By Lee Register
True practice is full realization, manifesting the immediate Reality of Wholeness, in daily life. To ignore this direct experience of the Reality of Wholeness is self-delusion, and the Buddha’s Way of awakening remains unrealized.
Snared in self-delusion, our precious life-energy and time are wasted in an attempt to pursue and preserve ephemeral things. And all the while fear, longing, anxiety, excitement, and ambition ravage the very thing we seek to protect and please. In such a situation, where we live an ego-centric life, as Dogen observes, “like a fish in a dwindling pool of water, what pleasure can there be?”
Yet in quiet moments, if we allow ourselves to have any, we know this is not a satisfactory way of life. We also know it to be false. When we give ourselves the time to carefully observe this moment, we see that nothing abides, that this moment is fleeting, and that anything we try to grasp, or wish to remain, is completely transient.
Gautama Buddha identified impermanence as duhkha. He realized, from careful observation of his own mind, that to devote himself, his energies, and his time to what is ultimately not Real is a fruitless, painful life.
So instead he diligently and steadily practiced a Way of awareness that avoided extremes of despondency and ambition, hedonism and asceticism, eternalism and nihilism, all of which have their source in thinking, unquestioningly believing, that there is a permanent entity, namely a self. And dependent upon this delusion of self arises what the Buddha identified as the source of duhkha: craving, grasping.
Like the Buddha, when we observe our immediate experience, we, too, know that there is no happiness, comfort, or security in grasping what we see to have no enduring substance. We, too, can see clearly the delusion of self. And in seeing, our intent and resolve change radically.
Shitou in his poem Cantongqi wrote, “Practice is not a matter of ‘far’ or ‘near’.” Why would we seek enlightenment through practice? Nagarjuna points out time and again that we can’t establish the slightest distinction or separation in immediate experience. We are never apart from Truth. Why would we try to attain it, pursue it, or understand it? All this effort is in vain.
The enlightened mind, on the other hand, is settled, simply aware, and without leaning, striving, or grasping. Without self-delusion, the effort in practice is simple and straightforward.
One time Shitou saw his student Yaoshan sitting in meditation and asked, “What are you doing?” Yaoshan replied, “I’m not doing anything.” “Then you are just sitting idly,” said Shitou. “If I were sitting idly,” said Yaoshan, “then I’d be doing something.” Shitou replied, “You say you’re not doing anything. What is it that you’re not doing?” “Even Buddhas don’t know,” answered Yaoshan.
If we are to be released from the burden of self-delusion, which weighs us down with obsession and fear, and free up energy otherwise wasted in self-centered pursuits and incessant distraction, we must devote ourselves to a Way that “even Buddhas don’t know.”
With great resolve and pure intent, the Buddha Way, which can’t be discerned in either words or thought, manifests itself in daily life.