Free Flowing Life and Death

Be A Buddha: Dogen Zenji On Life and Death

Whenever and wherever I can, I try to let go of, or at least question, my well-worn thoughts and opinions.  I also try to come unglued from my habitual, knee-jerk reactions.  I try to let go because if I’m holding on, if I’m bound by habit and reactivity, I’ll  be sure to miss the breathing, pulsing changes of life happening in every moment.  And if I miss what’s happening now, I’m surely bound to add to the suffering in the world.

You too shall pass away.
Knowing this, how can you quarrel? ~The Dammapadda

Holding a grudge is pure torment. So, whenever and wherever I can, I try to forgive.  Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and then saying, “Take that!” to an offender.  It’s entirely optional, self-inflicted suffering.

I work to give up my self-righteous idealism. If and when I can loosen my grip on the way I insist things should be, I try to.

If I can be gentle, I’m gentle.

Where I can relax, I relax.

This “letting go” of attachments and stress, this getting the heart/mind unstuck, is the heart of Buddhist practice.

It’s a practice I’m practicing.

It’s the way to become Buddha, after all.

Every Buddhist teacher worthy of the title has her or his own way to express this fundamental teaching.  On one occasion Dogen Zenji, the founder of Soto Zen Buddhism put it this way:

“And who would want to become stuck in their own mind?

“There is an extremely easy way to become Buddha. Simply, do not adhere to any evil whatsoever; do not become attached to life or death; have compassion for all sentient beings… rid yourself of the mental attitude that deplores the ten thousand things as they sprout up and the mental attitude that craves them; let your mind be free of judgmentalism and free of worry, for to do so is what we call being a Buddha…” ~Shōbōgenzō 93: On Life and Death, translated by Rev. Hubert Nearman

Wouldn’t you like to be a buddha?  Let go of the ten thousand things.  The “ten thousand things” are simply all the uncountable numbers of things and events that we encounter in life, including birth, life’s high points and low points, and death.  To not deplore or crave these things is to have the wisdom and compassion of a buddha.

And Like the Dhammapada, perhaps the oldest collection of scriptures in the canon, Dogen Zenji calls us to be free from sorrow, that is, to be Buddha, here and now.

Sorrow grows
Like grass after a rain
For anyone overcome by this miserable craving
And clinging to the world.

Sorrow falls away
Like drops of water from a lotus
For anyone who overcomes this miserable craving
And clinging to the world.

Through effort, vigilance,
Restraint, and self-control,
The wise person can become an island
No flood will overcome.
(The Dhammapada, 
translation by Gil Fronsdale.)

Dogen Zenji called this, “an extremely easy way to become a Buddha.”  Even so, I have to say I’m no buddha yet, yet I surely love and enjoy practicing.

The photo at the top of this post is of an ever flowing moment at Niagara Falls by Michelle Rosen.


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May your life go well!