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Lions Roar : March 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2008 64 inside atoms, without which what we call the “solid” world could not exist, silence makes words possible. In Soto Zen there’s a way of practicing with phrases without any words. This is Zen mindfulness, which is not mindfulness of something, but mindful- ness of silence, spaciousness, or emptiness. This is practiced using the breath or what- ever is in front of you—a person, a task, a physical object—as the phrase, the koan. Life becomes the phrase, not in the abstract but as it appears uniquely, wherever and when- ever you are. You pay close attention to it, avoid pegging it down to an explanation or an evaluation, and you wait with intense inquiry to see what it will reveal to you. The idea, the hope, is that everything will illuminate you. Everything will open you up; everything will surprise you. Although in real practice this doesn’t always happen, it is a direction, an aspiration, a way we keep coming back to. It doesn’t matter how it turns out; the main thing is to keep up a continuity of practice. It doesn’t make much difference whether you are practicing with whatever’s in front of you; or whether you are using a literal phrase, like “Who is this?” or “What is love?” that may have arisen from the issues of your life; or whether you are using something classi- cal in Zen, like Zhaozho’s “mu” or “cypress tree in the courtyard.” The more you sit with the phrase, and maintain your sitting with it through your activity (because, like phrases, which are more than phrases, sitting is more than literal sitting), the more your practice can be continuous and the more will be revealed. I remember many years ago when I was living with Bernie Glassman, we’d often prac- tice koans in the Greyston bakery, which was at that time the main project of Bernie’s Zen Center. The bakery was a crazy place; we had more business than we could handle, and it was always a special time for breakneck effort: Halloween cookies, Christmas cakes, Thanksgiving pies, Valentine’s Day cookies. It was always something. We were working very hard from morning till night. Bernie is tireless and expects that everyone else will be tireless too. And we were not professional bakers; in fact, we didn’t know how to bake and we were learning as we went along. So it was exhaust- ing work, going very quickly all the time, trying to fill rush orders, to do things right, and of course making many mistakes and having constantly to do things over again. In the middle of all this, Bernie would open up shop for dokusan, a traditional Zen in- The idea, the hope, is that everything will illuminate you. Everything will open you up. Everything will surprise you. MAR 62-67.indd 64 MAR 62-67.indd 64 12/20/07 1:53:26 PM 12/20/07 1:53:26 PM