If you think you will get something from practicing zazen, already you are involved in impure practice. It is all right to say there is practice, and there is enlightenment, but we should not be caught by the statement. You should not be tainted by it. When you practice zazen, just practice zazen. If enlightenment comes, it just comes. We should not attach to the attainment. The true quality of zazen is always there, even if you are not aware of it, so forget all about what you think you may have gained from it. Just do it. The quality of zazen will express itself; then you will have it.
The mind has, in general, two aspects, stillness and movement. Sometimes, the mind is quiet and free from thoughts, like a calm pool; this is stillness. Eventually, thoughts are bound to arise in it; this is movement. In truth, however, although in a sense there is a movement of thoughts within the stillness, there is actually no difference between these two states — just as the nature of stillness is voidness, the nature of movement is also voidness. Stillness and movement are merely two names for the one mind.
Do not run away from these unpleasant feelings.
Do not manipulate them into pleasant feelings.
Stay with what is, with whatever arises.
Even when your realization transcends the very notions of there being anything to accumulate or purify, continue still to accumulate even the smallest amounts of merit.
The reason that we can’t find mind when we look for it is that mind doesn’t have an essential nature of its own. This nonexistence is what the Buddha called emptiness or shunyata. This emptiness does not need to be verified through complicated philosophical reasoning; it is simply the nature, or essence, of the mind. Both peacefulness and disturbing emotions arise from mind’s nature, which is not solid or dense; rather, it is empty of inherent existence. Because it is empty, its nature cannot be harmed and does not become defective or degrade with age or illness.
Seeing ourselves as fundamentally separate and independent inclines us to underestimate or altogether ignore the connections between ourselves and others. As happens in our use of electronic connectivity, we feel that we are here, while everyone else is over there, apart from us. We even imagine that we can do whatever we wish with no consequences for anyone but ourselves. Given the environmental impact of our consumer-driven global society, I believe we cannot afford to leave unexamined the assumptions that have allowed us to go so far down this road without noticing the collective effects of our individual actions.
An unsuitable friend is one who is fond of distractions, totally immersed in ordinary worldly activities, and who does not care in the least about achieving liberation — a friend who has no interest or faith in the Three Jewels. The more time you spend with such a person, the more the three poisons will permeate your mind. Even if you do not initially agree with their ideas and actions, if you spend a lot of time with unsuitable friends, you will eventually be influenced by their bad habits. Your resolve to act positively will decline, and you will waste your life. Such people will prevent you from spending any time studying, reflecting, and meditating — which are the roots of liberation. And they will make you lose whatever qualities you may have developed, especially compassion and love — which are the very essence of the teachings of the Great Vehicle. An unsuitable friend is like a bad captain who steers his ship onto the rocks. Such people are your worst enemy. You owe it to yourself to stay away from them. In contrast, being with people who embody or aspire to gentleness, compassion, and love will encourage you to develop those qualities so essential to the path. Inspired by their example, you will become filled with love for all beings, and come to see the inherent negativity of attachment and hatred. Authentic spiritual friends are those who have received teachings from the same teacher as yourself and, detached form worldly concerns, are devoting themselves to practice in secluded places. In the company of such friends, you will naturally be influenced by their good qualities, just as birds flying around a golden mountain are bathed in its golden radiance.
When you are trained as Buddhist, you don’t think of Buddhism as a religion. You think of it as a type of science, a method of exploring your own experience through techniques that enable you to examine your actions and reactions in a non-judgmental way, with the view toward recognizing, “Oh, this is how my mind works. This is what I need to do to experience happiness. This is what I should avoid to avoid unhappiness.
The ground of loving-kindness is this sense of satisfaction with who we are and what we have. The path is a sense of wonder, becoming a two- or three-year-old child again, wanting to know all the unknowable things, beginning to question everything. We know we’re never really going to find the answers, because these kinds of questions come from having a hunger and a passion for life — they have nothing to do with resolving anything or tying it all up into a neat little package. This kind of questioning is the journey itself.
The reason we practice meditation is to attain happiness. With regard to short-term happiness, we usually mean either physical pleasure or mental pleasure or both of them. But if you look at either of these pleasant experiences, their root has to be a mind that is at peace and free from suffering. As long as your mind is unhappy and devoid of tranquility or peace, no matter how much physical pleasure you experience, your mind will not know true happiness. On the other hand, even if you lack the ideal physical circumstances of wealth and so on, if your mind is at peace you will be happy anyway.