July 2021 Sesshin, Day 6: The Way of Korean Zen by Kusan Sunim
10:16PM Aug 5, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is day six of this July 2021, seven day sesshin. And we'll take one more day on the teachings of Korean Zen Master Kusan Sunim, reading from The Way of Korean Zen.
Usually, on the last two days, at least I come in on koans. But that what we're going to hear today is so it's so nuts and bolts spot on for this stage this, this late session that I had to read from Matt. But first, he speaks to exactly what we see in the three pillars of Zen. And but the three, rubber, three prerequisites or three elements of serious Zen practice koan practice, at least in the three pillars, it's faith, doubt and determination here. He says faith, courage and faith, doubt and courage, but I'll let him speak. There are three essential elements of koan meditation, great faith, great courage, and great questioning. First, there's faith. This is not the faith of believing in the Buddha. But the faith you have in yourself,
you must believe in yourself. Because all the Buddha's are the three times all the ancestors, the Bodhisattvas, and the masters of this generation have stated that each sentient being is originally whole and complete a Buddha. Since the Buddha's words are not lies, it is certain that each person is fundamentally a Buddha, fundamentally, enlightened This is this, by the way is for each person to confirm for herself or himself.
Reflect on this, Have you realized your Buddha nature or not? All the awakened ones made great efforts while practicing in order to attain enlightenment. It was not achieved easily. When other people have become enlightened, think of yourself and the fact that you have not yet been able to realize enlightenment. Other people have become Buddhas, but you have not. You just continue creating karma within the turning wheel of birth and death. From such thoughts, an attitude of self reproach can be produced. Why have I been unable to awaken? He's drawing from very strong motivation in East Asia, which is shame.
Observers, authors of East Asian culture have said that this is a great, great engine of achievement in China, Korea, Japan, this feeling shame and then having as a motivation to go beyond oneself. I know it's a risk reading from this with Westerners, especially Americans, because that shame is not exactly in favor. But I'm hoping that that people can use it. It worked for me in those early years, when I started finding out about this person getting through their colon, bad person, oh, and that person and that person, and it was a pride.
He goes on throughout beginningless eons you have lived believing the body to be the self. You've just spent your time trying to He'd take care of and protect it alone. But you have completely disregarded the mind and only know the body which is just a potential corpse. For 1000s of years, you have only been thinking of protecting this thing that will eventually die. In this process, attachment has been produced. You continually cling to good things and reject bad things that is, you cling to things you want or like and reject things that you don't want or don't like. This is diluted thinking. As you continue in this manner, diluted thinking becomes stronger and stronger and appears to be your primary nature. you confuse diluted thinking for the mind. These days people say that which feels isn't that the mind but to see and to feel is just the mind reacting according to circumstances. I will explain further. Take the example of water when it is still the shining moon reflects in it. But if the water encounters certain conditions, such as the wind blowing waves will arise, then the moon cannot be clearly seen in it. It's reflection is broken up by the waves. Could you consider this to be an analogy for the mind? That is true mind? No this is this would just be a water ripple mind.
Many takes a swing at Confucianism. Confucian scholars speak about being good or bad by nature. Meaning that a person's fundamental nature can be either good or bad. They think that these are the words of a great doctrine, but they are not. Why? Because according to circumstances, if good conditions prevail, a good natured mind arises. If bad conditions prevail, an ill natured mind arises. A good natured or an ill natured mind originally has no fixed rules, the mind the minds which arise according to circumstances, are all forms of diluted thinking. Both a good mind and a bad mind are equally diluted thinking. Before a good or bad mind arises, what is the mind? What is it like? using the word mind, could also say the self it's a fundamental feature of the Dharma Buddhist doctrine that the soul we call the self is relational it's conditioned by its by causes and conditions and others it's it's always in relation to Yes, there's a a continuity a sameness to this I this me, but there is fluctuation depending on the conditions and the circumstances.
as practitioners of meditation, you know how to raise your fist or blink your eyes, how to eat rice or drink water? Isn't that thing it? So before raising your fist or blinking your eyes, what is that thing? Without fail, you must try and say something before a single thought arises. You must be clear about that thing. If you just wonder whether or not it is that which knows how to feel, then you don't really know what it is. This is intellectual Zen.
He goes on to courage to accomplish this task It is also necessary to produce an attitude of great courage. All people try to take good care of the body. Even though it is just a potential corpse they feed it well clothe it well and make it comfortable. During a measurable eons, they have obeyed it and protected it. But by so doing, they have only created much karma within the turning wheel of birth and death. Now, it is important to make the body obey us. Once you have produced an attitude of great courage, you no longer know even how to sleep or eat. You completely forget everything and just practice meditation.
So abandoned self concern is really what he's saying. It is, so it's such an impediment to sit and worry about what might happen if during session what would what might happen if I alter my precious routines of sleeping or eating?
Moreover, you must cultivate great questioning. This is of course, koan practice, whether you are contemplating What is this or Mu, or the Cypress in the courtyard. If you just sit motionless, maintaining the koan without questioning and continuity. It will be just like, quote, watching the tree waiting for the rabbit. And then he explains, it was once a man who is walking through the woods, a rabbit scurried by ran headfirst into a tree and died. The man then took it home and ate it. He then thought that the tree must be a special rabbit catching tree. So he started to come back to see if there were any more dead rabbits. But no matter how long he waited, what probability would there be of another rabbit dying there. Similarly, if you just sit, keeping the koan with neither continuity nor inquiry, no progress will be made in meditation.
He goes on, keep your koan bright and do not let it darken. Everything else can be left aside, but the colon should be considered as your own life, you must try to investigate it like an old mouse entering a cow horn. In some countries, when people want to catch a mouse, they will put some fragrant oil in the pointed end of a horn and place it near the mouse's hole. The mouse is attracted by the smell, and once it thinks it is safe crawls into the horn. It gets nearer and nearer the oil, until finally its body gets stuck in the pointed end, and it is unable to withdraw. In order to taste the oil, the foolish mouse has no fear of death, and without any hesitation, crawls right to the end of the horm. When even a mouse can be as brave as this in order to get what it desires, shouldn't human beings put forth a similar determination of mind in order to resolve the gray matter of birth and death. And to realize the great truth of the universe
is a important distinction. What he's really talking about in the case of the mouse is craving. But that's different from what we call bodhichitta. bodhichitta is the aspiration to come to awakening for the sake of all sentient beings. The Sanskrit or Pali I can never keep them straight. One of those languages the word for craving is tonna whereas the word for desire higher desire, this aspiration to awaken is chonda.
You should practice with the same urgency as a person with a parched throat thinking of water. If you practice like this for some time, you will reach a point where the mind has nowhere left to go. At that moment, thoughts are absent, and all delusive thinking comes to a complete halt. at such a time, the mass of questioning alone appears brilliantly before your eyes. Now your practice may actually seem easy. But you should be most careful since this is a very crucial moment. Throughout beginningless eons, you have been trans migrating through the suffering ocean of birth and death. Now, for one time, the mass of questioning is clear and awakening is very close by It is as though it were screened off by a single sheet of white paper. Soon, the moment will arrive when you can take revenge on birth and death, get the better of it, through achieving liberation from them.
He must be determined to pass over this crucial step. Otherwise, if you let it go by the koan will gradually lose its vividness. And it will be even harder to reach such a state again, therefore, do not waste this opportunity.
One, one will get to a point where there is just a kind of spacious stillness and emptiness or quietness. And the temptation then, is just to rest in that and and dispense with a colon. In fact, the colon will often just kind of disappear. And it's tempting just to abide in that. Stay that empty mind. But this won't get the job done. You've got to take hold of the koan again, get it back into the mind and work it. It can be kind of distasteful when you're in this serene state, but the serene state will pass until one breaks through. serene might last, but it doesn't. So As tempting as it may be, just to dwell in that, that emptiness, that serene emptiness, people working on a koan have to take hold of it again.
At this time, you will automatically forget to even sleep or eat. By the way, if you don't forget to eat or sleep, it doesn't mean that you won't have a breakthrough. He's talking about quite an unusual state of absorption. to not let this opportunity slip by requires true wisdom. So do not waste it. Be as resolute as the Buddha himself when he sat for seven days uninterruptedly under the Bodhi tree,
The knee prevent presents a verse having transcended all intellection. And perception, not even the slightest trace of any hindrance will remain. Your ocean like chest will extend to the limits of space before four walls will crumble. And the Buddhas of it three times will not be seen anywhere. Without taking even a single step, you will ascend to the Lotus realm.
I can't get over how magnificent these, this pair of Lotus sculptures is. The one above ground and the one concave.
When we're looking at those lotuses, we're looking at our own mind. And it's all of its purity.
He continues, it is still possible that even after repeated hard practice, it may seem that no progress is being made. At such times, the thought may occur that you are simply not suited for such an arduous and difficult task. Such a practice of meditation may be suitable for those who have already had a great deal of experience in the past, but not for a beginner like oneself. But to entertain such thoughts is to crush the seed of Buddhahood is like digging a hell for yourself. To reject this task, simply because it seems difficult, will only cause you to undergo further suffering wherever you are. This is why again, why we want people to stick it out position, however long they commit to, to, so as to not to avoid undergoing further suffering. To give up in this way will leave you far removed from awakening, the path ahead of you will grow dim and you will be destined to endless days of darkness. in such a state, how will you ever be able to free yourself from birth and death?
No matter how difficult it may seem at times, if you continue on interrupted Lee to exert yourselves, your meditation will eventually mature the defilements you have accumulated will gradually disappear and your wandering thoughts will lessen.
In this way, progress will become visible. As you as long as you maintain a sustained effort, why should you not finally awaken because each one of us is already whole and complete, enlightened in our intrinsic nature. So wakening is not out of the reach of anyone, anyone.
What's the alternative to practice? not practicing, just going on clotting ones old patterns of reactivity
In any case, it's not all or nothing. It's not either a come to awakening, or it's just the same old me know, as he says, We change. This is a this is a project of reforming ourselves. It takes time. We have taken incalculable years and lifetimes of building up this small mind called self. So how could it be eliminated in a single stroke where patients comes in, it's an all or nothing. Change happens if we maintain the sustained effort.
The Buddha's and the patriarchs of the past were ordinary human beings like yourselves, it was only through their strong determination that they were able to endure beyond strength, what was hard to endure, and thus succeeded in accomplishing the difficult task of awakening, the method of practice has not changed. It is the same now as it was then
it should be a source of great confidence or faith, to know that this method, this very method that we're doing this week, and then we do whenever we sit, even on our own, that this is been refined for centuries and centuries and centuries. It is the path by the way.
There is a kind of a prose poem from Sweden that I've read before, but not recently. It's called The Ballad of the pavs in vestment land by Lars Gustafsson. And here's how it goes. Under the visible script of small tracks, gravel tracks, forest tracks, often with a grass Ridge in the middle, between deep ruts hidden beneath twigs heaped in clearings still distinct and crumbling moss. Another script runs the old paths. They lead from Lake to Lake from Valley to Valley, sometimes, deeper furrows more distinct and sturdy bridges of medieval stone carry them over black streams. Sometimes they evaporate on bare rocky ground, you lose them easily and swamps, so imperceptibly, that one moment they're there and the next not. The they do go on. Always there's a going on. You only have to seek. The paths are obstinate. They know what they want. And with that knowledge, they combined considerable cutting. You walk east, the compass points insistently east, faithfully the path follows the compass like a streak all is well. Then the path veers north and North there's nothing What does the path want? Soon comes in enormous more, and the path new it. It leads us around with the certainty of someone who knows what's what it knows where the more is. It knows where the hill is too steep. It knows what happens to someone who circles the lake to the north instead of South. It has done it all so many times before. That's the whole point of being a path. It came to be made long ago.
Again, he addresses this matter of emptiness, once before and after have been severed that his concerns about the past concerns about the future, you enter a state of emptiness. Now at this time there is a danger that you might easily slip into a state of just observing the emptiness. In such a condition you are neither disturbed by sleepiness nor wandering thoughts. That's good, but in addition, the koan is also absent. But it is a mistake to merely observe the emptiness. At that time, if you take hold of a kolani will appear with extreme vividness and clarity. by concentrating on the koan in this fashion for a period of a few days, a state of quiescence and vividness will begin to clearly emerge. At this time, there is the danger of easily succumbing to the misconception that you have awakened. However, this is not an experience of awakening. It is merely a perception of the luminous nature of consciousness. Say Samadhi.
Samadhi is not awakening the state of complete absorption is not awakening, but it is the precondition. It is the on deck circle to awakening.
One can savor Samadhi or a Samadhi. Like condition actually. True Samadhi is pretty rare, but state approaching Samadhi Samadhi like what Roshi Kapleau once said to me, and Joke's on, well, you're in a semi let's call it a Samadhi like condition. It's so luscious. But then, if one doesn't go beyond it, then it disappears and you're back to maybe not where you started, but you've lost it.
If at such a time, you become distracted by circumstances, what is appearing to you, that is your original mind will fade and finally become covered up. Therefore, make a great effort not to be distracted instead continue to hold on firmly to the koan.
At this time, the call on is said to be ripening, and the mind starts to become sharper and more single pointed like a fine sword. It is vital at this point to pursue your practice with the intensity of an attacking soldier. You must become totally involved with the koan, to the exclusion of everything else.
If you can make your body and mind become identical with the koan, then in the end, ignorance will naturally shatter. He will fall into a state of complete unknowing perplexity and questioning. But even this is not a final or lasting state. When you have reached this point, you must still proceed further to the stage where although you have ears, you do not know how to hear. Although you have eyes You do not know how to see and although you have a tongue, you do not know how to speak This is, we could say is this state of no mindedness, which is different from mindfulness. To reach the place where mountains are not mountains and rivers are not rivers may entail several years of hard practice. Therefore, it is necessary to cast aside all other concerns, and train yourself to focus the entirety of your attention on the tasteless colon alone. tasteless. That's a use the word a minute ago distasteful when you're in a state of emptiness and the koan? Yeah, because it's, By comparison, to this sublime state of emptiness. koan can seem pretty tasteless. But it is the portal, it is the key to unlocking this original nature of ours.
Know what he is what he's exhorting his monks students to do may sound daunting, how can we? How can we sustain such an effort? Can we even raise it in the first place, much less sustain it? Well, if you're thinking about how can I do this? How can I sustain this? Well, there's the I, that undercuts your efforts.
It's like climbing a mountain, if you if you're getting up there, and you are faltering, getting tired, if you keep stopping to look up at the summit, you're never gonna make it. You have to just let go of thoughts of getting anywhere. That means also not stopping to look down and enjoy the view.
We've all spent almost six days now reaching this state of, of mind.
To reach this state, again, would take another six days. I think this is very much what kusatsu name is reminding us that we're poised now. We're poised to take the next step. The last thing we want to do at this point is to take your foot off the gas.
And who knows even whether those next six days will ever come? Or when anyway, they might come. Now with there's more talk about how we're heading into a fourth stage of the pandemic. And who knows, they say who knows what other variants beyond this delta variant but other worse variants will may lie ahead. This is the time
doesn't mean becoming some kind of a sesshin Olympic champion. Some spiritual hero just means pressing, sustaining the effort just pressing on and not straining. straining, not going to help but just keeping at it. For people working on a column the questioning the questioning, going back to that for people doing breath practice, just to press on to ever more thoroughly be absorbed in the breath, be consumed by the breath. Become the breath itself become the koan. by questioning it is the best way to become the koan is through questioning. But even short of that, one can reach this reach a state of Samadhi. Just by sheer through sheer concentration may not be quite as sure thing as through questioning, but one can reach this, this Samadhi state just through concentrating. And then then anything can happen. You don't have to hold a Samadhi state for hours or even minutes can happen just like that.
It is such a marvelous state to reach that, who would even want to get out of it. But it's not necessary to stay there forever.
In the end, it's all a matter of, of faith.
This, this last, these last two days, day and a half of sesshin are just potentially, potentially, so absolutely marvelous. If you're not allowing yourself to get involved with your thoughts.
There's a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. Rocha. From everything I can tell from his writing, he seems to have been a realized person. And in this one, I think it speaks to what's possible now late and sesshin. With all this sitting behind this, the mind settled that there's this, this settled mind that bears us along. It's called the swan. This clumsy living then moves lumbering as if in ropes, through what is not done, reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks and to die, and to die, which is the letting go of the ground we stand on and cling to every day. is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down into the water, which receives him Gailey and which flows under and after him wave after wave while the swan, unmoving, and marvelously calm, is pleased to be carried each moment more fully grown more like a king farther and farther on
when I recite the four vows