Tesshin opened his talk this week reminding us that in Zen we are constantly pushed to “let it all go.” This is not a new message – all teachers throughout history have counseled us to do this.
For instance, Dogen states …
“…put aside the intellectual habit of investigating words and chasing phrases, and learn to take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward…”
“…put aside all affairs, and let go of all associations. Do nothing at all.”
Finally, the Zen master Send Ts’an suggests…
“The Supreme Way is not difficult
If only you do not pick and choose.
Neither love nor hate,
And you will clearly understand.
Be off by a hair,
And you are as far from it as heaven from earth.”
The message, over and over again, is that to really experience peace and be free from suffering we need to stop choosing and making discriminations. It is not enough to do this for a few moments on the cushion, rather we must do this forever!
Really “putting it down” is not simple. Naturally we react with fear and resistance when we are exhorted to simply let it all go. We live in the world of “this and that!” Can we really lay down our responsibilities to family, teachers, and nation? Send Ts’an tells us to move beyond love or hate! Does this mean we eschew all our relationships? Normally, we go through the motions of trying to lay it down, but we never really fully do this, even during Zazen. We are primed to grab it back at the least provocation. This is why we do not progress.
So how do we make the spiritual leap to put it down forever? It is said that if you truly love something it is best to set it free. In this statement we begin to get some insight to what the masters are pointing at. It is not that we abandon our responsibilities or shun our loved ones to sit alone in a cave. What is means is that we truly understand what these things are. Everything in our life must be understood as dependent phenomena mixing together to create this very moment. Nothing is independent or permanent. Our mistake is to try to absolutely control everything. We cling to the fallacy that we can fix and optimize every element in our life. This is a fool’s mission – it cannot be done. Our masters, in their unending compassion, understood this and remind us to simply put down the desire to control and own everything and open up to the moment-to-moment existence which is our birthright.
Again, the problem is that the words make sense to the intellect, but it is very difficult to change behaviors which are deeply engrained. Even if we achieve a bit of peace on the cushion, events keep coming at us. Whether it is violence, crime, wars, economic crises, sickness – they keep coming and demand that we do something about it. Zen does not instruct us to close our eyes and say ‘OM’ we must be skillful and deal with everything. The challenge is to act from a place of proper understanding. Tesshin talks a lot about the relative and absolute world. Our challenge is to deal skillfully in the relative world of “this and that” coming from a place of deep understanding of the absolute oneness of shuchness.
Tesshin wrapped up by reminding us that we gain the skill of putting it all down forever by practicing Zazen. He cannot explain to you how this happens as Zen, as it is a truth which must be experienced directly – however history and experience has shown that Zazen is the most direct path to this truth.