Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Taoism, Buddhism, and Zen are interrelated. I’d like to talk about their common denominator, the Way.

The Way is a guide to harmonious living. Basically, it means accepting the present moment without wanting it to be anything more or anything less.

The Way is perhaps better known in its Chinese translation, which is the Tao. The printed Chinese character for this word originally meant a path to reach some place, but the character also suggested walking, and one’s face.

In other words, to walk to some locale you need to face in that direction and you need to take a path that leads there.

Common sense, yes?

However, humans are obsessed with saving time and effort, and they usually try to take the quickest route to get somewhere. Instead of appreciating their route, they look for shortcuts to make the going even easier.

On the way of the Way, there are no shortcuts.

The Chinese philosopher, Lao-tzu, said the Way is experienced through two modes:

1, Self-knowledge, and

2. The acceptance of nothingness.

According to Lao-tzu, the greatest action one can achieve is living according to the total flow of life.

Being in harmony with the Tao, that is, with the Way, means doing nothing artificial or unnatural, but instead following one’s own true nature, and living fully with whatever is dealt.

That does not mean one has to be a weak jellyfish. It means one should roll with the punches, bend like the bamboo.

The Way can’t be named or defined, and it can’t be false or synthetic,

Unfortunately, most people think of the Way, and of Zen practice itself, as achieving something. They think sitting in silent meditation and clearing the mind is foolish unless there is an objective in sight, a purpose.

This is known as awakening greed. Westerners are obsessed with awakening because to them it represents a return for the effort they have spent in sitting.

Most religions have a purpose, and that purpose is the saving of one’s soul. That term of saving one’s soul is an interesting one. First, what is meant by “saving”?

Saving for what? Saving from what?

It’s interesting that only humans have to have a purpose. An aim. A goal.

In this part of the country, there are many oak trees. Does an oak tree have a purpose? An oak tree is simply an oak, and it is an oak superbly and wonderfully. Most oaks, if left alone, will live much longer than any human will.

I could say that an oak tree follows the Way

The Way does not have a purpose. It does not have an end for which to strive.

The Way isn’t a progression from here to there.

Instead, the Way is a circle that has no beginning and no ending. We are born, we live, we die. This is the life of a Buddha.

According to Kosho Uchiyama Roshi, who wrote an excellent commentary on Dogen’s Bendowa (in the book The Wholehearted Way), the only basis of any possible system of values must be the fact that we are living right now, right here.

The means to attaining the Way is zazen. Zazen leads to awareness, and awareness leads to awakening. Awakening is self-discovery, self-realization.

Self-realization is the Way.

Self-realization is the Way. That’s like Dogen’s saying that Zazen is awakening.

And here we are back in that circle of no beginning, no ending.

Not everyone can understand this, and many people don’t want to understand. That’s unfortunate, but that’s how it is. We can’t go out on the street and collar people to try to convince them of the value of the Way. Zen isn’t a tradition of proselytizing, of converting people to a dogma. Zen doesn’t attempt to persuade people they are better off in Zen.

And Zen doesn’t depend on blind faith. It isn’t stone-acceptance of what a master or a teacher says.

Some people love to argue doctrine. They ask question after question not in order to find out more about something but because they want to validate their own convictions.

Does following the Way make one a better citizen? A better parent? A better anything? Maybe yes, maybe no. That’s not what matters.

Following the Way makes one a better one, and that’s what matters.


Blogger SJ said...

Watching a cat or a dog during a day helps me remember "The Way". Cats and dogs just move through their day and live "in" their day with no purpose other than self preservation. Good post.

Friday, November 20, 2009 12:55:00 PM  

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