This Dharma, incomparably profound, and minutely subtle, looks like me Barry Magid August 8th 2011

Authority

After years of talking to many many people, I'm still amazed that we make such a problem of our life in practice. And there is no problem. But saying that is one thing, seeing it quite another.

The last words of the Buddha were - "Be a lamp unto yourself."

He didn't say go running to this teacher or that teacher, to this center or that center. He said look, "Be a lamp unto yourself."

What I want to discuss here is the problem of authority. Usually we're either an authority to others telling them what to do or we're seeking someone to be an authority for us, telling us what to do. And yet we would never be

We think we need to go to a teacher or an authority to tell us what to do. I'm always amused that when a new teacher comes to town, everyone goes running to see him or her. I'll tell you how far I'd walk to see a new teacher - maybe across the room, no father.

It isn't because I have no interest in this person. It is just that there is no one who can tell me about my life except who? There is no authority outside my own experience.

But you may say "Well I need a teacher who can free me from my suffering. I'm hurting and I don't understand it. I need someone who can tell me what to do, don't I?" NO. You may need a guide. You may need it made clear how to practice with your life. What is needed is a guide who will make it clear to you, but the authority in your life, your true teacher, is you. And we practice to realize this you.

There is only one teacher. What is that teacher? Life itself. And of course each one of us is a manifestation of life. We couldn't be anything else. Now life happens to be both a severe and an endlessly kind teacher. It's the only authority you need to trust. And this teacher, this authority is everywhere. You don't have to go to some special place to find this incomparable teacher. You don't have to have some especially quiet or ideal situation. In fact the messier it is, the better. The average is a great place. The average home is perfect. Such places are pretty messy most of the time. We all know from first hand experience. That's where the authority is, the teacher is.

This is a very radical teaching, not for everyone.
People often turn away from such a teaching. They don't want to hear it. What do they want to hear? What do you want to hear?

Until we're ready, which usually means until we've suffered and are willing to learn from the suffering, we're like baby birds in a nest. What do baby birds do? They open their mouths upward and wait to be fed. And we say "Please! Stuff your wonderful teaching into me. I'll hold my mouth open, but you put it in." What we are saying is "When will Mommy and Daddy come? When will a great teacher, a supreme authority come and stuff me with that which will end my pain, my suffering." The news is Mommy and Daddy have already come. Where are Mommy and Daddy? Right here. Our life is always here. But since my life may look to me like discomfort, even dreariness, loneliness, depression, if I were actually to face that - life as it is, who would want that? Almost no one. But when I can begin to experience this very moment, the true teacher. When I can honestly be each moment of my life. What I think, feel, this experience will settle itself into just this - the joyful samadhi of life. The Word of God. And that is Zen practice, and we don't even have to use the word Zen.

This Mommy and Daddy we are waiting for are already here. Right here. We can't avoid the authority even if we want to. When we go to work it's right there. When we're with our friends it's right there. When we're with our family it's right there. Do Zazen constantly. Pray constantly. If we understand that each moment of our life is the teacher we can't avoid doing that. If we truly are each moment of our life, there is no room for an outside influence or authority. Where could it be? When I am just my own suffering, where is the authority? The attention, the experiencing is the authority. And it is also the clarification of the action to be done.

There's one final little illusion we all tend to play with in this question of authority. And it is "Well I'll be my own authority thank you, nobody's going to tell me what to do." What's the fallacy in this? I'll be my own authority. I'll develop my own concepts about my life. My own ideas about what Zen practice is. We're all full of this nonsense.

If I attempt to be my own authority in this narrow sense, I'm just as much a slave as if I let someone else be the authority. But if you're not the authority and I'm not the authority, then what? We've already talked about this but if it's not understood clearly we may be floundering in quicksand. How do you see it?

Everyday Zen, Charlotte Joko Beck

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