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You Cannot Find the Way. The Way Is Looking For You.

November 4, 2012

by Stephen Damon

The other day I came across an interesting quote attributed to a Zen master whose name I can’t remember.  He said, You cannot find the Way.  The Way is looking for you. It is as vast and empty as outer space.  It’s really not important to whom this quote was attributed as it is a very old idea that has been expressed in both eastern and western spiritual traditions as a means of helping us understand what is needed to make a connection to the truth.  If you can take in this enigmatic statement without trying to figure it out you will see that your way of thinking about your practice changes.

In one sense, finding a Dharma teacher or group has never been easier. Yes, we chant,  The unsurpassed, profound, and wondrous Dharma is rarely met with, even in a hundred, thousand, million kalpas, but the Dharma in all its forms has moved to the West and is available to anyone who is looking.  Go to any public event on Zen and you will no doubt come across dozens of flyers and postcards, detailing how to make contact with groups and “licensed” teachers.  And yet, this does not change the basic question that any seeker has: how do I find a group or a teacher who can direct me on the path?

Buddhism turns this question on its head.  It has given an answer that illustrates, not how difficult it is to find a teacher, but how difficult it is to be a true student!  The teaching says that the truth can only be given to those who seek the truth for its own sake.  So the question of how to find the Way becomes how do I find the genuine student in myself? In fact, Buddhism teaches that teachers are ready when we are.  The wheel of the Dharma has been turned three times and has spread all the way from India to the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.  But am I ready to receive it? Am I ready to see and hear it, accept and maintain it?  Am I ready to realize the meaning of the Tathagata’s truth?

Here it is useful to quote a few lines from the fifteenth century Hindu treatise, the Vednatasara (The Essence of the Doctrines of Vedanta) which details the awesome qualities of a qualified student: Just as a man carrying on his head a load of wood that caught fire would go rushing to a pond to quench the flames, even so should a adhikarin (a complete student ), scorched with the mad pains of the world, its birth, its death, its self-deluding futility, go rushing to a guru learned in the Vedas …The adhikarin is ready to serve, and prepared to serve in every way….The seeker keeps the mind from being troubled by sense objects…He must have made a decisive turning away from the world…and finally,he must have the power to endure without the slightest discomposure extremes of heat and cold, weal and woe, honor and abuse, loss and gain.

Reading this passage I am left with the feeling that I am not yet on the level of a qualified student.  I am not yet on the path.  Yes, I start each day by offering incense and prostrations to the Buddha on my altar, but do I know how to bow without bowing to anything?  Yes, I have dozens of books on Zen piled on my desk, but have I learned how to let the words and letters into the depths of my being? The answers to these and other similar questions is “no!” Staying with this impression I see that the question before me right now is not how do I find the Dharma as much as it is how do I prepare myself to let the Dharma in?  The Dharma is everywhere, expressed in myriad forms, waiting for me to present myself.



From → Zen Buddhism

One Comment
  1. I love that quote. & yup totally true, we tend to spend so much time fixating on the ‘right teacher’ that we fail to realise it’s equally, if not more important to be the ‘right student’, have the appropriate mindsets, etc 🙂

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