If Enlightenment is possible here and now and in this lifetime regardless of prior knowledge or practice, the question remains whether Enlightenment happens by grasping it or by letting it go. Zen Master Dogen, in speaking to his assembly during the celebration of the Enlightenment of the Buddha tells us that there are two causes and conditions for accomplishing the Buddha Way.
Approaching the varieties of religious expression and trying to make sense of them can be daunting to the casual observer. The World’s Religions are a peacock’s feathers display of color. There are differences in language, ceremony, and religious attire, as well as customs and histories making it all very confusing.
The Soto school of Zen is not concerned with whether we have some special experience or an “aha” moment or insight. Shunryu Suzuki Roshi says, “These forms are not a means of obtaining the right state of mind. To take this [zazen] posture is itself the right state of mind. There is no need to obtain some special state of mind.”
Many are familiar with the yin-yang symbol, but few of us know what it means or how it is applied to real life. In Zen Master Dogen’s time this symbol was taken for granted. Not just Dogen Zenji, but all of Japanese culture connects the solstice with the yin-yang energy that fluctuates depending on the time of year.
Enlightenment is none other than recognizing the unity of opposites. However, this definition is totally intellectual, and doesn’t necessarily connect Enlightenment with anything real or concrete. Intellect needs to be connected with the physical body, with actually doing something in a particular way, through a proscribed form. Freedom is not found through intellectualizing Zen practice nor in thinking it can be found outside the forms that practice takes.
All of us need to bring our beginner’s mind to this moment. This is the case whether we’ve been practicing for two weeks or twenty years. Return to asking questions or being curious. Practice as though this was the first time you have practiced meditation because it is. This is “no self” in its practical application. We change from moment to moment, so who we are now is different from who we were yesterday, or even a minute ago when we began reading.
In the United States there is a cultural idea born in part by early commentators, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, on the Bhagavad Gita and the Buddhist Sutras that meditation is about control, that this control requires one’s own individual efforts alone, and one will eventually experience peace if practiced for long enough. These ideas are fine but can be misleading when taken out of context.
First you must believe that you are already within the Way. You must believe that you are free of delusion, illusory thoughts, confused ideas, increase, and decrease and mistaken understanding. Believe in this manner, clarify the Way and practice accordingly. This is the essence of studying the Way.