which has universal application.


Dogen uses a different character for ‘an’, which means something like ‘pushing with the hand’ [to heal]; so for him, Koan is both the universal and the personal, emptiness and form, and this is how he sees zazen too. So Nancy was right.


She wasn’t frightened of death, but she was frightened of her heart stopping beating. In her last moments she chanted the Heart Sutra over and over, fainter and fainter.


Her heart has never stopped beating.

 

 
17.

Nancy said that when we practice, it is as if we become aware of a huge underground river running through our lives. The desert does not bloom. The mirrors do not shatter. Yet something both very deep and very simple manifests itself.

 
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