Hashimoto Roshi, one of Katagiri Roshi’s teachers, said:
The way we (Japanese) cook is to prepare each ingredient separately. Rice is here and pickles are over there. But when you put them in your stomach, you don’t know which is which. The soup, rice, pickles, and everything get mixed up. That is the world of the absolute. As long as soup, rice, pickles remain separate, they are not working. You are not being nourished. That is like your intellectual understanding or book knowledge — it remains separate from your actual life.
From “Not Always So” Shunryu Suzuki page 127
Our intellectual understanding is full of categorization, good and bad, right and wrong, ordinary and sacred. When leading your life from these types of categorizations, you are not nourished. You are always seeking for something that is “other” or “better” then what is happening right in front of you, your real life. That’s too bad, isn’t it? I came to a spiritual life filled with wishing things were different in my life then the way they were. I had great hope for finding nirvana, which I hoped, would take me away from my life. Nirvana and happiness seemed separate from what was actually happening. I rejected or hated my karma, my history, the stories from childhood, my personality and so on. From this point of view, everything is always dissatisfactory which is Buddha’s first noble truth.
The more I have embraced and studied what it means to have a spiritual life, the more I see that it has nothing to do with the outer circumstances, and most to do with my mind and my actions. Spiritual life is not stuck in perfection. It especially doesn’t demand that things go my way. The food we eat doesn’t need to be perfectly aesthetic. The rice and soup and pickles could be separated and beautiful but once it hits the stomach, the fire of combustion mixes everything up. All the foods are interrelated in order to make the energy of our life. The outside and the inside are working together. It does not correspond to the categories of our thinking.
We don’t know which is which. Is this good or bad? Is this spiritual or materialistic? Is this form or spirit? Is this my life or the sangha’s life? Are my sons a “them”? Am I ugly or beautiful? Thinking like that, you are not being nourished. The categorization is not helping you see the combustion of your life. Our Buddha-nature is always happening in the center of this moment. If you are not connected with the mystery, which is the true source of nurturance, you are forever frustrated with life.
I have the opportunity to be alive, to practice, to connect with the mystery and beauty of life in each day, in each moment, no matter what is happening externally. Or even, because of what is happening externally, I am under pressure to connect with the true source and not the conditions, even more. Even the worst condition can become the source of pushing us into realizing nowness. Even though no one wants a bad, painful circumstance, our reaction to it and our acceptance of it produces the spiritual quality of equanimity which can handle a bad circumstance. This combustion in our stomach, of mixing things up, is the true maturity of a human being. We are combusting with our karma and with our Buddha-nature. The absolute and the relative are totally mixed up.
Suzuki Roshi writes (page 130)
Wherever you are, enlightenment is there. If you stand up right where you are, that is enlightenment. This is called I-don’t-know zazen. We don’t know what zazen is anymore. I don’t know who I am. To find complete composure when you don’t know who you are or where you are, that is to accept things as they are. ….. Here we find the joy of life in our composure, we don’t know what it is, we don’t understand anything, but our mind is very great, and very wide.”
To accept things as they are and to dig underneath the appearance of our life and find the mystery in all circumstances, is to practice Zen. This is the expression of great composure with our karmic life. In digesting deeply our karma, we can find the spirit of joy, gratitude and happiness within human suffering. Our hearts can be opened. This is an attitude that is larger than our self-centered point of view and is expressed in the very mundane, day-to-day acts of a human life.
What a turn around from wanting to escape my life. Now I see that my life is all I have and it is imbued with enlightenment if I open myself to it.