Monday, February 16, 2015

The Gateless Way

My kids and I were upstairs this morning eating breakfast when our puppy started whining. We have a gate at the bottom of the stairs to keep him from climbing up on his own, which he does every five minutes without the gate. So I climbed down the stairs and removed the gate and went back upstairs, expecting him to follow me up.

But he didn't. He just kept whining.

So we called him, but he still didn't come upstairs. He just kept whining, staring at the space where the gate had been moments ago.

He was so accustomed to the gate that he wouldn't climb.

The same thing applies to us. We impose barriers upon ourselves so often on--stories about who we are, our limitations, the world, how things should be--that when we get a glimpse of the world without them, we can't recognize it. We think that these constructions have a permanent, absolute reality to them, when of course they don't.

In The Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman calls it "institutionalization." We get so accustomed to the bars that we come to rely upon them. I know that this sounds crazy, but our suffering can become a source of comfort, something reliable in what otherwise appears to be a crazy, uncertain world.

Yet they are only mental barriers that we are imposing on ourselves, and Zen practice aims at seeing through them.

The Great Way is wide open; there are no barriers. We are always free, even when we feel the most bound. What's extremely challenging is allowing those old propensities to subside, and to accept our free and open true nature.

Those old tendencies--call them habits, karma, or neuroses--are so seductive that can convince us that they are us. That they are our true identity; that we are them.

But they are no more us, or we them, than the clouds are the sky. Don't be fooled by your thoughts or habits. There are no gates. There never were.

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