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Buddhism without Ism

Wakefulness: Non-Ism Buddhism / M. Zohar

 

The Buddha was not a Buddhist, the Buddha did not teach Buddhism: the Buddha was a human being who met other people, listened to them and spoke with them, right in the heart of living, and taught one simple thing: how to live in the world – without being caught by the things of the world; how to meet ourselves and meet others, right here and now where we're at – unconditionally, in freedom and peace, joy and love; how to live fully, deeply, the life that we, as human beings in the world, are living. The Buddha taught many things, and after him his disciples continue and add; the Buddha and his disciples taught and are still offering many teachings, but the essence is truly simple: how we are relating now to all that we are meeting, how we are now meeting the life that we are living.

 

The Buddha was not a Buddhist, the Buddha did not teach Buddhism but Non-Ism Buddhism, or simply, wakefulness. Wakefulness has two aspects that are not separate – presence and awareness: when we are present-aware we are wakeful, attentive, we are truly alive. Wakefulness is the essence of the Dharma, the vitality of the Sangha, the heart of the Buddha; when we are wakeful the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha are not separate. There is no Sangha without Buddha, there is no true togetherness without wakefulness; and there is no Buddha without Sangha, without human beings who are awakening to living.  

 

The Buddha was asked, "What are your disciples doing? What are they studying with you?"

and the Buddha answered, "We sit, we walk, we eat".

He was told, "But is that all? We all sit, walk, eat –

what is special in what you are doing? What are you in fact studying?"

Replied the Buddha, "We sit – wakefully, walk – wakefully, eat – wakefully;

in everything that we do we are wakeful, attentive we are living.

 

Non-Ism Buddhism is No-Extras Buddhism: without ideals and ideas, without ceremonies and without superstitions, without sacred cows and without golden calves; without prejudices and conclusions, without aims and without means; without attachment to things. And all knowledge and explanations, and all rules and regulations, are tasteless if we are not truly present, attentive, aware; only when we are wakeful there is truly a taste to living. It is tasteless to study Buddhism if we are not wakeful to the one who is studying – the Buddha did not teach Buddhism but being wakeful; it is tasteless to practice meditation if we are not wakeful to the one who is practicing – the Buddha did not teach meditation but being wakeful; it is tasteless to do good deeds if we are not wakeful to the one who is doing the deeds – the Buddha did not teach good deeds but being wakeful. The essence is not what we do or abstain from doing – material or spiritual action, within the bubble of the retreat or in the marketplace of life – but the quality of the action, the quality of being. The essence the Buddha taught is one simple thing: how to live, right here and now, unconditionally – in freedom and peace, joy and love.

 

In Buddhism there are different approaches and emphases, according to character, culture and custom: there are northerners and southerners, some are stringent and some are lenient, there are yellow and brown and red and grey and orange – multi-colored Buddhism; and in each generation, in every place and time, some preserve and some renew. There is Authentic Buddhism: primary, original, rooted; and there is Skillful Buddhism: developed, diverse, flowery. But the essence is beyond the traditional simplistic division, beyond all differences between the different schools. The essence is wakefulness, and wakefulness is skillfulness and creativity, authenticity and simplicity. When we are wakeful we are open to renewal, while staying true to the essence.

 

There are conservatives and there are innovators, but without wakefulness we cannot authentically preserve, and we cannot skillfully renew. Authenticity is tasteless without creativity and renewal, and skillfulness is tasteless without simplicity and attentiveness to the essence – only wakefulness is truly the taste of living. Without creativity and attentiveness to the changing conditions, to the culture and society in which we are living, to the place and time and person that we are meeting, rather than preserving the essence, only an empty shell is preserved, tasteless and devoid of vitality. Without simplicity and attentiveness to the essence that is in itself always new, unknown, rather than truly renewing the essence, it is only one shell replacing another, the manner of speech and dress and behavior changing in hopeless pursuit after innovations that are only a continuation of the known, the world of habit. Wakefulness is skillfulness and authenticity, creativity and simplicity; and therefore – to be truly wakeful – we should be very creative in the world of routine and habit, and we should be very simple in the complex world in which we are living.

 

Non-Ism Buddhism is Essential Buddhism: there is Buddhism of knowledge and learning – but it cannot be truly understood unless we are wakeful; there is Buddhism of ritual and ceremony – but it is tasteless unless we are wakeful; there is Buddhism of good deeds – but only when we are wakeful we are truly helping. The essence is truly simple, always new: only here and now can we be truly awake to the beauty of living, only here and now we can live life unconditionally – in freedom and peace, joy and love.

 

One day the governor came to visit a well known Zen sage, and asked a question:

"What are your disciples doing? What are they studying with you? Are you reading scripture?"

the Zen sage replied in the negative.

Asked the governor, "If that is so, are you practicing meditation?"

and again, the Zen sage replied in the negative.

"Then what are you in fact doing?" asked the governor,

and the Zen sage replied, "We are cultivating Buddhas and Bodhisattvas";

to which the governor answered, "Precious is the dust of gold, but in the eyes it causes great harm".

 

The governor said: what you are saying is truly wonderful – the essence is wakefulness, we should wake up to living. You truly understand things deeply and speak clearly of the essence, but do not mislead yourself and others to mistakenly think that they should refrain from learning scripture and practicing meditation and performing ceremonies and doing good deeds. We should study Buddhism, practice meditation, perform ceremonies, do good deeds – in presence-awareness, when we are wakeful to all we are doing.

 

Non-Ism Buddhism is a total transformation of our priorities in life, and it is truly simple: the essence is not what we do or abstain from doing, but the quality of the action. Wakefulness is the quality of the life we are living in awareness, wakefulness is the direct and simple and sane approach to meeting the human condition, individually and collectively – without secret formulas, without hidden assumptions, without prejudices; without accumulation of titles, without a technology of stages. Non-Ism Buddhism is not a method or system but an art, the art of wakeful living.

 

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One day the governor came to visit a well known Zen sage and asked a simple question: "What is the essence of the Dharma? What is the deepest, most noble and wonderful teaching that the Buddha taught?" The Zen sage answered wordlessly; in awareness he wrote 'wakefulness'. The governor said to the Zen sage "Thank you very much; I understand that my question went too far, too soon. First, we should be wakeful – that is the foundation, the first step; I truly understand. And now, I ask again: after wakefulness, what is the most wonderful, deepest and noblest teaching the Buddha taught? What is the essence of the Dharma?" Again, in awareness, the Zen sage wrote 'wakefulness'. And the governor again said: "Thank you very much for emphasizing for me the importance of wakefulness; I truly understand. But it may be that you, the well known Zen sage, do not understand my question. Because I do not ask about the first step on the way, I ask about the last step; I ask what is the essence of the Dharma? What is the most noble and wonderful, the deepest teaching that the Buddha taught?" And again, the Zen sage wrote in awareness 'wakefulness'. Now the governor already got angry, and in great rage he retorted to the Zen sage "Wakefulness, wakefulness, wakefulness – what is wakefulness?!" The Zen sage again wrote, in awareness: 'wakefulness is wakefulness'.

 

The Buddha taught four noble truths: ill-being, the cause of ill-being, the end of ill-being, and the path that puts an end to ill-being. We have heard much already about the four noble truths, but without wakefulness we do not truly understand, and still think that ill-being and the end of ill-being are two separate things, that we should banish one to realize the other; without wakefulness we are still occupied with the problem of ill-being, and in it we are caught and submerged. When we are wakeful we are aware of ill-being, the difficulty and the distress, and also aware of what is not ill-being – in wakefulness, there is no problem. When we are wakeful we understand that the end of ill-being is not a separate thing, found in another place that is not ill-being; we understand that the end of ill-being is not a thing, found in a specific place or state, and therefore there is no way there – in wakefulness, there is no solution. The end of ill-being is not found at the end but already at the start, the end of ill-being is the approach, the end of ill-being is simply the way that we meet ill-being: in awareness, presence, wakefulness; without solution, there is no problem – it's as simple as that.

 

The Buddha spoke of four noble truths, and yet there is no way to meet ill-being but wakefully, there is no way to understand the cause of ill-being but wakefully, there is no way to realize the end of ill-being but wakefully, there is no way but wakefulness. Wakefulness is the first and last noble truth – when we are wakeful, the end is the start. When we are truly present-aware there is one and only noble truth: it is the noble truth of meeting life unconditionally, right here and now, from without and from within.

 

The Buddha taught eight facets of the noble path: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Eight facets of the path, and wakefulness is the essence: when we are wakeful we understand that right view is freedom from all views, non-attachment to crystallized conclusions and known formulas – right view is wakefulness. And so, right thought and right speech and right action are nothing but thought and speech and action in awareness, right livelihood is nothing but wakeful living, right effort is not an instruction for action but a description of what is, when we are wakeful.

 

The effort to understand does not lead to understanding, the effort to be joyful does not bring joy, the effort to be good is not peace but war against evil. The effort to be in control does not yield freedom, the effort to attain an aim and to realize success is not love, the effort to be wakeful is not meeting with things as they are, here and now – wakefulness is not a result of efforting. Efforts can be made, in awareness; efforts can be made to solve problems and attain achievements, but wakefulness is not the effort we make but the light illuminating, the attitude of our relating – this is right mindfulness. And when we are wakeful we understand that right concentration exists of itself when we meet things in peace and in joy, in choiceless presence-awareness, and this is the first and last freedom, this is right view – when we are wakeful the end is found right at the start.

 

The Buddha spoke of loving kindness and compassion, equanimity and joy, and wakefulness is the essence: all noble qualities are not distant aims that we attain by skillful means, but the very attitude in which we are meeting all things. There is no way to joy – joy is the way; when we are wakeful we are truly alive and this is true joy, unconditional living joy. There is no way to meet things in equanimity other than when we are wakeful in non-reactive, choiceless, open presence and simple awareness; there is no way to peace – peace is the way we meet things, the way we are attentive, peace as a way of living. There is no way to meet things in compassion other than when we are wakeful with a wide-open heart, together with the difficulty and the distress; wakefulness is the capacity of being light right in the heart of darkness. There is no way to live life in gratitude and loving kindness other than in awareness, when we are truly awake to the beauty of living, in ourselves and in others, from without and from within; in wakefulness we are aware of the good news, unconditionally, in every state, in every person.

 

The Buddha taught six aspects of the path to go beyond ill-being: generous giving, morality, inclusive tolerance, diligent perseverance, looking deeply, and understanding. Understanding includes all other aspects, understanding is the source and the essence of all paths, and when we are wakeful to things as they are we truly understand, a whole understanding, a living understanding. When we are wakeful we are wholeheartedly attentive, without separation, and so we are living life fully, deeply. When we are wakeful we meet all things with curious interest, without good and evil, without despair and without hope, continually renewing in each moment. When we are wakeful we open the heart to include all that we meet, from without and from within, without judgment and without discrimination. 

 

Without wakefulness, even if we endeavor to be kind and good, we still get hurt and hurt others; but when we are wakeful all noble qualities and all good deeds materialize of themselves – wakefulness is the first and last ethic we need. Without wakefulness we are not truly generous but still occupied with bargains and calculations of profit and gains, materially and spiritually – only presence-awareness is unconditional generosity; without wakefulness we are offering only first-aid – only wakefulness is true and deep help, giving-without-giving.

 

The Buddha spoke of a multitude of noble bodhisattvas – and all bodhisattvas are nothing but the same essence in different states and conditions, each bodhisattva is nothing but an aspect of a person who lives in awareness, wakeful living. The Buddha spoke of social engagement and generous action, compassion in action, but in order to reach far we should start very near: only here and now – when we are present, aware, attentive, awake – can we truly help ourselves and others, do good deeds, only here and now can we truly love, only here and now we are truly alive.

 

Wakefulness is the essence of the Dharma, the deepest and most noble and wonderful teaching that the Buddha taught, but we cannot truly understand what we are now hearing and reading but only when we are attentive, right now, where we are sitting; there is no way to understand the Buddha's teachings but only when we are wakeful. Without wakefulness we only think we understand, translate things to familiar terms, hear only what we want, grasp things the way we are used to – without wakefulness there is only Ism without Buddh; but when we are wakeful it is truly simple – wakefulness is wakefulness is wakefulness, wakefulness is attentiveness, awareness, presence. Right here and now, are we wakeful? Are we able to meet things as they are, that is, new and unknown?

 

Being wakeful, here and now: it is simple, even if sometimes it is not easy. It is not easy and that is why we react, and that is why we try to avoid the difficulties, and that is why we get entangled, but still it is simple: all that we truly want – freedom and peace and joy and love – is already found, unconditionally, right here and now, when we are wakeful. And that is why there is no way but wakefulness, which is a step into the unknown, way-no-way: the Dharma is not a paved path, according to recipe or prescription, program or formula, with stages and means and an aim, compass and map, safety railings and supporting conditions; the Dharma is not a secure refuge, life is not safe – the Dharma is an earthquake!

 

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During his lifetime the Buddha spoke countless words, the Buddha taught countless teachings;

and one time, so they say, he did not say a word.

He sat in front of the assembled disciples, and wordlessly so they sat, wakeful, attentive;

until the Buddha reached out his hand, held the flower that was by his side,

and presented the flower before the assembly, wordlessly.

The assembled disciples immediately tried to find interpretations and explanations,

what is the intention, what is the meaning; very occupied were all.

And only one, so they say, was truly awake;

only Mahakashyapa smiled a smile of whole understanding, a smile of living joy.

The Buddha presented a flower, and Mahakashyapa smiled;

the Buddha presented a flower of understanding, and Mahakashyapa understood.

 

A flower is a flower, a smile is a smile, understanding is understanding – it's as simple as that. Wakefulness is the capacity to be truly alive, to be wakeful to the beauty of living; and when we are wakeful the flowers are flowering and the thorns are thorning, when we are attentive the heart is awake in living joy. What do we need to be aware of the flowers in life? And the flowers are not only what we usually think – the flowers also have thorns; but when we are wakeful we understand that the thorns are opportunities for compassion and gratitude, an opportunity for awakening. The flowers are also the thorns, all things are flowers when we are truly wakeful; so what do we need to be truly living? The Buddha presents us with a multitude of flowers, in each moment of living – are we aware? Are we able to smile in living joy right here and now, in the state and place where we're at, unconditionally?

 

Many years ago The Buddha presented a flower and Mahakashyapa smiled, the Buddha presented a flower of understanding and Mahakashyapa understood; but the Buddha is already dead, and we on the other hand are still living. The Buddha is already dead and we are still living, the Buddha is already dead and the Buddha lives, the Buddha wakes up to living, only when we-ourselves are truly alive, only when we-ourselves are awake – now, and each moment anew. The living Buddha is not found in tradition of explanations and ceremonies, in authority of scripture and teachers; the living Buddha is wakefulness, and when we are wakeful we see beauty in each moment of living, and right where we're at, unconditionally, we are joyful and loving and free.

 

Wakefulness is the sweetest fruit of the tree of life, wakefulness is the roots and the trunk and the branches and the leaves and the flowers of the tree of life. When we are present-aware life is awake of itself, life of itself is awakening – wakefulness is not something we do, wakefulness is not a personal attribute, there is no ownership over presence-awareness. Wakefulness is the capacity to be truly alive, and it is not always comfortable, it is surly not safe, but only this is being truly alive: in winter shivering from the cold, in summer sweating from the heat – in wakefulness both winter and summer are flowers; in wakefulness we are joyful when we are hungry or full – being hungry, being full, both are flowers; so how is it now, and each moment anew, to be truly alive? Are we wakeful?

 

The Buddha was not a Buddhist, the Buddha did not teach Buddhism: the Buddha was a human being who met other people wherever they are, spoke simple things to their hearts, and taught how to wake up to life, how to live fully, deeply, the life we are living. And how can we meet the Buddha? Where does he live? What is the address of his site? The Buddha lives here and now dot compassion, dot freedom and peace and joy and love; the Buddha dwells in each place and time where and when we are present, aware, attentive, awake; it's as simple as that. And when we are truly wakeful we are already free, right where we're at, in the heart of living, with the flowers and with the thorns; free to be wakeful to the beauty of living, free to meet all things in peace, free to be joyful, free to love – unconditionally, right here and now.