My dog doesn't worry about the meaning of life.
She may worry if she doesn't get her breakfast,
but she doesn't sit around worrying about
whether she will get fulfilled or liberated or
enlightened. As long as she gets some food and a
little affection, her life is fine. But we human
beings are not like dogs. We have self-centered
minds which get us into plenty of trouble. If we
do not come to understand the error in the way
we think, our self-awareness, which is our
greatest blessing, is also our downfall.
degree we all find life difficult, perplexing,
and oppressive. Even when it goes well, as it
may for a time, we worry that it probably won't
keep on that way. Depending on our personal
history, we arrive at adulthood with very mixed
feelings about this life. If I were to tell you
that your life is already perfect, whole, and
complete just as it is, you would think I was
crazy. Nobody believes his or her life is
perfect. And yet there is something within each
of us that basically knows we are boundless,
limitless. We are caught in the contradiction of
finding life a rather perplexing puzzle which
causes us a lot of misery, and at the same time
being dimly aware of the boundless, limitless
nature of life. So we begin looking for an
answer to the puzzle.
first way of looking is to seek a solution
outside ourselves. At first this may be on a
very ordinary level. There are many people in
the world who feel that if only they had a
bigger car, a nicer house, better vacations, a
more understanding boss, or a more interesting
partner, then their life would work. We all go
through that one.
Slowly we wear out most of our
"if onlies." "If only I had this,
or that, then my life would work Not one of us
isn't, to some degree, still wearing out our
"if onlies." First of all we wear out
those on the gross levels. Then we shift our
search to more subtle levels. Finally, in
looking for the thing outside of ourselves that
we hope is going to complete us, we turn to a
spiritual discipline. Unfortunately we tend to
bring into this new search the same orientation
Most people who come to the Zen Center don't
think a Cadillac will do it, but they think that
enlightenment will. Now they've got a new
cookie, a new "if only." "If only
I could understand what realization is all
about, I would be happy." "If only I
could have at least a little enlightenment
experience, I would be happy." Coming into
a practice like Zen, we bring our usual notions
that we are going to get somewhere--become
enlightened--and get all the cookies that have
eluded us in the past.
Our whole life consists of this little subject
looking outside itself for an object. But if you
take something that is limited, like body and
mind, and look for something outside it, that
something becomes an object and must be limited
too. So you have something limited looking for
something limited and you just end up with more
of the same folly that has made you miserable.
all spent many years building up a conditioned
view of life. There is "me" and there
is this "thing" out there that is
either hurting me or pleasing me. We tend to run
our whole life trying to avoid all that hurts or
displeases us, noticing the objects, people, or
situations that we think will give us pain or
pleasure, avoiding one and pursuing the other.
Without exception, we all do this. We remain
separate from our life, looking at it, analyzing
it, judging it, seeking to answer the questions,
'What am I going to get out of it? Is it going
to give me pleasure or comfort or should I run
away from it?" We do this from morning
our nice, friendly facades there is great
unease. If I were to scratch below the surface
of anyone I would find fear, pain, and anxiety
running amok. We all have ways to cover them up.
We overeat, over-drink, overwork; we watch too
much television. We are always doing something
to cover up our basic existential anxiety. Some
people live that way until the day they die.
As the years go by, it gets worse and worse.
What might not look so bad when you are
twenty-five looks awful by the time you are
fifty. We all know people who might as well be
dead; they have so contracted into their limited
viewpoints that it is as painful for those
around them as it is for themselves. The
flexibility and joy and flow of life are gone.
And that rather grim possibility faces all of
us, unless we wake up to the fact that we need
to work with our life, we need to practice.
to see through the mirage that there is an
"I" separate from "that."
Our practice is to close the gap. Only in that
instant when we and the object become one can we
see what our life is.
is not something you achieve. It is the absence
of something. All your life you have been going
forward after something, pursuing some goal.
Enlightenment is dropping all that. But to talk
about it is of little use.
practice has to be done by each individual.
There is no substitute. We can read about it
until we are a thousand years old and it won't
do a thing for us. We all have to practice, and
we have to practice with all of our might for
the rest of our lives.
offers a warm, engaging,
uniquely American approach
to using Zen to deal with the
problems of daily living—
love, relationships, work, fear,
ambition, and suffering.
Everyday Zen shows us
how to live each moment
to the fullest.