A student asked, “What is the Way?” The teacher replied, “Ordinary, everyday-mind is the Way.”

~ Gateless Barrier, Case 19

In Zen, the real work is not in realizing Buddha nature in the light. The real work is in trying to realize the grace in the dark. It is not enlightenment we are seeking; it is endarkenment. Recently, I was going through FB, and a friend had put up a picture of a mountain lake, and had written something like “Mind, quiet and still.” On seeing that note, I got a wonderful rush: beautiful and serene, a lake as a metaphor, a mirror of our mind. Alas, soon enough, my ordinary, everyday-mind was no longer tranquil. That’s because tranquility of the mind is a concept. And concepts are what we sometimes call delusion.

Soon after reading that post, I checked in with a friend. Some months ago, as the last of his team of six in a large financial company, he had been directed to take a phone call in a nearby conference room. Over the phone, he was told that was his last day at the firm. With five mouths to feed and a mortgage to pay, he had been understandably distraught. Most frustrating were the months of searching and burning up savings. A couple of weeks ago, he finally got work, at a material pay cut. But it was work. He felt he was still struggling, and despite the many hours of meditation during his layoff, he was disappointed that he could not find tranquility. My suggestion: yell loudly to himself, “It sucks! It sucks! It sucks!” At that moment, that is realizing ordinary, every-day mind.

Talking to another friend a week ago, I checked in with how he was doing. Only minutes before, we both had been notified by email that an old friend of ours had passed. The friend was lovely, and warm, and kind, bright and generous. His condition has been very frail for some years, and he lived with the possibility of death almost daily. So his passing was not a shock. On the phone, my friend admitted he was very sad, and said the koan he had been working on was very helpful. It had been a couple of weeks since we had last spoken, so I asked what was the koan. He said, “With all due respect to our friend: ‘In front of an ancient Buddha Hall, there is a dog pissing toward heaven.’” He added, “Over and over, just a dog laying on the ground pissing up into the air.” I did not need to ask him to explain the connection or meaning with our friend’s death. Instead, we both just laughed. It was terrible and beautiful; it his every-day mind at that moment, and it sucked.