The Most Important Thing: Just This As It Is

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We're going to prepare, lift our feet to the left, to Dāgatirā's words. Good morning. It's a fine morning for it all to fall apart. Here's this big crowd here, all expecting words of wisdom and, I don't know, I had this lovely drum talk in my mind and it all fell apart on my way down here. So, let's see what happens. One of the things I love about this practice, I mean, I came to this practice at a time when my life was falling apart. And one of the things that I heard said by Suzuki Roshi was,


sometimes the most important thing is to find out. What's the most important thing? And so I keep coming back to that from time to time. And I don't think that the most important thing is that I have a thrilling and exciting Dharma talk to give to you today. Though I'd feel really nice if I could do that. I think the most important thing at the moment is to be willing to be with you and meet you and share some of the joy of being just this as it is and perhaps inspire in you the capacity to examine what is the most important thing for you


and to examine how to take joy in being just this one as it is in each moment. To not look for what's going to happen next or down the road, but what's right now. To take joy in this breath and just be alive. To really have some confidence in being who you are in this moment. Being alive, just to be alive is enough. To feel what a relief it is


to recognize that you don't have to be someone else or like someone else or add anything to yourself to be completely who you are and that being completely who you are is perfect. What else could you possibly be? What else could you be supposed to be than just this? And yet we do have a lot of conditioning that supports this notion of if only I were fill-in-the-blank, then that would be all right. The result of that notion is that


it's never all right to be just this as it is. There's always some blank to fill in. So how about it? How about being just this one? How about not putting up hurdles that you have to jump over before it's okay? To be yourself. That might be the beginning of being able to let go of various notions that we hold on to that keep us all kind of stuck. But I think there's a lot of fear


in that we meet. Pull me in here. There is a lot of fear that maybe this isn't good enough. Maybe someone won't find me acceptable. Maybe I won't find myself acceptable. Maybe... I don't know. Mostly the fear is of not knowing, not being in control, just having to meet each moment as it arises, as it arises. So a lot of practice is to cultivate the confidence that as you are, you have everything you need to meet each moment as it arises.


And one of the things that's required to cultivate that confidence is actually to be willing to be with the fear that arises when you just are open to whatever comes up without being in control of whatever comes up. We have this notion of wanting to be in control, but we are never in control. We are never in control. Our life happens moment after moment as the result of innumerable causes and conditions much too vast for us to ever be in control of all of them. Our life in each moment is produced


by everything that's gone before. And so we meet it as it arises, fresh, as best we can. And something about having the opportunity to be with my life in this way brings up in me a great sense of gratitude for having met, having met Suzuki Roshi and had the opportunity to practice over the past many years. What I feel is tremendous warmth and gratitude


toward all of those who went before me and when my life fell apart had a little zen-do where I could go and sit sazen and be with myself and try to settle down and be willing to be in my life as it is. And somehow in the course of that early sitting this great well of gratitude rose up in me for all of these ancient teachers that I've never met who for the past 2,500 years have continued to practice this practice of sitting still in the midst of just this as it is and letting go


of wanting it to be something else so that we can actually be open to what it is. We can be open to all the wonder of what it is when we're not too busy thinking about how it ought to be instead. And so every now and then some of the sayings and doings of some of the old teachers come to mind and it's fun to read them and sometimes you read them and they don't make any sense at all and yet it's kind of fun to read them and then later on one of them will pop up and you'll say, oh! So I'm going to read you a couple of the sayings and doings of the great teacher Bai Zhang. Bai Zhang was an early teacher in China


and he was sort of the founder of our Zen monastic practice. Up until then, Buddhist monks were all not allowed to, for example, work in the fields to grow food because they might in the course of their cultivating the field or planting things or hoeing they might kill some insect or harm some being and so monks lived entirely on alms, going around and begging so they let other people take that chance of killing some being to grow the rice and they just went around with their begging bowls and accepted alms. But actually that didn't go over so well in China which had a very strong work ethic


and Bai Zhang is famous for saying a day of no work is a day of no eating. Bai Zhang rearranged how monks in Chang monasteries lived their life and work was just sort of daily work taking care of their own needs was an essential part of the life of monks in China beginning with Bai Zhang and continues to this day in our tradition. And actually this had a lot to do with the survival of Chan Buddhism in China because there were other traditions in China Confucianism and Daoism and from time to time there would be great persecutions of Buddhist monks and nuns on the basis that they were parasites on society


they weren't producing their share and they were just taken from others. So the Chang monasteries survived in those kinds of repressive times largely because of Bai Zhang's reorganizing of how Chan monasteries ran. And there are various stories about him and one that came up for me one of the old stories that I'd heard before that came up for me with great force in this last practice period that I did down at Tassajara was an exchange that he had with Yunyan when Yunyan said something like you're always so busy doing all of this work so many details and so much work


who do you do it for? And Bai Zhang said there is one who requires it there is one who requires it another version has there may be someone who needs it someday and Yunyan said to him well why don't we have that person do it for themselves? And Bai Zhang said that person has no tools and the other version says something like that person may not know how to do housework anyhow, that person who needs it


the one who requires it who is that one? So in the midst of sitting Zazen at Tassajara this winter the question the practice period at Tassajara gets pretty intense sometimes we get up quite early it's a little chilly down there in the wintertime at four in the morning and we sit a lot of Zazen and sometimes it feels quite difficult and the question may arise why am I doing this? or someone came in to me in a private interview and said to me why are you doing this samurai practice? and I said to her I don't know, why are you doing this samurai practice?


don't complain to me, complain to the boss you're the boss but I think each of us if we seriously engage in Zen practice we'll sometimes find ourselves sitting there facing the wall with our legs hurting or tired or sleepy or cranky or cross and say why am I doing this? and Baizhang's response there is one who requires it or there may be someone who needs it it came up for me at such a moment at Tassajara last winter there is here, right where I'm sitting


one who requires that I find out how to appreciate this life as it is and give up trying to be somebody else and give up trying to be good enough and decide that it's got to be good enough like this because this is how it is this is it where am I going to get something? this is it what does it mean to say that this isn't okay? it just means I don't like it I mean, it is what it is so how am I going to settle down and really enjoy and appreciate just this as it is my life as it arises in each moment moment after moment there's no point in sitting around and wondering if I can, you know how it's going to be later on


how it is, is how it is now and later on it'll be how it is then and that doesn't mean, you know we don't do any planning or preparation when it's time for planning or preparation then that's what I do now but I don't keep wondering when it's ever going to be all right it's got to be all right just like this and sometimes just like this is pleasant and sometimes just like this is not pleasant but still, that's what it is and in the midst of that to have some joy and appreciation in the midst of whatever's happening I have several friends right now


who are very ill and there's nothing I can do to fix them I mean, they're getting the best medical care they can but they're very ill so how to be with them in a way that it completely appreciates them as they are is my problem not to say, oh gee I hope you'll get better and I hope you don't die well, I hope they'll get better and I hope they don't die but you know, we're all we're all going to die sometime and as a matter of fact in each moment whatever this is falls apart and something new arises all the time and in some moment it will be this particular life


that falls apart and something else will arise but it's that fear that yeah, this is going to fall apart that makes us so tight and tense and unable to enjoy things in their continual flux and change so how can we allow ourselves to be with the fear of not knowing what's going to happen next just be with that fear and learn how to befriend it actually be totally and completely present with whatever is arising there is one who requires it


if there was not one who requires that we sit still and learn how to appreciate our life we wouldn't be here this morning but what are you doing? I mean, it's a beautiful day out there what are you doing sitting cross-legged on a tatami mat listening to music listening to somebody talk about Zen Buddhism how did you get yourself in this situation? there is one who requires it there is one who says settle down in your life and find out what's the most important thing and I just happened to pick up this magazine and run across an interview with Pema Chodron


who is one of my favorite teachers teaching today she is a a woman a little younger than I am but a grown woman like myself who about the age I did became a Tibetan nun practicing with children of Trungpa Rinpoche also with grown children now and in her book called When Things Fell Apart she talks about making friends with fear and I'd like to share it with you fear is a universal experience it's part of being alive something we all share we react against the possibility of loneliness


of death of not having anything to hold on to fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth anyone who stands on the edge of the unknown fully in the present without reference point experiences groundlessness that's when our understanding goes deeper when we find that the present moment is a pretty vulnerable place and that this can be completely unnerving and completely tender at the same time when we begin our spiritual exploration we have all kinds of ideals and expectations we are looking for answers that will satisfy the hunger we felt for a very long time but the last thing we want is further introduction to the bogeyman


what we are talking about is getting to know fear becoming familiar with fear looking it right in the eye not as a way to solve problems but as a complete undoing of old ways of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and thinking the truth is that when we really begin to do this we are going to be continually humbled there is not going to be much room for the arrogance that holding on to ideals can bring the arrogance that inevitably does arise is going to be eventually shot down by our own courage to step forward a little further the kinds of discoveries that are made through practice have nothing to do with believing in anything they have much more to do with having the courage to die


the courage to die continually I once attended a lecture about a man's spiritual experiences in India in the 1900s 1960s he said he was determined to get rid of his negative emotions he struggled against anger and lust he struggled against laziness and pride but mostly he wanted to get rid of his fear his meditation teacher kept telling him to stop struggling but he took that as just another way of explaining how to overcome his obstacles finally the teacher sent him off to meditate in a tiny hut in the foothills he shut the door and settled down to practice and when it got dark he lit three small candles around midnight he heard a noise in the corner of the room and in the darkness he saw a very large snake


it looked to him like a king cobra it was right in front of him, swaying and all night he stayed totally alert keeping his eyes on the snake he was so afraid he couldn't move there was just the snake and himself and fear just before dawn the last candle went out and he began to cry he cried not in despair but from tenderness he felt the longing of all the animals and people in the world he knew their alienation and their struggle and all his meditation had been nothing but further separation and struggle he accepted, really accepted wholeheartedly that he was angry and jealous


that he resisted and struggled and that he was afraid he accepted that he was also precious beyond measure wise and foolish rich and poor and totally unfathomable he felt so much gratitude that in the total darkness he stood up walked toward the snake and bowed and then he fell sound asleep on the floor and when he awoke the snake was gone and he never knew if it was his imagination or if it had really been there and it didn't seem to matter that much intimacy with fear caused his dramas to collapse and the world around him finally got through the next time you encounter fear consider yourself lucky the trick is to keep exploring and not bail out


even when you find that something is not what you thought nothing is what we thought emptiness is not what we thought neither is mindfulness or fear, compassion, love, courage these are cold words for things we don't know in our minds that any of us could experience these words point to what life really is when we let things fall apart and let ourselves be nailed to the present moment isn't that a great phrase? be nailed to the present moment our life happens only in the present moment the entirety of our life happens in the present moment and when we are nailed to the present moment


then we can be totally alive we're not divided between this moment and our thoughts of the past or our hopes for the future Catherine spoke last week about waking up from the story of our life the stories that we tell ourselves about the past and the future and who we think we are and what we think we ought to be and how it all ought to be all of this over which we have no control the only thing we actually can do is to train ourselves little by little to stay nailed to the present moment so that we can be truly alive in our life as it happens and why would we do this?


because there is one who requires it because we want to be completely alive because when we consider what's the most important thing actually being alive in our life is right up there on the list of priorities, isn't it? actually being able to taste our life the actual taste of being alive is right up there on the list of important things and sometimes that taste is going to be delicious and sometimes it's going to be bitter sometimes we'll be happy and sometimes we'll be sad sometimes there will be pleasure and sometimes there will be pain


but all of it is our life and if we try to pick and choose what happens is that we're not alive for any of it we're running away from all of it because we're afraid that some of it may be difficult but when we actually enter into the difficulties of our life when we actually enter into the difficulties of our life we will find joy there because we'll feel alive sometimes things have to get pretty grim and dismal before we'll take a chance on that possibility but that for me, I mean, my life was falling apart


and I think each of us has had some experience of our life falling apart and sometimes it falls apart enough that you take a chance on staying right here with the present moment and being alive in the midst of it being willing to be right where you are is a source of actually great joy I was in a retreat with a group of people who who who had had quite a wonderful thing going which fell apart


and there had been a great deal of pain and suffering around it and it fell apart about 14 years ago and these people all got together not all but 35 of these people who had been in the midst of this wonderful thing for a long time before it fell apart got together last weekend and there were many old wounds and much suffering was spoken of but an enormous amount of love emerged from our actually being willing to sit with one another and hear one another speak


of the pain that each of us had experienced in the falling apart and to really listen to each other each one speaking his or her truth without blame but really being open and we kept working at this all weekend and by the end of the weekend in the midst of all of this pain there was this tremendous opening a very heartwarming opening feeling it's hard to convey the intensity of both feeling each other's pain and feeling the enormous love at the same time and what I recognized in that experience


was that it was exactly the willingness to feel the pain to let my heart actually be open to the intensity of the suffering that was exactly inseparable from being open to the joy of being with all of these people and the love that we shared in the midst of our difficulties so this practice is all about being open to our life as it is as it is and feeling the joy that comes with the aliveness of being open


even when things don't go the way you wish they would or thought you would like still still the aliveness is where the joy is and that means being willing to be present moment after moment with your actual experience and not with your dreams, hopes, desires, ideals aversions all of the thoughts that surround the actual experience of the moment but again and again returning to the actual experience and not getting caught by the stories not getting caught by the thoughts


and making them into truth but being willing to experience the actual whatever is going on and if we're afraid to do that then we miss our life so so much of practice is about being willing to be present with fear the fear that comes when we know that we're not in control that's being in control in a wider sense just being willing to be in our life as it is so all this work that you do, why are you doing it?


there is one who requires it oh, why don't you let that person do it? that person has no tools or that person has no tools oh this is the tools this this body is the tools that that person has to do the work of this life and this is the tools that that person has to be alive in this moment so moment after moment


we have to keep returning to ourself when we wander away, just keep returning to this moment, this experience, this breath this tightness this tenderness this feeling that's arising now this preconception that I'm holding on to just to see what's happening just to see clearly what's happening this is our door to liberation seeing clearly and trusting ourself to choose to be awake trusting ourself to meet each moment


as it arises knowing that we have everything we need to meet our life as it arises nothing is lacking cultivating that confidence joining with others who are cultivating that confidence seeing yourself in everyone you meet having the courage to live your life there is one who requires it please take care of that person