Sunday Dharma: Enlightenment is nothing special

I’ve noticed there are some folks out there in the blogosphere who write disparagingly about bloggers who use quotes. I use a lot of quotes. One reason is to sort of put a cap on whatever I’ve said, and another is to give some credence to what I’ve said, so that readers will know, hopefully, that I am not talking out of my hat. “Sunday Dharma” is almost always a long quote, because I usually prepare the posts one day ahead, and on Saturdays I’m lazy.

I’ve quoted Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind on a number of occasions. That’s because I think it is a very good book, almost indispensible. To my way of thinking, Suzuki had a really good handle on Buddhism and the practice of dharma. It was down to earth, no bs. And the longer I practice (nearly 30 years now), I become more and more attracted to no nonsense, simple and straightforward teachings.

A Japanese Buddhist named Nikkyo Niwano once wrote a book called Lifetime Beginner. I’ve always liked that phrase, and that’s the attitude that I have towards Buddhism and spiritual practice. To consider oneself a lifetime beginner is a good attitude for both teacher and student. Ultimately, there is no end game in enlightenment. No finish line. No diploma. The only prize is really a booby prize. In fact, I don’t even like the word enlightenment. Enlightening is better. It’s a process.

Apparently, I have misplaced Niwano‘s book, so here are some quotes from Zen Mind, Beginners Mind that address this notion of being a lifetime beginner, along with some guidance about faring on the way to “enlightenment,” which is just an endless further.

From the Introduction by Richard Baker

Beginner’s mind was a favorite expression of Dogen-zenji’s. The calligraphy of the frontispiece, also by Suzuki-roshi, reads shoshin, or beginner’s mind. The Zen way of calligraphy is to write in the most straightforward, simple way as if you were a beginner, not trying to make something skillful or beautiful, but simply writing with full attention as if you were discovering what you were writing for the first time; then your full nature will be in your writing. This is the way of practice moment after moment.

So the most difficult thing is always to keep your beginner’s mind. There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen. Even though you read much Zen literature, you must read each sentence with a fresh mind. You should not say, “I know what Zen is,” or “I have attained enlightenment.” This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner. Be very very careful about this point. If you start to practice zazen, you will begin to appreciate your beginner’s mind. It is the secret of Zen practice.

Shunryu Suzuki:

Enlightenment is not some good feeling or some particular state of mind. The state of mind that exists when you sit in the right posture is, itself, enlightenment. If you cannot be satisfied with the state of mind you have in zazen, it means your mind is still wandering about. Our body and mind should not be wobbling or wandering about. In this posture there is no need to talk about the right state of mind. You already have it. This is the conclusion of Buddhism.

We say our practice should be without gaining ideas, without any expectations, even of enlightenment. This does not mean, however, just to sit without any purpose. This practice free from gaining ideas is based on the Prajna Paramita Sutra.

If you continue this simple practice every day you will obtain a wonderful power. Before you attain it, it is something wonderful, but after you obtain it, it is nothing special. It is just you yourself, nothing special. As a Chinese poem says, “I went and I returned. It was nothing special. Rozan famous for its misty mountains; Sekko for its water.” People think it must be wonderful to see the famous range of mountains covered by mists, and the water said to cover all the earth. But if you go there you will just see water and mountains. Nothing special.

It is a kind of mystery that for people who have no experience of enlightenment, enlightenment is something wonderful. But if they attain it, it is nothing. But yet it is not nothing. Do you understand? For a mother with children, having children is nothing special. That is zazen. So, if you continue this practice, more and more you will acquire something–nothing special, but nevertheless something. You may say “universal nature” or “Buddhanature” or “enlightenment.” You may call it by many names, but for the person who has it, it is nothing, and it is something.

Our unexciting way of practice may appear to be very negative. This is not so. It is a wise and effective way to work on ourselves. It is just very plain. I find this point very difficult for people, especially young people, to understand. On the other hand it may seem as if I am speaking about gradual attainment. This is not so either. In fact, this is the sudden way, because when your practice is calm and ordinary, everyday life itself is enlightenment.

When something becomes dualistic, that is not pure. If you think you will get something from practicing zazen, already you are involved in impure practice. It is all right to say there is practice, and there is enlightenment, but we should not be caught by the statement. You should not be tainted by it. When you practice zazen, just practice zazen. If enlightenment comes, it just comes. We should not attach to the attainment. The true quality of zazen is always there, even if you are not aware of it, so forget all about what you think you may have gained from it. Just do it. The quality of zazen will express itself; then you will have it.

If you find some difficulty in your practice, that is the warning that you have some wrong idea, so you have to be careful. But do not give up your practice; continue it, knowing your weakness. Here there is no gaining idea. Here there is no fixed idea of attainment. You do not say, “This is enlightenment,” or “That is not right practice.” Even in wrong practice, when you realize it and continue, there is right practice. Our practice cannot be perfect, but without being discouraged by this, we should continue it. This is the secret of practice.

Even if the flashing of enlightenment comes, our practice forgets all about it. Then it is ready for another enlightenment. It is necessary for us to have enlightenments one after another, if possible, moment after moment. This is what is called enlightenment before you attain it and after you attain it.

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One thought on “Sunday Dharma: Enlightenment is nothing special

  1. Nothing wrong with quotes like this. I think people (myself included) tend to shy away from the “inspirational quote” type spammers that offer little or nothing in the way of their own thoughts, and just post (on blogs/twitter/facebook etc) the latest HHDL or Ekhart Tolle quote.

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