If we practice sitting meditation with Sacred Outlook, we are sitting in the Pure Land, of light and peace. Just as the samsaric world comes from our mind, so does the experience of this being a Pure Land…
With sacred outlook, we are seeing ourselves, and one another, and our world as we truly are; we are accompanied by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we all have Buddha Nature, and this world is infinitely precious, and beautiful. Especially when sitting with bodhicitta, the dedication to all beings, it is blissful and clear, and wonder to behold. This is how it truly is, when our obscurations are removed. We can also practice, to familiarize ourselves with this recognition.
The starting place for learning to see is love. There are the two kinds of obscurations: those of the obscuration of conceptual thought, and the qualitative obscurations that veil the mind. Removing the conceptual obscurations, through quiet meditation then frees us from wrong views, or the ideas we have had, and cultivating the heart qualities removes the qualitative obscurations, so that our experience is bright and clear, deep and rich. This leads to what is called sacred outlook, or pure perception.
By contrast, if we were to practice with ordinary perception, the experience may be one of dullness, and without joy.
As it is often done in Zen circles here, sitting with a nihilistic, mundane view that is so prevalent in American culture at this time can be self reinforcing. I trace this back to the lack of warmth, the emotional quality of Japanese Buddhism as it has been imported here, that of Western teachers, as well as what is being taught.
By comparison, both Chinese Ch’an, as exemplified by Xu Yun, Hsuan Hua, and Sheng Yen, and sitting practice in Vietnamese Buddhism shows a joy that supports and nourishes a practitioner. If not for this contrast, I wouldn’t have been able to recognize the practice of ‘just sitting’ as potentially being a valid Buddhist path, a path of awakening.
If we are not careful, the mundane view, unfortunately, can be self-replicating. So many of the current books on Zen reflect this. There is no mention in many of them of the basics of Buddhism – that suffering has a cause that can be removed, bringing peace; that others are worthy of all our love and care, and that we all have the innate potential for well being, and joy.
Without these as a basis, what we’re left with is just an accommodation to samsara, as if this is the best we can do – the ‘Be in the moment’ ‘Whatever comes, that is your life and practice…’ teachings – that sort of thing. When basic Buddhist insights are absent in Zen, there’s no way to measure the loss.
I’m sure some people have found their way to Sacred Outlook, Pure Perception simply through sitting in the zendo. This happens when a person has a good heart already, or, if they cultivate their warm-hearted nature, their kindness and compassion for themselves and others. Then when they sit, those qualities mature even further, and this world is gradually revealed to them as a sacred place.
Most of the time though, it doesn’t happen like this, at least not that I’ve been able to observe over the years. By far, most of what we call Zen is from traditions that historically have not emphasized heart practices, and when Westerners continue that way, the very partial result is evident, in their view, and their absence of joy.
Of course, who am I to say? There may be those with hidden realizations. Best to ask someone other than myself, someone with a deeper connection to those traditions for a guided tour.
I will say this though, coming to it from the perspective of a person who has studied and practiced within the two great non conceptual wisdom lineages from Tibetan Buddhism, the Nyingma and Kagyud, in the Vietnamese lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh, in the Thai Forest Tradition, and is now learning about the Chinese Mahayana – sitting practice can be a delight and a wonder. It can reveal our innate good qualities, and enable us to help others in many ways, through this one simple and profound practice.
And I thought over again
My small adventures
As with a shore-wind I drifted out
In my kayak
And thought I was in danger,
Those small ones
That I thought so big
For all the vital things
I had to get and to reach
And yet, there is only
One great thing,
The only thing:
To live to see in huts and on journeys
The great day that dawns,
And the light that fills the world.
In The Commentary on the Awakening of Mahayana Faith, it says,
‘The true Mind of every sentient being itself teaches and leads each sentient being.’
May we all find our way to truly liberating and enlightening teachings,
practice in a way that is comfortable, and compatible with our own unique nature,
and reveal the heart of the Buddha’s wisdom