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Lions Roar : September 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2007 34 the path of liberation as interminable. Butsu do mu jo seigan jo: “However endless the Buddha’s way is, we vow to follow it.” Yet if the theme of an endless path pervades the Zen tradition, so does its polar opposite. “All sentient beings,” the Buddha said, “are perfect and complete.” There is no need to strive, struggle, or seek some future state. All the conditions for our fulfillment are already here in the present moment. “At this moment,” asks Hakuin Zenji in his Song of Zazen, “what more need we seek?” And in the Heart Sutra, which is also chanted daily in Zen mon- asteries, we are told that there is “nothing to attain.” The principle embodied in these statements is known as apranihita (Sanskrit), or “aimlessness.” It is the third of the so- called Doors of Liberation, the first two being emptiness and sign- lessness. In his Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh ranks aimlessness above the other doors, viewing it as essential to meditative practice. And anyone who has spent much time in a Buddhist center, be it Theravadan, Tibetan, or Zen, has probably been enjoined to sit without goals, expectations, or thoughts of attainment. To inhabit such mindsets is to separate oneself from the present reality, undercutting the very process in which one is engaged. This is it, we are often told. Be here now. The tension I’ve been describing—a tension, at the deepest lev- el, between the values of attainment and nonattainment—might be viewed as a philosophical dilemma or perhaps as another Zen conundrum. But for the practitioner conditioned by Western competitive culture, that tension is more than intellectual. It can be felt, moment by moment, in the body, heart, and mind. How are we to reconcile this apparent contradiction in fundamental Buddhist tenets? Or, more to the point, how are we, as condi- tioned Westerners, to eschew our “gaining ideas” while also pur- suing the endless path? How are we to obey, in a single moment, the imperatives implied by the slogans “not yet” and “this is it”? At least a partial answer may be found in Buddhist teachings that distinguish between the relative and ultimate dimensions. Each of these has its nature and its truth. In the relative—or historical—dimension, we strive, struggle, and pursue our goals, material and spiritual. We compete as separate selves. In the absolute, or ultimate, dimension, we do none of those things, knowing that our strivings are empty, our thoughts insubstan- tial, our attainments impermanent. We are not separate selves, and what we are is already perfect and sufficient. Hard as it may be, our practice is to negotiate between those two dimensions and their attendant truths. And toward that elusive end, I can think of no condition more propitious than retirement. To be sure, old habits persist, and though I no longer have an office to go to or a class to meet, my life as achiever is far from over. Not yet, and not by a long shot. But from the perspective of retirement, I can see the nature of attainment as never before and be freed thereby. Live as if you were dead, advises the Zen proverb, meaning not that we should become inert but that we should live free of our usual attachments and delusions. Live as if retired, I might offer by way of amendment, and see attainments for what they are. ♦ SEPT 18-35.indd 34 SEPT 18-35.indd 34 6/25/07 4:47:52 PM 6/25/07 4:47:52 PM