You can feel the wake of the wakefulness of that conduct. When, after the detours and protracted landings at hopeful sites that turned out to be occupied, trashed or illegal, we finally arrived at Moose Bay, everyone recognized the validity of the place, the unmistakable correctness of our arrival there. It seemed the zendo was waiting for us so we could apply zazen to it again. Even those who were never there before, maybe even more than those who were returning, knew this was home. They felt that this space embodied and communicated the consistency of the virtues cultivated in our practice.
What is that consistency? What is the nature of clouds and moon as clouds and moon of consistent conduct? It’s action. It’s right action. It’s the contact with the allencompassing expression of our lives—with every thought, every word, every gesture, every interaction with things sentient and insentient. Nothing is excluded from that field of perseverance, of applying ourselves to seeing clearly and acting harmoniously. And every one of those actions, every moment is an expression of the moon reflecting the ten thousand forms. Or the cloud on its boundless journey, unstoppable.
During our introductions to art practice at the Monastery, one of the exercises we use is the simple linking of the breath with a brush stroke. We essentially paint a breath. We move the brush, feeling the sensation of the breath and allowing it to articulate itself on the page—directly, with full awareness. And so as the breath is happening and life is unfolding, the brushstroke becomes a meticulous expression of everything we are. Then we’re able to see our consistency or the lack thereof. Gaps appear. The line makes us aware of our breath; it reveals the connection and disconnection with it. In that simple exercise, in that simple practice, we stand revealed. So it is with the ten thousand forms, the ten thousand gates, the ten thousand brushes that are offered to us and placed in our hand, so we can examine and fuel our perseverance.
If we want to understand something about the consistent conduct of a person of the Way, the life of Shakyamuni Buddha is a good place to start. His perfect and complete enlightenment is the consistent conduct of his life, of his every action. What was that like? He sat. He walked. He dealt with thousands of human predicaments. He felt deeply, thought deeply. He debated. He raised money. He got politically involved. He ached with arthritis in old age, grieved for his kin lost in wars and in ignorance. He died. And he taught with every opportunity presented to him. He did not turn away or wobble in his resolve. Every word, every thought, every action was consistent, and precisely of the single flavor of the dharma which is the flavor of liberation. His was a single action—activity based on the recognition that he was of the same substance as everybody else.
This is the outer manifestation of that constant conduct and perseverance, what is apparent to us about his life. But there is something else. What is the internal experience of that consistent conduct? What is the experience of that cloud floating across the sky? What is the experience of a cloud that has the capacity for self-reflection floating across that open sky in its journey? Is that an important question to ask?
“Function the same toward all others,” says Hongzhi. This means, in all circumstances. Practice is not about sporadic bursts of spiritual energy, about sesshin, about a period of zazen or the first ten minutes of a sitting period. It is not so much about intensification as about wholehearted and continuous intensity. It is not about how good it feels or what it accomplishes. It’s not haphazard. It’s not based on chance. It’s not opportunistic, preferential, and has no utility connected to it whatsoever. It achieves absolutely nothing. It’s not conditioned by circumstances. It doesn’t require a witness. It is conduct that doesn’t change one bit if you’re alone or with others.
A question that may be helpful in reflecting on our practice is to ask ourselves what would this practice look like if we were stranded on a deserted island for the rest of our lives? No hope of rescue; no chance of delivery to another reference point. It is just you and your mind—that simple and stark. Would your practice change one bit? Would the conduct of the person of the Way—that consistency—waver? Would you practice? Why? Where does the practice waver? Consistent conduct is uniform in its outward manifestation and its capacity to engage the darkest recesses of the mind. “Function the same toward all others.”