A Zen’s-Eye View: Enlightenment isn’t a goal — it is here and now

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Maybe once or twice in a lifetime we have that wonderful feeling that this is exactly right. Everything is just as it should be: full and complete. It’s a wonderful feeling, but rare. Usually we struggle for completion and self-improvement. We try to become whole but never quite get there. But imagine feeling that this moment is exactly complete as it is. Nothing more is needed.

When we think of impermanence we think it means that wonderful experiences are gone before we can grasp them. Impermanence seems incomplete to us because we have this idea of grasping something we can’t get. Often it seems like we are losing everything. But true impermanence is actually the opposite of that. With true impermanence each thing that appears carries the entire profound truth at its moment of appearance. This means that in every moment we can be fully satisfied, fully complete. Isn’t that great?

We could call this enlightenment, but that sounds so unattainable. This description sounds more day-to-day. That’s why I don’t like the word “enlightenment”. Enlightenment is not something you have to make into a goal. Enlightenment is how things always are, and we are living it every moment. So we don’t have to get enlightened. We are enlightenment itself, because enlightenment is everything that appears.

But there is a problem to be solved because we don’t feel like that. And that’s a problem only because it makes us dissatisfied with our life, as it is, right now. It wouldn’t be so bad if it just made us unhappy, but the problem is we do a lot of stupid things when we are unhappy, and because we don’t know who we are. We destroy relationships; we spend a lot of time trying to get material things we imagine will bring contentment, and in doing that, we are destroying the Earth.

This is why Zen students meditate. Every time we sit down in meditation we come closer to realizing what is true all the time. We can’t be destructive when sitting in silence. To live a life in which meditation is the touchstone is a beautiful possibility. And we can all do that. We don’t have to live in a Zen monastery where everything is constantly referring to this truth. We need only practice meditation regularly and see it as the basis of our lives.

Meditation is not just something we do to calm down, like having a hot bath or going for a walk. Meditation is the basis of our life. Whatever we are in the moment, whatever our circumstances are, enlightenment can be realized. But it takes a lot of training. It takes regular practice. It takes diligent examination of our own minds. But after a while, it’s just our life.

Suggested practice: Find a quiet place, direct your awareness to your breath and each time something arises in your mind, notice and let it go. Do this for 20 minutes twice a day.

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Sakura-ji, Creston’s zendo. This column is part of a long essay on an essay by 13th century Zen master Eihei Dogen and is inspired by the teaching of Norman Fishcher. For more information, Minogue can be reached at 250-428-6500, and previous columns are available at www.zenwords.net.