Dharma Talk

Of What Does Your Life Speak?
by Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao

In the Japanese film “After Life,” people who have recently died are asked to select one memory from their lifetime to take into eternity – a moment that sums up their life. What one memory would you choose? This question has led me to other questions: In the so-called end, what really matters in this life? Of what does my life, as I am living it, speak?

In considering these questions, we Zen students might slip into glib Zen-speak: every moment is “just this!” We might utter rote renderings of the one and the many. We might evade the question altogether by wondering what happens after we die. Or perhaps fear arises that we have not experienced even one moment of intimacy, and we are overcome with regret and sorrow. Still others will emerge with a determination to plunge deeper into their life.

In reflecting upon the common denominator of the memories that were selected by the characters in the film, it seemed that people sifted through their lives searching for a moment of connection, of intimacy. A moment without gap. A memory of a time when they did not feel alienated and separated, when they felt a part of something or were something.

There is a story of a devout woman who chanted “Namu Amida Butsu (Be one with Amida Buddha)” everyday. When she died, all of her chants were reviewed. Each one that had not been chanted with her entire being was discarded. Despondently, she watched as thousands upon thousands of her chants were thrown out. Finally, only one chant was left. Luckily, this last chant had been chanted as her entire being – her one moment – and she was saved.

Imagine that each moment of your zazen was examined to see if you were truly doing zazen, and moment after moment ends up being thrown out because you were not truly embodying zazen. What does it mean to embody zazen? We could say this: zazen zazens zazen. In other words, it is not a matter of “I” am doing zazen, or even a matter of zazen is doing “me,” but rather any solid sense of “I” or “me” has dissolved into zazen zazening zazen.

There are over 80 of us who are enrolled in the course of committing to one hour of zazen a day for one hundred consecutive days. Most of us approach this practice from the viewpoint of how am I going to fit one hour of zazen into my busy schedule? At some point we shift to how can my busy schedule be arranged around an hour of zazen? Then, we begin to ask: what is zazen? Is zazen just sitting on my cushion in cross-legged position? Perhaps I can sit while on the airplane or while waiting at the doctor’s office. Perhaps on some days I can sit ten minutes here, fifteen minutes there. We begin to experiment and loosen up around what zazen should look like. And we become inquisitive about what zazen is. We begin to develop the patience to experience ourselves.

“ . . . I am a part of
other people’s happiness.”

In Chapter 7 of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha tells of Daitsu Chisho Buddha who sat zazen for ten kalpas in the meditation hall and the Buddhadharma did not appear. In Case 9 of The Gateless Gate, a monk reading the Lotus Sutra is struck by this statement. “Why,” he asks Zen Master Seijo, “did the Buddhadharma not appear?” This monk’s question is our question. We fear that the Buddhadharma will not appear to us. We will not attain Buddhahood, no matter how hard or how long we sit. After all, we can barely manage to sit an hour of zazen a day! What if we sit for ten kapas and nothing appears? What if at the end of this life, we cannot find one true moment?

Daitsu Chisho Buddha is our name. Dai means “great, without boundary.” Tsu means “to go through or pass freely,” without obstruction, from one place to another. So daitsu means “with complete or total freedom to go anywhere.” Chi means “wisdom” and sho is “the best.” The best wisdom does not depend on any particular teaching and yet responds appropriately to each situation. This is our nature: functioning freely and appropriately, without obstruction. Can you settle into this? If you say no, then what is lacking? To even think that you lack something is to miss the essential point of what your life speaks.

Why did the Buddhadharma not appear to Daitsu Chisho? “What a splendid question,” Master Jo replied to the inquiring monk. What is the nature of this “splendid?” Master Jo is declaring, “Daitsu Chisho is who you are! Splendid! Splendid!” It is very straightforward: You yourself are the Way. Your zazen itself is Buddha’s zazen. The one who is asking the question is already what you are seeking. It is not a question of appearing or finding or becoming. Have this appreciation of what you truly are! But the monk misses and asks again, “Why did he not attain Buddhahood?” And Master Jo replies again, “Because he didn’t.” You cannot become what you already are.

Daitsu Chisho sat in the meditation hall for ten kalpas and the Buddhadharma did not appear. The meditation hall is not just a room with walls, floor and ceiling. The meditation hall is your very body, the streets of Los Angeles, the world — everywhere. Literally everywhere. How long is a kalpa? As we know, it is a very, very long time. But, in fact, a kalpa is just now. We do not need to worry about the so-called “after life.” There is just now — everytime. And what is zazen, this sitting? It is literally everything, all the activities of your life.

Perhaps you are thinking that Daitsu Chisho Buddha should look or feel a certain way. Buddha looks like you. Buddha feels like you. Buddha’s life is your life. Accept it. Be willing to be yourself. You are already you. Zazen will not make you become something other that what you already are. Awareness of this is not demanding something other of you. Rather, it is a deep appreciation of what your life is. You are Daitsu Chisho Buddha. Daitsu Chisho Buddha is you. We do not need to be afraid of this reality.

One of the characters in “After Life,” dead for many, many years, has been unable to find one defining memory. Finally, he comes to a startling realization: “I am a part of other people’s happiness.” Does your life speak of this? Is zazen zazening zazen? What does your life speak of who you are?

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