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Thread: Striving and Not: Some (Non)-Thoughts on Kensho and Sitting

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    Striving and Not: Some (Non)-Thoughts on Kensho and Sitting

    Striving and Not: Some (Non)-Thoughts on Kensho and Sitting

    With the appropriately zennie joke of a title out of the way, I would just like to share a recurring ďthemeĒ of my recent zazening. And I share this with the typical grain of salt that always comes for a student. This is purely my own limited and small experience of things, but maybe itís recognizable and of interest to others.

    Practice, I suspect for everyone, goes up and down; it certainly does for me. There are moments of peace, moments of boredom, moments of just shut-the-hell-up-mind, moments of just sitting, moments of making a to-do list, of worry, of whatever. But even though things go up and down, I think that over time, as one sits and sitting sits itself, these hills and valleys, they donít flatten out, but, well, itís this: itís not that the valleys arenít so terrible, they still suck, but itís like youíre okay with them sucking; and itís not the hills are no longer great, theyíre still pretty interesting and enjoyable, but you also know they wonít last. No need to hold onto either. No need to place too much energy in fighting oneís way out the valleys and equally no need to try to stay on the hilltops.

    This isnít Kensho, some seeing into and feeling like, I got it for a minute! (Though, personally, nothing wrong with that either, as long as one doesnít constantly seek it or want it back or let one define oneself by it, etc). The problem with Kensho, to my mind, isn't the experience, it's all the stuff surrounding it that creates this great ego game of striving: I need to get Kensho or I need to transcend or Iíve had Kensho and let me explain it to you, etc. The hill and valley thing described above, to my mind, is practice-enlightenment; it is the settling of our practice into ourselves.

    What is the settling of our practice into ourselves?

    To me, itís non-attachment. Which of course means itís one of those basics, those fundamental little truths, the four noble ones, sitting us. So what does this have to do with the striving up in the title? It seems to this little mind that, given our current cultural condition, we have to strive in some ways. Likewise, biologically, weíre kind of made to strive. But Zen is always saying ďStop strivingĒ and ďnothing to getĒ and ďnowhere to goĒ; the hill and valley stuff is all well and good, but Iíve still got to feed my kinds, myself, my animals, etc; how does one do this without striving? And itís occurred to me that itís not striving that is so bad (it is, in fact, necessary Ė think about it: if poets, artists, even athletes, even zen folk, didnít strive to some degree, we wouldnít have accomplished some of the interesting and worthwhile things we have (okay, granted, a lot of ďnegativeĒ stuff has come from striving, too, but you get my point)). So, itís not striving that is the problem. Itís being attached to a striving attitude. Itís okay to want to sit well, but itís problematic to try to force yourself to sit well. Whatís the difference? Itís okay to want to sit well, but non-attachment is when you donít sit well, accepting that. On the other hand, itís problematic when we perceive weíre not sitting well and then trying to force ourselves to sit better - thatís attachment, to our selves, our ideas, a concept or ideal we have in mind of what sitting should be.

    Or consider a more practical and less zennie example: Say you want to become a doctor to help, I donít know, elderly people with parkinsonís. You strive and strive, work hard, and all the while, through years of school and residencies, your aim is to become a doctor, and you want to be the perfect doctor, so you strive to do everything right as much as possible, and you begin to feel that only when you become a doctor, as perfect a doctor as you can be, will you be at peace and ease in your life, or more significantly, only when youíre a great doctor can you really begin helping people, so you really need to get this done, you need to be a doctor, and then your life will be fulfilled. This is attachment because it has set up some ideal to gain, some constant seeking without ever resting in what we are, and also because it becomes all about you. If, however, you do your school, do your residencies, as much as possible with let-go mind, accepting of mistakes and successes, realizing that fulfillment is right now, well, that is still striving to become a doctor, but itís doing so without attachment to the idea that being a doctor equals fulfillment and peace.

    Same goes for shikantaza or enlightenment or kensho or whatever.

    In any case, I thought this was worth saying: striving, itís just like anything, which means itís okay Ė being attached to striving, thatís the trap, because then itís all about us; when we can approach our own striving through the practice of zazen, which is the practice of non-attachment, then we can strive and not at the same time, get somewhere and arrive where we already were all along; play the game of going without ever leaving home.


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    "Throw everything away." - Taigu

    "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

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    Alan, great thoughts!! Yes, the valleys don't seem so bad anymore, they just are, the mountain tops are not so high either. Equanimity


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    Hi Alan I also like what you had to say about the peaks and valleys. But especially your comment about the peaks not lasting and arriving at a place where you don't cling to that either. Well said, and a phenomenon I have noticed both sitting and living.


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    Glad to know this resonates and that others have similar experience.

    Enjoy the weekend everyone!


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    Climbing the mountain that is Buddha all along ... step-by-step, Buddha in each step ... Buddha climbing the Buddha mountain, the mountain climbing you, mountainmountainingmountain, climbingclimbsclimbing, BuddhaBuddhaingBuddha.

    Reaching for the summit, yet arriving in each step. Trying not to fall or fail, yet perhaps sometimes falling (Buddha-falling-Buddha). Both highs and lows, up and down without judgement or measure. We sometimes pause to refresh, yet diligently and sincerely move forward ... not resting on our laurels ... yet no place to go or need of going. Both pausing and moving just stillness in motion, motion as still. We may seek more and more to embody the Wisdom and Compassion of Buddha, Enlightenment. We may diligently schedule to sit each day (not to be missed) ... yet such is Buddha-scheduling-Buddha, Buddha-striving-Buddha, Buddha-embodying-Buddha, Buddha-Sitting-Buddha, BuddhaBuddhaingBuddha.

    Arriving at the summit, one finds all horizon and separation dropped away ... all highs, all lows, each stone and blade of grass just Buddha ... interpenetrating and interrealizing. BuddhaBuddhaingBuddha.

    Some goals and needs we drop away completely, or keep in moderation ... the greed, the excess. But other goals and dreams we can have, and work for them diligently and steadily ... to be that doctor, to become Buddha, to feed our kids, simply to clean the room (for our Way is not about being complacent, irresponsible, dull, detached, aimless, cold, uncaring, directionless or the like) ...

    ... all while dropping all goals and need AT ONCE, AS ONE! Like two sides of a no sided coin ... Goals while Goalless, Attachments-Yet-Free-Of-Attachments, Aversions without the least Aversion, Attractions-No-Attractions, Choosing-Without-Anything-(Or Any Chooser)-To-Choose, Opinionated-Equanimity ... without conflict in the least. BuddhaBuddhaingBuddha.

    A kind of healthy schizophrenia perhaps ... not a "split" personality, but a WHOLE! No doctor, nor need for cure, for no "dis--ease". BuddhaBuddhaingBuddha.


    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 08-10-2013 at 12:47 AM.

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    One can strive and hunt for goals. Goals become us as we become obsessed with them.

    In my deluded mind, it all comes together as one single cosmic piece when we sit and drop it all. We are the goals, the crossroads and Buddha.

    Thank you for this wonderful post.


    Hondō Kyōnin
    奔道 協忍

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    What is the settling of our practice into ourselves?
    Can't speak for anyone else, but can speak from here succinctly. Mountain and rivers are once again mountains and rivers. Putting hands where hands go, to do what hands do. No point measuring the measureless, what counts is the measure of how this life is lived. You want to know how my practice is going? ask my wife, neighbor, kid, work associates...etc.

    Gassho Daizan

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    Yes,lovely posts. Thank you Daizan.



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    I very much enjoyed reading these takes. Kyonin, straight to the heart; Jundo and the dharma jazz; Daizan's no bs.

    A little friend, a kind visitor in our lives for a week, a kitten rescued from a wheel well, died tonight. My wife, caretaker of animals, is crying, and it's time to find a shoebox or something. Tomorrow, in the morning, dig a hole, then feel sad drinking coffee.


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