One of my favorite Ryokan poems:
Entrusting yourself to the waves.
Entrustment — to put into the care of and protecting someone or something. That is from the dictionary. Is there, in Buddhism, someone or something to entrust yourself with? Well, certainly it is not a someone. There is no centralized intelligence that is watching over us as there is in many theistic religions. But there is, in Buddhism, something we can trust in — Zenki, the total dynamic functioning of the universe. If we understand that we are a cog in a large system, or that we are a knot in a large network of interdependence, then we can let go and trust. There is something, a network of systemic working, that is holding us up. We are, indeed, supported by something that we cannot see. This is entrusting ourselves to the waves of life itself.
Usually we think, in a mistaken idea, that the “dharma” is something outside of our ordinary lives. It is something that is outside of drifting east and west, outside of coming and going. We think we have to transcend our karma, or transcend our historic self and enter into a place that is beyond history. This place is sometimes called the vermillion towers in Dogen’s work or in the Lotus sutra, the magic city.
What I love about this poem, is the simplicity in which Ryokan merges the dichotomy of the historic dimension and the transcendent dimension. He says the waves are none other than the water. Coming and going is non other than stillness. We can entrust ourselves to life itself. We can as Katagiri Roshi used to say, “Just Live!” or understand the process of coming and going as “life-ing.” The universal transcendent energy is completely merged with each wave.
So trust really means learning how to let go and become one with the whole system. Trusting that the machine of life, or of our family, or of our sangha, is working in peace and harmony.
There is still the deep belief in cause and effect. It does matter what we do. Letting go or entrustment is not simply a matter of passivity. I am battling here with the two sides that I want to bring together. I don’t think Americans or maybe all humans are that comfortable with non-doing and trust. Part of my practice is very much, moment-to-moment, allowing myself to be soft, open, flow, and not too aggressive or controlling. On the other hand, I try to understand that the seeds of the activity that I plant will change the course of the waves. It is sometimes called the razor’s edge. When to act, and when to let go. In the Koan literature, this is described as putting down and uplifting, or letting go and gathering in and many other similar phrases.
Freedom in our practice is that we are free to do either side without hesitation. We do not think that one side is superior and the other side is inferior. And we can go with the flow of our lives, sometimes going east, sometimes west, sometimes not-doing anything, sometimes acting. Entrusting ourselves to the waves.