The Third Patriarch of Zen said, “If you want to follow the Way of Unity, do not be averse to the objects of the six senses.” This does not mean that you should indulge in the objects of the six senses; it means that you should keep right mindfulness continuous, neither grasping nor rejecting the objects of the six senses in the course of everyday life, like a duck going into the water without its feathers getting wet.
If, in contrast, you despise the objects of the six senses and try to avoid them, you fall into escapist tendencies and never fulfill the Way of Buddhahood. If you clearly see the essence, then the objects of the six senses are themselves meditation; sensual desires are themselves the Way of Unity; and all things are manifestations of Reality. Entering into the great Zen stability undivided by movement and stillness, body and mind are both freed and eased.
As for people who set out to cultivate spiritual practice with aversion to the objects and desires of the senses, even if their minds and thoughts are empty and still and their contemplative visualization is perfectly clear, still when they leave quietude and get into active situations, they are like fish out of water, like monkeys out of the trees.
Even people who go deep into mountain forests, cut off relations with the world forever, living as ascetics long ago cannot easily attain pure singleness of concentration. Needless to say, it is even more difficult for those who are mendicants in name only, or shallow householders, who are so busy making a living.
In truth, unless you have definite certitude of overwhelming faith, or are filled with overwhelming doubt or wonder, or are inspired with overwhelming commitment, or are overtaken by overwhelming death, it is hard to attain concentration that is pure and undivided in principle and fact, in action and stillness.
If you are wholeheartedly careful of how you spend your time, aware of the evanescence of life, concentrating singlemindedly on Zen work even in the midst of objects of desire, if you proceed right straight ahead, the iron walls will open up. You will experience the immense joy of walking over the Polar Mountain and becomes the Master within the objects of sense. You will be like a lotus blooming in fire, becoming all the more colorful and more fragrant in contact with the energy of fire.
Do not say that it is harder for lay people living in the world of senses and desires to sit and meditate, or that it is hard to concentrate with so many worldly duties, or that one with an official or professional career cannot practice Zen, or that the poor and the sickly do not have the power to work on the Way. These excuses are all due to weakness of faith and superficiality for the thought of enlightenment.
If you observe that the matter of life and death is serious, and that the world is really impermanent, the will for enlightenment will grow, the thieving heart of egoism, selfishness, pride, and covetousness will gradually die out, and you will come to work on the Way by sitting meditation in which principle and fact are one.
Suppose you were to lose your only child in a crowd or drop an invaluable gem? Do you think you would let the child or the jewel go at that, just because of the bustle and the mob? Would you not look for them even if you had a lot of work to do or were poor or sickly? Even if you had to plunge into an immense crowd of people and had to continue searching into the night, you would not be easy in mind until you had found and retrieved your child or your jewel.
To have been born human and heard true teaching is a very rare opportunity; so to neglect meditation because of your career is to treat the life of wisdom of the body of truths of the Buddhas less seriously than worldly belongings. But if you search for wisdom singlemindedly like someone who has lost a child or dropped a gem, one day you will undoubtedly encounter it, whereupon you will light up with joy.
People in all walks of life have all sorts of things to attend to; how could they have the leisure to sit silently all day in quiet contemplation? Here there are Zen teachers who have not managed to cultivate this sitting meditation concentration; they teach deliberate seclusion and quietude, avoiding population centers, stating that “intensive meditation concentration cannot be attained in the midst of professional work, business, and labor,” thus causing students to apply their minds mistakenly.
People who listen to this kind of talk consequently think of Zen as something that is hard to do and hard to practice, so they give up the inspiration to cultivate Zen, abandon the source and try to escape, time and again becoming discouraged. This is truly lamentable. Even if they have a deep inspiration due to some cause in the past, they get to where they neglect their jobs and lose their social virtues for the sake of the Way.
As an ancient said, if people today were as eager for enlightenment as they are to embrace their lovers, then no matter how busy their professional lives might be and no matter how luxurious their dwellings may be, they would not fail to attain continuous concentration leading to appearance of the Great Wonder.
Many people of both ancient and modern times have awakened to the Way and seen essential nature in the midst of activity. All beings in all times and places are manifestations of one mind. When the mind is aroused, all sorts of things arise. When the mind is quiet, all things are quiet.
“When the one mind is unborn, all things are blameless.” For this reason even if you stay in quiet and serene places deep in the mountains and sit silently in quiet contemplation, as long as the road of the mind-monkey's horse of conceptualization is not cut off, you will only be wasting time.
Excerpted from Minding Mind – A Course in Basic Meditation Translated by Thomas Cleary (1995)
Except for differences in style it is amazing how contemporary some of the older teachers sound. The same delusions and mind traps were present centuries ago despite many people's ideas that because life was slower and less complicated somehow it must have been easier to train. In the continuation of Man-an's discourse above we recognize attitudes we have heard in others and sometimes side paths we have taken ourselves.
We seem at times to have more illusions about what following the Way entails than actual experience. The various mind states arise whether living in the quiet of the mountains or the bustle of the city. And one can be fooled by oneself or others in any environment.
Being earnest rather than merely serious; focused rather than rigidly singleminded; intimate with practice rather than gripping it harshly, allows a true experience of practice to arise. Cultivate continuity and let practice bloom like the flowers in the Spring.
Smelling the fragrant plum blossoms,
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen