Monday, March 31, 2014

Who Is It?

What is the master [within you] who at this very moment is seeing and hearing?

If you reply, as most do, that it is Mind or Nature or Buddha or one’s Face before birth or one’s Original Home or Koan or Being or Nothingness or Emptiness or Form-and-Color or the Known or the Unknown or Truth or Delusion, or say something or remain silent, or regard it as Enlightenment or Ignorance, you fall into error at once.

What is more, if you are so foolhardy as to doubt the reality of this master, you bind yourself though you use no rope. However much you try to know it through logical reasoning or to name or call it, you are doomed to failure. And even though all of you becomes one mass of questioning as you turn inward and intently search the very core of your being, you will find nothing that can be termed Mind or Essence.

Yet should someone call your name, something from within will hear and respond. Find out this instant who it is!

If you push forward with your last ounce of strength at the very point where the path of your thinking has been blocked, and then, completely stymied, leap with hands high in the air into the tremendous abyss of fire confronting you — into the ever-burning flame of your own primordial nature — all ego-consciousness, all delusive feelings and thoughts and perceptions will perish with your ego-root and the true source of your Self-nature will appear. You will feel resurrected, all sickness having completely vanished, and will experience genuine peace and joy.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Meifumado Ni Ochin

In Tang Dynasty Zen, onward to Japanese Zen (fusing with Shinto), Enlightenment is primordial. It is one's original essence, or nature. In fact, Enlightenment is the essence-nature of all of what goes by the name Nature. Thus, one does not have to "transcend" the ordinary world, and in particular one need not go to become a monk in a remote mountain monastery in order to fully realize this Essence.

This makes for an interesting deepening of the "religious" idea of Nirvana propounded by the Mahayana sects -- that making a bowl of tea or practicing with a wooden sword can be, and is, absolutely as "enlightened" and "enlightening" as chanting sutras, banging a gong, or bowing to Buddha statues in an incense-thick temple. Nirvana is right here now.

What makes an activity "Zen" and "nirvanic" or not has nothing to do with the external form or name, but with whether one is in clinging-mind or in "empty mind."

The early Buddhist forest monks practiced a mental discipline of being directly and brilliantly aware of the body and surroundings at all times before and beyond any thinking. Sometimes this is translated "mindfulness." But it is also Mushin, or "empty mind."

Japanese swordsmen also developed this empty mind training. One of their techniques was Mokuso, a form of sitting meditation done before sword practice.

Conscious mind stirred up by thoughts gives birth to an "ego" sense that experiences fear. In Japanese Zen, fear can only be conquered within the mind, and this is done by "stilling thoughts" in order to strip away egotism and see what is brilliantly here-now.

In Mokuso, as breathing deepens and becomes steady, thinking ends, yet consciousness or awareness does not. The result is an inconceivable state in which the senses regains original purity and a clean and direct cognition becomes possible.

For Japanese swordsmen, the test of direct cognition was a simple one: if (whether in practice or actual battle) one could parry or evade an attack and make a "hit" on one's enemy without any thinking or any hesitation or any consciously formed "intention" of doing so, one had attained the "empty mind,"  Muga Mushin.

Thus, "Enlightenment" was not something to be attained in another lifetime, or at the end of a long and strenuous religious practice segregated from society, but right here and now in the midst of the dust and noise. What's more, this enlightenment wasn't a remote matter of faith supported by doctrine or ritual but was experiential, direct and real.

Thus, there is a Japanese saying that the "do" (way) is not found in the realm of enlightenment, but in the hell-realms. One finds the true self by "falling into the pit of hell" (meifumado ni ochin).  To study Zen is to go cheerfully to hell.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

84,000 Defilements from Ichi-nen, the "One Thought"

Q. I was reading Hui-Neng's Platform Sutra and he talks of "crushing the 84,000 defilements." I wonder what "defilement" can mean in Zen. Is there anyone to be defiled?

A. The Zen notion of "defilement" is subtler than the standard Buddhist one, and it's also more directly useful in everyday life. In Zen, a "defilement" is a clinging-thought, a mental fixation on a sound, a form or a color. Master Takuan Soho says that in learning swordsmanship, this is a "suki," a moment of absence from your whole mind and body, that allows the enemy to cut you down. WHACK! When your head is full of thoughts you stop being able to see what's right in front of you. Such "defilements" are in themselves just transient and momentary, and so present no special problem. However, supposing "you" get into the habit of forming clinging-thoughts, and fixating on a sound, a form or a color, and acting on these fixations in the belief that they're more real than your sensory experience. In that case, you are said by the Zen Masters to be suddenly "transmigrating" through the Three Worlds and the Six Realms. This is a colorful way of saying that you've lost sight of the True Nature. You confuse your "self" now with this mental fixation, now with that one. It's like a chunk of ice forgetting that it's originally water. Stop thinking for just a little while and you'll be right as rain again.

Q. Why do you say "water" is always there first, before "ice"?

A. Who's talking about "what's there first?" Ice isn't something other than water, so there's no problem about which comes first or not. The Zen point is that thinking freezes the field of sensory experiencing into rigid shapes (names-and-forms). The shapes are transient because they'll eventually melt again. Yet they're taken by ignorance for the reality. Once the shapes melt, it becomes clear there's only one substance "in" and "behind" them. It is just your Original Mind. Since there's no "two" to oppose to the "one," it's not even "one." You do not need to add a dharma of water to a dharma of ice, because they're not inherently (originally) different!

This, in Zen, is the unity of "substance" and "function." However, something mysterious happens when a person habitually identifies with a name-and-form, which is not the substance or the function, but a sort of mental snapshot, a "thought" about It. Such is the laughable idea of different "things" existing separately in space and time, a "self" that is opposed to "others," and so on. This is clinging-thinking, or ignorance.

Q. What's wrong with ignorance?

A. Congratulations! You've just created all 84,000 defilements. That was just a little joke, by the way. Still, it illustrates the Zen notion of "defilement" -- not having attachments as such, but to be unable to get out of the endless stupidity of your thinking. If you have 84,000 thoughts, and you're taken in by them, then you have 84,000 defilements. However, you actually "have" nothing at all. There are no defilements, there is only idiotic thinking. See it directly and wake up!

Q. Why do you insist that there's even a person to see It directly and wake up, or not?

Q. Master Rinzai called him "the True Person Who is No-Person." So listen closely, because I'm speaking to you. If you have 84,000 thoughts and you are taken in by them, they are "defilements" according to Zen. If you are not taken in by them, they are not even thoughts, because where is there any defined thinker of thoughts? Do thoughts think themselves? So, are you taken in by them, or not?

A. This is illogical. Why should it make any difference if I'm taken in or not if I'm the "True Person" Rinzai speaks of?

Q. Let's backtrack. You asked me to explain the Zen use of the word "defilements." I explained it. The explanation goes beyond conceptual terms, as it points directly to experience. If you are facing an enemy holding a sword, and you start thinking about where and when he's going to hit you, you will be cut down. If being cut down doesn't make a difference to you, bravo! Nonetheless, that's the Zen notion of "defilement." Your spontaneity is hindered by thinking. The "you" that gets taken in by thinking is a "user illusion" of thinking itself. What question do you still have?

A. I'm not worried about being hindered by my thinking. Why are you?

Q. I don't tell you to be worried about it. If you enjoy sticking to your 84,000 thoughts and the hallucinatory user-illusion that there is a small "someone" behind them to be hindered or not hindered anything, then by all means, do so!

If you hold your hand in front of your face while the train is passing Mt Fuji, you won't see Mt Fuji. You'll just see your hand. Maybe that's more interesting to you. But you asked me to explain the Zen notion of "defilement." I explained it. It's like a hand obstructing your view of Mt. Fuji. Just don't say Mt. Fuji is worthless to look at until you've seen it.

Zen is just this -- either wake up or don't. See Mt Fuji or look at your hand. Just shut up with the arguing and complaining!

Seeing the Morning Star

Zen is what turned Shakyamuni into a Buddha. He woke up when he saw the morning star after all night meditation. "Ah!"

Therefore, it's clear that "Buddhism" comes out of Zen. In fact there's no such thing as Buddhism apart from the speculations of academic eggheads -- in Asia, they just say "the Buddha Dharma."

The essential Buddha Dharma is the Dharma of Sudden Awakening. Shakyamuni wordlessly transmitted it to Mahakasyapa on Vulture Peak, who woke up (experienced satori) when his Teacher smiled and held up a flower.

The direct Mind-to-Mind transmission continued through twenty-eight Indian meditation Masters before Bodhidharma brought it to China. The Chinese had their own Buddha named Lao-Tzu, but Zen still hit China like a thunderclap out of a clear blue sky or a big iron bell ringing in empty space.

Zen is the essence of the Buddha Dharma. In Tibet they call it Mahamudra and Dzogchen. There will always be people trying to cover it up with mind and intellect, words and letters, but Zen always eludes these people.

"Ah! Ah! Ah!"

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

See It Directly and Wake Up

See It directly and wake up.
Intellectual ideas can't grasp it.
Words and concepts obscure its brilliance.
It just functions everywhere without any problem.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Attaining a Mind That is Everywhere and Nowhere

In Zen swordsmanship there are the words hen and sho. Hen means "being partial with a thing." When the mind is directed to a part of the body it is partial or one-sided. On the other hand when the mind fills up the whole body it is said to be sho, meaning "right" or "truth." The right-mind is spread all over the body and is not at all partial or identified. The partial-mind is one-sided, attached to a thing. Zen dislikes prejudice and one-sidedness. We also disregard absorption in all things, because this means identification with something and becomes partial (hen). If there is no thought about where to direct the mind it will be everywhere. Instead of keeping and guarding it as though it were a cat tied to a lead, if you leave it to itself and let it move about it will never go out of your body. Strive (kufu) not to keep it in one place, not to localize or partialize it. Make the whole body the mind. Only by unflagging striving can one attain this. When the mind seems to be nowhere it is everywhere.


When there is some thought in the mind you cannot hear what someone says even though you hear the sound, because your mind is engrossed in what you are thinking. You cannot hear what you should hear, and you cannot see what you should see. Nothing registers in your mind. When you let it go it will become mushin (no-mind) and you can hear and see what it necessary. However, when you think to remove the thought, that very same thought becomes an obstacle in your mind. If you do not think anything at all, then everything in the mind disappears by itself and you will be in a state of mushin. It will take time to be able to empty the mind. If you are always trying to let go of a thought your mind will eventually reach the state of mushin.

(Translated by Nobuko Hirose)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Boil Some Water

Waking up is just seeing it directly as it is, not how it "should" be or how someone said it was in a book you once read.
Rather than living by received ideas, notions and concepts such as good and bad, self and other, Zen and not-Zen, and so on and so on, we awakened Zen free spirits just laugh and boil some water or look at the white clouds.
Who cares what Zen is or what it isn't? Who cares what Foyan said? He's gone. Can you utter a living word right now about this experience? Ha. I didn't think so!
Seeing it as it is and laughing doesn't sound logical, since logic is about concepts, and it doesn't sound as if it will give you the sadistic satisfaction of dominating other people with your unrelenting yappery and supposedly superior intellect. That's right -- it isn't and it won't!
Waking up won't fulfill your fantasy of being a Zen Master. But it's still extremely brilliant and wonderful even when it's a little subdued. "Sesame flatcake." "Three pounds of fingerling potatoes with dirt still clinging to them." "Zhenzhou turnips are big!"
Wake up and laugh. Shake the snow out of your ears and we'll build a snow Zendo. It's all just like this.