Someone asked, “The ancestors said that everyone has it, but I’m covered with the dust of the world and don’t know whether I do or not.”had Caoshan said, “Show me your hand.” Then he pointed to the questioner’s fingers: “One, two, three, four, five. Enough!”

~ PZI Miscellaneous Koans

Sometimes in Zen, we think what we need to awaken is greater confidence, or better conditions. What we really need is greater faith. Faith in ourselves, faith in the process. I picked up this koan with a friend this week, and we talked about the simple lesson of how we sometimes feel unworthy in our practice and in our lives; we are “covered in the dust of the world.” It made me recall a story from some years ago, when I thought I had lost confidence in my practice, but instead came to understand I had lost faith in the process. Embracing faith is itself awakening.

A long time ago I would go down to a Zen center in Los Angeles to do long retreats somewhat regularly. After a few years of this, there was one retreat where I vowed to give it my all, and really “settle the great matter”, as the teacher urged. During the teisho, or morning talk, the teacher quoted Dogen as saying, “even in this monastery of 200 monks, there may be only one or two of you who are really working hard.” Tears began to course down my cheeks; I knew I was one of those two monks. That night, I woke up and on hearing the sound of a car backfire, I somehow knew that my breath and that sound were not two. For me, the world had changed. I went into the dokusan room that morning, and spontaneously began answering questions. But the teacher did not pass me on my koan No. After the retreat, I fell into a kind of deep funk. In my heart, I began to feel I had given my best effort, and if it took greater effort to pass the koan, then probably I could not do it. That feeling dogged me for some years.

I thought I had lost confidence, but what I really lost was faith. Faith that the process, that the Way, would carry me. Faith that however many eons it might take, I would fully realize the Buddha Way. Instead, my judgments and assessments of what enlightenment was, what I was, what my teachers were, all got in the way of appreciating the unfolding of my own life. Even as a teacher, I still lose faith at times. I want to be a certain way, attract a certain sangha, gain a certain respect from my peers and community. But I see now, that despite being covered in the dust of the world, I have five fingers. And I can count them one-two-three-four-five.