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October 23, 2012

by Stephen Damon

Yesterday, preparing for our sangha’s Monday night sitting, I read Suzuki Roshi’s chapter, Study Yourself.  This is one of my favorite chapters in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind in which he alludes to Dogen’s Genjo Koan, 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 enlightened by myriad things. I have studied this passage for the better part of my life in Zen, but it still remains fresh and immediately relevant to whatever I am doing at the moment.  Suzuki adds a short statement to Dogen that I found very helpful.  He says, Through the teaching we may understand our human nature.  So I spent the better part of my day ruminating on these comments in preparation for the dharma discussion after our sitting and service.

While I was busy transforming the chapel of Sei Ko Kai Episcopal Church into a small zendo my mind was filled with thoughts about the third presidential debate that I had been listening to on the way to the Church.  After I finished putting out the zabutons and zafus and setting up our altar, I checked my iphone for updated scores on the Giant’s playoff game.  I then turned off my phone and took my seat on my zafu. As I did so, I became acutely aware of the thoughts about the debate and the ballgame that were agitating my mind and producing tensions throughout my body.  I felt as if my entire body/mind was locked in a state of tension. 

Staying with this impression I began to see what I was experiencing from the point of view of what I had studied about attachment and letting go.  It wasn’t the debate or the ballgame or the weather or the price of milk that was making me feel the way I was.  I was creating tension by holding on to, and identifying with, thoughts and emotions. This was attachment, pure and simple.

Yes, I had studied this part of the teaching for many years, but I had never experienced its truth as distinctly and powerfully before. I saw that “this is what I do all the time.” Without trying to do anything, I saw that I had unclenched my grip, allowing my thoughts and worries and dreams to take off like a child’s kite with a broken string.   I became more and more free and relaxed and aware of where I was and what I would be doing for the evening. I felt as if I had just been freed from a lifetime of solitary imprisonment.  This may have been a small experience that lasted but a minute or two, but it was the first real taste of “liberation” that I had in a long time.

I never would have had that experience had I not studied the dharma.  Suzuki was right—through the teaching I was able to understand who I was.  I got off my seat and did three prostrations in front of our altar. I returned to my seat and waited for the sangha to arrive on a rainy night in mid October.  Only one person showed up, but I was more grateful than ever for our Monday night sittings than I had ever been before. 

After the meeting was over and we had repacked our car I thanked Greg for coming and he thanked me for being there.  



From → Zen Buddhism

  1. I want to thank you for your teaching. Your honesty is refreshing, and your insight is warm. Thank you.

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