Master Hakuin's Chant in Praise of Zazen, Part 1
1:39PM May 4, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is May 1, 2022, Labor Day for most people in the world. And I'd like to, since this is my first teisho, first day here in Rochester in six months. I want to start by thanking Sensei, John Pulleyn-sensei, for having shouldered the task of teaching here - being at the helm of the Center for the past six months. It's a great, great, generous thing he did in accepting this partnership with me, of him doing it for six months and alternating with me for six months. Generous. He, he would have had so many good reasons to decline, but he stepped in. And from absolutely everything I've heard, he's been doing a great job. It's one of the reasons it's been a winter of contentment for me just knowing that things are in good hands here have been. For those of you who might ask this very broad question of me later on as to how it's been, how these six months have been, I've gone into some length in a article that will appear in the next issue of Zen Bow. And what makes me think of this now is that I could summarize the article with the title I gave it, which is "Winter of Contentment and Loss". Thanks also to the Zoom monitors, the people monitoring the Zoom sittings. This has been my thread of connection from Florida. It's, it's really another generous and compassionate act to do that. It's, after a while, I'm told it's somewhat routine but there are always things that can go wrong. And you need good people who can troubleshoot who can be alert and mindful to keep things on track in the zoom sittings, and teishos, I guess, also, talks of any kind Dharma Talks. So what I thought I would do this morning, I was going to comment on the recent self-immolation of a young man or middle aged man on the steps of the Supreme Court, but I just thought I'd rather put that off a bit and, and dive into one of the great central texts of Zen, which is what we just chanted five minutes ago together, the Hakuin Chant - Master Hakuin's Chant in Praise of Zazen. And in preparing this morning, I didn't really start till this morning, we just got in last night. We got moved into our studio apartment, Angela and I, that we'll be renting for the month of May, and then after that, she'll go back to Florida, and I'll move into the Zen Center to live here for the first time in 30 years or 30 some years. But in preparing for this, I was reminded, as I have been in the past when I've commented on that it's, it is such a rich text, that I probably am not going to get much more than halfway today. And so I'd like to resume next Sunday with part two. I would I would call this, the Hakuin Chant, one of the three most important texts, short texts that anyone could learn and delve into endlessly. The other two is the Affirming Faith in Mind and, of course, the Prajna Paramita. These three, really any one of them, really goes to the essence of this Dharma. And I've continued to find each one of them inexhaustible. So let's kick it off with the first line. From the very beginning all beings are Buddha. This lays down the very core article of faith in Zen. Every one of us is Buddha. Let's just again look at the word Buddha. When it's when it's plural Buddhas, it refers to the enlightened ones, anyone who's come to awakening. You can define that differently, you could say, who comes to full, full enlightenment all the Buddhas of the past. It could be even someone who is even more faintly experienced the truth of the Dharma of seeing into her own nature or the other way of putting it is the nature of reality. That's plural, "Buddhas". Buddha, is I see just as shorthand for our Buddha-nature. Our true self, our self nature, our original nature, original mind, the closest thing we have and in Zen to God. And it lays it all out right out. Hakuin lays it out from the very beginning, all beings are Buddha. Originally, way back in the 70s, when we started chanting this, we had from the beginning, all beings are Buddha. And then we added the word very from the very beginning, just for emphasis. The very beginning all beings are Buddha. But even the word beginning could raise questions, the beginning? What came? What's that mean? What's the beginning? What would be before that? To even use a term like the beginning or the end, such terms are dualistic and they really address only half of reality, of things as they are. The other half is the beginningless and endless nature of reality.
From one side, we're going from one angle, from one side of the coin, we can talk about beginnings and endings, and now and then forward and backward, and past and future. And that's all valid. That's that's, it's valid enough, but it's not complete. The complete is is also the other side of the coin, the beginningless, the undifferentiated what is beyond time. But masters like how can one use these terms and it's counting on us to see through the words. So he say or uses the word beginning from the very beginning, all beings are Buddha, all beings, without exception
are equally endowed no more or no less, no one more, no one less are equally endowed with this luminous mind of enlightenment. That's something that we we can hope to acquire could even need to acquire. It's beyond awakening. We already have it we are it does not have we are it every one of us equally. Putin and the beginning, Buddha, Buddha Nature
It's it is
we can say it's a potentiality. But it's more than that it's a reality again the two sides depends on how you look at it
until we realize and I suppose until we fully realize our innate Buddha nature, then we can do all kinds of terrible things. The way Putin is that still doesn't take away from me from the fact that he is Buddha.
Like water and ice without water, no ice outside us no Buddhists. I love the words of Zen master Erdogan, from 13th century Japan, no ordinary being ever became a Buddha only Buddha's become Buddhists.
This reference to water and ice comes from one of the most esteemed of the Mahayana texts it's called, the awakening of faith. By just gives last name OSH for Gosha. Nash, if I go show the name will be familiar to people who have familiar with our ancestral line, our Chicago show was that lived in the between the first and the second centuries in Indian who was well he became, is first he was a philosopher is considered a great philosopher and then he became, join the ancestral line as a great enlightened person. And I fished out of here with my own copy of the awakening of faith, to where Hacohen got this reference to water and ice. Here is
hear the words of the translated words of ashba Gosha. This is like the relationship that exists between the water of the ocean that is our enlightened nature, our original mind, the water of the ocean, and its waves, which are the this discursive mind stirred by the wind, the wind, he says here of ignorance, water and wind are inseparable. But water is not mobile by nature, and if the wind stops, the movement ceases, but the wet nature remains undestroyed. We I see here that this is not exactly what Hakuin is talking it isn't. There's no mention here of ice. Let me see I may have gotten the wrong it's maybe a different one here for the ice thing.
Well, that's all I've got right now. But we can appreciate the the intimate relationship between water and ice. You can say that there is no ice without water. But they're not exactly the same. If you asked for a glass of water and someone brought you a glass of ice, it wouldn't be the same. And yet they're not essentially different.
So, we are we are, we are all Buddha. We are all Buddha's originally, and yet not in practical terms the way we we think and speak and act
What entrepreneurship was saying there is my very much the same there's the, the ocean, which for the purpose of this analogy is, is still the deeper reaches of the ocean is still that's our, our mind our luminous mind of silence, deep, calm, undisturbed mind. And then there are the waves on the surface, which is everything else the way we go through our daily lives of anxiety and preoccupations, worrying. They're not really two fundamentally and yet, they're not exactly the same.
How near the truth had how far we seek care it is. Like one in water crying, I thirst.
Close closer to this essential nature of ours is closer to than our own eyebrows
like fish and water that don't know they're in water.
The big mistake that we make until awakening is to think of the truth as something out there that we have to get to.
Each one of us is the truth.
Each one of us is the truth.
Right? We we need to get it somewhere. And yet, until we know this until we've realized for ourselves that each one of us is the truth, then inevitably, there's this grasping for it. And that's nothing we need to apologize for, of course, we have a sense that there is something that we can realize, then we strive for it.
So that, so that someday we can see, there was nothing to grasp, apart from our own self, our own. Separate from who we are. And he, he then he is see how important this is to Hacohen. Then he switches adds another analogy like a child of rich birth, wandering poor on this earth. We endlessly circle the six worlds, this comes from the Lotus Sutra. parable of the basically it's one that's not just in Asia, it's the prodigal son, prodigal daughter, who wanders out of the palace and is lost to the king queen. And wanders for years and years. As a child, first as a child and having no idea that he's fundamentally of royal royal birth. And then the day comes when he just happens on his rounds of homelessness happens to wander in front of a palace, of course, has no memory of had been having been born there. But the king spots him and recognizes him and restrains himself from going out and throwing his arms around his now adolescent son, instead, has one of his men offer. The young man plays a job working. The King is wise enough to know that you can't just couldn't just say, Hey, you're my son, I'm the king, you're my son wouldn't be the son could never believe it. And so he's wise enough to recognize that it has to be you have to grow into it. The sun has to grow into his birthright and say you And then you know the rest. So, over time the son grows into it and assumes his place on the throne. Like a child of virgin birth wandering poor on this earth. We endlessly circle the Sixth World. So until then, we endlessly circle the six worlds. The six worlds, for many of you will this will be a repetition. But the six worlds or the three, excuse me, the six realms of unenlightened existence, it's just a way that in traditional Buddhist texts, they would differentiate the different types of unenlightened life. And so it starts with the three lowest realms, the realm of hell. Don't have to go far with your imagination to recognize that hell one hellish realm now is Ukraine. Mario Pol. booga Burghard Baca that other place
so many other Hell's we read about there's the just the psychic how being in terrible anguish. So the lowest realm Is hell a hellish existence. The second one up is realm of what they have called Over the centuries, the hungry ghosts and thirsty spirits, those who are endlessly unfulfilled, filled with craving. I always think of drug and alcohol addiction for the hungry ghosts and there's the spirits. The next one up of the three lowest realms is that of animals. Who are bound to action and reaction and often fear,
eat or be eaten.
This too, confined calm counterparts to even within human existence, people like this. The next one up generally, is the realm of fighting spirits or center as they call them, Titans, the way I take that is to people who are driven to overpower others to vanquish others. And then usually the human realm, it says the order is not always the same, depending on the text, but then the, the second highest of the six realms is that of the human realm. What defines the human realm? self consciousness would be one way of understanding it. self-consciousness aware of the certainty of our death, and the uncertainty of the time of death
another way to understand the human realm, as sort of a central ways is the realm of dilemmas facing dilemmas. I want this but I want that I don't want that but I want this and I prefer this the the affirming faith in mind addresses this right at the outset.
The great way is not difficult for those who who do not pick and choose when preferences are cast aside, the way stands clear and undiscovered. As humans we are we are bound in an every every single day and maybe every hour by our likes and dislikes or our preferences, our aversions and our passions. As a human realm, and then the the highest of the um, again, these are unenlightened realms. The highest is the realm of devas, which means people as I understand it, people have great privilege, great fortune. Be To the success, wealth, pleasure
all of this is to say
that to repeat here like a child of rich birth, we've wandered poor on this earth, we endlessly circle the six worlds. So we go, we rise and we fall through these realms, not necessarily all of them all the time, but we can ascend in accordance with our karma, our ever fluctuating karma, and we can descend
can see this, you know, with people in the public eye, like celebrities or sometimes people in the media that are it's their, their, their falls from grace there, there are so blindingly revealed, that we can see this kind of thing. They go from huge stupendous salaries and with the being adored by hundreds of millions of people, actors, actors, singers to just plummeting. But that's, that's usually is not that dramatic. It's just the way we, we there will be ups and downs in our in our lives, and how it can suddenly turn with just a single event, send us tumbling into a lower realm.
A great deal of our, our experience in these going up and down in the six realms is, is a function of a mind, how we experience the circumstances we go through the conditions we go through. Again, from the forming faith in mind, things are things because of mind are the realms we find ourselves going through to, to a large extent, not entirely, but to a large extent, are determined by the mind. And so it is the most intelligent thing in the world, to undertake and maintain a meditation practice can make all the difference in our, our experience of life. To the degree that we are pitched back and forth by our, our thoughts. We will be caught in these in these six realms.
Habit, though, is so strong, we're so habituated to our thoughts, it's hard to pull free of them.
And then he again Hacohen the cause of our sorrow is ego delusion. There it is, right there. The cause of our sorrow is ego, delusion. the delusion that there's a me here and a you out there and that there is an OS and of them. This is the cause of our sorrow
I again, the intelligence of meditation as a way of seeing through this notion of a separate self. Self another. Yes, I've seen them. And that he then elaborates from dark path to dark path. We've wandered in darkness. Look at that. Three times he uses words. Referring to darkness. From dark path to dark path, we've wandered in darkness. This is someone Hacohen, who has seen his own share has lived his own share of darkness. He went through terrible times before he came to practice he was tormented by mental pain
and we all know I think we'd all agree that the time what we're going through now these last couple of years and well maybe some years to come is a period of darkness compared to other earlier years in our lifetimes we could have found plenty of darkness in our lives before revies recent times, but now now war the war in Ukraine poverty, poverty exacerbated by inflation. galloping inflation, it's causing so much pain to so many people political divisions ever worsening deepening political discord? Speaking of awesome them ever new good get this bad. Where one's tribal affiliation is Trump's I'll use that word Trump's science and even self interest
and of course, all of this against the backdrop of the pandemic COVID grinding on
from dark path to dark path we wandered in darkness, how can we be free from birth and death? Is a cry of of anguish and ha koans part.
Mirroring those who who they reach such extremity that they ask how can I ever get get beyond get pre of this. Gain and loss birth and death just really more broadly understood as this means gain and loss coming and going. impermanence.
Samsara birth and death just means samsara the world of suffering, of ascending and descending through the six realms of unaligned existence, how can we be free and then he answers in the same terms, the gateway to freedom is zozen Samadhi.
beyond all of these dichotomies self and other us in them and everything else experiencing this other realm of consciousness that is on screen scored unmarked by differentiation.
So I said Samadhi, of course doesn't just mean the sitting sitting in Samadhi. But then finding this undifferentiated realm in the world of differentiation, in the world of coming and going and loss and impermanence.
We can sometimes even experienced this it's not real, a real Samadhi is, is uncommon. Sometimes I think people use that word too loosely. And let's, let's be frank, your best chance of experiencing Samadhi is in session
But when we inhabit that realm even, even momentarily, we can appreciate the words of Zen saying great winds are powerless to disturb the water of a deep well. In Samadhi, nothing bothers us
and to, to whatever degree we can bring that settled pneus of mind into our daily lives, we will be less bothered by people and circumstances. And so that means sitting every day, you're not going to even get a whiff of Samadhi unless you sit every day.
Although, I guess there are rare rare cases of people even who aren't practicing Zen, who, like an act of grace, they suddenly find themselves in in a Samadhi briefly. But it is exceedingly rare, certainly without daily sitting. Beyond exultation beyond our our praises the pure my Jana This is Hacohen, just rhapsodic about how his life changed through years of severe, hard, serious practice. Saying, he's saying my words just can't begin to encompass what a joy we can experience through practice. And then he turns to the real sort of the core faith in Zen, maybe I already said that. But there's another one another core Fe is where he says upholding the precepts repentance, giving countless good deeds, way of right living, all come from Zen. And this is this is, I think, when when Zen originated in about the sixth century, with Bodhidharma. This is was seen as exceedingly radical, that with respect to the precepts, let's take the first line upholding the precepts. Upholding the precepts comes willy nilly. From Zen. We don't have to make a study of the precepts. Some of that can help. We don't have to try to sort it all out the ethical dilemmas of the different precepts. We find ourselves through long practice, usually long practice, we find ourselves upholding the precepts. Without making a project out of it, it just happens. Likewise, repentance through long practice, we're more likely to feel repentant when we take missteps or hurt other people. And giving giving itself is a an outgrowth of, of, of practice. So as you know, he's really, this is really an ode to sitting za Zen za means sitting Zen means the whole practice of moving through your life without unencumbered by thoughts. So za Zen, strictly speaking means sitting.
Giving comes from Zaza giving us the first of what is called the Six Perfections, the six paramitas. And what what the really the way to seize azana is itself a form of giving.
Sitting is giving
because it's giving up what is most dear to us, which is our thoughts you could say it's the most demanding the most difficult form of giving is giving up fights
the countless good deeds again, like the precepts, we're not, we don't have to make an agenda out of doing good deeds. They happen as a result of sitting every day more more likely to happen. Because we're not just talking about all or nothing black and white. It's it's a process that, for most of us takes many years. Same with a way of right living Vicki's drawing here with these examples upholding the precepts repentance giving Congress good deeds where he's drawing from what other other forms of Buddhism at the time were those sets emphasize? You know, there's a whole there's a whole sect of Buddhism historically that emphasize a study and mastery of the of the precepts morality.
How come conference as in
the French philosopher Pascal. He had no idea that house Zen like the statement was of his he said, all the unhappiness of people arises from the fact that they can't sit quietly in their own room.
Take one more stanza here. Verse one true Samadhi extinguishes evil, he's still he's still emphasizing the sitting, one true Samadhi an empty mind. And a mind that is not marred by unnecessary discriminations. We have to make discriminations all the time. That's how that's part of living. But most of them are unnecessary.
Now, here, I have to admit, I always have had trouble with this line. One True Samadhi
Everything I've ever read about evil, or evils is that that we, the karma we have sown, as in terms of the diluted ways we have thought and spoken and active, that that is something that it's can't be just eliminated. But I think what he's saying is in Samadhi, there are no evils while in Samadhi, there are no evils.
One way of understanding Samadhi if you're not, haven't experienced, it is like there was a game we had were kids, I don't know if it's around still, probably not. It's called Etch A Sketch, or you have this kind of a screen. This is before computers, and it had filings, metal filings on it behind the screen. And you could draw things with using two knobs, these two knobs, left hand right hand, you could trace things with these metal filings behind the screen. And then when you were done, you wanted to do some do a new one. You just shook the Etch A Sketch church. There now you got a black blank screen again. Or there must be a more contemporary analogy for this. But that's the one that sticks with me. How it all is fresh and new, clean, clean. It purifies karma does dissolving obstructions at least while in Samadhi. But But even while not in Samadhi that the work of of learning to detach from our thoughts, stop cleaning the thoughts that will purify our karma. Karma. Yeah, let me mention, karma is such a widely used and sometimes misused word. But I've come to understanding karma is our habitual reactivity, the way we habitually react to people, and circumstances and conditions, that's our karma.
When he says
Samadhi, purifies karma, in as much as we don't have to react the same way to people and circumstances and conditions. We learn to refrain from that. And that dissolves our mental obstructions.
And where are the dark paths to lead us astray? Yeah. When we are unencumbered by thoughts of Us and Them and right and wrong, and good and bad, and so forth, and self and other than we're aware of these dark paths. And then he comes back to the recurring teaching, the pure Lotus Land is not far away. That's at the end to this Earth, where we stand is the pure Lotus Land in this very body, the body of Buddha. So this, this chant of how koans is, begins and ends is bookended by the fundamental teaching. There is nothing to us we need to acquire,
truly content and loving and giving. It's our nature. It's our nature to be that way. Well, our time is up. We'll stop now and recite the four vows and do the second half of next week.