June 2022 Sesshin, Day 4: The Practice of Zen by C.C. Chang
4:29PM Jun 16, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is day four of this June 2022, seven day sesshin. We're going to switch horses here now and move on to a book, one of the very earliest books on Zen practice translated into English. It's called the Practice of Zen, by CC Chang. The publication date here is a 1959 which places it seven years before, the Three Pillars of Zen was published first. This was one of the only three or four Zen texts in English that were suitable for sesshin that is practice, pure practice based. And so this was one of only three or four that Roshi Kapleau had available to use in teisho to comment on for years. As a result, this text like the other couple, are ones that we heard over and over and over again in the 1970s. And as a result of that, has this this material has seeped quite deeply into the mind, my mind. So maybe there's a little bit of nostalgia or attachment. But I think it's very powerful material. It's really looking at Zen. Zen exertion from the inside, and particularly about koan practice, because there's a lot he says about questioning, which is the key to working on a koan. So this particular segment, is called Discourses of Master Poshan. And that try as I might I couldn't find a date of this Poshan. What are his dates when he lived. Another one in this section was was in the 1200s, though, so, yeah, let's say 1200, 1300, 1400. So here he begins, "When working on Zen, the important thing is to generate the Ichin - doubt sensation. What is this doubt, sensation?" Doubt, let's be clear, doubt doesn't mean skepticism. You know what? I don't I don't believe that I could that be? It means questioning? For some reason. This is the Zen use of the word. Well, in this context, it's the Zen use of the word. So it's the it's
means perplexity or questioning or wondering, but I'll let him here do the talking. What is this doubt sensation? For instance? Where did I come from before my birth? And Where shall I go after my death? Since one does not know the answer to either question, a strong feeling of doubt arises in the mind in the mind. Take hold of this doubt mass and keep it there all the time. Until you can neither drive it away nor put it down even if you want it to. Then you will suddenly you will discover that the doubt mass has been crushed, that you have broken it into pieces. The Masters of old said, the greater the doubt the greater the awakening, the smaller the doubt the smaller the awakening, no doubt, no awakening.
So just a word about the the premise of koans is the meditation device. The
the presupposition is that to be human means to wonder, at times to wonder about one's own life and death and existence. Fundamental Questions. This wondering, is strongest in adolescence, from what I can tell from what I can remember. Teenagers are so often beset with questions about who they are and what they might be and why this and what's going on. And I think as we mature as we move on into full adulthood, these questions in most people get shoved aside or shoved under the pressures of work, finances, relationships, marriage, so forth. And for I think a lot of people, it isn't till they face a crisis in their 20s or 30s or 40s or later, that these these kind of questions might then reemerge a loss and I lost someone close to them, or job or something, loss of a job can provoke the questioning again, but most people managed to hobble along through their lives with these questions on addressed in any kind of conscious, active vigorous way. Well, the the koan is a way to pull together this this kind of diffuse on and off occasional questioning, to pull it all together, to give it a focus. So it can really, really work as far as changing, revealing the way things are. The best, best physical example or analogy I can think of is like a magnifying glass that the rays of the sun sunlight is warm enough, but diffuse, until you put a magnifying glass under the sun, and then you can start a fire
because it focuses the rays of the sun.
He continues, when working on Zen, the worst thing is to become attached to quietness, because this will unknowingly cause you to be engrossed in Dead stillness. Then you will develop an inordinate fondness for quietness and at the same time, an aversion for activity of any kind. Once those who have lived amidst the noise and restlessness of worldly affairs, experienced the joy of quietness, they become captivated by its honey sweet taste, craving it like an exhausted traveler who seeks a peaceful den in which to slumber. This is always every session every seven day sesshin This is the danger of the middle third of sesshin especially where one has left the worldly commotion and activities of our daily lives which this push on the 13th century or whatever, could not have even imagined the level of, of activity of a 21st century especially with with all the digital devices that that keep us preoccupied
I once read, don't know, this pass it along because it was, I think it was in India decent soars anyway that, that that in a single New York Times, maybe let's call it a Sunday. And for the benefit of the doubt, single issue of the Sunday, New York Times, there's more information there, than people of the 13th century, encountered in their whole lifetime.
So we are kin, continuously churning the mind, with with most of us most, most, I think, in the Sangha, don't have exceedingly simple jobs, but those those who do, it can say from Zen perspective are lucky. Even those who do almost surely have digital devices that can really stir things up. And so, we come in here from all of this life of the mind active and it is such a relief can be and the mind settles thoughts settle the first two or three days, and then we enter this kind of melt, he says quietude. And then the challenge is to not settle into that and just leave it at that it helps that the mind does get more concentrated by day four, more so on five, generally speaking, and it's, it can be luscious. He said, this honey sweet taste of quietness but it's nothing like what that can lead to the bright awareness the breakthroughs that can come
this phrase an aversion for activity of any kind. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes it takes the form of someone in sesshin who doesn't want to get up for keen but we asked them to get up because we don't want people getting attached to stillness to non activity. We want to make this practice work skinnin has a chance to practice this, the wherever our practice is to practice it while moving. Is that I think often when someone doesn't want to get up for cleaning as a cleaning clean desperately to that state, which is the last thing we want to do we're going to want to try to clean to any state that we encounter and in our sitting.
He continues, when working on Zen one does not see the sky when he lifts his head nor the earth when he lowers it. To him a mountain is not a mountain and water is not water. While walking or sitting he is not aware of doing so. Though among 100,000 people he sees no one without and within his body and mind nothing exists, but the burden of his doubts sensation. Questioning so this if you think this is Not mindfulness. You're right. This is not mindfulness. In mindfulness we want to be mindful aware, noticing things. This is a a deep state go deep state of concentration, this is a state of no mindedness, very different from mindfulness.
In when the Buddha came to his, after his awakening, and then he went to Deer Park and gave his four noble truths. The fourth of the Four Noble Truths is the Noble Eightfold Path. Right Understanding right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. Those last to right mindfulness, and right concentration, notice the distinction. It may be and I can't speak with authority. About about this, but it seems that what what Zen specializes in, as far as the awakening experience is right concentration. We need mindfulness to notice when the mind has wandered, that's that's mindfulness that's noticing it's mindfulness. So we have that's part of Zen meditation is mindfulness. But it can, in our efforts to hold the mind firmly on the object, object of concentration, the koan to the breath, one develops concentration to the point that one can penetrate, see, into this discursive consciousness see through it beyond an experience what we call awakening.
This is what is what is one of the things that draws me back to this text is that in this post, Sean he's is someone who's sharing deep experience with meditation, advanced states of meditation.
Think it would not serve anyone to make make this kind of, of absorption, it's what it is. Goal where they are trying to. Even among 100,000 people Seeing no one, it may happen. I think this is a very, a very unusually deep state. But well, he's just he's just sharing what he's been through and what others, some others have been through. We can call it a kind of Samadhi state. And it's temporary. We you don't, after awakening you don't go through your life, not seeing the sky, when you lift your head or the earth when you lower it, it opens up, it opens up into dazzling clarity and awareness. But to get there, he might may have to go through this kind of stage.
He continues, this feeling can be described as, quote, turning the whole world into a muddy vortex. And he asked What is this mean? It refers to the great truth, which from the very no beginning time has existent has existed, latent and idle. It has never been brought forth.
Through our conditioning, we come to see the world as fragmented, as as purely as in the lens of differentiation. This is this the normal way of seeing the world and we have words that correspond to different forms and shapes. Alter stick, window tree dog Bird. So we have many 1000s of names for these different things. And that's how the ordinary person sees only from that perspective, this perspective of differentiation. But that's just half the truth. The other half is non differentiation, we oneness, nothing apart from every other thing. And that's what that's the realm of the states. He's describing. This after turning the whole world into a muddy vortex.
And more more on that a little later. Then he says, Therefore, Zen practitioner should Beyster himself to make the heavens spin, and the earth and its waters roll, he will benefit greatly from the rolling surges and tossing waves as the opposite of sinking into torpor of quietness.
A little later, I'm going to skip ahead just momentarily, a little later, he quotes a master 10 tonne, who said the whole universe becomes like becomes like cooked rice, one can dip his nose in the bowl and eat as much as he likes. Again, this is complete this realm of non differentiation everything as one want non separation
then this master Tim Stone says, Therefore, if at this stage he cannot do do this, it is what it is as though he were sitting beside a rice basket or floating in the ocean, he can eat the rice or drink the water, he is hungry and thirsty, and to death of what uses this
we are all We All Long For to return to this fundamental unity non separation in divisibility that we were born with the experience we're born with. Through through our development or child development, we need to develop this realm of differentiation, discriminating this from that but we can reclaim the complement to that the other has the other side of that which is this unity.
And then he switches here for a moment. One who is truly working on Zen has no time for illusory visions, or even for a second thought. Not though a sharp knife be pressed against his throat eludes illusory visions, well, you know, most of you know sometimes use the word McKeel for visual hallucinations, any kind of distorted sense experiences, visual hallucinations, auditory hallucinations, tactile hallucinations. These are things that can arise through deepening meditation
he says there's no time for these things. In other words, not to get distracted by these things. Well, how do you get distracted? How do you not get distracted when you're facing the wall and the wall is full of elephants and tigers? You you keep your attention riveted on the practice you're working on.
You neither try to repel or escape those images, that's a mistake. Nor do you engage with them. Try to avoid them more, or maybe worse of all, creating things out of them. This is all a diversion from the matter the real, the great matter that we're here for. more seasoned people, practitioners know that you don't have to get rid of them. You don't have to do anything about them. If you keep your attention on the practice, then they're not a problem. It may take getting used to that may take some time to learn how to cope with them in that way, which is not coping, just keeping the attention on the practice. But then they just are no longer a problem. It's not that different from thoughts. What are we doing with thoughts, thoughts keep arising the mind? Well, we're not trying to repel them, suppress them, escape them, nor are we clinging to them. Neither of those two extremes, we just keep our attention, keep returning our attention to the practice. And then they're not a problem. The fonts are not a problem. They don't have to be, you don't have to disappear. They're just not a problem. The hallucinations don't have to disappear. But they're not a problem. That's an extends to any phenomenon, emotions, feelings. What are the two things we don't want to do? We don't want to try to suppress them. And we don't want to wallow or cling to them? How do you neither suppress them nor cling to them? You know, what, just the practice, I think but the practice, and then they will find their way out on their own. It's like ignoring, ignoring a nuisance. When I used to tease my sisters, they'd go to our mother lie, we didn't go out. And she would say, just ignore him, just ignore him. And they would do their best. And at first, I just, you know, amped it up. And but then, yeah, right. It's not working anymore, getting no reaction.
And then continue with this, about dealing with what he calls illusory visions. He says if one's experience really conforms to the truth, that is if you are experienced, you realize that there is no object outside of your own mind. Can you find a vision apart from the mind? Which mirror is it? This is a very profound question. Can we find any vision? Anything that is apart from the mind? There's no such thing. Well, how could that be? What could we possibly see that's apart from the mind? It isn't a function of the mind of perception.
And by the way, it's not just it's not just a course we know. That's just a sensory illusions that can bedevil us it's also emotional states that can suddenly ride in. My it was banditos in the old westerns, the everything is going fine. We're pretty pretty concentrated on our practice, and suddenly, we're swept away by filling the blank regret
that's it that was one of my spot Shall these my earliest machines regret when I had done what I had said to people? Remorse
anger, irritability, suddenly rising up, sometimes even without an abject annoyance and then the nicer states euphoria, elation, excitement, restlessness, sluggishness, boredom there are states is nothing we need to do about them. Same as thoughts. Same as pesky brothers just ignore them. Don't deny that they're there. Yes, they're they're very much sort of occupying us temporarily. These states have emotions. So we see them. But there's nothing we need to try to do about them. They will find their way out.
Depression is nothing, it's permanent. There's no state that's permanent. It allows to shorter time or a longer time, but it always moves out provided provided we remain concentrated on the practice.
He continues. When working on Zen, one should not worry about not being able to revive after death. And he's referring here to awakening some people, they hear this this expression, dying the great death coming to awakening. And they can imagine that No, take it too literally. One should not worry about not being able to revive after death what should what should worry am is whether he can die out from the state of life. If if one can really wrap himself up tightly in this doubt sensation, the realm of movement will be vanquished naturally without his making any specific effort to vanquish it. And one's distracted thoughts will be purified spontaneously, without effort to purify them. In a wholly natural way, one will feel his six senses become spacious and vacuous. Six Senses are the five ordinary senses and the sense of thought.
When one reaches this state, she will awaken to a mere touch and respond to the slightest call. See, now this, you see is the opposite of this, this state of of not seeing the sky when you raise your head or the ground when you lower it. That's past our awakening to a mere touch and responding to a slightest call.
And this point, one's distracted thoughts will be purified spontaneously, without effort to purify them. It's not our job, to purify our thoughts to stop our thoughts to get rid of our thoughts that happens on its own. Rather, the thoughts no longer become a problem. As Hakuin says our thought now being no thought
this is the marvelous thing about Zen practice. We don't need to write up a to do list about what we need to do. We don't need an agenda. We just need to reduce it to this the singular goal of becoming absolutely one that the practice of working on everything flows from that happens on its own if we're engaged in that way
when working on Zen, she who works with absorption will feel as if she had lifted 1000 pound load, as again, the doubts sensation, the grips one. And even if she wants to put it down, she cannot do so. In ancient times people could enter into samadhi, while tilling the land, picking peaches or engaging in any business. It was never a matter of sitting idly for prolonged periods engaged in forcefully suppressing one's thoughts. Does samadhi means stopping one's thoughts? If so, this is a debased Samadhi not the Samadhi of Zen. Yeah, I think there is a practice in is a Hindu practice of suppressing your thoughts. So I think maybe that's what he's referring to here. Not not confuse it with that.
You know, he is whole, this whole chapter practically is about questioning raising the doubt sensation. But I know from having met with students for many years that for some, it just isn't there. So even I mean, working people working on a con, the doubt the questioning isn't there. And I always reassure them that all right, the questioning is ideal. The questioning, the element of questioning is what distinguishes koan practice, from non koan practice. And yet, it may take a while to develop it that question. So rather than contrive questioning and get get frustrated, and have a kind of artificial questioning, I think it's better just to be concentrated on the koan without questioning about trying and futility to question just concentrate on the koan the Mu, what is this who am I and so forth? And then, when when you reach enough intimacy with the practice the koan, then then the questioning it becomes perplexing. The questioning arises out of that state of oneness, that fusion with the koan. It's almost as good, just that oneness with the koan, even without the question, and it can, it can, can switch very fast, oneness, oneness oneness, then what is it? Who am I? It takes hold of us. We don't have to artificially try to concoct it.
He continues, when working on Zen, the most harmful thing is to rationalize, conceptualize, or intellectualize the way with one's mind. If he does, so, we will never reach the way. Well, this is the, this is the big one. All the Intel conceptualizing that we do that we're not aware of.
The longer we practice, the more we discover layers of conceptualizing that was going on all along that we weren't aware of. And then we can when we notice the these layers, the successive layers, then we have the freedom to leave them alone. Get back to the practice.
and working on Zen one should not just await the coming of enlightenment with an expectant mind. This is like one on a journey who sits idly by the road and expects her home to come up to her. She will never arrive home this way. To get there, she must walk home. And words it's an active practice. And above all, it's not a practice of waiting expectantly for awakening to arrive. Way waiting. Waiting, I think implies a thought. If you're waiting for the sunrise in the morning, you've got that in your mind. I think in most cases, it implies a thought you're you're you're in the future, you're not present
Well, it's it's easier said than done. Not to have an expected mind for someone who is. It's a strong aspiration to confirm one's innate awakening one's own one's innate enlightenment. It's through tantalizing, and it keeps coming up. That's why for so many people, it takes so long because they they can't get beyond the thought of awakening. But it can be done. Eventually, through this absorption, it dissolves, the thought dissolves and then one is finally fully present not looking into the future.
attainment he continues attainment of the great enlightenment is like the sudden blossoming of the lotus flower, or the sudden awakening of the dreamer. One cannot by waiting, awaken from a dream. But he does so automatically when the time for sleep is over. Flowers cannot bloom by waiting but blossom of themselves when the time has come.
Likewise, enlightenment is not so attained but comes on its own when conditions are ripe. Just again, the whole point of the koan is to shift all of that longing to awaken to shift it over to the longing to know, to understand the koan. So there's nothing left in the way of thinking about enlightened.
In other words, he says, one should exert all his strength to penetrate into the colon, pressing his mind to the utmost in order to achieve realization. Do not misunderstand what I have said and just wait for awakening to come. In the moment of awakening, the clouds vanish and the clear sky shines vast and empty. Nothing can obscure it. In this moment, heavens spins and the earth somersaults. an entirely different realm appears entirely different realm that paradoxically, is no different.
The Masters of old said, the way the Dow like the Great Void is all inclusive. It lacks nothing and nothing remains in it. And then, post Sean comments if one has really attained the state of flexible hollowness US we'll get back to that he sees no world without a no body or mind within. So, flexible hollowness is the best the translator could do for a very elusive description of this this realm of of freedom of absorption
hollowness because edging into the realm of emptiness non substantiality flexible flexible well because it feels completely flexible mutable mutable, changeable I think the less said about any the less setup is anymore is the best. Okay, our time is up. We'll stop now and recite the four vows