Making It Personal

“In taking up Zen Buddhism, we find that the life of the Buddha is our own life. Not only Shakyamuni’s life, but the lives of all the succeeding teachers in our lineage are our own lives. As Wu-men Hui-k’ai has said, in true Zen practice our very eyebrows are tangled with those of our ancestral teachers, and we see with their eyes and hear with their ears. This is not because we copy them, or change to be like them. I might explain Wu-men’s words by saying that in finding our own true nature, we find the true nature of all things, which the old teachers showed so clearly in their words and actions. But the authentic experience of identity is intimate beyond explanation. And it is not only with old teachers that we find complete intimacy. The Chinese thrush sings in my heart and gray clouds gather in the empty sky of my mind. All things are my teacher.

“On the Zen path, we seek for ourselves the experience of Shakyamuni. However, we do not owe fundamental allegiance to him, but to ourselves and to our environment. If it could be shown that Shakyamuni never lived, the myth of his life would be our guide. In fact it is better to acknowledge at the outset that myths and religious archetypes guide us, just as they do every religious person. The myth of the Buddha is my own myth.

“Thus, it is essential at the beginning of practice to acknowledge that the path is personal and intimate. It is no good to examine it from a distance as if it were someone else’s. You must walk it for yourself. In this spirit, you invest yourself in your practice, confident of your heritage, and train earnestly side by side with your sisters and brothers. It is this engagement that brings peace and realization.”

– Robert Aitken, Taking the Path of Zen

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