Dharma Rarely Encountered
‘The Dharma is rarely encountered, even in hundreds of millions of ages.
Now we see it, hear it, receive and maintain it.
May we fully realize the true meaning of the Tathagata (Buddha).’
~ Gatha on Opening the Sutras
Enlightenment is not all that hard nor that rare. This gatha, which is traditionally chanted before a teacher gives a teisho in some zendos, pops into my head once in a while, rattles around and then escapes. I actually like it. But the part I don’t like is the bit about ‘the Dharma is rarely encountered’. I get what the authors are trying to say: Listen up homeboy (girl) and be respectful of the wisdom the
teacher is about to impart on your sorry butt! But what it can set up is a cultural duality wherein the teacher has something special, and the student does not. If the student is willing and deserving, the narrative goes, she too can ‘get’ what the teacher has. The Dharma is not about getting; it is about giving away.
We construct in our minds this idea about great enlightenment breaking open our world, and then, well, that is it. Everything takes care of itself. But in our headlong rush to smash the ‘lacquer bucket’, we sometimes deny our own true experience. In a beginners class I teach at a Senior Center, following a period of meditation with the koan ‘Little Jade’, one of the elderly ladies said unbidden, ‘I was listening to the birds, and they were calling out to me ‘Little Jade’. I agreed with her.
That experience itself is kensho, ‘seeing the nature.’ If it is small, it is because we make it small. At Pacific Zen we say that ‘A small bit of freedom is all of freedom.’ That is my experience.
Practice is not about a thing, it is simply about being open to each moment as it appears. Ideas of rare and common, can-do and can’t- do, good practice and poor, really have no place here. And when we do that, Little Jade calls to us not rarely in hundreds of millions of ages; she calls to us all the time.