Shunryu Suzuki – If you truly see things as they are, then you will see things as they should be… but when we attain the transcendental mind, we go beyond things as they are and as they should be. In the emptiness of our original mind they are one, and there we find perfect composure.
Contentment is not a very highly valued state in American culture. We chase after happiness. There is an implication in our materialistic, go-get-‘em society that to be contented equates to apathy, when nothing could be further from the truth. Happiness is a pursuit of the ego, of getting what I want from life, what gives me pleasure. Contentment, on the other hand, is a state-of-being that arises from the soul, from the very core of our Being, and it really is the highest kind of yearning – a yearning to transcend all ego-yearning, leading to complete peace of mind.
Complete peace of mind only arises from deeply experiencing the everythingness of Life and how it all fits together without contradiction. Contradiction is a tension of the mind, seeing things as in opposition to each other and being unable to reconcile them, seeing Life as a field of competing objects. Wisdom and deep seeing into things-as-they-really-are resolves all contradiction into paradox, where there is no tension. Seeing things-as-they-really-are allows us to realize that beneath surface difference and dysfunction there is only the unity of Life happening through this particular expression upon which we are focused. Life is Life, a trickster that shows up in many forms, yet always the One Life. When we look deeply enough, seeing the connections in things-as-they-are, we can see what needs adjusting at the conflicted level of appearance to bring about harmony, the underlying balance reasserting itself. Then we can step away and the result is contentment. Seeing into things-as-they-really-are is the essence of what Buddhism means by being “awakened.”
When Zen Master Suzuki speaks of “the emptiness of our original mind” he is speaking of the pure mind of intelligent awareness that precedes any thoughts we may have about the way things are that may actually limit us in our understanding. Once we have a thought in our mind about something it becomes for us that thought, while its reality is most likely far more complex than can be contained in the thought. Suzuki is speaking of the silent perception that looks at what is occurring in a manner he also describes as “beginner’s mind,” the mind that sees as if for the first time, able to, with total openness, ask the primary question, “what is this?”, seeking understanding that takes us in dimension after dimension into the implications of “this.”
You see, in Zen the simple word “this” is not simple at all. It implies realizing we are in the presence of a phenomenon of the Universe that elementally arose with the beginning of the Universe and is interrelated and interconnected with all else in the Universe. When we focus upon any one thing, we are encountering just one manifestation of a completely interconnected Universe that is intelligent and evolving in its complexity, yet always still a unity.
“This” is best comprehended when we perceive whatever we focus upon with the silent intuitive intelligence that precedes thought, for intuition is the mind of connection, and the connections are endless. A thought, however, makes “this” into a thing in our minds that stops its connections. It now has a definition and limitation. Very importantly, when understanding how we mentally process our experience, Buddhism sees thoughts as objects in the mind, limited representations of the limitless reality that is the Universe, the One Life. As mystical spiritual traditions all agree, the “sin” that is the missing of the mark of the true mystical Reality of Life begins with this egoic misperception. Objects are created in the mind that can then be manipulated for the purposes of the ego, and all needless harm emanates from this misperception.
So, “seeing things as they truly are” opens us to “see things as they should be,” how phenomena interrelate within the great cosmic unfolding. We see what nurtures and what destroys, what causes flourishing and what causes decay and death, and we see the necessity for it all in a great balance. We see, as is said in the Bible, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” –Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Zen’s Original Mind is and is not personal for it is the mind of the Universe peering through our human form. From a Buddhist perspective, we are not only our individual selves, but apertures for the primal consciousness of the Universe to experience its manifestation into the world. So when we are seeing with “empty” mind, we are what Zen calls, “nobody.” When a Zen Master such as Suzuki sits in meditation, he is a human peering back into the Universe. He is one who no longer is the solitary, single one. He becomes all. He is the consciousness that is “empty” of his personal self, able to examine his personal self, others, and the particulars of the world with impersonal wisdom and compassion. AND, he remains one, a single human being, feeling each and every one of the passions and attitudes that comes with being human. So, as Suzuki was known to say, “If you think your body and mind are two, that is wrong; if you think that they are one, that is also wrong. Our body and mind are both two and one.” We are the paradox of consciousness becoming a human form in which all of Reality is contained, the Yin and the Yang, the beautiful and the catastrophic. Seeming conflict and contradiction are resolved harmoniously, and the resulting felt-sense of understanding and peace is contentment.
Contentment is the fulfillment of the yearning for peace and for composure with all that Life has to offer, including the very challenging, and we can do this when we are “awakened” because we see that our limited ideas are just that – they are limited. We can feel our existence tied with all that is coming into being and going out of being. We can see that all existence consists of forms passing within a formless and eternal unity, a perfect dynamic of balance that requires death for there to be life, difficulty to give meaning to ease, and challenges to hone our capacities as a human being. It is what allows us to face the most difficult of circumstances with faith that we can weather any storm, and so, we have no fear of the storm. Zen teaches us in a famous saying, that “Obstacles do not block the path; obstacles ARE the path,” and the path is the EVERYTHING that is Life. We are here to be masters of Life-as-it-is, using the word “master,” not as one who dominates, but one who, as a master sailor works WITH the wind and the sea and a master carpenter works WITH the grain and the knots of wood, we work WITH the everythingness of Life, seeing within EACH and ALL of the particulars their value in the great dance of balance.
The irony is that while chasing after happiness will not lead to contentment, achieving contentment opens us to experiencing happiness not only in the ego-satisfying ways that we usually associate happiness, but in the small and subtle aspects of life as well – in the wind rustling the leaves, in the song of a bird, in a smile and in a small act of kindness, in being mindful in Life’s small and great occurrences and activities, seeing and expressing miracle everywhere. Through contentment we can live in ready availability to gratitude for the great and the ordinary aspects of life, and this leads to joy, the emotion that far outshines happiness. To live in contentment with the Everything even allows us to experience happiness and peace through life’s difficult times, for contentment contains every expression of Life without contradiction. We can be happy even while we are simultaneously sad, for contentment is a state of deep presence which never denies the reasons for sadness, while also maintaining full presence for all the reasons for happiness. Consciousness guru, Ram Dass, called this living in the “thickness” of life, where the reasons for happiness and sadness are recognized as simultaneous in Life’s great unfolding. He goes on to say that when we can hold the happy and the sad without contradiction, there is the feeling of “it is enough, and when enough is enough, this is enlightenment.” This is the beauty of contentment.