Monday, April 21, 2014

The Active Nature of Zen

Despite what some people believe, Master Bodhidharma didn't experience satori after wall-gazing at the Shaolin temple. According to all the classical Zen accounts, he was suddenly awakened while still in India and received the Mind-to-Mind transmission from his teacher, Prajñatara, who is said to have been a woman.

If you read through various Chinese Zen texts, you'll see that often people (Bodhidharma but also Hui-Neng, for example) "wake up" without doing any meditation, but they practice meditation for many years after. Reason for this? After the initial awakening (satori), one still needs to cultivate the pure, imageless Mind by letting go of all the thoughts and mental images that arise. In Zen, it's these continuing thoughts and mental images that embody all the "karma" from one's past existences, and will perpetuate the karmic round of cause-effect if not completely shed. Even though Bodhidharma had woken up and been given the Mind Transmission by his teacher, he still wasn't completely liberated.

The story about Bodhidharma tearing off his eyelids (or his legs withering as he sat in meditation) is just an expression of his formidable willpower. He blazed with energy (Ki). Zen requires nothing less.

Bodhidharma brought the direct Mind Transmission to China energetically, by leaving India and making the hard journey. He then demonstrated the blazing truth of Zen by sitting in front of a wall at the Shaolin temple for nine years. As Huangbo says, "Therefore Bodhidharma sat rapt before a wall, and did not lead people into having opinions." Opinions are what cause arguments.

Zen has nothing to do with forming opinions or having arguments but, as Bodhidharma said bluntly in his remarks to the Shaolin students, is a matter of instantly seeing the pure, imageless Mind-Essence and then cultivating that awakening for the rest of your life through careful and often arduous practice. There is no other way to attain liberation, and if you do not attain liberation you will continue to be swept along, bobbing and sinking, in samsara.

According to Bodhidharma, a few rare exceptions aside, if you want to fully awaken to the Mind Dharma you must go out and find a teacher who can help you develop your Zen ability.

Seeing the self-nature is seeing Mind. Every sentient being already has the pure, imageless Mind, but most don't realize it because they cling to thoughts and opinions and believe in the independent existence of external objects and beings.

Once you experience your initial shock of awakening to the imageless Mind you must cultivate it with hard practice. Look at the Ten Ox-herding pictures, which illustrate this point in detail.

Zen is not a matter of reading books and talking about Zen. At the most, reading a book or hearing a talk about Zen can give you some initial insight, but if you do not follow it up with energetic practice and cultivation your insight will vanish into thin air.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Heart of Zen

-Sensei, what is it that you teach?

-I teach No birth and No obstruction. In this clear sky all appearances and sensations are sudden, flashing like lightning, and there is nothing to gain or realize, nothing to talk about, nothing to do. There is no this or that, no the other, no dependent arising, no self and no cessation of self. Yogins just live in the pure awareness that is neither conscious nor unconscious, is not being and is not nothingness. The nature of this pure awareness is free of all so-called limits and boundaries and has been from the non-existent and inconceivable beginning -- it is just totally open and clear, penetrating and brilliant on all sides. All colors, tones, sounds, odors, and tastes occur nowhere else. If you want to call it "Buddha," that's okay. But if you want to call it a lump of dried shit, that's okay too.  If you can fully understand why I say this and laugh, that's the heart and meaning of Zen.

-Can you tell me how to "see this directly" so that it is not conceptual but directly experienced by me?

-Look into your brilliant "awakeness" at all times. Just drop any involvement with being a thinker of thoughts, forget about external objects except as they appear directly to the senses and the mind, leave behind the usual human activities of planning, regretting, hoping, despairing, coming up with ideas and concepts, judging, discriminating, arguing about opinions or methods, and so on, and look nakedly and intensely into This, like a cat crouched in front a hole in the deep of night waiting for the mouse to pop out, or a miser gazing rapturously at a pile of gold. Then, when all your strength is exhausted, you will suddenly wake up. If you don't, you can cut off my head and take it away with you. Here is a poem:

This great cedar lifts its crown of dusty green
into clear white afternoon light.
The Bodhisattva's robes are deep red,
like the mouth of a newly bloomed Chinese poppy.

Take Up Awareness Like a Sharp Sword, Cut Through Both Buddhas and Devils

Search out the point where your thoughts arise and disappear. See where a thought rises and where it vanishes.Keep this point in mind and try to break right through it; try to crush it with all your might! If you can crush it to pieces, all will dissolve and vanish away. At this time, however, one must not follow it [the instantaneous experience] nor try to continue it. Master Yung Chia once admonished, "The thought of continuation should be cut short." This is because floating, delusory thoughts are virtually rootless and unreal. Never treat the distracted thought as a concrete thing. When it arises, notice it right away but never try to suppress it. Let it go and watch it as one watches a calabash floating on the surface of a stream.
What you should do is take up this awareness as if holding a sharp sword in your hand. No matter whether Buddha or devils come, just cut them off like a snarl of entangled silk threads. Use all your attention and strength patiently to push your mind to the very dead end [of consciousness]; just push it on and on.
Those who determine to practice the Dharma should believe firmly the teaching of Mind-only. Buddha said, "All the Three Kingdoms are mind, all ten thousand Dharmas are consciousness." All Buddhism is nothing but an exposition of this sentence. Ignorance or Enlightenment, virtue or wickedness, cause or effect, are nothing but one's own mind. Not one iota of anything exists outside of Mind. The Zen yogi should completely cast aside his former knowledge and understandings. Here scholarship or cleverness is useless. Rather, he should look on the whole world as hallucinatory. What he sees are mirages, mirror-images, like the moon reflected in the water. The sounds he hears are hymns of the wind blowing through the trees. He should see all manifestations as clouds floating in the sky-changing and unreal. Not only the outer world, but all habitual thoughts, passions, distractions, and desires within one's own mind are, likewise, insubstantial, non-concrete, rootless, and floating.
-Chang Chen-Chi, The Practice of Zen

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Zen: Stop Thinking and See It Directly

Look at the puppets performing on the wooden stage:
Their jumps and jerks all depend on the person behind.

"To attain this subtle realization you must completely cut off the way of thinking. If you do not cut off the way of thinking you will become like a ghost clinging to the grasses and weeds." -Zen Master Mumon Ekai.
"No-thought is the Absolute Reality, in which the mind ceases to act. When one's mind is free from thoughts, one's nature has reached the Absolute." -Fa-jung
"If you want to see, see directly into it; but when you try to think about it, it is altogether missed." - Tao-wu
"Just end the mental objectivization of the world. A single thought of the wandering mind is the root of birth and death in the world. Just don't have a single thought and you'll get rid of the root of birth and death." -Zen Master Ma Tsu
"If only you could comprehend the nature of your own Mind and put an end to discriminatory thought, there would naturally be no room for even a grain of error to arise. As it is, so long as your mind is subject to the slightest movement of thought, you will remain engulfed in the error of taking 'ignorant' and 'Enlightened' for separate states." -Zen Master Huang Po
"Pure and passionless knowledge [Enlightenment.] implies putting an end to the ceaseless flow of thoughts and images." Huang Po
"The only real demon is conceptual thought." -Dudjom Lingpa
“Not thinking about anything is Zen. Once you know this, walking, sitting, or lying down, everything you do is Zen.” -Bodhidharma
“People of the deepest understanding look within, distracted by nothing. Since a clear mind is the Buddha, they attain the understanding of a Buddha without using the mind.” -Bodhidharma
"Getting rid of the discriminating mind is Nirvana." -The Lankavatara Sutra
"Argumentation gives rise to delusory consciousness. Thus Bodhidharma sat rapt in meditation facing a wall, and did not create opinions." -Huang Po.
"Just stop thinking and see it directly." -Linji.
"If there are thoughts then there is mind, and for there to be mind is contrary to enlightenment. If there is no thought (wunian) then there is no mind (wuxin), and for there to be no mind is true enlightenment." -The Transcendence of Cognition treatise (Chüeh-kuan lun) of the Oxhead School
"We should control the mind and strip it of all wandering thoughts before we can speak of Chan practice. Therefore, the first step is to put an end to the flow of thoughts, but we also know this is the most difficult thing to achieve. If we fail to stop our stirring thoughts, we will not be able to practice self-cultivation."* -Charles Luk, from The Secrets of Chinese Meditation
"Empty your mind. Now, without thinking of good or bad, what was your original face before your parents met? . . . If you want to know the essence of mind, just do not think about good or bad at all. Then you will spontaneously gain access to the pure substance of mind, calm and always tranquil, with subtle functions beyond number." -Hui-Neng, Sixth Chinese Zen Patriarch
"All differentiations and particularizations are not separated from the Mind in itself. The Mind has immeasurable size and its function is limitless. Using the eye, it perceives its shape; using the ear, it hears sounds, with the nose it smells odors, and with the tongue knows taste, and from such movements and turnings forms the idea of self. In one cut, slice time from its middle and destroy the way of words and speech, along with thought and its resting place." -Bodhidharma
"Zen is just getting rid of the discriminating mind." Tsunemoto, The Hagakure
"Cast away all things, becoming without thought and without mind." -Hakuin-Zenji
"Whether you are walking, lying down, sitting, drinking tea or eating rice, let go of thought after thought as the best way of striving (kufu) to attain satori." -Takuan Soho
"All that is necessary is that there be no perceiver or perceived when you perceive -- no hearer or heard when you hear, no thinker or thought when you think. Buddhism is very easy; it spares effort, but you yourself waste energy and make your own hardships." -Master Foyan.
"Think the unthinkable. How to think the unthinkable? Be without thoughts, this is the secret of meditation." Dogen Zenji
"This abstaining from all thought whatever is called real thought". -Dazhu Huihai
"When no thought arises in the mind it is called za and to look at one's nature inwardly is called zen. Have your mind be like space and entertain in it no thought of emptiness." - Hui Neng
"Our fundamental substance is the self-mind; how can it be sought in books? Now just cognize the self-mind [chien hsin, kensho] and stop your thinking process, and troubles will come to an end." -Master Baizhang
"Followers of the Way, the Dharma of the Heart-Mind (xin) has no form and pervades the Ten Directions. In the eye, it is called seeing; in the ear, hearing; in the nose, smelling; in the mouth, talking; in the hands, grasping; in the feet, walking. Fundamentally, it is one light; [conceptually] differentiated, it becomes the six senses. When one's whole heart comes to a full stop, one is delivered where one stands." -Master Linji
"Thus, Mahamati, when the Manovijnana is got rid of, the seven Vijnanas are also got rid of. So it is said: I enter not into Nirvana by means of being, of work, of individual signs; I enter into Nirvana when the Vijnana which is caused by discrimination ceases." -The Lankavatara Sutra
"Right now, even as deluded thoughts arise, your awareness of the arising of deluded thoughts is not deluded. This is exactly the Buddha. There is no other. Put a complete stop to the arising of concepts, and you will have a slight chance of sudden awakening to the truth." -Huangbo
"The universal mind is no mind and is completely detached from form. Only study how to avoid seeking for or clinging to anything. If nothing is sought, the mind will remain in its unborn state. If nothing is clung to, the mind will not go through the process of destruction. That which is neither born nor destroyed is the Buddha." Master Hsi Yun
"Put down all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise." -Master Hsu Yun

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Two Koans

Where's the form before any seeing?

What's the sound before any hearing?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Who Is It?

What is the master [within you] who at this very moment is seeing and hearing?

If you reply, as most do, that it is Mind or Nature or Buddha or one’s Face before birth or one’s Original Home or Koan or Being or Nothingness or Emptiness or Form-and-Color or the Known or the Unknown or Truth or Delusion, or say something or remain silent, or regard it as Enlightenment or Ignorance, you fall into error at once.

What is more, if you are so foolhardy as to doubt the reality of this master, you bind yourself though you use no rope. However much you try to know it through logical reasoning or to name or call it, you are doomed to failure. And even though all of you becomes one mass of questioning as you turn inward and intently search the very core of your being, you will find nothing that can be termed Mind or Essence.

Yet should someone call your name, something from within will hear and respond. Find out this instant who it is!

If you push forward with your last ounce of strength at the very point where the path of your thinking has been blocked, and then, completely stymied, leap with hands high in the air into the tremendous abyss of fire confronting you — into the ever-burning flame of your own primordial nature — all ego-consciousness, all delusive feelings and thoughts and perceptions will perish with your ego-root and the true source of your Self-nature will appear. You will feel resurrected, all sickness having completely vanished, and will experience genuine peace and joy.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Meifumado Ni Ochin

In Tang Dynasty Zen, onward to Japanese Zen (fusing with Shinto), Enlightenment is primordial. It is one's original essence, or nature. In fact, Enlightenment is the essence-nature of all of what goes by the name Nature. Thus, one does not have to "transcend" the ordinary world, and in particular one need not go to become a monk in a remote mountain monastery in order to fully realize this Essence.

This makes for an interesting deepening of the "religious" idea of Nirvana propounded by the Mahayana sects -- that making a bowl of tea or practicing with a wooden sword can be, and is, absolutely as "enlightened" and "enlightening" as chanting sutras, banging a gong, or bowing to Buddha statues in an incense-thick temple. Nirvana is right here now.

What makes an activity "Zen" and "nirvanic" or not has nothing to do with the external form or name, but with whether one is in clinging-mind or in "empty mind."

The early Buddhist forest monks practiced a mental discipline of being directly and brilliantly aware of the body and surroundings at all times before and beyond any thinking. Sometimes this is translated "mindfulness." But it is also Mushin, or "empty mind."

Japanese swordsmen also developed this empty mind training. One of their techniques was Mokuso, a form of sitting meditation done before sword practice.

Conscious mind stirred up by thoughts gives birth to an "ego" sense that experiences fear. In Japanese Zen, fear can only be conquered within the mind, and this is done by "stilling thoughts" in order to strip away egotism and see what is brilliantly here-now.

In Mokuso, as breathing deepens and becomes steady, thinking ends, yet consciousness or awareness does not. The result is an inconceivable state in which the senses regains original purity and a clean and direct cognition becomes possible.

For Japanese swordsmen, the test of direct cognition was a simple one: if (whether in practice or actual battle) one could parry or evade an attack and make a "hit" on one's enemy without any thinking or any hesitation or any consciously formed "intention" of doing so, one had attained the "empty mind,"  Muga Mushin.

Thus, "Enlightenment" was not something to be attained in another lifetime, or at the end of a long and strenuous religious practice segregated from society, but right here and now in the midst of the dust and noise. What's more, this enlightenment wasn't a remote matter of faith supported by doctrine or ritual but was experiential, direct and real.

Thus, there is a Japanese saying that the "do" (way) is not found in the realm of enlightenment, but in the hell-realms. One finds the true self by "falling into the pit of hell" (meifumado ni ochin).  To study Zen is to go cheerfully to hell.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

84,000 Defilements from Ichi-nen, the "One Thought"

Q. I was reading Hui-Neng's Platform Sutra and he talks of "crushing the 84,000 defilements." I wonder what "defilement" can mean in Zen. Is there anyone to be defiled?

A. The Zen notion of "defilement" is subtler than the standard Buddhist one, and it's also more directly useful in everyday life. In Zen, a "defilement" is a clinging-thought, a mental fixation on a sound, a form or a color. Master Takuan Soho says that in learning swordsmanship, this is a "suki," a moment of absence from your whole mind and body, that allows the enemy to cut you down. WHACK! When your head is full of thoughts you stop being able to see what's right in front of you. Such "defilements" are in themselves just transient and momentary, and so present no special problem. However, supposing "you" get into the habit of forming clinging-thoughts, and fixating on a sound, a form or a color, and acting on these fixations in the belief that they're more real than your sensory experience. In that case, you are said by the Zen Masters to be suddenly "transmigrating" through the Three Worlds and the Six Realms. This is a colorful way of saying that you've lost sight of the True Nature. You confuse your "self" now with this mental fixation, now with that one. It's like a chunk of ice forgetting that it's originally water. Stop thinking for just a little while and you'll be right as rain again.

Q. Why do you say "water" is always there first, before "ice"?

A. Who's talking about "what's there first?" Ice isn't something other than water, so there's no problem about which comes first or not. The Zen point is that thinking freezes the field of sensory experiencing into rigid shapes (names-and-forms). The shapes are transient because they'll eventually melt again. Yet they're taken by ignorance for the reality. Once the shapes melt, it becomes clear there's only one substance "in" and "behind" them. It is just your Original Mind. Since there's no "two" to oppose to the "one," it's not even "one." You do not need to add a dharma of water to a dharma of ice, because they're not inherently (originally) different!

This, in Zen, is the unity of "substance" and "function." However, something mysterious happens when a person habitually identifies with a name-and-form, which is not the substance or the function, but a sort of mental snapshot, a "thought" about It. Such is the laughable idea of different "things" existing separately in space and time, a "self" that is opposed to "others," and so on. This is clinging-thinking, or ignorance.

Q. What's wrong with ignorance?

A. Congratulations! You've just created all 84,000 defilements. That was just a little joke, by the way. Still, it illustrates the Zen notion of "defilement" -- not having attachments as such, but to be unable to get out of the endless stupidity of your thinking. If you have 84,000 thoughts, and you're taken in by them, then you have 84,000 defilements. However, you actually "have" nothing at all. There are no defilements, there is only idiotic thinking. See it directly and wake up!

Q. Why do you insist that there's even a person to see It directly and wake up, or not?

Q. Master Rinzai called him "the True Person Who is No-Person." So listen closely, because I'm speaking to you. If you have 84,000 thoughts and you are taken in by them, they are "defilements" according to Zen. If you are not taken in by them, they are not even thoughts, because where is there any defined thinker of thoughts? Do thoughts think themselves? So, are you taken in by them, or not?

A. This is illogical. Why should it make any difference if I'm taken in or not if I'm the "True Person" Rinzai speaks of?

Q. Let's backtrack. You asked me to explain the Zen use of the word "defilements." I explained it. The explanation goes beyond conceptual terms, as it points directly to experience. If you are facing an enemy holding a sword, and you start thinking about where and when he's going to hit you, you will be cut down. If being cut down doesn't make a difference to you, bravo! Nonetheless, that's the Zen notion of "defilement." Your spontaneity is hindered by thinking. The "you" that gets taken in by thinking is a "user illusion" of thinking itself. What question do you still have?

A. I'm not worried about being hindered by my thinking. Why are you?

Q. I don't tell you to be worried about it. If you enjoy sticking to your 84,000 thoughts and the hallucinatory user-illusion that there is a small "someone" behind them to be hindered or not hindered anything, then by all means, do so!

If you hold your hand in front of your face while the train is passing Mt Fuji, you won't see Mt Fuji. You'll just see your hand. Maybe that's more interesting to you. But you asked me to explain the Zen notion of "defilement." I explained it. It's like a hand obstructing your view of Mt. Fuji. Just don't say Mt. Fuji is worthless to look at until you've seen it.

Zen is just this -- either wake up or don't. See Mt Fuji or look at your hand. Just shut up with the arguing and complaining!

Seeing the Morning Star

Zen is what turned Shakyamuni into a Buddha. He woke up when he saw the morning star after all night meditation. "Ah!"

Therefore, it's clear that "Buddhism" comes out of Zen. In fact there's no such thing as Buddhism apart from the speculations of academic eggheads -- in Asia, they just say "the Buddha Dharma."

The essential Buddha Dharma is the Dharma of Sudden Awakening. Shakyamuni wordlessly transmitted it to Mahakasyapa on Vulture Peak, who woke up (experienced satori) when his Teacher smiled and held up a flower.

The direct Mind-to-Mind transmission continued through twenty-eight Indian meditation Masters before Bodhidharma brought it to China. The Chinese had their own Buddha named Lao-Tzu, but Zen still hit China like a thunderclap out of a clear blue sky or a big iron bell ringing in empty space.

Zen is the essence of the Buddha Dharma. In Tibet they call it Mahamudra and Dzogchen. There will always be people trying to cover it up with mind and intellect, words and letters, but Zen always eludes these people.

"Ah! Ah! Ah!"

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

See It Directly and Wake Up

See It directly and wake up.
Intellectual ideas can't grasp it.
Words and concepts obscure its brilliance.
It just functions everywhere without any problem.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Attaining a Mind That is Everywhere and Nowhere

In Zen swordsmanship there are the words hen and sho. Hen means "being partial with a thing." When the mind is directed to a part of the body it is partial or one-sided. On the other hand when the mind fills up the whole body it is said to be sho, meaning "right" or "truth." The right-mind is spread all over the body and is not at all partial or identified. The partial-mind is one-sided, attached to a thing. Zen dislikes prejudice and one-sidedness. We also disregard absorption in all things, because this means identification with something and becomes partial (hen). If there is no thought about where to direct the mind it will be everywhere. Instead of keeping and guarding it as though it were a cat tied to a lead, if you leave it to itself and let it move about it will never go out of your body. Strive (kufu) not to keep it in one place, not to localize or partialize it. Make the whole body the mind. Only by unflagging striving can one attain this. When the mind seems to be nowhere it is everywhere.


When there is some thought in the mind you cannot hear what someone says even though you hear the sound, because your mind is engrossed in what you are thinking. You cannot hear what you should hear, and you cannot see what you should see. Nothing registers in your mind. When you let it go it will become mushin (no-mind) and you can hear and see what it necessary. However, when you think to remove the thought, that very same thought becomes an obstacle in your mind. If you do not think anything at all, then everything in the mind disappears by itself and you will be in a state of mushin. It will take time to be able to empty the mind. If you are always trying to let go of a thought your mind will eventually reach the state of mushin.

(Translated by Nobuko Hirose)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Boil Some Water

Waking up is just seeing it directly as it is, not how it "should" be or how someone said it was in a book you once read.
Rather than living by received ideas, notions and concepts such as good and bad, self and other, Zen and not-Zen, and so on and so on, we awakened Zen free spirits just laugh and boil some water or look at the white clouds.
Who cares what Zen is or what it isn't? Who cares what Foyan said? He's gone. Can you utter a living word right now about this experience? Ha. I didn't think so!
Seeing it as it is and laughing doesn't sound logical, since logic is about concepts, and it doesn't sound as if it will give you the sadistic satisfaction of dominating other people with your unrelenting yappery and supposedly superior intellect. That's right -- it isn't and it won't!
Waking up won't fulfill your fantasy of being a Zen Master. But it's still extremely brilliant and wonderful even when it's a little subdued. "Sesame flatcake." "Three pounds of fingerling potatoes with dirt still clinging to them." "Zhenzhou turnips are big!"
Wake up and laugh. Shake the snow out of your ears and we'll build a snow Zendo. It's all just like this.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Manjusri and the Art of Zen Archery

The Buddha asked, “You have entered the inconceivable samādhi?”
Mañjuśrī replied, “No, World-Honored One, I am the inconceivable. Not seeing a mind that can conceive, how can I be said to enter the inconceivable samādhi? When I first activated the bodhi mind, I resolved to enter this samādhi. Now I think that I have entered this samādhi without any mental appearances. To learn archery, a student has to practice for a long time to acquire the skill. Because of his longtime practice, he now shoots without using his mind, and all his arrows hit the target. I have trained in the same way. When I started learning the inconceivable samādhi, I had to focus my mind on one object. After practicing for a long time, I have come to accomplishment. I now am constantly in this samādhi without thinking.”

Friday, February 21, 2014

Ask the Tigers

"Tokusan suddenly experienced great enlightenment."

One often reads bare statements like this in the old Zen texts. Sometimes it's only, "At these words, he experienced a deep realization."

What is being described?

Once upon a time in China, nobody wanted to hear anyone make grand or minor statements about Zen unless a Master had already publicly attested to that person's "enlightenment."

Yet the public seal of approval can't be confused with "enlightenment" itself, which is an experience only the person who is enlightened has.

There are some strange characters who pop up in Zen stories who are said by certified Masters to be "enlightened" but have no certification and are not monks -- an old woman who owns a tea shop, a father and son who roam the mountains as charcoal makers and, when asked a question about Zen, roar like tigers.

"You Are Not Enlightened"

Does this sentence make sense? Let's break it down and see.

You = the original mind, the True Self. Nothing else can hear me when I speak and reply in turn. There is no other "you." When I speak to you, I speak to that which can hear, understand, and reply. (Although this statement sounds axiomatic, and is in fact straightforward and undeniable, it is also profoundly mysterious and, not to mince words, awe-inspiring. In ancient Chinese Zen and also in Taoist meditation there was a "direct investigation" method, whereby one engaged in a sustained effort of mentally searching inside one's body for the "Old Master." Taking a seat in a quiet place, or lying down flat in a dark room, one systematically turns one's whole attention toward each aspect of the body in turn, closely investigating the breathing, pulse, heartbeat, skin, eyelids, pores, bones, &c to find the location of this "solitary one that I am." Can this "Great Sage" be found anywhere in the scope of what is accessible to awareness? If not, what does it mean? Actually, Shakyamuni Buddha also taught this direct investigation method in the oldest Pali Suttas, and an even more refined version for each of the senses in the Shurangama Sutra.)

Are = A form of the verb "to be," therefore Being. The Being that is you. The ancient Indians said, Tat Tvam Asi, or Thou Art That. (Everybody thinks they know what "Being" is already, but when you try to articulate it exactly, you are "just like a dumb man trying to recount an amazing dream." Many books have been written trying to find out how to even ask "the question of Being." It seems that while "beings" seem to appear with certainty, the Being of beings -- the matrix they spring out from -- is dark and obscure, impenetrable to language.)

Not = The entry of an absolute negation. The emergence of basic contradiction. Here language seems to run into an impassible barrier. In trying to find Being, it finds only what it is not! But as this "not" functions in the sentence we are breaking open, it modifies rather than standing opposed to the word "are." It suggests the way your Being be-s this right here now rather than that or the other, somewhere elsewhere at another time, which brings in the mysterious element of "time" and also the difference of "things in space." Yet, how can a being not be? A deep mystery, this "Not!"--  like Joshu's "Mu," or the Vedantic "Neti Neti." This pencil, here on my desk, is not the pencil on your desk. They are both pencils, yet one is not the other. This pencil is not that pencil, yet both pencils share a certain identity, since they are both obviously pencils and not crayons. It's with this "Not" that the possibility opens of you not being what you claim to be, not at all like that other person over there, or maybe just would like to and maybe will someday become. You're not Buddha, you're just a dog! It's with the emergence of the "not" that Being itself seems to  plunge into chaotic oblivion, ceasing to be itself. What a steep decline! What a drastic fall! And imagine my savagery in imprinting on you this seal of ultimate dismissal, this ensign of total ruin and catastrophe! The demons enter, and dance wildly as demons do.

Enlightened = Lit up, out in the open, immediate, accessible, real. Your Being in the sense of mindedness, heart, xin, is hidden from me. Yes, I can instantly see your body, your eyes and skin and hair, I can hear your words and read what you write and argue against your opinions, all this is out in the open, but the deepest mystery of you which is your awareness, the very taste of your own Being, is obscure and totally impenetrable to my perception. Yunmen says, "Everyone has this same radiant Light -- so when you try to look directly into it, why is it dark and obscure?"  Why does Yunmen say, then, that everybody has the radiant light?

Indian Buddhism, like the ancient Vedas, came up with the notion that there is only one consciousness, one pure and radiant light. According to this idea, the differences between you and I are trivial and insignificant when compared to our basic mysterious sameness. Bodhidharma said, "You ask me a question. That's Mind in you. I reply. That's Mind in me." All that appears appears in and by this Light. So, any appearance is a direct function of the mind-essence, which is "root-Bodhi" or original enlightenment. It is in this sense that "Enlightenment is all there is." The sky allows many things to appear, but it is always just the sky. So perhaps instead of saying that this or that person is enlightened or not enlightened, we should say rather that people are or are not awakened to their originally enlightening mind-essence.

Zen is cutting off thought-discriminations and seeing It directly. Seeing what? The sky of reality itself. So what is enlightenment? What is "not enlightenment"? It seems that everything arrives already enlightened. And Mind itself does all the enlightening, since it is the Light itself. Seeing is It, so is hearing. Wake up instantly to This!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cut Off Thinking

Just accord with your conditions and exhaust your old karma and do not create new calamity. The mind contains brightness. Therefore, your old levels of understanding must all be abandoned. Jingming (Vimalakirti, from the sutra of the same name) says, ‘Get rid of your possessions.’ The Lotus Sutra says, ‘Twenty years spent removing dung.’This was only the removal of viewpoints from within the mind. [The Lotus Sutra] also says, ‘Eliminate the dung of silly talk.’ Thus, the tathagatagarbha is itself originally empty and silent. It does not allow a single dharma to remain.
If it is uncaused, it cannot be said that it exists or does not exist. When it responds to causes, it also does not leave footprints. Just understand in this way. Today I only direct you to abide in silence. This is practicing the All-Buddhas-Vehicle. The sutra says, ‘You should give birth to a mind that is without anything upon which to stand.’ All of the sentient beings in the wheel of birth and death; thinking causes them to move [along the wheel]. Create thoughts and you will be endlessly within the six paths. This will cause you to be afflicted with suffering and all kinds of bitterness.
Jing Ming said, ‘Like monkeys, it is difficult to transform people’s minds because the various types of dharmas restrain their minds.’ After that, they are subdued. Therefore, ‘When thoughts are bom, every type of dharma is brn. When thoughts extinguish, every type of dharma is extinguished.’
Now if you only study no-mind, all causation will cease. Do not give birth to false thoughts and distinctions. There are no ‘people’ and there is no ‘self”. There is no ‘desire’ or ‘anger’. No ‘hate’, no ‘love’. No ‘victory’, no ‘defeat’. Simply abandon these like the many types of false thoughts. The nature of the self is, from the beginning, pure. This is practicing bodhi, Dharma, Buddha, etc.
Zhigong said, ‘The original essence is created in your own mind.’ How could this be sought in the written word (the sutras)? Now, only know your own mind. Cut off thinking. In this way, false thoughts and defilements will not arise. Jingming says, ‘Only lay out a bed for sleeping while sick and lie down.’ Thoughts do not arise. Now as an invalid, climbing over these objects (of the mind) comes to a rest, and false thoughts extinguish. This is bodhi.
If you do not taint the mind as it appears, this is called ‘untainted wisdom’. You will not create human and god karma. You will not create hell-being karma. You will not give rise to any thoughts. All conditions will extinguish and you will not be re-bom. This very body and mind are a self-created person. If [the process] of re-birth is not completely stopped, then you will be re-born as you wish. The sutra says, ‘Bodhisattvas are born into the bodies that they wish to be born into.’ This is so. The instant that they lose their understanding of no-mind, they will become attached to forms and create them. All of this belongs to Mara-karma.
Therefore, Bodhidharma’s wall-gazing. He did not command people to have any viewpoints. This is why it is said that forgetting mental dispositions is the path of the buddhas, while distinctions are Mara-vishayas . Even while you are deluded, this nature will not diminish. At the time of awakening, it will not gain [anything]. Naturally, your own nature is from the beginning without delusion or awakening. It is my One Mind essence that fundamentally fills the ten directions and the sky realm. Even if you were to engage in creation, how could you be away from the empty sky? The empty sky is fundamentally without the concepts of ‘great’ and ‘small’. It is untainted and unconditioned. It is non-delusion and non-awakening. The clever see that there are no ‘things’. There are also no ‘humans’ and no ‘buddhas’, down to even the tiniest width of a hair.

-Huangbo (translation by Jeffrey M. Leahy)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Zhaozhou's Iron Broom of Instant Awakening

Rujing addressed the monks, saying, "Thoughts in the mind are confused and scattered. How can they be controlled? In the story about Zhaozhou and whether or not a dog has the buddha nature, there is an iron broom named 'Wu.' If you use it to sweep thoughts, they just become more numerous. Then you frantically sweep harder, trying to get rid of even more thoughts. Day and night you sweep with all your might, furiously working away. All of a sudden, the broom breaks into vast emptiness, and you instantly penetrate the myriad differences and thousand variations of the universe."

Return Your Mind to the Inexhaustible Numinous Light

Yangshan asked Guishan, "What is the true abode of the Buddha?"

Guishan said: "Think of the unfathomable mystery and return your mind to the inexhaustible numinous light. When thoughts are exhausted you arrive at the source, where true nature is revealed as eternally abiding. In that place there is no difference between affairs and principle, and the true Buddha is manifested."

Upon hearing these words, Yangshan experienced great enlightenment.

A Brightness As Brilliant As Lightning

Student: Why do we not gain virtue by visiting holy places?

Bodhidharma: Through magical powers, evil spirits such as the Demon Kings, Devils, and Asuras, etc., can disguise themselves to appear as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. They are not Buddhas although they may appear to be. Since Buddha is your mind, do not bow to any aspect representing him.

Realize the mind and awaken it constantly, for if one practices without attaching to the thought of performance, he will immediately enter a realm of Buddha vision.

Even one who has initially awakened the mind, may still not be tranquil and might see supernatural visions in a dream. Even so, he should not chase them or lack confidence in the path.

He should realize that everything was made significant by a mind which is not outside. At that time, when the remaining habitual karmic patterns and potentials have faded away, and the self nature is fully disclosed, you may see a light brighter than sunshine coming toward you.

If you have this kind of experience, it will play an important part in developing awakening. Such experiences are unique to each individual and cannot be eclipsed by another person.

Sometimes when you are walking, stopping, sitting or lying down in the quiet forest, you might perceive a very large or very small silent light. Do not talk about it to anyone and do not attach to it. It might be the light from your self nature.

Sometimes when you are walking, stopping, sitting, or lying down at night, you may perceive a brightness as brilliant as lightning.

Do not be surprised by this for it may be a sign that your self nature is becoming clearer.

Sometimes the moon and stars appear clearly in your dreams. This also may be a sign that your self-mind is liberating from phenomenal objectivity. You should not speak of such things to anyone, as it is only your own experience.

-from Bodhidharma's "Hsieh Mai Lun"

Sudden Awakening

Zen is resolving the great life-and-death matter
to your own complete satisfaction.
Nobody can give this to you with words or teachings.
It has to be realized directly by you right here now.


No phenomenon lasts even so long as an instant. Look into this. See it clearly.
There is nothing to be attached to, as all phenomena are ungraspable (formless, instantaneous).
This dream is like identifying with a shadow. Like investing an echo with illusory form.
A scarecrow stands in a field and crows rawk-rawk at it. A rope gets mistaken for snake after snake.
Cast away all distinctions. Become without thought and without mind.
Phenomena are the hallucinatory offspring of thoughts, and have no more reality than thoughts. Divest yourself of all thoughts, and wake up!

-Lao Hu

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


It pervades
all the universes.
Instantly both here and there,
but always before this or that.
Brightly shining
yet dark and obscure.
yet inexplicable.
Call it ancient --
but look, it's moving your tongue.
It's the clear substance
of your senses,
the empty form
before you call it "mind" --
the inner brightness
of the Dark Hall.
without back, front or sides,
do not try to conceive it.
Let it be
and it flashes like lightning.
Hide it away,
and still it gleams.
It's the amazing starry sky
of the whole secret.
Nobody can hold onto it,
or explain its power.
Yet already it knows

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Just Make the Effort To Let Go of Thinking and See it Directly

Suppose you were to tell me, "But my knees are screwed up, I can't bend them right to do Zazen and I can't sit in Seiza, it hurts too much, so I can't do Mokuso, either. I guess it's hopeless. I'll never get enlightened." My immediate response is: You don't need to do Zazen or Mokuso. Zazen and Mokuso can be helpful for attaining concentration, but they're not absolutely necessary. The important thing is to be able to let go of thoughts and try to clearly see what's before thinking, not in a theoretical way but for you right in the Here-Now. If you make the effort you can do this anywhere and at any time. Just set aside some small amount of time every day to do nothing but look directly into this. Go and sit on a bench in a park to do it, or walk in slow circles around the block during your lunch hour while looking intensely and alertly for the answer. Resolve the Great Matter! Don't be distracted by the idea that "I can't get enlightened because I'm not doing Zazen," or "To really wake up I'd have to go and be a monk in a monastery." People wake up all the time in the midst of doing ordinary stuff. You've probably had some awakenings already. Let those guide you. There are no books you have to study, no special yoga postures you have to learn, in order to directly and intuitively know your original self!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Delusion in the Midst of Enlightenment

"Thus you should know that your body and mind are just things that appear in your wonderful, bright and pure Profound Mind. Why do you recognize only your illusory body and mind thereby losing sight of the precious, bright and subtle nature of your fundamental Enlightened Mind and so recognize delusion within Enlightenment? For fundamentally you were not deluded but merely lost sight of Reality by wrongly clinging to unreality, hence your delusion in the midst of Enlightenment."

-Shakyamuni Buddha, The Shurangama Sutra

Kensho and Satori

Bodhidharma said that one who wants to be liberated from all delusions and all karma should do only one thing: "see the self-nature directly."

Ken=seeing. Sho=true-nature.

Bodhidharma never spoke about satori, though he alluded to it in passages of the Hsieh Mai Lun where to describes a mysterious "brightness" appearing in dreams or when a person is alone in a forest meditating.

Some later Zen writers confused kensho with satori, or just used the terms interchangeably.

Kensho is seeing the true unborn nature from within dualism. Hui-Neng, when he had kensho, said: "Who would have thought . . . ?"

In Satori, one does not cry out, "Who would have thought . . . ?" but instead laughs and weeps like a madman. Satori is the actual breaking through of all barriers, the experience of nonduality as all-pervading great bliss.

The Zen Masters who had satori were following the Buddha Dharma. They were, in modern terms, "Buddhists." They chanted sutras and used the terminology of Mahayana.

But one does not need to be religious, or a Buddhist, or to have read any sutras, to experience satori.

If one drops all thinking (linguistic, conceptual processing) in full awareness while in an "extended" or "higher" energetic state, one will instantly experience satori.

But be careful: for one who drops thinking in full awareness while in a "withdrawn" or "lower" energetic state may simply experience a boundless sense of terror.

Also, if the dropping off of concepts is not complete you may instantly fall back on a concept that you are now "God" or "Buddha" or some other such idea.

Arouse your energy before doing the "cutting off" of thinking that leads to satori. When you drop conceptual processing, drop it completely, and be resolute about maintaining clear, unthinking alertness.

Then you will astound the heavens and shake the earth.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

O Monkey, Monkey

Kyozan asked Chuyu, "What does buddha-nature mean?"
Chuyu said, "I will explain it for you by allegory. Suppose there is a room with six windows. Inside there is a monkey. Outside, someone shouts, 'Monkey! monkey!' It immediately responds. If someone calls, 'Monkey!' through any of the windows, it responds just the same. It is just like that."
Kyozan said, "How about when the monkey is asleep?"
Chuyu descended from his Zen seat, grasped Kyozan and said, "O monkey, monkey, there you are!"

(Note how a Zen master takes a traditional Buddhist simile and turns it on its head. Bold, ruthless, and unexpected!
The traditional Buddhist metaphor is that the human "monkey mind" is the so-called "sixth sense." It's the mano-vijnana, the "discriminating consciousness" that takes up and processes the activity of the five physical senses -- sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch. The early Buddhists recognized it as its own distinct sense because of the way it creates reveries and dreams that are not directly based on the input of the five senses. Also, it is sometimes crazed and uncontrollable, like a monkey.
But here Chuyu is actually comparing the buddha-nature to a monkey that responds directly when called through any of the "six windows," including the mind. The Buddha nature itself described as a monkey! Strange, irreverent, and brilliant.
Thus, the monkey acts like a Zen Master as described by Takuan Soho. When called through any of the windows, he instantly replies without thinking.
However, Chuyu was wrong in one sense. In the widest regard, there are not just six windows, but billions. Why? Because there is really just one Buddha-monkey in all the billions of bodies endowed with minds and sense organs.)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Shatter It All At Once!

Even to say "our true nature" is to miss it totally. That's a shame!
"Light" and "dark" have no intrinsic reality.
Revealing is concealing, concealing reveals It beautifully.
Stick out your tongue, catch a drifting snowflake.
Shudder! The mountains are dense with frost.
The sun's blazing today, big pines shooting into a blue sky.
What's the mirror? Where's the reflection? Shatter it all at once!
There's nothing to ponder. Everything's utterly clear.
It's always completely "just like this."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Five Satoris

-Satori of realizing that original mind is distinct, separate from all its perceived objects, birthless, deathless (this is usually called kensho)

-Satori of finding that phenomena as such are void, beyond intellectual postulation, boundless (this is usually called wu, satori)

-Satori of knowing that mind though mysterious and dark is also luminously brilliant -- everything one sees, hears, tastes &c. appears in and by it, is it (a further kensho beyond the first big satori, also known as jeweled mirror samadhi)

-Satori of suddenly experiencing the Emptiness of both forms and emptiness, the Mind-Seal itself (Kyoge Betsuden, the treasury of light wedded to unfathomable space. Thisness!)

-Satori of dropping any intellectual contrivances or distinctions between original mind and the physical world of stark baseless appearances on naked space ("shedding shed," Daigo, coming back to sit in the dust and ashes)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Six Two Line Hokku

through the white mists
blue sky

pissing at two am
through an erection

bark bark bark
deeper night silence

towels on the upper shelf
her white ass

sweeping snow from the steps
young, eternally young

yang guifei played by a boy
red shining in his dark cheeks

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Who Is the Master of This Awakening?

Zen requires great determination and earnestness, for as soon as you have them, the real "doubt-sensation" will arise. At times you will doubt this and doubt that—the doubt automatically and instinctively arising by itself. From dawn to dusk it sticks to you from your head to your feet. It becomes one whole, continuous piece which will not be dislodged, no matter how hard you attempt to shake it. Even though you try to push it away, it will persist in sticking to you.

At all times it is clearly before you. Now this is when you can progress. On reaching this stage you should keep your mind straight and refrain from having secondary thoughts. When you find yourself not knowing that you are walking while walking or sitting while sitting, and unconscious of cold, heat, hunger—then you are about to reach home—Enlightenment. Henceforth you will be able to catch up and hold on.

You do not have to do anything but wait till the time comes. But do not let this remark influence you to wait idly, nor excite you to exert yourself—striving for such a state with anxious mind. Nor should you just let go and give up. Rather, you should preserve your mindfulness, keeping it steady until you reach Enlightenment. At times you will encounter eighty-four thousand soldier demons waiting their chance before the gate of your six organs. The projections of your mind will appear before you in the guise of good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, strange or astonishing visions.

The slightest clinging to these things will entrap you into enslavement to their commands and directions. You will then talk and act as a devil. Thenceforth the right cause of Prajna will die away forever, and the seed of Bodhi will never sprout. At such a time you should refrain from stirring up your mind, and should make yourself like a living corpse. Then as you hold on and on, suddenly and abruptly you will feel as though you were being crushed to pieces. You will then reach a state which will frighten the heavens and shake the earth.

I entered a monastery at fifteen and was ordained at twenty, staying at Chin Tzu. I vowed to learn Zen within three years. First I worked under Master Tuan Chiao. He taught me to work at the hua-tou, "Where was I before birth, and where will I be after death?" I followed his instructions and practiced, but could not concentrate my mind because of the dichotomy in this very hua-tou. My mind was also scattered.

Later I saw Master Hsueh Yen. He taught me to observe the word Wu. He also requested me to report to him each day. Explaining that this was like setting out on a journey, he said one should find out every day what progress one had made. Because his explanations were so systematic and understandable, I became so dependent on him that I did not make any effort in my own work.

One day, when I had just entered his room, he said to me, "Who has dragged this corpse here for you?" He hardly finished this sentence when he chased me out of his room.

Later I followed the example of Chin Shan and stayed in his meditation hall. One day in a dream I suddenly remembered the koan, "All things are reducible to one, but to what is the one reducible?"

At that moment a "doubt-sensation" suddenly arose in me, so that I did not know east from west or north from south. During the sixth day in this state, while I was chanting prayers with the assembly, I lifted my head and saw the two sentences of the stanza composed by the Ch'an Master Fa Yen:

Oh, it is you, the fellow 
I have known all the time, 
Who goes and returns
In the thirty thousand days of one hundred years!

Immediately I understood the sentence: "Who has dragged this corpse here for you?" For it had stuck in my mind since the day Master Hsueh Yen had put it before me. I felt as if my spirit had been extinguished and my mind blown away and then revived again from death itself.

It was like dropping the burden of a carrying pole weighing forty pounds! I was then twenty-four years old, and so had achieved my original wish to realize Zen within three years.

Afterwards I was asked, "Can you master yourself in the day time?" I answered, "Yes, I can."

"Can you master yourself while dreaming?" Again, I answered, "Yes, I can."

"Where, in dreamless sleep is the Master?"

To this question I had no answer or explanation.

The Master said to me, "From now on I do not want you to study Buddhism or learn the Dharma, nor to study anything, either old or new. I just want you to eat when you are hungry and to sleep when you are tired. As soon as you wake from sleep, alert your mind and ask yourself, "Who is the Master of this awakening, and where does he rest his body and lead his life?"

I then made up my mind that I would understand this thing in one way or another even though it meant that I should appear to be an idiot for the rest of my life. Five years passed. One day, when I was questioning this matter while sleeping, my brother monk who slept beside me in the dormitory pushed his elbow so that it fell with a heavy thud to the floor. At that moment my doubts were suddenly broken up.

I felt as if I had jumped out of a trap. All the puzzling koans of the Masters and the Buddhas, and all the different issues and events of both present and ancient times became transparently clear to me. Henceforth, all things were settled; nothing under the sun remained but peace.

-Master Kao-feng Yuan-miao from The Practice of Zen by Chang Chen-Chi

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Appearing Now In the Boundless Samadhi Mirror of Magical Concentration

All objects and beings appear in and as the samadhi of magical concentration. Everything in this world is but a puppet show. Nothing is from outside yourself. Laugh as you pull the strings.

Realize that you have devised this illusion perfectly for the thrilling puppet play in which you play an endangered and searching someone named "I" and "me" -- "a stranger roaming in a strange land." Just like a chilling dream. A cold wind blows in the river reeds. Geese crying behind the white mist. Shudder!

The universe is basically a round mirror without dimensions. Anything can, everything does, appear in it, and this whole beautiful, haunting, ghastly illusion is never less than utterly convincing.

Ten Pounds of Iron

What is Zen? Huangbo says, "Sweep out the dung that's been piling up in your head for the last twenty years." Linji says, "Just stop seeking and see what's there." Also, "Wake up to what's pulling the strings. Seeing, hearing, tasting, &c. -- it's only one light, imaginarily differentiated." Joshu says, "Amitabha Buddha." Tsunemoto says, "Zen is just getting rid of the discriminating mind." Rujing said, "Zen study is the shedding of body and mind."  Hakuin says it's waking up to Reality from the pitiful ego-delusion.

The ego-delusion is just that, a delusion. It's the firm belief that everything in phenomena somehow relates to, opposes or favors "me." Or that I know what others don't know, and must convince them. It makes one uneasy. Drop it, and experience great ease!

Or, if you can't drop it in an instant, thoroughly investigate what this I is. Where is it exactly in the body? What color and shape is it? What are the signs that it exists? Does it begin and end? When you walk into a room, do you carry it in, and when you leave do you carry it out? Who is this "you" that's looking for the "I"?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Purity As Is

(some passages from In Praise of the Dharmadhatu, by Arya Nagarjuna, translated by Jim Scott)

38. When eye and form assume their right relation,

Appearances appear without a blur.
Since these neither arise nor cease,
They are the dharmadhatu, though they are imagined to be otherwise.

39. When sound and ear assume their right relation,
A consciousness free of thought occurs.
These three are in essence the dharmadhatu, free of other characteristics,
But they become "hearing" when thought of conceptually.

40. Dependent upon the nose and an odor, one smells.
And as with the example of form there is neither arising nor cessation,
But in dependence upon the nose-consciousness’s experience,
The dharmadhatu is thought to be smell.

41. The tongue’s nature is emptiness.
The sphere of taste is voidness as well.
These are in essence the dharmadhatu
And are not the causes of the taste consciousness.

42. The pure body’s essence,
The characteristics of the object touched,
The tactile consciousness free of conditions—
These are called the dharmadhatu.

43. The phenomena that appear to the mental consciousness, the chief of them all,
Are conceptualized and then superimposed.
When this activity is abandoned, phenomena’s lack of self-essence is known.
Knowing this, meditate on the dharmadhatu.

44. And so is all that is seen or heard or smelled,
Tasted, touched, and imagined,
When yogis [and yoginis]* understand these in this manner,
All their wonderful qualities are brought to consummation.

45. Perception’s doors in eyes and ears and nose,
In tongue and body and the mental gate—
All these six are utterly pure.
These consciousnesses’ purity itself is suchness’ defining characteristic.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Crazy Cloud

I'm just a white cloud
getting blown around crazily
in unfathomable space.
in a past life,
I was Ikkyu Sojun.

Friday, November 1, 2013

If You Ever Get to Zhenzhou, Try the Big Turnips!

Don't get confused! Even if you're having a deluded thought,
your perceiving of the deluded thought is Still, Clear & Bright,
can't be nailed down anywhere in ten directions, isn't born, doesn't die.
It's the One Great No-thing upholding both Heaven & Earth --
unmisted Dark Brilliance, agleam like black lacquer.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Teachings of Master Ma Tzu

If you're interested in Zen, it's a good idea to sometimes look into the sayings of the Chinese Patriarchs and Masters for clarification. What's the goal of Zen? Am I supposed to meditate? How do I begin? Where do I stop? Ma Tzu was towering figure in Chinese Zen. In his discourses we get the pure stuff -- a big block of Zen itself, basic and unmodified.

So what's the problem? The problem is words. The problem is dualism ingrained in words. An added problem is that Ma Tzu may have been a big fake. Most of his discourses are "boilerplate Zen." He might have been a phony just aping Bodhidharma! Except that his mondo (dialogues) are so startling.

Naturally, translation is treacherous. Is Ma Tzu really saying to "do nothing?" What does Ma Tzu want you to attain, if anything? What is Ma Tzu's version of the Zen that Buddha supposedly passed onto Mahakasyapa in India? Here are some of Ma Tzu's sayings with my notes.

The Normal Mind:

The Way does not require cultivation - just don't pollute it. What is pollution? As long as you have a fluctuating mind fabricating artificialities and contrivances, all of this is pollution. If you want to understand the Way directly, the normal mind is the Way. What I mean by the normal mind is the mind without artificiality, without subjective judgments, without grasping or rejection.

[You can't get plainer than that. The Way is direct and simple. Don't muck it up with your fluctuating mental states. Don't grasp onto events or sensations, don't judge, don't reject.]

The Root:

The founders of Zen said that one's own essence is inherently complete. Just don't linger over good or bad things - that is called practice of the Way. To grasp the good and reject the bad, to contemplate emptiness and enter concentration, is all in the province of contrivance - and if you go on seeking externals, you get further and further estranged. Just end the mental objectivization of the world. A single thought of the wandering mind is the root of birth and death in the world. Just don't have a single thought and you'll get rid of the root of birth and death.

[Ah! So there is a "practice" of the Way! But it's negative. Don't grasp some things as good, others as bad; don't cultivate some idea or principle such as Emptiness, and don't think Zen is about contrived states of concentration. Ma Tzu is speaking pure Dzogchen here! Don't seek externals, or you'll get lost. So what do we do then, Master Ma Tzu? Cease! Cease and desist. Stop objectifying the world. A single thought arises, and you're engulfed in the Triple Realm -- that's almost a direct quote from Bodhidharma. So the answer is clear. "Just don't have a single thought."]

The Oceanic Reflection:

Human delusions of time immemorial, deceit, pride, deviousness, and conceit, have conglomerated into one body. That is why scripture says that this body is just made of elements, and its appearance and disappearance is just that of the elements, which have no identity. When successive thoughts do not await one another, and each thought dies peacefully away, this is called absorption in the oceanic reflection.

[Some steep Buddha Dharma shit here, resolving quickly back into Zen. Make it so that your thoughts don't wait for each other, but just die away without creating further thoughts; then you'll be absorbed in the Great Samadhi of the Ocean.]

Delusion and Enlightenment:

Delusion means you are not aware of your own fundamental mind; enlightenment means you realize your own fundamental essence. Once enlightened, you do not become deluded anymore. If you understand mind and objects, then false conceptions do not arise; when false conceptions do not arise, this is the acceptance of the beginninglessness of things. You have always had it, and you have it now - there is no need to cultivate the Way and sit in meditation.

[Simple! Deluded, your fundamental mind mistakes itself for changing "stuff"; enlightened, it knows the essence, and so troubles cease. You have to "understand" mind and objects, to keep false conceptions from bewildering you. How? Get a clear view that it's "just this" -- beginningless, inconceivable. You don't need to get something you don't have. You're It already. There is no need to "sit in meditation." Every instant in the awakened state of Zen is meditation.]

The Tao:

Right this moment, as you walk, stand, sit, and recline, responding to all situations and dealing with people - all is the Tao. The Tao is the realm of reality. No matter how numerous are the uncountable, inconceivable functions, they are not beyond this realm. If they were, how could we speak of the teaching of the Mind-ground, and how could we tell of the inexhaustible lantern?

[How could you ever get out of the realm of Tao? How could you evade the Mind-ground? THIS is the inexhaustible lamp that keeps burning no matter what you do to it.]

The Mind:

All phenomena are mental; all labels are labeled by the mind. All phenomena arise out of mind; mind is the root of all phenomena. A sutra says, 'When you know mind and arrive at its root source, in that sense you may be called a devotee.'

[Phenomena are just Mind; labels pasted on phenomena are just Mind making distinctions within Mind. Zen is really seeing this, "knowing" it. Mind again!]

The Dharmakaya:

The Dharmakaya is infinite; its substance neither waxes nor wanes. It can be vast or minute, angled or smooth; it manifests images in accordance with things and beings, like the moon reflected in a pool. Its function gushes forth yet does not take root; it never exhausts deliberate action nor does it dwell in inaction. Deliberate action is a function of authenticity; authenticity is the basis of deliberate action. Because of no longer having fixation on this basis, one is spoken of as autonomous, like empty space.

[The Dharmakaya, the Truth Body of the Buddhas, may manifest infinite types of forms but it never sticks to any of them -- it remains open, free, autonomous, baseless. That's the Unborn Zen Mind. It's the "sound" of one hand clapping. Perfect!]


The true Suchness of mind is like a mirror reflecting forms: the mind is like the mirror, and phenomena are like the (reflected) forms. If the mind grasps at phenomena, then it involves itself in external conditions and causes; this is what 'the birth and death of mind' means. If it no longer grasps at such phenomena, this is what 'the true Suchness of mind' means.

All dharmas are Buddhist teachings; all dharmas are liberation. Liberation is true Suchness, and not one thing is separate from this true Suchness. Walking, standing, sitting, and reclining are all inconceivable actions.

[Suchness is the nature of things just as they are. Here the substance of the Mind is said to be like a mirror, insofar as reflections don't interfere with or change the basic radiant nature of the mirror. If that's all Mind is, there's no problem. But if Mind starts to grasp at its own manifestations, it creates an "external" world that becomes a problem (samsara, a realm of birth and death). So the Mind shouldn't grasp at phenomena via name-and-form thinking, thereby resolving into its Suchness-nature. Note that the Chinese word for "mind" and "heart" is the same -- xin.]

Objectifying mind falsifies everything. If you are reading this with that kind of mind, you will take "Mind" to be an object, maybe a higher object, maybe even the highest object. But you will be wrong. "Mind" in Ma Tzu's terms is just what you are reading these words with right now. In fact, it is just what is reading these words. But that "what" is not a "that" to be objectified. Do you see? Do you hear?

Maybe you feel some intimation now of what Ma Tzu was "after." Or "before."

Question: How do I get it?

Answer: You are it! But I realize that answer won't help you. So here is another: Look for that which is looking. Try to hear that which is hearing. Do not just accept the intellectual concept of "that" as "nothing" or "void" or "emptiness" or "mind." See what Xin really is for you right now. Okay? Then go on to read the "mondo" below.

Translated by T. Cleary.

The following mondo are all taken the book "Sayings of the Ancient Worthies", fas. I (Ku tsun-hsiu yu-lu], translated by D.T. Suzuki:

Someone asked Ma-tsu: "How does a man discipline himself in the Tao?"

The master replied: "In the Tao there is nothing to discipline oneself in. If there is any discipline in it, the completion of such discipline means the destruction of the Tao. One then will be like the Sravaka. But if there is no discipline whatever in the Tao, one remains an ignoramus."

"By what kind of understanding does a man attain the Tao?"

On this, the master gave the following sermon:

"The Tao in its nature is from the first perfect and self-sufficient. When a man finds himself unhalting in his management of the affairs of life good or bad, he is known as one who is disciplined in the Tao. To shun evils and to become attached to things good, to meditate on Emptiness and to enter into a state of samadhi--this is doing something. If those who run after an outward object, they are the farthest away [from the Tao].

Only let a man exhaust all his thinking and imagining he can possibly have in the triple world. When even an iota of imagination is left with him, this is his triple world and the source of birth and death in it. When there is not a trace of imagination, he has removed all the source of birth and death, he then holds the unparalleled treasure belonging to the Dharmaraja. All the imagination harboured since the beginningless past by an ignorant being, together with his falsehood, flattery, self-conceit, arrogance, and other evil passions, are united in the body of One Essence, and all melt away.

"It is said in the sutra that many elements combine themselves to make this body of ours, and that the rising of the body merely means the rising together of all these elements and the disappearance of the body means also merely that of the elements. When the latter rise, they do not declare that they are now to rise; when they disappear they do not declare that they are now to disappear.

So with thoughts, one thought follows another without interruption, the preceding one does not wait for the succeeding, each one is self-contained and quiescent. This is called the Sagaramudra-samadhi, "Meditation of the Ocean-stamp", in which are included all things, like the ocean where all the rivers however different in size, etc., empty themselves. In this great ocean of one salt-water, all the waters in it partake of one and the same taste. A man living in it diffuses himself in all the streams pouring into it. A man bathing in the great ocean uses all the waters emptied into it.

"The Sravaka is enlightened and yet going astray; the ordinary man is out of the right path and yet in a way enlightened. The Sravaka fails to perceive that Mind as it is in itself knows no stages, no causation, no imaginations. Disciplining himself in the cause he has attained the result and abides in the Samadhi of Emptiness itself for ever so many kalpas. However enlightened in his way, the Sravaka is not at all on the right track. From the point of view of the Bodhisattva, this is like suffering the torture of hell. The Sravaka has buried himself in emptiness and does not know how to get out of his quiet contemplation, for he has no insight into the Buddha-nature itself.

If a man is of superior character and intelligence he will, under the instruction of a wise director, at once see into the essence of the thing and understand that this is not a matter of stages and processes. He has an instant insight into his own Original Nature. So we read in the sutra that ordinary beings change in their thoughts but the Sravaka knows no such changes [which means that he never comes out of his meditation of absolute quietude].

"'Going astray' stands against 'being enlightened'; but when there is primarily no going astray there is no being enlightened either. All beings since the beginningless past have never been outside the Dharma-essence itself; abiding for ever in the midst of the Dharma-essence, they eat, they are clothed, they talk, they respond; all the functioning of the six senses, all their doings are of the Dharma-essence itself. When they fail to understand to go back to the Source they follow names, pursue forms, allow confusing imaginations to rise, and cultivate all kinds of karma. Let them once in one thought return to the Source and their entire being will be of Buddha-mind.

"O monks, let each of you see into his own Mind. Do not memorize what I tell you. However eloquently I may talk about all kinds of things as innumerable as the sands of the Ganges, the Mind shows no increase; even when no talk is possible, the Mind shows no decrease. You may talk ever so much about it, and it is still your own Mind; you may not at all talk about it, and it is just the same your own Mind. You may divide your body into so many forms, and emitting rays of supernatural light perform the eighteen miracles, and yet what you have gained is after all no more than your own dead ashes.

"The dead ashes thoroughly wet have no vitality and are likened to the Sravaka's disciplining himself in the cause in order to attain its result. The dead ashes not yet wet are full of vitality and are likened to the Bodhisattva, whose life in the Tao is pure and not at all dyed in evils. If I begin to talk about the various teachings given out by the Tathagata, there will be no end however long through ages I may go on. They are like an endless series of chains. But once you have an insight into the Buddha-mind, nothing in Lore is left to you to attain.

"I have kept you standing long enough, fare you well!"

Layman Pang proclaimed one day when Ma-tsu appeared on the platform: "Here is the Original Body altogether unbedimmed! Raise your eyes to it!" Ma-tsu looked straight downward. Said Pang, "How beautifully the master plays on the first-class stringless lute!" The master looked straight up. Pang made a bow, and the master returned to his own room. Pang followed him and said, "A while ago you made a fool of yourself, did you not?"

Someone asked: "What is the Buddha?"

"Mind is the Buddha, and there's no other."

A monk asked: "Without resorting to the four statements and an endless series of negations, can you tell me straightway what is the idea of our Patriarch's coming from the West?"

The master said: "I don't feel like answering it today. You go to the Western Hall and ask Shih-tsang about it."

The monk went to the Western Hall and saw the priest, who pointing at his head with a finger said, "My head aches today and I am unable to explain it to you today. I advise you to go to Brother Hai."

[1. Ho-koji in Japanese. He was one of the greatest disciples of Ma, and for further quotations see my Essays on Zen, I, II, and III.]

The monk now called on Hai, and Hai said: "As to that I do not understand."

The monk finally returned to the master and told him about his adventure. Said the master: "Tsang's head is black while Hai's is white."

A monk asked: "Why do you teach that Mind is no other than Buddha?"

"In order to make a child stop its crying."

"When the crying is stopped, what would you say?"

"Neither Mind nor Buddha."

"What teaching would you give to him who is not in these two groups?"

"I will say, 'It is not a something.'

"If you unexpectedly interview a person who is in it what would you do?" finally, asked the monk.

"I will let him realize the great Tao."

The master asked Pai-chang, one of his chief disciples: How would you teach others?"

Pai-chang raised his hossu.

The master remarked, "Is that all? No other way?"

Pai-chang threw the hossu down.

A monk asked: "How does a man set himself in harmony with the Tao?"

"I am already out of harmony."

Tan-yuan, one of Ma-tsu's personal disciples, came back from his pilgrimage. When he saw the master, he drew a circle on the floor and after making bows stood on it facing the master. Said Ma-tsu: "So you wish to become a Buddha?"

The monk said: "I do not know the art of putting my own eyes out of focus."

"I am not your equal."

The monk had no answer.

One day in the first month of the fourth year of Chen-yuan (788), while walking in the woods at Shih-men Shan, Ma-tsu noticed a cave with a flat floor. He said to his attendant monk, "My body subject to decomposition will return to earth here in the month to come." On the fourth of the second month, he was indisposed as he predicted, and after a bath he sat cross-legged and passed away.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Just As a Hand Moving In Empty Space

“Just as a hand moving in empty space touches no object and meets no obstacle, so the Bodhisattvas who practice the equality of emptiness transcend the mundane world. Moreover, Subhuti, because all the elements of the five aggregates merge in the Dharmadhatu, there are no realms. If there are no realms, there are no elements of earth, water, fire, or air; there is no ego, sentient being, or life; no Realm of Desire, Realm of Form or Realm of Formlessness: no realm of the conditioned or realm of the unconditioned; no realm of samsara or realm of nirvana. When Bodhisattvas enter such a domain free of distinctions, they do not abide in anything, though they remain in the midst of worldly beings. If they do not abide in anything, they transcend the mundane world.” -The Demonstration of the Inconceivable State of Buddhahood Sutra

Friday, April 26, 2013

Wearing a Straw Hat Under the Hot Summer Sky

"A crow screams on the mountain.
Ants crawl out of a hole.
One thousand nights of cold rain."

Friday, March 22, 2013

Master Dried Shit Stick Teaches How to Attain Satori in a Single Afternoon

If an ordinary man . . . could only see the five elements of his consciousness as void; the four physical elements as not constituting an 'I'; the real Mind as formless and neither coming nor going; his nature as something neither commencing at his birth nor perishing at his death, but as whole and motionless in its very depths; his Mind and environmental objects as one – if he could really accomplish this, he would receive Enlightenment in a flash. He would no longer be entangled by the Triple World; he would be a World-Transcendor. -Huang Po

Master Dried Shit Stick sometimes teaches an infallible method of attaining Satori. He claims this can be done in a single afternoon (a single instant, actually, but there is some working up to it). I sketch it out here with some trepidation, because it can be dangerous. One person I know tried it and went stark raving mad, or at least felt he was going stark raving mad. Nobody else noticed anything, which annoyed him a little. Luckily, this was not the case -- after a few days he snapped back completely and once again felt like his usual self. He said he was never going to touch Zen again. Ever.

Master Dried Shit Stick admitted that this method is not necessarily superior to Za-zen. "Sit down, face a wall, cut off thinking." That's what I'd always heard him teach before. But this method has some new twists, and the advantage of freshness.

Master Dried Shit Stick claims he invented this method after reading an aphorism by Nietzsche: "If you gaze long enough into the Abyss, the Abyss will gaze back into you" then recalling Joshu's "oak tree in the courtyard" koan. It occurred to him that a koan is the Abyss, and that a tree could be used just like a koan. Anyhow, here it is. At your own risk:

-Raise strong Ki, preferably by walking at a fast but not exhausting pace.

-Stop and gaze intensely at a tree (preferably a pine tree).

While gazing at the tree, suddenly cut off thinking and completely enter the resulting sensation of Great Doubt ("reckless bravado" is needed at this point; also, please note that the Great Doubt is not a matter of intellectual questions, since one's head should feel "completely empty as if all thoughts were burnt up in the great fire of your penetrating gaze" but of "a hair-raising sensation like what you might experience in confronting a tiger about to spring"; furthermore, this gaze should take in the tree all at once without breaking it down into parts or dwelling on details.)

"See it as it is; see it completely. Don't let any thoughts intervene. Don't drift off into a reverie. Don't fall into a trance. There it is! Do you see it?"

When asked what to do if this technique does not work, if one feels hopelessly stuck, Master Dried Shit Stick laughed and offered one further piece of advice: "See it [the tree] with your ears, or your tongue. Hear it with your eyes."!).

If one doesn't attain Satori using this method in a single instant of a single afternoon, Master Dried Shit Stick says that one should do it at the same time every day, always using the same tree, until the big breakthrough. "Exert yourself to the utmost. Strive on! Strive on!" (Huangbo).

At a certain point the Abyss will engulf you ("the most terrifying instant of your life -- don't draw back") followed by a flash of illumination ("laughing and crying, a cold sweat -- these are the usual signs") leading to "joy-filled amazement" and rebirth into a fantastic and amusing new world. "Strange and harmless walks in the midst of life." "A cold March wind playing with white clouds."

"Profound is the state of Treeness, lofty and beyond illusions!"