Shambhala Sun | May 2013
Bear Witness to All of Life
ROSHI BERNIE GLASSMAN on the three pure precepts—cease from evil, do good, and do good for others— and why they all come down to a single point.
Dogen Zenji says of the first pure precept, “ceasing from evil is the abiding place
of laws and rules of all buddhas.” This abiding place is the state of
nonduality, of not-knowing and nonseparation. The Sixth ancestor of Zen defines
zazen as the state of mind in which there is no separation between subject and
object—no space between you and me, up and down, right or wrong. So we can also
call this precept “returning to the One.”
It’s a very difficult
place to be in, this place where we don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong.
it is the place of just being, of life itself. How many of us can say that we
are open to all the ways of all lives? How many of us can say that we don’t
have the answer? How many of us can say that every way that’s being presented
is the right way?
Zen is a practice
that pushes us to realize what is. To me, zazen is a form of bearing witness to
life, of bearing witness to the elimination of the denial of the oneness of our
life. as human beings, each one of us is denying something. There are certain
aspects of life we do not want to deal with, usually because we are afraid of
them. Sometimes it is society itself that is in denial.
Zazen allows us to
bear witness to all of life. To me, that is the essence of the second pure
precept, doing good. Dogen says, “Doing good, this is the dharma, supreme
enlightenment. This is the way of all beings.”
Bearing witness to
things we are denying or that society is denying, bearing witness to the things
we don’t want to deal with— this is the second precept. When we bear witness,
we open to what is, and we learn. The things that we are in denial about teach
us. We don’t go to them to teach them. When we can listen, when we can bear
witness, they teach us.
For me, the flowering
of zazen is the third pure precept, doing good for others. Dogen says, “This is
to transcend the profane and to be beyond the holy. This is to liberate oneself
What good is it if we
just make ourselves more holy? What’s the point? The point is to serve, to
offer, to be the offering. Of itself the fruit is born. So we don’t have to
worry about what to do. if we cease from evil, if we become that state of
unknowing, if we become zazen, the offering will arise. The fruit will be born.
The question always
comes up: how do we bring our Zen into our life? but Zen is life. What is there
to bring? And into what? The point is to see life as the practice field. Every
aspect of our life has to become practice.
i was trained in a
traditional monastic model whose forms are conducive to the state of
not-knowing. The question for me is, what forms can we create in modern society
that will be conducive to seeing the oneness of life? What are the forms that
will make it easier for us to experience that state of nonduality? Almost
anything we do will cause more dualistic thinking. How do we lead ourselves,
our brothers, and our sisters into a state of nonduality? That’s the question.
That’s the koan.