We inevitably drift towards fame and fortune, towards simply wanting to be noticed in our endeavors, including our spiritual practice. We want to be noticed by the other students, noticed by those who love us, noticed by our enemies, by competitors. We come to believe along the way in our own progress, in our accomplishment. Then there is the fortune—the fortune of being secure, of being externally fulfilled through practice or internally fulfilled by understanding that the nature of the wind is permanent without having a clue of what it means that it reaches everywhere.
So the Buddha’s model stays in front of us until the end. That is what we’re committing to. That’s what we’re committing to when we’re entering the zendo, when we’re turning towards ourselves, towards our minds. Staying the course while trusting this perfection. Not trying to solve the problem, but simply encountering the situation. Not trying to become somebody, but simply realizing who we are.
What actually is in our reach is that perfect accomplishment that Shakyamuni Buddha is pointing to. Because the fact is that at every moment where we align our direction straightforwardly and wholeheartedly with that intent, we have met him. We have fulfilled, in that moment, in that completeness, in that straightforwardness, the perfection and universal nature of this endeavor. We can’t fail manifesting buddha within that complete turning.
It’s important to understand what is important to each of us. Expressed further, it is important to know what is most important. Once established, we need to engrave that in our bones, empower ourselves and take individual responsibility and not allow others to frame it for us. It is each of us completely. It is our mind, to its conclusion, within all the vicissitudes of life, all the disasters, all the mediocrities.
In the early teachings of the Buddha, as written in the Satipatthana Sutra in the Pali Canon, there’s a seminal teaching on the practice of shikantaza. In its simplicity, the teaching offers an endless possibility of fathoming something profoundly important about this practice. The Satipatthana Sutra is a sutra on mindfulness, and it starts with the body, through the breath. Shakyamuni says this: “Breathing in a long breath, he knows, ‘I breathe in a long breath.’ Breathing out a long breath, he knows, ‘I breathe out a long breath.’ Breathing in a short breath, he knows, ‘I breathe in a short breath.’ Breathing out a short breath, he knows, ‘I breathe out a short breath.’” How much more basic can it get? How much more dangerously boring?
Recognize that what this is speaking to is everything. This is not about short breath, long breath. This is about knowing that when you’re breathing a short breath, you’re breathing a short breath. Knowing that when you’re breathing out a long breath, you’re knowing that you’re breathing out a long breath. Knowing that when your breath is choking and you’re hot because of grief, knowing that you’re choking on your breath from grief. When you’re panting with anxiety, you know that you’re panting with anxiety. Knowing the breath when you’re knowing the vicissitudes of life. So the obvious question is, what is that knowing amidst all of it? It’s so simple. Breath coming in, short. Breath coming out, short. There is knowing within that. What is that knowing? Is it the knowing of understanding that the nature of wind is permanent? Or is it the knowing of just fanning yourself?
Somebody told me a story about his practice of Mu. He was on a platform in a subway station, engaged in poking at Mu with all his thoughts and ideas. But suddenly within that different setting, he dropped into his body and suddenly recognized the availability of knowing. Three hundred and sixty degrees, up and down, sound, smells, sensations. He then concluded that knowing is in the body, and I said, “Don’t be so sure, but you’re on the right track.”