Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Issho Fujita: "Zazen is not Shuzen"

An interesting piece from the Dharma Eye magazine. I am posting it mostly because I think it is such a clear articulation of Zazen practice in modern Soto Zen, particularly in the Kodo Sawaki lineage. This is Dogen's Zazen according to that lineage.  I like this piece a lot. Enjoy:

My Footnotes on Zazen 1 Zazen is not Shuzen (1)
Rev. Issho Fujita
Director, Soto Zen Buddhism International Center

In my Zazen Sankyu Notebook (1)[Dharma Eye Number 2], I wrote, “Zazen as the body of text is always seeking to be freshly re-read with new footnotes under the renewed light of the present age. Those who practice zazen in this modern society are being requested by zazen itself to bring their own unique words to it”. More than ten years have passed since I wrote that impression and I still feel so. I would like to share with Dharma Eye readers some footnotes I have made during these years. I hope my little effort to add new footnotes to zazen will inspire, even a little bit, the readers to creatively make their own footnotes. 

Around early 6th century CE a strange Buddhist monk came to China from South India. Unlike other visiting monks, he did not bring any new Buddhist scriptures or commentaries. He did not translate nor give lectures on Buddhist scriptures, either. He did nothing that could be called “missionary work.” What he did was just sit all day long facing the wall in a room at Shaolin temple. So people gave him a nickname, “wall-gazing Brahman” (an Indian monk who indulged in meditation facing the wall). This monk was Bodhidharma who is now revered as the “First Ancestor of Zen”.

Except for his own disciples (small in number), very few could understand the true meaning of what he was doing by facing the  wall. For example, a famous Buddhist scholar- monk, Nanzan Dousen(Tang dynasty, a founder of Nanzan Vinaya School), classified Bodhidharma in a shuzen section when he complied The Sequel of Biography of Eminent Monks. That implies that Dousen thought of Bodhidharma as a shuzen practitioner, one who engaged in meditation to attain a special state of mind called “dhyana” (Sa. Jhana, Pa). But Dogen criticized Dousen, saying that such an understanding is completely wrong and irrelevant because zazen encompasses the whole Buddha Dharma, not a part of it. In Shobo- genzo Gyoji he wrote, “This was the utmost stupidity, which is lamentable.” According to Dogen, the sitting zazen facing the wall that Bodhidharma practiced in silence is totally different from what had been practiced as zazen to train (shu) a meditative state of dhyana (zen). What Bodhidharma did was authentic zazen, which had been correctly transmitted through generations of ancestors from Shakyamuni. “The ancestral teacher (Bodhidharma) alone embodied the treasury of the true dharma eye transmitted from buddha to buddha, from heir to heir”. Zazen is not a training of dhyana (shuzen) which is one genre of Buddhist practice, like the Three Studies (sila, samadhi, prajna) or Six Paramitas (dana, sila, kshanti, virya, dhyana, prajna) . It is a quite different practice from zazen. In other word shuzen is a personal training to achieve a human ideal (small vehicle, hinayana) and zazen is an expression of something transpersonal or universal (great vehicle, mahayana).

I believe that it is crucially important for us as zazen practitioners to distinguish zazen as the entirety of Buddha Dharma from shuzen as one genre of it, even though these two practices look similar at a glance. We should avoid confusing them. That is why Dogen repeatedly emphasized this point (zazen is not shuzen) in his writings (Fukanzazengi, Shobogenzo, Eihei Koroku, etc..). It could be said that the bulk of his wirings were written to clarify the criteria for discerning authentic zazen.

Then, what is the difference between zazen and shuzen? This is a very important question to consider when we practice zazen. Even if we are sitting with almost the same posture, it does not mean the content is also the same (“If there is a hairsbreadth deviation, it is like the gap between heaven and earth” Fukanzazengi). I am wondering how many zazen practitioners are keenly aware of the importance of this question. 

I stayed at a small zendo in western Massachusetts from 1987 until 2005 as a resident teacher and practiced zazen together with a group of people. That was a great experience for me to deepen my understanding of zazen. Luckily in that area many people were inter- ested in Buddhism and many Buddhist centers and groups (large and small, Theravada, Ma- hayana, Tibetan) were full of activities. Moreover, the colleges nearby all offered introductory courses in Buddhism and seminars on Buddhist philosophy. Those classes were very popular and many students attended them.

Because I was living in such a “hot place” of Buddhism, I was often visited by people who had already studied and practiced various traditions of Buddhism such as Theravada, Tibetan Buddhism, or Rinzai koan practice before coming to my zendo. I was, in a sense, forced to distinguish shikantaza (just sitting) from those types of sitting meditations. It is not a matter of showing off the superiority of my practice to the other but I needed to clarify what shikantaza is all about in comparison with other kinds of practice. Otherwise I could not fulfill my responsibility as a teacher of that practice.

In English speaking countries zazen is usually translated as “zen meditation” or “sitting meditation”. But this translation makes it almost inevitable that people think of zazen as an effort to control the mind and attain a certain state of mind by applying a certain method. This is exactly what shuzen means. Therefore I had to explain that zazen was different from meditation. When I talked about zazen, I decided to use Japanese word, zazen, instead of using English translations. Then it was quite natural that people started asking me, “Ok. Then what is zazen? What should we do to do zazen?”

I realized that when people tried to do zazen based on the shuzen-like assumption they first physically sat down with a certain posture and then applied some mental technique (with emphasis on the mental technique). They thought they had to do some psychological work l in addition to physically sitting. But zazen should be practiced within a totally different framework. So I had to clarify the difference between zazen and their deeply held assumptions.

Near the zendo where I resided there was a vippassana meditaion center founded by S. N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin. This center, formally called Dhammadhara (land of Dhamma), was the first meditation center in North America (founded in 1982) among about 100 centers worldwide. The center consists of 108 acres of land and many buildings, including a bathhouse, two dining rooms, meditation hall for 200 people, a 60 cell pagoda, separate residences for men and women and a center manager's house. Every year around 2,000 people participate in their 10-day course of vipassana meditation. (for more information, see their website at I attended 10-day courses offered by this center twice.

During the 10-day course, for the first three days they practice anapanasati, focusing the attention to the physical sensations around the nostril and the rest of the period they keep “scanning” the whole body by using the cultivated attention to the sensations ( for the details of this technique, see Art of Living by William Hart).

Later I met Larry Rosenberg, a guiding teacher at Cambridge Insight Meditation Center and an author of an excellent book, Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation. He kindly invited me as a guest participant to the 10-day course for advanced yogis he led at Insight Meditation Center in Barre, MA. There I experienced another style of vipassana called “labeling” in the tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw. In this practice practitioners are encouraged to keep noting/labeling every activity all day long.

Before I came to America, I had experienced 5 day or a week long Zen sesshin many times. But I never had a chance to experience 10-day meditation retreat in Japan. Physically it was not so hard for me to sit for many hours for 10 days. But it was the first time I had to apply a certain meditation technique for that long period. These were practices such as exclusively focusing on the sensations around the nostrils, or keeping scanning the whole body for a long time, or labeling whatever is happening in body and mind. Metaphorically speaking, I used “mental muscles” a lot which I seldom use during zazen. And I felt mental “muscular pain” from overusing them. In zazen our mind pervades throughout, resting with the body that is sitting and breathing. It does not engage with any other activity. In zazen we do not intentionally use or actively control our mind, applying a certain method and technique. In those two types of vipassana practice I had a different “taste” of sitting, compare to the one I had in zazen. Where does this difference in taste come from? It was very informative to think about it. Of course this is but my personal impression as a complete beginner of this practice. It is highly likely that the “taste” will change as I deepen the practice further. And also it could be that vipassana is quite different from shuzen. 

Another helpful hint for me in clarifying the difference between zazen and shuzen is Uchiyama Roshi’s definition of zazen. He says it is “an effort to continuously aim at a correct sitting posture with flesh and bones and to totally leave everything to that.” In his definition there is no shuzen element which assumes the central role of mind in shuzen practice. In opposition, the somatic element of zazen is strongly emphasized. If we can understand Bodhidharma’s “wall gazing” as an effort“ to keep sitting with bodymind being like a wall, whatever happens, let it flow as it is, without clinging to or fighting against it”, it is very similar to Uchiyama roshi’s definition of zazen. In this kind of practice, to do zazen means just to sit solely aiming at a correct posture. There is no other need to reach a certain state of mind as a goal or to attain a special experience. Therefore we are freed from anxiety and frustration which comes from seeking for a special state of mind and experience which we have not yet attained and are able to peacefully rest in the here-and-now as it is, nothing special. There can be no competition or ranking based on what is achieved because there is no fixed attainment target. All those human struggles are totally suspended in zazen. That is why zazen is called the “dharma gate of joyful ease”. We simply make a sincere and straightforward effort to sit zazen with body and mind all together without desiring to get something however lofty it may be. This is the way of zazen and in that sense it is quite different from shuzen.

This is easy to say but very difficult to do for us because we are usually driven by a desire to achieve something which does not exist here and now. When we hear that zazen is about no achievement, we immediately ask, “If zazen is that, how can I do it?” But this is a question exactly stemming from the framework based on “means and end” which is always behind the shuzen approach. It is nothing but an undertaking to grasp zazen using the shuzen concept. This shuzen attitude is deeply rooted in our way of behavior and thinking. That is why we should take a radically different approach to zazen so that we can avoid changing zazen into shuzen, consciously or unconsciously.

How can we clearly understand total difference in quality between zazen and shuzen?

(to be continued)

My Footnotes on Zazen 2
Zazen is not Shuzen (2)

Rev. Issho Fujita
Director, Soto Zen Buddhism International Center

I often use “Magic Eye” to illustrate a difference in quality between zazen and shuzen. “Magic Eye” is a picture of a two- dimensional pattern generated by a computer graphics. When you continue looking at it in a certain way, a three-dimensional image emerges out of the pattern. In Japan, it has become popular thanks to a sales pitch - “Good for improving your vision.” Some of you might have already had “Magic Eye experience”.

If you look at a Magic Eye picture in an ordinary way, the three-dimensional image hidden in the picture will never come out. If you stop seeing it in the usual way, tensing the muscles around the eyeballs to focus on the object and find out something – if you relax those muscles, giving up the effort to find something and wait patiently with a soft- focused eye (this kind of eye is called “Magic Eye”), a three-dimensional image suddenly emerges from nowhere. When we try to see the image more clearly, thinking “Wow, this is interesting!” and return to the ordinary way of seeing, the image immediately disappears. The attitude, the way of seeing and what is seen are interrelated. There is no way of cheating this relation.

An interesting thing about this “Magic Eye” phenomenon is that, depending on how we see the same picture - with ordinary eyes or with “Magic Eye” – a totally different visual world unfolds. I don’t know how we can see a three- dimensional image in a two-dimensional picture, but I am sure it is not just psychological but a matter of the physical way in which we use our eyes.

I think “Magic Eye” is an interesting and helpful metaphor for the whole different world of experience that unfolds depending on whether we sit zazen, in the shuzen way of using bodymind or in zazen way of “dropped- away bodymind.” In an old commentary to Shobogenzo, there is a phrase, “When sitting zazen, zazen becomes the self. It is not the self at ordinary times.” If we replace “self” with “bodymind,” it would go like this:” When sitting zazen, zazen becomes the bodymind. It is not bodymind at ordinary times”.

By extending the metaphor of the two types of eyes, ordinary eyes and “Magic Eye” and applying it to describe the characteristics and differences between ordinary bodymind and magic-eye-like bodymind, it is possible to say that shuzen is done with the former bodymind and zazen with the latter. With ordinary bodymind, we first set up the goal, control our body and mind in a certain way to accomplish the goal, and make a conscious effort to make result of our action match with the goal through comparing the two. Whatever we do, there is a basic structure of “I (consciously) operate my bodymind to accomplish a purpose.” In the case of shuzen, the purpose is to produce a certain state of mind which can be clearly described as “dhyana” and the practitioner applies a various methods (Dogen Zenji called it “means to brush it clean”), like counting breath, following breath, body-scanning, mental noting, etc.. With these methods, body and mind are consciously and purposely used to make progress toward the goal. It is an act of self-control - “I” control “my body and mind” - and an approach of actively doing something to achieve a goal.

In contrast, magic-eye-like bodymind is an approach of undoing what we do not need to do or what we should not do. Physically speaking, it is a state of deep relaxation with unnecessary tension totally released. Psychologically speaking, it is a state of resting ease in a relaxed way in which the ordinary way of actively run- ning the mind is put aside (Dogen Zenji called it “give up the operations of mind, intellect, and consciousness”). In Dogen Zenji’s “Birth-Death”, he wrote, “Just letting go of and forgeting body and mind, casting them into the house of Buddha, being activated by the Buddha - when we go along in accord with this, then without applying effort or expending the mind we part from birth and death and become Buddhas”. I think this is a wonderful descrip- tion of magic-eye-like bodymind. Therefore zazen should not be a “job done by self-power.” Essentially zazen is not what we can ”do” directly by exerting our own power. Keizan Zenji wrote, “Just sit zazen. Do not fabricate anything. This is the essential art of zazen” in Zazen Yojinki (Notes on What to be Aware of in Zazen).

To give zazen instruction, we often say, “straighten your back,” “keep your eyes half- open, half-closed” to regulate the body, “make your out-breath long,” “do abdominal breathing” to regulate breath, and “do not think anything,” “focus your attention on your breath” to regulate the mind. I think there is a big problem here. Zazen should not be something forcefully built up by imposing a ready-made mold onto our body-mind from outside. It should be what is naturally and freely generated from inside as a result of non-fabrication. There is a danger that a rote way of giving instruction is leading us to change zazen into shuzen.

In zazen, the spine should elongate by itself instead of our lengthening it by effort. I would like to briefly touch upon the topic of “outer” and “inner” muscles. When we try to lengthen our spine consciously, we use the “outer muscles” – the volitional muscles. These are designed for purposeful movement. When the spine elongates by itself, the body is using the autonomously-controlled “inner muscles.” These are the muscles of “being” – the non- volitional muscles - designed as a system of supportive movement (Jeremy Chance, “Alexander Technique”).

In many cases the natural function of inner muscles is blocked by unnecessary tensions of outer muscles. We must reactivate and fully develop the intrinsic functions of inner muscles by undoing unnecessary tensions in the outer muscles. The fundamental problem of human beings is that the outer muscles tend to take every chance to intrude where the inner muscles are supposed to play a main role. I think this is closely related to saying that zazen (inner muscle dominant) is not shuzen (outer muscle dominant).
Anyway, the principle of “it is good to spontaneously become so but not good to artificially make it be so” should be applied not only to spine but also head, eyes, hands, arms, legs and the all other parts of zazen posture, breath, and the mind. In zazen, we should not perform a special breathing method to control the breath but leave everything to the natural breathing, which is a life-sustaining activity of the body sitting with a correct posture. Dogen Zenji never tells us to breathe this way or that way. He just says, “breathe softly through your nose” or “your in-breath and out-breath are not long nor short (leave them alone).”

The idea of outer and inner muscles is about the body but I think we can also apply this idea to the mind. When we are absorbed in our thoughts, thinking of this or that - as usual - it is a function of “outer-muscle mind.” In everyday expression, we say “use your head.” In contrast, “inner-muscle mind” functions to support the appearing and disappearing of thoughts at the basic level. It enables intuition, awareness, and mindfulness to arise. Here again in zazen, we can say that we are calming down an excessive activity of outer-muscle mind and activating and manifesting the func- tion of inner-muscle mind which has been sup- pressed. Therefore as Dogen Zenji said, “stop measuring with thoughts, ideas and views.” We should avoid bringing the “side job” of various meditation techniques like the four foundations of mindfulness, Sun meditation, Ajikan meditation and so on, into zazen. When we engage in these meditation techniques, our mind inevitably becomes active and is dominated by “outer-muscle mind.” In zazen, the mind is dominated by “inner-muscle mind.” It is not focused on any particular spot. It evenly and softly permeates inside and outside the body, calmly receiving sensory inputs (including all kinds of thoughts) with equanimity. It suspends any reaction and control against the inputs whatever they may be.

So far I have been using strange metaphors like “Magic-Eye-like bodymind” and “outer muscle, inner muscle.” I did this to help you become familiar with the zazen approach in which we practice zazen as zazen, not as shuzen. For us the shuzen approach is much easier to grasp than zazen approach and we are much more familiar with it. Because it’s difficult to understand and unfamiliar, we often lose sight of shuzen being totally different from the zazen Dogen Zenji recommended so highly.
As a result, we are actually doing shuzen very hard believing it is zazen or zazen becomes “a dead letter,” a matter of appearance, or just an imitation of the form. I think something has to be done to change such a sad situation. It is the main reason why I started writing this article.

Of course, I do not have an ultimate answer to the problem. As I quoted earlier, “when we sit zazen, zazen becomes bodymind.” I am now exploring one step further to discover what kind of bodymind arises during zazen and what we should do in order to have such a bodymind. Zazen is not just a training or exercise for us to attain some preferable goals but a spiritual practice of “immediately entering into Buddhahood.” I really hope that we can open up the way we, today, can practice such zazen as a template of following what the buddhas and ancestral teachers practiced . 

another talk by Rev. Fujita on the same topic:

Monday, May 28, 2012

What is Zen?

A great spin-off piece from Koun's "That's Not Zen" post of a few days ago, from Dosho Port's excellent blog:

Papaji on Sengcan's "Faith in Mind (Xinxin Ming, J. Shinjinmei)"

Below I've copied out a precious excerpt from David Godman's The Fire of Freedom: Satsang With Papaji Vol. 1. It is Papaji's oral commentary on the 3rd Zen Ancestor Sengcan's Verses on Faith in Mind. What we have here, then, is a modern Vedantic Nondualist who was widely believed to be a gyani, an awakened sage, commenting on one of the core texts of the Zen Buddhist tradition. Interestingly, although Papaji read other works in satsang like Yoga Vasishtha and Silence of the Heart this is the only full commentary on a spiritual text I have found in print.

Papaji (HWL Poonja) was a disciple of Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. He lived in the world, was married and had a family, and worked for a living, including as a manager of mining company and in the army. From the 60s to the 90s he spent much of his time wondering India and abroad giving intense teachings to small bands of disciples who he seemed to connect with spontaneously, purely on the basis of karmic connection. In the 90s he became ill and settled in Lucknow, where a large mass of disciples, mostly Westerners, gathered around him. His disciples included Gangaji, Mooji, Andrew Cohen and others. A large group of controversial "neo-advaitins", non dual teachers only loosely grounded in Vedantic tradition, have arisen from among his students.

Papaji himself was apparently a remarkable teacher. I have spoken to one man, a persons of integrity and deep spiritual experience whom I trust, who lived with him for several years. He told me that he was confident that Papaji was a completely awakened human being who had an uncanny ability to introduce other people, often within a few minutes, to direct experiences of emptiness, the mind-ground, and the true nature of the self. In many ways Papaji was a true embodiment of the Indian mahasiddha of the likes of Tilopa or Naropa (or Simha, the teacher of Bodhidharma's teacher Prajnatara). He stressed the transcendence of all concepts, the need to go beyond the mind, the illusory nature of reality, the lack of "small s" self in either the person or any phenomena. "The highest truth", he would say, "is that absolutely nothing is born and absolutely nothing dies. Nothing has ever happened."

Papaji was a great admirer of the Buddha, and even dressed up as a Buddhist monk and gave impromptu sermons in the market place as a child. He was a great fan of the Platform Sutra. Although he had a great love for the sages and teachings of Vedanta and also possessed intense bhakti (devotion) for Krishna from adolescence onward, Papaji sometimes expressed that he felt Buddhist teachings expressed the truth in a more uncompromising way than Hindu teachings.

Below is the commentary. Enjoy, and thank you very much to David Godman for this wonderful satsang:

The following is excerpted from a satsang (group meeting with Papaji). The text is produced as Papaji read it, and the underlined portions are lines that he repeated for emphasis. Papaji's comments are in bold.

Papaji: This mention of "dharma" reminds me. Where is that text that someone sent me? There is something in there about doubts.

The great way is not difficult
for those who are unattached to preferences.
When love and hate are both absent,
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
If you wish to see the truth,
then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning of things is not understood,
the mind's essential peace is disturbed to no avail.
The way is perfect like vast space
where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.
Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject
that we do not see the true nature of things.
Live neither in the entanglements of outer things
nor in inner feelings of emptiness.
Be serene in the oneness of things
and such erroneous views will disappear of themselves.
When you try to stop activity or to achieve passivity,
your very effort fills you with activity.
As long as you remain in one extreme or the other,
you will never know oneness.
Those who do not live in the single way
fail in both activity and passivity, assertion and denial.
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 you stray from the truth.
Stop talking and thinking
and there is nothing you will not be able to know.
To return to the root is to find the meaning,
but to pursue appearances is to miss the source.
At the moment of inner enlightenment
there is a going beyond appearance...

[Papaji, chuckling, exclaimed 'Yes! Wonderful! before continuing with an emphatic repetition:]

At the moment of inner enlightenment
there is a going beyond appearance and emptiness.
the changes that appear to occur in the empty world
we call real only because of our ignorance.
Do not search for the truth.
Only cease to cherish opinions.
Do not remain in the dualistic state.
Avoid such pursiots carefully.
If there is even a trace of this and that, of right and wrong,
the mind-essence will be lost in confusion.
Although all dualities come from the one,
do not be attached even to this one.

Papaji: [turning to the last questioner] You have to understand this line.

Question: That is quite difficult for me to understand.

Papaji: Yes, that's why I stopped here. It says, 'Do not be attached even to this one.' I will explain this because he is not being completely clear here. When you have detached yourself from duality, that means that at one time you accepted duality as being valid. The accepting and the not accepting are both conclusions. When you have rejected duality, what remains is the one. That's true, isn't it? All dualities, all ideas of duality, come from the oneness, and when duality is discarded, what remains is the oneness. Then he says, 'Do not be attached even to this one.' Up to now you have obviously understood, but now I have to explain what this line means. He is telling you not to be attached to the one as a concept. 'One' and 'two' are two concepts that are related to each other. Is it possible to speak of two unless you have the concept of one? You can't, can you?

Question: No, I can honestly say that I can't.

Papaji: Two is one plus one. When you see it like this, the oneness has entered duality, at least in your concept of what is going on. Two always has a relationship with one when one is still a concept. But when duality is lost, where is the one? Where is it?

Question: In the two? Back in the two? I don't really know.

Papaji: When you have lost the concept of duality, of two, oneness also goes.

Question: Right.

Papaji: When you are one, when you are alone in the oneness, you don't count yourself as 'one' because there is no two for you to be in relationship with. One can only exist as one if there is a two for it to be in relationship with. When two doesn't exist at all, one cannot exist either.

What happens when we sleep? We reject everyone. Many people came to see you while you were awake. Perhaps you were at a wedding, your own wedding, while you were socializing with many friends and relatives. One by one everyone leaves and says 'goodbye'. Now you are left with your bride. There are just the two of you left and it is time for you to go to sleep. You are both there, in the same bed, in the same room. The two goes when you say goodnight to your wife, and the moment you enter deep sleep, the one does as well. You enter a place where neither one nor two can exist. When the one goes, when it disappears, everything else goes with it. Ideas of one or to cannot rise or exist there.

You can't even think of one unless you speak and think of something that is other than one. When you return to the Self, duality goes, and then the one goes along with it. The Self is not something that can be counted in units of one or two. Neither one nor two is there. This is what this Zen master is trying to tell you. You have to reject the idea of one as well as two.

Although all dualities come from the one,
do not be attached even to this one.

I told you earlier that you had to go on rejecting everything that could be rejected. This one is one of the things you have to reject. Reject everything as 'not me': 'I am not the many; I am not my parents; I am not my brothers; I am not my son.' Then you are reduced to the possibility of your being the one. Reject that as well. When you say to yourself, "I am not the mind, not the body, not the ego, not the intellect', and so on, add "I am not the one.' Reject that as well and the rest in the quietness of what remains and see what reveals itself to you.

When the mind exists undisturbed in this way, 
nothing in the world can offend.
and when a thing can no longer offend,
it ceases to exist in the old way.

'It ceases to exist in the old way.' The mountain will be a different mountain. The tree will be a different tree. The man will be a different man. Things will be the same, but the way you view them will be different.

When no discriminating thoughts arise,
the old mind ceases to exist.
When thought objects vanish,
the thinking subject vanishes,
as when the mind vanishes, object vanish.

'When thought objects vanish'. This is where you start your enquiry. with objects of thought. When you say, 'I am the body', the body is your thought object. Start from that place. 'I am Tim'. When this thought vanishes, the 'I' who thought he was Tim also vanishes. When the mind that has objects of thought vanishes, the objects themselves vanish. Consider what happens when you go to sleep. Mind vanishes, and all the objects it was previously perceiving vanish.

Things are objects because of the subject [mind].
The mind [subject] is such because of things [objects].

Things are only objects because of the subject that perceives them. Mind is what it is because of the things that it perceives. The mind is the subject because of the objects it sees. They both appear and disappear together. Neither can exist without the other.

Understand the relativity of these two
and the basic reality, the unity of emptiness.
In this emptiness the two are indistinguishable,
and each contains in itself the whole world.
If you do not discriminate between coarse and fine,
you will not be tempted to prejudice and opinion.
To live in the great way is neither easy or difficult,
but those with limited views are fearful and irresolute.
the faster they hurry, the slower they go,
and clinging [attachment] cannot be limited.
Even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment is to go astray.

Ah ha! very nice! 'Even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment is to go astray.' [Laughs for some time.] We were speaking earlier of meditation and ideas and decisions. This is the dharma! This is the dharma!

Just let things be in their own way
and there will be neither coming nor going.
Obey the nature of things, your own nature,
and you will walk freely and undisturbed.
When thought is in bondage, the truth is hidden,
for everything is murky and unclear,
and the burdensome practice of judging
brings annoyance and weariness.
What benefit can be derived from distinctions and separations?
If you wish to move in the one way
do not dislike even the world of sense and ideas.
Indeed, to accept them fully
is identical with true enlightenment.
the wise man strives to no goals,
but the foolish man fetters himself.
There's one dharma, norm many.
Distinctions arise from the clinging needs of the ignorant.
To seek mind with the mind is the greatest of of all mistakes.
Rest and unrest derive from illusion.
With enlightenment there is no liking or disliking.
All dualities come from ignorant interference.
They are like dreams or flowers in the air:
foolish to try to grasp them.
Gain and loss, right and wrong,
such thoughts must finally be abolished at once.
If the eye never sleeps, all dreams will naturally cease.
If the mind makes no discriminations,
the ten thousand things are as they are, of single essence.
To understand the mystery of this one-essence
is to be erased from all entanglements.
When things are seen equally,
the timeless self-essence is reached.
No comparisons or analogies are possible
in this causeless, relations less state.

[Papaji laughed before repeating the last statement:] No comparisons or analogies are possible in this causeless, relationless state.

Consider movement stationary and the stationary in motion.
Both movement and rest disappear.
When such dualities cease to exist...

Oho! This is the thing I was talking about. I was trying to explain it to you, but he explains it himself in the next line.

When such dualities cease to exist,
oneness itself cannot exist.

He did it! He explained this himself. I thought he was not going to say this, so I explained it myself earlier. This is very good, very nice. I am reading this for the first time. If I had known he was going to say this himself, I wouldn't have stopped earlier.

Question: Really! You have never come across these words before? They are quite famous.

Papaji: Yes, I'm reading them for the first time, thinking about them without any support from anything or anywhere else. It's very nice. No, better than that: it's excellent!

To this ultimate finality no law or description applies.

No laws operate in this place, no revelation is valid. Nothing applies there. What is this situation? This is what you have to know and experience.

For the unified mind in accord with the way
all self-centred driving ceases.
Doubts and irresolutions vanish,
and life in true faith is possible.
With a single stroke  we are freed from bondage.
Nothing clings to us and we hold to nothing.
All is empty, clear, self-illuminating,
with noe exertion of the mind's power.
Here thought, feeling, knowledge, and imagination are of no value.
In this world of suchness
there is neither self not other-than-self.
To come directly into harmony with this reality
just simply say when doubts arise, 'Not two.'
In this 'not two' nothing is separate,
nothing is excluded.
No matter when or where,
enlightenment means entering this truth,
and this truth is beyond extension or diminution in time or space.
In it a single thought is ten thousand years.

[Laughing again] This is what we talk about here. this is space we speak of here. 'A single thought is ten thousand years.'

Emptiness here, emptiness there,
but the infinite universe stands
always before your eyes,
infinitely large and infinitely small:
no difference, for definitions have vanished
and no boundaries are seen.
So too with being and non-being.
Don't waste time in doubts and arguments
that have nothing to do with enlightenment.

[The Richard Clarke translation that Papaji was reading from actually says 'nothing to do with this' but Papaji somehow read it as 'enlightenment' and then repeated the two line again, with the same final word.]

One things, all things:
move among and intermingle
without distinction.
To live in this realization
is to be without anxiety about non-perfection.
To live in this faith is the road to non-duality
because the non-dual is one with the trusting mind.
The way is beyond language,
for in it there is
no yesterday,
no tomorrow,
no today.

Papaji: Did you like this?

Question: Yes, it was very beautiful.

Papaji: Yes, very beautiful. What a teaching! You won't hear a better teaching than this. As you listen to this, you can't cling to anything. That's the beauty of it. You can't cling to any sentence, any word, any teaching to give you freedom.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What is Zen?

Below is my response to the following post, "That's Not Zen" on the excellent Nyoho Zen blog:

When I first started practicing Zen I felt clear about what it was. I read Roshi Philip Kapleau’s Three Pillars of Zen, and thought Zen was a set of practices which would lead to a direct experience of your “true nature” or “original face”. I had read of this concept before in earlier and extremely crude readings of Zen when I was 13 and 14- I remember explaining to an assuredly perplexed father when I was 16 that I did not want to go to school and pursue a normal job, I wanted to see “my face before my parents were born”.  When I started practicing Zazen, at the age of 18 or 19, I thought it would be a way to experience the essence, the true reality, of my self and of life.

I’ll insert a spoiler here and tell you that more than 15 years later, after many changes of view and path, I have come back to this same opinion: Zen is a set of practices which aim at a realization, an understanding, a direct experience, and an embodiment, of the reality of the self and of life. This reality is sometimes called “buddha nature” “one mind” “mind ground” “tathagatagarbha”, and goes hand in hand with the understanding of the emptiness of self and things, of subject and object. Put another way, the self is ungraspable, and things too are ungraspable. The reason this realization is important is that it frees us from our deluded grasping, which is the source of the suffering of both ourselves and of others, and also the source of our inability to truly serve others, which is the same thing as serving that which is deepest within us.

After I began sitting Zazen I continued reading books on Zen, and after an initial ecstacy of love became more and more confused. Within about a year I felt I no longer had any idea how to practice Zen. When I tried I found I was trying to fake various Zen-like attitudes I didn’t really understand. It was then that the late Patrick O’ Connel, great Manitoban poet, Buddhist, and sometimes Christian, handed me a copy of Nyaniponika Thera’s Heart of Buddhist Meditation.
The Burmese Mindfulness meditation of that book was a revelation. The gentle attentiveness, the pursuit of reality, the whole body and mind presence, and the promise of self knowledge and freedom I had also found in Zen, but here it was without the pretense and obfuscation!

I took up Mindfulness meditation and read Goldstein, Kornfield, Salzburg and crew. I felt relieved and energized by the clear, simple teachings. When I applied them my clarity increased and my afflictive emotions decreased. All aspects of my life improved.

I took up Theravadin practice and ultimately ordained as a bhikkhu (monk) in the Thai Forest Tradition under the brilliant scholar and meditation master, Thanissaro Bhikkhu. I benefitted tremendously from his teachings and from Buddhist practice as taught in the Pali Canon (the earliest, pre-Mahayana scriptures) and Thai masters like Ajaan Lee, Ajaan Chah, and Ajaan Maha Boowa.

The other side of the story was that I slowly became a slave to technique, form and dogma. I lost sight of the possibility of radical insight here and now, of direct penetration, freedom, and contemplative creativity. I felt I had to perfect my monastic discipline, my renunciation, and my jhana (sankrit: dhyana) before I could hope to have any real insight or freedom beyond character development and increased skillfulness and happiness.

To simplify the story considerably this was what led me back to Zen, which I keep on coming back to like an old lover ever since I tremblingly took the four Bodhisattva vows as a teenager. To my thinking Zen is exactly as it was described by Bodhidharma: “Not depending on words and scriptures, a special transmission outside the teachings, direct pointing to the heart and becoming Buddha.” Zen goes to the same place as other forms of Buddhism, but does it not by relying on the Buddha’s techniques and philosophies but by direct realization of the Buddha’s mind of freedom. The Buddha’s mind is the mind of non-grasping, the mind of nirvana. The only difference between Zen realization and Theravadin realization, in my opinion (whose worth is questionable and you will question very justifiably) is that Zen takes the mind of non-duality and non-grasping further, going beyond realization of nirvana to the Mahayana ideal of non-grasping to nirvana or samsara, to emptiness or form, to rejecion of the world or addiction to to it. This is the path of the Bodhisattva- endless non-abiding practicefor the sake of self and other, beyond self and other, the ultimate mind of non-grasping.

I believe that Zen attempts to keep practices to a minimum, well aware of the tendency to worship the means and forget the end. Of course this happens in Zen still, but no one is perfect and everything flowing in the stream of samsara is relentlessly pulled into the muddy waters. Only the steel guts of the Bodhisattvas pull Zen out again and pass it along until the next muddy wave.

I understand Koan study to be a technique for transmitting understanding of that which leads to the non-grasping mind- understanding of the ever-free nature of our own awareness, our Buddha nature; understanding of the illusory and projected nature of our concepts and perceptions; understanding the emptiness of self and phenomena; understanding our non-seperation from all things; understanding the non-grasping compassion of a Bodhisattva. It is a thorough training in the seeing through, in barrier-lessness, in letting go.

Shikantaza is a direct taking up of the mind of a Buddha, the non-grasping, luminous mind. Even though Shikantaza by definition must be done without desiring attainments, without doing, and without grasping to any ecstacies, insights, or even any simple ease and pleasure, that comes with it, I believe that shikantaza properly done leads to a real “dropping off of body and mind” where one realizes directly the always and ever free Buddha nature and the emptiness of self and other.  I believe that the writings or teachings of Dogen Zenji and Keizan Jokin, Hongzhi Zhenjue, or for that matter Obaku Zenji (Huangpo) or Eko Zenji (Huineng) amply point in this direction.

I do not believe that this means Zen rejects monasteries, precepts, sutra study, chanting, or for that matter psychotherapy, psychiatric medication, yoga or tooth brushing. It just means that these things, though they help stabilize and put in order body and mind for practice, do not lead to freedom are not Zen. Zen is the direct realization of the Buddha’s heart. It is the wholehearted effort to let nothing else get in the way.

Some may argue, rightly, that Zen says there is nothing to attain. That is true. We are already free and all of our suffering is an illusion. But until we know that we must practice. We will not gain anything, but we will lose every thing, which is exactly what we need.

Three Poems by Stonehouse (tr. Red Pine)

A round head and square robe constitute a monk
behold a descendant of Shakyamuni Buddha
stopping wrongs and evils taming the horse of will
banishing thoughts and schemes caging the monkey mind
refining his true nature until its pure gold
keeping the mystic source warm as jade
give him a pull but he won't budge
only when he's willing is he friendly


To get to the end the very end
let it all go let it go
saliva builds on the lips
moss grows thick on an ancient pond
a wooden horse flashes through the clouds
a clay ox thunders beneath the sea
a moonlit night on a thousand snowy peaks
a hidden scent says spring has reached the winter plum


Scorpion tails and wolf hearts overrun the world
everyone has a trick to get ahead
but how many smiles in a lifetime
how many moments of peace in a day
who knows a toppled cart means try another track
when trouble strikes there is no time for shame
this old monk isn't just talking
he's trying to remove your obstacles and chains

- from The Zen Works of Stonehouse: Poems and Talks of a 14th Century Chinese Hermit (Counterpoint 1999)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ajahn Sumedho: The Way It Is

An excerpt from Ajahn Sumedho's 1988 talk "Accepting the Way Things Are", from the book "The Way It Is", available free online (google it).

How many of you have been practising today trying to become something 'I have got to do this ... or become that ... or get rid of something ... or got to do something...' That compulsiveness takes over, even in our practice of Dhamma. 'This is the way it is' isn't a fatalistic attitude of not caring or being indifferent, but is a real openness to the way things have to be at this moment. For example, right now at this moment this is the way it is and it can't be any other way at this moment. It's so obvious, isn't it?

Right now, no matter whether you are feeling high or low or indifferent, happy or depressed, enlightened or totally deluded, half-enlightened, half-deluded, three-quarters deluded, one-quarter enlightened, hopeful or despairing - this is the way it is. And it can't be any other way at this moment.

How does your body feel? Just notice that the body is this way. It's heavy, it's earthbound, it's coarse, it gets hungry, it feels heat and cold, it gets sick, sometimes it feels very nice, sometimes it feels very horrible. This is the way it is. Human bodies are like this; so that this tendency to want it to be otherwise falls away. It doesn't mean we can't try to make things better, but we do so from understanding and wisdom rather than from an ignorant desire.

The world is this way and things happen, and it snows and the sun comes out, and people come and go, people have misunderstandings, people's feelings get hurt. People get lazy, and inspired and people get depressed and disillusioned, people gossip and disappoint each other and there is adultery and there's theft, drunkenness and drug addiction and there are wars, and there always have been.

Here in a community like Amaravati we can see the way things are. Now it's the weekend and more people come to offer alms-food and it's more crowded and noisy and sometimes there are children running up and down screaming and people pounding vegetables and chopping things and everything going all over the place. You can observe 'this is the way it is' rather than 'these people are impinging on my silence.' 'I don't want it to be like that, I want it to be otherwise,' might be the reaction if you like the quiet orderliness of the meal where there's none of that going on and there are no loud noises or harsh sounds. But life is like this, this is the way life is, this is human existence. So in our minds we embrace the whole of it, and 'this is the way it is' allows us to accept the changes and movements from the silent to the noisy, from the controlled and ordered to the confused and muddled.

One can be a very selfish Buddhist and want life to be very quiet and want to be able to 'practise' and have plenty of time for sitting, plenty of time for studying the Dhamma and 'I don't want to have to receive guests and talk to people about silly things' and 'I don't want to ... blah blah blah.' You can really be a very, very selfish person as a Buddhist monk. You can want the world to align itself with your dreams and ideals and, when it doesn't, you don't want it anymore. But rather than make things the way you want them, the Buddha way is to notice the way things are. And it's a great relief when you accept the way it is, even if it's not very nice; because the only real misery is not wanting it to be like that.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

On Hishiryo (Beyond Thinking)

Below is a good post from the Zennist on "hishiryo", a key term in Dogen's writings (see Zazengi; Fukanzazengi; Zazenshin). Dogen uses this term to describe what one "does" in Zazen. It is not thinking (shiryo) or not thinking (fushiryo) but rather being "beyond" (Tanahashi) or "before" (Anzan Roshi) thinking.

I'm not sure I agree with, or completely understand the Zennist's equation of hishiryo with ashraya-paravritti ("the turning around of the basis") which is a term for liberation, or what leads to liberation, in Indian Yogacara Buddhism. As I understand it ashraya-paravrtti refers to the transformation, or turning around, of one's base level of consciousness towards pure awareness, or transcendental Mind, as opposed to manas (the I-maker).  I do agree that ashraya-paravrtti must be either 1) equivalent to "seeing your original face" in Hui-Neng's terminology, or: 2) a possible result of seeing your original face when the mind is pure enough to be thoroughly transformed by it.

 It seems to me that hishiryo is both the fundamental practice of Zen, and that which leads to ashraya-paravrtti. When one dwells beyond/before thought, one is able to have a breakthrough- to see one's true nature/original face. This then causes ashraya-paravrtti, a transformation in one's basic consciousness which allows one to dwell continuously in a cognition of "mind", "true nature", "rigpa", "atman" (in the advaitic sense of Ramana Maharshi, Robert Adams or Papaji, or, for that matter, Kosho Uchiyama and other Zen ancestors). Even after a glimpse of one's original face the main practice still remains hishiryo, because ashraya-paravrtti may not have occurred yet. This is the difference between someone who has a had a glimpse of the awakened level of consciousness and someone who is established in it. Any thoughts, Mr. Zennist?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Beastie Bodhisattva

Still sad about Adam Yauch (1964-2012).
May your Bodhisattva activities continue limitlessly.

Bodhisattva Vow

As I Develop The Awakening Mind 
I Praise The Buddha As They Shine
I Bow Before You As I Travel My Path 

To Join Your Ranks I Make My Full Time Task
For The Sake Of All Beings I Seek
The Enlighted Mind That I Know I'll Reap
Respect To Shantideva And All The Others
Who Brought Down The Darma For Sisters And Brothers
I Give Thanks For This World As A Place To Learn
And For This Human Body That I'm Glad To Have Earned
And My Deepest Thanks To All Sentient Beings
For Without Them There Would Be No Place To Learn What I'm Seeing
There's Nothing Here That's Not Been Said Before
But I Put It Down Now So I'll Be Sure
To Solidify My Own Views 

And I'll Be Glad If It Helps Anyone Else Out Too
If Others Disrespect Me Or Give Me Flack
I'll Stop And Think Before I React
Knowing That They're Going Through Insecure Stages
I'll Take The Opportunity To Exercise Patience
I'll See It As A Chance To Help The Other Person
Nip It In The Bud Before It Can Worsen
A Change For Me To Be Strong And Sure
As I Think On The Buddhas Who Have Come Before
As I Praise And Respect The Good They've Done
Knowing Only Love Can Conquer In Every Situation
We Need Other People In Order To Create
The Circumstances For The Learning That We're Here To Generate
Situations That Bring Up Our Deepest Fears
So We Can Work To Release Them Until They're Cleared
Therefore, It Only Makes Sense
To Thank Our Enemies Despite Their Intent
The Bodhisattva Path Is One Of Power And Strength
A Strength From Within To Go The Length
Seeing Others Are As Important As Myself
I Strive For A Happiness Of Mental Wealth
With The Interconnectedness That We Share As One
Every Action That We Take Affects Everyone
So In Deciding For What A Situation Calls
There Is A Path For The Good For All
I Try To Make My Every Action For That Highest Good
With The Altruistic Wish To Achive Buddhahood
So I Pledge Here Before Everyone Who's Listening
To Try To Make My Every Action For The Good Of All Beings
For The Rest Of My Lifetimes And Even Beyond
I Vow To Do My Best To Do No Harm
And In Times Of Doubt I Can Think On The Dharma
And The Enlightened Ones Who've Graduated Samsara 

- Beastie Boys (Adam Yauch), Bodhisattva Vow (from License to Ill)