Shugen Sensei

Ever-Deepening Intimacy

Dharma Discourse by
Konrad Ryushin Marchaj, Sensei
The Teachings of Master Hongzhi
"Sit Empty of Worldly Anxiety"

Featured in Mountain Record 31.4, Summer 2013

Konrad Ryushin Marchaj, Sensei is the abbot and director of operations of Zen Mountain Monastery.


If you truly appreciate a single thread, your eye can suitably meet the world and its changes. Seeing clearly, do not be fooled, and the ten thousand situations cannot shroud you. Moonlight falls on the water; wind blows over the pines. Light and shadow do not confuse us; sounds or voices do not block us. The whistling wind can resonate, pervading without impediment through the various structures. Flowing along with things, harmonizing without deviation, thoroughly abandoning webs of dust, still one does not yet arrive in the original home. Put to rest the remnants of your conditioning. Sit empty of worldly anxiety, silent and bright, clear and illuminating, blank and accepting, far-reaching and responsive. Without encountering external dusts, fulfilled in your own spirit, arrive at this field and immediately recognize your ancestors.

In his teachings on silent illumination, Master Hongzhi uses poetry and imagery to offer us a taste of what it means to put to rest the conditioning of our mind. In the richness of his images, which are often concerned with the emptying of the self, we can feel our way into the mystery of what it is to encounter ourselves and to do the work of becoming intimate with ourselves.

As a sangha, we’ve been taking up the issue of “spiritual bypassing” recently—essentially looking at how it is that we can misuse spiritual practice in order to try to avoid our pain—our unresolved emotional issues, uncomfortable places of holding on, our psychological wounds. Rather than appreciating that authentic practice requires us to face and address these things, “spiritual bypassing” refers to how we try to use zazen or the dharma to avoid them. But while we’re considering this from a Western perspective influenced by the practice of psychotherapy, and while the term “spiritual bypass” is a relatively new phrase, it’s important to appreciate that as a phenomenon, it is not new. Practitioners since the time of the Buddha have done this. Human beings have always been fearful or reluctant to face our karma, to open ourselves to feeling everything that this process of human maturation demands we deal with.