This Very Point
By Nyogen Roshi
Those of us who practice are actually lucky when we encounter difficult times.
People who don’t experience difficulty live in a neutral world. They know negative things occur but they’re pretty sure the bad stuff is going to be taken care of and the good guys will win and everyone is going to live happily ever after. That isn’t the way it is and we waste a lot of our lives playing along in that deluded state. We dislike it when older people tell us how quickly time goes; not until we get older ourselves do we appreciate the truth of it.
Recently I’ve been listening to dramas told by members of the sangha who are caring for the troubled, sick and dying. So many trials and tribulations. So much turning and churning, agony and fear for those who are trapped in delusion.
Even now some of you can get caught in the flow of samsara, or delusion. Yet you’ve also learned how to pull back to the center. That’s the point, to stay in this centered place of non-distracted awareness. We are lucky when difficulty arises and we can come back to the point of our practice.
This non-distracted awareness is a breakthrough experience that cannot be described or conceptualized. If you think you have it, it’s a sure sign that you don’t. The very thought that you “have it” is your conceptual mind. You have to go beyond that. You must poke through the flow of egocentric thought that gives rise to samsara. That’s the mind that churns all day with its judgments, likes and dislikes. All day back and forth, “I like this. I don’t like that. Right. Wrong. Up. Down. Black. White.” That mind. It’s not the Buddha Mind we speak of in practice but rather the egocentric ruminating mind—the mind that keeps us trapped and produces the world of samsara or delusion.
If you look in a Buddhist dictionary, “samadhi” is defined as a form of concentration, usually on a single point. What is this point you must come to? Where is this point? Masters spend years reaching a point that, in a sense, cannot be found. Here’s a hint. The Buddha himself says that you are the universe. The old masters refer to you as “creation unfolding” and yet, how many of you even like yourselves, are comfortable with yourselves and find your life exciting? Let’s explore this.
The Big Bang Theory tells us that the universe began with a big explosion and, one day, it’s going to implode into a space smaller than an atom. You can’t imagine the universe, so just imagine your house imploded, squeezed down into something smaller than the tip of a pin. Be honest: you can’t really conceive of it in an experiential way. The scientists say the whole universe is going to implode—but where is that point of implosion? This is such an astounding revelation. It’s nowhere, that’s where it is. None of that occurs without your mind to experience it and nobody can prove that anything exists outside of the interaction with your mind. You may produce a picture in your mind. You may even produce a picture in your hand, but all you’re showing me is what’s here right now. You cannot show me the past; you cannot show me the future. The only thing that you can ever experience is this single point—now.
Scientists will never get it right because they were looking in the wrong place.They think that when they look at the universe they’re looking back in time. No, they’re not. There is no past. They are messing around in true delusion. The past isn’t floating around out there some place. There has never been a past. There will never be a future. There is only now. This single point. If you don’t see that you had better get on the zazen cushion and start to slow it all down. Have some fun. Begin to realize the most amazing thing. This eternal now is what you are.
Dzogchen masters tell you to meditate with eyes neither open nor closed, just looking down into space. That doesn’t mean looking down and scoping out the rug, seeing zigzag patterns and cartoon characters. Just look blankly into space and hold it and contrive nothing. Dzogchen masters don’t meditate or do anything. They just sit there. Shikantaza, which is the highest form of Zen meditation, is the same thing. Not doing anything. This is the most difficult form of practice. I don’t mean sitting there thinking you need a bigger boat or that Sally Jean is really cute or wondering what people think of you. That’s being asleep and you can do that forever quite easily.
Sit here now and experience this point that the scientists can’t locate. They can’t locate it because you are that point and in that state there is no self or other and the dualistic mind simply drops away. It doesn’t mean non-existence.
This now, by anyone’s definition, is simply pure awareness but it is not unfeeling or cold. It can appreciate sunsets, relish flavors and savor aromas. It can resonate with compassion wherever it experiences suffering, even though all suffering is illusory and empty. Now is just a process that is moving on. We watch children go from babies to toddlers to teenagers and young adults. At the same time we see in our own midst friends with inoperable cancer, or undergoing horrific treatments, and others dying. We are watching waves lash upon the shore. This is samsara but it’s also the amazing dance of creation. If you can penetrate through the delusional wall of the egocentric mind, you can sear away the ignorance that has you believing you are separate from the universe. Once that drops away, the world of oneness appears and it is free of fear and suffering.
The Heart Sutra says, “It completely clears all pain.” Do you believe that? If you don’t, that may be why you can’t take this forward step or turn the light inward. This beautiful dance will free you from all anxiety. All those who have negotiated the journey have returned to tell us to hurry to the other shore. Once I reach this single spot and simply allow the waves to rise up and settle down I will experience my life in a totally different way. I will not waste it. I will continue to cultivate and refine it forever. The old masters have said this to us.
This point of single-minded concentration is and always will be eternal. This is what is so astounding. And most of us don’t feel that it is important enough to make a lukewarm effort to actualize it. In truth there is nothing else that is equal to it. Everything else you do in life will turn to ashes.
Every day we watch the frustrations and convulsions, the frantic blindness of those who cannot see because they live entirely in their heads. This is not to speak poorly of them because they are in great suffering. We watch these people cry out, “I am a competent human being! I control the things around me!” That’s delusion and if you believe that is the way it is, then you simply haven’t been attentive. Look carefully. Things are dropping away. From the time you are a child, things come and go—pets, relatives, friends, the changing seasons. It is right there in front of you. You will hold onto nothing and yet most of you think you will forever.
Maezumi Roshi used to say that it’s alright if you don’t get it because you are still safely in the hands of the Buddha. That’s true. It’s okay if you don’t get it because you can’t go any place else, you are in fact this very point. But do you want to tumble in nightmares, tossed by fear and anxiety and crushed by delusion? Why not step out into the bright sunlight of the enlightened life?
The whole focus of the Hazy Moon is to realize and actualize the enlightened life. I don’t mean that in a superficial way.There should be no clamoring for position or spiritual power. I believe that, for a moment at least, true spiritual actualization is possible. This is what Dogen Zenji means when he says that you will taste the water and you will know whether it is wet, whether it is cool or warm. Your knowing is unshakable. Forget the theories, the charismatic people convincing you of this or that. Once you taste the water you know. You become secure and exhibit an amazing form of confidence. When it dawns you will become very secure where you stand.
Once in my life I went through a difficult time and I felt like I was on fire. The pain and the suffering were so intense. The only thing my teacher could tell me was to sit and that the flames would subside. It was a tough way to go but it brought me here. I was forced to deal with the reality of delusion.
Difficulties are all part of the exciting dance. Few people will take this most precious opportunity to heart despite the fact that it is your only place of refuge. This very point is the only way out of the crazy dilemma you’re in.