January 2023 Sesshin, Day 6: Song of Mind by Sheng Yen
3:30PM Jan 19, 2023
This is day six of this January 2023, seven day Rohatusu sesshin. And I'm going to read again today from Song of Md a book of talks by Chan master Sheng Yen.
And I'm going to pick up where we left off yesterday
and this section is entitled, one mind is still attached to self and he starts with two lines from the song. If one mindedness is impeded, all dharmas are misunderstood. And then he launches in, says, you came to this retreat in hopes of improving your practice, and clearing your minds through meditation. If you had greater expectations, perhaps I discouraged you, when I said that meditating has nothing to do with becoming enlightened. One Have you wondered what the point of meditating is, if it does not lead to enlightenment? Good question. The answer is that while meditation does not lead to enlightenment, if you do not meditate, you will never be enlightened. It is true that some rare people can get enlightened without practicing. This is called quote, liberation through wisdom. Shakyamuni Buddha's first disciples became liberated when they heard him expound the four noble truths in the Scriptures speak of people getting enlightened after hearing a few words from the Buddha. Sounds pretty unlikely, doesn't it? However, there is a story I remember either reading or hearing from Roshi Kapleau. of two young women add an introductory lecture lecture that hard Roshi gave, and when he drew a circle on the board, and proclaimed that everything was one, they actually had some sort of Kensho experience
why couldn't that happen to us? We really we really never know. What precipitates an insight like that. What happened in the past, perhaps in in previous lives, if we can speak of such a thing. The guy said yesterday, that meditations Cezanne makes us accident prone.
He goes on, while getting enlightened does not depend on meditation, sitting is still useful for calming the mind. This is because our minds are usually so scattered, that enlightenment is impossible. What if your mind is not scattered? What if, as one of you told me you sometimes don't have any thoughts? Your awareness of having no thoughts is itself a thought. At the very least, you still have a concept of self obviously, who is it who has no thoughts? I venture that you have thoughts even when you think you have none, except that you are unaware of them. The Buddha said that in the mind of the ordinary person, no less than 64 thoughts come and go every kisana which is a fraction of a second we have so little idea of what's going on under the under the hood. So many processes going on merge into consciousness and then disappear
He says, These thoughts arise, because we are influenced by the three poisons of desire, aversion, and ignorance greed, anger and folly a lot of different translations. Because of them, our minds cannot help but constantly move. Only by transcending the three poisons, can the mind stop moving? Now, I will say something that may seem like a contradiction to my previous words, but in fact, agrees with new toe. That is the, the author of the song of mind. He says, even if your mind stops for an instant, regardless on what of what it stops on, that is still an obstruction, and you've lost direction. In this condition, no dharma is can be understood, a mind that stops on something, whether internal or external, is not an unmoving mind, because it is attached to that something, the mind will always be attached either to an object or to the self. Either case presupposes that a self is present. And as long as the self is present, dharma this cannot be understood. The truth cannot be understood.
As long as the mind is attached to an object, it's divided. Even if that object is our sense of stillness. Clarity says when the mind stops on external phenomena, and internal wandering thoughts, it is still scattered. There is i You and yet a subject and its environment. Amidst these diverse phenomena, a self must be present. But even when there is no object for the mind to stop on, when there is no environment, and nothing relative to the self, as in deep samadhi, or meditative absorption, a sense of self still exists, this is also not enlightenment.
could say that we're walking very close at such a time. One more step. If the mind stops on anything, there is no enlightenment. However, practitioners, especially beginners need to hold on to something to collect the mind. This is why we have a method an object for the mind to attach to pulling the mind toward one point. There is still attachment but it is a necessary requirement in the early stages of practice. Yeah, until late, late stages of practice, we need to pull the mind towards one point unless he's referring to shikantaza or silent illumination, where we're not focusing on any object and that is something that better done later in practice when the mind is settled.
He says, I have often outlined the stages of practice in the following way. We start with a scattered mind and know method. With a method we can eventually work toward a concentrated mind. With diligence and determination. concentration will improve until quite naturally, we evolve to the one mind state of Samadhi. However, in Samadhi, the mind still stops on one mind or on the self. We must go beyond one mind to no mind. Here the mind truly stops on nothing. Only here can one truly be in accordance with all all dharmas.
with diligence and determination really is the key I'm
gonna skip ahead a bit. He says it is said that the Buddha delivers all sentient beings. However, only those whose causes and conditions are ripe for accepting the Buddha Dharma will benefit. Those whose conditions are not ripe, cannot be helped. Perhaps they do not need help, were helped in the past or will meet the right conditions in the future. For example, 200 years ago, few people in the West knew of Buddha Dharma, and fewer still were willing to accept it. In the last 50 years, many Westerners have begun to study and practice the Dharma, and teachers have come to spread it causes and conditions for the West and Buddha Dharma are ripening, it seems that they will ripen further for Westerners appear to have a thirst for the Dharma, whether they study Chan, Zen, Tibetan or Tera Vaada Buddhism, this is good. People have different affinities, but it is the same Dharma is like a good business that supplies what the people need and want. If causes and conditions change and people lose interest in Buddhism, that is all right to changes that is in the nature of things. If later on no one is interested in my teachings, that is fine. I will be out of a job and I will have more time to meditate
remember Roshi telling me that once I can't remember why worried about you know? What if What if people stopped coming? John will get to sit.
Sheng yen says the goal of practice is to have nothing in your mind. Only then will you accord with dharmas. Check to see if you still have attachments in your mind. If you cannot empty your mind of attachments instantly, then you must use a method to lessen them. If you must have paintings on the wall of your mind, at least keep them simple. And try not to have too many. As time goes on, hopefully, the pictures will get smaller and fewer until there is only one picture that of the self. If you get to that point, then we can go to the next step.
Sheng lays out steps in practice, I think so that people are sort of oriented to to the process but for for the person who's practicing thinking about the steps where am I in this ladder of climbing to some unimaginable goal is not so helpful. And basically once we know that what we're doing is our way then we just need to go we just need to trust the method trust the process
that means letting go of where we're at where we're going to get
skipping ahead a little bit more. Section is called practicing without goals. And the the verse says, desiring to purify the mind. There is no mind for effort. Little opaque. See what St Sheng yen says. People here spend the day practicing trying to purify their minds, yet somehow it does not seem to work. Some of you say I tell my mind to shut up, but it keeps on talking. Others say I get more and more discouraged. I have no confidence at this point. I have no control over my mind. Others don't even know how to breathe. Still others cannot even control their bodies, let alone their minds. Is it necessary to go to the bathroom after every round of sitting? I doubt that all of you have bladder problems is an interesting thing to reflect on. You can get into the habit of every keen Hien going out using the bathroom because maybe in a while, I'm going to need to let me do it proactively get a drink of water it's pretty wonderful to sit around a sitting, and then do a round of Kaneen and then sit back down and do another round of sitting. Sometimes we can't sometimes we need to use the bathroom. Or maybe we're terribly dehydrated and really will do better if we get a little water. But take a look at that
really helps the more we can make our practice continuous. When you look for little moments of relief, you set a pattern of basically starting and stopping becomes more difficult to do the kind of continuous work that we need to do.
Sheng yen says all these problems begin with a mind not settling down. If you calm your mind and use it to practice pains or itches won't distract you and you won't have to urinate all the time. You will not look for diversions. Practice alone is sufficient. Some of you have set well and do not feel like stirring. You do not want anything to disturb your practice. This is using your mind to practice sitting well is good and you can derive great benefit from it. But it is not enough. It is still not chon using your mind to practice still involves the self. You still have attachments. For one thing. You enjoy the peaceful feeling and wanted to continue. self centeredness is present. utos says one must purify the mind. metallics when must purify the mind, which means to have no attachments, no desire and no self centeredness. If you are working hard with an aim to purify your mind, you will only add more problems. That is not to say that you should not work hard, but that you should not work with a goal in mind. You have a goal in your mind you're not really working, you're not really doing this practice
how can we drop everything and keep a goal? He says Furthermore, if you do succeed in purifying the mind, the mind will continue to work hard, but with no attachment there was when you've left let go of your attachments. Your mind will continue with the practice. Practice for the sake of practice, not for wisdom or anything else. Do not seek to lose vexation and attachments. instead. Put your mind on the practice method. Do not fight or oppose wandering thoughts. Just ignore them. If you feel drowsy or lazy, exert yourself and put energy into the practice. Often people spend half their time fighting wandering thoughts. They become tired become drowsy and daydream. When they regain their energy. They resumed the struggle. They spend the entire retreat battling and sleeping, battling and sleeping. If you're anxious about getting results, you will spend too much energy and become tired. On the other hand if you are lacks, you will not be successful either. Your practice should be like a fine stream that flows constantly should not be like a volcano dormant one moment exploding the next a good practitioner uses minimal energy, but maintains this energy continuously and uninterruptedly staying on the method this is a an image that Sheng Yen is fond of practice like a fine stream. It has an element of continuity. When a stream encounters a boulder or some other obstacle, it just goes around it doesn't get stuck steady not big drama not huffing and panting, just continually looking into this matter finding our way.
Going on the section is called cultivating non attachment. throughout time and space, nothing is illuminated, nothing is illuminated, this is most profound. And he says, when we start to practice we can talk about space and time. But when we reach the other shore of wisdom, neither space nor time matters. During retreat, you should progressively isolate yourself first from the outside world, second from people and situations, and third, from the previous and succeeding thoughts. In other words, keep your mind in the present moment. This way, your sense of space and time will gradually diminish until mind alone exists. With such an attitude, you will surely be successful in practice.
Nothing, nothing makes time fly faster than forgetting time. We have a tendency to measure it. Think Okay, how much further do I have to go in this round or in this machine? How much time do I have left in this life? We're always sort of looking ahead and looking back. Life is right here where there is no time.
He says attachments to time and space create vexations. But if you are fully engaged in practice, time and space are no longer problems. After enlightenment, time and space still exist, but there is no attachment to them. You can help sentient beings without the idea that you are doing so. To be unattached to space and time is thus a profound attainment. Only with no attachments can one truly help others. isolating yourself on retreat is the way to begin to cultivate such non attachment.
says I've told you time and again not to seek enlightenment. But for some of the ideas to seductive, your imagination hooks you and you practice with this intent. But as you try to rid your life of vexations you get more as you reach for enlightenment it eludes you
you have to begin by separating yourself from the external environment, narrow the environment to yourself, and then drop that as well. Skipping ahead, he says, do not pay attention to your body and mind while you practice. If you pay too much attention to your body you'll be distracted by discomfort. If you pay too much attention to your mind, you will be disappointed when you cannot control it. Mind and body are always connected. When you feel sleepy, you may scold yourself for being lazy, but it may actually be your body needs rest. Also, if you have a scattered mind your body contributes to it. However, if you practice in the present moment, your mind will become concentrated and your awareness of space time and self will lessen.
Practicing in the present moment is the key to working when your mind is scattered. You feel like you're spinning your wheels and you can't get anywhere. Narrow it down. Maybe you can't actually be in the pure present. But say you're doing breath practice. Just make up your mind focus on this breath this outbreath just for that long. And this in breath. keep it really simple. It's no need to go further into the future, or dig back into the past. If you do that you'll find things pulled together
he says if you are very sleepy, then you must sleep a while pain is different is a different story. I guarantee that pain will not kill or injure you. Unless you know unless you know that you have serious physical problems, I suggest that you ignore the pain. I'm going to temper that a little bit. There are some pains that indicate damage is being done. Classic one, of course is a stabbing pain, stabbing pain in the knee, for instance. Or you may have some nerve pain or numbness. Make sure that doesn't go on too long. You need to take care of that because you can do damage. But a dull, aching pain in your knees isn't going to hurt you. Question is what do you do? He says if you can't ignore it, I suggest that you ignore the pain. If you can't ignore it, then endure it. Watch pain with an Objective Mind and it will transform into coolness. If you detach from the previous thought, and stay in the present moment, you will not see hear or feel anything. You won't even feel that you exist, let alone the pain in your legs. If you don't exist, how can pain one of the lessons of says sheen of any kind of extended sitting practice is to know a lot more about the nature of pain in an experiential way. So much of our difficulty is due to the mind is due to our aversion, wanting it to go away. Once we settle that it's not going to go away, we're going to sit still for the entire length of the round. Then the question is can we let go of that insistence that things be the way we want them to be? Can we just bring some curiosity to the process?
One, maybe the classic way of working with pain is simply to concentrate more fully get totally into the practice. And that will work that will make the pain recede. So it's there maybe, but it's in the background. It's not a problem. Roshi Kapleau used to urge me to just put my mind right in the knee or wherever the pain was. Just breathe Mu that works. That works too. Didn't work as well as I wanted but works.
Further on, he says, the essence of Buddhism is wisdom and compassion. So Buddhists know they should be be compassionate. But inevitably, someone or something irritates them, and they lose sight of this teaching. In ordinary people, wisdom is shallow and limited and to be compassionate all the time is impossible. I know a monk who was outwardly nice to everyone, but who confessed to me that since he can't show his anger, he finds release in privately cutting up his clothes and books. Where does he find these guys? This isn't too bad. At least he doesn't beat himself. Still, his wisdom and compassion are not deep. We are human so we get angry. To cope better when you feel angry. Relax your abdomen and then tell yourself okay, now you can be angry. It's more difficult to be angry once you are relaxed. The abdomen tightens when one is angry. That's why awareness of the body is so helpful. When anger is coming on. It always shows up intention somewhere. If you're not aware of the tension and you're just focused on the anger, then you've lost control. Now you're doing damage not to others, then certainly to yourself. He says, a prerequisite to progress on the path is to realize that you're ignorant. The more you think, you know, the more vexations you have, knowing the details, but not the underlying principles, you get lost in a sea of facts.
Brahman in Shakyamuni, Buddha's time thought he knew everything and wanted to debate the Buddha. First he tied his head and stomach with copper bands. When Shakyamuni asked what the bands were for, he said, I have so much knowledge, I must bind my head and stomach so they don't explode. Where does the Buddha meet these guys? That he challenged the Buddha. If you ask a question I cannot answer I'll be your disciple. If you lose, then you will be My disciple. The Buddha said, I have no questions to ask. The Brahmin said how can we debate if we have no topic? The Buddha replied as long as something can be debated, it can be refuted by clever argument. But since I have nothing to debate, you cannot defeat me. You on the other hand, have so many ideas, it will be easy to defeat you. Those who have no understanding of Buddha Dharma should study its concepts and principles. However, those who have only an intellectual understanding are also encouraged to practice. And for those who have been successful on the path, there is no such thing as Buddha Dharma. They might speak about it, but it is only in response to those who don't know about it. Again, this is this brings to mind the Buddha's image of the Dharma as a raft, to carry us across to the other shore. Once you've gone across, you put the retinue you leave the raft on the shore, and go forward.
People like to read Buddhist literature usually try to find connections between the words and their own experiences. Some people turn to books for guidance instead of finding a qualified teacher. They'll remain ignorant. This explains Utah statement knowing dharmas is not knowing. Not knowing is knowing the essential reminds me of a story about a boss who needed an assistant 10 people applied for the job and they all did well on the written test at the interviews all but one boasted of what they knew. But the last one said he didn't know anything. He said he was willing to learn to ask questions and to check with the boss if he had any difficulty. He was the one who was hired. I saw something recently. Someone had some cards made up. And at job interviews when he was asked the inevitable question, what is your main strength, you would pull the card out and it would say my ability to anticipate.
In the same way, it is best if you come to practice without previous knowledge begin as if you had no past. Those who think they know everything cannot move forward. On the other hand, those who have tremendous wisdom sometimes appear stupid. Any kind of success that we have in our practice is a potential obstacle. It's definitely the case that people who've been passed on their first koan often have trouble. They can't let go of their attainment
it's so helpful to shed the burden of knowledge and attainment.
when I I got into serious enough trouble with drinking that I landed in, Alcoholics Anonymous
I went in that direction that changed there's nothing like being humbled to realize that, okay, I'm not better than other people
saying an AAA, you're just a garden variety drunk. We all think we're special. Somebody who doesn't think they're special, that person is pretty special. It's pretty unusual. We all got to be the best or the worst
the rooms of AAA are filled with many of them with signs on the wall with various slogans. One day at a time, of course, is the classic you can be critical and say what a whole day one split second at a time. But if you're planning your life out, or you've got things to do, take it one day at a time can really be helpful, it needs to be appropriate to whatever the task at hand is. If you're sitting on the mat, probably one day at a time isn't the best way to frame it
at the end of some of the meetings I used to go to it would gather in a circle and all together say it works if you work it. So work it and that could be our motto here. This practice works if you work it letting go of your thoughts letting go of your goals works if you do it, you have to do it to faith that that's going to work you have to understand that despair and panic are not our friends
as Anthony de Mello said need to make the discovery that you're you just as you are everything you need to do this practice it's not a practice about getting something everything turns around when our when our direction becomes what can I give starting with giving our attention being willing to give up our thoughts being okay with being who we are and how we are giving up our insistence that things go our way that they change in our in our timetable
can't be truly determined, as long as we're making demands. The joy of practice is in surrender. It's in giving ourselves completely to this work. Don't need to hold on to any accomplishments don't need to impress anyone
right here, settling in
steadily, steadily making our way. Ups and downs no matter