After many years of seeking, Siddhartha became 'Buddha,' - awake- when he realised the immediate unified nature of reality. He realised that what we take as solid and permanent is not so, and that what is true only appears here-and-now. He saw that unease and dissatisfaction arises when we become caught in our wishes, desires and expectations rooted in our ideas and concepts, instead of acting as the real-moment expression of the universe
We can realise we already know reality by paying careful attention to our moment-by-moment experience without indulging or resisting it. If we do so, we see for ourselves that there is nothing fixed about it. Even what we call our "self" is always changing. We meet our life fully and discover that we are indivisibly part of reality, never ever separate; that action is what makes reality, what makes our life.
The Buddha suggested we 'enter the stream' of every dimension of our life (the eightfold path) imbued with this intuitive understanding that is already present when we drop identification with our concepts. If we take up this path we can unbind ourselves from unease and dissatisfaction. He suggested we need no belief in the supernatural or in creator gods to do this.
Our life has four aspects that are operating at every moment. Firstly, we experience the world of mental concepts, beliefs and ideas, mostly conditioned by our preferences and the accidents of our birth and upbringing. Secondly, we find ourselves firmly rooted, embodied, in the present moment as part of the arising and passing of the physical and material. Thirdly, our actual life consists of actions; finally, when we try to grasp and pin down our experience of reality, it shows itself to be ineffable and beyond the intellect. Thus, only in action do we come to know and understand what it means to be fully ourselves, and only ever in the here and now.
Zen- in the sitting practice of zazen- has two aspects.
The first is sitting upright and balanced, fully attentive in the sitting posture of zazen, where we bring every aspect of our attention, physical, mental and emotional, to being open and present wtithout becoming entangled in the constant content and activity of the mind. Yes, the mind continues to throw up ideas, images and feelings, but we let all that go as we engage fully in the direct experience of the posture.
The second is being fully present in our everyday life acting from the state of unity and natural balance of mind / body, spirit / material.
These two aspects of practice are intimately connected and inform each other in every moment.
There are four basic attitudes that give expression to Buddhist practice in Dogen's Zen tradition :
1. Establish the will-to-truth (bodhicitta)
Bring an open questioning mind to every belief, idea, interpretation and concept you experience; hold loose to it all and realise that what we think is not necessarily the truth of existence; become willing to explore and directly for yourself the true nature of reality, without taking up any belief systems. fully grasp how impermanent what we call 'reality' is. The truth is never a fixed idea or set of beliefs, but is always arising, new in every moment. So the 'will-to-truth' is really an attitude that is flexible, open and curious.
2. Fully realise cause-and-effect (pratitya-samutpada)
Pay close, non-judgmental attention to your experience; see directly that whole universe appears right now as an infinite web of conditions and consequences with no abiding self-nature in any phenomena. Nevertheless every event, every action and every process has an impact on every other, so you are invited to take care in all your everyday interactions. We take precepts to help us understand what wholesome action might look like.
3. Life is instantaneous arising here and now.
The past is only memory, the future does not exist; both past and future occur in our minds in the present moment. And the present moment cannot be found. Time and being are not-two. What we imagine or construct in our minds is interpretation and not reality. If we understand how time is both instantaneous and continuous flow, we can directly experience inter-connectedness with the whole universe and let go of fretting about the past or worrying about the future.
4. Practise zazen regularly, as it is itself reality, balance and wholeness.
We do not practice in the usual sense to gain an end result or to improve ourselves, or to bring about a special mental or spiritual state. Instead, we practice zazen, sitting in an upright posture as an expression of the balanced state, embodied and complete. We attentively let go of all our ideas, thoughts and all "I"- constructing beliefs whenever they arise. When we relax our grip on the spinning mind, our natural intuitive clarity (prajna) can be seen and felt directly.
Zazen is our greatest and most profound teacher and the purest form of action. It shows us the nature of experience and enables us to live a liberated and natural life.