In the Tibetan teachings of the Four Immeasurables, there are practices that actively generate these qualities of compassion, equanimity, sympathetic joy and loving kindness. People from Tibetan traditions have challenged me as to where these qualities are found in Zen. Well, it’s in the precepts, my friends. It’s in the affirmative, generative, creative side of the precepts. Yes, there is a way of not doing any harm, but how active are we in affirming life, of generating states of aliveness? When we affirm life it is a state of mind that is joyful, compassionate, full of equanimity and loving-kindness. As a matter of fact, some teachers say that when you complete your training, your practice of those Four Immeasurables is the only thing that you’re offering. That’s the invitation of the precepts.

When you completely offer yourself, you really find yourself within that offering. Hsueh Tou says, “Though he acted like this, Chin Niu was not good-hearted.” What is the meaning of that statement? Chin Niu does his song and dance with the rice bucket for twenty years not because he’s kind-hearted, or doing good, but because it is the complete expression on the occasion of a meal, of that life, of all those lives. 

This is not about that action of joy, the action of practice, the action of living within the moral and ethical teachings. It’s not about right or wrong, good or bad, kind or cruel, deliberate or spontaneous. It’s about reality emerging within those specific circumstances, about joyfulness manifesting within reality. Inevitable joyfulness with no strings attached, no manipulations, no expectations, no debts incurred. It is joyful and it is complete. This is a natural way to live a life.

We refer to the Buddhist Precepts as the natural morality. It’s not contrived. Nobody is trying to come up with some sort of guidebook of reality. The natural precepts come with dancing and laughing, with bittersweetness and crying, with old age, sickness and death. They come with the recognition that we will hurt ourselves along the way, that we will fall and also that we will get up. We will do this, as the poem says, “Laughing aloud in the shadow of white clouds”—laughing aloud, considering all the facts. Joyfully. Seeing clearly what the nature of this life, these challenges, are all about. Joyfulness in the face of impermanence; joyfulness in the face of this karma. All of it. All of the baggage. In view of all of the imprints of history, of parental love or withholding, of everything that has unfolded and that will unfold. That joyfulness is possible. That joyfulness is inevitable as long as we practice 


The Blue Cliff Record, or Hekiganroku is a collection of one hundred koans originally compiled in China by Zen Master Hsueh Tou during the Song dynasty (960-1279 C.E.) and later commented on by Zen Master Yuan Wu.