Mountains as Mountains

December 19th, 2012

“Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.” -Ch’uan Teng Lu (The Way of Zen)

I think many people turn to Zen looking for something profound. This is not a bad thing, but do not confuse profound with complicated or intelligent. Without our preconceptions and prejudices, we see things as a child. That wondrous time when mountains are mountains and waters are waters. As we get older and begin to learn more about the world, we have begin to think deeply about subject matter, begin to philosophize about the world around us. This is not a bad thing either, in and of itself. But let us not use this thinking to cloud our vision. Do not let simple conclusions, thoughts, and opinions to form filters over our eyes so things do not appear as they are.

The quote above alludes to the fact that we may learn about mountains and waters and other things, and these may symbolize other emotions or concepts for us. At some point in our complex adult lives, we begin to over complicate nearly everything. Everything we see, whether it is a mountain, a friend or family member, or our pets, become something more to us than just what they are. We have imposed our expectations onto them. We expect more and more each day, and these expectations lead to suffering. If we go home and expect our pets to have behaved all day without making any mess, then arrive home to see otherwise, we become angry, unhappy, and frustrated. We have created suffering in ourselves by having expectations.

As the quote above states they are now at rest, in their body with zazen, and have stillness in their mind as well. This, without expectation and without having expectations, the mountains are seen as their true nature, just mountains. And water is seen again as just water, magnificent water. This is what is meant by when you think of nothing, you see everything. Everything in its true nature. No expectations.

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