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Lions Roar : March 2019
sage, writes in his famous Thirty Verses, reality is simply the transformations of mind. This is staggering, baffling, and heady. What does it have to do with the inescapable fact that I definitely feel as if I am suffering? My mind may be empty, eternal, transcendent, and vast, but I still experience my life unhappily. What to do? We could pose the question like this: If my mind is mind, and mind is reality, what is the relation- ship of my unenlightened mind, the cause of my suffering, to the enlightened mind that puts suffer- ing to an end? From a psychological and logical point of view, enlightenment and unenlightenment are opposites. I am either enlightened and not suffering, or unen- lightened and suffering, and these certainly feel to me like vastly different states. But the teachings on mind assert that enlightenment and unenlight- enment are in actuality not different. They are, fundamentally suchness (and the word “funda- mentally”—meaning “at bottom,” at their core”—is important here). “Suchness” is a word coined in the Mahayana to connote the mind’s perfect appear- ance as phenomena. When we receive phenomena as suchness, we don’t experience what we call suf- fering—even if we suffer! What we call suffering, and experience as suffer- ing, isn’t actually suffering. It is confusion, illusion, misperception, like seeing a snake that turns out to be merely a crooked stick. Suchness is the only thing we ever really experience. But since we mistake it for something painful and dangerous, we stand apart from it. We see ourselves as its victim, and so are pushed around by it, although in truth there is noth- ing that pushes, nothing that can be pushed, and no reason in the first place to feel pushed. Reality is not, as we imagine it to be, difficult and painful. It is always only just as it is: suchness. But lest we project suchness to be something we can reach for or depend on, something other than what we are and see all the time in front of us, we are reminded that suchness isn’t anything. It is a mere word, and the limit, so to speak, of verbal- ization. It is a word proposed for the purpose of putting an end to words and concepts whose mes- merizing effect on us is the real source of our initial mistaken perception. Since all things are equally and fundamentally suchness, there is literally noth- ing to be said. Even calling it suchness. So my suffering, as real as it seems to me, is delu- sional. But it’s a powerful delusion! Its very struc- ture is built into mind, and therefore my personal consciousness. Since its shape and location (these words are metaphorical: mind has no shape or loca- tion) is the same as that of enlightenment, to which it is identical, and since both are empty of any grounding reality, my delusion can’t be gotten rid of. How can you get rid of something that doesn’t exist? Trying to get rid of it will only make matters worse. Besides, to get rid of my delusion is to get rid of my enlightenment, which is my only hope! In a famous metaphor, Mahayana teachings liken the relationship of delusion to enlightenment to that of a wave and the ocean. The wave is delusion, full of motion and drama. It rises up, crests, breaks, dissipates, and gathers strength to drive again. With my eyes on the wave, I see it as real. But the wave isn’t anything. There is no such entity as “wave.” There is only water, in motion or not. Wind acts on water to make what we call a wave. If the wind stops, the movement ceases and the water remains quiet. Whether there are waves or no waves, water remains always water, salty and wet. Without wind, the water is quiet and deep. But even when wind activity is strong on the surface, deep below water remains quiet. Mind is like this. It is deep, pure, and silent. But when the winds of delusion blow, its surface stirs and what we call suffering results. But the waves of my suffering are nothing more or less than mind. And even as I rage, the depths below remain quiet. Life is the wind. Life is the water. As long as life appears as phenomena there will be the stirrings of delusion. Delusion is in fact the movement, the stir- ring, of awakening. My ocean mind is inherently pure and serene, always. When I know this, I can navigate the waves with grace. The Awakening of Faith, the text I referred to above, offers an even better analogy. A man is lost. He is confused about which way is north and which way south. He has a place he is trying to go but because of his confusion he can’t get there. He feels disoriented and deeply uncomfortable. He has that sinking feeling of being lost, of not being in the place he wants and ought to be. But then he suddenly real- ZOKETSU NORMAN FISCHER is a Zen teacher in the Shunryu Suzuki Roshi lineage and founder of the Everyday Zen Foundation. He is the author of many books of Buddhist teachings and poetry, including Training in Compassion and Magnolias All at Once. LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2019 54 BUDDHASHAKYAMUNI,BURMA(MYANMAR),15THCENTURY/COURTESYOFWWW.LACMA.ORG