Zen means to realize yourself as a liberated being,
so you can be happy and help others.
Gesshin Myoko Prabhasa Dharma
In Zen we follow the Buddha way so we can realize the Buddha nature within ourselves. All Buddhist practices stem from the fact that nobody is born without Buddha nature. That is our common ground: in all of us lives the notion, the wisdom, that what we seek is already there. Because it is not sufficient to know that Buddha nature is there, we have to practise to live Buddha nature. We have to practise to manifest Buddha nature, give it form in our lives.
Every morning we take refuge in the Buddha, we take refuge in the Dharma and we take refuge in the Sangha. With this we express our trust in the way of liberation.
When we take refuge in the Buddha, we recognize that we are able to realize Buddhahood ourselves. We recognize that liberation is possible. We recognize that the seed of enlightenment is present within ourselves. In fact we take refuge in ourselves. The self, present here and now, has the potential to realize itself as Buddha. In that we trust and therefore we take refuge in Buddhahood as a quality in ourselves. But it also means that we appreciate the qualities of Buddhahood and that we take refuge in them too, in wisdom, in selfless, all pervading love and compassion, in being free from fear.
Taking refuge in the Buddha means in the deepest sense taking refuge in every living being. Yet, taking refuge in the Buddha does not mean that we take for granted what all living beings do. It means that we believe that all living beings are potential Buddhas. No matter how far people may have gone astray in their acts from Buddhahood, everybody still carries the seed of Buddhahood. That is our birthright. So this possibility of realizing peace and harmony is present in each one of us. We can do lots of good things in a social, political or economical way, but peace in the world can not be a fact unless we have realized peace within ourselves. The Buddha way is a way to transform hate and war into love and peace.
The word Dharma refers amongst others to the law of the universe and to the teachings of the Buddha. When we take refuge in the Dharma it means we trust the universal law. According to this law everything comes into existence and everything fades away in interdependence. Taking refuge in the Dharma also means taking refuge in the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddha taught, as everybody who starts meditating finds out, that we are not free. We are caught up in our notions and wishes, in our likes and dislikes.
This being caught up in which ever way, is what the Buddha called dukkha. Dukkha has three roots: greed, anger and delusion or ignorance. How can we be free from dukkha, from discontentment and suffering? If greed, anger and ignorance are the roots of our suffering, then how can we liberate ourselves from them? Most of the time our answer in daily life is that we try to change or take away the object of our ignorance, anger and greed. We try to lift our ignorance by collecting as much knowledge as possible through discussions with others, from books, from the internet. When we are angry with someone, we take it for granted that the solution for our anger lies with the other. If the other person acts and behaves the way I want to, then I do not have to be angry anymore. That is why we so easily say that someone else angers us. We think we can change our greed only by getting what we want.
We always think that our anger, ignorance and greed is being caused by the so called outside world, by the other. Thus we seek liberation from our suffering in the outside world, in the other, if need be in violence. In short, we think liberation is only possible if some conditions are fulfilled. If thus…, then I will be….
The Buddha saw that liberation and being happy is not only dependent on external facts. He found out that it is possible to cope with unpleasant things without suffering, without having to react to it with fighting or fleeing.
In Zen we consider ignorance or confusion as the main root of suffering. Therefore in Zen practice the development of wisdom and compassion is stressed. Wisdom and compassion are like the two wings of a bird: you need both to fly. Discontentment and violence do not disappear by taking away the momentary objects of our discontentment and violence. Fear does not dissolve if we take away that which we fear.
All our emotions will stay our enemies for as long as we stay rooted in the idea of I, me and mine versus you and yours. We created something, an idea, a thing which we call I. This is me, I have a name and all of this is mine. This is my car, my house, my land, and even, this is my God. We created a complete system around this I, me and mine. With this structure we sit down on our cushion. This is all you have to do. And when you sit down you realize the burden you are carrying with you, the weight of it.
So the whole Zen practice is aimed at realizing no-self, this means the self that arises anew from moment to moment. Because this self arises anew again and again, you do not have to carry it with you, you can not attach yourself to it. There is also no ground to separate yourself from others because this no-self self, this true self, comes into being together with others. This is the essence of the teaching of the Buddha.
If we realize through and through that nothing is mine or ours, that all borders are our own creation and do not really exist, that left and right, big and little all come forth from the same source; when we see this through and through, we will stop fighting. When we realize that everything is already there, that there is nothing to gain or to lose, we will stop taking away things from each other.
When we take refuge in the sangha we take refuge in each other. We need each other, because the Buddha way is not an easy way. It confronts us time and time again not only with the seeds of Buddhahood, but for a long time also with the seeds of delusion, anger and fear. Therefore we support each other by practising together.