“Not knowing how near the Truth is…”

From time to time the Green Bay Zen center selects readings from our Sutra book to recite as a group. The two main readings a person may encounter is “On Zen” by Daio Kokushi, or “Song of Zazen” by Master Hakuin. My focus of this post will be latter of the two “Song of Zazen”, which is a beautiful written poem from the 17th century.

Within this poem is a particular sentence that has always struck me as profound i.e., “not knowing how near the truth is, we seek it far away”. This simple, yet profound statement encapsulates (to me) what Zen, Buddhism, meditation, and living are all about. This statement may in-fact be familiar to you, for it is very similar to what another Master said around 2000 years ago “the kingdom of heaven is within you” (Luke 17:21).  To quote a contemporary Zen master Roshi Steve Hagen “to completely end your unease of mind, you need to see there is nothing “out there” to get because, already within this moment, everything is whole and complete”.

We are taught, that to make it in this life, we need to work hard, learn a craft, get an education, and continue getting better at everything we do. However, do we ever ask ourselves, what the end goal is from all of this effort? If we work hard, and are blessed with a high enough IQ, we may end up with a satisfying career, and a loving family, and without negating any of these important aspects of life, do these achievements allow us to know ourselves? In an effort to understand life we may turn our attention to politics, philosophy, or history to get a better understanding of the world we live in and why things are the way they are. Even though the wisdom of the ages is valuable, can it by itself help us truly be in touch with ourselves? These are questions I believe Master Hakuin was addressing in his wonderful poem.

You maybe asking yourself, so the truth is within; great how does that help me, and how do I get to this truth. The good news, is you are asking the right question. However, the lifelong process of seeing into the true nature of reality won’t be answered in this post. However, I would like to mention that the Buddha did lay forth guide posts in order to help all those that are interested in realizing the truth. The Buddha established what is known as the Eightfold Path, however that is for another post. As far as this post goes I was asked to write why I thought the line “not knowing how near the truth is, we seek it far away” was important, and why I thought it should be written on the Green bay Zen Center tee-shirt, that I helped design. I hope that this post, helped answer that question. In closing, I would like to leave you with the words of the Buddha, in his final talk before passing away at the age of 80. “Each of you be a light unto yourself; betake yourself no external refuge. Hold fast to the truth. Look not for refuge to anyone but yourself”.

~Thomas Post

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