How to Live in the Present
In the article, What is Zen, we went into understanding the source of Zen Buddhism and understanding what Zen is not. We also discussed that the objective of Zen was to see the false sense of dualistic reality and that Zazen and mindful living were the means to the emergence of this enlightened state, or Zen Mind.
As I also mentioned, I will be discussing more about Zen and it’s profound and effective approach to life and here in this article I will continue that discussion.
You have heard the catch phrases of enlightenment many times, phrases such as “Go with the flow”, “Let go completely”, “Live Spontaneously”, “Live in your natural state”, “Live in the now”, etc, etc. These ways of living can be called having the Zen Mind and these are certainly words of wisdom, but how do we get there? In fact where do we even start from? This is explained by Zen Master, Shunryu Suzuki in the following excerpt.
Understanding Zen Mind:
Book: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
Author: Shunryu Suzuki
I discovered that it is necessary, absolutely necessary, to believe in nothing. That is, we have to believe in something which has no form and no color – something which exists before all forms and color appear. This is a very important point. No matter what god or doctrine you believe in, if you become attached to it, your belief will be based more or less on a self-centered idea. You strive for a perfect faith in order to save yourself. But it will take time to attain such a perfect faith. You will be involved in an idealistic practice. In constantly seeking to actualize your ideal, you will have no time for composure. But if you are always prepared for accepting everything we see as something appearing from nothing, knowing there is some reason why a phenomenal existence of such and such form appears, then at that moment you will have perfect composure.
He goes on the explain with the following practical example…
While you are practicing zazen (zen meditation), you may hear the rain dropping from the roof in the dark. Later, the wonderful mist will be coming through the big trees, and still later when people start to work, they will see the beautiful mountains. But some people will be annoyed if they hear the rain while they are lying in their beds in the morning, because they do not know that later they will see the beautiful sun rising form the east. If our mind is concentrated on ourselves then we will have this kind of worry. But if we accept ourselves as the embodiment of the truth, of Buddha nature, we will have no worry. We will think, “Now it is raining, but we don’t know what will happen in the next moment. By the time we go out it may be a beautiful day, or a stormy day. Since we don’t know, let’s appreciate the sound of the rain now.” This kind of attitude is the right attitude. If you understand yourself as a temporal embodiment of the truth you will have no difficulty whatsoever. You will appreciate your surroundings, and you will appreciate yourself as a wonderful part of Buddha’s great activity, even in the midst of difficulties. This is our way of life.
Using the Buddhist terminology, we should begin with enlightenment and proceed to practice, then to thinking. Usually thinking is rather self-centered. In our everyday life our thinking is ninety-nine percent self-centered: “Why do I have suffering? Why do I have trouble?” This kind of thinking is ninety-nine percent of our thinking. For example, when we start to study science or read a difficult sutra, we very soon become sleepy or drowsy. But we are always wide awake and very much interested in our self-centered thinking! But if enlightenment comes first, before thinking, before practice, your thinking and your practice will not be self-centered. By enlightenment I mean believing in nothing, believing in something which has no form or no color, which is ready to take form or color. This enlightenment is the immutable truth. It is on this original truth that our activity, our thinking, and our practice should be based.
Zen Mind Analysis:
Our reality, our minds are so crowded with worries, anxieties, ambitions, goals and endless stupid beliefs that there is no space or energy left for peace, love or self-study. All this endless thinking is, of course, due to our incessant obsession with our tiny lives. A great way to break free from the grip that this self-centered thinking has on us, is to embrace the unknown. That is what master Suzuki is hinting at above.
The Zen mind is a mind which is open to tomorrow. It is not following any predetermined pattern or belief system, but is open to the future, and responsive to the challenge of the present. Recognizing that the future is unknown to us and so dropping trying to constantly shape it and instead embracing the present completely is what is being suggested.
So free yourself from worrying about the future, trust the Universe, of which you are an integral and inseparable part and let life unfold. Maintaining such an attitude, having such openness and such courage is the path to peace and freedom. These are the blessings of a Zen Mind.