“The essential matter here is the attitude of just striving to wake up regardless of the conditions you are in. It is not about arriving at some state where all thoughts have disappeared. To calmly sit amidst these cause-and-effect relationships without being carried away by them is shikantaza.”
Meditation and study alike do not matter if we cannot carry the lessons over into daily life by being genuine and kind to others. The best way to do this is to express gratitude, live simply, and keep expectations and ambitions modest. Existing in a vacuum is easy. Being kind to oneself is relatively easy. Meditating, even, is easy. But entering the world and encountering others with an open mind and heart is profoundly difficult. It is the most important work of life. It is most transformative precisely when it is most difficult— the person who confronts you with the most difficulty and ignorance is the one who would benefit most from mindfulness! When we talk the talk with mindfulness but don’t walk the walk, we are missing out on a real life education in wisdom. Mostly, we are ignoring an opportunity to help others.
Meditation cultivates an intense type of awareness. We do it in a controlled atmosphere. Over time, this awareness exits the solitary vacuum and permeates daily life. We encounter all sorts of people and experiences. We face countless decisions and opportunities to be impulsive. The challenge of everyday practice is living with awareness when the world is inviting us to be mindless. Being mindful alone with no challenges is simple, but applying your growing wisdom to the chaos and unpredictability of the modern world is the real test.
The issue to confront stems from one of the great realizations of mindfulness. What is ‘out there’ is not you. This is one of the first things we learn from reading the Zen masters. When you define yourself by externals, you deny your true nature. When you cling to ideas, people and things, you lose sight of your actual selfhood. The mindful way to mend this attachment to externals is to look inward and cultivate awareness.
But what happens when we cultivate inner awareness and also have to deal with the world? Ascetic lifestyles exist to accommodate an inward life. It’s easy for a monk to say not to be bothered by worldly concerns! The real wonder of Zen is the modern masters’ enthusiasm for laypeople. You are doing the most challenging but rewarding work by being both spiritual and worldly. When you bring your awareness into your daily life, the world benefits. Many great Zen masters have said that you build good karma just by sitting in Zen meditation. The mind you cultivate is beneficial to the world precisely because it is detached from expectations and results. The key is to not take your spiritual wisdom for granted and to remember to apply it to the experience of everyday life.