Recently it has become very clear to me just how difficult it can be to progress on the path of Zen, or awakening, due to certain kinds of people. The Ten Oxherding Pictures in Zen depict the relative stages toward enlightenment. The first and last look very similar–both are with a man in the market (or world) doing ordinary things. The last one, however, the man is doing all the usual activities yet with an awakened mind, free of concern and striving.
Along the path toward the tenth picture there are many obstacles one may face. One coming up for me lately is being misunderstood by some people. Some may see the path as mysterious or lazy. Others may question your lifestyle for other reasons…generally for not living the way they think you should. Some will say you talk too much, the Buddha says. Others will say you do not talk enough, but no one is wholely free of criticism he says. No matter what you do, various people will form erroneous opinions that you do not have time or the desire to dispel.
Your silence may be interpreted in many ways too! You’re cold. You don’t care. You’re angry. You’re stupid. You need instruction. And so on. Why does silence evoke pain in others? Maybe it reveals them to themselves, which often isn’t comfortable. Since Zen is about discovering the self and then forgetting it. It seems one’s “silence energy” points a mirror toward others that they’d rather not look at. They may find you hard to interpret. You may seem mysterious or too disarming… Some relatives or friends may offer their religious or other advice. Simply put, they do not understand the path of Zen. To expect otherwise causes suffering. So expect to be misunderstood by some family, friends and others during parts of your journey. Ideally, you will eventually be able to interact much more smoothly with all people, but I’m not so sure I have proven that to myself yet.
Most of the world is caught up in samsara. Be prepared to be misunderstood even by your closest friends and family. You may lose a job or relationship. For some, this may be where they part ways with the Zen path. Craving, the strong desire for the things of this physical world, may pull them back in to a life of seeking happiness through gain and avoiding loss…despite the ultimate futility of this.
If you wish to practice liberation from the world, pleasing others cannot come first. It is the path to failure ultimately. Be resolute, continuing on the path no matter what happens–the reward will unfold. Inner peace and awakening, cannot be had for free. Some losses will occur. Just keep in mind how much happier inner freedom is than being a slave to craving, destructive emotions and false notions. It is really quite simple. You simply let go, but it is not so easy. Zazen and other ways of living in present moment awareness can help.