Life Without Deception

During our Saturday morning service, we recite the names of the Buddhist teachers from India, through China, and Japan. They were pioneers who dedicated their lives to maintaining and preserving this practice for future generations. We chant their names to acknowledge their effort on our behalf.

Prior to reciting the name of the historical Buddha, we first chant the names of the seven “Buddhas of Antiquity,” also known as the “Buddhas before Buddha.” They were not actual people; they preceded Buddha in a symbolic way. When we chant these names we are reminded that the appearance of the historical, human Buddha was not the beginning of practice, not the birth of Truth. Practice existed before the person was born who became known as Buddha, before the first person or thing appeared on earth, before the material world appeared. This means that our life and all phenomenon in it are the continuation and expression of something vast and infinite.

Zen practice is the immediate experience of being completely involved in our ordinary, impermanent world of coming and going, in accordance with the never ending true nature of all things. It is when we cannot appreciate the true nature of things that we become distracted by their transient, attractive qualities – their “shiny” appearance – and attached to the personal benefits they promise to provide.

Those “shiny” things include our own personal beliefs, which can cause us to think that the things we do and the things we believe are the most important and without fault. When we see ourselves in this way, we are actually inflating a vision of our self. Nurturing the vision may feel satisfying for a short time but cannot be fulfilling or deeply satisfying in a real sense, even if we are very successful in attaining various goals in our life.

We humans can be easily deceived by the things of the world and we are very effective at deceiving our selves and each other. Our tendency towards deception maintains the myth of our self and our sense of self-importance. Deception is a story we make up about our everyday self; it interferes with knowing our true self, who we really are, and what our life is meant to be doing. Only by understanding things and our self in the truest sense – beyond “shiny-ness” and deception – can we satisfy our life.

These days, we talk about how the busyness and complexities of the modern world make us feel anxious and out of balance. But the problem we experience is not due to busyness: it arises when our life is unexamined and unobserved. So actually we ourselves create problems for our self and for others without realizing it. Zen practice enables us to regain the capacity to observe fully; zazen is how we learn to do the work of going beyond deception. When we do not make up stories, there are no complications and no anxieties, even though we are immersed in busyness.

Original Buddhism says that there are four kinds of people in this world: the one who torments himself, the one who torments others, the one who torments himself and others, and the one who does not torment anybody. Zen practice is a reminder of how to live without anxiety and without torment. It is like a refresher course in living according to our true nature, beyond self importance, beyond what the ego craves.

The Buddhist way may seem to conflict with the ways of modern daily life. Our practice asks us to let go of the extraneous things we normally carry around in our mind, the things that distract us from seeing things and situations as they really are. Practice emphasizes allowing the mind to be empty of the extraneous so it can be attentive and aware of what is real and really going on. By contrast, the modern world asks us to hold many things in our mind at once so that we can be efficient and accomplish much in the shortest time. Because we have developed this habit of acting and acquiring in a speedy way, we may have a hard time adjusting to calm, quiet practice.

Zen practice offers the opportunity to learn how to live in the speedy world without feeling overwhelmed. Spiritual practice is the expression of our original nature that exists before the speedy everyday world came into existence. When we can live according to our true nature, we actually do not feel pressure to accomplish or acquire anything. Then we can be empty and ready for whatever appears.

Until we have a feeling or sense of zazen mind or original nature, everyday difficulties can be hard to face. Sometimes we have to make hard choices, commonly known as the “lesser of two evils.” One example is the conflict between taking care of our own personal desire of the moment or taking care of what someone else may need right now. But our true nature and our practice is firm about honestly facing our choices and doing what we must do, based on our recognition of what is most beneficial and least harmful to others. Moving ahead with integrity in the midst of painful choices is itself zazen mind. But we are always at risk of fooling ourselves to not see what we must do in any situation. So we practice to learn and strengthen our capacity to make creative, selfless choices.

When we are guided by a sense of the spiritual nature of ourselves and all things, we simply continue to practice awareness and realize confidence in our true self. Then we will know what to do in difficult or even threatening situations. Zen practice is characterized by a determination and discipline of mind preparing us to know what to do without being deterred by anxiety. We will not be confused by circumstances when we recognize spiritual practice as the foundation of our life. When our life is based on zazen, we know what to do – we are always practicing awareness. So no need to think or scheme too much, no need to be involved in heavy-duty discriminating all the time.

When the mind of practice pervades our life, we behave naturally, according to our original true nature. When something difficult or painful arises, our effort will come from true self and we will not feel overwhelmed by concern for a perfect result. When our effort is based on our original self, the outcome will always be good for people. And when we understand this point, there are no problems.