“You may study sitting in meditation, but meditation is not concerned with sitting or lying down. You may study sitting in Buddha, but Buddha is not concerned with any fixed form. Of all abodeless dharmas, the Buddha is not to be chosen. If you sit in Buddha you will kill the Buddha; if you cling to the form of sitting, you will not reach the principle.” (Zen teacher Huai Jang, as recorded in the “Transmission of the Lamp)
What is true about meditation? What is true about anything?
Zen teaches, the text teaches, that we cannot make an object of truth or God. What is ultimately true about any situation is impermanence, impermanence that cannot be captured as an existent thing, a form, a particular idea. As soon as we have fixated a particular thing and say, “This is it! This is true!” we make a mistake; a mistake because object fixation is always from the standpoint of a separate self, always from a self-affirming point of view. Even Buddhism, even Buddha, regarded as object, as something to be attained or acquired, is mistaken.
All teachings, all doctrine, even the US Constitution, are like this. Objectified as truth, they become a pretext for abuse. Preoccupation with some “fixed form” is not only self-absorbed; it is also unjust; unjust because it is blind to failure, our own, and those who are most vulnerable.
These are struggles that we return to again and again. We return to our self-centeredness again and again. And so we speak of diligence, the diligence to engage in practice, again and again, to face our struggles and learn from them.
Learning starts with something we want, a skill or accomplishment we want to acquire. We begin with a goal in mind. But it turns out, that, in order to get there, we have to practice, and practice involves both success and failure, over and over again. It’s as if that thing or skill we viewed as success, as a plus, turns out to involve equal portions of failure, minus. With diligent practice, plus and minus combine and become zero, the zero of ‘just doing.’
With diligence, finally, there is ‘just doing’ called ‘mastery’ or ‘wisdom.’ What was conceived of as a goal to be acquired becomes ‘letting-go;’ letting-go of both success and failure, letting-go of the objective itself that has become ‘just doing.’ By diligence, by engaging success and failure over and over again, the arc of experience (to paraphrase Martin Luther King) “bends toward justice,” bends towards compassion for our own failings and for those who are most vulnerable .
What was imagined from the start as something to be achieved, is instead, found inside; neither success or failure, a truth underlying all encounters of self and other. This, I suggest, is the “waking-up” we are invited to, personified as “buddha,” as God, experienced as selfless love, and the relief of suffering.
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