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?

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.

Pranayama

Mural of a Tibetan Yogin doing some Trul Khor style Pranayama.

This is a note on the use of Pranayama (or whatever you would like to call it) for shattering the mountains and rivers and the whole earth, disclosing the primordial essence of mind in a single instant as the Dharmadhatu.

"Prime the pump" first by breathing in slowly & deeply with fine attention to the flow of the breath into the body & the expansion of all the channels. Yet the out-breathing should be cool, natural & relaxed. It is as if you were accumulating a blazing fire in the Tanden area, compressed at the bottom of your breathing. Every breath adds to it and with each breath your awareness should become keener.

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

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

At this point your usual dualistic mind will shatter & you will instantaneously taste the realm of "suchness." To put it another way, you will experience Great Awareness, Great Energy & Great Space all as one sphere of absolute reality.

Master Xuansha's Three Axioms of Zen


FIRST AXIOM: The first axiom of Zen is to personally accept the completeness of present actuality. There is no other in the whole universe; it is just you. Who else would you have see? Who would you have hear? All of it is the doing of your mind monarch, fulfilling immutable knowledge. All you lack is personal acceptance of the realization. This is called opening the door of expedient methodology, to get you to trust that there is a flow of true eternity that pervades all time. There’s nothing that is not it and nothing that is it.

This axiom only amounts to equanimity. Why? It is just using words to dismiss words, using principle to chase principle, teaching people equilibrium and constancy in essence and in manifestation for their own benefit. In terms of Zen, this is still understanding what comes before but not understanding what comes afterward. This is called uniform ordinariness, the experience of partial realization of the body of reality.

Without expression beyond patterns, you die at the statement and do not yet have any freedom. If you know experience beyond patterns, you will not be compelled by mental demons; they come within your power, and you can transform them effortlessly. Your words communicate the great Way, without falling into the view of even-mindedness. This is called the first axiom of Zen.

SECOND AXIOM: The second axiom is returning to causality and attending to effects, not sticking to the principle of constant oneness. This is expediently called turning from state to potential, enlivening and killing freely, granting and taking away as appropriate, emerging in life and entering in death, bringing benefits to all. Transcendently free of material desires and emotional views, this is expediently called the Buddha nature that goes beyond the whole world all at once. This is called simultaneous understanding of two principles, equal illumination of two truths. Unmoved by dualistic extremism, subtle functions become manifest. This is called the second axiom of Zen.

THIRD AXIOM: The third axiom is to know that there is a root source of the nature and characteristics of great knowledge and to penetrate its infinite vision, understanding both the negative and the positive, comprehending the universe. The enhanced function of the one real essential nature becomes manifest, responding to developments without convention. Functioning completely without any effort, totally alive without any initiative, this is expediently called the method of concentration of compassion. This is the third axiom of Zen.

*

NOTE: Master Xuansha's first axiom corresponds to the experience of entering stillness, the stilling of thoughts, and realizing "this, everything present now, is all there is, and there will never be anything else." Many people reach this point in formal Zen meditation. It's a kind of satori. Xuansha was once asked by a student, "How do I enter [Zen]?" Xuansha said, "Do you hear the rain dripping from the eaves?" The student said, "Yes." Xuansha said, "Enter there!" The student suddenly "heard" the sound of rain before thinking and was enlightened. It's in the same way that Zen students can be enlightened by hearing a bell or a sharp trill of birdsong while sitting in meditation. But then sometimes they lose it when they get up from sitting meditation.

Master Xuansha's second axiom corresponds to the experience of raising energy out of that stillness & oneness, becoming active in the world so as to enhance and improve it in a spontaneous manner. For example, you rise from deep meditation and notice that the floor is dirty, so you go and get a bucket of water & start washing it. Then you see that maybe your altar is too bare so you go out & pick some radiant wildflowers. Then you find that your bank account is almost empty because you've been sitting around doing "stillness" Zen for too long so you go out and find some paying work. Or, like Xuansha, after your Zen awakening you open a small temple & try to wake up people who come & ask you questions.

Master Xuansha's third axiom corresponds to the dropping away of any kind of feeling of opposition between the first two axioms. Whether you are sitting in stillness or furiously active, it's all just the Great Wisdom-Function of Great Being-Essence. What's the problem? It's all just "thus." Shake the snow out of your hair & we'll build a snow Buddha!

Note that Master Baizhang, Huang-Po's great teacher, anticipated Xuansha's "Three Axioms of Zen" by a few hundred years when he said:
Realizing that the present mirroring awareness is your own Buddha is the elementary good. Not to keep dwelling in the immediate mirroring awareness is the intermediate good. Not to make an understanding of non-dwelling either is the final good.
Note also that the Tibetan "zhiné" meditation teaching has three stages: "forceful zhiné," "natural zhiné," and "ultimate zhiné."

The Art of Shamanic Tiger Zen

Mokuso, 黙想, "Stilling Thoughts," is
one of the basic exercises in Shamanic Tiger Zen

Q: I am very interested in doing some intensive Zen. How is your Shamanic Tiger Zen different from other kinds of Zen I could study here in the United States or in Europe or Japan?

A: Shamanic Tiger Zen is a direct & energetic approach that bypasses words & speech, whether in the form of koans or "Dharma" talks (or even blog entries). Thus, if you should go on a retreat with me up to the mountains, you will spend your time not yakking but instead dropping all thinking in the midst of activity (walking, mostly, combined with a certain relaxed & strong way of breathing). This results in raising Ki to the head &, if thoughtlessness is maintained for long enough, in breaking through to a state of speechless wonder & awe: the Mysterious Realization. Then you'll practice stabilizing yourself in the satori state without wavering from it. It's a kind of Zen training pitched strictly for laypeople, by the way, borrowing much from the Rinzai tradition of Japan & also from shamanistic Korean Zen. You don't have to give up your ordinary life. Only purify, enhance & strengthen it.

Some who are familiar with Dzogchen's Trul Khor may find my approach similar to that: cf. "From the perspective of Dzogchen the mind is merely vāyu 'breath' in the body. Thus working with vāyu and the body is paramount, while meditation on the other hand is considered contrived and conceptual." The ancient Zen masters couldn't have said it better. This is also why I play the bamboo flute.

Q: How do I know this approach will work for me?

A: You don't! Life is mysteriousness itself, is it not? But it's worked for plenty of other people, each with his or her own individual problems, so why shouldn't it work for you, too?

Q: Are you saying I won't be doing any long periods of "sitting meditation," getting hit by a monk holding a wooden paddle whenever I start to doze off?

A: Not at all! But you might be doing it for about twenty minutes at a time under a freezing mountain waterfall, or in a grassy field above the pines swept by cold north wind. In Shamanic Tiger Zen one only does "sitting meditation" after learning how to raise energy in a state of mindlessness & thoughtlessness. Otherwise it's just self-torture, sitting there in a state of despair or a self-induced trance until your legs go numb. Even while doing "sitting meditation," you should be charged up with Ki & completely alert, like a leopard in fog. That's how we do it on Shamanic Tiger Zen deep mountain retreats.

Q: How long do your mountain retreats last?

A: Two or three days, usually. Nights are spent in a cabin or, if you don't feel sleepy, around a bonfire. We get up early to do our Zen as the sun rises. Then we relax more around the middle of the day. Then we do more Zen into the evening. Sometimes we even use the middle of the night, under a Starry Sky. It's all an art of finding the right rhythm of forceful practice & calm but keenly aware relaxation. As Shakespeare wrote,
this is an art
Which does mend nature, change it rather, but
The art itself is nature.

Layman Pang's Sudden Enlightenment


"Layman Pang" was originally from Hengyang in the southern Chinese province of Hunan. He was a successful merchant with a wife, son, and daughter. His wealth allowed him to devote much time to meditation and the study of Buddhist sutras, in which the entire family became well-versed.

Pang built himself a small hut to do sitting meditation for hours every day when he wasn't reading the sutras. One day, reading a sutra with his family, he cried out: "Difficult! Difficult! Like trying to scatter ten measures of sesame seed all over a tree."

"Easy, easy," Mrs. Pang said; "like touching your feet to the ground when you get out of bed."

"Neither difficult nor easy," their daughter Ling Zhao said. "On the hundred grass tips, the great Masters' meaning."

Shortly after this, the Pang family loaded all of their possessions in a boat which they sank in a river.

Then the family began travelling around China to various Buddhist masters, while earning their living by making and selling bamboo utensils.

About this time Pang went to see Shitou Xiqian, at Nányuè Mountain. Upon arrival, he went directly to Shitou's room and asked, "Who is the one who is not a companion to the ten thousand dharmas?"

Shitou placed his hand over Pang's mouth.

At this, Pang experienced a deep realization of the meaning of Zen.

One day Shitou asked Pang what he had been doing lately, and Pang responded:

So miraculous, such spiritual wonders!
Hauling water, chopping firewood!

He eventually moved on to Jiangxi province to study with Master Ma-Tzu. He approached Ma-Tzu with the same question that he had initially asked Shitou: "Who is the one who is not a companion to the ten thousand dharmas?"

Ma-Tzu said: "I'll tell you after you've swallowed up the West River in one gulp."

Hearing these words, Pang experienced great enlightenment.

Sitting Meditation



Q: I've been visiting some Zen forums on the Web, and I keep hearing that Zen rejects sitting meditation, along with the sutras. Is that so?

A: Absolutely not! Sitting meditation is discussed in the earliest Zen texts. What's more, the "form" of the sitting in Chan is always the old Buddhist style of lotus or half-lotus. This Buddhist sitting meditation form shows firm determination, thereby embodying Shakyamuni Buddha's resolve to gain enlightenment and liberation no matter what, just as described in the sutras. This is what Bodhidharma did in the cave at Shaolin and why he was considered so unique and strange by the Chinese monks, who were being schooled in reading sutras and bowing before altars but not in the "wall-gazing" dhyana.

The Chinese already had Taoist sitting meditation but it was much more relaxed. It's called "sitting in forgetting" or even "sitting in oblivion." You could do it in a chair, for example, or even lying down in a dark room. Huangbo Xiyun praised Bodhidharma's sitting meditation, saying that it was a way of teaching people how to "cut off thinking" and "forget all views."

When Zen reached Japan it was also identified with sitting meditation. You have to understand what the Japanese were facing in their everyday lives at this time. It can best be described by the words "hell-universe." The sudden eruption of a "hell-universe" is the basic setting of Japanese Zen -- a keen awareness that, although right now you are drinking sake and viewing the cherry blossoms or trimming your bonsai, tomorrow you may well be facing a wall of flaming arrows or getting shaken to death in an earthquake or drowned in a tsunami. So what will you do to transcend any anxiety about the inevitability of suffering and death? Many Japanese took up Zen to do just that, because Zen was understood as embodying the "immovable mind" and also as transmitting the brilliance of Shakyamuni's enlightenment upon seeing the morning star. (For the Japanese, as probably for some Chinese, Zen is a "yes" to life and not a "No.")

The Japanese "sitting meditation" Zen can be done in lotus, half-lotus, or in Seiza. Seiza Zen, or Mokuso, is better for short periods of meditation. It is used in all the martial arts.

There is a mysterious power to taking a resolute sitting position and abandoning all sounds, forms, thoughts &c. The energetic state that rises directly out of such resolute stillness is nothing less than amazing.

A Short Sketch of Zen History

Q: I've heard you talk about Zen's "soteriology." I had to look up the word in a dictionary! It means a system or a set of methods leading to "salvation." Can you explain this?

A: All the classic Zen texts are soteriological. This means that they speak of a before and an after. They speak of going from delusion to enlightenment, even though ultimately there may be no such "things."

How to attain enlightenment is the basic question of Zen (or of any real yoga, for that matter.) The problem to consider is one of yogic method.

To put it another way, it is a question of whether some kind of intervention is possible. The student is as helpless as a worm in his ignorance & anguish. The Master must intervene to wake him up, somehow! But how?

So, by intervention I mean a technique, a teaching, a procedure capable of stopping the endless production of delusions -- or, in Huangbo Xiyun's words, of "cutting off thinking" and "forgetting views."

In the history of Zen we see clearly that the oldest soteriological technique is dhyana. A text found in the Tun-Huang caves says, "Sit silently in empty fusion."

Other, later Zen figures felt that his technique of "empty fusion" was not good enough, so they added question-and-answer sessions which were conducted in the Buddha Hall after the daily meditation period.

Starting in the late T'ang Dynasty, certain Masters felt that the verbal, expository nature of the question-and-answer sessions was inadequate to stop the deluded minds of students, so they began refusing to answer certain questions, sometimes just getting down off the dais and walking out of the Hall, or answering with a seemingly irrational word or phrase such as "dried shit stick" or "sesame flatcake!"

Yet even this was not always effective, so some of the Masters began coming down from the dais and slapping students -- or even, like Yunmen, chasing them outside with a stick.

Later, in the Song Dynasty, the records of these strange encounters were turned into objects for meditative contemplation -- public cases, kung-ans, which were given to students one by one to focus on in an energetic, single minded way not only while doing sitting meditation but all day and all night, until breakthrough (kensho, satori).

Still later, the kung-ans were reduced to a single "head word" or hua t'ou to try to prevent students from trying to understand them logically.

All this creative effort and energy in Zen was devoted to answering a single soteriological question:

How does one stop thought discriminations from arising so that one actually experiences reality as it is?

Huangbo says that "stopping thinking" is more than enough. "The Patriarchal Gate of Zen is calming mental functions and forgetting all views." What are all the poisonous attachments of samsara, after all, but mental functions arising from holding onto views?

The salvation offered by Zen is that of being undisturbed in the Way. The soteriological question is whether or not there is a particular method for realizing this wonderful state of being undisturbed in the Way.

Clearly, when you are disturbed you feel it. So how do you drop the disturbed feeling? By looking at its cause. This is not a matter of "fixing" the mind but of abandoning the mind. So how do you abandon the mind? Such is the persistent "how to" question of Zen.

The Chinese were pragmatic people. They wanted to know how to become Buddha, not just how to worship Buddha.

Q: How do you know I'm not a Buddha already?

I don't know. That's for you to decide. Do you feel completely at ease all the time, at one with life, playful and strong?

When you take a drink of water, you know for yourself whether it's hot or cold. So if I say to you, "The water is cold," if you wanted to be skeptical you could certainly just say, "That's only words."
However, it's not only words. I'm drinking the water and I actually do know that it is cold. For you it's just words. For me it is the reality.

Q: Sounds far too subjective.

A: Certainly everyone's way is subjective. Everything is subjective in that sense. So why then did the Zen Masters "go into the weeds" to try to awaken their students?

Zen Practice: What Works And What Doesn't

Q.: If I cut off thinking, according to you, I will experience satori and become a Buddha. Is that right?

A.: It comes down to this: you must be able to resolutely cut off all thinking in full alertness & awareness for just long enough that the user-illusion of a "thinker" vanishes & you experience satori.
Maybe ten seconds will be enough. Maybe it won't! Keep on trying. "Put strength into it; abandon conceit."

There is additional Zen training after satori, but this additional training is relatively easy and delightful, while the first part is extremely hard. As Master Yuanwu said:

"If your mind exists, you are stuck in the mundane for eternity; if your mind does not exist, you experience wondrous enlightenment instantly."

Or, as Mumon Ekai said:

"To attain this subtle realization you must completely cut off the way of thinking. If you do not cut off the way of thinking you will become like a ghost clinging to the grasses and weeds."

Do you want to be like a ghost clinging to the grasses & weeds, or do you want to experience the Mysterious Realization of Zen & live out your life in a "merry & playful samadhi"? Your choice. It is entirely up to you.

Here is what does not work: sitting in an anxious or vacant state on a zafu like a skeletal Zen zombie. Even though it may seem that at moments your mind does not exist during this kind of non-directed sitting meditation, chances are that you are just in a trance, which does not help you attain the goal. To attain the goal of Zen, you need for your mind to not exist while you are operating in a fully alert, energetic state.

Here is another thing that does not work: endlessly reading books and listening to Zen talks and so forth. This also leads to a depression of your innate energy, which becomes stagnated in the head as thinking. Then you become irresolute and cannot actually put any impulse into action.

Keep strong. Do hard physical things. Keep your spirit up. Then, when you are feeling strong, try to cut off all thinking and enter clear mindlessness. I have no doubt you will succeed.

Q: How do I cut off thinking?

A: Start by getting a grip on how it feels to be thinking. What is the emotional signature?

Q: What do you mean by the emotional signature of thinking?

A: Simple. Vacillation, anxiety, depression, helplessness, the tension of hope, desire, fear.

Note how few positive emotions arise during the thinking process, as opposed to instants of no-thought.

All emotions have a physical effect.

Let's say I get on Twitter and I see pictures of cops beating up protesters. My blood rises. I get angry. But there is no outlet.

To get angry often with no physical outlet, such as while viewing pictures of cops beating up protesters, will actually shorten your life.

Q: What about the actual method?

A: Focus on a sound, or a sensation. Your mind will try to keep wrenching you away into a remembered past or the imaginary future. Keep your concentration strong instead. Make this sound or sensation your gateway to the wondrous realm of No-Thought!

This Universe is Like An Optical Illusion



At first there was a Dharma to transmit,
Transmitted it became No-Dharma.
Each man should realize the nature of his self,
And then there is not (even) a No-Dharma.

Q.: Where does ignorance come from? What causes the illusory universe? How does Zen conquer ignorance & make all delusions vanish?

A.: The Shurangama Sutra uses the analogy of an optical illusion (say, a halo around a lamp) that "arises" caused by a sudden inflammation of the eyes. In reality, it hasn't "arisen" anywhere. Since the halo is caused by an inflammation, this false perception doesn't belong to the lamp or to the eyes or to the intrinsic nature of seeing, and once the inflammation ceases there's no more trouble.

Yet the habit of conceptual thinking may lead a person who is ignorant of the fact that the halo is only the result of an inflammation to believe that the halo actually exists, or that everyone else must see it, or that it is the natural and inevitable result of using one's eyes or intrinsic to the nature of seeing, and this idea is what causes "confusion" about what is really going on. In reality, it's just like a dream or a brief episode of madness. One's momentary confusion is extended and deepened by reliance on false thinking. So in Zen we get rid of our false thinking. As a matter of fact, we get rid of thinking entirely, at least until kensho occurs.

According to this sutra I've mentioned, the Mind-Essence has the nature of openness and brilliance, and so can create endless transient appearances, but it is when "thinking consciousness" comes into the picture that the real confusion happens and suffering begins.

Some esoteric Tibetan texts use the same analogy, but rather than eye-inflammation they talk about an "imbalance of energy" and note that if you shut one eye and put your finger on the eyelid and push gently you will see a burst of light that is caused by pressing down on the eyeball. Take the pressure off and the appearance of light vanishes.

Zuowang


Zuowang is allowing everything to slip from the mind, not dwelling on thoughts, allowing them to come and go, simply being at rest. It is important to take a good posture to still the body and calm the mind. Otherwise qi disperses, attention wanders, and the natural process is disturbed. Just remain empty and there is no separation from Dao. Then wisdom will arise and bring forth light, with is the clear qi of the person. Do not think too much about the theory of this, otherwise you are sure to disturb the mind. It is like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. To think about stopping it halfway is a futile exercise. Just trust the inherent natural process.  -Liu Xingdi 

Chao-chou Measures the Water (Iron Flute 47.)

One day Chao-chou visited his brother monk’s lecture hall. He stepped up to the platform, still carrying his walking stick, and looked from east to west and from west to east. “What are you doing there?” asked the brother monk. “I am measuring the water,” answered Chao-chou. “There is no water. Not even a drop of it. How can you measure it?” questioned the monk. Chao-chou leaned his stick against the wall and went away.

A cold morning, the clear air & floating white clouds.
A man walks down the street leaning on a stick. 
Later on, horses plunged into the river to drink water in thirsty snorts.
A warrior sat on his folding stool & tapped his thigh with an iron fan. 

Two Forms of Sitting Meditation for Zen Students



Seiza Sitting Meditation (Mokuso)

Just sit comfortably in Seiza and still your mind. Raise some energy before you begin. As you sit your energy will rise even more, but be alert and relaxed so it rises in a non-abrupt way. Breathe in through your nostrils, out through your mouth. Let the in-breathing sink down to the very bottom, like a broken tile tossed into a deep pond, before it rises. Gaze with eyes unfocused at the expanse before you without fixing on any single point, or shut your eyes if you prefer. But if you do shut your eyes, be careful not to focus on any mental images or thoughts that might appear. Regard them as like soap bubbles or flashes of lightning. Do not chase any thoughts and do not develop one thought from out of another. Cast away the bitter dregs of the past and all hopes or longings for the future. Abide in the natural brightness & clarity before there is any constructed thinking or particular intention. Forget everything but This, which is the simple, profound, inconceivable state of all the sages and  Buddhas.


Tibetan Zen Sitting (Lotus or Half-Lotus)

"Cross your hands and feet. Straighten your back. Don’t move your body. Don’t say anything. Turn away without engaging the delusory six gates of the mind with their objects, and then look at your own mind. When you do, there is no substantiality to mind at all. So do not think of anything. Without engaging in the various emotional states, do not conceptualize anything. Once you have completely purified the mental sphere in this way, do not abide anywhere. Once you have sat for a long time, the mind will stabilize." -from Tibetan Zen

You Must See for Yourself!

(Photo by Laura Williams)

When you set your body on the meditation bench, it is no more than silencing and emptying your mind and investigating with your whole being. Just make your mind and thought clarify and become still.

A fine place to do active meditation work is amid confusion and disturbances. When you do active meditation, you must penetrate through the heights and the depths, without omitting anything. The whole essential being appears ready-made before you, and it no longer arises from anywhere else. It is just this one Great Potential, turning smoothly, and steadily. Why talk any more about "worldly phenomena" and "enlightened truth"?

If you maintain a uniform equilibrium over months and years, naturally your stance will be true and solid. You will experience realization, like water being poured into water, like gold being traded for gold. Everything will be equalized in One Suchness, profoundly real, and pure. This is knowing how to live.

Just do not give birth to a single thought: let go and become crystal clear. As soon as any notion of right and wrong and self and others and gain and loss are present, do not follow them. Then you will be personally studying with your own enlightened teacher.

If you do that, what worry is there that this work will not be accomplished? You must see for yourself!

-Ch'an Master Yuanwu, Zen Letters

Lin-chi's Titleless Man (Iron Flute 57.)


Lin-chi once said to his monks, “A titleless man lives upon flesh and blood, going out or coming in through the gateways of your face. Those who have not witnessed this fact, discover it this minute!”

A monk stood up and asked. “Who is a titleless man?”

Lin-chi suddenly came down from his chair, seized the monk by the collar of his robe, and exclaimed, “Speak! Speak!”

The monk was dumbfounded for a moment, so Lin-chi slapped him and said: “This titleless man is good for nothing!”

The titleless man is at peace with all happenings, free of labels, goes & comes as he pleases like a flash of autumn lightning. He is good because he is nothing. Speak or get slapped. Master Lin-chi knew the essence of the tea ceremony. "Cool in summer, warm in winter; flowers from the field; prepare for rain; enjoy a sip of tea together."

I-chung Preaches Dharma (Iron Flute 50.)



When master I-chung had taken his seat to preach Dharma, a layman stepped from the audience and walked from east to west in front of the rostrum. A monk then demonstrated his Zen by walking from west to east. “The layman understands Zen,” said I-chung, “but the monk does not.” The layman approached I-chung saying, “I thank you for your approval,” but before the words were ended, he was struck with the master’s stick. The monk approached and said, “I implore your instruction,” and was also struck with the stick. I-chung then said, “Who is going to conclude this koan?” No one answered. The question was repeated twice, but there was still no answer from the audience. “Then,” said the master, “I will conclude it.” He threw his stick to the floor and returned to his room.

The mountains, the rivers, the forests & the great oceans, not to mention the chiliocosms in the tip of a tiger's whisker, all emerge from I-chung's stick. Throw it away before you cause any more harm! "And so drunk to bed." In the deep night, snow fell. Master I-chung's snoring shook the monastery. 

Guide to Sudden Enlightenment (excerpts)


Purification, Commitment, & Altruistic Intention

This work requires that you purify yourself, commit to breaking through all obstacles, & develop the sincere altruistic intention to help others also attain enlightenment & liberation in this life.

Purification means that before doing the exercises you should forget about all ill-feelings & throw away any grudges you might be holding. One easy way to do this is to visualize the person who you feel has harmed you the most in life & sincerely wish that person great happiness & freedom from all problems. It may also be helpful to go to a secluded forest (preferably one with streams & waterfalls) or to the sea shore & spend some time breathing in the clear, fresh air in a relaxed way, while "breathing out" the various harsh feelings you may have about events in the past, until you feel  lightness in your body & vivid clarity of mind.

Commitment means that you will give to this goal of attaining sudden enlightenment your utmost energy & will. You won't give up just because you run into difficulty or become anxious or distracted. Keep at it for as long as it takes, a little every single day -- but always with strength. "Put strength into it, abandon conceit." Some attain It all at once, others a little at a time. No matter how long it takes you, it is still "sudden enlightenment." One big satori, or a string of smaller ones are equally precious.

Altruistic Intention means that you will not hold your enlightenment selfishly but will find ways to share the delight & joy of it with others. This is of course not the same as forcing it on others or becoming a boring "spiritual person" who constantly talks about his or her own perfection.

(NOTE: The following direct inquiry & energetic exercises are based on the presumption that you have already managed to stabilize yourself in simple calm meditation, are capable of raising inner energy at any time day or night to attain heightened states of awareness at will, & can direct your attention forcefully at one point or hold it in a state of "great doubt" for a period of time equal to the burning of an incense stick [roughly 45 minutes]. Consult a classic manual such as Charles Luk's The Secrets of Chinese Meditation if you need special prompting on any of these points.)

Pointing to Objects and To Awareness of Objects

Point to an object. Now move your finger slowly back in an arc toward your eyes. At what point does the object stop and your seeing of it begin?

Reverse it. Point to your awareness and now move your finger slowly out until it points at an object of which you are aware. When did your awareness stop, and the object begin?

At your eyeballs? One inch inside them?

Where in all this are "you"?

Is the object really anything more than the instantaneous experience of seeing it (aka the awareness of it)?

And is that instantaneous experience of seeing it anything more than the brilliant appearing of the object in and AS your awareness?

Contemplate this profound mystery.

*

Look at Your Index Finger for 30 Seconds Straight Without Giving Rise To Any Thinking

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

If you can manage it for just one or two seconds, you will see it with an almost magical clarity, there before you in space. Then the thinking will wash over you again & though you are still seeing the finger, your whole being is not awake to it.

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

*

Leaping Over: The 360 Degree Panorama

Here you are looking at my words and having various half-baked barely conscious reactions to them based on your habitual idea that you are a person with a mind somewhere in your body looking out of your eyes at "things" endowed with inherent existence.

But if you now shift your attention in a subtle way to focus on the glowing colors of your computer screen or the black on white of your book & then expand that to a clear sudden awareness of the 360 panorama of the room you're in, also the sounds & all other sensations, free of any thinking, what happens to "mind" or to "inherent existence" or to being a "person" then? Ah!

Leap in this way over all of your doubts to a 360 degree panoramic space that wipes out even the notion of time. The person who can achieve this gains startling new abilities effortlessly.

Such a sudden leap into "existential space" of pure awareness (as opposed to conceptualized, thinking-bounded space of ordinary dull ignorance) is equivalent to Dzogchen's "Leap-Over" (Thodgal) & it is pervaded by the energy (rtsal) of Clear-Light.

Attain this and then stabilize this in your everyday life!

*

Just Stilling Thoughts

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

Can you find a way to practice this today? The second sentence makes it even more interesting.

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

*

Dropping Thought as You Grip a Sword

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

"The pine and bamboo draw a fresh breeze."

Every step is joyous, is it not?

In this state, what could possibly harm or offend You?

*

Investigating the Source of Names & Forms

Look deeply into the matter of whether or not there is any "thing" that is partless (not composed out of relations between other "things" & finally resolving into total inconceivability).

Clap your hands! Now try clapping with one hand! Everything is just like this.

If the evening wind doesn't blow, the pine tree doesn't make a booming sound at dusk. If wild geese don't fly over the lake, the lake doesn't reflect any wild geese on its surface. The same principle applies to everything.

Reality is instantaneous. It doesn't remain still for even one second. All appearances change more quickly than images in a dream.

Emptiness gives with one hand & takes with the other. Go ahead and try to snatch the pebble of clear Reality from either hand!

*

Cutting Through Solidity, As with a Sharp Cleaver

Sudden entry with a sharp cleaver is the same as Chod. Here one instantly enters the inconceivable state of the primordial Buddhas. In this there is no karma or rebirth, just pure & startling realization in a state of empty bliss.

What could ever concern you now? You have become an unconcerned person.

You walk swinging your arms into the dust of the marketplace. You sit in taverns drinking with the drunks. You watch puppet shows & laugh uproariously, clapping your hands along with the rest of the audience.

But none of the dust clings to you, any more than the shadows of trees cling to a stone wall, or the reflections of green willows cling to the brightness of the temple pond!

*

Counting Down from 108

Use one pointed meditation such as counting down from 108 to rid yourself of all thinking.
Then make consciousness finer & finer through sharp clear attention.
When you reach the finest pure & bright consciousness, shatter it with a sharp out breath.
This is the natural state of perpetual joyful amazement.

*

Change Your Life by Purifying Your Ki

Change your life by purifying your Ki.
Purify your Ki at the center of your body, in the Hara.
Make the Ki there empty clear immovable & dimly bright like space.
Make it like the kamiza, the divine area where gods appear & from which they radiate bliss, calm & spirited good-will.
This Ki has no precedents, no history, no past, no enmity, no worries -- it is just the Eternal Now.
This purified Ki or mind of pure awareness will then extend outward by itself & effortlessly transform all externals.
Such is how to become a person of Shibumi.

*

Calm Abiding in the Insubstantial

With the right training, resolve & perseverance at any time you can practice calm abiding in the insubstantial. This is also "the inconceivable state of the Buddhas." It resolves all problems instantly. Appearances are seen as empty & magical. There are no arguments, no designs, no desires and no worries. Everything is "just like this." What was all the sound & fury for? Other people strut a mental stage all day & night discoursing like idiots. You are simply here beyond all words & all thoughts, the pure straight body of reality.

Bathhouse Enlightenment

Bhadrapala, and sixteen awakened lords who were his companions, arose from their seats and bowed at the Buddha’s feet. He said to the Buddha:

”We first heard the dharma and left the home-life under King of Awesome Sound Buddha. Once, when it was time for the Sangha to bathe, I followed the custom and entered the bathhouse. Suddenly I awakened to the fact that water does not wash away the dust, nor does it cleanse the body. At that point, between the two, I became peaceful, and I attained the state of there being nothing at all.

To this day, I have never forgotten that past experience. Having left home with the Buddha, I have gone beyond learning. That Buddha named me Bhadrapala. Wonderful touch was revealed, and I accomplished the position of the Buddha’s disciple. "

-The Surangama Sutra

Pushing Open a Door

Huguo Jingyuan came from ancient Yongjia. After entering monastic life as a young man he first studied with a teacher named Xigong on Mt. Ling. After receiving the precepts, he studied Tiantai doctrines for three years, but gave up this pursuit to study under Zen Master Yuanwu Keqin.

Jingyuan overheard a monk reading a teaching by Zen Master Sixin that said, "Because enlightenment is realized in delusion, in enlightenment one recognizes the delusion within enlightenment and the enlightenment within delusion. When enlightenment and delusion are both forgotten, then one may establish all dharmas from this place that is without enlightenment or delusion."

When Jingyuan heard this he experienced doubt. But later, when he was hurrying to the Buddha Hall, just as he pushed open the door he suddenly experienced vast enlightenment.

Seeing Me Right Now


When Wuxue was abbot of a temple, Touzi Yiqing said to him, “I’m not clear about what resulted when the Second Ancestor first saw Bodhidharma.”

Zen master Wuxue said, “Right now you can see me. What is the result?”

At that moment Touzi suddenly awakened to the profound mystery.

A Mute Eating a Bitter Melon

There are 84,000 Dharma gates in Buddhism. Each gate leads to sudden enlightenment. But one who has experienced this is said to be "like a mute eating a bitter melon." The lightning like experience of wu (Japanese: satori) -- also called "sudden entry as if with a sharp cleaver" -- cannot be verbalized.

Also, it is well known that any student who attempts to enter into the depths of Zen without having first developed some meditative stability is liable to go insane. The use of sexual expedients in particular is not recommended for the shallow or the weak-minded.

"Cut off thinking; keep unmoving mind." This takes power and fanatical dedication! As the Chinese Masters used to say at the end of every Dharma talk: "Please take care of yourselves."

Struck In the Mouth with a Whisk

(from A MUTE EATING A BITTER MELON)

Soon after he began studying with Zhimen, Xuedou boldly stepped up and asked, “Before a single thought arises, can what is said be wrong?”

Zhimen summoned Xuedou to step forward.

Xuedou did so.

Zhimen then hit Xuedou in the mouth with his fly whisk.

Xuedou opened his mouth to speak but Zhimen hit him again.

Xuedou now suddenly experienced enlightenment.

He first assumed the abbacy at Cuiyan. He later moved to Xuedou.

Old Thief

(from A MUTE EATING A BITTER MELON: SUDDEN ENLIGHTENMENT EXPERIENCES IN ANCIENT ZEN)

When Fayan first came to Wuzu Temple, Yuanwu was working there as temple manager.

At that time a new kitchen was slated to be built around where a beautiful old tree stood.

Fayan said, “Even though the tree is in the way, please don’t cut it down.”

Yuanwu cut down the tree.

When Fayan heard this, he picked up his staff and chased after Yuanwu.

Yuanwu, dodging to avoid flashing blows from the staff, suddenly experienced great enlightenment.

He cried out, “This is the way of Old Linji!”

Fayan stopped short. Yuanwu grabbed his staff and threw it onto the ground, shouting, “Oh yes, I recognize you now, you old thief!”

Fayan laughed and walked away.

After this, Fayan gave his permission for Yuanwu to give Dharma talks to the other monks.

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:
平常心是道
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:

若眞達不擬之道、猶如太虚廓然洞豁。

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

豈可強是非也。

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.
How will you get such a tranquil, responsive & empty mind?

Xuansha


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.

SHIKI SOKU ZE KU
KU SOKU ZE SHIKI

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

"As evening darkens the mountain
one mistakes a mule for a horse."

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.