The Great Pearl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just So


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

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

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

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

Kill or Be Killed by Buddha

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

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

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

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

Okay?

Stilling the Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student: Huang-Po rejects "making an effort."

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

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

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

Bodhi Mind Is the "Dark Meaning of Zen"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: So only the Mind is real?

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

Q: I'm bewildered.

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

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

Munen, Part Two: Call Dudjom Rinpoche


Munen, Part One is here

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

Two of Joshu



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

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

Someone asked, "The full moon in the middle of the sky -- where does its light originate?"
Joshu said, "Where does the full moon in the middle of the sky originate?"

Ten of this one, ten thousand of all the others.
Twilight. An old woman boiling a pot of water.
The moon was brilliant that night, but the bamboo stalks were black.


Take no Notice

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

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

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

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

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

The master confirmed it

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

Take the Drum & Capture the Flag


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is "Just Sitting" the Fundamental Way of Zen?

A rare photo of Master Dogen sitting in meditation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hear it! Attain it now, in this life!

A Solitary Sword Against a Cold Sky

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

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

The Gate Is Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He then composed this verse:

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

The Royal Road of Zen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Munen, Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued . . . 

Three Satoris from Master Shitou



The monk Changzi Kuang once returned from a pilgrimage to continue his study with Master Shitou. The master asked him, “Where have you been?”

Kuang said, “To Master Huineng's memorial shrine at Caoxi.”

The master asked, “Did visiting there bring you any merit?”

Kuang said, “I've had some insight, but I haven't been able to 'open the eyes' of the awakened one.”

The master said, “Do you want to 'open the eyes'?”

Kuang said, “Please, master, help me do so.”

The master suddenly kicked out his leg right at the monk. Kuang had a deep realization, and made a prostration.

The master asked, “Why do you bow?”

Kuang said, “It's like a flake of snow landing on a red-hot furnace.”

*

The monk Lingmo once came to study with Master Shitou and said, “If you can give me one phrase of awakening I will stay; if not, I will leave.”

The master ignored him.

Lingmo shook out the sleeves of his robe, and walked away. When he got to the temple gate, the master called out, “Venerable!”

Lingmo turned his head.

The master said, “From birth till death, just this! Why are you still searching?”

Lingmo had a deep awakening.

*

A monk named Huilang once asked Master Shitou, “What is the awakened one?”

The master said, “You don't have awakened mind.”

Huilang, dejected, said, “I'm just human. I know I run around and have all kinds of ideas.”

The master said, “Active people with ideas can still have awakened mind.”

Huilang asked, “Then why don't I ?”

The master said, “Because you're not satisfied to be just human.”

Huilang had a deep realization.

One Day At Dawn

Master Mumon went to a Ch'an temple and worked on Joshu's "Mu" day and night for six years under the direction of his Master.

What does this mean? It means that he worked every day with the other monks to grow food yet also spent 6-8 hours out of every 24 doing intensive lotus-posture sitting meditation in the Buddha Hall.

During his sitting meditation he "held" "Mu" in his mind, nothing else. If anything distracted him from "Mu" he summoned up all his energy to renew his concentration on it without falling into any thinking "about" it or any ideas or interpretations (such as, "Joshu must have really meant . . . " ). He turned "Mu" into an iron wall and gazed at it until his thinking-spirit was totally strained and nearly exhausted.

Then one day at dawn after sitting up all night in the Buddha Hall he heard the temple bell, or the temple bell heard Mumon, and inside and outside spontaneously unified into a single no-thing; everything in the world became as clear as a sheet of ice. His thinking had vanished. There wasn't a single idea in his head. His head wasn't even in his head. There was no more sense of a "he" to be in his head or out of it.

But even this wasn't the end. The sheet of ice, thick as a glacier, now shattered into a billion fragments. In a flash, beyond any words or ideas, he realized the infinite extent and depths of the "true Self-nature." He jumped up and began laughing and dancing wildly, and now he composed his famous enlightenment poem.

Reiho

Q.: Roshi, what is the meaning of this Japanese word you sometimes use to describe the natural way of Zen, Reiho? Also, I feel so unenlightened, so deeply afflicted and confused! Tell me: how can I remain in the sublime states I sometimes reach through doing Zen, and stop being so lazy in my everyday life? How can I breakthrough my tiresome normal everyday habits and patterns?

A.: The deep meaning of Reiho is that it is the correct and universal way of doing things. It is a matter of showing respect and treating every event as a teacher of your self. That is, of your heart. So everything in life is an occasion for practicing Reiho. It is also a term used for the Buddhist Law in the profoundest sense, that is for what Shakyamuni realized when he saw the morning star.

It is true that all beings are enlightened, and it is also true that all beings are afflicted and confused. This is your wonderful freedom. When you look straight at a star, it can seem to disappear, and when you glance away it magically appears again. The same is true of the sublime states. As soon as you look at them, they seem to vanish. But in reality a sublime state is just the expression of the thought-less state of your heart when you are absorbed in oneness and in one activity.

When Bodhidharma taught Hui K'o he simply said "No! No!" every time Hui K'o came up with some explanation for it.

Everybody is lazy compared to the ideal of somebody who is never lazy, but breaking through normal patterns is not what's needed. So what's needed? Just loving attention to Reiho.

One goes through the forms without any special insistence and acts in a minimal and correct way. It's a lifelong effort to master this, but it must also always be a joy and satisfaction right now or it's not Reiho -- which is a kind of Shibumi, or unforced elegance.

Sitting, standing, bowing, lying down -- just make each action complete in itself and do everything in a relaxed and heartfelt state of mind without giving rise to distracting thoughts. Affliction comes from trying to get ahead of or beyond yourself or look at yourself from outside with a judging attitude. When you're in doubt or in trouble learn how to put energy into your gaze and change your sadness into delight by letting it settle in the blazing clear space right in front of your eyes.

The Lion's Roar of Distant Thunder, Iron Flute 44. Nan-ch‘üan Rejects Both Monk and Layman

A monk came to Nan-ch‘üan, stood in front of him, and put both hands to his breast. Nan-ch‘üan said, "You are too much of a layman." The monk then placed his hands palm to palm. “You are too much of a monk,” said Nan-ch‘üan. The monk could not say word. When another teacher heard of this, he said to his monks, "If I were the monk, I would free my hands and walk away backward."

MASTER GENRO'S COMMENT: If I were Nan-ch‘üan, I would say to the monk, "You are too much of a dumb-bell," and to the master, who said he should free his hands and walk backward, “You are too much of a crazy man.” True emancipation has nothing to hold to, no color to be seen, no sounds to be heard. A free man has nothing in his hands. He never plans anything, but reacts according to others’ actions. Nan-ch‘üan was a skillful teacher. He loosed the noose of the monk’s own rope.

MY VERSE: Hear! Hear! The lion's roar of distant thunder!
When the thunder sounds, 
it's time to dash indoors or risk getting bone-wet.

Iron Flute 49. Hsüan-sha’s Blank Paper


Hsüan-sha sent a monk to his old teacher, Hsüeh-fêng, with a letter of greeting. Hsüeh-fêng gathered his monks and opened the letter in their presence. The envelope contained nothing but three sheets of blank paper. Hsüeh-fêng showed the paper to the monks, saying, “Do you understand?” There was no answer, and Hsüeh-fêng coninued, “My prodigal son writes just what I think.” When the messenger monk returned to Hsüan-sha, he told him what had happened at Hsüeh-fêng’s monastery. “My old teacher is losing his wits,” said Hsüan-sha.

Hsüan-sha's test of Hsüeh-fêng went drastically awry. Three sheets of paper are as good as three pounds of hemp. The road goes up twisting around the mountain, and dust blows in your eyes so you mistake a mule for a horse and the man riding it for Kwan Yin. When you get to Zhenzhou, remember to to try the big red turnips.

Intoxicated by Moonlight

seeing the full moon reflected
in  thousand dewdrops --
a cricket!
One day, while Nan-ch‘üan was living in a little hut in the mountains, a strange monk visited him just as he was preparing to go to his work in the fields. Nan-ch‘üan welcomed him, saying, “Please make yourself at home. Cook anything you like for your lunch, then bring some of the left-over food to me along the road leading nowhere but to my work place.” Nan-ch‘üan worked hard until evening and came home very hungry. The stranger had cooked and enjoyed a good meal by himself, then thrown away all provisions and broken all utensils. Nan-ch‘üan found the monk sleeping peacefully in the empty hut, but when he stretched his own tired body beside the stranger’s, the latter got up and went away. Years later, Nan-ch‘üan told the anecdote to his disciples with the comment, “He was such a good monk, I miss him even now.”

Hungry & tired, Nan-ch‘üan stretches himself out to sleep next to the visiting monk.
The little hut's roof barely keeps out the rain, & its walls let streaks of moonlight in.
Yawning, Nan-ch‘üan feels the pain in his belly & his mouth waters at the thought of rice.
When he laughs at himself, the strange monk wakes up & goes in a hurry.

"I'm Huang Po, bitch!"


Once during the political unrest of the reign of Wutsung, known as a ferocious persecutor of Buddhism, the future Emperor of China, Suan-tsung, hid out in secluded Zen monastery.

Master Huang-Po happened to be visiting the Master Hsien-kuan at this particular monastery. As he did his usual series of prostrations to the statue of Buddha in the Buddha Hall, the future Emperor interrupted him with a stern lecture: “In our pursuit of Tao, we must not be attached to the Buddha, nor to the Dharma, nor to the Sangha. What does Your Reverence seek after in performing these rites?”

Huang-Po replied, “I am attached neither to the Buddha, nor to the Dharma nor to Sangha. I am merely performing the rites as mandated.”

The future Emperor asked, “What is the use of rites?”

Huang-Po gave him a sharp slap.

“Whoa. You are being too rough,” said the future Emperor.

Huang-Po laughed and asked, “What kind of thing do you find here in this place that you should speak of ‘rough’ and ‘refined’?” And he gave him another slap.

The future Emperor probably knew something of the teachings of the Oxhead School, which were also basically Huang-Po's teachings, that Mind itself is Buddha so there is no need to bow to external Buddhas.

However, if you know that your Mind itself is Buddha, why not bow to external Buddhas? It's called performing the rites as mandated.

That's the lesson in nonduality Huang Po gave to the future Emperor of China in two ringing slaps.

The Seattle Manifesto of Mind Only


"People will be thankful if I compress into four theses such an essential and such a new insight. I thereby make it more easily understood; I thereby challenge contradiction." -Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

You can say many things about a world of objects, but what connects the objects, creates space, gives them depth and time, if not Mind?

Mind can’t be reduced to any physical material, as fascinating as modern physics may be; it isn't a machine or a computer either, and you can establish this for yourself with a bit of introspection plus simple reasoning.

You are a four year old child. Then you are a forty year old man. What can possibly connect these two supposedly objective states but for your mind, which tells you intuitively that you are the same person? Your belief in cause and effect is an effect of the only cause there is: Mind.

You are standing at the base of a mountain. You climb the mountain. At the top, you say you have climbed the mountain; then you go back down feeling satisfied. But it's only mind that causes the belief that you are the same person at the bottom as at the top or going back down.

Mind-Only is the realistic theory that there is no way to connect two points in time or space without Mind, and further that Mind itself is the only source of time and space, is time and space.

The innumerable functions of mind arise from the basic nature of mind, which is empty. Xuan, profound dark unfathomable. Mind is this space, Mind is this time -- it is all nothing but Mind, because Mind is all there is.

Mind-Only, Citta-Matra, is the "hard" version of both Buddhism and ancient Vedanta. Earth air rock fire wood water -- all are words for different aspects, functions, appearances of Mind, and the same is true of the Periodic Table, though the Periodic Table (and mathematics in general) is Mind as conceptual display, which is different than Mind as mood, feeling, sensation, energy, matter, transformation.

You can see Mind at work thrillingly, coming at you from the "objective" realm so called, in the Double Slit Experiment (especially the Delayed Choice version), which shatters the idea that there are any objectively localizable or determinable "elements" of something called "matter."

This does not mean that you do not acknowledge physical material, different states of "matter" in ordinary life such as when you are tinkering with a car engine or building an airplane or designing a Japanese garden.

But the inconceivable mysteriousness of our lives in this Mind-created universe cannot be overlooked without serious distortion of reality.

This inconceivable Mind-realm is animated by Qi, an idea taken over and widened somewhat by the Japanese, just as the Japanese took over and deepened and widened Zen.

In lucid dreams you should learn how to fly through the clouds, see the earth from above, and even enter celestial realms which are as utterly real and true as this one to converse with beings whose eyes are opened a little more than those of us down here on the superb Mind creation called physical being. Yet even these fantastic realms are, in the last analysis, only Mind exploring its own range of possibilities, which are innumerable and perhaps infinite.

Only one thing is strictly speaking impossible: that any of this should be anything other than Mind, anything but what Mind sets up, orchestrates, energizes, connects, discloses and displays to its Self.

This, then, is the Seattle Manifesto of Mind Only, hereby dedicated to Zen lunatics Bodhidharma and his modern Mind-Dharma heir Jack Kerouac.

-written in a Seattle, WA hotel room over a very bitter & poor cup of green tea brewed in the room's coffee maker in the early morning of June 30, 2014

"Fearless Practice": Seon Master DaeWon's Sudden Enlightenment



Master DaeWon began experiencing spontaneous states of deep samadhi while still a child. Eventually, he became a novice monk, and was thought to be an absent minded idiot by the other monks because he would wander off for days and nights and be found standing alone in a sesame field, or would be given the task of boiling beans for the monastery and would enter deep samadhi and burn up the entire pot of beans.

Eventually, he devoted himself completely to Yongmaeng Jeongjin, "Fearless Practice," eating only one meal a day and sitting up day and night in meditation. Everyone started calling him “the mute” and treated him as if he were someone else. Sitting in silence without food for a whole day would make his lips chap and stick together so that he had to go down to the brook and wash his lips before taking his meals.

He finally experienced great enlightenment upon hearing the sound of wind passing through the pine trees at his hermitage. He then composed this poem:
What is this thing that carries this body?
On the third or fourth year I had contemplated thus,
To the sound of the wind swishing through the pine trees,
The great work was completed all at once.
What is sky and what is earth?
This mind, as it is pure, is boundless, just like this.
Responding, just like this, where there is no inside or outside,
There is originally nothing gained nor lost.
Is there anyone who can believe without a doubt?
All thoughts, knowing and distinguishing,
Over which we spend our day;
This is the mysterious awakening even before the ancient Buddha!
After reciting the Song of Enlightenment, he exclaimed, “You of yesterday is not the I of today but I of today is the you of yesterday.” Then another song sprang from his lips:
Illusion is destroyed by illusion,
being destroyed, there is no destruction!
Three times three reversed is still nine.
Later, while passing the field of Gimje, he composed his second Song of Enlightenment:
The sun in the west and the moon in the east,
lightly hang over the mountains.
And the fields of Gimje are filled with the autumn hue.
Even though the whole universe cannot be,
people come and go on the road with the setting sun.

The Harsh Cry of a Crow



Q: Roshi, I wonder if you could just break down for me in simple terms what it is that you teach as Zen?

A: Of course. Here it is. Your awareness, which includes all of your senses, including your mental sense, is basically pristine, open & boundless as space. All the senses that seem to be separate are one. It is the Buddha. It is nothing more than the endless delight and bliss of sheer being. It is the awe-inspiring depth of mysteriousness itself, yet it is also as simple & clear as the palm of your hand or a wildflower or a patch of green moss or a crooked stalk of bamboo or the harsh cry of crow as evening darkens the sky.

Once you realize this and can live fully in this state, you are said to wondrously enlightened, and you have nothing left to do.

Q: So why do so many people, like me for example, find enlightenment beyond reach?

A: For only one reason: your thinking glues & grimes up the works. How does it happen? I will explain. This constant obsessive thinking you've engaged in since you were a child coarsens your spiritual energy, which then blocks the simple awareness. You feel sick with longing & grief all the time & this drives you to harm others. In turn, you receive harm, which you resent & hate, so you become even sicker with the turning of the years.

At the beginning, it's no more serious than getting a grain of sand in your eye. But rather than wash it out of the eye, you start rubbing frantically, which makes the eye more & more inflamed. Eventually you might even lose your sight entirely.

Q: So you're saying that if I just take some time to let go of all thinking, & become calm & stable, my natural awareness will take care of the rest?

A: That's it exactly. But you have to put some strength into it at the beginning. Once you've developed the habit of thinking, it is difficult to let go of forms, names & labels. As you regain your straightforward spiritual energy (Qi) you may even feel very strange. You may become frightened that you are "losing yourself." You are not. You are realizing the light that has always been there. You are entering the great space of being the way a dragon enters water, or a tiger roams on a mountain.

Q: So -- how must I proceed?

A: Do not conceptualize your awareness as anything whatsoever. Most important of all, do not think of it as "nothingness." If you need a simile, it is like space, but understand that this is just a simile. When you meditate, take care to free yourself from all names & forms, like Houdini throwing off his chains. Gradually, your spiritual energy will clarify by itself.

Q: I'd like to ask you about negative energy, particularly as it relates to interacting with others.

A: If you can interact with others in a natural, direct way, keeping yourself free of negative feelings, that's the best. If you can't, then you should withdraw into solitude until you can.

Q: What about various moral strictures, ethics of behavior, karmic retribution & so forth?

A: The harsh cry of a crow is neither wrong nor right. Some people who have not attained any lucidity, on hearing the crow's harsh cry, will feel a flash of pain & fear. They attribute their own emotions to the crow, & call it selfish or underhanded or brutal. But in doing so, they only tell the sad story of their own lack of awakening.

The Zen I teach is all about the inner state of your awareness, & whether or not you have attained lucidity. There will always be people who will try to challenge you & criticize your behavior on this or that point. Pay them no mind at all, so long as you are letting your light clarify. "Do no evil, do only good. Purify your own mind. That is the whole teaching of the Buddhas."

Some people may tell you for this or that reason that you are doing evil, not good. But evil is accompanied by negative feelings & getting enmeshed in social conflicts. Keep to the straight, pure body of reality, which is just your innate awareness. Nobody else can do it for you, though there will always be plenty of people to tell you that you are doing it all wrong!

Mindfulness is Not the Way

Liangkai's famous painting of the Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng
caught in a mindless, fierce, crazed state of nondual awareness,
dancing with joy while ripping up sutra scrolls. 

Q: Roshi, I've heard you more than once shock people by saying, "Mindfulness is not the Way." You've also said, "Mindfulness is horseshit!" What do you mean by this?

A: All the great Masters agree on at least this one point: Mindlessness, not Mindfulness, is the Way.

Why? Because "Mindfulness" is always guided by particular concepts & never transcends those concepts.

You decide that you want to be a certain type of calm or lucid person, maybe a "holy" or a "good" person according to whatever bizarre Dalai Lama-esque ideal you've fixated upon, & so you try to force yourself into that mould by paying razor sharp attention to everything you do, whether it's eating an orange or driving down Hollywood Boulevard.

But by that very effort to coerce yourself into a new & improved state of consciousness, you divide yourself into two. You put a head on top of your head, a mouth over your mouth. Believe me, you're going to fail at this impossible task anyway & then you'll just feel bitter about those who lied to you.

"Mindfulness" is actually a very serious & tiresome perversion of the Great Way, which can be realized only by throwing out all thinking all at once -- exactly as you'd throw out a bucket of dirty dishwater.

Note: It is true that mindfulness, if done with the right resolve & intensity, can sometimes trigger mindlessness. This article merely objects to mindfulness taken as an end in itself. 

Zen of the Hasidim I


The maggid of Mezritch said:
Nothing in the world can change from one reality into another, unless it first turns into nothing, that is, into the reality of the between-stage. In that stage it is nothing and no one can grasp it, for it has reached the rung of nothingness, just as before creation. And then it is made into a new creature, from the egg to the chick. The moment when the egg is no more and the chick is not yet, is nothingness. And philosophy terms this the primal state which no one can grasp because it is a force which precedes creation: it is called chaos. It is the same with the sprouting seed. It does not begin to sprout until the seed disintegrates in the earth and the quality of seed-dom is destroyed in order that it may attain to nothingness which is the rung before creation. And this rung is called wisdom, that is to say, a thought which cannot be made manifest.
from Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters, by Martin Buber

Zen & Ripe Tomatoes


Q. Roshi, I've heard you in several debates now. Your manner is forceful but calm. You like wordplay & to make subtle jokes, sometimes so subtle they go unnoticed. Yet, listening to how other "Buddhists" sometimes deride & mock you I can't help feeling a trace sense of bitter sadness. How do you stand up to it? Can't you just knock them down by using their own preferred weapons of heavy sarcasm & online snark?

A. There have been endless debates throughout the history of Zen, of Buddhism, and of Yoga. These debates are ongoing and cannot always be avoided. But the best thing is to enter into the inconceivable and stay silent & alive there. The biggest trout lurk in the deepest pools of the stream. They hide themselves among the tree roots. Meantime, the trout that swim bright & streaking in the shallows are easily found & hooked & cooked & so end up swimming in lemon zest butter on someone's dinner plate. So it's as Lao-Tzu enjoined: Stay unknown, be alert, & cultivate your awareness by not engaging in too much analytical thought. Be the "dark depths mirror," the river dragon hiding the fantastic pearl.

Q. What about subscribing to the famous "correct view" that some Buddhists speak of but about which none seem to agree?

A. Ha ha. Yes. What's the correct view? Is it Madhyamaka? Is it Cittamatra? I know which views I prefer. I don't know which ones are correct, though. It seems to me that no-view is the ultimately correct view. Yet when I say this it makes some people go crazy.

Most of the debates you mention have to do with the nature of Enlightenment, or the "mysterious realization." I say that if you stop grasping-clinging thoughts (there are no other kind, until you've experienced a deep awakening), you don't have to do anything else -- the pure wisdom will shine forth out of you. But how do you stop grasping-clinging thoughts? There's the rub. Some Buddhists get very angry about the idea of meditating under freezing waterfalls or shouting "Ha!" at the sky to shatter your chain of thinking. They want to think their way into the mysterious realization, and once they get it they'd like to be able to write down exactly how it all came about in a best-selling book & go out touring in their monastic robes.

By contrast here is what I say, just to repeat:

Thoughts that grasp and cling at phenomena as "self" or "other" obstruct the lucid functioning of your inherent wisdom.

Stop the clinging-grasping thoughts and pure wisdom shines out by itself. (How do you stop clinging-grasping thoughts? Apply a forceful technique with absolute resolve. Once the technique has done its work, throw it away.)

Stabilize yourself in this wonderful & un-verbalizable state of non-dual experiencing. Why not? It's amazing!

Don't let anybody harangue you into thinking you've got to "do something more" or still less "prove that you're Enlightened" or that you understand the true and correct view of Buddhism.

Q. Hmm. What about this repetitive debate I've heard you engaged in over whether or not there is really such a thing as a "physical universe"? I've seen it become almost grotesquely emotional.

A. Take the attitude of "don't know." If you say there is definitely a physical universe apart from your consciousness, how do you arrive at this "definitely"? You can only know anything through your consciousness, isn't that so? You can't step completely out of the picture and see it all"objectively." If I look at a tomato, I'm seeing only one side of the tomato. Does the other side of the tomato exist? Theorize as much as you like. Say that yes, if this side of the tomato exists, then the other side must exist also, since tomatoes tend to have more than one side. Not to mention that the seeds must exist inside, even though you can't see them. I reply, It's juicy & refreshing, so who cares! Let's eat!

Q. Some people seem offended when you tell them nobody can find a material substrate for what we experience. They say they've been hit by a rock, for example, and the result was that they bled and felt pain, so this material reality definitely exists.

A. Sure. You can get hit by a rock in a dream, bleed copiously & feel agonizing pain. But when you wake up, where's the rock, where's the blood, where's the pain? Likewise, you can bite into a delicious red ripe tomato in a dream, and the seeds will squirt out and the juice will run down your chin, dripping onto the nice jacket your father gave you and causing you to cry with grief because it was his & now it's ruined. Then later on in the same dream your father shows up & gives you another, even more beautiful jacket & you laugh about it all together. When you wake up you wonder where all this dream-business about gift jackets ever came from, since you actually hated your father & he never gave you a nice thing in your whole life.

See what I mean? The dream keeps developing & changing, & so does this so called "physical universe" we're in. I see no reason to try to pin it all on "material stuff." Your consciousness does a fine job of inventing all sorts of crazy situations all by its lonesome, does it not? Except the waking world we share is a production of collective consciousness, whereas the dream world is just your own.

There's also the question of time, for example the past. You can remember being four years old vividly, very vividly sometimes. But your body isn't the same, your brain isn't the same. What's doing the remembering? It's mysterious. It's even mystical.

There are questions physical science can resolve for you, like the exact boiling temperature of water in Sante Fe, New Mexico, & then questions that it can't, like the true nature of your mind & how it sees & is aware of tasting big juicy tomatoes. I see no reason for people to get upset over all this. Do you really want to know everything? Do you think that's even possible?

Shut Up

The frog doesn't see "time."
He doesn't feel "space."
What does he see?
What does he feel?
Touzi left home to enter a monastery when he was seven. He took examinations in the sutras and became ordained when he was fifteen. He studied Buddhist philosophy, especially the "hundred dharmas" of the Yogacara school, but before long he lamented, "Three incalculable aeons is said to the time required for perfect enlightenment. That's a long road to travel. What's the point of all this?"

So he went to the ancient capital and attended lectures on the Flower Ornament Scripture. The doctrines expressed there seemed like stringing pearls. Once when he read a certain set of verses in the scripture speaking of "the inherent nature of mind itself," he reflected deeply and said, "The truth is beyond written words -- how can it be made the subject of a lecture?" So he gave up his academic studies and began a life of wandering to various Chan mountain monasteries, ending up at Fushan's.

One night Master Fushan dreamed he was raising a green hawk, and on waking he took this to be an auspicious omen. The very next morning, Touzi arrived. Master Fushan welcomed him politely and asked him to contemplate the story of the Hindu philosopher questioning Buddha, who merely sat in silence.

Touzi spent three years working on this story. One day Fushan asked him, "Do you remember the story as I told it to you? Try to quote it exactly."

As Touzi was about to reply, Fushan covered his mouth. Touzi was instantly enlightened.

He bowed to Fushan, who said, "Do you realize the mystic potential?" Touzi said, "Even if it exists, it too should be thrown out." An attendant standing by remarked, "Today Touzi is like a man with a fever who has finally broken a sweat." Touzi turned to him and said, "Shut up -- if you rattle on, I'll puke."

-from the upcoming first ever comprehensive collection of Zen Sudden Enlightenment stories, A MUTE EATING A BITTER MELON

The Sun Is Round

The Red-Haired Barbarian
with the bulging blue eyes
faced a wall at Shaolin for 9 years straight.
One day as snow fell outside,
a raven croaked its hollow bell-like rawk --
& Bodhidharma laughed & got up from meditating
 to start a little fire & boil water for his tea.
Lohan Hoshang of Shōshu, China, wrote the following account of his experience of Sudden Enlightenment in the 9th century:
It was in the seventh year of Hsien-tung [867 A.D.] that I for the first time took up the study of the Tao [Zen].
Wherever I went I met words and did not understand them.
A lump of doubt inside the mind was like a willow-basket.
For three years, residing in the woods by the stream, I was altogether unhappy.
When unexpectedly I happened to meet the Dharmarāja [Zen Master] sitting on the rug,
I advanced towards him earnestly asking him to dissolve my doubt.
The master rose from the rug on which he sat deeply absorbed in meditation;
He then baring his arm gave me a blow with his fist on my chest.
This all of a sudden exploded my lump of doubt completely to pieces.
Raising my head I for the first time perceived that the sun was round.
Since then I have been the happiest man in the world, with no fears, no worries;
Day in day out, I pass my time in a most lively way.
Only I notice my inside filled with a sense of fullness and satisfaction;
I do not go out any longer, hither and thither, with my begging bowl for food.

How True These Words Are



When the founder of Zen came to China from India, he did not set up written or spoken formulations; he only pointed directly to the human mind. Direct pointing just refers to what is inherent in everyone: the whole being appearing responsively from within the shell of ignorance, it is not different from the sages of time immemorial. That is what we call the natural, real, inherent nature, fundamentally pure, luminous and sublime, swallowing and spitting out all of space, the single solid realm alone and free of the senses and objects.

[Master Yuanwu says that Zen is a pointing directly to the Buddha Nature, or True Self! How does he define this True Self? "Real, inherent nature, fundamentally pure, luminous & sublime, swallowing and spitting out all of space, the single solid realm alone and free of the senses and objects." Ask some modern Zennist or Buddhist for that matter, to explain this sentence to you. They can't!]

With great capacity and great wisdom, just detach from thought and cut off sentiments, utterly transcending ordinary conventions. Using your own inherent power, take it up directly where you are, like letting go your hold over a mile-high cliff, freeing yourself and not relying on anything anymore, causing all obstruction by views and understanding to be thoroughly removed, so that you are like a dead person without breath, and reach the original ground, attaining great cessation and great rest, which the senses fundamentally do not know and which consciousness, perception, feelings, and thoughts do not reach.

[Cut off the "normal" workings of consciousness, which means transcending ordinary "self-consciousness" so that you are not constantly checking on yourself and commenting on your own actions & thoughts but instead keenly responsive & aware to what is right before you, with no mental objectification of anything and no reliance on labels. This is the real Emptiness. Enter Great Space in a flash. Shatter the mountains & rivers.]

After that, in the cold ashes of a dead fire, it is clear everywhere; among the stumps of dead trees everything illumines; then you merge with solitary transcendence, unapproachably high. Then there is no more need to seek mind or seek Buddha: you meet them everywhere and find they are not obtained from outside. The hundred aspects and thousand facets of perennial enlightenment are all just this: it is mind, so there is no need to still seek mind; it is Buddha, so why trouble to seek Buddha anymore? If you make slogans of words and produce interpretations on top of objects, then you will fall into a bag of antiques and after all never find what you are looking for.

[The clear state of Daigo-tettei, or Great Enlightenment. You act spontaneously, no longer needing to give any account or justification for your words or behavior; hearing the wind roar in the pines, you know your original self.]

This is the realm of true reality where you forget what is on your mind and stop looking. In a wild field, not choosing, picking up whatever comes to hand, the obvious meaning of Zen is clear in the hundred grasses. Indeed, the green bamboo, the clusters of yellow flowers, fences, walls, tiles, and pebbles use the teaching of the inanimate; rivers, birds, trees, and groves expound suffering, emptiness, and selflessness. This is based on the one true reality, producing unconditional compassion, manifesting uncontrived, supremely wondrous power in the great jewel light of nirvana.

[Nirvana releases you from all duality, even that of nirvana vs. samsara. Everything is clear as the palm of your hand.]

An ancient master said, "Meeting a companion on the Way, spending a life together, the whole task of study is done." Another master said, "If I pick up a single leaf and go into the city, I move the whole mountain." That is why one ancient adept was enlightened on hearing the sound of pebbles striking bamboo, while another was awakened on seeing peach trees in bloom. One Zen master attained enlightenment on seeing the flagpole of a teaching center from the other side of a river. Another spoke of the staff of the spirit. One adept illustrated Zen realization by planting a hoe in the ground; another master spoke of Zen in terms of sowing the fields. All these instances were bringing out this indestructible true being, allowing people to visit a greatly liberated true teacher without moving a step.

[Your enlightenment is the same as that of any ancient sage! It's the indestructible true being, beyond thought.]

Carrying out the unspoken teaching, attaining unhindered eloquence, thus they forever studied all over from all things, embracing the all-inclusive universe, detaching from both abstract and concrete definitions of buddhahood, and transcendentally realizing universal, all pervasive Zen in the midst of all activities.

Why necessarily consider holy places, teachers' abodes or religious organizations and forms prerequisite to personal familiarity and attainment of realization?

Once a seeker asked a great Zen teacher, "I, so-and-so, ask: what is the truth of Buddhism?" The teacher said, "You are so-and-so." At that moment the seeker was enlightened. As it is said, "What comes from you returns to you."

An ancient worthy, working in the fields in his youth, was breaking up clumps of earth when he saw a big clod which he playfully smashed with a fierce blow. As it shattered, he was suddenly greatly enlightened. After this he acted freely, becoming an unfathomable person, often manifesting wonders. An old master brought this up and said, "Mountains and rivers, indeed the whole earth was shattered by this man's blow. Making offerings to the buddhas does not require a lot of incense." How true these words are.

-Master Yuanwu

How Amazing! How Amazing!

A Douglas fir expounding the Dharma. Hear it with your eyes!
The Master, whose personal name was Liang-chieh, was a member of the Yu family of Kuei-chi. Once, as a child, when reading the Heart Sutra with his tutor, he came to the line, "There is no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind." He immediately felt his face with his hand, then said to his tutor, "I have eyes, ears, a nose, a tongue, and so on; why does the sutra say they don't exist?"

This took the tutor by surprise, and, recognizing Tung-shan's uniqueness, he said, "I am not capable of being your teacher."

From there the Master went to Wu-hsieh Mountain, where, after making obeisance to Ch'an Master Mo, he took the robe and shaved his head. When he was twenty-one he went to Sung Mountain and took the Complete Precepts.

The Master set out on pilgrimage, and, going first to visit Nanch'üan, he arrived when preparations were under way for Ma-tsu's memorial banquet.

Nan-ch'üan posed the following question for the assembly, saying, "Tomorrow, we will pay homage to Ma-tsu. Do you think he will return or not?"

No one offered a reply, so the Master came forward and said, "He will come as soon as his companion is present."

Nan-ch'üan said, "This fellow, though young, is suitable for being cut and polished."

The Master replied, "Ho-shang, do not crush what is good into something mean."

Next the Master made a visit to Kuei-shan and said to him, "I have recently heard that the National Teacher Chung of Nan-yang maintained the doctrine that nonsentient beings expound the Dharma. I have not yet comprehended the subtleties of this teaching."

Kuei-shan said, "That teaching also exists here. However, one seldom encounters someone capable of understanding it."

Tung-shan said, "I still don't understand it clearly. Would the Master please comment."

Kuei-shan raised his fly wisk, saying, "Do you understand?"

"No, I don't. Please, Ho-shang, explain," replied Tung-shan.

Kuei-shan said, "It can never be explained to you by means of the mouth of one born of mother and father."

Tung-shan asked, "Does the Master have any contemporaries in the Way who might clarify this problem for me?"

"From here, go to Yu-hsien of Li-ling where you will find some linked caves. Living in those caves is a man of the Way, Yün-yen. If you are able to 'push aside the grass and gaze into the wind,' then you will find him worthy of your respect," said Kuei-shan.

Tung-shan accordingly took leave of Kuei-shan and proceeded directly to Yün-yen's. Making reference to his previous encounter with Kueishan, he immediately asked what sort of person was able to hear the Dharma expounded by nonsentient beings.

Yün-yen said, "Nonsentient beings are able to hear it."

"Can you hear it, Ho-shang?" asked Tung-shan.

Yün-yen replied, "If I could hear it, then you would not be able to hear the Dharma that I teach."

"Why can't I hear it?" asked Tung-shan.

Yün-yen raised his fly whisk and said, "Can you hear it yet?"

Tung-shan replied, "No, I can't."

Yün-yen said, "You can't even hear it when I expound the Dharma; how do you expect to hear when a nonsentient being expounds the Dharma?"

Tung-shan asked, "In which sutra is it taught that nonsentient beings expound the Dharma?"

Yün-yen replied, "Haven't you seen it? In the Amitabha Sutra it says, 'Water birds, tree groves, all without exception recite the Buddha's name, recite the Dharma.'"

Tung-shan was suddenly enlightened and immediately composed the following gatha:

How amazing, how amazing!
Hard to comprehend that nonsentient beings expound the Dharma.
It simply cannot be heard with the ear,
But when sound is heard with the eye, then it is understood.

The Way of Mountains & Rivers


Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire With A Large Pine

Many people misunderstand the famous Zen "mountains and rivers" saying of Master Qingyuan.

The saying goes, "Before I started doing Zen, mountains were just mountains, and rivers were just rivers. Once I began doing Zen, mountains were suddenly no longer mountains, and rivers suddenly no longer rivers. These days, however, mountains are again mountains, and rivers are again rivers." 

Does Qingyuan's enigmatic saying mean that Enlightenment is just a return to Non-Enlightenment? Not at all. What would be the point of that? 

In phase one, "Mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers" only because you've accepted name-and-form conditioning since childhood. So you don't really see a mountain when you look at it. You just see a dull concept, the mental label "mountain." This is a form of deep affliction caused by ingrained conceptual thinking. It imposes the suffering of dullness. It's why adulthood is a cage compared to childhood.

In phase two, which is Satori, "Mountains are no longer mountains, and rivers no longer rivers." You instantly perceive that behind the mental act of labeling, which creates a stereotyped form, there is a wonderful, chaotic incoherence that is also supremely beautiful & ecstatic. It is possible to live for many years in this state, as I did and often still do. You go around laughing & sometimes crying at everything. You see that the so called "universe" is supremely energetic, that everything is strangely linked together, and you gain intimations of something like Transcendent Wisdom.

It's like Cézanne compulsively painting Mont Sainte-Victoire from all different angles, in all different lights. Other people would just say, "It's a mountain, and not a particularly interesting one." But Cézanne saw that it was the inconceivable Reality and tried to show other people what he'd seen.

In the third and final phase, "Mountains are again mountains and rivers are again rivers," but this doesn't mean you've returned to the old dualistic dullness. It just means that once you've seen the true nature of mountains and rivers, you don't mind using the old labels just for the sake of shorthand communication with other people. After all, why not? But you are now aware that's not the whole story. You use words without being taken in by them. Your mind is free, luminous, shibumi & penetrating.Yet you could never get to this final phase of relaxed equanimity if you hadn't overthrown everything with great energy and gone beyond the labels "mountains and rivers" in the first place!

Do you understand? Experientially speaking, the third phase is fundamentally different from the first phase, even though they appear outwardly to be the same. It is Great Enlightenment itself.

Involuntary chattering dull-headed puppet mind [un-Enlightenment], which slaps labels on every sensation & experience, is really not the Way. How could submitting to an unnecessary affliction and suffering from it for your whole life be the Way? The Way is found in the Mysterious Realization, 妙悟, the attainment of which requires a desperate & almost inhuman energy like the painter Cézanne's.