Reading ZMBM I came to the conclusion that the problem is not that you think meditation is going to be good for you, improve you as a person, an artist, a lover a friend. The problem is that in order to see the illusory nature of our beliefs, its essential to let go of these ideas of improvement. I know that’s what Suzuki Roshi is saying, but it made sense to me, for the first time again, this week. Going into meditation in order for it to calm me down pits myself against myself. Going into meditation accepting the momentary, flawed state of my mind and reality and not try to change it, to rather simply be curious about it, allows me to be in the present moment.
It’s a really difficult koan. On the one hand, it seems the purpose of practice is to attain enlightenment, to be free from the cycles of karma, to attain liberation. That’s one story.
Yet, the Heart Sutra says: “There is no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering, and no path. There is no wisdom and no attainment. Because there is nothing to be attained, the Bodhisattva relies on prajnaparamita, and has no mental obstructions.”
Of course, the very ones who proclaim the teachings of “no attainment” are people who themselves have done quite a bit of practice, so is there a contradiction here?
Not at all. That’s the koan.
My primary meditation teacher, Steven Tainer, talks about this a great deal. His way of speaking of it is simple: of course, at first, we are so inured to the “goal oriented” mind that that’s all we have to work with (seemingly). So, if we need some sort of idea of a goal to practice, that may be unavoidable.
But to the extent we hold onto the idea of a goal, of a result we are trying to attain … practice is obstructed. That’s not only Suzuki and Trungpa’s view, it’s also Steven’s view (and the view of many teachers). I have to say that in my many years of practice, I’ve come to realize that these great teachers were, as one might imagine, and hope, entirely correct.
But that doesn’t make it easy to understand what the hell they’re talking about.
Ultimately an intellectual understanding of this is not entirely possible, though I do believe it’s very important to try to understand it intellectually as best we can, because a purely “experiential” understanding, as some put it, can be dislodged without careful study. That’s an important point worth noting.
One view I have of this is something along these lines; it’s a picture, so to speak. Which is to say it is inaccurate, as all pictures are.
But essentially: if we realize that who we think we are (the so-called “self”) is really just a sort of phantom, a kind of tiny fragment of a much larger landscape of who we really are, in a deeper sense, then to think in terms of a “goal” is usually to think in terms of the “self” accomplishing or “doing” it. Yet the whole point of all this is to realize that this little “self” is not really who we are, we are not limited to that, we’re much bigger than that.
Thinking in terms of a goal is thinking in terms of a small self doing or accomplishing the goal.
Practice is not a method for the self to accomplish enlightenment. Such a project is impossible. The “self” cannot accomplish this.
Practice is more like a posture, a gesture, a way of aligning ourselves with the radical reality of our true selves, which is vast. Big Mind, so to speak. By making this gesture we allow our larger reality a chance to come forward on its own. It’s always there, but we ignore it, we crowd it out. Even though we ignore it, it is still there, still functioning. We don’t have to produce it. We don’t have to “achieve” it or become it. We are always already Big Mind. To the extent we can relax our desire to “achieve” enlightenment, we make it easier for us to be who and what we already are, to relax into that larger being, to let it be what it already is.
Practice is important, even perhaps essential for most people; but it is not an action undertaken by the self to effect a result. It is more like a way of aligning ourselves with the resonance of the universe, which is already vibrating whether we feel or hear it or not. By doing so we don’t cause our self to achieve a goal, but we may allow our Big Mind or Being to come forward more visibly into our conscious life and awareness. If we have a job it might be to get out of its way; but we don’t even have to do that, really; as it is always there whether we get out of its way or not.permalink |