We may think that we’re going to begin practicing zazen and immediately enter into a profound ocean of bliss. We’re going to get away from all of our troubles and anxieties and we’re just going to be peaceful. It’s going to be great! And then it doesn’t happen. It’s not peaceful. It’s not an ocean of bliss. It’s an ocean in the middle of a storm and the storm is our mind. In fact, we find that we haven’t left anything behind. And that’s the good news. If we understand that and don’t become frightened or disheartened, then we may be ready to encounter the dharma. At that moment, seeking truth has to be more important than having our own desires and beliefs affirmed. There are many places we can go to get that. It’s often what we do when we’re feeling troubled, we go to someone, to a friend or family member or partner, someone whom we know will nod and say, “Yes, yes! It’s so unfair.” We may feel good but we haven’t been helped. We have company but we’re all just sitting in darkness.
The spirit of the warrior is needed in this practice. The spiritual warrior is dedicated to examining life as a life’s work—not just for oneself, but for everyone. As spiritual warriors, we make a commitment to not add to the chaos. To the best of our ability we try to contribute to the harmony of the world, to the hearts and minds of people, to alleviating suffering and to not creating more. To do that we have to turn towards the truth and practice the courage needed to face things as they are, not as we want them to be.
The very first time we receive instruction in zazen, we’re exposed to the profound teaching of letting go of the judging mind. We’re being presented with a kind of revolution—to not live and see the world based on what we want the world to be but to see it as the world is. In order to do this well, we have to learn how to turn towards the truth. It’s like dealing with fire, we have to know how to work with it. If we don’t, we get burned. The instruction that we’re given is not only how to turn toward the truth, but what to do when we meet it. In a very real sense we’re taught how to be courageous.
In the koan, when the monastic asks, “The conflagration at the end of the eon sweeps through and the universe is totally destroyed. I wonder, is this one destroyed or not?,” he’s not really asking a question. He already knows what the answer is. The answer is no. But Dasui says yes, “It is destroyed.” And the monastic says no. And so he asks again, “If so, then this goes along with it.” If that’s true, then is this destroyed? He knows the answer. The answer is no, it’s not. Dasui says yes, it is. “It goes along with it.” But the monastic still says no. He goes to Touzi. He’s going to keep searching until he gets someone who will give him the right answer, the answer that he wants. What does Touzi do? He says get back there as fast as you can and atone for your mistake. But it’s too late.
So how do we stand in the fearlessness needed to face the truth? How do we practice? Does fearlessness mean never to be afraid? Or does it mean knowing how to be afraid? Does it mean knowing what fear is and knowing how to stay awake in the midst of fear? The Pranja Paramita Sutra says, “Armed with the great armor”—the armor of a sincere heart, a seeking mind—“bodhisattvas themselves should so develop that they do not take their stand on anything.” Where do you stand? You don’t stand. That’s where you stand. You don’t stand on anything. “They stand not in form, not in feeling, not in perception, impulses, consciousness, not in your eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind, not in form, sound, smells, tastes, touch, mind-objects.” In other words, you don’t make your stand in anything that can be perceived. You don’t take a fixed position in earth, water, fire, wind, or in consciousness. You don’t take a fixed position in mindfulness, in right effort, in a road to psychic power, in mystical faculties, in powers, nor in the fruits of practice. You don’t take a stand in permanence or impermanence, in believing that form is an illness or that it’s medicine. You don’t take a stand in emptiness or in the object nature of things.