photo by Greg Olsen


If the mind and body are both set free, why must the holy saint become a lord? What does it mean to set free the body and mind? Koan after koan, sutra after sutra are all saying the same thing. Master Dogen said, “To study Buddhism is to study the self.” Study that bag of skin. Study the meat. To study the meat is to forget the meat. To forget the meat is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things, by the phenomenal universe. “To be enlightened by the ten thousand things is to cast off body and mind of self and other.” What is it that remains when you do that? Everything. The whole universe remains, including the meat. But there is no longer any separation: body and mind are set free.

To realize this truth is to return to our true nature. There is nothing wrong with our intelligence. There is nothing wrong with our brains. There is nothing wrong with this glob of protoplasm. It is just how we use it. We don’t come with an operating manual when we are born, so parents depend on their parents, and convention and cultures depend on history and so on. You could say that most of us are trapped in a self-destructive loop. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

Sometimes students ask me if there is any hope for this world. My answer is, “No, there is no hope.” But there is practice. Practice has nothing to do with hope. Practice begins with coming home to the moment. When you come home to the moment, you come home to yourself. You give life to the buddha, which just means that you give life to your true nature, the nature of the universe.

How do we get to that place of no separation, where nothing can be given, nothing can be received? It means getting rid of the extra—getting rid of all the baggage that we carry around through our lives. It means getting rid of all the ideas that we hold on to, and see clearly that underneath all of that baggage is a being, perfect and complete. We need to uncover it—that’s why it can’t be given.

Michelangelo said that he didn’t create images; he just released them from the stone. He would patiently and carefully chip away all the extra to reveal the perfect figure that was always there, waiting to be uncovered. That is what zazen is, that chipping away of the extra so that we can get to the ground of being, realize it and then actualize it. When we do that, we touch everything in this great universe. Please, take care of it

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.