Letting Go

“Greed, hatred and ignorance rise endlessly.

I vow to abandon them.”

Our vows at first seem to be impossible contradictions but each time, as we say them with trust, the impossible finds some translation into our daily life.

I find the word “abandon” interesting. It’s possible to imagine the valiant bodhisattva in shining white robes dispelling evil desires, just saying “no more!” to greed and hatred. Abandoning ignorance is a more difficult thought experiment. In our tradition ignorance refers to being ignorant or mistaken about the true nature of reality, in particular having the belief of possessing a permanent self which gives rise to grasping and aversion. How to abandon a state which completely fills your view of the world?

Of course, there are many and varied translations of the Four Great Vows.

In a previous Encouraging Words edition, Allan Marett noted that “to cut off” delusions is the more literal translation, but “abandon points to a gentler practice of letting go.” Indeed, to cut off and to abandon are really two sides of the one practice. We choose whichever approach is going to work at that particular moment, fearless exploration with gentle letting be.

We have this great gift of zazen which, by continuous practice, gradually does allow us to let loose the clinging hands and open the fearful door of our hearts. It allows us to live “with no hindrance in the mind” or in Red Pine’s translation “without walls of the mind.” Zazen is the means to melt away those walls simply by seeing what is, and by turning the gaze inwards.

There is the mythic story, a story which has many versions, of the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree when Mara came to tempt him with self-doubt. “What makes you think you will cut through ignorance?”

In response, the Buddha touched the earth and called on the earth to bear witness to the rightness of his aspiration. In zazen we keep coming back to our sitting on this earth, whatever thoughts or fantasies keep appearing in our mind, with great trust that those delusions will drop away in each moment, again and again, and with great faith that we are doing this for all beings.

I think we sometimes lose sight of how simple and effective zazen is. No need to download an app to do it, no need to charge up anything except your enthusiasm, completely suited to our DIY age. Just sit and see what is, that “Nirvana is here before your eyes.”

The crickets are chirring in the dusk. The last light is fading from the cliff tops.

The darkness of night flows in. Yes, it’s a little video of Kodoji, and time to think about going to Autumn sesshin to enjoy zazen with the Sangha.