After sitting practice at the Zendo tonight, the teacher opened discussion with a question about the last chapter of Joko Beck’s Everyday Zen. In it she talks about a guy named Mushin who was waiting for a train. But not just any train. The “E” Train—to enlightenment. He waits and waits for his whole lifetime and a community of “waiters” grows up around him. Until one day, when he stops waiting, he realizes, “…from the very beginning he had been on the Train. In fact he was the Train. There was no need to catch the Train. Nothing to realize. Nowhere to go. Just the wholeness of life itself. All the ancient questions that were no questions answered themselves. And at last the Train evaporated, and there was just an old man sitting the night away.”
“How can we apply this to our practice?” was our teacher’s question. Someone said that he felt he could apply the idea by being more mindful of difficulties in his life. The teacher asked for a specific example. “Well, money is difficult. There’s never enough of it.” So how does this example relate to Joko’s parable of Mushin? If we examine the conditions, the answer will be clear.
This waiting is part of our circumstance. We all do it all the time and waiting for the future—more money, better President, is the refusal of reality, the denial of the now. It’s pissing on today while we dream about tomorrow, as we say in 12-Step rooms. This is a condition that we’re all familiar with, Zen or no Zen. But in Buddhism, we call it samsara. It’s part of the ignorance of our true reality, which is really, as our Zen teacher called it “The Pure Land of the Buddhas.” But we’re unaware that this is the base of our existence. And so we suffer by chasing after things that don’t make us happy in the long run.
If we’re unaware of our condition—samsara, where we spin endlessly on a cycle of desire, attachment, aversion—we have no chance, say the teachings, to break free. Moreover, the condition of samsara as we talk about in Tibetan Buddhism is even more dire—one of an infinite cycle of birth and death in miserable realms human and un-human. In our Zen group we don’t get into that because the topic is a bit unnerving. And if you mention the Hell Realm to an addict he might say, “You mean my first marriage or my third drunk driving arrest?”
If we’re having money problems, we can practice by observing the mental process of worrying about money. In meditation, we can easily see our thoughts, the resulting emotions, physical tensions and the outward manifestations of our concerns. But what is the real condition? Attachment to what we mistakenly think is the cause of happiness. In this case: cash.
We feel like we don’t have enough. Beneath that we are not enough. When we have any difficulty, with a little work and a lot of honesty, we can see that attachment or the flip side, aversion, is part of the problem. Venerable Robina always says that aversion is what happens when attachment doesn’t get what it wants. At the base the problem is attachment—to a concept called “enough money.” But if we don’t see that the cause of our difficulty is attachment, we can’t get free because we always struggle for more and more is never enough. We stay tangled and on and on it goes.
This is a tough one to see. Our minds come up with all kinds of rationalizations about why the fears are reasonable, the world is responsible and the situation is intolerable. We therefore can’t and won’t accept life as it is. But I think it’s easier to see if we look at this from an addict’s point of view. So let’s run through it again.
How it Relates to Addiction
Sure, Buddhism addresses attachment. But in the case of the addict it’s more like Attachment Gone Wild. For this we need a serious, specific form of medicine. For me, it’s the 12-Steps and my Buddhist practices. As a 12-Step Buddhist, I’m fully aware of this need to know the condition at a deep level because failure to stay in that knowledge almost cost me my life—more than once. It’s about knowing what the condition is and the condition is samsara. Part of what keeps us stuck in samsara is attachment. We just won’t let go, no matter how bad it hurts.
As addicts, we’ve spent our lives deep in attachment to our drugs of choice, whatever they may be. Attachment affects everything we do, think, say and feel. For us, teachings on attachment are a no brainer. Tell us we’re attached to our betting, babes, booze or benzos and we’ll give you an eyebrow raise and an, “And your point is?”
Addicts need a deep spiritual realization of the condition of addiction before the problem can effectively be addressed. Hence, Step One: admitting we’re powerless over addiction and that our lives are unmanageable. We need to see addict samsara—our condition. The first step helps us do that. This is the beginning of recovery and spiritual freedom for us. But it’s a process, just like sitting Zazen, watching our minds, noticing our difficulties with money. To stay in the solution, we need to keep returning our minds to the reality of our condition, however many times it takes.
One of the other students in the Zendo suggested that this process; looking at the condition of our minds, returning to the present moment, noticing our attachment, is kind of like digestion. The teacher echoed my thoughts in saying that Zen practice is like adding the right enzymes. As we engage in observing, not reacting and being present to our lives, we become more familiar with what we really are underneath all the concepts, grasping, attachment and addiction. We take a bite of Zen, digest samsara and shit out realization. Clean like a whistle. A Train whistle even.
May all you and all beings realize this pristine present moment of absolute Buddha Nature as the uncorrected, true state of all the Pure Lands of all the Buddhas.
How many Buddhas do you give this article?