The world of suffering and discrimination is filled with the light of the rising sun
–The Refuge Chant
In Zen, gratitude is an important devotional practice. We can find a context for gratitude–which can make our practice come alive–by contemplating one of our Zen ancestors, Dogen Zenji’s sayings from The Shobogenzo: “When one attains the Way, the Way is always left to the Way.” When the Way is left to the Way, there is no need to add anything, seek anything or move away from anything that is happening. We are totally immersed in the Way, with the vitality of awareness. The Way is also called the great emptiness or the great fullness. The great fullness is so full that we cannot find anything separate from it. We cannot find any thing at all.
Brother David Steindl-Rast describes gratefulness as great fullness. We are grateful that the Great Spirit shares its great fullness of life with us. When we learn to receive the depth of this fullness, we simultaneously realize we can’t find our separate ego. The ego can be thought of as a cipher, huge as an ocean within us that sucks up almost all of our energy. What a relief to release some of that pent-up energy and offer it to the universal heart we all share. As profound as our offering, so inexhaustible is the gratitude of our true self for our willingness offer our lives to it. With enormous fullness, spirit receives our offerings.
When we realize this, in the depth of our being we feel that all of our experience is welcomed as expressions of the wholeness of life. Realizing we are always unconditionally welcomed, we learn to welcome life unconditionally.
Of course there are some events we cannot summon up gratitude for; but these are truly opportunities to open up as much as we can to the great fullness. Regardless of our limitations, the spirit is just as thankful for our best efforts. From the viewpoint of the Buddhas or spirit itself, their fullness includes our limitations. We only need to cultivate the ability to see our catastrophes as opportunities.
So we leave the Way to the Way. And we can be grateful that the Way leaves us to us. The sun is an equal opportunity provider, rising each morning, shining on everything with its peaceful warmth, revealing everything just as it is. Likewise the light of the Way shines equally on all its creations, leaving us to us. As we learn to expose ourselves more and more to the gifts of this life, we gradually realize our oneness. We realize that in leaving us to us, the Way offers us everything. Everything is filled with the light of the rising sun.
As we offer our own deluded fears and desires to the Buddhas, to the Great Spirit, we express our willingness to let them go. By letting go, we are saying we no longer reside in them. How easy it is to assume we have accomplished this as a result of many long hours and years of contemplative meditation and prayer. While our devotions do aid us greatly in deepening the ability to let go– absorbing ourselves in the mystery–we often delude ourselves into thinking we have arrived. Or that we have come further than we have.
When I look at the way I grab onto my ideas of how things should be, how I indulge my complaining mind, I frequently remind myself of an old Confucian saying: “When you see admirable behavior, emulate it. When you see despicable behavior, look at yourself.” When a person repels us, that person only symbolizes a part of ourselves we do not like. Then we can be grateful for the opportunity to discover this, even though we are learning something we do not necessarily want to learn.
To the Buddhas, our indulgence in selfish behavior is an expression of the universal activity, nothing more, nothing less. They love it no more nor less than our feverish early morning devotional observances.
To the extent we are able to leave the Way to the Way, our patterns of denial are pushed out into the open air, awaiting our discovery. Then we can more deeply look at our patterns of stinginess– how we do not want to see that we withhold ourselves from what is. Yet here is an opportunity to look at how we still build protective walls around ourselves, engaging and maintaining them, separating ourselves from others.
Let our gratitude extend to the opportunities presented by others. Let us see how upset and frustrated we still become when someone offends us in a way that pushes our buttons of pain and fear. Let us see how taking offense is the same as giving offense. So we can cultivate a spirit of thank-you-very-much for providing this opportunity, painful as it may be. And thank you very much, Spirit, for providing others with a chance to give us these opportunities. Thank you very much, Spirit, for giving us a way to overcome our fears of exposure to the great unknown. Thank you, Spirit, for giving others the opportunity to receive the gift of our response. May they learn also to heed Confucius’ advice, and in their anger or denial, look to themselves.