by Rev. Kinrei Bassis
The core of Buddhist training is our efforts to direct our lives in the direction of that which will give us liberation from suffering. This mean we have to look at what we are asking for in our life. Seeking nothing is pointing us to stop looking for life to give more of what we desire but instead to look towards letting go and opening our hearts to what we are always being given.
Bodhidharma, the Indian Buddhist monk who brought the Zen Buddhist tradition to China, gave some very concise but profound teaching on seeking nothing. In a short work, The Outline of Practice, Bodhidharma wrote the following, “To enter by practice refers to four all-inclusive practices: Suffering injustice, adapting to conditions, seeking nothing, and practicing the Dharma.
Bodhidharma-Third practice, Seeking Nothing.
“People of this world are deluded. They’re always longing for something-always, in a word, seeking. But the wise wake up. They choose reason over custom. They fix their minds on the sublime and let their bodies change with the seasons. All phenomena are empty. They contain nothing worth desiring. Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity! To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house. To have a body is to suffer. Does anyone with a body know complete peace? Those who understand this detach themselves from all that exists and stop imagining or seeking anything. The sutras say, “To seek is to suffer. To seek nothing is bliss.” When you seek nothing, you’re on the Path.”
I remember meeting with a mixed group of people from different spiritual traditions and someone said to me, it is good that you are a seeker. And I thought to myself, I am not seeking. I am trying to trust that I already have what I would be seeking. The very word Buddha means awakened and Buddhist training is awakening that knowledge that we already possess what we are seeking. In this Soto Zen tradition, one of our daily morning service scriptures is The Most Excellent Mirror Samadhi and it begins with the following:
The Buddhas and the Ancestors have all directly handed down this basic Truth:Preserve well for you now have; this is all.
How do we learn to trust that we now have all that we really need. I know my little self is always letting me know it various needs and desires. When I first started practicing Buddhism at Shasta Abbey, I saw posters with a saying by Great Master Keizan, “Every day is a good day.” I remember my gut level response was hell no. I would have days that were clearly bad days. It took me a long time to realize, it was not the days that were bad but simply my deluded reaction to the difficult conditions I was dealing with. I was making my day into suffering by rejecting what I was being given that day.
Everyone starts Buddhist practice with desire. We want to change things, to have less suffering and be more happiness and peace. But we need to use this deep desire which brings us to Buddhism so that we can to let go clinging to all our specific desires. If we are always desiring something that hasn’t yet happened, if we want things to be other than they are, then this will be the cause of more suffering.
The deep underlying reason we meditate is to learn that we can find peaceful heart no matter what conditions we are experiencing. In the midst of strong emotions like fear, desire, worry, we have the opportunity to let go and find a deeper place within hearts and minds that can learn to know that nothing fundamental is being touched by these strong emotions and thoughts. Instead of the compulsive need to change some condition, we need to be still and cultivate the trust that what we really need to do is “preserve well for you now have; this is all.”
People of this world are deluded. They’re always longing for something-always, in a word, seeking. But the wise wake up.
Life is like someone is thirsty but they keep trying to drink that which will not satisfy the thirst. The world is full of people thinking that gratifying some desire will allow them to find real happiness. Thinking the way to find happiness is to have the success that we want, to gain the money and material stuff we wish for, to get the right partner, the right friends, the right government. True wisdom is found by trusting and then experiencing that we really do not need anything, that we already possess the limitless water that satisfies all our thirst.
They fix their minds on the sublime and let their bodies change with the seasons.
The conditions in life keep changing and our bodies after youth are in a downward slope to old age and death. Yet we will find much suffering if we cling to the conditions of our body. The sublime is the indescribable place that we can only find by not clinging to our many desires. Instead we need to open our hearts with acceptance to whatever life is giving us. This sublime has many words in Buddhism that points us to this indescribable place which is unbounded and transcends birth and death and all worldly conditions. Fixing our minds on the sublime means we are trying to learn to stop ourselves from so strongly identifying with our little self and its self-importance. What we are letting go of is the fixation with what happens to this little me. Being self absorbed causes us to grasp at conditions and spin with desire. For instance, our body is just another condition that keeps changing but what is sublime and real will not be affected by what happens to our body.
All phenomena are empty. They contain nothing worth desiring. Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity! To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house.
Emptiness in Buddhism is often misunderstood. It is not that conditions have no meaning or significance. Most of what I am spending my time in daily life is making the best of the all the various conditions I am dealing with. Trying to have a successful result in my work, taking care of my health, being responsible and thoughtful with finances, find ways to be helpful to others, are all important aspects of my Buddhist training. Yet when I stop viewing whatever I am doing through the prism of my wants and fears, I can be open to the truth of impermanence and experience the ever presence of change washing through everything. This points me to the basic truth of the inherent insignificance and relative unimportance of everything I am trying to accomplish. For instance death seems profound yet nothing is more mundane and ordinary. Every living thing is on the path of dying. Not only is every person moving towards death, but so is every sentient being, every insect, mammal, and plant.
Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity! To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house. To have a body is to suffer. Does anyone with a body know complete peace?
Sometimes we can seemingly get a handle on our life. We can have a good work situation, good relationships. We can find life enjoyable. Despite the present lack of major difficulties, we are still living in a burning house. At anytime, unfortunate karma can happen. We can come down with cancer, we lose our job, we can have financial hardships. Our spouse can leave us or die. Our children can be ill or suicidal. We are never in full control of what life will be giving us and no matter what we do, we all will face considerable suffering as we go through our life. If nothing else we can never escape from old age, disease and death. Thus our life and everything that we love and care about, is ephemeral and must eventually vanish. As long as we cling to having our life go the way we think is necessary in order to make us happy, we are going to frequently be filled with worry, anxiety and fear since bad things can and will happen to us and will also happen to those we care about and love.
Those who understand this detach themselves from all that exists and stop imagining or seeking anything. The sutras say, “To seek is to suffer. To seek nothing is bliss.” When you seek nothing, you’re on the Path.
How do we seek nothing? How do we drop our expectations? How do we find “that we have all”? For me, the key is to be mindful of this truth of not seeking. It is trying to keep in mind this truth as Right Viewas I deal with the many difficult conditions of daily life. One way I have used to try to keep this Right View in my mind, is often telling myself when something is not going the way I want, “Nothing is going on here”. It is my self importance, the way I make my life into a drama, this is what transforms my difficulties into suffering. Sometimes when someone is finding some difficulty overwhelming, I tell them “nothing is going on here” and it can cut through the importance they are giving the difficulty and helps them to see deeper into what is happening. For instance, I remind myself that if I was seriously ill tomorrow, all the important things I think I must do, would suddenly be dropped and the whole world will go along fine without me doing anything useful. Our suffering comes out of the importance we give to what is happening. The world is not outside us but we make the world with our minds spinning with our concerns, with our desires, with our fears. We allow this world of desire to fill our minds and then wonder why it cannot see beyond our attachments and why it cannot find peace. Our strong desires, our hard and set opinions, our harsh judgments, they all close our hearts and minds and trap us in a life that is not peaceful or happy.
We are cultivating the not seeking by learning to relinquishing ownership of the conditions that are passing through our life. We are doing this not in an irresponsible way, but by finding a space within that’s a little lighter and more spacious around all the bad and good conditions we are experiencing.
Preserve well for you now have, this is all.
How can I trust that no matter what is going on, I have all I need? Whenever my desires and fears are filling my mind, I try to remind myself, it is good to be here. Whatever is happening, no matter what the conditions are, it is good to be here. Whenever I find the present moment is not good, this automatically means I am seeing what is unfolding in my life with deluded eyes and that is the real problem and not the present difficult conditions. The true practice of being still is that we are letting go of whatever conditions are flowing through us and bring ourselves back to trusting that we already possess all we could ever want or desire.
“Seeking pleasure and having fun is never-ending, one is never satisfied. It’s like a water jar with a hole in it. We try to fill it but the water is continually leaking out. The peace of the religious life has a definite end, it puts a stop to the cycle of endless seeking.” ~ Ajahn Chah