Presented by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei
Dainen-ji, August 25, 2018
If you were to take a moment to think about the last ten thoughts that you thought, could you even remember what they were with real accuracy? The last nine? The last three?
Most of your thoughts are just echoing back to yourself what you already know. For an extremely simple example, you hear the sound of a bird and you think "bird". You already knew it was a bird, before the word came up, and the word doesn't give you any more information about what that sound was. But you say it to yourself anyway, as though it were necessary, as though it actually means something about the experience of hearing the sound. You're no longer hearing the sound because you're listening to yourself talking to yourself about a bird that at this point exists only as an idea in your head. Or you hear someone cough and you think "I hope I don't get what he has". But you already know that, right? Let's say you're anxious about something. You might think something along the lines of "Oh I am so worried about so and so". But you already know that too, because before the words formed, there was a feeling of anxiety, which you then described to yourself in words.
How much of your intelligence is tied up in closed recursive loops like these? The "content" of the storylines, your thoughts and feelings about various topics you tie yourself in knots about, are always occurring within a larger context.
When you are sitting zazen, you can make the choice to open to the widest possible context, the open expanse of vast space, which not a place or a certain kind of space and definitely not a state of mind. It cannot be imagined or thought of or about. It is a coming and going of infinite ever-changing details, open to the ten directions. It has no edges or boundaries because it is your entire experience and of the Nature of Experiencing as Such. And even these are just the contents arising within various contexts which are all just contents within the ultimate context of Experiencing in itself. Even Suchness is just the radiance, the shining, of the luminosity of Awareness in itself.
Anzan Hoshin roshi provides a wonderful explanation of the necessity of opening around recursive loops in a series of classes he presented on the 8,000 Line Prajnaparamita sutra in 1991:
"Although we might name something, the name doesn't refer to anything and the name in its own nature is also empty. A way to understand this is, as I often say, you might look at the wall, you might look at someone; you might like them or dislike them. But who they are is completely apart from your liking and disliking them. It is just that, of course, their meaning for you is the fact that you like them or don't like them and so that is all that you see, that is all that you are open to, that is all that is going on. So that feeling tone and that texture become how you interpret your world to the point that when one is embedded within a texture, within a feeling tone and within a category and a thought, then there is very little room for anything else. Not only does that person only have meaning in terms of whether you like them or don't, you don't feel your feet, you are not aware of your breath; you don't really see the colours or hear the sounds. Everything becomes limited because you have taken this texture and used it as your standpoint, as your basis, as your perspective from which you will encounter experience at that moment. And since you are taking contraction as the basis for how you will experience your experience your experience is contracted.
Now, the thing is that although we might only be aware of someone in terms of whether we like them or whether we don't, that has nothing to do with who they are. That is simply our category for them and if we attend to what is going on at that time we will see that that feeling of hatred and loathing is very, very powerful, however, that is not who and what this person is. There is much more going on other than just this feeling. There is the person's eyes and the colour of their skin, the colour of their hair, the colour of the clothes that they are wearing, the look in their eyes, what they are saying. We start to get some sense that they stand outside of our world of thought. When we start to realize that, we start to have a little bit more room and so then we might be able to begin to experience more of our experience more fully and completely and so then the texture starts to break down a little bit. Now, just as the person stands independent of our feeling tone, our feeling tone and the person and the wall and the floor and the tree are all arising within experience. Each of these things are independent of each other and yet each of these are components of experience as a whole. Each of these are how experience is displaying itself. So in that way, each thing is what it is but it is also intimately a part of everything else because that which presents itself as the sound of a bird is the same thing that is presenting itself as the thought, as the colour, as the sound. That which is living each being is living all beings. Each being is all beings. The nature of each dharma interpenetrates every other dharma."
Each thirty-minute round of zazen that you sit is a time-out from the usual mutterings of self-image. It's not a time to rearrange the twigs and sticks in the nest of old views. It's not a time to keep checking with yourself about what you think or feel about everything and everyone or your life as a whole.
Any thought that comes up should be used as a starting point from which to open all around and all at once. In practical terms that means that when you notice you are thinking about something, don't complete the sentence. Just drop it and come back to the breath at the diaphragm and tanden, the sensations of the rest of the bodymind sitting, the seeing and hearing. Open to the details of reality all around the thoughts.
There is no one doing the thinking. The thought is the display of the Luminosity of Knowing, just as a ripple on water is the display of water. From the point of view of the water there is no ripple, there is just water. Practise like water and as soon as you notice a ripple, come back to the Knowing in which they arise.
When you are sitting zazen, this moment can seem to be something to ignore and avoid in order to try to be somewhere and someone that is more fun, more interesting, more like what your stories tell you it should all be like. But this place and moment is where and when your life is actually taking place. Practise this and let the understanding of it extend into the rest of your life because it is always true.
Thoughts and feelings bubble up out of the chemistry of bodymind all the time. But that does not mean that you should follow them or believe them and it certainly doesn't mean you should act on them. All states, all thoughts need to be opened to the context in which they are arising. If you're not doing that, anything can seem to be true, any conclusion justified.
When we open to the spaciousness of experiencing, there is a wholeness that we experience. And when we practise this enough, we also begin to recognize when we are sitting, but the rest of the time too, that the dulling down and narrowing of our perceptions has a texture to it, a quality of unwholesomeness that we can feel. There is a distinct difference between being contracted and allowing oneself to open to the spaciousness of experiencing. But as the Roshi often says, "If it is closed, open around it. If it is open, open further". This is because it isn't enough to open around thoughts and feelings and states.
This is not at all a matter of looking for a sense of equanimity about thoughts and feelings and states, a bit like 'being patient with yourself', not being bothered by thoughts and feelings and states. That can become our new identity. We are dealing with the thoughts, coping with them, taking up a stance about them. That is not the same thing as truly opening around them because it excludes them. It's like building a wall of attention between yourself and the thoughts and feelings and states. Your "mindfulness wall". That is not the same thing as fully penetrating them, seeing through them and beyond them and allowing the energy of the states to open into expansiveness.
As the Roshi says in "The Pathless Path":
"When the Perfection of patience devolves into a stance like this, the fine details of each dharma's arising, dwelling, and decaying are glossed over and obscured. There is only a state of calmness without insight, like a heavy rock pressing down weeds. If the rock moves, the weeds spring up again. Or, if the rock is simply kept there for a long time, then the weeds will die off, but the soil will also be barren of growth of any kind; it will be dead."
So just let go in each moment of the inward turning loops of thoughts and feelings and imagery and open to the openness that is already all around. All at once.