“To deny the reality of things is to miss their reality;
to assert the emptiness of things is to miss their reality.
The more you talk and think about it,
the further astray you wander from the truth.
Stop talking and thinking
and there is nothing you will not be able to know.”
~ Seng Ts’an
This is the story of Dogen Zenji who lived during the Kamakura period (750 years ago) . He trained in China in the great Ch’an monasteries to become a renowned Ch’an Buddhist monk and teacher. He subsequently returned to Japan founded the Japanese school of Zen Buddhism..
Directed by: Banmei Takahashi
Produced by and Copyright: Kadokawa Pictures
Essentials Of Chan Practice part 1 & 2 -Master Hsu-Yun (source)
The Prerequisites and Understanding Necessary to Begin Chan Practice
1. The Objective of Chan Practice
The objective of Chan practice is to illuminate the mind by eradicating its impurities and seeing into one’s true self-nature. The mind’s impurities are wrong thoughts and attachments. Self nature is the wisdom and virtue of the Tathagata. The wisdom and virtue of Buddhas and sentient beings are not different from one another. To experience this wisdom and virtue, leave behind duality, discrimination, wrong thinking and attachment. This is Buddhahood. If one cannot do this, then one remains an ordinary sentient being.
The prerequisite for Chan practice is to eradicate wrong thinking. Sakyamuni Buddha taught much on this subject. His simplest and most direct teaching is the word “stop” from the expression “stopping is Bodhi.” From the time when Bodhidharma transmitted Chan teachings to today, the winds of Chan have blown far and wide, shaking and illuminating the world. Among the many things that Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch taught to those who came to study with them, none is more valuable than the saying, “Put down all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise.”
This expression is truly the prerequisite of Chan. If you cannot fulfil this requirement, then not only will you fail to attain the ultimate goal of Chan practice, but you will not even be able to enter the door of Chan. How can you talk of practicing Chan if you are entangled by worldly phenomena with thought after thought arising and passing away?
2. Put Down All Entangling Conditions
“Put down all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise” is a prerequisite for the practice of Chan. Now that we know this, how do we accomplish it? The best practitioner, one of superior abilities, can stop all thoughts forever, arrive directly at the condition of non-arising, and instantly experience Bodhi. Such a person is not entangled by anything.The next best kind of practitioner uses principle to cut off phenomena and realises that self-nature is originally pure. Vexation and Bodhi, Samsara and Nirvana – all are false names which have nothing to do with one’s self-nature. All things are dreams and illusions, like bubbles or reflections.
Within self-nature, my body, made up of the four great elements, as well as the mountains, rivers and great earth itself are like bubbles in the sea, arising and disappearing, yet never obstructing the original surface. Do not be captivated by the arising, abiding, changing and passing away of illusory phenomena, which give rise to pleasure and aversion, grasping and rejecting. Give up your whole body, as if you were dead, and the six sense organs, the six sense objects and six sense conciousnesses will naturally disperse. Greed, hatred, ignorance and love will be destroyed. All the sensations of pain, suffering and pleasure which attend the body – hunger, cold, satiation, warmth, glory, insult, birth and death, calamity, prosperity, good and bad luck, praise, blame, gain and loss, safety and danger – will no longer be your concern. Only this can be considered true renunciation – when you put everything down forever. This is what is meant by renouncing all phenomena.
When all phenomena are renounced, wrong thoughts disappear, discrimination does not arise, and attachment is left behind. When thoughts no longer arise, the brightness of self-nature manifests itself completely. At this time you will have fulfilled the necessary conditions for Chan practice. Then, further hard work and sincere practice will enable you to illuminate the mind and see into your true nature.
3. Everyone Can Instantly Become a Buddha
Many Chan practitioners ask questions about the Dharma. The Dharma that is spoken is not the true Dharma. As soon as you try to explain things, the true meaning is lost. When you realize that “one mind” is the Buddha, from that point on there is nothing more to do. Everything is already complete. All talk about practice or attainment is demonic deception.
Bodhidharma’s “Direct pointing at the mind, seeing into one’s nature and attaining Buddhahood” clearly states that all sentient beings are Buddhas. Once pure self-nature is recognized, one can harmonize with the environment yet remain undefiled. The mind will remain unified throughout the day, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down. This is to already be a Buddha. At this point there is no need to put forth effort and be diligent. Any action is superfluous. No need to bother with the slightest thought or word. Therefore, to become a Buddha is the easiest, most unobstructed task. Do it by yourself. Do not seek outside yourself for it.
The vow to deliver all sentient beings, made by all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and patriarchs, is not a boast nor is it a baseless, empty vow. The Dharma is exactly that. It has been elucidated again and again by the Buddha and the patriarchs. They have exhorted us with the truth. They do not deceive us.
4. Investigating Chan and Contemplating Mind
Our sect focuses on investigating Chan. The purpose of practising Chan is to “Illuminate the mind and see into one’s true nature.” This investigation is also called “Clearly realizing one’s self-mind and completely perceiving one’s original nature.”
Since the time when Buddha held up a flower and Bodhidharma came from the East, the methods for entry into this Dharma door have continually evolved. Most Chan practitioners, before the T’ang and Sung dynasties, became enlightened after hearing a word or half a sentence of the Dharma. The transmission from master to disciple was the sealing of Mind with Mind. There was no fixed Dharma. Everyday questions and answers untied the bonds. It was nothing more than prescribing the right medicine for the right illness.
After the Sung dynasty, however, people did not have such good karmic roots as their predecessors. They could not carry out what had been said. For example, practitioners were taught to “Put down everything” and “Not think about good or evil,” but they could not do it. They could not put down everything, and if they weren’t thinking about good, they were thinking about evil. Under these circumstances, the patriarchs had no choice but to use poison to fight poison, so they taught the method of investigating gongans (ie. Koans) and hua-t’ous.1
When one begins looking into a hua-t’ou, one must grasp it tightly, never letting go. It is like a mouse trying to chew its way out of a coffin. It concentrates on one point. The mouse doesn’t try different places and it doesn’t stop until it gets through. Thus, in terms of hua-t’ou, the objective is to use one thought to eradicate innumerable other thoughts. This method is a last resort, just as if someone had been pierced by a poison arrow, drastic measures must be taken to cure the patient.
The ancients used gongans, but later on practitioners started using hua-t’ou. Some hua-t’ous are: “Who is dragging this corpse around?” “Before you were born what was your original face?” and “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?”
In fact, all hua-t’ous are the same. There is nothing uncommon, strange or special about them. If you wanted to, you could say: “Who is reciting the sutras?” “Who is reciting the mantras?” “Who is prostrating to the Buddha?” “Who is eating?” “Who is wearing these clothes?” “Who is walking?” “Who is sleeping?” They are all the same. The answer to the question “who” is derived from one’s Mind. Mind is the origin of all words. Thoughts come out of Mind; Mind is the origin of all thoughts. Innumerable Dharmas generate from the Mind; Mind is the origin of all Dharmas. In fact, hua-t’ou is a thought. Before a thought arises, that is Mind. Before a thought arises there is the origin of words. Hence, looking into a hua-t’ou is contemplating Mind. There was Mind before your parents gave birth to you, so looking into your original face before you were born is contemplating Mind.
Self-nature is Mind. When one turns inward to hear one’s self-nature, one is turning inward to contemplate Mind. In the phrase, “Perfectly illuminating pure awareness,” pure awareness is Mind and illumination is contemplation. Mind is Buddha. When one recites Buddha’s name one contemplates Buddha. Contemplating Buddha is contemplating Mind.
Investigating hua-t’ou or “looking into who is reciting Buddha’s name ” is contemplating Mind. Hence contemplating Mind is contemplating pure awareness. It is also illuminating the Buddha-nature within oneself. Mind is nature, pure awareness, Buddha. Mind has no form, no characters, no directions; it cannot be found in any particular place. It cannot be grasped. Originally, Mind is purity, universally embracing all Dharma realms. No in or out, no coming or going. Originally, Mind is pure Dharmakaya.
When investigating hua-t’ou, the practitioner should first close down all six sense organs and seek where thoughts arise. Practitioners should concentrate on the hua-t’ou until they see the pure original mind which is apart from thoughts. If one does this without interruption, the mind becomes fine, quiet, tranquil, silently illuminating. At that moment the five skandas are empty, body and mind are extinguished, nothing remains. From that point, walking, standing, siting and lying down are all done motionlessly. In time the practice will deepen, and eventually practitioners will see their self-nature and become Buddhas and suffering will cease.
A past patriarch named Kao-feng (1238-1295) once said: “You must contemplate hua-t’ou like a falling roof tile sinking endlessly down into a pond ten thousand feet deep. If in seven days you are not enlightened, I will give you permission to chop off my head.” These are the words of an experienced person. He did not speak lightly. His words are true.
Although many modern day practitioners use hua-t’ou, few get enlightened. This is because compared to practitioners of the past, practitioners today have inferior karmic roots and less merit. Also, practitioners today are not clear about the purpose and path of hua-t’ou. Some practitioners search from east to west and from north to south until they die, but still do not penetrate even one hua-t’ou. They never understand or correctly approach the hua-t’ou. They only grasp the form and the words. They use their intellect and attach only to the tail of the words.
Hua-t’ou is One Mind. This mind is not inside, outside or in the middle. On the other hand, it is inside, outside and in the middle. It is like the stillness of empty space prevailing everywhere.
Hua-t’ou should not be picked up. Neither should it be pressed down. If you pick it up, your mind will waver and become unstable. If you press it down you will become drowsy. These approaches are contrary to the nature of the original mind and are not in accordance with the Middle Path.
Practitioners are distressed by wandering thoughts. They think it is difficult to tame them. Don’t be afraid of wandering thoughts. Do not waste your energy trying to repress them. All you have to do is recognize them. Do not attach to any wandering thoughts, do not follow them, and do not try to get rid of them. As long as you don’t string thoughts together, wandering thoughts will depart by themselves.
1 A classic hua-t’ou is a brief pithy sentence or question which is the main point or “punchline” of a koan story. (JHC)
Methods of Practice in the Chan Hall
By Master Hsu Yun.
This is part two of a translation of a text by the great Chan master of the early part of the 20th century, Hsu Yun (1839-1 959). It is reprinted by permission of the Institute of Chung Hwa Buddhist Culture, New York, from Chan Newsletter 87, August 1991. The first part of this talk appeared in New Chan Forum No.4. Spring 1992.
Many people come to ask me for guidance. This makes me feel ashamed. Everyone works so hard – splitting firewood, hoeing the fields, carrying soil, moving bricks – and yet from morning to night not putting down the thought of practising the Path. Such determination for the Path is touching. I, Hsu-Yun, repent my inadequacy on the Path and my lack of virtue. I am unable to instruct you and can use only a few sayings from the ancients in response to your questions. There are four prerequisites concerning methods of practice:
- Deep faith in the law of cause and consequence
- Strict observance of precepts
- Immovable faith
- Choosing a Dharma door method of practice
2. The Essentials of Chan Practice:
Our everyday activities are executed within the Path itself Is there anywhere that is not a place for practising the Path? A Chan Hall should not even be necessary. Furthermore, Chan practice is not just sitting meditation. The Chan Hall and Chan sitting meditation are for sentient beings with deep karmic obstructions and shallow wisdom.
When one sits in meditation, one must first know how to regulate the body and mind. If they are not well regulated, then a small harm will turn into an illness and a great harm will lead to demonic entanglements. This would be most pitiable. Walking and sitting meditation in the Chan Hall are for the regulation of body and mind. There are other ways to regulate the body and mind, but I will talk about these two fundamental methods.
When you sit in the lotus position, you should sit naturally straight. Do not push the waist forward purposely. Doing so will raise your inner heat, which later on could result in having sand in the comer of your eyes, bad breath, uneasy breathing, loss of appetite, and in the worst case, vomiting blood. If dullness or sleepiness occur, open your eyes wide, straighten your back and gently move your buttocks from side to side. Dullness will naturally vanish. If you practice with an anxious attitude, you will have a sense of annoyance. At that time you should put everything down, including your efforts to practice. Rest for a few minutes. Gradually, after you recuperate, continue to practice. If you don’t do this, as time goes on you will develop a hot-tempered character, or, in the worst case, you could go insane or fall into demonic entanglements.
There are many experiences you will encounter when sitting Chan, too many to speak of. However, if you do not attach to them, they will not interfere with you. This is why the proverb says: “See the extraordinary yet do not think of it as being extraordinary, and the extraordinary will retreat.” If you encounter or perceive an unpleasant experience, take no notice of it and have no fear. If you experience something pleasant, take no notice of it and don’t give rise to fondness. The “Surangama Sutra” says: “If one does not think he has attained a supramundane experience, then this is good. On the other hand, if one thinks he has attained something supramundane, then he will attract demons.”
3. How to Start the Practice: Distinction between Host and Guest
How should one begin to practice? In the Surangama assembly, Kaundinya the Honoured One mentioned the two words “guest” and “dust”. This is where beginners should begin their practice. He said, “A traveller who stops at an inn may stay overnight or get something to eat. When he is finished or rested, he packs and continues his journey, for he does not have time to stay longer. If he were the host, he would have no place to go. Thus I reason: he who does not stay is called a guest because not staying is the essence of being a guest. He who stays is called a host. Again, on a clear day, when the sun rises and the sunlight enters a dark room through an opening, one can see dust in empty space. The dust is moving but the space is still. That which is clear and still is called space; that which is moving is called dust because moving is the essence of being dust.” Guest and dust refer to illusory thoughts, whereas host and space refer to self-nature. That the permanent host does not follow the guest in his comings and goings illustrates that permanent self-nature does not follow illusory thoughts in their fleeting rise and fall. Therefore it was said, “If one is unaffected by all things, then there will be no obstructions even when one is constantly surrounded by things.” The moving dust does not block the clear, still empty space; illusory thoughts which rise and fall by themselves do not hinder the self-nature of Suchness. Thus it was said, “If my mind does not arise, all things are blameless.” In such a state of mind, even the guest does not drift with illusory thoughts. If he understands space and dust, illusory thoughts will no longer be hindrances. It is said that when one recognizes an enemy, there will be no more enemy in your mind. if one can investigate and understand all this before starting to practice, it is unlikely that one will make serious mistakes.
4. Hua-t’ou and Doubt:
The ancient patriarchs pointed directly at Mind. When one sees self-nature, one attains Buddhahood. This was the case when Bodhidharma helped his disciple to calm his mind and when the Sixth Patriarch spoke only about seeing self-nature. All that was necessary was the direct understanding and acceptance of Mind and nothing else. There was no such thing as investigating hua-t’ou. More recent patriarchs, however, saw that practitioners could not throw themselves into practice with total dedication and could not instantaneously see their self-nature. Instead, these people played games and imitated words of wisdom, showing off other people’s treasure and patriarchs were compelled to set up schools and devise specific ways to help practitioners, hence the method of investigating hua-t’ou.
There are many hua-t’ous, such as “All dharmas return to one, where does this one return to?” “What was my original face before I was born?” and so on. The most common one, however, is “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?”.
What is meant by hua-t’ou? Hua means the spoken word; t’ou means the head or beginning, so hua-t’ou means that which is before the spoken word. For example, reciting Amitabha Buddha is a hua, and hua-t’ou is that which precedes one’s reciting the Buddha’s name. The hua-t’ou is that moment before the thought arises. Once the thought arises, it is already the tail of the hua. The moment before that thought has arisen is called non-arising. When one’s mind is not distracted, is not dull, is not attached to quiescence, or has not fallen into a state of nothingness, it is called non-perishing. Singlemindedly and uninterruptedly, turning inward and illuminating the state of non-arising and non-perishing is called investigating the hua-t’ou or taking care of the hua-t’ou.
To investigate the hua-t’ou, one must first generate doubt. Doubt is like a walking cane for the method of investigating hua-t’ou. What is meant by doubt? For example, one may ask, “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?” Everyone knows that it is he himself who is reciting the name, but is he using his mouth or mind? If it is his mouth, then after the person dies and the mouth still exists, how come the dead person is unable to recite Buddha’s name? If it is the mind, then what is the mind like? It cannot be known. Thus there is something one does not understand, and this gives rise to a slight doubt regarding the question of “who”.
This doubt should never be coarse. The finer it is the better one should singlemindedly watch and keep this doubt, and keep it going like a fine stream of water. Do not get distracted by any other thought. When the doubt is there, do not disturb it. When the doubt is no longer there, gently give rise to it again. Beginners will find that it is more effective to use this method when stationary rather than when moving; but you should not have a discriminating attitude. Regardless of whether your practice is effective or not or whether you are stationary or moving, just singlemindedly use the method and practice.
In the hua-t’ou, “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?” The emphasis should be on the word “who”. The other words serve to provide a general idea, just like in asking, “Who is dressing?”, “Who is eating?”, “Who is moving their bowels?”, ”Who is urinating?”, ”Who is ignorantly fighting for an ego?”, ”Who is being aware?”. Regardless of whether one is walking, standing, sitting or reclining, the word “who” is direct and immediate. Not having to rely on repetitive thinking, conjecture, or attention, it is easy to give rise to a sense of doubt.
Hence, hua-t’ou’s involving the word “who” are wonderful methods for practising Chan. But the idea is not to repeat, “Who is reciting Buddha’s name?” like one might repeat the Buddha’s name itself; nor is it right to use reasoning to come up with an answer to the question, thinking that this is what is meant by having doubt. There are people who uninterruptedly repeat the phrase, “Who is reciting the Buddha’s name?” They would accumulate more merit and virtue if they repeatedly recited Amitabha Buddha’s name instead. There are others who let their minds wander, thinking that is the meaning of having doubt, and they end up more involved in illusory thoughts. This is like trying to ascend but descending instead. Be aware of this.
The doubt that is generated by a beginning practitioner tends to be coarse, intermittent and irregular. This does not truly qualify as a state of doubt. It can only be called thoughts. Gradually, after the wild thoughts settle and one has more control, the process can be called “ts’an” (ts’an means to investigate or look into). As one’s cultivation gets smoother, the doubt naturally arises without one’s actively inducing it to. At this point one is not aware of where one is sitting. One is not aware of the existence of a body or mind or environment. Only the doubt is there. This is a true state of doubt.
Realistically speaking, the initial stage cannot be considered cultivation. One is merely engaging in illusory thoughts. Only when true doubt arises by itself can it be called true cultivation. This moment is a crucial juncture, and it is easy for the practitioner to deviate from the right path:
- At this moment it is clear and pure and there is an unlimited sense of lightness and peace. However, if one fails to fully maintain one’s awareness and illumination (awareness is wisdom, not delusion; illumination is samadhi, not disorder), one will fall into a light state of mental dullness. If there is an open-eyed person around, he will be able to tell right away that the practitioner is in this mental state and hit him with the incense stick, dispersing all clouds and fog. Many people become enlightened this way.
- At this moment it is clear and pure, empty and vacuous. If it isn’t, then the doubt is lost. Then it is “no content”, meaning one is not making an effort to practice any more. This is what is meant by “the cliff with dry wood” or “the rock soaking in cold water”. In this situation the practitioner has to “bring up”. “Bring up” means to develop awareness and illumination. It is different from earlier times when the doubt was coarse. Now it has to be fine – one thought, uninterrupted and extremely subtle. With utter clarity, it is illuminating and quiescent, unmoving yet fully aware. Like the smoke from a fire that is about to go out, it is a narrow stream without interruption. When one’s practice reaches this point, it is necessary to have a diamond eye in the sense that one should not try to “bring up” any more. To “bring up” at this point would be like putting a head on top of one’s head.
Once a monk, asked Chan master Chao-chou, “What should one do when not one thing comes?” Chao-chou replied, “Put it down”. The monk, asked, “If not one thing comes, what does one put down?” Chao-chou replied, “If it cannot be put down, take it up”. This dialogue refers precisely to this kind of situation. The true flavour of this state cannot be described. Like someone drinking water, only he knows how cool or warm it is. If a person reaches this state, he will naturally understand. If he is not at this state, no explanation will be adequate. To a sword master you should offer a sword; do not bother showing your poetry to someone who is not a poet.
5. Taking Care of Hua-t’ou and Turning Inward to Hear One’s Self-Nature:
Someone might ask, “How is Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara’s method of turning inward to hear self-nature considered investigating Chan?”. I have previously explained that taking care of hua-t’ou is being, moment after moment, with only one thought, singlemindedly shining the light inward on “that which is not born and not destroyed”. Inward illumination is reflection. Self-nature is that which is not born and not destroyed. When “hearing” and “illuminating” follow sound and form in the worldly stream, hearing does not go beyond sound and seeing does not go beyond form. However, when one turns inward and contemplates self-nature against the worldly steam, and does not pursue sound and form, then he becomes pure and transparent. At that time, “hearing” and “illuminating” are not two different things.
Thus we should know that taking care of the hua-t’ou and turning inward to hear self-nature does not mean using our eyes to see and our ears to hear. If we use our ears to hear or our eyes to see, then we are chasing sound and form. As a result we will be affected by them. This is called submission to the worldly stream. If one practices with one thought only, singlemindedly abiding in that which is not born and not destroyed, not chasing after sound and form, with no wandering thoughts, then one is going against the stream. This is also called taking care of the hua-t’ou or turning inward to hear one’s self-nature. This is not to say you should close your eyes tightly or cover your ears. Just do not generate a mind of seeking after sound and form.
6. Determined to Leave Samsara and Generating a Persevering Mind:
In Chan training the most important thing is to have an earnestness to leave birth and death and to generate a persevering mind. If there is no earnestness to leave birth and death, then one cannot generate the “great doubt” and practice will not be effective. if there is no perseverance in one’s mind, the result will be laziness, like a man who practices for one day and rests for ten. The practice will be incomplete and fragmented. Just develop a persevering mind and when great doubt arises, vexations will come to an end by themselves. When the time comes, the melon will naturally depart from the vine.
I will tell you a story. During the Ch’ing dynasty in the year of K’eng Tse (1900) when the eight world powers sent their armies to Peking, the Emperor Kuang-hsu fled westward from Peking to Shen Hsi province. Everyday he walked tens of miles. For several days he had no food to eat. On the road, a peasant offered him sweet potato stems. After he had eaten them, he asked the peasant what they were because they tasted so good. Think about the Emperor’s usual awe-inspiring demeanour and his arrogance! How long do you think he could continue to maintain his imperial attitude after so long a journey on foot? Do you think he had ever gone hungry? Do you think he ever had to eat sweet potato stems? At that time he gave up all of his airs. After all, he had walked quite a distance and had eaten stems to keep from starving. Why was he able to put down everything at that time? Because the allied armies wanted his life and his only thought was to save himself But when peace prevailed and he returned to Peking, once again he became proud and arrogant. He didn’t have to run any more. He no longer had to eat any food that might displease him. Why was he unable to put down everything at that time? Because the allied armies no longer wanted his life. If the Emperor always had an attitude of running for his life and if he could turn such an attitude toward the path of practice, there would be nothing he could not accomplish. It’s a pity he did not have a persevering mind. When favourable circumstances returned, so did his former habits.
Fellow practitioners! Time is passing, never to return. It is constantly looking for our lives. It is more frightening than the allied armies. Time will never compromise or make peace with us. Let us generate a mind of perseverance immediately in order to escape from birth and death! Master Kao-fung (1238-1295) once said, “Concerning the practice, one should act like a stone dropping into the deepest part of the pool – ten thousand feet deep – continuously and persistently dropping without interruption toward the bottom. If one can practice like this without stopping, continuously for seven days, and still be unable to cut off one’s wandering, illusory thoughts and vexations, I, Kao-fung, will have my tongue pulled out for cows to plough on forever”. He continued by saying, “When one practices Chan, one should set out a certain time for success, like a man who has fallen into a pit a thousand feet deep. All his tens of thousands of thoughts are reduced to one – escape from the pit. If one can really practice from morning to dusk and from night to day without a second thought, and if he does not attain complete enlightenment within three, five or seven days, I shall be committing a great lie for which I shall have my tongue pulled out for cows to plough on forever”. This old master had great compassion.
By Venerable John Eshin
Bodhidharma was born around the year 440 in Kanchi, the capital of the southern Indian kingdom of Pallava. He was a Brahman by birth and the third son of King Simhavarman. When he was young he was converted to Buddhism and later received instruction in the Dharma from Prajnatara, whom his father had invited from the ancient Buddhist heartland of Magadha. Prajnatara was a master in the Dhyana school of Buddhism which was later transliterated to Ch’an in Chinese, Zen in Japanese and Son in Korean. It was Prajnatara who told Bodhidharma to go to China. Bodhidharma arrived in China about 475, traveled around for a few years and finally settled at Shaolin temple.
Bodhidharma had only a few disciples, including laypeople, both men and women. His was the first teaching of the Dhyana school outside of India. It was in China, Korea and Japan that this school would flourish. Bodhidharma’s teachings were recorded. Seventh and eighth century copies have been discovered earlier this century in the TunHuang caves. His best known sermon is ‘Outline of Practice’.
‘Many roads lead to the Way, but basically there are only two: reason and practice. To enter by reason means to realize the essence through instruction and to believe all living things share the same true nature, which isn’t apparent because it’s shrouded by sensation and delusion. Those who turn from delusion back to reality, who meditate on walls, the absence of self and other, the oneness of mortal and sage, and who remain unmoved even by sutras are completely in accord and unspoken agreement with reason. Without moving, without effort, they enter, we say, by reason’.
‘Way’ or Tao is used to translate Dharma and Bodhi when Buddhism was introduced to China.
“Reason and practice’ complement each other. One must practice what one understands and learns, and one must understand one’s practice otherwise it may become misguided.
‘Same true nature’ is Buddha Nature or True Self. We all know our individual selves, our ‘me’ self. This is a limited and unclear self, one that we have developed unknowingly through our upbringing and conditioning. Buddhism points out that we can access or develop our realized self, called Buddha Nature.
‘Isn’t apparent’ refers to the inherent Buddha Nature that is hidden by our mistaken functioning of mind. We sense objects through our sense organs. Our mind then separates from these objects, becomes dualistic, and all sorts of dualistic comparing, liking and disliking, attachment and avoidance, love and hate, arise. Buddhism strongly points out it is the dualistic separating of inside/outside, subject and object, man and woman, person and surroundings, that is the root of all our suffering. It is not simply the polarities, man and woman, person and surrounding, or subject and object, in themselves. It is when the two polarities are taken as fundamentally separate and dualistic that suffering begins.
‘Turn back to reality’ is Bodhidharma clear instruction to regain our original Buddha Nature, before our mind became dualistic, when we are at home with ourselves and our life and everything/one in it. ‘Turn back’ is certainly true expression. We can remember or see in babies a mind that is very non-dualistic and with a small sense of ‘my’ self. As children ‘our’ selves became stronger and more autonomic yet still have the original pure, clear mind. Somehow, as we became adults, we became unbalanced towards ‘my’ self and the original mind became forgotten. ‘Turn back’ is acknowledging that our true self has always been with us, it’s just that we have lost touch with it.
‘Meditate’ is the way of Dhyana. Today meditate often means to gain a subjective sense of peace or happiness. However, Dhyana is more like contemplation, the clear contemplation of the workings of our mind. The contemplative process is described in a very detailed way in Buddhism. Buddhism describes the many stages, styles and levels in the contemplation process that leads to, and in fact is, the realization of our true selves.
‘Absence of self and other’ is the first and third of Buddhism’s Three Marks of Existence. These are Anitya or impermanence and Anatman or no-fixed-self. This phrase also indicates the lack of dualistic separation between ourselves and others. This is the basis of compassion. Others are equally worthy of respect and concern because fundamentally others are ourselves, strange as it may seem at first.
‘Oneness of mortal and sage’ is Bodhidharma pointing to the fact that even Shakyamuni was a human, he was not divine. The potential of enlightenment is within all of us. Through practice and understanding we can also progress through the stages of Bodhisattvahood, right to Buddhahood.
‘Unmoved even by sutras’ is to abide in samadhi or the mind of oneness and non-duality. In samadhi we are ‘at one with’ and not reacting to the sutras. To be ‘at one with’ is the mind of compassion and here we are closely in accord with the sutras.
‘Without moving, without effort, they enter, we say, by reason’. Here Bodhidharma is summarizing his comments on the way of reason. The way or state of Buddha Nature is entered by becoming one with the instructions and teachings. We do not have to go to another place or time to gain our Buddha Nature. It has always been with us, we cannot fundamentally lose it, it is losing touch with it that happens. To realize the teachings is to be enlightened by reason.
Next time Bodhidharma’s comments on practice will be investigated. He starts by stating ‘To enter by practice refers to four all-inclusive practices: suffering in justice, adapting to conditions, seeking nothing, and practicing the Dharma’. These reflect the Four Noble Truths and Bodhidharma goes into just how to practice these.
‘Many roads lead to the Way, but basically there are only two: reason and practice.
To enter by practise refers to four all-inclusive practices: suffering injustice, adapting to conditions, seeking nothing, and practising the Dharma.’
Bodhidharma is referring to Shakyamuni’s first teaching, which is the Four Noble Truths. Namely, all existence is marked by suffering; suffering has a cause; the cause can be bought to an end; the way to bring it to an end is the Eightfold Noble Path of right views, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort/devotion, right mindfulness, right Zen.
‘First, suffering injustice. When those who search for a path encounteradversity, they should think to themselves ‘In countless ages gone by I’ve turned from the essential to the trivial and wandered through all manner of existences, often angry without cause and guilty of numberless transgressions. Now, though I do no wrong, I’m punished by my past. Neither gods nor men can foresee when an evil deed will bear it’s fruit. I accept it with an open heart and without complaint of injustice’. The sutra says ‘When you meet with adversity don’t be upset, because it makes sense’. With such understanding you’re in harmony with reason. And by suffering injustice you enter the path.’
The first Noble Truth is often explained by enumerating all the types of suffering that occur. However, Bodhidharma indicates how not to be bent out of shape by them. First he points out that these sufferings appear as adversities. Secondly he emphasizes how to accept and embrace them, thus ceasing any resistance to them. This is done by understanding that it is our karma that gives rise to our circumstances and state of being. By patiently accepting these results from the past we are no longer emotionally reacting to them. We come to accept injustices as part of life. This provides a calmer state of being, one that is more able to practise the Dharma.
‘Second, adapting to conditions. As mortals we’re ruled by conditions not by ourselves. All the suffering and joy we experience depend on conditions. If we should be blessed by some great reward, such as fame or fortune, it’s the fruit of a seed planted by us in the past. When conditions change, it ends. Why delight in its existence? But while success and failure depend on conditions, the mind neither waxes nor wanes. Those who remain unmoved by the wind of joy silently follow the path.’
Before meeting the Dharma people live by reacting to circumstances. Grasping what seems pleasurable, avoiding what seems unpleasant, people strive to hold on to dependent pleasure and happiness. However, circumstances are impermanent and there is no way people can make circumstances always, eternally, provide their happiness.
Bodhidharma asks people to keep a steady mind, one that are not swayed by circumstances. This way one remains centred no matter what is occurring.
‘Third, seeking nothing. People of this world are deluded. They’re always longing for something – always, in a word, seeking. But the wise wake up. They choose reason over custom. They fix their minds on the sublime and let their bodies change with the seasons. All phenomena are empty. They contain nothing worth desiring. ‘Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity’. To dwell in the three realms is to dwell in a burning house. To have a body is to suffer. Does anyone with a body know peace? Those who understand this detach themselves from all that exists and stop imaging or seeking anything. The sutra says ‘To seek is to suffer. To seek nothing is bliss’. When you seek nothing, you’re on the path.’
One starts by seeking. Looking for enlightenment, peace, happiness, etc. Bodhidharma says it is only when we stop seeking outside that we can find the treasures of our mind and life. When we get attached to phenomena then our mind is buffeted by bad and good fortune. Bodhidharma uses the phrase ‘Calamity forever alternates with Prosperity’ referring to the two goddesses responsible for these in the Nirvana sutra. The three realms, with many sub realms, are states of confusion. These states are likened to a ‘burning house’ in the Lotus sutra. Confused attachment to phenomena is what Bodhidharma calls ‘custom’ and today we may say conditioning.
Seeking appears worthwhile at first. As we seek and gain insights we come to realize that by not looking outside for satisfaction we become open to true peace and steadiness.
‘Fourth, practising the Dharma. The Dharma is the truth that all natures are pure. By this truth, all appearances are empty. Defilement and attachment, subject and object don’t exist. The sutra says ‘ The Dharma includes no being because it’s free from the impurity of being, and the Dharma includes no self because it’s free from the impurity of self’. Those wise enough to believe and understand these truth are bound to practise according to the Dharma. And since that which is real includes nothing that is worth begrudging, they give their body, life, and property in charity, without regret, without the vanity of the giver, gift, or recipient, and without bias or attachment. And to eliminate impurity they teach others, but without being attached to form. Thus, through their own practise they’re able to help others and glorify the Way of Enlightenment. And as with charity, they also practise the other virtues to eliminate delusion, they practise nothing at all. This is what’s meant by practising the Dharma.’
Bodhidharma is showing the essence of Zen. When the mind is no longer dualistic it is in accord with circumstances. The mind that is apart from things is the mind that likes and dislikes, grasps or rejects, loves and hates, goes this way and that looking for peace. This is the mind that suffers. This is the mind that is self-centred.
By practising ‘at one with’ the suffering mind is gone. Our self and our life are still there but there is a harmony between inside and outside, self and other, subject and object. In fact, the sense of being separate has gone. Thus Bodhidharma can say there is no (impure) being, no (separate) self. This state is often called true self or Buddha Nature.
Buddha Nature naturally and spontaneously practices the Sila or Purities. Sila are not external precepts but the wholesome outpourings of an awakened being. For example, an awakened being is not caught up with thoughts of stealing or not stealing, but effortlessly leads a life of spotless integrity. Giving and charity are done without any thought of ‘myself’ that is giving. Awakened beings help others but without any concept of helping, thus there is the natural arising of compassion.
Bodhidharma ends by referring to the virtues or Paramitas. The practise of charity or generosity, morality or discipline, patience, energy or devotion, concentration or meditation, and wisdom are done without any concept of ‘myself’ doing them. Without any sense of ‘myself’ practising the Paramitas Bodhidharma can say ‘they practise nothing at all. This is what’s meant by practising the Dharma.’ It is the natural and spontaneous outpouring of Bohhicitta.
This poem by Thich Nhat Hanh embodies the essence of what he calls “interbeing,” the innerconnectedness of all things.
Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh
From: Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
In Plum Village, where I live in France, we receive many letters from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It is very painful to read them, but we have to do it, we have to be in contact. We try our best to help, but the suffering is enormous, and sometimes we are discouraged. It is said that half the boat people die in the ocean. Only half arrive at the shores in Southeast Asia, and even then they may not be safe.
There are many young girls, boat people, who are raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries try to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continue to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.
When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we may become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.
After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The tide of the poem is “Please Call Me by My True Names,” because I have so many names. When I hear one of the of these names, I have to say, “Yes.”
Call Me by My True Names
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Entrance to the Way – Master Hsu Yun
Everything has to be hacked to pieces.
Saints, demons, everything!
Blood has to be splattered all over the mansions of heaven.
That’s the Direct Teaching!
Pull down those golden locked gates to the Profound
That guard the Entrance to the Way.
Be fierce when you sit! Make your sitting a blade that hacks through the
wilderness of incomprehension.
Let your eye pierce the Emptiness!
Expose that True Face
The One that was yours before your mother gave birth.
Mistakes in Practice by Shunryu Suzuki
It is when your practice is rather greedy that you become discouraged with it. So you should be grateful that you have a sign or a warning signal to show you the weak point in your practice.
There are several poor ways of practice which you should understand. Usually when you practice zazen, you become very idealistic, and you set up an ideal or goal which you strive to attain and fulfill. But as I have often said, this is absurd. When you are idealistic, you have some gaining idea within yourself; by the time you attain your ideal or goal, your gaining idea will create another ideal.
So as long as your practice is based on a gaining idea, and you practice zazen in an idealistic way, you will have no time actually to attain your ideal.
Moreover, you will be sacrificing the meat of your practice. Because your attainment is always ahead, you will always be sacrificing yourself now for some ideal in the future. You end up with nothing. This is absurd; it is not adequate practice at all. But even worse than this idealistic attitude is to practice zazen in competition with someone else. This is a poor, shabby kind of practice.
Our Soto way puts an emphasis on shikan taza, or “just sitting.” Actually we do not have any particular name for our practice; when we practice zazen we just practice it, and whether we find joy in our practice or not, we just do it…
“When our mind works freely without any hindrance, and is at liberty to ‘come’ or to ‘go’, we attain Samadhi of Prajna, or liberation. Such a state is called the function of ‘thoughtlessness’. But to refrain from thinking of anything, so that all thoughts are suppressed, is to be Dharma-ridden, and this is an erroneous view.”
When the teachings “click” for you somewhere deep in your heart and mind, then you really have the View. Whatever difficulties you face, you will find you have some kind of serenity, stability, and understanding, and an internal mechanism- you could call it an “ inner transformer”- that works for you, to protect you from falling prey to wrong views. In that View, you will have discovered a “wisdom guide’ of your own, always at hand to advise you, support you, and remind you of the truth. Confusion will still arise, that’s only normal, but with a crucial difference: No longer will you focus on it in a blinded and obsessive way, but you will look on it with humor, perspective, and compassion.
~ Sogyal Rinpoche
The Way Of Faith ~ by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai
Those who take refuge in the three treasures, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, are called the disciples of Buddha. The disciples of Buddha observe the four parts of mind-control—the precepts, faith, offering and wisdom.
The disciples of Buddha practise the five precepts: not to kill, not to steel, not to commit adultery, not to lie, and not to take intoxicants of any kind.
The disciples of Buddha have faith in the Buddha’s perfect wisdom. They try to keep away from greediness and selfishness and to practice offering. They understand the law of cause and effect, keeping in mind the transiency of life and conform to the norm of wisdom.
A tree leaning toward the east will naturally fall eastward and so those who listen to the Buddha’s teaching and maintain faith in it will surely be born in the Buddha’s Pure Land.
It had rightly been said that those who believe in the three treasures of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha are called the disciples of Buddha.
The Buddha is the one who attained perfect Enlightenment and used his attainment to emancipate and bless all mankind. The Dharma is the truth, the spirit of Enlightenment and the teaching that explains it. The Sangha is the perfect brotherhood of believers in the Buddha and Dharma.
We speak of Buddhahood, the Dharma and the Brotherhood as though they are three different things, but they are really one. Buddha is manifested in His Dharma and is realized by the Brotherhood. Therefore, to believe in the Dharma and to cherish the Brotherhood is to have faith in the Buddha, and to have faith in the Buddha means to believe in the Dharma and to cherish the Brotherhood.
Therefore, people are emancipated and enlightened simply by having faith in the Buddha. Buddha is the perfectly Enlightened One and He loves everyone as though each were His only child. So if anyone regards Buddha as his own parent, he identifies himself with Buddha and attains Enlightenment.
Those who thus regard Buddha will be supported by His wisdom and perfumed by His grace.
Nothing in the world brings greater benefit than to believe in Buddha. Just hearing Buddha’s name, believing and being pleased even for a moment, is incomparably rewarding.
Therefore, one must please oneself by seeking the teaching of Buddha in spite of the conflagration that fills all the world.
It will be hard to meet a teacher who can explain the Dharma; it will be harder to meet a Buddha; but it will be hardest to believe in His teachings.
But now that you have met the Buddha, who is hard to meet, and have had it explained to you what is hard to hear, you ought to rejoice and believe and have faith in Buddha.
On the long journey of human life, faith is the best of companions; it is the best refreshment on the journey and it is the greatest possession.
Click here for a free copy of The Teachings of Buddha by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai
Bodhidharma was a great master from suthern India. He first arrived in China by sea in the Song Dynasty. Later, in the Liang Dyansaty, he crossed the Yangtze River and arived in Loyang, the capital of Bei Wei Dyansty. He went to the Shao Lin Monastery in Songshan. There is a lengend that he meditated and contemplated in front of a wall there for nine years. As a result, he became known as the “Brahmana (Holy One) who gazes at the wall.”
He taught the Mahayana way of meditation and did not emphasis on the studies of doctrines and sutras. He did not show much interest in Buddhist rituals or ceremonies. His emphasis was to practice meditation. His teachings were based on the Lankavatara Sutra, which emphasises on the “Direct exploration of the human mind, penetration of the truth and attainment of Buddhahood.”
However , this method is very deep and profound. It is not easy to practice. Only a few people, such as Venerable Hui Ke, managed to learn the method from him.
In the Tang Dynasty, Bodhidharma’s method of meditation had passed down to its fifth generation. It was mastered by Venerable Hong Ren of the Dong Shan Monastery in Huangmei. By that time, the meditatin method was reasonably well develooped.
Lu Hui Neng from Lingnan came to the Dong Shan Monastery. There he worked and practiced at the same time. He was illiterate and had not studied the doctrines. However, he practised meditation and contemplated whole heartedly. During one examination, he created the following poem:
There is no true Bodhi tree,
Nor is there a true mirror stand
Since all is empty in nature,
Where is there for dust to land?
This poem gained the praise of Venerable Hong Ren. He felt that Hui Neng has mastered the principle of Bodhidharma’s teaching. After Hui Neng returned to the south, he resided at the Nab Hua Monastery in Caoxi Shan and propagated the meditation method of Bodhidharma and the method of “Sudden Enlightenment”. From then on, the School of Chan became popular. It became the most powerful and most influential school in Chinese Buddhism. Hui Neng gained the title of the Sixth Patriarch. He is regarded as a great Master who exerted the most significant influence on Chinese Buddhism and culture.Source: From Selected Translations of Miao Yun Part 4 ( Revised Edition) Venerable Yin-shun see Hwa Tsang Buddhist Monastery for more information on Miao Yun publications.
“ How people treat me is their Karma, how I respond is mine.” –truthful Buddhist quote
The Pali term Karma literally means action or doing. Any kind of intentional action whether mental, verbal, or physical, is regarded as Karma. It covers all that is included in the phrase “thought, word and deed”. Generally speaking, all good and bad action constitutes Karma. In its ultimate sense Karma means all moral and immoral volition. Involuntary, unintentional or unconscious actions, though technically deeds, do not constitute Karma, because volition, the most important factor in determining Karma, is absent.
The Buddha says:
“I declare, O Bhikkhus, that volition is Karma. Having willed one acts by body, speech, and thought.” (Anguttara Nikaya)
Every volitional action of individuals, save those of Buddhas and Arahants, is called Karma. The exception made in their case is because they are delivered from both good and evil; they have eradicated ignorance and craving, the roots of Karma.
“Destroyed are their germinal seeds (Khina bija); selfish desires no longer grow,” states the Ratana Sutta of Sutta nipata.
This does not mean that the Buddha and Arahantas are passive. They are tirelessly active in working for the real well being and happiness of all. Their deeds ordinarily accepted as good or moral, lack creative power as regards themselves. Understanding things as they truly are, they have finally shattered their cosmic fetters – the chain of cause and effect.
Karma does not necessarily mean past actions. It embraces both past and present deeds. Hence in one sense, we are the result of what we were; we will be the result of what we are. In another sense, it should be added, we are not totally the result of what we were; we will not absolutely be the result of what we are. The present is no doubt the offspring of the past and is the present of the future, but the present is not always a true index of either the past or the future; so complex is the working of Karma.
It is this doctrine of Karma that the mother teaches her child when she says “Be good and you will be happy and we will love you; but if you are bad, you will be unhappy and we will not love you.” In short, Karma is the law of cause and effect in the ethical realm.
“Do not concern yourself with whether or not you will become enlightened.
Do not concern yourself with existence and non-existence, with inside and outside and in-between.
Do not concern yourself with “stopping” [shammata/samatha]and “observing” [vipashyana/vipasyana].
Do not concern yourself with whether [this method of reciting the buddha-name] is the same or not the same as other Buddhist methods.
If the feeling of doubt does not arise, do not concern yourself with who it is or who it is not [who is reciting the buddha-name]. Simply go on reciting the buddha-name with unified mind and unified intent without a break, pure and unmixed.”
Planting Flowers on a Rock
Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori Roshi True Dharma Eye, Case 232
Originally posted by my most beloved, T. Mujin _/\_
Keeping silent and refraining from discussing the Way is a truly extraordinary practice. This is hearing what is impossible to hear, encountering what is impossible to encounter. Yet, even if all contrivances are cut off, there is still the pit of liberation called “dharma attachment.” Even if we try to establish classes or stages, we should understand that fundamentally there are no boundaries or edges to be found. Yaoshan understands that the ineffable truth that Shitou is pointing to is not to be discerned by conscious cognition of sound and form, nor is it to be found by going beyond sound and form. This being the case, you tell me, where is it to be found? If you wish to understand these great adepts, you must first see into the place where “even a needle cannot enter” and then realize the place that’s “just like planting flowers on a rock.” Without relying on seeing and hearing, and without trying to know objects, we should observe and realize that which is underneath it all.
The Capping Verse
Cease from following after sound and form,
refrain from going beyond sound and form.
The spring breeze unknowingly rousts out the hibernating tree frogs—
cherry blossoms, wordlessly, open a path.
One day, Yaoshan was sitting on a rock when Shitou asked him, “What are you doing here?” and Yaoshan said, “I’m not doing a thing.” Shitou said, “Then you’re just sitting leisurely.” Yaoshan responded, “If I was sitting leisurely, I’d be doing something.” “You say you’re not doing anything, what is it that you’re not doing?” Shitou insisted. Yaoshan said, “A thousand sages don’t know.” Shitou then praised Yaoshan with a verse:
Long abiding together,
Not knowing its name.
Just going on practicing like this.
Since ancient times, the sages don’t know.
Will searching everywhere now make it known?
But that was not the end of the story, for out of this dialogue evolved the koan that we are dealing with here. Yaoshan was an eighth century Chinese master who succeeded Shitou, the author of the Identity of Relative and Absolute. In this dialogue, Shitou is testing Yaoshan by saying, “Words and actions have nothing to do with the truth.” The commentary picks up on this line with: “Keeping silent and refraining from discussing the Way is a truly extraordinary practice. This is hearing what is impossible to hear, encountering what is impossible to encounter.”
A few years ago, I was deeply struck by this practice of keeping silent and refraining from discussing the Way when I visited the Abbey of Gethsemani, the Trappist community where Thomas Merton lived and practiced. The vow of silence is very much present at Gethsemani. I went there as part of a group of fifty monastics from various traditions who were getting together as part of an interreligious encounter. And although we did not speak to the monks of the Abbey, I got a sense of the incredible power of their practice, simply as I passed them silently in the hall.
I must admit that I had gone to this conference prepared to be bored senseless, but instead what happened was that I had my heart ripped open by the participants: Buddhist, Christian, Theravadin, Chan Buddhist, Zen Buddhist, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant. It was clear to me that all of them had spent years in deep study and practice. It was evident in the way they spoke, the way they interacted with one another, and it was especially evident in the questions they asked of themselves and each other—questions that really needed to be asked. I was especially impressed by a Tibetan Buddhist nun who has launched a battle to start a women’s lineage. It doesn’t exist. It hasn’t existed for hundreds of years, but she is determined to make it happen. She also told me that twenty years earlier she’d made a vow when she put on her robes that she would never take them off to get a job, to support herself; that if the dharma didn’t take care of her, then she would just starve to death or rot wherever she was. And she’s kept that vow for all these years. She practices constantly.
Some of the hard questions we asked each other about spiritual practice in the 21st century were things like, What good is a monastery? What good is a monastic? What good is a practitioner? What do they do? What’s their role or responsibility in society? Indeed, the question we should ask ourselves is, What should Zen Mountain Monastery be doing in relationship to society? How should we address war, peace, the environment, poverty, media violence, personal and structural violence, suffering, alienation, greed, and consumerism?
One of the monks I met had been ordained for thirty years, but before that he’d gotten a degree in law. He said when he first arrived, the abbot of his monastery looked at his application, looked at him and said, “Now, what would a monk want with a law degree?” But as it turns out, they’ve used his skills numerous times. One of the things he did was defend our friend, Joan Chittister, who was called to an inquisition in Rome. I don’t know what the charges were, but evidently she’s very liberal and Rome nailed her, so this lawyer monk was called to defend her. They won.
Later, that very same lawyer spoke up during a discussion about the causes of structural violence and how institutions help to create it. He said, “It’s not about greed, it’s not about consumerism. It’s about patriarchy.” Suddenly, all these quiet nuns were up and talking. It was a very lively discussion. Later, I did worry that once this encounter got published as a book half of my friends were going to end up excommunicated. I’m not sure how they handled that.
So, on one hand, we have “keeping silent and refraining from discussing the Way is truly an extraordinary practice. This is hearing what is impossible to hear, encountering what’s impossible to encounter.” If our minds are filled with noise, how will we be able to hear what is impossible to hear? Obviously, we won’t. The definition of the term “mystical” says: “Having a spiritual meaning that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intellect. It is direct subjective communication with ultimate reality.” It’s the kind of communication that we can’t process intellectually. We can’t see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, touch it, or think it. It is very subtle and slippery, impossible to nail down or explain. Yet we’re somehow aware of its presence, and it has a real impact on us. And in order to perceive it, we need to make room for it. We need to be quiet, open, and receptive. That’s the only way we’ll ever access the mystery of this human life.
“Yet, if even all contrivances are cut off, there is still the pit of liberation called ‘dharma attachment.’” That’s the other extreme—complete renunciation, cutting ourselves off from the world, from communication, from any kind of activity. This is what Yunmen called one of the two sicknesses of our practice. Needless to say, in order to function in the world we have to get ourselves out of the pit of liberation. As I have said countless times, it’s not enough to get to the top of the mountain. You have to keep going down the other side and back into the marketplace, where your life takes place.
“Even if we try to establish classes or stages, we should understand that fundamentally there are no boundaries or edges to be found.” There’s the rub. We love to establish classes or stages, but the fact is that there are none. But then people ask, why do we have a hierarchy? Why do we have seniority and the different colored robes and the ten stages of practice and on and on? Call it upaya, skillful means. But ultimately, there is no distinction between buddhas and ordinary beings, between a rank beginner and the person who’s completed her training. In terms of the precepts, the tenth grave precept explicitly says that to even give rise to the thought that there’s a distinction between buddhas and ordinary beings violates the precept.
The commentary continues: “Yaoshan understands that the ineffable truth that Shitou is pointing to is not to be discerned by conscious cognition of sound and form, nor is it to be found by going beyond sound and form.” That’s what we try to do, we try to grasp the teachings with our minds. In the realm of the mystery, there is neither inside nor outside. There’s no way to approach the truth, to grasp it or understand it. It exists thus! But if it’s not discerned by conscious cognition of sound and form and it is not found by going beyond sound and form, then where is it to be found? How is it to be found?
Master Dogen says, “Seeing forms with the whole body and mind, hearing sounds with the whole body and mind, one understands them intimately.” When we practice this wholehearted way of attending and experiencing as we move through our daily lives—when we make direct contact with reality—we go beyond an ordinary way of seeing, of being, and touch the sacred dimension of our lives. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Evelyn Underhill wrote in her book Mysticism:
Contemplation is the mystic’s medium. It is an extreme form of that withdrawal of attention from the external world and total dedication of the mind which also, in various degrees and ways, conditions the creative activity of musician, painter and poet: releasing the faculty by which he can apprehend the good and beautiful and enter into communion with the real.
“Entering into communion with the real” does not mean entering some kind of esoteric state of mind. It is your mind, right here, right now. To contemplate is to use your ability to see directly, intimately, and to express through the creative process and your life what you see—not what you think you see, but what actually is.
The Pure Land teaching began with the World Honored One Shakyamuni Buddha, and has been disseminated through the generations of sage worthies.
They have divided the one gate of buddha-remembrance into four types: buddha-remembrance through reciting the name [of Amitabha Buddha], buddha-remembrance through contemplating the image [of Amitabha Buddha], buddha-remembrance through contemplating the concept [of Buddha], and reality-aspect (real mark) buddha-remembrance.
Though there are differences among the four types, ultimately they all go back to reality-aspect buddha-remembrance. Moreover, the first three types can be grouped as two: contemplating the concept, and reciting the name. [Buddha-remembrance through] contemplating the concept is explained in detail in the Sixteen Contemplations Sutra (Meditation Sutra).Here I will discuss reciting the name. The Amitabha Sutrasays:
If a person recites the name of Amitabha Buddha singlemindedly for [a period of from] one or two up to seven days without allowing anything to confuse the mind, at the end of that person’s life Amitabha Buddha and a multitude of holy ones will appear before him. As the person dies, his mind will not be deluded, and he will attain rebirth in Amitabha Buddha’s land of ultimate bliss.
This is the great [scriptural] source from which for myriad generations has come [the practice of] buddha-remembrance by reciting the name, the wondrous teaching personally communicated from the golden mouth [of Buddha]. An ancient worthy said:
As they contemplate the subtleties of the inner truth of phenomena, the minds of sentient beings are mixed [with other concerns than truth]. Since they practice contemplation with mixed minds, the contemplative state of mind is hard to achieve. The Great Sage [Buddha] took pity on them, and encouraged them to concentrate on the recitation of the buddha-name. Because it is easy to invoke the buddha-name, there starts to be some continuity [to their buddha-remembrance].
This teaches that the work of buddha-remembrance through reciting the name is most essential for being born in the Pure Land. If by reciting the name one arrives at the reality-aspect, then this has the same efficacy as subtle contemplation. Beings of the highest caliber must not doubt this.
All you children of Buddha here today, [I tell you this]: in the gate of repentance, everyone must repent — even the sages of the vehicles of the disciples [sravakas] and the solitary [pratyeka] buddhas, even the great beings of complete mind [bodhisattvas], even those of enlightenment equal to the buddhas, all must still repent. Since they all must equally repent, don’t they all have to be born in the Pure Land? How much the more so for those at the stage of ordinary mortals and those in the stages of study!
To all of you here today, disciples and others, whatever plane of existence you are in, I respectfully offer [this teaching] to you: all of you must wholeheartedly invoke the buddha-name, and seek birth in the Pure Land. I hope that Buddha’s compassion will extend down specially to you, and gather you in and save you.