Case 45 from the Book of Equanimity: “The Sutra of Complete Awakening”
Preface to the Assembly
A manifest koan depends solely on right now. The absolute manner distinguishes only itself. If you try to set up gradations or intentionally strive, then all of this is painting eyebrows on chaos, or attaching a handle to a bowl. So how is tranquility achieved?
Attention! The Sutra of Complete Awakening says, “Be at all times without deluded thoughts arising. Moreover, with regard to all deluded states of mind, do not try to extinguish them. Dwelling in the realm of delusion, do not add discriminating knowledge. When knowledge is absent, do not distinguish reality.”
For years I wouldn’t talk about this koan. I have tremendous respect for the teachings of the Buddha, and I just couldn’t talk about this thing that I hadn’t fully digested: “Be at all times without deluded thoughts arising.” This is a very steep suggestion that Shakumuni Buddha is putting forth, but it’s also a very beautiful statement. It’s an extremely dangerous teaching, but it goes to the heart of practice. The whole realm of deluded thoughts is a place where a lot of Buddhists, at one point including me, create a shadow, a sense of shame, a feeling that one cannot measure up. How do you feel about this – not what do you think, but how do you feel? Does it make you feel deluded? Does it seem impossible?
The key is the first line in the Preface to the Assembly, “A manifest koan depends solely on right now.” Everything depends on right now. In delusion, the mind splits the experience of this moment into two. You can think of all kinds of things, but this doesn’t alter reality in any way. If you think there is a particular reality and you begin to believe those thoughts, there is the problem, the split between what’s real in this moment and your thoughts. Even the thought of enlightenment is a delusion if enlightenment is something other than the place where you stand. If you’re splitting up your reality, you’re creating a shadow; the idea that life should be something other than that of the human being you are in this moment.
The trouble comes from not fully understanding the nature of thought. Many people try to cover up thoughts when they’re ashamed: “My mind should be clear.” So people try to practice a “clear mind”– trying to push away the mind that’s actually present in this moment, thinking that a “clear mind” is better than whatever kind of mind that’s manifesting. That’s pushing away one mind and seeking another. There’s a split, a dichotomy between what this mind contains in this moment and what I want it to contain. Sometimes we talk about “true nature” as if there’s some other nature there. If you’re dwelling in the realm of ideas and using your mind to reflect on reality, the split’s right there. I remember asking Maezumi Roshi, “How do I take practice into everyday life?” His answer: “Just do it.” I asked the same question again three or four years later. “Just do it.” Again ten years later. “Just do it.” It’s not about ideas or approaches or plans or schemes. It’s just what is here, now.
“In regard to deluded states of mind, do not try to extinguish them.” As soon as you recognize that there’s something called “delusion” and you try to move from it, what are you doing? You’re creating another separation, rather than just getting on with your life and letting go of your ideas and fears about delusion. There’s no problem here - there is no split. But so long as you’re moving towards something else, there is a problem. Do you think you know what a deluded thought is? How can there be a deluded thought when there’s full awareness? People underestimate the value of these things called “delusions.” Things that we regard as deluded are often the things that actually interest us. I am really interested in delusion. It’s highly underrated.
Why are you moving away from these things that are so interesting? Why don’t you just thoroughly be those instead of pushing them away? What are you striving to become? If you don’t live wholeheartedly in the midst of them, they’ll always persist as something separate from yourself, and you’ll never be at home in them. Think about some of the things that are always troubling us that we regard as delusion like sex, power, money, fame, gain. We like to say, “Oh, I don’t do this.” The problem is that we’ve not felt them. We’ve not experienced those things. What do they do? How do they live? Not how do they live out there somewhere, but right here now. I’m thinking of Hawaii. I’m thinking of having sex. So what? How does that affect reality? Does it even touch it? But we give these thoughts so much power because we don’t understand them. We create a split there with our minds, and we make a shadow. “When my life is free of these things, then I’ll be enlightened.” Really?
A dharma brother for whom I have great respect once said to me that one of the big changes in his life was when he allowed himself to be thoroughly jealous. He let it in. Not, “I’ll let in a certain amount and disown the rest,” but completely and thoroughly. The problem is that most of the time we don’t do that. Instead we think, “Buddhism says I should be at all times without deluded thoughts.” What a deluded thought! The nature of the mind is to think. It’s not about blanking out what is coming up in your mind. Any idiot can do that. Practice is to understand how the mind works regardless of what comes up.
There is a reason for having everything you have, there’s a use for it all. Shakyamuni Buddha had everything that you have. Greed, anger, ignorance, love, wisdom, compassion, drive, determination. He didn’t exclude anything. He wasn’t a saint. He named his son, ‘Hindrance’. He left his wife. But he didn’t stay there. He came back and he thoroughly made amends for those things in the best way that he possibly could. He wasn’t any different than you or me. He had a dysfunctional family, and what did he do with that? He used it to the best of his ability. There were no excuses there. And yet, what do we do with him? “The Buddha’s up there, and he said these things.” Question what the Buddhas, the teachers say! In questioning what they say, you make it real for yourself. You may disagree with them, or you may see that there’s a kernel in there that’s true. And I don’t mean just in Buddhism, but in all aspects of your life.
”Moreover, with regard to deluded states of mind, do not try to extinguish them.” Again, what are they? How do you use these things? I don’t see a dividing line between enlightenment and delusion, except where the light of your awareness is not shed on what you are doing and what you are at any given time. That’s what enlightenment means – the light of your life is shed on the place where you stand. How can you say that “awakening” doesn’t exist in you now? How much awakening do you want? When is it going to be enough? The people who have the most courage are the ones who can swallow whole the place where they stand. The Tenzo said to Dogen, “If not me, who. If not now, when?” Beautiful words, but can you swallow it and practice it? If you’re not the one who’s awakened, then who are you? And if enlightenment’s not now, then when?
Master Rinzai said that the six rays of divine light never cease to shine, and that if you see it this way you’ll be no different than Shakyamuni. The six rays are your life: seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting, thinking. This last, thinking, is the trickiest. Dogen said, “When you sit, think of not thinking. What kind of thinking is that? It’s non-thinking, the essential art of zazen”. If you’re intimidated by thought, or you think you’re hindered by thought, you should really look at that. If somebody throws a rock through the window when you’re deep in thought, you come out of it immediately. There’s no thought there, but immediately there’s a response to what’s actually happening. Non-thinking is the very basis of your life. That’s the way it was before consciousness arose for you. It’s always there right from the beginning. We get so used to self-defining that we get lost in the labyrinth of our own thought. And then we’re afraid of this shadow – “Oh, I shouldn’t be thinking.” And worse, “This zazen is really bad because I’m thinking a lot. Why should I bother doing zazen?” When has your life been hindered by that? You’ve still got a nose and two ears. Why do you judge it? “This is good zazen, that is bad zazen.” So what? It’s your life. You’re a human being, and that’s what’s going to happen.
Maezumi Roshi at 65 was one of the most highly acclaimed Zen masters, both here and in Japan. Once he said, “My head is so busy.” He was using thought to help people. A beautiful tool. And he entered into that realm of thought freely. What a beautiful thing to do! Not because he wanted to be somewhere else or he was fighting to have a clear mind. What are you afraid of? What’s wrong with thought? It’s a birthright of human beings. How does it stop you? Trying to fit yourself into a particular context such as fearing thought or delusion, just doesn’t work.
Why do you need to be enlightened or deluded? Why do you need those labels? Why do you need to distance yourself from what you are? It’s like this. It’s what you know and experience now. Just practice it. As Dogen says, as sure as you lift up your foot, it’s going to come down. If you practice what you know in your bones it will become the reality. It’s just like practicing any art. You get better and better at basketball, at writing. But if you say, “Well I can’t do it,” and don’t practice it, what chance have you got?
That’s where the faith resides in Buddhism. If you don’t think that you’re awakened, flip it over: “I’m awakened. Now what?” Play with it. Sometimes your own habits get ingrained in your own head, and the belief that you have about yourself becomes a fact. To put it another way, supposing this is it? What are you going to do? How are you going to live?
Kindly transcribed by Bill Shinjin Butler