How To Become a Lion of Zen

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

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

Q: What is this Ki?

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

Q: How do I develop Ki strength?

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

The Bodhisattva's Demeanor is Manifestly Unproduced

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

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

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

Hongmin approved of this evidence of Changshui's understanding.

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

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

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

Changshui thereupon had realization.


 Fuxi wrote:

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

Deep in the Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter the Gate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iron Flute 58: Two Horns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Art of Zen Enlightenment

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

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

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

Iron Flute 28: The Ultimate Stage

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

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

A Bolt of Lightning

Some people say that No-Mind is impossible to attain. They say that the mind is always thinking and it is crazy to try to stop your mind from thinking, since thinking is the fundamental way that we human beings process reality.

I disagree! If you are looking at this Douglas fir tree, fresh green and budding now in the spring, it enters your eyes and your awareness instantly -- as do the white clouds, the sudden bark of a dog and the quiet buzzing of bees as they fly from blossom to blossom on the rhododendron bush.

Likewise, the sound of my voice enters your ears instantly -- you don't have to think about it.

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

This instantaneous response to the world before any thinking is what the Japanese called Mushin, and it is the basis of Zen.

A Tiger Climbs a Tree

A tiger climbs a tree. Why bother?

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

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

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

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

Solve It Now

Everything can be solved now, today.

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

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

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

Mountains of Verbiage vs. Going into the Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do Zen?

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

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

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

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

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

Zen's Fourth Seal, Nirvana

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fukanzazengi: A Universal Recommendation of Zazen

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

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

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

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

The Way is originally perfect and all-pervading.

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

What need is there for practice and realization?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-The Blue Cliff Record (Cleary translation)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Pearl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just So

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

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

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

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

Kill or Be Killed by Buddha

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

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

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

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


Stilling the Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you were really capable of "doing nothing" you would already be a Buddha. Only a Buddha possesses the rare power of doing nothing in complete awakeness.

Student: Huang-Po rejects "making an effort." Doesn't he?

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

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

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

How will you attain this? Do I have to shout or slap your face for you to see it instantly?

Bodhi Mind Is the "Dark Meaning of Zen"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: So only the Mind is real?

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

Q: I'm bewildered.

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

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

Munen, Part Two: Call Dudjom Rinpoche

Munen, Part One is here

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

Two of Joshu

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

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

Someone asked, "The full moon in the middle of the sky -- where does its light originate?"
Joshu said, "Where does the full moon in the middle of the sky originate?"
[To which I ask, "Where does the sky originate?"]

Ten of this one, ten thousand of all the others.
Twilight. An old woman boils up a pot of water.
The moon is brilliant & clear,
but all the bamboo stalks are ink-black.

Take no Notice

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

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

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

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

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

The master confirmed it

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

Take the Drum & Capture the Flag

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

A: A book can guide your practice at the beginning, but that is all. It cannot settle "the Great Matter of Life & Death" for you. Only your resolute practice can do that. Throw yourself off the cliff & join the rotting bones at the bottom. Then maybe one day a flower will spring from your bleached skull.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is "Just Sitting" the Fundamental Way of Zen?

A rare photo of Master Dogen sitting in meditation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hear it! Attain it now, in this life!

A Solitary Sword Against a Cold Sky

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

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

The Gate Is Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He then composed this verse:

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

The Royal Road of Zen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Munen, Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued . . .