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January 2019 Musings
If “our goodness is already established,” one might ask why we have choosen to focus an entire year of practice on Making a Change for Good? I was struck by the similarity of this question to the one that drove the great Zen Master Dogen to leave his homeland in Japan in search of answers. Dogen’s question was posed this way: If we’re already enlightened, why do we need to practice meditation? If we’re already Buddhas, why do we need to walk a spiritual path to attain Buddhahood?   
Dogen’s question presumes enlightenment is a given and everything else follows! But who among us began practice with that premise? Who among us presumed our inherent goodness as the starting assumption of our spiritual journey?
Underlying almost any change we want to make is a devastating and unexamined assumption: There is something wrong with how things are and making the change will result in things being different/better.
If we could eat less sugar
If we could keep to a fitness program
If we could meditate more
If we could pay bills on time
If we could stop yelling and complaining
If we could sign up for more practice offerings
Then… WHAT?
I would be different, more lovable, more loving, more acceptable, more accepting. People would be more likely to hear me, see me, love me, approve of me. And perhaps when that happens circumstances will be happier. Until we bring conscious awareness to it, we don’t grasp the tangled illogic of this reasoning! In fact, without conscious awareness, we don’t recognize what’s being kept in place under a seemingly benign and heartfelt wish to make a change for good. Without conscious awareness, we cannot see that what’s operating us is a near constant process that negates our inherent goodness and obfuscates our felt sense that our goodness is already established.
Dogen reports receiving an answer to his question during a particularly difficult sesshin at a monastery. The answer he “saw”: “Practice IS Enlightenment.” If we sit in meditation to achieve enlightenment, we assume a world in which a duality of enlightened and unenlightened exists. If we sit on the cushion to realize the Buddha Nature that is us, we’re still entertaining the possibility of something in existence that is not Buddha Nature.
So, we simply have to sit. Sitting is the expression of the embodiment of the Buddha Nature that is. If we come from an assumption that something is wrong with “me,” or if we attempt to attain a state of “there is nothing wrong with me,” we’re still caught in a process of duality and negation from which it’s impossible to realize our inherent Buddha Nature. We have to approach the cushion and sit until we drop out of negation/duality/separation. Or as Dogen put it, till it drops us!
In Dogen’s words:
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.
So, we practice “making a change for good” not as a path of self/ego improvement but as a way of embodying our inherent goodness. Or once more in Dogen’s words: “If you want to see things just as they are, then you yourself must practice just as you are.”
In training ourselves in this way, we start from a different presumption. A change in behavior is no longer a condition for acceptance. A commitment not to eat sugar is no longer about eating or not eating sugar. It’s a way to dissolve the illusion of a “me” that is deemed acceptable or unacceptable. Behavior changes are simply vehicles through which we recognize Life in places where we have not previously.
When we make commitments from within the context of Unconditional Acceptance, we practice Compassionate endeavor that results in goodness. Each commitment we make brings attention to a process of ego that masks our inherent goodness. As we bring conscious awareness to that “ignorance,” the veil falls away to reveal the goodness there is. Each endeavor we undertake compassionately results in a greater awareness of the goodness that is already established.
Dogen describes practice as “arriving enlightenment.” We notice attention is on a conditioned process, we acknowledge the awareness that is aware, we train attention to attend to awareness. In this way, we train ourselves to identify with the Awareness that is aware, that is All That Is. In Dogen’s words again:
The true person is
Not anyone in particular;
But like the deep blue color of the sky,
It is everyone,
Everywhere in the world.
In gasshō,