Reaching the Fundamental Ground
Since the fundamental ground is neither a feature of the world nor a transmundane phenomenon, many people who want to practice Zen wonder how it can be reached. This question itself, however, indicates a failure to digest the implications of the term fundamental.
To reach the fundamental ground is not something like going from the country to the city or from one land to another. In reality it is like waking up from a dream. All the questions about where the fundamental ground is and how to get there are part of the dream, arising from the thoughts of a dream about a dream.
Even if you have not awakened, if you realize that your perceptions and activities are all like dreams and you view them with detachment, not giving rise to grasping and rejecting discrimination, then this is virtually tantamount to awakening from the dream; at least you may be said to believe in the existence of reality.
In the fundamental ground, there is no sign of ordinariness or sainthood, no purity or defilement. Because of the “dream” of consciousness conditioned by unconscious habit, purity and defilement appear in the midst of formlessness, and one sees distinctions between the ordinary and holy in the midst of the uncreated. When you think you are an ordinary mortal, you go running around after honor and gain, disappointed if you do not get them. When you think you are wise, you look down on everyone and develop a conceited attitude. When you are fooled by such delusions, you do not even believe in the existence of a fundamental ground of peace and happiness, let alone experience it.
The Complete Enlightenment Sutra says,
“People mistake the material elements for their own bodies and take reflections of the objects of the six senses for their own minds. This is like diseased eyes seeing flowers in the sky, or a second moon. This is why they arbitrarily pursue the repetitious routines by which they live and die. That is called ignorance. Ignorance has no real substance; it is like seeing someone in a dream. It is not that there is no presence, but on awakening, that person is not there.”
Activity and Meditation
People meditating on the fundamental carry out their ordinary tasks and activities in the midst of meditation and carry out meditation in the midst of ordinary tasks and activities. There is no disparity between meditation and activity.
It is for those as yet incapable of this, those weak in focusing their intent on the Way that special meditation periods were set up. The practice of meditating four times a day in Zen communities began in this manner during the 12th century.
People who really have their minds on the Way, in contrast, do not forget work on the fundamental no matter what they are doing. Yet if they still distinguish this work from ordinary activities even as they do them together, they will naturally be concerned about being distracted by activities and forgetting the meditation work. This is because of viewing things as outside the mind.
An ancient master said, “The mountains, rivers, and the entire array of outer phenomena are all oneself.” If you can absorb the essence of this message, there are no activities outside of meditation; you dress in meditation and eat in meditation; you walk, stand, sit and lie down in meditation; you perceive and cognize in meditation; you experience joy, anger, sadness, and happiness in meditation.”
Yet even this is still in the sphere of accomplishment and is not true merging with the source of Zen.
Muso Kokushi (1275-1351)
Excerpted from Dream Conversations on Buddhism and Zen-Muso Kokushi Trans by Thomas Cleary 1994
Awakening from the dream of life is something we all comprehend, and yet exactly who we are once that has happened is quite the mystery. There are countless tales of enlightenment in many traditions and much practice has been based on stories from the past, hoping to recreate that one moment in someone else's quest to validate one's own efforts.
Some get lost in the trappings of enlightenment, and like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, go back to sleep within a different dream, the dream of false spiritual attainment.
We all begin by cultivating the Mind that seeks the Way, an aspiration that is present at all stages of practice. Maturation of practice includes not resting on any previous understanding or experience we have attained in practice. Since there is an endless universe to explore here, why stop with that first enlightenment?
The dreams we have at night are easily recognized; the dream we awaken to is more subtle to perceive. As Zen Master Zuigon was in the habit of saying to himself: “Wake Up!”
Muso left us with exquisite temple gardens, calligraphy, and poetry in addition to his more formal teachings. The power of imagery in the poem below speaks volumes:
I don't go out to wander around;
I stay home here in Miura
While time flows on through the
In the awakened eye, mountains and rivers
The eye of delusion looks out
Upon deep fog and clouds.
Alone on my zazen mat I forget
The days as they pass;
The wisteria has grown thick
Over the eaves of my hut.
The subtle Way of Bodhidharma,
I never give it a second thought.
Does anyone know the truth
Of Zen or what to ask about it?
— Muso Kokushi (1275-1351)
Blessings of peace and joy with the return of the Light,
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen