I realized something the other day I’ll share with you all. I’ve been talking with a person who I see is in a difficult situation which he complains about a lot. And I realize I would love to work with him, but because he doesn’t have a practice it’s impossible. So I want to say this:
When we take on a practice we also take on learning, we take on the willingness to learn and to grow, and to see it all as teaching. Before we have a practice we don’t see life as a teaching or as dharma. We see it as happening, events and so forth, and all the emotions that go on with it; but we don’t see it as a practice, as a training, as a way to help us evolve and to grow and mature. So everything becomes kind of empty, because it doesn’t have any real meaning or value. Because we don’t see it as a practice.
The moment we switch to ‘I have a practice,’ — whatever the practice is; I call mine Zen — I’m willing to work with these things, I’m willing to work with problems, I’m willing to work with my difficulties or my conflicts. Before that we just complain and bitch about them. The difference is, we take on a practice.
So for example when you’re trying to own the one who is fully satisfied, you can see that the practice is releasing, or stopping being so identified with the self. You see? Because the more I identify with the self, or the self identifies with the self, then the less you’re present as the one who’s fully satisfied. It makes sense, right? It makes complete sense. We just have to know that. That’s right remembrance.
Student: I know that we need to be truthful with ourselves in confronting anything, but I know we are good at fooling ourselves. So how can we avoid that pitfall? How can I check that I am not fooling myself?
Genpo Roshi: Who is this self that’s fooling the self?
Student: Well, it’s me.
So who has responsibility?
Student: Well, I do.
Who can do anything about this?
Student: I can, and I’m doing my best, but I must check it sometimes.
Yes, who are you going to check with?
Student: I thought that’s what I have you for.
OK. I won’t always be here.
Student: Yes, exactly.
So, what you’re saying is absolutely true. Also what’s true is, you can internalize what I might say, what Roshi might say, and start to rely more and more on that, using the external teacher to kind of awaken the internal Roshi. Because you’ve got Roshi within you just as much as I do. It’s just how much do you access that voice? And so to start, you can ask your own questions and then see how they relate, that voice’s answers versus your answers.
Way before Big Mind, what I used to do is identify with Roshi. I would say, ‘OK, I am Roshi’. I would do that on my own because of my Gestalt work probably, or my opening. I don’t know why, but I always did that. I would sit and visualize being Roshi sitting there, and then how he would answer when people would ask the same questions. And I started to trust that more and more. ‘Oh my god, I can do this, I can see things like he sees, I can answer these questions.’
It’s most difficult with oneself, because as you said, the ego can be very cunning and very tricky. So it’s harder to answer the same questions yourself. But you start to answer for others, you begin to say, ‘Well, I’m not special. If I would say it to someone else, I’d have to say it to myself.’ So if I would say to somebody else, ‘Just sit and work on this,’ I’d have to say that to myself, ‘Just sit, work on this.’
So you start to trust more, but also to open youself up more to your potential, whatever that potential is. For me it was all about being a Roshi and being a teacher, being a Zen Master. That’s all I saw myself as and all I wanted, to share this Dharma with others. So that was what I visualized. Some of you might want to visualize something else, being Picasso or something.
Student: But who says I can’t fool myself?
Of course you can, I’m sure you will. But — who’s creating all of it? Because even when you fool yourself, it means you need to be fooled right now. That’s real trust. It’s not trust in getting it right. It’s trust in knowing it’s right.
In other words, suppose your practice was to become yourself. That was your whole practice, just to become yourself. Just imagine that kind of crazy practice, all about just becoming yourself, not anything else, enlightened or Genpo or Buddha or Roshi or anything, just becoming yourself. Everything you did was planned so you’d become more and more yourself. So wherever you stepped, how could you step wrong? You step North or you step South, you step East, you step West, you go up, you go down — whatever direction you go, that’s yourself, nothing else. So what can you find? Well, it’s just myself. What can you lose? Myself. What can you do? Well, step forward, step backwards: you’re really completely free. Completely free. We are completely free already, we just don’t realize it. You can’t go wrong.
So there are two ways, in my opinion, to practice Zen, and I’m not saying either is wrong; they’re both right, they’re just two different ways. One way is you have this image of Buddha, and you bow to the Buddha, you revere the Buddha, and you try to actualize what you believe that should be. That’s one way. That’s the hard way, in my opinion.
The other is you know that you are the Buddha, and you are the Way, and whatever you do is perfect. That has its own problems, but I prefer coming from that place rather than the other — I still have preference. But they’re both true: one is you are the Buddha, the other is you’re bowing to the Buddha. One is you’re being the self bowing to the Buddha, the other is you’re being the Buddha manifesting. And they’re both going on always at the same time.
So final inka to me is not what you receive from the teacher. Final inka for me is moment to moment approving or disapproving of how you’re acting, or being. Because finally everything is perfect, but in that perfection you’re going to criticize: ‘I need to refine myself, I can’t talk like that anymore.’ Or ‘I can’t even think that way anymore, it’s just not appropriate.’ So you’re coming from what’s appropriate.
Everything’s changing, we are evolving, we are growing, we are becoming, hopefully, more aware and conscious, more mindful. I think the whole planet is becoming more and more this way, we are constantly outgrowing ourselves. So there does have to be a review board, and what I see the self-critic as is really, finally, the self-approver, the one who gives inka. The self-critic that Hal and Sidra Stone talk about, if you really own it, becomes the one who gives or doesn’t give inka, to you. You either approve or you don’t approve. You stop being so critical, but you’re still looking and watching, and aware of behavior. And refining means to be aware moment to moment of our actions, our speech.
You know, I say now about one third what I would have said at any other time in my life. When I’m with a group of people — with you guys I kind of let it all hang out, too much — but normally with other people that haven’t given me a double-O license to kill, with them I say about one third, one fourth of what I would have said. There’s no need for it, it’s just extra, it’s just superfluous. You don’t need to say a lot, you don’t need to do a lot. You can refine endlessly.
I’m certainly not very refined. I would never claim to be refined, but I’m working more and more at refining. Not changing, not condemning, not even criticizing; just seeing things as they are and fine tuning. There’s always ways to improve everything. There’s ten ways to do anything. When we run up against a snag and we can’t see our way through, there’s ten ways to do it. There’s always ten, not nine, not eleven, always ten ways. If you’re smiling I know you’re getting it, if you’re not smiling — anyway, let’s move on.
Join Genpo Roshi for an in-depth exploration of Impermanence, Dec. 3-5, 2021
Join Genpo Roshi for an in-depth exploration of Impermanence, Dec. 3-5, 2021
"Impermanence and the transient nature of life are usually seen as negative, something to be feared and resisted; but it is precisely because everything is being born and dying continuously that you are already liberated. Even if you would like to be attached and stuck, you cannot. Even if you try to cling to the way things are and to what you possess, you cannot do so. Isn’t this wonderful? Everything goes in its own time; you are free from all things, whether you wish to be or not. Most people fear loss of what they love and are attached to, but in actuality loss brings more freedom. Everyone is in a constant state of liberation, being born and dying countless times every second. There is no liberation apart from this cycle of birth and death. This very birth and death is nirvana."
— Beyond Sanity and Madness, page 7
"The mind that creates no walls, no barriers, that has no abiding place, no footholds, is a beginner's mind. It is one with the continuous movement of life. Completely, fully, endlessly moving on. Exploring, realizing, experiencing whatever comes up. Only a mind like this can be truly joyful, always fresh and new."
— 24/7 Dharma, page 24
"Like the vast blue sky, the One Mind of the Buddha defies all comprehension and can never be fathomed. It can only be realized by a Buddha. The One Mind is unborn and undying; yet it observes the flux of arising and decaying and recognizes the transient nature of all phenomena. Earth, grass, trees, walls, tiles, and pebbles all engage in Buddha’s activity. Awakening to the One Mind means to embrace impermanence and transcend all dualistic notions of life and death, self and others, good and evil. It is the only way to go beyond the sanity and madness of the world."
— Beyond Sanity and Madness, page 3
"It's like a flowing river. The river flows very fast, very deep and wide. Constant movement, constant flow. This flowing river is life, is reality. But because the movement is so swift, because it is constantly changing and impermanent, we seek something permanent. We seek something safe and secure.
"It is as though we were to get out of the river and dig a hole on the riverbank. The hole fills up with water. Looking for something safe and secure, something we can depend on, we play in that little pool beside the river.
"What we are missing is being one with the flowing river, with life itself, with reality. It takes tremendous courage and faith to climb out of the little pool that has become dead, stagnant, and lifeless and jump back into the flowing river of life."
— 24/7 Dharma, page 26
Those of you who know how to sit, just listen with open ears, open mind, because I have changed at least the way I sit this past decade, pretty intensely changed it, from how I was taught to the way I teach it now. Not to say that one is better than the other, it’s just what works for me, and I feel can work for you, in maybe a better way for you....
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Anything we put our trust in, anyone or anything outside ourself, and even our self, will eventually at some point really let us down. Nothing can live up to the expectation we put on the self or others, or things. So the best we can do with trust is, trust in nothing.
And that’s not so difficult, because it’s not so difficult to trust nothing. Just flip the emphasis on the words: trust nothing. Well, that’s it, we trust nothing, we trust sunyata, emptiness, Buddha nature, faith. We trust that which has no borders and no consistency and no form. It’s limitless, it’s endless, it’s boundless, it’s eternal.
Whatever we call it — which is nothing, but it’s also everything — when we trust nothing then we can trust everything as it is. Not what we think it should be or what we want it to be or what we’d like it to be, but we trust nothing and we trust everything as it is. And that’s a whole different life and a whole different way of living life than when we live it from fear and mistrust and trying to trust and all these other dualistic things. It’s far beyond that.