To care deeply, as Socrates shows us in Plato’s Apology, is to be willing to die for what is truly worth caring about.
Almost everybody is trying to be somebody.
The key to ending your suffering? Stop trying to be somebody. Instead, be what you essentially are: nobody. Nobody at all.
Trying to be somebody is contrary to the Way. Being contrary to the Way, it grates with resistance and strain. Grating with both is suffering.
There’s no better way to suffer than to try to be somebody.
Trying to be somebody entails trying to be different, other, more, or better than what you already are. This is bound to lead to suffering.
“But you’re telling us to be nobody. What of my ambitions? My aspirations? My goals?” Drop trying to be somebody and then see about those. If you’re thrilled by dancing, then just dance. But don’t go on and try to make yourself into a dancer trying to make it as a dancer.
That way is the false way of trying to be somebody. A definition: you’re trying to be somebody whenever you take yourself as somebody or whenever others know you as somebody. The false way of trying to be somebody is the way of suffering.
How beautiful and wonderful it is to happily, knowingly be nobody. That way you can be however is needed to whoever appears.
Antidote? Quite simply: stop all that.
Realize: there is no one I need to be. Realize: in fact, at bottom I am nobody at all. (What is my original-nature before my parents were born?)
Realize: there is nothing I need to do (in order to be somebody). Nothing at all. Just be here in complete openness.
If you stop trying to be somebody, then being nobody (i.e., what we essentially are) will naturally disclose itself.
Then as Case 6 of The Blue Cliff Record states, life will be quite easy: “Yun-Men taught by saying, ‘I do not ask you about before the 15th of the month [i.e., about your life before enlightenment]. Come, give a phrase about after the 15th [i.e., life after enlightenment].’ He himself responded, ‘Every day is a good day.'”
Being nobody knowingly, experience each day fully: “Every day is a good day.” (*)
(*) But don’t make the mistake of making being nobody into being a second-order somebody. That is spiritual materialism for sure.
On the last home sesshin (Zen meditation intensive), I saw clearly that in direct experience physical pain does not exist.
Before, I had followed a pretty standard line: physical pain exists and is a given whereas suffering is an unnecessary mental add-on.
According to the standard line, that throbbing in the knee is pain, but the thought, “This is punishment,” and the feeling of fear, “Oh, no, my knee is being injured,” are both mental contributions that are already tantamount to suffering. On this view, we can drop the suffering while simply observing the pain.
But why not take a closer look at that throbbing, huh? Upon closer inspection, it turns out to be simply physical sensations. Must we add the extra label “pain” to the equation? Perhaps not.
As the observations become subtler and subtler, it can be seen that some sensations are “more vocal”–to employ this metaphor–while others are “less vocal.” Compare the “vocal” sensations in one area of the knee with the quite “unvocal” sensations in the middle of the back. (In fact, scan the entire surface of the body to see how sensations are just a vibrating energy field.)
What becomes clear in this close study is that there is no significant difference between the former (the more vocal) and the latter (the unvocal). Of course, each has its own character or qualities, but neither is anything special. Neither is alarming. Neither, thus, a cause of concern. (If a bone in the foot is broken, then it’s broken. Nothing more.)
Let’s see why this study of sensations matters.
- If there are only sensations, then there is no pain.
- If there is no pain, then there is not the arising feeling: “This is unbearable.” Or: “This is not right.”
- If there is not this arising feeling, then there is no craving (“Here is lack: something must be done about this”).
- And if there is no craving, then there is no suffering (“No more of this; I can’t take this.”).
Not a good enough argument for you? Well, what the above felt, intuitive understanding also shows is that one’s identification with the physical body can fade. As it fades, the fear of injury, of dying, and of death can all fade. (And if you believe that you are an ego-self, then plainly you must be afraid of injury, dying, and death. Only denial and delusion hide these fears from you.) In turn, it becomes possible to be much less ego-reactive while in the presence of others (this, for instance, fades: “Hey, watch where you’re going! You just about stepped on me!”) and thus more available to other sentient beings.
Nothing trivial here. I trust you can see now why all of this matters.
“Don’t turn the practice into anything else,” my Zen teacher states in one of his Dharma talks. “See here, now that there’s no place to go,” I wrote after the last home sesshin, one that ended on Saturday. What are these statements pointing to?
You turn the practice of zazen (seated meditation) into something else whenever you make it about whatever it is not. You feel physical sensations and turn these into “pain,” which in turn is turned into “suffering.” You turn sitting openly and humbly into “getting” something: getting a benefit, becoming calmer, attaining enlightenment. You turn the practice into something when you crave what is other, next, or different from what is right here, right now underfoot. And most definitely you turn practice into something, anything else when you make it about being somebody, about being transformed, about being better or other or special or otherwise. Practice, most certainly, is not about you; it’s about everything that is not you. Hence, being truly is being without self.
“You’re sitting on ‘it,'” my teacher told me during our last one-on-one.
The ordinary mind is a wandering mind, a wandering mind given to directing attention at something. It assumes that there is always some place to go–some thought line to follow, some feeling to grab onto, some story to tell, some ineffable something to experience, some state to attain. And this is the key: the wandering mind either goes in search of ‘it’ or it waits for ‘something to happen.’
“Something is about to happen, with this something being awakening.” Is that so? And what if enlightenment isn’t, because it can’t be, any kind of happening whatsoever? Enlightenment, in point of fact, is not a ‘happening joint’ precisely because it can’t ‘occur’ ‘in’ spacetime. Enlightenment can’t happen because enlightenment is what essentially is.
“You’re sitting on ‘it.'”
Is that so? Therefore, the only way to proceed is not to proceed at all. No going forward or backward or sideways or frontways. You sit with the perfume of the koan in your mouth, behind your eyes, down your ears, jammed into the marrow of your bones. It’s that simple: just stop everything else so that no-thing-ness can disclose its essential being. Stop squirming around.
“The essence of meditation,” my teacher said, “is stopping and seeing. Just stop. And see. That’s it!”