A Zen’s-Eye View: Everything in our lives teaches us

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Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Sakura-ji

Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Sakura-ji

“Mountains and waters right now actualize the ancient Buddha expression. Each abiding in its condition, unfolds its full potential. Because mountains and waters have been active since before the Empty Eon, they are alive at this moment. Because they have been the self since before form arose they are emancipation actualized.”

Medieval Zen master Eihei Dogen, as he usually does in his essays, begins with what he most wants to say. Everything he says after that is further explanation. Here he is saying that mountains and waters, as well as everything that is deep in our hearts, every physical thing, every object that appears — including computers, freeways and cellphones — is the expression of the most profound of Buddhist understanding and teachings. Everything is Buddha. Everything expresses the fundamental truth of existence. We think of mountains and waters as a part of something bigger than ordinary reality, but we think of cellphones and computers as objects that are not spiritually significant. But Dogen says that everything that appears expresses the purest and highest truth.

What a great idea! It’s stunning to imagine. Who would argue with such a thing? But it’s hard to realize this truth. It’s easy to say you believe it, but if you observe your thoughts and experiences during a day you will see that you do not actually think this is true. You do not think that sitting down to lunch is immersing yourself in the truth of existence.

A preference comes up, “I don’t like this brown rice; I wanted something else for lunch.” But if brown rice were the absolute manifestation of Buddha’s truth you could never have such a thought. But if you realize that all the things you do and all the things you are express the Buddha’s spiritual truth, it becomes obvious that you can live a life of deep and constant reverence.

Of course we all have our preferences. But if you were living in the world that Dogen is describing you would have different set of responses. You would have a deep realization of how miraculous it is that we are here at all. Of course every moment contains spiritual truth, but we don’t usually realize that when we sit down and find brown rice on our plate instead of what we thought we wanted. So we are dissatisfied all the time because we don’t like the rice or because we want a different car or a faster computer. We reject what is happening in our life right now. We have forgotten what Dogen is telling us: that mountains and rivers — that is, that everything in our lives — are a full expression of deep spiritual teachings.

Suggested practice: Imagine that you are completely content with life as it is at this moment. Stop in the middle of some activity and pay attention to your breath, the most constant reality in your life. Take the time to realize the miracle that, once again after breathing out, you have breathed in.

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.