Suzuki Roshi was perhaps the most well known Japanese Zen master to teach here in America. He said, “Purity is things as they actually are.” In Zen we say that things are not what we think they are. Not only are they not what we think they are, they are free of what we think they are. The absence of what we think about things, is the way they actually are.
Zen master Reb Anderson said, “If we meditate thoroughly on the absence of what we think about things, all suffering will be alleviated.” The more deeply conditioned we are to believe in the reality of what we think about things, the more we suffer as a result. There is the saying that pain is an experience, suffering is a story of what we think about our pain. What makes our pain into suffering is our refusal to accept it; acceptance is the key ingredient to making an experience painful or joyful even if the joy isn’t a pleasant experience.
Thich Nhat Hanh says that everything we need to be happy is always here in the present moment. All of the wonderful blissful qualities and experiences we can imagine are right here and now as our very life. This is true even if we are experiencing tremendous difficulty. The ground, the source and expression of our actual presence is always lovingly welcoming it all as it is. Whatever we think is happening, the sun is still peacefully shining, the clouds are effortlessly floating by, and the leaves are gently swaying in the breeze. We could that say that the presence we really are is showing us that purity is simply things as they actually are, free of what we think about them.
Thich Nhat Hanh is not telling us to believe what he’s saying on faith. He wants to us to meditate thoroughly on the deep questions and doubts his sayings bring up for us. He calls his community the Order of Interbeing. The spirit of his teaching shows not just that we ‘inter are’ with others, but that we actually inter are with all of the most difficult life circumstances just as they are. We can transform our suffering by learning to stop trying to gain all these wonderful qualities and experiences, and pay attention to the freedom, love and purity that is always already here in every experience.
When our center of identity shifts from that of our individual existence, to our identity that all beings have in common, the identity of the awareness of just being present, there arises a willingness to embrace life in all of its wonder. There arises a willingness to just say YES to all of existence. This is no longer a yes to life or existence on our terms, but yes to existence on its own terms. Of course this is extremely difficult as long as we are still quite stuck in clinging to our demands on the moment. Our spirit of inquiry is what is driving us to confront our sticking points, it’s driving us to let our longing open to spirit’s pushing us, pulling us, beckoning us to join in welcoming and fully participating in all of life.
We don’t know what our spirit of inquiry is, but we do know that it is. It’s not ours in the sense that we can locate, possess, or define it. But if we’re willing to open to our inherent freedom, we can develop an intuitive merging with the unconditionally loving presence we can call pure presence. It’s simply the pure awareness of being present that has always been here, has always been unconditional acceptance in every moment of our lives. Through earnest contemplation, we can intuitively begin to realize that beneath our longing for outer experiences, lies our spirit of inquiry’s deep longing for this merging with pure presence. Our pure longing, our pure spirit of inquiry is gently coaxing us to realize our role to know (not through attachment to thought), to love, to live, and express the spirit of interbeing as our very life.