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The Zen Student Knows the Way Home
Buddha welcomes you home
Enlightenment is just a tool
I had a dream this morning that included a message for all who practice Zen. The purpose of Zen and all Buddhist practice is to become a person who makes the world a better place. To do that, we clarify our minds, so that we don't add more confusion to an already confused world.
Classically, the purpose of meditation is Enlightenment. But this needs two clarifications. Enlightenment is not a final goal, it is simply the acquisition of a tool. A teenager might say, "I'm saving up money to buy a car." But the car is not the real goal. The real goal is what she will do once she has a car - drive around, connect, go places, make things happen. In the same way, an enlightened mind is not the read goal. An enlightened mind - a mind that isn't racing around making trouble, a mind that isn't grasping for things and creating misery - is only the vehicle. The goal is the way we live when our mind is healed through Enlightenment.
Secondly, Enlightenment is the wrong word, anyway. A proper translation of Buddha is "one who is awake. So our goal is Awakening, not Enlightenment. And that is what this dream is all about.
I was standing in my apartment as two friends came to visit. My apartment was on the ground floor, and had a glass door opening onto a patio right by the parking lot. My friends walked right up to the patio. I said hello, but I was distracted. In my mind, I was worried about how they would get in the building. I pictured the security door at the back of the building, an ugly gray door. My first idea was that they had to go around through that door to come in.
As we chatted, I saw the obvious. I invited them in. My two friends - a middle-aged woman and a young woman - had brought their cat. The cat immediately got it, and jumped down off the young woman's shoulder right into my apartment. The older woman, accepting my invitation, asked how to get into the building. I replied "come right in here." The two women got it. There was no need to go a long way around or to pass through a security door. I opened the glass porch door wide, and they walked in.
The woman, the young woman, and the cat are the practitioner. The apartment is our True Home, our Natural Mind, the mind that is already Awake. The practitioner has decided to Awaken, and comes to practice, to Zen meditation. Getting out of the car is sitting on the cushion - dropping our ego, showing up as we are. The glass door represents our ability to see our home, to feel the true peace inside us.
The cat is the practitioner's natural mind, our bodily intuition. Immediately arriving at meditation, this part of us knows "I am home, I am awake, this is It!" The cat jumps inside.
The young woman is the eager young practitioner, our beginner's mind. Beginner's mind is in all of us, but can get lost when we think we know what we are doing. The middle-aged woman is the more experienced thinking mind who thinks she knows what she must do. She must go around, go on a long journey down a dirty hall, and pass some kind of security lock, pass some kind of test.
When this message arrives, the cat, your natural mind, gets in immediately. That is why the body relaxes and feels so comfortable sitting in Buddha posture.
The eager young practitioner and the seasoned practitioner who thinks she knows what she must do take a bit longer. If the eager young practitioner were alone, she might just step in, in natural excitement.Or she might not see the way in, and would be too young and perhaps embarrassed or confused to ask. The seasoned practitioner knows the ways of the world. To get anything, there is a difficult journey to be traveled, a difficult price to pay. And often, that is true in the world. But the seasoned practitioner also has the sense to ask, to be open to being wrong. That is a crucial ingredient of mature practice.
In many areas of life, there is a high price to pay. There are messy jobs to do, barriers to overcome, locked doors. But this is not true in Zen. It is not true on the path of Awakening. In Zen, we know this: You are already Home. You are already Awake. Your Natural Mind is who you truly are.
Come on in.
The fellow in the apartment
So, the two women and the cat (and even the car) are part of the Zen student's mind. Who is the fellow in the apartment, the one who knows the way directly in?
You might think it is the Zen teacher, already at home, already Awake. But that would be a mistake. The man in the apartment is also a part of you, the Zen practitioner. It is your inner spiritual Wisdom, the part of you that knows you are already home, that you have never left home. You just thought you were wandering. You are always welcome back here. In the bible, this is father in the story of the prodigal son. The son has wandered and thinks he might not be welcome. The father is just glad to see his son.
All you truly need is your spiritual intuition saying, "In just wanting to come here, in just showing up, you are already here. Welcome home. Welcome to your True Home. Step in."
Why, then, are there Zen teachers? Certainly, we are not necessary. But we can be helpful.
When a person has been living in the world for many years, we learn the ways of the world. We learn that things are complicated and hard, that there is a price to pay and a test to pass. It is hard to believe that all the wonders of Awakening are right here, right now. That peace and joy are inside us, and we are already inside peace and joy, the moment we choose to be.
If we knew how to listen within, we would not need a teacher. A teacher would not even be helpful. But the student, wandering in the noisy world, taught over and over that someone else has the answer, that the answer is outside, projects his or her inner wisdom onto a teacher. The student sees "he is at Home; he can invite me Home," not realizing, all the time, that Home and the Teacher are within.
It's okay to think a teacher can show you the way home, especially if your inner wisdom has chosen the teacher well. In that case, the teacher is simply reminding you of what your inner voice is saying: You are home. Come on in! You are hearing that outside yourself, from a teacher in another body, because you have forgotten to listen within.
Should you always listen to a teacher and do what the teacher says? No. If you have chosen a teacher, do listen respectfully. Do consider what she has to say. Then turn to your own inner sense of what is right. And follow your inner guidance. That is what my own Zen teacher, Roshi (Zen Master) Joan Halifax, tells her students, and it is what I share with you.
The invitation: Welcome Home
And so our dream ends with an invitation: Welcome home! Come in! Joy and peace await you here.
This is not the joy and peace of eternal rest. No! How boring! This is the joy and peace of living in confidence, of solidity in the rightness of life. Please, come home to your own inner wisdom, right here, right now. In that inner wisdom, you already have the ability to see things as they are (correct view), which shows you what to do (correct action). And when you take correct action, you suffer less, and you help alleviate the suffering of others.
And that, my friend, is what life is all about.