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Lions Roar : July 2015
PHOTOBYBILLIECHAMBERS What is awakening? It’s not that complicated. It’s when we encounter something just as it is, without preconception. MELISSA MYOZEN BLACKER on how to Stop, Tune in, Open, and Proceed. Let me know when you see the iguana Y OU KNOW THE FEELING: you’ve lost something and suddenly you realize it’s been there right in front of you the whole time. Those missing keys or that misplaced hat were, as they say, hiding in plain sight. They seemed to be invisible and unrecoverable, yet suddenly, there they are. It’s clear to you they were never lost at all. Once I was on a riverboat tour in the Costa Rican rain forest when our guide suddenly stopped the boat. He asked everyone to sit still, breathe quietly, and let our eyes rest on the tree that was right in front of us. The guide had won our trust with his compe- tence and good humor, so everyone in the boat obeyed him. He said to us, “Let me know when you see the iguana.” It was clear to me and every other tourist on the boat that there was no iguana in that tree. It was just a tree, with a brown trunk and green leaves. Sitting still, breathing, looking, I appre- ciated the tree very much. It was a beautiful tree, in a lovely place. The water lapped at the boat, and I felt very peaceful. After all, he had just given us meditation instructions, and I love to meditate. But there was no iguana in that tree. And then there was! All over the boat, people started exclaim- ing, “I see it! I see it!” It had always been there, but before we saw it, we didn’t know we were seeing it. The practice of waking up in every moment is a bit like spotting iguanas. After every meditation practice, I recite the four bodhisat- tva vows, a Zen chant that contains the line: “Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to enter them.” This vow reminds me to wake up to the teachings that are offered by the world every moment. Even when I can’t see the iguana, I vow to keep looking for it. Naturally, a few questions may occur to you concerning this vow. First of all, what are these dharma gates? If they’re so boundless, does that mean that they are everywhere? If that’s true, why don’t I see them? And what’s all this talk about entering them? When Zen people like me tell stories about the Buddha, we say that this revered and somewhat legendary historical person- age was someone just like us. He was searching for meaning in his life and trying everything he could to find the answers to his questions. But after going through many kinds of trainings and getting really good at them all, he still hadn’t found any answers that satisfied him. So he gave up trying. He made his own vow to sit still, just like the tourists in the riverboat, until the true nature of reality revealed itself to him. After sitting still for some time, he happened to look up at the sky before dawn, just as the morning star appeared. At that moment, he “woke up” to a new understanding of reality and the meaning of human life. He saw that little shining planet without anything getting in the way—just pure seeing. He couldn’t con- tain his joy, and said, “How marvelous! I, the great earth, and all beings are naturally and simultaneously awakened.” In that moment, he recognized that what he had been search- ing for had been right there in front of him all the time. Every- thing was and always had been naturally awake. And he realized he wasn’t alone in this discovery—he felt completely connected to everything and everyone, and all beings joined him in this great opening to the vivid aliveness that appears everywhere. After this experience, friends and strangers he met felt that there was something special about him. They asked him if he was a god. He replied, “No, I’m just awake.” In the language he spoke, a version of Pali, the word for one who is awake was “Buddha.” In Zen we say that everyone is already a buddha, an awakened one. But we don’t know we are until we are shaken out of our SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2015 58