“What is being spent in vain?”
Yesterday, I talked about the possibility that we spend our lives in vain if we continue to follow
our ceaseless mental associations. Don’t you have any questions about this point? I did. The point
is – in our lives, what is in vain, and what is not in vain?
Zen Master Dogen tells us, “Even if you spent one hundred years in vain as a slave of your
delusion, just entering the genuine practice for one day is enough to actualise not only one
hundred years of your own life, but also at the same time to bring the lives of others to
completion in your one genuine practice”.
That means, this one moment, or one encounter of life is enough in this universe, even for all
others. To achieve and realize the real universe and cosmos, this NOW is enough, and the single
opportunity to achieve whole(one)ness. This Now is it.
One morning, when I was a young novice, I had Dokusan with my master and told him, “This
morning, my zazen was very sharp and clear”. I then told him of my regrets about my previous
sesshin of unclear practice. At that time, my determination to practice was still so unstable due to
a mixture of views on life, some of them scientific. Suddenly my master gazed at me and asked,
“Have you ever done anything till now, which has not been in vain!?”.
Suddenly, I became aware that all I had done so far was in vain, but this miraculous encounter
with my master’s universe awakened me that it was exceptional (not in vain).
So, now we can try to clarify in our depths about what is being spent in vain, and what is not. Is
everything we do in vain? Only a waste, and futile? Is there anything in the universe that is
I recently participated in a special zen meditation retreat at Auschwitz and together with ninetythree
participants sat in zazen at the “selection site” where millions of people arrived and were
selected to either die in the gas chambers, or to go into forced labour. Through these experiences,
I looked around at the ruins of what the Nazis had done so steadily and systematically with a huge
organization driven by their fanatical beliefs. Anyway, what I saw on the earth of that huge
concentration camp is only gloomy ruins. I felt that it had all been done in vain- wasted, it had
Arnold Toynbee stated that human beings have created twenty-seven civilizations in the past
thirty thousand years. How many ruins do we have on the earth now? Not only the pyramids of
Egypt, the Acropolis, Machu Pichu of the Incas, …, New York, Tokyo1, …all the civilizations we
have built are in ruins already, or are in the process of ruin. Even the whole earth itself is
gradually (or rapidly) being ruined! This includes millions of volumes of Buddhisms, Maoism,
Taoism, Judaism,…., sutras, scriptures, doctrines, scrolls and all our human cultural works and
histories. This is true also for Dochu-An, ZESCO, this sesshin, or not? It depends, on what? It all
depends on our awareness of this life-encounter only!
So, what is being spent in vain, and what is not being spent in vain?
(Please read mindfully from this point on, we are entering a paradox)
1 New York and Tokyo are already a different form of concentration camp ruin.
Whatever we do, is already ruins. What is the real meaning of our deeds, or actions, or life itself?
Yes, all is in vain. The physical cosmos is vacant and meaningless. As a consequence, it is my
(your) perfectly free choice whether you follow the common principle of spending life in vain, or
to discover and create our own new meaning and higher principle, as each of us is an
incomparable, unique universe, and originally (NOW), we are infinite, we include everything as
everything includes us. We are being created by the universe and at the same time each of us is,
moment by moment, creating a totally new unique universe. So we are free not to follow the very
common principle of cosmic vacancy and futility. We can create a new cosmos of unique nature
and principle day by day, encounter by encounter, cosmos by cosmos (in this awakened moment
of THIS!) Cosmos and ourselves are mutually creating – mutually included.
Once we really understand the ultimate point of this creative paradox of universe and life in our
depths, everything is so profoundly unique and meaningful. We discover anew, afresh, that we
have never found life before. This is the real discovery of the universe in our depths. This is what
Zen master Dogen meant. As the original nature of the cosmos and ourselves is infinite and
colourless (no fixed colour), any colour is possible- if you are red, the universe is red, if you
become black, the universe is black; there is no fixed way or constant colour – everything is
transient and ever-changing.
Last evening, I told you that if we ceaselessly repeat following our endless stream of mental
associations without being aware of this serious but very common habit, we are surely spending
our life times in vain. Now we know this reality of ourselves and whenever we mindfully breathe
one-by-one, we feel our deepest fulfillment that life is not being spent in vain. This One breath is
Now. Now is this one breathing of the whole universe, of vividly activated emptiness.
It might not be possible to prove or establish objectively the meaning or absolute values of life
and the cosmos. However, what we can experience clearly is that each one of us is a different
cosmos (a “univerself”), therefore One cosmic symphony is possible. Each one of us so infinitely
and inseparably inter-connected and mutually inclusive. This means that each one of us is
ceaselessly creating a new cosmic life, meaning and myriad universes, life by life. We do not
need objective proof, individual or publicly fixed values (norms) to establish meaning. It seems
that our life and everything is meaningless and futile, but therefore(!), because there is no fixed
meaning, no cosmic norms or values, each cosmos (each “life-meaning-creation-cosmos”) is
possible totally anew. The cosmic creator (who makes the meaningless, futile and boring cosmos
into an infinitely unique and meaningful cosmos), should be each one of us only, not anyone else.
Just the one ultimate point in our depths should be clarified, realized and then, everything we
have done so far, whether it is in vain, meaningful or not, suddenly attains a new life-meaning for
all. What is this one ultimate point? This encounter-awareness (innermost discovery) new miracle
of Here-Now only! This is it, nothing else!
In the very midst of our futile, transient lives, there is something which is neither ruined, nor
prosperous, but so vividly empty. What is it?!
Everything and any state all depend on THIS.
19.02.2003, Springbrook sesshin.