Roshi Vimala Muni, John Nemick in his Dharma talk yesterday evening, pointed to an excerpt from the The Song of Zazen by Hakuin Zenji contained in the Hollow Bones Sutra book after service:
“Even those who have practiced meditation for just one sitting, will see all their twisted karma erased.”
Vimala then asked practitioners what that statement meant to them… What did this mean to me personally? I gave Roshi some shoot-from-the-hip, broad, general answer and threw some Zen language in there. It was a safe answer. Out of fear of being wrong and sounding untrained, I gave a bullshit answer. That was a thinking answer, not a knowing answer. Later into the night, while at home on my couch, I pondered the question asked to the sangha, “Even those who have practiced meditation for just one sitting, will see all their twisted karma erased.” I felt excited to actually explore deeper. So, I decided to investigate this question more intensely in order to know what the answer actually was… for me.
So how does one investigate and know for certain the answers to life? Go to the internet. Yup, after all that, my first thought was to ask Google. And I did. But then, soon after, I put my phone down and walked into the basement and plopped down on the cushion.
Zazen is the core, or the heart of Zen practice. It urges us to sit… that’s it… just sit!
What’s the difference between sentient beings and Buddhas? Nothing. Yet there is a difference. Just as ice and water is the same, yet different… “It is like ice and water: apart from water, no ice can exist.” The only difference, in my view, is that Buddhas know that they are Buddha. All beings, intrinsically by nature, are complete just as they are. How do I know this? Truly understand this? Experience this? Just sit… that’s it… just sit!
Early in my life I went on a journey. I left on this journey long before I actually made a volitional decision to start this journey. I was blindly searching and wasting extreme energy, resources and time blindly. Almost robotic. I was doing everything that I was taught to do up to this point. Everything I was working very hard to get, I was failing at obtaining. And I remember, I was working at getting these life achievements extremely hard. I went on a journey in business to figure out how to be successful in life. I went on a journey to woo a partner to figure out how to obtain self-worth in this life. I went on a journey to secure the life that everyone told me was necessary in order to be happy. I could never quite get it.
I went on a dive deep into the throes of addiction seeking freedom from the pain that this world dealt me. As everyone knows, just as I do, this world is miserable, harsh and unfair! Right…?
None of my attempts were working. None of my hard work at wresting satisfaction out of this world was paying off.
I remember making a conscious decision to go on a journey to find out why I just couldn’t seem to get it this whole time. I wanted to find what I’ve been missing my entire life up to this point. I started on a journey into meditation practice to find real happiness. It was a serious journey. I meant business this time. My world was full of chaos and I knew that I desperately needed meditation. Now, I knew what I had been missing and why I had been failing my entire life. I needed meditation practice!
Through zazen practice I started a new journey. I was on a mission to achieve what had been eluding me. I was in search of something, yet I still wasn’t quite sure what it was. So, I read. I studied. I sat. I bought bells. I rang bells. I listened to podcasts. I downloaded meditation apps. I found a Zen center. I was serious and determined to get the results meditation practice had to offer!
Then one morning in a dharma talk, Vimala said, “There is no result from sitting zazen.” “There’s nothing to be obtained from sitting zazen.” My first thought was, “Man, I’m in the wrong place. This teacher has no idea what he is talking about.”
He said, “Sit down, just sit.” And when I had a question his response was, “Sit!” I had been practicing meditation for well over half a decade by this point and obviously this teacher wasn’t in tune to my high level of practice. I wanted high level answers! His instruction to “just sit” was for beginners.
So, I studied more. I answered questions that were posed in dharma talks by Shunya, an ordained priest of the Green Bay Zen Center. I answered them with pride and arrogance. And I read more suttas. And studied practitioners’ interpretations of the suttas. And of course, I practiced zazen more. I mean, that’s just part of the gig, right? But, I had been sitting. What I needed was more studying and information. I was serious!
Still, after time passed, the only instruction I received from Vimala was, “Sit down, just sit. Back straight. Eyes open. Don’t miss a breath.”
I was becoming frustrated.
I became frustrated because no real practical results were taking place in my opinion. At least, none that I could see. I would find relief. Yet, I did not understand why that relief wasn’t of substantial reward?
What I was looking for was always present and available? No, It couldn’t be that simple? The answer couldn’t possible be that simple or else I would have arrived at that conclusion a long time ago. I didn’t believe it. So I continued my struggle through meditation. And then I went with the thought, “What if it is just that simple?” Taking that stance of not knowing was the perfect mindset for me to continue. I took that view strictly on faith at first and attempted to investigate it. And when I started investigating that view, I started seeing life in a different way.
After a while I began to realize that my journey wasn’t necessary at all! After a while I found that I was already where I wanted to be the entire time. I began to really see this. It wasn’t a step out on faith in this statement any longer. It was a lived experience. However, the launch onto the journey was necessary to be able to come to the understanding that the journey was of no importance whatsoever. That, coupled with the fact I gave up trying so hard, as I was burnt out and exhausted. That was the best thing for me personally.
I started to have glimpses that everything arises out of zazen. Nothing is a result of it. Generosity isn’t gained by practicing zazen, it arises out of zazen. Skillful living isn’t achieved by practicing zazen, it’s all an equal part of zazen. All of the precepts are not gained from practicing zazen, their source is in contained within zazen. Living a wholesome life all arises from zazen, not because of zazen. We do not need to acquire it. It’s there the entire time.
Coming back to the cushion over and over I could begin to see the changes taking place in my life. I could see them! Life is constantly changing. I began to see how to live a skillful life. I began to see when my actions are unskillful. I began to see when I was veering off the path, because it did happen. That occurs every single day for me. Now, when it does, I can redirect and respond, aligning my actions skillfully and appropriately. I have the ability to amend wrongs and create less mistakes and there are consequences to living life that way. Beautiful, wonderful consequences! I can go days and sometimes weeks and moths without harming others. In fact today, I feel that I help people more than I harm.
My sense is that once I gave myself to this practice, truly gave myself to this practice, the very first time, I became free.
And as this becomes a regular practice in my life wisdom starts to emerge from just simply sitting. Zazen…
So, to revisit the excerpt from Hakuin’s, Song of Zazen, “Even those who have practiced meditation for just one sitting, will see all their twisted karma erased.” What does that mean to me…?
When I experience zazen for the very first time, all my twisted karma is erased. Why? Because as I see it, there is a difference between past actions being amended and righted and past action being understood. Just because I sit zazen doesn’t mean my past actions are amended. That doesn’t mean the harm I’ve done to others or myself is righted. It means I start to realize and understand clearer what needs to be done. I can respond.
To me that means it doesn’t matter how many days in my life I lived totally lost. It doesn’t matter how much of my life I have lived confused and controlled by greed and anger, if just one day I devote myself to the path… that’s enough. The very first time I devote myself to this practice, that’s all that is necessary to see my twisted karma vanish. It doesn’t matter how many days I have lived my life in the dark, once the light is turned on… it’s on! I am free. Realizing the present moment. Continuing, always continuing and coming back to the present moment and embracing it, that’s liberating.
This is not a thinking answer. I know this. It is my experience…
Kin Shin, Stephen D’Antonio