Thirdly, we can use the pursuit of the truth itself, the pursuit of waking up, as a means of staying asleep. This is the territory of spiritual materialism, where our best intentions, if not explored thoroughly, and purified and engaged in deepening practice, lead to our complacency, subtle aggrandizement and attachment. Meditation turns into a haven for an idealized self, for special effects and false security, an entertainment event,

Our egos have an incredible capacity to habitually claim any territory for the purpose of staying asleep, and in that inattention to further the illusion of inherent selfhood. The illusion of the self is basically dependent on the fact that we’re not aware of these habits. The power of our thoughts over us is dependent on our unexamined identification with those very thoughts. An antidote that counters the habit of delusion is wakefulness. And this cannot be staged by the ego. The ego cannot manage its own disappearance because it does not exist inherently, apart from the problem. It cannot wiggle itself out of a misconstrued existence.

For practice to begin, the spell needs to be momentarily broken. And then we have to radically reframe our attitude, choosing to turn toward reality. We have to choose to ceaselessly wake up. Not just to enter through the door, touch the surface, or turn in the direction of wanting to be awake. But to completely commit ourselves to that task of wakefulness—to illuminate the totality of this mind and this life.

Zen practice includes a deep investigation and deliberate shaping of our intent, dedication to the details of the mechanics of form and an impeccable fidelity to our vows. There is zazen, the encounter with the direct manifestation of the mind, the study of the self. There are the precepts, the adjustment of our thoughts, speech and actions, the embodiment of fundamental sanity and clarity. We clarify through reflection and through activity aimed at identifying and manifesting the source of our intent. In our all-inclusive seeking, we reside on the edge of the unknowable.


Photo by Michael Brown


Some people protest against such unending questioning, afraid that we will expose the ineffable mystery. The beauty of mystery is that it takes care of itself. If it is true mystery, it will remain so. If we expose it or convert it to something graspable, that is not, nor was, the mystery. It was just a wrinkle of our ignorance, or a systematic collusion to remain in the dark. In the end, a more significant problem is that we don’t clarify what can be clarified, and live with a false sense of awe and humility.

In exhaustively exploring everything that can and needs to be known, we come to the place where not-knowing arises without us needing to lift a finger. The self is forgotten, the ten thousand dharmas arrive, take their rightful place and enlighten the self. Completing his investigation of reality, and realizing it fully, Shakyamuni Buddha was able to say, “There is nothing else to be known. There is nothing else to be done.” And with that statement, he began to teach. He offered compassionate dana, selflessly embodying the vow to realize the Buddha Way together with all beings.