photo by Mika Hiironniemi

 

This practice is about annutara-samyaksambodhi—perfect, universal enlightenment. Perfect. And universal—all-encompassing. Encompassing every possibility, every turn, every encounter, every moment of this life. Everything is illuminated. It’s important to remember that to the degree to which we are willing to acknowledge the fact that this path is about completeness, is the degree to which we can speak about going straight through all those turns.

When practitioners request to become formal students of the Order, they meet with the Guardian Council, whose job is to determine whether someone has the desire for complete liberation, whether the intuition is present that says, “That’s what I want. I am not willing to settle for anything else.” Frequently in those exchanges we’ll challenge people with, “What if your teacher doesn’t seem to be as dependable as he or she used to be? Where is your intent when the exotic charm of your own mind starts to disappear? What are you going after? What do you want?” We remind each other that we are not willing to lower the bar. That we’re not willing to settle for a better relationship, for a better place within this world for yourself, for your work. That’s not enough. It’s not what the Buddha was talking about. It’s not what will be necessary to go straight at every turn. Every turn. The turn of an inhalation and the turn of an exhalation. The turn of your birth and the turn of your death.

Everything we do in our training continuously offers us a reminder of this. Sesshins, intensive silent retreats, offer the intensity and collective energy that allows us to bring that straightness of mind to all the microscopic, minute and continuously appearing waves, turns, challenges that we face. It’s a profound gift because it gives us a chance to see who engages those challenges, to see the keel of the boat.

It takes time to move through this process, to see and internalize what we’ve seen. There’s a beautiful and simple logic to it, similar to the establishment of mindfulness, the capacity to be aware and awake continuously. The process is called teaching, remembering, establishing. First you need the external stimulus—WAKE UP! And we come back. Wake up [whispered]. We come back again. Then there’s the altar, the straight line of the cushions, all the external supports that bring you back to mindfulness, to wakefulness. Then slowly, with time, you remember that you’re drifting away and you start coming back by yourself, over and over again, in zazen, outside of zazen, continuously—until that moment where mindfulness is established. You are awake, continuously.

You’re directly yourself. You’re going straightforward continuously. What happens then? Does it make a difference if you’re going straight or turning? Does it make a difference if it’s an inhalation or an exhalation? Does it make a difference if it’s birth or death? This analogy about mindfulness is really not an analogy. That’s precisely what we need to do. That is the task that’s intimately connected to that statement: “I have seen all that is to be seen. I have done all that is to be done.” We acknowledge the universality and perfection of the ground where we’re standing and then practice. Having as a directive that sense of completeness, we try to complete. We verify selflessness by practicing selflessness. Then stability, straightforwardness, becomes available.