Kusen of Roland Rech, Ales Sesshin 2008
During the sesshin, during the practice of zazen, we become intimate with the Way. This intimacy doesn't last because our conditioning is deep. Even though we catch a glimpse of ultimate reality, we often continue to live as if we hadn't, still prisoners of our mental constructions.
There are different methods to deepen the mind of awakening. The deepest, also the oldest in the teaching of the Buddha Way, as it goes back to Buddha Shakyamuni himself, is to deeply penetrate the impermanence of all our objects of attachment firmly rooted in our minds. Not only the objects, but ourselves as subjects of attachment.
This is what Nagarjuna recommended, and what Master Dogen recommended : all the masters of transmission made these recommendations.
Every time that an attachment appears we should remind ourselves of impermanence : both of the object of attachment and the « me » who becomes attached.
In this way, impermanence becomes our ally on the Way instead of an enemy which makes us suffer, disturbing us. It helps us thin our mental coagulations and live in harmony with the Dharma, cosmic order, by learning to let go, not in the sense of a sacrifice or a loss, but, on the contrary, of a higher realization, a freedom.
Feeling that following the Way and practicing zazen is the most important thing in our life allows us to awaken to the true nature of our existence and to live in harmony with that, and this is what we call bodaishin, the mind of awakening.
As Master Dogen said at the beginning of Hotsu Bodaishin from the Shobogenzo, there are at least three sorts of mind.
The discerning mind.
The universal mind or the heart, the essence that animates all existences.
And then the mind which embraces that which constitutes the essence of the universe, ultimate reality.
Amongst these three minds, (three sorts, three ways of functioning of the mind) it's the discerning mind that allows bodaishin to be realised, said Dogen. We would say : it's right observation during zazen.
It's this mind which allowed Shakyamuni to realise the Four Noble Truths. To understand suffering, to observe its universality, to understand its causes and to see at the same time that there is a remedy to it ; and this remedy is the practice of the Way. This involves profound discernment. No longer letting ourselves be fooled by our illusions, but seeing reality as it is.
But even though most of us have understood this, we often continue to live as if we haven't understood, as if this understanding of the Four Noble Truths hasn't left an imprint on our way of functioning : for example – still feeling violent emotions that show an attachment to the ego, even though we know deep down that all this is without substance, impermanent.
So of course, constantly coming back to awareness of impermanence, as I said before, helps to dissolve attachments. But this still remains a question of discernment, in other words done with mental activity.
Zen practice presents us with a deeper and more efficient approach : the approach using our bodies and breathing. This means directing all our energy towards the hara, concentrating when breathing out deeply and not letting our mind, our energy, stagnate in the mental activity, in the frontal lobe of the brain. Instead, it’s bringing this energy and mind together in the belly, at the point where breathing our ends when we push the intestines down to deeply breathe our. Developing the hara is completely fundamental : it's part of the practice of concentration. All concentration exercises in daily life, the practice of zazen, sanpai, samu, help us to become grounded in the hara, to stop mulling thoughts over in our minds, to be really in our bodies, and in our body, really in this energy center – the hara.
When we practice like this we feel stability and deeply rooted within ourselves. And we can constantly come back to this deep-rootedness : by being totally one with our gestures, with our bodies, our breathing and not simply in our heads, our thinking minds. Every instant of daily life can be the opportunity to realize this.
When we live in our heads we are completely scatter-brained, separated from reality, our minds agitated, running after all sort of illusions, inevitably more and more unsatisfied and prompted to run even more.
Doing a sesshin, doing zazen, is to drop this way of functioning here and now, and to become anchored in the consciousness of our bodies and breathing.
If we don't realize this, all the most profound thoughts about the Way will always remain superficial, without the ability to really transform things.
We often say that the Way is under our feet, it is also really in our feet, in our way of walking, in our stomach, in our intestines : in this body which is always perfectly in the here and now, in contact, in interdependence with the whole universe, whereas the thinking mind tries continuously to escape from the here and now.
So to truly realize the Way and stop betraying it through our behaviour, we need to combine these two approaches. Observe impermanence, observe the ultimate inconsistency of the ego, its non-separation from the whole universe – thus its nature which is without birth, without death. And to anchor this understanding within ourselves, to make it real and efficient, it has to penetrate all the cells of our body so that the totality of our being complies with it, not only the surface of our frontal lobe. For this we concentrate totally on our sitting position when we sit, our walking when we walk, on the prostrations when we do sanpai, on our breathing with each gesture. And we learn to live in our bodies and with our bodies.
Thus we learn to be present to reality just the way it is and not lost in our thoughts.
Learning to function like this is a real internal revolution, a conversion : it's really breaking out of an ordinary conditioned way of functioning. It's the basic education in all Zen temples.
For example, even if study and reading are permitted there, we devote one hour maximum to them a day. All the rest of the time : it's practice with the body.
So if you want to continue to progress on the Way and no longer feel split between what you've caught a glimpse of and what you achieve from this « understanding », in concrete terms, in your life, please : concentrate on practice with your body. It's the way to realise the Buddha body, the real body, the body in unity with the whole universe : the body that exists beyond birth and death. We sometimes call this the dharmakaya.
Tags: Roland Yuno Rech