This statement could be taken as referring to temporal sequence: first this happens and then that happens. However the word “where” gives us the clue: both life and thought are happening simultaneously. However, if we get the sense of our field of perception actually as a field, like a corn or rice field, then we may find one thing happening in one corner of the field and something else happening somewhere else in the same field. That is the case with our field of perception. Let’s say: thought = the mind pulling up impressions of past events and based on those memories evaluating what is happening now and then creating an image. This image is then the basis for a slightly modified image of some future event as the progression from the present event. The mind is caught in a loop of its own images.
Thus, there where thought is happening the field of perception appears to be completely occupied. There is no space for perception of that which is outside of thought to enter the mind. All the while elsewhere in the field of perception real life is happening independently of the mind’s processing of its sensory perception and the cognitive processes that its perceptions trigger. This is called being caught up in the small mind that originally is only meant for functional tasks. We then dwell on the topics the mind has given priority to, such as our bank account, our relationship to our significant other, our children, the state of the world, the electoral campaign, the desire to become enlightened, etc. etc.
A person of the Way fundamentally does not dwell anywhere. The white clouds are fascinated with the green mountain’s foundation. The bright moon cherishes being carried along with the flowing water. The clouds part and the mountains appear. The moon sets and the water is cool. Each bit of autumn contains vast interpenetration without bounds.
So actually we are always there where life begins, fresh and new in every moment. Only we often tend to give priority to the topics of the mind and then they appear to fill our time, our day. It is like this: driving in the car our windshield gets fully splattered with mud so that we no longer can see the road or the landscape we are moving in. We become enthralled with the patterns of the mud on the glass and begin to study the mud patterns, We have long conversations about how to change the patterns so that they are more to our liking. Of course the patterns I prefer are most likely not the same ones you like and so contention flares up. Until so someone comes and uses the windshield-wipers with spray and all the mud is gone.
However we have gotten so used to looking at and engaging with the mud patterns that we are completely disoriented that they are gone: our world is gone. What now can be taken in by our sensory organs is much vaster. It is no longer just the flat surface with the mud on it. It has depth and color and sound. It is truly multi-dimensional. That is why we need to learn to re-focus in order to perceive this other reality. In the Zen tradition one speaks of Shikan Taza (just sitting) as a way of re-focusing oneself to perceive the buddha in oneself. This means to perceive life happening all around oneself and oneself as an integral part of this event we call life.
Allow the vital presence of just sitting.
“Respond unencumbered to each speck of dust without becoming its partner. The subtlety of seeing and hearing transcends mere colors and sounds.”
Again he (Hongzhi) suggests, “Casually mount the sounds and straddle the colors while you transcend listening and surpass watching.”
This does not indicate a presence that is oblivious to the surrounding sense world. But while the practitioner remains aware, sense phenomena do not become objects of attachment, or objectified at all.
from “Essay on Shikan Taza” p. 9
Now one might get the sense that this ‘sitting’ refers to a particular body posture, but listening more deeply to the ancient ones we can understand that they are pointing us to a certain ‘inner posture’ that can be our way under all circumstances.
Just sitting, one simply meets the immediate present. Desiring some flashy experience to arise from our sitting in meditation , or anything more or other than “this” is mere worldly vanity and craving.
Again invoking empty nature, Hongzhi says, “Fully appreciate the emptiness of all dharmas. Then all minds are free and all dusts evaporate in the original brilliance shining everywhere. . . . Clear and desireless, the wind in the pines and the moon in the water are content in their elements.”
This original brilliance is what we lose track of to the point of even doubting its existence. How can we regain our original clarity? Zen Master Dogen speaks of the practice of sitting (zazen):
“We should engage the way in zazen as if extinguishing flames from our heads.”
There is a constant fire burning in our heads. Our minds are feverish from the over-activity of thought. The blindfold that keep us from seeing our inner brilliance, which is the original brilliance that fills all time and space, is the incessant activity of our brain.
Dogen describes this meditation as the samadhi of self-fulfillment (or enjoyment), and elaborates the inner meaning of this practice. Simply just sitting is expressed as concentration on the self in its most delightful wholeness, in total inclusive interconnection with all of phenomena.
Here we see that this sitting is not about stopping the thoughts or the brain, but it is about including and completely accepting all movement within us and around us in the world. When we let go of all effort, of all resistance to all changes inward and outward, all striving and find the fine balance of a ‘non-seeking’ quality of meditation, then a window can open to life where thought ends.
Dogen makes remarkably radical claims for this simple experience.
“When one displays the buddha mudra with one’s whole body and mind, sitting upright in this samadhi for even a short time, everything in the entire dharma world becomes buddha mudra, and all space in the universe completely becomes enlightenment.”
Proclaiming that when one just sits all of space itself becomes enlightenment is an inconceivable statement, deeply challenging our usual sense of the nature of reality, whether we take Dogen’s words literally or metaphorically. Dogen places this activity of just sitting far beyond our usual sense of personal self or agency. He goes on to say that,
“Even if only one person sits for a short time, because this zazen is one with all existence and completely permeates all times, it performs everlasting buddha guidance” throughout space and time.
idem p. 11
Now we come to the end or words, for here is where each of us takes our own life into the place beyond the known, beyond thought.
“Great assembly, do you want to hear the reality of just sitting, which is the Zen practice that is dropping off body and mind?”
After a pause [Dogen] said:
“Mind cannot objectify it; thinking cannot describe it. Just step back and carry on, and avoid offending anyone you face.
“At the ancient dock, the wind and moon are cold and clear. At night the boat floats peacefully in the land of lapis lazuli. “