Magic Here and Now
The direction is to be present to the magic, trust it, express it.
The students in my college chemistry course put up a web site with the title “Stuff my Chemistry Teacher Says”. The title used another word for stuff.
The dozens of entries were accurate. It was a reminder that an incredible number of topics get touched upon in a course. However, the students had put one as a sticky that appeared on each page:
“Never forget, the world is magic.”
The reason to study chemistry is to not just understand the principles, but to go deeper it and appreciate experience beyond it–the nature of the physical world, our own nature. The same appreciation can true for any subject. In the larger sense, we can study our own life, appreciate it and experience our nature. Chemistry and Dogen are not often used in the same sentence, but this perspective is in harmony with his famous teaching: “To study Zen is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by the 10,000 things.”
The real appreciation of the magic or mystery is to experience the vividness that penetrates all that is experienced in the moment. It is easy to retreat from this mystery and fall back into a repetitious world of same old, same old or what if, should have been etc.
An example that anyone can try: Take an ice cube and hold it tightly. The ice cube melts. In a sense, there is nothing new here, we have seen it a thousand times. In the study of science, the melting might be described as a physical change that a solid undergoes to a liquid, with no chemical bonds formed or broken. But if the attention if fully directed on the ice and the hand, there is a direct experience. First wet, then cold, then burning cold and discomfort or pain. Bring the power of attention to each of these experiences as they occur in time. Simply exhaust the experience to full potential without analysis. Later, the questions can follow: What is the experience of the hurting? Who is hurting? What is the origin of the pain? Where is the uneasiness?
Reality is directly what is experienced. Take another look at the ice cube in the hand. The experience of cold or pain only arises when your hand touches it. Is the experience in the ice or the hand? Experience is a mysterious quality. It arises from time and conditions and cease when they are not longer present. It arises from nothing and returns to nothing. There is magic there to be seen.
The example gets right at the question of what is real. Is there an independent existence or is it all impermanent and fleeting (empty). The experiences are the thoughts, feelings and sensations that arise in life. In Buddhism, this is expressed as the 5 skandhas. These skandhas (or heaps) are form, sensation, perception (thinking), mental images, and consciousness (awareness of an object). The important point is that these conditions arise in time. However, they are then constructed or shaped to give us the idea of a self/object dualistic world.
Distinguishing experience from descriptions of experience lead to confusion of what is real– does a thing have an independent existence or not–no fixed identity (impermanence).
This is not a question to be wrestled with intellectually. Nowadays, people are very courteous about their comments about this, but Saraha* had some direct guidance about interpretations of reality it the 8th century:
Those who believe that what appears is real
Are as stupid as cows.
Those who believe emptiness is real
Are even stupider.
It is the thinking and talking in our mind that distorts our experience. This erratic movement of the mind causes the separation and confusion. Zen training, and especially zazen (sitting meditation), is the major driving engine to end this confusion of the thinking and talking, and to bring clarity and vividness to the experience. The work of zazen focuses the energy to develop the power of attention to make us first aware of our thinking and talking minds, of our hopes and attachments and allow them to lose power.
Zen practice can move us from the repetitious to experiencing the magic. It allows the bright and empty mind to shine without being obscured or filtered.
Some very succinct advice to keep in mind when we sit:
When we sit,
Don’t invite the future
Don’t pursue the past
Let go of the present
Relax right now.
Seen this way zazen is the expression of life itself, not a separate tool to help to experience or achieve something else. Zazen is the practice of life.
Trust in Practice, Trust in Life
In the mind without thinking
No effort is made
Doubts and worries disappear
And faith is restored
First, trust is often misused term. The expression: “Trust me.”, seems almost a passive naïve concept, suggesting giving up responsibility and relying on something external.
Then there is the issue of trusting the life of the quiet mind. Two examples:
“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. . . . . “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew)
Enough for a fire.
The wind has brought me
Maple leaves. (Haiku by Ryokan, 18th century zen teacher and hermit)
Trusting practice requires full participation in the appropriate activities of life, whatever the individual circumstances, with the vivid insight that life is perfect and complete just as it is, and will manifest or unfold in this way. The idea of shaping life to a goal or form just drops away.
Trust is active energy, a dynamic. Trusting practice is to put full energy and effort into the moment without hope or expectation. Trust grows concurrently with the settling of the mind. It is confidence in life. It allows us, to respond directly and freely to each condition, so that the energy flows and functions naturally. Trusting practice is trusting life.
So there is the mystery and magic of the moment and trusting in the completeness as it arises.
In the mind without thinking, the possibilities are endless. Life, practice extends beyond imagination. The magical world manifests itself and participation is free. The experience is not all fun and games; conditions arise to manifest as pain, disappointment as well as joy. All are magic. They are life and the mind without thinking; we can have faith and trust in each of these and experience them in the movement they arise. Compassion grows out of this and expresses itself.
This is the direction of Zen practice.
A closing verse from Niguna:
In this world of magical suffering
We work at a magical practice
And experience a magical awakening
Which comes from the power of truth.
(*Some verses are found in Wake up to Your Life , Ken McLeod, 2001, but primary citations have not been located.)