A path is made by walking it.
(The Zhuangzi, Ch. 2)
In fear and trembling,
With caution and care,
As though on the brink of a chasm,
As though treading thin ice.
Realizing emptiness, denying cause and effect -- wild and reckless, incurring calamity.
(Swampland Flowers, 21)
I have been quite reckless with my life. I had my first glimpses of a larger reality several years ago, at the age of 20. Since then, I have been circling without direction, swinging between wisdom and confusion like an erratic pendulum. Dislodged from my culture and sense of social identity, I have been in limbo, unable to turn my insight into a strength instead of a weakness. I have unwittingly poured much of my time and energy down the sinkhole of my internal schism, feeling detached from the endless chatter of the Marketplace, while simultaneously craving the rewards sought by all worldly people -- recognition, status, sex, love, pleasure.
In my wanderings, I have explored many metaphysical and mystical traditions, seeking a compass to assist in navigating this cloudy and twisted landscape. Two or so years ago, I attended a six-session meditation class at the local Korean Son [Zen] Buddhist Temple, and realized that I had found a tradition in which to seek refuge. The fact that Zen meditation is a tangible, living discipline appealed to me immensely. Years of analysis and speculative abstraction had gotten me nowhere. I needed a means to put understanding into action. Also, becoming a member of a compassionate, supportive sangha has been essential to nourishing my Awakening Mind and encouraging me along the Bodhisattva path.
Since then, my practice has not been without its ups and downs, advances and retreats. I am still very attached to myself, and within me there resides a quaking fear with refuses to LET GO. As the great Korean master So Sahn once indicated, it is entirely possible to attain sudden Enlightenment, but in actuality, karmic residue still lingers and must be eliminated through a process of gradual cultivation. Recently I've realized that one of my most detrimental flaws is my attempting to gain penetration and profound success right at the beginning. I am bright but lazy, and I have insisted on seeking sublime truth while neglecting to roll up my sleeves and constantly practice the basics.
Nothing is more basic to Buddhism than the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ground of virtue and the foundation of Buddhist ethics. For most Westerners today, mindfulness simply means awareness, being fully present in the moment. And yes, clear awareness is crucial -- but it is not the full meaning of the term. The literal translation of the Pali word sati is not 'mindfulness', but 'memory'. It implies a recollection of purpose, a constant affirmation and renewal of direction. It is viewing dharma [objects of perception] in light of Dharma [Truth]. Through continuous attention to bodily acts and mental attitudes which are normally unconscious and automatic, one realizes first-hand the impermanent and selfless nature of existence. Through long, unbroken practice, this understanding is assimilated by the Buddhist and begins to permeate every aspect of his experience, becoming the authentic basis for his thoughts and actions. The line between sitting in quiet introspection and one's daily activity in the world blurs, and all becomes meditation.
My challenge at the present time is to maintain mindfulness at all times, to practice continuously. I am inclined toward idleness and complacency, inclined toward decadent pleasures, inclined to depend too much on others for my security and happiness. To remain fearless and to persevere on the Bodhisattva path, I must constantly renew my commitment to nurture and protect that most precious of possessions, the Awakening Mind. When one is careless with treasures, it invites robbers. It is my capacity to garner wisdom within my own heart and mind which prevents virtue from becoming lost -- and nothing else.