“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
“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
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.
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 SoundsThe Great Mind Realization of Original Zen! OM SWASTI!
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 —
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!
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 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?
|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.
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?"
"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.
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."
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.)
Daiki daiyu hayaki kotokaze no gotoshi (大機大用疾如風)« The function follows the potential as fast as the wind »
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)