Zen practice is a process that accesses aspects of human consciousness that has been buried under years of conditioning by parents, teachers, education, peers, and culture. Everybody gets annoyed that it takes so long. Why haven’t I seen it? I’ve been doing it for three years, five years, seven years. But what does it mean to say you’ve been working on it for all those years? Does it mean twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year? Or does it mean a half hour or fifteen minutes a day? If you can get a doctorate in six years, why does it take so long to accomplish yourself in Zen? A doctorate in Zen Buddhism will provide you with with a wealth of ideas about Zen but it isn’t going to resolve the fundamental suffering of your life. It’s not going to impart any strength in yourself or in anyone else. It’s not going to allow you to be free to ride the clouds and follow the wind. You will have a lot of information and you’ll be very smart. But whether you’ll free yourself of the question of life and death, that’s another matter.
What is it that was realized, first by Chuanzi, then by Jiashan? What was it that was transmitted between them? Shakyamuni held up a flower; Mahakashyapa got it. Mahakashyapa called out to Ananda; Ananda answered, “Yes, Master.” Ananda got it. Chuanzi almost drowned Jiashan and Jiashan got it. Old Huangbo punched out Linji; Linji got it. What kind of crazy practice is this? It’s got nothing to do with the gestures, the forms, the outward appearances. It’s got nothing to do with all of the wonderful descriptions of insight in the Three Pillars of Zen. It’s not about walking three feet off the ground or ecstatic, cosmic experiences. Those experiences manifest after the fact. Those are natural consequences of being released from the bind of life and death. What is it that those people realized? What is it that Jiashan, Mahakashyapa, Ananda and Linji realized?
The capping verse:
Evening zazen hours advance, sleep hasn't come yet.
More and more I realize
Mountains and rivers are good for the efforts in the Way.
The sounds in the river valley enter my ears.
The light of the moon fills my eyes.
Outside of this, there's not a single thing.
This is one of Dogen’s poems. It’s a beautiful expression of the fourth rank of Master Dongshan. The fourth rank is the stuff that practice is made of. In the fourth rank mountains are really mountains. They’re not something else; they’re just mountains. When you’re upset, you’re upset. People have difficulty with that degree of ordinariness. They want their sages to levitate.
The world of everyday phenomena contains all the profound teachings. Conflict itself is a teacher. How we respond amidst conflict as Buddhist practitioners communicaties something to everyone else. Don’t avoid conflict. Don’t run and hide from it. Don’t ignore or deny it. Engage it. But engage it with wisdom and compassion. Engage it with skill and clarity, responding according to conditions, according to the imperative, and according to your vow—the vow to save all sentient beings; the vow to put an end to desires; the vow to master the dharmas; and the vow to attain the Way.
“A lotus blooming in the fire has in itself a heaven soaring spirit.” This is no different than Dogen’s “The sounds of the river valley enter my ears. The light of the moon fill my eyes. Outside of this there’s not a single thing.” Dogen was living in the mountains when he wrote this. If he had been living in the city, it would have read: The sounds of the distant sirens enter my ears. The light of the street lamps and neon signs enters my eyes. Outside of this there’s not a single thing. Indeed, outside of you, of me, there is not a single thing
John Daido Loori, Roshi is the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery. A successor to Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi, Roshi, Daido Roshi trained in rigorous koan Zen and in the subtle teachings of Master Dogen, and is a lineage holder in the Soto and Rinzai schools of Zen.