Striving

Great Master Keizan who along with Great Master Dogen is one of the two main Founders of Soto Zen Buddhism, is probably best noted for two things. The first being that he is responsible for the ritualisation and passing down of most of the ceremonial practised in Soto Zen temples to this day and secondly he wrote and compiled the Denkoroku. This set of writings known also as the ‘Transmission of the Light’ are spiritual biographies of the Ancestors in our lineage from Shayamuni Buddha to Dogen’s disciple Koun Ejo. It is from Chapter 22 of this book that I would like to concentrate on here.

Chapter 22 is about Bashubanzu the 21st Ancestor. I quote from the start of the chapter.

‘One day Shyata said to Bashunbanzu, “Even though I may not seek after enlightenment, I do not act contrary to it; even though I may not be doing prostrations before the Buddha, I am not spiritually negligent; even though I may not eat just one meal a day, I am not gluttonous; even though I may not know what is enough, I am not covetous. In my heart there is nothing that I seek; I call this the Way.” When Bashunbanzu heard this, he realized the WISDOM that is free from all defilements and desires.’

So what is striving in practice? This is what I would like to explore with you here. When we first arouse the mind to practice we tend to come from the point of ‘I’. This is natural enough, it is where we are and enables us to see that there is something to look for which we currently can’t see but sense.To see that there is a problematical ‘me’ is the beginning of letting go. Yet to push towards an end product or try and conceive what it might look like is to leave the middle and reside in one of the extremes. To not see that there is work to do is similar. Here Dogens injunction to ‘think of neither good nor evil’ or ‘consider neither right nor wrong‘ is to not strive in any direction. At this stage it is worth pointing out that using the will to control our speech, thoughts and actions is not the same as striving. Don’t just let it all go without reference to the Precepts and what our innards are prompting us toward. In the chapter Keizan writes that to strive is ‘raining down flowers in a flowerless sky‘ and ‘even if contentment is what you desire, this still amounts to greed’. He also writes that beingĀ  ‘habitually partial to long sits, this is being attached to the body’. So here we have the delusion of creating and adding to what is already there naturally.

So this chapter is asking us to entrust to our own ‘ORIGINAL NATURE‘ To not recognise the true original nature is to go looking without realising we are holding it in our hand. Imagine for a moment that you are clutching something precious in your hand and spend all day looking for it. Turning the house upside down, ringing your friends to see if they have it, retracing your steps over the last while and in the meantime getting tired and frustrated with the search. We then recognise we are getting no closer and in a moment of relaxed introspection intuitively open our palm and there it is looking straight back at us.

Many of our questions about practice can be like this. The habit forming mind goes scurrying around looking in all the same places, looking and seeking rather than relaxing into the true silence and letting the true nature show itself to us. When we are quiet it has a chance of making itself heard. Zazen is in accord with the true nature. To inhabit this place is to see that there is no path and no awakening that we tread or can attain, it just appears. It is not about getting everything because it is everything. In the Denkoroku Keizan ends each chapter with a short poem.

The wind blows across the vast sky,

making clouds expose the mountain peak;

Worldly affairs and yearnings for enlightenment

are both of no concern’.

The above quotes in italics are from translations which are copyright Shasta Abbey Press.