Torii

The Myth of Enlightenment

An interview with Dennis Genpo Merzel Sensei, 1988

Question: Let us start with the experience of enlightenment. You said that there is no enlightenment, yet there is an experience.

Sensei: Even the term experience is not accurate, but for lack of better terminology we use the word experience. Actually there is no experience of enlightenment because there is no one there to experience it in that moment. It is actually the experience of no experience. All the time, every moment, we are experiencing all kinds of things through our senses: we are seeing things, we are hearing, smelling, touching, thinking, so forth. And we take for granted that there is an experiencer, the one who experiences all these things. So, we are always experiencing a constant bombardment of sensations, and yet we are always looking for that one experience that is going to completely transform and change our life and give us eternal happiness, eternal bliss, eternal life, or whatever.

So, the very quest for that one experience keeps us divided and keeps us from experiencing reality as it is. And really, it keeps us from experiencing what is actually happening in the moment because we are always waiting for that one, great experience that is going to be the real thing. We are not really living and experiencing each moment. There is always that division between the experiencer and the experience, and the expectation of some other experience.

We have this expectation that there is going to be that great experience and we seek for and want to have this experience. We figure that this experience is going to resolve all our questions and we suffer a lot in our seeking for that experience. What actually happens is the very search itself creates our suffering and our confusion. We have a problem. We are seeking this experience called enlightenment and we believe this is going to really liberate us. That very seeking itself creates our anguish, our suffering. We expect that we are going to find something and thereby end our seeking. But it is actually the contrary. We have to give up the seeking first. Of course, someone can say to us, “Just stop seeking, put an end to seeking. If you do that, that’s it.” But somehow we always put the cart before the horse. We have to stop the seeking, but how do we do that?

This very question, how do we do it, creates the problem because in fact there is no Way. There is no “how to do it.” There is no way, so there is no path. Usually, we think in terms of a path, a way, a method to accomplish something. That works for us in most of our life, with most things. But in this regard, it does not work that way. There is no means to get there. So even though the very asking, the very trying, is the problem, the only thing we can do is to ask the question and try to find the answer.

We usually approach the problem in two ways and both ways place the problem outside of ourself. Either we think that somebody else can help us or that over time everything will become clear. With the first, maybe we are sophisticated enough to know that no one else can actually do it for us, but some teacher can guide us. And yet, teachers say over and over again, “Do not seek outside yourself, do not look for it outside yourself.” The fact is, nobody can guide you, nobody can help you, because it is your trip, your path, your way, and nobody else has exactly the same way. Whatever my way of searching has been, that is my way and your way is going to be different because you have a different personality, a different karma and so forth. If I sat for so many years at Zen Center of Los Angeles and studied with such and such and did such and such and did it for so long, it does not mean anything. That was my way and I had no choice, that was the way for me to do it or to search for it. Each person has his own way.

The second way we put it outside ourself is to think that we shall find something in the future, tomorrow I will understand all this, understand what he is talking about. Always we put it in the future and yet tomorrow never comes.

Q: It feels that we have to search because we cannot help it. There is that question, so we search. But at a certain point, when the search drops, when the question drops, it is not necessarily because we have searched everywhere and we never found any answer. When the search drops, there is a kind of experience, I do not know how to call it, which happens and then there is nobody there any more, but it looks like that has almost nothing to do with the search itself.

S: It is not an experience at that point. There is no one there to have the experience. That is the point. At that moment, there is no enlightenment and no self to experience the enlightenment. You get to the point where all searching is in vain, all such seeking finally is in vain. There is no resolution, there is no answer to it. And the question does drop, or the searching does drop. If we really throw ourself into it completely and we are convinced one hundred percent that we have done everything possible to find it then we realize at that moment that there is nothing to be attained. In Zen practice this means we have sat with complete faith in our sitting, putting all our faith in the sitting, looked as deeply as one can look, as deeply as anyone has ever looked, the mind is quiet and still and deep, and then when we still cannot grasp it, cannot attain it, we realize that there is no attainment, nothing to be grasped - it is ungraspable - because in that moment there is no one to grasp it, there is no longer that so-called division between the one who grasps and that which is being grasped, the subject and the object.

Q: That is dropping off body and mind.

S: That is what we call to drop off body and mind. Everything is dropped off at that moment. Body and mind is dropped off. Not only body and mind, everything is dropped off. Not just body and mind, all phenomena, all things. Everything. But that is not an experience, there is nobody there to experience anything. That goes on, it can be a few moments, a few minutes, whatever, then there is a realization that something has not happened. It has been called an eternal moment or whatever. Now, something is different, all I can say is that something has been short-circuited. It is like an explosion. But I do not want to give you the concept that there is going to be an explosion because everything that you think is going to happen is not going to happen. Because nothing will happen. Nothing is happening.

But something has changed. It is like all the wires now are short- circuited. The body goes through a tremendous transformation because now when you see, you just see. When you hear, you just hear. There is no longer that separation or that division. But, again, if you are waiting to have an experience where there is no longer any separation or division, you are just deluding yourself.

Q: But the experiencer comes back. It is not that the experiencer is gone forever.

S: But now somehow you do not have that notion that the experiencer really is something. There is just experiencing, moment to moment. There is just seeing, there is just hearing. And there is no longer a notion of anything substantial called “I.” It is just something you refer to as I or Me because we need to. Sometimes we say “the speaker” or we say “this one,” but there is no longer any kind of identification or attachment to the so-called self, because you have really seen that there is no self. It is really true. There is no self. There is no hearer, there is no one who sees, there is no perceiver, there is no experiencer, there is no translator. There is no one who is interpreting everything. All that just stops.

Then when you see something, you just see that thing, without first naming it. Of course, when we need to name it, we name it. That was a dog. That was a cat. But the actual seeing is just seeing. Yet if somebody tries to pay close attention while seeing something, they are looking at a flower and they try to just see it, it is impossible; they are just deluding themselves. It is just another trip, another way of trying. Finally, all trying must stop, all efforting must cease. That is what you realize. Another way I can say this: you realize that there is nothing to realize. That is the realization. There is absolutely nothing to realize.

Q: There is nothing we can know?

S: There is absolutely nothing that we can know, other than every day things. I know that when I stick my hand into the fire, it burns.

Q: That means there is no answer to our questions, but also that there are no questions any more.

S: Right. The question is dropped off. Just burned out. You realize finally, and the word “finally” is the key one, that there is no answer to the questions “Who am I?” or “What am I?” or “What is it?” or “How do I get it?” In fact, when we see someone that we think or call enlightened and we see that something appears to be different about this so-called enlightened person, we wonder, “How do I get that same state of mind, or same experience, that this person had?” That is where the problem begins because then we are naming so-called enlightened people and so-called non-enlightened people. We’ve placed our basic dilemma outside ourself. And now we want to become one of those enlightened people. Right away we are trapped in a dualistic notion. The so-called enlightened person does not feel any different or any better than the common man on the street.

Q: But something is different. It seems like the enlightened person has no self there, that is the big difference.

S: But there is no one there to divide or to make the distinction. The so-called enlightened person does not feel like he is any better or any worse. For him he is just an ordinary person and that is perfect. Other people, those who think that there are enlightened people and non-enlightened people, somehow they feel a need to be special. They want to be unique. The fact is that each individual is already absolutely unique. That is fact. There are no two things exactly alike. This is fact and this is the beauty and the wonder. It is glorious that there are no two of us exactly alike.

What we try to do is be like somebody else or we try to be like some image we have of the perfect person. We all have these images, growing up like Superman or Superwoman, Jesus Christ or Mary Magdalene, or Mother Theresa. We hold our ideal up, and we want to be like this ideal person. All we end up doing is putting ourself down for not living up to those pictures or those expectations.

Now, what if someone says, “Do not hold up those pictures. Do not have those expectations. Just be yourself.” What we try to do is we try to be just ourself. In a way that is what the Sixties Movement was, all of us trying to be ourselves. But even saying “Be yourself,” in a way it is false because what self is that? Our so-called self is constantly changing, in constant movement. It is not fixed, there is nothing substantial, it is not solid.

Q: We try to become something with certain characteristics related to certain ideas about what we should be.

S: Exactly. When we drop that, then we can just be ourself without trying. Self is constantly changing. Then there can be a real relaxation, a letting go, because there is not all this effort and all this energy going into being something or into becoming something, something special, ideal, holy, spiritual, masculine, feminine or whatever. All that drops away and in that relaxation one is able to just be what one is. Then we can really accept things as they are, rather than trying to control things or own or possess or dominate. Now, there is an ability to be in the moment.

But, again, if I say to be in the moment and we make that a goal and we say, “O.K., I have to be in the moment,” that becomes another problem. Now we are trying to be in the moment. That is like binding oneself without a rope, trying to be in the moment, trying to be attentive or trying to be mindful. Sure, when we see someone who has reached this point, we say, “Oh, they are present. They are living in the moment.” But as soon as we make that some ideal, it won’t work.

Another point is that if we have the dualistic notion that there is a practice and a not-practice, then always there is going to be a division. We say, “I sit every day and when I am sitting I am able to accept things more the way they are. How do I do this in my daily life?” Right away we create the schism with that question, “How do I do it in my daily life?” It is simply impossible. It is impossible to bring the practice into daily life. It is impossible to bring zazen into one’s daily life. Give up trying to do this. It would save you a tremendous amount of effort.

I do not know how this came about for me personally, but somehow I never tried to bring my zazen into daily life. Somehow I knew intuitively that it is impossible. I never asked that question, which is the most common question asked. As long as practice is something special and something that I do, I practice Zen or I practice this or that, whatever it might be, then if it is something special, it is impossible to bring that into daily life. When we really stop practicing, stop practicing Zen, stop practicing anything, stop practicing to be spiritual, when we really stop then what happens is that there is just daily life.

To stop practicing does not mean you stop sitting necessarily. I never stopped sitting, but if somebody asks me, “Do you practice Zen? Do you practice sitting?” I have to say honestly, “No, I do not.” Yet I sit every day. But I am not practicing sitting. That is an absurd concept. How do you practice sitting? How do you practice Zen? How do you practice making love? We just do it. When it is time to sit down on a cushion, just sit on a cushion. When it is time to get off from the cushion and walk, just walk. When it is time to do interviews, just do interviews. Time to go cook, cook. Time to wash up, wash up. We do not practice washing up or cooking. So, in the same way, we do not practice zazen. When it is time to sit, just sit. Then our sitting is without any particular purpose or reason. We are not practicing sitting in order to become enlightened, to go deeper into samadhi, to feel better, or to get into one state of ecstasy or whatever.

Then sitting is true sitting, what we call pure sitting. As long as there is any reason for why we are sitting, it is not pure sitting. It is still based on an idea that we have of some place to get to or something to attain. It is the work of the ego to get some place. There is nothing wrong with the work of the ego. That is also being ourself. Simply, when we get attached to this work, we create a lot of suffering for ourselves.

When we can see that there is a cause why we suffer and when we just suffer, that is called non-suffering. When there is a cause for us to get angry and we are just angry, that is an empty anger. Somehow, we think with our dualistic mind that the way we put an end to anger, the way we put an end to suffering, is we actually stop and never suffer again and we never get angry again. That is suppressing ourself. Suppressing ourself from experiencing what there is to experience. We are trying to cut off the experiencing rather than seeing or realizing that there is no experiencer. And that everything has a cause. So when it is time to be angry, when there is a reason to get angry, when my son hits my daughter who is four years younger and I said, “Tai, stop that, do not hit her.” In that moment I am angry and then it is gone. But if I hold to the notion that enlightened people do not get angry, I cannot even allow myself to get angry. So I suppress it and it just builds up. If I do not have any desire to be enlightened realizing that there is no enlightenment, how can I be an enlightened person? I am just an ordinary person. Then there is no notion that I should not be angry. When there is a reason to be angry, just be angry, a reason to suffer, if we have cancer, we will die, we just suffer.

Somehow, then, the suffering is not the same, the anger is not the same, because there is no self involved in it. It is very pure. Just suffering. Just angry. Just depressed.

Q: It seems that to be ordinary is just responding to everything which is happening.

S: Exactly. Normally we do not respond to things, we react. We are reacting and the thoughts going through our mind are always dualistic. Something happens and we put it through our computer. First we label it. We say, “I do not like it this way.” Then we react to it. We are reacting somehow like a robot, out of all our conditioned patterns and ideas. When there is no mind, when we really see for sure that there is no mind or at least we cannot find anything that we can call mind, when all we discover is just thoughts, just sensations, when we see that, again as I said, it is a short-circuit, then whatever happens we are just responding naturally to the situation in the moment. Just responding, not through the head, not through the mind. There is no having to even think about it. There is no right or wrong, just natural instinct. This is truly what being responsible means, to respond to the situation in the moment without any preconceived notions.

Q: That brings us to the question of: why surrender?, why give up all notions and preconceived ideas. Is surrendering to a teacher a way to empty ourself of these ideas and notions, is it responding to whatever happens, where you have really no preconceived ideas about anything? You are just in the moment and whatever happens you just act on it, and that is it.

S: What you are saying is basically true, but I can see so many places where we can get caught in this. If we think I should just respond or just act in the moment, that becomes another idea. This is why in Zen all the emphasis has been on Prajna Wisdom, on that Transcendental Wisdom which goes beyond the dichotomy of right, wrong, good and bad. Unless we actually realize this Prajna Wisdom or what I am calling “nothing to gain, no enlightenment,” unless we actually have that realization, now again I am saying that there is a realization, which is to realize that there is nothing to realize, unless we have that, somehow everything that we say becomes another trap, another concept. If I say, “We should just respond” then people think, “Oh, I should just respond.” That becomes another trap, and all these schools have been formed on all these different traps of we should just be mindful or we should just be attentive or we should just respond. So, there is the natural school, there is the mindful school, there is the attentive school, the sitting school. In a way, they are all traps. There is no way.

What does it mean to surrender to one teacher? The point is not surrendering to any teacher. The point is to surrender. Completely.

Q: We surrender to one teacher because we cannot surrender in the abstract. It does not mean much.

S: If we could really do it, that would be great. Maybe some have done it. What we tend to do is that we tend to think we are surrendering, but all we are doing is surrendering to our own concepts and to our own ideas. That becomes another game, another way of deceiving oneself.

Q: The way to surrender is to really forget ourself.

S: Let me say it this way. With the teacher we have to begin to drop our ideas of what it is to be enlightened and what a teacher is. We start seeing that even though for the so-called enlightened teachers, enlightened people, whatever they say might be true to them, when we take it for truth it is bullshit. When we take it, it becomes just a concept, it is just an idea. At some point we realize that we have to go alone, that we have to give up the idea that anyone or anything else has got the answer. We have to stand on our own two feet. So, if I had to say what the purpose of the teacher is, it is just to keep throwing one back on himself. To me it is the only point of the teacher. There really is no teacher. There cannot be a teacher for this.

One Zen Master said, “I do not say there is no Zen, I just say there is no master of Zen.” There is no Zen Master. There cannot be. Except as each person. That is what we have to realize. Each one of us is the master. There is no master outside of ourself, there is no power, there is no guru, there is no god outside. Whatever is here is also there, whatever is there is here. No outside, no inside. There is no such dichotomy, no such division. So we have to really see, realize and accept that the so-called master is oneself, or no self, at that moment when we are no longer identified with ourself. In order to do this we have to really revolt or rebel against any figure outside ourself, any authority or any practice or any means that we have placed outside ourself. Of course, we have to be ready for that. That means we have to have a certain foundation, a certain faith in ourself.

That is why the so-called experience of enlightenment seems to take time. Truthfully, there is no time involved and yet it seems to take time. Time to develop enough faith and confidence to let go of outside crutches like something or someone to depend on. And this is very important: we have to go through that fear of letting go of what appears to be support. We appear to be dependent and supported by outside agencies such as a teacher, a master, a guru, a path, a practice or a means. We have to finally say, “Screw it. I have been doing this for so long, I have been practicing this for so long, and still I have gained absolutely nothing from it. I have attained nothing from all of this. Nothing from him. Nothing from them. Nothing from it. I am in the same place that I was ten, fifteen, twenty-five years ago. Sure, certain things have changed, but I do not know anything more than I knew then.”

When you begin to perceive things this way, it is called the great doubt. You see and you begin to doubt in everything, in all means, in all ways, in all practices, in all people. You start to really question, “What did Buddha know? What did Jesus Christ know? What did any of these masters realize? I have no proof that they knew, saw or realized anything more than me or were any way better than me. Who the hell are they anyway?” And you begin to doubt, “I have been doing all the things I am supposed to do and still I have not attained or realized anything. Sure I thought I had. But they all turned out to be empty and full of deception. So what is this all about?” And then because at this point you have built up enough faith and confidence in yourself or in no self, whatever way you want to say it, you are willing to face the fear. And this fear is of being completely alone. There is no authority. There is no one I can turn to and say, “Am I doing this right? Am I on the right track? Have I done it yet?” because who are they? How can you trust them when you cannot even trust your own experience? At the point when one is willing to face that fear, the search comes to an end because you just give up. You throw in the towel because who are you going to depend on? Who is going to tell you, “Now you made it, now you have arrived?”

So, the seeking mind comes to rest. You see that from the very beginning there has been no one hindering you, no one stopping you, no one obstructing you. There has been nothing to obstruct, no so-called window or door to pass through or river to cross. There has been no place to go, there has been nothing to do. You realize that you have always been it. There was nothing further to gain. There was nothing to add. All of this was just putting another head on top of our head and thereby becoming a freak. At this point too that authority, that teacher who before this is like our greatest friend on the path becomes our worst enemy, a nightmare. Somehow we have to face the fact that we got nothing from him, he has given us nothing. Why? Simply, it is impossible for him or her to give us anything. It is impossible for me to give you anything, or to do anything for you. It is impossible, and as long as we think it is possible we blame and get angry at our spiritual teacher or master. Finally, when we come to the core of the matter, there is no one we can blame, there is no one we can be angry at. It is simply the way it is. Then we see how really perfect it is. Everything is O.K. as it is. Everything is O.K.

Of course, again, prior to so-called enlightenment, if one tries to live this way, it is always a problem. If we have the attitude of trying to do what it is time to do, we end up saying, “How do I know it is time to do this?” Simply we cannot. It is impossible, because we are trying. There is still the gap. There is still the division. Each person then is still reacting rather than responding. When there is no longer the attachment to self or the identification of self, there is just response. It is not even a question anymore of free will or some kind of predestination. Just in that moment there are conditions and you are just instinctively responding to those conditions without a gap, without division. That is why all of this talk in a way is so ridiculous and so absurd. The only thing to do really is to realize it. And that is why in Zen always the emphasis has been on the realization. Then the actualization is the most natural outgrowth, the most natural manifestation. It comes by itself. Really, the natural mind is It. The ordinary mind is the way. Unfortunately, when we say to be ordinary is it or to be natural is it, we almost automatically get some ideas of what it is to be natural, or what it is to be ordinary. And that is not it. Once body and mind are dropped off, the natural mind is it. So all this talk in a way is just creating more problems for people.

Q: Yes, it creates more problems, but still it feels that there is a direction and there is something which sounds true and right in these talks.

S: Even the direction becomes another obstacle because we hold on to the notion that, “This is the direction.” Then we do not really have to face the fact that there is no direction. It is directionless. So as long as we have something to hold on to, we will hold on to it, rather than to really face the fear and the hopelessness and helplessness that arise.

Q: So the so-called teacher should not speak; there should be no text.

S: That is it. Some of the best and most powerful teachings and teachers have been those who do not speak, who when asked a question, just turn around and face the wall or held up a finger or fist or walked out of the room. But who can really take that kind of teaching?

Q: But if nobody can really help anybody, why even try to help?

S: The point is that at this place there is not even a trying. It is just a natural, spontaneous response to a situation. You ask a question, one responses to the question.

Q: As a teacher you cannot stop yourself from helping?

S: I would not even use the word helping. For me personally it is more natural to answer your question that to ignore it. Sometimes I do ignore it, but often I will answer or give a response. It is (the analogy is so old) like a flower: it just gives us fragrance. A flower is not trying to give us fragrance. A bird is not trying to make beautiful tunes, a bird is just singing. We are just speaking.

Q: You can find this same naturalness in somebody who searches. He searches and at first he thinks he is going to have some help from outside, some help from texts or from a practice or from a so-called teacher or whoever. It is the same kind of natural mind. You think you cannot find everything in yourself first.

S: I do not know if I would call that natural mind. I would not call the searching mind the natural mind. That is the seeking mind. Definitely one expects to get help from a teacher, that is why we go to a teacher. There is this impulse, natural impulse to do whatever is possible to let a person wake up, but even this is a delusion because there is no one who is not perfect as they are. And it takes a dualistic mind, it takes discrimination to say, “This person needs help.” With natural mind you do not even think in these terms. If someone comes to you and seeks help that means they think they need help. So you naturally respond to that person, you give something, although you do not feel like you are giving anything because you are just responding. The person has a question, you do something, you say something, you act in a certain way. Then he takes that as help. You do not even feel like you are helping, there is no sense of “That person really needs help.”

Q: Because ultimately, as you said before, you throw him back to himself.

S: Right. That is why it is said, teachers are nothing but a mirror. As long as there exists a notion of, “I am helping somebody,” that is not it. That is what therapists are doing. A client comes in and they are there to help, to assist the person, making them better or to be able to function in the world. It does not have to be in Zen, but when you are at this point of natural mind, none of these notions come up. Who am I to save anybody? Who gave me the proclamation, “You are to save anybody.” There is just responding to the situation. When people come, thinking that you know something they do not know or that you have attained something they have not attained, then they want whatever it is that they think you have. That is what we call the basic delusion, the idea that we are lacking something. So, for a teacher then, there is only to show the seeker that they are not lacking anything. There is nothing missing, there is nothing lacking.

Then, whatever means of teaching is appropriate (not that you are looking for appropriate ways), you are just responding naturally to the situation, and it becomes the right response. It might be hitting the person with a stick, saying something or walking out of the room. It can be any number of responses. The response arises and you do it. It is done, you do not even do it.

Q: And you never know before what the response will be, it changes all the time.

S: Yes, because in every situation, you enter that situation with no preconceived notions, no preconceived ideas of what is going to occur, what is appropriate or what is right or what is wrong. It is just there. When somebody asks the question or somebody comes in and says something, in that moment you just respond. There is no division between other and self. There is no boundary.

Q: O.K. So why does it seem so difficult to drop off our ideas, to drop off body and mind?

S: Even to drop off body and mind is an idea. That there is anything to be done is still an idea. As I said, when the realization that there is nothing to be done occurs, we call that dropping off body and mind or enlightenment. But any idea that we have that there is something to be done, something to be achieved that idea is the problem in the first place, is the obstacle to the realization. Who wants to face that there is nothing to do, that there is really just this? This is it. Who wants to face that? Always we create obstacles. We have this hope, that tomorrow we will get it, tomorrow we will understand what is being said.

Q: Yes, If I do something right I will get to a point which is going to be right.

S: Yes. If I do just the right thing, if I purify myself enough, if I do enough of these exercises, enough of these practices, then I am going to reach it. But I never reach it. I cannot reach it.

Q: “I” will not be there.

S: So we think, “All right then, I have to drop the ‘I.’” That too is a delusion. Just another idea. What ‘I’ is going to drop the ‘I?’ It is all thought. What thought can drop the other thought? It is just a bubbling up of thoughts. Put all these thoughts together and you have a concept of self. So, who is the one that is going to do the dropping? That is why there is nothing to do. If I say, “We just let go,” then we think, “Oh, then I just have to let go.” All these teachings, all these answers finally have to be thrown out, they have to be taken to the end of every possibility. We have to see the total futility of all our seeking.

Q: So whatever you do, you do not make any effort.

S: Even that becomes an idea, but yes. Once all this efforting has been dropped off, then whatever you do is rather effortless. Even making an effort is all right. When you carry a heavy load, you make an effort, nothing wrong with that. Or you are working-out, doing karate or running, maybe there is efforting. But it is effortless, you are just doing it, there is no division, there is no, “I am efforting.” You are one hundred percent putting yourself into the activity, doing something completely and wholehearted. But that becomes another idea, “I should do everything wholehearted or effortlessly.” And both become dangerous. We think we should do something effortlessly, and every time we make an effort we think we are wrong. Or we should do something wholehearted and every time we do not feel we have done it wholehearted or completely we think we are wrong.

All the teachings become a trap, there is nothing that can be said. Even with the very best teaching, we will find a way to screw it up. We will interpret it, we will cling to it, we will attach to it and we will make it into something a little better than shit, not much. And if you do not have a living teacher there to constantly take it away from you, you will turn it into shit. The very best teaching. Go back to the very best of them, you can read it all. It is all there. It does not do you any good. That is why in Zen some masters ended up burning the sutras and creating their own shit. I cannot even read the stuff that I have said anymore. It turns my stomach. For the Kanzeon Journal I was trying to go through some of the stuff that I have said one year ago, and it turned my stomach. So I read the stuff I said yesterday and that turned my stomach. As soon as it goes into print, it is dead. What I am saying, right now, I do not know for you, but for me it is alive.

Q: It feels that the stage where there is no self and there is simply response is the way to really take care of all the psychological problems we can be in. It feels that as long as we have not reached this stage we are only working on the self or an image of self.

S: I tend to agree with you. So much (maybe all) of the psychological work we do is somehow to have a better sense of ourself or a stronger sense of the self, which really means a stronger image of the self; to have a very clear definition of who we are, clear guidelines of who we are. The very defining of the self creates a boundary, creates a division between oneself and everyone and everything else. So the more firm our notion of self is the more, in a way, we have separated ourself from others, separated ourself from the environment and then the less we can really respond. When we are reacting maybe we are reacting wisely, intelligently, but still we are reacting.

It is so crucial to realize that there is no self, there is no self that attains anything, enlightenment or something like that. There really is no self. The problem is that the thought of that is so threatening. We have so much fear around the idea that we will lose ourselves.

Q: The whole thing about enlightenment is that we have a very beautiful picture of it and we don’t want to think that there will be nobody there to enjoy it. Is that the fear?

S: That is correct. The ego or the self is working so hard to get enlightened and wants to walk around with medals on its chest and saying to everybody, “I did it, I made it, I finally arrived, I am enlightened,” but the ego is not going to be there at that moment. There will be no one there who is going to be able to gloat and feel, “I have arrived.” So in a way it is like a moth that comes to a flame and finally the very moth that brings itself to the flame is no longer there. It has become one with the flame. What happens in that very moment is that we experience the five skandhas, or five conditions as empty. The self that is made up of these five aggregates has become empty. It is there and it is not there. Then, there is a feeling of “Why have I been so stupid not to have seen this before, realize this before? What have I been seeking? What have I been looking for?” This comes as a great relief, a great joy.

Q: Before that stage, no-self looks like death, like someone is dying during the whole process. That is the fear.

S: That is right. The self-image that we have, those concepts and ideas and notions of who we are, are dropped or seen through. The identification with them ceases to be so strong and eventually ceases to be at all. So the attachment to the self drops off. In this way, there is less greediness, less ambition. Not to say that greediness is wrong or ambition is wrong. If we try not to be greedy, we are just going to be even more greedy. But when there is not the identification with the self, then one is less greedy, less ambitious, less angry and has less desires, less cravings, less attachments and less fear. We can say has no fear, no attachment, but there are times where there is fear, there are times where there is good reason for fear. You walk up to the edge of a cliff and you had not noticed it and it takes you breath away just the moment before you step off. We can call that intelligence or wisdom. You do not step off. But there is not the same kind of fear of annihilation, of non-being, of disappearing, of dissolving, because there is nothing there any longer that we are identified with that is going to disappear.

Q: But when this experience or whatever, I do not know which word to use really, happens and there is no self, and you feel completely ordinary, then what do you do?

S: There is really nothing to do. And do not take that wrong. Then whatever it is time to do, one just does that. That is why schedule is kind of nice. I always feel like my own functioning is best during sesshin where there is a very tightly made schedule. It is time to wake up, you just get up. Time to go sit, you just go sit. Time to eat, just eat. Time to work, just work. Time to go to the toilet, just go to the toilet. Time to go to bed, just go to bed. It makes things very simple. You just do what is the next thing to do. There is no sense, “I am doing something in order to get something, like appreciation from someone else, approval from someone else, love from someone else.” It is just time to empty the garbage, you empty the garbage. When there is no schedule, then, as the old saying goes, when you are tired, you rest; when hungry, you eat. You shouldn’t make more work for yourself.

Q: Does that also mean that there would be no judgment any more? When you see everything is O.K. what does that mean? Do you mean, when it is bad it is O.K. when it is good it is O.K.?

S: I would not say that. I would say, it is what it is. If you want to be rich, that is O.K. If you want to be famous, that is O.K. If you want to practice and be a monk, that is O.K. It is all O.K. with me. But if you take a gun to my daughter’s head or my son’s head, I will not let you shoot them. So I do not know how to answer that. There is no absolute about it. If you try to drown one of my kids, I would do something about it. Or if you try to hurt the person next to me, I would try to stop you. I just respond to the situation in the moment. We can say there is nothing wrong or everything is perfect. The response is O.K. No regret, no fear that I did wrong, that I made a mistake, or that I did good and right. Because there is no ‘I’ in it. You are just responding to the situation in the moment. And somehow then the response is more or less appropriate. But by a society’s standards of viewing, it may or may not be appropriate in the country that one is in. If you go to Japan and you do not bow when you greet someone, that is not considerate appropriate. More or less you will bow. But there are certain things that in a culture we may not know. Still, what we do will be appropriate in the situation or in the moment. It just may not fit other people’s pictures. That is actually what we call beyond right and wrong, beyond good or bad. Of course, this understanding can be misused or abused by people who may think that they are enlightened. But if they think they are enlightened, they are not. We can say they are half way there, that their eye is not really open. So they are into an ego trip. There is still a notion of self there.

You people think you have given up so much of the self already. You have not begun. This is the easy part up to now. Wait until you get to the nitty-gritty, stuff you do not even realize yet you are identified with as who you are.

My job, as I see it and love it, is to find the things and the places where you are stuck and attached and snatch it away or give you more of it till you get sick of it. If you are attached to a room, the room is going to go; if you are attached to a seat, the seat is going to go; if you are attached to no running for daisan, it is going to go; if you get attached to running, it is going to go; if you are attached to being nice, it would have to go; if you are attached to being mean, it would have to go, if you are attached to fighting it would have to go, if you are attached to not fighting it is going to have to go.

Of course, you can play the game of not letting me know what you are attached to, but the trouble is that you are so transparent! When Roshi went to England, he was there for Trungpa forty-ninth day memorial service, he was talking about Nietzsche, how Nietzsche killed God, and Roshi said, “Definitely there is a God and I believe in God.” And he is talking to Trungpa’s students who are non-theistic, that was Rinpoche’s core teaching, “There is no God.” and that is the crux of Buddhism. Then Roshi went to Paris two days later. There was a catholic practitioner who asked a question and Roshi’s response was, “There is no God and I do not believe in God.” So if your problem has become God, the teacher has to snatch that away. If you are an atheist, we have to snatch it away. Nobody knows for sure why it works this way, but what you are attached to is what we know causes our problem. We know the crux of the problem is attachment. We cling so heavily to our concepts even more than we do to our material possessions. We will probably give up our wife or husband before we give up our beliefs.

Isn’t this true? What is the number one cause of divorce? They say money or sex. It isn’t. It is belief. I do not mean just belief in a religion. I mean our entire belief system. If you have children you know that the number one problem for the parents is the philosophy of how to raise children. You fight constantly over that and it is so hard to give up our beliefs on how to raise children.

It is even harder to give up how to raise ourself, and even further to give up the self. You do not exist. You are, as you know yourself, just a thought, a bunch of thoughts in a bag of skin and bones, some muscles, fibres, water and air. We say the self is the five skandhas. It is all empty. Because it is empty we want to have something to hold on to it, so we create God or a higher power or a true self or Buddha-nature or Buddha-dharma. They do not exist. Sometimes we call God absolute. There is no absolute. There is only the relative. There is no absolute. Absolute is empty. It is nothing. There is only form. There is only phenomena. Therefore form means nothing. Can you follow? No. Not with your mind.

So what is left? If there really is no Buddha, no Dharma, no God no higher power, no true self, no Way, no practice, no wisdom, no gain, no end to suffering, no liberation, no salvation, then what? There is even no surrender. How can there be surrendering? Who is going to do the surrendering? To what? To nothing? Nothing is going to surrender to nothing? No self to no self? No mind to no mind? Then what is left for us? Our miserable existence, our miserable daily life, going to work, feeding the kids, going to the shops, hammering nails, sawing, cooking, cleaning. That is all. Is it not wonderful, always coming back to this? You do not like this. One in a million can really take it. Less than one in a million because the mind goes on hoping it will get better. It never does. This is it.

Q: Sometimes, when you speak, you say contradictory things or both sides, multiple sides.

S: For me the whole point is for us not to get settled down at any place and not to get stuck anywhere. The Sixth Patriarch said it very simply when he was giving advice to his successors, he said, “Whatever they say, say the opposite.” If they come in and say, “It is empty,” you say, “No, it is full.” If they come in and say, “It is full,” you say, “No it is empty.” If they say, “It is mind,” say, “No, it is no-mind.” If they say, “It is no-mind,” say, “It is mind.” So, if you say, “I realized something,” I say, “No you haven’t.” If you say, “I have not realized anything,” I say, “Yes, you have.” You cannot say it completely. Anything that you can say is incomplete. You can always say sixty to eighty percent of it at most. You can never say one hundred percent. Always, whatever we say, whatever we are doing at that particular time, whatever we are expressing is going to be one-sided. A good teacher is going to move constantly back and forth, looking like he is contradicting himself, but not really doing so because both sides have to be expressed and seen clearly.

The very thing that we call the realization is that there is nothing to be realized. The realization itself is of nothing. Literally, it is nothing. Nothing is attained, nothing is realized, nothing is gained. This is absolutely true. You gain absolutely nothing from such a realization. What is the realization? The realization is that there is no self that can realize anything. There is no self. The delusion is that there is a self. Have I said this enough times? If we do not realize this then we are still stuck in the idea that there is something to be attained. Then I can emphasize, just have great faith, just sit, and eventually the great doubt will gather what I call the critical mass. The doubt will amass itself when there is great faith. Then at that point you will go into the great despair and breakthrough. So, just sit having great faith in Shikantaza.

When you are just sitting and not expecting or looking for anything, that is it. That is the perfect manifestation of your true nature, of your Buddha nature or of your absolute nature. Or I can say the other side. If we do not realize it we will never be satisfied. So, I emphasize that you must clarify this great matter, you must take care of it.

If you go read someone like Dogen Zenji he is constantly emphasizing these two sides, or read Rinzai and you will see the same. Some will tend to emphasize one aspect a little more than the other, just given their personal nature. How to find the right balance? That is always the koan. How, in my position, do I not let you get stuck in any place? How to help you to keep unsticking yourself? Everything comes in opposites. I can also say that I have nothing to give you, I can teach you absolutely nothing. This is absolutely true. No one can.

I can also say that you will never reach enlightenment. This is true and it is very discouraging. I can turn around and say, “You can do it. Everyone of you here can do it, if he or she really sets their mind to it.” Both are true. I am not lying with either statement. They sound contradictory because simply when you reach that place of so-called “just doing it,” you are no longer there. You will never be able to say, “I made it. I arrived.” At the moment of arrival you are not there. You got off the bus. And yet you did it, something did it. Did what? Did nothing! That is why if you are trying to understand me, bad luck, you are just going to suffer, you are just going to cause confusion for yourself.

We really can’t say too much. Maybe all that can be said is that we have to search until we exhaust our search, until we exhaust ourself in the search. There are two approaches the teacher can use. One is to encourage the person, “O.K. really search. If you are going to look, then really look, look completely. Just throw yourself, your whole life, your whole self into this question ‘What is it?’ and find the answer,” knowing full well that this person is never going to find any answer. What will happen is that finally, after completely throwing yourself into the question and absorbing yourself so much into it that everything else in your life becomes empty, the only thing left with any meaning is this search. And so the so-called external world ceases to have the same hold that it used to. It ceases to have the same meaning that it used to. You become free of all these things that were so important before, such as money, fame, prestige, position, sex, power. They just stop having the same significance because you only have one focus at this point, and that focus is to really resolve this question.

Of course, another approach is for the teacher to say, “Stop seeking. Have no goal, no aim.” But how do you do that? How do I stop seeking? How do I stop having an ideal? How do I stop having an aim? How do I just sit, just be, just do whatever I am doing? Again the question or koan will naturally come up. Even to try to stop seeking becomes another problem.

So, either way, we throw ourself completely into the practice until finally at some point, and it does not happen to everyone because it seems to take a complete one hundred percent of putting oneself into the question, we become so absorbed that only the question is left. There is nothing else left. There is no self left. There is no experiencer left. We get to the point where we finally realize that there is no answer.

As I have told you many times, I don’t try to understand myself. I don’t know what I am talking about. You should not try either. If I tried to understand what I am talking about, I would be just as confused as you are. It just comes out of my mouth. I do not try to figure it out. It will save you a lot of fuss if you didn’t either.

Q: So, everything has at least two sides. Was that why you were emphasizing Shikantaza so much during the month-long sesshin this past January and now you seem to be emphasizing something else, more like clarify the great matter, realize that there is nothing to realize?

S: It is just a question of the mood that I am in or what I am reading at the time. There will always be at least two sides. The point is to keep balancing these two sides so we do not get stuck in either place.

We call one side the absolute. The other side we call the experiential. From the absolute side the emphasis is to just sit, to just have great faith, that there is nothing to do, nothing to gain, no place to go. So, just sit.

The experiential side is that we have to realize that there is nothing to realize. We have to clarify this self or this great matter. So, depending on the mood I am in or who I am studying at that particular time, I end up emphasizing one side more than the other. Part of the practice is to empty oneself and to become one with whatever we are doing, or in this case now, whatever we are studying in class. If you are doing a particular koan, like one on Master Joshu, the point is to become Joshu. If you are doing a koan by Nansen, the point is you become Nansen; if you are doing Rinzai, you become Rinzai; if Dogen Zenji, you become Dogen.

This is not a game. In the beginning, when you are first doing koans, you do make it into a little bit of a game. You express your understanding as if you were Joshu or Rinzai, but you do not really believe it. Later, it is for real. When I study Master Dogen, I become Dogen. If I am studying Ejo, I become Ejo. Whoever I am reading, I become that person. You might say I am a great schizophrenic. It is just what happens. The more you empty yourself, the more you are being in that moment, the more you just become whatever you are doing.

There is no real reason to what I am emphasizing now. It is just the mood I have been for the last month or six weeks. For the monthlong I wanted us to just sit. So I emphasized just sitting. I particularly chose not to do Rinzai and some other Masters and to talk more about Ejo, Keizan and Dogen because I knew that is what they emphasize. Now, feeling that it is too easy to get stuck in any position, even that shikantaza is everything, I am emphasizing that you have to realize it. Then if I feel that you are becoming stuck there, I will probably start reading more Dogen or Ejo.

Teachers need to constantly negate the last thing they have just said by saying the so-called other side of it. If I say it takes no effort, the next moment I am saying it does take effort. There is nothing to find but you do find it. There is no enlightenment but there is. But definitely there is no enlightenment because who is going to get enlightened? Each of us must realize at some point this so-called enlightenment. There are no enlightened people, there are no enlightened teachers. No one. There are only those who have realized this and those who have not.

It does not do us any good that the guy next to us has realized this. It is up to each one of us. It does not do us any good that there has been a Buddha or that there has been a Jesus Christ. How is the world any better because there was a Buddha, a Jesus Christ, a Dogen Zenji or any of them? It is always up to the individual. Each individual is what is important, each individual walking through this, getting to that point where all questioning has come to an end and finished everything once and for all. Then there is just living, just doing, just being.

I think I have told you about the very best talk that Roshi ever heard me give, this was years ago. I decided I was going to have some fun and I was going to constantly contradict myself throughout the whole talk. So, one minute I said, “Every one of you can attain enlightenment,” and the next minute, “None of you can attain enlightenment.” Another moment I said, “There is enlightenment,” and the next moment I said, “There is no enlightenment.” I went through one hour and fifteen minutes of this. I walked out the door and Roshi came and said, “Great talk!”

I was just playing a game. Just having fun. I can say, “You have never been born and you will never die,” and I can say, “You are born every moment and you die every moment.” Or, “This life is so short, so impermanent, so temporary, make the best of it, make the most of it, with all your guts and all your determination, go for it.” The next minute I might say, “There is nothing to go for, there is nothing to get, drop all your efforts, drop all trying.” And it is all true. It is the very effort, the very trying that gets in our way, that keeps us from doing it. Yet, if you do not make that effort, you will never do it. You never will. You can sit on your ass for eighty years and you will never do it unless you put yourself completely into it and you want it more than you want anything else in this world. And still, that very determination is your delusion. So you put your whole self into it, you try with all your might and main and finally you realize, “This is stupid, this is utterly ridiculous. What am I beating my head against the wall for? What am I trying to get? What am I trying to attain? This is just a waste of time and effort.” But you would not realize any of these unless you have really gone for it. Then you can quit. Sky is still blue, mountains are still mountains, snow is still white. It is still hard to get up in the morning and my legs hurt.

What really has changed? What is different? Nothing. Only now somehow everything is O.K. It is O.K. to have pain in your legs. It is O.K. to be angry. It is O.K. to be who you are, even if you are not perfect. Before it just wasn’t O.K. Always you wanted to be perfect, you wanted to be something different from what you were. So what has changed? Nothing.

Q: At the stage of no-self, there seems to be a freedom to think and to really dwell on anything which is coming up. There is a freedom to just let the thinking go. What I have noticed with you very often is that your mind is really empty. Whatever the question is there is a response. But there is no idea, no organized thinking behind the thinking. You are able to have an organized thinking if you decide to of course, but there is no pre-organized thinking.

S: Most of the time we are thinking in dualistic terms: self and others, good and bad, right and wrong. That is how we keep the self intact. There is a sense of myself as opposed to everything and everybody else. When there is no dualistic thinking, no conceptual thinking, then there is that emptiness. On the one hand we really want to reach that emptiness, but on the other hand, of course, it is the last thing we want because that is the end of self. So, there is this tremendous conflict that goes on, manifested as resistance. But we do want to reach that place, but that very idea of trying to get to that emptiness or to quiet the mind becomes even more aggravating. Somehow, it only intensifies the thinking. The whole point is to do nothing. Dogen Zenji called this non-thinking. How do you not think? That itself becomes the problem. We want to stop thinking, but how?

As long as there is this sense of self, we cannot. We have to keep the thinking going. Once we have realized finally that there is no self, then there is no longer this thinking going on. The mind is in a very natural state. It is like putting the car into neutral. The gears are disengaged. It is no longer racing. In an automatic car when you come to a stoplight you have to sit with the foot on the brake because the car is always in gear. In a standard shift when you come to the stoplight, you put the clutch in shift into neutral and the car just sits there, out of gear. That is the point, to be out of gear, to be de-clutched. So, natural mind is a mind in neutral. There is no waste of energy. The mind is not necessarily empty, there are thoughts coming up. They bubble up and they come and they go, but they are not a hindrance, they are no bother, they do not disturb or perturb. They are just bubbles coming to the surface. When it is a time to put the mind into gear, it is totally there for that moment, to respond to that particular situation. And when it is no longer needed, it shifts back to neutral. We call this state, non-thinking. But do not think that you ever stop thinking or that you can stop thoughts from arising. You can stop dualistic thinking, but there is always going to be thoughts coming up. We should never have the idea that we have to stop thoughts from occurring. That would be another form of suppressing the mind. The natural function of the mind is to secrete thoughts, just like the glands secrete hormones as their natural function. In this way, we just let the mind function naturally.

Again we come back to the point that there is nothing to do. The natural state of mind is such. Somehow, we have become very unnatural. We have this fear of emptiness or of aloneness or of boredom. Consequently, what do we do? We try to fill the mind up with all kinds of things like talking and thinking. We even talk to ourself. Usually, we consider somebody crazy if we see them talking to themselves in the street. But we are only one step away from that. We are always talking to ourselves, we just don’t realize it. Why do we have to keep that emotion all the time? It takes so much energy to keep that emotion. Really, the effortless thing to do is to let it all go, to be in a natural neutral state and not make any effort to keep thinking. In fact, it is harder for me now to think! It requires some effort when it is time to figure out taxes or something complicated.

Q: It seems that if we want to go in a direction and if we make an effort in order to get there, this is really the worst way to get there. In that no-self state, I do not know how to call it, where thinking is just thinking, there is no way to try to get there.

S: If you try to make no effort, right there you are making an effort. We come again to this point that finally we realize that all means, all gimmicks, all ways, come to naught. There is no way we can do this.

Q: Is that what Dogen Zenji called no practice?

S: Right. There is no practice. There is no means. There is no way. There is no process that is going to get us there. Finally, we have to really give up. We come to the end of the line and we have to throw in the towel. We know there is something we want to attain, but we do not know how to do it and we do not know what it is. So either ask, “What is it?” or “How do I get there?” And finally whatever the question is that we are asking, we come to the end of the line, we come to the point where all our trying, all our efforting, all our seeking, all our means, all our ways, all our practice do not do it. Nothing can do it. Nothing can deliver us.

Q: But we cannot help trying all kinds of ways, all kinds of directions, all kinds of methods.

S: No, we cannot help but try and if we don’t try, it is like sitting down in a prison and just accepting our imprisonment. That doesn’t work either, we are still in prison. Just accepting the fact that we are in prison does not do it. So we bang up against the walls, we try and try and try. We have to try, we have to make that effort and yet that trying and that efforting is the very thing that keeps us from succeeding. There is no success. I am saying to succeed, but really it means we fail. Every avenue we take, every attempt we make, finally we fail. There is no way. We just cannot do it. Because of what we are, because of the way we are created, nothing works.

Q: How can we practice with this in mind: that it is not the practice which is going to do it?

S: There is not any way. You must practice. You can just sit, trying to do shikantaza, just sitting with no goal, or you can sit with a koan or you can sit with breathing or whatever you do, and finally what happens is that you realize nothing is working. You have not really made it. Maybe you have gone through certain experiences, you have passed certain koans, your life is going better, but still there is an underlying feeling that it has not worked, there is this sense of utter despair, that nothing has really done it for you.

Q: So we should practice with the notion that there is no practice.

S: Anything you do is going to be a notion. There is a practice, there is no practice; there is a way, there is no way; these are all notions at this point until you come to the end of your search, until you have really done everything humanly possible. Finally then, you are completely without means, without an answer, without any “how” to do it, without any way. And then, you quit. Everything is released, everything is relinquished. All your efforting, all your trying, has come to an end and there is nothing more to do. There is nothing you can attain. There is nothing you can grasp. It is finished. Your search is over. There is just living, just being. There is just your life, to do whatever you need to do.

This is what is called liberation or freedom, but it is not particularly liberation and not necessarily freedom. There is still karma. But now rather than there being resistance to what is happening, cause and effect, you just are one with it. There is no separation, there is no division now. When there is a door, you open it and you walk through. You do not try to walk through walls. When it is time to fly, you get on a plane. You do not try to fly. You have accepted your limitations completely. So, they are no longer your limitations. Birds fly, men do not. You are one with whatever the situation is.

Some of us have this idea that the so-called enlightened person is supposed to be above causation or free from causation, but that is ridiculous. A so-called enlightened person is just at one with causation, at one with karma. He is the karma, neither free nor not free. Or the karma is he. There is no he, there is no karma. There is just every moment manifesting itself. So there is no denial, there is no resistance to it. No picking or choosing. This does not mean that when it is time to decide if I prefer chocolate ice cream over vanilla, that either one is O.K. I would have chocolate rather than vanilla. There is no notion of, “I should not pick or choose, I should not have preferences.”

Again, every teaching becomes the obstacle. The third patriarch said, “Avoid picking and choosing.” Sure, if you avoid picking and choosing, the perfect way knows no difficulty. When this is the natural way then we are just functioning. Then we are free to pick and choose. Somehow when it is not directly our own experience, when it is outside of our experience as a teaching, then it becomes another hindrance, another koan.

Dogen Zenji said in the Fukanzazenji, “Just stop thinking. How? Non-thinking.” For him, probably, non-thinking was his natural state. But when you tell somebody to just stop thinking, that becomes a koan, “How do I stop thinking?” You have just presented him a big problem. Maybe it is better to not tell him anything. That is why before I knew anything about sitting, sitting was shikantaza. I loved doing it. When I started to learn about sitting, it became a real ordeal. I moved away from that natural state of just sitting into doing something, counting my breath or working on koans. In a way it was ridiculous. After fifteen years, I had to return to sitting with no idea of what I am supposed to. However, we have to go through that entire process and then return to our very natural state of just being. And yet there is a difference then. Different and yet it is the same.

Q: What is the difference? Awareness?

S: No. I would not say awareness. Before, we were constantly creating a division. Afterwards, that division does not get created. That boundary does not get created. We can say that before we were reacting and afterwards we are responding. There are many different ways of saying this. Before, our mind was not really natural, maybe as a baby it was natural, but somehow it has become unnatural as we grew older and we now have to return to that natural state. It does feel like a complete circle. As someone once said, it is more like a spiral. Of course, there is a difference in our confidence, trust and faith. Before there was so little faith and trust and that is what created all the problems, that lack of faith in no-self. Afterwards, one’s life is not separated from faith, one’s life is just faith. No need to control. One is just living in the moment. There is not even a sense of moment or even of time. There is just doing whatever is needed to do, responding to whatever situation. Really, nothing to do.

It is so much easier to acquire our interpretation of the teaching and hold on to it. It is comfortable and convenient and safe. It is like having money in the bank, something that justifies our existence and agrees with our ideas and our beliefs. It is so wonderful to have that supporting us. But the living teaching is constantly catching us in the craw. We have to constantly swallow stuff we do not want to swallow, look at things we do not want to look at and face things we do not want to face.

If you think I am being so negative, I will say the other side. When you really see this, when you really get it, there is no suffering. There is complete liberation, freedom, peace and joy. There is nirvana. But what will you do with this? “Oh, that is what I want! What do I do to get that?” Realize there is no liberation, no peace, no nirvana, no end to suffering, no wisdom, no gain and nothing to be attained. Then the Bodhisattva lives Prajna Paramita.

The Way itself keeps moving. That is what the Tao is, movement, change, flux like a river. You have to move with it. You cannot stop and build your little pool some place alongside the river. That is where you get stuck and you become stagnant, dead and lifeless. When you really throw yourself into that river, there is no control, no safety and no security. You are flowing down the fast river. You have to really let go. It does not help to try to grasp or clutch at every branch or at every stone. Then, you are truly alive and truly free. You are the Way itself. Thank you.

Copyright 1988 by Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi. Used with permission.

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