Disappearing In Love

By Seiju

Simple guidelines for practice are useful. A word, phrase, or image can serve as a signpost, calling us back to immediacy. Many skillful markers have been left for us over the generations. Our teacher’s words are often a bountiful source of inspiration.

We will each have our personal favorite teachings, but if they are to be effective, we must bring the teaching alive in the immediacy of this moment. Teachings that we merely “admire” or “appreciate” haven’t entered our hearts. We haven’t moved beyond mere concepts, haven’t come alive as this present moment.

All living teaching is fire. When we manifest the teaching, it burns through the slough of subjective activity like the sun through clouds. We disappear, the world disappears, and the teaching disappears. This is living teaching. This is Zen practice. There are no concepts, there is no language and there is no experience that reaches here.

As long as there is self-consciousness, our effort is incomplete. If we are here, the world is here; if the world is here, we are here. We believe the world is outside or apart from us, and because we believe, we doubt.

The belief in separation and/or the belief in an individual self gives rise to doubt about that which we label as “other.” This doubt, in turn, inhibits our complete embrace, our complete surrender into this moment. From belief comes doubt, which we manifest as duhkha.

One such turning phrase that Joshu Roshi often uses is, “Disappear in love.” The Buddhist understanding of love is different from conventional ideas of love. Love is complete, immediate surrender – completely no self. This is the heart-energy within conventional ideas of love, but it is free from all limitations born from thoughts, emotions or self-identity.

In general, we love our self. But our “self” is some narrow identification within the field of experience. Most people identify with subjective activity – thoughts and emotions and memories. Further, we may identify with family or friends, customs, places and traditions. However broad our image of our self may be, it is inherently less than the boundless totality of this present moment.

Because there is self, there is other, and that which is not my self may harm me. This apprehension gives birth to doubt. In our divided world, it is rare for us not to doubt. We celebrate the momentary dissolving of doubt and call it love.

But if we are to truly practice love, we must thoroughly dissolve our doubt. The math is simple: If there is doubt, there is self; if there is self, there is doubt. In dissolving our self we dissolve our doubt – and realize love.

Conventional ideas of love center on persons, and are inevitably tinged by self-consciousness and emotions. But the real activity of love has no self-consciousness and is free from attachment. True love is unconditioned, spontaneous surrender.

Imagine sitting in a comfortable chair at home and making yourself a cup of tea or coffee. You bring the cup to the table next to you, and place it on the table top. This too is love.

The table top was clear, and the space above the table was available. Placing the cup on the table, the space immediately manifests “cup.” The nature of space is open and receptive, so space can manifest whatever enters it. Space surrenders itself and manifests the cup. Or, you could say space disappears in love and love manifests as cup.

You might argue that space is selfless: to speak of space “giving” itself is just a phrase, not at all like what it means for a person to give himself or herself. But is it not true that before we make a choice about giving ourselves, we have already given ourselves?

If, while reading this article, someone calls to you from another room, “John” or “Helen,” at once you hear the person’s voice. You give yourself effortlessly to hearing the other person’s call. There is no reflection or consideration of whether to hear; we just hear.

We close our eyes and then open them. At once we are filled with visual sensations – the door in front of us, the window over there, the light through the window, and so on. In the same effortless way that the space above the table top receives the cup, our consciousness receives this moment’s sense impressions.

Of course, we may then react or respond in many different ways, but initially we manifest the sound, vision or taste just as we receive it. It is our nature to effortlessly receive our world, just as space effortlessly receives what enters it. Our nature and space’s nature are not different.

Immediately after receiving our world, our subjective mind is busy. We think, we feel emotions, a related image arises in memory, or we calculate options and possibilities. Because we identify with these activities as our self, we ignore the fundamental activity of receiving. We give almost all of our attention and energy to our subjective response.

What happens when we stay true to our initial reception? We cannot really say. We have a deeply ingrained habit of looking to our subjective mind, so as a result we trip over ourselves even when we try to let go of ourselves. To truly see what happens when our self is not in the way, we must genuinely be out of the way – we must disappear. Otherwise, we will slip into the subtle belief that we can watch this moment from some imagined sideline.

If we want to enter Zen practice, we must move from reactive subject activity toward the immediate realization of sense activity. We must perfect our practice of non-attachment, for only then will subjective activity subside.

This is not easy in any situation, and each of us has our particular set of deeply-rooted attachments that we will continue to trip over. We will repeatedly make mistake after mistake. But with energetic, persistent practice we can slowly become free from our attaching mind.

But if we do not disappear, there will always be observing mind. Observing mind envisions a subject and object fantasy, filled with separation and division. Observing mind is never whole mind. Observing mind never realizes true peace.

In complete surrender there is no self-aware activity – no thinking, no emotions, no imaginings. Thoughts, emotions and images arise, yet they are not objects of awareness. They are just manifest activity. We DO thinking, DO emotions, DO imaging; it is never, “I am thinking, emoting,” etc.

So, in practicing complete love, we completely DO our living. We are a “ghost.” There is no time to think, no time to separate. “Ghost practice” is realizing the selfless self that arises from and disappears into selflessness. The true ghost arises and disappears in true love.