"The Last Word" (excerpt) SUBTLE SOUND THE ZEN TEACHINGS OF MAURINE STUART

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There is nothing that is not sacred; nothing that is not spiritual practice. Hakuin, that wonderful eighteenth-century Zen master who restored the vitality of Zen in Japan, warned against the belief that Zen requires the forceful rejection of all worldly concerns. True Zen practice is carried on in the midst of activity. When we are cooking, we are in deep cooking samadhi (where the logical and analytical ability of the being becomes silent). When we are cleaning, we are in deep cleaning samadhi. This condition, samadhi, is not a vacancy, a stupor, a spaced-out state of mind. It is a deeply awake, alert, vividly present condition—and of course, it may be blissful. We may be so vividly awake we can hear the ash from the incense fall.

Each of the activities we are engaged in, when given our full attention, without any feeling of resentment or comparison, is an opportunity to experience something, to open our eyes more clearly. When we let go of our egocentric hold on things, we find that something wonderful is there, something that has always been there; we have never been without it.

Just throw everything away, including anything I may say, including any good condition that may arise. Just go on. No condition is permanent. Don’t hold on to anything. Become the smoke from the incense. Drop off the habit of interfering with what happens and you will sense your mind becoming healthier, stronger. Accepting your discomforts or frustrations rather than repressing or avoiding them, allowing changes in yourself, you will experience your true self…

Our balancing of wisdom and compassion is always changing, growing, maturing, being directed into the various circumstances of our lives. When do we do enough, and when do we do too much? And what do we ask of people? This is a very subtle matter.

We must be aware that we do not help others when we do too much for them. And we do not help ourselves when we ask too much from others. Each of us is here to stand on our own two feet. We are supported by the wonderful practice of everyone around us, but we must do our own practice, by ourselves. We must discover it for ourselves. We cannot say to someone else, “Please help me.” Help yourself! It’s all right there in front of you—help yourself. Do not impose on other people’s kindness, begging for help. This is exceedingly important.

There was a Zen master named Seppo, who lived in China at a time when there was severe persecution of Buddhism. One day two monks, who no doubt had been to see many other masters, came to his little hermitage. They expected something from Seppo, who was at the prime of his maturity. They came to the gate. Seppo pushed open the gate joyfully, seeing two self-assured young gentlemen walking along the road, and thinking, ah, there will be some wonderful confrontation; what will come of it? He opened the gate, and said, “What is this?” What did they do? They just came back with the same words: “What is this?” Did they just imitate him, or had they really understood something? He turned away and walked back to his cottage.

What is this? If you went to Seppo and he asked you, “What is this?” how would you respond? These koans, these questions are for us. What is this? How do you express it? Not by sitting down and thinking about it, but by continuing to practice, until suddenly, like a flower ready to bloom, vroom! Here it is! This is your Zen expression. Got it? Another three years, ten years, thirty years, however many years, to come to your own expression, as with all great artists. Zen is an art. There are no imitations, there’s no using a phrase from a book. What is your own phrase? What is your own life expression?

At first these two monks may have thought they had defeated Seppo by quickly responding with his own phrase, but later they thought about it, and they wondered. They decided to go see Ganto, who was a friend of Seppo and might be able to explain it to them. Hearing their story, Ganto said, “If Seppo had been given the last word, then you would never have been able to feel that you had defeated him.”

The monks spent the summer with Ganto, and continued to ponder their encounter with Seppo. At the end of the summer, the monks met with Ganto again, who told them, “Seppo and I had our eyes opened in the same way.” He was saying, “We both are enlightened people.” And then he told them, “But we are dying in different ways.” This dying didn’t mean dying as in ending life, but dying as in giving it all away, giving everything away: teaching. “What is this?” was Seppo’s way of teaching. Ganto’s way was “the last word.” Rinzai’s way was “kwatz!” Gutei’s way was “one finger.” These are all different ways of giving it away.

What is this last word? Ganto said, “If you want to know the last word, I’ll tell you: This.” There is no last word. There is no end to it. Somebody told me, “I have finished my Zen training.

I have answered all 1,700 koans.” I replied, “Well, you’ve just begun.” Nobody finishes this training. There is no last word. This is a present-tensed word, going on forever. What is your own experience of This?

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