Soto Zen teachers like to say “Practice is Enlightenment Itself.” In other words, we sit Zazen and practice Buddhism, not to realize Enlightenment, but because Zazen and practice are already Enlightenment fully realized! What’s more, totally piercing and bringing to life the meaning of that is…. finally realizing Enlightenment!
Sounds complicated, but to explain the meaning, I sometimes say that our Practice is like piloting a plane that’s already arrived with every inch of sky…
Most people think that the reason to fly the plane is to get to the airport over the horizon. Most people are flying flying flying to get to that airfield of realization, where the runway is lit up with enlightenment. Once they get there, the trip will be complete… and they will have finally arrived!
But in Zen Master Dogen’s view, the point of flying the plane is to fly the plane. Each moment by moment of flying is a constant arriving at the destination — right here and right here and, now, right here. Every inch of the trip is complete in itself, nothing to add to it or take away. Nonetheless, the constant moment-to-moment flying must be done skillfully and with care, diligently.
The plane has no place to get to, yet the skillful pilot keeps the plane in the air in fair weather or foul, while the deluded pilot runs into unnecessary turbulence and, perhaps, puts life into an out of control spin. We must keep flying diligently, not taking our eyes off the instruments for a second… yet each instant is Total Arrival, fulfilled and complete… no terminal from which we first departed, no goal over the horizon that is not right here.
If you think that “the destination is distant,” well, it always is. On the other hand, if you just rest complacent and take your hands off the controls now “because we are already arrived,” the plane will crash! Quite the high-flying Koan!
What’s more, from time to time we see clearly that the plane is Buddha, as is the pilot, as is the air and the clouds, as is the flying: going going going, yet ever arriving --and-- arrived at the port of perfect realization.
Turn the plane left, Buddha goes left. Turn the plane right, Buddha goes right. Up down up down; Buddha. Keep it level and balanced; Buddha. Lose balance, fly while drunk, go into a spin, run out of fuel, hit life's mountain; Buddha.
Oh, sure, we have a far off destination to get to called "Buddhahood International" ... and it may take long flying, maybe countless lifetimes of flying to get there. Yet this Practice teaches us that every inch of sky along the way is "Buddha" too ... and that we just arrive back where we left, and where we never left ... but also better than we were and closer to our goal than before.
Thus we fly with Captain Buddha, and seek to avoid the mountains. That is practice-enlightenment.
Have a good flight.
A Sit-A-Long video follows. Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 20 to 35 minutes is recommended.