Sunday, 9 July 2017


131. Whether our zazen practice consists in following the breath, sitting in shikantaza, or working with koans, we all must face, sooner or later, what has been called our own life koan, namely, that which makes us a puzzle to ourselves, especially that dimension of the self that is sometimes referred to as 'the shadow'. Here we have the opportunity to examine our life. This is the self-inquiry aspect of zazen. It cuts across our tendency to hide from the hard questions by taking refuge in busyness, in work, or in endless distractions. But hard and searching questions are brought up particularly in koan practice. Consider the following story about a monk who is cut off from the reality of his life situation, from being in touch with his ordinary mind, through his attachment to a doctrinal formula. The story goes like this: A renowned Zen master said that his greatest teaching was this: Buddha is your own mind. One monk, so impressed by how profound this idea was, decided to leave the monastery and retreat to the wilderness to meditate on the insight. There he spent twenty years as a hermit probing the great teaching. One day he met another monk who was travelling through the forest. Quickly the hermit learned that the traveller had also studied under the same master as he himself. 'Please tell me,' the hermit said, 'what you know of the master's greatest teaching.' The traveller's eyes lit up and he said, 'Ah, the master has been very clear about this. He says that his greatest teaching is, No mind, no Buddha'.

Do we avoid our deepest questions by having recourse to formulaic answers? Do we escape into theories, ideologies and doctrinal statements and so avoid attending to our ordinary mind and what it has to teach us?

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