At the end of a talk on Buddhism by a well-known master, a Western listener irritably objected. “You kept saying that while our whole life was a life of distinctions, we should be in illusion and suffer. You quoted all those stories of rich people groaning because they thought themselves very poor, or people standing up to the neck in fresh water and crying out, ‘We’re thirsty!’ All very pathetic. But you contradict yourself, because your words themselves are distinctions. So your very words are part of it all: they are just as illusory as the rest.”
“Yes,” said the preacher, “they’re imitation pearls thrown to people pretending to be beggars. But it makes them feel better, just for a bit. And when they feel better, they might stop groaning and wailing for a moment, and look around at how things really are.”
Some people say that although they meditate and do practise, there is no response from the True Face within. A teacher gave this example: “Suppose you are an electrician and are rung up to go round at once for some urgent repair but then come back again complaining that there was no one in. You then telephone the place and are told, ‘I have been in all the time waiting for the electrician! Why don’t you come?’ ‘But I rang the bell and rang and rang and there was no answer!’” The teacher said that in the same way repairing the bell is our immediate task when we practise. Then there will be a response.
Theoretically we know that the air is full of radio waves. But people might ask, “Where are these waves?” And we say, “Oh, but they are here.” One may want to listen to them, but when one is banging and shouting one cannot hear anything! Or if one has but a little set, even a little banging and shouting, and I cannot hear. This is a delicate analogy. The receiving set is not perfect for a long time but the sound is there. In the same way, the teacher said, we are spitting at the Buddha all day long, and then in the evening we are shouting at the Buddha. But if we reduce the noise, reduce the shouting, reduce the banging, reduce the clamour, “I don’t see him!” Then he can be perceived!
A teacher said, “There is all the difference in the world between a man who is inviting the Buddha into his own home but stands in the door so that the Buddha cannot come in, and another who stands aside, becoming nothing, and so the Buddha can come in.” In the same way, standing out in our meditation and daily life practise, we are in the way. Although we are inviting and seeking, we are actually in the way, and the thing is to melt into and become a vacancy through which the Buddha can come. And he said that the practises to this purpose are not very attractive, or they are attractive at first, which is one understanding of the “beginner’s mind” and why the beginner’s mind is so highly praised. In the beginning we are thinking and pondering about the practise all the time, in our daily life we can hardly wait and exercise patience, or whatever else it might be. We must not forget that urgency because the time will come when we will merely think, “I’ll do it, I’ll do it, YES, I’ll do it.” Think back then to the beginner’s mind. Usually we start with enthusiasm, then we have a “dead” period when we think it is always going to be like this, always going uphill and somehow dreary and dull. Where then is the joy in this? There is not, really, and what you felt at the beginning was actually no joy but hope. A modern analogy says that it is like that with cigarettes and whisky. Nobody enjoys the first cigarette they smoke, they only smoke them in order to appear more grown-up than they are. And nobody likes the first whisky or other alcohol, rather they spit them out if they can. Yet these two can become the strongest addictions. This may not be a particularly elevating example, but it is a powerful one. In the same way, Zen Buddhist practise can open up and become a joy like no other joy