The Eye Never Sleeps: Striking to the Heart of Zen

The Eye Never Sleeps: Striking to the Heart of Zen

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by Dennis Genpo Merzel
     
 

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The radical challenge of Zen Buddhism is to drop all assumptions and prejudices and experience the truth directly. American Zen teacher Dennis Genpo Merzel brings new life to this ancient wisdom through his commentaries on a classic Chinese
Zen scripture, "Verses on Faith-Mind," by the Third Patriarch of Zen,
Sosan Zenji. The author strikes to the

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Overview

The radical challenge of Zen Buddhism is to drop all assumptions and prejudices and experience the truth directly. American Zen teacher Dennis Genpo Merzel brings new life to this ancient wisdom through his commentaries on a classic Chinese
Zen scripture, "Verses on Faith-Mind," by the Third Patriarch of Zen,
Sosan Zenji. The author strikes to the heart of Zen with clarity and force,
expressing in modern terms, to an American audience, the essential wisdom and compassion of Sosan Zenji's famous poem. Full of colorful Zen lore and personal anecdotes from Dennis Genpo Merzel's life, these talks impart the Buddha's teaching directly and intimately, illuminating in simple words the timeless questions and problems of day-to-day life.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780834824027
Publisher:
Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Publication date:
02/11/2014
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter
4: Undisturbed in the Way

Do not remain in the dualistic state;

avoid such pursuits carefully.

If there is even a trace

of this and that, of right and wrong,

the
Mind-essence will be lost in confusion.

Although all dualities come from the One,

do not be attached even to this One.

When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way,

nothing in the world can offend,

and when a thing can no longer offend,

it ceases to exist in the old way.

Do not remain in the dualistic state;

avoid such pursuits carefully.

The key point here is to cease seeing things in a dualistic way, to free ourselves from dualistic ideas and ultimately from dualistic consciousness itself. This process begins with sitting. If we are constantly judging our sitting,
"Oh, this is terrible sitting," or "I am not sitting as well as
I was last period or last retreat," or "I should not be thinking these kinds of thoughts, having these fantasies or feelings," or "I
should not be thinking at all," right there we are caught in the dualistic state. Our zazen is to practice nonthinking and if we sit there scolding ourselves, that is certainly not practicing nonthinking. When we simply allow the mind's natural function to take place, then thoughts will arise, just as bubbles rise to the surface of water. That is the natural function of the mind,
just as the natural function of the ocean is to have waves.

If we can leave them alone, not giving them any special importance by loving them or hating them, clinging to them or rejecting them, and simply allow ourselves to be empty space, infinite space, where any thoughts at all may come and go,
then they will simply dissolve of their own accord. Just as waves come and go,
rising and falling, just as bubbles come to the surface and burst, so thoughts will appear and disappear.

Our mind in its natural state is like a mirror, simply reflecting what comes before it. What appears in the mind is not separate from it. Mind and objects are not two. All things are nothing but Mind; but this Mind is not the small egoistic mind, very limited in its perspective and capacity, with which we normally identify.

How have we become trapped in this narrow little mind? Knowingly or unknowingly, we have built up over many years a fixed position made up of beliefs and habits.
We have been taught from early childhood onward how to act in every situation and what views to hold. When we walk into a shop, when we go to an art gallery or attend a film or a play, we are expected to have opinions about everything.
And every time we meet other people, we are expected to form judgments about them. Our lives are made up almost entirely of unconscious attitudes and habits that govern everything we do, from brushing our teeth to interacting with others.

When we sit in ritual situations, such as meditation retreats, it is easier for us to see unconscious habitual patterns of thought and action. If we have a structure with certain rules and regulations that helps us to slow down and face ourselves, then it becomes harder to avoid noticing the numerous ways we think and feel and act automatically.

Once when I was at an insight meditation retreat, we were asked to take five precepts during our stay. One of them was not to take anything that isn't yours or given to you. I happened to have forgotten my toothpaste, so I brushed for two or three days without any. Then I noticed a roommate's tube of toothpaste sitting out on the counter. I thought, "Using a little bit of his toothpaste is not going to bother him. I'm sure if he were here, he would give into me." I had nearly finished squeezing it out on the brush before I
realized that I was breaking the vow I had taken.

Ordinarily in life situations like this, we say to ourselves, "So what? Nobody is watching me and nobody really cares about it. What difference does it make?" But aren't our vast social problems the sum total of countless
"so whats"? "So what if I cheat and steal!" "So what if I rape and kill!" Where do we draw the line between a "so what" that is too minor to worry about and another that is big enough to matter?

Our practice is to become aware and attentive, to wake up. It is not enough to be aware only when we sit zazen, we must become attentive throughout our lives,
twenty-four hours a day. If awakened mind does not carry over into our lives,
then who are we kidding? What are we doing sitting, then? Just putting ourselves through a masochistic ordeal of leg pain? We are here to awaken, to attain panoramic awareness,
anuttara samyak sambodhi,
the supreme awakening, ultimate wisdom.

Often awareness begins by our noticing what we are doing right after we do it. That is a start—at least we are noticing it then. When we are in the midst of an argument with our boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, we don't realize what is happening, how caught up we are in our own position. That same evening we may sit down to do zazen and the incident plays back in our minds. Then we ask ourselves, "What was I fighting about? Why was I so determined to be right? Why did I cause such a problem, such misery for both of us?" If we are not awake enough to notice and step back at the moment it is happening, at least we notice when we sit on our cushion. Of course, if we never sit down, we may go on being unconscious indefinitely and never notice it.

As we become more and more attentive, more alert, we will become aware the moment the fight is over. We will no longer have to wait until we sit down on the cushion to realize, "I was being self-centered. I was really holding on to my position. I will go and apologize." Maybe we just told someone the truth, but in a very inappropriate way. We notice that we could have said it more tactfully, in such a way that the person did not need to get defensive.

My teacher always made this point: the way we say things makes all the difference in the world—whether with a compassionate heart or insensitively, out of our egoistic mind. We are being tested on this point twenty-four hours a day and we wonder why our relationships don't work. No matter how many communication workshops we have attended, if there is communication without awareness and sensitivity, it is not much help to others. The essential issue is how sensitive and aware we are in our everyday life. That is what it means to be a
Buddha: to be awake twenty-four hours a day, even while sleeping.

An awakened one is not a person who merely has had some kind of experience and then goes on to live his or her life unconsciously, insensitively,
inattentively. If you see someone on the street having difficulty while you are out walking and you take the time to stop, go over to them, and see what the problem is, that is being aware, that is responding to the situation. When you are all involved with your own thoughts and problems, caught up in your own emotions, you might not even notice that another person is in need.

Our practice is not to be self-absorbed. Our practice is not to sit on the cushion only to become lost in our own thoughts and feelings. Certainly we have to experience thoughts and emotions. We certainly ought not to block them out of our awareness, but we need not get caught up in them. Our practice is to clear the space for these thoughts and feelings to arise and then to disperse,
dissolve, disappear of their own accord. When they arise, there is just attention, just awareness without judgment, without saying, "This thought is rotten," or "This one is great; I must remember it."

If there is even a trace

of this and that, of right and wrong,


the Mind-essence will be lost in confusion.

If there is even the thought that he or she is not me, if there is even the idea that the tree and I are separate, then dualistic thinking arises and confusion happens. When you are sitting in
shikantaza,
allow the mind and heart to include everything. Do not exclude anything or anybody.
Include all that arises. When you are sitting, don't concentrate on one thing and exclude other things, just hold the mind awake, alert, and attentive. You can concentrate on simply allowing everything to happen. Concentrate on holding your mind and your posture open. You can concentrate on resting the mind in the palm of your left hand, neither creating artificial barriers nor excluding anything. Just hold the mind alert and attentive but not abiding any place in particular, just allowing things to settle. The more you can hold your body still, the more the mind has the opportunity to settle down.

Although all dualities come from the One,

do not be attached even to this One.

Everything arises from the One, the One Mind. Trees, mountains, blue sky, clouds, all thoughts and emotions, don't attach to any of it and don't attach to the experience of Oneness either. Just remain unattached to everything that arises,
holding no preferences.

When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way,

nothing in the world can offend,

and when a thing can no longer offend,

it ceases to exist in the old way.

Think about how easily we become disturbed or offended when somebody corrects our posture or tells us we are doing something improperly. In meditation retreats we have an opportunity to observe our minds, our behavior, our ways of relating to the world. We have a chance to see how easily we resist or get angry. How we deal with that anger or resistance makes all the difference in the world,
whether we just notice it and then immediately drop it or get caught up in it for a few days or longer. If we hold on to it, there is one person who is definitely going to suffer, and maybe many more.

One day 1 was talking with my mother in a restaurant, discussing religious people.
My grandmother hated them all—priests, rabbis, all kinds of religious persons.
My grandmother's father had been a rabbi who loved to meditate, pray, study the
Torah, and teach. But as he did not like to spend time with his family, she felt neglected. As a result, all her life she has despised religious people,
though she does not recognize the cause. (Thank God she does not consider me a religious person!) I said to my mother, "What about just forgiving your grandfather? You have been carrying around your mother's hatred for so long!" "I could not possibly do that," she answered. "But who is suffering?" I asked. "Is he suffering because of it? Are you making him miserable? Are you getting even? He has been dead for seventy or eighty years!"

We don't think clearly. We hold on to our hatred and resentment, not realizing that the one we are really hurting is ourself. When we can just let go and forgive the other, the one we are helping is ourself. And what is this practice if it is not to let go, to surrender? What is true zazen but that very process of being open, that process of continuously letting go and surrendering every moment? But surrendering to what? It really does not matter what we call it:
God or the Tao or the Dharma or the Buddha or our true nature. They are all concepts, anyway. It is the act of letting go, of surrendering, that matters.
The very act of letting go opens us up completely.

What does it take to surrender? Trust. Faith. We must have the faith that when we let go we will not really go insane or die. We are only just dropping body and mind, but just before it happens it feels like going insane. And it is true: we are going out of our minds! That is the whole point: to let ourselves go beyond the mind, to stop dwelling in the mind. The problem with Western society is that we live in our heads—that is why we are creating such a mess! Dogs and cats and trees don't dwell in their heads. Trees and animals do not create such chaos.

Who is upsetting the whole balance of nature? Who is destroying the ozone layer?
Who is wiping out all the forests? Who could destroy the whole planet? Who but us, through the very technology our tremendous mental ability has produced.
There is nothing wrong with having great mental capacity, but in our case it is like giving a very sharp knife to a young child. We don't have the maturity to use our minds properly yet.

Our educational system is completely unbalanced. I taught in it for eight years and experienced this firsthand. We teach only to the head, with maybe twenty minutes a day for the body, but nothing for the whole person. In order to do a little meditation exercise in a public school I had to call it
"concentration," and only then was it permitted. If I called it
"meditation" it would be associated with religion and, of course, you can't teach religion in American public schools. Zazen goes far beyond religion, but not many people realize that.

When we were in Japan and went to see the
zenji,
the equivalent of the pope in the Soto Zen hierarchy, he asked in Japanese,
"Can any of the non-Japanese here understand our language?" The
Japanese people present assured him that we could not. Then he stated in
Japanese, "Western minds can never grasp the true
shobo
[the true Dharma], they are too objective." He meant that we see ourselves as subject and everything else as an object.

He was right. Western civilization is responsible for polluting our environment and could easily destroy the planet, fundamentally as a result of this dualistic way of perceiving. The Eastern mind tends to be much more in harmony with nature. It sees nature more as a whole, not as something separate and apart from the mind that tries constantly to conquer and dominate nature. The
Native Americans are the same in this respect, much more in tune with nature,
with the Way. In our Western society we have gotten completely out of tune with the natural order of things. Of course, in recent times the East has been absorbing and imitating this unbalanced Western mind.

The
zenji
was saying that the Western mind is just too stuck in the objective way of perceiving ever to grasp the true Dharma. Since one of the Americans there spoke Japanese quite fluently, I learned what the
zenji
had said. That evening we met with some other high Soto officials who were right under the
zenji
in the hierarchy, all of them roshis over fifty years old. They had the opportunity to ask us questions, but since they did not really want to do so, I
spoke up: "This afternoon when we met with the
zenji,
he said that the Western mind could never grasp the true
shobo,
the true essence of Dogen Zenji." Then, in my green and immature way, I added,
"I have to agree with the
zenji
that probably we cannot grasp the true
shobo,
but what about the Japanese mind? Can
it
grasp the true
shobo?"

Arrogant as it must have sounded, it was a valid question. First of all, can the true
shobo
be grasped, whether by an Eastern or a Western mind? Can the mind grasp the Mind?
Or, to put it experientially, can we really live twenty-four hours a day following Dogen Zenji's teaching? Hardly anyone lived up to his standards. He approved only a handful of Patriarchs prior to him. I doubt very much he would approve any of us walking the planet today.

Recently
I had to make a bow to the
zenji
in appreciation. He is really a true master. He hooked me. Now I am absolutely determined that we manifest the true
shobo
in the West, if it is the last thing we do! The teaching will not die, and that old man made sure of it.



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Meet the Author

Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi is the founder of Kanzeon Sangha and is the abbot of Kanzeon Zen Center in Utah. He has been teaching Zen since 1978 and received Dharma transmission from Taizan Maezumi Roshi in 1980. Genpo Roshi now holds the position of president of the White Plum Lineage, the lineage of Maezumi Roshi. His books include Beyond Sanity and Madness, The Eye Never Sleeps, and 24/7 Dharma.

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