Sogenji Pond in the Fall

“To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”― Dōgen

Dogen said that to study the way is to study the self.  And to study the self is to forget the self.  To actualize the self is to be actualized by myriad things.  What he is talking about is not some moral idea of purity or sanctimoniousness, but experiencing reality as it is.  Experiencing what it is to relate to everything around us, and allow that to transform us and reveal our true nature.  Removing the barrier between self and other is something to be explored, interacted with, digested.  It is not a concept, but a real part of practice.

One great thing absorbed from Zen training in the monastery is the ability to transparently become what is happening right now.  Not the idea of what is happening.  But to meet what is happening and merge with it.  In this merging with what is happening, it is as if our body in space dissolves into what is happening.

At first, melding is just like putting our whole bodies into sweeping when sweeping, or when chopping vegetables, to only be chopping vegetables.  Later, when doing just what we are doing completely becomes second nature, it becomes possible to enter into what we are doing in a more unified way, deeper and deeper.  So when we are walking, we are going forward and nothing else.  Or when listening to someone speak, we are truly meeting and hearing the meaning very deeply.  This unification brings gifts. With time, we can begin to feel a persons intentions, even read his/her thoughts.  At first it is disorienting and shocking, but we begin to trust this process more and more.

Doing zazen (Zen sitting) is a great way to learn to meet what is happening and become that.  Zazen is a great teacher, as we must meet the moment directly to actually do zazen.  We want our sitting to go a certain way.  But zazen will not allow us to reach out beyond what is happening or to leave reality.  If we do, we become lost in thought, or go to sleep, or have awful pain in our legs. Most of us are avoiding what is happening right now.  Zazen teaches us to face reality.  Doing lots of zazen is a laboratory to deepen this process.  Zazen is essential to begin to crack the code of what is actually happening with our body-mind.

I went to Japan looking for a way to heal myself from health issues, at the same time desperate to find out what to do with my life.  In the process of exploring how to allow my body to open up through practice, I saw that my body was trying at all times to heal.  It was trying to open up to the room, to the forest as I walked, to the pond in the garden.  I just stood for hours in between hard physical work and formal meditation, and fell in love with this process, dissolving into the bamboo forest, late nights with the moon and the music of the trees.  I saw that I was holding a barrier of fear and protection up against this healing, and that I had to courageously open up on a fundamental level to the environment around me, continuously, or I would begin to get sick again.  This happened again and again, every day. Slowly, after much confusion, dedicating twenty-four hours a day to this for a couple of years, in an obsessive way, I began to see that it was not me who was healing. There was actually no me in there, but a relationship with everything which was harmonizing.  The barrier between self and other began to dissolve, and truly relating began.

Sogenji, approaching the Sanmon

Doing this work was a long, hard process. But it felt like my only chance of harmony in life. I was plagued by energy issues like rising ki, volatile emotions, and strange physical pain for years.  But the training in the dojo completely saved my life.  Luckily I had a Roshi (Zen Master) there to guide me.  With him, in a special encounter every day called sanzen (private interview), I truly saw that I could open up my consciousness to not only the forest or the meditation hall, but with another person, and that our consciousness could meld.  This melding is all on a non-verbal level.  Through him patiently displaying this open consciousness, I began to meet him energetically, and then a special dialogue began which completely shifted things for me.  This meeting of energies has a tangible feeling.  It is palpable, like a hidden sense which can be cultivated. Through experiencing his consciousness, I saw that life is permeable.  We are not locked into a stream of confusion.  This moment is not something helpless, but huge and vast.  We are not alone. We can meet another’s mind and share it. And this huge moment is a constant sublime sounding board to measure and share ourselves with others, revealing this wide open mind to us all.  A constant gift from the universe.

We all have the possibility of meeting the consciousness of every person we encounter, which is what I am today exploring in all aspects of my life.  Life is relating.  We are all relating to everything around us, and with everyone around us. So, discovering and integrating the deep intimacy of removing the barrier with others is invaluable.

For those getting into this process, often serious zen students, when walking in the forest, try to see without your eyes.  What is it that is feeling the trees around you?  And where is an I in that process?  Where do you end and the environment begin? How is your body trying to open up to everything and everyone around you? Keep going further into this process.  More and more honest.  More and more vulnerable.  Become so transparent that you’ll shatter.*  It may feel like everything is falling away as the experience ripens. At the same time, you’ll feel deeply connected, rooted, guided by something innate to open up more and more.  You may feel like you are jumping off of a cliff, and you’ll be lost forever, but at the same time you’ll be shining, connected in a way you’ve never experienced.

Eventually, at a certain point, like drilling for oil into an unknown abyss, something will finally pierce through, and an explosion of this great life energy, the source of everything will be revealed.  After that, you’ll  never be the same again, ideas of me and you will no longer be relevant, annihilated.  You’ll be like a little innocent toddler learning to walk.  Everything will be from a new perspective.  There will always be a you in there, who likes chocolate or coffee or mystery novels.  Your personality won’t vanish.  You’ll be a goofball or a nerd or shy or outgoing.  But the next thirty years of your life will not be about discovering this, but embodying it in a very real, matter of fact way.

So how does this look in daily life?  For me, as I go about my day, continually harmonizing with the environment, I am connecting with what is happening. The experience is connecting with the ki of each moment, allowing it to shape us, shaping it. With this, my physical body lets go, dissolving into a kind of transparency to everything around, and I feel this great life energy filling up.  When I meet someone, I allow their presence to permeate me, as this life energy expands through me.

If I have an idea about this, or if I’m not listening, or stuck on my old pattern, I get in the way.  Therefore, the moment is constantly teaching me how to open up to it.  In the most humbling way, it is constantly keeping me be honest, vulnerable, lucent, curious.

In connecting with this, it expands outward, this great life energy is shared with everything around it, and knocking on the door of each person’s consciousness.  Offering a possibility to be engaged with.  Being a vessel for this energy, connecting with others, brings a type of integrating presence which expands.  This presence aids the unity of others. This is part of why a teacher is so important, especially at first.  Because just their presence aligns our consciousness.  This unity is not personal, but at the same time can be felt as great intimacy by those ready to feel it.  Intimacy because it feels like a wonderful secret which fills us up collectively.

We can connect in a deep way with everyone we meet, our friends, lovers, kids, strangers on the street. And lift them up, as we are lifted up, by this connection with something so much greater than anything we can imagine.

So, Removing the barrier between self and other.  This is not a concept.  It is something which can be felt, investigated, resolved.  I am writing this to share that even the most hopeless cases can discover this. Please go deeper into this.  Don’t waste time.  This life is precious.  Thanks for reading!  You can do it!


*For those serious about exploring this, please work with a qualified teacher.  This practice is not suitable for everyone, so please work with a true teacher if possible.  Also, this process seems most effective in combination with some formal practice, which grounds the student in a form.