Its Not What You Think

Below is a portion of a much broader article by the Abbot of The Silent Thunder Order, Taiun Michael Elliston-roshi entitled: "Words from Matsuoka Roshi." I commend the entire article as insight into teacher-student-teacher awareness (Sensei is pictured on the left pointing to our Bloodline of Ancestors).

Unshin Sangaku

"Don't look for a lightning bolt out of the sky; enlightenment is more like the parting of the clouds to reveal the sun." When it comes to doing zazen, most people expect some kind of immediate result, as well as seeing some effect on their social life and well-being in the long run. This comment was repeated several times, to the best of my recollection, at least once in the context of Soto versus Rinzai Zen. The latter school was held in high esteem by Matsuoka Roshi, attested by his inviting visiting Rinzai priests to talk at the Temple on an occasional Sunday morning. But Sensei felt that Soto Zen's laid-back manner was more suited to the Western mindset and lifestyle. Of course, there is nothing lackadaisical about sitting zazen on retreat. Sesshin and zazenkai should be called a Zen attack, not retreat. Our intensity, as well as our intent, is likely to be challenged in the extremes of day-long or overnight sitting. But sudden enlightenment, the "lightning bolt" school of meditation, he seemed to associate with the driven approach in the Rinzai method, which he felt not to be the best attitude for Americans, who are already driven in so many ways, perhaps to all the wrong aspirations and certain unwarranted conclusions. The Soto way of practicing patience, living in the present instead of an imagined future, was his prescription for countering our tendency to dissatisfaction, in trivial and distracting ways, with our present state of affairs. In this same sense, Zen practice is a way of becoming less dependent upon circumstance for our happiness and sense of fulfillment. Especially in zazen, he cautioned against looking for some special effects, or immediate results, in that this would continue to trap us in a fantasy of the future. I believe it was Master Dogen who said, somewhere, that enlightenment is not something that happens in the future, or words to that effect. Matsuoka Roshi added that looking for certain changes in our personality is like attempting to adorn ourselves with jewels. In doing so, we may miss the wish-fulfilling jewel (S. mani) said to be already hidden on our person. This is a rather descriptive statement, one of few spoken by Matsuoka Roshi. In the literature of Zen, we find little in the category of descriptive narrative, with the important exception of Hakuin Zenji, and perhaps others with whom I am unfamiliar. I think the reason for this is beyond being a pedagogical choice, or a recognition of the inadequacy of words to describe the ineffable. I think that it goes to the principle of teaching a person to fish, rather than providing fish for them. Or the fact that in giving someone something, we take something away, if only their opportunity to get it for themselves. This is why zazen is taught with basic instructions, essentially verbatim from Master Dogen's written guidelines of over 800 years ago. But in Zen, we stop short of guided meditation — leading participants by the nose through what they should be experiencing at any given moment. Zen, particularly Soto Zen, is the original sink or swimschool, but the pool is the Ocean of Samsara. To presume that we can know the exact unfolding of the buddhadharma in the experience of another would amount to a high degree of hubris. But to have faith that most people will go through a similar process of unlearning opinion and apprehending the underlying reality, is to express confidence in the buddha-nature accessible to all. We gain this confidence only by experiencing our own buddha-nature, following the same process ourselves. But Sensei's description of the clouds parting to reveal the sun, as an analogy, is not misleading. It is not specific enough to qualify as one of those expressions in the literature where the traditional response is: "He said too much." Most of the work of zazen, climbing up what can sometimes be a very slippery hundred-foot pole, is this parting of the clouds, the dissipation or evaporation of our own ignorance, which shrouds the light of the buddha-nature, and the wisdom mind (S. bodhi) in darkness. Like the lotus seed in the muck and mire at the bottom of the pond, the progress of growing toward the light in the bright sky above is one that is natural, and that we do not have to force. In fact, if we try, we simply stir up the mud even more.


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