"We Live in a Dual World" (excerpt) THE WISDOM OF THE ZEN MASTERS - by Irmgard Schloegl
We live in a dual world of night and day, of darkness and light, of joy and sorrow. We are part of this world. Both aspects are there. If we want light and joy only and reject the other half, we shall begin to feel that a vital part of life is missing. But since only a masochist enjoys suffering, it is a razor-edge line on which to hold the balance.
Perhaps it is possible for each of us when we go into ourselves to see that there is a dividing line between the bitter resentment of selfishness, the ‘why must it happen to me?’, and the grief and sorrow that is part and parcel of our human condition. The latter needs to be accepted and lived; all life needs to be lived. We live it in any case; but how we live it is important. If we reject what is common to all, go through it with averted eyes, and refuse our share of common sorrow though we all expect if not demand our share of common joy, then the unlived, refused life piles up against us as fear, including the fear of death.
Master Shaku Soen liked to take an evening stroll through a nearby village. One day he heard loud lamentations from a house and, on entering quietly, realized that the householder had died and the family and neighbors were crying. He sat down and cried with them. An old man noticed him and remarked, rather shaken on seeing the famous master crying with them: 1 would have thought that you at least were beyond such things.’ ‘But it is this which puts me beyond it,’ replied the master with a sob.
Have we ever bothered to think out the consequences of a hypothetical state free from suffering? What we want, badly, is not to be bothered or hurt any more; but this would make us also incapable of feeling warmth and joy. We should turn into unfeeling monsters, callous and selfish brutes. Should this be the way of Buddhism which holds to the twin pillars of wisdom and love?
Love, warmth of heart, in its accepting humility is a true blessing. And it is the way that Buddhism cultivates. It is a way out of suffering not through refusal but through total embrace. This is what we need to know if we want to understand the Zen Masters, or if we happen to feel inclined to walk that way ourselves.
It is also a way to a true understanding of oneself. A true understanding of oneself, without excluding anything, is at the same time an understanding of others. And being so hard to achieve, it gives rise of itself to tolerance and compassion, to that disinterested love which is open, free, and, like the sun, just there. T with its ever-present itch to interfere, however altruistically ‘as I think it ought to be’, has abdicated. With the irritant gone, the itch ceases. The intentional ‘do-gooder’ is proverbial because all react against him though his intentions are undoubtedly good.
We have tried to better the world, and ourselves, for millennia, and though we have seemingly succeeded in some things, in others we are worse off than ever. Every short-term improvement inevitably throws up its opposite which trips us up.
Is there a way out? Yes, the hardest, for it starts at our end, where it hurts. The way is for each of us to dismantle our own obstacles. We all want to be reasonably considerate, reasonably tolerant, reasonably warm-hearted; why can we not be so, or not always so, though we ourselves want to be? What prevents us against our will? Truly, we are our own obstacles. And since the world is populated by us, we make and shape our own weal and woe. Could a fair number of us dislodge no more than our own obstacles, we need not trouble ourselves about the world, for it would of itself be a better place to live in. Could it be that T finds it more congenial to try to change the world than to set to work on its own obstacles and so change itself? Yet, our world would thus be a better one.
This way the Zen Masters show by living the lives they did and do. They actively contribute to it by their own lives and by training their students to live such lives. They are conspicuous for the absence of any zeal to interfere or to better anything. All of them shun abstractions and speculations, however edifying and lofty, as ‘flowers in the empty sky’—at best useless, more often downright destructive. Their common motto through the ages is ‘look at the place where your own feet stand’. A Chinese proverb often quoted by the Zen Masters says: ‘Even a journey of a thousand miles starts from right under one’s feet.’
If one’s eyes are searching for imaginary flowers in the sky, if one’s head is in the clouds, one is apt to stumble and to lose one’s way.
A present-day Master said of his students, in their presence, that they seemed to like him, and that occasionally they would set out to do something ‘great’ for him that would really please him. He could see it coming on in the far-away look in their eyes which were glued to the ‘great things’. He did not damp their enthusiasm outright as they had to learn the consequences; but he resigned himself to a period of trouble. Their minds away on the great, they would forget the ordinary things such as opening or shutting the temple gates, and they burnt the rice, spoilt the vegetables, and so on. After some days when all were beginning to feel the strain and to suffer from indigestion, he would tell them that if they really wanted to please him, would they please abandon the ‘great thing’ they were going to do for him, and just do the ordinary things they had to do as well as they could; nothing would please him better.
That is typical of the way in which Zen Masters ‘teach’. They are not teachers in the usual sense of the word, but they are eminently practical. Compact and solid, they stand on their own feet and they know human nature. They point the Way for their students, so that they do not lose themselves in the ‘thorns and brambles’ of speculation, or in the regions ‘where fierce desire rages, and opinions stand up like spears on a battlefield.’
Though many of them, both in China and Japan, have enjoyed imperial patronage, and some of them have counted emperors as their disciples, they have preferred the monastic life and fare within their community. Nor would they leave their community for long; the responsibility is binding.
The sun shines; that is its nature. Clouds may obscure it to our eyes; they do not affect the sun. These obscuring clouds we need to dispel so as to become aware of the sun. Such clouds we fashion by our I-interests, intentions, volitions, passions. Indeed we are our own obstacles.
The Buddha Nature is in us, as in everything that exists. If we do not obstruct it with our desires, etc., be they good or bad, it acts of itself, through us. This, however, is the opposite of ‘as I want it, everything goes’. The very I that wants everything ‘my way’ is the cloud that is to be dispelled.
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