By: Rev. David Astor 曦 肯
Have you ever had a conscious driving desire to just go into a room by yourself and just be alone with your thoughts? Or just sit and not think of anything, just get away from the hassle of the day? When we have a Buddhist practice, this might include just wanting to sit on our cushion for a while, and letting go of ourselves, at least that part of us that seems disturbed. It is difficult to say just where this wish actually comes from, but if we follow it, then sometimes a larger awareness begins to take shape, we begin to move toward that refuge space in our consciousness we have been developing during our meditation sessions, and our mind’s-eye begins to open to a different feeling, a different awareness of something bigger than just this person we call me.
I guess the question this experience engenders is, “How does such a miraculous thing happen?” Master Dogen referred to this as the aspiration for awakening that arises in the mystical communion between our Buddha natures and sentient beings. He also said that this experience is not given by buddhas or bodhisattvas, it is not created by ourselves, and it doesn’t simply arise spontaneously. I would like to think that the reality of our universal nature is always ready to show itself to us. This is not something “out there”, apart from us, but arises from an awakened unconditioned consciousness. This natural nature of ours is always there for us to experience, even if we are not yet ready. When we begin to practice seriously, it begins to whisper to us in ever increasing volume. It is a kind of self-communication, yet we have lost touch with it as our everyday experiences have come to overwhelm the very nature of who we really are. When we, as perfected beings, put forth some intention, aspiration, or receptivity, we meet our universal natures (our Buddha natures) in some degree. Our Buddha nature is ready to always respond to this “sentient being nature”, and sometimes we can appreciate this meeting which seems to come “out of the blue” when we are also ready. This generally happens when we are in a space alone. Even if that space is full of others.
In the move Star Wars, the young Skywalker is told that Jedi knights are special persons because they have a very high midi-chiorian count. He learns that midi-chiorians are symbiotic life forms that live inside your cells in mutual relationship and constantly speak to you when you quite the mind. His teacher indicated that without midi-chiorians one would not have any knowledge of the “living Force.” I find this may be another way for explaining our Buddha natures in a way. When we quite the mind and learn to sit in that special mental state, our natural natures also “speak” to us, and point to realities beyond our ordinary sense perceptions. The force of the awakened mind is immense, because of the energy it takes to realize it and then use it for doing good. But unlike in Star Wars, the Universe has no dark side, instead that potential dark side resides in our conditioned mind through the negative filters we have self-developed over a life time. These negative filters can cloud everything.
How do we get ready to begin to experience the whisper of our universal natures when it speak to us? The key words are “intentional action.” We practice to develop an intentional mind awareness. Precept training, for example, is about engaging the intent of our behavior for doing good and avoiding harm. There are many practices we can engage to help perfect our readiness. We may use images to trigger our awareness and the relationship we have to Buddhist thought. The altar we set up has such visual lessons we keep in front of us when we practice. Ritual practice like incense offering and lighting candels is a good way to strengthen our inner awareness. Reciting specific words in the form of sutras or the language of the vows we took is another way for intentional development of experiencing the heart of our universal natures. A little bit of intention arises to stop and settle right here and now, giving up the endless turmoil of self-centered thought for the benefit of all. When we put forth the intention, the response is right there expressed in a deeper relaxation and quiet mind. They all act as triggers when our mind is focused and quite from outside thought as we JUST DO the actions of ritual practice. From this stage of readiness, we sit and listen. When I say mindful meditation is just about sitting in silence and listening, we are listening for these whispers that point to a greater reality that have always been there, but perhaps not seen yet. They may not teach us how to use a light saber, but they will open up a world that has no limit to how we see the vast Universe beyond just the skin and bones that makes up us.Buddha nature is constantly knocking on our door, and sometimes we hear the knock but wouldn’t think of calling it Buddha nature. We may walk past a homeless person and then suddenly decide to turn around, go back, and give him some change. That could be a knock from Buddha nature, opening our heart of compassion a little, beyond our small, separate conditioned self. The Buddha nature station is always sending us radio waves, but if we are not tuned into that station, we don’t hear the message. When we think of the initial factors that brought us to spiritual practice, we can try to trace back our experience to various turning points in our life. These can all be seen as aspects of self-communication. Buddha nature has energy as strong as our desire for seeking. When we awaken, it turns up the volume. These events may not seem related to practice at the time, but later we come to see that they were quite important, sometimes perceptible and sometimes imperceptible, a kind of call and response.
This thing called Buddha nature can’t just magically zap us with awakening, and we can’t just wake up by the power of our everyday mind either. Some, perhaps many, may believe in self-power, relying only on their own individual effort, but that‘s putting too much emphasis on the illusory separate self. Master Dogen said just cast body and mind into the house of your Buddha natures, then all is done by Buddha. But what is this Buddha Dogen is speaking about? — “All is done by Buddha” — When you can answer who is this Buddha, then you have clearly come to realize the importance as to why we sit in silence and listen. The silence of our awakened thoughts will give us the answers we are seeking on this path the Universe has given us to walk as universal expressions capable of hearing beyond simple sound.