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Thread: Trying without trying; doing without doing

  1. #1

    Trying without trying; doing without doing

    In Jundo's recent talks, he has brought up the questions of why one should try and do zazen when enlightenment is already present. It is the old "trying without trying" thing that is, perhaps, the most complicated simple thing in Zen that I simply can't grok.

    Many people when talking about Zen say one should try yet not try. That by trying, you can't get anywhere, so you should just sit and sit. On the other hand, if you just sit with no intention, this won't get you anywhere either. Right?

    Can anyone give an answer to this? Or at least try and not try to give an answer? :-)


  2. #2
    Hello Kirk!

    Now, I am talking here about my own take on this and my own experiences and am in no way pretending to represent Soto-shu's standard views.

    The ever present suchness, is just that, ever present (and ultimately nothing special). Through consciously trying to attain a "something", even if that something is the desire to practice your Zazen well, you will not be able to realize its ever unfolding nature. The eyes in your head cannot see themselves, thus, as long as you look for something, meaning an "it" out there, you are discriminating reality and trying to put things into boxes e.g. the great satori/enlightenment/annuttara-samyak-sambodhi/big spaghetti monster out there versus my ordinary day to day self. That kind of thinking is dualistic.
    Reality, suchness, all this isn't dualistic ultimately, unless your mind makes it so.

    The great thing about the regular practice of Zazen is the fact that through time one creates a habit akin to brushing your teeth - which will strip the Zazen experience of any possible glamour,cultural coolness, or any notion of it being special. Once your mind doesn't add anything anymore, once the manipulation stops, that's when "it" can happen.

    You can try to develop a good and steady Zazen practice, you can try to get a decent theoretical understanding of some key concepts (so you don't fall into the "makyo" trap, only because of some hyper active endorphins in your brain, or nihilism, or eternalism etc...But ultimately, "it" is not hidden and thus cannot be found, that's why "looking for it" won't get you there.

    Now obviously words are just second-hand reality, that's why you won't find "it" hidden inside a book, or a sentence even.

    Ever looked for a key when you were already running late in the morning, only to discover it ultimately in the palm of your hand. Like that.



  3. #3
    Hi Kirk,

    I think a lot of confusion in regards to saying that 'enlightenment is already present' results from an incorrect view in regards to 'being', whereby itís looked at from a static perspective in the sense that it exists independently and in and of itself. If we look at it from a more dynamic perspective (i.e. taking anicca and anatta into account) we can come to the realization that enlightenment or awakening isnít something thatís once achieved and simply remains with us as an independent entity, but rather that it is a potential which is always present, but must be continuously actualized or practiced to enable it to manifest itself. To me, itís comparable with how love works in a relationship. We canít just somehow 'achieve' love once and thatís that, we must practice it continuously or it will disappear.

    Regarding 'intention', the problem is that when we intend to do something, we arenít focused on the present moment, but instead get caught up in purely mental activity which is directed towards the future and prevents us from acting wholeheartedly with our body and mind together here and now. When we act naturally in the present moment, however, we donít consider or get distracted by our intentions, we just do what the situation calls for. For example, a centipede doesnít 'intend' to move leg X before leg Y, it just does it. This is the attitude we have when sitting.

    Hope that helps.


  4. #4
    Basically Kirk, there's nothing to 'get', nowhere to 'go', nothing to 'understand'. I mean 'who' exactly is enlitenment going to happen to?
    Just do everything you normally do and make time for sitting.

    ''''''''''''sorry, I suffer from excessive punctuation syndrome''''''''''!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. #5
    Thanks for all your answers. I think I get it; sort of. Yes, there's no "who" there, even though I do know that there is a who (at least for now). :-)

    I'm just sitting for now.


  6. #6
    dear kirk,

    we are pure by nature. its only when other things are added that we become impure. if you take away the impurities, we will become pure again, but it is important to remember that the pureness was always there, it was just defiled.

    wisdom is realized through the destruction of ignorance. this creates the illusion of attainment, but the wisdom was always there, it was just wrapped up and smothered by the ignorance; nothing is "attained" when wisdom is realized, but rather the ignoranced is destroyed and wiped from existence.

    enlightenment is already present in every person, because Buddha nature is our true nature. that is why everyone has within them the ability to become a Buddha, and the Buddha himself is proof. we all have the benefit of teachers and a Path that has already been laid out for us, but the Buddha had no such luxuries. he realized Truth on his own and everyone else has that exact same ability.

    by simply walking on the Noble Eightfold Path, we are both "trying" and "not trying" for enlightenment at the same time. on the Path we try to promote and perfect the three essentials of Buddhist training: Ethical Conduct, Mental Discipline (Concentration), and Wisdom. enlightenment is a byproduct of this practice. we are trying to promote and perfect those three things and enlightenment is the side-effect or added bonus if you will. we are trying to promote and perfect these three essentials and by doing so we are indirectly trying for enlightenment as well, so it is in that sense that we are both "trying" and "not trying" at the same time for enlightenment.

    In Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Suzuki-roshi compares the path to walking through a fog. progress is made little by little. that is why you have to just let enlightenment come when it comes, and not worry about progress.

    thats my take, i hope it was helpful.


  7. #7
    Hi Zenlotus,

    I was looking through the postings, and I wonder if I may rephrase what you wrote, from another perspective? It is one difference of Soto Zen practice compared to, for example, certain of the Southeast Asian traditions that speak of things we must "purify".

    We would tend not to say that we are originally "pure" by nature, or are "purifying" anything that is now "defiled." Those words fill the mind with human created images of something that is "clean" or "unclean." By dropping all human judgments of "pure" or "defiled," we are embracing of this world we live in, as opposed to seeking some better state outside it. Nothing dirty or ugly here, even the things we do not like and which are dirty and ugly. This world is real, even as our mind makes it what it is (and, thus, much of it is not real). There is nothing to wipe away.

    Of course, by dropping all thought of "pure" or "impure," we find a kind of purity beyond those words (almost like saying that mud is just mud, but becomes pure when we stop trying to judge it as dirty mud or clean). Very tricky!' So, maybe it is just semantics.

    Same with "wiping ignorance from existence." What is to wipe away? This is the point of the discussion we had this past week on the blog about the 6th Patriarch, Master Huineng.

    Buddha nature may be your true nature, but it may largely involve your recognizing that your ordinary self, ordinary mind, is also your true nature. Very tricky.

    We do not think of enlightenment as coming, and we forget about progress. This is a difference even between Soto Zen and some other Zen schools. We think that progress comes when we realize there is no need for progress, no place to go.

    Anyway, the above is just my pouring words on words, and not even good words! It is late, and not the best time for my tired eyes to write such things.

    Gassho, Jundo

  8. #8

    I understand the point you are making. At the very least I see the concept, and recognize the truth in it.

    I'm moving more and more in the direction you describe. However, I still hold a bit of resistance to this approach.

    Obviously, we humans can be flawed, most of us are troubled beings in many ways. Shouldn't we look inside ourselves and try to understand and correct these flaws? Obviously we should seek to correct any unskillful habits, especially if they are causing suffering for ourselves and others.

    I understand that when you say we should accept our ordinary nature, you are not implying that we turn a blind eye to our problems. But, I'm a little confused on how I can accept my ordinary nature, without trying to change the things I know need to be changed?



  9. #9
    Hi Gregor,

    A very important question ...

    Well, in Zen practice, even as we accept and embrace our being human, including good traits and bad, dropping thought of good and bad ... even as we embrace our failings and strengths without thought of failing or strength ... we must be guided by the Precepts.

    Seek not to manifest anger, seek not to kill, seek not to steal, seek not to misuse sexuality and the rest.

    I believe that all of the Precepts basically come down to this: Act, as you can, so as not to harm others, not to harm yourself ... and to know that there is no gap between each.

    The precepts support our Zazen, Zazen supports the Precepts. Let me explain: 'Hurtful' actions ultimately bind us in suffering ... If we are dishonest, violent, angry, jealous, alcoholic, lustful etc. etc. it makes it hard to find the fruits of our Zazen. So, we should seek to act in ways that are not those ways in order to benefit in our practice. Hard to focus on our Zazen if filled with rage and resentment.

    On the other hand, as we practice Zazen, we will gradually find it easier and easier not to be dishonest, violent, angry, jealous, alcoholic, lustful etc. etc. A peace naturally arises within. We are better able to regulate our anger, we are less attached and thus jealousy is less an issue. In other words, as we pursue our Zazen year after year, we usually find ourselves naturally living more and more within the Precepts.

    Some psychological study, both Buddhist and Western (not necessarily different, by the way) is very helpful. However, an intellectual understanding is only part of it. Perhaps more important is the actual changes that occur in our behavior out of the act of Zazen, and other practices of mindfulness in daily life. We do not think of the causes, or seek to "extinquish" these emotions, as much as aid them in losing their tight grip over us.

    Case in point: As a married man, I still have disagreements with my wife. It is part of marriage. Impoaaible to avoid for any couple, I think. In the past, I would really get ANGRY sometimes. Now, after years of Zen practice, anger still arises, but I know how to quickly channel it, not let it take me over, find a calm place within (I still slip once in awhile ... I am no robot or saint. But, I think I do pretty darn good 99% of the times I used to get upset at stuff). In the heat of the moment, an intellectual understanding is not of use (and I certainly do not want to rip the emotion out of me, for I like being human and imperfect!!)

    It is important to recognize that a touch of being dishonest, violent, angry, jealous, lustful etc. etc is just the human condition. We are not trying to "purify" anything "dirty." We clean the room, without thinking "clean" or "dirty." We also accept that, no matter how hard we wash and sweep, we do not mean to sterilize our lives ... some dust and cobwebs will remain, and are to be expected.

    Accept and embrace your nature, even as you point yourself toward being a good person.

    Pardon the very long answer, but it is an important question. If I may, I will repost this on the blog too.

    Gassho, jundo j

  10. #10

    Thank you for such a thorough and skillful answer. I now see that there is no conflict at all (no gap) between acceptance of the ordinary self, and ethics training.

    I have found what you have said to be true about Zazen brining about a sense of peace making it much easier to act skillfully in difficult situations.

    Please excuse my questioning nature, I hope I am not coming across as an unhappy pessimist, because this is far from the case.



  11. #11
    Hi Gregor,

    A little more on this ...

    In some schools of Buddhism, the emphasis is more on "extinguishing" the emotions. This is sometimes taken to mean truly stamping out, suppressing or rigidly controlling the emotions. Here is a typical definition ... note use of words like "extinguish" "destroyed" "utterly without wanting" and other absolutist statements:

    The word Nirvana comes from the root meaning 'to blow out' and refers to the extinguishing of the fires of greed, hatred and delusion. When these emotional and psychological defilements are destroyed by wisdom, the mind becomes free, radiant and joyful and at death one is no longer subject to rebirth. Buddhist philosophers have long debated about whether Nirvana is absolute cessation or an ineffable transcendental state. ... Nirvana is not an object that one acquires by wanting and then pursuing, rather it is the state of being utterly without wanting.
    In some traditions, emphasis is very much on removing ourselves from the world (usually through a monastic lifestyle), removing ourselves from our typical human state. On the other hand, in other Buddhist traditions (like Soto Zen), emphasis is much more on being in this world, living as a full and healthy human being ... with all our human characteristics. The emotions are not extinguished, but better, guided or allowed to enter into healthy and constructive ways of behavior. Thus, our way is also, I would say, much better suited for people with families, jobs and mortgages. Yes, we believe that you can find your "nirvana" (a loaded term, but I use it for the moment) right here in family, job and mortgage.

    In some of those more rigid forms of Buddhism (and this includes interpretations of Zen that seem to teach ... misleadingly ... of a single, once-and-for-all life changing "Kensho" ... no form of Zen really does teach that, however) the emphasis is ... once gone, never to return. In other words, so called "Enlightened Beings" are always perfect in every way.

    Well, I have never met such a person, and even if I did, I would not want to live like that. It sounds pretty damn boring and half-dead, in fact. I do not wish to be a robot or saint. I would rather just be a human being who is living as a human being, although a rather happy, content, decent, pleasant and generally self-actuated human being.

    Our emphasis (in my corner of Buddhism) is on guiding our human selves like we are riding a wild bull, a horse, sailing a great ship through the seas ... It will usually go where we want if we relax and guide it, but not always. Sometimes, we fall off the horse.

    But, no problem, when we fall off horse, we get back on horse and continue journey. Or, as I like to say, when you fall off Zafu (we all do sometimes) get back on Zafu.

    Sorry for adding more words on top of words ... and on the same day I spoke about forgetting all the words!

    Gassho, Jundo

  12. #12
    Hi Jundo,

    Just a quick one, I notice you used the phrase 'self actuated'. Do you agree as I do with what Nishijima's been talking about on his blog recently? I find quite often that that science (or in this case Maslowian Humanistic psychology) seems to proclaim really obvious things (at least to zen practitioners anyway) like they've made huge discoveries! Always brings a smile


  13. #13
    Hi Gareth,

    Thank you for the question. Frankly, I have not given the subject as much thought as Nishijima Roshi. However, Buddhism, and Zen Practice in particular, does strike me as a form of Humanism.

    And, I think that Zen Practice encourages a personality in us very similar to what Maslow meant by "self-actuated." Again, I spent all of 10 minutes "researching" this topic on a Sunday afternoon (though I have been interested in the topic generally for many years), so please take it for what it is worth. However, I see many parallels in the following description of the "self-actuated" personality that I pulled off the Web.

    That will end my armchair philsophizing for the day. Of course, on the Zafu, we really do ... we don't philosophize about doing. :-)

    Gassho, Jundo


    From: "C.H. Patterson"
    Subject: Maslow on Self-Actualization
    Comments: To:

    Maslow on Self-Actualizing Persons

    Maslow, on the basis of a study of persons (living and dead) selected as being self-actualizing persons on the basis of a general definition, described the self-actualizing person as follows, as compared to ordinary or average people (Maslow, 1956):

    1. More efficient perception of reality and more comfortable relations with it. This characteristic includes the detection of the phoney and dishonest person and the accurate perception of what exists rather than a distortion of perception by one's needs. Self-actualizing people are more aware of their environment, both human and nonhuman. They are not afraid of the unknown and can tolerate the doubt, uncertainty, and tentativeness accompanying the perception of the new and unfamiliar. This is clearly the characteristic described by Combs and Snygg and Rogers as awareness of perceptions or openness to experience.

    2. Acceptance of self, others, and nature. Self-actualizing persons are not ashamed or guilty about their human nature, with its shortcoming, imperfections, frailties, and weaknesses. Nor are they critical of these aspects of other people. They respect and esteem themselves and others. Moreover, they are honest, open, genuine, without pose or facade. They are not, however, self-satisfied but are concerned about discrepancies between what is and what might be or should be in themselves, others, and society. Again, these characteristics are those which Kelly, Rogers, and Combs and Snygg include in their descriptions.

    3. Spontaneity. Self-actualizing persons are not hampered by convention, but they do not flout it. They are not conformists, but neither are they anti-conformist for the sake of being so. They are not externally motivated or even goal-directed- rather their motivation is the internal one of growth and development, the actualization of themselves and their potentialities. Rogers and Kelly both speak of growth, development and maturation, change and fluidity.

    4. Problem-centering. Self-actualizing persons are not ego-centered but focus on problems outside themselves. They are mission-oriented, often on the basis of a sense of responsibility, duty, or obligation rather than personal choice. This characteristic would appear to be related to the security and lack of defensiveness leading to compassionateness emphasized by Combs and Snygg.

    5. The quality of detachment; the need for privacy. The self-actualizing person enjoys solitude and privacy. It is possible for him to remain unruffled and undisturbed by what upsets others. He may even appear to be asocial. This is a characteristic that does not appear in other descriptions. It is perhaps related to a sense of security and self-sufficiency.

    6. Autonomy, independence of culture and environment. Self-actualizing persons, though dependent on others for the satisfaction of the basic needs of love, safety, respect and belongingness, "are not dependent for their main satisfactions on the real world, or other people or culture or means-to-ends, or in general, on extrinsic satisfactions. Rather they are dependent for their own development and continued growth upon their own potentialities and latent resources." Combs and Snygg and Rogers include independence in their descriptions, and Rogers also speaks of an internal locus of control.

    7. Continued freshness of appreciation. Self-actualizing persons repeatedly, though not continuously, experience awe, pleasure, and wonder in their everyday world.

    8. The mystic experience, the oceanic feeling. In varying degrees and with varying frequencies, self-actualizing persons have experiences of ecstasy, awe, and wonder with feelings of limitless horizons opening up, followed by the conviction that the experience was important and had a carry-over into everyday life. This and the preceding characteristic appear to be related and to add something not in other descriptions, except perhaps as it may be included in the existential living of Rogers.

    9. Gemeinschaftsgefuhl. Self-actualizing persons have a deep feeling of empathy, sympathy, or compassion for human beings in general. This feeling is, in a sense, unconditional in that it exists along with the recognition of the existence in others of negative qualities that provoke occasional anger, impatience, and disgust. Although empathy is not specifically listed by others (Combs and Snygg include compassion), it would seem to be implicit in other descriptions including acceptance and respect.

    10. Interpersonal relations. Self-actualizing people deep interpersonal relations with others. They are selective, however, and their circle of friends may be small, usually consisting of other self-actualizing persons, but the capacity is there. They attract others to them as admirers or disciples. This characteristic, again, is at least implicit in the formulations of others.

    11. The democratic character structure. The self-actualizing person does not discriminate on the basis of class, education, race, or color. He is humble in his recognition of what he knows in comparison with what could be known, and he is ready and willing to learn from anyone. He respects everyone as potential contributors to his knowledge, merely because they are human beings.

    12. Means and ends. Self-actualizing persons are highly ethical. They clearly distinguish between means and ends and subordinate means to ends.

    13. Philosophical, unhostile sense of humor. Although the self-actualizing persons studied by Maslow had a sense of humor, it was not of the ordinary type. Their sense of humor was the spontaneous, thoughtful type, intrinsic to the situation. Their humor did not involve hostility, superiority, or sarcasm. Many have noted that a sense of humor characterizes people who could be described as self-actualizing persons, though it is not mentioned by those cited here.

    14. Creativeness. All of Maslow's subjects were judged to be creative, each in his own way. The creativity involved here is not special-talent creativeness. It is a creativeness potentially inherent in everyone but usually suffocated by acculturation. It is a fresh, naive, direct way of looking at things. Creativeness is a characteristic most would agree to as characterizing self-actualizing persons.

    (From Patterson, C. H. The Therapeutic Relationship. Monterey, CA. 1985
    Dr. C. H. Patterson

  14. #14
    I'm with you on this one mate, I'm normally saying the same as you but at the end of the day it's forum so we have to chat s*%t really don't we!

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