Do people these days have to attain enlightenment? Did you ever wonder that yourself? The two basic traps, as soon as someone mentions a word like enlightenment, is to think either that you have it or think that you don’t. To possess something or lack something is equally a danger. In the preface it speaks of Bodhidharma and Vimalakirti, and Bodhidharma’s expression of his realization to the emperor was: I don’t know. Vimalakirti, when Manjushri asked him to expound the Dharma of nonduality, sat in silence. Neither possessed anything, neither lacked anything.
In our practice, we have to stay very honest about gaining and lacking. We have to be honest about what we think we’ve gained, we have to be honest about what we think we still lack. We can’t simply brush them aside prematurely as empty. We have to really feel what’s emotionally involved for us on either side of that equation. Dogen said, To study the way is to study the self, and to study the self is to forget the self. It’s that forgetting that the preface points to with Bodhidharma and Manjushri. Fully occupying the self, one has nothing and one lacks nothing, and that’s irrespective of the content of the self at any moment.
When we’re completely who we are, there’s no room left over for having or not having. See, when Kyozan says, It’s not that there’s no enlightenment, but how can one not fall down into the second level -- that second level simply means dividing enlightenment from delusion, the second level of discrimination, distinction. We have to really attain the full experience of who and what we are. That’s real. But it’s not something to hold onto or possess. And even without realizing it, it’s already there, it’s already something that we don’t lack.
I was thinking that often we can see practice proceeding in two directions, where we have two different pictures of what happens in practice. One very typical metaphor we carry around is the sense of the self as narrow and constricted, a limited set of views that we need to break out of or expand. And there we see practice and realization as getting us to let in something we’ve previously excluded. When we sit in sesshin we may have intense experiences that we don’t usually have during our day-to-day lives. It may be a whole range of intensities, some pleasant and some very unpleasant. It can be physical intensity, emotional intensity. We have to be able to stay with, let in, all sorts of things we’re not used to experiencing.
We can say that life already contains all of that, but we’re used to trying to stay in one small corner of our lives and not venture out too much into pain or uncertainty or joy. And so we open up to something bigger. But the danger on that side is that we think that we can collect or attain experience and that the depth of our understanding or our realization is equivalent to the variety and intensity and exoticism of the experiences we collect or let in. So there we become connoisseurs, even addicts of states of consciousness, and try to accumulate the biggest collection possible. We travel around inside our mind and try to experience things in our mind the way we might travel the globe and go to India, go to China, go to Antarctica, and feel like the more places we’ve been and the more things we’ve done, the richer our life is. In one sense that’s true, but part of what the koan warns against is feeling like we are the sum of those experiences, that there’s something we can attain, possess, put on the shelf and identify with.
The other side of practice is the practice of staying still, of really occupying fully this moment, this place, regardless of what it is, regardless of how unspecial it is, how seemingly unimportant or uninteresting. That’s the samadhi of fine attention, of simply practicing oryoki, handling our bowls and the cloths and the utensils with care and attention, allowing that to be the only thing that’s happening, allowing it to be the whole world. If we really are totally occupied with oryoki, just fully engaged by it, what difference does it make if we ever go to Japan, if we ever go to China? We can only fully be in one place at a time, and from one side it doesn’t make any difference at all which place it is.
I think a lot of the day-in day-out repetition of practice forces us to stay with things in their uninteresting particularity. This place, here, now, regardless of how interesting or special, historical or anything else it is or isn’t, is who and what we are. When we ask, do we have to attain enlightenment or not, it’s like asking is this place, this time, this sangha, this teacher enough? Is this mind, this body, this moment enough? We have to watch all the ways we say No! It’s not! It’s not enough. It’s not right. I want it to be different. Even our protest, even our No! -- that’s who we are. That’s enough. We have to watch: What have we attained? What are we lacking? Where are you right now?