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Imagine, if you will, a universe in which all things have mutual identity. They all have an interdependent origination: when one thing arises, all things arise simultaneously. And everything has a mutual causality: what happens to one thing happens to the entire universe. Imagine a universe that is a self-creating, self-maintaining, and self-defining organism—a universe in which all the parts and the totality are a single entity; all of the pieces and the whole thing are, at once, one thing.
This description of reality is not a holistic hypothesis or an idealistic dream. It is your life and my life, the life of the mountain and the life of the river, the life of a blade of grass, a spiderweb, the Brooklyn Bridge. These things are not related to each other. They're not part of the same thing. They're not similar. Rather, they are identical to each other in every respect.
But the way we live our lives is as if that were not so. We live in a way that separates the pieces, alienates and hurts. The Buddhist teachings offered in this book point to how we can live our lives in harmony with the facts described above. These teachings refer to us and the whole universe, and we need to see them and practice them from that perspective if we are to benefit from what they have to offer, and begin healing the rift between ourselves and the universe.
To practice Zen is to be in harmony with your life and the universe. To practice Zen means to study the self exhaustively—not just on the surface but on many levels, plumbing its depths. It means being deeply honest with yourself. It means taking responsibility for your life. If you don't practice taking responsibility for your life, you are not practicing Zen. It is as simple as that.
To take responsibility empowers you to do something about whatever it is that's hindering you. As long as we blame, as long as we avoid or deny, we are removed from the realm of possibility and power to do something about our lives. We become totally dependent upon the ups and downs that we create around us. There is no reason that we should not be subjected to anything when we have the power to see that we create and we destroy all things. To acknowledge that simple fact is to take possession of your life. It is to make these teachings your own. It is to give life to the Buddha, to this great earth, and to the universe itself.
—John Daido Loori, Abbot
Zen Mountain Monastery