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We shall not cease
     from exploration,
And the end of all
   our exploring,
Will be to arrive
   where we started,
And know the place
   for the first time.

                     -T.S. Eliot

Zen

Images and Text Copyright 2012 Nebraska Zen Center
All Rights Reserved

ZenEveryday is a Good Day - by Nonin Chowaney


A couple of years ago, it snowed in Omaha on April 29th. I had wanted to work in the garden that day and when I looked out the window, my heart sank.

Later, I walked downstairs and mentioned that it was snowing to Albert, one of our group. "Yes," he responded, "there's something quite beautiful about these late Spring snowstorms."

Indeed there is, if you can approach them with an open mind; if you approach them with complaint because there'll be no gardening, they can be a real pain.

Lama Govinda writes that, "All suffering arises from attitude. The world is neither good nor bad. It is solely our relationship to it which makes it either one or the other." Snow on April 29th, or any weather condition on any other day, for that matter, is neither good nor bad. Good and bad is a question of mental attitude.

Moment-by-moment, we create the world in the mind. We can look out and create a gloomy, depressing world on any day by the condition of mind we bring to it. A depressed mind can make a bright, sunshiny day black and dreary, and a contented mind can create heaven out of rain and storm.

I am reminded of the old Zen saying, "Every day is a good day." What determines this? The mind that dwells nowhere; the mind that accepts everything. This is nirvana.

Nirvana may be understood as the absence of greed, anger (or aversion), and delusion. In other words, it's a state of mind. If we can approach whatever life brings us with the mind free from greed, aversion, and delusion, or accept things as they are without grasping for more or turning away from what's there, we cultivate the mental state known as nirvana, quiescence, or, heart-mind at peace with what is.

This does not mean passivity. It does not mean that we lay back and not move. What it means is that we start from zero, from acceptance of our lives as they are, and move from there. In that way we are not kept from or hindered in our living by complaining, grousing, or blaming others for the conditions of our lives. Every moment, then, affords us the opportunity to practice awakening, nirvana, enlightenment. When we sit zazen, we cultivate this practice.

The instruction for zazen is to cultivate the mind that abides nowhere, the mind of non-attachment. We are to allow thoughts to come and go, to arise without denial or suppression and to pass away without clinging. Angry thoughts about the boss? Let them come and let them go. Contentment with a lover? Let it come and let it go. I can't garden because it's snowing? Let it come and let it go. This practice does not aim for any particular state of mind; it is in and of itself the awakened state; sometimes it is called "cultivating the natural condition of mind."

Buddha, the awakened one, taught the Way to end human dissatisfaction, and nothing more. He taught that the end to suffering is non-attachment, non-clinging. This is the practice of zazen. Gradually, we are able to also cultivate this practice when standing, walking, or lying down; our life itself is enlightenment.

A mind that can abide anywhere is always content, even when suffering greatly. This is liberation; suffering is gone through. We accept what comes, live it, and move on. In the words of Zen Master Bodhidharma:

When those who search for the Path encounter adversity, they should think to themselves, `In countless ages gone by, I've turned from the essential to the trivial and wandered through all manner of existence, often angry without cause and guilty of numberless transgressions. Now, though I do no wrong, I'm punished by my past. No one can foresee when an evil deed will bear its fruit. I accept it with an open heart and without complaint of injustice.' The sutras say, `When you meet with adversity don't be upset, because it makes sense.' With such understanding you're in harmony with reason. And by suffering injustice you enter the Path.

When I was practicing at Tassajara monastery, I got sick with a sinus problem that kept reoccurring. Once during the training period that I was head monk, it came back and lingered for almost two weeks. I had a lot of responsibilities, but all I could do was lay in bed, and I'm afraid I didn't do a very good job of being sick; it was very hard.

One afternoon, I made myself a cup of tea and sat outside in the garden behind my cabin feeling sorry for myself, sneezing and blowing my nose, being miserable. I looked over toward the zendo where the late afternoon sun was glowing on the rocks. The flowers and shrubs were gleaming. In a moment, everything turned. It was incredibly beautiful. The world was a lovely place, no longer grim, dark, and heavy. Everything was all right, even though my nose was still clogged! Instead of a living hell, the world was the Lotus Land of beauty and purity.

This was an important experience for me. One moment, pain and suffering; the next, joy and relief. This all occurs in the mind; we create the world we live in. We sometimes cannot change the circumstances we live in, but we can always change our attitude. If we can learn to let go, it will change by itself.

As Lama Govinda said, "All suffering arises from attitude. The world is neither good nor bad. It is solely our relationship to it which makes it either one or the other." So, even if it's a bad day, "every day is a good day."