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Reasons for Hope is a great collection of “hopeful tales,” collected by my buddy Boogie Jack Gaskill. I contributed one of the tales. Right click on the link and save the pdf file.
Dogen, master of ‘just sitting’
So cease the intellectual work of studying sayings and chasing words. Learn the backward step of turning and reflecting light. Body and Mind naturally drop off, and the original face appears. If we want to attain the matter of the ineffable, we should urgently practice the matter of the ineffable.
In general, a quiet room is good for Zen practice, and food and drink are taken in moderation. Abandon all involvements. Give the myriad things a rest. Do not think of good and bad. Do not care about right and wrong. Stop the driving movement of Mind, will, consciousness. Cease intellectual consideration through images, thoughts, and reflections. Do not aim to become a Buddha. How could it be connected with sitting or lying down?
Zazen — the art of just sitting
The above quote is Mike Cross’ translation of a portion of Master Dogen’s (19 January 1200 – 22 September 1253) text on Zazen, “Rules of Sitting-Zen for Everybody.” (Dogen was a Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher born in Kyoto, and the founder of the Soto school of Zen in Japan.)
Dogen is making a point we think is essential. To use his words: “Body and Mind naturally drop off, and the original face appears.”
Now, since this is Zen-speak, let me attempt an interpretation.
Original face — is all about what lies beneath who we (and the world) appear(s) to be. Without “beneath” being a direction, of course. We might describe Original face as our essential nature, which gets obscured when our focus is on “things.”
Body and Mind drop off — to see through to Original face, our bare attention must let go of our endless focus on “me.” Our stories about live, and our depersonalization of our bodies cause us to spend our days lost in thought, as opposed to actually living.
We talk a lot about dropping Mind.
This does not mean denigrate Mind or eliminate Mind. It means “let go of clinging to Mind.” Fritz Perls put it,
“Go out of your mind, and come to your senses.”
Our tendency is to equate thinking with actually living. For example, many are the clients who insist on the correctness of their imaginary, internal stories. They tell me, in graphic detail, that, for example, they can’t change anything in their lives until they have “…thought things through, so as not to make a wrong decision.”
To drop the Mind is to notice our tendency to do just this, to make Mind games superior to living. Or, as Dogen wrote,
“Abandon all involvements. Give the myriad things a rest. Do not think of good and bad. Do not care about right and wrong. Stop the driving movement of Mind, will, consciousness. Cease intellectual consideration through images, thoughts, and reflections.”
- Involvements — this is shorthand for things we obsess about — circumstances and peripheral things, the things the Mind loves to “spin” about.
- Myriad things - the 10,000 things. This is “oriental speak” for “everything.” It means the endless details of living — again, something our Minds love to dig into.
- Good and bad, right and wrong — dropping labelling is the essence of living in the Now. To be present requires leaving judgement behind. Why? Most people judge (in their heads) while never changing a thing in their living. The essence of living in an embodied way is to do what is necessary, without spending time in endless analysis.
- Stop… cease… - the lesson here, again, is on letting go of clinging to the games the Mind plays. The Mind is Mind, and does what Mind does. Attaching ourselves to Mind leads to more thought, and no living.
Dropping off the Body
We’ve been talking about this for the last few weeks. Many people are also one step removed from their bodies. For example, people will say, “I have a headache.” As if there is a thing, a headache, that one has, like one has a book, or a cup. “My head aches” is more accurate. Or, “I am headachy.”
Similarly, “He turns me on” is inaccurate. “I turn me on” is so. “I’m so bored” is inaccurate. “I am boring myself” is so.
Letting to body drop off means “stop talking about your body (and your Mind!) as if they are somehow separate from you.”
Your body and your Mind are how you experience being. They are not “separate.”
In a sense, we are saying that thinking about an experience and experiencing are two different things. Mostly, we content ourselves with thinking, wishing, and hoping. Experiencing, on the other hand, is close to our original face.
How? By paying exquisite attention to what is happening right now. In other words, to be lost in the experience of living.
When tasting, taste, when hearing, hear.
A client, the other day, described losing a box of CDs during a move. I used his love of music to say,
“Thinking, describing, judging, this is background noise. Reach in and turn down the volume. Then, open your senses to the music you choose to listen to, and raise the volume, so you become lost in the music.”
Because he loves music, he immediately knew what I meant.
Lose yourself in your living, and you will have found your illusive original face.