February 2022 Sesshin, Day 1: Faith in Mind: A Commentary on Seng Ts'an's Classic by Master Sheng Yen
2:42PM Mar 4, 2022
This is the first day of this February 2022 four-day sesshin. I'm going to be reading from a book entitled "Faith in Mind:
A Commentary on Seng Ts'an's Classic
" by Ch'an
Master Sheng-Yen, Sheng yen
Most people are familiar with Sheng Yen, he died about 13 years ago. His dates are from 1930 to 2009. He had a very large center in Taiwan, and then a number of centers in North America and other places in the world.
And this book is basically commentary - his commentary on the chant that we we call "Affirming Faith in Mind". Here it's just "Faith in Mind". And these are these are talks that he gave, teishos basically, from a number of sesshins that he led. And he's using his own translation of the text. So it differs a little bit in some places from what we're used to, but the meaning seems to be the same.
says a little bit in the beginning of the book in the introduction, about some sign who is known as the Third patriarch, or better the third ancestor of Chan, so Bodhidharma and then weeka, and then son, son, and he died in the year 6006. Not a whole lot is known about him.
And there's actually some dispute whether he was actually the author of this piece, and not that that really matters.
He he, Shang Yan says here, the phrase faith in mind contains two meanings of believing in and realizing the mind. Mind is especially emphasized in shone. True faith in mind, is the belief grounded in realization that we have a fundamental unmoving, unchanging mind? This mind is precisely buddha mind, in every sentient being. But the mind experienced by ordinary beings, and that's all of us in the midst of vexations is deluded mind not true mind. Those who seek to rid themselves of vexations imagine that there is a true mind to attain. However, from the perspective of buddha mind, there is only one mind neither true nor false. There's no need to discriminate for everywhere, everything is mind everlasting. When we fully realize buddha mind, the believing mind and the mind which is believed in, merge into one, since they are the same, the need for mere belief in this mind disappears.
He goes on the paradoxes that one must be enlightened, to have true faith in this mind. This may be an obvious point, but it's a good one. We have faith in our practice. In the beginning, sometimes strong faith. But until we've realized, till we've seen it's not complete. So what you find with people is their faith deepens Over years of practice it's not just what we believe but what we've experienced. This works on all kinds of levels. We're not just talking about having some sort of insight can show just understanding how practice works, grows over time
and our gratitude to having found this practice grows our understanding of how basic it is foundational
then then the effort that we make in practice becomes less of an effort and more of a joy. deepest wish is to mine. This mind
Sheng yen says the author is speaking from a deeply enlightened perspective to the press practitioner who seeks to discover true mind.
He tells us how we should practice and what kind of mental attitude to avoid during practice, we should not give in to our likes and dislikes, either trying to negate our vaccinations, nor seeking enlightenment, the practice should be pursued for its own sake. But while there should be no other purpose, in the end, the mind of equanimity is realized. There is no discrimination, no need for language or indeed of practice.
For the Ron, for the mind is nameless, the body is empty. And the Dharma is our dream. There is nothing to be attained, no enlightenment to be experienced. This is called liberation.
So we're going to start with the poem itself, the chant itself, and this is from a retreat was given in November of 1984. And it begins with the first lines of faith in mind as follows. The supreme way is not difficult, if only you do not pick and choose, neither love nor hate, and you will clearly understand, be off by a hair and you are as far from it as heaven from Earth.
He says, The sole purpose of a Chan retreat is to meditate. You should keep your attention entirely on practice without trying to attain any results. Since many of you have worked hard to set aside the time, you have a great deal invested in this retreat. It is natural that you want to gain something. But once you enter the retreat, you must put aside any specific hopes. Practicing with a goal in mind is like trying to catch a feather with a fan. The more you go after it, the more it eludes you. But if you sneak up on it slowly, you can grab it. The aim of practice is to develop patience and forbearance to train your mind to become calm and stable. Any attachment or seeking will prevent your mind from settling down?
Reminds me of Ramana Maharshi he's advice for practice two words. Be still. The minute we have something in mind that we're trying to achieve. We're no longer still
In order to be still, we have to trust the practice. You have to trust our method. You have to understand believe, have faith that there's nothing extra we have to do for working on Mo, just mo just sink into Mu. Same with any other koan with the breath practice silent illumination or shikantaza.
Don't need any embellishments. He says today someone told me that the more he worked on the Y dough, that's the nub of the koan. Chinese term, also Japanese basically literally means source of the words. The more he worked, the more tense he felt. It was as though his mind had become knotted up. His problem was that he wants to see quick results. Pursuing the Wado intensely with a desire to get enlightened is like tying yourself up, and then poking yourself with a knife.
Another good analogy is someone who's sitting in a rowboat, trying to roll out into the middle of a lake, stroking deeply with the oars. He's not going anywhere, because his boat is still tied to the dock. As long as we have some gaining idea in our mind, our boat is tied to the dock. He says Sheng yen says, the more you drive yourself, the more tense you will feel. The same principle applies to the body. If you react to pain by tensing the body, pain will only get worse. If any part of your body feels painful, you should try to relax it. This is a this is a thing you people have heard before. But such an important point. One of the things that we learn in sesshin is how to deal with pain, bodily pain, can translate to other kinds of pain as well. But it's easiest to see I think, with pain in the body. So lesson that I had drummed into me over the course of many years of struggling with leg pain, knee pain in such sheen. It's always that temptation to try to move away from the pain somehow. Not sure what exactly we're thinking, but we tense up trying to escape. And ironically, of course, paradoxically, that makes it worse. The jogo Beck said somewhere that if this pain didn't exist, someone should invent it. Because we learned so much. We find our way into accepting, moving into it. Don't necessarily like it. But it's not such a big deal anymore.
So he says, If any part of your body feels painful, you should try to relax it. Really relaxation is the foundation of practice. So the very first thing we need to do is to let the tension drain out of our body. Many people have reported in Doakes on coming into sesshin they're feeling a good deal of anxiety. And that's natural. It's common. I'm certainly familiar with it myself
and it's okay. It's not a problem. Just like the pain. We don't need to try to escape our anxiety, let it be can take care of itself.
skipping ahead a little bit, he said is related to this are the problems that may develop from fixing your attention on a particular part of the body. For instance, some people try to make their breath flow smoothly. But in trying to control the breath becomes abnormal. So hard to do just to let the body be let the breath be says don't pay any attention to any phenomenon that occurs to the body. If you are concerned with it, problems will arise. It is the same with the mind, you will be unable to practice unless you disregard everything that happens to you mentally. If you feel distressed or pained in any way, just ignore it. Let it go and return wholeheartedly to the method. Place your mind directly on the method itself, concern yourself with nothing else.
Once we begin to understand this, all we need to do is the practice. All we need to do is to concern ourselves with the method that itself can relieve anxiety. We're not called upon to produce a rabbit out of a hat to generate some mind state for someone's approval. Just faithfully do this practice. This we can do
Sheng yen says the supreme way in the first line of the poem refers to the stage of Buddhahood the wisdom of the Buddha is not difficult to perceive, it can be attained in the instant between two thoughts. The reason for this is that it has never been separate from us, it is always present. In fact, we all desire to realize this supreme way if so, why are we unable to attain it? Second line explains what prevents us is because we are always trying to escape our vexations.
Supreme weigh is not difficult, if only you do not pick and choose neither love nor hate. And you will clearly understand is because we are always trying to escape our vexations precisely because we want to acquire the Buddha's insight and merits we are unable to perceive Buddha Nature
reminds me of one of the koans in the muon Khan nonsens ordinary mind is the way
were the young Josue probably not much more than 18 or 19 year old years old asked him what is the way nonsense says ordinary mind is the way or everyday mind. Josue asked, Shall I direct myself towards it? Johnson says, if you try to seek after it, you go away from it.
If you try to grab it, floats away like a feather
Sheng yen goes on. Another reason why we cannot see our Buddha nature is that we are burdened with ideas. We make distinctions between samsara and nirvana, sentient beings and the Buddha, fixations and enlightenment. And these ideas obstruct our perception of Buddha nature. Think it's okay to have a good intellectual understanding of Buddhist teaching. But it's not a subject for the for the Zen cushion.
He says to paraphrase it phrase lines three and four. As soon as you discard your likes and dislikes, the way will immediately appear before you hear his son Son has something in common with Tao Shin, the fourth ancestor and Wei nang On the sixth sixth ancestor, the letter to frequently said that when you stop discriminating between good and evil, you will immediately perceive your original face. And then parenthetically, Inchon, original face refers to one's innate Buddha nature. In other words, you will understand the supreme way. When sitting, some of you are distracted with pain or trying to fight out off drowsiness. At night, maybe you are angry at someone who is keeping you awake with his snoring. We're all fortunate in this machine that everyone has their own room, because there's only 23 of us in total. But this is a good point. If instead of letting the snoring annoy you just observe it. Soon the snores may become hypnotic and repetitive, actually pleasant sounding. If you start counting the snores, before you know it, you will be asleep. It's hard to do when you keep on bringing up the resentment. Why does this have to be this way?
He says on the other hand, being coming attached to a certain pleasurable experience in meditation can also be an obstruction. One student I had would rock her body during sitting meditation, she felt that she had no control over the shaking, it just happened spontaneously. Actually, this was not caused by any physical tension by a subconscious motive. The rocking was comfortable to her. You cannot practice effectively if you give in to such things. By examining them, you will be able to control the mind.
People also sometimes rock their bodies while they're chatting, which is also a mistake. At the body be still.
He goes on, holding on to various likes and dislikes keeps you apart from the way discarding them will bring you in accord with the way. But if there is the slightest misconception about this, the distance between you and the way will be as great as that between heaven on earth. Don't misinterpret this and think that since you are not supposed to attach the likes and dislikes, you should therefore not cultivate the way with this attitude it is useless to come to a Chan retreat. think most people are able to work this out. It's not that we don't have preferences that we're not attaching to them we're not demanding that they be met. To have the aspiration to come to awakening for the sake of all beings.
It's nothing wrong with such an aspiration. problems begin when we want to happen to have it happened on our own schedule. He says when you first set out to practice you will definitely have a goal in mind. You may be frustrated with your present condition and aim either to change yourself or to improve your circumstances. Certainly, there is something you hope to achieve by practicing, you cannot just practice aimlessly. So practice itself implies some intention or desire.
To fulfill your original intentions, you must constantly keep your mind on the method of practice. But as you focus on the method, you should not be thinking of what you want to accomplish, what level you want to reach or what problems you want to get rid of. Instead your mind should be exclusively applied to the method itself free from all other motives. There is a saying that is useful for practitioners put down the myriad thoughts take up the practice
the myriad thoughts are scattered right Random extraneous concerns. The practice is your method of cultivation. When your mind wanders to extraneous concerns, put them down as soon as they appear. But should you treat the method in the same way as a wandering thought, putting it down as soon as it appears? No, from moment to moment, put down extraneous thoughts, and return your method, your mind to the method of practice can be discouraging. Because thoughts have a momentum. We have a karma, we have a pattern. And there's certain thoughts that come back again and again and again, can't help wanting things can't help evaluating. It's all mixed in with our practice, all our ideas about how we're doing, how hard we should be working or not working. Many people report no sooner do they put their thoughts down, then they're back.
Like trying to get a traction on a slippery rock. It's good to recognize, though that that effort that number one, recognizing that we're no longer on track that we've let ourselves drift. And number two, returning to the practice. Doing that again and again and again, has an effect. Sometimes that's what practice is. There's something that from the Christian tradition, St. Francis de Sales, said, If the heart wanders, or is distracted, bring it back to the point quite gently. And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour, but bring your heart back, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.
The difficulty is because we remain attached to results. It's all it is. If you can give that up, you can return as many times as you need to again and again.
Coming back to Sheng yen, he says, one time I asked a student are you having many extraneous thoughts? You're applied? Not too many. I said, I bet I'll bet I know one of them. You're thinking of your girlfriend all the time, aren't you? He retorted. How can you say that? After the retreat, he said, originally, I wasn't thinking of my girlfriend at all. But after she flew, that's sort of the Chinese version of Roshi. After mentioned, he mentioned her, I couldn't stop thinking of her. I told him that he hadn't seen through his problem yet. He may have thought that his mind was not on his girlfriend, but His concern was still there. Trying to practice in the beginning of a relationship, romantic relationship is very, very hard to do. He says perhaps you try to put down extraneous concerns, but find that you just can't. Every time you put one down, it comes back again. This upsets you. You keep telling yourself put it down, put it down. Actually, it doesn't matter that you can't put it down. If you eventually get to the point where you say to yourself, it doesn't matter if I can't put it down, then you will be putting it down. You should not fear failure, either. Should you embrace it? You may conclude that the retreat is just not going well for you. Your body is uncomfortable. Your mind is in timeout. You're unable to control yourself. You haven't made the proper pressure preparations. So you think, why not forget this one and leave tomorrow? Maybe I'll try again the next time. But don't succumb to this defeatist attitude. A Chinese proverb says 100 birds in a tree are not worth one bird in the palm. We say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. They go with 100 If you let go of that one bird to go after the 100 you'll end up with nothing. Even though you feel unprepared and doomed to failure. Being here still represents a wonderful opportunity to practice
need to be alert to the danger of thinking I'll do it later. people waste their whole lives, putting off what they intend to do remember reading some interview with the singer Donovan, way back when and he talked about meditation and how someday he thought he'd like to do that deep dive into the mind. I wonder if he ever did no better time than now. Conditions in sesshin are just ideal
Sheng yen moves on to the next lines in the in the chant the poem, if you want the way to appear, be neither for nor against, for and against opposing each other. This is the minds disease. Thank you, I'll read the version that we chant. If you would clearly see the truth, discard opinions pro and con, to founder and dislike and like, is nothing but the mind's disease. same meaning. He says if you want the boot away to manifest before your eyes, it is a mistake to harbor any preferences or aversions. This includes anything you hope to acquire, keep, discard or avoid. When sitting seems to be going particularly well, the idea may pop into your mind that you are about to be enlightened, you begin to wait for this enlightenment experience. With this expectation, the mind has already abandoned it single mindedness has become confused and scattered. You will not be able to maintain your previous state of concentration. On a prior retreat, one student was progressing so well, that there were notable changes in his mental state. At that point, he became frightened. He thought, I'm happy with the way I am now. I don't really want any drastic changes. What if my friends don't recognize me? He did not sit as well for the rest of the retreat. This is something that almost everyone has to face at some point on this path is the fear of change. We begin to touch on something that's different from what we normally experience. Get a sense something completely free and it can be frightening. People fear falling into emptiness. Sometimes you have to run up against that fear a number of times before you can make it across
sometimes people have a deep experience really forget themselves and they're sitting and then that becomes an obstacle. Want to get back to that that's what I want. The minute you want it, you're no longer there.
Back to this student who is afraid of what change may happen. Sheng yen says this contradictory mentality often afflicts the practitioner. He wants to enter the door door of enlightenment, but at the same time is really afraid of entering. You come to retreat with the desire to transform yourself. Indeed, practice can make you more mature, calm and stable. It will certainly not change you into something less human, are ghostlike. Since ancient times, all of the numerous practitioners who have gotten deeply enlightened, remained human. The only difference being that afterwards, they were more stable and filled with wisdom. There is no reason to fear changing that way. Such a contradictory state of mind is common among ordinary people. When I left home as a young boy, I was very excited about becoming a monk. But on the other hand, I had never been to a monastery and had some apprehension. I just did not know what would happen there. Many people who believe in heaven have similar fears about what it will be like after death. Say say, everybody wants to go to heaven, nobody wants to die.
He says these contradictions point to inherent weaknesses in our personality, of which we are usually unaware, is only in the context of practice that these weaknesses are exposed. Once we discover and understand our weaknesses, we can prevent them from further obstructing our practice. So much of practice is exposing our problems, seeing what's wrong. Extremely valuable part of practice. Nobody likes to get bad news. But that's where recovery begins. Seeing the bad news
makes me think of the 12 steps in a streamlined, powerful method of change. Speaking from my own experience, begins. We admitted we were powerless, our lives had become unmanageable. So much of growth and progress comes with the recognition that things aren't right. People want to carry their good opinion of themselves not have to face up to what they're doing wrong. What isn't working.
Their desire to feel good about themselves becomes yet another obstacle. Yet another like in our quiver of likes and dislikes.
Sheng yen says though, for and against our opposites, are like and dislike are opposites. They're also very much related. If there is something that you like, there must be something else that you don't like. And if you cannot get what you like, you may change your mind and dislike it. To be caught in this conflict between like and dislike is a serious disease of the mind is a barrier to practice. Practice is a process by which we recognize and treat the disease of our minds. When the disease completely disappears, the ultimate way is revealed.
Whereas some sign says, neither love nor hate, and you will clearly understand.
He moves on here to the next two lines, but I don't think there's time for that. So we will stop now and recite the four vows