November 23, 2013 § 3 Comments
Sometime in the last millennium (I still like saying that:) I sat on a hard chair listening to a philosophy instructor talk about a rabbit that could not be felt, heard, seen, smelt or tasted. Not only did this rabbit not register via the senses; it had no secondary effect upon the world that could be measured through instrumentation. In every way, shape and form the rabbit was undetectable. The philosopher asked us to consider the question, “As this rabbit cannot be perceived by the senses nor inferred by any indirect means, could we say it exists?”
The question stayed in my thoughts, even though I don’t remember it evoking any real interest in my fellow students or myself at the time. I now see that it stayed with me because the same question can be asked of true nature or Buddha nature, as it is non-perceptual and non-conceptual consciousness.
Percepts and concepts are the two categories of knowing familiar to human beings. We know either through our senses or through our ability to think. But like the philosopher’s rabbit, true nature cannot be sensed or conceived. To realize it we must awaken another way of knowing that has lain dormant in us perhaps for all of our lives.
Meditation is designed to awaken this third way of knowing.
As thinking and sensing cannot lead us to our true nature, Teachers instruct us in stilling and quieting the mind. Dogen tells us to “just sit”. Koans are given that have no answer. Concepts are rejected while insights and visions are said to be of the same stuff as dreams and hallucinations. We are told to drop our most cherished ideas about who and what we are; and that there is nothing to obtain or grasp. This clears the path for the third way of knowing to awaken.
Paradoxically, not grasping and doing nothing requires concentration and discipline.
The human mind mind is always active. It is always reacting to the world, naming it, calculating pluses and minuses, trying to find out how the world can be used to one’s advantage. It never stops thinking. It is always grasping.
A request to do nothing runs counter to our basic programing, so mental discipline is necessary to meditate properly. We count the breath, recite mantras or concentrate on koans. Every distraction is gently let go as we return to our object of meditation. Like fettering a horse to keep it in one spot, we tie our mind to an object of meditation to keep it from wandering.
Even in shikantaza, the ultimate form of meditation, we tie our mind to just sitting and doing nothing. So much discipline is required in shikantaza that it is said if you are doing it properly, you’ll be sweating.
Discipline of this sort does not just involve concentration. It also requires letting go.
As each thought arises you let it go. You let go of the urge to look for your true nature. You let go of the idea that there is some place you can stand and rest. You let go of the thought that you’ll succeed and become a Buddha. Your grasping mind will want to find some place that is enlightenment, but the truth is you will never find it. You will never arrive.
After years of practice the discovery that you will never arrive and nothing to attain may sound disheartening. But this discovery, too, must be let go.Standing nowhere, no fixed ground Nothing to experience, nowhere to go Not knowing, no identity No one sitting, no one breathing Buddha mind, all along. To act, defeats your purpose. To grasp, is to lose.