Gradually, absolute samadhi becomes working samadhi and it begins to function in everyday activities. There’s a bit of that samadhi in the life of all of us. There are things that we do intuitively, without thinking. If you’ve been driving for a number of years and your car skids, you respond the way a car should respond, not the way a person responds. You don’t throw up your hands and protect yourself. You turn into the skid and recover from it. You learn to do that, and then it becomes spontaneous. But I’m talking about more than that. I’m talking about going into something new with the ability to be aware, to be alert, to be alive, and not process, so that we’re continually experiencing each dharma as it comes. Simple attention. Simple awareness. That’s the heart of most of the devices—the skillful means—that are in place in a training center such as this. They are the 84,000 subtle gestures of your life.
Upaya or skillful means are used in all of the schools of Buddhism. Skillful means are necessary because although each of us already has what we seek, most of us don’t realize it. Each of us is already perfect and complete, lacking nothing. That being the case, what can a teacher give you? What could you possibly receive? The Buddha himself did not want to teach at first because he wondered how he would show others that they already had everything they needed. After a while, he began to find the skillful means to communicate and he taught the Four Noble Truths. Then, in the 2,500 years that followed, different schools of Buddhism continued to develop various kinds of upaya. In a sense, everything we do is upaya. Zazen is upaya. Liturgy is upaya. Samadhi, awareness, the koans, shikantaza, are upaya. Much of what we call the Zen arts is the upaya the ancient masters used to help their students see the truth. That’s what it’s all about, ultimately—to get us to see the truth of our lives. To get us to be present, alive and aware.
Many years ago when I was in the navy and I was walking down the deck one day, I noticed a mop that had gotten loose from its holder and was lying right across the main deck. I saw it, walked up to it, picked it up and stuck it back into its holder and all of a sudden I heard applause nearby. I looked up and on the flying bridge was the division officer and two boatsman’s mates, happily clapping. Later they told me that they had been up on the bridge for about half an hour, watching as some twenty people stepped over the mop, some of them even tripped on it, but no one picked it up. We should keep in mind that awareness is not some esoteric, mystical experience. It’s our life. It means being alive. The self-fulfilling samadhi of joyous activity. The life of the buddhas and ancestors. Your life and my life.