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True Zen Teachings

Strong Mind

Kusen from Robert Livingston Roshi.

In order to have a strong practice, deep practice, in order to have a deep, strong life, you must develop a strong mind.

How do we develop a strong mind? It's not by developing your brain power, not by thinking, not by gaining lots of knowledge, lots of information, storing up a lot of facts. In order to develop a strong, deep mind, you must not follow and run after every thought that arises out of your brain. You must not get caught up with your thoughts, pushed around by them, controlled by them.

We must be able to concentrate, here and now, right where we are, each moment. This is why it's so important in zazen not to be running after your thoughts, not to be swayed, pushed around by them. Thoughts are always going to arise, it's natural. But we must let them pass, let them go. They arise like bubbles in the toilet, then "pop", disappear.

Zazen takes great effort, great vigilance. If you're not vigilant, attentive, thoughts arise and immediately you're swirling around with your thoughts, not paying attention to posture, not concentrating on exhalation. Your mind leaves the dojo, and you're not here, now. It is some other time, some other place, running after your thoughts as they arise, creating emotions, desires, problems, fleeting pleasures.

Even as I speak in kusen, you take my words and run away with them, add more thoughts, complicate the mind, complicate your whole being, your life. You must be here, now. It's quite simple, but doesn't come so easily. And the effort involved, moment by moment, few of us are willing to make - even in the dojo, even in zazen, much less in daily life.

When a thought arises, quickly you scurry after it, unconsciously, just running after the thought, not being aware. You must be attentive. Each moment you find yourself running after your thoughts, following your thoughts, getting involved with them, quickly bring your concentration back to the hara, exhalation, posture. Put your concentration completely there, in the lower abdomen. Keep it there. From there you can be aware of posture, aware of the exhalation. Become that posture and exhalation.

Then you will find the thinking brain calms down, quiets. You won't run after your thoughts. Much of the karma of your existence will dissipate. You won't have so many upheavals, problems, troubles disturbing your zazen, disturbing your life. You'll be able to focus and simplify. You won't have to spend all your time thinking. Intuitive powers will strengthen, deepen, help you guide your life beyond the will, beyond the thinking brain, discriminating brain, comparative brain, superficial brain.

This is the way to deepen one's practice, deepen one's life, naturally, unconsciously, automatically. So for a short period each day, we sit in zazen. This is generally the only opportunity we have. Don't waste it, don't let it pass by. Use it, grab it, concentrate! Don't fritter your lives away like silly children.

You shouldn't take your thoughts so seriously. There's no substance there. Let them pass. Become strong and deep, then life will blossom, will fill itself, provide true joy, strength, compassion.

You must forget yourself. This means don't be thinking about yourself. It just leads to more problems. Let go of that individual separate self. Join the rest, join all existences. Harmonize, follow the cosmic order.

So each moment in zazen, pull yourself back from those thoughts that tend to take you away, come back to here and now. Then body-mind can drop off naturally, unconsciously. We can return to ku, return to the source which gives us strength, depth, truth. Our existence can harmonize with all others and follow the cosmic order.



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