The fact is that there is nothing to hold on to. There is nothing in the mundane human world which is perfect and complete, nothing to warrant our intense clinging – no person, no object, no doctrine. We cannot even rely on what we see with our eyes or think with our minds. Yet, ironically, living with this truth – the truth of having no ground to stand on – can lead us to a life of intention. It can lead us to a life in which we value each moment as precious, knowing that the people and the things around us are fleeting. We had better enjoy them while we can. So we vow to stay close to the moment, present with everything that seems to come into momentary being. This is the practice of zazen, whether sitting, standing, walking or lying down.
Yet this simple activity of staying present can be quite difficult. All sorts of responses and reactions are bound to occur, some of which may be unpleasant. Still, studying these feelings, we can discover that fearlessness doesn’t mean an absence of fear, but rather presence in the presence of fear.
In Buddhist psychology there is a characteristic of consciousness called “vedana,” a Sanskrit word which is usually translated as “perception,” It means something like “gut reaction.” It has three settings – pleasant, unpleasant or neutral – and it happens nearly instantaneously after we come into contact with some sort of sensory experience. By studying vedana, we might find that those immediate, basic attractions or aversions become more transparent and less compelling. So we can better choose how to respond, rather than being pushed and pulled by our reactions.
A monk asked Master Dongshan, “Among the three buddha-bodies,which one does not fall into any category?” Dongshan replied, “I am always close to this.”