Picking up Shosan… again

So, I woke up this morning at a good time. With the time change, it is later, but I had a long, long nap yesterday, so I figure I’m a little ahead of the game today.

And I sat. For a “long” sitting. I had a luxurious weekend sit that’s twice the length of my weekday sits. I stretched my back, set my posture, and started the long, slow counting of breaths that takes me to a “zero point” place — neither up nor down for any period of time, but a center point where I can return regularly to interrupt the automatic cycling of my mind.

It was a pretty typical time, although I can tell that I am becoming more acclimated to this renewed practice. I settle in more easily. I don’t have as fast a racing heart as before. I am more aware, more quickly, of the cycles of my breath. And while the thoughts still race, I am less distressed by them, when they do.

One thing I noticed towards the end of my sit today, was that I was not quite where I was hoping to be. It’s hard to put a finger on that ineffable quality I was/am looking for — many people have many names for it: Buddha-nature, satori, kensho, enlightenment, peace… many, many names, none of which I actually use. What I was/am actually looking for — I remembered, near the end of my sit — is a warrior quality, a focused quality, a vital energy… where was it?

Where indeed?

And I remembered (roughly) what Shosan said:

“In Buddhist practice we carefully guard the self. In the Soto sect, older monks and novices alike say, ‘Let go of the self.’ These are good words. Based on these words, I wrote in the Kusawake [Parting of the Grasses], ‘Don’t forget the self.’ Look carefully into this stage of practice. The importance of practice lies solely in guarding the self with care. All delusion arises when you relax your vital energy. So firmly fix your gaze and don’t relax your vital energy throughout the day. Remain sharp and alert while guarding the self, and the six rebellious delusions will be annihilated. You should guard it so thoroughly that even in your dreams you don’t let down your guard. Though you think your guard is sufficiently up, you may relax unknowingly and be overcome by delusion. Your horse-consciousness will run wild in a field of delusion; and your monkey-mind will prance about on branches of fame and fortune. Resolutely open your eyes, let the phrase, “Don’t be deluded” be your reins, brace yourself sternly, and keep up your guard. Don’t relax your vital energy for even a moment!”

So yes, I had relaxed unknowingly. I had relaxed to the point of not paying attention any more to Shosan’s words… letting my attention wander off to be drawn into exploits and endeavors over the past week that excited me, but also tired me out and depleted me. I had relaxed. In some good ways, in some other not-so-good ways.

And I had let down my guard. I had let myself get tired and had not reined in my horse-consciousness… as my monkey-mind pranced about on those alluring branches. I had dropped my attention, abandoned my focus, and so marauding hordes had overtaken my proverbial castle.

At the time when I was sitting this morning, I had not fully recalled the substance of Shosan’s words above. But I had recalled the gist. I’d remembered Shosan. I’d remembered Death. And I spent the last part of my sit this morning studying death, as he encourages us to do.

When I did turn my attention to death, at first it was tentative and ginger, like stepping out onto a frozen pond, feeling for thin spots or slush. But the ice held. And I stepped out farther. I thought about death, the sense of my spirit leaving my body, the hold that my body might have on my spirit… what it would feel like, what it would be like. The sense of this body no longer being animated, of the essence removing itself from the vehicle… some koan.

And the more I studied it, the more I felt it, the more I sense it, the more I realized it. I will not be here forever. None of us will. I must make all that I can of each moment. Each of us must. Or we lose an amazing opportunity — the ultimate opportunity.

No more bullshit. No mas.

“Only study death,” Shosan said. “Only study death.”

Five Points in Buddhist Practice – Shosan’s deepest wishes regarding practice

“The Buddha is infinite grace and perfection.  If you practice without aiming at infinite grace, you are not a disciple of the Buddha.  Now, without the ripening of your fearless mind, you won’t be able to make use of this infinite grace.  Infinite grace can be used to the degree that your fearless mind has matured.  That’s why I hope you will practice with this aim in mind.  Using this infinite grace involves detaching yourself from ego.”

Suzuki Shosan (1579 –1655)

Five Points in Buddhist Practice – it means nothing

The Master spoke again:  “Although I’ve written about these five stages, it means nothing.  I wrote about them because I will die soon, and I wanted to have people understand these teachings thoroughly.  But they cannot be applied in this way all at once.  It takes many lifetimes of continual practice before you can understand them and make a true vow to apply them in your life.  Don’t think you will make full use of them in one lifetime or even two.  Even though I have thoroughly understood these teachings and clearly grasped the seed, I’m still not able to use it freely.  You may discover gold, but if you don’t actually take it from the ground, you can’t make any use of it.

Suzuki Shosan (1579 –1655)

Five Points in Buddhist Practice – destruction of evil passions

The fifth point in Buddhist practice is the destruction of evil passions.  Here, the luxury-seeking mind, the flattery-seeking mind, greed, and the fame-and-profit-seeking mind all disappear.  I wrote about this mind and called it ‘the jewel used to pass through this life’ because people today mistakenly think that Buddhism is of no use to society.

Suzuki Shosan (1579 –1655)

Five Points in Buddhist Practice – discard the mind that analyzes knowledge

As the fourth point in Buddhist practice, you discard the mind that analyzes knowledge, free yourself from attachment to objects, and, arriving at a mind of selflessness, let things happen as they will without any personal intention to be free.  This mind is the jewel used by all performing artists.  Artists skilled in their trade should know this.  Strategists in the art of combat, in particular, should be keenly aware of it.

Suzuki Shosan (1579 –1655)

Five Points in Buddhist Practice – divorce yourself from personal views

Third, in Buddhist practice you divorce yourself from personal views and refuse to distinguish between self and others, while making use of the six harmonies.  Arriving at the true Mind, you repay the four favors from above and save ordinary beings in the three realms of existence below.

I wrote about this mind and called it, ‘the mind that makes correct use of the five relationships’ because people were saying that Buddhism did not include these relationships.  Can you say that a Buddhism that discards the personal self attains a non-discriminating mind, repays the four favors from above, and saves all ordinary beings from below fails to include the five Confucian relationships?  All ordinary people, moreover, are considered to be the children of the Buddha.  Confucianism, on the other hand, stops at the five relationships.

Suzuki Shosan (1579 –1655)

Five Points in Buddhist Practice – uphold the precepts

A second point is that Buddhist practice firmly upholds the precepts and does not act contrary to the teachings of the Buddhas and the patriarchs.  It controls the tendency to twist things and corrupt them; therefore, the mind becomes virtuous.  Clearly understanding the true Way and the false and transcending the true, you make special use of a meaning beyond discrimination, saving all beings uprightly and with compassion.  This Mind, the jewel that makes use of the laws of the realm, practices justice and reason, yet transcends them, clearly distinguishing the true Way from the false.  Simply entrust yourself to the manifestations of this Mind and all its actions will be in accordance with the law.

Suzuki Shosan (1579 –1655)