Take the Drum & Capture the Flag


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is "Just Sitting" the Fundamental Way of Zen?

A rare photo of Master Dogen sitting in meditation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hear it! Attain it now, in this life!

A Solitary Sword Against a Cold Sky

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

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

The Gate Is Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He then composed this verse:

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

The Royal Road of Zen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Munen, Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued . . . 

Three Satoris from Master Shitou



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The master asked, “Why do you bow?”

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

*

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

The master ignored him.

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

Lingmo turned his head.

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

Lingmo had a deep awakening.

*

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

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

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

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

Huilang asked, “Then why don't I ?”

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

Huilang had a deep realization.

One Day At Dawn

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

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

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

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

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

Reiho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iron Flute 49. Hsüan-sha’s Blank Paper


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

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

Intoxicated by Moonlight

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

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

"I'm Huang Po, bitch!"


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

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

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

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

Huang-Po gave him a sharp slap.

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

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

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

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

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

The Seattle Manifesto of Mind Only


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

The Harsh Cry of a Crow



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: So -- how must I proceed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mindfulness is Not the Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zen of the Hasidim I


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

Zen & Ripe Tomatoes


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shut Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sun Is Round

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

How True These Words Are



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Master Yuanwu

How Amazing! How Amazing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way of Mountains & Rivers


Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire With A Large Pine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 also nothing is. Drop your mind that produces endless conceptual reasoning and delusion. Tell me, if Zen is so subjective why did the ancient Zen Masters "go into the weeds" to try to awaken their students? Speak!

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.