Commentary by Gendo
"Going and coming freely, the substance of mind without blockage - this is prajna [wisdom]." Huineng, Platform Sutra
Zen practice is about the wisdom to live life well. It’s investigation of what it means to be a human being, to have a mother and father, to be born, and to die. It’s research whose subject is ourselves. No one else can do this project for you. Training is helpful, but, ultimately, the practice is everything you do.
Training begins with zazen, sitting quietly and still. The first lesson of zazen is not what you’re taught or read in a book. Sitting quietly and still, you know the busy-ness, the fixations, of your own mind. Those fixations include thoughts on the inside, objects on the outside.
In stillness, the question naturally arises (no one tells you this), how do I quiet my mind? If you try to suppress thoughts or even just ignore them, the result is just more busy-ness. Like a cat chasing its own tail. The one having the thought trying to suppress the thought only adds more thought! Neither thought nor the willful effort to eliminate thought proves sufficient to free the mind from bondage (suffering), to experience this “going and coming freely,” that Huineng calls ”prajna” or wisdom.
But in Zazen and in life, the act of breathing offers instruction. When some anxious fixation arises, in everyday speech we say, “Take a deep breath!” Breath moves freely in two directions, inbreath and outbreath. To notice breathng, is to notice activity that is “going and coming freely.” One can interrupt breath or alter its pattern. But let go of intention and breathing moves freely.
Likewise, detach from investment in your thoughts and they come and go of their own accord. Likewise, all objects of attention come and go. Even this life, this body, regardless of our preferences, comes and goes. Who “I am” is, after all, more than my thoughts, more than my things, more than this body.
All of Buddhism comes down to the truth of our experience. The “Four Noble Truths” are themselves found by our own investigation: the blockages of mind (suffering) , the recognition of the attachments that bind the mind (causes), the letting go that is “going and coming, substance of mind without blockage,” and the practice of wisdom in everyday life.