Excerpts

from Mountain Record 31.3, Spring 2013


 

 from Fukanzazengi: Universal Recommendations for Zazen 
- by Eihei Dogen, translated by Norman Waddell and Masao Abe

The Way is basically perfect and all-pervading. How could it be contingent upon practice and realization? The Dharma-vehicle is free and untrammeled. What need is there for a person’s concentrated effort? Indeed, the whole body is far beyond the world’s dust. Who could believe in a means to brush it clean? It is never apart from one right where one is—what is the use of going off here and there to practice?

And yet, if there is the slightest discrepancy, the way is as distant as heaven from earth. If the least like or dislike arises, the Mind is lost in confusion. Suppose one gains pride of understanding and inflates one’s own enlightenment, glimpsing the wisdom that runs through all things, attaining the Way and clarifying the Mind, raising an aspiration to escalade the very sky. One is making the initial, partial excursions about the frontiers but is still somewhat deficient in the vital Way of total emancipation.

Need I mention the Buddha, who was possessed of inborn knowledge? The influence of his six years of upright sitting is noticeable still. Or Bodhidharma’s transmission of the mind-seal? The fame of his nine years of wall-sitting is celebrated to this day. Since this was the case with the saints of old, how can men of today dispense with negotiation of the Way?

You should therefore cease from practice based on intellectual understanding, pursuing words and following after speech, and learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will be manifest. If you want to attain suchness, you should practice suchness without delay.

 


 

 from Glimpsing the Truth  - by Anam Thubten

Most of the time the very notions of reality that we believe in are actually a fabrication weaves the fabric of of the mind itself. samsara, the world of suffering within, and it takes on its own life and dictates all of our experiences. The thread of this fabric can only be cut by a conscious effort. The continuity of this thread is the psychological force that is manifested in the form of this unceasing craving which keeps the whole process going. It is the energy that spins the wheel of suffering. Buddha taught that this craving is one of the links which chain us to the illusions of egoic existence. But when we look at it closely, we find it to be irrational most of the time, so there is no end to it.

Craving has many forms. It spans the scale from extreme attachment to extreme aversion, with all of its myriad nuances in between. If we take a moment to look honestly into the depth of our mind, we may see that there is a continuous craving—we want this and we don’t want that. Of course the object of wanting and not wanting constantly changes. This craving is the source of much suffering, but the truth is that most of the things that we crave right now don’t exist in the way we think they do.

We cannot see the way things are as long as our mind is not awakened from its own delusion. There is a veil preventing us from seeing clearly. It is the basic ignorance that comes along with our existence, and it is perpetuated by the power of craving. When we look into this ceaseless craving, there is a deep sense of being incomplete; because of that there is also gnawing dissatisfaction, which causes us to grasp on to anything that we perceive to have the power to make us happy. We crave sex, entertainment and food to the extent that we become addicted to them. There is this consistent feeling of an inner vacuum that we try to numb with those things. As a result, we also become obsessed with status and position because they promise easy access to the above. Of course there is a distinction between the natural needs of the body and this craving that we have described. When we are hungry, we eat. When we are tired, we sleep. That is natural. These natural needs can be satisfied, whereas craving generates more of itself. Who is craving? It is the sense of the self that we are completely identifying with. Yet it is the biggest delusion. It serves as the basis of this unawakened life, while it is just a fragment of our imagination.

There is a profound insight that can occur the moment there is a break in the continuation of self-grasping. This insight is the direct seeing of the truth, the way things are, the great emptiness. We sometimes develop a belief in Buddhist notions like emptiness, transcendent reality, or a belief in the oneness of all things. To believe in the oneness of all things is perhaps the best belief we can have, if we are looking for a belief. But belief itself is still conceptual knowledge, and still bound to the egoic mind.

Sooner or later we have to go beyond that belief to directly experience the oneness, the ultimate truth, the essence of the timeless teachings of Buddha. Then we experience joy, freedom, and liberation. They are no longer abstract ideas; they become quite real in our personal experience—like tasting honey or listening to pleasant music. In the same way, unconditional happiness, peace, joy, and all of the wonderful words we have been hearing in the spiritual teachings suddenly become quite real.

There is a glimpse of the oneness that can unfold right now. This has to do with the fact that oneness is always here, and freely available. It is the source from which all things arise, and the home into which all things dissolve. It is the ground of everything—life, death, openness, contracting, happiness, sorrow, light, darkness. It’s actually here, right now. It’s here and it’s over there. It’s everywhere. It is intrinsically holy in itself, not in a dualistic sense, not holy versus unholy, but holy because it is perfect as it is.

 


 

 from The Observing Self - by Charlotte Joko Beck

“Who is there?” asks God.
“It is I.”
“Go away,” God says. . .
Later . . .
“Who is there?” asks God.
“It is Thou.”
“Enter,” replies God.

What we ordinarily think of as the self has many aspects. There is the thinking self, the emotional self, and the functional self to which does things. These together comprise our describable self. There is nothing in those areas that we cannot describe; for instance, we can describe our physical functioning: we take a walk, we come home and we sit down. As for emotion: we can usually describe how we feel; when we get excited or upset, we can say that our emotion arises, peaks, and falls in intensity. And we can describe our thinking. These aspects of the describable self are the primary factors of our life: our thinking self, our emotional self, our functional self.

There is, however, another aspect of our self that we slowly get in touch with as we do zazen: the observing self. It is important in some Western therapies. In fact, when used well, it is why the therapies work. But these therapies do not always realize the radical difference between the observing self and other aspects of ourselves, nor do they understand its nature. All the describable parts of what we call ourselves are limited. They are also linear; they come and go within a framework of time. But the observing self cannot be put in that category, no matter how hard we try. That which observes cannot be found and cannot be described. If we look for it there is nothing there. Since there is nothing we can know about it, we can almost say it is another dimension.

In practice we observe—or make conscious—as much as we can of our describable selves. Most therapies do this to some degree; but zazen, continued for years, cultivates the observing self more deeply than do most therapies. As we practice we must observe how we work, how we make love, how we are at a party, how we are in a new situation with strange people. There is nothing about ourselves that shouldn’t come under scrutiny. It’s not that we stop other activities. Even when we are completely absorbed in our daily life the observing function continues. Any aspect of ourselves that is not observed will remain muddy, confusing, mysterious. It will seem independent of us, as though it is happening all by itself. And then we will get caught in it and carried away into confusion.

At one time or another all of us get carried away by some kind of anger. (By “anger” I mean also irritability, jealousy, annoyance, even depression.) In years of sitting we slowly uncover the anatomy of anger and other emotion-thoughts. In an episode of anger we need to know all thoughts related to the event. These thoughts are not real; but they are connected with sensations, the bodily feelings of contraction. We need to observe where the muscles contract and where they don’t. Some people get angry in their faces, some people get angry in their backs, some people get angry all over. The more we know—the stronger the observer is—the less mysterious these emotions are, and the less we tend to get caught by them.

 


 

 from Unlimiting Mind - by Andrew Olendzki

According to the Abhidhamma, consciousness arises and passes away each moment as a series of episodes in a continuing process. It is not a thing that exists, but an event that occurs—again and again—to yield the subjective experience of a stream of consciousness.

Consciousness itself is rather simple and austere, consisting merely of the cognizing of a sense object by means of a sense organ. This event serves as a sort of seed around which a number of other mental factors crystallize to help consciousness create meaning from the stimuli presenting themselves so rapidly and relentlessly at the doors of the senses.

Like a king with his entourage, as the classical image has it, consciousness never arises alone. It is always attended by a number of other mental factors that help structure, shape, and direct rudimentary consciousness in various ways. The idiosyncrasies of our experience come from the unique configurations formed by all these supporting mental factors as they interact each moment with the changing data of the senses and the synthetic constructions of the mind. Altogether fifty-two of these mental factors are enumerated in the Pali Abhidhamma. (The Sanskrit Abhidhamma tradition has a somewhat different list, but we will not get in to that here.) Scholars have tended to dismiss this exhaustive catalogue of mental states as the product of scholasticism run amok, but many people with a mature practice of vipassana meditation are thrilled by the precision with which this literature describes the interior landscape. It is the child of two parents: its mother is deep empirical observation of meditative experience, while its father is an inspired organizing intellect.

 


 

 Secrets on Cultivating the Mind - by Bojo Chinul, translated by Robert E. Buswell, Jr.

For innumerable kalpas without beginning up to the present time, ordinary people have passed between the five destinies, coming and going between birth and death. They obstinately cling to “self” and over a long period of time their natures have become thoroughly permeated by false thoughts, inverted views, ignorance, and the habit-energies. Although coming into this life, they might suddenly awaken to the fact that their self-nature is originally void and calm and no different from that of the buddhas, these old habits are difficult to eliminate completely. Consequently, when they come into contact with either favorable or adverse objects, then anger and happiness or propriety or impropriety blaze forth: their adventitious defilements are no different from before. If they do not increase their efforts and apply their power through the help of prajna, how will they ever be able to counteract ignorance and reach the place of great rest and repose? As it is said, “Although the person who has suddenly awakened is the same as the buddhas, the habit-energies which have built up over many lives are deep rooted. The wind ceases, but the waves still surge; the noumenon manifests, but thoughts still invade.” Zen Master Ta-hui Tsung-kao said:

Often gifted people can break through this affair and achieve sudden awakening without expending a lot of strength. Then they relax and do not try to counteract the habit-energies and deluded thoughts. Finally, after the passage of many days and months, they simply wander on as before and are unable to avoid samsara.

So how could you neglect subsequent cultivation simply because of one moment of awakening? After awakening, you must be constantly on your guard. If deluded thoughts suddenly appear, do not follow after them—reduce them and reduce them again until you reach the unconditioned. Then and only then will your practice reach completion. This is the practice of herding the ox which all wise advisors in the world have practiced after awakening.

Nevertheless, although you must cultivate further, you have already awakened suddenly to the fact that deluded thoughts are originally void and the mind-nature is originally pure. Thus you eliminate evil, but you eliminate without actually eliminating anything; you cultivate the wholesome, but you cultivate without really cultivating anything either. This is true cultivation and true elimination. For this reason it is said, “Although one prepares to cultivate the manifold supplementary practices, thoughtlessness is the origin of them all.” Kuei-feng summed up the distinction between the ideas of initial awakening and subsequent cultivation when he said:

He has the sudden awakening to the fact that his nature is originally free of defilement and he is originally in full possession of the non-outflow wisdom-nature which is no different from that of the buddhas. To cultivate while relying on this awakening is called supreme vehicle Zen, or the pure Zen of the tathagatas. If thought-moment after thought-moment he continues to develop his training, then naturally he will gradually attain to hundreds of thousands of samadhis. This is the Zen which has been transmitted successively in the school of Bodhidharma.

Hence sudden awakening and gradual cultivation are like the two wheels of a cart: neither one can be missing.

 


 

 from Enlightenment - by Toni Packer

Someone asked, “Does it really matter if we ‘wake up’ or not?”

A little while ago I took a walk up the hill. What a delightful morning! Warmth and coolness were present at the same time. Gentleness pervaded the air, and birds were singing everywhere. Wet, sodden shoes passed by the croaking pond where tiny little skimmers crisscrossed back and forth on the surface of the water, leaving their ever so delicate tracks.

On the big upper field several deer were grazing. Looking up at the intruder, their long white tails twitched a little as we looked at each other. Then they kept on grazing. Colors dotted the sun-drenched field, and blooming grasses were swaying in the breeze. The fragrance of wild roses filled the air.

If you had walked along with me this beautiful morning, we both would have laughed at the question whether it matters if we wake up or not.

Had we been caught up in anger, worry, or frustration, we wouldn’t have laughed. We would not have seen the lovely vibrant field.

We have so many questions. Whence do they arise? Are there deeper motives to our question? Can we wonder about it and look? Someone asked, “Is there such a thing as ultimate, complete, and total enlightenment?” Are we really asking, “If there is such a thing, can I get it?”

Where does wondering about complete and total enlightenment come from? And from where does wanting it arise? And the frustration about not getting it? Doesn’t it all come out of our deep inner discontent with ourselves, with others, and with the world? Sometimes we can’t even say what it is that causes it; we just feel painfully out of sync. There is an inner meaninglessness, a feeling of hollow emptiness. Not the emptiness of vast open space, but a feeling of nothing of value inside, feeling lonely, cut off from happiness and alienated from people. There may be the fear of abandonment, or feeling unloved. All of these things are going on in human beings.

Out of the desire to fill up the inner depletion and find lasting contentment may come questions about enlightenment, and with them the yearning to find meaning and not feel isolated from everything and everyone. The brain creates endless concepts and fantasies to alleviate the inner suffering.

If we become increasingly transparent to these movements of thought and feeling, we will realize that inner pain is not dissolved by conventional ways of dealing with it, materially or spiritually. Money, position, acquisitions, or relationships have not brought lasting contentment. Religious beliefs may provide illusions of security and support, but for many of us they simply have not worked. We have wandered from one belief system to another, attracted by promises of salvation, liberation, or enlightenment, but real hunger for truth and clarity can be stilled only with genuine food.

 


 

 from The Difficulty of Repaying the Debt to the Buddhas and the Patriarchs - by Hakuin Ekaku, Translated by Norman Waddell

Buddha means “one who is awakened.”

Once you have awakened, your own mind itself is buddha. By seeking outside yourself for a buddha invested with form, you set yourself forward as a foolish, misguided person. It is like a person who wants to catch a fish. They must start by looking in the water, because fish live in water and are not found apart from it. If a person wants to find buddha, they must look into their own mind, because it is there, and nowhere else, that buddha exists.

Question: “In that case, what can I do to become awakened to my own mind?”

Answer: What is that which asks such a question? Is it your mind? Is it your original nature? Is it some kind of spirit or demon? Is it inside you? Outside you? Is it somewhere intermediate? Is it blue, yellow, red, or white?

It is something you must investigate and clarify for yourself. You must investigate it whether you are standing or sitting, speaking or silent, when you are eating your rice or drinking your tea. You must keep at it with total, single-minded devotion. And never, whatever you do, look in sutras or in commentaries for an answer, or seek it in the words you hear a teacher speak.

When all the effort you can muster has been exhausted and you have reached a total impasse, and you are like the cat at the rathole, like the mother hen warming her egg, it will suddenly come and you will break free. The phoenix will get through the golden net. The crane will fly clear of the cage.

But even if no breakthrough occurs until your dying day and you spend twenty or thirty years in vain without ever seeing into your true nature, I want your solemn pledge that you will never turn for spiritual support to those tales that you hear the down-and-out old men and washed-out old women peddling everywhere today. If you do, they will stick to your hide, they will cling to your bones, you will never be free of them. And as for your chances with the ancestors’ difficult-to-pass koans, the less said about them the better, because they will be totally beyond your grasp.

Hence a priest of former times, Kao-feng Yuan-miao, said, “A person who commits themselves to the practice of Zen must be equipped with three essentials. A great root of faith. A great ball of doubt. A great tenacity of purpose. Lacking any one of them, one is like a tripod with only two legs.”

By “great root of faith” is meant the belief that each and every person has an essential self-nature they can see into, and the belief in a principle by which this self-nature can be fully penetrated. Even though you attain this belief, you cannot break through and penetrate to total awakening unless feelings of fundamental doubt arise as you work on the difficult-to-pass [nanto] koans. And even if these doubts build up, and crystallize, and you yourself become a “great doubting mass,” you will be unable to break that doubting mass apart unless you constantly bore into those koans with a great, burning tenacity of purpose.

 


 

 from Always at Home - by Jan Chozen Bays Roshi

Although we talk about “working on Mu,” this is not what actually happens.

We work at “working on Mu” until we are able to let go and let Mu work on us.

This happens when Mu penetrates every breath, every footstep, every blink, every touch, every sound.

Raindrops falling—Mu, Mu, Mu.

Crows calling—Mu, Mu, Mu.

Hands pick up Mu and spoon Mu into Mu.

When our awareness is completely filled with Mu, when thoughts are replaced with Mu, then the habitual flow of energy reverses. Usually our energy is directed inward in the direction of self-protection, a form of fear. This fear is carried by anxious, obsessive thoughts and emotions, which reinforce the experience of the small self-as-core-of-being. In this habitual mode our life energy is only occasionally directed outward. It is usually in defense, in response to perceived threat.

When we give ourselves completely over to Mu, the awareness of a self-that-needs-protecting disappears, and the energy is able to reverse and flow in its natural direction, the direction of happiness, which is outward and generous.

Am I saying, “Don’t work on Mu, just wait until it reveals itself to you”?

No. At first you do have to work. You have to work in a way you have never worked before, and harder than you have ever worked before. This unaccustomed work can he quite tiring. You have to work diligently and continuously to quiet the mind, but without any judgment of self or other.

This is accomplished in stages. You begin with a busy, complicated mind. You continually return to Mu, substituting Mu for each thought that arises, as soon as you catch it. At first you only catch thoughts when they have been going on for sometime, and have branched many times. Later you are able to catch a thought as it is arising, before it takes shape in inner words.

After many days of meditation you may have periods of pure awareness, when no thoughts even make the effort to arise. Ultimately these periods of pure awareness expand, until awareness of being aware disappears. When the witness vanishes, time also vanishes. This is the realm in which cause and effect are one and everything is present, from all places and times. This is the realm of Mu.

Thus the mind goes from complicated mind, to simplified mind, to unified mind, to pure awareness, to no mind. This is the mind we call Mind. Although it is eternal, that does not mean that our awareness of it is eternal. It cannot be, because of the truth of constant change. All states of mind change.

 


 

 from Wake-Up Sermon - by Bodhidharma

The essence of the Way is detachment. And the goal of those who practice is freedom from appearances. The sutras say, “Detachment is enlightenment because it negates appearances.” Buddhahood means awareness. Mortals whose minds are aware reach the Way of Enlightenment and are therefore called buddhas. The sutras say, “Those who free themselves from all appearances are called buddhas.” The appearance of appearance as no appearance can’t be seen visually but can only be known by means of wisdom. Whoever hears and believes this teaching embarks on the Great Vehicle and leaves the three realms.

The three realms are greed, anger, and delusion. To leave the three realms means to go from greed, anger, and delusion back to morality, meditation, and wisdom. Greed, anger, and delusion have no nature of their own. They depend on mortals. And anyone capable of reflection is bound to see that the nature of greed, anger, and delusion is the buddha-nature. Beyond greed, anger, and delusion there is no other buddha-nature. The sutras say, “Buddhas have only become buddhas while living with the three poisons and nourishing themselves on the pure dharma.” The three poisons are greed, anger, and delusion.

The Great Vehicle is the greatest of all vehicles. It’s the conveyance of bodhisattvas, who use everything without using anything and who travel all day without traveling. Such is the vehicle of buddhas. The sutras say, “No vehicle is the vehicle of buddhas.”

Whoever realizes that the six senses aren’t real, that the five aggregates are fictions, that no such things can be located anywhere in the body, understands the language of buddhas. The sutras say, “The cave of five aggregates is the hall of zen. The opening of the inner eye is the door of the Great Vehicle.” What could be clearer?

Not thinking about anything is zen. Once you know this, walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, everything you do is zen. To know that the mind is empty is to see the buddha. The buddhas of the ten directions have no mind. To see no mind is to see the buddha.

To give up yourself without regret is the greatest charity. To transcend motion and stillness is the highest meditation. Mortals keep moving, and arhats stay still. But the highest meditation surpasses both that of mortals and that of arhats. People who reach such understanding free themselves from all appearances without effort and cure all illnesses without treatment. Such is the power of great zen.

Using the mind to look for reality is delusion. Not using the mind to look for reality is awareness. Freeing oneself from words is liberation. Remaining unblemished by the dust of sensation is guarding the dharma. Transcending life and death is leaving home. Not suffering another existence is reaching the Way. Not creating delusions is enlightenment. Not engaging in ignorance is wisdom. No affliction is nirvana. And no appearance of the mind is the other shore.

When you’re deluded, this shore exists. When you wake up, it doesn’t exist. Mortals stay on this shore. But those who discover the greatest of all vehicles stay on neither this shore nor the other shore. They’re able to leave both shores. Those who see the other shore as different from this shore don’t understand zen.

Delusion means mortality. And awareness means buddhahood. They’re not the same. And they’re not different. It’s just that people distinguish delusion from awareness. When we’re deluded there’s a world to escape. When we’re aware, there’s nothing to escape.

 


 

 from Zen Practice - by Lan-chi Tao-lung, translated by Tevor Leggett

Zen practice is not clarifying conceptual distinctions, but throwing away one’s preconceived views and notions and the sacred texts and all the rest, and piercing through the layers of coverings over the spring of self behind them. All the holy ones have turned within and sought in the self, and by this went beyond all doubt. To turn within means all the twenty-four hours and in every situation, to pierce one by one through the layers covering the self, deeper and deeper, to a place that cannot be described. It is when thinking comes to an end and making distinctions ceases, when wrong views and ideas disappear of themselves without having to be driven forth, when without being sought the true action and true impulse appear of themselves. It is when one can know what is the truth of the heart.

The person resolute in the way must from the beginning never lose sight of it, whether in a place of calm or in a place of strife, and they must not cling to quiet places and shun those where there is disturbance. If they try to take refuge from trouble by running to some quiet place, they will fall into dark regions.

If when they are trying to throw off delusions and discover truth everything is a whirl of possibilities, they must cut off the thousand impulses and go straight forward, having no thought at all about good or bad; not hating the passions, they must simply make their heart pure.

Illusion is dark, satori is bright. When the light of wisdom shines, the darkness of passion suddenly becomes bright, and to an awakened one they are not two separate things.

This is the main point of meditation. But an ordinary beginner cannot mount to the treasure in one step. They move from shallow to profound, progress from slow to quick. When in the meditation sitting there is agitation of thought, then with that very agitated mind seek to find where the agitated thought came from, and who it is that is aware of it. In this way pressing scrutiny as to the location of the disturbance further and further to the ultimate point, you will find that the agitation does not have any original location, and that the one who is aware of it also is void, and this is called taking the search back.

If the press of delusive thoughts is very heavy, one of the koan phrases should be taken up, for instance seeing where it is that life comes from. Keep on inquiring into this again and again. An ancient has said that while you do not yet know life, how should you know death? And if you have known life, you also know death, and then you will not be controlled by life-and-death, but will be able to rise or set as you will.

Hearing a sound, to take it simply as sound; seeing a form, to take it simply as form; how to turn the light back and control vision, and how to turn hearing within—these are the things that none of you understand. In hearing sounds as you do all day long, find out whether it is the sound that comes to the convolutions of the ear, or the ear that goes out to the location of the sound. If it is the sound that comes to the ear, there is no track of its coming; and if it is the ear that goes to the sound, there is no track of its going. The practitioner of Zen should carefully go into this in their silent inquiry. In silent investigation, with great courage turn the hearing back till hearing comes to an end; purify awareness till awareness becomes empty. Then there will be a perception of things, which is immediate without any check to it, and after that, even in a welter of sounds and forms you will not be swept away by them, even in a state of darkness and confusion you will be able to find a way. Such is called a person of the great freedom.