Practicing our Faults in Zen

In a recent post by Jaye over at digitalZENDO he mentioned that…

1. There’s only one barrier to not Awakening the Mind. Ourselves. Intellect can be a nice prize, but it doesn’t work out to well in Zen. I’m not sure if I mentioned this but it’s possible to be “too smart,” in Zen. Sometimes we are so intellectual that it makes it impossible to connect and express our intuitive, non-analytical nature. Put another way, intellectualizing is like having a hurricane force wind and then trying to shoot an arrow though a keyhole that’s 300 feet away. Good luck with that.

…and while Jaye had a myriad of good points over there and I would love to comment on all of them, I am going to stick with just the concept of over-intellectualizing Zen practice.

When we read too much and attach to much to the philosophy of Buddhism I think we lose touch with the practical, day to day practice of Zen. This is not to say that study is bad or detrimental but it can not be our sole understanding of Buddhism. If we only understand Buddhism through the written record of the sutras or recent commentaries we are limiting ourselves to the understanding of how others practice rather than how we practice.

So…how do we practice? [I am taking a quick break to play in the dirt with Eliza] The quick answer is – we strive. That is it. We strive to be better parents, neighbors, workers, bosses, spouses and offspring. How we do that is completely up to the individual and that individual’s history. When people start tossing out terms like “enlightenment”, “Luminous Mind” or “Buddha-Nature” they are over-intellectualizing it. We need to move away from the actualizations of those concepts and more towards the actions we take. Those actions will be determined by our faults. If we need to intellectualize anything – we should intellectualize how much we suck in the Three Worlds (I sucked in the past, I suck in the present and in all likelihood I will suck in the future).

To borrow the metaphor introduced by Jaye: We need to stop staring at the keyhole and start paying attention to the actual crafting of our arrows and the stringing of our bows. Without which we will never even have a ghost of a chance of hitting that keyhole.

In the words of Suzuki Shosan:

I don’t know the value of the Buddha Way but when it comes to my faults, I know them all too well…you’ll have to be prepared to hear over and over about my regret…I know of nothing else of value. You may think that I’m just being humble, but I’m actually sinking into the lowest pit of hell.

I agree. All I know are my faults and those faults craft my present and future practice. I am striving to better myself and remove those faults. Only then can I fashion an arrow to hit that keyhole.



One thought on “Practicing our Faults in Zen

  1. I think an important point to remember is that when striving toward enlightenment, you aren't gaining anything; instead you're loosing all those faults and attachments and nonsense. We're already a bunch of little buddhas. We just don't see it and feel it and live it. Nice point here Jack 🙂

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