By John Pendall
It’s impossible to get something permanent from something impermanent.
Trying to do this is what causes all the suffering and dissatisfaction in the world. All anyone wants is something that lasts, something that the hourglass can’t strip away.
Insight into emptiness is what tells us where freedom can’t be found. Seeing that, freedom is the one place we never look—nowhere. Practices take you somewhere not nowhere, not to things as they are right now. Only abandoning all practices and methods will do that. Thanks to language, we call this non-method Shikantaza.
Churches and Zendos crumble. Pastors and Zen Masters die. Ink fades and books wither. Our legs cramp and our voices crack. No matter how high someone gets, they have to come down. When someone comes down, they’re miserable until they get their next fix. This is why we keep going to churches and Zendos. This is why we keep studying, chanting, and meditating. This isn’t freedom.
The truth is that we’re already free; we’ve just forgotten that fact.
The chaotic ups and down of life can be pretty distracting. Freedom is our birthright. What we call enlightenment or awakening is really just a remembrance. We remember who we were before we told ourselves who to be. We remember what we knew before we tried to understand. A wave recalling, “Oh yeah! I am the ocean!”
No practice will awaken you to your true nature, they’re all skillful means. How can practicing being you make you anymore you? You are already you! If you practice being you, then you’re practicing being someone else!
Any effort, any technique at all, is a step away from Shikantaza. Shikantaza is a radical non-effort, a non-technique. Just sitting, doing nothing at all, abiding nowhere. Because doing is the problem. Seeking and trying and practicing are hindrances to waking up.
Imagine that you’re dreaming. In this dream you crack one koan after another, you focus on your breath for hours each day. You do good deeds and cultivate patience and humility. You might even become a monk or Zen priest! Then you wake up. Did what you were doing in the dream make you wake up? No, it just made the dream more pleasant. Insights had through practice are insights into the dream, not the awakened mind.
We often look at the Eightfold Path as a set of rules and guidelines. If we follow it as an instruction manual, then we’re only pretending to be ourselves hoping that we may one day…be ourselves! The Eightfold Path happens on its own once the other Three Truths are fully tested and tasted. Whether gradual or instant, satori is always now, always spontaneous.
In the meantime, just be quiet; that’s all it takes. Just sit and try not to get in anything’s way. If we aren’t fully fledged Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, then not getting in the way is the most compassionate thing we can do!
Just take some time for yourself to sit and do nothing except pine for freedom. The tip of my nose is always right where I am. Yet here I go running around asking everyone, “Where’s the tip of my nose? Where’s the tip of my nose? I’ve lost it! Can you help me find it?”
All I have to do to find the tip of my nose is to stop looking for it, feel it and know that it’s always been there.
Editor: Dana Gornall
John practices the "Outer Way" which he describes as, "I guess it's fundamentally DIY Buddhism and Taoism with a huge focus on autonomy, introspection, experiential learning and real world applicability. It isn't traditional or secular. I only call it the Outer Way for convenience, it doesn't actually have a name since it's just about doing what comes naturally."
Feel free to check out his blog, Outer Way Zen.