I grew up in a small town with next to nothing in the way of opportunity for a slightly odd, creatively inclined kid. Frustration inevitably ensued.
Overly sensitive from a young age, I developed a kind of hardness in order to keep the world at bay. Well, at least the parts that didn’t exalt my own ego.
Having suffered a couple of traumatic events, I became an extraordinarily angry young man. By my teens, I was carrying pent-up resentment towards pretty much everything and everyone. I had my share of fun, but none of my indulgences ever truly satisfied.
As a talented, intelligent and occasionally even charming lad, I never realized how lucky I truly was. I rarely applied myself anything that didn’t come easily, yet I was fortunate that a few things did.
Sticking to them proved more difficult.
I figured leaving my hometown would magically solve my problems. It didn’t. I was still the same hot-tempered, self-obsessed neurotic, but with less people around willing to tolerate such ill behavior. Naturally, I blamed my inner turmoil on everything and everyone besides myself.
Although my academic achievement is spotty at best, I’ve always been an avid reader. While working at a bookstore, I began leafing through books
on Buddhism, developing a superficial affectation which soon blossomed into outright infatuation. In a rare instance of self-discipline, I began
teaching myself how to meditate. Although I found the practice frustrating, I sensed there was something to it.
Since I had no real way to tell if I was doing it “right,” I visited my neighborhood Buddhist center (guess it was a good thing I left my hometown). There, I received more formal training. But being an antisocial jerk, I only stuck with it for about half a year. Perhaps it was my ingrained distrust of groups; maybe it was fear of not being at the center of attention. More likely, I just wasn’t ready. Still, my time with the sangha granted me a solid foundation in sitting and a respect for tradition, for which I’m forever grateful.
I continued to practice on my own, hitting the cushion every single morning. My investigations into the various branches of Buddhism accelerated. I found myself gravitating towards Shingon, a relatively unknown (in the West, at least) form of esoteric Buddhism from Japan. Of course, I also studied Ch’an and its Japanese mirror-image, Zen.
My anger more or less dissipated. My lack of patience remained. Still working on that.
But sometimes feeling better can be dangerous. Like an alcoholic who attends a few meetings and believes he’s cured, I began slacking in my daily practice. I’d attained reasonable success — why continue? Besides, in Buddhism, one is actually supposed to discard the tools of one’s liberation, as not to become attached. “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him,” the time-honored aphorism advocates.
My natural smarts also had a tendency to work against me, as my intellectual comprehension exceeded my experiential acumen. A classic case of mistaking the map for the terrain.
Soon, my old habits started to creep back, thankfully minus the anger.
Without the backbone of daily practice, I fell prey to self-pity and self-medication. Sure, I’d hit the cushion from time to time, depending how rough things got. But my commitment was no more substantial than a Hollywood starlet getting busted and checking herself into rehab. I’d feel better temporarily, then fall prey to the same old vexations of mind.
It’s like falling back into a dream from which you had briefly awakened — pretty soon you forget what awake even feels like and accept the illusion as reality, ’cause it’s more familiar.
But now I’m back at it. And not just the sitting part either: I’m sticking to the Five Precepts. The “no intoxicants” rule is always the hardest for me. I just have to keep reminding myself that Buddha-nature exists in all sentient beings, even a jackass like myself. . .
The Mind of Absolute Trust
Seng-T’san, Third Patriarch, China
The great way isn’t difficult for those who are unattached to their preferences.
Let go of longing and aversion, and everything will be perfectly clear.
When you cling to a hairbreadth of distinction, heaven and earth are set apart.
If you want to realize the truth, don’t be for or against.
The struggle between good and evil is the primal disease of the mind.
Not grasping the deeper meaning, you just trouble your minds serenity.
As vast as infinite space, it is perfect and lacks nothing.
But because you select and reject, you can’t perceive its true nature.
Don’t get entangled in the world; don’t lose yourself in emptiness.
Be at peace in the oneness of things, and all errors will disappear by themselves.
If you don’t live the Tao, you fall into assertion or denial.
Asserting that the world is real, you are blind to its deeper reality;
denying that the world is real, you are blind to the selflessness of all things.
The more you think about these matters, the farther you are from the truth.
Step aside from all thinking, and there is nowhere you can’t go.
Returning to the root, you find the meaning;
chasing appearances, you lose there source.
At the moment of profound insight, you transcend both appearance and emptiness.
Don’t keep searching for the truth; just let go of your opinions.
For the mind in harmony with the Tao, all selfishness disappears.
With not even a trace of self-doubt, you can trust the universe completely.
All at once you are free, with nothing left to hold on to.
All is empty, brilliant, perfect in its own being.
In the world of things as they are, there is no self, no non self.
If you want to describe its essence, the best you can say is “Not-two.”
In this “Not-two” nothing is separate, and nothing in the world is excluded.
The enlightened of all times and places have entered into this truth.
In it there is no gain or loss; one instant is ten thousand years.
There is no here, no there; infinity is right before your eyes.
The tiny is as large as the vast when objective boundaries have vanished;
the vast is as small as the tiny when you don’t have external limits.
Being is an aspect of non-being; non-being is no different from being.
Until you understand this truth, you won’t see anything clearly.
One is all; all are one. When you realize this, what reason for holiness or wisdom?
The mind of absolute trust is beyond all thought, all striving,
is perfectly at peace, for in it there is no yesterday, no today, no tomorrow.