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Lions Roar : March 2018
completely obvious. It is hard to believe we missed it. Although enlightenment can seem to be a totally unreach- able goal, in fact we know exactly what it is and have glimpses of awakening all the time. The only problem is that our glimpses of awakening are brief, hit and miss, and cannot be sustained for any length of time. In ordinary life, there are times when you have a breakthrough and finally understand something—you’ve got it—and when that happens, you can- not then dis-understand it. In fact, sometimes you discover something you wish you had not known; nonetheless, once you know, you know. Enlightenment cannot be produced. No matter how many mantras we recite, no matter how many teachers we serve or meditation retreats we do, we cannot force it to occur. Enlight- enment is not a thought; it is not an attainment. It is inherent. Yet glimpses of enlightenment crop up all the time—in the in-between spaces or gaps. In my own experience, I find that over and over again fresh insights keep poking through the thickness of my habitual mental and emotional patterns. But then I notice those insights, and with the noticing comes com- mentary, and with the commentary comes the desire to hold on to them as highlights or credentials. What was a fresh insight is no longer fresh, nor an insight. It is no longer a gap in ego fixation, but instead a further means of holding it together. And so it goes. What at one moment is a breakthrough, a gap, is quickly co-opted by ego, so that by the next moment, it has itself become an obstacle to be broken through. You could say that the path is a continual softening pro- cess. The moment we solidify our experience, we have lost its freshness, its inherent awakened quality. We can actually per- ceive that razor-thin boundary between awake and asleep. The instant we make a subtle decision to grasp, we can sense the constriction. We know the moment we have lost it, and each time that happens, we are softened. We realize how hard it is to change that basic pattern of backing away from our own insight. At the same time, we realize how thin the membrane is that separates us from the reality of awakening. In the Buddhist tradition, enlightenment comes first—con- fusion is an afterthought. Our experience often seems to be just the opposite—confusion is obvious and enlightenment is the afterthought. Not only is confusion most obvious, it is our familiar ground, where our allegiance lies. It is simple: we are being asked to shift our allegiance, so it is scary. With enlight- enment front and center, we are provoked constantly with the possibility of awakening. What is the hesitation? What is hold- ing us back? Why not wake up? While we keep plugging along, painstakingly unraveling our personal obstacles, it is important not to lose sight of the very real possibility that at any moment we have the potential of see- ing our world entirely differently. At any moment, we have the possibility of awakening. JUDY LIEF is a Vajrayana Buddhist teacher and the author of Making Friends with Death: A Buddhist Guide to Encountering Mortality. * Wherever You Are, Enlightenment Is There by Shunryu Suzuki, Roshi IN OUR PRACTICE, the most important thing is to realize that we have buddhanature. Intellectually we may know this, but it is rather difficult to accept. Our everyday life is in the realm of good and bad, the realm of duality, while buddha- nature is found in the realm of the absolute where there is no good and no bad. There is a twofold reality. Our practice is to go beyond the realm of good and bad and to realize the abso- lute. It may be rather difficult to understand. We talk about enlightenment, but in its true sense perfect enlightenment is beyond our understanding, beyond our expe- rience. Even in our imperfect practice enlightenment is there. We just don’t know it. So the point is to find the true meaning of practice before we attain enlightenment. Wherever you are, enlightenment is there. If you stand up right where you are, that is enlightenment. This is called I-don’t-know zazen. I don’t know what zazen is anymore. I don’t know who I am. To find complete composure when you don’t know who you are or where you are, that is to accept things as it is. Even though you don’t know who you are, you accept yourself. That is “you” in its true sense. When you know who you are, that “you” will not be the real you. You may overestimate yourself quite easily, but when you say, “Oh, I don’t know,” then you are you, and you know yourself com- pletely. That is enlightenment. When we find the joy of our life in our composure, we don’t know what it is, we don’t understand anything, then our mind is very great, very wide. Our mind is open to everything, so it is big enough to know before we know something. We are grateful even before we have something. Even before we attain enlight- enment, we are happy to practice our way. Otherwise we cannot attain anything in its true sense. SHUNRYU SUZUKI, ROSHI (1904-1971) was founder of the San Francisco Zen Center and author of the classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2018 40