The Buddha does not stand anywhere, nor does he not stand at all. He doesn’t stand apart. He doesn’t not stand apart. It’s not, “I will stand this way. This is how I will train myself.” What does it mean to not stand apart? It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not about meaning. We can’t do this with the mind. To think about fearlessness, to think about practice, is thinking about it. It’s like thinking about an upcoming trip. It can be a nice thought. It can be an inspiring thought. But it’s not the journey.

 

Photo by Angel Janer

 

We don’t know what happened for this monastic. Did he resolve the question, having missed these two opportunities? The question now is what about you and me? Can we resolve it? The great warrior of Buddhist practice is free of all violence, of all hatred, of all control and manipulation, all domination. The great warrior does not use the instruments of oppression or subjugation, because they do not work. Do we not know that? Do we really not know that? If we don’t know it, then we may never know it. How much evidence do we need?

The great warrior is free, free to face the truth, to face delusion. Sometimes she may appear as a fire-breathing dragon because that’s what it takes to cut through thick skin. Sometime she may appear as spring rain or the great heart of compassion and mercy. The great challenge for us all is to realize that there is no enemy. Delusion is not the enemy. Our thoughts are not the enemy. Our attachments and desires are not the enemy. Greed, anger and ignorance are not the enemy. The self is not the enemy. There is no enemy. There is nowhere to stand and fight.

In the light of the conflagration—in facing the awareness of the reality of life, it’s fragility and fleeting nature, this monastic …poses his question. The patchrobed monastic is still lingering within the double barrier. What is the double barrier? Is it destroyed or not? Is there something eternal or not? How touching—for a single phrase, “going along with that,” Intently he travelled out and back alone for ten thousand miles. The footnote to that line says, “His active consciousness is very chaotic. He stumbled by without knowing it. He’s just wearing out his straw sandals.”

The monastic is looking. Even though he’s looking for that person who is going to give him what he wants, he is sincere. But when he gets what he wants, he’ll realize that it wasn’t what he wanted after all. When we satisfy our fear-based desires, we discover the great dissatisfaction the Buddha described as dukkha.

Because of human consciousness, we can create a hundred thousand different forms of opposition and a hundred thousand different tools for inflicting harm. Because of buddha mind, we can realize and actualize true peace. And buddha mind comes with human birth. Whether we care about this, whether we think about it, whether we turn towards it or not, whether we practice it—regardless of our position, it is true. Being true, don’t we want to understand this life that we’ve been given?

Seeing the ease with which we can inflict harm, do we also know it’s not necessary? Would we turn to the dharma or go to a monastery if you didn’t have a sense of that? That’s where practice begins. To practice the fearlessness of facing and realizing the truth is not something to wait for until “the end of the eon.” As Dogen said, some people may awaken to the buddha mind and wait eons to decide to become a buddha. Practice is moment after moment, day after day. It can only be found here—where we are. There is no other place it can be found.

Practice awakens that profound fearlessness that we each possess. This is not an idea. It’s not what we see in a movie, there’s nothing romantic about it really. Even if it’s portrayed as being rigorous and demanding, in its very portrayal it’s romanticized. Whatever is being shown is not what it is. It’s here where we are sitting.

To take our place in this life as an awakened being is a profound thing. Although it’s available to each of us, it requires a great deal of patience and perseverance. That’s why it doesn’t happen very often. But when it does, the entire world is transformed


Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei is vice-abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery, branch president of Zen Center of New York City: Fire Lotus Temple, and head of the National Buddhist Prison Sangha. He received dharma transmission from Daido Roshi in 1997.