by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Chapter 10
No Formulas

"If I tell you," said the patriarch, "that I have a system of law to transmit to others, I am cheating you. What I do to my disciples is to liberate them from their own bondage with such devices as the case may need."

--The Platform Sutra, translated by Wong Mou-lam

Training in Wisdom

There is a saying in Soto Zen: "Stand against the world and train in wisdom."

This saying exists in order to remind the trainee of the difference between following the Eternal and following the way of the world and of dualistic religion.

Standing against the world means refusing to go along with worldly attitudes. It does not mean refusing to accept the real limits of existence (as described in the Five Laws of the Universe).

"Worldly attitudes" include not only the more obvious and coarse forms of greed, anger and delusion, but also attitudes that derive from an effort to substitute a formula of compassion for that which flows through our lives and our actions in the following of the Eternal, and which sometimes may manifest in forms that the world recognizes as "compassionate"--and sometimes not.

Confusing Appearances

Within the Great Immaculacy, "better and worse," "success and error," have no meaning. We cannot acquire more Buddha Nature than we already have.

The appearance of holiness or unholiness can be very misleading. When we find ourselves becoming confused by appearances, it is time to turn within in meditation and allow the concern about external appearances to fall away. Then we can see what is truly good or not good to do--and this "seeing" (or "discerning") will come from a deeper Place than our brain. Such intuitive wisdom is never formulaic.


It is tempting to seek safety in a formula of action. But in order to live as a full and free spiritual adult, we must leave the formulas behind. Sometimes it is good to do one thing; sometimes it is good to do just the opposite. And always we get the consequences of our actions: there is no way to dodge the law of karma.

Meditation does not give us a formula. We learn to meditate in order to re-harmonize with the Eternal, though few people know this when they first take up the practice of formal meditation. In other words, we meditate so that we can live and act from a deeper spiritual Place than worldly attitudes and values. This feels like "flying by the seat of one's pants" and requires the moment-to-moment re-adjustment to changing circumstances, the moment-to-moment trust in one's own Heart.

As helpful as they are, the Precepts do not constitute a formula for action. Imagine a broad plain in which great freedom of movement is possible. In some places, the plain suddenly terminates in a cliff. The Ten Precepts are like warning signs placed near the edges of the cliffs. The signs tell you that there is danger in continuing on in a particular direction, but they do not tell you where it is good to go at this particular moment. The Three Refuges tell you that you can trust your own Heart and find your way. And the Three Pure Precepts provide you with the general information that there are directions in which it is not good to go, and there are directions in which it is good to go. But in these particular circumstances at this particular moment we are again thrown back on the essential question of whether we will in fact trust our own Heart or not, whether we will in fact listen first and foremost to the Voice of the Eternal.

So is there no safety to be found anywhere?--There are many temporary conditions and circumstances that provide some degree of physical and spiritual safety. But the only abiding and complete safety is to be found in the refuge of our own wonderful True Nature.

The Middle Path

We can wallow in the darkest aspects of our humanity; and we can try to throttle our humanity. Or we can accept our humanity and train so that its Buddha Nature can manifest naturally. This is the true Middle Path.

To walk this true Middle Path, we must stand against both the wallowing and the throttling. Both wallowing and throttling quickly become formulaic: the Middle Path never does. We have to discover the Middle Path anew every day. This is true in the beginning of training, and it is true forever. To walk the true Middle Path is to be continually challenged and frequently surprised. Sometimes it is to be startled, and sometimes it is to be delighted. The Middle Path is rooted in That which is Unchanging, yet the walking of the Middle Path takes us through a spiritual landscape that is ever-changing.


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