Today is day three of this. March 2023. seven day sesshin will continue reading from the book Illuminating Silence: Insights on the Path of Chinese Zen by Master Sheng Yen and Dr. John H. Crook.
And picking up where we left off yesterday
we read the last paragraph where Sheng yen says another analogy. Some feathers come from chickens, some from ducks. Now the ducks feather is waterproof, a duck floats happily in water, no problem. Chicken is a different case all together. Imagine the state of the feathers of a chicken trying to swim. When we train, the mind begins with feathers like those of a chicken, easily disturbed by anything. But in time, we find a state where equanimity appears and we are not bothered by any passing thought. At that time we have duck feathers. Of course chickens cannot change into ducks. But through practice, the mind can become impermeable to the showers of Pathak passing thoughts. Then he moves on to the next verse in the poem, The poem of longing
that we mentioned this the first, the first day the title of this poem is calming the mind. It's written by a Chinese master in the sixth century. The lines go like this to protect the branches. Protect the bank branches to save the roots. Though a small matter it is not trivial. Close the seven orifices shut off the six senses. And Sheng yen says here the branches are the minor vexations, while the roots are the major ones that may last a lifetime. If one is not careful with the minor vexations, they may develop into major ones. For instance, you may not be he may not be about to rob or kill anyone. Yet if the mind is filled by little hatreds, or avarice, although you do not act upon these promptings one day, they may propel you to commit a crime. It is important to protect the mind from such a possibility. Not only do we have to be aware of how our minds function when meditating, we also need to be mindful in everyday life. When meditating you may put aside evil thoughts, but as you go about the world, they may often the sale you. Course, the problem with these little thoughts is they're building habits of mind. The more we indulge any particular line of thinking, the more readily that comes back up. We were a channel we make a groove and we find that we're always having those kinds of thoughts
so some of the habits of mind that come to mind, our habit of getting caught up dwelling in really strong emotions like anger, or jealousy. Envy it seems it seems harmless doesn't have to just run through the mind one or two times, but it does establish that potentiality to go in that direction. The habit of comparison evaluation, whether it's comparing people to ourselves ourselves to other people, one event to another. The quality of this dish to the quality of that dish could be anything
For a movie where somebody said the Caribbean is for dentists
and then there is the phenomenon of what's called in certain kinds of therapy, automatic negative thoughts. Just always jumping into the mind and sort of taking over. Oh, today's going to be awful. I've got so much to do. So Sheen is so hard. Oh, how many more days are there left?
catastrophizing and worrying the whole the whole field of anxiety Mark Twain was supposed to have said, I'm an old man now, I've known many troubles, none of which ever happened. But our worry itself is adverse. It's a vexation and then then just daydreaming. The tendency to daydream, when things get a little tough, it's nice to sort of disappear into daydreams and fantasies, or just into spacing out, some people are more susceptible to this than others. All these habits will tend to invade our Zen and gives us the opportunity to put them down to drop them. And hopefully, hopefully, that habit that practice, that willingness to let them go, can come into our daily life. We meet them on their home field.
It's why he says when meditating, you may put aside evil thoughts, but as you go about the world, they may often the sale you. And he continues, there are many examples of lives full of mistakes of this kind, some people go into the mountains and practice maybe for years, they come to feel that they have gone beyond all greed and hatred, the mind is so calm is calm. So, how could such negatives arise? They may even feel they have attained liberation. So, they come down from the mountains and start interacting again in the world quite quickly, they may get irritated by others or form some emotional attachments, which they find they cannot handle greed and hatred appear and they are forced to recognize that they still have major vexations.
Often, it'll My experience has been doing, doing a solitary retreat and coming back into the world, that for quite some time, there was a lot of flow and equanimity, and joy. But unless you keep sitting, that can that can evaporate, and all of a sudden you haven't you haven't uprooted those habits, you haven't eradicated them, they're still there. And once the triggers are back in place, you find yourself struggling with the same things. Sheng yen says this result occurs because even though people were hidden in the mountains, and not experiencing any major trouble, still the minor allusions the stuff of wandering thoughts have not been put down. You can see how important it is to cut off even minor wandering thoughts. One who works hard with a method may not be able to cut off all illusory thoughts for all times, but at least he or she can get to the stage of cutting them off for a few seconds, minutes or hours or even a few days. It is important to recognize that your mind can be free from illusion
just to experience that freedom, short of awakening can change can change your your whole approach your whole understanding of life. Begin to know in a deeper way that from the very beginning. All beings are Buddha He says when such a person that is a person who has had a little experience with coming to the stage of cutting off thoughts. When such a person is faced with difficulty in daily life, it becomes easier to recognize the nature of that difficulty. Even as the vexation arises, the practitioner is aware of it, and prevents a negative manifestation. But if one fails to practice after returning from the mountains, even though awareness may be present, a manifestation will usually occur. This is why many of us look forward to spending time in retreat, or to practicing in the mountains. That's why it's so important to continue sitting outside of sesshin. It's not an uncommon pattern for people to be okay with letting their practice go. And then just pick it up again and go back to a sesshin. Certainly good to go to sesshin. But the importance of daily sitting, it's easy to miss talking about working with lifelong habits, how can you do that in short bursts?
Going into the second two lines of that quatrain closing the seven orifices. two eyes, two ears, two nostrils in the mouth, and shutting off the six senses. That seeing hearing smelling, taste, touch, and cognition or thinking is the discipline of withdrawal from the attachments we have to worldly things.
It's easy to think, Okay, I've got to be blind, deaf and dumb. It's really what what's being talked about here is cutting off our attachment, the stickiness that these things have. Are we free not to indulge? It's one thing to enjoy something to enjoy it intensely. But what about when it's not there? What about when it ends? So painful to see it in young kids when they're introduced to something that they love. And then the time ends? I think the best example I can think of is child of a friend of ours. She gave him some Coca Cola bad idea. young moms. But he loved it. He loved it. Just yeah, yeah. And, but can't just keep drinking Coca Cola mom had to take it away. And that was that was pretty painful for him. Maturity is being able to enjoy our lives without having them have to be a certain way. Being okay with change because that's what we're going to find. That's the nature of life, isn't it?
Again, shutting off the six senses is the discipline of withdrawal from the attachments we have to worldly things. Such discipline and retreat enables us to perceive how the mind of illusion functions and provides a space in which clarity develops. One things Paul may cause be causing some of us a problem. Simon The cook was puzzled when I praised the cooking at lunchtime. Simon was worried that his good cooking might be distracting me from meditation. I told him he need not stop cooking delicious food. That's the wind of our house as well. A dish that tastes good well, it just tastes good. The message is simply this don't get attached to it. After you finished let it go. You never know next time you could be disappointed in the whole rigmarole of pleasure and disappointment gets going. Then your meditation is indeed disturbed. When one Ming tells us to close the orifices and shut down the six senses. He does not mean that we should become senseless zombies, not seeing hearing or feeling. What he cautions us against is perpetually wondering what kind of food we'll have. Anticipation and disappointment create attachment and greed I
remember the trip we took my wife and I, daughter, some others, to France in 1989, and one day, we set off and took an overnight trip to Bordeaux, to the wine region in France, just beautiful, beautiful country. And a friend of ours who we'd met up with came along, she was so excited. And it was an overcast day light rain is actually quite beautiful. And going through the fields of Burgundy, of excuse me a Bordeaux with mist moving through the hills fields. And this friend was unconsolable just so bummed out. She'd arranged everything to have this one day and the weather wasn't good. Just so painful.
Sheng yen says, when we are engaged in meditation, our practice should not be suffused by attitudes of comparison. Maybe something is good looking, maybe something sounds bad, if it is, so leave it at that, we should act as if what we have seen we have not noticed and what we have heard, we have not regarded we train ourselves so that the mind does not give rise to comparisons and illusory preferences triggered by the environment. Whatever we have experienced is simply so there is no need to get worked up about it.
Perhaps you see a beautiful flower in the hedgerow. You like it, you pick it, you bring it home, then it fades and dies. Maybe you forgot the water. Every day we hear the buying of sheep and the bleeding of lambs. When the animals are in the yard, there is indeed a great noise like waves breaking on the shore. If you are truly practicing, you witnessed the sound and nothing more. You will not be thinking Oh how cute the little lamkins are all what a sad sheep that one must be. Perhaps it is lost its lamb. Sheep are in the yard. That's all when engaged in practice, you need not be concerned with them
goes on with the poem, pay no heed to forms do not listen to sounds listening to sounds you become deaf, you become blind observing forms. And Sheng yen says there is a deeper meaning here. When you listen to sounds you interpret them according to your nature. When you observe forums you likewise create a story around them. But these ideas you have are not the actual reality. The actual nature of the sound we do not hear the actual nature of form we do not perceive. In that we do not perceive reality. When we look at things we are as blind when we hear things we are as deaf, understanding the illusory nature of experience, we should not get disturbed by whatever arises.
It's it's quite a skill to see without labels and names. So the French philosopher I think Paul Valerie who said, to see a thing is to forget the name.
One of you has objected that if one lived is blind and deaf, one could not perceive the beauty of the world and would not experience gratitude for life. Pleasure and gratitude are related. Surely it's not wrong to feel gratitude. Again, is important not to be mistaken about about one Ming's message we need to understand it with subtly is simply saying that sentiments like gratitude have no place within practice. Before practice and after practice, you experience the pleasures and pains of this world. Gratitude arises, compassion arises Love arises. It is in order to have clear person eruption of the natural state that we need to practice without these things. The natural state is just as it is naked. Unintentional, unadorned by sentiment, are speaking here of the vital elements of intensive practice, where it is essential for us to have a mind of clarity. In everyday activity we experienced the whole of life, including illusion. Through practice, we can penetrate to the core, and mindfulness can become a part of everyday life too.
It's really, really about training. The Buddha said, as rain seeps through a poorly thatched roof, passion seeps into the poorly trained mind. As rain cannot seep through a well thatched roof. Passion cannot seep into a well trained mind.
Sheng yen says, we are still in the state of the chicken feather. We do not yet perceive the meaning of the phrase in the Heart Sutra Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. In our practice, therefore, it is vital to investigate vigorously in cutting off the senses, we perceive mind without the intrusion of wandering thought, it is an essential aspect of training.
Good to go on to the early morning talk from day three. And Sheng yen says, when you make every thought a present moment, there is no continuity of time no carryover from moment to moment. Everything is continuously fresh, like the water of a spring endlessly bubbling up into the open air. In such practice, every moment is a rebirth. Here we have no thoughts exceeding thought, rather there is endless recreation and endless continuity without discrete moments, as one Ancient Master has said, One thought for 1000 years, it in these 1000 years, there are no thoughts there is simply a continuous, unbroken newness. This is why it is so important for a beginner to cultivate going beyond thought. Therefore, today, focus directly upon the present moment. There's no need to think about it. Just enter the present moment, like a diver who has left the springboard plunge into it without judgment or consideration. On the diver dives he lets go. There's only the long fall into the water which takes no time. Each time you sit down on your cushion, dive into the present moment becoming thoughtlessly one with it. And you will find that every moment is indeed a rebirth. That intention or that vow just be here. Just be here now. It's helpful sometimes to renew that. Sit down on the cushion make up our minds to let go of all the distractions dive right in. Try not to wander about waiting, hoping something will gradually change. This isn't about clamping down or stressing ourselves out just open up open up completely to this moment.
Then this is next section is entitled day three breakfast table remarks. In the USA, there is a particular question which my Western students find especially important and which I would like to put to you here in the Eastern tradition there is a major emphasis on no self. It is the no self that has to be discovered. Yet, in the perspective of Western psychology, the most important thing is to develop one's personal self to a maximum degree, emphasizing one's individuality, uniqueness and admirable qualities. One cannot get on in the world it seems without developing this assert of self. There seems to be a contradiction between East and West. How can this be resolved? He says, Actually, both the East and the West are talking about the same thing, but they're emphasizing different levels. When we're young, we have to develop our sense of personal identity in order to take on the world. If we did not know that John Mary as Miranda, or Harry was the name for this thing we call I, it would not be possible to relate conventionally with others to pass examinations to get a job. And since personal welfare depends on income, and we need a livelihood, we have to function within that livelihood as individual persons, which means we need to know how to manage ourselves and our relations with others. The western psychologist is making a realistic point in stressing the importance of becoming an individual. Certainly one of the real quality qualities needed to take on Zen practice is to have a good sense of oneself to have confidence in our abilities, not to be all over the place. And Sheng yen says the same thing he says, in fact, without having a grasp of your personal identity of who you are in the usual everyday sense, it would not be possible to train in Buddhism, the practice of Dharma starts with an individuality that has the will to train and practice the methods. To go beyond the self there must be first, a firm sense of self. Someone who has all over the place to change his mood or intentions with every shift in circumstances, who has not been able to distinguish him or herself from others who are potent influences is not equipped for the practice of China.
Yet wisdom comes from going beyond the elementary constructions of identity from investigating who this is that walks talks are using quarrels. When we go beyond we develop a larger sense of self. A major step in this progression is the discovery of the undivided mind. One in which the splits produced by discrimination are healed. This is what I meant the other day when I spoke of the internal and external being united, of the body and mind becoming one, yet the unifying of mind remains the same structure as the divided one, it has not yet gone beyond, it is not the no self. What then is no self, look at the words, it is a state of being in which the self is absent can be in a very concentrated state, be in a sort of Samadhi and still have the sense of self haven't yet gone all the way. And it is a state of being in which the self is absent, there is no self center, no habit of self reference, everything else and experience is the same as before, but the quality of being has become radically different, is usually the case that the appearance of no mind depends on the prior integration of the mind. So as long as self and its object are separate, the one regarding the other, there is duality. The split mind of discrimination cannot transcend its own habits. You cannot experience release into no mind from a divided mind, you can only do it from a unified one. Where there is no self, we may say there is no mind. For in this perspective, the ordinary ordinary mind is the activity of self. Practice therefore focuses on methods that unify the mind what we're all doing here, whatever our practice is, whatever our method is, he says we discover ourselves as whole beings through practice. Gradually, as we master the mental processes, and bring about calming and integration. So we master ourselves. This is the wealth thatched roof, we gained control over the monkey mind.
This wholeness is always a novel experience. Its discovery is a source of freedom, relaxation and clarity. It is the completion of the self as self. To reach this condition is already a major step. Most of us remain scattered in mind and body discriminating and arguing within ourselves and with others. Today is the third day. Let us attempt to integrate mind and body. This is the first step, allow yourself to become one, attain the state, where body and mind are not separate and experience. And then the external and internal will also be united. Dive into your method wholeheartedly without doubt or reservations
no other way than to do it you try and fail, pick yourself back up and try again
saying in Japan seven times down eight times up
don't listen to the reservations, the nagging worries need to let that go in order to dive into your method wholeheartedly. Be willing to accept what comes. So, Sheen has a mix of struggle and joy. If we worry too much about the struggle, we'll miss the joy.
Going to pick up a little here from the next section. Day three lunchtime remarks. Says for an untrained practitioner it is impossible to be continuously in the present. It is therefore impossible for him to know that there is no time. It as long as you are entangled, entangled by thoughts of past and future, the present is the best place in which to be for us. For us who are beginners, there is time there is past and future. And between past and future there is this present moment that we constantly try to capture. And because of this attempt, every present moment is a new beginning. Since our minds are moving, we are constantly starting afresh. Yet when every moment every present moment is a new beginning. That cannot be failure, disappointment, displeasure or disappointment for these implying a carrying over of time. We just wipe the slate clean, pick ourselves up. He says enjoyment follows the moment of pleasure. But as long as the moment exists, there is nothing to enjoy and nothing to be sad about. There is nothing intrinsically good or bad about each new beginning. One thing simply follows is simply following another. When you're working in the kitchen and cut yourself by mishap, there is a new wound. Your appearance is new when you buy fresh clothes. When you brush your teeth. Even if the mouth is old, the teeth are newly brushed. Every day I find a new white hair. This is something new a new gray head is appearing. If we always know that every present moment is also a new beginning beginning a new birth, then there's nothing to be happy or sad about it simply the new collections of experience are appearing. When I was a young boy, China and Japan were at war. The whole country in my own village were very poor. In the old days it was a custom every New Year's Day to wear new clothes and shoes. But in that year there could be neither neither new clothes nor new shoes. So I said to my mother this year everything is old. My mother said not so. Everything is new. The clothes are freshly washed Trower trousers have new patches, shoes are freshly repaired and cleaned. That made me happy. Whenever you practice be in the present moment, each one of them is a new birth.
When we when we really come to experience to have Understand the possibility of constant renewal. We really take it in on a deeper level, that we're never out of the game, then we can withstand the blows, or shortcomings or failures can run into a bad patch, and it's not the end of the world. So much depends on our attitude and our willingness. Everything happens because of causes and conditions. everything unfolds naturally. It's foolish to look for someone to blame. It's foolish to blame ourselves. Rather, take responsibility. Throw yourself back into the game. Let go of your hindrances let go of the thoughts that are doing you no good.
Just Mu, just this, just the breath. At every moment, the way opens. It's only our thoughts that make us feel like we're bogged down, stuck somewhere where we can't move.
sesshin goes on, more and more practice begins to work. The mind becomes spacious. It's a certain energy, the energy of concentration that comes into the mind. Just have to be willing to let it unfold.