The tendency to observe, study and understand ourselves deeply in a culture that elevates the habits of distraction, general anesthesia and superficiality to remarkable new heights, is a subversive impulse. To contemplate one’s body and mind, to learn how to learn, is a political act. In a sense, it may be the only political act of any lasting significance. Not a reactionary stand, not obsessive problem solving, not an apathetic withdrawal, but a sustained vow. A calling and a steady response.
The commitment to resolving the mystery of our lives also informs the difference between good intentions and true intentions. True intentions are based on seeing and understanding things as they are. Good intentions are based on a hopeful projection of how we would like things to be. It’s the difference between the pursuit of clarity and sustaining an illusion, between the Buddha Way and a veil of our fabrications.
The koan involving Dizang and Fayan has a poetic commentary by Master Hongzhi that speaks to both the necessity, and the results, of such exhaustive exploration:
Now having studied to the full, it’s like
Having shed entirely the finest thread, he
Let it be short, let it be long—stop cutting
Going along with the high, along with the
low, it levels itself.
The abundance or scarcity of the house is
used according to the occasion;
Roaming serenely in the land, he goes
where his feet take him.
The purpose of ten years’ pilgrimage—
Clearly he’d turned his back on one pair of
Having released the most subtle attachments in our study of reality, we return home. It is like T.S. Eliot’s declaration in Four Quartets:
We shall not cease from exploring,
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Or not know. Regardless, everything else returns home with us and finds its perfection. Short is perfectly short. Long is perfectly long. And all of it is used harmoniously. The abundance or scarcity of the house is used according to the occasion. May this compassionate dana be extended to all sentient beings.
Recently, four teenagers from our sangha began training for a Coming of Age ceremony, a rite of passage toward taking full responsibility for their lives. The training involves meeting with the teachers on a regular basis to study the basic tenets of Buddhism: karma, taking refuge in the Three Treasures, the Five Precepts. But there are also assignments that involve interviews of members of different generations in their families to find out about the choices they made or did not make. About lessons learned, missed opportunities, lingering regrets. About recognizing the power of clear intent and the disempowerment of being semi-conscious. The purpose of the program is to introduce these young people to Buddhism and, through Buddhism, to themselves.
During the eight weeks, through readings, various assignments, zazen, caretaking practices, journal keeping, and volunteer work in their communities, they begin to systematically study themselves and to study their intentions. They are directed to carefully and fearlessly expose the influences of their lives. How do their ancestors—living and dead—peer groups, media, internet, teachers, heroes and antiheroes influence their opinions and choices? Where do they find themselves on this vast playing field? They look at their desires, at what fuels these desires. Where the message these days so frequently is to turn away from oneself, to blindly flow with the prevailing currents, they turn towards themselves, towards their very hearts, however tender, vulnerable, and confused they may be—or, however wise. The teaching about the abundance or scarcity of the house, in their perfection, begins.
Now, having studied to the full, it’s like before. Having shed entirely, the finest thread, he reaches not-knowing. The pilgrimage of this life has begun for all of us. We all hear some calling, some vague recognition of what this life may be. Just like those teens, we try to navigate this life to the best of our abilities, honoring and responding to that calling. In taking something up, there is already the seed of its completion, as well as the possibility of offering this life as compassionate giving. As we practice, we realize that that is the very manifestation of our lives, right from the start
Konrad Ryushin Maharaj, Osho is vice-abbot and Director of Operations of Zen Mountain Monastery. He received Denkai from Daido Roshi in 2005.