Friday, February 28, 2014

Manjusri and the Art of Zen Archery

The Buddha asked, “You have entered the inconceivable samādhi?”
Mañjuśrī replied, “No, World-Honored One, I am the inconceivable. Not seeing a mind that can conceive, how can I be said to enter the inconceivable samādhi? When I first activated the bodhi mind, I resolved to enter this samādhi. Now I think that I have entered this samādhi without any mental appearances. To learn archery, a student has to practice for a long time to acquire the skill. Because of his longtime practice, he now shoots without using his mind, and all his arrows hit the target. I have trained in the same way. When I started learning the inconceivable samādhi, I had to focus my mind on one object. After practicing for a long time, I have come to accomplishment. I now am constantly in this samādhi without thinking.”

Friday, February 21, 2014

Ask the Tigers

"Tokusan suddenly experienced great enlightenment."

One often reads bare statements like this in the old Zen texts. Sometimes it's only, "At these words, he experienced a deep realization."

What is being described?

Once upon a time in China, nobody wanted to hear anyone make grand or minor statements about Zen unless a Master had already publicly attested to that person's "enlightenment."

Yet the public seal of approval can't be confused with "enlightenment" itself, which is an experience only the person who is enlightened has.

There are some strange characters who pop up in Zen stories who are said by certified Masters to be "enlightened" but have no certification and are not monks -- an old woman who owns a tea shop, a father and son who roam the mountains as charcoal makers and, when asked a question about Zen, roar like tigers.

"You Are Not Enlightened"

Does this sentence make sense? Let's break it down and see.

You = the original mind, the True Self. Nothing else can hear me when I speak and reply in turn. There is no other "you." When I speak to you, I speak to that which can hear, understand, and reply. (Although this statement sounds axiomatic, and is in fact straightforward and undeniable, it is also profoundly mysterious and, not to mince words, awe-inspiring. In ancient Chinese Zen and also in Taoist meditation there was a "direct investigation" method, whereby one engaged in a sustained effort of mentally searching inside one's body for the "Old Master." Taking a seat in a quiet place, or lying down flat in a dark room, one systematically turns one's whole attention toward each aspect of the body in turn, closely investigating the breathing, pulse, heartbeat, skin, eyelids, pores, bones, &c to find the location of this "solitary one that I am." Can this "Great Sage" be found anywhere in the scope of what is accessible to awareness? If not, what does it mean? Actually, Shakyamuni Buddha also taught this direct investigation method in the oldest Pali Suttas, and an even more refined version for each of the senses in the Shurangama Sutra.)

Are = A form of the verb "to be," therefore Being. The Being that is you. The ancient Indians said, Tat Tvam Asi, or Thou Art That. (Everybody thinks they know what "Being" is already, but when you try to articulate it exactly, you are "just like a dumb man trying to recount an amazing dream." Many books have been written trying to find out how to even ask "the question of Being." It seems that while "beings" seem to appear with certainty, the Being of beings -- the matrix they spring out from -- is dark and obscure, impenetrable to language.)

Not = The entry of an absolute negation. The emergence of basic contradiction. Here language seems to run into an impassible barrier. In trying to find Being, it finds only what it is not! But as this "not" functions in the sentence we are breaking open, it modifies rather than standing opposed to the word "are." It suggests the way your Being be-s this right here now rather than that or the other, somewhere elsewhere at another time, which brings in the mysterious element of "time" and also the difference of "things in space." Yet, how can a being not be? A deep mystery, this "Not!"--  like Joshu's "Mu," or the Vedantic "Neti Neti." This pencil, here on my desk, is not the pencil on your desk. They are both pencils, yet one is not the other. This pencil is not that pencil, yet both pencils share a certain identity, since they are both obviously pencils and not crayons. It's with this "Not" that the possibility opens of you not being what you claim to be, not at all like that other person over there, or maybe just would like to and maybe will someday become. You're not Buddha, you're just a dog! It's with the emergence of the "not" that Being itself seems to  plunge into chaotic oblivion, ceasing to be itself. What a steep decline! What a drastic fall! And imagine my savagery in imprinting on you this seal of ultimate dismissal, this ensign of total ruin and catastrophe! The demons enter, and dance wildly as demons do.

Enlightened = Lit up, out in the open, immediate, accessible, real. Your Being in the sense of mindedness, heart, xin, is hidden from me. Yes, I can instantly see your body, your eyes and skin and hair, I can hear your words and read what you write and argue against your opinions, all this is out in the open, but the deepest mystery of you which is your awareness, the very taste of your own Being, is obscure and totally impenetrable to my perception. Yunmen says, "Everyone has this same radiant Light -- so when you try to look directly into it, why is it dark and obscure?"  Why does Yunmen say, then, that everybody has the radiant light?

Indian Buddhism, like the ancient Vedas, came up with the notion that there is only one consciousness, one pure and radiant light. According to this idea, the differences between you and I are trivial and insignificant when compared to our basic mysterious sameness. Bodhidharma said, "You ask me a question. That's Mind in you. I reply. That's Mind in me." All that appears appears in and by this Light. So, any appearance is a direct function of the mind-essence, which is "root-Bodhi" or original enlightenment. It is in this sense that "Enlightenment is all there is." The sky allows many things to appear, but it is always just the sky. So perhaps instead of saying that this or that person is enlightened or not enlightened, we should say rather that people are or are not awakened to their originally enlightening mind-essence.

Zen is cutting off thought-discriminations and seeing It directly. Seeing what? The sky of reality itself. So what is enlightenment? What is "not enlightenment"? It seems that everything arrives already enlightened. And Mind itself does all the enlightening, since it is the Light itself. Seeing is It, so is hearing. Wake up instantly to This!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cut Off Thinking

Just accord with your conditions and exhaust your old karma and do not create new calamity. The mind contains brightness. Therefore, your old levels of understanding must all be abandoned. Jingming (Vimalakirti, from the sutra of the same name) says, ‘Get rid of your possessions.’ The Lotus Sutra says, ‘Twenty years spent removing dung.’This was only the removal of viewpoints from within the mind. [The Lotus Sutra] also says, ‘Eliminate the dung of silly talk.’ Thus, the tathagatagarbha is itself originally empty and silent. It does not allow a single dharma to remain.
If it is uncaused, it cannot be said that it exists or does not exist. When it responds to causes, it also does not leave footprints. Just understand in this way. Today I only direct you to abide in silence. This is practicing the All-Buddhas-Vehicle. The sutra says, ‘You should give birth to a mind that is without anything upon which to stand.’ All of the sentient beings in the wheel of birth and death; thinking causes them to move [along the wheel]. Create thoughts and you will be endlessly within the six paths. This will cause you to be afflicted with suffering and all kinds of bitterness.
Jing Ming said, ‘Like monkeys, it is difficult to transform people’s minds because the various types of dharmas restrain their minds.’ After that, they are subdued. Therefore, ‘When thoughts are bom, every type of dharma is brn. When thoughts extinguish, every type of dharma is extinguished.’
Now if you only study no-mind, all causation will cease. Do not give birth to false thoughts and distinctions. There are no ‘people’ and there is no ‘self”. There is no ‘desire’ or ‘anger’. No ‘hate’, no ‘love’. No ‘victory’, no ‘defeat’. Simply abandon these like the many types of false thoughts. The nature of the self is, from the beginning, pure. This is practicing bodhi, Dharma, Buddha, etc.
Zhigong said, ‘The original essence is created in your own mind.’ How could this be sought in the written word (the sutras)? Now, only know your own mind. Cut off thinking. In this way, false thoughts and defilements will not arise. Jingming says, ‘Only lay out a bed for sleeping while sick and lie down.’ Thoughts do not arise. Now as an invalid, climbing over these objects (of the mind) comes to a rest, and false thoughts extinguish. This is bodhi.
If you do not taint the mind as it appears, this is called ‘untainted wisdom’. You will not create human and god karma. You will not create hell-being karma. You will not give rise to any thoughts. All conditions will extinguish and you will not be re-bom. This very body and mind are a self-created person. If [the process] of re-birth is not completely stopped, then you will be re-born as you wish. The sutra says, ‘Bodhisattvas are born into the bodies that they wish to be born into.’ This is so. The instant that they lose their understanding of no-mind, they will become attached to forms and create them. All of this belongs to Mara-karma.
Therefore, Bodhidharma’s wall-gazing. He did not command people to have any viewpoints. This is why it is said that forgetting mental dispositions is the path of the buddhas, while distinctions are Mara-vishayas . Even while you are deluded, this nature will not diminish. At the time of awakening, it will not gain [anything]. Naturally, your own nature is from the beginning without delusion or awakening. It is my One Mind essence that fundamentally fills the ten directions and the sky realm. Even if you were to engage in creation, how could you be away from the empty sky? The empty sky is fundamentally without the concepts of ‘great’ and ‘small’. It is untainted and unconditioned. It is non-delusion and non-awakening. The clever see that there are no ‘things’. There are also no ‘humans’ and no ‘buddhas’, down to even the tiniest width of a hair.

-Huangbo Xiyun (translation by Jeffrey M. Leahy)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Zhaozhou's Iron Broom of Instant Awakening

Rujing addressed the monks, saying, "Thoughts in the mind are confused and scattered. How can they be controlled? In the story about Zhaozhou and whether or not a dog has the buddha nature, there is an iron broom named 'Wu.' If you use it to sweep thoughts, they just become more numerous. Then you frantically sweep harder, trying to get rid of even more thoughts. Day and night you sweep with all your might, furiously working away. All of a sudden, the broom breaks into vast emptiness, and you instantly penetrate the myriad differences and thousand variations of the universe."

Return Your Mind to the Inexhaustible Numinous Light

Yangshan asked Guishan, "What is the true abode of the Buddha?"

Guishan said: "Think of the unfathomable mystery and return your mind to the inexhaustible numinous light. When thoughts are exhausted you arrive at the source, where true nature is revealed as eternally abiding. In that place there is no difference between affairs and principle, and the true Buddha is manifested."

Upon hearing these words, Yangshan experienced great enlightenment.

A Brightness As Brilliant As Lightning

Student: Why do we not gain virtue by visiting holy places?

Bodhidharma: Through magical powers, evil spirits such as the Demon Kings, Devils, and Asuras, etc., can disguise themselves to appear as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. They are not Buddhas although they may appear to be. Since Buddha is your mind, do not bow to any aspect representing him.

Realize the mind and awaken it constantly, for if one practices without attaching to the thought of performance, he will immediately enter a realm of Buddha vision.

Even one who has initially awakened the mind, may still not be tranquil and might see supernatural visions in a dream. Even so, he should not chase them or lack confidence in the path.

He should realize that everything was made significant by a mind which is not outside. At that time, when the remaining habitual karmic patterns and potentials have faded away, and the self nature is fully disclosed, you may see a light brighter than sunshine coming toward you.

If you have this kind of experience, it will play an important part in developing awakening. Such experiences are unique to each individual and cannot be eclipsed by another person.

Sometimes when you are walking, stopping, sitting or lying down in the quiet forest, you might perceive a very large or very small silent light. Do not talk about it to anyone and do not attach to it. It might be the light from your self nature.

Sometimes when you are walking, stopping, sitting, or lying down at night, you may perceive a brightness as brilliant as lightning.

Do not be surprised by this for it may be a sign that your self nature is becoming clearer.

Sometimes the moon and stars appear clearly in your dreams. This also may be a sign that your self-mind is liberating from phenomenal objectivity. You should not speak of such things to anyone, as it is only your own experience.

-from Bodhidharma's "Hsieh Mai Lun"

Sudden Awakening

Zen is resolving the great life-and-death matter
to your own complete satisfaction.
Nobody can give this to you with words or teachings.
It has to be realized directly by you right here now.


No phenomenon lasts even so long as an instant. Look into this. See it clearly.
There is nothing to be attached to, as all phenomena are ungraspable (formless, instantaneous).
This dream is like identifying with a shadow. Like investing an echo with illusory form.
A scarecrow stands in a field and crows rawk-rawk at it. A rope gets mistaken for snake after snake.
Cast away all distinctions. Become without thought and without mind.
Phenomena are the hallucinatory offspring of thoughts, and have no more reality than thoughts. Divest yourself of all thoughts, and wake up!

-Lao Hu

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


It pervades
all the universes.
Instantly both here and there,
but always before this or that.
Brightly shining
yet dark and obscure.
yet inexplicable.
Call it ancient --
but look, it's moving your tongue.
It's the clear substance
of your senses,
the empty form
before you call it "mind" --
the inner brightness
of the Dark Hall.
without back, front or sides,
do not try to conceive it.
Let it be
and it flashes like lightning.
Hide it away,
and still it gleams.
It's the amazing starry sky
of the whole secret.
Nobody can hold onto it,
or explain its power.
Yet already it knows

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Just Make the Effort To Let Go of Thinking and See it Directly

Suppose you were to tell me, "But my knees are screwed up, I can't bend them right to do Zazen and I can't sit in Seiza, it hurts too much, so I can't do Mokuso, either. I guess it's hopeless. I'll never get enlightened." My immediate response is: You don't need to do Zazen or Mokuso. Zazen and Mokuso can be helpful for attaining concentration, but they're not absolutely necessary. The important thing is to be able to let go of thoughts and try to clearly see what's before thinking, not in a theoretical way but for you right in the Here-Now. If you make the effort you can do this anywhere and at any time. Just set aside some small amount of time every day to do nothing but look directly into this. Go and sit on a bench in a park to do it, or walk in slow circles around the block during your lunch hour while looking intensely and alertly for the answer. Resolve the Great Matter! Don't be distracted by the idea that "I can't get enlightened because I'm not doing Zazen," or "To really wake up I'd have to go and be a monk in a monastery." People wake up all the time in the midst of doing ordinary stuff. You've probably had some awakenings already. Let those guide you. There are no books you have to study, no special yoga postures you have to learn, in order to directly and intuitively know your original self!