Rules To Live By II

The Ten Commandments. The Five Pillars Of Islam. Maimomides’ Thirteen Principles. Buddha’s Eightfold Path. Thich Nhat Hanh’s Five Mindfulness Trainings. The Four Agreements.

A short list of the numerous rules to live by – moral codes that have been passed down through the ages from the many spiritual and philosophical traditions – wisdom to guide us in our everyday life, and, if all goes well, to lead us to the land of the pure after death.

Originally, these edicts described the qualities of an Awakened Being. They were not a list of goals to aspire to in order to become someone other than, better than, more perfect than ourselves, but the qualities of our essential being – who we inherently are.

Instead of starting from the point of view of a limited separate self that is always involved in the act of becoming, how about starting from the point of view of that which is always present, aware, and unchanging? From the point of view of that which has no agenda, no desires, and is inherently peaceful and happy? It can be such hard work trying to become a perfect person, and, in any case, impossible to maintain. The separate self is never satisfied – it can never be perfect enough. And beside, perfection is a relative concept, so what is perfect to one is imperfect to another.

Start from the place prior to any concept of good or bad, compassion or indifference, perfection or imperfection. It is from this limitless placeless place, the source of our being, that all these rules of proper conduct, these moral codes, have arisen in the first place. In fact, it is the place from which all appearances arise.

Setting aside the illusionary separate self – for who can identify with something that by its very nature comes and goes? – something like the Buddhist Eightfold Path – Right Understanding, Right Intent, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration – is revealed not as a collection of qualities you have to seek, or a path to follow, but as qualities that you, we, all seven billion of us, already embody as infinite and eternal beings.

And the sweet thing about something that’s infinite and eternal is that there is only room for one. Not two.

For Beginners Only

Anyone who has embarked on a spiritual journey over the past fifty years has more than likely discovered Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki, first master of the San Francisco Zen Center and Tasajara Zen Mountain Center – the unassuming, unswerving man with a twinkle in his eyes.

His collection of talks in ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’ point directly to the source of our being and is considered by many to be essential reading for serious seekers. Below are some favorite quotes from this book as well as from some of his other works – ripples on the vast ocean that is Shunryu Suzuki.

* * *

‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.’

‘There are, strictly speaking, no enlightened people, there is only enlightened activity’.

‘What we call I is just a swinging door, which moves when we inhale and when we exhale.’

‘Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.’

‘Actually water always has waves. Waves are the practice of the water. To speak of waves apart from water or water apart from waves is a delusion. Water and waves are one. Big mind and small mind are one. When you understand your mind in this way, you have some security in your feeling . . . Whatever you experience is an expression of big mind.’

‘When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.’

A student asked in dokusan (private interview), ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?’ Suzuki Roshi answered, ‘It doesn’t matter.’

A student who had just concluded a thirty-day zazen (seated meditation) retreat with two enthusiastic dharma pals asked Suzuki Roshi how to maintain the extraordinary state of mind he’d attained. ‘Concentrate on your breathing, and it will go away,’ Suzuki said.

‘Wherever you are, you are one with the clouds and one with the sun and the stars you see. You are one with everything. That is more true than I can say, and more true than you can hear.’

Homage to a Mantra

If you are truly seeking to uncover the mysteries of the universe, discover the meaning of life, you have to do something, right? You can’t just sit around and wait for the answer or answers to come to you. Most of us consider that to be counterintuitive. Or is it? We’ll find out sooner or later: you have to do until you don’t.

The seeker turns to study, yoga, various meditation techniques and practices, possibly to bask in the grace of a guru, and/or spend time in retreat with a group of like-minded people. The seeker does these things to become a better person, to gain wisdom, and in many cases, to reach the ultimate goal of becoming an enlightened being.

If drawn to mantras, the great and powerful mantra of the Prajna Paramita (The Heart Sutra) sings:

Gate, Gate, Paragate,

     Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!

Gone, Gone, Gone Beyond,

     Gone Beyond the Great Beyond, Rejoice!

In other words, as a spiritual seeker, whatever your thoughts, feelings, or sensations, whatever you perceive in the world, no matter the content, positive or negative, do not be deluded into believing that they present an insurmountable obstacle, or the way it’s going to be forever.

In Ram Dass’s Be Here Now, the mantra is followed by:

Beyond even conceiving of a place beyond which you can go beyond.

Let’s rest there for a moment . . .

As they say in poker, that doesn’t leave us (the mind) many outs.

No matter the circumstances, the beauty and grace, the clarity and truth of this mantra will hold you lightly, warmly, gently in its loving heart and reassure you that regardless of whatever you are experiencing, on either end of the suffering/joy spectrum, it’s never the final answer.

Do not stop

     Do not think you have arrived

     Anywhere

Go beyond

     Go beyond all points beyond

Little mind is left behind

     Gone as far as it can go

     On this journey beyond it

From now on we travel

     Lightly

And as you free fall into this limitless, boundless world, everything does stop, and all is silent and still.

And in this instance of surrender to the mother of all mantras, sound of all sounds – beyond all belief and disbelief – you, I, we, vibrate, disperse, dissolve, and ultimately meet, join together, in the centerless center of infinite and eternal peace. And all is well.

Why Does Happiness Come and Go?

Happiness doesn’t come and go. Our essential being, some call it our original nature, is what comes and goes, or at least that’s how it appears. In fact, our essential being never goes anywhere and happiness is a quality of essential being-ness, so happiness always is.

So why are we often unhappy? Again, happiness is not a state that comes and goes. It is merely veiled by our identification as a separate individual, which is subject to the whims of cause and effect, to different states of mind and feelings – the separate self that thinks it gets its happiness from objects, relationships, substances, and activities.

But this isn’t our true experience. Happiness reveals itself in that moment of stillness when all desire ceases. For example, you covet a jacket and order it online. It arrives in the mail, you put it on, and you are instantly happy. Not because you have the jacket, but because in that moment, you, the individual self, are not seeking or desiring anything and in this emptiness the true self is revealed. But desire quickly rises up again in the separate self, which once again sets out to seek happiness in objects, relationships, substances, and activities.

Why does this happen over and over again? Because we place our identity in an individual self, which upon examination only exists in the form of a thought, feeling, sensation, or perception, which are all temporary, and thus illusory objects.

Lasting happiness can never be found in any kind of object – states of mind come and go; feelings, sensations, and perceptions all come and go. All things come and go except for that which knows the coming and going – that which exists prior to any manifestation of phenomena, during its existence, and after it has gone. Just as the sky exists before, during, and after the cloud has appeared, lingered, and dissolved back into the sky.

It is a simple misidentification with a separate self – an illusory being made of thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions – which causes all suffering and, at best, sometimes finds fleeting happiness.

To find lasting happiness, you must first investigate deeply the one who seeks happiness. Find this so-called individual self, this ‘I’ we call ourselves. Isn’t it just a thought? Set it aside for just a moment and, in the stillness, peace and happiness are revealed. As Buddha said, ‘There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.’