Everyone without exception carries a question at the back of their mind, the question of, “What is in my best interests?” How we answer this continuous question determines how we respond to every situation that arises, and influences how we view the world. Usually related to our desires, asking it is considered a reflection of a selfish attitude that answers: “My best interest is getting what I want”
But it is not always so. Our answer is different when we have a change of heart, when our world view is orientated towards others and the world, not just towards our own desires. Then we answer, “My best interest is to be selfless.” This orientation is a reflection of big mind, a compassionate mind, the mind of generosity.
Suzuki-roshi, came to the United States at age 55. Just as the Buddha did ages before, he left a comfortable, safe life to share himself and his experiences with others, because he felt it would be helpful to us. Their practice and their effort was intended to have us learn that selflessness was in our best interests.
The Buddhist precepts were created 2,000 years ago. The patriarchs and teachers at the time felt that living our lives according to those ethical principles was in our best interests. When we hear them or read them, we can accept them: they make us feel good; we want to live that way. But to live according to those principles, we have to go beyond “accept,” that is, beyond ideas of selflessness. Ideas are creative; they can improve our lives and expand our understanding of the world we live in. But ideas can also create separation and isolation if we cling to them with a stubborn mind. We have to go to the next level, which is to “embrace.” We have to go beyond “accepting” something or someone with our intellect and “embrace” without the intellect, without ideas. Our practice is to embrace whatever comes, to embrace life without discrimination. Then there is no separation between our self and the Truth. Then there are no regrets. Here we find selflessness.
Here is a story from ancient China:
In village, a man’s wife dies. His friends come to console him, Expecting him to be mourning. But he is banging on pots, singing They are shocked, ask why: “I am celebrating her”
In other words, he was embracing her death as well as her life.
Zazen is silence of the mind, the only way to see things as they truly are, to see what is going on - actually taking place - without an emotional filter or the distortion of old ideas. Our practice is the best way to understand what is in our best interests now, and in the long run. With a quiet mind, we can see our self without ideas about our self, without protective and defensive ideas about our self. And we recognize and embrace our imperfections, the immature aspects of attitude that confuse what we think are in our best interests, but are not.
Recognition and embrace of our imperfections in practice is vital. Then our practice will lead to constant improvement. Even though we know we can never be perfect, we embrace our imperfections and just continue our practice. This is spiritual maturity and the expression of the authentic life, which is original, true, not artificial, and not fake. When we are authentic, we have no interest in trying to fool our self or fool others. To actualize authenticity requires maturity; we cannot be authentic if we cling to childish ways. As the new testament tells us:
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things.
To “put away childish things” is the recognition of our need not to remain in childhood but rather to be present in the world, in the Reality of the moment, not in a fantasy, a made up world. To “put away childish things ” is to put aside delusion.
In one of his lectures in the mid-1960's, Suzuki - roshi referenced a saying of Confucius:
The most visible thing is something invisible.
Then he quoted a proverb:
The quiet firefly glows with light, unlike the noisy cicada.
Both statements have the same meaning: make a quiet effort, don’t be conspicuous or noisy. He encouraged us to do the important, fundamental work, even if other people don’t realize its value. Then, he said, our effort will not be for our self, but for our descendants. Our practice teaches us not to worry about being noticed or praised. When we bring our spiritual practice into our daily life, we discover satisfaction in making an invisible, unnoticed effort. There we have the authentic life.
In the same talk, Suzuki - roshi said:
But this invisible effort will build up your character, and you will obtain the power to be a master of the surrounding. As long as you are chasing after just visible thing, you will never understand the meaning of our life.This is how we devote ourselves to our way.