American Zen Teacher and Founder of the Kanzeon International Sangha
Dennis Genpo Merzel, aka Genpo Merzel Roshi
American Zen Teacher and Founder of the Kanzeon International Sangha
True zazen is surrendering every moment. But surrendering to what? It really does not matter what we call it: God or the Tao or the Dharma or the Buddha or our true nature. . . . It is the act of letting go, of surrendering, that matters. The very act of letting go opens us up completely.
These various forms appear different in shape and size, yet they are of a single essence. . . . The Sixth Patriarch called it "essence of Mind". . . Here the Third Patriarch calls it "timeless Self-essence." Bankei called it "unborn Buddha-mind." They all refer to the same thing: Buddha-nature, true self. This essence is not born and can never die. It exists eternally. Some call it energy; others call it spirit. But what is it? No one knows. Any concept we have of what it is can only be an analogy.
We think of death are separate phenomena. We never think of life and death as the same; that would be illogical. Only one problem, one small problem: reality is not logical. Truth is not rational; only our minds are. We are so egotistical, so arrogant, that we want to make reality into a concept, reduce life to a logical idea. We spend all our time looking for some concept of Truth, but Truth is what is left when we drop all concepts. Then there is just scratching when it itches.
The only thing that separates us from Buddha is that the Buddha doesn’t find fault. When there are thoughts, there are thoughts. When there is judgment, there is judgment. When there is no judgment, no judgment. Why judge the judger? Why condemn yourself all the time? Let yourself be! Let the true nature of things just be, then everything passes away naturally.
I have heard an expression, “We made love like two ice cubes,” that fits perfectly. Here we are, trying to have a relationship like two chunks of ice and all we can do is bump into each other, all because we are so afraid of melting, losing our false identities.
To begin with, it is just One Mind, all One; then we generate all the boundaries and definitions. As soon as we define ourselves in relation to another we feel more comfortable, because now we know how to be and to act. To go into a situation completely ignorant of our role is very scary. We really have to trust ourselves then. But how can we trust if we do not know who we are? So we fall back on some definition of ourselves and put our trust in that... We lose our identity when we lose our definition. We do not realize it, but that is a wonderful, extraordinary happening, because for a time we are free of our boundaries. For a moment we are nobody, but that is just too frightening. So in order to grab on to some definition, a false sense of security and comfort, what do we do right away? We get into another relationship. At least in relationship, even if it is not working for us, we know who we are.
The whole world is created from Mind. How we perceive it is the whole story. If we see everything from our ego-centered view, everything is too much to handle. Always we feel limited, unable to cope with situations. We feel small, helpless, and out of control. If we go beyond the egoistic view of the self as separate, then we can enjoy a more magnanimous, panoramic perspective that we call Limitless Mind (dai shin), infinite capacity and complete faith in things just the way they are. It all depends on how we choose to view life. Dropping the ego-centered self we discover the real self, which is none other than no fixed self, completely open to each moment of life.
In the absence of discriminating thoughts, the mind as we know it ceases to exist. Our suffering - our feeling of discomfort, alienation, loneliness - arises because we create a dualistic way of perceiving everything that separates us from the external. When we view the so-called external phenomenal world as distinct from ourselves, then fear arises, fear that we will lose our lives, that we may not continue to exist. Out of that fear come anger, jealousy, greed, hatred, aversion, attachment - all kinds of clinging. All our problems arise out of seeing ourselves as separate entities. We cling to what we perceive as me; my physical body and my ideas, my mind, my thoughts, my understanding, my beliefs, my concepts, my opinions.
When you rob a person of his pain and suffering, you rob him of his life, his freedom, his independence; you keep him dependent on you; This is a trap for therapists and healers and Zen teachers, too.
When I give up all that is familiar, when I let go, when I stop trying to understand, to figure everything out, I don’t know what will happen. No one can know beforehand; it is impossible even to know what is going to happen the next minute or even the next second. To reach the truth, we must go through our fear. Fear is guarding the doorway to reality, fear of stepping off the hundred-foot pole, of letting go of who we think we are, of what we cherish, our identity.
When we go beyond the ego and experience the sudden revelation that absolutely nothing is lacking, then immediately the faith is there to jump. The leap itself is the revelation, the revelation is the leap.
Everything is in perfect order when we let go of all our knowledge, when we drop the mind, when we forget the self.
Both delusion and enlightenment are only concepts. There is no delusion and no enlightenment. One who realizes this completely, with the whole being, is called “enlightened.”
Without concepts we find ourselves unbounded, undefined; and our greatest fear is to live without boundaries, without definitions. Of course, when we have no boundaries, we are vulnerable. Everyone, everything can come in. there are no separations, no barriers to protect us. That is why we put up personal boundaries, to protect ourselves from people, from things, from disease, from accidents, and ultimately from death. First we define ourselves: me versus you, me against not-me. Then we fortify the boundary, making the wall bigger and stronger. Pretty soon we have a really thick wall around ourselves. We are completely protected from the not-me.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have no fear? That is the greatest gift: no fear! When you truly realize what it is, then there is no fear, nothing to hurt you, nothing to destroy you. Nothing can take your life, because your life is unborn, therefore undying. All the rest is a dream.
We are always doing something with a selfish motive. The key is how to practice with no thought of gaining, not seeking or wanting something either from our practice or from what we do or give. So often when we give, it is not real giving. We give something to someone and right away we want something back in return.
There are five major attachments: rest... food and drink... sex... fame and position... to gain or wealth.
Can you imagine how painful and tough it would be, trying to be wise all the time? Thank God none of us try. Or trying to be good and pure all the time: Sir Lancelot or Mother Teresa? What a burden! I am sure Mother Teresa doesn’t try to be good. She just does what she has to do. That is the secret of great people, they just do what they have to do.
The truth is nobody does anything to us. Realizing this, we become fully responsible in all situations and accept our lives as this. Then we are the master.