When students in this modern world fail to make progress, what’s the problem? The problem is they don’t have faith in themselves. If you don’t have faith in yourself then you will be forever in a hurry trying to keep up with everything around you. You’ll be twisted and turned in whatever environment you are in. . .But if you can just stop this mind that goes rushing around moment-by-moment looking for something, then you’ll be no different than the ancestors and Buddhas. Would you like to get to know the ancestors and Buddhas? They are none other than you, the people in front of me, listening to this lecture on the Dharma.
– Master Lin-chi (d. 867 AD)
To move openly through space and to trust in the freedom that comes with space, we must have faith in ourselves: faith to be at peace with the moment, to root into ourselves, to embody the ocean without being rolled around in the waves.
For me, having faith in myself meant being okay with what was happening in the here and now.
In Buddhism, there is often the image of a wild horse, ox or monkey that must be found in the wild, and then tamed over time. This wild animal was none other than my own mind, “rushing around moment by moment looking for something” outside of my self and the present moment. As I continued to search outside, I couldn’t find what I was looking for.
Maybe I thought I needed to get drunk and have a wild time. Maybe I needed to go into the mountains for a day, or maybe I was looking for a juicy hamburger to sink my teeth into. It didn’t matter because all these quick fixes lead me in the opposite direction—out and away.
Master Lin-chi’s quote opened up an avenue for me: I couldn’t remain open to this life without having faith in my self, without knowing that this life would unfold and continue to unfold, and that I would experience it as it came and went.
When I didn’t have faith in my self, I would drift off into thought, I would worry, I would project, I would try to control and I would start to see contentment as something that came with striving for things that were outside of this moment, this body and this experience.
I remember sitting by my desk while I finished a paper proposal. I saw waves of papers, issues, life and death, old memories, births, weddings and distant challenges looming through my computer screen and out onto the horizon twisting into my mind. I felt stressed and lonely. I began to doubt the things I had done and the things that had not yet even occurred.
Flowing with these thoughts down onto the floor and closing my eyes, Lin-chi’s words appeared. In that moment I realized that I had abandoned myself. I had forgotten about this life.
There wasn’t anything profound about recalling the master’s words, or the Buddhas and ancestors that floated through the letters, just an intimate understanding. Coming back to the moment and dropping into my body, I returned to my seat and I began to write. It was a simple move, an acknowledgment of the inherent freedom and depth within the now, which brought me back, not an explosion of feeling, a rigorous defense, or a consoling justification of whether I was right or wrong. There was just a conscious remembrance, “Oh yeah here I am, taming the wild ox and leading him through the shifting terrain of life.”
This maneuver can seem dull to those of us who expect lights, fireworks, and entertainment.
But the remarkable thing is, having an experience of sitting in the present during an ordinary moment, and having faith in our selves is all that is needed for a profound change of heart and mind to occur. In an instant, life comes forth and who we thought we were fades, just as a figment of imagination falls into the sudden awareness of an awakened dreamer.
“Wake up!” All I can say to myself and to you is, have faith in your self.
When we calm our minds and come back to this life in the midst of infinity, there is a freedom that can hold us intimately through any storm.
A contemporary Zen teacher in northern California asks, when you fall you fall, but how do you fall out of the infinite universe? In the same way, I ask, how do you fall out of the all-encompassing self? They are one in the same.
When we are able to create space and when we come to the realization that things, no matter how big or small, manifest on their own, without our meddling, our controlling, then we can have a little fun with it. Life is not all serious business. It is not all about nothing, everything, the universe, God, contemplation, meditation, success, failure, etc.
We are living in the here and now in the midst of infinity. We are an increasingly conscious beings, attempting to see through our conditioned existence—going against everything that has been placed upon us and that we have spent so much time and effort holding together, time spent outside of our selves.
Faith then, is placing trust in your self—knowing that the fruits of the spiritual way will manifest as you continue to deepen. It is also trust grounded deeply in the mystery within the wilderness of the universe.
Leaving the shore of form and moving out into the unknown is not easy. One must possess a level of faith in the self deep enough to move beyond the hurdles of desire, fear, doubt, ego and attachment, to trust change—to be okay with impermanence—to fall head first into the unknown—and eventually, to deeply accept the connections contained within it all.
1. The Core—mindfulness, awareness, concentration and acceptance of what is.
2. The View—The universe is an infinite interconnected web and I am part of it. I am an “inter-being” and I will live in a way that reflects this.
3. The Wisdom—Life is impermanent. I too will leave my body. Energy is constant, it never dies, it only changes. I am energy.
4. The Presence—The only moment is now. Being is all there is. I am right here, right now. “Oh yes, here I am. Come on ox.”
These principles, or something very close to them, could be your anchor, your refuge and your source of inner fortitude through the journey of deepening.
As long as you can remain in contact with these elements, faith will be there. You can’t fall out of the universe or the self.
If you do, it is just the small mind pulling and tugging you back into the cave and the fog. If you wish, keep these principles close, merge with them and become them. This is truly it, right now. Enjoy the direct experience of now and know the ultimate reality we move through. You can have a very deep relationship with life when you are able to cultivate faith in your self.
Let go and leap—gracefully—into the whole.
Editor: Thaddeus Haas
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