There's a powerful correlation between Zen training and practice, and baking. It's possible to have all the ingredients to prepare a meal, but depending on who the chef is, it can dramatically influence the quality and taste of the meal. To truly and authentically prepare a meal, takes far more than the ability to read a recipe card. Despite mechanics, to be a truly great chef requires a certain intuitive energy and sense. Because of this, when I was training in the Tenzo (Kitchen) in the monastery, I was told, "You must be careful with your mind, because what's in mind, shows up in the food." If there's disharmony in the mind when cooking, there is disharmony in the meal and it will not only taste off to the pallet, but mind of the other person also. If there is harmony of mind, that will not only be tasted by the pallet, and mind of the other person as well. True! What are we serving to each other?
In the readiness of time, and preparing the meal of Zen, there is a moment when Buddha nature naturally operates, rather than artificially works... when it shifts from the recipe card of practice, to something that cannot be quantifiably placed on the menu card... Ki... Energy... Muuuuu... Buddha Nature... Universal Identity of Loving Presence nature... Until that is apparent, practice! Sit! Breathe! Pay attention! Listen! Notice!
There are many ways to practice Zen contrary to popular, shallow, consumerist belief. It no longer shocks me how much people know about Zen Buddhism; having never truly taken their seat, practicing with consistency or depth, in the endless dimensional universal Zendo of our inherent Buddha nature... Universal Identity of Loving Presence Nature. It's noticeable by the manner in which the Way life is not lived... not appreciated... not valued... not loved with completeness. Truly terrible. I'm noticed pettiness can cause unlimited unmanageability. People are effective at majoring in minor things, time is wasted, and in the moment of so-called death there is shock and horror, unprepared for reality. They had so many plans. Bummer!
For this itinerant monk, the greatest failure is not to appreciate and notice inward loving presence when It is so right here and right now. Our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind spend way too much effort, energy, and time playing hide and seek with our natural Universal Loving Presence. Though it can seem pointless to sit for hours at a time, pointing the attention and mind inward, nothing could be further from Reality. Though there seems to be so-called "Limited," shape, size, and weight to our body, if we practice real Zazen rather than fake/artificial/consumerist/transactional/superficial sitting, we'll notice as much inwards dimensional so-called space as there is outward; once the imagery and decorations of over-thinking mind drops away.
The other day, I was in a Refuge Recovery meeting. The general topic was fear, and inquiry. There was a section of the book "Refuge Recovery; A Buddhist Path to Recovering From Addiction," they read that goes:
“Underneath our ego and anger and lust is often the insecurity of fear, which we find when we investigate. Once we recognize it as fear, we can reflect on the fact that fear is not an excuse for inaction. We can then take the next breath or other action and learn to live with fear as a constant companion. If we lived our lives taking action only when fear was not at play, we would do very little. We certainly never would have started meditating in the first place. Almost every time we do something new some fear arises, but it is not a problem, just an old and familiar companion. In fact, for recovering addicts, the wisdom of insecurity becomes one of our greatest teachers.
Underneath our ego and anger and lust is often the insecurity of fear, which we find when we investigate. Once we recognize it as fear, we can reflect on the fact that fear is not an excuse for inaction. We can then take the next breath or other action and learn to live with fear as a constant companion. If we lived our lives taking action only when fear was not at play, we would do very little. We certainly never would have started meditating in the first place. Almost every time we do something new some fear arises, but it is not a problem, just an old and familiar companion. In fact, for recovering addicts [and people in general], the wisdom of insecurity becomes one of our greatest teachers.
Another level of inquiry is to look closely at our mind to see who is experiencing this fear. Whose fear is this? Is it mine? Sometimes it becomes clear that the voices of fear are not even our own. We are hearing our parents, teachers, friends, or enemies. We have incorporated those voices into our psyche and have believed them our whole life, thinking that the feelings and thoughts of fear were somehow personal.
On a deeper level, we investigate who is really experiencing all this craving. It’s really just the mind, isn’t it? Just more impermanent thoughts arising and passing.”
Inquiry is an invaluable dharma can-opener, in the practice of Zazen, helping to dissolve artificial and arbitrary barriers the mind creates out of imagining... though someone once described it to me as lucid hallucinating.
In the practice of inquiry... deep and repetitive questioning... over the years, there are some questions that became extremely helpful for me, which I'll share below. In my experience it's not about having a lot of questions, but one really meaningful one that is like a diamond drill-bit that's unbreakable - that can cut through anything. One last pointer before offering inquiry questions I've used at one time or another. I strongly invite and encourage people to take a long vacation from asking "Why." Why questions can be a kind of card-trick of the mind; tending to lead us away from reality rather than closer. Instead I rephrase with "What does is cost me to [fill in the blank with the behavior that appears to be the point of friction].
Situational Inquiry Questions
1) What does it cost me to engage in [fill in the blank with specific behavior you would like to investigate]
2) How is what I'm doing right not leading me to being fully whole and wholly free?
3) Is what I'm thinking actually happening in reality and true, or am I future tripping?
4) Am I thinking or feeling (frustrated, angry, depressed, resentful, fearful)? What does a solution look like for me?
5) Would it be okay to trust myself? How about today?
Open-ended Inquiry Questions
1) What is the nature of my grief that is carried within me, and to who does it belong?
2) What is This?
3) Who am I vs who is "i"?
4) What is Reality before the mind labeled, tagged, categorized, and defined It?
5) What is my authentic nature (turning the attention and awareness inward)?
6) Who is the one that is suffering? What made things turn out like this? Did it really have to be this way?
7) What is my definition of freedom? What am I doing that is getting in my own way? What would it take for me to get out of my own so-called way?
These examples could be temporary placeholders for you. They can serve as starting points... to experience being fully whole, and wholly free. In truth, I've come to experience as a kind of sherpa, most people already know their "True question." Most try to pretend it away... set it aside... ignore... distract... or run from it. It can seem too scary or overwhelming to deal with, yet until we deal with such things, we engage fear-based living, rather than love-based living. One path tends to only see poverty and lack. The other tends to see grace and awe.
Soko Morinaga Roshi once said... “Let me start by saying that Zen training is not a matter of memorizing the wonderful words found in the sutras and in the records of ancient teachers. Rather, these words must serve as an impetus to crush the false notions of one’s imagination. The purpose of practice is not to increase knowledge but to scrape the scales off the eyes, to pull the plugs out of the ears.
Through practice one comes to see reality. And although it is said that no medicine can cure folly, whatever prompts one to realize “I was a fool” is, in fact, just such a medicine.
It is also said that good medicine is bitter to the taste, and, sadly enough, the medicine that makes people aware of their own foolishness is certainly acrid. The realization that one has been stupid seems always to be accompanied by trials and tribulations, by setbacks and sorrows. I spent the first half of my own life writhing under the effects of this bitter medicine...” Eventually through time, effort and dedication to working with the body and mind, I discovered I was naturally free... 360°. How is it for you? Inquiring minds would like to know. We have many ingredients to work with. Please me mindful. Please take the time to appreciate the mind cooking your life. Dogen Zenji once said... "Treat water as though it was your very blood... treat all the ingredients as precious." We are what we cook and eat. Prepare and cook the self well. After all, we're working with the ingredients of Buddha... Universal Identity of Loving Presence... even the parts that seem useless to the ego. Please confirm for authentic Self rather than the one that tends to impersonate or show up as our representative self.
一Dignity and Grace