Kyogen, a Zen monk of ninth-century China, was a disciple of Kuei Shan and a Buddhist scholar. One day Kuei Shan said to him, "I don't want to know what you have learned from your studies. Just say in a word what your original being was before your parents gave you birth and prior to your capacity to discriminate."

Kyogen was confounded; he did not know what to say. Followingseveral restless days reflecting and pondering, he returned to Kuei Shanwith an answer. It was rejected. Kyogen desperately begged for theanswer, but Kuei Shan told him, "Whatever I say is according to myunderstanding. It will not benefit you." Discouraged at his inability tofind a satisfactory answer, Kyogen threw away his books and gave upscholarly studies. He left Kuei Shan's monastery to become a hermit.

One day, while Kyogen was weeding around his hermitage, a stonestruck a bamboo stalk. The sound opened his mind. In gratitude, he litincense and bowed in the direction of his teacher's mountain, saying,"Your kindness is beyond that of my parents. If you had said anythingthat day, this could not have happened."

Tozan, founder of the Soto Zen School in China, also lived in theninth century. At a ceremony on the anniversary of the death of histeacher, Yun Yen, a monk asked, "When you were with Yun Yen, whatinstruction did he give you?" Tozan replied, "When I was there, heneither instructed nor directed me." The monk then asked, "So why do youcelebrate him?" Tozan said, "I don't revere him for his virtue orlearning but because he did not tell me any secrets."

The decision to engage in a spiritual practice such as meditation isusually accompanied by an expectation that we will learn somethingprofound. We hope to understand the "secret" of life or to find answersto our spiritual questions. So when we begin, we feel anticipation, evenexcitement. However, we soon discover that explanations and "secrets"do not readily emerge. In our impatience, we start to look for atechnique that will make things easier or more comfortable, a way thatwill help reveal "secrets."

In recent years, many books, seminars, and television and radioprograms about spirituality have appeared. They reflect a deep yearningto know the truth about life.

At the same time, they also express a desire for an easy way to getthe "secret." Many writers and trainers now make a living offering tipsand techniques for "how to practice in daily life," "how to getenlightened," or "how to stop your mind."

Relying on this way of "learning," of depending on others foranswers, does not help. Spiritual practice is about learning, but not in the usual sense. If we insist on learning in the usual way, we will waste our time and become discouraged, just like Kyogen. To understand who we are, to knowourselves at the most fundamental level--to know our original beings--is not possible by absorbing someone else's words.

In the Zen tradition, good teachers do not explain things very much.When asked by a new student for an explanation of Zen, Shunryu Suzuki,the Zen teacher who founded San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajaramonastery, simply invited the young man to join him in early morningmeditation practice.

On another occasion, he was asked to explain thebest way to establish Zen in America. He stood up and said, "I have nothingto say," and silently left the room. Another teacher, in response to aquestion about what technique he used to encourage people, replied, "Weuse the most important technique: people's own sincerity."

As the stories of Kyogen and Tozan illustrate, searching fortechniques to answer spiritual questions, or to help with thedifficulties of an impatient, wandering mind, is a mistake. Suchsearching only makes the mind wander even further. The only "technique"is to let go of old ideas, both our own and others', and to continuouslytry to keep our awareness focused in the present.

Increasingly, people are trying to understand how to "take"spiritual practice into the activities of daily life. However, this ideais a misunderstanding. Practice is not a thing that can be picked up andcarried from "here" to "there."

Searching for a technique to "take" is useless. We only need tobring our awareness to what we are doing, to continuously withholdpermission from our minds to wander aimlessly. This takes determination,but it is the way to keep spiritual practice always present, whether weare on our meditation cushion, at work, or with friends and family.

Copyright 2000 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be reproduced without written permission.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus