This is the third day of this February 2023, four days machine. Today, we'll turn to another book by Chan master Sheng yen. It's titled "Attaining the Way: A Guide to the Practice of Chan Buddhism". Sheng Yen's commentary in in this book is transcribed from a retreat. So in various places, he refers specifically to the particular day or certain aspects of the treat of the retreat, including work practice. And I'm going to be skipping around and gleaning from various sections. And to start, we'll look at the section titled, When the meditation work is thoroughly fused. He describes the process of Zen. He says, When you sit in meditation, your mind typically passes through stages of relatively deeper concentration. In the first stage, stray thoughts are numerous. And even when you notice them, there is no awareness of their origin and extinction. They're just there. At this point, you are still not really putting your whole mind on your method. At the next stage, when you become aware of the rise and fall of stray thoughts, you are engaged. In other words, really using the meditation method. In the third stage, you really don't see thoughts being born and extinguished. There aren't any, because your mind is totally on the method. Now you are meditating well, very well, indeed.
You know, on the one hand, we can see how practice in sesshin can feel like it has stages, in that there is a correlation between the amount of sitting that we're doing. It's, you know, accumulating of fat, and the gradual settling of thoughts in our mind. But we shouldn't take this notion of stages in a literal sense, as in the idea that we're trying to move from one stage to another from the first to the third, in some kind of linear way. Point A to Point B. Any kind of expectation or goal isn't a, an obstruction. They're thoughts that we run the risk of clinging to. And veteran sitters know that practice is not linear. It involves all this zigzagging and twists and turns and spirals. Thoughts come they go, they come back. They go they come again. And again. But what's different as sesshin goes on, is that they become less less sticky. We have this ability to more readily return to our practice. And in keeping our attention on it, conditions can change suddenly on a dime. Shifts happen. Not shit but shifts. Whether small, or seismic. Yeah, shit happens to the point is, those shifts happen when we're not expecting it. There can be a storm that rolls on through Clouds, gray sky. And then clouds dissipate all of a sudden, blue sky. bright, brilliant. We can't control the weather, any more than we can control the coming and going of thoughts. We just have to make peace with that. And Sheng yen says, When you meditate, you may hope to reach the third stage, but the probability is not too great, especially if you anticipate it. When wandering thoughts arise, being neutral in your feelings, do not be angry or irritated. Just immediately return your mind to the method. Moment to moment, birth. And extinction means that once wandering thoughts are born, they will spontaneously melt away. If you don't oppose or worry about them, they will just fade away. What is most important is to begin again, every wandering thought is also an opportunity to begin again. Because by the time you notice it, the thought is already dying, and the next one has not been born. Therefore, each present now is a new beginning.
Our true nature is accessible, it's here, right now.
but as long as we continue to cling to thoughts, we can't we can't access it. We understand it only in the abstract, as a belief or idea, rather than just the pure experience of this. Now notice.
Each time we notice a thought, it really is an invitation to return to practice that should be our attitude. To see it as an opportunity. Instead of judging ourselves
that's a waste of time. Just begin begin a new then Sheng yen offers an analogy. He says, When a mountain climber ascends a dangerous cliff, she must not look too far ahead or behind, or else she may lose her footing. If this should happen, she has to grab the ropes she has secured with the Tetons, that is the metal spikes that climbers use, and immediately pull herself back to the spot from which she slipped, then she can continue her ascent. So for the climber, every step must be held fast. Every step is a new beginning. Meditation is like this. Each rising and falling thought is a movement forward and each new beginning is another step in completing the meditation work. When you use a method for the first time, your thoughts will often stray. As you gain experience, you will become aware of passing thoughts without losing the method. So approach it in this manner. The first thought is not the method and so with the second, the third, the 1,000th and so on. If you sustain this without a break, that is called Old meditation work closely continuous when there are no thoughts, there is only the method when even the method is gone, you reach the stage where the meditation work is thoroughly fused
thoroughly fused to becomes one and then even oneness disappears
in another section of this book, attaining the way Sheng yen gets into the obstructions that make it difficult to experience that kind of intimacy with our practice to becoming one. He says one major source of obstruction is external, from the environment. obvious examples are family or livelihood which can get which can get in the way of practice. Alright, so these so called obstructions if we think of them as such, are more relevant to outside of sesshin unless we're spending time in sesshin, thinking about the people in our lives. But even outside of the Sistine family work and other life circumstances need not be seen as an obstruction. Each of us has to find a way to integrate our practice into the life that we're living. Where walking the Buddha away, each one of us in the life that we're in, practicing in the world wherever we are, with whoever we're with
when it comes to external obstructions, in such sheen, they might take the form of like hearing sounds that we find disturbing. Maybe like hearing another person breathing loud, or this is a hard one catching sight of somebody who is looking up or perhaps staring out the window at the water table. So important to keep our eyes down the best that we can. If not for ourselves do it for others.
He continues, the the other major source of obstructions is internal from within oneself. Of the two external obstructions are comparatively trivial. They are more easily overcome. I knew a monk who returned to lay life and began working. He then abandoned his practice because he felt overwhelmed by work. On the other hand, I know a lay person that has an equally demanding job. And he says that in fact, the job encourages him to practice better. Even if the jobs were similar, why should they have opposite effects on two different people? The answer is that the environment is only a minor aspect of one's obstructions. The more difficult obstructions are created by mind.
To practice with integrity is really to be honest with ourselves to recognize that the power to address obstructions is within us. We have a choice. case as to where we put our attention
but sometimes it seems a lot easier to blame external forces other people or conditions the environment
our practices our responsibility
Shang and then says, keeping a humble attitude helps us to practice anywhere, anytime, whether in the Chan hall or in the workplace. This comes to pass simply by radically reducing opportunities for strife, conflict, and the side effects of egotism. Okay, here, he's he's not saying we need to avoid conflicts or disagreement. If we were to do that we're not we're not being authentic. But it does mean that we should work on our skillfulness work toward harmonizing with others. And that involves walking into straight through conflict, or anger, or jealousy, or whatever it is that's bedeviling us walk through it with a calm mind. And the same applies to any passing condition we find ourselves in and it's by developing and sharpening our awareness. Zen Zen is what enables us to do just that.
He continues. Also, if you maintain the impetus to generate bodhi mind, that is awakened mine. Everyone you meet will be a recipient of your compassion, as well as a source of help. Not just every person, but every situation. One situation may cause a version in one person and yet be an opportunity to practice in another. It depends on your attitude. We practice Chan to transform ourselves, not to change the environment. Once we are transformed the environment as an extension of ourselves, transforms as well. Thus, we can positively influence all we encounter.
The next section is titled How soon enlightenment? How soon he says people want to know how long it takes to become enlightened. The answer is wait for it. A second, an hour a year, a lifetime, many lifetimes. In ordinary matters, someone might achieve. Someone might achieve in an hour. What takes another a week. One person with a single phrase might save a million people, whereas another might not help a single person in a lifetime. Rather than waste time and energy. Speculating practitioners should give thought to their level of diligence and their karmic obstructions. Obstructions have been accumulating since time without beginning and carried in our minds through life after life. The bad as well as the good karma that we have created is carried within our minds. ceases ceaseless see thought after thought. We carry these karmic depths depths and credits. And we continue to attach to ourselves. This is what drives us on our obstructions to practice should be the focus of our concern, not how long it takes to become enlightened. So yeah, letting go of any notion of attainment and just doing the work. Doing the pride actus for the sake of Mu, for the sake of who this the breath every moment every situation there's a brand new opportunity to engage with it countless do overs. Sheng goes on to say that all out activities are Chan speech and silence, motion and stillness, walking, standing, sitting and lying down. These are all practice in the Chan Hall, sitting, standing, walking, stretching. These are all forms of practice, outside the hall, eating and drinking, sleeping and arising, working after meals, all places, all moments. These are all practice
when doing work that requires attention, make sure that your mind and hands work together. Your mind should be where your hands and body are. Washing dishes, leave them spotless. cutting vegetables, be the knife that cuts perfectly. Splitting firewood, heating water, sweeping the floor. Put your whole mind and strength into the task cleanly and skillfully. This is practicing Chan. Concentrate on your food when eating to deliberately and do not let your mind wander. Going to bed. Put aside the four elements of the body and the five aggregates of form, sensation conception, volition and consciousness. Forget past, present and future just have a good sleep. That too, is Chung.
The best way to practice is to bring intimacy into everything we do. And this requires us to let go of trying to be in control, trying to plan our next move
if we plan and plot our way through sesshin if we linger in thoughts about time we miss out on the simple joy that arises just from being present.
Sheng yen uses the analogy of plowing and weeding to to describe the nature of attention. He says coming to retreat to accomplish something may be a correct attitude. But for now, you must forget all about goals. When working on the farm, you focus on plowing and weeding, not on the harvest storms, floods, droughts and earthquakes are all beyond your control. If causes and conditions and pass merit are good, there will be a rich harvest. If not, there may be a meager one or not at all. The farmer's only choice is to put his whole heart and strength into his work. He cannot ensure Any results. Yet the very experience of arduously tilling and planting itself is a precious thing
just the doing
he says, Therefore we make practice itself, a goal we can rely on whatever you're doing, eating, meditating, cooking, cutting vegetables, that is both the practice and the goal. Again, just practice for its own sake, not to make something happen. He says just single mindedly apply yourself to the task within even down to earth, balanced mind. With your mind, thus free from peripheral issues, you will truly practice Chan. Good results appear when you don't covet gain, and just pay attention to the practice. With this attitude, you will surely harvest a bountiful crop someday. This reminds me of that wonderful quote from TS Eliot. For us, there is only the trying, the rest is not our business. And the rest includes changing conditions. Whether we're feeling energetic, bored, focused, tired, or in any number of passing states, our job is simply to do the best we can to keep our attention on the practice. Try to keep it continuous.
And it's a mistake to think you can't practice effectively while feeling tired or unmotivated. Those states bass, just the doing. And when it comes to changing conditions, Sheng yen says, if you have climbed a mountain, you know that sometimes it goes smoothly while at other times it is difficult. Meditation is like that. Sometimes things go well, but other times you have negative negative physical and mental reactions. It is normal to sit well for a while and later not do so well. Our physical and mental strength are assets that we expend, a car speeds smoothly along, but it still uses up gas. Similarly, you may sit well, using up energy and later feel tired. So if you sit well for the time it takes to burn a stick of incense. Don't expect that your practice will always go that well. These are words to really take to heart are so conditioned to think in a linear way to imagine our practice as a straight line. A progression where we get from one point to another point. But the truth is our true nature is not often the distance we're already it from the very beginning.
He continues for old hands, experienced cultivators it is different without exerting to the utmost. There meditation is like a fine stream that flows on forever. Experienced travelers. I love it that he uses the word traveler for practitioner. Experienced travelers know how to conserve their energy and nurture it keeping In themselves sharp a good martial artists will not overuse their moves or squander their strength needlessly needlessly. Old hands are like this. They meditate in a very normal frame of mind, keeping solid and steady, nurturing their strength until it comes forth. They certainly do not let their minds bounce up and down. If you've ever trained in a martial art you know that it's an art of expending the least amount of energy. You don't work against a so called opponent, but rather you work with them. It's more like a dance than it is a fight
he goes on more accurately, whether people are old hands does not depend on how long they have been practicing. Being an old hand means carefully studying the methods of practice and using them without wasting physical or mental energy. It it means sitting continuously without losing the method. John master Dawie called this ability, the place of saving power. People who know how to meditate, tie their minds to the practice people without this skill struggle with illusory thoughts. Tying your mind to your practice means that you are aware that you're that you are meditating somewhat between consciously and unconsciously. Having discursive thoughts means that you have a stranglehold on the practice you are tense, strained, and using a great deal of energy. Fearing from one moment to the next, that illusory thoughts will intrude. Of course they will. If you proceed this way, you will soon collapse from exhaustion. Tying your mind to your practice means that your mind is light and calm in your body is relaxed. Once a wise, once a wise cat catches a mouse, the mouse will not escape. The cat is very casual, as if playing with the little beast. The cat may even let it escape a little, then cut its path and recapture it. It doesn't tire itself in frantic pursuit of the prey. Only kittens act nervously throwing themselves into a hot pursuit. imitate a canny old cat, not a kitten trying to catch a large rat
Have you ever observe a lounging cat? The cat you know, appears to be sleeping. Perhaps it's purring. With its eyes closed, soaking up a sun beam lounging on the carpet. But then, look at its ears. Often the ears are alert. They can turn in the direction of any sound totally aware ready to respond while the body is totally relaxed
he goes on when meditating. Don't waste your energy and don't go to desperate lengths. You should feel as if you were waiting at ease for a tired enemy. unhurried and relaxed deal with obstacles skillfully rather than blundering forward. We practice Chan to unfurl our wisdom. Wisdom means awakening or body It only appears when afflictions drop away. affliction and Bodie are opposites, but they share the same essence. People whose minds are muddy with afflictions, whose emotions are unstable, are blind to Bodhi. Some people hope to get enlightened, but have not thought about changing their disposition. They complacently assume that all they need is a gift from the teacher, a method for getting enlightened. This kind of person thinks all I need is to get enlightened, then I will have wisdom and no longer have afflictions. But this reverses cause and effect. First, we should change our disposition and reduce our defiled energy. Only then can we attain wisdom and reach enlightenment
let's be frank to one degree or another, we practice we go this machine with that aspiration. Who wouldn't want that but ultimately, it's an idea there's a judgment there that says who I am now is not it there's got to be some happy place that is other than this and it's It's chasing after that imaginary place that holds us back.
Again, our practice is just to be in The Now just to show up for this
and Sheng yen goes on to use another analogy that relates to practice in sesshin, or during a retreat. He says, In the past, people who had no plumbing used cesspools, during the summer, a thick layer of excrement would form at the top, and this would in effect contain the stench. In the winter, the cesspool would freeze over and still not stink, the foul smell would be released only in the spring, when the ice was broken, or the layer of excrement was penetrated. A retreat is like stirring up a cesspool at springtime. Yeah, so true. If you keep it sealed, the mess is still contained inside and the noxious vapors get worse. Thus, you need to churn it up again and again. expose it to the cleansing air of practice. So it is a good thing to discover one's defects and illusory thoughts during retreat. The more you know your deficiencies, the sounder your character can become to transform your disposition, from a turbid, to a clear and pure state. You must take your afflictions and transform them into compassion, and wisdom. The meilleur your afflictions become the sounder and healthier your mind will be and this will benefit others. Otherwise 10 Seven Day retreats won't do much good. To be really useful to yourself and others. You must take with you the mind of compassion. Or we can say the mind of love and the mind of wisdom to reduce of afflictions begin by reducing expectation, reducing seeking, reducing eagerness for success and gain. He then describes practice as like, balancing on a fine point. Effective Chan practice requires balancing on a fine point between relaxation and dullness. To practice for more than a few periods in succession, much less days without tiring. You need to be relaxed, both in mind and in body, otherwise physical and mental exhaustion will overtake you. On the other hand, while relaxing the body and mind, you must guard against dullness. If you can maintain this balance, the energy that is freed up can be channeled into the method and nourish your dedication to the way. After practicing one method for a long time, you may become bored and feel you're just spinning your wheels. It's like driving a car across the heartland of America. Hour after hour, the scenery seems the same. You aren't even aware how fast you're going. Then suddenly, you arrive. In the same way though, though, you may be practicing well. It may not seem like you're making any progress. If however, you generate the power to go on and on, if need be, suddenly, you will arrive. So do not give into boredom. It may actually be a sign you're practicing well. You know, it is true. If you're bored, it's likely that your thoughts have settled and it's your ego. You know that's just trying to latch on to something. But you don't have to pay attention to that. You can just settle into that boredom, boredom of the koan who is it that's bored
when tired sleep when bored, be bored not too
and then Sheng yen says, Please recognize on the other hand, if you get excited when you sense you are making progress, you are in danger of losing the method. Avoid both emotional extremes, and simply rely on your determination to continue. Think of yourself as a trailblazer, carving a path through wilderness. After you have surmounted obstacles and bypass dangers on the way to your destination, the path will no longer seem so forbidding. Though obstructions still lurk, your experience in dealing with them will render them harmless. Your objectives are to learn correct attitudes for practice, and to become thoroughly familiar with your method. Your gains will be diligence, perseverance, and patience. All these benefits cannot help but improve your life and your practice.