‘Don’t Turn Practice Into Anything Else’

“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!”