by Zen Master D. Genpo Merzel

Q: How is it that disappointment can bring about enlightenment or an awakening?

Genpo: Disappointment is a cruel but vigorous teacher. We all enter the spiritual path with many ideas, notions, hopes and expectations. It is our hope that the spiritual path will save us from our fears, loneliness and feelings of emptiness. The more we attach to the notion or idea that something such as a spiritual path or someone such as a spiritual teacher will rescue us from our human conditions and predicament, the more disappointment is an awakening. If we are mature in our disappointment we realize that no one and nothing will be our savior.

The true path is ‘being one with,’ which  I rephrase as owning and embodying our life, this life as a human being. We want to project on to a practice such as Zen and on to a master, teacher or guru our hope that we can somehow escape from this realm of birth and death. The truth is there is no escape.  That there is nothing to be attained is not idle chatter but the ultimate truth.  Disappointment is like what Tonto was for the Lone Ranger, our best friend and sidekick on the path of enlightenment.  It enables us to face this truth and to live fully as who and what we are, completely and profoundly ordinary.

28 thoughts on “Disappointment”

  1. I thought Zen would bring me eternal bliss, and it has brought always short lived bliss.Prefer ordinary, everyday enlightenment which has proved to be enduring with daily practice when it is easy and when it is hard. I am too old and sick to be at my Zen Center a lot like I used to be, so had to create discipline to practice for long periods every day at home. I have time and can do this. I knew it would be important now. Used to go to many sesshins and attend many times a week as I hadn’t much discipline on my own. I have to now and somehow finally can. I still meet with my teacher and attend one sitting and a dharma talk once a week. With rigorous home practice I have maintained everyday, ordinary enlightenment. Really happy I have been sitting and studying for 12 years now. Started old and didn’t think I could get anything but a little peace at my age, and haven’t in truth gained a thing, but exceeded my expectations all the same.


  3. ha ha true true. nothing and everything is the same, so there is a god, because there is none. The less I pretend to know, the wiser I feel.

  4. Great post. I don’t think that trying to be ordinary is easy but it is genuine.Needing or wanting a savior: pure ego.

  5. “to live fully as who and what we are, completely and profoundly ordinary.”

    This is definitely not what I was looking for when I first started on this path of spiritual seeking. I wanted to escape myself, my pain, my fears, my regrets, my past, my limitations. I wanted to become someone different (an enlightened being) manifesting my divine nature. Ha! How foolish I was (and still am). But “to live fully as who and what we are, completely and profoundly ordinary”, is what I was really looking for all along, I just didn’t know it. I realize now that 10yrs. ago, when I first started exploring Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies, I probably wasn’t ready for the fact that there is nothing to attain. I might never have found Big Mind if I had heard that back then. Now, I realize there is nothing to attain and I laugh. I also shed tears of joy sometimes because Big Mind has allowed me to be who I am and own my life. Just being an ordinary human being is still an unbelievably amazing gift, even with all the suffering.

  6. It is disappointing knowing I’m going to be disappointed …
    I have become increasingly aware that no one can will or is going to rescue me, and in moments when I am prepared to accept this and these moments expand as time passes, I find a warm glowing peace, and laughter filling and flowing through me, then I get attached to how good this feels … therein lies the rub … Zoro must live and die …

  7. Thanks Genpo!
    All so-called negative Feelings like Boredom, Frustration, Loneliness etc. seem to be in our way, seem to be obstacles… They are not on the way – They are the Way… They are “Dissapointing” because without having mercy they carry away our delusions about life. The way in is the way out, right?

  8. What does “ordinary” mean? As opposed to “extra-ordinary”?Then,again,a duality.I have a problem with that,I won´t be able to define neither one, nor the other, and i won´t recognize the border.Am I normal?As opposed to abnormal?Thank you.Mo.

    • “Ordinary”, I think, here means a state where the ego is vanquished and we experience pure Presence i.e. The Now. As opposed to the “extra-ordinary”, where, illusioned by duality, we consider ourselves as someone who different or better i.e. an involvement where we are judgemental.

      • My Zen teacher once told me:

        “When meditating, be like Mount Fuji which is not affected by the passing clounds (i.e. the endless string of thoughts that arise)

    • Mo,
      The state of mind which is called no attainment is nothing special. One could say as a great Zen Master once said “Ordinary mind is truth.”

      One could just as easily translate that as everyday mind is truth. Things are not adorned or made special by our likes or dislikes. We do everyday things.We wash our clothes, we sweep the porch, we hear the birds singing in the trees. All these are ordinary, everyday things. They just are what they are, We don’t superimpose any ideas, ideals or fancy philosophies or theories upon them. The ordinary is the extra ordinary because just as they are is the richness or fullness of life. Everyday mind is truth,.

  9. This is your best article yet. I believe our attitude should always be that the Universe sends us lessons. What we need to ask ourselves is what we are supposed to learn from these lessons. Let’s get real and quit deluding ourselves. This is where real maturity comes in.

  10. Sir! ,
    Sir. This is the best I’ve ever heard from you. This is the kind of teaching I feel people need to hear. You have not disappointed me. Thanks!

  11. This wise post makes me feel less guilty about not doing more to work towards my “spiritual path”. What I am doing each day:

    trying to be kind and generous to loved ones and strangers,

    trying to be more patient with myself and others,

    accepting what IS rather than railing against it

    working toward making a contribution by working hard with whatever my “gifts” may be…

    These ARE my spiritual path after all and it makes me want to weep with relief.

  12. I disagree, disappointment is not essential, it assumes that we have unrealistic expectations, it presupposes that we don’t have full abiding and active access to acceptance, I experience that we, I do. I deeply appreciate BM and all that have made it accessible. Just a single taste, a glimpse… Freedom from and to.

  13. I’ve been struggling with this for ages! The continuing falling from grace into another grace, only to lose all grace again. This subject is brought very well into perspective from this point of view stated like this. Dissapointment has become a true eyeopener to me, telling me I was deluded and am wakening up just a little bit more..

  14. I will give an example of how this has worked in my life. Let’s say, I thought I had sort of a peak experience, maybe not what one would call an opening, certainly not the full deal. In truth, I have no idea what it was but what struck me was that it was so ordinary and I was so relieved it was ordinary. I remember thinking this is so simple why have I been working so hard. I felt insanely sane and comfortable to just be myself and best of all my mind was quiet so that I was receptive. I really never wanted more than that. That certainly was not a disappointment to me but it didn’t remain just like that forever and that did disappoint me. Why would it have remained exactly the same forever? I understand that nothing is permanent so why is it so hard to remember that when it is about me? This thinking is persistent and creeps in when you are not looking. In this example I could say my disappointment is my greatest teacher. I certainly have been told to watch out for this for of thing, even by you. But still there it was revealing itself to me through my disappointment. Though it has not been comfortable it is the only thing that could drive home the point. Nothing else could have touched it.
    Thank you for pointing this out. It is certainly worth keeping an eye on the things that disappoint and remain open to the lessons being taught. I can see why it is useful to think of it in this way. It opens us up to receive the lessons our life presents us rather than to fight the process. This makes it more likely that we might actually learn something from our experiences.

  15. “We all enter the spiritual path with many ideas, notions, hopes and expectations.”

    Do we? Maybe not. I suspect it depends on what one means by “entering the spiritual path.” If one means taking a teacher and a particular teaching in order to get something or go somewhere, how could there not be disappointment? But there is at least one other way.

    Looking back over this journey – it looks as though she trusted life, put one foot in front of the other, and did what felt authentic day by day. Every insight and awakening along the way was an unexpected and delightful gift, a boon. It didn’t actually occur to her to give her power to a particular teacher or path in the sense of expecting to be saved from anything or to get anything in particular. She walked several paths over the years, and each seems to have been a perfect sequel to what came before and the perfect prelude to what came next. This life has unfolded in a wonderful way. To suddenly and unexpectedly know no-self as infinite and eternal luminosity and all-is-wellness while alternately feeling separate, vulnerable, and in pain – what a disappoint that was not! To realize that life thereafter must be lived as both – what a lovely challenge, what a stimulating conundrum! No disappointments here.

  16. I use my disappointment as an opportunity to to see more clearly…wake up to what I am doing…this leads me to acceptance, another opportunity…we have choices only when we can see them. Big Mind, Big Heart has given me the the ordinary gift of compassion.

  17. How liberating, to be profoundly and completely ordinary. I spent years seeking to “improve” me. And to find years later all I needed to do was in each ordinary moment notice and be one with whatever happens. No judgements just allow, feel the feelings and trust. A tall order I know but very very workable. Thank you Gempo


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