Friday, January 30, 2015

Seeing the Ganges

Then King Prasenajit rose and said to the Buddha, "In the past, when I had not yet received the teachings of the Buddha, I met Katyayana and Vairatiputra, both of whom said that this body is annihilated after death, and that this is Nirvana. Now, although I have met the Buddha, I still have doubts about their words. How much I wish to be enlightened to the ways and means to perceive and realize the true mind, thereby proving that it transcends production and extinction! All those who have karmic outflows also wish to be instructed on this subject."

The Buddha said to the great king, "Now I ask you, as it is now is your physical body indestructible and living forever? Or does it change and go bad?"

"World Honored One, this body of mine will keep changing until it eventually becomes extinct."

The Buddha said, "Great king, you have not yet become extinct. How do you know you will become extinct?"

"World Honored One, although my impermanent, changing, and decaying body has not yet become extinct, I observe it now, and every passing thought fades away. Each new one fails to remain, but gradually perishes like fire turning to ashes. This perishing without cease convinces me that this body will eventually become completely extinct."

The Buddha said, "So it is."

"Great king, at your present age you are already old and declining. How do your appearance and complexion compare to when you were a youth?"

"World Honored One, in the past when I was young my skin was moist and shining. When I reached the prime of life, my blood and breath were full. But now in my declining years, as I race into old age, my form is withered and wizened and my spirit dull. My hair is white and my face is in wrinkles and I haven’t much time remaining. How can I be compared to how I was when I was full of life?"

The Buddha said, "Great king, your appearance is not declining so suddenly as all that."

The king said, "World Honored One, the change has been a hidden transformation of which I honestly have not been aware. I have come to this gradually through the passing of winters and summers. How did it happen? In my twenties, I was still young, but my features had aged since the time I was ten. My thirties were a further decline from my twenties, and now at sixty-two I look back on my fifties as hale and hearty. World Honored One, I am contemplating these hidden transformations. Although the changes wrought by this process of dying are evident through the decades, I might consider them further in finer detail: these changes do not occur just in periods of twelve years; there are actually changes year by year. Not only are there yearly changes, there are also monthly transformations. Nor does it stop at monthly transformations; there are also differences day by day. Examining them closely, I find that kshana by kshana, thought after thought, they never stop. And so I know my body will keep changing until it is extinct."

The Buddha told the great king, "By watching the ceaseless changes of these transformations, you awaken and know of your extinction, but do you also know that at the time of extinction there is something in your body which does not become extinct?"

King Prasenajit put his palms together and exclaimed, "I really do not know."

The Buddha said, "I will now show you the nature which is not produced and not extinguished. Great king, how old were you when you first saw the waters of the Ganges?"

The king said, "When I was three years old my compassionate mother led me to visit the Goddess Jiva. We passed a river, and at the time I knew it was the waters of the Ganges."

The Buddha said, "Great king, you have said that when you were twenty you had deteriorated from when you were ten. Day by day, month by month, year by year until you have reached your sixties, in thought after thought there has been change. Yet when you saw the Ganges River at the age of three, how was it different from when you were thirteen?"

The king said, "It was no different from when I was three, and even now when I am sixty-two it is still no different."

The Buddha said, "Now you are mournful that your hair is white and your face is wrinkled. In the same way that your face is definitely more wrinkled than it was in your youth, has the seeing with which you look at the Ganges aged, so that it is old now but was young when you looked at the river as a child in the past?"

The king said, "No, World Honored One."

The Buddha said, "Great king, your face is in wrinkles, but the essential nature of your seeing has not yet wrinkled. What wrinkles is subject to change. What does not wrinkle does not change. What changes will become extinct, but what does not change is fundamentally free of production and extinction. How can it be subject to your birth and death? So you have no need to be concerned with what Maskari Goshaliputra and the others say: that when this body dies, you cease to exist."

The king believed the words that he had heard, and he understood that when we leave this body, we go on to another. He and all the others in the great assembly were elated at having gained this new understanding.

-Shurangama Sutra

Empty and Bright

The pure Dharma-body is without coming or going:
It does not arise or cease
And is constantly in peace and happiness.
It is empty and bright, and shines of itself:
It is without obstructions.
It reaches to even the deepest darkness,
And transcends all limits.

Iron Into Gold

When the vital-energy rises (to the head and produces tension) you should establish your will like a mountain, and calm your mind like the sea. Sit erect on your cushion and contemplate the tan-t’ien (Jap. Hara) with the mind’s eye. (When you are troubled by headaches) gently put the feeling of doubt into the tan-t’ien. Through this unawareness and non-attention the hua-t’ou will quickly ripen. Eventually the body will seem to be like empty space; it will seem both to exist, and not to exist. When the mind and body are very light and comfortable, you will gradually enter into auspicious states. As you are now transmuting iron into gold, you ought to be very careful. Be diligent!


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Satori Experiment

I hereby propose a modest Zen experiment to you: stop thinking for four minutes while in an alert, fully conscious waking state. All that you need for this experiment are four unoccupied minutes. Just throw yourself into it as if off the Golden Gate Bridge. Start now. Ready? Set? Go!

Can you do it, or not? If not, why not? If I say to make a fist for four minutes, you can do that. Right? Or if I say not to blink your eyes for four minutes, you can even do that. And with training, you could learn to hold your breath for four minutes!

What's the trouble? Isn't this thinking business something that is under your control?

"Are you telling me to fall into some kind of yogic trance?" The opposite of that. No. I said to do it while fully awake, alert and conscious of your body and its surroundings. So try now.

Huh! Ah so desu ka. So you've bravely tried what I suggest. And you must now admit that something was blocking your attempt. You failed utterly and miserably. You simply can't do it. Thoughts kept coming up no matter how you tried to adjust your mind.

Don't get frustrated. It's hard. Just muster your will and your spirit to break through and try the same experiment again later today or tonight or tomorrow. You know how to get to Carnegie Hall, don't you?

One day soon as a result of your one pointed efforts, I promise, you will be able to stop your thinking while fully alert sometime during those four minutes. Then something will happen to you. Or rather, let's say that three things will happen to you, although they are really all one thing:

-You will drop all stress, all tension, all sense of effort and enter an inconceivable, indescribable state of brilliance characterized by vivid wonder and joy, as if all your senses suddenly lost their dust and came into sharp focus at once.

-Your original nature or "root-consciousness" (Bodhi) will wake up to itself without any further effort on your part, giving you the startling impression of being infinite, while also being "empty" of any defined sense of "self." Empty, yet infinite.

-You will experience a great rush of bodily energy.

All of your former anguish, stress and irritability gone in a single instant, blazing with Zen truth, you will realize that I was not lying to you, or trying to torture you with my incessant talk about satori. No -- I was right, and the Zen Masters were right, and Buddha was right, and now you too are right.

NOTE: Is getting satori as sketched out above the only way to Daigo-Tettei, Great Enlightenment? Not so. If you find that you cannot cut off thinking in a flash, then you can simply contemplate your bare awareness and practice not fixating on or pursuing any thoughts even as they arise. Just ignore them: take the attitude of "no matter, never mind." Let go of every mental appearance, let it self-liberate into infinite space. "If you do not follow one thought, the next thought cannot appear," says the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. This is just taking the attitude of a rock wall, a withered tree overhanging a deep gorge, an ancient strip of silk, a white ox in the blinding snow. This is the way taught by Hongzhi, sometimes called "silent illumination Zen," and later by Dogen as "shikantaza". It is not as difficult as cutting off thinking in a flash, but it takes more time and patience. If you practice this Zen method every day you will never experience "satori" as such but gradually you will settle into Daigo-Tettei, the inconceivable state of the Buddhas -- a snowy egret standing on the riverbank in morning mist, a hazy moon shining through black winter fog.