In the Soto tradition, and in the style of the Suzuki Roshi lineage, our meditation is pretty gentle, settling-in meditation, just sitting. We try to find a way of sitting and practice that is sustainable. We find what is not exactly "comfortable," but at least a restful and compassionate space in which to sit, and which we can sustain. In our sitting we emphasize some sense of connecting with this space of zazen every day. So I don't go around and hit people with a stick if you are sleeping. There are some branches of Zen where zazen is "on the edge of your seat" sitting, and that is sometimes very good for some people.
But our sitting here is just gentle upright sitting. I do not believe that zazen should be an athletic, competitive event, as if whoever could sit in the most difficult position for the longest without moving was the most enlightened. But at the same time, our gentle, steady sitting should not be dull and listless. Even though we emphasize not acquiring anything from it, this is not just idly passing time.
So what I want to talk about today is zazen as question, as inquiry. Even though we are sitting quietly, gently, at the core of our sitting is a question. Or maybe it is not a question, but just the activity of questioning.
What are we doing here? All of you here have some question that somewhere back there was behind your wanting to do this Buddhist meditation, coming and facing the wall and looking into, what is this? So Dogen in many of his teachings says things like, "Do you completely understand this? Please study this completely. Please thoroughly penetrate this question." There is a question that we each have to look into.
The point of this practice of questioning, however, is not to get an answer. We sit upright, centered, if not comfortable, at least in some space of ease and restfulness. And yet there is some problem, some question, something we are looking into. How do we practice with question? It is not that there is only one way to do that, because we each have our own version of this question. But we must recognize that there is a question. How do we live this life? How do we take care of this world, face the problems that we each have in our life, or the problems that we share together? There are various questions. Part of this practice of sitting is facing the question, and learning about questioning, and deepening our question, and allowing questions to arise. But it is not about getting some answer.
want to give a few expressions of this. I've mentioned before Bob Dylan's line,
"A question in your nerves is lit, yet you know there is no answer fit, to
satisfy, insure you not to quit, to keep it in your mind and not forget, that
it is not he or she or them or it that you belong to." [from "It's Alright
Ma. I'm Only Bleeding."] The first part, "A question in your nerves
is lit," is just the fact that you are here, willing to engage in facing
yourself in upright sitting. There is a question beyond the questions that you
may be conscious of. There's a question that's in your nerves, that's in your
bones, that's in your marrow. And it doesn't mean that we have to be agitated
and upset about getting the answer to that question. The point is just how to
stay present with such questioning.
One expression of this questioning in the Zen tradition is koan study. In Zen this is the formal practice of working with a particular traditional story or saying. Sometimes I have offered some of you these traditional stories to practice with, or I have talked about them here. How do you stay present with these questions? With these traditional stories or Zen dialogues in which we sometimes sit, Dogen will comment, "Please thoroughly penetrate this, or completely study this."
there are also the questions that arise in our own hearts, in our own body and
mind in the world around us, that come up with family, and relations, and the
people around us. The questions that come up out of our own struggle to find our
own center, and our own problems with being this person in this body and mind,
we call Genjo Koan, the koan as it manifests in our life. What is this appearing
in front of me? As we sit, thoughts, feelings, our whole world appears before
us, not just the wall or the floor or the chairs. But in being present, uprightly
aware, gently, in a way that you can stay with, in a posture that you can settle
into, then we can look at, "What is this that thus comes?" How is it
that this, just this, is here in front of me? What is it? How do I deal with it?
What do I do with it? Again, it's not about fixing it or getting a solution, it's
not about getting some answer, but just being totally present in relationship
to that question, or to the further questions that come up from questions.
One traditional Buddhist teaching about this, in the Tendai school, is that in each moment there are three thousand worlds. Or sometimes they say that in each thought are three thousand worlds. I think that's part of this approach to question that is our zazen, three thousand worlds in one thought. So every thought we have, if we thought about that thought, if we tried to track that thought, it's connected to so many things in our life, and so many things that we do not even know are in our life, that actually, it's true, if you think about it, in each moment, in each thought, there are three thousand worlds. Of course, three thousand means three hundred thousand, or three hundred million.
So speaking about zazen as question, or inquiry, in each moment or each thought are three thousand worlds. And each of those worlds is a question. How can we face and include those three thousand worlds? One teaching about questions that was given to me yesterday is a poem by Wallace Stevens called "Questions are Remarks." I'll read it all the way through, then talk about a couple parts of it.
the weed of summer, comes this green sprout why.
Peter the voyant who says, "Mother what is that"?
It is the question of what he is capable
Sometimes the world brings the questioning to us very intently. Someone gets sick. You lose a loved one. Our house burns down. War is declared, or breaks out undeclared. And yet, there is this basic question, even before the sun arises, just this green sprout, why?
So Wallace Stevens says about his grandson, who sees the sun, and says, "Mother what is that?" The object that rises with so much rhetoric, but not for him. His question is complete.
You don't need to get an answer to your question. To be present in the middle of question is complete. I think what brings me back to zazen, myself, every day, is this possibility, this sense, this taste of wholeness. It is actually alright for things to be the way they are. And yet that sense of completeness, of wholeness, of it's alright to be this person, it's alright to be in this world, has to do with this question, this complete question, this green sprout, why?
Wallace Stevens goes on, "It is the question of what he is capable. It is the extreme the expert, at age two. He will never ride the red horse she describes." The grandson may not buy into a vision of the sun as Apollo's chariot traversing the heavens.
a passage by William Blake about the sun, where he talks about whether the sun
is just a golden disk in the sky, a plain golden coin, or is the radiant sun instead
rather a wondrous event, complete with hosannas of angels crying with exaltation?
All of life comes from the sun. And on this cloudy day we may wish for some sun.
So Blake calls forth the visionary, exalted sun, miraculous. But if you try and
stand on the sun, it would burn you up.
For zazen as question and inquiry, part of the settling in is to find the space where we are willing to be present for this question. Of course, each question is three thousand questions. And a good question will give you more questions. So you need not worry about the answers. Answers come sometimes, too, but they bring more questions as well.
Can we live in the middle of impermanence? Can we live in the middle of uncertainty? Can we live in the middle of a life that is a question? As much as we build up our life, and try to stabilize things, and take care of things, we do our best to make it all work, and that's our job as human beings. But still, we don't know what's going to happen. Everything could disappear in a flash. It's a question. The question is complete. It is his own array. And it's alright to live in a life of impermanence. In fact, it better be, because that's where we are.
I did want to say a little more about zazen, from an old story about two old Chinese monks, Mazu, the "Horse Ancestor" his name means, and Nanyue. Mazu was a great Zen teacher. He had 139 enlightened disciples later on, according to some accounts. But this story happened when he was just a young monk. He was sitting zazen and his teacher Nanyue said, "What are you doing sitting there?" I will talk about just one little piece of Dogen's commentary, but I'll tell you the whole story first. [This is from the Shobogenzo essay by Dogen, Zazenshin, the Acupuncture Needle of Zazen].
Nanyue, the teacher, asked Mazu who was sitting zazen, "What are you trying to do sitting in meditation?" And Mazu said, "I'm trying to make a Buddha." Or we could say, "I am aiming at becoming Buddha." So his teacher Nanyue hearing that picked up a tile and sat and started polishing it. Finally Mazu noticed this and asked, "Teacher, what are you doing?" And Nanyue said, "I'm polishing this tile to make it into a mirror." Mazu said, "How could you make a mirror from polishing a tile?" And Nanyue said, "How can you make a Buddha from sitting zazen?"
Watts used to tell this story as an excuse for not needing to sit zazen. But Dogen
has a different spin on it. He says, yes, you should polish a tile to make a mirror,
and yes, you should sit zazen aiming to become Buddha. Sometimes we have chanted
the Fukanzazengi, Dogen's early writing, "Universal Recommendations for Zazen,"
where he says, "Have no designs on becoming Buddha."
want to read a little bit of Dogen's commentary just to the beginning of this
story, because it has to do with our question in zazen. The teacher, Nanyue, said
to Mazu, what is it you are aiming at or figuring to do in zazen? In response,
Dogen says, "We should quietly ponder and penetrate this question."
You should know what you're about when you're sitting upright. What is it you're
up to? Is there an aim that might be superior to zazen? Is there a way you should
aim at beyond the framework of zazen that has not yet been accomplished? Or should
you not aim at anything at all? That's another possibility. That might be the
way to be Buddha. So these are real questions, each one of them. He has a whole
series of them. And he says, "Just in the moment of sitting zazen, what kind
of aim, what kind of design or intention, is being actualized? We should diligently
inquire, in detail." So again, this sitting is questioning, closely looking.
Part of that might be thinking about, and questioning in our usual way of trying
to figure something out. But it is deeper than that. It's this question that is
within your nerves, that is not about mere answers.
says, "You should study that both the carved dragon and the real dragon have
the power of forming clouds and rain." So the carved dragon has great power
too. You may think that your zazen is not real zazen, it's just a picture of zazen:
You may have those kinds of thoughts. I've heard people who actually imagine that
their practice is not very good. This happens. But even that carved dragon has
tremendous power. Dogen says, "Neither value the remote nor disparage what
is remote. Be accustomed and intimate with the remote. Neither disparage what
is close, nor value the close. Be accustomed and intimate with the close."
So whether we are far away or close, whatever our idea of buddha is, look at it.
Be intimate with its closeness, and with its remoteness. This is this way of questioning,
of looking, of seeing, this way of inquiry that is our sitting. Dogen says, "Do
not take the eyes lightly nor attach too much weight to the eyes. Do not put too
much weight to the ear nor take the ears too lightly. . . . . the ears and eyes
sharp and clear." So we sit with eyes open. We look at the wall or the floor
or the chairs. We sit with ears open. We're willing to hear the sounds of the
suffering of the world and of the people wandering by on the street in Bolinas
and of our own questioning and uncertainty.
Dogen says, "Aiming at becoming buddha, does he mean that even though there are ten thousand methods (or dharma gates) to becoming Buddha, becoming Buddha continues to be entangled with this aiming?" Even though there are ten thousand ways in which each of us is this green sprout, "why?" this green sprout, Buddha, it continues to be entangled with our aiming and designing. So where are we going to sit in relationship to the question? How are we going to be present in the middle of just looking at, "what is this?" What is the situation? How do I live with this? How am I going to respond to this particular problem? In each thought and each question there are three thousand questions, three thousand worlds. When we are willing to be here, completely, we sit in wholeness and wonder, "What is it that I'm up to?" We cannot avoid those three thousand worlds. We cannot avoid this green sprout, why? And yet, going back to Wallace Stevens, The question is complete because it contains our utmost statement. It is our own array, our own pageant, and procession, and display.
So this is a very gentle questioning. It's the kind of questioning that the Colorado River asks the Grand Canyon over centuries and centuries. It is gentle, but persistent. Can we stop a war on Iraq? That's one question, but there are so many other questions behind that. How do we live together, with peace and justice? How do we take care of just the world of our own family and relations and workplace and all of that, as well as our nation, with peace and justice? How do we sit zazen with peace and justice for our own body and mind? All of those questions are present in each of them. It is not that there is even one right answer for each one of us. It's not even about getting answers, but it is about how do we express the question. My way of expressing it and yours and yours are all going to be different, and they are going to change tomorrow. But if we are present in the middle of this question, then we can proceed. And if we are afraid, that's alright; that's another question.
want to hear your questions and your inquiries and your processions and displays
Question: You spoke about the river asking the question of the Grand Canyon. To what does the green growth address its question.
To what does the green growth address its question? Yes, I agree. Good question;
Completely displayed; Wonderful.
Taigen: But beyond that our practice is not necessarily only the removal of the resistance, but first is just recognizing resistance. Yes, questioning is faith. There is no faith without questioning. Faith that is allergic to questioning is just dogma. But faith-questioning is how we sit upright. And it's not necessarily about removing the reluctance or resistance, it's about being right there in the middle of the reluctance, too. So that's the question. Our reluctance is this question about whether I can be here, in this question. Can I be willing to be the question I am? Can I really let that green sprout come forth.
So faith to doubt, faith to question, means being willing to be a question. Sometimes the people who are most weird, or odd, or who are walking questions, may be the most inspiring. Because those people in our lives allow us the opportunity to see our own reluctance to question, they can inspire faith. Facing our reluctance is the practice of upright questioning.
I'll just say what Buddhism offers in the face of that is perhaps not essentially
different, but it is buddhas and bodhisattvas and the possibility of kindness,
the possibility of caring and listening, the possibility of clearly observing,
of seeing clearly. It is this practice of being upright, sitting on our cushion,
being present, being willing to face question. Sometimes it is important that
we find consolation. It is not easy to be a question. But there are ways that
we can find our seats, ways we can find how to be the person we are, in the middle
of the questions we are. Then we may express that clearly, right in the middle
of confusion. I don't know if that works as well as Jesus and God, but anyway,
that's what we've got.
you all for being the question you are.
|©2002 Mountain Source Sangha|