Why Do Zen?

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

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 right here now.

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. 


The Great Pearl

This calligraphy by Qiao Seng has nothing to do with pearls,
but rather "dreaming butterflies."

When Master Hui-Hai arrived in Chiang-Hsi Province, he first went to pay a visit to Master Ma Tsu.

Ma Tsu asked: "Where have you come from?"

Hui-Hai answered: "I have come from Great Cloud Temple, which is in Yüeh Chou."

Ma Tsu asked: "What is your reason for coming here?"

Hui-Hai answered: "I have come to seek the Buddhadharma. "

Ma Tsu replied: "You do not regard or cultivate your own store of treasure, but, instead, you have left your home and gone wandering. However, I have nothing at all here, so how can you hope to seek the Buddhadharma in this place?"

Then Hui-Hai prostrated himself and asked:"What and where is Hui-Hai's own treasure-store?"

Ma Tsu answered: "Just that one there who just asked this question is your own treasure-store, and it is perfect and complete for you to make use of when you attain mastery. So why on earth are you futilely seeking anything outside?"

Suddenly, on hearing this, Hui-Hai attained Great Enlightenment, instantly recognizing his own Original Mind.

Then he fully prostrated himself, placing his head at Ma Tsu's feet, to show his deep and sincere gratitude.

From that moment on, the Master served Ma Tsu for the next six years. Then, because his original teacher had become quite old, he returned to his own temple in Yüeh Chou to serve him. During that time, Master Hui-Hai concealed his real ability, appearing to be halting in his speech and somewhat foolish, but he wrote a book entitled Entering the Tao of Sudden Enlightenment.

Later, Hsüan Yen, his Dharma nephew, stole Hui-Hai's book from the temple and took it and presented it to Ma Tsu who, after reading it, proclaimed to his assembly, saying, "There is now, in Yüeh Chou, a Great Pearl, whose luster radiates everywhere and who is free and has gained self-mastery with no obstacles."

Thenceforth, the master was called Ta-Chu (Great Pearl).

Just So


Zen is the direct transmission of Shakyamuni's enlightened Mind, the Mind he realized when he saw the morning star rise blazing over the still-dark trees. As such, it doesn't rely on written or even on spoken words. Quick, run over & cut out my tongue -- if you can!

Bodhidharma brought this Mind to Mind transmission to China from his native India & gave it to several of his students. These students in turn gave it to other students, & so forth and so on. It's no different in principle than a fly buzzing from one dung-pile to the other on a hot summer's day.

But Zen is only understood when the Mind is directly experienced (in jianxing, "seeing the self-nature," Jap. kensho). Short of this experience, all Zen sayings are always going to seem illogical and jumbled.

Once you have this experience, the ancient texts become clear & laughably direct. It's like hearing cold wind blowing through the tops of pine trees. You understand without any explanation. "Bamboo of the South, wood of the North." It's all just so!

Kill or Be Killed by Buddha

Q: What makes you a Buddha? Is it true that you’re not a Buddha until the moment you realize it?

A: In Zen the word "realization" does not refer to some kind of intellectual idea of understanding. It is a matter of shedding body and mind, then shedding that shedding. That's what results in "realization." It is often called 妙悟, or the "mysterious," "subtle," "unfathomable," "profound" realization or understanding.

Once you attain This, you will have no problems. Until you attain This, you will have every possible problem!

Q: I've been reading this book called "Radical Zen." Here (and I quote) it says,
"True" nature implies the existence of a "false" nature. Joshu [is] suggesting [instead] that "everything is real [or true]" -- [so] there is no need to look for anything special, the "true" as opposed to the "false."
A: The author of this comment has misunderstood. Joshu himself says there is a True Self, distinct from the "false" self made up of material elements, and once you realize it, that's "the One in Charge."
This nature existed before the appearance of the world. If the world ends, this will not end. From the time I saw my True Self, there hasn't been anyone else. There's just the One In Charge.
Even though This Nature exists before the universe appears, and does not end even if the universe ends, there is still "a moment" when you see your True Self, just as there was for Joshu. Unless you experience that "moment," which is Sudden Enlightenment, you are still lost and wandering in Samsara. Once you have experienced that "moment," you are free to come and go as you please. If you meet the Buddha, you kill the Buddha, and so on. But if you try to kill the Buddha before you have attained 妙悟, the Buddha will kill you first -- with extreme prejudice.

Okay?

Stilling the Mind

Student: I've heard that the correct Way of Zen involves no effort. One simply realizes one's true nature exactly where one is. The truth was right under one's nose the whole time. Comment?

Roshi: It sounds to me as if you've read some good books on Zen, but have NOT all by yourself truly & fully experienced the fundamental realization of Zen (the second phase of "mountains are not mountains, rivers are not rivers," or Satori). This is like someone deciding not to go on a journey to some beautiful far off place because of reasoning that, after all, he'll have to just come home in the end. Yes, you will return in the end, but you will return CHANGED.

It may be right under your nose, but you cannot see or smell it until you've leaped over all your former thinking in a single instant -- which, as Huang-Po says, takes amazing "strength."

If you do not have this strength to do it all at once, Huang-Po says, you should put out great effort to "practice the non-stirring of thoughts" in all circumstances of your everyday life, and in five or six years you'll likely have made enough progress to accomplish the rest spontaneously.

Huang-Po himself clearly said that the Way is attained by "stilling the movements of the mind" [in full awareness].

Student: I only know what I've heard."Doing nothing" makes sense to me. I'm not here to get into a pissing match.

Roshi: The Wanling record, with all its questions and answers, is nothing but a prolonged "pissing match" between Huang-Po and his questioners, if you want to read it that way. As I read it, Huang-Po was compassionately pointing out the "sudden entry" Dharma Gate to Liberation.

Student: Huang-Po rejects "making an effort."

Roshi: Do you think it doesn't take any effort to cut off thinking & keep your mind immobile & unresponsive in all the situations of everyday life so that you can enter the Way? Think again!

Student: And then he [Huang-Po] says nothing is ever attained, that the Way cannot be approached or withdrawn from or accorded with.

Roshi: Aha. Where exactly, cough cough, does Huang-Po say this? Let's go to the book. Here  is Huang-Po addressing his students:
If you students of the Way do not awaken to this Mind substance, you will overlay Mind with conceptual thought [plunging back into samsaric states]. 
If only you would learn how to achieve a state of non-intellection, immediately the chain of causation would snap. . . . Only renounce the error of intellectual or conceptual thought-processes and your nature will exhibit its pristine purity -- for this alone is the way to attain Enlightenment, to observe the Dharma, to become a Buddha and all the rest. 
Prajna is Wisdom; wisdom is the formless original Mind-Source. Ordinary people do not seek the Way, but merely indulge their six senses which lead them back into the six realm of existence. 
You must get away from the doctrines of existence and non-existence . . . This is not something which you can accomplish without effort, [!!] but when you reach the point of clinging to nothing whatever, you will be acting as the Buddhas act. 
My Way is through Mind-awakening. 
Mind is the Buddha, while the cessation of conceptual thought is the Way. 
Ah, be diligent! Be diligent! Of a thousand or ten thousand attempting to enter by this Gate, only three or perhaps five pass through. If you are heedless of my warnings, calamity is sure to follow. Therefore it is written: Exert your strength in THIS life to attain!/Or else incur long eons of further [karmic] gain!
It is like this: when you even slightly give rise to a single thought, then there are phenomena. If there is not one thought, then the phenomena are forgotten and this false mind self-extinguishes. It will not again be able to seek.
As the Tibetans say, the "exhaustion of the intellect and phenomena (blo zad bon zad) results in the total realization of the Primordial Purity (ka dag) of the natural state." Unlike most Ch'an teachers, up to & including Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng, Master Huang-Po actually minimizes Chien-hsing (kensho), and points even beyond Wu (Satori). Here, he gives his students direct instruction on how to make the false mind self-extinguish, which is synonymous with Liberation and Nirvana!

Bodhi Mind Is the "Dark Meaning of Zen"

Q: I can't get a grip on this Mind with a capital M. What do the Zen teachers mean by it?

A: This is the "Dark Meaning of Zen." So let's get into it. Here is some of what Bodhidharma has to say about Mind:
Mind, from the beginningless beginning, is not different from that which it is at this very moment. It has never been born, nor has it died, never perished, never decreased, never been impure nor holy. It has never been good, never been bad, has never come, has never gone, was never right, never wrong, never taken a man's form, never been a woman's. Never been a monk, never a layman, never been old, never been young, neither a saint, nor an ordinary being, not Buddha, nor an incarnate human being. 
Mind has nothing to attain, nothing to practice. It has no cause, no effect, no energy, no form. It is like empty space in that it cannot be held nor can it be dropped. Mountains, rivers, even the Great Wall cannot obstruct it. 
Such a mind is hard to see because it is deep-rooted. Mind is not the same as physical material. Mind is the Buddha. 
Everybody wishes to understand, yet, already you are in the midst of a bright light.
Q: But Bodhidharma is only telling us what Mind is not. He doesn't say what it is! I think he doesn't know what he's talking about! He's just another of these holy monk types who speaks in riddles.

A: Ha ha. Why do you "think" that and above all with what do you "think" it?

In fact, Bodhidharma's explanation of Mind is just ancient Zen -- the Zen that he brought from India to China.

But if you doubt his explanation of what "Mind" is, just take a look at the Lankavatara Sutra, which Bodhidharma brought with him and gave to Hui K'o. Or, if you want, fast forward a few centuries and look at Master Lin-Chi's statements about Mind, such as:
Followers of the Way, this thing called Mind has no fixed form; it penetrates all the ten directions. In the eye we call it sight, in the ear we call it hearing; in the nose it detects odors, in the mouth it speaks discourses; in the hand it grasps, in the feet it runs along. Basically it is a single bright essence, but it divides itself into these six functions.
Is Lin-Chi also one of those "holy monks," in your opinion?

Also, where does this or any "opinion" reside? Where does it come from? What generates it? If you say, "my brain," then you must believe that there is something apart from your brain capable of knowing what your brain is. Or is it your two and a half pound brain that mysteriously "knows" itself? Ha ha.

Q: So the Mind of Zen is nothing at all. What good does that do anyone?

A: Bodhidharma doesn't say the Mind is nothing at all. He says it's a "bright light" and you're always in the midst of it. Lin-Chi says the same, right? "A single bright essence." Nonetheless, it is true that "The Buddhas are born from the realm that leans on nothing." But leaning on nothing only means that the Buddhas aren't born from any particular thing you can name or think about.

As Lin-Chi taught his students: "Apply the mind and at once there's differentiation; rouse a thought and at once there's error." Don't lean on anything, not even some concept of mind, because all things you can speak of are just meaningless labels and projections. But the Mind itself is intrinsically real and complete as it is.

Lin-Chi said, "Do you want to know what the threefold world is? It is nothing other than the mind-ground that you who are now listening to the Dharma are standing on." He quotes from the Lotus Sutra to buttress his point: "The threefold world is nothing but mind; the ten thousand phenomena are nothing but consciousness." Then he goes on to explain:
The threefold world does not announce, "I am the threefold world." Rather it's you, followers of the Way, who do so, this person here in front of my eyes who in marvelous fashion shines his torch on the ten thousand things and sizes up the world -- it's he who assigns names to the threefold world.
Bodhi is purely illuminating. You are always shining your Mind-torch no matter what. That's what brings the whole universe into being. But people forget that their Mind brings the universe into being, and begin to assign labels and distinctions which they consider more real than Bodhi. And in the end they begin to think of Bodhi as something that can be seen and named. So Old Lin-Chi insists, "Get a hold of this thing and use it, but don't fix a label to it. This I call the Dark Meaning. When you can see it like this, you won't be averse to anything."

Q: So only the Mind is real?

A: You're using it right now to ask that question. According to Zen, "real" and "false" are just labels. It's Mind that shines the torch and creates everything that supposedly is. Everything is without characteristics until Mind dreams or imagines them. It's all just Mind. "The threefold world is only consciousness." So what's real and what's false? Only [pure] consciousness is real in and of itself, while the rest is false. But insofar as things are the projections of [pure] consciousness, they're extremely real. Or at least they can appear to be.

Q: I'm bewildered.

A: If your Mind were something objective, something out in the realm of phenomena, limited and with specific characteristics, it could appear in your Mind, right?  Meaning that your Mind could experience itself in a quasi-objective manner. But anything that appears in your Mind cannot, by definition, be Mind itself, since Mind is that in which everything without exception appears, and the host [realm] of all experiences!

Here we are in the quick of it! As Yunmen once said, while holding up his stick: "This staff has turned into a dragon, swallowing up the earth and heavens!"

Munen, Part Two: Call Dudjom Rinpoche


Munen, Part One is here

I'm going to drop the Hui-Neng story for now -- after all, we know how it turned out, namely after some twists and turns the boy selling bundles of firewood on a street corner in Southern China becomes the Sixth & Final Patriarch of Zen -- to give you some jottings from a small notebook I took with me into the high desert around the time of the big Solar Eclipse of 2017. I had resolved to practice "Wu-nien" (Japanese, Munen) with great energy and resolve for at least a week. This work was extremely difficult at times but it was also wonderful. Here goes:
This practice means cutting short any "interior monologue" or "half-dialogue," also cutting away any flashing forward or back in time. Not just while sitting in meditation, but at all times of day & night & in all postures. Okay? It's hard. Can we agree on that? Huang-Po says as much. Some people say it is even impossible. But we are put here to do the impossible with the totally inadequate, are we not? 
First day of trying for continuous Munen is a bust. I fail so often & so miserably I want to send back my inka. But there are some brief bursts of satori-like clearness. Why not? 
Second day of trying for continuous Munen (No-thought) when not actively engaged in a dialogue or writing something. I find it very challenging & it interests me greatly how mistakes in posture & breathing & movement can give rise to sudden thinking-wave. 
One effect of continuous Munen is that after about a half hour or so of it you can get scared by the charged feeling of bliss. "It's too much!" But it isn't. 
Whenever a strong thinking chain suddenly leaps up, you can back away from it mentally & fix it with your powerful awareness, which stops it. 
Third day of intensive Munen. The occasional upsurge of thinking, but in incoherent bursts like a panicky animal thrashing around in water. The answer is to straighten posture a little & let breathing deepen. Awareness then extends [in every direction & at every angle] without effort. 
Walking on the mountain, a slight sense of disjoint between "inner" & "outer" which is annihilated by picking & chewing a blackberry. Satori of the wild blackberry! My fingers stained with redness like blood.
Fourth Day of Munen. Oddly, it gets easier. Things take on a trippy psychedelic quality similar to the "satori" moments of the first day but still deeper & brighter -- the creamy bright orange yellow of a marigold enrapturing me like a sunrise. 
I leave a party & rather than indulging in the usual agonizing over things I said or didn't say or how I appeared to other people, with Munen the room & the people are completely gone as soon as I've walked out the door. Free at last, free at last. How wonderful not to be wrapped up in one's thinking self-consciousness. 
Fifth day of Munen on the drive to R____ , the utter simplicity of it. All appears devoid of inside/outside, subjects/objects. The brain is silent, mind utterly still. Clouds passing over the desert, dragging their cold shadows. What's the problem? I laugh tears into my eyes. Then I just breathe in the bracing cool thin high desert air. 
Sixth day of Munen there is a feeling of grief & pervasive melancholy & heartache that ebbs away over the afternoon leaving peace & bliss. Streaks of white cloud in the brilliant high desert sky I watch them unfurl & feather apart. 
When you practice Munen your mind stops moving outside of the sphere of what is immediately present & also instantly transitory; it stops taking on the projected thoughts & views of projected others, so it settles into self-luminosity. Radiant! Amazing! Call Dudjom Rinpoche. 
Seventh day of Munen: lying on a cool concrete porch looking up at the blue sky & an angle of the roof, simple & boundless Space. This goes on for hours. Then I sit up & I struggle to form a thought to jot down in this notebook. After a few minutes of holding the pencil quietly between two fingers I write: "Nothing left to be done or still less to say, no problems to solve, just work your trade & be relaxed & gentle with people. Every place & time in life is the same as any other. What's the problem?" 
I go for a morning walk with the two eager dogs. The amazing quiet clear splendor  -- sounds colors & forms appearing out of pure lucidity. Mind doesn't stop on anything & ask "What's that?" or "What does it mean?" It just is. The leashes creak, the dog collars jangle, the dogs pant, sweat runs down my back, the sun blazes. 
The noisy rush of water in a culvert birds peep & shrill the cool moaning of doves & harsh screeching of raptors green reeds along a river so intensely green that their [lush poignant fresh unbelievable] greenness brings tears again into my wild unseen eyes. 
Eighth day of Munen a strange fine tuned awareness of heights & depths along with intensified colors & sounds it is as if my feelings extended out into space & space in its turn pervaded my feelings until there is no distinguishing any set boundary. 
Ninth day is impossible to describe. There it is! I don't sense anything different than the pure luminosity & the unbounded clear space of every sensation; useless to even talk about it!

Two of Joshu



Once, an old woman entered the monastery after dark.
Joshu said, "What are you doing here?"
The old woman said, "I came for a night's lodging."
Joshu said, "What do you think this place is?"
The old woman laughed loudly and left the mountain.

Joshu's most violent encounter. He almost lost his head. But the old woman was kind to the old monk, and abandoned the battle before it was over.

Someone asked, "The full moon in the middle of the sky -- where does its light originate?"
Joshu said, "Where does the full moon in the middle of the sky originate?"

Ten of this one, ten thousand of all the others.
Twilight. An old woman boiling a pot of water.
The moon was brilliant that night, but the bamboo stalks were black.


Take no Notice

Ch'an master Hui Chueh of Lang Yeh mountain had a woman disciple who called on him for instruction. The master taught her to examine into the words: "Take no notice." She followed his instruction strictly without backsliding.

One day, her house caught fire, but she said: "Take no notice.'" Another day, her son fell into the water and when a bystander called her, she said: "Take no notice.'"She observed exactly her master's instruction by laying down all causal thoughts.

One day, after her husband lit the fire to make fritters of twisted dough, she threw into the pan full of boiling oil a batter which made a noise. Upon hearing the noise, she was instantaneously enlightened. Then she threw the pan of oil on the ground, clapped her hands and laughed.

Thinking she was insane, her husband scolded her and said: "Why do you do this? Are you mad?"

She replied: "Take no notice." Then she went to master Hui Chueh and asked him to verify her achievement.

The master confirmed it

-Charles Luk, Ch'an and Zen Teaching: First Series

Take the Drum & Capture the Flag


Q: Roshi, why do you say one can't get Zen from books?

A: Zen is more abrupt and unsparing than most other approaches to Enlightenment, in that it aims at "cutting off thinking" instantaneously, so that you experience satori. After satori, it is necessary to stabilize yourself in the "empty" state of wondrous mindlessness long enough, as Bodhidharma said, for your more excessive karmic potentials to fade to almost nothing.

Most people who pose as authorities on Zen have not had satori, and they will not experience satori so long as they engage constantly in argumentation and conceptualizing.

If you do attain satori, you make a serious mistake if  you do not maintain an immovable mind long enough for your karmic potentials to fade.

That is why I would advise anyone who has satori not to say a word about it for fifteen years. I encourage you to get the dust out of your eyes & open your ears fully. Wake up! Wake up!

Master Mumon Ekai said that you must arouse all the energy in your body (the Qi of every pore and hair-follicle) and concentrate it all with absolute single minded absorption until you experience a sudden breakthrough that spontaneously unifies inside & outside & annihilates all your false ideas and conceptions in a single instant.

This is why Mumon himself sat in meditation every day and night for six years trying to resolve Joshu's "Mu," and finally decided he wouldn't sleep until he had resolved it -- so, for who knows how many nights, he kept himself awake by banging his head against a pillar whenever he started to doze off in the Dharma Hall. Then one day he heard the noon drum & spontaneously woke up. Everything became clear. Samsara melted like a block of ice in August. He went to his Master and had his satori confirmed with a great ringing shout.

Is this not Yuanwu's "taking the drum & capturing the flag"?

Zen is precisely casting away all thoughts and beliefs in a single instant, to "enter with the suddenness of a knife thrust." Even phrases like "attaining the unborn" and "just seeing what is" have to be resolutely cast away, or you will be hung up by them like a ram with its horns caught in a fence. You will miss the horse galloping past the window in the blink of an eye.

Strictly speaking, it is delusional to think you can get Zen from books. It is also delusional to think you can get Zen from meditation. It's precisely the thinking and reasoning on this or any topic at all that is delusional, intrinsically delusional, which is why Master Huang-Po said that there is never any advantage in discussion and argumentation.

Cast away all beliefs, cut off thinking in a single instant -- this is the true ancient way of Zen. As soon as you do this, you will experience a great energy in and around your body that will enable you to do amazing things without effort. The Zen teachers and Taoists called this unconditioned energy "qi." You can call it whatever you like, or nothing at all.

Is "Just Sitting" the Fundamental Way of Zen?

A rare photo of Master Dogen sitting in meditation.

Q: Roshi, as a Zen student I often hear that "just sitting" is the fundamental Way of Zen. Is it so?

A: Not at all! If someone had arthritic legs & so couldn't sit in the lotus posture, would you deny them entry into the Treasury of Light that is Zen? Listen to some words Master Dogen once wrote:

“To do away with mental deliberation and cognition, and simply to go on sitting, is the method by which the Way is made an intimate part of our lives. Thus attainment of the Way becomes truly attainment through the body. That is why I put exclusive emphasis upon sitting."

To love and appreciate Master Dogen & the shikantaza style of Zen taught to him by his Chinese Master Rujing, you need not agree that Zen should place exclusive emphasis on sitting. After all, Dogen gives you his reason for doing so. Namely, To do away with [limited, ignorant] mental deliberation and cognition. 

Why bother? To make way for the pure & boundless cognition of the original mind, vast & open as all space. Why else?

Zen is doing away with [limited, ignorant] mental deliberation & cognition. That's the fundamental Way of Zen, & it is a subtle one, subtle as the spring wind in these pines, or that red quince flower you see blossoming on the hedge.

If you can do away with the mind of delusion and ignorance, and so attain sudden enlightenment, merely by sitting in the lotus posture, go right ahead! Nobody's stopping you.

There are some historical reasons as to why an exclusive emphasis on sitting might have been effective in Dogen's time, leading people to make the Way an intimate part of their lives. And there are more remote inspirational -- or, if you like, mythological-religious -- reasons as to why Dogen chose "sitting" meditation as the single practice for entering the Way. Shakyamuni attains Enlightenment while sitting!

Shakyamuni was sitting when he attained Enlightenment, but what was he actually doing? He was looking at the morning star, Venus, in the Western sky. So starry sky gazing may well be the superior method of making the Way an intimate part of your life! It just depends.

Does it depend on what you think? Not at all. It depends on getting rid of thinking, all at once, in startling awareness. That's why a single note of the bamboo flute can enlighten people, leading them to experience the intimacy of the Way.

Zen students should not be captivated by trivialities. Sitting or not sitting, star-gazing or not star-gazing, playing the bamboo flute or not playing the bamboo flute -- the aim of all Zen techniques, methods, & practices is always one & the same: To do away with [limited, ignorant] mental deliberation and cognition!

Hear it! Attain it now, in this life!

A Solitary Sword Against a Cold Sky

Q: Roshi, is "pure consciousness" the true & objective reality that supposedly exists somewhere beyond time and space?

A: No! If you go into deep samadhi, you can enter into pure consciousness, which has the character of wondrous stillness & all-engulfing light & boundless space. However, on emerging from your samadhi, you realize there was (and is) no difference at all in it between "that" and "this" (or, to use philosophy language, noumenal and phenomenal). This is that, that is this. So it's just that in one case you were shutting out the stream of information coming in from the senses, & in the other you're letting it surge in. But the stream of information coming in from the senses is neither objective nor subjective. Nor is it any different in a substantial way from what is realized in deep samadhi. It's all the same space, the same light, the same wondrous stillness even in furious movement. The ancient Zen term for this realization is "Fighting alone in the midst of the fray, not a hair out of place." Also, "A solitary sword against a cold sky."

The Gate Is Open

Foyan Quingyuan came from the city of Linquiong. At age 14 he accepted the Buddhist precepts. He then proceeded to study the Buddhist scriptures and practice the Vinaya. In the Lotus Sutra, he read a passage that said, "It is the Dharma that cannot be discerned by thinking that can be attained."

He asked his Vinaya teacher for an explanation of the passage, but received no answer. Foyan sighed and said, "Doctrinal study can't resolve the great matter of life and death."

He traveled south and began study with Taiping Yan of Shuzhou. One day, begging in a rainstorm, he slipped and fell into the mud. He heard two men arguing nearby, and one cried out, "You are still defiling yourself!" At these words, he had an insight.

He returned to the temple and questioned Master Yan about it. But Yan only said, "I'm not you. You can do it yourself."

Foyan went to the head monk to pose his question. The head monk just grabbed his ear and pulled him in a circle around the stove, shouting, "You already understand!"

Foyan said, "I want you to help me. Why are you playing games?"

The head monk said, "One day you'll be enlightened, and you'll know why today's song bends your ears."

Much later, on a cold night as he sat up alone, Foyan poked deep into the ashes of a dwindled fire and saw the embers flare up. He cried, "Poke deeply and you'll find it. Life is like this!"

He then picked up a collection of lamp records and started to read.Suddenly he "penetrated the bottom of the stove."

He then composed this verse:

In the forest of knives a bird sings out.
Wrapped in a cloak and sitting up late,
Poking the fire and awakening to ordinary life,
The great gods are overturned and smashed.
In the glistening world are the self-deluded.
Who will sing a colorless song?
Realized once, it is not forgotten.
The gate is open, but few pass through it!

The Royal Road of Zen

Q: Roshi, you've spoken of the "royal road" to sudden awakening in Zen. You've also said it's the most ancient & at the same time the simplest & most direct Buddhist meditation (Sanskrit: dhyana). Could you sum it up in a few words?

A: Sure! Here it is. Contrary to what is often taught:

You don't observe your body's breathing. Instead, you observe with keen attention the space that opens between one breath & another. This is the actual ancient Buddhist method of attaining quick & decisive enlightenment.

As the breath relaxes, it grows finer & longer, & the space between breaths stretches out. Attention sinks into that space & knows itself suddenly as pure [naked vivid & vibrant awareness]. The mind then wakes up to its own essence, which is nothing other than this [unbounded] space now experienced as purely pervading every single thought & sensation.

Such is the original Buddhist meditation way of entering the Womb of the Tathagata & experiencing one's primordial wisdom here-now.

Having done this, the wild wind & the pelting cold rain, the blazing white clouds, the sun, the moon, movements of one's own hands & feet, everything is revealed as the spontaneous [vibrant & cheerful] activity of Buddha.

Munen, Part One

Hui-Neng busy cutting bamboo. By Liang-K'ai.
I would like to speak to you today about intensive Munen practice. Walking, standing, sitting, lying down, you shatter the chain of thinking, you escape the iron fetters of samsara, you sport in the clouds like a mythological golden-haired lion.

When there is water, you drink water. When there is nothing but sky, you see mountains in all directions. What's the problem?

Munen is the Japanese for the Chinese word "wu-nien." It means "No-Thoughts."

"Wu-nien" came fully into Zen with Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng and with the Oxhead School of Chan. Once upon a time in ancient China.

I shall now digress, to tell you the story of the Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng.

When Hui-Neng was a little boy his father died. He took over his father's job, which was to gather firewood in the forest and hump it down to the city and stand over it on a streetcorner shouting, "Firewood for sale right here! Get your firewood! Highest quality, lowest prices!"

At the end of the day he'd take his meager earnings back to his mother and they'd have a little bowl of rice to celebrate one more day of having some food in their wasted bellies.

Hui-Neng the boy was basically all ribs, arms, and eyes. You've seen them on TV I'm sure.

Anyhow one day this enterprising little boy was standing over his pathetic little bundle of for-sale firewood doing his thing when he saw a bald Zen monk with glaring eyes striding along like he owned the place. The monk was in old messed up robes and was chanting in his big ox voice the "Lightning-like [Vajra] Perfection of Wisdom Sutra." It's a sutra that's actually short enough to memorize [in Chinese] if you're smart.

Hui-Neng wasn't so smart but he happened to hear this one amazing verse, "Give rise to a mind that doesn't stay fixed anyplace at all" and he had a strange sudden understanding. It was like someone took his body and moved it five feet to one side. Wow!

He asked the monk where he, the monk, was from and the monk told him the name of a Chan (Meditation) monastery in the north run by a certain old fool named Master Hongren.

Hui-Neng said, "Meditation? All right. I want some of that. If one just verse of that crazy Chan sutra can transport me five feet to the side, maybe this old bald fool Hongren can really sock it to me. I'd like to know what he knows. My crippled mother will just have to fend for herself."

To be continued . . . 

Three Satoris from Master Shitou



The monk Changzi Kuang once returned from a pilgrimage to continue his study with Master Shitou. The master asked him, “Where have you been?”

Kuang said, “To Master Huineng's memorial shrine at Caoxi.”

The master asked, “Did visiting there bring you any merit?”

Kuang said, “I've had some insight, but I haven't been able to 'open the eyes' of the awakened one.”

The master said, “Do you want to 'open the eyes'?”

Kuang said, “Please, master, help me do so.”

The master suddenly kicked out his leg right at the monk. Kuang had a deep realization, and made a prostration.

The master asked, “Why do you bow?”

Kuang said, “It's like a flake of snow landing on a red-hot furnace.”

*

The monk Lingmo once came to study with Master Shitou and said, “If you can give me one phrase of awakening I will stay; if not, I will leave.”

The master ignored him.

Lingmo shook out the sleeves of his robe, and walked away. When he got to the temple gate, the master called out, “Venerable!”

Lingmo turned his head.

The master said, “From birth till death, just this! Why are you still searching?”

Lingmo had a deep awakening.

*

A monk named Huilang once asked Master Shitou, “What is the awakened one?”

The master said, “You don't have awakened mind.”

Huilang, dejected, said, “I'm just human. I know I run around and have all kinds of ideas.”

The master said, “Active people with ideas can still have awakened mind.”

Huilang asked, “Then why don't I ?”

The master said, “Because you're not satisfied to be just human.”

Huilang had a deep realization.

One Day At Dawn

Master Mumon went to a Ch'an temple and worked on Joshu's "Mu" day and night for six years under the direction of his Master.

What does this mean? It means that he worked every day with the other monks to grow food yet also spent 6-8 hours out of every 24 doing intensive lotus-posture sitting meditation in the Buddha Hall.

During his sitting meditation he "held" "Mu" in his mind, nothing else. If anything distracted him from "Mu" he summoned up all his energy to renew his concentration on it without falling into any thinking "about" it or any ideas or interpretations (such as, "Joshu must have really meant . . . " ). He turned "Mu" into an iron wall and gazed at it until his thinking-spirit was totally strained and nearly exhausted.

Then one day at dawn after sitting up all night in the Buddha Hall he heard the temple bell, or the temple bell heard Mumon, and inside and outside spontaneously unified into a single no-thing; everything in the world became as clear as a sheet of ice. His thinking had vanished. There wasn't a single idea in his head. His head wasn't even in his head. There was no more sense of a "he" to be in his head or out of it.

But even this wasn't the end. The sheet of ice, thick as a glacier, now shattered into a billion fragments. In a flash, beyond any words or ideas, he realized the infinite extent and depths of the "true Self-nature." He jumped up and began laughing and dancing wildly, and now he composed his famous enlightenment poem.

Reiho

Q.: Roshi, what is the meaning of this Japanese word you sometimes use to describe the natural way of Zen, Reiho? Also, I feel so unenlightened, so deeply afflicted and confused! Tell me: how can I remain in the sublime states I sometimes reach through doing Zen, and stop being so lazy in my everyday life? How can I breakthrough my tiresome normal everyday habits and patterns?

A.: The deep meaning of Reiho is that it is the correct and universal way of doing things. It is a matter of showing respect and treating every event as a teacher of your self. That is, of your heart. So everything in life is an occasion for practicing Reiho. It is also a term used for the Buddhist Law in the profoundest sense, that is for what Shakyamuni realized when he saw the morning star.

It is true that all beings are enlightened, and it is also true that all beings are afflicted and confused. This is your wonderful freedom. When you look straight at a star, it can seem to disappear, and when you glance away it magically appears again. The same is true of the sublime states. As soon as you look at them, they seem to vanish. But in reality a sublime state is just the expression of the thought-less state of your heart when you are absorbed in oneness and in one activity.

When Bodhidharma taught Hui K'o he simply said "No! No!" every time Hui K'o came up with some explanation for it.

Everybody is lazy compared to the ideal of somebody who is never lazy, but breaking through normal patterns is not what's needed. So what's needed? Just loving attention to Reiho.

One goes through the forms without any special insistence and acts in a minimal and correct way. It's a lifelong effort to master this, but it must also always be a joy and satisfaction right now or it's not Reiho -- which is a kind of Shibumi, or unforced elegance.

Sitting, standing, bowing, lying down -- just make each action complete in itself and do everything in a relaxed and heartfelt state of mind without giving rise to distracting thoughts. Affliction comes from trying to get ahead of or beyond yourself or look at yourself from outside with a judging attitude. When you're in doubt or in trouble learn how to put energy into your gaze and change your sadness into delight by letting it settle in the blazing clear space right in front of your eyes.

The Lion's Roar of Distant Thunder, Iron Flute 44. Nan-ch‘üan Rejects Both Monk and Layman

A monk came to Nan-ch‘üan, stood in front of him, and put both hands to his breast. Nan-ch‘üan said, "You are too much of a layman." The monk then placed his hands palm to palm. “You are too much of a monk,” said Nan-ch‘üan. The monk could not say word. When another teacher heard of this, he said to his monks, "If I were the monk, I would free my hands and walk away backward."

MASTER GENRO'S COMMENT: If I were Nan-ch‘üan, I would say to the monk, "You are too much of a dumb-bell," and to the master, who said he should free his hands and walk backward, “You are too much of a crazy man.” True emancipation has nothing to hold to, no color to be seen, no sounds to be heard. A free man has nothing in his hands. He never plans anything, but reacts according to others’ actions. Nan-ch‘üan was a skillful teacher. He loosed the noose of the monk’s own rope.

MY VERSE: Hear! Hear! The lion's roar of distant thunder!
When the thunder sounds, 
it's time to dash indoors or risk getting bone-wet.

Iron Flute 49. Hsüan-sha’s Blank Paper


Hsüan-sha sent a monk to his old teacher, Hsüeh-fêng, with a letter of greeting. Hsüeh-fêng gathered his monks and opened the letter in their presence. The envelope contained nothing but three sheets of blank paper. Hsüeh-fêng showed the paper to the monks, saying, “Do you understand?” There was no answer, and Hsüeh-fêng coninued, “My prodigal son writes just what I think.” When the messenger monk returned to Hsüan-sha, he told him what had happened at Hsüeh-fêng’s monastery. “My old teacher is losing his wits,” said Hsüan-sha.

Hsüan-sha's test of Hsüeh-fêng went drastically awry. Three sheets of paper are as good as three pounds of hemp. The road goes up twisting around the mountain, and dust blows in your eyes so you mistake a mule for a horse and the man riding it for Kwan Yin. When you get to Zhenzhou, remember to to try the big red turnips.

Intoxicated by Moonlight

seeing the full moon reflected
in  thousand dewdrops --
a cricket!
One day, while Nan-ch‘üan was living in a little hut in the mountains, a strange monk visited him just as he was preparing to go to his work in the fields. Nan-ch‘üan welcomed him, saying, “Please make yourself at home. Cook anything you like for your lunch, then bring some of the left-over food to me along the road leading nowhere but to my work place.” Nan-ch‘üan worked hard until evening and came home very hungry. The stranger had cooked and enjoyed a good meal by himself, then thrown away all provisions and broken all utensils. Nan-ch‘üan found the monk sleeping peacefully in the empty hut, but when he stretched his own tired body beside the stranger’s, the latter got up and went away. Years later, Nan-ch‘üan told the anecdote to his disciples with the comment, “He was such a good monk, I miss him even now.”

Hungry & tired, Nan-ch‘üan stretches himself out to sleep next to the visiting monk.
The little hut's roof barely keeps out the rain, & its walls let streaks of moonlight in.
Yawning, Nan-ch‘üan feels the pain in his belly & his mouth waters at the thought of rice.
When he laughs at himself, the strange monk wakes up & goes in a hurry.

"I'm Huang Po, bitch!"


Once during the political unrest of the reign of Wutsung, known as a ferocious persecutor of Buddhism, the future Emperor of China, Suan-tsung, hid out in secluded Zen monastery.

Master Huang-Po happened to be visiting the Master Hsien-kuan at this particular monastery. As he did his usual series of prostrations to the statue of Buddha in the Buddha Hall, the future Emperor interrupted him with a stern lecture: “In our pursuit of Tao, we must not be attached to the Buddha, nor to the Dharma, nor to the Sangha. What does Your Reverence seek after in performing these rites?”

Huang-Po replied, “I am attached neither to the Buddha, nor to the Dharma nor to Sangha. I am merely performing the rites as mandated.”

The future Emperor asked, “What is the use of rites?”

Huang-Po gave him a sharp slap.

“Whoa. You are being too rough,” said the future Emperor.

Huang-Po laughed and asked, “What kind of thing do you find here in this place that you should speak of ‘rough’ and ‘refined’?” And he gave him another slap.

The future Emperor probably knew something of the teachings of the Oxhead School, which were also basically Huang-Po's teachings, that Mind itself is Buddha so there is no need to bow to external Buddhas.

However, if you know that your Mind itself is Buddha, why not bow to external Buddhas? It's called performing the rites as mandated.

That's the lesson in nonduality Huang Po gave to the future Emperor of China in two ringing slaps.

The Seattle Manifesto of Mind Only


"People will be thankful if I compress into four theses such an essential and such a new insight. I thereby make it more easily understood; I thereby challenge contradiction." -Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

You can say many things about a world of objects, but what connects the objects, creates space, gives them depth and time, if not Mind?

Mind can’t be reduced to any physical material, as fascinating as modern physics may be; it isn't a machine or a computer either, and you can establish this for yourself with a bit of introspection plus simple reasoning.

You are a four year old child. Then you are a forty year old man. What can possibly connect these two supposedly objective states but for your mind, which tells you intuitively that you are the same person? Your belief in cause and effect is an effect of the only cause there is: Mind.

You are standing at the base of a mountain. You climb the mountain. At the top, you say you have climbed the mountain; then you go back down feeling satisfied. But it's only mind that causes the belief that you are the same person at the bottom as at the top or going back down.

Mind-Only is the realistic theory that there is no way to connect two points in time or space without Mind, and further that Mind itself is the only source of time and space, is time and space.

The innumerable functions of mind arise from the basic nature of mind, which is empty. Xuan, profound dark unfathomable. Mind is this space, Mind is this time -- it is all nothing but Mind, because Mind is all there is.

Mind-Only, Citta-Matra, is the "hard" version of both Buddhism and ancient Vedanta. Earth air rock fire wood water -- all are words for different aspects, functions, appearances of Mind, and the same is true of the Periodic Table, though the Periodic Table (and mathematics in general) is Mind as conceptual display, which is different than Mind as mood, feeling, sensation, energy, matter, transformation.

You can see Mind at work thrillingly, coming at you from the "objective" realm so called, in the Double Slit Experiment (especially the Delayed Choice version), which shatters the idea that there are any objectively localizable or determinable "elements" of something called "matter."

This does not mean that you do not acknowledge physical material, different states of "matter" in ordinary life such as when you are tinkering with a car engine or building an airplane or designing a Japanese garden.

But the inconceivable mysteriousness of our lives in this Mind-created universe cannot be overlooked without serious distortion of reality.

This inconceivable Mind-realm is animated by Qi, an idea taken over and widened somewhat by the Japanese, just as the Japanese took over and deepened and widened Zen.

In lucid dreams you should learn how to fly through the clouds, see the earth from above, and even enter celestial realms which are as utterly real and true as this one to converse with beings whose eyes are opened a little more than those of us down here on the superb Mind creation called physical being. Yet even these fantastic realms are, in the last analysis, only Mind exploring its own range of possibilities, which are innumerable and perhaps infinite.

Only one thing is strictly speaking impossible: that any of this should be anything other than Mind, anything but what Mind sets up, orchestrates, energizes, connects, discloses and displays to its Self.

This, then, is the Seattle Manifesto of Mind Only, hereby dedicated to Zen lunatics Bodhidharma and his modern Mind-Dharma heir Jack Kerouac.

-written in a Seattle, WA hotel room over a very bitter & poor cup of green tea brewed in the room's coffee maker in the early morning of June 30, 2014

"Fearless Practice": Seon Master DaeWon's Sudden Enlightenment



Master DaeWon began experiencing spontaneous states of deep samadhi while still a child. Eventually, he became a novice monk, and was thought to be an absent minded idiot by the other monks because he would wander off for days and nights and be found standing alone in a sesame field, or would be given the task of boiling beans for the monastery and would enter deep samadhi and burn up the entire pot of beans.

Eventually, he devoted himself completely to Yongmaeng Jeongjin, "Fearless Practice," eating only one meal a day and sitting up day and night in meditation. Everyone started calling him “the mute” and treated him as if he were someone else. Sitting in silence without food for a whole day would make his lips chap and stick together so that he had to go down to the brook and wash his lips before taking his meals.

He finally experienced great enlightenment upon hearing the sound of wind passing through the pine trees at his hermitage. He then composed this poem:
What is this thing that carries this body?
On the third or fourth year I had contemplated thus,
To the sound of the wind swishing through the pine trees,
The great work was completed all at once.
What is sky and what is earth?
This mind, as it is pure, is boundless, just like this.
Responding, just like this, where there is no inside or outside,
There is originally nothing gained nor lost.
Is there anyone who can believe without a doubt?
All thoughts, knowing and distinguishing,
Over which we spend our day;
This is the mysterious awakening even before the ancient Buddha!
After reciting the Song of Enlightenment, he exclaimed, “You of yesterday is not the I of today but I of today is the you of yesterday.” Then another song sprang from his lips:
Illusion is destroyed by illusion,
being destroyed, there is no destruction!
Three times three reversed is still nine.
Later, while passing the field of Gimje, he composed his second Song of Enlightenment:
The sun in the west and the moon in the east,
lightly hang over the mountains.
And the fields of Gimje are filled with the autumn hue.
Even though the whole universe cannot be,
people come and go on the road with the setting sun.

The Harsh Cry of a Crow



Q: Roshi, I wonder if you could just break down for me in simple terms what it is that you teach as Zen?

A: Of course. Here it is. Your awareness, which includes all of your senses, including your mental sense, is basically pristine, open & boundless as space. All the senses that seem to be separate are one. It is the Buddha. It is nothing more than the endless delight and bliss of sheer being. It is the awe-inspiring depth of mysteriousness itself, yet it is also as simple & clear as the palm of your hand or a wildflower or a patch of green moss or a crooked stalk of bamboo or the harsh cry of crow as evening darkens the sky.

Once you realize this and can live fully in this state, you are said to wondrously enlightened, and you have nothing left to do.

Q: So why do so many people, like me for example, find enlightenment beyond reach?

A: For only one reason: your thinking glues & grimes up the works. How does it happen? I will explain. This constant obsessive thinking you've engaged in since you were a child coarsens your spiritual energy, which then blocks the simple awareness. You feel sick with longing & grief all the time & this drives you to harm others. In turn, you receive harm, which you resent & hate, so you become even sicker with the turning of the years.

At the beginning, it's no more serious than getting a grain of sand in your eye. But rather than wash it out of the eye, you start rubbing frantically, which makes the eye more & more inflamed. Eventually you might even lose your sight entirely.

Q: So you're saying that if I just take some time to let go of all thinking, & become calm & stable, my natural awareness will take care of the rest?

A: That's it exactly. But you have to put some strength into it at the beginning. Once you've developed the habit of thinking, it is difficult to let go of forms, names & labels. As you regain your straightforward spiritual energy (Qi) you may even feel very strange. You may become frightened that you are "losing yourself." You are not. You are realizing the light that has always been there. You are entering the great space of being the way a dragon enters water, or a tiger roams on a mountain.

Q: So -- how must I proceed?

A: Do not conceptualize your awareness as anything whatsoever. Most important of all, do not think of it as "nothingness." If you need a simile, it is like space, but understand that this is just a simile. When you meditate, take care to free yourself from all names & forms, like Houdini throwing off his chains. Gradually, your spiritual energy will clarify by itself.

Q: I'd like to ask you about negative energy, particularly as it relates to interacting with others.

A: If you can interact with others in a natural, direct way, keeping yourself free of negative feelings, that's the best. If you can't, then you should withdraw into solitude until you can.

Q: What about various moral strictures, ethics of behavior, karmic retribution & so forth?

A: The harsh cry of a crow is neither wrong nor right. Some people who have not attained any lucidity, on hearing the crow's harsh cry, will feel a flash of pain & fear. They attribute their own emotions to the crow, & call it selfish or underhanded or brutal. But in doing so, they only tell the sad story of their own lack of awakening.

The Zen I teach is all about the inner state of your awareness, & whether or not you have attained lucidity. There will always be people who will try to challenge you & criticize your behavior on this or that point. Pay them no mind at all, so long as you are letting your light clarify. "Do no evil, do only good. Purify your own mind. That is the whole teaching of the Buddhas."

Some people may tell you for this or that reason that you are doing evil, not good. But evil is accompanied by negative feelings & getting enmeshed in social conflicts. Keep to the straight, pure body of reality, which is just your innate awareness. Nobody else can do it for you, though there will always be plenty of people to tell you that you are doing it all wrong!