perfect composure: zen



There is a universal force which goes into form moment by moment in an infinitely intelligent way, in perfect concert with all phenomena of existence as well as all levels of non-phenomenal existence. Whatever concepts appeal to us and which allow our mind to open up to the great mystery of this universal force, are, in my opinion, useful. Trust, faith, total functioning, implicate order, the impulse of evolution, adamantine particles, law of attraction, reincarnation and soul evolution, divine providence, the Buddha Mind, no-mind, higher Self – all are, in this sense, equally valid. Today it appeals to me to see myself as Buddha nature arising into form in each moment exactly as is called for so that my form joins in harmony with the cosmic symphony.

This perspective leads to a particular inner posture and its corresponding worldly behavior, which is one of sovereign surrender to my own will in sync with the basic cosmic dynamic, which we call Love. How does this perspective, this inner poise, express itself in my life, moment to moment? In my everyday life this means that I accept all changes, first of all, meaning, I don’t argue with ‘what is’. I am diligent in clearing from my perception all that might distort clear vision of ‘what is’ and in letting go of any attachment to the way I may have expected things to be based on my self-centered projections and super-impositions. I entrain my perception to see through my daytime and also my dream-time fantasies and to see them for what they are: mind-created fantasies.

There is a remarkable quieting down of my thought activity as my practice becomes more and more constant, and this feeds my interest in this state which is relatively free from inner turbulence. I become more and more interested in what it is that underlies all of existence than I am in the forms of existence themselves. The forms that appear in my own personal space as well as in the world ‘at large’ cease to completely occupy my mind and a space opens up that allows for a more subtle perception of this ‘nothing’ – as Shunryu Suzuki calls it in the talk below.

At the same time and hand-in-hand with this shift in my life, so-called ‘outer factors’, such as political events, personal life circumstances and emotional realities, take a back seat and also begin to conform to my ‘inner dynamic’ of quieting and harmonizing. I read reports of others being affected by turbulence and chaos in these ‘outer’ areas of their lives, but none such disruptions seem to come into my direct personal space and my view of the world at large is dominated by reports of increasing upliftment and regeneration. Do I live in a parallel universe? Possibly, but it is clearly my reality. Perhaps the shift in my inner dynamic results in this harmonization of my outer world, as many writers have suggested. In any case, it is clear to me that my greatest contribution to the shift of humanity away from suffering is to deepen and stabilize this ‘perfect composure’ at all times.

Please enjoy the following excerpts from a talk by the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, which inspired this post.

(The actor Peter Coyote reads this chapter in the YouTube below)

Shunryu Suzuki, excerpt from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind pp 116 – 118 (bold highlights are mine):

I discovered that it is necessary, absolutely necessary, to believe in nothing. That is, we have to believe in something which has no form and no color—something which exists before all forms and colors appear.

This is a very important point. No matter what god or doctrine you believe in, if you become attached to it, your belief will be based more or less on a self-centered idea. You strive for a perfect faith in order to save yourself. But it will take time to attain such a perfect faith.

In constantly seeking to actualize your ideal, you will have no time for composure. But if you are always prepared for accepting everything we see as something appearing from nothing, knowing that there is some reason why a phenomenal existence of such and such form and color appears, then at that moment you will have perfect composure.

When you have a headache, there is some reason why you have a headache. If you know why you have a headache, you will feel better. But if you do not know why, you may say, “Oh, I have a terrible headache! Maybe it is because of my bad practice. If my meditation or Zen practice were better I wouldn’t have this kind of trouble!” If you understand conditions in this way you will not have perfect faith in yourself, or in your practice, until you attain perfection. You will be so busy trying that I am afraid you will have no time to attain perfect practice, so you may have to keep your headache all the time! This is a rather silly kind of practice. This kind of practice will not work.

But if you believe in something which exists before you had the headache, and if you know the reason why you have the headache, then you will feel better, naturally.

To have a headache will be all right, because you are healthy enough to have a head- ache. If you have a stomachache, your stomach is healthy enough to have pain. But if your stomach becomes accustomed to its poor condition, you will have no pain. That is awful! You will be coming to the end of your life from your stomach trouble.

So it is absolutely necessary for everyone to believe in nothing. But I do not mean voidness. There is something, but that something is something which is always prepared for taking some particular form, and it has some rules, or theory, or truth in its activity. This is called Buddha nature, or Buddha himself.

When this existence is personified we call it Buddha; when we understand it as the ultimate truth we call it Dharma; and when we accept the truth and act as a part of the Buddha, or according to the theory, we call ourselves Sangha. But even though there are three Buddha forms, it is one existence which has no form or color, and it is always ready to take form and color. This is not just theory. This is not just the teaching of Buddhism. This is the absolutely necessary understanding of our life.

While you are practicing zazen, you may hear the rain dropping from the roof in the dark. Later, the wonderful mist will be coming through the big trees, and still later when people start to work, they will see the beautiful mountains. But some people will be annoyed if they hear the rain when they are lying in their beds in the morning, because they do not know that later they will see the beautiful sun rising from the east. If our mind is concentrated on ourselves we will have this kind of worry.

But if we accept ourselves as the embodiment of the truth, or Buddha nature, we will have no worry. We will think, “Now it is raining, but we don’t know what will happen in the next moment. By the time we go out it may be a beautiful day, or a stormy day.

Since we don’t know, let’s appreciate the sound of the rain now.” This kind of attitude is the right attitude. If you understand yourself as a temporal embodiment of the truth, you will have no difficulty whatsoever. You will appreciate your surroundings, and you will appreciate yourself as a wonderful part of Buddha’s great activity, even in the midst of difficulties. This is our way of life.

By enlightenment I mean believing in nothing, believing in something which has no form or no color, which is ready to take form or color. This enlightenment is the immutable truth. It is on this original truth that our activity, our thinking, and our practice should be based.



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