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You’ll never be greater than yourself

March 3, 2012

By Stephen Damon

I’ve been thinking about an old story that I’ve heard and retold many times.  I’d like to share it with you this morning.

One day, as the monk Baso sat in zazen, his teacher passed by and asked him what he was doing.  “I want to become a Buddha,” said Baso.

His teacher immediately picked up a tile and started polishing it.

“What are you doing,” asked Baso.

“I’m polishing this tile to make a mirror,” said his teacher.

“Ridiculous,”said Baso.  “How can your polishing make that tile a mirror?”

“How can your zazen make you a Buddha,” replied his teacher.

The meaning of this story is very clear, but it goes against our natural way of looking at why we take up a meditation practice, so I’d like to add just a few words of commentary.

Many of us first become interested in a meditation practice as a way of dealing with stress and other difficulties of our everyday life.  Meditation often does help us in that way,  but that is not the point of Soto Zen practice.  Zazen is not a means to an end.  It is the means and the end, the alpha and the omega.  It includes everything.  It is not a meditation technique which we use in order to reach a special state of mind. To sit zazen is nothing other than expressing what we already are: our original nature.  As Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of Zen, said, Zen is the direct pointing to the human mind. Nothing could be more simple, yet more demanding.

There is no need to go anywhere or do anything—everything you need is inside you, just as you are.  Our life is fundamentally perfect and reaches everywhere.  We do not sit zazen to change what we are; we do not sit zazen to gain enlightenment or anything else. There is no duality between our practice and realization. Sitting is an expression of our original nature, which is hidden from us by layers of delusion. When we sit we breathe in total awareness and let everything else fall away.  When we let go of our thoughts, memories, emotions—when we let go of everything, we are left with our self.  And this self is Buddha; nothing more and nothing else.  As Bob Dylan said, As great as you are, you’ll never be greater than yourself.



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