Get out of the construction business! Stop building bridges across the raging waters of samsaric existence, attempting to reach the “far shore,” nirvana. Better to simply relax, at ease and carefree, in total naturalness, and just go with the primordial flow, however it occurs and happens. And remember this: whether or not you go with the flow, it always goes with you.
Shikantaza is to practice or actualize emptiness. Although you can have a tentative understanding of it through your thinking, you should understand emptiness through your experience. You have an idea of emptiness and an idea of being, and you think that being and emptiness are opposites. But in Buddhism both of these are ideas of being. The emptiness we mean is not like the idea you may have. You cannot reach a full understanding of emptiness with your thinking mind or with your feeling. That is why we practice zazen.
I would like to share something on my own personal experience. I am not sure how this would work in other contexts but it helped me move beyond this sort of conflict. I mentioned that since I left home for the monastery when I was seven years old, I have had different caretakers and guardians. One older monk has a tendency to be quite nit-picky, and to constantly correct me on matters I consider completely trivial. This happens a lot, and we live together in a close quarter, so I had to develop a way to deal with it. What I came up with was this: whenever he would start scolding me, I would imagine that he was talking about another person – not about me, but about someone else. Then I would mentally take my caretaker’s side in the argument against this third person. I would nod in agreement with my caretaker’s criticism and inwardly say to myself, “Oh yes, what an awful guy that Karmapa is. Look what he did. Can you believe it? How could anyone wear such wrinkled clothes!” It became a game that I could play whenever this caretaker started in on me. It was actually fun and I got to the point that I quite enjoyed it. Most importantly, it allowed me to keep my feelings of affection and warmth toward this monk alive and strong, no matter what was going on between us. I could remember that he was doing his best to care for me in his own way.
The day you were born, your death began approaching;
People of Tingri, remember: there is never any time to spare.
The concentration on ‘impermanence’ helps free us from our tendency to live as though we and our loved ones will be here forever. The concentration on ‘non-craving’ is an opportunity to take time to sit down and figure out what true happiness really is. We discover that we already have more than enough conditions to be happy, right here in the present moment. And the concentration on ‘letting go’ helps us disentangle ourselves from suffering and transform and release painful feelings.
Even if death were to strike you today like lighting, you must be ready to die without sadness or regret, without any residue of clinging to what is left behind. Remaining in the recognition of the view, you should leave this life like an eagle soaring up into the blue sky. When the eagle takes flight into the vast sky, it never thinks, ‘My wings won’t be able to carry me; I won’t be able to fly that far.’ Likewise, when dying, remember your guru and his instructions, and adhere to them with complete confidence.
Self-mastery entails self-discipline, but neither self-mastery nor self-discipline is a matter of applying superior force. It is not like a parent pushing a child to do her homework long enough that she finally grudgingly does it to avoid being scolded by her parents. Self-discipline can be developed joyfully rather than as a burden we impose on ourselves. It can become something we willingly embrace. This requires training – mind training. We need to recognize that our minds are big enough and can open wide enough to accept reality. We need to talk to our minds. The aim is for us to choose, wholeheartedly, to do what we know is the best thing to do.
It is said that Avalokiteshvara was once asked by a disciple, “What practice is the most essential to accomplish buddhahood?” Avalokiteshvara answered that the most important thing, the most essential thing to do to attain buddhahood, is to practice compassion. This is because when you practice compassion, all other qualities, such as loving kindness and the enlightenment mind, are naturally accomplished and naturally gather.
You should rather be grateful for the weeds you have in your mind, because eventually they will enrich your practice.
We have within us already the most important resources we need for living interdependence well. We have tremendous mental flexibility that allows us to adopt new positions in relation to changing circumstances. As I will explore in the following chapters, I believe that we have the basic ability to open our hearts to others, to take their perspectives into consideration, and to share experiences and feelings. Our natural capacity for empathy is a clear sign that we are emotionally connected. If one child cries, another will cry. When people are wholeheartedly laughing, we often cannot help but join in, even if we do not know what is funny. These are all small signs that we are connected inwardly and not just outwardly. Focusing on our inner interdependence allows us see that we are all moved by the same inner drive to seek happiness and avoid suffering. This universal wish motivates life on this planet. The happiness we all seek only comes when we are working not just on external conditions but on inner ones as well.