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Zen is very much a THIS – worldly tradition. It’s not about finding nirvana after we die or getting to an other-worldly paradise. The above verse takes us to the heart of Zen in affirming not only the natural world but the human body. Zen masters look to nature for guidance and find it in trees and rocks. How is it that a tree can remain so still it’s whole life? It’s born, lives, and dies in the exact same spot (barring any human involvement in transplantation). Trees teach us how to be content in zazen. They teach us the non-dual nature of reality when we ourselves embody a tree in our own body and mind during meditation. Like a tree, we don’t need to direct our mind to something. We simply enter the present moment right now, as it is.
I laugh when I see meditation referred to as a technology or a technique. Zen Master Dogen said that zazen is not “step-by-step” meditation. Yet many are looking for the right technique and thus ignore the reality of the here and now. Modern technology is now available for people desiring to attain certain so-called meditative states. You can purchase an app or get the right head gear to produce a sound that moves you into a flow state, or gets you to preferred brain waves. Ridiculous!
What is wrong with our body and mind as it is? Absolutely nothing. Yet, here are advertisements telling us, once again, that we are not good enough as we are, that we are deficient in some manner, and that if we just purchase the right tool it will fix all our problems. Don’t believe the hype. Every state of mind is unstable, even the “preferred” ones.
This is not to say that we should not use technology or that we should remain satisfied with an unpleasant state of mind. I encourage people to use apps that work for them. In Zen temples bells and drums are used to begin and end zazen. The sound of a bell can bring peace to the mind. Chanting sutras can also change certain mind sets. No doubt we do need to develop some technique as we meditate. Dai-En Roshi said that learning how to sit zazen is like making an ice sculpture with a butter knife. In other words, we need time and patience. We’re not going to “get it right” overnight.
But the idea that we can somehow fix ourselves with technology is laughable at best, and removes us from the central placement of community in Buddhist life. Intentional sound in Buddhist practice is the result of people working together in harmony to bring those sounds about, and we lose that sense of the human face working in concert when we rely too heavily on tech. In other words, we need to recognize the human face to attain enlightenment. We need all of us, even the people we hate.
Keep practice simple. Notice the natural world around you and learn from it. Notice your body and mind in all its ugliness and beauty, and love it. Notice how everybody is working in their own way to help us attain our goals. The true person is the one who can embrace themselves as they are, even those parts they wish to hide from others, or wish to erase from themselves. Trees and rocks are never embarrassed.