If you're interested in Zen, it's a good idea to sometimes look into the sayings of the Chinese Patriarchs and Masters for clarification. What's the goal of Zen? Am I supposed to meditate? How do I begin? Where do I stop? Ma Tzu was towering figure in Chinese Zen. In his discourses we get the pure stuff -- a big block of Zen itself, basic and unmodified.
So what's the problem? The problem is words. The problem is dualism ingrained in words. An added problem is that Ma Tzu may have been a big fake. Most of his discourses are "boilerplate Zen." He might have been a phony just aping Bodhidharma! Except that his mondo (dialogues) are so startling.
Naturally, translation is treacherous. Is Ma Tzu really saying to "do nothing?" What does Ma Tzu want you to attain, if anything? What is Ma Tzu's version of the Zen that Buddha supposedly passed onto Mahakasyapa in India? Here are some of Ma Tzu's sayings with my notes.
The Normal Mind:
The Way does not require cultivation - just don't pollute it. What is pollution? As long as you have a fluctuating mind fabricating artificialities and contrivances, all of this is pollution. If you want to understand the Way directly, the normal mind is the Way. What I mean by the normal mind is the mind without artificiality, without subjective judgments, without grasping or rejection.
[You can't get plainer than that. The Way is direct and simple. Don't muck it up with your fluctuating mental states. Don't grasp onto events or sensations, don't judge, don't reject.]
The founders of Zen said that one's own essence is inherently complete. Just don't linger over good or bad things - that is called practice of the Way. To grasp the good and reject the bad, to contemplate emptiness and enter concentration, is all in the province of contrivance - and if you go on seeking externals, you get further and further estranged. Just end the mental objectivization of the world. A single thought of the wandering mind is the root of birth and death in the world. Just don't have a single thought and you'll get rid of the root of birth and death.
[Ah! So there is a "practice" of the Way! But it's negative. Don't grasp some things as good, others as bad; don't cultivate some idea or principle such as Emptiness, and don't think Zen is about contrived states of concentration. Ma Tzu is speaking pure Dzogchen here! Don't seek externals, or you'll get lost. So what do we do then, Master Ma Tzu? Cease! Cease and desist. Stop objectifying the world. A single thought arises, and you're engulfed in the Triple Realm -- that's almost a direct quote from Bodhidharma. So the answer is clear. "Just don't have a single thought."]
The Oceanic Reflection:
Human delusions of time immemorial, deceit, pride, deviousness, and conceit, have conglomerated into one body. That is why scripture says that this body is just made of elements, and its appearance and disappearance is just that of the elements, which have no identity. When successive thoughts do not await one another, and each thought dies peacefully away, this is called absorption in the oceanic reflection.
[Some steep Buddha Dharma shit here, resolving quickly back into Zen. Make it so that your thoughts don't wait for each other, but just die away without creating further thoughts; then you'll be absorbed in the Great Samadhi of the Ocean.]
Delusion and Enlightenment:
Delusion means you are not aware of your own fundamental mind; enlightenment means you realize your own fundamental essence. Once enlightened, you do not become deluded anymore. If you understand mind and objects, then false conceptions do not arise; when false conceptions do not arise, this is the acceptance of the beginninglessness of things. You have always had it, and you have it now - there is no need to cultivate the Way and sit in meditation.
[Simple! Deluded, your fundamental mind mistakes itself for changing "stuff"; enlightened, it knows the essence, and so troubles cease. You have to "understand" mind and objects, to keep false conceptions from bewildering you. How? Get a clear view that it's "just this" -- beginningless, inconceivable. You don't need to get something you don't have. You're It already. There is no need to "sit in meditation." Every instant in the awakened state of Zen is meditation.]
Right this moment, as you walk, stand, sit, and recline, responding to all situations and dealing with people - all is the Tao. The Tao is the realm of reality. No matter how numerous are the uncountable, inconceivable functions, they are not beyond this realm. If they were, how could we speak of the teaching of the Mind-ground, and how could we tell of the inexhaustible lantern?
[How could you ever get out of the realm of Tao? How could you evade the Mind-ground? THIS is the inexhaustible lamp that keeps burning no matter what you do to it.]
All phenomena are mental; all labels are labeled by the mind. All phenomena arise out of mind; mind is the root of all phenomena. A sutra says, 'When you know mind and arrive at its root source, in that sense you may be called a devotee.'
[Phenomena are just Mind; labels pasted on phenomena are just Mind making distinctions within Mind. Zen is really seeing this, "knowing" it. Mind again!]
The Dharmakaya is infinite; its substance neither waxes nor wanes. It can be vast or minute, angled or smooth; it manifests images in accordance with things and beings, like the moon reflected in a pool. Its function gushes forth yet does not take root; it never exhausts deliberate action nor does it dwell in inaction. Deliberate action is a function of authenticity; authenticity is the basis of deliberate action. Because of no longer having fixation on this basis, one is spoken of as autonomous, like empty space.
[The Dharmakaya, the Truth Body of the Buddhas, may manifest infinite types of forms but it never sticks to any of them -- it remains open, free, autonomous, baseless. That's the Unborn Zen Mind. It's the "sound" of one hand clapping. Perfect!]
The true Suchness of mind is like a mirror reflecting forms: the mind is like the mirror, and phenomena are like the (reflected) forms. If the mind grasps at phenomena, then it involves itself in external conditions and causes; this is what 'the birth and death of mind' means. If it no longer grasps at such phenomena, this is what 'the true Suchness of mind' means.
All dharmas are Buddhist teachings; all dharmas are liberation. Liberation is true Suchness, and not one thing is separate from this true Suchness. Walking, standing, sitting, and reclining are all inconceivable actions.
[Suchness is the nature of things just as they are. Here the substance of the Mind is said to be like a mirror, insofar as reflections don't interfere with or change the basic radiant nature of the mirror. If that's all Mind is, there's no problem. But if Mind starts to grasp at its own manifestations, it creates an "external" world that becomes a problem (samsara, a realm of birth and death). So the Mind shouldn't grasp at phenomena via name-and-form thinking, thereby resolving into its Suchness-nature. Note that the Chinese word for "mind" and "heart" is the same -- xin.]
Objectifying mind falsifies everything. If you are reading this with that kind of mind, you will take "Mind" to be an object, maybe a higher object, maybe even the highest object. But you will be wrong. "Mind" in Ma Tzu's terms is just what you are reading these words with right now. In fact, it is just what is reading these words. But that "what" is not a "that" to be objectified. Do you see? Do you hear?
Maybe you feel some intimation now of what Ma Tzu was "after." Or "before."
Question: How do I get it?
Answer: You are it! But I realize that answer won't help you. So here is another: Look for that which is looking. Try to hear that which is hearing. Do not just accept the intellectual concept of "that" as "nothing" or "void" or "emptiness" or "mind." See what Xin really is for you right now. Okay? Then go on to read the "mondo" below.
Translated by T. Cleary.
The following mondo are all taken the book "Sayings of the Ancient Worthies", fas. I (Ku tsun-hsiu yu-lu], translated by D.T. Suzuki:
Someone asked Ma-tsu: "How does a man discipline himself in the Tao?"
The master replied: "In the Tao there is nothing to discipline oneself in. If there is any discipline in it, the completion of such discipline means the destruction of the Tao. One then will be like the Sravaka. But if there is no discipline whatever in the Tao, one remains an ignoramus."
"By what kind of understanding does a man attain the Tao?"
On this, the master gave the following sermon:
"The Tao in its nature is from the first perfect and self-sufficient. When a man finds himself unhalting in his management of the affairs of life good or bad, he is known as one who is disciplined in the Tao. To shun evils and to become attached to things good, to meditate on Emptiness and to enter into a state of samadhi--this is doing something. If those who run after an outward object, they are the farthest away [from the Tao].
Only let a man exhaust all his thinking and imagining he can possibly have in the triple world. When even an iota of imagination is left with him, this is his triple world and the source of birth and death in it. When there is not a trace of imagination, he has removed all the source of birth and death, he then holds the unparalleled treasure belonging to the Dharmaraja. All the imagination harboured since the beginningless past by an ignorant being, together with his falsehood, flattery, self-conceit, arrogance, and other evil passions, are united in the body of One Essence, and all melt away.
"It is said in the sutra that many elements combine themselves to make this body of ours, and that the rising of the body merely means the rising together of all these elements and the disappearance of the body means also merely that of the elements. When the latter rise, they do not declare that they are now to rise; when they disappear they do not declare that they are now to disappear.
So with thoughts, one thought follows another without interruption, the preceding one does not wait for the succeeding, each one is self-contained and quiescent. This is called the Sagaramudra-samadhi, "Meditation of the Ocean-stamp", in which are included all things, like the ocean where all the rivers however different in size, etc., empty themselves. In this great ocean of one salt-water, all the waters in it partake of one and the same taste. A man living in it diffuses himself in all the streams pouring into it. A man bathing in the great ocean uses all the waters emptied into it.
"The Sravaka is enlightened and yet going astray; the ordinary man is out of the right path and yet in a way enlightened. The Sravaka fails to perceive that Mind as it is in itself knows no stages, no causation, no imaginations. Disciplining himself in the cause he has attained the result and abides in the Samadhi of Emptiness itself for ever so many kalpas. However enlightened in his way, the Sravaka is not at all on the right track. From the point of view of the Bodhisattva, this is like suffering the torture of hell. The Sravaka has buried himself in emptiness and does not know how to get out of his quiet contemplation, for he has no insight into the Buddha-nature itself.
If a man is of superior character and intelligence he will, under the instruction of a wise director, at once see into the essence of the thing and understand that this is not a matter of stages and processes. He has an instant insight into his own Original Nature. So we read in the sutra that ordinary beings change in their thoughts but the Sravaka knows no such changes [which means that he never comes out of his meditation of absolute quietude].
"'Going astray' stands against 'being enlightened'; but when there is primarily no going astray there is no being enlightened either. All beings since the beginningless past have never been outside the Dharma-essence itself; abiding for ever in the midst of the Dharma-essence, they eat, they are clothed, they talk, they respond; all the functioning of the six senses, all their doings are of the Dharma-essence itself. When they fail to understand to go back to the Source they follow names, pursue forms, allow confusing imaginations to rise, and cultivate all kinds of karma. Let them once in one thought return to the Source and their entire being will be of Buddha-mind.
"O monks, let each of you see into his own Mind. Do not memorize what I tell you. However eloquently I may talk about all kinds of things as innumerable as the sands of the Ganges, the Mind shows no increase; even when no talk is possible, the Mind shows no decrease. You may talk ever so much about it, and it is still your own Mind; you may not at all talk about it, and it is just the same your own Mind. You may divide your body into so many forms, and emitting rays of supernatural light perform the eighteen miracles, and yet what you have gained is after all no more than your own dead ashes.
"The dead ashes thoroughly wet have no vitality and are likened to the Sravaka's disciplining himself in the cause in order to attain its result. The dead ashes not yet wet are full of vitality and are likened to the Bodhisattva, whose life in the Tao is pure and not at all dyed in evils. If I begin to talk about the various teachings given out by the Tathagata, there will be no end however long through ages I may go on. They are like an endless series of chains. But once you have an insight into the Buddha-mind, nothing in Lore is left to you to attain.
"I have kept you standing long enough, fare you well!"
Layman Pang proclaimed one day when Ma-tsu appeared on the platform: "Here is the Original Body altogether unbedimmed! Raise your eyes to it!" Ma-tsu looked straight downward. Said Pang, "How beautifully the master plays on the first-class stringless lute!" The master looked straight up. Pang made a bow, and the master returned to his own room. Pang followed him and said, "A while ago you made a fool of yourself, did you not?"
Someone asked: "What is the Buddha?"
"Mind is the Buddha, and there's no other."
A monk asked: "Without resorting to the four statements and an endless series of negations, can you tell me straightway what is the idea of our Patriarch's coming from the West?"
The master said: "I don't feel like answering it today. You go to the Western Hall and ask Shih-tsang about it."
The monk went to the Western Hall and saw the priest, who pointing at his head with a finger said, "My head aches today and I am unable to explain it to you today. I advise you to go to Brother Hai."
[1. Ho-koji in Japanese. He was one of the greatest disciples of Ma, and for further quotations see my Essays on Zen, I, II, and III.]
The monk now called on Hai, and Hai said: "As to that I do not understand."
The monk finally returned to the master and told him about his adventure. Said the master: "Tsang's head is black while Hai's is white."
A monk asked: "Why do you teach that Mind is no other than Buddha?"
"In order to make a child stop its crying."
"When the crying is stopped, what would you say?"
"Neither Mind nor Buddha."
"What teaching would you give to him who is not in these two groups?"
"I will say, 'It is not a something.'
"If you unexpectedly interview a person who is in it what would you do?" finally, asked the monk.
"I will let him realize the great Tao."
The master asked Pai-chang, one of his chief disciples: How would you teach others?"
Pai-chang raised his hossu.
The master remarked, "Is that all? No other way?"
Pai-chang threw the hossu down.
A monk asked: "How does a man set himself in harmony with the Tao?"
"I am already out of harmony."
Tan-yuan, one of Ma-tsu's personal disciples, came back from his pilgrimage. When he saw the master, he drew a circle on the floor and after making bows stood on it facing the master. Said Ma-tsu: "So you wish to become a Buddha?"
The monk said: "I do not know the art of putting my own eyes out of focus."
"I am not your equal."
The monk had no answer.
One day in the first month of the fourth year of Chen-yuan (788), while walking in the woods at Shih-men Shan, Ma-tsu noticed a cave with a flat floor. He said to his attendant monk, "My body subject to decomposition will return to earth here in the month to come." On the fourth of the second month, he was indisposed as he predicted, and after a bath he sat cross-legged and passed away.