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The Heart Sutra
Part 6

Sojun Mel Weitsman

Given at
Camp New Hope, NC
October, 1994

We say, "How do I practice in my daily life?" It’s one thing to go to a zendo. A zendo has an atmosphere. You walk into the zendo and the first thing you do is to put your hands together and bow. Then there are all of these black cushions, and a clean floor, an altar and incense; you sit down and you know this is Zen practice. But then, when you turn around and go out into the road, it’s all something else. So these are the forms of Zen practice. Formality is important because the formality brings our consciousness to attention: this is the practice. But then we go out and all the forms are not the forms of practice. The task of the Zen student is to make, or turn, all the forms in which you find yourself into the forms of practice. Here the form is given to you. Out there, you have to create it.

How do you turn all the forms that you find outside into a form of practice so that when you leave the zendo the zendo is extended to wherever you are? That’s why it’s important to have Sangha. Each one of us is Buddha. The teaching is the Dharma. But our foundation is the Sangha. It’s easy to go out into the world and get lost: "I don’t know how to practice out of here, you know." So sangha is really important because together we give each other a sense of what practice is, and we support each other’s practice as sangha. Sangha is a touchstone for support and understanding, and for acknowledgement. That’s why it’s important to have a temple or some place where you come together and interact with each other, work together, discuss together, sit together.

I think it would be very good to have a meeting of the sangha, some kind of...I don’t want to call it, a seminar...a day that you come together and discuss how to practice in the world, how to extend your practice into the world. Sit a few periods of zazen and then spend the morning discussing, "how does everybody do this? What are our problems?" Then you have lunch, and in the afternoon you continue. You get some close feeling and intimacy, and you know that if you are having some problems you can contact somebody. There is a mutual feeling, and you know that you are not alone when you are out there by yourself. I think this is very important. I think that when I come back here, whenever that is, that’s what I would like to do. You know, when I come, we mostly sit zazen, and then I go away. But I think the next time I come I would like to do something more like that. More like discussing with you what practice is in the world and your daily life.

Keeping the same kind of equanimity and settled mind that you have in zazen in your daily life is really the basis. We can talk about various activities that help you to realize you’re practicing in your daily life, but, basically, the point is to maintain that deep settled mind, that mind which is egoless, actually. In zazen, and especially in sesshin, day after day, the ego diminishes. Self-delusion diminishes, self-belief diminishes, self-arrogance diminishes, and self-infatuation diminishes. Buddha is sitting zazen. If you say "I am sitting zazen," that’s egotistical. "My legs hurt": that’s egotistical. I remember Suzuki Roshi always used to say, "is just painful legs sitting on a black cushion." Painful legs. Not, "my legs hurt." Just, there is pain in these legs. Just let go of "I" and "mine," "me" and "my." We need some way to refer to it, so we say "me" and "my" and "I." But we have to be careful not to believe in it. In our daily life, how do we act in a non-egotistical way? That’s what we should be always looking at...that’s our koan. It’s important to be aware. We talk about mindfulness, and mindfulness has many aspects. We think sometimes of mindfulness as the way we set the table or the way we take care of certain things, which is mindfulness. But the most important aspect of mindfulness is not forgetting to be aware when we are being self centered, when we are being selfish.

The main reading of the sutra is that everything exists interdependently, and that we must find our way within the problems of our life, not by avoiding them. And to let go, release, or renunciation, actually. Renunciation sometimes means to put something down. But what renunciation means here is to let go of our ego and to let go of self centeredness in the midst of our problems, of our life, in the midst of our suffering. Knowing that we will continue to have suffering, and continue to make mistakes, and continue to have problems. Sometimes we think, "Oh, when I get enlightened, I won’t have any more problems." "When I get enlightened I won’t have any more pain." That’s the way the Hinayanists used to think: eliminate all the causes of pain and suffering. In the Lotus Sutra, Buddha gave a sermon and there were five hundred Pratyetka-buddhas [solitary or self-enlightened Buddhas] in the audience. He said, "Your nirvana is not the true nirvana." They were very much insulted, and they all got up and walked out. Anyway, that’s the Lotus Sutra.

Sometimes we worry about our practice. You know, "I can’t practice because I am such a bad person, and I have so many obstacles, and I have so many problems, and I am not a very good Zen student" and so forth. We think to ourselves, "as soon as I get rid of all of these problems, and as soon as I get rid of all of these obstacles, then I can start practicing" and that ain’t it. When we come to practice we bring all our problems and all our obstacles, and all our bullshit with us, and within that is where we have to find our renunciation. So it’s a struggle. Sometimes people come and look around Zen Center and say, "I don’t see any enlightened people here. All I see is a bunch of people with problems. These people have been studying for years and they still have all of these problems." Yes, that’s true. Great Zen students full of problems, and suffering, and pain, but there is still something else besides that.

Copyright Sojun Mel Weitsman, 1999

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