The Last Word on Self-Arising Primordial Awareness

Within the essence of ultimate truth, [yang dag don gyi ngo bo la]
there is no buddha or ordinary being. [sangs rgyas dang ni sems can med]
Since awareness cannot be reified, it is empty. [rig pa 'dzin pa med pas stong]
Given that it does not dwell in emptiness, [stong pa nyid la me gnas na]
it abides in its own state of supreme bliss. [rang gi bde chen sa la gnas]
The majestic ruler of all buddhas [sangs rgyas kun gyi rje btsan pa]
is understood to be one's own awareness. [rang gi rig pa shes par bya]
This monarch, naturally manifest awareness, [rang snang rig pa'i rgyal po nyid]
is present in everyone, but no one realizes it. [kun la yod de kun gyis rtog pa med]

Dark Luminosity

Student: Roshi, sometimes when I read your words, I experience something indefinable, an odd state, or even a pervasive yet indescribable taste, something like the experience having a word or a name "on the tip of the tongue," almost fully formed and strangely definite but still not quite yet "there." Maybe this is a word or a name that can't be spoken, and because of that, it has the character of fullness and depth and mysteriousness that actually causes my hair to stand up. That's the odd, complex sensation I get from your words, too, that the words you speak in reference to Zen are just elements of an unspoken word, a nameless name, so dark and deep it can't possibly ever be articulated, yet in no way is it "nothingness" or "non-existence" or even "Emptiness." So when I read your blog I am suddenly thrown into a confusion that is delightful. It isn't enlightenment itself, though it feels fresh and enlightening like dark sky slowly filling up with pellucid light that still remains unseen, but only intuited, or the rarefied sunlight that filters down to the bottom of a fast flowing stream and re-appears, dim but strangely brilliant, on the brown pebbles under the flitting shadows of trout and swimming frogs. It's an experience beyond all ideas and defined concepts or thoughts. Yet it is strangely open, still, numinous, stirring, and clear. Anything and everything can happen in it, yet there it is, unmoved and immovable. I wonder if this is what Shunryu Suzuki meant by "Beginner's Mind." I wonder if it isn't also what Takuan Soho called "the Immovable Mind" of the sages. Or what Seung-Sahn called "Don't Know Mind." Or maybe these more recent Zen ideas are just distant echoes of what the great Zen people of the past like Ma-Tsu and Layman Pang and Huang-Po knew in their everyday lives, once their everyday lives had merged with their deepest meditation.

Roshi: Maybe all this is just an echo of the Dark Luminosity spoken of by the Taoist sages. Special boxes have been designed for experiments in physics, into which light is shone, but although the boxes are filled with blazing light, since there is nothing in the box to reflect or obstruct the light when human beings look into these boxes they see only the deepest and blackest darkness. I know the state you describe very well, and I find it to be one of brimming-up and overflowing delight and elegance, though when I first became aware of it, to be quite honest with you, I was totally terrified. Why not just be open to the Nameless, play in it, relax into it, rest your mind from thinking, do not try to find any spurious answers or still less to turn it into a spiritual technique, but let it constantly refresh and invigorate you from its great dark depths?

Shibumi-Ki-Do Zen

if you are standing
rest your mind
not on the thought
I am standing
but on the standing itself
inconceivable bliss

if you are walking
rest your mind wholly
in the subtle movements
of your field of vision
& the quick changes of pressure
inside your ears
until you wake up with a start
& laughter flows out

if you are thinking too hard
& so can't sleep
deep in the night
count down slowly
from 108
putting all attention & intent
on the numbers singly one by one
& soon all thinking will go
& your breathing will deepen & relax
& you will experience a quiet simplicity
an indescribable elegance

if you are sitting
let your breathing go
& rest your mind entirely
in your whole body
without trying to hold it
in one place or another
& your innate being
will awaken in a throb of clear bliss

if you are practicing
with the sword
rest your mind
exactly as in sitting upright
& your whole body
will fill with springing energy

in breathing yoga
breathe in lightly but deeply
as if to take in the whole universe
& breathe out with quiet force
as if to impress your will on God

or just put your attention in front of you
& simply rest it there
extending inconceivably before your brows
& also on all sides, & up & down, 360 degrees
& you will suddenly taste
the bliss of the ever-rising Innate
a pure display of color, sound & form
untouched by thought

putting oil in your lamp
day & night like this
will make the wick burn bright & pure
your whole universe
revealed as the boundless circle
of inconceivable radiance

The True Meaning of Emptiness

Roshi: All the Buddhas have taught Liberation, attained just by way recognizing and abiding in the natural state.

Student: Liberation from what?

R: From obsessive habitual thinking. There is nothing else that cages up the bird of your spirit.

S: I've heard that all the Buddhas taught "emptiness"!

R: Emptiness is taught to shatter the chain of thinking and dispel all views. This teaching of Emptiness is merely therapeutic. Sunyata is medicine for the poison of words and concepts, names and forms. Voidness isn't a thing. Once you're cured, stop taking the medicine.

S: That's all?

R: That's it! By contemplating the Prajnaparamita teachings you will be delivered suddenly from your ingrained thinking and deranged inherited views, and will thereby attain an "Emptiness" in which there is no trace of the concept "Emptiness." Your mind will just be natural and straightforward as a wheelwright's putting a wheel on a cart, or a potter shaping a bowl. "When mind and body attain spontaneity, the Way is realized." (Huang-Po). This is the true meaning of Emptiness.

The Huang-Po Zen Challenge: Put a Stop to Thinking

Grand Zen Master Huang-Po says you must do just one thing to become Enlightened. Just the one thing. What is it? "Cut off thinking." Also, "Forget all views." "Keep your mind motionless." "Put a complete stop to the arising of conceptual thought." Enter "the Gateway of Stillness Beyond All Activity." He says that if you can succeed in this simple but difficult task, "the Buddha will appear before you." You will experience a "deeply mysterious wordless understanding." You will reach "a state of BEING brilliant as the sun" in which "all forms are Buddha forms, all sounds are Buddha sounds."

Sound good? Are you there yet? Wouldn't you like to be? Or, in the words of Mumon Ekai,"Isn't this a delightful prospect?"

Master Mumon Ekai agreed with Huang-Po: "To attain this subtle realization, you must completely cut off the way of thinking. If you do not, you will become like a ghost clinging to the grasses and weeds." So did Joshu: "When the mind does not arise, everything is flawless." Also Yuanwu: "If your mind exists, you are stuck in the mundane for eternity; if your mind does not exist, you experience wondrous enlightenment instantly." And Bankei:"Because the Buddha Mind is unborn, it has no thoughts at all. Thoughts are the source of delusion. When thoughts are gone, delusion vanishes too."

So why not take the Huang-Po Challenge, to see if you've got the stones to be a Huang-Po style Zennist? Set an alarm to go off in ten minutes, or have a friend time you. Stop all your thinking right now, right this instant, and remain without any thinking whatsoever until the timer buzzes.

If you can't do it, why can't you? And if you won't try, why not?

Huang-Po's discourse remains at the conceptual level until you try it for yourself. "I am already a Buddha" -- maybe you are, but that's still just words, speech, concepts, and thinking.

Isn't it mysterious that if I tell you not to make a fist for the next ten minutes, you can easily do it; yet if I tell you not to think for the next ten minutes, you can't? Isn't "thinking" -- like speaking or writing -- supposed to be a voluntary action, completely under the command of "the Master within"?

I say throw away the dregs of Buji ("do-nothing") Zen and do some authentic ancient Zen training using this simple (but extremely difficult) method prescribed by Great Zen Master Huang-Po! If you put some energy into it and succeed where so many others have flailed and failed, you will be like a dragon entering the water, a tiger on its mountain.

The truth is that if you can put a stop to all conceptual thinking for even ten seconds in full and energetically relaxed awareness, you will attain satori. It is of the utmost importance that you attain satori quickly, while your eyes still see and ears still hear. Do not just parrot the words of the Masters without applying yourself to their meanings.

For to quote the words that Huang-Po spoke outside the experience to which those words applied is as stupid as to toil at the oars when the ship is on sand.

The True Ancient Way of Zen

Q. What is the true ancient way of Zen?

A. Bodhidharma said that it is nothing more than "seeing the self nature," chien hsing (kensho, in Japanese).

Q. That doesn't dispel the mystery for me. What is this self-nature Bodhidharma spoke of, and how do you see it?

A. When you see with your eyes, you are enlightened as to forms. When you see with your Buddha eye, you are enlightened as to the baseless and shining nature of all your experiencing. Many sutras have made statements about what this "baseless and shining nature" is or isn't, and Bodhidharma quoted some of these sutras, which say that it is the original Mind in all sentient beings. Where he departed from the sutras was in his insistence that you have to experience and realize it for yourself. That is, you have to wake up just as Shakyamuni woke up when he saw the morning star.

Q. How do I do this?

A. According to Bodhidharma, you've got to cut off thinking and abandon all fixation on forms. This brings the illusory world of samsara to a full stop. Your Mind wakes up and knows itself instantly as soon as you have accomplished this. After that you can't be imprisoned by karma anymore. Cause and effect can't touch you. You are like a dreamer who has woken up from a dream. This is the "entry by Dharma principle," which is sudden -- as opposed to the "entry by practices," which is gradual.

Q. But how? I mean, what's the method? Am I supposed to meditate with my legs crossed?

A. Bodhidharma taught "wall-gazing." You use the wall to cut off all your fixations on illusory phenomena. Other Zen Patriarchs like Daoxin taught a sitting meditation in which you turn your gaze inward onto itself and try to find the source of your awareness. Hui-Neng said that the best way to see the self-nature is to contemplate the Diamond Sutra. He said that if you hold the Diamond Sutra with all your energy, there will come a moment when thinking stops and the Dharma body becomes clear. After that, even if thoughts resume it is not a problem, because the thoughts will be pervaded by formless Prajna-wisdom.

Later Zen Masters like Pai-Chang and Huang-Po taught just stopping the arising of thoughts in all situations until you penetrate through to reality and your true mind, featureless like space, is wholly realized in all of your life and its tasks. During the subsequent Golden Age of Chan in the T'ang Dynasty, the Masters invented many energetic ways to try to stop their students' stupid, lazy compulsive thinking, including silence, shouting, hitting with a stick, uttering a meaningless phrase like "Sesame cake!" in response to questions about the Dharma, &c. Still later, the stories of the Masters' encounters with clueless students were collected into books that circulated throughout China. Some of these anecdotes, called "public cases," were collected into special handbooks that were used in training monks. Mumon Ekai and Dahui both insisted that the key to koan practice is focusing all of your Qi (bodily energy) on the koan, to hold it steadily in absolute concentration without trying to think or form any views about it.

So, if you happen to have weak, listless Qi and are incapable of sustaining one-pointed concentration for any length of time, then you had better find ways to strengthen your Qi and firm up your ability to focus your mind or you are out of luck with Zen. This perhaps explains why Masters in the Linji (Japanese, Rinzai) school mined Taoism for its wonderful store of Qi-strengthening techniques. In some places Zen students are still trained using koans, but koan training has become mechanical and nobody really believes it leads to "seeing the self-nature" anymore.

Zen is not a matter of sitting with your legs crossed, but nor is it a matter of furrowing your brow over koans from old Chinese books. The true ancient way of Zen is to wake up right now. Of course, it's always "right now" so you always have the opportunity to wake up, so long as you're alive.

Q. What's the best way to wake up right now?

A. That's what you've got to find out! Why not start here?

Zen Mind Seeing Mind

Q. What is Zen? Is it the nihilistic idea that there is nothing? Is that the"emptiness" I hear so much about?

A. The Nirvana Sutra says:
Emptiness means perceiving neither ‘empty’ nor ‘non-empty’. The natural radiance of emptiness can appear as anything at all. Since it is empty as it appears, appearance and emptiness are a unity. This can only be known by looking inwards. It is within the domain of your own self-knowing awareness-wisdom.
Zen is Bodhidharma's transmission of the Highest Truth (Tattva) outside teachings. Bodhidharma just pointed "inwards" to the treasure storehouse of bright, pure, stainless, timeless original self-knowing awareness-wisdom, aka your Mind. As Huang-Po said:
When all the Buddhas manifest themselves in the world, they proclaim nothing but the One Mind. Thus, Gautama Buddha silently transmitted to Mahakasyapa the doctrine that the One Mind, which is the substance of all things, is co-extensive with the Void and fills the entire world of phenomena. This is called the Law of All the Buddhas. Discuss it as you may, how can you even hope to approach the truth through words? Nor can it be perceived either subjectively or objectively. So full understanding can come to you only through an inexpressible mystery. The approach to it is called the Gateway of the Stillness beyond all Activity. If you wish to understand, know that a sudden comprehension comes when the mind has been purged of all the clutter of conceptual and discriminatory thought-activity. Those who seek the truth by means of intellect and learning only get further and further away from it.
There is no lineage outside of this Mind. There is no teaching or listening to teaching outside Mind either. What is Mind? It's the Buddha nature. Self-originating, self-enlightening, ultimately true and real. You can't grasp or conceptualize it; it can't be held, restrained, or put into a box. Even the Great Wall of China can't obstruct it. This Mind is not to be confused with the senses or with ideas. Yet it acts and perceives through the senses, and it is certainly the source of all ideas. "Outside of Mind there are no dharmas." Do not confuse this Mind with what it uses. Undoubtedly all that it ever uses is itself, but as soon as you conceptualize this or that function and reduce Mind to THAT, you are mistaken. Anything of which you can say "it is" is just Mind in its majestic, instantaneous functioning.

So how is it that this all-powerful Mind falls into ignorance and petty delusion, and comes to mistake itself for physical stuff? Mind itself never does; "ignorance and delusion" are names for a disease caused by enslavement to thinking, to conceptualizations that obscure it. Mind is just bright and knowing, and spontaneously acting out of its own infinite store of wisdom, in every situation.

The Sutra Requested by Kashyapa says:
Mind is not to be found within. Nor does it exist outside. And it can not be observed anywhere else.
The Sutra Requested by Maitreya says:
Mind has no shape, no color and no location. It is like space.
There is no need to train or do anything to this original Mind. What could you do to it? Only Mind is. All being is just this mind. As for physical stuff, it isn't apart from Mind, insofar it only appears in and to Mind; yet Mind is, in one sense, apart from it, transcendent to it, beyond it. Mind is "not this, not that," but rather the Way both this and that appear. As soon as you isolate some "thing" out of Mind's shockingly direct and original being, you are setting Mind against itself and getting confused. Such name-and-form thinking is the source of ignorant delusion. "All appearance is but a delusory image. Do not try to grasp or to follow such images. Try instead to see with the Buddha eye."

Q. What is Bodhidharma's "wall-gazing"?

A. It is just the direct experience of this mind. It is Mind seeing Mind without any conceptual problem. You can actually experience that your being is this mind, that all being is this Mind. It's bright and boundless. It's the blissful true reality that has never come or gone. You don't have to gaze at a wall. You can be aware of your pure awareness-wisdom in all situations, all the time.

Why Bodhidharma Came from the West

According to all the Zen Masters, only thinking obstructs the natural enlightened state (Bodhi) and the instantaneous functioning of transcendental wisdom (Prajna). Therefore, if you can cut off your thinking at will, you experience satori, sudden awakening to your true self, the brilliantly clear and pervasive Buddha nature, the "inconceivable state of the Tathagatas."

This is called "attaining the mysterious principle," and "passing the barrier of the Patriarchs." It happens like a flash of lightning, a horse galloping past an open window, the blow of a sharp cleaver.

Eventually, by making this "suchness" your normal state of being, you arrive at Daigo-Tettei, Great Enlightenment. In this condition, your mind remains empty and quiescent, no matter what sensation or image appears in and by it, like a still pond that can vividly reflect the images of flying geese. You are free of the bondage of compulsive thinking; which does not mean that thoughts do not sometimes occur, only that you do not identify with them, so they die out one after another like rootless grasses.

Whereas other people go around with furrowed brows and an absent look studying their "internal maps," or arguing about what is or is not Zen, you are perpetually alert to reality without grasping at it or trying to fix it into a defined form. You are always absorbed merely in what you are doing and what is in front of you, no concern for past or future, living playfully in a perpetual childlike state of joy and amazement. Even when you "teach" or "write" or speak to others you are just being playful, direct, forceful and serene.

At this stage there is no effort, no need to choose this over that. Everything that happens is fine. You know exactly why Bodhidharma came from the West. Your eyebrows are entangled with Lin Chi's. "The blue mountain does not obstruct the white cloud." "Bamboo of the South, wood of the North." "A blind girl on a bench in the sauna, rocking back and forth." "The red blossoms of the wild quince, the sharp trills of an oriole in the big pine."

Yunmen's eyebrows bristle on my forehead.
Ten thousand nights asleep, ten thousand dawns awake.
A bush warbler's sharp note from the peony hedge,
A lion's roar melting the hoarfrost in all eighty-eight directions.

Passing the Barrier of Zen: Mumon Ekai Explains How to Use 氣 To Attain Satori

[Once upon a time in China -- more precisely, in the autumn of 1228 -- Master Mumon Ekai compiles a book of Zen "public cases" or koans to help the monks under his direction attain satori. He places Joshu's "Mu" at the head of this collection, calling it "the front gate to Zen." He then goes on to describe precisely how to arouse and use  氣, a Chinese word meaning "energy," "spirit," "vitality," &c. in order to "pass the Zen barrier" so that you can "stride through the universe." Short of arousing the energy and vitality of your whole body and pouring it into motionless contemplation of the koan given to you by your Master, you cannot hope to cut off thinking and attain satori, and if you do not cut off thinking and attain satori you will become "a ghost clinging to the bushes and weeds." Hear it now! Put it into practice immediately! Your own realization is paramount. Nobody else can experience this satori and attain decisive liberation for you!]


If you do not pass the barrier, and do not cut off the way of thinking, then you will be like a ghost clinging to the bushes and weeds.


Now, I want to ask you, what is the barrier of the patriarchs?


Why, it is this single word "Mu." That is the front gate to Zen.


Therefore it is called the "Mumonkan of Zen."


If you pass through it, you will not only see Jõshû face to face, but you will also go hand in hand with the successive patriarchs, entangling your eyebrows with theirs, seeing with the same eyes, hearing with the same ears.


Isn't that a delightful prospect?


Wouldn't you like to pass this barrier?


Arouse your entire body with its three hundred and sixty bones and joints and its eighty-four thousand pores of the skin; summon up a spirit of great doubt and concentrate on this word "Mu."


Carry it continuously day and night. Do not form a nihilistic conception of vacancy, or a relative conception of "has" or "has not."


It will be just as if you swallow a red-hot iron ball, which you cannot spit out even if you try.

蕩盡從 前惡知惡覚、久久純熟自然内外打成—片、如唖子得夢、只許自知。

All the illusory ideas and delusive thoughts accumulated up to the present will be exterminated, and when the time comes, internal and external will be spontaneously united. You will know this, but for yourself only, like a dumb man who has had a dream.

驀然打發、驚天 動地。

Then all of a sudden an explosive conversion will occur, and you will astonish the heavens and shake the earth.


It will be as if you snatch away the great sword of the valiant general Kan'u and hold it in your hand. When you meet the Buddha, you kill him; when you meet the patriarchs, you kill them. On the brink of life and death, you command perfect freedom; among the sixfold worlds and four modes of existence, you enjoy a merry and playful samadhi.


Now, I want to ask you again, "How will you carry it out?"


Employ every ounce of your energy to work on this "Mu."


If you hold on without interruption, behold: a single spark, and the holy candle is lit!

Tracing Back the Radiance

("To Live Is To Extend Ki" by Shinichi Tohei)

Student: What is the mind of void and calm, luminous awareness?

Chinul: What has just asked me this question is precisely your mind of void and calm, luminous awareness. Why not trace back its radiance rather than search for it outside? For your benefit I will now point straight to your original mind so that you can awaken to it. Clear your minds and listen to my words.

From morning until evening, all during the 12 periods of the day, during all your actions and activities -- whether seeing, hearing, laughing, talking, whether angry of happy, whether doing evil or good -- ultimately who is it that is able to perform all these actions? Speak! If you say that it is the physical body which is acting, then at the moment when a man's life comes to an end, even though the body has not yet decayed, how is it that the eyes cannot see, the ears cannot hear, the nose cannot smell, the tongue cannot talk, the hands cannot grasp, the feet cannot run?

You should know that what is capable of seeing, hearing, moving and acting has to be your original mind; it is not your physical body. Furthermore, the four elements which make up the physical body are by nature void; they are like images in a mirror of the moon's reflection in water. How can they be clear and constantly aware, always bright and never obscured -- and, upon activation, be able to put into operation sublime functions as numerous as the sands of the Ganges? For this reason it is said: "Drawing water and carrying firewood are spiritual powers and sublime functions."

There are many points at which to enter the noumenon. I will indicate one approach which will allow you to return to the source. 
Do you hear the sound of that crow cawing and that magpie calling?

Student: Yes.

Chinul: Trace them back and listen to your hearing-nature. Do you hear any sounds?

Student: At that place, sound and discrimination do not obtain.

Chinul: Marvelous! Marvelous! This is Avalokitesvara's method for entering the noumenon [exactly as explained in the Shurangama Sutra]. Let me ask you again. You said that sounds and discrimination do not obtain at that place. But since they do not obtain, isn't the hearing-nature just empty space at such a time?

Student: Originally it is not empty. It is always bright and never obscured.

Chinul: What is this essence which is not empty?

Student: Words cannot describe it. 

See Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul's Korean Way of Zen

Master Hua: Four Stages of Practice

Silencing the Mind Reveals Wisdom

Investigating Chan requires non-movement of the mind and thoughts and this means silence. The Chan method works like the thrust of a knife, cutting right through. Because Chan investigation is apart from the mind-consciousness, it is known as putting an end to the mind. Ending the mind means ending all mental activities of the mind-consciousness. Only when all the activities of the false mind are stopped will thoughts be silenced. When that happens, we gain the power of knowing and seeing that comes with suddenly enlightening to the nonarising of all things. We then have patience with the nonarising of people and dharmas. And we certify to four stages of practice, which are heat, summit, patience, and first in the world.

1. Heat. This warm energy comes as we sit in meditation.

2. Summit. That energy rises to the crown of our head as we continue to practice.

3. Patience. It becomes very difficult to be patient, but we must still be patient.

4. First in the World. We become a world-transcending great hero.

If we want to attain these four stages, we must first learn to silence the mind. Our mind-consciousness must remain unmoving.

Our thoughts are like waves that cannot be calmed. Sitting in meditation aims at stopping the mind-consciousness from moving. Eventually, it stops naturally. Once stopped, the mind is silent. When it is completely silent, wisdom comes forth. When wisdom arises, we become self-illuminating.

When silence reaches an ultimate point,
the light penetrates everywhere.

That is the power of knowing and seeing that comes with sudden enlightenment to the non-arising of all things.

Like Flowers Planted on Rock

You must let go of both sides and cast down the middle, being in the midst of sound and form like flowers planted on rock, seeing profit and fame as dust in the eye.  If you don't stop now, when are you waiting for? 

This is why ancient sages taught people to be complete in the present; if you can get to have nothing on your mind, even Buddhas and enlightened ancestors are enemies -- all mundane things will naturally be cool and simple. 

-Zen Master Furong

Playing Ro on the Bamboo Flute

My "teaching" on how to realize the living truth of Zen in a single day is simple, profound, and yet it is also delightful. Here it is again:

Raise Ki by doing something active (walking, cutting wood, making love, whatever), put your body into a fine cool sweat, let the heat rise to your head, then use that heightened energy to "cut off thinking" in a single instant by "sinking mind into the Tanden." Then you will know everything directly and clearly, in blazing mysterious awareness.

Do this over and over again until you develop the ability to remain in this no-mind no-thought blazing mysterious awareness for just as long as you like. It's refreshing! Deepen it, play in it, enjoy it! Let yourself be elevated, let yourself be sunk, let yourself be edified, let yourself be terrified -- so long as you don't give rise to thinking about what it "is" or "isn't."

This is the classic method of T'ang Dynasty Zen, which I rediscovered all by myself, and practiced all by myself every single day for many years before I ever dared to speak to anyone about it, because I wanted to verify that it is real and profound and liberating and inexhaustible, and it is, so now I am giving it to you. As Great Master Lin-Chi said:
Fellow believers, when it comes to this, where the student is exerting all his strength, not a breath of air can pass, and the whole thing may be over as swiftly as a flash of lightning or a spark from a flint. If the student so much as bats an eye, the whole relationship could be spoiled. Apply the mind and at once there's differentiation; rouse a thought and at once there's error. The person who can understand this never ceases to be right before my eyes.
There are not many people who can "cut off thinking" without any practice and some direct pointers like Lin-Chi's (or mine). If I am somewhat outspoken on this matter it is because I constantly run into idiots who insist that they don't need to experience this blazing mysterious awareness because they already fully understand it from reading a Zen book.

Raising Ki and "sinking mind" into the Tanden in the way I describe is the simplest way to "cut off thinking" -- the one and only Zen practice advocated by Great Master Huang-Po. Why should you cut off thinking? Simple. Because you cannot experience life and think about life at the same time. You cannot taste the water in your mouth and chemically analyze it at the same instant. You cannot do Zen while talking about Zen and forming ideas about Zen.

The result of energetically "cutting off the way of thinking," if one maintains clear awareness, is a powerful ease and bliss. One thereby instantaneously enters into the mysterious pure brilliance of nature in a great burst of laughter, and subsequently, as Master Mumon says, one "lives out one's life in a merry and playful samadhi."

Whatever technique helps to give you a direct introduction to your original nature is a Zen technique -- arousing energy by walking in the mountains then "cutting off thinking," shouting, hitting with a stick, composing a poem, practicing with a sword are all energetic Zen techniques. They are energetic because life itself is energy, and Zen is not something apart from life.

Like Master Mumon Ekai, I must now admit to you that I have already said too much. Even one sentence would have been too much. Accordingly, I am now entering a new phase of my "teaching" which will give me the great relief of discarding the word "Zen" along with any verbalization whatsoever, because if anyone asks me a question about any of this I will play a note on my bamboo flute to answer.

The Pine and Bamboo Draw a Fresh Breeze

You must be attuned twenty-four hours a day before you attain realization. Have you not read how Lingyun suddenly tuned in to this reality on seeing peach blossoms, how Xiangyan set his mind at rest on hearing the sound of bamboo being hit?

An ancient said, "If you are not in tune with this reality, then the whole earth deceives you, the environment fools you."

The reason for all the mundane conditions abundantly present is just that this reality has not been clarified. I urge you for now to first detach from gross mental objects.

Twenty-four hours a day you think about clothing, think about food, think all sorts of vari­ous thoughts, like the flame of a candle burning unceasingly. But just detach from gross mental objects, and whatever subtle ones there are will naturally clear out, and eventually you will come to understand spontaneously; you don’t need to seek. This is called putting conceptualization to rest and forgetting mental objects, not being a partner to the dusts.

So the ineffable message of Zen is to be understood on one’s own. I have no Zen for you to study, no Doctrine for you to discuss. I just want you to tune in on your own. The only essential thing in learning Zen is to forget mental objects and stop rumination. This is the message of Zen since time immemorial.

-Zen Master Foyan

Q & A on the Dark Principle of Zen

Q. You've spoken of the "dark principle" of Zen, sometimes also, interchangeably, of the "ancestral hall." What is it?

A. The "dark principle" is the Dao. The Dao is the Nameless Way. It is also the mother of all the Buddhas and so-called ordinary people. It is pure reality.

Q. How will I attain this?

A. By relaxing your mind, cutting off thinking, resting with clear awareness in the vastness, pliant and responsive to circumstances, hollow like bamboo.

Q. Please describe how you perceive "reality." How is it different than the world I see around me, for instance the objects in this room?

A. To clearly see this is to be enlightened marvelously, so let yourself hear what I am saying and let yourself be in accord with it. Do not "think" about it. For you, I am one of the objects in this room, although a "speaking" object. It's because I am speaking with you that you impute awareness to me. Quite rightly. This flower vase is not speaking so you would say it isn't living, it's inert, a piece of fired clay from a kiln. So what is this mysterious essence you impute to me? Clearly, it's just your own essence, which is a vitality of perceiving, clear awareness, the ability to distinguish this from that and that from the other. Both of us have this ability. Isn't that profound? This mysterious essence seems to have no location. You can't find it inside your body when you look for it. You can't locate it inside your head, because if it's inside your head why do you feel the breeze from that window on your hands when you lift them up slightly? Padmasambhava called this "self springing awareness." For him it is also an instantly "knowing" awareness. One seems to be born into it. It's like water to a fish. It's the air we breathe, yet it is no object at all. Everything appears in and by it, but when you try to find it, it eludes your search. Master Yunmen said, "Everybody has this brilliant light, so why when you look for it is it dark and obscure?"

Q. What is the relation if any between this mysterious self-springing vital awareness and objects?

A. See that calligraphy scroll?

Q. Yes.

A. You can distinguish some characters on the white scroll; they stand out because of the whiteness of the scroll. Am I right? Yet when you study the characters you are not looking at or thinking about the scroll itself. Are the characters really separate from the paper?

Q. Not at all. Or, at least, they separate from it in my mind, but it's clear that they are part of the scroll -- they appear to my eyes and to my mind because they are written on that white surface.

A. Take this as an analogy. Just as the 2 dimensional characters are completely of the same essence as the scroll they are written on which actually exists in 3 dimensions, even while also standing out from it to your perception as separate objects, all of the 3 dimensional objects of mind you see in this room, including that scroll and my body with all its gestures and the sound of my voice and so forth, are actually embedded in a 4 dimensional reality and inseparable from it though seeming to be different. This 4 dimensional reality displays all of this 3 dimensional stuff. What is it in itself?

Q. I can only assume you are talking about a kind of hyperspace. Maybe that's what Emptiness is.

A. In a way, sunyata is the continuous nature of all this stuff with the space that displays it in terms of a deeper unseen reality, which is the Dao. Yet nothing really makes it appear as it does but your mysteriously illuminating awareness-nature. Right?

Q. I suppose so.

A. Suppose then I were to tell you that the "Way" all this appears is just a feature of your brilliantly alive and energetic awareness-nature, and that all these ten thousand objects are no different, in essence, than it. They are, so to speak, just the energy of it, the pure ringing of its deepest inconceivable stillness, timeless and unborn.

Q. You mean that all the objects of mind are really just Mind itself?

A. This, if truly realized in the flash of an instant, is the "dark principle." It is the mysterious way that anything manifests itself. When you look at it correctly you see that there is nothing "outside" perceiving. Mysteriously, objects seem to come and go, but the nature of perceiving does not. Even when there are no objects, the perceiving ability is still there, though "there" in this context obviously means something different than the seemingly factual thereness of that flower vase or calligraphy scroll. Master Hui-Ha says that there really are no objects to be seen, there is only seeing itself, and so on with hearing, taste, &c. It is all the spontaneous outpouring yet ingathering activity of the "dark principle." To really comprehend this is to enter a realm of total incomprehension, leaving intellect far behind.

The Highest Yoga

The single highest "practice" common to Zen, Mahamudra, Dzogchen, Advaita and Kashmiri Shaivism is to free yourself from the conceptually elaborating process of "thinking" (projecting, remembering, scheming) &c. that implicates your Body of Reality is all sorts of false hopes, desires and fears. To succeed in this is to taste reality, to experience buddhahood here-now. That's why it is the supreme yoga, Atiyoga (Nisaraga Yoga). Beyond this yoga there is only Sahaja, which is not a yoga but natural responsiveness to all situations free of any conceptual elaboration. So, there is "freeing yourself" and then there is "being free." The first is a yoga, the second is just the natural state.

Of course in Kashmir Shaivism there is anupaya, which is not a process at all nor a yoga but just being suddenly initiated into Reality. This can happen if a Guru crosses your path and you happen to have the right potential. There are some Zen stories about such happenings. It can also just happen for no reason, when you are swimming in the summer sea.

Whether it happens spontaneously or you have to do some some yoga to go beyond, this realization projects you from falsehood and confusion into the natural enlightened state.

What is the natural state? How may I describe it to you? Let's say I am lying on the porch looking up at the white clouds, and hearing wind chimes clamor nearby. If I am in the sahaja state, there is absolutely no feeling of inhibition by thinking, no withdrawing of my perceiving mind from the instantaneous reception of sights and sounds, no conceiving of a relative past, a present or a future. In this "state free of conceptual elaboration" I experience joy and bliss because I am the being of pure awareness. I am the vibration of pure consciousness, not subject or object. But if I do feel in "myself" some fear, displacement, reluctance, shying away from this clear and radiant isness -- if I feel the intrusion of conceptualizing and its emotional baggage-train -- then I must do some yoga by consciously not holding onto the arising and sinking of mental formations. In Zen this is called using one thought to annihilate all thoughts. In Taoism it is "sitting and forgetting," and also "fixing contemplation." After that, you drop even the one thought. The one thought is also the "one point" focus of yoga training that calms all mental activity and culminates in samadhi, bare and naked. There are many subtleties to it and different ways have been taught, but the goal is always the same.

What's the goal of the highest yoga? Nothing but ease and bliss -- the natural state. I lie under the sky laughing. There is no sense of any sensation as being an "outside" opposed to my "inside" of self. In pure awareness there is only a nondual experiencing that does not leave any tracks. I am neither behind sensations nor ahead of them, neither inside nor outside, nor somewhere in between. "I" am really only this naked capacity for experiencing it all in its sheer brilliance, and this "I" isn't inside my head, nor is it anything apart from the brilliance of the experiencing, nor does it fragment the experiencing into this or that "part" or "object" that gets experienced and processed conceptually. Rising on the wave I am the wave itself and the water it is made of. What's the problem? Can you set up fences in the empty sky? It's all just "this" and has never been otherwise. Such is the intuitive realization of Reality. These words just point to it, they should not be taken for It.

Even after you have tasted reality, lived in the blissful natural state, there may still be some "thinking-emotional" obstacles remaining for you, and you may have to do some special yoga to get rid of them. This will become clear in time. Of course, in the absolute there is no time, so as long as you are fully "it" then there can be no problem. Typically the problems start up again when you leave the timeless state and begin interacting with people. If you feel some resentments or bad feelings begin to flow, cut them off. You do this by cutting off thinking about them one way or the other, so that your interactions self-liberate as just the spontaneous activity of Reality. That's the best way but there are other approaches that are more complicated, like the Tibetan approach of paying reverence to everybody, even your detractors and critics, because you recognize them as having been your mother in a past life. Such a technique raises thoughts about past lives, the objective nature of things and so forth, so it can create more obstacles in the end. After all, whether or not a person was your mother in a past life, that person is still -- although maybe unknown to him or herself -- the spontaneous appearing of Reality right now, and Reality is the mother of everything, so what's the problem? "Two stalks crooked, three stalks straight."

Master Pai Chang, who was the teacher of the Zen Master Huang-Po, said that if you make your mind like space your practice will be successful. This is really the only practice, the only yoga -- make your mind like space. Space contains everything. Every so called object appears in space yet it does not leave tracks in space. Here we are speaking of an absolute space, not the space of modern physics. It is just that clear no-thing in which everything appears, just as the surface of a mirror is where all reflections appear, and looking at the mirror you never see its surface, only the images. And how are things different than this space, and how is the mirror surface other than the images you see in it? It's all just That. Is this realization the end point of yoga? It may be the end point of yoga, but it is only the beginning of the art of living.

You might raise the objection that I am talking about annihilating selfhood, individuality, everything that seems to make sense of life and make you you, and that this is a frightening idea and practicing like this might lead to madness. I will only retort that the stress of going around mistaking your Body of Reality for all these mental objects and thoughts and saying "I want this, I don't want that" is extremely frightening and has unpleasant effects on the body in the form of stress. Only if you consider your mentally imagined "self" something real will you get scared of losing it. But you don't have such a self, and what you are goes far beyond what you think or imagine. Do you worry that when you wake up from a dream the person you are in the dream will be annihilated? Not at all. The one who is the source of all dreams is always closer to you than your eyebrows and nostrils. To be liberated is to be free of all senseless ideas "about" Reality so that you can live it with some bright vigor, lively as a fish jumping.  Why live an impoverished existence as a slave to ideas? Wake up to the soundless thunderclap of Isness!

Here are some poems for you to illuminate the inconceivable natural state:

starry sky expanse flashes of heat-lightning 

bare & clean without a mark the ancestral home

mountains & rivers the pure ringing of stillness

a day in the heat sound of a bamboo rake

a water buffalo walking in green water dips his head

shining reflections the subtle whir of dragonflies

Wrestling the Ox

Sometime in the eleventh century, starting with Master Kakuan (Shiyuan), Zen Masters began circulating a series of pictures and writing verses on them to elucidate the actual meaning of cultivating Zen's Dharma of the Original Mind-Essence.

These pictures are delightfully simple. They all deal with a boy who has lost his ox. He tracks the ox down, having to wander in remote, wild, frightening and solitary places; he catches the ox, wrestles with its energy, holds it with great effort, trains it with a whip, rides it home playing his bamboo flute. Then, once the ox is trained, the boy can hang up the whip and relax peacefully, sitting in the moonlight, sleeping under the noonday sun. Eventually, both ox and self are completely forgotten. Thus, the eighth picture is just an empty circle, boundless. The next picture is called "Returning to the Source." There are no human beings in this picture, just a flowering tree beside a fresh stream.

The tenth picture shows the boy grown up into a man. He doesn't have his ox anymore -- he's "Entering the Marketplace with His Arms Hanging," totally relaxed and at ease, laughing like a Taoist sage. It's in the tenth picture that we see the result of all the efforts and struggle: "It's just like This." Even enlightenment is forgotten. There are no barriers. The dusty marketplace is the same as the Great Source.

To assume that you can leap to the tenth picture without catching, restraining and taming the ox first is a ludicrous presumption sometimes called "buji Zen,"which has been defined as:
Bravado or excessive self-confidence in the practice of Zen. A tendency attributed to some practitioners to convince themselves that since all beings possess the Buddha-nature they are already enlightened and hence have no need to exert themselves further.

The Energetic Nature of Zen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zen's Sudden Awakening Experience

Zen is the "sudden" or "abrupt" awakening school. Strictly speaking, there is no "content" taught nor any teaching whatsoever in Zen. When a monk asks, "What is Buddha?" and Yunmen says, "Dried shit stick," this is not a statement containing some sort of positive content that could be analyzed and fit into a system called "Zen"  -- it is just an off-the-cuff shock tactic Yunmen used to wake up the monk. To what? To This. To Thusness.

But what is the relation of all this to Zen "practice" -- to yoga, dhyana?

Shakyamuni attained Enlightenment after an all night meditation session under the Bodhi tree when he saw the morning star. He had already mastered self-control and yoga and practiced extreme asceticism without attaining This. Then he accepted some milk from a young girl (that mysteriously auspicious moment when, one might say, Shakyamuni began using Ki!) and sat down for one last effort with the resolve not to move until he had attained liberation. Over the night, he withstood multiple assaults and tricks by Mara by maintaining an immovable mind. He recollected all of his past lives in detail. But it was on seeing the morning star that "inside and outside spontaneously unified" and he exclaimed, "Ah! I see! All sentient beings are Enlightened from the beginning!"
Shakyamuni Buddha sees the morning star. The morning star sees the morning star. Shakyamuni Buddha sees Shakyamuni Buddha. Seeing sees seeing. -The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing
Shakyamuni's story, added to the stories of the many Zen teachers who left home, lived in remote places and practiced yoga and dhyana for many years of extreme one-pointed effort before suddenly waking up to This, proves that there is a subtle connection between making an all-out effort and sudden awakening, and that no matter what anyone tells you it is not enough to just parrot the words, "All sentient beings are Enlightened (awake) from the beginning!" as an excuse for not making any effort. Shakyamuni said it because he experienced it. Have you experienced it? If not, how and when will you experience it?

The Four Zens of the Lankavatara Sutra

To practice dhyana, the earnest disciple should retire to a quiet and solitary place, remembering that life-long habits of discriminative thinking cannot be broken off easily nor quickly. There are four kinds of concentrative meditation (Zen, dhyana): The dhyana practised by the ignorant; the dhyana devoted to the examination of meaning; the dhyana with "suchness" (tathata) for its object; and the dhyana of the Tathagatas.

The dhyana practised by the ignorant is the one resorted to by those who are following the example of the disciples and masters but who do not understand its purpose and, therefore, it becomes "still-sitting" with vacant minds. This dhyana is practised, also, by those who, despising the body, see it as a shadow and a skeleton full of suffering and impurity, and yet who cling to the notion of an ego, seek to attain emancipation by the mere cessation of thought.

The dhyana devoted to the examination of meaning, is the one practised by those who, perceiving the untenability of such ideas as self, other and both, which are held by the philosophers, and who have passed beyond the twofold-egolessness, devote dhyana to an examination of the significance of egolessness and the differentiations of the Bodhisattva stages.

The dhyana with Tathata, or "Suchness," or Oneness, or the Divine Name, for its object is practised by those earnest disciples and masters who, while fully recognising the twofold egolessness and the imagelessness of Tathata, yet cling to the notion of an ultimate Tathata.

The dhyana of the Tathagatas is the dhyana of those who are entering upon the stage of Tathagatahood and who, abiding in the triple bliss which characterises the self-realisation of Noble Wisdom, are devoting themselves for the sake of all beings to the accomplishment of incomprehensible works for their emancipation. This is the pure dhyana of the Tathagatas. When all lesser things and ideas are transcended and forgotten, and there remains only a perfect state of imagelessness where Tathagata and Tathata are merged into perfect Oneness, then the Buddhas will come together from all their Buddha-lands and with shining hands resting on his forehead will welcome a new Tathagata.

-The Lankavatara Sutra

Living Zen

In the Dharma of cultivating the path, the vital energy [Qi] of those who obtain their understanding through the medium of the written word is weak. If one obtains his understanding from events, his vital energy will be robust. Those who see Dharma from the medium of events never lose mindfulness anywhere. When those whose understanding is from the medium of the written word encounter events, their eyes are beclouded. To discuss events from the point of view of the sutras and treatises is to be estranged from Dharma. Though one may chat about events and listen concerning events, it is not as potent as personally experiencing events with the body and mind. -BODHIDHARMA (from The Bodhidharma Anthology)

Zen without the cultivating of vital energy (Ki) is a trivial and irritating intellectual past-time -- or what some of the Masters derisively called "head-and-mouth Zen." Unfortunately, this form of Zen is all too common on the Internet and misleads many people into believing that they are enlightened without ever having to do anything different because someone once said they must be, since "all beings are originally enlightened." Confusing the practical and the absolute levels of Zen, they fall into a confusion from which they will never emerge, at least not in this lifetime.

By contrast, I teach people a simple method that, performed with sincerity and resolve, leads to direct awakening. At its simplest, this method requires raising Ki until the heat rises to your head, then all at once dropping all "thinking" into the Tanden. Once you have experienced an initial awakening (kensho) you can deepen and stabilize it by practicing Seiza meditation, or Mokuso, for brief periods once or twice a day. There are also a number of subtler instructions that must be orally transmitted to you by your teacher.

In China, even before Zen arrived on the scene, the methods of internal energetic training were refined to a science. These methods involved letting go of knots in breathing, keeping the right posture whether sitting still or in movement, and the correct use of strength or tension (basically, letting it flow downward). All this went along with not clinging to thoughts or ideas and not pursuing intellectual disputes. Maybe that's why it was said that Master Joshu's lips "emanated light." It's not for nothing that Chinese Zen developed in remote mountain monasteries and retreats -- places where, as the Chinese believed, positive Qi is particularly strong.

Mind and body are inseparable aspects of the "One" that animates all of nature. Therefore, the Zen Masters spent much time and energy trying to cure students of anxious fixation on the problems of a small discriminating judgmental "I" that interferes with living your life in natural ease and bliss.

So -- go out every day under the open sky, raise your Ki with some hard walking, then decisively let go of all ideas and concepts by "sinking mind into the Tanden" and you will experience the liberating bliss of Muga Mushin.

Yunmen Says

Yunmen says, "Everyone has this same radiant Light -- so when you try to look directly into it, why is it dark and obscure?" Why does Yunmen say, then, that everybody has the radiant light?

Indian Buddhism, like the ancient Vedas, came up with the notion that there is only one Root-Consciousness, one pure and radiant Light. According to this idea, the differences between you and me are trivial and insignificant when compared to our basic mysterious sameness.

Bodhidharma said, "You ask me a question. That's Mind in you. I reply. That's Mind in me." All that appears appears in and by this Light.

So, any appearance is a direct function of the mind-essence, which is "root-Bodhi" or original enlightenment. It is in this sense that "Enlightenment is all there is."

The sky allows many things to appear, but it is always just the sky. So instead of saying that this or that person is enlightened or not enlightened, we should say rather that people are or are not awakened to their originally enlightening mind-essence.

Zen "study and practice" is cutting off thought-discriminations and seeing It directly. Seeing what? The sky of reality itself.

So what is enlightenment? What is "not enlightenment"? It seems that everything arrives already enlightened. And Mind itself does all the enlightening, since it is the Light itself. Seeing is It, so is hearing. Wake up instantly to This!


Fuke always used to roam about in the street markets, ringing a bell and shouting: "When it comes in brightness, I hit the brightness. When it approaches in darkness, I hit the darkness. When it comes from the four quarters and eight directions (of space), I hit like a whirlwind, and if it comes out of the empty sky, I thrash it like a flail."

The master made one of his attendants go there, instructing him to grab Fuke while speaking and ask him,"If it does not come in any of these ways, what then?"

Fuke freed himself from the grasp of the attendant and said: "Tomorrow is a vegetarian banquet in the monastery of Great Compassion."

The attendant returned and told the master, who remarked: "I was always intrigued with this fellow." - The Record of Linji

Kufu (Striving, Effort) in Zen

In Chinese and Japanese Zen there is a succinct teaching expressed in phrases such as, "Put down all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise."

Bodhidharma said, "One thought arises, the Triple World appears. One thought drops away, the Triple World subsides." Matsu said, "A single thought is the root of birth and death. Just don't have a single thought and you will be free of birth and death." The Shurangama Sutra teaches that the pure, bright and Profound Mind comes to mistake itself for illusions because of "one thought." Master Takuan Soho said, "One thought (ichi-nen) and the Mind King begins to transmigrate through the Six Realms."

Zen training involves effort and striving to "put a stop to the arising of conceptual thoughts" and make the mind "motionless" (Huang-Po). This is just training. It is not the goal or the ultimate in itself. Takuan Soho advised constant striving (kufu) to "let go of thought after thought and see directly to the place before Heaven and Earth separated." Eventually, there will be a breakthrough and what involved effort becomes relaxed and effortless. Then the stage of training is replaced by wu wei.

Let's say you want to take your rowboat out on the river. But it's tied by a knot you can't untie. You make the proper resolve, use some effort, and saw through the rope with your knife. Then the boat breaks free and you're drifting on the river, no effort. Wonderful! Did having to make an effort at the beginning spoil your experience? Not at all.

Suppose I asked you to balance a tea bowl on your head all day long while walking around, sitting, driving, whatever. At first it would feel like an incredible effort. You would have to think constantly about maintaining your balance. Every time you started to waver you would have to bring yourself back to awareness of the tea bowl. This would go on for days, then weeks. But one day, mysteriously, you would find that you could walk around all day balancing the tea bowl on your head without thinking about it, without even being aware of it.

This is similar to Zen training, except instead of holding a tea bowl on your head you are trying to achieve a state of wu-nien, "no-thought."

You know you've attained this because you can forget about it, and your mind can think or not think depending on circumstances, but there is no holding onto either thoughts or not-thinking. Everything is direct and spontaneous. This is what Hui-Neng in the Platform Sutra calls wu nien. It's the "non abiding mind" mentioned in the Diamond Sutra. It's no thinking even when there is mental activity because the idea of a "thinker" is absent.

In old China and Japan there were always people who'd heard about Zen and understood it in a superficial way by holding onto a particular "idea" such as, "My mind is already Buddha. So I don't need to make any effort. I'm completely free to do as I please, to think or not to think, right now." Then they'd go to a monastery and invite the Master to test them. This is the basic situation of many koans. So the Master would ask them a question and shout, "Answer directly!" -- and because they were so used to processing everything intellectually, they'd be bewildered, unable to so much as open their mouths, and would go away feeling resentful.

One often hears that it is enough to be aloof from one's own thinking, to just "look" at it without attachment or participating in the thoughts. In practice, there is no way to not participate in thinking as a thinker unless you are able first to suspend thinking at will. This is the classic way of Zen, which upholds the necessity of kufu, striving and effort. Cut the knotted rope and drift blissfully free.

Here is an exercise: Try not thinking at all for ten minutes. Set a timer. Are you ready? Go! If you cannot do it, why can't you do it? Thinking is an activity that involves energy. If you cannot stop an activity for even ten minutes, aren't you just its slave? You seem to feel that your thoughts are "yours." Are they yours in the sense that your right hand is yours? After all, if I tell you to clench your right hand into a fist and hold it like that for ten minutes, you can do it, but for some reason if I tell you to stop thinking for ten minutes, you can't! Interesting.

In Zen one "cuts off the way of thinking" long enough to see directly, which results in dropping away the user-illusion of a "thinker." Once the thinker is gone, thoughts are no-thought. An effect of Zen training is that one develops the ability to go without any interior chatter whatsoever (monologue or half-dialogue) for extended periods of time. This absence of chatter -- or "inner silence" -- allows you to develop a direct mode of perception and activity.

Free of thoughts, is there any such thing left over as "mind"?

Is It Wrong for Zennists To Feel Bliss?

Q: I've heard that experiencing "bliss" or "joy" or even "delight" in Zen meditation is wrong, since it can lead to attachments. Is that right?

A. No, it isn't. The "yellow-faced barbarian" himself (Gotama Buddha) says in a number of Pali suttas that Dharma practice is "delightful." "Delightful in the beginning, delightful in the middle, delightful at the end."

Gotama also describes, as one of the signs of successful meditation practice, pervasive feelings of lightness in the body, relaxation, happiness, kindness, contentment, joy.

Likewise, the various Mahasiddhas of northern India and the great Rinpoches of Tibet speak of meditation practice resulting in "Maha Sukha" (great ease, pervasive happiness, contentment and joy). Tilopa describes this in his "Ganges Mahamudra" talk:
"What joy!
With the ways of the intellect you won’t see beyond intellect.
With the ways of action you won’t know non-action.
If you want to know what is beyond intellect and action,
Cut your mind at its root and rest in naked awareness."
Besides repeating the words, "What joy!" at the start of many verses in his yoga instructions, Tilopa also says quite directly:
"When you are free from longing and desire, empty bliss awareness arises."
In Zen there are many similar statements. I will just cite a few and leave you to discover others. Master Joshu said, "He who dances and skips on the Great Way/is face to face with the Nirvana gate./Just sitting at ease with a boundless mind!/Next year, spring is still spring." Huang-Po said that the attainment of the goal of Zen results in contentment, ease, and bliss in which "all forms are Buddha forms, all sounds are Buddha sounds." And Zen Master Mumon Ekai spoke of attaining satori then "living out your life in a merry and playful samadhi."

The Zen Meditation Posture and Making Life a Joy

In all Zen monasteries and temples in history one could find a Dharma Hall, also known as a Zendo.

And all of the Zen Masters in all of Zen history did Zazen, sitting meditation, probably just about every day or night.

Even the Masters who said that "Bodhi," as such, is not a result of Zazen and can't be attained by means of it, because there is no such "thing" to be attained, did Zazen nonetheless.

Look at a photo of the mummified body of the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-Neng. Is it not sitting upright in a perfect meditation posture?

So, let's discuss the Zen meditation posture and how it can help people in their lives.

Of special interest to me, due to my own "yogic" explorations, is how the "right" meditation posture all by itself can resolve emotional stress (for example, the stress that comes from interpersonal conflict of any kind) and help to free the mind from getting "captivated" by various robotic, obsessive types of thinking.

Of particular importance in Zazen is how the shoulders are held. They should be relaxed and sloping down, as if you were dropping a heavy robe from them.

Emotional stress tends to make the upper body rigid (shoulders raised and tight, jaw clenched, mouth drawn in grimace -- just observe how people look when they are arguing, when they are upset and angry, or when they are being sarcastic). By dropping the shoulders in the simple Zen way, one allows energy to flow in a relaxed way back down to the lower body, the belly in particular. This revitalizes the whole body.

The Zazen posture is perfect training for "letting go" of emotional stress and stopping the mind from "sticking" to thoughts. Once you learn this posture, you can carry yourself that way in all of life, and your life will become a joy. This, I believe, is why Zazen was taught in all the great monasteries of China and Japan, and in all the Five Schools.

Take a look at your posture right now, as you read this. Are you off balance, leaning in toward the screen, with your jaw tight, trying to think of an argument or dismissive comment, or are you sitting with your back straight, natural and relaxed, at ease, fully aware, taking it in without holding onto it and letting yourself laugh? One may fool others, but there is no fooling oneself.

Every day is a good day for doing some Zen.

Master Zhiyi and the Thinking of the Unthinkable

Q: I notice that on your blog you often champion "cutting off the way of thinking" as a way to attain the "subtle realization" or "playful samadhi" state eccentric Zen Master Mumon Ekai talks about in the first case of the Mumonkan.

A: Of course. Your question?

Q: I recently ran across this passage from Zhiyi, a Tientai priest, and it got me thinking:
How could the coarse thinkable be different from the marvelous unthinkable? Without leaving words and letters we can thus speak the meaning of liberation. The crux is just to realize how the thinkable is identical to the unthinkable. 
So my question to you is just this -- how could Satori exist only outside of language? How could enlightenment not be able to manifest itself also in words and letters? Is it so limited?

A: That's a beautiful passage. Zhiyi was a great Master. What's more, it's entirely true. Zhiyi is right. But this is a yogic -- a procedural -- issue. The necessary separation from thought is not a permanent state. It's just a way to see It directly. Once you've seen it directly, there's no problem with thinking. Until you've seen it directly, there is. So, yes, enlightenment certainly manifests itself in words and letters, and also through and beyond words and letters. In an even more profound sense, since words and letters are nothing in themselves, they can manifest the through and beyond nature of enlightened being as nothing else ever can or will. But in Zen, it isn't by looking into manifestation, however brilliant, that one achieves Satori. The Zen yoga is to decisively cut one's perception off from names and forms. How should you do this? Just be thoughtlessly alert to how "all this" is appearing right now in your eyes, ears &c. Don't reject it because you think it's an illusion, don't hold onto it because you think it's real. Appreciate the sheer quality and energy of it, and how distinct it is from any possible "thoughts" one might form about it. If you stop at a window and see the rain, and your mind says, "It's raining," you should instantly make yourself alert to your instantaneous seeing of rain beyond any reflexive thinking about it. You should make yourself stand at the window for a little longer really looking on with alertness until something definite happens in your perception that separates it from any possible thought. You will know it when it happens, because you've experienced it before. In fact, it's your ancestral home.

Q: Won't this practice just destroy my ability to do any real thinking?

A: Let's say it will create a momentary separation from thought. If the separation is sudden and complete enough, this is Satori. Once you've had satori, you won't be confused. You won't think your thinking is anything other than unthinkable.

Along the Riverbank

My Way is eccentric --
neither master nor student:
just a person pretending to be crazy
so he can merge with mountains and clouds.
You won't hear of me anywhere you ask;
my name won't appear on the lists of great lamas, tulkus, roshis --
you'll find me along the riverbank
sitting in the warm grass, playing my bamboo flute.

Merging of Great Essence and Mysterious Function in the Space of Deep Bliss

There is a particular Zen in which satori occurs simultaneously with orgasm for two partners. This is not an ordinary orgasm but a total black out orgasm that is also a Zen Satori. The black out is not ordinary unconsciousness as it is appreciated in full and blissful yet nonconceptual and non-self awareness. The two partners who achieve simultaneous satori-orgasm in which satori cannot be distinguished from the orgasm and vice versa nor from "the universe" in all its physical and psychic dimensions are both awakened and instantly become Buddhas. Kyoge Betsuden, like water poured into water, or a universe into a universe. This is a Direct Transmission of the original Mind of the Ati-Buddha.

It Will Be As If a Blind Man Had Suddenly Received His Sight

Ho So said:

If you are hungry take food, but leave off before repletion.Then ramble about for long distances and make your stomach empty. Then enter into a quiet room, sit down in the correct posture and be silent. Count your inhalations and exhalations, beginning from one to ten, then on from ten to a hundred and from a hundred continue to one thousand. You will then find that your body will be as still and your spirit as calm as the void itself. When this state has been reached and has lasted for some time your breath will automatically stop. When your breathing in and out has stopped, your breath will come out like a steaming cloud of vapor from all the eighty-four thousand pores of your body. Then all illnesses, permanent and chronic,will automatically be eliminated and you will understand clearly that all your troubles and handicaps have been destroyed in a most natural way. It will be as if a blind man had suddenly received his sight; he will no longer have to ask someone to point out the way to him. All that you have to do then is to give up worldly speech and sustain your vital energy. For it is said: He who nurtures the eye-sense always keeps his eyes shut, he who nourishes his ear-sense is always sated (by noises), he who nourishes the heart is always silent.

-from Hakuin-Zenji's "Yasen Kanna"

Nan-chuan, Heartless Killer; Or, How "Not a Single Thought Arising" Can Save a Life

When not a single thought arises in your mind, then you go up the bodhi tree: you supernaturally transform yourself in the three realms and change your bodily form at will. You rejoice in the dharma and delight in samadhi, and the radiance of your body shines forth of itself. At the thought of garments a thousand lengths of brocade are at hand; at the thought of food a hundred delicacies are before you; furthermore, you never suffer unusual illness. "Bodhi has no dwelling place, therefore it is not attainable."  -The Record of Linji
When not a single thought arises, you see everything clearly, and you can even speak to people if you must. Your functioning is direct and unhesitating. That's why Zen was taught to swordsmen (in Japan). Nan-chuan's students, trying to respond to his demand for "a single word of Zen," couldn't say a word because they were thinking too hard, which makes you tongue-tied when a single word might make the difference of life or death. So, Nan-chuan turned himself into a heartless killer. Asked later what he would have done to save the cat, Joshu just put a straw sandal on his head and walked out slowly. He wasn't thinking -- he was just letting It function in a direct, fresh and beautiful way. Nan-chuan said, "If Joshu had been around earlier today, that cat would be drinking a dish of milk right now."

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

Don't be confused! Even if you're having a deluded thought,
your perceiving of the deluded thought is always Still, Clear & Bright,
can't be nailed down anywhere in ten directions, isn't born, doesn't die.
It's the One Great No-thing upholding both Heaven & Earth --
Nameless, timeless, spaceless, yet it displays all names, all time & space,
holding out this universe to Awareness like an ethereal flower.
Unmisted Dark Luminosity, agleam like black lacquer!

Won Hyo and the Skull

A Korean monk named Won Hyo was on his way with a companion to T'ang China to study Zen there. He spent one night in a cave, where he woke up in the dark suffering from intense thirst. He scrabbled around and soon located what seemed to be a bowl of water. He drank deeply from it -- it was cold and sweet -- and went back to sleep refreshed. When he opened his eyes in the dawn light, he saw that what he had drunk the water from was a human skull. He was seized by the most intense terror and revulsion, to the extent he started to tremble all over and broke out into a cold sweat. Then, all of the sudden, he woke up and knew fully that not a single thing in this world exists by itself, therefore nothing in our experiences is inherently pure or impure, clean or defiled. He sang the following enlightenment song to his companion:
The Triple World arises from Mind.
All so-called things are mere perceptions.
Thus, since everything is basically Mind perceiving Mind,
What is there left to seek?
I will not go to T'ang.

Riding Your Ox In Search Of

Enlightenment is your original nature (honshin) as a "sentient" (conscious) being. In itself it is clear and brilliant awareness-knowing-ability; it is not any particular object that appears in awareness-knowing, not even "your" body, thoughts, emotions, and so on. To taste and fully experience your original enlightenment in the deeply mysterious wordless understanding that it does not get born or die no matter how many universes ever get born or die is Satori. The classic method of the Zen Masters and Patriarchs such as Huang-Po was to help their students to "drop the thinking mind" in order to experience sudden awakening.

"Riding the Ox in search of the Ox" is a classic Zen description of a person searching for Enlightenment. It's not that the Ox doesn't exist -- it's that you don't see it because you're riding on it! So if you would just stop scanning the horizon and open your nostrils wide you would smell this muddy, dung-spattered, fly-tormented, stinking ox and know with certainty that you've been riding on it from day one.

The Zen of Impermanence

The mind cannot grasp impermanence. Knowing it all at once destroys the mind. 

When insight into impermanence suddenly destroys the mind, the mind's energy is unbound from minding. When the mind's energy is unbound from minding, it annihilates every last trace of "mind" along with all its objects. "Suddenly I was ruined and homeless." (Joshu)

A mallet hits a bell. The air resounds for miles. A crow screams in the big pine. Ants crawl out of a hole. Yellowjackets swarm around a pile of sand. This morning it was cool. This afternoon it is hot. Who is hot or cool? Someone is thirsty. Drink a gulp of cold water. What's the problem?

If you know this one thing, you know all things. What is it that instantly knows? For this question there is no answer, because there is no possible object or subject of the question, and therefore no need to ever ask it.

The Eye

It is as though you have an eye
That sees all forms
But does not see itself.
This is how your mind is.
Its light penetrates everywhere
And engulfs everything,
So why does it not know itself?

- Master Foyan