Life and Death

Kusen by Robert Livingston Roshi

Yesterday, I was speaking about life and death in response to a mondo question. Today we have a short sesshin, where we can all come to understand life and death more deeply. We have three periods of zazen throughout the day, approximately six hours of zazen. It's not very much. But when we concentrate deeply, when our zazen becomes deep, strong, it's not a question of time. It's a question of effort, sincere determined effort: our concentration in zazen. Then we can understand this problem beyond time.

In our consciousness, in the categories of our consciousness, we say there is life and there is death. But what is life and what is death? It just depends on how we define it, how we perceive it, how we categorize it. In human terms, we say life is something that lives, feels, has sentience. But in Buddhism, we also have mujo, which is a basic law in the cosmos.

Mujo is constant change. Looked at from the point of mujo, what is life and what is death? If we limit ourselves to looking at the world and our lives and our death just in terms of the categories of our own brain, our understanding will be very limited. We must understand much more deeply, understand in cosmic terms, unlimited, infinite terms. Understand from the point of mujo. If we perceive the world in terms of constant change, our lives will be much different.

People are afraid of death because they want to cling to life. In fact, all suffering, all pain, problems in this world, in our lives, are due to our attachment: attaching to this, that, the other thing; attaching to people, attaching to ideas, attaching to desires; attaching to philosophies or religion; attaching to Buddhism, or Christianity or any ism; attaching to political ideas, social ideas. When we attach to concepts, we're not following the cosmic order. And when we don't follow the cosmic order, and instead attach to this or that, take a position on this or that, we're going to suffer.

It's like the man in the middle of the big river swimming upstream, very quickly he's going to get tired. But if he goes with the current, follows the cosmic order, his way will be much easier, simpler, less painful. Whenever we take a position, we're going to buffeted by the cosmic order and pain will arise. This is what attachment is: pain, suffering.

But if we give up this type of perception (clinging to our concepts of what's right, what's wrong, who's good, who's bad, heaven and hell), if we give up these attachments, our life will change-big revolution. Our suffering diminishes, our joy increases. We become strong, untroubled, able to truly live with all existences in harmony.

So in this day of zazen, as we sit on our zafu and concentrate on posture, exhalation, non-attachment to thought, we can understand what life and death is. We can go beyond the separation between life and death that our brains conceive.

If we look at mujo, constant change, everything is in motion. There is nothing that remains the same. If you look at the macrocosm, look up at the heavens at the galaxies, nothing is ever constant, everything is in movement. Is this life? Is this death? If you look at the microcosm on the atomic or subatomic level, there's nothing that doesn't move or change.

So we can say that everything is in action, nothing is still, nothing is unchanging. The biggest rock in the world is in constant movement, just as the ocean is, just as every cell in our body is. And whether we're alive or dead, the components of our body are in constant movement, constant change. But we ignore this and cling to consciousness, cling to the perception of phenomenon.

In zazen, we can understand, we can drop off our consciousness, go beyond, experience non-conscious consciousness, understand consciousness, understand that there is no need to fear death, no need to cling to life.

Only concentrate here and now. This is all we have, here and now. This is the way of Zen. This is the way of the cosmos. This is the way of all existences.

So as I always say: come to zazen, climb into your coffin; after zazen, climb out of the coffin. What's the difference?

Nothing to fear.



AZA Home Page

Contact the Temple