Flowers Fall & Weeds Grow
This practice of ours, just sitting, sometimes feels so simple, that I can't imagine what more needs to be said about it, or why anyone would want to listen to one more Dharma talk! When we just sit, we don't seem to be doing anything special: allowing ourselves just to breathe, to feel our body, to think our thoughts, and to open our senses to the world around us. What could be simpler? And all of us have the sense of that simplicity, that naturalness in our practice at least some of the time, But then, inevitably, some difficulty arises. Some restlessness in our minds, some pain in our body, some emotional turmoil or tension in ourselves that we don't want to accept. And when we have difficulty, then we want to listen to talks and hear explanations, because implicitly, we imagine we're going to learn some trick or technique to help us make the difficulty go away.
So, because we all have this tendency to see difficulty as something that intrudes on or interrupts the simple, natural flow of practice we want to be having, we need to look more carefully into this whole business of simplicity and difficulty and really see what their relationship is to one another. Actually, it's not so very different from what happens in a therapeutic relationship as well. That too, can seem very simple. Freud's basic rule was that the patient simply say whatever came to his or her mind. We sit in a room with a fellow human being, and simply put into words whatever happens to be going through our minds. The other person listens, sometimes they respond or offer some comment or reaction of their own. But as we all know, it rarely stays that simple for long. We find ourselves reluctant to speak completely openly or honestly in front of others. We worry about the impression we're making or how well we're being understood. No matter how hard we try to comply with that simple, basic rule, sooner or latter we find ourselves evading it, trying to censure or control what we say, trying to elicit a certain kind of response or sympathy from the other person.
Whether in the zendo or in the therapy office, the problem is the same. And it basically comes down to the "problem" of impermanence. Whatever state of mind or relationship we try to hold onto, at some point it changes in ways that we can't control. And when the moment starts to change in ways that make us uncomfortable, suddenly simplicity turns into difficulty. We don't want the next moment to carry us there. And we start thinking we are doing something wrong - or the therapist is doing something wrong - because we think that we ought to be able avoid one way or another this aspect of life that's making us uncomfortable. But any relationship, no matter how good will have lapses and complications. I remember my own analyst, a man who I felt was a very kind, and even wise man, even after I had been his patient for many years, never quite learned to pronounce my name correctly. He always said "Magid" (with a hard "g") instead of "Magid." Now and then I'd correct him, but he never got it! And there was no way to keep that lapse on his part from "intruding" on our relationship - which part of me of course, wanted to think of as very unique and special, to him, as well as to me. But it wasn't that simple.
Dogen addresses this problem of simplicity vs difficulty right at the beginning of the Genjokoan. He says that Buddha taught us that the fundamental fact of our life is that each thing is perfect just as it is. Each moment, there is just this.And that moment lacks nothing. And yet, he says, and yet we're sad when flowers fall, and don't like that weeds continue to grow. When we first think about, it seems that the world or the state of mind, in which everything is perfect just as it is must be completely different from the world in which we feel that sad flowers fall. But they are the same world, the same basic reality. Our sadness, our dislike of weeds, each is just another variety of this moment. And that variety continues forever. The world of difference and comparison and likes and dislikes is an ongoing manifestation of the Absolute, of the perfection of this moment. The goal of our practice is not the elimination of emotional reaction. We will always feel that regret Dogen speaks of when flowers fall, when a parent dies, as we get old, and so on. It's the fantasy that we can somehow escape all that that sets up a false dichotomy between simplicity and difficulty. And when we create that dichotomy, we can practice for years always vaguely feeling we're not getting it right. But when we allow difficulty to freely come and go in our life, when we recognize it as an inescapable aspect of Life, it becomes part of the essential simplicity of Life. One thing follows another. Flowers fall and weeds grow. Very simple. Very difficult.