Both of my teachers, Suzuki Roshi and Katagiri Roshi, had a slightly different take on enlightenment than the traditional one I talked about in my last piece. This take came from the 13th century Soto Zen pioneer, Dogen.
For Dogen, enlightenment is a process rather than a spectacular event. It is not something that may happen later on. All we have to do is completely give ourselves to an activity and we will immediately experience a sense of intimacy with our activity and the world surrounding it.
He calls this “practice-enlightenment.” As each event occurs we completely engage over and over with what is happening. Practice-enlightenment enables us to approach each activity with what Suzuki Roshi calls, a “beginner’s mind.”
As I write these lines, if I am absorbed in my writing, it engulfs all other activities and swallows up past and future. This is what Dogen means when he says, “The time when continuous practice [gyoji] is manifested is what we call ‘Now.’”
Consequently, there can be no practice without enlightenment and no enlightenment without practice. As we engage in each activity over and over, endlessly, we begin to experience each activity in selfless openness. And this is our natural way of being. “Intrinsic enlightenment,” says Dogen, “is wonderful practice.” The smallest details of meditation, ritual, manual labor, eating, bathing, and social engagement are all opportunities for practice-enlightenment. Meditation is totally stripped of its older, traditional, “in order to” function. This seems to be particularly hard for Americans, who are so result oriented.
But it works! Whether we are meditating, eating, going to the toilet, or planning our day, we have the opportunity to feel a deep freedom which comes from simply giving ourselves to each activity.
In our meditation practice this means, as Katagiri Roshi used to say, “not kicking out” any thought or emotion, but just shining our gentle, nonjudgmental light on it, i.e. enlightening each delusion, with no hint of comparison or judgment.
Through this radical acceptance of what is, we tap into heart-mind, that still dynamic center of being, with its two gates, the gate of spaciousness and the gate of compassionate engagement with the world around us.
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Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher