July 3, 2015

At a recent sitting in San Francisco, I had this interesting back-and-forth with one of the participants. She brought up such good questions, ones I think many of us wonder about, that I wanted to share the conversation:

“If this place ‘within’, this place that sounds like some form of true nature, if that is actually our true nature, why is it so inherently hard and such a struggle, over lifetimes, to access the true nature of ourselves? Why wouldn’t it be the reverse?

If it is so simple and authentic and pure, why is it not the easiest thing to be in?


Saying that it is our true nature is a little bit of a misnomer in the sense that that phrase makes it sound as if there is something untrue about everything else, about bodies and form life, about movement, minds, thinking, about the whole world of diversity, activity, living , dying, living again. And so, if you accept a premise of “true nature” then you are somehow deciding that everything else is unnatural in a sense, right? But it doesn’t seem unnatural to you, does it?

What is ‘it’ in that sense?

I mean, you wake up every morning and you feel yourself to be naturally this female, naturally this person you are, automatically; the world is your habitat, movement is your state. I’m saying, does that not seem somewhat true for you?


And is it also true that you have somewhere inside you this pull towards something still, peaceful, calm, something perfect perhaps that does not appear to be on offer in this world. Is that true?

Maybe not that it isn’t on offer, but that it is not easily attained…. I feel like often I even have an aversion to sitting down to meditate—my heart’s beating faster than it was, and I don’t feel like I can naturally breathe because I’m thinking on it.

So an aversion to meditation is actually “natural” as well. But some impulse made you sit down to meditate at all, so what impulse was that?

Wanting to find the stillness and peace and clarity around things.

And so, even in your own experience you find that it is natural to want that and natural not to. Do you see what I mean?


I am saying it this way because as long as we believe that there is something really wrong with form life and that meditation offers some antidote to some ill that is manifest as normal, active existence in this modern, complicated world, then you will necessarily not believe things correctly.

But the larger answer to your question lies in a process that takes place over such an unbelievably long period of time that it’s almost impossible to put our minds in something that vast, something that long. And if we think that there is something really sick or wrong about manifesting in these individual bodies in this seemingly very distraught world then we will see that incredibly long time as an incredibly long series of mistakes, a sort of almost-endless thread of suffering. I cannot abide such a notion, and I do not believe that if there is anything that can be called God that that thing, made of love at its very core, truly and perfectly harmless, utterly benign by nature, would invent or even allow such a thing as a near-eternity of mistakes and suffering. Do you see what I mean?


And so, instead, I would propose that it must be that all of this—the form, the bodies, the world, even the very thought itself which tells you not to meditate—is born of that same impulse to love and made of that same harmlessness, that same benign essence that all of such a God’s creation must be made of. And I am using ‘creation’ in very much the loosest sense, as a kind of constant unfolding of love as it creates itself in every conceivable form, in the form of a rose and in the form of a plague, in the form of a saint and in the form of a serial killer—and in the form of your longing to sit and be still as well as your resistance to it. And so, from this point of view, we are not wrong to be doing anything we are doing here, and the only point of this great experiment is to find love obscured in all these forms. And it is really only for that reason that I suggest you sit, because it is possible to find something in yourself which serves as a kind of compass, a kind of guide, so that wherever you are and whatever you are doing you have the chance to glimpse love’s face there, to see it all in its harmlessness and infinite variety. Does that feel like it answers your question at all?



One Response to “Nature”

  1. steve said

    hey emily. nice post! This was actually Dogen’s life question. Which drove him to China to find authentic zen and bring it back to Japan. “If all beings are from the beginning originally enlightened, then why was it necessary for buddhas to practice to realize this fact?” In the end, he kind of just determined, “because it is.” Actually, he tried to show that practice and enlightenment are fundamentally one. As are cause and effect. But we think our way away. that all things are a manifestation of the truth of reality. including our knowing. Therefore, we can’t know the truth as an object. it’s like trying to see your own face. best you can hope for is a reflection in a mirror. So you cease conscious activity and thinking until that truth of the cosmos is reflected in your knowing. if you weren’t already enlightened, you’d never sit down to try to realize it. anyway, your posts always surprise me in a great way! take care.

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