Zen Practice and the Ego

(by unknown)

When people approach Zen practice, they often don't know what it truly is. People come, think they can sit and do meditation and somehow arrive at a state where they can escape their problems and troubles, escape the complications of the world. They are going to become concentrated, wiser, happier, healthier. Almost everyone has something that impels him to seek a way to end suffering, a way to happiness. So people sit on their cushions, come to the meditation hall when it's convenient, and after meditation go home, go back to daily life. But, true Zen is not to follow your own desires, not to follow your own dreams, your thoughts, your ambition, not to look for status, wealth, power, position or career.

Our practice has been here for countless years, countless lives. If you think you're going to improve the practice, change it, if you think you know a better way -- this is the ego speaking, the ego-self. Mushotoku, without desire -- this is the way of true Zen. It is not following your own personal wishes, not following your own agenda (some goal, object or something to gain). Nor is it running away from something you fear or want to lose. When we follow the bodhisattva way, we harmonize with our surroundings. We don't have fixed ideas in our mind about what's good, what's bad, what's godly, what's evil. Forgetting ourselves, we respond to the situation we're in each moment.

This may seem like a strange attitude for many people. "Living a selfless life, that's good for saints, special people. But for me, oh, I'm not a saint. I cannot just be selfless in this world! What's going to happen to me? What about my future? What about my old age? Retirement? How am I going to live?" This is the mind. Always the brain is thinking, calculating, protecting, arguing, always looking for something. Instead of looking right in front of us, we look everywhere else. Instead of living right here and now, we want to plan for some mythical future. But when we practice, truly concentrate on our practice, we can forget ourselves. We can forget our ego, our desires, our fixed ideas of how to live, how to act, how to be, forget all these ideas, thoughts and attachments, and help the other.

"Why should I always help the other? Why can't I be helped?" Try it. Help yourself. And then, come back to the practice. That's why you're practicing in the first place: you've been helping yourself, not understanding the dharma, not understanding what life is. But if we repeat the practice, make the effort over and over again, then bit by bit our lives can blossom, become deep and broad. Give up your fixed ideas and come to true life. Don't run away and don't run after. Remain here and now, where we find our strength, our liberation.

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