Samurai Zen

 The Zen of the samurai was quite simple, unrefined, & direct. Sit strongly & alert with shoulders relaxed letting the breath sink down & expand by itself until the mind empties & "all this" appears just as it is.

In the Zen state of calm stillness mind & body naturally unify (they were never "two"), intellectual problems disappear, & the luminousness of reality shines forth.

If one has difficulty stopping thoughts (the experience of mental agitation, in its many forms), one can count to ten, putting one-pointed mental focus on each number in turn & using quiet force to sink breathing into the Hara.

One can also use a small bell, ringing it & listening to the reverberations die away, or gaze at the flame of a candle as a way of stopping thinking (Mokuso). 

In a calm & delightful state of pure alertness, what need do you have of "thoughts" anyway?

Tea is Bodhi

Zen Tea Master Kaji Aso, holding a bowl of tea.

It has been noted that in ancient Japan there occurred a splendid fusion of Zen's spirit with art & everyday life; Zen infused activities such as the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, swordsmanship, calligraphy and playing the bamboo flute, as well as going into the creation of moss, stone and dry gravel gardens and architectural space.

Thus Zen and artistic experience, as well as some of the training in martial arts, really became one. 

Obviously, this led away from the "book Zen" of the Chinese Song era literati and the "koan" Zen of professional monks. 

Harmony between human beings is attained only through a spontaneous sympathetic understanding, not by way of rules and laws, though these may be established later and prove useful.

This harmony is achieved to the finest and subtlest degree in the tea house during the tea ceremony because it is the spirit of the host and guests revealing itself sympathetically as luminous presentness in the sharing of enjoyment of a sip of tea. As Master Kaji Aso decribed it, "One Meeting, Full of Friendship."

The Buddha is your living awareness. The tea ceremony heightens every aspect of awareness within a relaxed mood and an atmosphere of refined simplicity.

Western philosophy began with the question, What is the primary, or original thing?

In Zen the primary or original thing is the spirit, mood or experienced quality of a given situation, as creatively grasped and communicated through the interaction between the hearts of living beings.

This is why the simple and exquisite experience of the tea ceremony can be a manifestation of Bodhi.

The Indefinable Sky Sutra

Thus I have heard:

At one time during the dry season, during the hot afternoon, the World-Honored One was sitting peacefully on a straw mat in Jeta Grove near a number of his followers, all practicing relaxed meditation, when he suddenly turned to his  foremost disciple Subhuti and asked:

"Subhuti, where is the sky located?" 

"Up, O Sugata." 

"How far up?" 

"Birds fly through the sky, so I suppose at the height of birds."

"Hah. Are not trees, or at least the crowns of trees, in the sky?" 

"Yes, Sugata. That is so."

"Do birds nest in the crowns of trees?" 

"They do." 

"So, Subhuti, you have said that birds nest as well as fly in the sky. Right?"

"I suppose so. As usual, O Bhagawan, your logic is overwhelming."

"Well, then, Subhuti, where does the trunk of a tree end and the crown begin?" 

"You toy with me, O Bhagawan. You should ask Manjusri."

"Not at all Subhuti. Not at all. I await your answer with the keenest delight."

"Well, Sugata, I would have to say you are asking me to define what is indefinable!" 

"Wonderful, Subhuti! I knew you had it in you."

"Sugata, are you saying we're in the sky?" 

"You astonish me again, my student. That is exactly what the Buddha is saying. If one cannot define what is indefinable, what is left over to say?"

Subhuti was speechless. The Buddha continued:

"If anything in the world were really graspable, in the endless round of countless rebirths you would definitely by now have grasped it. Do you understand?"

"I think so, World-Honored One."

"Suppose, Subhuti, a person were to decide the Buddha 'got Enlightened' and so became a 'buddhist' in order to get what Buddha got."

"Yes, O Sugata?" 

"Well, Subhuti, would such a person be called intelligent, or hopelessly deluded?" 

"Sugata, such a person would have to be called insane."


"It's like this, O Bhagawan. The Buddha 'got' nothing under the Bodhi tree; he merely dropped all ideas about ever getting or not getting anything. One might say he realized nothing except that, like the sky, realization itself is indefinable." 

"Ha ha, excellent, Subhuti! You have spoken truly."

Subhuti bowed down, pressing his forehead into the dust. 

Zen Misogi Training

Zen is said to be the direct and instantaneous way to enter the sublime company of all the Buddhas by just leaping over all conceptual thinking. Refreshing! 

This Ch'an/Zen state of spontaneity is exemplified by Han Shan, who lived in the mountains and wrote his poems on rocks. 

If you are having trouble accomplishing the "leap over" (Tibetan: thodgal), then you can try "misogi" Zen training. Here is how it works: 

First thing in the morning, prepare five or six buckets of freezing cold water. Strip down naked &, kneeling or crouching, pour the buckets slowly one after the other over the crown of your head. 

 Do this every day, training yourself not to lose your breath. Your breathing must remain calm & fine. After some time you should be able to do it without shivering. The cold water won't give you a shock, even in the dead of winter, but will feel purifying & blissful as your awareness merges with it. 

Once you master this, you should be able to make steam rise from your body after the freezing cold water hits it. 

You will definitely experience "the thoughtless state" at some point during your practice of Zen Misogi. 

And now that you have experienced it directly for yourself, you also know for yourself that it resolves everything at once. Go out and use This wondrous ability like a razor sharp samurai sword to cut through the knots in your everyday life!

Aum Swasti!

Be Alert, Like a Leopard in Fog

Q: Roshi, what is the Wu, Satori state like? Can you describe it to me?

A: At first you may be over-excited. Dizzy, even, with the Zen-sickness. Your energy is leaping up like mountains. The sky is heavy with fog & cold penetrates you, drops of water piercing like ice-needles. A tiger roars; the dragon bursts out of the iced-over pond. Seeing extends all around the eye; sound emanates from the ears; your forehead is a blazing miner's lamp. Everything is found in this one instant of awakening. The Buddha sees the morning star & laughs; Kasyapa smiles at the flower Buddha holds up to the gaze of the assembly of Arhats & Bodhisattvas. Mind pours into mind without causing the slightest ripple or splash. A trout darts in the stream -- you see a gliding trout-shadow on the sandy bottom, a flash of silver, then it's gone like a thought. Everything is unmanifest, graceful, & elegant in its raw state. The round mouth of a tea bowl induces ecstasy. The big pine tree breathes its scent into the sky-- every needle holds out a single glittering drop of rainwater. A state of deep & wide alertness ensues, too fine & keen for conceptual thoughts to survive it. Such thoughts vanish instantly, like snowflakes on a red hot stove. At that time: "This very body is Buddha; this universe of suffering is Nirvana."

In Front of Asses, Behind Horses

Q: Roshi, what is the difference between satori and kensho? I sometimes hear them spoken of as if they are the same. Why the different words for the same thing?

A: Satori is shedding body and mind in an instant, so that you experience the boundlessness of your "true-I"; kensho is clearly recognizing your "original face" and knowing it with absolute certainty, like someone who drinks water and knows if it is hot or cold.  Huang-Po called kensho the "sudden mysterious tacit understanding." Satori is mainly an experience; kensho is mainly an illuminating understanding. They are not-two. But that doesn't mean they are the "same," as some dull-headed people might think.

Sometimes satori and kensho happen together, and sometimes not. A person may experience satori but not kensho, and in Chan such a person is said to be in danger of falling into a state of "one sided emptiness." They may even experience "Zen sickness" and start acting in wild and eccentric ways. 

There are also some people who attain kensho (ken = seeing, sho = true nature) without experiencing satori. In that case, there is no sudden "dropping body and mind," just a clear and steady insight into where body and mind come from, like a lamp blazing deep in the night, or a giant pine tree leaning sideways in snow and fog. 

Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng had a satori when he heard a passing monk recite a verse from the Diamond Sutra, and the famous poem he wrote later on expresses this state, which might be called a living state of nothingness or voidness. But he had kensho only when his Master Hongren explained to him the meaning of that same Diamond Sutra verse late one night. 

After his satori, Hui-Neng was inspired to go and find a teacher, because he knew there was still more to realize. He did that. He found Master Hongren. But after his kensho, wide-eyed in amazement, he merely cried, "Who would have thought that the mind itself is pure and clean, yet gives rise to everything in the universe?" He didn't need any teacher now. The Mind is the true Roshi.

In other words, Hui-Neng's kensho (thanks to Master Hongren's patient eyebrows) gave him a true understanding of what his satori had first opened up for him. That understanding was not "intellectual." It was just profound and real.

The nothingness of satori is extremely blissful and liberating, if you've spent a lot of time caught up in your thinking head, but it still isn't the ultimate. As Yuanwu says, breaking up "the habitual thinking consciousness" is still only going halfway, like falling in front of asses but behind horses. 

The case of Elder Fu from the Blue Cliff Record illustrates this point grandly. Elder Fu was once stuck in a mountain monastery for three days and three nights during a big snowstorm. Given that he was the erudite type, the Abbot invited him to lecture on The Nirvana Sutra -- on which he was said to be an expert. During his lecture, the monastery's cook, who happened to be a Ch'an Buddhist, burst out laughing loudly. Elder Fu was startled, and asked what was wrong with what he'd said. The Ch'an cook told him that there was nothing wrong with it -- it's just that he hadn't experienced for himself so much as a grain of what he was talking about. Elder Fu begged for instruction:
 The [Chan] cook said, "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 [satori] 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?" [the Ch'an cook is saying that satori is not the ultimate point of Zen -- it's just the start] 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." [Fu has just experienced kensho on hearing the Ch'an cook's words, and instantly announces that he is going to live out and deepen his satori by taking some responsibility for himself.] 

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. [Satori, in which nothing can be apprehended, is still realizing only 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." [Kensho = spiritual discernment, concentration and wisdom complete and clear that are never lost, whereas satori can be lost -- or at least, temporarily misplaced.] (Thomas Cleary's translation, my notes.)

Donkey Zen

"Attaining no-thought and no-mind in a single instant is the true ancient way of Zen."

With the cessation of thought all the hues of reality appear. Amazing! The wonder of it. Yet, at the same time, what a dirty mess! You might as well get caught carrying your burro across a mine field.

Great Master Ma Tzu invented the Zen method of "tai-chi ta-yung" (great potential, great function), shouting or hitting to stop thoughts. In Japan called daiki daiyu, this is the ability to strike others with your "ki" so hard they forget their own minds.
Daiki daiyu hayaki kotokaze no gotoshi (大機大用疾如風) 
« The function follows the potential as fast as the wind »
The Lankavatara says, "All things exist only as seen of the mind," so by striking the mind in this way, everything vanishes.

Thus, it's a technique for causing satori, and it should only be used by a great teacher on those who are ripe for it.

Ma Tzu's "tai-chi ta-yung" shout deafened Master Pai Chang for three days and caused a flowering of his latent Zen ability. Why? Because
a weaker technique [was] not adequate for the purpose. The deafening of Pai Chang for three days means that he was totally disengaged from the three hindrances, that is sense organs, sense data and consciousnesses. This is the outcome of Ma Tsu's tai-chi ta-yung which was widely discussed in all Ch'an monasteries throughout China. (Charles Luk, from  his excellent book THE TRANSMISSION OF THE MIND OUTSIDE THE TEACHING)

Fazang's Treatise on the Golden Lion

1. To understand the principle of dependent-arising.
2. To distinguish form and Emptiness.
3. To summarize the three characters.
4. To reveal the non-existence of forms.
5. To explain the truth of the unborn.
6. To discuss the five doctrines.
7. To master the ten mysteries.
8. To embrace the six forms.
9. To achieve the perfect Wisdom of Bodhi.
10. To enter into Nirvāna.

1. To understand the principle of dependent-arising. This is to say that gold lion has no inherent nature of its own [i.e., no Svabhāva]. It is owing to the artistry of the skillful craftsman that the form of the lion arises. This arising is the result solely of the cause-conditioning; therefore it is called the arising through dependent-arising.

Put paws, whiskers & a mane into the gold.
The sweating brow of the craftsman, as he bends with his tools --
a furnace roars, melting the workshop's roof of snow.

2. To distinguish form and Emptiness. This means that the form of the lion is unreal; what is real is the gold. Because the lion is not existent, and the body of the gold is not non-existent, they are called form/Emptiness. Furthermore, Emptiness does not have any mark of its own; it is through forms that [Emptiness] is revealed. This fact that Emptiness does not impede the illusory existence of forms is called form/Emptiness [sê-k'ung].

The plum tree in the courtyard --
its branches weighted down by the snowstorm.
I shake snow from my coat
& turn away, tears already frozen.

3. To summarize the three characters. Because of men's delusory perceptions, the lion [seems to] exist [in a concrete manner]; this is called the character of universal imagination [parikalpita]. The [manifestation] of the lion appears to be existing, this is called the character of dependency on others [paratantra]. The nature of gold never changes, this is called the character of perfect reality [parinispanna].

Walking on a road in the rain --
my shoes sink deeply into mud.
The fields around are cold & silent,
& the crows have all gone to their nests

4. To reveal the non-existence of forms. This is to say that when the gold completely takes in the lion, there is no form of lion to be found. This is called the non-existence of forms.

Last night I dreamt of a blue sky charged with clouds --
white clouds, layer upon layer, climbing into space.

5. To explain the truth of the unborn. This means that at the very moment when [we see] the lion come into existence, it is actually the gold that comes into existence. There is nothing apart from the gold. Although the lion may come into and go out of existence, the substance of gold [in fact] never increases or decreases. This is called the truth of the unborn.

You see the mountain, then you don't --
the clouds keep changing form, 
& in the big pine tree a raven 
utters its bell-like rawk.

6. To discuss the five doctrines. The first: although the lion is a dharma produced through dependent-arising, it undergoes generation and destruction in each and every moment. [Since nothing in the phenomenal world endures,] no form of the lion can ever be found. This is called the teaching for the ignorant Śrāvakas [Hīnayāna].

Broken straw sandals, a bell abandoned in the weeds.

The second: all things, being the product of dependent-arising, are devoid of Selfhood [Svabhāva], and in the final analysis, are nothing but Emptiness. This is called the preliminary teaching of Mahāyāna.

The mountain priest lights incense & bangs the moktak.
His chanting is heard down in the village below.

The third: although all things are Emptiness through and through, this does not impede the vivid appearance of the Māyā/becoming. All that which is of dependent-arising is fictitiously existent [and therefore it is truly void.] This co-existence of both being and non-being is called the final teaching of Mahāyāna.

Everybody here is sound asleep by midnight.
They all dream about different lives.
Some get restless & cry out.
Others smile into the frost-thick dawn.

The fourth: inasmuch as these two characters [that of Emptiness and that of form] mutually annul each other, they are both abolished. Here, no imaginings or false presuppositions exist; neither the concept of Emptiness nor the idea of existence retains any influence. [This is the sphere in which] the ideas of both being and non-being vanish. It is a realm that names and speech cannot reach. Here the mind rests without any attachment. This is called the instantaneous teaching of Mahāyāna.

In the morning, he climbs the mountain to pick herbs.
At night, he locks the goats in their wooden pen.

The fifth: when all false feelings and wrong ideas are eliminated, and the true substance is revealed, everything becomes merged into one great mass. Great functions then arise in abundance, and whatever arises is absolutely true. The myriad manifestations, despite their variety, interpenetrate without confusion or disarray. The all is the one, for both are empty in substance. The one is the all, for cause and effect clearly manifest themselves [without fail]. In their power and functions [the one and the all] embrace each other. They spread out and roll up in utter freedom. This is called the Round Doctrine of the One Vehicle.

The warrior came up to the temple carrying his helmet.
He was leading a horse along behind him.
They were both worn out, battered & bloody.
The caretaker came out holding his broom & bowed deeply to them. 

7. Mastering the ten mysteries. The first: the gold and the lion are simultaneously established, all-perfect and complete. This is called the principle of simultaneous completeness.

Mountains are mountains, water is water.
Everything is exactly how you see it now.

The second: if the eyes of the lion take in the complete lion, then the all [the whole lion] is the eyes. If the ears take in the complete lion, then the all is the ears. If all the organs simultaneously take in the whole lion and all are complete in their possession, then each and every organ is "mixed" [involving others] as well as "pure" [being itself]. This is called the principle of full possession of the purity and mixture by the various storehouses.

The bell rings out at dawn, then again at noon.
You listen to the echoes deep inside your chest.
Some children are running around in the street,
shouting & throwing snowballs.

The third: the gold and the lion both establish and include each other in harmony. There is no obstruction between one and many. [In this complete mutual inclusion,] the Li [noumenon] and the Shih [phenomena], the one and the many, remain in their own positions. This is called the mutual inclusion and differentiation of one and many.

Sitting down to supper, putting your chopsticks in the bowl.
The fire crackles & the twigs in it give off a good smell.
Everybody who ever lived has died. 
There is only this instant to enjoy yourself in.

The fourth: all the parts of the lion, down to the tip of each and every hair, take in the whole lion in so far as they are all gold. Each and every one of them permeates the eyes of the lion. The eyes are the ears, the ears are the nose, the nose is the tongue, the tongue is the body. They all exist in total freedom without obstruction or impediment. This is called the mutual identity of all dharmas in freedom.

Eyes pervaded by vision, nose by smell, ears by sound --
A beautiful young girl walks through the rain singing. 

The fifth: if we look at the lion [as a lion], there is only lion and no gold. This is the disclosure of the lion but the concealment of the gold. If we look at the gold [as gold], there is only gold and no lion. This is the disclosure of the gold but the concealment of the lion. If we look at both simultaneously, they are both manifest or hidden. Being hidden they arc secret, being manifest they are revealed. This is called the simultaneous establishment of disclosure and concealment in secrecy.

The temple puts out its flags. Drums bang across the river. 
The smell of roasting rice on the breeze suddenly makes you feel hungry.

The sixth: the gold and the lion may be manifest or hidden, one or many, pure or mixed, powerful or powerless. The one is the other. The principal and the companion interchange their radiance. Both Li and Shih simultaneously come into view. Being mutually compatible, they do not impede one another's existence. This is true even in the case of the minute and the subtle aspects and is called the peaceful co-existence.. of the minute and the subtle.

The boy who gazed into the starry sky, long ago . . . 
And the man gazing into the starry sky now . . . 

The seventh: in each of the lion's eyes, in its ears, limbs, and so forth, down to each and every single hair, there is a golden-lion. All the lions embraced by each and every hair simultaneously and instantaneously enter into one single hair. Thus in each and every hair there are an infinite number of lions. Furthermore, each and every hair containing infinite lions returns again to a single hair. The progression is infinite, like the jewels of Celestial Lord lndra's Net; a realm-embracing-realm ad infinitum is thus established, and it is called the realm of lndra's Net.

Coming back from a long soak in the hot spring,
I light my pipe & relax looking at the autumn-colored mountains.

The eighth: the lion is spoken of in order to indicate men's ignorance; the gold is spoken of in order to reveal the true nature. By jointly discussing Li and Shih the Ālaya Consciousness is described so that a correct understanding [of the doctrine] may be reached. This is called the creation of understanding by revealing the Dharma through facts.

Once upon a time, in a storm of blue butterflies . . . 

The ninth: the lion is a transient and conditioned thing [samskrta dharma]; it arises and fades away at every moment, and each moment can be divided into past, present, and future. Each of these three periods again contains three sections of past, present, and future; therefore, altogether there are three-times-three units, thus forming the nine ages; grouping them together we have a total gate to the Dharma-truth. Although there are nine ages, each is different from the other, and yet their existences are established because of one another. They are harmoniously merged without the slightest obstruction in one identical [eternal] moment. This is called the different formation of separated dharmas in ten ages.

Night. The traffic light on Main Street has stopped turning from red to green to yellow to red. 
It just blinks yellow, swinging a little in the mountain wind.

The tenth: the gold and the lion may be manifest or hidden, one or many, but they are both devoid of a Self-being [Svabhāva]. They manifest in various forms in accordance with the turning and transforming of the Mind. Whether we speak of them as Li or Shih, there is [the Mind] by which they are formed and exist. This is called the universal accomplishment through the projection of Mind-Only.

All the Buddhas are born from this single sesame cake,
this sip of green tea from a mis-shapen bowl.

8. To embrace the Six Forms. The lion represents the character of wholeness, and the five organs, being various and different, represent diversity. The fact that they are all of one dependent-arising represents the character of universality. The eyes, ears, and so on remain in their own places and do not interfere with one another; this represents the character of particularity. The combination and convergence of the various organs makes up the lion; this represents the character of formation. The fact that each organ remains at its own position represents the character of disintegration.

Walking Market Street at night -- scoffed at by beggars, 
offered drugs & hookers on every corner, 
seeing broken men shuffle, hearing women laugh crazily & wail --
oh no this can't be our lives. How do we get out of this hell?

9. To achieve the perfect Wisdom of Bodhi. "Bodhi," in the Chinese language, means the Way [Tao] or Enlightenment. This is to say that when we look at the lion, we see at once that all conditioned things, without going through the process of disintegration, are from the beginning in a state of quiescent non-existence. By being free from both clinging and detachment, one can follow this path into the ocean of omniscience [sarvajña]; therefore it is called the Way. To comprehend the fact that from the very no-beginning all illusions are in reality non-existent is called Enlightenment.

The cypress tree in the courtyard!
It's greenness spreads strength & calm for a thousand miles in every direction.

10. To enter into Nirvāna. When we look at the lion and the gold, the marks of both are exhausted. At this point, the passion-desires no longer arise even though beauty and ugliness are displayed before one's eyes. The mind is tranquil like the sea; all disturbing and delusory thoughts are extinguished, and there are no compulsions. One emerges from bondage and is free from all hindrances. The source of all suffering is forever cut off, and this is called entering into Nirvāna.

I saw a dragonfly stop in flight, circle back & shoot off again in a straight line.
Most nights that summer, the leaky hose drip-dripped under a starry sky.

-Fazang, translated from the Chinese by C. C. Change

Sharpen Your Knife on a Dragonfly's Wings

The Ch'an Masters of what came to be known as the Hongzhou School of the T'ang Dynasty in China are not especially "encouraging" when it comes to the ease of Enlightenment and the time that it may take. (I am much more so.) How does the Golden Eagle chick crack its hard world-shell, so it can sing in the blue sky amid white clouds?

Huang-Po, asked how to follow the Way of Ch'an, quoted the Lotus Sutra: "Just spend twenty or thirty years cleaning the dung out of your mind that has been accumulating there since birth."

By "dung," as becomes explicit in the same passage, he meant various views, ideas, thoughts, opinions and concepts. But is Enlightenment guaranteed even then? No! "Of the three or five thousand students in our sect, only three or four individuals will ever attain the goal."Ouch!

According to tradition, Huang-Po had thousands of students over his lifetime. If we believe him, probably less than a dozen of these ever attained what he calls "the mysterious tacit understanding" of "the Highest Truth" transmitted to China by Bodhidharma. What's the point of it all?

Are Lin-Chi, Joshu, and Yunmen more encouraging? Not really. Lin-Chi, in one famous passage, speaks of his many years of practice before attaining realization, and yet he cannot refrain from calling his clueless students "shitheads" and the like for not getting it instantly. But maybe Lin-Chi was just a big clown.

Yunmen tells his students that if they find an old monk who actually has some Ch'an ability, they must hang up their straw hats and study hard with that person for twenty or thirty years. Then, at least, even if they don't get "it" in this lifetime they'll be fairly certain of getting another human body so that they can try again in the next life. He describes those students who waste their time arguing over words "green flies buzzing around a lump of shit."

Our Master Joshu is slightly more encouraging. Like Huang-Po and the others, he says, "When the mind does not arise, everything is flawless." Very good! (Note that he doesn't say, "Whether the mind arises or not, everything is flawless," which would be an intellectual view and a basic misunderstanding.) "Next year spring is still spring."

So how does one reach this experiential realm of immediacy in which the mind does not arise, and everything is flawless? "Just sit for twenty or thirty years and follow what is true." These old men seem to have made a colorful fetish of just sitting down. 

Uh oh! There's that twenty or thirty years of Zen practice again! But wait: "If at the end of this time you do not get realization, you may cut off my head & take it away with you."

That's it. That's the best case scenario of all the Hongzhou school Ch'an teachings: you are certain to attain the mysterious realization after a mere twenty or thirty years of "just sitting" and "following what is true." Or you may take away your Master's head on a bamboo pole. In the rain or the snow, monsoon or blizzard; your pick. 

Were they serious about all this? Or was it just inflated Zen rhetoric? Lips flapping in the mountain wind?

There is no stepping back from the "mysterious realization," as it is not a thing existing in space. What is it, then? It's your own treasure. Why hire someone else to find it for you, when it's closer to you than your eyeballs & nostrils? When you find your roaming horse, you also recover all of its hairs, too -- all at once!

Still, over many centuries of Ch'an history, thousands of people left home, humped it up & down mountains, & ate only rice & vegetables with the aim of receiving the Mind Transmission and the tacit understanding that can only be experienced, not explained. If all this were just something trivial like getting some phenomenal object of desire -- a beautiful wife or a nice house or a book deal -- would Yunmen have told students to sacrifice twenty or thirty years of their lives doing nothing else but trying to find an entrance? (Rhetorical question! Sssh.)

The Ch'an ancients wanted their students to take what they taught seriously. They were anxious not to cheapen it by promising an easy entrance for everybody & their little sister. (Your little sister is probably Enlightened already, so don't worry about her! She's squatting on the beach patting mud into a sand castle right now.)

To enter Zen with the suddeness of a knife thrust, you must first sharpen your knife. A dull knife doesn't cut. Toss some water on the whetting stone! Put your elbow & wrist into it.

Try sharpening your knife on a dragonfly's wings! The summer breeze strokes your forehead -- red flowers bloom like suns in the depths of the thicket.

Zen is the Dharma of Mind-Only

Zen is the Dharma of Mind-Only. Wake up to it now and you won't have these thinking-problems. Mind is always appearing right in front of your eyes, in your nostrils and ears and on your tongue.

Who is mind? Who are you?

Leaving aside various verbal and written teachings, which have always been mistrusted even in "Buddhism," the Buddha Dharma is no more than the experiential realization of Mind-Only. This means there is not even the difference of a hair between Zen and It.

Where does this institution called "Buddhism" exist outside of your own mind? Outside of your mind there are no dharmas to fill your eyes with green mountains, buddhas or non-buddhas.

As the Lion of the Shakya Clan once said, "There is a realm of the unborn, the unconditioned, the unmade. If there were not such a realm, there would be no refuge from the born, the conditioned, the made."

The born, the conditioned, the made is the realm of thinking, of attaching to names and forms, trying to nail clouds to the sky or a paper tail on an extremely skittish donkey.

Abandon thinking and attaching to names and forms, and you are instantly --wow! -- in the realm of the unborn, the unconditioned, the unmade. (Put strength in every hair, abandon conceit, & maybe you can stay there -- cooling your heels in Jeta Grove, enjoying the fresh breeze on your forehead.)

If I'm not mistaken, Huang-Po said this over and over. For example: "The Patriarchal Gate is calming mental functions and forgetting views." A perfect description of what is taught in the Pali suttas, too.

Shakyamuni's transmission is also the Mind-Seal of Zen as brought to China by that wily old rascal Bodhidharma.

⼭家富貴銀千樹 ⿂夫⾵流⽟⼀蓑

The treasure of a mountain hut, a thousand silver trees. 
The jewel of a rustic fisherman, a single straw coat. 

Awareness Is the Horse's Nostrils

Q: Roshi, what do you mean by "awareness"?

A: Awareness is. In fact that's a redundant statement. But you see where I'm pointing.

It isn't that there is awareness. It's that awareness & only awareness is. What & where isn't it?

(You, sitting over there, are an appearance of & in "my" Awareness. I, sitting over here, am an appearance of & in "your" Awareness. There is no difference but that of physical POV.

So really there is nothing going here but Awareness appearing to Awareness, like water poured into water, space into space, a mirror reflecting another mirror. Miraculous!

How did it get hair, eyes, nostrils? How does it hear the buzz of a fly? How does it become a buzzing fly, bouncing on the window-pane? How did it become the window-pane? How did it learn language? Etc. Don't know!)

It (Awareness) is just the mysterious & profound appearing of all this (sensory experience) to itself. The pines are deep green, the flowers bright red. That's how it all really is for us. Wake up to fantastic truth of it! Shake the snow out of your hair.

The glass on the table is not an object I am aware of; it IS the awareness. It is a shape cut out of awareness, glistening with the brilliant colors of awareness. It has the awesome solidity of awareness.

This observation goes for anything & everything you can name that ever gets experienced by anybody anywhere at all at any time whatsoever.

I am not someone who is aware of things. Awareness just appears to itself, sometimes defined by a physical POV.

Note: Physical here doesn't mean "material" -- except that in the sheer deluge of appearance one recognizes materials. (And also immaterials.)

One might speak of an exquisitely fine filigree of the Awareness appearing to Awareness within the Void of Itself.

Sensory experience, when wrongly conceptualized in a state of ignorance, leads to the laughable idea of a subject here & objects there. In reality, it is just Awareness here, there, everywhere.

So can I be aware that what I've said is a fact, without self-contradiction? Yes! I can realize the truth of it, at a mysteriously different level.

That mysterious realization is sudden & inarguable. Awareness comes to realize what it is now & always was & always will be. It regains its majesty, its subtle reach, its freshness, its vigor, its vibrant quickness.

Hear the rattling hailstones from out of the half-clouded half-blue sky. See the raven tearing twigs from the dogwood to build a nest in the Douglas fir.

For a long time a word was on the tip of your tongue. Now it springs forth like the mythical golden haired lion, like red flowers in the mouth of the Void.

So, you ask, "What is it that realizes the reality of Awareness?" I answer, "It's the Awareness itself!" Nothing has ever existed outside it. Not a donkey's jowls, or a horse's nostrils, or a raven's iridescent black tail feathers.

(The Dzogchen tantras say as much: rang shes rig gi rgyal po, the king who is self-knowing awareness, always present, yet always beyond all conceptualizing capture in terms of subjects & objects.)

It's just like Ukigomo: the white clouds enjoying a fresh spring breeze.


It is not true that "I" am aware of anything at all. For awareness is the only "I" there ever is. Awareness is aware even before there are words for it.

Gold is gold. Make it into the delicate filigree of a necklace laid out on red velvet in the window of a Paris jeweler's shop, it's still gold.

Nothing is ever present anywhere or at any time but awareness Itself, and the idea of "persons" facing "things" is a mere conceptual ploy. (A ploy that is only possible, what's more, by & within the wonderfully pure expanse of Awareness.)


The Self-Arising Primordial Awareness Tantra tells us that this manifest awareness is present in everybody, but nobody realizes it.

This is interesting. Nobody realizes it -- not even a Buddha. It is in fact "the majestic ruler of all buddhas."

Nobody realizes that the self-arising primordial awareness is present, because it is only by means of its presence that you can ever know or experience anything at all, including your so-called realization of It!

"How are my nostrils different than a horse's nostrils?"


What is the Effortless One-to-One Transmission of the Natural State of Baseless & Infinite Clear Light Awareness?

It is a direct & pure transmission without words or speech. In this mind-to-mind transmission all conceptualizations are transcended & quiescence is achieved along with sudden insight. Inside and outside are surpassed & abandoned, as is the in-between. The four statements are shattered, with no shadow of them left behind to trouble or haunt anybody.

You sit in Seiza before me. I help to arrange your posture until it is right. The posture of a warrior Buddha. The Buddha of Budo. This may take a little time, or not. I then place my open hand on the back of your neck, on the nape, at a particular moment & in a particular spot. That is when the transmission happens. It may be accompanied by a shout or a sharp outbreath. It is like water being poured into water, space into space. It is like the breathing of the wind & freezing clouds in great mountain pines. After this you are free to stride at ease through the universe. [You always were!]

A Note on the Tao: Older Than Gods, Even Older Than the Blazing Inner Light

This whole universe is the majestic outpouring display of a single awareness ("the one mind, one consciousness" of fable -- but THIS fable is wildly true).

It's in the shrike, it's in the ant, it's in the inchworm -- it's in YOU. "Outside of this Mind there are no dharmas to fill your eyes with green mountains." (Master Huang-Po)

It never experiences anything but ITSELF -- but to experience itself it has to limit itself, starting with a single decisive stroke that divides this from that, here from there. Just as an endless echoing children's game can begin with a straight line drawn in the damp sand of a courtyard. Just as a single falling yellow leaf can signify a whole autumn forest. Do you smell the smoke in the rainy air? That's the woodsman's fire. And the woodsman's wife is humming a tune as she sews a patch into his threadbare jacket. Are we speaking French & Spanish yet? There's also a grassy cork forest in the depths of Portugal. And a barnacle studded whale rolling out of the chilled salt water just north of Portland, Oregon.

Of course It can also revert to experiencing itself solely as a bare, self-knowing, imageless blaze of Light. Yet even this blaze of Light tends to mute itself down a little & then turn into a variegated universe of subtle rays, colors, sounds -- & it is only a few steps from this playful leap to the objectified four great elements, the sensory organs & their objects, & the seeming material universe of human conceptions, featuring countless people walking around believing they are some sort of unique & irreplaceable selves. The horns of a rabbit! The lucky paw of a snail!

Yet a single unsophisticated glance into the Starry Sky refutes all this madness in half an instant.

Even the Light -- whether the Light of the Starry Sky or the Light inside your head, between your eyebrows & an inch or so inside -- is not the ultimate. No.

The ultimate is the Tao, which is older than gods, older than even the blaze of immaterial Light that gives birth to (or is simply misrecognized as) phenomenal stuff. To call it Nothing is to miss it completely. To call it Everything can only provoke a burst of astonished & derisive laughter. ("Tao is in grass, in broken tiles, in ants, in dung." So said Chuang-Tzu. In electrons, too, maybe? If you can ever put one on your eyelashes.)

Here one must hold one's tongue. For nothing that can be said about the Tao can capture the Tao. It is like trying to catch a big, clever catfish in a small gourd. Try all day & night for the rest of your natural life -- it will never happen.

Ten Points to Consider in Zen

1: Don't be mindful of your breathing. Forget it.
2 Use relaxed & mindless walking to raise Ki & enhance your experience of life.
3 Bamboo flute -- one note, enlightenment [108 x Ro]
4 One instant is all instants: ichinen sanzen
5: Getting rid of dogmatic views. Drink a bowl of green tea.
6: Mysterious Realization is the Energy of Life Itself; Just Get Out of Its Way
7 the Dark Gate [Meaning] of Zen
8 Zen Sword -- it's just your natural breathing
9 Namu Amida Butsu is just everyday life
10 Mysterious Bodhi, stop thinking now.

Iron Flute 37, Hsüeh-fêng's Sanctity

A monk asked Hsüeh-fêng, "How can one touch sanctity?" Hsüeh-fêng answered, "A mere innocent cannot do it." "If he forgets himself," the monk asked again, "can he touch sanctity?" "He may do so in so far as he is concerned," Hsüeh-fêng replied. "Then," continued the monk, "what happens to him?" "A bee never returns to his abandoned hive."

My poem:

Ten mountains leaping alive in the soundless winter vastness.
A flute made of black iron, without any holes to blow into.

Sitting Still in the Dry Wood Hall

You should realize that this is the last day of your life. Have you prepared yourself for today's matter? You cannot prepare by studying sutras and teachings or by reciting from your Zen notes. Nor can you prepare through the cleverness of your mind. Precisely at this time when you are dying and confused, forgetting instantly everything you remembered in the past, is when it is necessary that you establish yourself in the ground of truth, and it is of no use trying to do it in a superficial manner. Right away, for every moment of the day, you should prepare for it by ceasing and resting. You must completely let go of all worldly concerns and sit still in the dry wood hall. You must die a turn and then in this death establish everything in the whole universe. 

-Master Zichun

The Undying Lamp of Zen

Directly transcending expedients, meditating intensely, as soon as we get the essence, then the esoteric and exoteric teachings of the Buddhas all appear at once. Then we ram through a number of barriers, then come back and read scriptures and treatises, which now seem like we've expounded them ourselves. Afterward we raze the forest of wisdom, kick over the site of enlightenment, destroy the transcendental, and cut off the pulse of the Buddhas and Patriarchs. Exoteric and esoteric -- what are these? Even the reality body and the wisdom body still have to withdraw from the universe!

-Master Torei, The Undying Lamp of Zen


One monk asked: What is genuine insight? The master said: Entering the realms of the worldly and the sacred, the tainted and the pure, the land of the Buddha, the upper chambers of Maitreya, and Vairocana's Dharma world, you will see them all as subject to (the law of) coming to be and ceasing to be. Buddha appeared in the world, turned the wheel of the Dharma, and then entered Nirvana. But he did not see these as the features of coming and going. Searching around birth and death, in the end you cannot attain.

Just enter the birthless Dharma realm and play about in it; enter the world of the Lotus Treasury; everywhere, all things are without form, and are not the real Dharma. There is only the Independent Man of the Way who is now listening to the Dharma. He is the mother of all the Buddhas. Therefore is the Buddha born from independence. If you truly understand this independence, then you know that the Buddha is not something to be attained! One who can see it like this is a man of genuine insight.

Students ceaselessly take hold of names and phrases, and get obstructed by words like "worldly" and "sacred" which obscure the eye, and so they cannot see clearly. The Twelve Divisions of the Teachings are only surface explanations. But students, not realizing this, take to these surface explanations of words and letters and deliver interpretations of them. All this is only supporting their dependence and, accordingly, they fall into cause and effect and so do not escape birth and death in the Three Worlds.

If you want to get free from birth and death, from coming and going, from taking off or putting on (as clothes), know and take hold of him who is now listening to the Dharma. He has neither form nor shape, neither root nor trunk; nor does he have a dwelling place; he is as lively as a fish leaping in the water, and performs his function in response to all situations. However, the place of his functioning is not a locality. Therefore, if you search for him, he eludes you. The more you seek him, the farther away he is. That is why he is called "mysterious."

-Ch'an Master Lin-Chi

The Sudden School

The Bodhisattva Sila Sutra says, "Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure, and if we knew our mind and realized what our nature is, all of us would attain Buddhahood." As the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra says, "At once they become enlightened and regain their own mind." Learned Audience, when the Fifth Patriarch preached to me I became enlightened immediately after he had spoken, and spontaneously realized the real nature of Tathata. For this reason it is my particular object to propagate the teaching of this "Sudden" School, so that learners may find Bodhi at once and realize their true nature by introspection of mind. -The Platform Sutra of Hui-Neng, Sixth Patriarch of the Ch'an "Sudden Enlightenment" School

Through the Gateless Barrier

Q: Roshi, I wonder if you could guide me to an understanding of Zen, or at least an experience of Zen. Can you do it? I've heard it said that making an effort is contrary to Zen, that one should never practice because practice is an artificial idea, where Zen is natural and pure -- just being yourself in all situations.

A: You should certainly be yourself in all situations, so tell me now -- Who are you?

Q: [Laughs nervously.]

A: Once you find out who you are, you won't have any trouble being yourself in all situations. Until you do, you will have every possible kind of trouble, starting with the trouble of not knowing yourself in the least little bit.

Q: That's what I'm afraid of. So how do I find out who I am?"

A: The Zen way, which is also the Buddha's way, is to attain "Sudden Enlightenment." There are various approaches to this. For example, "Cut off thinking" was Master Huang-Po's suggestion to his students. It is best done in a mountain monastery or hermitage. The goal of this difficult practice is to attain a state of, "No-mind, No-thought."Then all your troubles disappear in a great light. You laugh at the white clouds, the blue sky.

Q: Can you show me how?

A: As you go about your everyday activities you do not raise any thoughts about what you are doing. This is the "absorption in one mind, absorption in one practice" the Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng spoke about.

Q: Sounds hard! Thinking comes easily to me. When I try not to think, I'm still flooded with thoughts, then I just feel worthless & stupid.

A: It is difficult at first but take heart -- it becomes easier. As you practice in this way, you save and amass energy. It may take 20 or 30 years but if you practice Huang-Po's method you will one day break through and attain "Sudden Enlightenment."

Q: Are there any short cuts?

A: I am thrilled that you asked this question. There are! Let me take you back to Zen Master Yunmen's style of teaching. Yunmen was renowned for his "one word barriers." A student would ask him, "Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?" and he'd shout something absurd like, "Sesame cake!"

The Zen student inevitably trusts in his own intellect and believes he can penetrate the Mystery by using the activity of his own mind. But in Zen, the intellect is known to be captivating and the individual self "mind" seen to be full of delusions. So, Zen teachers like Yunmen would embody the "Great Function" of Zen by cutting off the mental activity of students all at once with a shout, the blow of a stick, or an impenetrable "one word barrier." Or by slamming a door on your foot.

Sometimes the student then suddenly experiences a first person realization -- that is, he or she transcends name and form, "smashing the black lacquer barrel and shattering the empty sky to dust." Mental activity stops short. The bottom falls out of the cosmic slop bucket.

This is a technique that only works, however, if the Zen student has access to a masterful Master & happens to already be in a highly charged state of "Great Doubt." The "Great Doubt" has nothing to do with skeptical thinking -- it is sometimes called "the doubt sensation," in that it involves your whole body.

Q: It sounds terrifying!

A: It is! Terrifying & electrifying. But the Great Doubt vanishes all at once in the mysterious instant of Sudden Awakening. Wumen Huikai describes all of this very well in the first case of the Wumenkuan.

Q: Can you give me an example of how to arouse this Great Doubt?

A: Sure. Ask yourself: "What was your original face before your parents conceived you?"

Q: But the answer to that is easy. I didn't exist. I didn't have a face.

A: What was your original mind, then?

Q: I didn't have a mind, either.

A: So how did you get one?

Q:  Probably from the meeting of my father's sperm and my mother's egg, plus the food I've eaten?

A: Is that just what somebody once told you, or is that what you found out for certain by looking inward and investigating the matter for yourself? Because I must tell you that you will find nothing in any Zen book or Meditation Hall that will help you even remotely, if you really believe that your mind is made up of your father's sperm, your mother's egg, and the various foods you've eaten. None of the ancient Zen teachers saw it in this way.

Q: That's the only answer I've got.

A: Where does your mind go in deep sleep?

Q: I guess it's just dormant. My brain isn't active, so I don't have a mind then.

A: You seem to know everything. Your knowledge exceeds that of all the ancient Zen teachers. So you clearly have no need for Zen!

Q: Now wait. I apologize. I like the idea of, what's that quote from Wumen Huikai, "living out my life in a merry & playful samadhi." How can I get there? Can you point me to it or not?

A: Let's turn to Wumen himself, then, who trained his students rigorously according to the "Great Doubt" method. Here is what he wrote at the end of his famous book of koans:

The vital sayings and doings of the Buddha and the Patriarchs, bare like the confessions of a criminal, have now all been set down without any additions on the part of the author. All of you should receive this immediately, and not seek for it from others. If you are a person of fundamental ability, when you hear a small part you will know the essence and it is not necessary for you to enter the Gate, or go up the stairs -- but, squaring your elbows, you may pass the barrier without asking the permission of the barrier keeper:

Squaring your elbows,
blinking the eyes,
holding up a flower -- 
The whole universe is in it
if you know what "it" is.

Puhua, Cloud Thief

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spontaneity Became a Way of Life

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

The Jewel That Reflects All Colors

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

Yunmen Said

Hola, crow.

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

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

It Can Always Hurt

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

Q: Roshi, what are your views on Mindfulness?

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How do I do that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Look Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Fuck off. Next question.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

What Is the State of Your Being Right Now?

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

What is the state of your being right now?

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

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

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

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

Manjusri Riding a Blue Lion on Mt. Wutai

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Money talks, bullshit walks.

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

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


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

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

Nan-ch‘üan answered, "Yes, you can."

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

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

Twisting the knife.

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

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

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

Use chopsticks!


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

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

One day as they met on the road,

Two traveling clowns from a bankrupt circus!

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

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

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

Round one: an official draw.

"To whom?" asked the monk.

This monk isn't satisfied with a straight answer.

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

Gods laugh, mortals weep.

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

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

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

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

Scissors used as a knife.

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

It's what he does best.

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

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

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

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


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

Go wash your elephant in the river.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

He was then brought the regular dinner.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

All the monks glance up at once. Disappointment.

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

Do they blaze like yours?

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

None of the monks looked down, but one smiled.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

What is it right now before any thinking?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hit the gong and a Yellow Dragon spits fire.

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

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

The Dharma Seal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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