I have never been much for exaggerated, overly imaginative, hyped up, hyperbolized, "I've never actually experienced that in person, but that won't stop me from describing in flowery language what I think it is like" images of buddhas, buddha lands, dead ancient zen masters, nirvana, kensho, satori and the like. That's because the reality is much more wondrous than the fantasy.
I meet so many folks, mostly new to this practice and going by faith on something they read in somebody's old book, who are foolishly looking for "enlightenment" as if there are Hollywood Special Effects to accompany realization, designed by George Lucas at his animation studios. Or, they imagine that all life problems will vanish... no more flat tires on life's highway, no more cancer and no more wars. Some think that, when they realize the payoff of this practice, they will forever and ever be found in a perpetual state of peaceful, blissed-0ut la-la land, the ultimate opium trip, and they need never come down.
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Such misunderstandings are not helped by the fact that many overly imaginative Buddhist authors have painted things that way over the centuries. The literature is filled with images of "nirvana" written by people who, I believe, probably were not themselves permanently in such a state, but who may have had a taste of bliss sometimes (like all of us have sometimes in this practice sometimes)... and who themselves were not Buddhas (any more than we are all buddhas)... but who nonetheless did have an excellent command of rich and extreme adjectives employed to describe their fantasy "Blissful Buddha Golden Heaven" as they imagined it should be.
Oh, don't get me wrong. There are some times and experiences in this practice to knock one's socks off, and one's whole self too. It's just that that's not where the true gift of this practice is at.
Times of joy and bliss and "wow" do happen. Yet in our Soto way, we neither run toward those nor run away. Don't get stuck in the cheap bliss, because then the real treasure is missed. We tend to look upon running after permanent states of bliss and "wow" as a drug, a phantasm, a dead end. Even should an abiding state of bliss be possible (I tend to think one should best seek that from the heroin pusher on the corner more than any guru), it is a removal from the wholeness and beauty of this present life. I might suggest instead that one look more for "enlightenment" in the direction of vibrant (as opposed to cold and numb) equanimity... wholeness... complete at-home-ness... such "wholeness" that nothing's lacking, nothing's to add... that all the pieces of this life-self-world are in harmony (even amid a world of disharmony)... such that, sometimes, even the sense of separate "pieces" to become "whole" may fully disappear. Only Home remains.
What one imagines is in the brightly wrapped birthday present box -- under all the colored paper and bows -- and what the present in the box actually is are not necessarily the same at all. The actual present may be much more precious and lovely. So it is with this practice.
Truly, I would say that the "gift" is to be so totally at home and whole with/as/living this life -- even with all its ups and downs -- so whole and undivided, that even "up and down" are seen right through; all resistance and separation and barriers dropped away. If one is searching for "magic" that looks like a cheap stage show "magic", or if one is only seeing the ordinary as merely "ordinary," one is missing the absolute fact that this ordinary world is anything but ordinary!
THAT is the real miracle and magic! A close reading of one of the most worthwhile classic texts in our tradition, for example, the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, paints no picture of someone "blissed out" or running around like a crazy man yelling "Eureka!" Instead, one finds a description of someone now totally at home in this reality -- within/through/just as this complicated reality. One transcends the characteristics of this world even living amid the world.
The message is surprisingly simple: If one can encounter the flat tires, beauty and ugliness, cancer and wars of this life, but with a mind nonabiding, clear, transcending characteristics, all is seen and experienced as before, yet is seen and experienced not as before.
That is the true gift of Enlightenment, the true Buddha.
Today's Sit-A-Long video follows. Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 20 to 35 minutes is recommended.