Zen Is Just Suddenly Perceiving Your Own Mind

A monk asked: "How can we know when every sort of karmic hindrance has been wiped out?"

Master Hui-Hai answered:

When you suddenly perceive your own Mind, you will at that moment understand the affairs of the past and those of the future as if they were right before your very eyes. All past and future, as well as present, dharmas will be perceived simultaneously. The Sutra says, "All the dharmas known by your purified mind constitute the Bodhimandala, which is the totality of all Wisdom."

Hui-Hai also commented: "[In reality] there is only no mind whatsoever dwelling nowhere at all. When this stage is reached, one is, quite naturally, liberated." -Hui-Hai

Is the Normal Mind the Way?

In Case 19 of the Mumonkan, one reads: "The normal (or ordinary) mind is the Way."

This pithy statement by Master Nanquan is often misunderstood. Such a misunderstanding can have devastating effects on true Zen practice, cutting off entry into the Great Way. 

The Chinese actually says:
平 = calm, level, peaceful 常 = general, common as dust 心 = mind-heart 是 = right, correct 道 = Dao, Way (path, road, head).

"Normal" is an unfortunate mis-translation, since normally people do not behave in an uncontrived, calm, level, peaceful way. Nobody in our world wants to be 常, "general, common as dust." Do they?

So, as you can see, Nanquan really meant something less like the English term "normal" and more like "straight," "direct," or "uncontrived" like the Taoist "uncarved block," or the Indian Mahasiddhas' "Sahaja Samadhi."

Recall Lao-Tzu's remark that the great sage looks to "normal" people like an idiot or simpleton.

Note also that even after experiencing an enlightenment at hearing Master Nanquan's words, Master Joshu still had to study for thirty years in order to realize the Way. Why? Because ordinary human life is precisely not "direct" and "uncontrived."

To attain the direct mind of a Taoist or Zen sage is the rarest possible attainment, one sometimes requiring great commitment and costing much difficulty.

Just look at what Master Nanquan says just a few sentences later in the same dialogue:


When you have really reached the true Way beyond doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space.


How can it be talked about on the level of right and wrong?

See also Master Mumon's verse on this Case:

春有百花秋有月 The spring flowers, the autumn moon;
夏有涼風冬有雪 Summer breezes, winter snow.
若無閑事挂心頭 If useless things do not clutter your mind,
更是人間好時節 You have the best days of your life.

How will you get rid of the useless things that clutter your mind, such as endless petty considerations of right and wrong? Truly, the English words "normal" and "ordinary" are not adequate translations of Nanquan's remark, given that the Way is found by the sage to be as vast as boundless space.

I see no reason to translate 平 = calm, level, peaceful + 常 = general, common as dust, as "normal" or even as "ordinary." "Natural" strikes me as a better translation. One might even be bolder and, drawing on Chuang-Tzu's image of the Tao as being present in ants, broken tiles, grass and dung, say, "despised," "rejected," or "lowly." Maybe "The base mind is the Way" would be even better!

One might also say,

"The unadulterated First Person Realization is the Way."

White clouds billowing up into the blue of space;
The pure straight body of a bristling pine.
A thrush sings out into the clear afternoon -- grace!
How will you get such a tranquil, responsive & empty mind?


After Xuansha became the abbot at Mt. Xuan Sha, he entered the hall and addressed the monks, saying, 

“Buddha’s way is vast and serene. There is no path on which to travel there. There is no gate of liberation. There are no thoughts about a ‘person of the Way.’ There are no ‘three worlds.’ Therefore one cannot ‘transcend’ or ‘fall into.’ Setting something up runs counter to the truth. Negation is a formation. Movement gives rise to the root of birth and death. Stillness is the province of falling into delusion. When movement and stillness are extinguished, one falls into empty negation. When movement and stillness are both accepted, Buddha nature is concealed. With respect to worldly affairs or states of mind, you should be like a cold dead tree. Then you will realize the great function and not forfeit its grace. All forms will be illuminated as if in a mirror. Brightness or obscurity will not confuse you. The bird will fly into emptiness, it will not be apart from empty form. Then in the ten directions there will be no form and in the three worlds there will be no traces.”

"Kindred Spirits and Demons": Master Wumen's Sudden Awakening

Wumen Huikai paid respects to Monk Kung of T'ien-lung, and accepted Monk Kung as his teacher. He practiced with Yüeh-lin at Wan-shou Temple in Su-chou. Yüeh-lin had him read the account of Chao-chou's "Wu." But even after six years, Wumen was far from penetrating its meaning.

So he summoned his will and resolved to cut off his doubts by resolving the Great Matter, saying to himself, "I will sit up contemplating this koan all night every night, even if I die trying." This he did night after night. Whenever he started to doze off or lose concentration on "Wu," he got up and walked down the corridor and banged his head against a big smooth pillar.

One day, while standing near the lecturer's seat in the Dharma Hall, he suddenly awakened when he heard the sound of the drum calling the monks for the recitation of the monastic rules. BOOM BOOM BOOM! He instantly composed this gatha:
A burst of thunder from the cloudless blue sky 
peels open the eyeballs of all living beings.
All between heaven and earth bow down! 
Mount Sumeru leaps to its feet and does a monkey dance.
The next day, he entered the master's room seeking confirmation. Yueh-lin said in an off-hand way, "Whenever I look at kindred spirits (shen), I see nothing but demons (kuei)." Wumen shouted a hair raising demonic YAI! Yueh-lin also shouted YAI! Wumen shouted YAI! again and the master bowed to him. And so his great awakening was confirmed.

No Bones to the Dharma Body

The Dharma Body has no bones --
it's as big as the sky.
No flesh, no spirit in it either,
just a burst of crazy laughing.

Shatter it all, go beyond!
Utterly beyond!
Thinking is Craving,
Craving turns into thoughts.
It's all a Grand Delusion,
a bowl of coals for a demon's breakfast,
a shit banquet for the hungry ghosts.

At the Zen summit it's raining ice.
All the jizo buddhas do somersaults,
the scarves covering their weeping faces.
Crows CAW CAW CAW their heads off
as the raw wind moans in ten directions,
and you dance like an iron-faced cloud demon.


Treasure This Gem! Huang-Po's Great Way of Zen

I am sometimes asked what I mean by "ancient Zen." Maybe the best way to understand it is to read the remarks attributed to Master Huang-Po, of the T'ang Dynasty days. The following is a brief summary of Huang-Po's teachings, with embedded quotes from Blofeld's monumental translation. May it steer your course in the study and practice of true Zen!

To the extent Huang-Po taught a doctrine, it is identical to Yogacara or Mind-Only Buddhism. Everything is Mind; the whole universe is just a fleeting appearance of Mind itself.

"All the Buddhas and all sentient beings are nothing but the One Mind, beside which nothing exists." 
"But these mountains, these rivers, the whole world itself, together with the sun, moon and stars -- not one of them exists outside your minds! The vast chiliocosm exists only within you, so where else can the various categories of phenomena possibly be found? Outside Mind, there is nothing." 
"The essential Buddha-Substance is a perfect whole, without superfluity or lack. It permeates the six states of existence and yet is everywhere perfectly whole. Thus, every single one of the myriads of phenomena in the universe is the Buddha (Absolute). This substance may be likened to a quantity of quicksilver which, being scattered in all directions, everywhere reforms into perfect wholes. When undispersed, it is of one piece, the one comprising the whole and the whole comprising the one. The various forms and appearances, on the other hand, may be likened to dwellings. Just as one abandons a stable in favor of a house, so one exchanges a physical body for a heavenly body, and so on up to the planes of the Pratyeka-Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas. But all alike are things sought by you or abandoned by you; hence the differences between them." 
"The Royal Treasury [of the Buddhas] is the nature of the Void. Though all the vast-world systems of the universe are contained therein, none of them have existence outside your Mind. Another name for it is the Bodhisattva Treasury of the Great Void."

Huang-Po said that this is the Highest Truth taught by the Buddha. It is this Wordless Doctrine that Bodhidharma brought to China. But it is not enough to intellectually accept or believe in this Wordless Doctrine; one must intuitively realize it for oneself.

"From Gautama Buddha down through the whole line of patriarchs to Bodhidharma, none preached aught beside the One Mind, otherwise known as the Sole Vehicle of Liberation . . . Nowhere has this teaching leaves or branches; its one quality is eternal truth. Hence it is a teaching hard to accept. When Bodhidharma came to China and reached the Kingdoms of Liang and Wei, only the Venerable Master Ko gained a silent insight into our own Mind; as soon as it was explained to him, he understood that Mind is the Buddha, and that individual mind and body are nothing. This teaching is called the Great Way." 
"Since the Tathagata entrusted Kasyapa with the Dharma until now, Mind has been transmitted with Mind, and these Minds have been identical." 
"Therefore the Tathagata called Kasyapa to come and sit with him on the Seat of Proclaiming the Law, seperately entrusting to him the Wordless Dharma of the One Mind. This branchless Dharma was to be separately practiced; and those who should be tacitly Enlightened would arrive at the state of Buddhahood."

To the extent Huang-Po taught a practice, it is stopping the arising of thoughts, cessating all mental activity, discarding opinions & ideas. Most people do not have the strength to leap over conceptual thinking all at once, so they should work at it singlemindedly & to the best of their abilities.

"Spend twenty years sweeping the dung out of your mind." 
"The Master said: Only when your minds cease dwelling on anything whatsoever will you come to an understanding of the true Way of Zen. The Way of the Buddhas flourishes in a mind utterly free of conceptual thought processes, which discrimination between this and that gives birth to a legion of demons!"

Huang-Po warned that of the "three or four thousand students of the Ch'an sect" in his time, "only three or four individuals" would ever "attain the goal" (Lin-Chi was one, his enlightenment joyfully recognized by Huang-Po, -- which leaves at the most three more enlightened Ch'an people in Huang-Po's generation). So:

"Strive on! Strive on! You must liberate yourselves! Buddhas cannot do it for you!"

The goal of Ch'an according to Huang-Po is sudden awakening followed by complete liberation and the cessation of rebirth.

"Kasyapa obtained a direct self-realization of original Mind, so he is not one of those with horns. Whosoever obtains this direct realization of the Tathagata Mind, thereby understanding the true identity of the Tathagata and perceiving his real appearance and real form, can speak to others with the authority of the Buddha's true spiritual son." 
"If an ordinary man . . . could only see the five elements of his consciousness as void; the four physical elements as not constituting an 'I'; the real Mind as formless and neither coming nor going; his nature as something neither commencing at his birth nor perishing at his death, but as whole and motionless in its very depths; his Mind and environmental objects as one – if he could really accomplish this, he would receive Enlightenment in a flash. He would no longer be entangled by the Triple World; he would be a World-Transcendor. He would be without even the faintest tendency toward rebirth."

According to Huang-Po, Ch'an cannot be learned from books and all discussions, arguments and debates about Ch'an are not only pointless, but harmful.

"As soon as the mouth is opened, evils spring forth. Indeed, there is NEVER any profit in discussion."

When asked what he recommends for Ch'an students, Huang-Po says to spend all your time learning to cut off thinking, so that you can sit rapt in meditation before a wall, like Bodhidharma himself.

"Yes, my advice is to give up all indulgence in conceptual thought and intellectual processes. When such things no longer trouble you, you will unfailingly reach Supreme Enlightenment." 
"When you practice mind-control (zazen or dhyana), sit in the proper position, stay perfectly tranquil, and do not permit the least movement of your minds to disturb you. This alone is what is called liberation." 
"If you would spend all your time – walking, standing, sitting or lying down – learning to halt the concept-forming activities of your own mind, you could be sure of ultimately attaining the goal. Since your strength is insufficient, you might not be able to transcend samsara with a single leap; but, after five or ten years, you would surely have made a good beginning and be able to make further progress spontaneously." 
"From the earliest times the Sages have taught that a minimum of activity is the gateway of their Dharma; so let NO activity be the gateway of my Dharma! Such is the Gateway of the One Mind, but all who reach this gate fear to enter! I do NOT teach a doctrine of extinction! Few understand this, but those who do understand are the only ones to become Buddhas. Treasure this gem!"

The anecdotes about Huang-Po tell us that he was a very tall man with a pearl-shaped protrusion on his forehead that was said to be from his innumerable prostrations to the Buddha. He was already enlightened when he came to study with Pai-chang, who was one of Master Ma-Tzu's disciples. "Majestic and imposing, I've come from the mountains." He experienced his sudden awakening in a dialogue with an old woman who called him a "Greedy monk" when he was begging for rice one day. It seems the feeling of intense shame and bewilderment opened the Gate for him. In his later years he abandoned verbal teaching and would just shout and hit students with his staff.

Bussho, the True Self

What is the true-self? This is the self which has existed since before the time of the division of Heaven and Earth, and from before the birth of parents. This is the self which exists before everything is born and which does not die. It is the self of eternity and immortality. Man, the birds, beasts and plants all possess this self within them. The universe is filled with this permanent self; in other words it is Bussho (Buddha-nature). This self has no shadow, no form, no life, and no death. It is not the mortal self which we can see with the naked eye. It is only seen by the Buddha-eye and the Dharma-eye. We, as ordinary people, cannot see the true self. Only one who awakens to Buddha-nature and realizes the true-self can see it, and he is a person of kensho-jobutsu (one who sees into his Buddha-nature and reaches Nirvana.)

-Master Takuan Soho

To Make a Small Zen Temple of Wherever You Are

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

Sometimes I take people hiking up into the mountains after enjoining them not to talk or to think, just to empty themselves to receive the direct Zen transmission from bird-loud forests and freezing waterfalls.

It is difficult for some to attain, but when it does occur the energetic switch to no-thought and no-mind is, just as soon as it happens, at once obvious to everyone else nearby  -- an immersion in the sheer vigor and enjoyment of the splendors of nature, unbelievable bliss!

A smile rises through the whole body and shines out of every gesture, pervading infinite space. Who knew that simple silence could hold such charm?

Then I go around in the city and see people frowning with thought. They are distorted by the seeming necessity to form ideas and judgments about all experiences, and so exude a sad and nervous tension. They perpetually hold onto a past that contains humiliations and anguish, and they yearn for a future that may never come.

As Master Rujing said, "Zen study is the shedding of body and mind!" You must make a small Zen temple of wherever you are, so that you can revel silently in the sheer radiance of life.

Ch'an, the Ancient Way

Early Ch'an teachers, including Bodhidharma, were called Dhyana masters. (Ch'an is the Chinese pronunciation of the Sanskrit word for concentration-absorption meditation, Dhyana.)

Though their philosophy came from the Mind-Only Sutras of Mahayana Buddhism, especially the Lankavatara, the Ch'an emphasis was not on philosophy or on sutras.

Ch'an teachers all taught direct entry into the state of clear enlightenment via concentration and absorption.

Usually this was done in the sitting posture, but the sitting posture itself was not fetishized, and Bodhidharma warned against trying to attain Buddhahood by sitting for long periods.

The basic idea of ancient Ch'an was that your Xin, your Mind-Heart, is already the radiant original Buddha. But you've become confused by your six senses.

By closing the five senses, silencing the sixth, and gazing inward you awaken to your True Self. Once you are awake to this, you develop ways to merge that awareness with all of your activities.

Early Ch'an teachers told their students to forget all externals and cease all thinking until they directly perceived their self-nature, the Buddha within.

At that time -- roughly between Bodhidharma and Hui-Neng -- there were no books of koans, no "Zen" poetry to learn, also no ritualized verbal challenges or hitting with sticks.

Nobody went around cleverly quoting Masters. Imagine that!

The early Ch'an teachers did not say much but just instructed people to refrain from excessive activity, be quiet and look into their own minds.

The one goal of Ch'an was understood to be just the direct experience of inner illumination via Dhyana.

The Last Word on Self-Arising Primordial Awareness

Within the essence of ultimate truth, [yang dag don gyi ngo bo la]
there is no buddha or ordinary being. [sangs rgyas dang ni sems can med]
Since awareness cannot be objectified, it is empty. [rig pa 'dzin pa med pas stong]
Given that it does not dwell in emptiness, [stong pa nyid la me gnas na]
it abides in its own state of supreme bliss. [rang gi bde chen sa la gnas]
The majestic ruler of all buddhas [sangs rgyas kun gyi rje btsan pa]
is understood to be one's own awareness. [rang gi rig pa shes par bya]
This monarch, naturally manifest awareness, [rang snang rig pa'i rgyal po nyid]
is present in everyone, but no one realizes it. [kun la yod de kun gyis rtog pa med]

Dark Luminosity

Student: Roshi, sometimes when I read your words, I experience something indefinable, an odd state, or even a pervasive yet indescribable taste, something like the experience having a word or a name "on the tip of the tongue," almost fully formed and strangely definite but still not quite yet "there." Maybe this is a word or a name that can't be spoken, and because of that, it has the character of fullness and depth and mysteriousness that actually causes my hair to stand up. That's the odd, complex sensation I get from your words, too, that the words you speak in reference to Zen are just elements of an unspoken word, a nameless name, so dark and deep it can't possibly ever be articulated, yet in no way is it "nothingness" or "non-existence" or even "Emptiness." So when I read your blog I am suddenly thrown into a confusion that is delightful. It isn't enlightenment itself, though it feels fresh and enlightening like dark sky slowly filling up with pellucid light that still remains unseen, but only intuited, or the rarefied sunlight that filters down to the bottom of a fast flowing stream and re-appears, dim but strangely brilliant, on the brown pebbles under the flitting shadows of trout and swimming frogs. It's an experience beyond all ideas and defined concepts or thoughts. Yet it is strangely open, still, numinous, stirring, and clear. Anything and everything can happen in it, yet there it is, unmoved and immovable. I wonder if this is what Shunryu Suzuki meant by "Beginner's Mind." I wonder if it isn't also what Takuan Soho called "the Immovable Mind" of the sages. Or what Seung-Sahn called "Don't Know Mind." Or maybe these more recent Zen ideas are just distant echoes of what the great Zen people of the past like Ma-Tsu and Layman Pang and Huang-Po knew in their everyday lives, once their everyday lives had merged with their deepest meditation.

Roshi: Maybe all this is just an echo of the Dark Luminosity spoken of by the Taoist sages. Special boxes have been designed for experiments in physics, into which light is shone, but although the boxes are filled with blazing light, since there is nothing in the box to reflect or obstruct the light when human beings look into these boxes they see only the deepest and blackest darkness. I know the state you describe very well, and I find it to be one of brimming-up and overflowing delight and elegance, though when I first became aware of it, to be quite honest with you, I was totally terrified. Why not just be open to the Nameless, play in it, relax into it, rest your mind from thinking, do not try to find any spurious answers or still less to turn it into a spiritual technique, but let it constantly refresh and invigorate you from its great dark depths?

Shibumi-Ki-Do Zen

if you are standing
rest your mind
not on the thought
I am standing
but on the standing itself
inconceivable bliss

if you are walking
rest your mind wholly
in the subtle movements
of your field of vision
& the quick changes of pressure
inside your ears
until you wake up with a start
& laughter flows out

if you are thinking too hard
& so can't sleep
deep in the night
count down slowly
from 108
putting all attention & intent
on the numbers singly one by one
& soon all thinking will go
& your breathing will deepen & relax
& you will experience a quiet simplicity
an indescribable elegance

if you are sitting
let your breathing go
& rest your mind entirely
in your whole body
without trying to hold it
in one place or another
& your innate being
will awaken in a throb of clear bliss

if you are practicing
with the sword
rest your mind
exactly as in sitting upright
& your whole body
will fill with springing energy

in breathing yoga
breathe in lightly but deeply
as if to take in the whole universe
& breathe out with quiet force
as if to impress your will on God

or just put your attention in front of you
& simply rest it there
extending inconceivably before your brows
& also on all sides, & up & down, 360 degrees
& you will suddenly taste
the bliss of the ever-rising Innate
a pure display of color, sound & form
untouched by thought

putting oil in your lamp
day & night like this
will make the wick burn bright & pure
your whole universe
revealed as the boundless circle
of inconceivable radiance

The True Meaning of Emptiness

Roshi: All the Buddhas have taught Liberation, attained just by way recognizing and abiding in the natural state.

Student: Liberation from what?

R: From obsessive habitual thinking. There is nothing else that cages up the bird of your spirit.

S: I've heard that all the Buddhas taught "emptiness"!

R: Emptiness is taught to shatter the chain of thinking and dispel all views. This teaching of Emptiness is merely therapeutic. Sunyata is medicine for the poison of words and concepts, names and forms. Voidness isn't a thing. Once you're cured, stop taking the medicine.

S: That's all?

R: That's it! By contemplating the Prajnaparamita teachings you will be delivered suddenly from your ingrained thinking and deranged inherited views, and will thereby attain an "Emptiness" in which there is no trace of the concept "Emptiness." Your mind will just be natural and straightforward as a wheelwright's putting a wheel on a cart, or a potter shaping a bowl. "When mind and body attain spontaneity, the Way is realized." (Huang-Po). This is the true meaning of Emptiness.

The Huang-Po Zen Challenge: Put a Stop to Thinking

Grand Zen Master Huang-Po says you must do just one thing to become Enlightened. Just the one thing. What is it? "Cut off thinking." Also, "Forget all views." "Keep your mind motionless." "Put a complete stop to the arising of conceptual thought." Enter "the Gateway of Stillness Beyond All Activity." He says that if you can succeed in this simple but difficult task, "the Buddha will appear before you." You will experience a "deeply mysterious wordless understanding." You will reach "a state of BEING brilliant as the sun" in which "all forms are Buddha forms, all sounds are Buddha sounds."

Sound good? Are you there yet? Wouldn't you like to be? Or, in the words of Mumon Ekai,"Isn't this a delightful prospect?"

Master Mumon Ekai agreed with Huang-Po: "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 the grasses and weeds." So did Joshu: "When the mind does not arise, everything is flawless." Also Yuanwu: "If your mind exists, you are stuck in the mundane for eternity; if your mind does not exist, you experience wondrous enlightenment instantly." And Bankei:"Because the Buddha Mind is unborn, it has no thoughts at all. Thoughts are the source of delusion. When thoughts are gone, delusion vanishes too."

So why not take the Huang-Po Challenge, to see if you've got the stones to be a Huang-Po style Zennist? Set an alarm to go off in ten minutes, or have a friend time you. Stop all your thinking right now, right this instant, and remain without any thinking whatsoever until the timer buzzes.

If you can't do it, why can't you? And if you won't try, why not?

Huang-Po's discourse remains at the conceptual level until you try it for yourself. "I am already a Buddha" -- maybe you are, but that's still just words, speech, concepts, and thinking.

Isn't it mysterious that if I tell you not to make a fist for the next ten minutes, you can easily do it; yet if I tell you not to think for the next ten minutes, you can't? Isn't "thinking" -- like speaking or writing -- supposed to be a voluntary action, completely under the command of "the Master within"?

I say throw away the dregs of Buji ("do-nothing") Zen and do some authentic ancient Zen training using this simple (but extremely difficult) method prescribed by Great Zen Master Huang-Po! If you put some energy into it and succeed where so many others have flailed and failed, you will be like a dragon entering the water, a tiger on its mountain.

The truth is that if you can put a stop to all conceptual thinking for even ten seconds in full and energetically relaxed awareness, you will attain satori. It is of the utmost importance that you attain satori quickly, while your eyes still see and ears still hear. Do not just parrot the words of the Masters without applying yourself to their meanings.

For to quote the words that Huang-Po spoke outside the experience to which those words applied is as stupid as to toil at the oars when the ship is on sand.

The True Ancient Way of Zen

Q. What is the true ancient way of Zen?

A. Bodhidharma said that it is nothing more than "seeing the self nature," chien hsing (kensho, in Japanese).

Q. That doesn't dispel the mystery for me. What is this self-nature Bodhidharma spoke of, and how do you see it?

A. When you see with your eyes, you are enlightened as to forms. When you see with your Buddha eye, you are enlightened as to the baseless and shining nature of all your experiencing. Many sutras have made statements about what this "baseless and shining nature" is or isn't, and Bodhidharma quoted some of these sutras, which say that it is the original Mind in all sentient beings. Where he departed from the sutras was in his insistence that you have to experience and realize it for yourself. That is, you have to wake up just as Shakyamuni woke up when he saw the morning star.

Q. How do I do this?

A. According to Bodhidharma, you've got to cut off thinking and abandon all fixation on forms. This brings the illusory world of samsara to a full stop. Your Mind wakes up and knows itself instantly as soon as you have accomplished this. After that you can't be imprisoned by karma anymore. Cause and effect can't touch you. You are like a dreamer who has woken up from a dream. This is the "entry by Dharma principle," which is sudden -- as opposed to the "entry by practices," which is gradual.

Q. But how? I mean, what's the method? Am I supposed to meditate with my legs crossed?

A. Bodhidharma taught "wall-gazing." You use the wall to cut off all your fixations on illusory phenomena. Other Zen Patriarchs like Daoxin taught a sitting meditation in which you turn your gaze inward onto itself and try to find the source of your awareness. Hui-Neng said that the best way to see the self-nature is to contemplate the Diamond Sutra. He said that if you hold the Diamond Sutra with all your energy, there will come a moment when thinking stops and the Dharma body becomes clear. After that, even if thoughts resume it is not a problem, because the thoughts will be pervaded by formless Prajna-wisdom.

Later Zen Masters like Pai-Chang and Huang-Po taught just stopping the arising of thoughts in all situations until you penetrate through to reality and your true mind, featureless like space, is wholly realized in all of your life and its tasks. During the subsequent Golden Age of Chan in the T'ang Dynasty, the Masters invented many energetic ways to try to stop their students' stupid, lazy compulsive thinking, including silence, shouting, hitting with a stick, uttering a meaningless phrase like "Sesame cake!" in response to questions about the Dharma, &c. Still later, the stories of the Masters' encounters with clueless students were collected into books that circulated throughout China. Some of these anecdotes, called "public cases," were collected into special handbooks that were used in training monks. Mumon Ekai and Dahui both insisted that the key to koan practice is focusing all of your Qi (bodily energy) on the koan, to hold it steadily in absolute concentration without trying to think or form any views about it.

So, if you happen to have weak, listless Qi and are incapable of sustaining one-pointed concentration for any length of time, then you had better find ways to strengthen your Qi and firm up your ability to focus your mind or you are out of luck with Zen. This perhaps explains why Masters in the Linji (Japanese, Rinzai) school mined Taoism for its wonderful store of Qi-strengthening techniques. In some places Zen students are still trained using koans, but koan training has become mechanical and nobody really believes it leads to "seeing the self-nature" anymore.

Zen is not a matter of sitting with your legs crossed, but nor is it a matter of furrowing your brow over koans from old Chinese books. The true ancient way of Zen is to wake up right now. Of course, it's always "right now" so you always have the opportunity to wake up, so long as you're alive.

Q. What's the best way to wake up right now?

A. That's what you've got to find out! Why not start here?

Zen Mind Seeing Mind

Q. What is Zen? Is it the nihilistic idea that there is nothing? Is that the"emptiness" I hear so much about?

A. The Nirvana Sutra says:
Emptiness means perceiving neither ‘empty’ nor ‘non-empty’. The natural radiance of emptiness can appear as anything at all. Since it is empty as it appears, appearance and emptiness are a unity. This can only be known by looking inwards. It is within the domain of your own self-knowing awareness-wisdom.
Zen is Bodhidharma's transmission of the Highest Truth (Tattva) outside teachings. Bodhidharma just pointed "inwards" to the treasure storehouse of bright, pure, stainless, timeless original self-knowing awareness-wisdom, aka your Mind. As Huang-Po said:
When all the Buddhas manifest themselves in the world, they proclaim nothing but the One Mind. Thus, Gautama Buddha silently transmitted to Mahakasyapa the doctrine that the One Mind, which is the substance of all things, is co-extensive with the Void and fills the entire world of phenomena. This is called the Law of All the Buddhas. Discuss it as you may, how can you even hope to approach the truth through words? Nor can it be perceived either subjectively or objectively. So full understanding can come to you only through an inexpressible mystery. The approach to it is called the Gateway of the Stillness beyond all Activity. If you wish to understand, know that a sudden comprehension comes when the mind has been purged of all the clutter of conceptual and discriminatory thought-activity. Those who seek the truth by means of intellect and learning only get further and further away from it.
There is no lineage outside of this Mind. There is no teaching or listening to teaching outside Mind either. What is Mind? It's the Buddha nature. Self-originating, self-enlightening, ultimately true and real. You can't grasp or conceptualize it; it can't be held, restrained, or put into a box. Even the Great Wall of China can't obstruct it. This Mind is not to be confused with the senses or with ideas. Yet it acts and perceives through the senses, and it is certainly the source of all ideas. "Outside of Mind there are no dharmas." Do not confuse this Mind with what it uses. Undoubtedly all that it ever uses is itself, but as soon as you conceptualize this or that function and reduce Mind to THAT, you are mistaken. Anything of which you can say "it is" is just Mind in its majestic, instantaneous functioning.

So how is it that this all-powerful Mind falls into ignorance and petty delusion, and comes to mistake itself for physical stuff? Mind itself never does; "ignorance and delusion" are names for a disease caused by enslavement to thinking, to conceptualizations that obscure it. Mind is just bright and knowing, and spontaneously acting out of its own infinite store of wisdom, in every situation.

The Sutra Requested by Kashyapa says:
Mind is not to be found within. Nor does it exist outside. And it can not be observed anywhere else.
The Sutra Requested by Maitreya says:
Mind has no shape, no color and no location. It is like space.
There is no need to train or do anything to this original Mind. What could you do to it? Only Mind is. All being is just this mind. As for physical stuff, it isn't apart from Mind, insofar it only appears in and to Mind; yet Mind is, in one sense, apart from it, transcendent to it, beyond it. Mind is "not this, not that," but rather the Way both this and that appear. As soon as you isolate some "thing" out of Mind's shockingly direct and original being, you are setting Mind against itself and getting confused. Such name-and-form thinking is the source of ignorant delusion. "All appearance is but a delusory image. Do not try to grasp or to follow such images. Try instead to see with the Buddha eye."

Q. What is Bodhidharma's "wall-gazing"?

A. It is just the direct experience of this mind. It is Mind seeing Mind without any conceptual problem. You can actually experience that your being is this mind, that all being is this Mind. It's bright and boundless. It's the blissful true reality that has never come or gone. You don't have to gaze at a wall. You can be aware of your pure awareness-wisdom in all situations, all the time.

Why Bodhidharma Came from the West

According to all the Zen Masters, only thinking obstructs the natural enlightened state (Bodhi) and the instantaneous functioning of transcendental wisdom (Prajna). Therefore, if you can cut off your thinking at will, you experience satori, sudden awakening to your true self, the brilliantly clear and pervasive Buddha nature, the "inconceivable state of the Tathagatas."

This is called "attaining the mysterious principle," and "passing the barrier of the Patriarchs." It happens like a flash of lightning, a horse galloping past an open window, the blow of a sharp cleaver.

Eventually, by making this "suchness" your normal state of being, you arrive at Daigo-Tettei, Great Enlightenment. In this condition, your mind remains empty and quiescent, no matter what sensation or image appears in and by it, like a still pond that can vividly reflect the images of flying geese. You are free of the bondage of compulsive thinking; which does not mean that thoughts do not sometimes occur, only that you do not identify with them, so they die out one after another like rootless grasses.

Whereas other people go around with furrowed brows and an absent look studying their "internal maps," or arguing about what is or is not Zen, you are perpetually alert to reality without grasping at it or trying to fix it into a defined form. You are always absorbed merely in what you are doing and what is in front of you, no concern for past or future, living playfully in a perpetual childlike state of joy and amazement. Even when you "teach" or "write" or speak to others you are just being playful, direct, forceful and serene.

At this stage there is no effort, no need to choose this over that. Everything that happens is fine. You know exactly why Bodhidharma came from the West. Your eyebrows are entangled with Lin Chi's. "The blue mountain does not obstruct the white cloud." "Bamboo of the South, wood of the North." "A blind girl on a bench in the sauna, rocking back and forth." "The red blossoms of the wild quince, the sharp trills of an oriole in the big pine."

Yunmen's eyebrows bristle on my forehead.
Ten thousand nights asleep, ten thousand dawns awake.
A bush warbler's sharp note from the peony hedge,
A lion's roar melting the hoarfrost in all eighty-eight directions.

Passing the Barrier of Zen: Mumon Ekai Explains How to Use 氣 To Attain Satori

[Once upon a time in China -- more precisely, in the autumn of 1228 -- Master Mumon Ekai compiles a book of Zen "public cases" or koans to help the monks under his direction attain satori. He places Joshu's "Mu" at the head of this collection, calling it "the front gate to Zen." He then goes on to describe precisely how to arouse and use  氣, a Chinese word meaning "energy," "spirit," "vitality," &c. in order to "pass the Zen barrier" so that you can "stride through the universe." Short of arousing the energy and vitality of your whole body and pouring it into motionless contemplation of the koan given to you by your Master, you cannot hope to cut off thinking and attain satori, and if you do not cut off thinking and attain satori you will become "a ghost clinging to the bushes and weeds." Hear it now! Put it into practice immediately! Your own realization is paramount. Nobody else can experience this satori and attain decisive liberation for you!]


If you do not pass the barrier, and do not cut off the way of thinking, then you will be like a ghost clinging to the bushes and weeds.


Now, I want to ask you, what is the barrier of the patriarchs?


Why, it is this single word "Mu." That is the front gate to Zen.


Therefore it is called the "Mumonkan of Zen."


If you pass through it, you will not only see Jõshû face to face, but you will also go hand in hand with the successive patriarchs, entangling your eyebrows with theirs, seeing with the same eyes, hearing with the same ears.


Isn't that a delightful prospect?


Wouldn't you like to pass this barrier?


Arouse your entire body with its three hundred and sixty bones and joints and its eighty-four thousand pores of the skin; summon up a spirit of great doubt and concentrate on this word "Mu."


Carry it continuously day and night. Do not form a nihilistic conception of vacancy, or a relative conception of "has" or "has not."


It will be just as if you swallow a red-hot iron ball, which you cannot spit out even if you try.

蕩盡從 前惡知惡覚、久久純熟自然内外打成—片、如唖子得夢、只許自知。

All the illusory ideas and delusive thoughts accumulated up to the present will be exterminated, and when the time comes, internal and external will be spontaneously united. You will know this, but for yourself only, like a dumb man who has had a dream.

驀然打發、驚天 動地。

Then all of a sudden an explosive conversion will occur, and you will astonish the heavens and shake the earth.


It will be as if you snatch away the great sword of the valiant general Kan'u and hold it in your hand. When you meet the Buddha, you kill him; when you meet the patriarchs, you kill them. On the brink of life and death, you command perfect freedom; among the sixfold worlds and four modes of existence, you enjoy a merry and playful samadhi.


Now, I want to ask you again, "How will you carry it out?"


Employ every ounce of your energy to work on this "Mu."


If you hold on without interruption, behold: a single spark, and the holy candle is lit!

Tracing Back the Radiance

("To Live Is To Extend Ki" by Shinichi Tohei)

Student: What is the mind of void and calm, luminous awareness?

Chinul: What has just asked me this question is precisely your mind of void and calm, luminous awareness. Why not trace back its radiance rather than search for it outside? For your benefit I will now point straight to your original mind so that you can awaken to it. Clear your minds and listen to my words.

From morning until evening, all during the 12 periods of the day, during all your actions and activities -- whether seeing, hearing, laughing, talking, whether angry of happy, whether doing evil or good -- ultimately who is it that is able to perform all these actions? Speak! If you say that it is the physical body which is acting, then at the moment when a man's life comes to an end, even though the body has not yet decayed, how is it that the eyes cannot see, the ears cannot hear, the nose cannot smell, the tongue cannot talk, the hands cannot grasp, the feet cannot run?

You should know that what is capable of seeing, hearing, moving and acting has to be your original mind; it is not your physical body. Furthermore, the four elements which make up the physical body are by nature void; they are like images in a mirror of the moon's reflection in water. How can they be clear and constantly aware, always bright and never obscured -- and, upon activation, be able to put into operation sublime functions as numerous as the sands of the Ganges? For this reason it is said: "Drawing water and carrying firewood are spiritual powers and sublime functions."

There are many points at which to enter the noumenon. I will indicate one approach which will allow you to return to the source. 
Do you hear the sound of that crow cawing and that magpie calling?

Student: Yes.

Chinul: Trace them back and listen to your hearing-nature. Do you hear any sounds?

Student: At that place, sound and discrimination do not obtain.

Chinul: Marvelous! Marvelous! This is Avalokitesvara's method for entering the noumenon [exactly as explained in the Shurangama Sutra]. Let me ask you again. You said that sounds and discrimination do not obtain at that place. But since they do not obtain, isn't the hearing-nature just empty space at such a time?

Student: Originally it is not empty. It is always bright and never obscured.

Chinul: What is this essence which is not empty?

Student: Words cannot describe it. 

See Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul's Korean Way of Zen

Master Hua: Four Stages of Practice

Silencing the Mind Reveals Wisdom

Investigating Chan requires non-movement of the mind and thoughts and this means silence. The Chan method works like the thrust of a knife, cutting right through. Because Chan investigation is apart from the mind-consciousness, it is known as putting an end to the mind. Ending the mind means ending all mental activities of the mind-consciousness. Only when all the activities of the false mind are stopped will thoughts be silenced. When that happens, we gain the power of knowing and seeing that comes with suddenly enlightening to the nonarising of all things. We then have patience with the nonarising of people and dharmas. And we certify to four stages of practice, which are heat, summit, patience, and first in the world.

1. Heat. This warm energy comes as we sit in meditation.

2. Summit. That energy rises to the crown of our head as we continue to practice.

3. Patience. It becomes very difficult to be patient, but we must still be patient.

4. First in the World. We become a world-transcending great hero.

If we want to attain these four stages, we must first learn to silence the mind. Our mind-consciousness must remain unmoving.

Our thoughts are like waves that cannot be calmed. Sitting in meditation aims at stopping the mind-consciousness from moving. Eventually, it stops naturally. Once stopped, the mind is silent. When it is completely silent, wisdom comes forth. When wisdom arises, we become self-illuminating.

When silence reaches an ultimate point,
the light penetrates everywhere.

That is the power of knowing and seeing that comes with sudden enlightenment to the non-arising of all things.

Like Flowers Planted on Rock

You must let go of both sides and cast down the middle, being in the midst of sound and form like flowers planted on rock, seeing profit and fame as dust in the eye.  If you don't stop now, when are you waiting for? 

This is why ancient sages taught people to be complete in the present; if you can get to have nothing on your mind, even Buddhas and enlightened ancestors are enemies -- all mundane things will naturally be cool and simple. 

-Zen Master Furong

Playing Ro on the Bamboo Flute

My "teaching" on how to realize the living truth of Zen in a single day is simple, profound, and yet it is also delightful. Here it is:

Raise Ki by doing something active (walking, cutting wood, making love, whatever), put your body into a fine cool sweat, let the heat rise to your head, then use that heightened energy to "cut off thinking" in a single instant by "sinking mind into the Tanden." Then you will know everything directly and clearly, in blazing mysterious awareness.

Do this over and over again until you develop the ability to remain in this no-mind no-thought blazing mysterious awareness for just as long as you like. It's refreshing! Deepen it, play in it, enjoy it! Let yourself be elevated, let yourself be sunk, let yourself be edified, let yourself be terrified -- so long as you don't give rise to thinking about what it "is" or "isn't."

This is the classic method of T'ang Dynasty Zen, which I rediscovered all by myself, and practiced all by myself every single day for many years before I ever dared to speak to anyone about it, because I wanted to verify that it is real and profound and liberating and inexhaustible, and it is, so now I am giving it to you. As Great Master Lin-Chi said:
Fellow believers, when it comes to this, where the student is exerting all his strength, not a breath of air can pass, and the whole thing may be over as swiftly as a flash of lightning or a spark from a flint. If the student so much as bats an eye, the whole relationship could be spoiled. Apply the mind and at once there's differentiation; rouse a thought and at once there's error. The person who can understand this never ceases to be right before my eyes.
There are not many people who can "cut off thinking" without any practice and some direct pointers like Lin-Chi's (or mine). If I am somewhat outspoken on this matter it is because I constantly run into idiots who insist that they don't need to experience this blazing mysterious awareness because they already fully understand it from reading a Zen book.

Raising Ki and "sinking mind" into the Tanden in the way I describe is the simplest way to "cut off thinking" -- the one and only Zen practice advocated by Great Master Huang-Po. Why should you cut off thinking? Simple. Because you cannot experience life and think about life at the same time. You cannot taste the water in your mouth and chemically analyze it at the same instant. You cannot do Zen while talking about Zen and forming ideas about Zen.

The result of energetically "cutting off the way of thinking," if one maintains clear awareness, is a powerful ease and bliss. One thereby instantaneously enters into the mysterious pure brilliance of nature in a great burst of laughter, and subsequently, as Master Mumon says, one "lives out one's life in a merry and playful samadhi."

Whatever technique helps to give you a direct introduction to your original nature is a Zen technique -- arousing energy by walking in the mountains then "cutting off thinking," shouting, hitting with a stick, composing a poem, practicing with a sword are all energetic Zen techniques. They are energetic because life itself is energy, and Zen is not something apart from life.

Like Master Mumon Ekai, I must now admit to you that I have already said too much. Even one sentence would have been too much. Accordingly, I am now entering a new phase of my "teaching" which will give me the great relief of discarding the word "Zen" along with any verbalization whatsoever, because if anyone asks me a question about any of this I will play a note on my bamboo flute to answer.

The Pine and Bamboo Draw a Fresh Breeze

You must be attuned twenty-four hours a day before you attain realization. Have you not read how Lingyun suddenly tuned in to this reality on seeing peach blossoms, how Xiangyan set his mind at rest on hearing the sound of bamboo being hit?

An ancient said, "If you are not in tune with this reality, then the whole earth deceives you, the environment fools you."

The reason for all the mundane conditions abundantly present is just that this reality has not been clarified. I urge you for now to first detach from gross mental objects.

Twenty-four hours a day you think about clothing, think about food, think all sorts of vari­ous thoughts, like the flame of a candle burning unceasingly. But just detach from gross mental objects, and whatever subtle ones there are will naturally clear out, and eventually you will come to understand spontaneously; you don’t need to seek. This is called putting conceptualization to rest and forgetting mental objects, not being a partner to the dusts.

So the ineffable message of Zen is to be understood on one’s own. I have no Zen for you to study, no Doctrine for you to discuss. I just want you to tune in on your own. The only essential thing in learning Zen is to forget mental objects and stop rumination. This is the message of Zen since time immemorial.

-Zen Master Foyan

Q & A on the Dark Principle of Zen

Q. You've spoken of the "dark principle" of Zen, sometimes also, interchangeably, of the "ancestral hall." What is it?

A. The "dark principle" is the Dao. The Dao is the Nameless Way. It is also the mother of all the Buddhas and so-called ordinary people. It is pure reality.

Q. How will I attain this?

A. By relaxing your mind, cutting off thinking, resting with clear awareness in the vastness, pliant and responsive to circumstances, hollow like bamboo.

Q. Please describe how you perceive "reality." How is it different than the world I see around me, for instance the objects in this room?

A. To clearly see this is to be enlightened marvelously, so let yourself hear what I am saying and let yourself be in accord with it. Do not "think" about it. For you, I am one of the objects in this room, although a "speaking" object. It's because I am speaking with you that you impute awareness to me. Quite rightly. This flower vase is not speaking so you would say it isn't living, it's inert, a piece of fired clay from a kiln. So what is this mysterious essence you impute to me? Clearly, it's just your own essence, which is a vitality of perceiving, clear awareness, the ability to distinguish this from that and that from the other. Both of us have this ability. Isn't that profound? This mysterious essence seems to have no location. You can't find it inside your body when you look for it. You can't locate it inside your head, because if it's inside your head why do you feel the breeze from that window on your hands when you lift them up slightly? Padmasambhava called this "self springing awareness." For him it is also an instantly "knowing" awareness. One seems to be born into it. It's like water to a fish. It's the air we breathe, yet it is no object at all. Everything appears in and by it, but when you try to find it, it eludes your search. Master Yunmen said, "Everybody has this brilliant light, so why when you look for it is it dark and obscure?"

Q. What is the relation if any between this mysterious self-springing vital awareness and objects?

A. See that calligraphy scroll?

Q. Yes.

A. You can distinguish some characters on the white scroll; they stand out because of the whiteness of the scroll. Am I right? Yet when you study the characters you are not looking at or thinking about the scroll itself. Are the characters really separate from the paper?

Q. Not at all. Or, at least, they separate from it in my mind, but it's clear that they are part of the scroll -- they appear to my eyes and to my mind because they are written on that white surface.

A. Take this as an analogy. Just as the 2 dimensional characters are completely of the same essence as the scroll they are written on which actually exists in 3 dimensions, even while also standing out from it to your perception as separate objects, all of the 3 dimensional objects of mind you see in this room, including that scroll and my body with all its gestures and the sound of my voice and so forth, are actually embedded in a 4 dimensional reality and inseparable from it though seeming to be different. This 4 dimensional reality displays all of this 3 dimensional stuff. What is it in itself?

Q. I can only assume you are talking about a kind of hyperspace. Maybe that's what Emptiness is.

A. In a way, sunyata is the continuous nature of all this stuff with the space that displays it in terms of a deeper unseen reality, which is the Dao. Yet nothing really makes it appear as it does but your mysteriously illuminating awareness-nature. Right?

Q. I suppose so.

A. Suppose then I were to tell you that the "Way" all this appears is just a feature of your brilliantly alive and energetic awareness-nature, and that all these ten thousand objects are no different, in essence, than it. They are, so to speak, just the energy of it, the pure ringing of its deepest inconceivable stillness, timeless and unborn.

Q. You mean that all the objects of mind are really just Mind itself?

A. This, if truly realized in the flash of an instant, is the "dark principle." It is the mysterious way that anything manifests itself. When you look at it correctly you see that there is nothing "outside" perceiving. Mysteriously, objects seem to come and go, but the nature of perceiving does not. Even when there are no objects, the perceiving ability is still there, though "there" in this context obviously means something different than the seemingly factual thereness of that flower vase or calligraphy scroll. Master Hui-Ha says that there really are no objects to be seen, there is only seeing itself, and so on with hearing, taste, &c. It is all the spontaneous outpouring yet ingathering activity of the "dark principle." To really comprehend this is to enter a realm of total incomprehension, leaving intellect far behind.

The Highest Yoga

The single highest "practice" common to Zen, Mahamudra, Dzogchen, Advaita and Kashmiri Shaivism is to free yourself from the conceptually elaborating process of "thinking" (projecting, remembering, scheming) &c. that implicates your Body of Reality is all sorts of false hopes, desires and fears. To succeed in this is to taste reality, to experience buddhahood here-now. That's why it is the supreme yoga, Atiyoga (Nisarga Yoga). Beyond this yoga there is only Sahaja, which is not a yoga but natural responsiveness to all situations free of any conceptual elaboration. So, there is "freeing yourself" and then there is "being free." The first is a yoga, the second is just the natural state.

Of course in Kashmir Shaivism there is anupaya, which is not a process at all nor a yoga but just being suddenly initiated into Reality. This can happen if a Guru crosses your path and you happen to have the right potential. There are some Zen stories about such happenings. It can also just happen for no reason, when you are swimming in the summer sea.

Whether it happens spontaneously or you have to do some some yoga to go beyond, this realization projects you from falsehood and confusion into the natural enlightened state.

What is the natural state? How may I describe it to you? Let's say I am lying on the porch looking up at the white clouds, and hearing wind chimes clamor nearby. If I am in the sahaja state, there is absolutely no feeling of inhibition by thinking, no withdrawing of my perceiving mind from the instantaneous reception of sights and sounds, no conceiving of a relative past, a present or a future. In this "state free of conceptual elaboration" I experience joy and bliss because I am the being of pure awareness. I am the vibration of pure consciousness, not subject or object. But if I do feel in "myself" some fear, displacement, reluctance, shying away from this clear and radiant isness -- if I feel the intrusion of conceptualizing and its emotional baggage-train -- then I must do some yoga by consciously not holding onto the arising and sinking of mental formations. In Zen this is called using one thought to annihilate all thoughts. In Taoism it is "sitting and forgetting," and also "fixing contemplation." After that, you drop even the one thought. The one thought is also the "one point" focus of yoga training that calms all mental activity and culminates in samadhi, bare and naked. There are many subtleties to it and different ways have been taught, but the goal is always the same.

What's the goal of the highest yoga? Nothing but ease and bliss -- the natural state. I lie under the sky laughing. There is no sense of any sensation as being an "outside" opposed to my "inside" of self. In pure awareness there is only a nondual experiencing that does not leave any tracks. I am neither behind sensations nor ahead of them, neither inside nor outside, nor somewhere in between. "I" am really only this naked capacity for experiencing it all in its sheer brilliance, and this "I" isn't inside my head, nor is it anything apart from the brilliance of the experiencing, nor does it fragment the experiencing into this or that "part" or "object" that gets experienced and processed conceptually. Rising on the wave I am the wave itself and the water it is made of. What's the problem? Can you set up fences in the empty sky? It's all just "this" and has never been otherwise. Such is the intuitive realization of Reality. These words just point to it, they should not be taken for It.

Even after you have tasted reality, lived in the blissful natural state, there may still be some "thinking-emotional" obstacles remaining for you, and you may have to do some special yoga to get rid of them. This will become clear in time. Of course, in the absolute there is no time, so as long as you are fully "it" then there can be no problem. Typically the problems start up again when you leave the timeless state and begin interacting with people. If you feel some resentments or bad feelings begin to flow, cut them off. You do this by cutting off thinking about them one way or the other, so that your interactions self-liberate as just the spontaneous activity of Reality. That's the best way but there are other approaches that are more complicated, like the Tibetan approach of paying reverence to everybody, even your detractors and critics, because you recognize them as having been your mother in a past life. Such a technique raises thoughts about past lives, the objective nature of things and so forth, so it can create more obstacles in the end. After all, whether or not a person was your mother in a past life, that person is still -- although maybe unknown to him or herself -- the spontaneous appearing of Reality right now, and Reality is the mother of everything, so what's the problem? "Two stalks crooked, three stalks straight."

Master Pai Chang, who was the teacher of the Zen Master Huang-Po, said that if you make your mind like space your practice will be successful. This is really the only practice, the only yoga -- make your mind like space. Space contains everything. Every so called object appears in space yet it does not leave tracks in space. Here we are speaking of an absolute space, not the space of modern physics. It is just that clear no-thing in which everything appears, just as the surface of a mirror is where all reflections appear, and looking at the mirror you never see its surface, only the images. And how are things different than this space, and how is the mirror surface other than the images you see in it? It's all just That. Is this realization the end point of yoga? It may be the end point of yoga, but it is only the beginning of the art of living.

You might raise the objection that I am talking about annihilating selfhood, individuality, everything that seems to make sense of life and make you you, and that this is a frightening idea and practicing like this might lead to madness. I will only retort that the stress of going around mistaking your Body of Reality for all these mental objects and thoughts and saying "I want this, I don't want that" is extremely frightening and has unpleasant effects on the body in the form of stress. Only if you consider your mentally imagined "self" something real will you get scared of losing it. But you don't have such a self, and what you are goes far beyond what you think or imagine. Do you worry that when you wake up from a dream the person you are in the dream will be annihilated? Not at all. The one who is the source of all dreams is always closer to you than your eyebrows and nostrils. To be liberated is to be free of all senseless ideas "about" Reality so that you can live it with some bright vigor, lively as a fish jumping.  Why live an impoverished existence as a slave to ideas? Wake up to the soundless thunderclap of Isness!

Here are some poems for you to illuminate the inconceivable natural state:

starry sky expanse flashes of heat-lightning 

bare & clean without a mark the ancestral home

mountains & rivers the pure ringing of stillness

a day in the heat sound of a bamboo rake

a water buffalo walking in green water dips his head

shining reflections the subtle whir of dragonflies

Wrestling the Ox

Sometime in the eleventh century, starting with Master Kakuan (Shiyuan), Zen Masters began circulating a series of pictures and writing verses on them to elucidate the actual meaning of cultivating Zen's Dharma of the Original Mind-Essence.

These pictures are delightfully simple. They all deal with a boy who has lost his ox. He tracks the ox down, having to wander in remote, wild, frightening and solitary places; he catches the ox, wrestles with its energy, holds it with great effort, trains it with a whip, rides it home playing his bamboo flute. Then, once the ox is trained, the boy can hang up the whip and relax peacefully, sitting in the moonlight, sleeping under the noonday sun. Eventually, both ox and self are completely forgotten. Thus, the eighth picture is just an empty circle, boundless. The next picture is called "Returning to the Source." There are no human beings in this picture, just a flowering tree beside a fresh stream.

The tenth picture shows the boy grown up into a man. He doesn't have his ox anymore -- he's "Entering the Marketplace with His Arms Hanging," totally relaxed and at ease, laughing like a Taoist sage. It's in the tenth picture that we see the result of all the efforts and struggle: "It's just like This." Even enlightenment is forgotten. There are no barriers. The dusty marketplace is the same as the Great Source.

To assume that you can leap to the tenth picture without catching, restraining and taming the ox first is a ludicrous presumption sometimes called "buji Zen,"which has been defined as:
Bravado or excessive self-confidence in the practice of Zen. A tendency attributed to some practitioners to convince themselves that since all beings possess the Buddha-nature they are already enlightened and hence have no need to exert themselves further.

The Energetic Nature of Zen

Despite what some people believe, Master Bodhidharma didn't experience satori after wall-gazing at the Shaolin temple. According to all the classical Zen accounts, he was suddenly awakened while still in India and received the Mind-to-Mind transmission from his teacher, Prajñatara, who is said to have been a woman.

If you read through various Chinese Zen texts, you'll see that often people (Bodhidharma but also Hui-Neng, for example) "wake up" without doing any meditation, but they practice meditation for many years after. Reason for this? After the initial awakening (satori), one still needs to cultivate the pure, imageless Mind by letting go of all the thoughts and mental images that arise. In Zen, it's these continuing thoughts and mental images that embody all the "karma" from one's past existences, and will perpetuate the karmic round of cause-effect if not completely shed. Even though Bodhidharma had woken up and been given the Mind Transmission by his teacher, he still wasn't completely liberated.

The story about Bodhidharma tearing off his eyelids (or his legs withering as he sat in meditation) is just an expression of his formidable willpower. He blazed with energy (Ki). Zen requires nothing less.

Bodhidharma brought the direct Mind Transmission to China energetically, by leaving India and making the hard journey. He then demonstrated the blazing truth of Zen by sitting in front of a wall at the Shaolin temple for nine years. As Huangbo says, "Therefore Bodhidharma sat rapt before a wall, and did not lead people into having opinions." Opinions are what cause arguments.

Zen has nothing to do with forming opinions or having arguments but, as Bodhidharma said bluntly in his remarks to the Shaolin students, is a matter of instantly seeing the pure, imageless Mind-Essence and then cultivating that awakening for the rest of your life through careful and often arduous practice. There is no other way to attain liberation, and if you do not attain liberation you will continue to be swept along, bobbing and sinking, in samsara.

According to Bodhidharma, a few rare exceptions aside, if you want to fully awaken to the Mind Dharma you must go out and find a teacher who can help you develop your Zen ability.

Seeing the self-nature is seeing Mind. Every sentient being already has the pure, imageless Mind, but most don't realize it because they cling to thoughts and opinions and believe in the independent existence of external objects and beings.

Once you experience your initial shock of awakening to the imageless Mind you must cultivate it with hard, exhilarating practice. Look at the Ten Ox-herding pictures, which illustrate this point in detail.

Zen is not a matter of reading books and talking about Zen. At the most, reading a book or hearing a talk about Zen can give you some initial insight, but if you do not follow it up with energetic practice and cultivation your insight will vanish into thin air.

Zen's Sudden Awakening Experience

Zen is the "sudden" or "abrupt" awakening school. Strictly speaking, there is no "content" taught nor any teaching whatsoever in Zen. When a monk asks, "What is Buddha?" and Yunmen says, "Dried shit stick," this is not a statement containing some sort of positive content that could be analyzed and fit into a system called "Zen"  -- it is just an off-the-cuff shock tactic Yunmen used to wake up the monk. To what? To This. To Thusness.

But what is the relation of all this to Zen "practice" -- to yoga, dhyana?

Shakyamuni attained Enlightenment after an all night meditation session under the Bodhi tree when he saw the morning star. He had already mastered self-control and yoga and practiced extreme asceticism without attaining This. Then he accepted some milk from a young girl (that mysteriously auspicious moment when, one might say, Shakyamuni began using Ki!) and sat down for one last effort with the resolve not to move until he had attained liberation. Over the night, he withstood multiple assaults and tricks by Mara by maintaining an immovable mind. He recollected all of his past lives in detail. But it was on seeing the morning star that "inside and outside spontaneously unified" and he exclaimed, "Ah! I see! All sentient beings are Enlightened from the beginning!"
Shakyamuni Buddha sees the morning star. The morning star sees the morning star. Shakyamuni Buddha sees Shakyamuni Buddha. Seeing sees seeing. -The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing
Shakyamuni's story, added to the stories of the many Zen teachers who left home, lived in remote places and practiced yoga and dhyana for many years of extreme one-pointed effort before suddenly waking up to This, proves that there is a subtle connection between making an all-out effort and sudden awakening, and that no matter what anyone tells you it is not enough to just parrot the words, "All sentient beings are Enlightened (awake) from the beginning!" as an excuse for not making any effort. Shakyamuni said it because he experienced it. Have you experienced it? If not, how and when will you experience it?

The Four Zens of the Lankavatara Sutra

To practice dhyana, the earnest disciple should retire to a quiet and solitary place, remembering that life-long habits of discriminative thinking cannot be broken off easily nor quickly. There are four kinds of concentrative meditation (Zen, dhyana): The dhyana practised by the ignorant; the dhyana devoted to the examination of meaning; the dhyana with "suchness" (tathata) for its object; and the dhyana of the Tathagatas.

The dhyana practised by the ignorant is the one resorted to by those who are following the example of the disciples and masters but who do not understand its purpose and, therefore, it becomes "still-sitting" with vacant minds. This dhyana is practised, also, by those who, despising the body, see it as a shadow and a skeleton full of suffering and impurity, and yet who cling to the notion of an ego, seek to attain emancipation by the mere cessation of thought.

The dhyana devoted to the examination of meaning, is the one practised by those who, perceiving the untenability of such ideas as self, other and both, which are held by the philosophers, and who have passed beyond the twofold-egolessness, devote dhyana to an examination of the significance of egolessness and the differentiations of the Bodhisattva stages.

The dhyana with Tathata, or "Suchness," or Oneness, or the Divine Name, for its object is practised by those earnest disciples and masters who, while fully recognising the twofold egolessness and the imagelessness of Tathata, yet cling to the notion of an ultimate Tathata.

The dhyana of the Tathagatas is the dhyana of those who are entering upon the stage of Tathagatahood and who, abiding in the triple bliss which characterises the self-realisation of Noble Wisdom, are devoting themselves for the sake of all beings to the accomplishment of incomprehensible works for their emancipation. This is the pure dhyana of the Tathagatas. When all lesser things and ideas are transcended and forgotten, and there remains only a perfect state of imagelessness where Tathagata and Tathata are merged into perfect Oneness, then the Buddhas will come together from all their Buddha-lands and with shining hands resting on his forehead will welcome a new Tathagata.

-The Lankavatara Sutra

Living Zen

In the Dharma of cultivating the path, the vital energy [Qi] of those who obtain their understanding through the medium of the written word is weak. If one obtains his understanding from events, his vital energy will be robust. Those who see Dharma from the medium of events never lose mindfulness anywhere. When those whose understanding is from the medium of the written word encounter events, their eyes are beclouded. To discuss events from the point of view of the sutras and treatises is to be estranged from Dharma. Though one may chat about events and listen concerning events, it is not as potent as personally experiencing events with the body and mind. -BODHIDHARMA (from The Bodhidharma Anthology)

Zen without the cultivating of vital energy (Ki) is a trivial and irritating intellectual past-time -- or what some of the Masters derisively called "head-and-mouth Zen." Unfortunately, this form of Zen is all too common on the Internet and misleads many people into believing that they are enlightened without ever having to do anything different because someone once said they must be, since "all beings are originally enlightened." Confusing the practical and the absolute levels of Zen, they fall into a confusion from which they will never emerge, at least not in this lifetime.

By contrast, I teach people a simple method that, performed with sincerity and resolve, leads to direct awakening. At its simplest, this method requires raising Ki until the heat rises to your head, then all at once dropping all "thinking" into the Tanden. Once you have experienced an initial awakening (kensho) you can deepen and stabilize it by practicing Seiza meditation, or Mokuso, for brief periods once or twice a day. There are also a number of subtler instructions that must be orally transmitted to you by your teacher.

In China, even before Zen arrived on the scene, the methods of internal energetic training were refined to a science. These methods involved letting go of knots in breathing, keeping the right posture whether sitting still or in movement, and the correct use of strength or tension (basically, letting it flow downward). All this went along with not clinging to thoughts or ideas and not pursuing intellectual disputes. Maybe that's why it was said that Master Joshu's lips "emanated light." It's not for nothing that Chinese Zen developed in remote mountain monasteries and retreats -- places where, as the Chinese believed, positive Qi is particularly strong.

Mind and body are inseparable aspects of the "One" that animates all of nature. Therefore, the Zen Masters spent much time and energy trying to cure students of anxious fixation on the problems of a small discriminating judgmental "I" that interferes with living your life in natural ease and bliss.

So -- go out every day under the open sky, raise your Ki with some hard walking, then decisively let go of all ideas and concepts by "sinking mind into the Tanden" and you will experience the liberating bliss of Muga Mushin.

Yunmen Says

Yunmen says, "Everyone has this same radiant Light -- so when you try to look directly into it, why is it dark and obscure?" Why does Yunmen say, then, that everybody has the radiant light?

Indian Buddhism, like the ancient Vedas, came up with the notion that there is only one Root-Consciousness, one pure and radiant Light. According to this idea, the differences between you and me are trivial and insignificant when compared to our basic mysterious sameness.

Bodhidharma said, "You ask me a question. That's Mind in you. I reply. That's Mind in me." All that appears appears in and by this Light.

So, any appearance is a direct function of the mind-essence, which is "root-Bodhi" or original enlightenment. It is in this sense that "Enlightenment is all there is."

The sky allows many things to appear, but it is always just the sky. So instead of saying that this or that person is enlightened or not enlightened, we should say rather that people are or are not awakened to their originally enlightening mind-essence.

Zen "study and practice" is cutting off thought-discriminations and seeing It directly. Seeing what? The sky of reality itself.

So what is enlightenment? What is "not enlightenment"? It seems that everything arrives already enlightened. And Mind itself does all the enlightening, since it is the Light itself. Seeing is It, so is hearing. Wake up instantly to This!


Fuke always used to roam about in the street markets, ringing a bell and shouting: "When it comes in brightness, I hit the brightness. When it approaches in darkness, I hit the darkness. When it comes from the four quarters and eight directions (of space), I hit like a whirlwind, and if it comes out of the empty sky, I thrash it like a flail."

The master made one of his attendants go there, instructing him to grab Fuke while speaking and ask him,"If it does not come in any of these ways, what then?"

Fuke freed himself from the grasp of the attendant and said: "Tomorrow is a vegetarian banquet in the monastery of Great Compassion."

The attendant returned and told the master, who remarked: "I was always intrigued with this fellow." - The Record of Linji

Kufu (Striving, Effort) in Zen

In Chinese and Japanese Zen there is a succinct teaching expressed in phrases such as, "Put down all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise."

Bodhidharma said, "One thought arises, the Triple World appears. One thought drops away, the Triple World subsides." Matsu said, "A single thought is the root of birth and death. Just don't have a single thought and you will be free of birth and death." The Shurangama Sutra teaches that the pure, bright and Profound Mind comes to mistake itself for illusions because of "one thought." Master Takuan Soho said, "One thought (ichi-nen) and the Mind King begins to transmigrate through the Six Realms."

Zen training involves effort and striving to "put a stop to the arising of conceptual thoughts" and make the mind "motionless" (Huang-Po). This is just training. It is not the goal or the ultimate in itself. Takuan Soho advised constant striving (kufu) to "let go of thought after thought and see directly to the place before Heaven and Earth separated." Eventually, there will be a breakthrough and what involved effort becomes relaxed and effortless. Then the stage of training is replaced by wu wei.

Let's say you want to take your rowboat out on the river. But it's tied by a knot you can't untie. You make the proper resolve, use some effort, and saw through the rope with your knife. Then the boat breaks free and you're drifting on the river, no effort. Wonderful! Did having to make an effort at the beginning spoil your experience? Not at all.

Suppose I asked you to balance a tea bowl on your head all day long while walking around, sitting, driving, whatever. At first it would feel like an incredible effort. You would have to think constantly about maintaining your balance. Every time you started to waver you would have to bring yourself back to awareness of the tea bowl. This would go on for days, then weeks. But one day, mysteriously, you would find that you could walk around all day balancing the tea bowl on your head without thinking about it, without even being aware of it.

This is similar to Zen training, except instead of holding a tea bowl on your head you are trying to achieve a state of wu-nien, "no-thought."

You know you've attained this because you can forget about it, and your mind can think or not think depending on circumstances, but there is no holding onto either thoughts or not-thinking. Everything is direct and spontaneous. This is what Hui-Neng in the Platform Sutra calls wu nien. It's the "non abiding mind" mentioned in the Diamond Sutra. It's no thinking even when there is mental activity because the idea of a "thinker" is absent.

In old China and Japan there were always people who'd heard about Zen and understood it in a superficial way by holding onto a particular "idea" such as, "My mind is already Buddha. So I don't need to make any effort. I'm completely free to do as I please, to think or not to think, right now." Then they'd go to a monastery and invite the Master to test them. This is the basic situation of many koans. So the Master would ask them a question and shout, "Answer directly!" -- and because they were so used to processing everything intellectually, they'd be bewildered, unable to so much as open their mouths, and would go away feeling resentful.

One often hears that it is enough to be aloof from one's own thinking, to just "look" at it without attachment or participating in the thoughts. In practice, there is no way to not participate in thinking as a thinker unless you are able first to suspend thinking at will. This is the classic way of Zen, which upholds the necessity of kufu, striving and effort. Cut the knotted rope and drift blissfully free.

Here is an exercise: Try not thinking at all for ten minutes. Set a timer. Are you ready? Go! If you cannot do it, why can't you do it? Thinking is an activity that involves energy. If you cannot stop an activity for even ten minutes, aren't you just its slave? You seem to feel that your thoughts are "yours." Are they yours in the sense that your right hand is yours? After all, if I tell you to clench your right hand into a fist and hold it like that for ten minutes, you can do it, but for some reason if I tell you to stop thinking for ten minutes, you can't! Interesting.

In Zen one "cuts off the way of thinking" long enough to see directly, which results in dropping away the user-illusion of a "thinker." Once the thinker is gone, thoughts are no-thought. An effect of Zen training is that one develops the ability to go without any interior chatter whatsoever (monologue or half-dialogue) for extended periods of time. This absence of chatter -- or "inner silence" -- allows you to develop a direct mode of perception and activity.

Free of thoughts, is there any such thing left over as "mind"?