July 2022 Sesshin, Day 2: Dream Conversations: On Buddhism and Zen: Kokushi, Muso (trans. by Thomas Cleary)
5:36PM Aug 3, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the second day of this July 2022, seven day sesshin. And we'll resume reading from the words of Muso Kokushi, the Japanese Zen master of the 13th and 14th century who was the National Teacher Kokushi he was the national teacher for supported by seven successive emperors. And this text is called that Dream Conversations. And it's translated by Thomas Cleary. These are just little bite size teachings that the translator put in a certain sequence. In the first one, the withholding of divine aid from those who would become presumptuous if their wishes were fulfilled, presumptuous, more attached, more indulgent, and more shameless, if their wishes were fulfilled, is itself divine a to such people. In a corrupt age, when prayers are not answered, that itself is the answer.
So again, just a reminder, these are written replies to a certain very important, man, at the time, the brother of the Shogun don't ask me what exactly what Shogun, I read the book, before going to Japan. At the advice of someone who had lived there a couple of years, I did find it helpful in navigating Japanese especially Japanese Zen culture. But yeah, some kind of a lord very high. So when we're when we're praying for those who might pray. Like what someone said, what most people are really asking for when they pray to God is the two and to not make four. But if one were to pray, and the prayers went on answered, It would be saying be suitable if having them answered, you know, having a new car or a new house or winning the lottery. If winning, if having the prayers answered, would make us more more attached to this samsaric world to the world of the senses, more indulgent, shameless. That is the answer. Being denied that because it would cripple us, corrupt us? We wouldn't be able to use that. Well, we talked about that yesterday, these hapless lottery winners who are not at all prepared in terms of their character to manage this vast sums of money. Maybe that's why most lottery winners by far are don't when they're denied it because it would overturn their lives in the worst kind of way.
And next is, he says the pity that great sages have for ordinary people is not necessarily because of the wretchedness of the human condition in itself. But more because of the great potential humanity has and does not use the highest state from which humanity has fallen.
Believe that without comment. Next one, the central benefit of Zen, in the context of the ordinary ups and downs of life is not in preventing the minus and promoting the plus. But in directing people to To the fundamental reality that is not under the sway of ups and downs This is where sesshin is a real proving ground because everyone has their ups and downs and sesshin just as in life sesshin is a life sesshin is just sort of condensed form of life where we can go up and down in much shorter time and outside, outside sesshin in our regular life and two flights of euphoria enjoy and the depths of discouragement and despondency. That's sesshin don't think there's anything right or wrong when you go through these states of mind. And what we find if we persist and most people do persist is we find that we can reach that which is beyond the ups and downs that which is beyond change. This is a huge reward to get to the point where we don't take the ups and downs the fortune and the misfortunes is seriously huge huge asset in life it's called detachment
so it's half of sesshin is just learning that it'll pass whatever it is
considered setting up in the dog sunroom a laptop with just on the face of it just saying it will pass I probably help a lot of people that way even I'm not in the in the dog sunroom. These things we know intellectually everyone says okay, of course the I get it threw up with these states of mind pass. Yeah, I get it. But until we really get it in our bodies, that is until we really confirm it in our non reactivity in our bodies, and we don't really know it. It's hard earned takes time.
The next passage, he talks about three kinds of three ways in which virtual without wisdom is an enemy to use his word. So here are the three. I'll paraphrase a little bit. When you're doing only contaminated good that is, when you're exercising virtue simply in hopes of reward. This is time last it's wasted time. And the time it could have been used to clarify the true ground of mine the fundamental for different spending time doing good deeds in order to get something back. The second problem with contaminated virtue is that pleasurable states eventually develop because that is we we acquire good karma, let's call it that we acquire good karma from it, even though it's contaminated. And still in the realm of emotion, these these pleasurable states cause a deepening of mundane attachments. So let's say lottery winners, I make sense to me, that the an expert on the doctrine of karma would say that lottery winners have done a lot of good deeds in their past lives, if not this this life. But then this can become really problematic and just stoke an appetite for, for possessions and things. This so there it is the enemy of the second lifetime. That's that's the phrase he uses virtually that wisdom is said to be anatomy for three lifetimes. And the third is when when the pleasurable states are worn out, that is when we've exhausted our good karma from squandering it, misusing it we still not any wiser. But now we're habituated to our attachments. And so we fall is this is rather neatly structured, in what in Buddhism calls the six realms of unenlightened existence in which we can ascend and descend, depending on our, our actions and words. We can ascend even without any awakening, because of these these good deeds. And then, but then it's always a state of insecurity. We can understand that to mean, those of us who do live in fortunate circumstances where we're well off, we're well fed, we're well clothe we have all the comforts, creature comforts and possessions and a comfortable life. There's no security in that. We're still working off working on the basis of good good karma. But it's not an inexhaustible reservoir, we have this idea of contaminated virtue of doing things in the hope of acquiring merit, merit is would be the Buddhist word. I don't see it much in our Sangha, or maybe in our country, are very distinctly non Buddhist country. I think what I do see and recognize in myself is wanting to do good things, to feel better about oneself. To to acquire more self esteem to improve one's self image, and the image in the in the eyes of others. This is this, we have to
imagine that short of short of full enlightenment that there's always some contamination and what the good things we do so called good things we do. Because we're getting we're getting self gratification out of it. Someone want to know, adopt a foster child? We to think that that, that those foster parents aren't having a boosted sense of self esteem that not at all, not even a shred, they may tell themselves that they're very good people and pay in large and normal, normal measures that yeah, we would certainly say that's true, but it's always I think, to be honest, there's always some kind of contamination, some impurity involved there to the extent that there's the self self interest behind it, and then you can dis apply that to a million things, work in social work. All kinds of
work, work it for good causes. By and large, and maybe what we need, we need those things done, but look, look closely, how much is there? The How much is it done in order to feel better about oneself relieved maybe feelings of guilt, which would be a stronger factor in a in a Judeo Christian country, guilt and to appear good in the eyes of others. I think this is much more danger than building up. Although, a I guess in in Christianity there is this strong idea of having just attended to massive Catholic funerals, I was reminded of how much good deeds are done in order to buy one's way into heaven
be fair, who can wait? Who can wait to engage in social action and helping others who can wait until we're absolutely pure? What is that? What's the absolute purity? I guess that's, I guess that's supreme perfectly enlightenment. So we go in knowing to win our activities, that there is an element of impurity to it, of self self gratification. But then at least to be wise do ourselves No, notice it be aware that that we're not saints.
Now he's continuing here in the same theme, the very complex nature of, of good and bad, he says, one may enter into this, the sphere of influence of demons as a result of spiritual exercises and experiences, demons. For those of you who can't make this obvious translation, it's just a medieval way of understanding Trump's troublesome states of mind, let's just leave it at that. One may enter the into the sphere of influence of demons as a result of spiritual exercises and experiences. This may be likened to the case of a warrior who is rewarded for achievement in battle, then develops an exaggerated sense of self importance as a result of that reward, eventually to be punished for presumptuous behavior. This calls to mind the story in yesterday in the translators introduction about how this Mongol invasion of Japan was forwarded, not only by the Kamikaze, but also by this these heroic efforts of these warriors, who then had to be rewarded in a monetary way and when they weren't, then they took a burn to it. He continues when a person takes pride in spiritual practices there it is pride. When a person takes pride in spiritual practices or experiences, that individual is certain to fall into the sphere of influence of demons. This is not the fault of the practice itself, but of the attitude of the practitioner. Those who undertake spiritual practices with wrong ideas are developed wrong views in the course of practice, and those who become conceited and oppose the doctrines or methods of others. Enter states of mind and modes of being that may be referred to as hell. Speaking a pretty extreme, he's speaking in extreme terms here. But again, a warning. Pride is always lurking. It will. However, whatever progress we make in spiritual practice in Zen, there's always the threat of pride coming along with it, which also contaminates whatever progress there is.
And we can have such subtle forms of pride. It's another reason to come to sesshin as often as possible, because it's in sesshin, that we're most likely to unmask these ever more subtle forms of pride. pride doesn't, isn't only from having what one would think of as success in practice, it's also failure. One can acquire a sense of specialness, by how long one has gone without achieving what one wants to achieve. The word ego I think, is so often overused, but this is for a minute use it. There, there's basically two kinds of ego, the ego of thinking, one is better than others. And but then there's also it's also egotistical to think of oneself as worse than others. The point is, Ego means somehow basically different from in a fundamental way other people can do this, other people can get through a session and other people can come to awakening by me, emphasis on the Me, me, I don't have I me, there's the ego.
Musoke continues, a sutra called obstacles of pure action, explains how religious practices can in fact obstruct the path of enlightenment. This occurs, and now what he does is he runs through these what I call the six paramitas. Six para paramitas are giving or charity, that's one second is morality. The third is forbearance or patience. The fourth is, vigor or zeal. Fifth is concentration. And the sixth is wisdom. So here's how he spells it out. We get in trouble when those who practice ALMS giving, that is charity, giving generosity, despise the selfish is another, another of the many flavors of pride. A cow look how generous I am and what is wrong with those people can't be as generous. Second, when those who uphold the moral precepts are critical of those who do not. Third, when those who practice forbearance patients, be little, the impatient. Fourth, when those who practice vigorous, vigorous diligence, look down on the indolent and the lazy, so that could play out in sesshin, to look how much I'm sitting during late night, how much late night sitting, I'm doing sitting during the breaks and look at those others. Fifth, when those who practice meditation reject the distracted and there is finding, making odious comparisons of how ordinary people are so distracted, compared to those of us who meditate and then the last one, when those those with knowledge, make light of the ignorant, I think I find fault with Clary for too often. Translating wisdom is knowledge. I think it makes more sense to say when those who have acquired some wisdom have uncovered, let's call it and the way we should call it. It's not acquiring anything. It's uncovering our innate wisdom. make light of those who haven't. And then he just sums it up acquisitiveness in the practitioner converts religious practice into self approval, and condemnation of others, which obstructs the course of enlightenment, ultimate enlightenment
I wonder how many of those of you hearing this really need to be really need to hear it that is, I have a sense that those who practice them seriously and anyone who comes to sesshin practices and seriously know this stuff are onto these dangers. But if this great national teacher felt he could, he needed to spell it out, and I'm going to go along with him, because it can't help to be reminded of these things. And also, in these books of these, these masters, it's helpful to keep in mind that it, it was no doubt tailored to the recipient. I mean, in this case, in many cases, it's the monks, the masters are talking to all the monks. But here there's one in particular, this shoguns younger brother. So, maybe that's why some of these points he's making are ones that we assure ourselves we already know, there's more pride.
Hear he's back to demonic states, things that obstruct or or afflict the mind and one way or another, he says, aversion or fear of demonic states is itself a demonic state. If you have emotional attachment to the appearances of Buddha hood, enlightenment, then it is actually a demonic state. If you are unconcerned by the appearances of demonic state states, than they are the realm of Buddhahood.
So here to give an example. The three pillars of Zen is been credited to justifiably with with having brought 1000s of people to practice, and many of them it's because of reading of the Enlightenment accounts had sure was for me. In the, the meetings of the ESE ta Americans and Teachers Association been maybe not so surprised, but struck by how many of the teachers say that that's how they got status, what inspired them to undertake practice seriously is reading the three pillars of Zen and the Enlightenment accounts. But then again, the danger of getting attached to those accounts. And having that those awakening experiences getting lodged in the mind, then it becomes a real impediment.
It's enough to to have have those accounts or any awakening accounts inspire us and we got to forget them.
I lost precious time in sessions working on my first koan Mu relating what I was going through to those accounts comparing and contrasting. Just this last sentence, if you are unconcerned by the appearances of demonic states, then they are the realm of Buddhahood. So let's take as an example, molecule, hallucinations or other strange states that arise during during practice, we can reach the point where it doesn't matter if we have lions and tigers on the wall in front of us or, or other dramatic hallucinations. We just see them for what they are just devoid of any substance. Having no roots, just a little trick of the mind. And and then at the same time, see them as no other than this, our own original mind.
And that's a segue on intentional to the next one. Here the next entry, a primary aim of Zen is the uncovering of what is known as inherent knowledge. So here this is what I mean this different. Translating is knowledge, knowledge is learning things that he's, I'm certain I'm going to go on a limb here and say, What he means is our our innate wisdom, the uncovering of what is known as Bodhi wisdom, what's called inherent wisdom. And then he says, This is not the kind of knowledge that is produced by thinking based on conditioned consciousness. It is said that the ignorant or obstructed by ignorance, while intellectuals are obstructed by intellectual knowledge. That's a pregnant statement.
intellectuals are obstructed by intellectual knowledge, people who are given to conceptualizing just generally in their life, we'll carry that into into machine and complicate things.
Remember, Roshi Kapleau, quoting How To Get A Roshi in Japan, as saying it's, it's easier for women, to have a first breakthrough, because men are more likely to be playing with ideas, concepts. I don't, I don't know if that's true. But what's true is to the degree that we are conceptualizing anything about our practice, then we're holding ourselves back.
And then he saw a, he concludes, one way of getting past these obstacles and approaching inherent wisdom is to let go of whatever it comes to mind. There it is, let go of whatever comes to mind. Thoughts, fantasies, feelings and emotions also? What would be what will we gain from holding on to them? And what does that mean anyway means thinking about them.
Feelings and emotions are part of being human. That's part of our nature. So we will always at times have feelings and emotions. But we don't need we don't need to. We certainly don't need to suppress them, but why would we want to hold on to them?
Short one here, the fundamental course he's talking about our true nature, the essential the fundamental is not characterized by intelligence or stupidity in the ordinary sense. Those who are attached to such appearances are the stupid while those who are not are the intelligence so he's giving a different definition of intelligence something far beyond IQ if we're attached to ideas of of intelligent than, then we're stupid. So those who attain under understanding of the fundamental do not pride themselves in being wise. We just we just covered that the while ago
here's an antidote to acquiring some degree of wisdom is to ask well, who who is wise? What is it? That's wise. You're not going to find anyone? Anyone fixed permanent
is a little bit longer one. When you're ill. If you think you have to study medical science before getting treatment for your illness, you will get sicker and die before you ever finished learning medicine. If you go to an expert physician, however the physician can diagnose your ailment and prescribe accordingly. As a patient, you may not understand the knowledge underlying the doctor's prescription, but if you follow expert advice you will get well you can see this is a metaphor for working with a teacher. Buddhist practice is also like this. If you try to learn all the doctrines first and then apply them. You might spend a whole lifetime studying the doctrines without learning them all. So many and diverse are they if you never get around to applying them, and learning is ultimately useless. Real teachers therefore give students only as much instruction as they need to apply. Even if the students cannot understand immediately, if they keep the directions of a teacher in mind, without trying to fit them into preconceived interpretations. The obscurity should dissolve when the appropriate time arrives. It speaks to the utter utter practicality of Zen one of the most famous, succinct statements the Buddha ever made was I teach for two things suffering and the end of suffering. It's all about how can we end at least minimize reduce our suffering and the suffering of others? That's it.
There, there are people probably in any Buddhist Sangha, who are more drawn to study, they want to study Buddhist doctrine. And they're a good company actually, because some of the most illustrious Zen masters started by studying the sutras. Before getting into practice, the danger, it always is to make this reading the study, I substitute for the real thing. I have frankly mixed feelings about Buddhist study groups. Very, very different feelings. I I endorse people learning more about this magnificent tradition, this wisdom, tradition, and being being more being less ignorant about Buddhist doctrine, so long as it doesn't become a substitute for the this simple practice of Zen simple, two step process. Step number one noticing when the mind has wandered. Step two, redirecting bringing the attention back to the practice. Awfully simple. Let me repeat because it can't hurt. In sesshin, especially noticing First comes the noticing. That's the hard part because we can't notice till we notice, noticing when the mind has wandered. And then the second one is bringing the mind back to the practice. The problem comes that sometimes even after noticing, the sitter wants to linger there and whatever thoughts or dreams they discover. The longer you linger in the thoughts, the fantasies and so forth, the more you'll be obstructed. It's a it's a gradual dawning that occurs through long Zen practice, we realize that thoughts are not our friends. fantasies are not our friends. Both of them thoughts and fantasies can provide momentary pleasure of sorts. Escape, maybe. But we lose time precious time when we linger in these things. And to reach the point where he finally get it, if you're not going to spend any time with your thoughts, you still do some because he can't help it. But but at least, to have the clarity, the commitment to not stay there any longer than you have to. This is where things really get rolling. Breakthroughs can happen. But there has to be that conviction. It's not in fights. There's a great Chinese master fireman, who says simply said simply, it does not enter through thought.
But most of us take for ever to learn that way too long, because we're so. So we're so habituated to playing with our thoughts. Thinking that there's something essential that we can get out of them. Yes, we can. There are things we can derive from reflection, thoughtful reflection, but they won't solve the matter of life and death.
comes down to what do you want? Do you want to enjoy sort of pleasurable and little insights, philosophical or psychological insights? Do you want to hang out there? Or do you want to see through it all? And get to the bottom the bottom list bottom the fundamental? Is body mind. What do you want? What do you really want another way that plays out is is that for? For many of us for a while, just the deep peace of being in sesshin is enough. It's just so luscious. Especially people with very busy, busy lives, stressful lives. You come in you spend 234 days, everything settles and the world comes alive. Sounds specially in this environment that natural sounds of birds, insects, wind and the trees. It can be very seductive. But don't settle for that. You may settle for it for three or five or 10 sessions, but then comes a point where you reach get in touch with what is deeper what your deepest longings are. And that's when things can turn. Time is up, we'll stop and recite the four vows