Life Is Now Or Never

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Dear Still Water Friends,

At many of the retreats last Summer, Thich Nhat Hanh talked about Linji, the ninth century Chinese Monk who founded the Dharma line—the spiritual tradition—in which Thay was trained and which he passes on.

Linji was a remarkable teacher. He noticed a subtle and incessant striving in the monastic and lay students who came to him for teachings. They all wanted to be something they were not. They wanted to be happy, or enlightened. They wanted to be Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. And, ironically, it was that striving that was keeping them from learning how to live, keeping them from being in touch with life.

So he got right to the point — let it all go. Let go of every striving, of every idea of what you think you need to be happy, enlightened, or compassionate. Simply relax and be with what is, in each moment. This is one of the ways Linji put it:

“My friends, in the practice of the Buddhadharma [the way of the Buddha] there is no need for hard work. The principle is: not to try to be anyone special; and to have nothing to do. If you put on your robe, eat your meal, urinate, defecate, rest when you are tired, the foolish ones will laugh, but the wise ones will understand. The teachers of old say, ‘If you direct your practice to the outer form, you are just a group of foolish people.’ You should be sovereign according to to where you find yourself; be the true person wherever you are, not allowing the conditions around you to pull you away.”

Thay, in his new book, “Nothing to Do, Nowhere to Go” comments on this paragraph:

Wherever we are, our true self is present. We don’t stand before a crowd pretending to be dignified and then when we’re alone we become forgetful. Rather, whether we’re alone or with others we’re still our true selves. Whether we’re defecating or giving a Dharma talk, we’re the same person.

As I understand it, Linji and Thich Nhat Hanh are not encouraging us to become outwardly aimless, without a plan or a preference in the world. Rather, we are encouraged to become inwardly free. We are encouraged to be fully present to each moment, whether we are in sitting mediation, cleaning our bicycle, or talking with a loved one, undistracted by fears, insecurities, pretenses or ambitions.

This Thursday evening, after our sitting period, we will listen to a segment of a dharma talk from the Colorado retreat (most of which is below) and focus our discussion on “ Life is now or never.” You are invited to join us.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

Life Is Now Or Never,
a segment from a Dharma talk on August 26th, 2007, by Thich Nhat Hanh

The third door of liberation is called Aimlessness. … Apranihita. Our practice in this retreat rests very much on Apranihita. . . . There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way. You should be happy right in the here and now. There is no way to enlightenment. Enlightenment should be right here and right now. The moment when you come back to yourself, mind and body together, fully present, fully alive, that is already enlightenment. You are no longer a sleepwalker. You are no longer in a dream. You are fully alive. You are awake. Enlightenment is there.

And if you continue each moment like that, enlightenment becomes deeper. More powerful. There is no way to enlightenment, enlightenment is the way.

Most of us are searching for what we want to be, what we want to become. Our happiness is in the distant future. And because of that we sacrifice the here and the now, which is the only place we can get in touch with true life in all its wonders. The kingdom of God is available in the here and now. . . .

The kingdom is now or never. Enlightenment is now or never. Life is now or never. Don’t run. Stop. Touch life deeply. Everything you are looking for is right there. What you want to become, you are already. That is Apranihita, Aimlessness, a very strong teaching of the Buddha.

To be able to Stop is a strong practice, and if you are capable of stopping, you begin to be truly alive, you begin to touch life deeply inside and outside. …

Linji, the teacher who began our lineage, urges us to find our true person, and to live with that true person in the here and now. He reminds us that what we are looking for is already in us. The teaching and practice we have done in the last five days is that. We have all the good seeds in us. We should take refuge in the seeds of enlightenment, mindfulness, concentration, insight, compassion, understanding, already in us. Taking refuge in these seeds is to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha within. A teacher does not give you wisdom, insight, happiness — a good teacher. the maximum she can do is to help water the good seeds in you. You have a real teacher within yourself, the Buddha.

The true person is there in us. We have to go back to ourselves to touch that true person in us. He is a Buddha inside. You don’t have to run anywhere, to search for anything, anywhere. The expression Linji used is … the Busyness-less Person.

That does not mean if you are a businessman, you cannot practice. You can run your company in a spirit of busyness-less. You are not caught in your business. You are still free. Your doing business may be your practice of compassion.

The ideal person in Theravadan Buddhism, in Hinayana Buddhism, is the Arhat. The idea person in Mahayana Buddhism is the Bodhisattva. The idea person the tradition of Linji, is the Busyness-less Man. We are not running anymore. We are not looking for anything, anymore. We know that the Buddha, enlightenment, everything, is available in the here and now. The Kingdom of God, the Pure Land of the Buddha: just stop and be an ordinary person, and great happiness can be born from that attitude and insight. …

In the Gospel according to St. Matthew there is a story of a farmer who discovered a treasure buried in a piece of land. And he went home and sold everything just to buy that piece of land, because he knows that that tiny piece of land will make him happy enough. He does not need too much land. So the kingdom of land is like that. Once you have found the kingdom of god, why do you have to run anymore after fame, wealth and power? In fact, there are so many people running after fame, wealth, and power who suffer tremendously. We believe that if we have some power, we will be happier. But look around to see the people with plenty of power.