Grace in Buddhism

I often search for a long time to find how certain Judeo-Christian terms translate to Buddhism. When I find a pathway of translation, I’m quite excited. I have long looked for the translation of “grace” into Buddhism. This week I heard, while listening to a Norman Fischer talk on “Transformation at the base,” what occurred to me as “grace.”

We know that consciously we can change many things about ourselves. We can identify our habit patterns, interrupt them and “try” to move ourselves in the direction of freedom from those patterns. Sometimes we try so very hard, but our habit patterns don’t seem to budge. They will not transform by our conscious will alone.

I have worked with the sentence “the more you do a pattern, the more ingrained the pattern becomes, the less you do a pattern, the weaker the pattern becomes.” It is a pretty simple explanation of Karma (cause and effect) and is a very good practice. And yet, even with this practice, how do you transform the unconscious roots of that manifestation?

The change we hope for is different then say, learning medicine or music or other types of conscious lessons with a visible result. When we try to deeply transform ourselves and our consciousness, it is not entirely done through conscious will. Conscious transformation is worthwhile and good, but fundamental change happens at the base.

Fundamental transformation is not a conscious doing. One deeply gives oneself over to a process. It is not just your acts. This surrender needs to happen at the base of our life. Conscious effort works with the manifested seeds but not the latent seeds – the hidden unconscious seeds in the storehouse consciousness. What we do on the surface of our consciousness, good or bad, manifests in life but our actions also affects or distorts the seeds that are latent in the storehouse consciousness. This makes certain seeds more easily able to arise the next time if the conditions are ripe.

Norman Fischer puts forth that a deep committed zazen practice can touch this base of transformation beyond our conscious trying to change. Zazen is more than you can consciously intend. There is an unknown, dark level of zazen that works in a mysterious way on all levels of our transformation. It goes beyond our conscious trying. Thich Nhat Hanh adds that a committed deep practice of mindfulness and practicing with a sangha is the light that transforms us. “When mindfulness shines, it transforms all mental formations.”

I am left with the direction that surrendering to the process of zazen, mindfulness and community is the way to transform myself on the deepest level. It includes conscious acts but is not limited to consciousness. Somehow, zazen opens us to a mysterious grace that transforms us at the base.