Today vast amounts of information are easy to obtain. Choice is endemic. If we are interested in meditation we can access the teachings of thousands of years in a few short seconds and soon be reading hundreds of pages of the sayings of ancient masters. It’s a wonderful thing to have such ready access to virtually all the wisdom traditions in the world.
However, too much choice can be overwhelming and the very volume of this information can be a barrier to embracing and practicing the teachings. Often when many choices are available we have trouble making up our minds at all. It is possible to simply hop from teacher to teacher and method to method, never really getting to the core of any of them. This can often be justified by the notion of diversity being better, and while there is some truth to this, it can also be a way of avoiding the real work that needs to be done. The real work begins when boredom and avoidance kick in. If we bolt at the first feeling of resistance there is little possibility of overcoming it and making a quantum shift in consciousness.
Here we definitely need to consult our inner wisdom and listen to our heart. In Japanese Zen there is the word “shin.” Shin is normally translated as “mind,” but in reality means something more akin to heart/mind. The notion is that each of us has access to wisdom which, when we sense it is being reflected in an outer teaching, causes our heart/mind to vibrate in accord with it. It was like this with my first teacher. My connection with him was obvious from the very beginning, and although I didn’t think I was looking for a teacher at the time, a deeper part of me came through and I recognized that I actually was.
There is often confusion between information that is accumulated through outside sources and that which is obtained through the many hours of inner search necessary in Zen practice. The ego self often uses information gathered from outside sources to reinforce its own beliefs. In Zen, our practice is about letting go of this type of accumulated knowledge. We acknowledge its value, but realize that it limits our life experience in the same way blinders limit the view of a horse pulling a carriage. We don’t want to turn our spirituality into a basic reinforcement of our own delusions.
The problem, of course, is that it is comfortable and easy to search for knowledge on our computer, but difficult to sit for many hours dealing with our inner turmoil. It is difficult, boring and painful to just be present with the chaos that we see when we first attempt to turn our attention inward. Fortunately, the chaotic energy diminishes in time, and is eventually replaced by clarity, peace and bliss, but only after considerable time and energy are expended. Although we would like to skip this step and go straight to mastery, it is just not possible. Whether we are learning to play the guitar, learning to swim or beginning meditation, we have to pay our dues. This is the way the human body/mind works.
In times like this I often find myself returning to what is referred to in Zen as the Three Treasures. The Three Treasures are Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. These ancient Sanskrit words can be seen as Awakened Mind, Teaching and Community. We all possess awakened mind from birth, but are asleep and don’t recognize it. We go through life in a dream of our own creation, a blue pill Matrix-like delusion reinforced by vast amounts of outside suggestion. Because of this fact, Dharma, or teaching, is necessary as an antidote. Teaching is manifested by teachers, and finding a challenging teacher is a wonderful and essential thing. And teaching of this sort is supported by community, for without community teachers would not have a place to teach and students would not have place to gather to practice. The community creates and defines the place of practice, and this benefits all who are currently members. At the same time we can view our participation as a contribution, in that while it benefits us it also does the same for others.
When we realize and embody the Three Treasures, our life becomes a Bodhi Mandala, a place of awakening, wherever we go. But it is important to continue to clarify and deepen our understanding as this process has no beginning and no end. Relying on our heart/mind we see that a choiceless choice is always in front of us showing us the Way. If anything can be called Zen, this is it.
Sensei Al Rapaport is an Authorized Zen Teacher and Director of Open Mind Zen Meditation Center.