04 November 2011

If the Terrain and the Map Do Not Agree...

...follow the terrain.  (Swedish Army Manual)

I consider it one of the best characteristics of Zen that it insists one work out one's own attainment for oneself.  There is no road map, no dharmic GPS.  There's the truth of dukkha, its cause, its end, and the path to its end, of course, but the distinctive thisness of my dukkha – the curiously particular way the kleśas operate on this bundle I call "me" – is not something I can just read or hear about.  I can only know it from this side of my interactions with the world and those around me.  My attachments grew out of a collection of experiences that is rather unique to me; the things I fear and run from are the flip side of the projections I alone make of my "self."  All is on fire, all right, but these particular flames are lapping at me alone.  

I can barely bring myself to read anything Buddhist-related any more.  I've already placed just about all of the Buddhist books I've ever owned on the shelves of the center's library, and although I admire Dōgen, I'm really really glad I don't practice at a center that has people reading and quoting him day and night!

I find myself at long last following the counsel I first received as far as listening to teisho goes, "Focus on your practice primarily and on the teisho secondarily."   I used to hope to catch some insight from the teacher; now I find that teishos help best by giving me a spur to greater insight of my own.

What can books or talk tell me I don't know by living through and looking hard at the flow of my life?  What can they save me from that my own inherent wisdom can't?  Can they capture at all the great ease I experience when, having set down a burden, I walk a freer man?  Shall they handle for me the mistakes I very much need to make along the way?

Of course, Zen isn't the only path that points one back to oneself.  In The Sayings of the Desert Fathers it is recounted that a young monk begged Abba Moses for a word.  The old man said, "Go and sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything."

Guess it's not surprising that so few went out to the desert and that so few stick with Zen!

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