Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Bird Out of Cage

Zen cannot be attained by lectures, discussions, and debates. Only those of great perceptive capacity can clearly understand it. For this reason the ancient adepts did not waste a moment. Even when they weren’t calling on teachers to ascertain specific truths, they were involved in real Zen practice, so they eventually attained mature serenity in a natural way. They were not wrapped up in the illusions of the world. If you can do this, at some point you will suddenly turn the light of your mind around and see through illusions to the real self. Then you will understand where everything comes from—mundane passions and illusions, the material world, form and emptiness, light and darkness, principle and essence, mystery and marvel. Once you understand this clearly, then you will not be caged or trapped by anything at all, mundane or transmundane.

-Master Ying-An

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Entering the Infinite

Student: OMG, I just realized something today. For almost my whole life I've intellectualized everything. Even my closest friendships, even my love affairs, my work, my play, my days off. Everything. Even Zen. Over the past few years, I've read hundreds of Zen books, and I've intellectualized them all instantly, every single sentence in every one of these books, every time. I'm trapped! I can't stop intellectualizing! I'm in a box and I can't get out. It's terrifying! Sensei, please help me right now.

Sensei: This sounds like a terrifying predicament. Tell me, so I can understand a little better. When you "intellectualize" things, what is it that happens in your body and mind?

Student: Wh-what?


Sensei: What does it feel like, this "intellectualizing" that you do. Can you describe it?

Student: I don't know . . . Vague . . . Anxious. Tensed up. A kind of weird dislocation feeling, a feeling like I'm removed from my surroundings, isolated & alone.

Sensei: Where?

Student: What?

Sensei: Where are you isolated & alone? In what space?

Student: In my head!

Sensei: Where in your head? Front, back, or middle? Upper or lower? Shut your eyes if it will help you to concentrate. Point to the place where you're feeling the "intellectualizing" happen.

Student: [Points to forehead]. There.

Sensei: Right on the surface?

Student: No . . . About an inch inside, I think.

Sensei: Is that where you feel yourself thinking?

Student: Yes.

Sensei: Hmm.


Sensei: KAI!

Student: Jesus!

Sensei: What do you feel like now?

Student: I'm in a sweat. My skin is tingling. But for an instant there I . . . wasn't thinking! [Laughs]. I wasn't in my head, or out of it. But I was intensely aware. So strange!

Sensei: If this simple shout of mine could shock you out of intellectualizing everything, which you say you are used to doing all of the time, isn't it possible that you could find other ways to shock yourself, and might these instants of total "non-intellectualizing," once you've experienced enough of them to begin to explore in depth what they might mean to you as a human being, also point you to the Path you must follow? A Path of delight?

Student: [Laughs.] Maybe!

Sensei: What if I told you that all Zen students, in all of time and space, have had to learn how to "shatter the chain of thinking," which can only be done with energy, and that you're no different from them, and that now you've seen how "intellectualizing everything" blocks you from experiencing the instantaneous truth of life, you have an excellent "entryway" into Zen?

Student: Arigato!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Instant Enlightenment

If there is no such thing as instant enlight­enment, how can you free your mind of the twenty-five states of being in the three realms? How can you free your mind of the sensation of uncertainty?

Now there have already been professional priests coming here saying, “Perception is unobscured,” totally accepting perception and claiming that is right. That means they do not see what is not obscured. When I ask them about other worlds, they do not know; and when I question them about the senses and objects, it turns out they have not broken through. How can they imag­ine that the feelings and perceptions of ordinary people are exactly the same as instant enlightenment?

Today I say to everyone, just trust that there is such a thing as instant enlightenment. It is like a farmer finding an alchemi­cal pill as he plows the fields; after taking it, the whole family goes to heaven. It is also like a commoner being appointed prime minister.

In the Teachings it says that those ordinary feelings and per­ceptions of yours are like unbaked clay, which is useless before it has been fired. You have to bake it in a hot fire before it is use­ful; that is like an instant enlightenment.

When I came out of Szechwan, I only called on one person. I know this person’s talk was the same as the ancients. I once asked my teacher, “I’ve heard it said that there is enlightenment in Zen; is that so?” My teacher said, “If there were no enlightenment, how could it be attained? Just investigate in an easygoing way.” So I studied in a relaxed frame of mind. There was a certain Elder Fu, whose insight was so luminously clear that I used to go to him with questions. But he just used to tell me, “You must make a living on your own; don’t come questioning me.”

One day he recited a story to me: Zhaozhou showed some fire to a student and said, “Don’t call it fire. What is it?” I won­dered deeply at this: obviously it is fire — why not call it fire? I contemplated this for three years, always reflecting, “How dare I use the feelings and perceptions of an ordinary man to ask about the realization of sages?”

I have also heard what it says in the Lotus Scripture, “ This truth cannot be understood by the discriminations of discursive thought,” I have always kept this in mind. Today when you say you are right just as you are, that is because you have pro­duced an interpretative understanding, and so do not understand.

Once my teacher went to the residence of Judge Li, who invited him into the library. After lighting a fire, the judge picked up a copy of Transmission of the Lamp and said to the teacher, “Although I am a man of the world, I have always taken an inter­est in this path. Whenever I read this book I find many points I do not understand.” My teacher said, “This matter is not under­stood in that way. You need to have realization of enlightenment first. If you have enlightenment, you naturally need not ask oth­ers about whatever you do not understand. If you have no enlight­enment, even what understanding you do have is not yet right either.” The judge remarked, “My teacher, you have spoken rightly.”

As for me, since I was the superintendent of guests, I attained understanding at the fireside; after that, there was nothing I did not understand. You must see the reality of instant enlighten­ment yourself before you can attain it. No one in the Zen com­munities of the present time tells of it.

-Master Foyan

Monday, June 13, 2016

Inner Silence

Don Juan defied inner silence as a peculiar state of being in which thoughts were canceled out and one could function from a level other than that of daily awareness. He stressed that inner silence meant the suspension of the internal dialogue -- the perennial companion of thoughts -- and was therefore a state of profound quietude.

"The old sorcerers," don Juan said, "called it inner silence because it is a state in which perception doesn't depend on the senses. What is at work during inner silence is another faculty that man has, the faculty that makes him a magical being, the very faculty that has been curtailed, not by man himself but by some extraneous influence."

"What is this extraneous influence that curtails the magical faculty of man?" I asked. "That is the topic for a future explanation," don Juan replied, "not the subject of our present discussion, even though it is indeed the most serious aspect of the sorcery of the shamans of ancient Mexico."

"Inner silence," he continued, "is the stand from which everything stems in sorcery. In other words, everything we do leads to  that stand, which, like everything else in the world of sorcerers, doesn't reveal itself unless something gigantic shakes us." Don Juan said that the sorcerers of ancient Mexico devised endless ways to shake themselves or other sorcery practitioners at their foundations in order to reach that coveted state of inner silence. They considered the most far-fetched acts, which may seem totally unrelated to the pursuit of inner silence, such as, for instance, jumping into waterfalls or spending nights hanging upside down from the top branch of a tree, to be the key points that brought it into being.

Following the rationales of the sorcerers of ancient Mexico, don Juan stated categorically that inner silence was accrued, accumulated. In my case, he struggled to guide me to construct a core of inner silence in myself, and then add to it, second by second, on every occasion I practiced it. He explained that the sorcerers of ancient Mexico discovered that each individual had a different threshold of inner silence in terms of time, meaning that inner silence must be kept by each one of us for the length of time of our specific threshold before it can work.

"What did those sorcerers consider the sign that inner silence is working, don Juan?" I asked. "Inner silence works from the moment you begin to accrue it," he replied. "What the old sorcerers were after was the final, dramatic, end result of reaching that individual threshold of silence. Some very talented practitioners need only a few minutes of silence to reach that coveted goal. Others, less talented, need long periods of silence, perhaps more than one hour of complete quietude, before they reach the desired result. The desired result is what the old sorcerers called stopping the world, the moment when everything around us ceases to be what it's always been."

"This is the moment when sorcerers return to the true nature of man," don Juan went on. "The old sorcerers also called it total freedom. It is the moment when man the slave becomes man the free being, capable of feats of perception that defy our linear imagination."

Don Juan assured me that inner silence is the avenue that leads to a true suspension of judgment -- to a moment when sensory data emanating from the universe at large ceases to be interpreted by the senses; a moment when cognition ceases to be the force which, through usage and repetition, decides the nature of the world.

"Sorcerers need a breaking point for the workings of inner silence to set in," don Juan said. "The breaking point is like the mortar that a mason puts between bricks. It's only when the mortar hardens that the loose bricks become a structure."

From the beginning of our association, don Juan had drilled into me the value, the necessity, of inner silence. I did my best to follow his suggestions by accumulating inner silence second by second. I had no means to measure the effect of this accumulation, nor did I have any means to judge whether or not I had reached any threshold. I simply aimed doggedly at accruing it, not just to please don Juan but because the act of accumulating it had become a challenge in itself.

-Carlos Castaneda

Sunday, June 12, 2016


by Dudjom Lingpa

So I had the idea to put on some beautiful clothes made out of silk and brocade and go out and meet some people, but when I looked around I couldn’t find any. So I applied mud on my body for clothes, and for ornaments I stuck sticks and feathers in it. Then, thinking that these were the finest ornaments, I said, I have something stupid to tell people regarding putting mud and feathers on for clothing. So hark!  Listen to this foolish meditation of mud and feathers. Listen, observe and laugh.

Some meditators value good thoughts and try to block bad thoughts. This is like a dog which has come into your house, stolen some food, then escaped outside, so you close up all the doors and windows and grope in the dark. Some meditators, after compulsive ideation has dissolved, send an antidote after it which is like sending a hunting dog after a fox which has already escaped. Some meditators practice by looking at their thoughts from afar, like an old shepherd viewing his herds of cows and sheep over a flat plain, but if you are a garuda flying away from your nest, it’s too much to throw out the corpses of 21,000 mice in a single day.

Some meditators regard thoughts like a flash of lightening, and awareness like clear light, considering the nonduality of appearance and awareness to be the genuine path.

Some meditators believe the genuine path is as soon as a thought arises, recognizing the thought and thinker as nondual.

These practices are good for beginners, but if you continue to meditate this way, it’s like compounding delusion upon delusion. If you practice this way, and achieve joy, clarity and non-conceptuality, and an inflated sense of having ascended to some high tower from which you look down on others with a haughty attitude, like sitting in the saddle of a fine horse, or posing on a high throne as some lamas do, how can you ever hope to ascend from the depths of samsara? It’s like lifting a big stone out of the bottom of the ocean. Grasping still occurs and liberation is out of the question.

When you engage in the path, if you focus single pointedly on an object, and forcefully block thoughts, more thoughts will arise, and you will become miserable, sick and mad. But if you are like a shepherd looking at thoughts from afar, then everything that arises will be seen with clarity, the mind is identified as awareness, and what is seen is understood as movement. In this stable experience, joy, clarity and non-conceptuality will arise. When you fuse stillness, movement and awareness, thoughts will be self-knowing, self-illuminating. What is crucial is not to lose your ground in terms of clear awareness free of hope and fear, negation and affirmation.

When I was young, I heard people say that meditation was a fine path to spiritual awakening. Giving this careful thought, I believed this path was something you could see, feel and hear, and so I thought if these old monks can do it, why can’t I? So I went to a remote area, sat in solitude, and waited for three days for meditation to arise. On the third day I got pooped and fell asleep. I had a dream of a white child who asked me, ‘What are you doing here?’ I replied, ‘I’m waiting to see meditation.’ The child closed his eyes and sang the following song:

‘Hey, hey! You blind boy who wishes to enter the genuine path, listen! The body is like a paper bag carried away by the wind; the speech is like the sound of wind in a tube; the mind is the creator of both samsara and nirvana. Among these three, mind is foremost. You will wait a long time to see meditation.’ Then I woke up.

A few days later I had another dream of a yogin who called himself Orgyen Padma Vajra, who placed a vase on my head and said, ‘Investigate first the origin of the mind, second its location, and third its destination.’ Then he dissolved into me.

Another night I dreamed of a red yogin who called himself Orgyen Speech Vajra who said, “Thoughts are called movement; that which understands them is called awareness; and remaining in that understanding is called stillness. Never be separate from these three.’ Then he dissolved into me.

Three years later a young woman appeared in a dream. She placed 13 white mustard seeds on the surface of a clear mirror, then held it at my heart and sang this song:

‘Ema! Child of clear light, your own mind is the ground of all of samsara and nirvana. Its origin is empty, its location is empty, its departure is empty. It is spontaneously present in great emptiness. Your mind is a mirror that transcends causes and conditions. Like a mirror, it gives rise to various reflections, but its essential nature is unchanging. Distinguish between mind and awareness. They have the same ground, but they are not the same. The mind is what becomes deluded in samsara; awareness recognizes the nature of existence. Identify ground awareness. Child of wisdom awareness, this is the secret treasure of the dakinis.’ Then she dissolved into me, and my body, speech and mind were pervaded with bliss.

Applying myself to identifying luminous awareness, at times I had the sense that appearances, and that which recognizes appearances were nondual. Sometimes this experience appeared outside. Sometimes this experience appeared inside. Sometimes nondual appearance and awareness went out to the object then vanished. I knew these experiences were due to grasping to the ground as an object. At other times, grasping onto phenomena naturally dissolved when I relaxed into the all-pervasive, originally pure ground. Then the creative displays arose naturally and dissolved in a state free from antidote.

A mind devoid of activities, free from hope and fear, is reality itself, which can be likened to the sun rising in a clear sky. This is spontaneously present awareness, the dharmakaya. The essential nature of the ground is that all self-arising appearances naturally release themselves. The ground and appearance is nondual, like the sun and its rays. Mind grasps to phenomena; awareness doesn’t. Appearances, which are the creative display of the expansive ground of awareness, naturally dissolve in the primordial womb like waves in the ocean.

Later, in a dream, I saw Orgyen Dorje Trolod in an expanse of flame and light, and he was chanting a song of Hung:

‘Hung hung. Do you understand that the cord that holds you to samsara is the duality of subject and object? Do you understand that joy and sorrow, your environment and companions, are manifestations of light and dark, devoid of true existence like a dream? Although space is free of periphery or center, it doesn’t go beyond the expanse of awareness. Space is none other than the expanse of awareness itself. Supplicating the demon above you grasp to the buddha; supplicating the demon below you grasp to delusive appearances. These are both products of reification. Do you understand that all appearances are natural projections of thoughts? Do you understand that samsara and nirvana are nondual displays within the ground expanse of the absolute nature? Do you understand that dynamic energy is naturally released into the all-pervasive nature without meditation? All grasping is devoid of substance. Subject and object are one taste. Myself and emanations of myself are primordially one with the mother’s womb of the great expanse.’ Then Orgyen Dorje Trolod dissolved into me.

Samsara and nirvana are co-arising, but these are one, not two. It is very important to understand that the nature of being is the great perfection of samsara and nirvana. Don’t be satisfied with just the empty aspect of the view, but have the all-embracing dzogchen view. Good and bad are expressions of your own nature. The five buddhafields are the creative expression of the expanse of primordial wisdom. The compassionate buddha appears spontaneously, without effort.

Heh, heh! The originally pure absolute nature is free from the extreme of dualistic grasping. The palace of pure light is the display of pure presence. From the nondual realm of bliss and emptiness pure awareness beings arise as the face of natural being. From this effortless place, I naturally encountered these beings and received these quintessential instructions from the treasury of the expanse of reality itself.

Heh, heh! The essential nature free from extremes is the primordial ground, originally pure. Don’t look for any buddha apart from this. All fictitious appearances are perfected in the expanse of your own natural awareness. This is the meaning of the Great Perfection.

In the unchanging field of all-pervasive bliss and emptiness arising as the expanse, the sun of clear light neither rises nor sets. In the fortress of fearlessness, in the palace of spontaneous presence seated on the immutable throne, never disengaged from skillful means and wisdom, I, a useless old man, have held my own ground as an embodiment of reality itself, arising as Dorje Trolod, standing on the corpse of mental afflictions.

My path is the essential nature. I am not bound by reified practices. I have a way of practice without meditation or propitiation. This way is all-pervasive, free from extremes, holding one’s ground without antidote or structure. It is unmixed with intellectual analysis, and without focus. Whatever comes up, let it go. Here is a practice free from activity which transcends good and bad, hope and fear. Awakening to suffering and peace as being the expanse of reality, I have cut from my heart the darkness of ignorance. Mental afflictions are dispelled in total openness, in clear, empty wisdom awareness, the womb of non-objectivity.

These verses are the foolish dharma of an idiot who wears mud and feathers for clothing.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Beings depend on wu in coming into existence, in becoming what they are. Affairs on account of wu come to fruition and become what they are. Now, one tries to speak about wu, but no words could describe it; name it, but it has no name; look at it, but it does not have any form; listen to it, but it does not give any sound. Then, indeed, it is clear that the Dao is complete. Thus, it can bring forth sounds and echoes; generate Qi-energies and things; establish form and spirit; and illuminate light and shadows. What is dark obtains its blackness from it; what is plain obtains its whiteness from it. The carpenter’s square is able to make a square because of it; the compass is able to make a circle because of it. The round and the square obtain their form, but that which gives them their form itself does not have any form. The white and the black obtain their name, but that which gives them their name itself does not have any name.

-He Yan, Dao Lun

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Mode of a Lunatic

All things are mere labels, for in actuality they are beyond
characterization or expression.
Having decisively experienced that samsara is not confusion and nirvana
is not freedom,
let no one make any effort!
Let no one try to meddle with or alter this!

Awareness, with no breadth or depth,
is not subject to restrictions or extremes, so give up any frame of reference.
Awareness, involving no plans or actions, no coming or going,
entails no time frame or antidote, so drop reification and effort.
If there is a deliberate frame of reference, it is a cause of bondage.
Do not rely on any fixed construct whatsoever--let go in evenness!

It is of no concern whether or not all phenomena are timelessly free.
It is of no concern whether or not the way of abiding is pure by nature.
It is of no concern whether or not mind itself is free of elaboration.
It is of no concern whether or not anything has ever existed within the
fundamentally unconditioned, genuine state.

It is of no concern whether or not samsara and nirvana are by nature a duality.
It is of no concern whether or not all thoughts and expressions are transcended.
It is of no concern whether or not confused attempts at proof and
refutation are demolished.
It is of no concern whether or not the view to be realized has been realized.

It is of no concern whether or not you meditate on the ultimate meaning
of the true nature of phenomena.
It is of no concern whether or not you engage in examination, since
there is nothing to accept or reject.
It is of no concern whether or not the way of abiding has ever existed as
the fruition.
It is of no concern whether or not you have traversed the paths and
levels of realization.

It is of no concern whether or not you are free of all obscurations.
It is of no concern whether or not the development and completion
stages perfect your true nature.
It is of no concern whether or not the fruition of liberation is attained.
It is of no concern whether or not you wander in the six realms of samsara.

It is of no concern whether or not the nature of being is spontaneous presence.
It is of no concern whether or not you are bound by dualistic perceptions
of affirmation and denial.
It is of no concern whether or not you have arrived at the enlightened
intent of the true nature of phenomena.
It is of no concern whether or not you follow in the footsteps of masters
of the past.

No matter what arises, even if heaven and earth change places,
there is a bare state of relaxed openness, without any underlying basis.
Without any reference point--nebulous, ephemeral, and evanescent--
this is the mode of a lunatic, free from the duality of hope and fear.
With unbiased view and meditation, ordinary consciousness that is
caught up in reification collapses.
without the entanglements of wishful thinking, there is no "thing" to
strive for or achieve.
Let whatever happens happen and whatever manifests manifest.
Let whatever occurs occur and whatever is be.
Let whatever is anything at all be nothing at all.

With your conduct unpredictable, you make the final leap into awareness
without the slightest basis for determining what is spiritual or not,
and so this bare state with no reference point is beyond the cage of philosophy.
Whether eating, moving around, lying down, or sitting, day and night
you rest in infinite evenness,
so that you experience the true nature of phenomena as their equalness.
There are no gods to worship, no demons to exorcise,
nothing to cultivate in meditation -- this is the completely "ordinary" state.
With this single state of evenness -- the uncontrived ruler has no pride --
there is oneness, a relaxed and unstructured openness.
How delightful -- things are timelessly ensured without having to be done,
and being free of effort and achievement, you are content.

-Longchenpa, The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena

Monday, May 16, 2016

Zen & Archery

An ancient Zen master said that zen is like learning archery; only after long practice do you hit the bullseye.

Enlightenment is experienced instantaneously, but Zen work must be done over a long time, like a bird that when first hatched is naked and scrawny, but then grows feathers as it is nourished, until it can fly high and far.

Therefore those who have attained clear penetrating enlightenment then need fine tuning.

When it comes to worldly situations, by which ordinary people get suffocated, those who have attained Zen get through them all by being empty. Thus everything is their own gateway to liberation.


Set aside all the slogans you have learned and all the intellectual views that stick to your skin and cling to your flesh. Make your mind empty, not manifesting any thoughts on your own, not doing anything at all. Then you can attain thoroughgoing Zen experience.

But even when you reach this point, you should still realize that there is progressive action that transcends a teacher.

-Master Yuanwu

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Spur to a Good Horse

The true nature with which people are endowed, and the fundamental nature of the Buddhas of the three worlds, are not two. They are equal in their virtue and majesty; the same light and glory are there. The wisdom and wonderful powers are the same. It is like the radiance of the sun illuminating mountains and rivers and the whole wide earth, lighting up the despised manure just as much as gold and jewels. But a blind man may stand pathetically in that very light, without seeing it or knowing anything about it.

Though the fundamental nature of all the Buddhas and of living beings is the same and not distinct, their minds are looking in quite different directions. The Buddha faces inward and makes the heart-essence (hon-shin) shine forth. The ordinary man faces outward, and is concerned with the ten thousand things.

If you would grasp the nature of the universal body of all the Buddhas, first you must be clear about, and then you must enlighten, the root of ignorance in you. How is it to be made clear? You must search after your true nature. How to search? In the eye, seeing of colors; in the ear, hearing of sounds; in the body, feeling distinctions of heat and cold; in the consciousness, feelings of wrong and right: all these must be seen clearly as they are. This seeing and hearing and knowing is at the root of the practice. The ordinary man sees colors and is deluded by colors, hears voices and is deluded by voices, feels heat and cold and is deluded by heat and cold, knows right and wrong and is deluded by right and wrong. This is what is meant by the saying: "The ordinary man looks outward."

The training of a bodhisattva is: when looking at some color, to ask himself what it is that is being seen; when hearing some sound, to ask himself what it is that is being heard; when feeling hot or cold, to ask himself what it is that is being felt; when distinguishing wrong from right, to ask himself what it is that is being known. This is called the "facing inward of the Buddhas." Practicing it is different from facing in the direction in which the ordinary man looks. At first, though facing the same way as the Buddha, the Buddha power and wisdom are not manifest in him. But still, he is an infant bodhisattva, and he must realize that he has come into that company. If he always keeps to his great vow to the Buddhas, praying to the spiritual lights and being loyal to the teacher, then one day the Great Thing comes about.

-Zen Master Torei