May 14, the day after tomorrow, marks the 20th memorial of Taizan Maezumi Roshi, who founded the large White Plum family of sanghas, as well as a lineage of teachers, that now study and practice the dharma all over the world. I would like to quote from his book:
We have a practice known as the paramitas. Paramita means “to have reached the other shore.” Dogen Zenji says, “The other shore is already reached.” In other words, the meaning of reaching the other shore is to realize that this shore is the other shore. This life is the unsurpassable, realized life. There is no gap. . . . [W]e are already living the buddhas’ life. Regardless of whether we realize it or not, regardless of whether we are new or old-time practitioners, we are intrinsically the buddhas. Yet until we see this, somehow we simply cannot accept that fact. We get stuck when we try to figure this out intellectually. From the intellectual point of view, the start and the goal must be different. This shore and the other shore cannot be the same. Then what to do? There are as many different paths to realization as there are people. But we can say there are two basic ways. One way is to push ourselves to realize that our life is the buddhas’ life. Another way is to simply let our life be the buddhas’ life and just live it. In a way, this is the difference between koan practice and shikantaza. But whichever practice you do, the point is the same: Do not create a gap between your life and the buddhas’ life.
I did some study with Maezumi Roshi, not a great deal. In my experience, and in the experience of others to whom I spoke about him, his message in every talk and interview was the same: Everybody is a buddha, including you. The question for me and for other practitioners was how to realize that out of our own experience.
As soon as you say that, the Hitler question comes up: Was Adolf Hitler also a buddha? To our brain, the statement that we are all buddhas is so outrageous that automatically it swings into dualisms: The Dalai Lama yes, Hitler no.
But what about you? What about me? Am I a buddha? What about the hundreds of Eves that appeared throughout today: the hurrying Buddha, the buddha who has a hard time making up her mind, the independent Buddha, the critical buddha. We see buddha as perfect—and we are. We are perfectly who we are this moment. The moment changes, we respond, and once again we’re buddhas, perfect as we are this moment.
Unbelievable, my heart says, and yearns to experience this, yearns to feel it. Okey-dokey, my brain says, I know just where to start: Books, teachers, retreats, workshops, lots and lots of stuff. We say, just sit. Do nothing. Can I breathe? Can I feel at home? When I’m really at home there’s a basic sense of wellbeing just sitting on a cushion or a chair, a feeling that this moment is sufficient, that I’m sufficient. It’s so simple and natural that there’s nothing to add or think about. It may be hot, it may be humid—and I’m ok. I notice the gaps and the fragmentation, I may even notice discomfort, but there’s a stability that runs through all this, that comes out of being home.
As my attachments loosen up, and especially the attachment to self-centeredness, my being the prime author and arbiter of life, I begin to notice how often I generate my own suffering, how often I do harm. We talk a great deal about attachments, but what’s called for here is letting go of something so much more basic. There’s nothing wrong with the self per se, in fact, there’s nothing wrong with curiosity about the self. Who am I? is one of our oldest questions, and wishing to come up with an answer and express that answer is one of our greatest challenges. But as Dogen wrote, it is precisely when we forget the self that we are studying it most intimately. We get stuck when we try to figure this out intellectually, Maezumi Roshi said. Realizing the self involves forgetting it, again and again and again. The only way I’ll answer the question, Who am I?, is by letting my life be the buddhas’ life and just living it as deeply and intimately as I can.
When we ease up on that most basic attachment of all, the I I I or me me me mental framework, the clouds seem to fade one by one and the vastness of the world, the oneness of life, opens up more and more. This is available to each and every one of us in our respective lives. We don’t have to be different, our life doesn’t have to be different. In that sense we can say that the purpose of practice is no purpose. If we have a purpose, then we have problems. We set up all kinds of goals and we reach for them. But the amazing thing is that the goal is right here!
I don’t sit into who I want to become but into who I am. I don’t choose a role model, I don’t look for things outside of myself. I drop deeper and deeper into my self and the wisdom is there. But what about all my craziness? What about my laziness, my anxieties, the way I blank out when it comes to money? Please don’t make a big fuss. Your neurosis is your style, Trungpa Rinpoche said. Can you appreciate your life in the simplest way possible?