March 2022 Sesshin, Day 1: Silent Illumination: A Chan Buddhist Path to Natural Awakening by Guo Gu
3:01PM Apr 7, 2022
This is the first day of this March, March and April 2022, seven day sesshin. And I'm going to begin today reading from a book titled Silent illumination by Guo Gu. I read some from this once before, but it occurred to me that this might be a really good way a good thing to look at as we enter into the first few days of this sesshin. A little bit about him in the back of the book. And Guo Gu is at Chan teacher, author, Buddhist scholar, founder of the Tallahassee Chan Center in Florida. That's at Florida State University where he teaches. He's a Dharma successor of Master Sheng Yen. Began practicing when he was a child in 1972 in Taiwan, and came to this country in 1980 and began to study with Sheng Yen. Ordained as a monk in 1991 and became the Masters personal attendant and assistant. In 1995, he experienced his first breakthrough and was given permission to teach Chan independently representing Master Sheng Yen at his home monastery and in different parts of the world.
Says in 2000, wanting to bring Buddhism beyond monastic walls, well Gu left monkhood and reentered the world. He received a PhD in Buddhist studies from Princeton and began teaching as a professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Professor of Buddhist studies, written several books and done translations of a number of Sheng yen books. I guess he goes by the name Jimmy YOU IN HIS non monastic life. And he has a center down there I think in Tallahassee.
So again, the title of this book is silent illumination. And the subtitle is a Chan Buddhist path to natural awakening. And the book begins with a lot of good material about the foundations for the practice of silent illumination. Silent illumination is a Chinese term, that the jab the Japanese call for what the Japanese call shikantaza. But a lot of what he says applies to any Zen practice any meditation practice, really. So whether you're doing shikantaza, or working on a koan, or following or counting the breath, I think there's a lot here that can be very helpful.
So I'm going to dive in here. He says, John teaches that we are already free, we are Buddhas. At the same time, we're bogged down by delusion, emotional afflictions, and negative habit patterns. So we don't realize our freedom. I think everybody here understands this point. Of course, it's hard for people to have faith that they are a Buddha. Because we're so wrapped up in those delusions and emotional afflictions and habit patterns.
He says an analogy for this is the room that you occupy right now. The room, it's spaciousness. This Zendo are sitting in a very spacious room cannot be defined by the furniture contained in it. Are the presence or absence of people nor is the nature of the room affected by his level of cleanliness. Similarly, our Buddha nature is not defined by the presence or absence of our emotional afflictions. Like the spacious room, Buddha Nature has always been empty, free of disturbance. At the same time, Buddha nature is not a thing, apart from emotional afflictions. It is through the vexations of our lives, that we realize freedom. By working with our thoughts, feelings and mental states, we come to realize that we are the dynamic expression of Buddha nature
just on a very basic level, how many of us would have come to this practice if we weren't dissatisfied with our lives as they are? Sometimes think that those happy blissful people who seem to have no trouble whatsoever in life, are actually unlucky in a way, if they have no motivation to see more deeply into the nature of the self, into who we are. But beyond that, all the problems that arise for us the negative states, painful anxiety, fear, jealousy, all those, all those states are what we have to work with. It really drives home, the way the self operates, to what we can learn if we can avoid repressing them, repressing those feelings, or escaping them. There are lots of ways to escape. Classic, of course, is drinking but many, many drugs, and many, many habits. Ways we find to turn away from what's right in front of us.
He says our true mind has no delineating borders, and it has infinite potential. We have the ability to respond to the needs of all beings creatively, immeasurably. Justice space is not the result of our moving the furniture around the room. Awakening is not something that we gain from our efforts in practice. It's practice in quotation marks. If awakening were gained from practice, then it would be just an additional piece of furniture. Whatever can be gained is also subject to loss. Our Buddha Nature has nothing to do with having or lacking, gaining or losing. Even people who've had some insight can easily objectify their ex experience and make it a piece of furniture in the room.
He says yet by working with the furniture, fixing the dilapidated pieces, recycling the old ones and clearing up the clutter, it's more likely that we'll recognize the spaciousness of the room. The pieces of furniture in our heart mind are all the ever changing constructs narratives, knowledge and personal experiences. For the purpose of this book, I will use mind or heart mind to refer to the workings of our whole being. While our modern sensibilities tell us that body and mind are separate, that there are distinct functions of heart, brain and mind. Inchon usage all of these functions are interconnected synonymous. As for the furniture, there is a vitality to their transiency where nothing is fixed, everything is possible. furniture can be rare, rearranged and recycled endlessly. We may take a particular piece of furniture as who we are, but they're real There is no permanent me apart from our mental construct of it. Of course, even our mental construct of it is not permanent. There is no self that experiences there's just moment to moment experiencing. The problem is really not with the furniture, but with our rigid fixation on it. We are attached to all the things we experience and have allowed them to define, shape, and manipulate us.
Of course, this is a deep, long, lifelong habit of identifying with what comes up for us in our mind and our body.
Imagining some sort of self
can't really think your way out of it
we have to look directly to look beyond thinking patiently, devotedly, often for a long, long time.
Otherwise, as he says, all the things we experience, we allow them to define, shape and manipulate us. He says, When we fully appreciate the natural expression of mind, as experiencing, all things become alive, fluid, intimately connected to one another. This is the realization of no self, or selflessness. When we're completely with whatever we're doing, when we're experiencing things purely, and you don't need to be enlightened for this to happen, then we sense what it's like. This life of no self, life of selflessness. Everything flows freely, everything's vivid, and alive.
We ourselves seem spontaneous. Direct
says, the true nature of our mind is free. This freedom is also our true nature. Thoughts and passing emotions liberate themselves moment after moment after moment. We don't have to do anything to make them disappear. They liberate themselves if we let go of what we're grasping. I read somewhere that any strong emotional reaction sets off a chemical cascade that lasts about 90 seconds. But because we grasp on to whatever it is that upset us, and turn it over and over again in our mind, of course for us that last much, much longer. But we don't have to suppress anything. We don't have to push anything out of the way. As he says, we don't have to do anything. They liberate themselves if we let go of what we're grasping goes on. Our True Nature has infinite potential is able to respond to circumstances and the needs of all beings, expressed as the natural functioning of the mind are experiencing is both empty and aware. It is able to respond in any and all ways freely and dynamically adapting and accommodating to all conditions with effortless flexibility. Just as our eyes see, and ears hear, because that is their inherent function. Buddha nature is simply experiences moment to moment, because this is its inherent function.
I'm always struck by the way that whatever is in front of us appears to us visually don't need to intended to look at it. It's there. Sound happens we don't intend to hear the sound. So automatic, we hear it. It's the functioning of our nature.
He says when we are aligned with our Buddha nature, we are like a mirror selflessly reflecting images before it. We respond to complex situations and interact with others effortlessly. And the reason we can function perfectly well, without a, without a fixed rigid sense of self, or experiencer is because in reality, there is no such thing and there never was. Self as a permanent entity doesn't exist. In our confusion, we think that the objects of our mind, thoughts and feelings arise from the eye that is the subject standing in opposition to the rest of the world.
Our attachment to a fixed sense of eye is unnecessary. We can actually function better without it. adapting to changes when faced with obstacles. Reminds me of a story about Tongan Roshi.
Had monk when Roshi Kapleau Was it, who Shinji later on, outstanding Zen teacher died just few years ago, he was climbing in the hills are in the cliffs above his temple, when he fell, free fell, and he would have died except he smashed into a tree limb on his way down. And I guess he just may have broken his hip and had some difficulty afterwards. But he lived and continued teaching. He said that when he was falling, he realized ego not necessary.
Guru says, but when we fixate on this sense of me I and mine and injected into our daily interactions with others, we hinder the natural expression of our Buddha nature as experiencing and cause suffering for ourselves and others. Why? Because it's contrary to how we actually are free and open, wondrously changing and with great potential. To understand, silent illumination is to appreciate our true nature as already free. The natural awakening of who we are.
The reason we don't feel liberated is because we attach to these notions of me, I and mine. We have taken our thinking and feeling the objects of experiencing is who we are. The truth is, if we fill a glass with murky water and then we set the glass down and allow the silt to settle, that water naturally becomes clear. The nature of water is originally clear. It only appears to be temporarily muddied by the silt that it contains. This is who we are, clarity has always been present. This is called intrinsic awakening, or what I call natural awakening. Usually, realization of this truth happened suddenly, this is experiential awakening. The experience of seeing our nature
water holds the silt particles without resisting their presence or changing its true nature. And the same is true of the heart mind. If it did not have freedom as its intrinsic nature, how could it liberate itself?
In Buddhism when intrinsic awakening is experientially realized, it is called selfless wisdom or prajna. Because this wisdom operates freely without self referential obstructions, it respond skillfully to the needs of sentient beings. This is called Great Compassion. wisdom and compassion are the same thing just expressed differently. They are inseparable.
We can see for ourselves, that when we're not full of ourself, when we're not self conscious when we're not thinking about how we appear to other people, we become more available. When we're not thinking of what we're going to say in the middle of a conversation, but listening to the person speaking to us, than we can hear, respond, notice. The so called self just gums up the works, gets in the way. Many people feel discouraged because they haven't had an experiential awakening as he calls it, and been practicing for many many years. But, their practice that they have done, has emptied them out. The silt has settled to some degree, they are more present they are more available need to have faith in the journey? Faith in the process keep letting things go see and let go.
gonna skip ahead a bit. And move on to the next chapter, which is entitled, starting from where we are. Chan offers no particular fixed way to practice. Of course, by Chan, he means Zen. It's just the Chinese term actually, comes before there ever was Zen it was Chan. The only purpose and the only purpose of practice is to uproot our deep seated emotional afflictions and negative habitual patterns that conceal our true awakened nature, and at the same time develop our true potential. Yet over the centuries, Chan masters have developed numerous skillful means to help people. Before we discuss the actual practices, we need to understand and develop a conviction regarding our true nature or Buddha nature. We also need to learn to expose, embrace and transform the emotional afflictions and negative habitual patterns, the root of which is self grasping. It is the self in all its manifestations that conceals our true nature. We must begin here to appreciate the teachings so we can live the truth of our intrinsic freedom.
motional afflictions negative habitual patterns sounds a little conceptual until we're in the middle of them. discouragement, embarrassment all the muck, we get caught up in
what he proposes and he'll go into this more deeply is not that we push it away. Not that we suppress it, but that we expose it, we see it even says embrace it. And then transform those afflictions.
goes on. Buddha nature, our true nature is simply freedom. It's not a thing. If it were then it would have a before and an after it would be subject to birth and death and would be either permanent or impermanent. Buddha nature is inconceivable. We too are inconceivable. This in conceivability is is that right here and right now we are free. Without any effort on our own part, we here we see we feel
we Have everything
Buddha nature is inconceivable, we too are inconceivable. We are Buddha nature through and through. Says Buddha nature also means the potential for Buddhahood and all beings. The word Buddha means awake. So this means we all have the potential for awakening. Mahayana scriptures provide the analogy of a womb, and the Sanskrit word is Tata garba, within which a Buddha resides to Tagata is an epithet for Buddha and garba means womb or storehouse. So, Tata garba means Buddha in the womb, but to target literally means, one who is thus come and is thus gone or simply as if come as if gone. are Buddhas may seem to have come and gone, they are nearly neither coming nor going. They are not born and do not die. Birth and death are temporary displays of causes and conditions. Same is true for us. Our true nature is beyond birth and death.
Potential is possibility. If we lacked the potential for awakening, then practice would be useless. And Appleseed under the right conditions produces an apple tree, because the potential already exists in the seed, cause leads to effect, the effect already exists in the cause. All beings, even murderers have the same potential for awakening. We are all possible we are all possibilities. Then he tells the story of an koulamallah man in the Buddha's time, who ended up for various who has a long story, ended up on a mission to murder 1000 people and bring the fingers to his teacher. And he'd gotten up to 999 when he encountered the Buddha and ran towards him with a sword intending to finish the job. But he couldn't catch up he couldn't. Although the Buddha appeared not to be moving, he couldn't catch up, and ghoul Amalek finally called out to the Buddha in frustration stop. And the Buddha replied, and Glomar Allah, I've already stopped for the sake of all beings, it is you who have not stopped. Then evidently that was enough to turn him became a monk Shakyamuni and eventually in our hearts a liberated person.
Gogu says Buddha Nature is the nature of emptiness, it can take the form of a child, you can also manifest as in a ghoul Amala, who does horrible things as a result of certain causes and conditions. But in But amid delusion and conditioning, Buddha nature is never lost.
In the face of all the difficulties that we experience, each one of us tries to live the best way we can, responding to whatever conditions we find ourselves in. Those who are suffering and harming others are simply giving form to the workings of Buddha nature in delusion.
When we're awakened Buddha Nature expresses itself as wisdom. When we're diluted, it appears as ignorance. We must awaken to who we are, in order to embody the truth of our Buddha Nature amid the complexities of life
we can be extremely disturbed extremely damaging habit patterns and still find our way. One a read a little something, an article that was published in the New York Times in 2011. about a woman named Marsha Linehan. Some people know who she is. She's actually the Envy Enter the creator of a form of therapy known as.
DMT. Now all of a sudden, the words have gone out of my mind. Oh DBT Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. And it turns out it's the one form of therapy that's been found to actually work with people with extreme mental problems, such as borderline personality disorder, and it turns out that she herself. Probably that's the right diagnosis for her. She was a very disturbed teenager living in Tulsa Oklahoma.
Picking up here in this article she the article by the way is by a man named Benedict Carey, published in June of 2011. She learned the central tragedy of severe mental illness the hard way, banging her head against the wall of a locked room. She arrived at the Institute of living on March 9 1961, at age 17, and quickly became the sole occupant of the seclusion room on the unit known as Thompson to for the most severely ill patients, staff saw no alternative. The girl attacked herself habitually burning her wrists with cigarettes, slashing her arms, her legs her midsection, using any sharp objects, she could get her hands on. The seclusion room, a small cell with a bed, a chair and a tiny Bard window had no such weapon, yet are urged to die only deepened. So she did the only thing that made any sense to her at the time, banged her head against the wall, and later the floor. Hard.
She says my whole experience of these episodes was that someone else was doing it. It was like I know this is coming. I'm out of control. Somebody helped me. Where are you God? She said, I felt totally empty like the tin man. I had no way to communicate what was going on. No way to understand it. talks a little bit about her childhood she was a excellent student, a natural on the piano. Father was an oilman mother in the Junior League
says people who knew the Linna hands at the time remembered that their precocious third child was often in trouble at home, and Dr. Linehan recalls feeling deeply inadequate, compared with her attractive and accomplished siblings. But whatever currents of distress ran under the surface, no one took much notice until she was bedridden with headaches in her senior year of high school.
Her younger sister Alene Haynes said this was Tulsa in the 1960s. And I don't think my parents had any idea what to do with Marsha. No one really knew what mental illness was. Soon a local psychiatrist recommended to stay at the Institute of living to get to the bottom of the problem. Their doctors gave her a diagnosis of schizophrenia, dosed her with Thorazine librium other powerful drugs, as well as hours of Freudian analysis, strapped her down for electroshock treatments. 11 shocks the first time and 16 the second according to her medical records, nothing changed. And soon enough, the patient was back in seclusion in the locked ward.
A discharge summary, dated May 31 1963, noted that during 26 months of hospitalization, Ms. Linehan was for a considerable part of this time, one of the most disturbed patients in the hospital
she says about it, I was in hell, and I made a vow. When I get out. I'm going to come back and get others out of here.
This is a bodhisattva vow. When we are suffering, so remarkable, we can realize others are suffering as well. Don't work on ourselves just to relieve our own pain. But in order to help the pain that we see all around us
after her release 20 years old when she left, doctors gave little chance of her surviving outside the hospital. She did, of course, but there was at least one more suicide attempt. And then another one after she had moved to Chicago, staying in a YMCA. And she was hospitalized again. Came out confused, lonely, and more committed to ever to her Catholic faith. And she prayed often at a chapel nearby near to Loyola University where she was taking night classes. Then one night I was kneeling in there looking up at the cross and the whole place became gold. Suddenly, I felt something coming toward me. It was the shimmering experience. I just ran back to my room and said, I love myself. It was the first time I remember talking to myself and the first person I felt transformed. The Hi lasted about a year. So quite an experience. Before the feelings of devastation returned in the wake of a romance that had ended. But something was different. She could now weather her emotional stock storms without cutting or harming herself. What had changed took years of study in psychology. She earned a PhD at Loyola in 1971. Before she found an answer, on the surface, it seemed obvious. She had accepted herself as she was, she had tried to kill herself so many times, because of the gulf between the person she wanted to be and the person she was, left her desperate, hopeless, deeply homesick for a life she would never know that golf was real and unbridgeable. That basic idea, radical acceptance as she now calls it, and as far as I know, Marsha Linehan is the first person to use that term. Maybe someone else did it, but it's quite popular now. But as far as I know, it goes back to to her work. radical acceptance became increasingly important as she began working with patients first at a suicide clinic in Buffalo, and later as a researcher
she found that real change was possible that acting differently can in time, alter underlying emotions from the top down.
So behaviorism teaches, but deeply suicidal people have tried to change a million times and failed. The only way to get through to them once to acknowledge that their behavior made sense. thoughts of death, or sweet release given what they were suffering
she was very creative with people said I guess somebody who was who had admitted her into the post doctoral program, very creative. I saw that right away she could get people off center challenged them with things they didn't want to hear without making them feel put down. Dr. Linehan was closing in on two seemingly opposed principles that can form the basis of a treatment, acceptance of life as it is not as it is supposed to be. And the need to change despite that reality and because of it.
This is something that applies to all of us. We need to accept ourselves as we are. We need to accept circumstances as they are in and when we do that, then we can work for change. Need to forgive ourselves? Need to give the kid or Break.
This article was written shortly after. Dr. Linehan, Marsha Linehan went public with her own diagnosis. Did it for the sake of all the other people with that diagnosis, which usually means you're going to be written off as untreatable since Dr. Linda hand has reached a place where she can stand up and tell her story come on well I'm a very happy person now she said in an interview at her house near campus I still have ups and downs of course, but I think no more than anyone else
this is the promise of this practice of being able to know what's going on in the mind to welcome they say welcome our afflictions. something all of us will need to do during sesshin never completely smooth if it is there something wrong
totally goes contrary to all our instincts. Want to push bad things away we want to grab pleasant things closer
instead, need to open up.
scuole guru says we need to learn to expose embrace and transform the emotional afflictions and negative habitual patterns, the root of which is self grasping.
Okay, we've reached a point where we need to stop. So we will and recite the four vows