Thus I Have Heard

The Ancient Indian sutras are in complete agreement with the somewhat more sparse & enigmatic records of the Chinese Zen teachers.

They all insist that one should exert a strong & right effort to speedily attain satori (ta-wu), & then stabilize one's awareness within it.

Then you will be like a dragon entering the water, a tiger roaming its mountain.

But what is the best way to satisfy this demand of the ancients to enter suddenly & deeply into enlightenment?

"Thus I have heard." These words are placed at the head of every sutra. To experience the depths of Zen one should fully hear them.

To hear is first of all to hear. It is not to puzzle over meanings.

"Thus I have heard." Hearing is instantaneous -- I clap, the sound enters your ears. [Or do your ears enter the sound?]

Hit a drum with two sticks. Your hearing instantly discerns the subtlest space between booming drum beats. [Try it!]

It's basically the same with the eyes or the nostrils. Forms & colors appear already fully formed & brilliant. Smells appear out of the deepest space, unquestionably real.

So, why did the ancients say that to concentrate on Hearing (rather than Seeing, Smelling, Touching, Tasting, or Thinking) is the superior Way for Zen students to attain satori?

When you look at an object, your mind goes out toward it or shrinks away from it. When you smell an odor you are either attracted or repelled. But when you hear a sound, you simply hear it before any emotion or any thinking.

You can shut your eyes to block a form. You can squeeze your nostrils to shut out a smell. But sounds are going on all the time. [Even if you put your fingers into your hears, you will still hear your own heartbeat, your body breathing in & out!]

A student asks Bodhidharma, "What is this Mind you keep talking about?" His unhesitating response: "You ask. That is the Mind in you. I answer. That is the Mind in me." [What a tiresome old man. He should have just clapped his hands twice in front of the student's nose & then demanded to know, "Was it your ears or your nostrils that heard those two claps? Quick!"]

Simple! Isn't it? Yet this clear Mind can seemingly get lost in words & phrases, like water poured into sand. Or hung up painfully on them, like a ram poking its horns into a thorn bush.

Buddha's early students sat down to listen to him teach, & they heard his words. At first, maybe, they did not understand those words. But undeniably & all at once, they heard them. Did they not?

"Thus I have heard." The melancholy cry of a crow in rain-soaked space.

"Thus I have heard." A hot breeze sighing in the pines.

"Thus I have heard." The morose keening of a reed-wrapped flute in the northern wilderness, far north beyond the Great Wall.

"Thus I have heard." Why does that Western Barbarian have no beard?

It Was a Good Day

It was a good day to strike the center of the empty sky.
Nothing left of mind, all feelings exhausted.
Lacking thought like a simpleton, stretched out on the ground --
Getting up now & then just to drink cold water from a bamboo dipper.

The Mind Straight As a Bowstring

Q: Roshi, I am confused. You occasionally seem to speak of attaining something. But others insist that Zen is just a matter of dropping all worries about attaining or not-attaining! Would you clarify this issue for me?

A: Let's not make it a conceptual, metaphysical problem. You have a body & senses & you are breathing right now. There is food for you to eat, water for you to drink. Are you content with all that?

Q: ____?

A: In fact, if you look at Huang-Po's dialogues, as an example of the ancient Zen I like to transmit, he absolutely does speak of a sort of attainment, and he urges his students to strive with all energy to attain it. What is it? Just this: the attainment of no-mind, of "intuitive, tacit understanding," of "a deeply mysterious wordless understanding." (Of what? I leave you to ponder it.)

He could see when students attained this just by the way they walked into his Dharma Hall. He saw instantly deep into them without needing to hear any words.

That said, what his students (sometimes) attained was not a "thing," but liberation from the bondage of conceptual thought. I don't mean that they lost the ability to speak or to have thoughts when necessary. I mean that they were no longer bound by speech or by thoughts. They knew the secret Shakyamuni transmitted to Mahakasyapa, merely by raising a flower while smiling & blinking his eyes, on Eagle Mountain in the long ago past.

According to most ways of thinking, your nostrils constantly move around in space & time. They travel every day, every minute, from point A to point B. But is that really the case? Look into it deeply & singlemindedly & you may find out something that shocks you!

It is delightful & awe-inspiring to behold a person who has attained no-mind. Such a person shines with an incredible light. Every motion is crisp, decisive & brilliant. But don't ignore the fact that life is also confusing & dirty. A copper tea kettle can accumulate deep layers of grime, yet the underlying shine is still visible.

As I sometimes say, "Be the Maitreya you want to see."


One day, Baofu was cutting a melon when Taiyuan came up to him. Baofu said, "If you say the right thing I'll give you a piece of melon." Taiyuan said, "Give me a piece of melon." Baofu gave him a piece of melon. Taiyuan took it and went away.

That's the mind straight as a bowstring for you.


Generally, all breathing methods come down to "Exhale as if sending breath to the ends of the universe; inhale as if concentrating breath into an infinitely small point in your Tanden." (Masao Inoue). Interestingly, this can be reversed so that when you inhale you are sending your Ki to the ends of the universe, and when you exhale you are concentrating the energy into an infinitely small point.

Mokuso is about dropping all thoughts and so even visualizations or any other methods are abandoned.

As soon as thoughts are dropped, abandoned, left behind, breathing settles naturally and there is nothing more to be done with it.

One breathes without effort, for as long as one breathes; there is no "one" besides the breathing, whether inside or outside or in-between.

The strong Seiza sitting posture allows you to breathe in a natural way. The body is breathing -- why interfere? There's no mind to even want to interfere.

Sometimes it even seems that you have stopped breathing completely, yet the energy of the breath is there and you are aware of everything in and around your body with a mirror-like awareness. It is a state of calm ecstasy in which all problems are solved at once. However, it would be a big mistake to grasp at or cling to this state. Let it go! Your various human problems are projected by the pristine awareness itself. Why try to "resolve them"?


It is hard to find a single book that covers all the ground of breathing techniques. These techniques were traditionally imparted in a direct dialogue with a living teacher. I am alive now, it seems, but you would have to come to the Pacific Northwest to find me. Even then, who is to say I could help you find your natural state? Isn't that just like riding your ox in search of your ox? Play the bamboo flute. Rest your mind on breathing. Relax. Don't make a concept or a thought such as "just being." A fly on a pile of dung is the Supreme Reality. We human beings are special only because we can appear to our illusory selves to deviate from It. But, really, we can't! That's your cue to laugh out loud.

In the Nesaza-ha school of Zen bamboo flute, there is a style of "panting-breath" called Komibuki. It creates an original deep sound, and leads instantly to shedding mind and body. It also raises "inner heat" so that a player practicing this method can sit naked in the snow and melt the snow under & all around him. This is something you can learn also. There are all sorts of harmless & amusing activities to enjoy in this life.

Iron Flute 52. Hua-yen Returns to the World of Delusion

Kentucky clouds.

A monk asked Hua-yen, "How does an enlightened person return to the world of delusion?" The master replied, "A broken mirror never reflects again, and the fallen flowers never go back to the old branches."

GENRO: To illustrate this story, I shall quote an old Chinese poem:

Look! The evening glow brings up
The stone wall on the lake.
A curling cloud returns to the woods
And swallows the whole village.

To illustrate this story, I shall quote an old Japanese poem:

a sky full of white

Iron Flute 53. Hui-chung Expels His Disciple

Tan-hsia paid a visit to Hui-chung, who was taking a nap at the time. "Is your teacher in?" asked Tan-hsia of an attending disciple. "Yes, he is, but he does not want to see anyone," said the monk. "You are expressing the situation profoundly," Tan-hsia said. "Don’t mention it. Even if Buddha comes, my teacher does not want to see him." "You are certainly a good disciple. Your teacher ought to be proud of you," and with these words of praise, Tan-hsia left the temple. 

When Hui-chung awoke, Tan-yüan, the attending monk, repeated the dialogue. The teacher beat the monk with a stick and drove him from the temple.

He had it coming!
Zen is a broken dish of sand best served cold. 

A Fan in Winter, A Straw Dog

"La nuit est profonde, les nuages évanouis, le ciel est pur.
Dans le monde entier, il n'y a pas une poussière pour gêner ma vision."

Like training, satori must be true. If one holds that there is something to practice and realize, one is a follower of the false religion of entity based on affirmation. If, on the other hand, one asserts that there is nothing to practice or realize, one is still not above the four types of differentiation and the one hundred forms of negation: one is an adherent of the equally false religion of nothingness, founded on negation. And this is the shadowy product of the dichotomous intellect, holding no truth.

First of all, I ask you to look upon the world's riches as a dunghill, upon the most beautiful men and women as stinking corpses, upon the highest honors and reputation as an echo, upon the most malicious calumny as the cawing of a crow. Regard yourself as a fan in winter, the universe as a straw dog.

This accomplished, train wholeheartedly. Then, and then only, will you awaken. If you dare claim to have undergone real training and attained enlightenment without having gone through all this, you are nothing but a liar and are bound for hell. Bear all I have said in mind -- practice truly.

If you desire the attainment of satori, ask yourself this question: Who hears sound? As described in the Surangamasamadhi, that is Avalokitesvara's faith in the hearer. Since there is such a hearer in you, all of you hear sounds. You may say that it is the ear that hears, yet the ear is but a mechanism. If it could hear by itself, then the dead could hear our prayers for them. Inside you, then, is a hearer.

Now, this is the way to apply yourself: whether or not you hear anything, keep asking who the hearer is. Doubt, scrutinize, paying no attention to fancies or ideas. Strain every nerve without expecting anything to happen, without willing satori. Doubt, doubt, doubt. If even one idea arises, your doubt is not sufficiently strong, and you must question yourself more intensely. Scrutinize the hearer in yourself, who is beyond your power or vision.

Master Bassui says, "When at wits' end and unable to think another thought, you are applying yourself properly." Thus do not look around, but devote yourself utterly to doubting self-examination until you forget where you are or even that you live. This may lead you to feel completely at sea. Yet you must persist in the search for the hearer, sweating, like a dead man, until you are unconscious, a lump of great doubt. But look! That lump will suddenly break up and out of it will leap the angel of the awakening, the great satori consciousness. It is as if one awoke from the deepest dream, literally returned to life.

In Zen practice a variety of supernatural phenomena may be experienced. For example, you may see ghostly faces, demons, Buddhas, flowers, or you may feel your body becoming like that of a woman, or even purified into a state of non-existence. If this happens, your "doubt in practice" is still inadequate, for if in perfect doubt you will not have such illusions. Indeed it is only when you are not alert that you meet with them. Do not shrink from them, nor prize them. Just doubt and examine yourself all the more thoroughly.

Zen practitioners must accept the fact that while in meditation they are likely to suffer one or more of the three maladies: kon, san, and chin. Kon is sleepiness and san instability, both of which are too well known for comment. Chin, on the other hand, is a grave malady and always leads to unhappy results. It is a state in which one is free from sleepiness and instability, and all mentalization ceases. One feels gay, immaculate; one can go on in zazen for hours on end. One has a feeling that all things are equal, neither existent nor non-existent, right nor wrong. Those possessed by chin regard it as satori — a most dangerous delusion. If you were to remain in this state, you would go far astray. At such times, in fact, you must have the greatest doubt.

-Zen Master Manzan Dohaku

The Unborn Mind of Bankei & You

Bankei's first big realization -- which occurred when, dangerously ill from consumption, he spat out a mouthful of blood -- he summed up as "All things are resolved in the Unborn."

His second realization, a deeper & wider one, happened one day after he had just washed his face in the cold water of a stream & straightening up he smelled the scent of peach blossoms on the breeze. This one he did not summarize, but it amounted to, "All appears out of the Unborn" -- in a fresh, shocking, & glistening instantaneous way.

His third realization happened one night while meditating with the monks in a monastery near Nagasaki headed by a Chinese master. This Chinese master had refused to certify Bankei until he went even deeper & wider with his enlightenment. The master's refusal had made Bankei so angry that he stormed out of the interview room. But while meditating in formal Tsao Chan/Zazen that night, he had his biggest realization yet. This one might be summarized as, "All is Unborn." Why not?

He went in at once to see the Chinese master, who wrote him an inka on the spot. But Bankei tore it up, laughing, stamped on the pieces, & left the room.

He worked after that for a few years as a lowly cook in the monastery kitchen before he began walking around teaching people Zen.

The Unborn Mind is the only true Master.
I too have sometimes asked questions like a student.
But in reality I am the only Master I've got.
The same is exactly true of everybody.
So here we are, two Masters, "enjoying a sip of tea together."
Let's look at the white clouds today & laugh!

The Essential Shortcut to the Way in Zen

Q: Roshi, would you comment on this passage I found recently by Master Ying-An?
You should let go and make yourself empty and quiet, clear and calm, to the point where former intellectual interpretation, rationalization, misknowledge, and misperception, cannot get into your mind or act on it at all. This is the essential shortcut to the Way. Do this, and one day you will clearly understand what’s going on where you are. 
A: Learn how to relax your mind while sharpening your awareness of what is directly around and in front of your body, and also what is happening inside and throughout your body, not to opinions or ideas or events happening in the imaginary future or vanished past. Every time a thought related to the past or future comes up into your awareness, let it go so that you can bring your mind back to "this here now." Become aware of how your mind is springing up with changing images, but do not follow them. As they appear, let them dissolve. Let your awareness merge with sights, sounds, colors, tastes, smells and sensations so completely that there is no "I" there or "you" anywhere in, outside, or in-between.* This practice will make you empty and quiet and save you energy. But for most people it is still only going halfway. Those people must still raise Great Doubt and investigate thoroughly and with the most intense resolve in order to experience Sudden Enlightenment!
*For this one can most easily use the "gazing" method, or the "hearing" method. In the first case, one gazes at an object or into the sky or at a cloud or a flame and lets go of all thinking in order to just see it completely as it is, aware of how it is changing, and finally becoming suddenly aware of just the seeing itself. Ah! In the second case, one listens keenly to sounds without thinking about them, just hearing them as they appear and disappear, until one realizes with wonder the nature of hearing itself. Both of these methods can lead to Sudden Enlightenment. See the Shurangama Sutra. It is a matter of exhausting ideas and cutting off thinking, then "turning the light around" in a resolute way so as to illuminate the Mind-Ground.

The Little Manual of Shibumi Ki Do

Stress is the number one killer of people in modern societies.

What would it be worth to you, to learn how to rid yourself of all stress?

Stress comes from the mind. Liberation is accomplished through the body.

I've drawn on my experience of Zen, Taoist and Indian tantra ways of meditation to create a simple program that, once learned, you can use at any time you need it to rid your body totally of stress.

How is this miracle done? By forgetting mind.

Be enlightened. Be liberated. Be refreshed!

I call this approach Shibumi Ki Do and there is a Little Manual for it. (E-mail me at jyakunen(at) for a free copy of this or of my other little books.)

It is not religious or sectarian. It requires no special beliefs or miraculous abilities.

Eventually there will be a longer manual, maybe one day even a Complete Manual.

Live & take comfort! Enjoy.

This One Great Matter

So-called great mind is, in its spirit, like a great mountain or a great sea: it has no partiality and no factionalism. Lifting an ounce, it does not consider it light; hefting a stone, it does not consider it heavy. Being drawn by the voices of spring, it does not wander into the swamp of spring. Although it sees the colors of autumn, it has nothing whatsoever of the spirit of autumn. It contrasts the four seasons against the backdrop of a single vista. It views pennyweights and ounces [of silver] within the context of a single system of measurement. As an emblem of this sameness, we can write the character "great." You should know the character "great." You should study the character "great." If the cook Jiashan had not studied the character "great," he would not have spontaneously laughed his single laugh and would not have saved Taiyuan. If Ch'an Master Guishan had not written the character "great," he could not have taken a stick of firewood and blown on it three times. If Dongshan had not known the character "great," he would not have been able to instruct the monk by raising "three pounds of hemp." You should know that the great teachers of old were alike in their study of the character "great" in connection with the diverse phenomena of this world. Now, too, there are those who freely make a great sound, expound the great meaning, complete the great matter, connect with great people, and accomplish karmic conditions of this one great matter.

-Master Dogen

Shouting "Ha!"

Master Kyong Ho
When the ordinary man begins the practice of meditation, he may feel that there are things to be practiced and things to be realized. But if he should have a great Enlightenment he would understand that there is nothing to practice and nothing to realize. This is because nothing affects the Truth. Although there is neither more of the True nature in the Accomplished One, nor less of it in the ordinary man, he who has not awakened to the Self-nature is an ordinary man, and he who has awakened to it is a great accomplished one. Even though this nature is without deepness or shallowness, if because of gradual practice and gradual awakening the enlightenment is shallow, then he is called a sage; if because of sudden practice and sudden awakening there is penetrative understanding, then he is called a Great Accomplished One. Although the Dharma is without more or less, a person might, according to his practice and realization, be satisfied with only a little.

A man of deep roots and great wisdom is different. As soon as he hears a kung-an he establishes his mind like a mountain and settles his mind like the sea. He keeps only the hau-t'ou raised before him as if he were deaf or dumb. Since he has not yet been able to understand the reiterated instructions of the Buddhas and Patriarchs, he cannot but have a doubt. He is constantly doubting and constantly probing as if trying to save his burning head. Suddenly one morning he shouts "Ha!" and heaven and earth are overturn. He enters into a place unfathomable by others, and after a laugh alone, he only smiles. When he has reached that stage he can taste for himself without one iota of difference, the flavor of the sincere words of the Buddda and Patriarchs.

-Master Ku San, Nine Mountains

Iron Flute 58. The Statue of Avalokiteshvara

A Sho Kannon statue at a small rural Zen temple in Iwami, Shimane.

The people of Korea once commissioned an artist in Cheh-kiang, China, to carve a life-sized wooden statue of Avalokiteshvara. The work was completed, the statue carried to Tsien-t‘ang harbor for shipment, when suddenly it seemed to be stuck fast to the beach, and no human power could move it. After negotiations between the Chinese and Koreans, it was decided to keep the statue in China. The statue then returned to its normal weight and was later enshrined at a temple in Ming-chou. A person paid homage to the statue and said, “In the sutra we read that Avalokiteshvara is the possessor of miraculous powers, and in all the lands of the ten quarters there is not a place where he does not manifest himself. Then why is it this holy statue refused to go to Korea?”

GENRO: Every place is the land of his manifestation, then why should he go particularly to Korea?

One who covers his own eyes
Never sees Avalokiteshvara.
Why does he ask a foreigner
To carve a wooden statue?
The immovable statue on the beach
Is not the true Avalokiteshvara;
The enshrined statue in the temple
Is not the true Avalokiteshvara;
The empty ship returns to Korea,
But the man who opens his eyes . . .
Is he not a true Avalokiteshvara?

Human beings tend to look outside for what is already within. However, this "within" is just what was always originally outside. China or Korea, outside or inside -- all empty, so Avalokiteshvara transcended all suffering in the blink of an eye! Listen:

At noon the ama rowed in, already exhausted from diving;
they tossed their nets of wet abalone shells out onto the beach.
Nobody calls them beautiful or ugly, these naked women fresh from the cold sea.
At sunset there's a bonfire, & the starry sky blazing all around.

How To Philosophize With a Bamboo Flute

I call the open space within which all sensations (& supposed perceived things, which are really ab-originally sensations) appear my awareness. What do you call yours?


Buddhism is the contemplation of death. There is nothing else to it.


The mind maintains a continuity of experience. We are all taught that the mind is just meat --  body and brain. So, death will be a total annihilation of experiencing. Scary!


If it is, well then it is.


A person can spontaneously enter the state of true Suchness (Tathata). In ancient Zen, such spontaneous enlightenment was highly regarded.

While you are in this state of Suchness, you feel no interest in describing it. Once you're out of it again, there is no confidence in even making the attempt.

If you read through the "records" (lu) of the various ancient Zen teachers, you find that they tended to disparage all machinations, schemes & ruses designed to try to gain enlightenment. But they did NOT shy away from using ad hoc methods or "expedient means" within the teaching situation just as the mood struck them.

Contradiction? No! You gain enlightenment at the instant body & mind fall away. So how do you cause body & mind to fall away? You put on the strain of the Great Doubt. All Zen methods are deployed to arouse the whole body & mind "doubt" sensation & so  push the student right to the wall -- and beyond.

This is why "gradualist" methods do not work -- or, if they do work, they work suddenly. It is not like grains of sand running through the neck of an hour glass, but like a clump of fresh snow falling from a branch of a pine tree. Woosh!

Nobody can enter Suchness by design. It has to be a spontaneous happening. So the old Zen teachers would trust only their own spontaneous responses to students' questions, even when these made no "sense."This is why you have Yunmen shouting "Sesame flatcake!"

What is the state of Suchness like? It is highly alert. It is joyful. It is relaxed. It is devoid of dullness, emotional conflicts and worked out ideas. Doesn't this sound good? Wouldn't you like to experience this?


What's experiential is by definition mystical.


You are always in it, you always are it, so wake up to it instantly. Right now. What's the problem? Shake the snow out of your hair & we'll build a snow Zendo.


Relax your mind. Drop your thinking. Let your breath settle & deepen, going from coarse to subtle.

Relax your shoulders. Sit in a firm upright posture. What is it like to be right here now?

All day long, gaze only at sights appearing to you right here and now. No past, no future, and no idea of the present.

Taste what there is to be tasted without thinking about it. Smell what there is to be smelled, &c. When you hear a sound, let it sink into the space both outside and inside you. What is this space like? Indescribable. So don't describe it. Unthinkable. So don't think about it.

When you walk, keep a relaxed but straight posture. Let your arms swing naturally. Put most of your awareness in your feet & knees. Let your breathing sink down. Keep your gaze open & alert but don't fix it on anything.

There are many other refinements to Shibumi Ki Do Zen but this is the basic way to go about freeing yourself from all forms of mental anguish.


As for death, either death is nothing or it is something. If it is nothing, what's the problem? You won't know anything at all about it. If it is something, then you'll only have more of the same. Tell me this, though: If it is nothing, how & why did you [not to mention the whole universe!] ever emerge from it, quick as the sound of a clap? [One hand clapping!]

Does something ever come from nothing? If you say yes, then you have admitted to the fact of the miraculous. So why shouldn't there be another miracle when you die, projecting your body & mind into a different life?


Everything (in the realm of the senses) naturally appears & disappears. It is all changing faster than images in a dream. Try looking into your intrinsic awareness throughout the day and night. See that although it perceives all "things," & is alert to all changes, in itself it remains pure, totally still, immobile, clear, unchanging. But that does not mean it is stagnant. No -- it always has the feeling of being reborn fresh at every instant. Isn't this wonderful?

It Is Really Hard to Teach Zen

It is really hard to teach Zen when everybody has been poisoned by Zen books. So you say, "Taste this tea. Don't think." And the clever student says, "But according to Hui-Neng this isn't tea. There is nothing from the beginning." That's how the poison works. "Listen to the rain." "What rain? Hearing is empty." &c. &c.

Zen is of the heart (Xin). It is not in books. One Zen book says one thing, another Zen book says another. Where is the Zen? It's in your heart. So why do you need to be taught Zen? You just need somebody with a hammer to smash the ice that has formed around your heart.

In Tibet there are instructions on how to open the "Crystal Heart Channel." It's a channel that runs directly from your heart to your eyes and once you open it you can use the "Lasso of Water" to lasso the "Lamp of Pure Space."

Everything in the world is projected right in front of your eyes by the Lamp of pure Mind. There it is! Awesome! Wonderful!

A fierce wind blows from the north. It tastes like snow today.

The blue mountains are shivering. I saw the last leaf fall, turning its back then front.

The Brahman Tantra

A Ngagpa. Listening to the reverberation of primordial sound.

Hear this! Hear this!
From the pure lucidity of Void --
inconceivable, wide & deep, profound in extent,
smaller than an electron, vaster than all universes --
there arose a formless mass of pure energy.
[This never happened. Not even once.]

Energy in Voidness,
Voidness as Energy!
Sea of clouds, wind in the pines.

Contemplating itself from all sides,
interpenetrating & wonderfully alert,
lustrous & fresh, dazzlingly colorful,
ecstatically pulsating with deep sound,
it suddenly entertains a bizarre notion
of "subject" and "objects."

Swept away by its own majesty,
dazzled by such unforeseen thinking,
the Primal Energy births the 10,000 [numberless] things!
It imagines in a flash the Six Paths of existence,
the Triple World of Samsara,
& all the sentient beings who ever lived,
or will ever live at any time, in any place.

So dramatic! Like a painting hanging in air,
a moving image without a projector or a screen.

Amazing! To touch, taste, smell, hear, see!
And to think, to plan,
to move around in space,
& to change with "the passing of Time"!

To hunt, to fish, to build a house.
To form a jar out of clay,
to sing, to bear children,
to wander forest paths,
to see blazing suns in the desert,
to drink cold water under a vast sky.

Then, without losing any of itself,
it suddenly forgot itself!
It turned upside down.
It took what it had created as the Master.
It took mental forms for Energy,
it covered the Inconceivable Void in thoughts.
It tore its own clothes,
it smeared itself with ashes,
it bewailed its fate.
It began to fear time as a monster,
& the infinite as annihilation.
It plunged into the abyss of sorrow & misery!

One day, quite unexpectedly,
the fixed position of its consciousness moved.
Nobody knows how this happened!
It dropped from the head down to the Hara,
& with the quiet rhythm of breathing
expanded to all ten directions --
a soundless thunderclap in the blue of empty space.

And, like a bolt of lightning,
the blissful Void-Energy moved too.
It stirred itself, uncoiling like a snake,
& shot from the lower chakra all the way up the spine,
heating the spot between the brows like molten gold.

Then it leaped out through the crown of the head --
[free at last, free at last,
thank God Almighty I'm free at last!]
Ah! A Thousand Petaled Lotus!
The wonder of all wonders!

But the yogin went on sitting calmly on his mat,
listening to a cool wind rush in the big pines.

Catching a Catfish in a Gourd

Josetsu, here portrayed trying to catch a big, tricky catfish in a small gourd.
As Master Muso once proclaimed, "the reality of mind is inconceivable."

There is no possibility of your thinking consciousness apprehending or defining it; you might as well try catching a giant catfish in a small gourd. It is ungraspable, utterly beyond the reach of words and concepts.

So how will you attain it?

You are it already, so the only way to attain it is to drop away all your thinking and mental grasping in a single instant.

That is the sudden all-enlightening and wonderful taste of Zen.

Sudden Enlightenment

Q: Roshi, you've said that "sudden enlightenment is the ancient & fundamental Way." But how "sudden" can this enlightenment be if I've got to prepare for it by raising energy or cultivating stillness, as you suggest?

A: 20 years is sudden. 120 years is sudden. This moment is also sudden.

It takes a whole night for snow to pile up on the pine tree but when you look at it in the morning, there it is entering your eyes. The snow-draped pine tree. Sudden!

Hsueh-Tou's teacher spent 20 years doing Zazen under Yunmen's direction before he attained enlightenment. He later said, "I wasn't a whole person until I reached forty years old."

One may wear out many pairs of straw sandals humping it from mountain to mountain looking for an opening so as to "Resolve the Great Matter of Life & Death."

The effort is long and bitter but the awakening is always sudden as the clong of a bell at midnight. So if you want sudden enlightenment, contemplate this:

In what realm is the sudden booming sound of the midnight bell heard?

Abide in Luminosity

If one reverts to the ultimately real, rejects conceptual discrimination, and abides in brightness [or luminosity, "gsal bal"], then one sees neither self nor other. Here the common man and sage are equal. If without shifting an inch one then abides in rock-like stability, one no longer chases after  written teachings.

-Bodhidharmatara (Bodhidharma) on the practice of "Wall-Gazing." From a Tibetan manuscript discovered in the Tun-huang caves.

Iron Flute 51. Pao-fu’s Temple

One day Pao-fu said to his monks, “When one passes behind the temple, he meets Chang and Li, but he does not see anyone in front of it. Why is this? Which of the two roads is profitable to him?”

A monk answered, “Something must be wrong with the sight. There is no profit without seeing.”

The master scolded the monk, saying, “You stupid, the temple is always like this.”

The monk said, “If it was not the temple, one should see something.”

The master said, “I am talking about the temple, and nothing else.”

The monk had better sit down & cut off all his senses. Stop reasoning about what you see, hear, taste, smell  & touch & you'll instantly see the golden temple Master Pao-fu talks about.

Iron Flute 59. Sages & Mediocrities

Liu Zheng, 'A Wooden Donkey' (2008)

Wu-yeh, a national teacher, said, “If one has fancies about sages or mediocrities, even though these fancies are as fine as delicate threads, they are strong enough to pull him down into the animal kingdom.”

Fugai commented: Why do you refuse the idea of sages and mediocrities? Why are you afraid of being pulled down to lower stages? A good actor never chooses between the roles. The poor one always complains of his part.

Genro said : If you want to clear both ideas of sages and mediocrities, you must make yourselves donkeys and horses. Do not hate enemies if you want to conquer them.

Sages and mediocrities . . .
Donkeys and horses . . .
All of them pull you down
When you hold
Even to the shadow of a single hair.
Be good, monks,
Live one life at a time
Without dualistic inertia.
Old masters know your sickness
And shed tears for you.

"You only live twice, or so it seems. One life for yourself, and one for your dreams." Even this is an illusion. Once the rain started, many startling cold drops of water began to fall from the eaves.

Casting Off Cast Off!

Dogen at first studied Buddhism in a Tientai temple, and became perplexed about why, if "all beings are originally enlightened," Buddhas must leave home and practice hard in order to attain it.

This question led him to travel to China, where he visited various temples and monasteries in order to "clarify the great matter of life and death" for himself.

His search eventually led him to Master Rujing's monastery, where he practiced tsao chan (zazen) with the Chinese monks.

Once, during meditation sitting late at night Rujing noticed that a monk was falling asleep, and chastised him for it. He said to the assembly, “Zen study is not falling asleep on a cushion. Zen study is casting off body and mind!”

Hearing this, suddenly Dogen was greatly enlightened and went to Rujing's room to light incense.

Rujing asked him, "What are you burning incense for?"

Dogen said, "My body and mind have been cast off."

Rujing, [mumbling like a drunk puppeteer] said, "Body and mind cast off, cast off body and mind."

Dogen said, "Please do not approve this if it is only a momentary experience."

Rujing said, "I'm not."

Dogen asked, "What is IT that isn't a momentary experience given arbitrary approval?"

Rujing laughed and shouted, "Casting off cast off!"

How To Become a Lion of Zen

Q: Roshi, I've had powerful experiences in the Dharma Hall listening to a teacher speak or merely just listening to his silences, but when I try to experience the same feelings outside the Dharma Hall in the dust & noise of daily life I always fail. What is wrong?

A: Listen to me closely. When you sit silently in the Dharma Hall awaiting the Dharma Talk & the Roshi comes out like a shining vision in his formal silk robes & sits on the dais like a lion, holding up his fly-whisk or whatnot, your Ki naturally pours out through your eyes & becomes his possession, which only elevates & enlarges him further at the expense of your own store of energy. Often he can then generously allow some of his excess energy to flow into those who stand up to ask him pointed questions, & this energy surge is experienced by the asking student & sometimes by every one in the room as something wonderful & delightful. But this has nothing to do with Zen. It is in a sense anti-Zen. To do Zen successfully you must yourself have powerful extended Ki, not weakened or drained or flattened out Ki. When the lion-like Roshi (or even the Buddha) pours his Ki into you through his words or his gaze, the feeling of being filled to overflowing by his noble power & spiritual generosity will do you absolutely no good at all in the long run. It is even quite harmful for some.

Q: What is this Ki?

A: It is much like "the Force" in Star Wars. Obi Wan Kenobi describes it very well when he says that it is an energy that is created by living beings that also pervades all living beings & binds them together. You can call it "Dark Energy" if you like, because when you try to analyze it you cannot. Remember when Obi Wan Kenobi puts a visor helmet on Luke so that he cannot see the little drone he is supposed to fight with his light saber, & he tells Luke, "Reach out with your feelings." Wonderful. To be able to reach out with your feelings even when blind & respond to events directly & simply without the comical intervention of the thinking consciousness is to be replete & shining with your own subtle, elevated & instinctively refined Ki. Nobody can do this for you, although the Master can give you some good pointers.

Q: How do I develop Ki strength?

A: Go out walking often alone, in the open air, & let everything appear to you simply as it is -- the mountains, the forests, the birds darting & soaring in the sky or singing in the trees. As your thinking settles down to almost nothing, you will experience a feeling of energy in & all around your body that will elevate your mood & make you a more natural & interesting person. You will gradually gain a deeper sensitivity to sounds, light & colors, as well as tastes & smells & tactile sensations. Do not analyze this process or overthink it. It is just like the sun rising. You did not start it & you cannot stop it but you can merge your awareness with it. Develop this radiant playful childlike state in a single-minded way & use it to gain further strength in all situations of life!

The Bodhisattva's Demeanor is Manifestly Unproduced

Changshui Zixuan came from Jiaxing. According to the Wudeng Huiyuan, as a young man he cut off his hair and continuously recited the Surangama Sutra.

Chuangshi gained a profound insight when he heard the Buddhist teacher Hongmin say, "The demeanor of the Bodhisattva is manifestly unproduced."

Changshui then said to Hongmin, "Tapping emptiness, but instead striking the bamboo, one still falls into the trap. Raising the eyes and arching the eyebrows, already there's intent. Leaving aside these two paths, realizing the Essence."

Hongmin approved of this evidence of Changshui's understanding.

Hearing that Langye Hui-je's teaching was unsurpassed, he hastened to that teacher's congregation.

One day he stepped forward and asked, "The fundamental purity, how does it suddenly give rise to mountains, rivers, and the great earth?'

Langye replied, "The fundamental purity, how does it suddenly give rise to mountains, rivers, and the great earth?'

Changshui thereupon had realization.


 Fuxi wrote:

The empty hand grasps the hoe handle.
Walking along, I ride the ox.
The ox crosses the wooden bridge.
The bridge flows, but the water is still.

Deep in the Night

Q. Roshi, how do I attain the sudden awakening of the Buddha?

A. First, "Realize that sudden awakening occurs when the mind has been cleared of conceptual and thought processes.” -Master Huang-Po.

It could hardly be made clearer than that. Clear your mind of conceptual and thought processes.

How will you attain this? "Thus Bodhidharma sat rapt in meditation before a wall." Sit rapt in meditation before a wall, or before anything else. Maybe a bare blue sky. Maybe a yellow banner. Maybe a shimmering steep green mountain.

"Outside your mind there are no dharmas to fill the eyes with green mountains." Not even an atom's worth.

Where is your mind? Can you find it now in space? Can you even find your nostrils in space?

When you see the moon gliding amid clouds, don't say to yourself, "The moon." Just see it in a fresh, direct way beyond any words or ideas. There it is! Can you add anything to it with thinking about the past, present, or future? Not!

Huang-Po is knocking on the gate with a broken tile, to show it to your blindness.

Will you complain about the harsh, grating sound of the tile, or just walk through the gate?

"Deep in the night, intoxicated by moonlight. Seeing the temple flag across the river, enlightened in an instant."

Enter the Gate

In Zen, Sudden Enlightenment (Ta-Wu, Satori) is the single experience that resolves all of your doubts.

Thus, Hoshang saw that "the sun is round." It was not something explained to him. He just suddenly realized it, just as Dogen on his enlightenment realized that "my eyes are horizontal and my nose is vertical."

This sudden, explosive entry into the truth of life is not a matter of intellect.

If you have not had this experience, you should earnestly investigate yourself until you do have it.

Seek the help of an enlightened teacher. [If you can find one!]

Do not just run off your mouth about books you have read or ideas you've conceived as to the meaning of these books. For if you proceed in such a way, you will never "enter the gate" and will die without ever having clarified the Great Matter of Life and Death.

Iron Flute 58: Two Horns

When Ch'in-shan paid a visit to Yen-t'ou, who was living in quiet seclusion, he asked, "Brother, are you getting two meals regularly?"

"The fourth son of the Chang family supports me, and I am very much obliged to him," said Yen-t'ou.

"If you do not do your part well, you will be born as an ox in the next life and will have to repay him what you owed him in this life," Ch'in-shan cautioned.

Yen-t‘ou put his two fists on his forehead, but said nothing. 

"If you mean horns," said Ch'in-shan, "you must stick out your fingers and put them on top of your head." 

Before Ch'in-shan finished speaking, Yen-t'ou shouted, "Hey!" 

Ch'in-shan did not understand what this meant. 

"If you know something deeper, why don’t you explain it to me?" he asked. 

Yen-t'ou hissed, then said, "You have been studying Buddhism thirty years as I have and you are still wandering around. I have nothing to do with you. Just get out," and with these words he shut the door in Ch'in-shan's face. 

The fourth son of the Chang family happened to be passing and, out of pity, took Ch'in-shan to his home nearby. "Thirty years ago we were close friends,"Ch'in-shan remarked sorrowfully, “but now he has attained something higher than I have, he will not impart it to me." 

That night Ch'in-shan was unable to sleep and at last got up and went to Yen-t'ou's house.
"Brother, please be kind and preach the Dharma for me," he called out.

Yen-t‘ou opened the door and disclosed the teaching. (What was it?) The next morning Ch'in-shan set out for home feeling free & at ease.

Yen-t‘ou should have beaten him down with both fists! Ch'in-shan left happy, but unfortunately on his way home died drunk in a snowdrift. Yet the Dharma was certainly preached, and Ch'in-shan definitely attained something. Can you say what it was without using your tongue? SSSSSST!


The Art of Zen Enlightenment

Iron Flute 27: "If a Million Objects Come to You, What Do You Do?"

Yang-shan asked Kuei-shan, “If a million objects come to you, what do you do?” Kuei-shan answered, “A green article is not yellow. A long thing is not short. Each object manages its own fate. Why should I interfere with them?” Yang-shan paid homage with a bow.

Sitting up at night, alert and thoughtless.
The moon behind the trees shines faintly on a paper screen.
If a million objects came here, the moon would illuminate them.
If a million shadows gathered here, the moon wouldn't dispel them.

Iron Flute 28: The Ultimate Stage

A monk asked Lung-ya, “What did old masters attain when they entered the ultimate stage?” “They were like burglars sneaking into a vacant house,” came the reply.

Nobody will ever believe the ease of it.
The simple, indescribable bliss of tasting cold water.
The vast spiral galaxies whirling in space;
A swordsman shouting "Ai!" as he cuts you before you can blink.

A Bolt of Lightning

Hideo Nishiyama sees a bolt of lightning.
Q. Roshi, I am confused. Some people say that No-Mind is impossible to attain. They say that the mind is always thinking and it is crazy to try to stop your mind from thinking, since thinking is the fundamental way that we human beings process reality.

A. [Laughs loudly.] I disagree! If you are looking at this Douglas fir tree, fresh green and budding now in the spring, it enters your eyes and your awareness instantly -- as do the white clouds, the sudden bark of a dog and the quiet buzzing of bees as they fly from blossom to blossom on the rhododendron bush. Likewise, the sound of my voice enters your ears instantly -- you don't have to think about it. Do you?

If a bolt of lightning were to strike nearby right this instant, you would leap up and overturn your bowl of tea without any thinking going on at any level whatever. Your nervous system and your whole body and your whole mind would just react to the lightning bolt without having to process it, or entertain any concept or idea about it, or decide whether it might be a good or a bad thing.

This instantaneous response to the world before any thinking is what the Japanese called Mushin, or No-Mind, and it is the whole basis of Zen.

A Tiger Climbs a Tree

A tiger climbs a tree. Why bother?

Q: Roshi, what is this not thinking of the past or the future like? All day, every moment awake, I'm thinking about something in the past or the future.

A: Let's see what it's like. I can't just show you by pulling it out of my pocket. Sit down here with me for ten minutes and let's cut off all our thinking about anything, so the past and the future both cease to exist for us, and the so-called present changes its character completely from a mere conceptualized moment in time to the inconceivable fullness of Being. Once you've tasted it, you will be motivated to gain stability in it. Once you've gained stability, you will be a Buddha.

Q: That's so artificial. I don't want to make any effort like that.

A: Then, unexcelled perfect enlightenment is not for you! As Nietzsche once said, "Become what you are!" Here is a humble poem to illustrate:
The true self (honshin, Bodhi) must come to be.
It does not already exist,
only the potential for it does.
Like the oak in the acorn,
like rain in the blinding white cloud,
like a cut from a knife,
like a love letter from your future wife.

Solve It Now

Everything can be solved now, today.

Your body-mind has a store of natural intuitive wisdom. It will take charge & handle everything that could possibly come up, if you let go & let it do the job.

All that gets in its way is obsessive thinking (about the past, the future, even the present!)

The senses are intrinsically brilliant & clear, as open & ungraspable as space.

Mountains of Verbiage vs. Going into the Mountains

Here is a photo I took with my lousy old cell phone in 2010. 
That's Mount Hood, Oregon, off in the distance.

Q: Roshi, I get more confused about what Zen is every time I go onto the Internet to talk to other people about it. Everybody has a different idea, & the arguments become tiresome. Sometimes I am tempted to just give up & play Xbox games in my basement. Can you resolve this for me?

A: Zen as it exists on the Internet seems to be mainly about shoveling mountains of argumentative verbiage into your mind.

In old school Ch'an (Chinese Zen), people who wanted to be adepts did not behave like this.

So what did they do? They went up into the mountains to live in monasteries & grass huts. There, they withdrew from argumentation & dispute, renounced the way of the discriminating intellect based upon words, faced a wall, & emptied their minds until the "mysterious realization" dawned upon them.

You cannot taste water & analyze its chemical composition at the same time. Human beings now live "all in their heads." But one has a body & senses also. Enlightenment is merely recovering your natural state.

Yuanwu, who compiled The Blue Cliff Record, advised Ch'an students to just sit on the meditation bench & empty & clarify their minds:
Let go of all your previous imaginings, opinions, interpretations, worldly knowledge, intellectualism, egoism, and competitiveness; become like a dead tree, like cold ashes. When you reach the point where feelings are ended, views are gone, and your mind is clean and naked, you open up to Zen realization. 

Why Do Zen?

Suppose a man were all of a sudden to make his appearance here
and cut your head off with a sword!

Q: Hey Roshi, what are the practical benefits of this Satori you keep talking about, not to mention the benefits of doing all the hard subsequent work of stabilizing your body & mind in the "one taste" of Tathata? It sounds like a lot of effort for piss poor reward. Maybe those old Zen guys in the mountains had it wrong! Do you ever feel that way?

A: Mostly in Zen you would get hit with a stick for even asking that kind of question, but being in a generous mood I will answer that for you by quoting Douglas Harding, from his book On Having No Head: Zen & the Rediscovery of the Obvious, where he answers the exact same question regarding the possible benefits (or not) of persisting in his technique of "In-Seeing," which is the same as the ancient Zen practice of actively "turning your Light inward" during calm meditation to see what's there. Here is the relevant passage:
When sufficiently persisted in, ["In-Seeing"] is sure to yield -- more as a bonus than an expected reward -- quite specific improvements in that "outer" scene, in the problem-ridden realm of our everyday lives. Typically, these will include an enlivening of the senses (raising the screen which muffles the plangency of sounds, dims the glow of colours, blurs forms, and filters out the loveliness shining in the "ugliest" places) and (to go with the sensory awakening) a complex of interrelated psycho-physical changes -- including a sustained "whole-body" alertness in place of the 'heady" intermittent sort (as if one were poised through and through to run the race of one's life), a reduction of stress, particularly in the region of the eyes and mouth and neck (as if one were at last letting them go), a progressive lowering of one's centre of gravity (as if losing one's head were finding one's heart, and guts, and feet, which are now rooted in the Earth), a striking downward shift of one's breathing (as if it were a belly function), and in fact a general come-down (as if all the good things one had vainly strained after in the heights were awaiting one in the depths). And, balancing this descent, a general uplift, including a sense of exaltation (as if one were perfectly straight-backed and as tall as the sky), an upsurge of creativity, rising energy and confidence, a new and childlike spontaneity and playfulness, and above all a lightness (as if one were not so much gone with the wind as the wind itself). And finally, perhaps, a calming of fears, a marked reduction of greed and anger, a smoothing out of personal relations, more capacity for selfless love, more joy. Perhaps! 
It is clear to me that Harding actually experienced all this. I like that "as if one were perfectly straight-backed and as tall as the sky"! It's what happens naturally during Zen sword practice & there is no other feeling like it. His list is exact & there is little I could add to it, though I admit I started to get a little nervous when I saw his mentions of "more capacity for selfless love, more joy." That is true also, of course -- to a point -- but one feels embarrassed to even speak of such things. Zen doesn't sell saintliness. We just sit down by the road & weave some more straw sandals so that we can keep walking bemusedly through the world. "Strange & harmless walks in the midst of life." However, Harding's pointed use of the term "perhaps" to describe the more "saintly" benefits of self-realization is a stroke of dry and sober Englishman genius, is it not?

I urge you to look now & marvel at how simply, how quickly, & how ruthlessly Douglas Harding dispenses with all religious mystification about his Enlightenment experience, in the very first pages of his charming little treatise: it's as if two thousand years of verbiage about It suddenly got sucked down the tubes:
However carefully I attend, I fail to find here even so much as a blank screen on which these mountains and sun and sky are projected, or a clear mirror in which they are reflected, or a transparent lens or aperture through which they are viewed -- still less a person to whom they are presented, or a viewer (however shadowy) who is distinguishable from the view. Nothing whatever intervenes, not even that baffling and elusive obstacle called "distance": the visibly boundless blue sky, the pink-edged whiteness of the snows, the sparkling green of the grass -- how can these be remote, when there’s nothing to be remote from? The headless void here refuses all definition and location: it is not round, or small, or big, or even here as distinct from there. (And even if there were a head here to measure outwards from, the measuring-rod stretching from it to that mountain peak would, when read end-on -- and there’s no other way for me to read it -- reduce to a point, to nothing.) In fact, these coloured shapes present themselves in all simplicity, without any such complications as near or far, this or that, mine or not mine, seen-by-me or merely given. All twoness -- all duality of subject and object -- has vanished: it is no longer read into a situation which has no room for it. 
Whoops! There go the long venerated & often repeated analogies of "image projector," "blank screen," "transparent aperture," and "clear mirror," not to mention that shadowy figure, the much-sought "Inner Witness"! To quote Woody Guthrie, they all "came with the dust and are gone with the wind." Shocking beyond words. All that's left is the Headless Void, refusing all definition & location. Naturally, the Void is full of colorful & interesting stuff, some of it patchy & random. Why wouldn't it be?

Why not do some Zen & experience This for yourself right now?

Zen's Fourth Seal, Nirvana

Q: Roshi, do I have to be a Buddhist to do Zen truly?

A: Zen is already the essence of Buddhism. When you examine your sensations & perceptions, & also investigate "objects" of any kind in your experience, you find them to be marked by transience. You find also that they are empty of any abiding or permanent self. Lastly, you find that to cling to sensations & perceptions or objects of experience with your heart as if they were not transient, as if they had any enduring substance, causes you great annoyance & pain. But by putting a stop to all this mental & emotional clinging to as ifs you enter into an inexpressible peace & bliss. You have now exchanged the "as ifs" for the "as is."

These are all natural realizations of one who meditates. Zen is meditation, after all. It is a type of meditation that leads to the ease & simplicity of non-meditation.

So if you pursue Zen with resolve & conviction you will naturally realize what the Buddha realized, which as I've summarized for you is the "three seals" of our human existence, plus the Fourth Seal, which is the here-and-now experiential realization of Nirvana.

In this life people mostly stir up trouble. In Zen we get rid of trouble & settle the dust -- and this isn't done by developing religious beliefs or engaging in fantastic & colorful rituals but merely by sitting still, relaxed & at your ease, & looking into what's always right here now.

And what's always right here now is the least noticed, & the easiest to forget: your Mind itself.

Fukanzazengi: A Universal Recommendation of Zazen

Note: At one point in the year 2015 someone drew my attention to a noisy website in which certain loud and colorful charlatans were claiming that Zen Master Dogen taught something other than classic Zen. These misguided idiots quoted the Fukanzazengi in support of their odd notions. 

Dogen's Fukanzazengi is the extraordinarily concise "how to" manual of Japanese Soto Zen practice. If anybody could show that its spirit or basic instructions differ radically in any way at all from old school Ch'an this would be a point of divisiveness in Zen.

To head off any such possibility, I posted the following annotated diatribe to show that the Zen of the Fukanzazengi does not differ from the Zen of Huang-Po, Hui-Neng, Yuanwu, et al. It is the same Zen. So we can shed the mind that makes differences out of everything and get right down to awakening. Right?

Here is a translation of Master Dogen Ehai's Fukanzazengi, a text written when he was 26 years old, after he had just returned from studying at Ch'an temples in China, and revised many years later. This text contains pointers for the practice of Zazen (the Japanese pronunciation of Zuochan) in the monastery Dogen established with Imperial support. But it also contains the essence of Dogen's theory of what "enlightenment" is and how it relates to everyday activity, such as taking up the sitting posture in the Dharma Hall. Is what Dogen says here any different from what the T'ang Dynasty Zen teachers said? Let's see.

The Way is originally perfect and all-pervading.

Bodhidharma says this, Hui-Neng says it, Huang-Po says it, etc. The Mahayana sutras also say it. Originally, there is nothing other than the spontaneous, open, already liberated activity of the Dharma Body. Anything "other" than this is false and illusory.

What need is there for practice and realization?

Huang-Po says this quite often. Lin-Chi also made a point of saying this. But don't take it the wrong way! There is still a need for practice and realization!

The Dharma vehicle is rolling freely. Why should we exhaust our effort?

Sengcan says this. Hui K'o says this. Why indeed?

There is no speck of dust in the whole universe. How could we ever try to brush it clean?

Almost a direct quote from Hui-Neng, when he was the rice-hulling boy.

Everything is manifest at this very place. Where are we supposed to direct the feet of our practice?

Note how Dogen builds suspense. Yet it is true that Buddhahood is already totally manifest right in your own surroundings and situation; it is that manifestation itself. Joshu says this, Lin Chi-says this. Do they not? What's the problem? The Flower Ornament Scripture insists on this point. It's practically a summation of Zen.

Now, if you make the slightest discrimination, you will create a gap like that between heaven and earth.

Yuanwu says this. Wansong says it, a hundred other Masters say it. Again, what's the problem?

If you follow one thing while you resist the other, your mind will be shattered and lost.

The only way to lose your Buddha-nature and fall into partial and fragmented states is by arrogantly abandoning the Way in order to try to force certain things to happen or not happen. Just stop willing and striving and welcome everything that arises, seeing it just as it is and not according to received ideas and opinions. This is Huang-Po's idea also, and Foyan's.

Suppose you are confident in your understanding and rich in enlightenment, gaining the wisdom that knows at a glance, attaining the way and clarifying the mind, arousing an aspiration to reach for the heavens. Now your head is stuck in the entranceway, while your body has no clue how to get out.

Religious ambition is the greatest danger in Zen practice. Mumon says this in his "Zen Caveats."

Although Shakyamuni was wise at birth, can’t you see the traces of his six years of upright sitting? Bodhidharma transmitted the mind-seal from India. Can’t you hear the echo of the nine years he sat facing a wall?

Ho! Now we are really in the thick of the bamboo forest, are we not?

Shakyamuni is said to have sat upright for six years before suddenly waking up. Bodhidharma is said to have woken up, but then spent 9 years in a cave facing a wall. Where is the similarity? What was the purpose?

Huang-Po says, "Thus Bodhidharma sat rapt before a wall and did not lead people into having opinions."

If even the ancient sages were like this, how can we today dispense with wholehearted practice?

Damn good question! Just as in Huang-Po, this sounds like a contradictory turn in the logic if you have not understood the premise. No specific practice is necessary, yet you should strive wholeheartedly to drop all thinking so that the Buddha-nature will manifest as it is. People spend much of their lives sitting. Why not use some of that sitting in a wholehearted way to manifest your original self, rather than dozing or letting the mind wander? Hmm!

Therefore, put aside the intellectual practice of investigating words and chasing phrases, and learn to take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward.

Here's the pure water in the husk of the coconut. As Foyan says, "Step back and turn your illuminating gaze inward." Yuanwu also says this. All the old Zen teachers say this. Zen is not just dead trance like sitting. It is a subtle way of actively arousing your mind to see and penetrate its own source.

Your body and mind will drop away of themselves, and your original face will manifest.

Sudden awakening is the fundamental way of Ch'an. Once your original face manifests, you understand everything without the dubious help of the intellect.

If you want to get into touch with things as they are, you – right here and now – have to start being yourself, as you are.

You must be not as you think yourself to be, but as you actually are. Don't put a mouth on top of your mouth, a head on top of your head. Once free of discriminating consciousness, your body-mind itself is the "mysterious observatory." (Huang-Po.) Look at that Starry Sky!

For practicing Zen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Put aside all involvements and suspend all affairs. Don’t think about “good” or “bad”. Don’t judge true or false. Your mind, intellect, and consciousness are spinning around – let them have rest. Give up measuring with thoughts, ideas, and views.

Foyan says this too. Let your thinking subside. Give up all the mental activity that has caused you so much confusion. Yuanwu says this in The Blue Cliff Record. Abandon speaking and thinking, go to a quiet place and investigate yourself thoroughly. Rujing said this: "Zen study is shedding body and mind."

Have no designs on becoming a Buddha. How could that be limited to sitting or lying down?

Ma-Tzu says this. Original enlightenment is realized in all postures, all situations. It is a trap to think that any practice can make you a Buddha. Instead, you should just respond naturally to conditions as they arise. Develop a mind that does not abide anywhere. Yuanwu: "Hearing sounds as though deaf, seeing sights as though blind." Huang-Po: "Walk without a thought of raising your feet, eat your rice without the idea of eating rice."

When you sit, spread a mat and put a cushion on it. Sit either in the full-lotus or half-lotus position. In the full-lotus position, first place your right foot on your left thigh, then your left foot on your right thigh. In the half-lotus position, simply place your left foot on your right thigh. Tie your robes loosely and arrange them neatly. Then place your right hand on your left leg and your left hand on your right palm, thumb-tips lightly touching.

Detailed instructions for physical posture during Zhuochan/Zazen. Good advice for monks! But Huang-Po merely says, "Sit upright in a relaxed way and do not permit any movement of your mind to disturb you." Dogen Ehai's instructions, taking from an earlier Chinese meditation text, do not contradict this statement but only expand upon it. The physical details in Dogen's text are not original. They are derived from meditation manuals used in Ch'an monasteries in China.

Straighten your body and sit upright, leaning neither left nor right, neither forward nor backward. Align your ears with your shoulders and your nose with your navel. Rest the tip of your tongue against the front of the roof of your mouth, with teeth and lips together both shut. Always keep your eyes open, and breathe softly through your nose. Once you have adjusted your posture, take a breath and exhale fully, rock your body right and left, and settle into steady, immovable sitting.

"Immovable sitting," like a mountain, is what Master Pai-Chang recommends also. Keeping the eyes open -- this was one way that Ch'an contemplation distinguished itself from Taoist practices.

Think of not thinking. Not thinking: What kind of thinking is that? Letting thoughts go (Nonthinking). This is the essential art of zazen.

Hui-Neng says this. Huang-Po says this.

Zazen is not a meditation technique. It is simply the Dharma gate of joyful ease, it is practicing the realization of the boundless Dharma way.

Do not practice in order to attain realization in the future, but instead practice the mysterious realization that is already here now, since this realization is your own wonderful essence of "joyful ease." Hui-Neng says that prajna is spontaneous and open, has no beginning or end. Huang-Po says that all you have to do is stop discriminating to reach the Dharma Gate of Stillness Beyond Activity, upon which the one undivided and radiant nature of everything will become obvious to you. Yuanwu says that enlightened adepts are those who have entered into the way of non-action.

Here, the open mystery manifests, and there are no more traps and snares for you to get caught in.

Once you can sit and simply be sitting, walk and simply be walking, without layering on thoughts and considerations, then you can't be trapped by words. There are no more conceptual "snares." You've seen through all partial ideas and no longer cling to yes or no, is or is not. Your activity is spontaneous. It's the original luminosity (energy) the Mind Ground.

If you grasp the point, you are like a dragon gaining the water, like a tiger taking to the mountains.

Yuanwu: "You must become like a dragon entering the water, a tiger roaming its mountain."

For you must know that the true Dharma appears of itself, so that from the start dullness and distraction are struck aside. When you arise from sitting, move slowly and quietly, calmly and deliberately. Don’t do it head over heels. Understand that those who transcended the mundane and sacred, and died while either sitting or standing, have all committed themselves entirely to this power.

There is nothing here that wasn't said before by the T'ang and Song Ch'an teachers. Yuanwu and Wansong especially.

In addition, turning the Dharma wheel with a finger, a banner, a needle, or a mallet, and realizing it with a whisk, a fist, a staff, or a shout – these cannot be understood by discriminative thinking. Much less can they be known through the practice of supernatural power. Your conduct must be beyond seeing forms and hearing sounds, it must be based on the order that is prior to knowledge and views. Don’t worry about if you are more intelligent than the others, or not. Make no distinction between the dull and the sharp-witted. If you concentrate your effort singlemindedly, that in itself is wholeheartedly engaging the way. Practice-realization is naturally undefiled. Practicing the way means to live the present day.

Foyan: "Buddhism saves energy. Just stop all mental grasping and be attuned 24 hours a day."

In our world and others, in both India and China, all equally hold the buddha-seal. The wind of truth is blowing unhindered, so just give yourself to the sitting, be totally blocked in resolute stability.

Huang-Po: "Sit upright and do not let any movement of mind disturb you. This alone is liberation."

Although they say that there are ten thousand distinctions and a thousand variations, just wholeheartedly engage the way in zazen. Why leave behind the seat in your own home to wander in vain through the dusty realms of other lands? If you make one misstep you stumble past what is directly in front of you. You have gained the pivotal opportunity of human form. Do not pass your days and nights in vain.

Yumen: "If you find an old monk who can give you an opening, hang up your straw hat and practice hard for 30 years. Do not waste this human form, because you do not know when you will get another one."

You met the Buddha way in this life – how could you waste your time delighting in sparks from a flint stone? Form and substance are like the dew on the grass, the fortunes of life like a dart of lightning – emptied in an instant, vanished in a flash. Please, honored followers of Zen, long accustomed to groping for the elephant, do not doubt the true dragon. Devote your energies to the way that points directly to the real thing. Revere the one who has gone beyond learning and is free from effort.

Share the wisdom of Buddhas with Buddhas, transmit the samadhi of patriarchs to patriarchs. Continue to live in such a way, and you will be such a person. The treasure store will open of itself, it is up to you to use it freely.

All completely in keeping with the old Ch'an literature of China. There is nothing at all here that differs from the teachings of the Masters and Patriarchs. If there is, point it out!

Before Asses But Behind Horses: The Sudden Enlightenment of Elder Fu

When the Elder Fu of T'ai Yuan was expounding the Nirvana scripture in Kuang Hsiao Temple of Yang Chou, there was a wandering monk-- actually it was the cook of Chia Shan -- who was staying in the temple, snowed in; he took the opportunity to go listen to the lecture. When the lecture touched on the three bases of Buddha nature and the three qualities of the body of reality and as Fu spoke profusely of the subtle principle of the body of reality, the cook suddenly broke out laughing. Fu then looked at him. When the lecture was over, he had someone summon the Ch'an man, and asked him, "My simple knowledge is narrow and inferior; I interpret the meanings according to the words. Just now, in the course of the lecture, I saw you break out in a laugh; I must have some shortcoming --please explain it to me."

The cook said, "If you did not ask, I dare not speak. Since you have asked, I cannot but explain. I was actually laughing because you don't know the body of reality." Fu said, "What is wrong with my explanation, such as it was?" The cook said, "Please explain it once more." Fu said, "The principle of the body of reality is like the great void: vertically, it goes through past, present, and future; horizontally it extends throughout the ten directions of the universe; it fills the eight extremities and embraces both positive and negative modes. According to conditions, it tends toward effect; there is nowhere it does not extend." The cook said, "I did not say your explanation is wrong; but you only know that which pertains to the extent of the body of reality; you do not actually know the body of reality." Fu said, "Granting that you are right, you should explain it for me." The cook said, "If you agree, then give up lecturing for ten days, and meditate correctly in a quiet room; collect your mind, gather your thoughts, give up various clingings to good and bad all at once, and investigate exhaustively on your own."

Fu did just as he had said, from the first to the fifth watch of the night; when he heard the sounding of the drum, he suddenly attained enlightenment and immediately went to knock on the Ch'an man's door. The cook said, "Who's there?" Fu said, "Me." The cook scolded him, saying "I would have you transmit and maintain the Great Teaching, explaining it in the Buddha's stead -- why are you laying in the street drunk on wine in the middle of the night?" Fu said, "Hitherto in my lectures on the scriptures I have been twisting the nostrils of the father and mother who gave birth to me; from today on, I no longer dare to be like this."

See that outstanding fellow! Did he merely go accept this radiant spirituality and fall in front of asses but behind horses? He had to have broken up his habitual active consciousness, so that there is nothing that can be apprehended, yet he has still only realized one half. An Ancient said, "If you do not give rise to any thought of practice or study, within formless light you'll always be free." Just discern that which is always silent and still, do not acknowledge sound and form, just discern spiritual knowledge, do not acknowledge false imagination. This is why it was said, "Even if an iron wheel is turning on your head, with concentration and wisdom complete and clear, they are never lost."

-The Blue Cliff Record (Cleary translation)

How to Be "A Real Follower of Our Zen Sect"

Q: I'm confused. I read all sorts of things online about Zen. I don't know what to believe. How can I become a real Zen student?

A: Grand Master Huang-Po says that "calming mental functions" and "forgetting views," "putting a complete stop to the arising of concepts" and "cutting off thinking" are the true way of Zen, the so-called Patriarchal Dharma Gate. The training is to have no mind (wu-hsin), no thoughts (wu-nien) while operating in full energetic awareness.

I stress this final point because it is not a matter of squelching thoughts to attain a blank trance-like state. Do you see the difference? Some people do not. That is why it is easier to teach Zen in the context of the tea-ceremony or swordsmanship. A true "empty mind" will not falter or make mistakes even in the midst of the most detailed, delicate, and attention-demanding activity.

This is an ability that can be learned, even if it takes twenty or thirty years, and once it is learned and the mind attains stillness -- "the Gateway of Stillness Beyond all Activity" -- the Mind-essence has a chance to awaken in all its blazing lucidity and brilliance. After that the false monkey-like mind self-destructs and there can be no more problems. Then "all sounds are Buddha sounds and all forms are Buddha forms." The universe is identical to the One Mind (not as an intellectual proposition, but as experienced truth.)

The only real obstacles to this wondrous Zen Enlightenment are the habits of involuntary, purposeless thinking -- and constant opinionated argumentation, such as the internet promotes. You can only wake up by shattering your ignorance, which arises from the activity of uncontrolled thinking. If you cannot stop thinking for even ten seconds at a time, you should concentrate all your effort on learning how. Then you can be "a real follower of our Zen sect."

Q: Can you say something about the use of meditation to attain samadhi in Zen?

A: "Zen" is a Japanese reading of a Chinese character pronounced "Ch'an" which in turn represents the Sanskrit term "Dhyana." Dhyana in Sanskrit texts is often translated "meditation" but it doesn't necessarily mean formal meditation or sitting meditation (unless specified, as in the Chinese "zuo ch'an" or Japanese "Zazen"); in the Sanskrit dhyana just means any kind of practice of "absorption" or "contemplation."

Traditionally in Indian yoga (not just Buddhist yoga) dhyana is any practice of absorption that leads to samadhi, which is often described as subject and object, body and mind, all dropping away all at once, resulting an original state of timeless and open awareness that is blissful. Buddhists sometimes speak of this as "knowing emptiness," Advaitists as "experiencing pure awareness," etc.

People who train in dhyana often experience the keenest samadhi by accident, not while they are "meditating" in a formal way. In both Indian yoga traditions and Zen there are many examples of a sudden absorption in sound leading to samadhi. For instance, there is the famous story of the Zen Master who was awakened by hearing a tile shatter, another upon hearing the noon drum. Very likely these Masters were ripe for awakening because they had already spent years absorbing themselves fully in the contemplation of a Zen koan. These Masters and many others were changed by samadhi, which they described as a joyful and blissful liberation from all doubts.

It doesn't even have to be sound -- any sensation, such as smell or taste or sight, can lead to samadhi if the person can let him or herself be "absorbed" into it. Another Zen Master woke up while absorbed in gazing at a pear tree in blossom. Still another woke up on having a gate slammed on his foot, because the agonizing pain suddenly emptied his mind of all thoughts.

After experiencing such great and intense samadhi for the first time it is possible to enter into it anytime and anywhere, until an "ultimate liberation" occurs in which the sense of being a boring "person" ceases utterly and the indescribable samadhi becomes just an everyday reality.

Q: This sounds almost too good to be true. Don't I need to find a real Zen lineage-holding Master to teach me how to do Zen face to face?

A: Charles Luk (Lu K'uan Yü) says in the introduction to his Transmission of the Mind Outside the Teaching that is is not only possible, but in some cases preferable to train in Zen without the help of a Master. He tells some amusing stories about pretentious Westerners he has met who travel to Asia to study Zen with real Asian teachers as a way of indulging themselves, some of whom became bitterly disillusioned to the point of rejecting Zen altogether. He contrasts these anecdotes with interesting accounts of several Westerners who attained Satori merely by reading his Zen translations and practicing (on their own steam) the classic method of "raising Great Doubt" by contemplating a koan or hua t'ou. Luk contends that these awakening experiences are authentic even in the absence of engaging with a lineage-holding face-to-face teacher or time served in a Zen monastery.

Also, in Japanese Zen history particularly there are a number of "self-recognized, self-certified" Zen teachers who are well respected. Even in Chinese Zen there are examples of people who "get it" intuitively and spontaneously without training. Sometimes these people are said to have studied and practiced hard in a former life. But who knows?

Zen uses structure and effort to annihilate structure and effort, revealing the incomparable in a single instant. Some are confused by this.

Even though the "goal" of Zen training is No-structure, No-effort, first there is first careful structure and a most intense effort.

As Huang Po said:
Some students attain the state of liberated Mind quickly, some slowly. After listening to a Dharma talk, some reach "no mind" directly. In contrast, some must first pass gradually through the ten grades of Bodhisattva faith, the Dasabhumi of Bodhisattva development, and the ten stages before attaining the Perfectly Awakened Mind. Whether one takes a long or a short time, however, once attained, "no mind" can never be lost. With nothing further to cultivate and nothing more to attain, one realizes that this "no mind" is true, not false, Mind. Whether reaching this stage quickly or after passing through the various stages of Bodhisattva development gradually, the attainment of "no mind" cannot be characterized in terms of shallow or deep. Those students who cannot win this state of understanding and liberation go on to create the wholesome and unwholesome mental states by grasping form, thus creating further suffering in samsara. 
And Master Yuanwu wrote:
Zen concentration is equal to transcendent insight in every moment; wherever you are, there are naturally no ills. Eventually one day the ground of mind becomes thoroughly clear and you attain complete fulfillment. This is called absorption in one practice.