The Great Treasure – edited transcript of the Podcast
Will: Good morning. Thanks for joining me. Make yourselves comfortable.
This is a little story by Zen Master Seung Sahn in the book, Dropping Ashes on the Buddha. It’s called: The Great Treasure.
When Dae Ju first came to Zen Master Ma-jo, the Master asked him, “What do you want from me?” Dae Ju said, “I want you to teach me the Dharma.” “What a fool you are!” said Ma-jo. “You have the greatest treasure in the world within you, and yet you go around asking other people for help. What good is this? I have nothing to give you.” Dae Ju bowed and said, “Please, Master, tell me what this treasure is.” Ma-jo said, “Where is your question coming from? This is your treasure. It is precisely what is making you ask the question at this very moment. Everything is stored in this precious treasure-house of yours. It is there at your disposal, you can use it as you wish, nothing is lacking. You are the master of everything. Why, then, are you running away from yourself and seeking for things outside?” Upon hearing these words, Dae Ju attained enlightenment.
I love this little story. In our Zen practice, we talk about our original nature and that seeking outside is just a distraction that we’ve created for ourselves, looking somewhere for something other than appreciating what we already are and who we are.
This story also reminds me that there’s no reaching enlightenment and then you’re over it. You no longer experience sadness or grief or our everyday lives. Every day life, every struggle, every sad moment, every happy moment, it’s all part of it. There’s no running away from it. There’s no adding to it. There’s no taking away. When you truly understand yourself, you recognize where all this comes from. You recognize the dream that you’re dreaming and then you can let it go and not attach to it. You don’t grab onto it, you don’t push it away. You don’t wish you were a better person, or a different person, or if you only had this kind of life, or if you were that kind of person, then everything would be okay. Right where you are, just as it is, that’s the locus of enlightenment. That’s where it happens, right here, right now, nowhere else. That means everything you are right now. That’s the treasure, understanding who we are in this moment. And that’s the journey. I mean, where is the journey? Is it in India? Is it in San Francisco? Where’s the journey? It’s in your own mind, the gate-less gate of your own mind.
Michael: When is accepting what it is lazy? When is it lazy? When is it basically an excuse for laziness? Like the idea of, you know, there are people in this world that are very ambitious and they look at that as being the pinnacle of what they can be. And then there are the people who kind of just accept the world. I mean, they kind of have things tidied up. They don’t necessarily live the best lives, but they don’t have a lot of ambition. So I guess my question is, when you choose to just accept things as they are, is that not laziness in some respects? Accepting kind of just whatever and not living your full potential?
Will: Interesting question. So unpacking that a little bit, I see a lot of cultural pressure. I see a lot of our social conditioning, striving, doing better. All of this is part of this. You’re not quite good enough. You’ve got to do more, got to keep making it. So I’m not sure that laziness is exactly the right word for accepting things the way they are. It doesn’t mean that you don’t take care of what’s in front of you to take care of. Because when your mind is clear like space, you’re not burdened by this idea of not being good enough and chasing after something in order to show, to prove that you are good enough. When you already know that you’re good enough, then what’s in front of you, you can take on that task completely without any burden. Being without a burden doesn’t mean you’re lazy. It’s not laziness. It’s letting go of the burden.
Nancy: I would like to say that I think that accepting what is doesn’t lead to inaction.
Will: Thank you.
So yeah, you always do what you need to do. But knowing what you need to do, knowing the difference between what has to be taken care of and what is just making. When we talk about making, we’re taking what already is and we’re adding our thinking on top of it in order to create something that fits into our idea of what reality is. It’s like seeing a mirage and thinking there’s water there and then doing everything you can to get there. Problem is it’s a mirage. So you might be really ambitious, crawl your way there while starving of thirst and dying before you get there. The whole time it’s a mirage. Seeing it as a mirage, that’s wisdom. That’s seeing it as it is and making a choice. A better life for you and those around you. There’s a big difference between chasing after the delusion and waking up to how it is. You have to really get to know yourself to do that. You have to know your intention. If your intention is based on fear, for example, the outcome is going to be totally different than if your intention is based on wisdom or on generosity.
We talk about the perfections. These ways of being that lead to a more bountiful experience of life as opposed to the poisons which are greed, anger and ignorance. So ignorance is chasing after the mirage, right? Not only that, but the anger, get out of my way, that’s mine, I want to have it. However, there’s nothing there to get, it’s ignorance. Waking up just means accepting things as they are and then doing what you need to do.
So that’s why this little story is so important. Why are you chasing after things when you have this treasure the whole time?
We come to this practice to sit and to understand ourselves, to recognize what it is we are and to live in that place as opposed to ignorance, fear, greed, anger, and the things that create more suffering for ourselves than others.
Michael: You know, Arthur Schopenhauer, the philosopher, his whole thing is the will to life. The idea is that what we’re doing here, we’re born, and this is whether we’re an animal or a person or a mountain, we’re driven to this undying force in us to strive for something. That could be the next meal. That could be a job promotion. That could be sex. We just have this will. And it’s one of those things where it seems that we always try to think about things like happiness and stuff. And it seems that the idea, his philosophy is that it’s meant to pursue something. Like that’s the philosophy. That’s basically the drive.
Will: What he’s talking about here is an individual, an ego, a self as though it actually exists.
That’s the delusion from the Buddhist point of view. There is no I, me, mine. Originally, there is no separate being. That’s just an idea. And it’s from that idea that we have to protect it. We have to create our own tribe. We have to push others away. The whole thing starts from this idea of this independent self that exists like a solid thing. But there is no such thing. Everything is interdependent. Yet, we believe it so strongly that we’ve created it. And that’s where we operate from. I think maybe his whole philosophy is based on that, on ego. On suggesting that ego is where it’s all happening. From the Buddhist perspective, that’s the mistake. That’s the original sin. That’s the original misunderstanding of what existence is and what we are, to think that we’re this individual self, and that self needs to be striving to survive.
Michael: That doesn’t mean you need to be a sentient being to strive. A deer in the woods is going so…
Will: That’s a sentient being.
Michael: I mean, like flowers or something like that, you know, like any kind of wildlife.
Will: Are they really striving? A flower isn’t striving. A flower is being itself.
Michael: Right. But it is, starting from seed and projecting outward, reaching towards the sun…
Will: That’s just our projection. That’s just how we see it. Is that really the way it is? We have this intellectual interpretation of nature and how it works. You know, Darwinism, all the rest of it. Not that there aren’t things about that, rhythms and patterns that are recognizable and that are working, and that we can learn from. Science is science, you know, until it’s proven not to be. Yesterday’s science is not necessarily tomorrow’s science. Yes, that’s what we have to work with. And it’s also just a projection because right now, how we see it, we’re just seeing part of the picture. There’s always a blind spot that we don’t see. Acting as though we know where’s that going to take you? Duality. Flowers from my point of view are no different than clouds. If clouds didn’t exist, the flowers wouldn’t exist. Flowers don’t exist because they strive, because they plant their seeds, they exist because clouds exist. Flowers exist because butterflies exist. Flowers exist because you exist. Flowers don’t exist. You don’t exist. There is no such thing. The tapestry of life that we interpret as being this way. But there could be another way of looking at it that is beyond our ability to conceive.
We’re structured in a certain way to see the world in a certain way. A cat’s eyes don’t see the world the same as a human’s eyes. That benefits the cat. But we may see it as a detriment from our point of view. So this whole thing about everything being connected, it’s more than just connected, meaning there’s this space between items, and this is a solid item, and they’re separate and they’re both striving for the same space. It’s all integrated. Trees don’t begin and end where you see them. Their roots and their structures and their family and their community go on and on and on and on. We don’t see that. We don’t understand that. We don’t know that. When astronauts go out into space, they all have a very similar experience when they look back at the earth. They have an awakening about what they’re looking at. It gives them so much broader understanding of this one being, non-duality, that you don’t get as an individual ego, you’re caught in duality. It’s always a struggle from the point of view of ego and duality.
Thinking, thinking, thinking, too much thinking.
I was talking with you about being the lion. Being the lion isn’t passive. Fearlessness isn’t being passive. You can’t be fearless in a world of duality.
Michael: “You can’t be fearless in a world of duality.” What do you mean by that?
Will: When you are living with the idea of separation, of separateness, there’s going to be fear.
Michael: Oh, I see. Okay.
Will: So, until we’re awake, we don’t know what being awake is, do we?
Michael: I was just coming through a book I had on my shelf the other day. It was drawing a lot of connections that Schopenhauer made between Buddhist philosophy. Have you ever read anything of his before?
Will: I can’t remember that I have.
Michael: But it’s very, you know, dead stuff. A lot of thinking.
Will: Yes, it is. Well, I’m concerned with the next breath. I’ll leave the universe to the universe.
Michael: Is that why you want to read Schopenhauer?
Will: I may or may not. You know, I mean, he may interest me, but he may bore me really quickly.
I like the adventure of looking at complex things and finding the commonality or the simplicity there. So when I see a common thread through various philosophical views that lead to reality, what I see as reality, which is non-duality, if it’s leading to that, I’m okay. If it’s leading to more duality or more confusion, then I think, what’s the point?
That’s what has always interested me about Zen. Cut to the chase. Get to it. Stop wasting your time. The treasure is right here! You don’t have to go chasing it. This brings me back to: Already you see, already you hear. What is this?
That’s enough said. Thank you so much.