moon bright:

an unsheathed


Penetrate the Heights & the Depths! Forceful Zen Methods

(Here is about half of the section of “Forceful Physical (Body and Mind) Techniques” from The Little Manual of Shibumi Ki Do.)

Shedding Mind and Body Instantly

Zen practice is total absorption, resolve, and dedication to pushing all the way through. So, archery for example can be a Zen practice. Have you read Eugene Herrigel's little book on the Zen of Archery?

"A yes, a no, a straight line -- a goal." (Nietzsche) This is Zen.

So, there is no difference between Zen and life, except that in Zen one pushes forward to the point that everything drops away, whereas usually in other areas of life there is a stopping point short of "shedding body and mind" then "shedding the shedding."

Any practice can be a Zen practice. It is just a matter of going all the way & breaking through.

Once the illusory appearances of life are broken through, & thinking is exhausted, Mind is realized in a flash.

"Majestic and imposing, I've come from the mountains!"

Cutting Off Your Own Head

Kneel in Seiza and bring all your attention along with the energetic flow of your breath decisively and all at once, yet softly, with no special effort (like a cut in kendo) down to the seika tanden (the one-point in the lower belly). This cuts off your head.

If any thoughts occur now, they occur like miracles in space, dreams or hallucinations in the middle of the night, nowhere and at no time. Aware, clear, relaxed, and inspired. No problems. No mind. No body, even. Just the sense of breathing and moving around or sitting still.

Once you've "cut off your own head" then you can do whatever you like. After this, meditation isn't even meditation. It isn't anything at all.

If those didn't work, why not try some sudden shouting, to startle yourself into the unborn state? The following text is a slight adaptation from a Tibetan manual:

Shouting It Out

While resting in an even state, at ease,

Suddenly let out a mind-shattering Ha! --

Fierce, forceful and abrupt. Amazing!

There is nothing there: transfixed in wonder,

Struck by wonder, and yet all is transparent and clear.

Fresh, pure and sudden, so beyond description.

Priming the Pump with Breath Meditation, Then Shouting Hoh! Toh! Sho! or Ha! To Shatter the Chain of Thinking All at Once

"Prime the pump" first by breathing in slowly & deeply with fine attention to the flow of the breath into the body & the expansion of all the channels. Yet the out-breathing should be cool, natural & relaxed.

It is as if you were accumulating a blazing fire in the Seika Tanden area, compressed at the bottom of your breathing. Every breath adds to it and with each breath your awareness should become keener.

The in-breaths should be done in a series. How many repetitions? It depends on how much energy you need to accumulate in the lower Tanden. Only you can know this.

At a certain point, after you've done a series of these deep, slow, profoundly aware in-breaths, maybe ten or maybe twenty-five, suddenly make the out-breath an explosive "Ha!"

At this point your usual dualistic mind will shatter & you will instantaneously taste the realm of "Suchness."

To put it another way, you will experience Great Awareness, Great Energy & Great Space all as one sphere of absolute reality.

Gaze at Your Index Finger for 30 Seconds Straight Without Giving Rise to Any Thinking

Look at your index finger. Give rise to no thoughts at all for 30 seconds. Can you do it?

If you can manage it for just one or two seconds, you will see it with an almost magical clarity, there before you in space.

Then, likely as not, the thinking will wash over you again & though you are still seeing the finger, your whole being is not awake to it. Compare these two states. Which is better?

Question: If giving rise to thoughts can blind you to your own index finger, how much more so to the mountains, the rivers, the trees, the sun and moon and the starry sky?

Leap Into the 360 Degree Panorama of Mind

Here you are looking at words on a page or a screen. But now shift your attention in a forceful manner to focus on the glowing colors of your computer screen or the black on white of your book, then expand that focus to a clear sudden awareness of the 360 panorama of the room you're in, including sounds & all other sensations, free of any thinking at all. Ah!

Leap in this way over all of your doubts to a 360 degree panoramic space. The person who can accomplish this leap gains startling new abilities effortlessly.

Just Still Thoughts

"Just still the thoughts in your mind. It is good to do this right in the midst of disturbance. When you are working on this, penetrate the heights & the depths." -Master Yuanwu.

Try starting up an intense series of thoughts about something emotional for you and then "still" them all at once, just like pouring cold water into boiling water.

Penetrate the heights & the depths!

Drop Thought as You Grip a Sword

As soon as you grip your sword all thinking should vanish instantly like a snowflake on a blazing hot stove. This is a forceful yet subtle technique.

"The pine and bamboo draw a fresh breeze."

Every step is joyous, is it not?

Give Everything Back to Its Source

Give light back to the sky, darkness to empty space, body to the four elements, thoughts to books, &c. Give everything you've borrowed in your life back to its source, then rest nakedly in the no-thing left over.

Give light back to the sky.

Give darkness back to empty space and shadows.

Give hate and suffering from hate back to the Hell demons.

Give pride, love and joy back to the gods in Heaven.

Give body back to the four great elements.

Give speech back to writing.

Give everything you borrowed back to its source.

What's left? That's the real "I Am."

The great bindu without size or location --

original, mysterious, before all thoughts.

Do Intensive “Shedding” Meditation as Taught by the Woman Hunchback

After three days, he was able to put the world outside himself. Once he could do this, I continued my support and after seven days, he was able to put beings outside himself. Once he could do this, I continued my support, and after nine days, he was able to put life outside himself. Once he could do this, he achieved the brightness of dawn, and after this, he could see his own aloneness. After he had managed to see his own aloneness, he could do away with past and present, and after that, he was able to enter [a state of] no life and no death - Buliang Yi’'s meditation progress under the guidance of Nüyu (The Woman Hunchback) in Chuang-Tzu

Polishing a Dusty Mirror

Train like this: as you meditate, simply allow your breathing to purify whatever is there inside, like polishing a dusty mirror with a rag.

When you polish something, you use a light touch, yet there is energy behind it.

Who is holding this rag? In the end, breathing will breathe itself. How mysterious!

White Gauze

Visualize a piece of white gauze & then mentally project yourself through it. If you do this practice with very concentrated attention, what comes out on the other side is just the pure consciousness itself. Yowza!

Put Your Mind into a Sound

Put all your attention (mind) into a sound, in space outside your body, and suddenly your mind will be the space that also includes your body both inside & outside.

Rilke, speaking of himself in the third person, had this experience spontaneously one afternoon in a Capri garden:

Späterhin meinte er, sich gewisser Momente zu erinnern, in denen die Kraft dieses einen schon, wie im Samen, enthalten war. Er gedachte der Stunden in jenem anderen südlichen Garten (Capri), da ein Vogelruf draußen und in seinem Inneren übereinstimmend da war, indem er sich gewissermaßen an der Grenze des Körpers nicht brach, beides zu einem ununterbrochenen Raum zusammennahm, in welchem, geheimnisvoll geschützt, nur eine einzige Stelle reinsten, tiefsten Bewußtseins blieb.

“He thought of the hour in that southern garden (in Capri), when a bird's song was out there and in his inner being at once. It certainly did not break at the frontier of the body but took both inside & outside to a boundless space in which, mysteriously protected, there remained only a single zone of purest, deepest consciousness.

At that time he shut his eyes in order not to be distracted from such a magnanimous experience by the outline of his body, and the infinity went so intently into him from all sides that he could believe he was feeling in his breast the slight revolt of the dawning stars.” (My poor translation.)

Likewise, in the great Surangama Sutra, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara describes to Buddha's assembly how he attained complete penetration samadhi (sudden enlightenment, followed instantly by liberation) just by concentrating on sounds in such a way as to drop off all deluded thinking and awaken to the hearing-nature itself, ultimately realizing the non-duality of sound and hearing-nature or bare, intrinsic awareness.

The method is to be attentive to how deep and how far the sound of the bell, the rain, or the birdsongs penetrates or drops into you. Is there any obstacle to total absorption, to a glistening clarity and freshness? If so, Where is that obstacle? What is that obstacle? Is it the contours of your body? What happens to those contours if you shut your eyes, like Rilke did?

Gaze without Thinking at a Tibetan Thangka

I used to walk by one of these an antique shop window in San Francisco every day & I would stop & look at it until I was clearly aware but without any mental fixation or clinging on any detail.

Once the tendency of mind to grasp or fix onto details is clearly realized, the way out is also evident. Just drop all mental clinging.

The larger the mural is the better. Stand close to it & become aware of where your mind goes (right, left, up, down, center). Very revealing, right?

What detail appeals to your mind the most? (Is your mind drawn upward, to the yogis sitting on clouds, or downward. Which Buddha draws you in?)

At the instant your mind stops fixing on or being drawn into any isolated part of the mural you will experience the ease & bliss of nonmeditation.

In the instant of fixating on specific appearances, awareness pours into it like water into sand & gets lost. This method restores your bare awareness.

Take Outside Inside

Take the outside inside. Look around you, feel around you, & take everything -- the whole vast universe extending in all directions -- deeply & suddenly inside you, experience it clearly as your whole & real self. Wow!

Merge Your Mind with Space

Merge your mind with space. Extend your mind into space in all directions, so it merges completely with space, like fire thrown into fire, water poured into water.

Very powerful.

Zen Bamboo Flute

In the Fuke-shu sect of Zen, merely playing the bamboo flute is the most profound Dharma practice. That's because while doing it you let go of any conceptions of self or other and just blow the note with total absorption. The bamboo flute has a "dark" & gritty, dirty sound, even when the sound is most bright. It contains all vibrations, like OM.

Misogi, Pouring Ice Water on Your Own Head

Misogi -- dousing one's naked body with cold water -- is an infallible way to wipe out thoughts.

At the instant the freezing shock of the water hits your head, your thoughts get knocked right out of your body, along with your breath.

Yet with practice you can learn to breathe calmly even under the shock of the ice water.


Wang-Tang & Ziji: Developing Field of Power and Radiance

The one who possesses or manifests a “field of power” is also said to be “radiant.” Who among us would not want to be both powerful & dazzling to others, lighting up their surroundings & imparting a radiant feeling of confidence & pleasure?

When you read the old accounts of Shakyamuni Buddha, you often find him described as “radiant” & his effect on people was unquestionably powerful. He was sometimes called “the Lion of the Shakya Clan,” & listeners spoke of his “golden voice.” He was even said to be able to emit rays light from the palms of his hands or from the spot between his eyebrows. Wouldn’t you like this kind of power, this kind of radiance?

Most people in their everyday lives, however, don’t have a strong field of power (wang tang), & are too dull & uninspired, or too sad, or too distracted, or too pained by life’s many piled-up griefs, to dazzle (ziji) anybody. You ask them how they are doing & they give you a tight smile & a little laugh & say something like, “Hanging in there.” Their body-language expresses mere exhaustion, like the morose slumping of a puppet with dangling arms & legs put up on the shelf for the night. Don’t be like this! Develop your field of power & send out a blaze of light in all ten directions.

So! Here are some notes on developing your wang tang & your ziji. The approach is that of Hara-strengthening. Start by sitting cross-legged in a straight, upright posture with the crown of your head pointed to the sky. (Somewhere outdoors is best, if you can find a beautiful place like a beach or a forest clearing.) Become aware of the breath going in & out of your nostrils. Put your attention briefly on your eyelids. This should startle you into a state of keen awareness. Then let your in-breathing sink deep, all at one go, like a tile falling into a deep, dark well. Let the energy of your breathing settle about two inches below your navel, & about an inch inside, before breathing itself up & outward. Allow yourself to relax & to experience this effortless sensation of your breath going & out from that single point in the lower belly, expanding to all ends of the universe then contracting into the same infinitesimal point. If there is any problem in attaining his sort of relaxed & “empty” breath-breathing-itself state, try adjusting your posture in subtle way, especially by relaxing your chin, neck, & shoulders. (You can best relax your shoulders if they are quite tense by imagining that your arms are very heavy, made of iron perhaps.)

As your Hara breathing settles, opens, & clarifies itself, you will begin to experience your own vibrant “field of power” (wang tang). In Japanese Zen yoga, all real power comes from this single point in the Hara. From here, energy (Ki) rises & spreads to all other parts of the body. Once you are breathing from this single point (the Seika Tanden, it is called) you can forget it completely, until you are feeling weak, dispirited, sad or exhausted & you need to recover it again.

So now — what about Ziji? I suggest that, when you rise from Hara meditation feeling strengthened & refreshed, you take a glance at your eyes in a mirror. You will see Ziji. I promise you! As the ancient Zen teachers used to say, if this method of finding & expanding your “field of power” & radiating confidence does not work, you can come & take away my head.

Old Yunmen Ascends the Dharma Seat in the Teaching Hall, Raps Twice With his Stick, & Speaks:

Hey! There's a clownish sort of monk I know who is always darting his eyes around the Hall, secretly worrying that some other monk in the Zen monastery might have "attained," "realized," or "penetrated directly" before him. 

This monk's life is a living hell, the hell of hungry ghosts. He gobbles down Zen texts and strains his ears to listen to the lectures in the Dharma hall in hopes of comprehending Zen; he holds forth, citing the words of the old Masters, as if words had any essential substance. 

Words are just gobs of spittle! The records of the old Masters are for wiping your ass! 

You must instead just resolutely fix your eyes on This, which is appearing right before you, yet is beyond any name or form! Got it?

Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! 

Visionary Dzogchen


The nature of mind is the original Buddha without birth or cessation, like the sky! When you understand that, all apparent phenomena are beyond birth and cessation. Meditating means letting this condition be as it is, without seeking.” -Garab Dorje

Iron Flute 12: San-shêng Meets a Student

One day, while talking with his monks, San-shêng said, “When a student comes, I go out to meet him with no purpose of helping him.” His brother monk, Hsing-hua, heard of the remark and said, “When a student comes, I do not often go out to meet him, but if I do, I will surely help him.”


One brother says, “No,” the other says, “Yes.” Thus, they carry the business their father left them, improving it and making it prosper.

The Yellow River runs one thousand miles to the north,
Then turns to the east and flows ceaselessly.
No matter how it bends and turns,
Its water comes from the source in Kun-lun Mountain.

My verse:

The rain turns to snow as it falls.
Kun-lun mountain is covered by dense clouds.
In a lonely inn, a man takes a hot springs-fed bath.
His young wife is heard coughing in the next room.

How To Attain the Natural Breathing Method in Shibumi Ki Do

Q: Hey, Roshi, I bought your book but I am having trouble with some of the breathing instructions. I am a beginner. Can you give me some simpler directions to start with?

A: Certainly! If you lay down flat on your back with your body straight & arms at your sides & slowly count backwards down from 108 (counting only on the exhalations) & giving each number about 80 percent of your focus & attention so that all your other thoughts gradually vanish, you will notice that your breathing becomes deep natural & relaxed without any special effort. This is because thinking tends to activate various kinds of tightness in the body (especially the muscles in the chest, throat, jaw, &c.) & such tightness often gets in the way of deep & relaxed breathing. 

So try this.

Next, try the same thing but sitting up in a relaxed posture (cross legged or kneeling) with your back straight. Doing this same thing in the sitting posture may be a little bit more challenging for you, but after counting down for a few minutes with alert attention you should notice that your breathing relaxes the same as in the lying-down method, & also that you are breathing more from your lower abdomen than from your chest or middle abdomen. Okay? This is very important & interesting. And now try to be alert to the lowest point at which the breathing energy stops when it is full of inhalation & the place it empties from upon the exhale. This lowest point is known as the "Seika Tanden."

This is the natural breathing method. It is the basis for everything else.

In the books I also have a few "forceful" breathing methods. These all start from the natural deep belly-breathing I have just described, but they also involve either lengthening the exhalation or making the exhale explosive like shouting "Hah!" at the sky. They are used for clearing your mind instantly.

25 Brief & Potent Awareness Training Techniques for Breaking Through to the Mysterious Realization

Chatrul Rinpoche, seated
on the skin of a tiger
who would probably prefer
to be somewhere else.

1. Look intently for a little while not at objects but at the space around objects. Do not objects suddenly now appear as if baselessly floating in naked space, free of any ideas about them? 

2. Hold a finger in front of your nose. Shut one eye, then the other. Doesn't your finger appear to be jumping back and forth? Which is the real position of the finger in space?

3. Rub the back of your head with one hand. Doesn't your hand seem imbued with Awareness, just as your scalp does? How is that possible, if it's an inch behind your brain?

4. Lie on the floor and roll your head from side to side, eyes shut. Where is Awareness (Mind)? At what instant can you see or feel it?

5. Nod your head up and down. Lean forward and back, intent on your awareness. Where is it? Does it move as your body moves?

6. Holding up a fly whisk. What is it? Don't call it a fly whisk, don't deny it's a fly whisk. Just — what is it?

7. Keep a log of your thinking mind. Jot down what you're thinking about from instant to instant. Note the spaces in between when you seem not to be thinking at all. Are these spaces more alive for you, or not?

8. Point out north and south, up and down, in empty space. Then point inward. What direction is that?

9. Find where your Seeing begins and ends. An inch inside? At the surface? Outside? Do the same with Hearing. Are the sounds inside you, or outside, or in-between?

10. Watch emotions change. Investigate if there is a difference between emotions and physical sensations. If there is, what is it?

11. Letting breathing settle naturally, is there a space between breathing in and breathing out? How big is this gap? Can you relax & just stay there for a little while? What happens to you when you do this?

12. Making mudras. Do your emotions change? Does your awareness Itself change?

13. Looking for the backdrop of all experiences. Where or in what do all your experiences & sensations appear?

14. Chasing yourself back through time. What is it that unifies your experiences of differing moments in time? Is it something external and material? Is it something inside you? What?

15. Using a mirror. Is what you see "in" the mirror "in" it or outside it? Where?

16. Studying desire. Look at yourself when you are in a state of intense longing or desire. What happens when you simply look at the feelings of longing, nostalgia, desire or whatnot with calm appreciation, like someone looking at a painting in a museum?

17. Using fear and being startled. Did your thinking stop? Try to experience the essence of “being startled” here and now.

18. Using the tanden. Sink mind into the “zero point” in the Hara. Does your awareness clarify?

19. Stopping the universe. Can you stop it right now?

20. Walking, using the frame of vision. Doesn't your field of vision subtly bounce up and down, side to side? What happens when you focus on this?

21. Lying down, being aware of prone posture. Isn't that strange?

22. Starry Sky Gazing Meditation. Let your gaze take in the whole star-strewn night sky at once without breaking it down into parts or thinking any thoughts about it.

23. Looking at objects. See that you are seeing only your own Seeing (mind) externalized in & as space, then broken down into objects by name-and-form thinking. Let it settle back into its original luminosity, resonance, spontaneity, purity, and instantaneousness. (The Bodhi-mandala)

24. Consider the essence of hatred, envy, desire, passion, joy, love, anger, resentment, &c. What is the common factor of all these?

25. Working with the posture of your body. Where does the stress involved in thinking painful or sad thoughts reside? Meet it with deep repose. Visualize the face of the Buddha. The relaxed shoulders and graceful line of the arms of the Buddha, sitting still like a great swordsman. Can you recreate this attitude of alert stillness right here now?

The Great Mind Realization of Original Zen

Q: Hey Roshi, what should I do to attain awakening?

A: I suggest that you: discover by direct investigation your inherent awake & alert awareness (Bodhi); also the fact that everything you experience occurs within it, & is dependent upon it, would be literally nothing without it; also the fact that even though this “everything” sensed seems (under the drunken influence of conceptual thinking) to occur outside your awareness & to be stretched out in external objective time-space as a series of causally linked atomistic events, it is really all happening interior to your awareness, is basically timeless (because your inherent awareness is!); and now, Oh majestic & imposing son of good family, fold back all these various experiences into the awakened mind of Bodhi, into the pure straight leaping up dazzlingly colorful Dharma Body, by seeing that it is all eternally empty of everything but its Self (the timeless yet also timing, the Nothingness but also thing-ing), blazing inherent awakeness of Being — or, as a bird once sang, Tril tril tril! And now I have some humble verses for you:

It is the Seeing of Sounds
It is the hearing of sights
It is the vibration of tastes on your tongue
It is the scent of a hummingbird’s colors
It is the brilliant skin-sensation of a young woman’s song.

Expansive as all Space, it is all space
Luminous as all energy, it is all energy
Primordially full of potential for experiences, it is all experienced things
Nothing is outside it,
Nothing has ever strayed from it,
It has the character of immovable suddenness &
It is pure & real at all points in time, blazing out in all ten directions —

The Great Mind Realization of Original Zen! OM SWASTI!

A Note to my Friends

Sometimes it seems to me that what we call "Zen" is like a headstrong child, a bit rough & severe with the littler children, striking proud attitudes of total independence & freedom, but still living like a beggar in his mother's house. The Mother is the all-embracing Tao. She smiles when she sees him misbehaving; he resembles his father.

Truly, it makes little sense to argue about Buddhism or anything else. Arguing a point or debating an interpretation adds nothing to the experience. Put a tea bowl on your head & balance it there all day. Go out into the burning sunlight & try to leap over your own shadow. There are plenty of harmless & amusing games to try out in life.

"Bamboo of the South, Wood of the North." Playing the reed wrapped flute in barbarian lands, knee-deep in fresh snow. A bullfrog leaps into the dark pond -- plop! The ripples spread out in circles but soon the pond is smooth again, reflecting the cloudy moon. 

I find that when I think, plan, scheme, resolve, strategize, & struggle, I experience mental (sometimes physical) pain. The suffering is intense. The remorse is deep as an abyss under the ocean, the longing vast as Asia. But when I enter the enlightened state, the pain magically eases. The stiffness leaves my shoulders. Sweat drops are pleasantly cold. (Welcome! Everybody is welcome.)

Once upon a time I jumped into Satori like a bullfrog -- splash! (Mizu No Oto.) The sky opened. The god & demon masks were torn from the walls. The sword flashed like a sun. These days I slip into it without a sound, & drift around aimlessly like a clump of rotting weeds in an autumn marsh, or like cherry blossoms on the spring breeze. (Take your pick!) Why not join me?

You can help me to build the Shibumi Tea Room by buying one or more of my books. (To the right.)

"This whole universe is the hair of a horse." (Master Han Shan) Well, then! Get up on that horse, take the wild bristling mane in your hands, & ride! Ride like the motherfucking wind!

The Miraculous Power of Shibumi Ki Do Zen

Q: Roshi, can Zen help me see my true self? Can it liberate me?

A. No! How can you liberate what was never unfree? From Bodhidharma onward, Zen has been just "seeing the self-nature directly." Zen and "seeing the self-nature" are synonymous. So are Zen and liberation. Whether the Zen takes the form of sitting, standing, walking, or lying down it's all "seeing the self nature," it's all liberation. That's what Ma-Tzu said, and Huang-Po and all the others.

It is impossible to deceive oneself about this. If you haven't seen the self-nature directly and aren't yet liberated, you know it. So you come rushing to an online Zen forum or Twitter or whatnot and people give you sophisms about how there's no such thing as satori. If there's no such thing as satori, it is strange indeed that there is a whole Ch'an/Zen/Seon genre called "the satori poem." It is strange that Tokusan "suddenly experienced great awakening" when the candle was blown out, or however you'd like to translate the Chinese text. The point is, something changed. He woke up -- that's how the Chinese Zen people put it.

Maybe all the Masters were just faking satori as part of a literary or political game? That would be extremely perverse.

If there's no seeing it directly and waking up, and if there's no liberation, why even talk about Zen?

"All dharmas are Buddhist teachings; all dharmas are liberation. Liberation is true Suchness, and not one thing is separate from this true Suchness. Walking, standing, sitting, and reclining are all inconceivable actions."

So is there anything at all to do? Or is it all just "chop wood, carry water"? "Chop wood, carry water" is excellent, if you can do it with any thinking. That's liberation. Let's take another look at Master Ma-Tzu's famous speech:

"A single thought of the wandering mind is the root of birth and death in the world. Just don't have a single thought and you'll get rid of the root of birth and death."

Is this what Hui-Neng meant also? It sounds impossible. How can you not have a single thought? Maybe what Ma-Tzu means that if one doesn't fixate on a single thought, one doesn't "have" it, so even if a thought appears it doesn't create any problems for you. 

Huh! Let's take a look at what Hui-Neng says in The Platform Sutra:

"No-thought" means "no-thought within thought." Non-abiding is man's original nature. Thoughts do not stop from moment to moment. The prior thought is succeeded in each moment by the subsequent thought, and thoughts continue one after another without cease. If, for one thought-moment, there is a break, the dharma-body separates from the physical body, and in the midst of successive thoughts there will be no attachment to any kind of matter. If, for one thought-moment, there is abiding, then there will be abiding in all successive thoughts, and this is called clinging. If, in regard to all matters there is no abiding from thought-moment to thought-moment, then there is no clinging. Non-abiding is the basis.

Explosive, no? One must give rise to a mind that doesn't cling to anything or abide anywhere. Master Takuan Soho talks about how to do this in his manual on swordsmanship. And Master Huang-Po says that one must produce a mind that does not apprehend even a single dharma, and that this mind will be certain of its non-apprehending in the full awareness of the root-Bodhi of all beings.

Q. I am mystified. How does one give rise to such a mind?

A. How do you give rise to a sword? You forge it in fire & you fold it & hammer it. True, the mind is subtler than this. Where is it? Point to it anywhere in space. I wonder how you can produce a cool spring breeze in the middle of summer!

One effective way to do what the Zen teachers advise is to "Cast away all things, instantly becoming without thought and without mind." (Hakuin). Just toss out all your thinking like a pail of dirty water. The brass rooster crows, the tin man laughs. Mushin, no-mind, allows your Bodhi mind to function perfectly, without a seam between intention & activity, minding & doing. What's the problem?

Another is to "work only on keeping your mind motionless at all times, whether sitting, standing, &c." (Huang-Po). This one takes tact & a lot of control. Eventually you break through.

Then there is "To attain this subtle realization, you must completely cut off the way of thinking. If you do not, you will become like a ghost clinging to grasses and weeds." (Mumon Ekai) 

Sit down now & cut off thinking. Why not try what the great Masters insist upon, rather than running it all through your reasoning consciousness? Reason is mechanical, not intuitive. Rely on it & you become a ghost to yourself.

Why does any arising ever occur at all? you ask.

It doesn't occur, so the question is senseless. Arising is a concept. Point to some "thing" that's arisen, anywhere. Nothing ever has or ever will. It's all just a matter of words and concepts. 

Thoughts seem to arise, but can Mind really ever arise? Can the Source appear in and as its productions? Maybe it's all an unfortunate error in translation. Chinese is an ambiguous language, Japanese even more so.

Is the wind moving, or is it the temple banner? Only your mind is "moving." Yet there is no movement. Nothing has ever arisen or occurred. Look deeply into that.

Q. What Zen practice should I do, then?

A. Pictures of rice-cakes don't fill your belly. Hearing the word "water" doesn't make your mouth wet. Talking about fire doesn't warm you. Here I am flapping my lips again, giving you a lot of words.

So on the matter of "practice" I usually suggest becoming very alert to sensations and space as a way of ridding oneself of the "internal chatter"; sometimes just staying in "open awareness" so that when a "thought" rises you don't follow it but let it go (that's a Tibetan method, also a Zen one). 

Seiza is a strong posture to take, and if you sit like this regularly you'll soon experience a sort of "sinking into infinity" wherein self consciousness just disappears without having to be cut off. One of the reliable signs that this has happened is that sights, sounds, tastes &c. become extraordinarily clear and vivid and one becomes capable of going for many minutes without any constructed thought, often without even the appearance of an internal image. (What do you call internal, what do you call external?) Another sign is that all forms and sounds just appear marvelous, as if spontaneously generated from a deep space. Amazing! Another sign is that one starts to laugh for no reason, just from joy. Another is that one's eyelids feel slightly charged, and there is almost the feeling of "seeing" not with the eyes but with the eyelids. There is a blissful feeling of lightness, as if "a piece of iron suddenly floated." All these are just signs and one doesn't fixate on them.

Try to clearly see that  nothing has ever arisen anywhere or at any time at all, either from so-called emptiness or from any combination of so-called "other" things. Those who misunderstand this point misunderstand Zen and Buddhism both.

Understand that the mysterious realization I talk about here is intrinsic to Zen from the very beginning, ever since Mahakasyapa smiled (as soon as Buddha held up the flower on Vulture Peak). Kyoge betsuden. Huang-Po calls it "a mysterious tacit understanding." Hui-Neng calls it "sudden illumination." Mumon calls it "mysterious (subtle, exquisite) awakening." Yuanwu calls it "your inner light instantly penetrating the ten directions." The Chinese term for it is Wu. The Japanese term for it is Satori. It is also called "the Transmission of Mind Outside Teachings." It is attained by leaping over, cutting off, or completely detaching from all conceptual thinking. It is the very substance and marrow of Zen.

Kensho, seeing the self nature, is not seeing any "thing" at all. "Seeing" of this kind is done with the mind when it sees itself. But in seeing itself it doesn't see a single thing. (Though, as many yogins have said, it does have a vivid impression of "brilliance" and also of "spaciousness." It's like the jade woman dancing, the stone man playing drums.) 

Master Huang-Po once boldly summed it all up like this:

The self-nature is identical with seeing and seeing is identical with the self-nature. The self-nature cannot be used for further seeing of self-nature. Hearing is identical with the self-nature and the self-nature cannot be used for further hearing the self-nature. If you presume that the self-natured seeing can hear and see its underlying nature you will give rise to the idea of oneness and otherness. Why do you put a second head on top of your head? . . . If you do not stir the mind and do not give rise to thoughts, naturally there will be no falsehood. Hence it is said, "When the mind arises, it creates all things; and when the mind stops arising all things come to an end."

Right now as you are aware of the rise of false thoughts, the awareness of that which is not false is awareness of the Buddha. When your false thoughts come to an end even the idea of Buddha is no more.

See how Huang-Po hammers away at the truth? Clang, clang. He is relentless, but also unmoving like a mountain in the sky. Be like him. Take the bullshit by the horns. Stop your mind and see it directly. Leap right over the bull. Then you won't have any of these "mental clinging" problems. Thoughts will slide off you like raindrops off a duck's beak. 

Q. So you say that satori isn't a myth? It actually happens? And can be provoked?

A. So far as I know, up until quite recently (up to the turn of the 19th century), every renowned Ch'an/Seon/Zen Master in China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan had a "satori-experience" story, and usually a poem to go with it. This is just how it was done. Zen is "poetic" in that it values the experience of awakening itself, the bliss of awakening, which Tibetans generally don't.

For a recent example, Seung Sahn had a satori (sudden awakening) story, and so did his disciple, Chang Sik Kim. Yet, so far as I know, none of the hundreds of American students (many certified to teach) of these two Korean Masters has a satori anecdote to tell us. Weird.

Shunryu Suzuki didn't have a satori or a satori poem and didn't ask it of any of his students. So you can forget that.

The various Japanese Rinzai Masters in North & Central & South America don't have anything to say about satori and don't require it of their students. That's a pity! Isnt it? But we aren't here to talk about the tragedy or travesties of modern Zen. Just follow Master Huang-Po's lucid instructions & you will break through. Grab a tiger's whiskers & hear him roar!

Q. I am skeptical. How do you personally know all of this?

A. Here is my answer. Because I just do. There is no other answer. How do you know how you know anything appearing in your field of experience right now, or even if anything is appearing at all? You can't say.

At the beginning of so called Western philosophy, Socrates proved that nobody ever "knows" how they know anything at all. They just do, or they just don't.

To a similar question, Master Yunmen replied, "Heaven and earth blacked out." Where's the knowing in that? You shiver when you hear a cold wind blowing in the pines.

Satori isn't intellectual content, so it can't be taught. But the conceptual mind that obscures it can be shattered.

"Shatter thinking, see the Starry Sky at noon."

When you are free of the "thinking consciousness," totally devoid of interior chatter, not recalling the past and not worrying about the future, then chopping wood and carrying water is itself the Great Seal of Buddha's Samadhi, the unbelievable clear bliss, miraculous, which is why Layman Pang went around laughing and dancing.

Note that Layman Pang didn't just say, "Chop wood, carry water." He said, "I chop wood, I carry water -- how miraculous! What awesome spiritual powers are these!"


The Secret of Life & Death

Imagine being a child at the beach:
You pick up some water from the sea in your cupped palms
& you cry out,
"This is my water!"

Your friends, naturally,
try to knock the water
out of your palms --

&, inevitably,
they succeed.

Do you waste your time now
crying & moaning over your lost
handful of sea-water?

Or do you just go back into the waves,
crouch down,
& scoop up some more?

Samurai Zen

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

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.

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 gruel & 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? Aren't you the Eternal Buddha? (Eternal not because you endure for all time, but because in essence you are purely & radiantly timeless -- never once enslaved by a past, present, or future. Svaha!)

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. Leap over all this, smash it to dust.

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. So -- I have a humble poem for you:

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?"