Puhua, Cloud Thief

Q: Hey, "Roshi." I see that you've got a Little Manual of Shibumi Ki Do. Can you explain what reading the book might do for me?

A: Nothing at all, unless you also do some of the practical exercises. But having said that, it's not hard to do them -- it's nothing compared to, for example, learning all the moves of Shaman Tiger Qi Gong.

Q: Why shouldn't I just go to a Zen temple & do Zen meditation with a certified Zen authority? What do you possibly have to offer over that?

A: Shibumi Ki Do is the ancient way of Zen poured into the here and now. It's not about playing feudal dress up. My transmission is as direct & simple as the taste of cold water, or the sound of wind moaning in the pines. If going to a Zen temple helps you to wake up, I say go & do it! My Little Manual has in fact been praised by some experienced Zen meditating types, as well as the by usual riff-raff associated with my writings.

Q: So you say that Shibumi Ki Do is a system for attaining enlightenment?

A: It's more a rough ad hoc collection of methods all aimed at breaking through your conceptual & emotional barriers to the Mysterious Realization. Zen has never been systematic. One tries this, one tries that. When I play my flute I just try out various sounds until I find the one that transports me to ancient China, where I laugh & weave straw sandals with the likes of Puhua. Of course ancient China is always just here and now, & where is Puhua's laughter but in the sudden clattering of winter rains on the moss speckled roof?

Spontaneity Became a Way of Life

It is not necessary to even read the text quoted below.
Just put this photo on your altar & look at it from time to time.
I do not negate the world. I see it as appearing in consciousness, which is the totality of the known in the immensity of the unknown. What begins and ends is mere appearance. The world can be said to appear, but not to be. The appearance may last very long on some scale of time, and be very short on another, but ultimately it comes to the same. Whatever is time bound is momentary and has no reality. 
Consciousness and the world appear and disappear together, hence they are two aspects of the same state. 
Awareness is primordial; it is the original state, beginningless, endless, uncaused, unsupported, without parts, without change. Consciousness is on contact, a reflection against a surface, a state of duality. There can be no consciousness without awareness, but there can be awareness without consciousness, as in deep sleep. Awareness is absolute, consciousness is relative to its content; consciousness is always of something.
Consciousness is partial and changeful, awareness is total, changeless, calm and silent. And it is the common matrix of every experience. 
As I told you already, my Guru showed me my true nature -- and the true nature of the world. Having realized that I am one with, and yet beyond the world, I became free from all desire and fear. I did not reason out that I should be free -- I found myself free -- unexpectedly, without the least effort. This freedom from desire and fear remained with me since then. 
The main change was in the mind; it became motionless and silent, responding quickly, but not perpetuating the response. Spontaneity became a way of life, the real became natural and the natural became real. 
-Nisargadatta, I AM THAT

The Jewel That Reflects All Colors

Real Zennists set a single eye on the state before the embryo is formed, before any signs become distinct. This opens up and clears the mind, so that it penetrates the whole universe. Then they are no different from the Buddha and the founder of Zen. 
This is called the crowning meditation, the jewel that reflects all colors, the inexhaustible treasury, the gateway to spiritual powers, the diamond sword, the crouching lion, the blaze -- there are various names for it. 
Now there is nothing in the universe, nothing mundane or transmundane, to be an object, an opposite, a barrier, or a hindrance to you. 

Yunmen Said

Hola, crow.

Yunmen said: "Take the whole universe all at once and put it on your eyelashes." [Good advice. Step back!]

Luo-p’u said, "As soon as a single atom comes into existence, the whole earth is contained within it. There’s a lion in every hair, and this is true of the whole body."
It didn't come from nothingness,
It won't return to nothingness.
And that is why the universe so-called
is entirely fresh, immediate & pure.

It Can Always Hurt

The Circus is gone with the dust & the wind. It was never that much fun anyway. 
Hitch up your trousers & move on. 

Q: Roshi, what are your views on Mindfulness?

A: Mindfulness teachers & coaches are, without exception, unscrupulous assholes. Smiling foxes, I call them. Look for a Mindlessness teacher instead, & get a taste of real Zen -- if you can find one!

Q: Where does this leave me in my search for inner peace to balance my busy corporate life?

A: High & dry, I'm afraid. Like the hanged. Do you know the Villon poem about crows eating the eyes out of the sockets of hanged men? That ballad has the taste of real Zen.

Q: What will I do to stop feeling so wrought up & anxious & unhappy all the time?

A: You've got to take control of your destiny, like a true mensch. Grab hold of the tiller, because if you don't you'll hit the shoals & break into fine foaming debris.

Q: How do I do that?

A: Try just for a few moments a day to relax your breathing. Let it deepen. Let it become quiet & profound. Let your nostrils stir a little, like a horse in springtime. Feel the cool breeze on your face. Listen to the laughter of little children raising clouds of dust as they run around in the square. Whatever.

But don't think you're special. Don't think "I'm being mindful!" Don't think anything at all. Let the willows be softly green.

The moon waxes & wanes without the help of anybody's self-involved thinking process. A lotus does not decide to rise above the mud & burst into spectacular white blossom. It just does it.

Anything but this constant feverish internal monologue, this painful gap opening always between present desire & future satisfaction, this showering of your own head with hot coals of remorse for the vanished past.

Anything? Or nothing? Grasping the world in thoughts is so boring.

This world is like a dream or an echo. It's like the circus that rolls into town, makes a lot of noise, & then one morning is completely gone. It has no real substance. You can't grasp it, can you? But it can always hurt. And it can also -- sometimes -- transport you into empty bliss.

As our master Joshu once said when asked to describe his enlightenment, "Suddenly I was ruined & homeless."

In the Chuang-Tzu, we read these immortal lines: "Comb Your Hair in Wind, Wash Your Face in Rain."

Never Look Down

It's either the Rainbow Body, or somebody overdid it on the mushrooms.
As I shut down or minimize my social media accounts (principally Twitter) & withdraw into a more & more splendid obscurity under the starry sky Abyss of the great Pacific Northwest, I have a few notes I'd like to share with you on my experiences & my teaching methods.

Following tradition, I will start out with a raw Q & A. These are all true questions that various provocative individuals have asked me at one time or another, by the way. [Most recently they were angrily demanded of me on Twitter by the abbot of a Rinzai temple with active sites in Kyoto & California. It was  downright eerie to learn that this ignorant, pugilistic, shaven-headed rice-bag, supposedly a repository of the majestic Zen tradition, denies the possibility of Kensho. But what does our Old Rinzai Master Hakuin say about it? Let's see: "You must bring an end to all your thought-attachments by breaking through into kensho. Unless you have kensho, you can never expect to achieve a state of non-doing."!]

My answers are also the same rote, rather boring answers I always give out to these insanely stupid questions:

Q: Why do you call yourself a "Roshi"? Who authorized you to teach?

A: I don't call myself anything at all [except sometimes "A Beggar with a Bamboo Flute"], least of all a "Roshi." Don't be misled by the title of this blog. The "Roshi" is your own originally enlightened Mind, & nothing & nobody else.

Nobody authorized me to teach. Nobody authorized Shakyamuni to teach, either! Face the bitter truth. We're all alone in life & doing the best we can.

But if I can spread around a few techniques that help people in life or death situations (the only type of situations that actually exist, please wake up to the truth of it now!), I am content to be called anything you like.

Q: How do I know you're really Enlightened?

A: Fuck off. Next question.

Q: Does a real Zen Roshi use pungent language like "fuck off"?

A: Ask that stupid question of Yunmen or Joshu or Lin-Chi. And fuck off royally once again. And fuck your mother & your sister & your first cousin & her little white dog too while you're at it.


OK, that didn't go so well. But what do you expect in this screwed up world? Laugh a little. As Charlie Chaplin once sang,

Swing, little girl, swing high to the sky,
And don’t ever look at the ground.

If you’re searching for rainbows
Look up to the sky—
You’ll never find rainbows
If you’re looking down.

Life may be dreary,
But never the same,
Some day it’s sun-shine—
Some day it’s rain.

So swing little girl
Swing high to the sky
And don’t ever look at the ground.
If you’re searching for rainbows
Look up to the sky,
But never—no never look down.

What Is the State of Your Being Right Now?

Musashi's horse. Uncannily alert, & 
seemingly ready to jump off the scroll.

What is the state of your being right now?

Are you torn by thoughts, full of regrets & anguish about the past, uncomfortable with the here & now, jumpy, sad, & anxious about the future?

Or are you subtle, at ease, joyous, relaxed, full of present awareness, like a wineskin full of wine? [Though maybe smelling of pitch. One always has one's reasons.]

This simple diagnosis that you can do on yourself will tell you all that you need to know about your next step. Will it not?

[Step off the hundred foot pole, fall like snow through ten thousand miles of dark & empty space, & behold the horse's quivering nostrils.]

Manjusri Riding a Blue Lion on Mt. Wutai

One day Manjushri stood outside the gate when Buddha called to him. “Manjushri, Manjushri, why do you not enter?”

"You'd better come on in my kitchen, 'cause it's goin' to be raining outdoors." -Robert Johnson

"I do not see a thing outside the gate. Why should I enter?" Manjushri replied.

Autumn withered the grass, and the rain fell, but Mt. Wutai still glowed red at sunset.


Lord Min-wang built a monastery for Lo-shan and asked him to make the first speech in the lecture hall.

Buddhas of moth-eaten wood. Put them in the fire!

As master of the institution, Lo-shan sat on a chair, but spoke no word except, "Farewell," before returning to his own room.

The last fly leaves the compost pile. Is it autumn? I felt a distinct chill, but I haven't seen a yellow leaf yet.

Lord Min-wang approached him saying, "Even Buddha’s teaching at Gradharkuta Mountain must have been the same as yours of today."

Money talks, bullshit walks.

Lo-shan answered, "I thought you were a stranger to the teaching, but now I discover you know something of Zen."

Outrageous flattery! Lo-shan should have picked up his walking stick and gone straight to the mountains.


Upasaka Liu-kêng said to Nan-ch‘üan, "In my house there is a stone which sits up or lies down. I intend to carve it as a Buddha. Can I do it?"

Why ask permission? Go on and do what you like.

Nan-ch‘üan answered, "Yes, you can."

Rain all night, it keeps waking you up but then it also puts you to sleep.

Upasaka Liu-kêng asked again, "Can I not do it?"

Twisting the knife.

Nan-ch‘üan answered, "No, you cannot do it."

A stone lizard with a blue tongue enjoys the magnificent desert sunrise.

GENRO: I see one stone which the layman carried to the monastery. I also see another stone which Nan-ch‘üan kept in his meditation hall. All the hammers in China cannot crush these two stones.

Use chopsticks!


Pai-ling and Upasaka P‘ang-yün were studying under Ma-tsu, the successor of Nan-yüeh.

I've seen better exposition on TV news. Let's pick up the pace!

One day as they met on the road,

Two traveling clowns from a bankrupt circus!

Pai-ling remarked, "Our grandfather of Zen said, ‘If one asserts that it is something, one misses it altogether.’ I wonder if he ever showed it to anyone."

Watch out, Upasaka P‘ang-yün! They say a rattler won't strike you, as long as you stay motionless.

Upasaka P‘ang-yün answered, "Yes, he did."

Round one: an official draw.

"To whom?" asked the monk.

This monk isn't satisfied with a straight answer.

The layman then pointed his finger to himself and said, "To this fellow."

Gods laugh, mortals weep.

"Your attainment," said Pai-ling, "is so beautiful and so profound even Manjushri and Subhuti cannot praise you adequately."

The killing kung-fu blow. Yet the opponent still stands.

[Not speaking of attainment,
nor of non-attainment.
The lovely shape of the mouth of this tea bowl.]

Then the layman said to the monk, "I wonder if there is anyone who knows what our grandfather in Zen meant."

Scissors used as a knife.

The monk did not reply, but put on his straw hat and walked away.

It's what he does best.

"Watch your step," Upasaka P‘ang-yün called to him, but Pai-ling walked on without turning his head.

Don't be shocked if a beautiful girl ignores you when you call out to her on the street.

A cloud rests at the mouth of the cave
Doing nothing all day.
The moonlight penetrates the waves throughout the night,
But leaves no trace in the water.

A whole family planting rice.
Sweating all day.
The white clouds, motionless.
A muddy ox chews grass on the bank.


A monk once asked Shao-shan, "Is there any phrase which is neither right nor wrong?"

Go wash your elephant in the river.

Shao-shan answered, "A piece of white cloud does not show any ugliness."

Not right, not wrong.
I gave you a phrase;
Keep it for thirty years,
But show it to no one.

Right, then wrong, then right again.
I'll just keep my mouth shut.
Sit facing a wall for thirty seconds at least
before saying a word of Zen to anybody.


A certain Buddhist family in the capital invited T‘ou-tzu to dinner. The head of the family set a tray full of grass in front of the monk.

Grass-fed priest! The witty head of the family was drunk that night. Everybody else got served succulent meat dumplings.

T‘ou-tzu put his fists on his forehead and raised his thumbs like horns.

Two-thumbed Zen! [A half-filled book of S&H Green Stamps at the bottom of an old box in the attic.] On a windy mountaintop, sweating drops of ice. [At a highway rest stop diner, eating the blue plate special washed down with a "bottomless cup" of excellent house coffee kindly included in the price of the meal.] Thunder without lightning or rain. [Hitch-hiking dead sober to Reno, no shower in three days.]

He was then brought the regular dinner.

Abashed, the servants kept their faces turned away. That night, the head of the family cut open his own belly. T'ou-tzu wore his best robes to the memorial service and chanted the sutra in a dignified voice.

Later a monk asked T‘ou-tzu to explain the reason of his strange action.

My oh my, how quickly news of a scandal gets around!

"Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva," answered T‘ou-tzu.

Maybe! A beautiful thought anyway. Yet old T'ou-tzu liked to cheat by always answering every question with those same words.


One day as Yün-mên gave a lecture to his monks, he asked them, "Do you want to be acquainted with the old patriarchs?"

A shabby old man tempts the street urchins with a handful of candy. Don't fall for it!

Before anyone could answer, he pointed his cane above the monks, saying, "The old patriarchs are jumping on your heads."

All the monks glance up at once. Disappointment.

Then he asked, "Do you wish to see the eyes of the old patriarchs?"

Do they blaze like yours?

He pointed to the ground beneath the monks’ feet and answered himself, "They are all under your feet."

None of the monks looked down, but one smiled.

After a moment’s pause he spoke as though to himself, "I made a feast in the joss house, but the hungry gods are never satisfied."

The hungry gods will eat all the joss you can spare, and still crave more!

GENRO: We have only the blue sky above our heads. Where are the old patriarchs? We have only the good earth beneath our feet. Where are the eyes of the old patriarchs? Yün-mên’s feast was a mere shadow, no wonder the gods could not appease their hunger. Do you want to know how I make a feast in the joss house? I shut the door and lie down on the floor, stretch my arms and legs and take a nap. Why? Because there is a saying, “A cup brim-full cannot hold any more tea. The good earth never produced a hungry man.”

Do you want to know how I make a feast in the joss house? I sit up all night chanting Namo Amitabha! Because there is a saying, "Even if one runs out of tea leaves, one can still find nettles or pine needles to put in the hot water."

The blue sky above my head.
The hard earth beneath my feet.
The buzzing of a fly,
the croaking of a tree frog,
the soft conversation of ravens in the dusk.
The cold rain clattering on pines at dawn.
the rose-tinted clouds at twilight.


Goso said to his monks, "Seijõ's soul separated from her being. Which was the real Seijõ?"

As you read this, your mind separated into the one thinking about Seijo and the one watching you think about Seijo. Which one is the real you? [Seijo was a woman who, while sick in bed, traveled in spirit to the capital city, where she got married and had children. This sort of thing happens all the time. It's happening to you right now.]

When you realize what the real is, you will see that we pass from one husk to another like travelers stopping for a night's lodging.

Like cicadas leaving the husk behind to scream in the treetops.

But if you do not realize it yet, I earnestly advise you not to rush about wildly.

What is it right now before any thinking?

When earth, water, fire, and air suddenly separate, you will be like a crab struggling in boiling water with its seven or eight arms and legs.

Or a screaming Maori warrior doll swiping a knife under a door! Lock it in a suitcase and throw it out!

When that happens, don't say I didn't warn you!

Mumon says, "I never say 'I told you so' and I don't like people who do. (Pause.) I told you so." Witty! He could also make rain fall by praying for it.

The moon above the clouds is ever the same;
Valleys and mountains are separate from each other.
All are blessed, all are blessed;
Are they one or are they two?

One moon shining in a puddle makes two.
The two moons shining in your eyes make four.
Two mountains make one valley, one valley two mountains.
If it's not a blessing, it's a real curse. Which do you choose?


Yün-chü, a Soto master of Chinese Zen, had many disciples. One monk, who came from Korea, said to him, "I have realized something within me which I cannot describe at all."

Why is it that when people get satori, the first thing they want to do is talk? Keep your damned mouth shut, until you can stand on your head & see the North Star!

"Why is that so?" asked Yün-chü, "it cannot be difficult."

 Nothing could possibly be easier than being a white cloud adrift in space.

"Then you must do it for me," the monk replied.

Carry your own kit. Don't ask me to shoulder it for you. There's a pure stream higher up. Can't you already hear the trickling water?

Yün-chü said, "Korea! Korea!" and closed the dialogue.

The Yalu river is brown down below, yet from a jet it looks blue.

Later a teacher of the Oryu school of Zen criticized the incident by saing: "Yün-chü could not understand the monk at all. There was a great sea between them, even though they lived in the same monastery."

Hit the gong and a Yellow Dragon spits fire.

GENRO: The Oryu monk could not understand Yün-chü. There was a great mountain between them even though they were contemporaries.
It is not difficult to open the mouth;
It is not difficult to describe the thing.
The monk from Korea was a wandering mendicant,
Who had not returned home as yet.

Ten years later, this same dispirited Korean monk 
built a small thatch-roof hut on the mountainside.
By day he watched the long grasses ripple in gusts of wind,
And on moonless nights he played his bamboo flute for the grazing deer.

The Dharma Seal

Q: Roshi, you sometimes quote Zen teachers like Huang-Po. Doesn't he just say what everybody knows, & what we've all heard a million times already?

A: Let's consider that. Here's a quote from Huang-Po I just happened upon yesterday:
Phenomena are the Seal of Mind, just as Mind is the Seal of Phenomena. Whatever Mind is, so also are phenomena -- both are equally real and partake equally of the Dharma-Nature, which hangs in the void. He who receives an intuition of this truth has become a Buddha and attained to the Dharma.
This is not something everybody knows, but a hair-raising statement that overthrows most ideas about what Mind is or isn't and what phenomena are or aren't, and also what Dharmata is or isn't and what the "void" is or isn't and what a Buddha is or isn't.

There is no suggestion here of evading or condemning or putting an end to phenomena in order to dwell in pure Mind. Interesting, right? Nor is there talk of getting rid of the intangible "Mind" in order to just drift along with phenomenal changes, eating your rice like a simpleton. The two extremes characterizing most modern Zen are here-in entirely dismissed & refuted.

Also, Huang-Po's use of the analogy of a "seal" is quite interesting, is it not? Phenomena "seal" Mind. Mind also "seals" phenomena! The stamp of the utter authenticity that is your preconceptual being on all of your experiences, like a box and a lid that fits it exactly.

For some, maybe just reading this passage will cause a certain intuitive attuning to the Mind Dharma, and if you pursue this intuitive scent by going on to read, for example, Saraha's songs of awakening you might find yourself in some unexpected territory, suddenly immersed in and completely drenched by sahaja.

But I'd say that everybody who reads Huang-Po's statement here will remember, whenever tempted by some extremist view of "getting rid of phenomena" or "getting rid of Mind," that neither one is the answer. Materialist empiricism is not the answer, and spiritual transcendentalism is not the answer.

No. Instead, they'll remember that Huang-Po said you must intuitively experience an awakening in which you realize the Innate, the fundamental nature that has no second, and from then on actually experience every vibration, color, shape, form, sound and sensation as its spontaneous radiance!

Can you put your attention in the space in front of you right now, firmly and quietly, without any thinking or any attempt to construct or to attain or to realize anything specific at all? Do you know that if you can develop this ability and maintain this kind of bare and relaxed attention in any circumstance of life you one day will experience a sudden profound awakening to the Mind Dharma?

Contemplating Bankei's "Unborn"

Take in at a single glance the unborn writing of Bankei Yotaku.

Q: Roshi, I was reading some of Bankei's talks about the Unborn yesterday & all of the sudden it was as if a breeze from the river had cooled the sweat on my forehead. I laughed. I felt I understood. Yet this morning I find myself just as muddled & confused about what "the Unborn" might be as ever. Can you help me understand what's going on here?

A: When one contemplates "the Unborn" as Bankei evokes it, just as in doing hua t'ou practice according to the instructions of a Master like Ta Hui, there is sometimes a feeling of everything dropping away, along with a surge of intense energy and even a hair-raising "silent mysterious understanding" that almost coheres. Although this is not yet kensho [chien hsing, or clear cognizance of the self-nature, free of all concepts & mental formations], it is still interesting and may be important to your awakening.

From now on, I suggest that you continue to contemplate Bankei's statements without trying to come to any intellectual conclusion about them. It may help to try to arouse your body's energy (Ki) before you read Bankei and, when you contemplate his statements about the Unborn, focus this energy or "heat" of all your eighty four thousand hair-follicles and pores and joints in a single minded way on the "Unborn" nature of mind as he evokes it in his little talks.

Eventually, Bankei's "Unborn" will become a mad obsession that terrifies you, just like a red hot iron ball that you can neither swallow nor spit out. If you hold it like this day and night without falling into ideas about "is" or "is not" and also without coming to an idea of "emptiness" or "not-self," one day your experience of "inside" and "outside" will spontaneously unify. At that point you will be like a dumb man trying to recount an amazing dream.

If you continue your silent contemplation with unwavering resolve, there will occur a dire explosion that annihilates all your previous false ideas in a single instant. It will be as if you had seized the legendary Green Dragon sword of the great Chinese general; if you meet the Buddha, you kill the Buddha. If you meet the Zen Patriarchs and Masters, you kill them, too. If you meet Bankei, Bankei will also be cut. And you live out the rest of your life in a mysterious and playful samadhi.

Doesn't this sound awesome? Wouldn't you like to experience this?

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 got 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. [There is no "you" except for the mirror-like awareness, which has no biography & doesn't experience any problems or get torn between desire & satisfaction.]

This 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 such a state. Let it go! Your various human problems are projected by the pristine awareness itself. They are the mysteriousness of its profound self-realization. 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.

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! Thou hast great allies.

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. It is alert like a leopard in fog. 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."
[I heard a Fly buzz.]

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 together!”

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 together."

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

Dogen said, "Please do not approve this if it is only some ephemeral peak experience."

Rujing said, "I'm not."

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

Rujing laughed and commented, "Good! The casting off is now cast off!"

An attendant standing nearby said, "This is no small thing, that a foreigner should attain enlightenment."

Rujing said: "Thunder roars! Cymbals clash! The dragon joins the water. The tiger roams alone on its mountain."

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.