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True Zen Teachings

Our Lives

Kusen by Robert Livingston Roshi

Our lives are not always happy, peaceful, calm. Things don't always go according to the way we think they should go, the way we want them to go.

Our lives are our Zen practice. Zen practice is not separate, apart from our lives. Sometimes we get discouraged in life, sometimes we're not so happy, sometimes we get angry or disappointed or frustrated. This is true whether you are a non-practitioner or whether you come to the dojo and do zazen, whether you're a lay practitioner or whether you are a monk or nun.

The problem is with the mind, the ego-mind, the separation of our own person, our own existence, from all other existences. When we practice Zen, we want to go beyond this separation, cut our old karma, not be tossed and turned by the winds of karma, our past actions. We don't want to be at the mercy of our karma, suffer from our karma.

How do we do this? We practice. We do zazen. We study, read the works of true masters. We concentrate on our samu in the Temple, concentrate on our work and our play. We follow our master.

Well you can say: "Yes, I know this, but I still suffer, I still get upset, I still worry, still have resentment!" But you only know this in your brain, in your thoughts. Shin jin datsu raku. Datsu raku shin jin. Body and mind drop off, drop off body and mind.

These are just concepts, words that come from the brain, from the thoughts, the imagination. Yes, you practice zazen, but where is your mind during zazen? Are you following your thoughts? Or are you here and now on your zafu in the dojo each moment?

Life isn't always easy, a bed of roses. And often, in even a bed of roses there are thorns. How we react to these thorns in our lives - this is what's important. How do we react to frustration when things don't go the way we want them to go?

These problems are not problems we sit around and think about and solve with our brain, with our ego, with our thoughts. We don't have total control over our existence, and the cosmic winds constantly blow change. We will only find peace and joy and strength in our every day, every moment actions and practice.

No other person has the magic answer for you, no one can solve all your troubles. Another person cannot quiet your mind. It must come from practice, dedicated practice.

Our lives and our practice demand patience, fortitude and repetition. If we continue with mushotoku mind, the merits of our practice will extend to all existences, automatically, unconsciously, naturally.

The object of our practice is not perfection. Our practice is that of the bodhisattva. We're not trying to become buddhas or some perfect godlike creature. We're bodhisattvas walking the earth, helping the other, having compassion for the other, learning each moment.

To forget ourselves is not difficult, is not easy. We must just continue the effort, the daily repetition of our practice, in the dojo, in the temple, in our lives outside the temple. We must forget ourselves, forget thinking of ourselves as separate from all the others, and respect all existences.

And when we fall down, we get up again and continue. We fall down again, we get up again and continue. Don't blame the other, don't look outside. Our bonnos can only be cut through our own practice. So have patience. Don't run away, don't run after. Continue gyoji, the daily practice, moment-by-moment. Here and now.



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