Lecture On Zen

Gerry Shishin Wick


One starving vulture to another while looking for a carcass,
"Damn patience, I am going to go kill something."

Patience plays an integral part in our practice. Whatever we accomplish and whatever our understanding may be depends to a large extent upon the nature of our patience. Patience is not passivity or just waiting for insight to strike us. The word patient derives from the Latin word pati, which means, "to suffer." So patience means "bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint" or "steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity." This patience is based on faith, which is also essential in our practice.

As our ancestors have said many times: our life is no other than the life of the Buddha. It means that our life is the enlightened life. We just have to realize it. If you have faith in these statements, then why don't you put yourself into it one hundred percent to realize that it is so?

If we have faith in our Buddha nature, then we can be steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity in our practice. We don't practice Zen in order to gain something, such as peace of mind or ease and comfort. We practice to realize who we are. The Third Patriarch in China instructed us to "not seek for the truth, but to cease to cherish our opinions." If we practice in this way, then our meditation is no longer a project about something that we are trying to do, but it is an expression of who we are.

Our own judgments and opinions are where we are hanging on. We can even take these opinions and judgments and use them to justify having faith, and call that faith. Ordinarily what we think about as self-confidence or strong faith for most people is a means to control everything. If we are in control, if we know something for sure, then we are confident. That's not true confidence. True confidence is being impeccable. To have confidence means to be impeccable in all of your actions and all of your thoughts according to the clarity of your mind.

To understand the truth is one thing but to prove the truth in our own life is another matter. When Master Dogen was a young boy he asked himself the question, "If it is true that we are all the Buddha, why do we have to work so hard, why did all of the patriarchs and the Zen masters have to struggle so hard in order to realize it?" We could ask the same thing. Again it goes back to wanting control, holding on to our own opinions, cherishing and loving them, our judgments, our thoughts. Master Hakuin says, "All beings are primarily Buddhas, like water and ice there is no ice apart from water. There are no Buddhas apart from beings." Ice and water, they are the same substance and yet they are different. The ice has to be heated to become the water. Likewise we have to go through actual training to testify to the truth that is within us. If we just understand the truth and never testify to it, then we can't be the enlightened one.

Einstein was once asked about his creativity and he touched upon this subject of patience and effort. He said the search may take years of groping in the dark; hence the ability to hold on to a problem for a long time and not be destroyed by repeated failure is necessary for any serious researcher. His observation can apply to our own practice. We could say the search may take years of groping in the dark; hence the ability to hold on to a problem or your question and your aspiration for a long time and not be destroyed by repeated failure is necessary for any serious Zen student.

We tend to think the path for somebody as successful as Einstein wasn't difficult. Yet he said that he had to struggle for years and years in the dark without knowing what he was doing. Even the Buddha did not have an easy time. When he started to practice, he had to develop his own system. He spent years groping in the dark, trying all kinds of practices. It was also true for all of the Zen masters. And the many failures become the one success.

Without the discipline to persevere despite many failures, there is no freedom or liberation. All of us have acquired some skill, but it didn't always come easily. Consider a musician: it takes tremendous discipline in order to be able to improvise and to be creative. When you first start to learn an instrument your fingers don't even know where to go. You practice and you practice and you practice and you practice until it becomes so much a part of you, you don't even have to think about it. It's the same in our zazen practice we need discipline. That discipline gives us the strength to persevere and be patient.

As Dogen Zengi said, "When the bodhisattva mind stirs, there is an impulse to practice the way of the Buddhas." Each one of you, your bodhisattva mind has stirred and you had that impulse to practice the way of the Buddhas. So clarify your vision. As you clarify your vision, your faith will get stronger. Then we can realize that our zazen is the zazen of the Buddhas.

As we continue to practice there will be times that we feel discouraged. We don't know whether to go forward or to go back. But as long as we have faith that what the Buddha said is true, what the Zen masters said is so, then we can keep going. I remember some lyrics from the Showboat tune by Jerome Kern. He wrote about faith, patience and effort with these words:

I get weary and sick of trying,
tired of living but scared of dying,
but Old Man River
he just keeps rolling along.

Source: BIONA