June 2022 Sesshin, Day 1: Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu (trans. by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary)
4:28PM Jun 16, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the first day of this June 2022, seven day sesshin. I'm going to start reading the teachings of the 12th century Chinese master, Yuan-Wu. We'll start with the some biographical material about him. Then we'll move on to a book of his teachings called Zen Letters but first the biographical material.
His name until much later in life was Foguo. But we're gonna go with Yuanwu That's how he became famous by that name. He was most famous as the author of The Blue Cliff Records, one of the two most famous collections of koans. I'm reading here from Zen's Chinese heritage by Andy Ferguson. He was born in the year 1063, was a disciple of another great master Wuzu Fayenound Xu Feyen. He was supposed to have been a very gifted youth, who thoroughly studied the Confucian classics, and said he is said to have written 1000 words every day.
During a visit to a monastery, he saw some Buddhist sutras and was surprised by a strong feeling that he had previously possessed them and the words in a previous lifetime. He then became a monk became ordained and studied under a Vinyasa master and, and a sutra, teacher. vinyasa, it was a whole sect unto itself. At that time, that many of the actually many of the monks who became great masters, they started out in the vinyasa. It's the sect that specializes in the study of the precepts. So he did that. And he studied the sutras but neither of those was Zen. And he became definitely ill. He realized that his sutra study and his chanting of the Buddha's name, it's another yet another practice was insufficient. And he said, the true path of nirvana of all the Buddhas is not found in words. I've used sounds to seek form, but it's of no use for dealing with death.
This, this, facing of death, however, many years it may be still be off this recognition that we will all die is one of the most promising signs for someone who would go far in the Dharma, this awareness that those people who are most dear to me now we will be separated someday. Either I'll go before them, or they'll go before me
that we're all like fish in a pond that is steadily being drained.
He did recover from this serious illness, and he set his sights on the Zen school. Zen of course in China is known as Chan
He first trained under a Zen master, certain Zen Master, I won't clutter up unnecessarily. This teisho with too many names that don't figure prominently. He trained under a certain Zen master and during one of their discussions this master pricked his arm and bled a few drops of blood. He showed it to Yuanwu and said, This is a drop of Cow Creek must have been a local local creek. This startled you on will? And after some time, he said, Is it really?
Then that one more went on to several other teachers. Everywhere he went, his teachers said that he was to be a great vessel for the Dharma. And then, he met the great teacher would Zoo. However, Yuanwu felt that their first meeting was a failure, because wood zoo seemed aloof and unsympathetic. Yuanwu became angry and began to walk away. And as he left would zoo called after him, wait until you become feverishly Ill then think of me.
See what, what really matters. See how much in the big picture how much it really counts if the teacher you meet, is a Luthor, unsympathetic if that teacher also has realized the Dharma see, what really matters that anyone is aloof.
When we're seriously ill things fall into perspective. And we're not going to be we're going to see any kind of little personal having your feelings hurt getting angry with someone how absolutely unimportant that is.
Well, once again, Yuanwu became extremely ill. But he he then redid remember wounds in his words. And he pledged to return to him when he recovered. And when would zoo saw him? Return he laughed and told him to go to the practice hall. And then the IWAN will took the position of attendant towards zoo
and then there's a an account here that led up to one wolves awakening, I've always found complicated, difficult cultural references. So I'm just going to skip it and and just come to the climax which is Enlightenment sudden enlightenment. He went outside the cottage and saw a rooster fly to the top of a railing be his wings and Crow loudly. He said to himself, isn't this the sound
he then took incense to light in gratitude went back into Woods's room. And Mu said, the great matter of the Buddha ancestors is not sought by inferior vessels. I share your joy
and then inform the prominent elders of the temple most senior monks, my attendant has attained the goal of Zen practice. And at that Yuanwu was promoted to the position of Hedmark
And now moving on. In at some point Yuanwu became Abbot of a famous temple. And He then moved to where a, another famous teacher lived to discuss the doctrines of Zen and why and Buddhism, why n is another sect. And then from this Yuan, whose fame spread widely, and he resided came to reside at Blue Cliff temple, and the name of the koan collection. There. He wrote he compiled as koans. He's 100 koans. In that text, the Blue Cliff Record gained wide popularity during his lifetime. It but it received some condemnation to to some, it did represent the highest standard of Zen literature. And that, by the way, is still true today. It's still considered one of the the most illustrious pieces of Chinese literature ever. But to others, it represented a subversion of Zen's tradition of pointing directly at mind, and shunning the study of written words as a vehicle for liberation. Sounds like these are the ones who just were anti con. They just thought the real pure practice and nothing to do with words. His famous air, his famous Dharma Heir Dawei, was so alarmed by the success of his teachers book, that he attempted this to destroy as many copies as possible. But it was too late, the book was already in circulation, and it couldn't be stopped.
What's a little confusing here is that this Dawei, who wanted to have the book destroyed himself was a great proponent of the koan system, so I don't know what he was alarmed about.
And then it was when at the apex of Yuanwu Rose fame. The Emperor conferred upon him the name Zen Master Yuanwu, which means perfect enlightenment. Now just a couple of stories about Yuanwu. He entered the hall and address the monks as follows. The eye cannot see the pervasive Buddha body, the ear cannot hear the pervasive Buddha body. Speech cannot describe the pervasive Buddha body. The mind cannot imagine the pervasive Buddha body, even if you can behold the entire Great earth, not missing a trace, then you've gone only halfway and if called on to do so, how could you describe it? Within its boundaries, the sun and moon are suspended, the universal clear emptiness, the endless source of spring.
Pervasive Buddha body mind this Mo.
Remember Buddha, Buddha means awareness. We say the Buddha refers to the guy in India but Buddha the word Buddha means awareness our fundamental awareness
our ageless fundamental awareness that which hears these words that which feels cold and heat and pain mudra on one's own nature
A monk asked Yuanwu what is the true host? You could say what is the true South Yuanwu said the myriad streams returned to the sea 1000 Mountains honor the essential doctrine.
The time he ascended the seat and said, the heat of a fire cannot compare with the heat of the sun. The cold wind cannot compare with the coldness of the moon. A cranes legs are naturally long, and a duck's legs are naturally short. A pine tree is naturally tall and straight. While brambles are crooked. Geese are white crows are black. Everything is manifested in this manner. When you completely comprehend this, then everywhere you go, you'll be the host. Everything you meet will be the teaching. When you carry this poll, you'll be prepared to fight anywhere. Do you have it? Do you have it?
One more here. He said to the monks. There is a bright road that the Buddhas and ancestors knew you are facing it in what you see and hear is not separate from it. The myriad things cannot conceal it, and 1000 saints can't embody it. It is vibrant. It can't be carried. It is clearly exposed. It is without impediment. Even if you undergo blows from the staff like rain, and shouts like thunderclaps you're still no closer to the ultimate principle. What is the ultimate principle? blind the eyes of the saints and strike me dumb. When the bell strikes at midday, look south and see the northern Dipper and the bell strikes at midday. Look south and see the northern Dipper doesn't make sense
Zen doesn't make sense
the method does but the essence of Zen it's beyond sense. Books south and see the northern Dipper now their master said on top of a flagpole, a cow gives birth to a calf
this is the expression of transcendental wisdom prajna wisdom
I should have rendered where it says saints here I should have rendered that as sages as the best thing I can come up with. st is not I don't think st is a suitable translation for anything Buddhist. Sage may not be perfect but better I think
all right, that's enough now for biographical material about you one will now turn to the book of his teachings called Zen letters. commented on this, various sections of this over the years.
Just one paragraph, setting the stage of what was going on. In his time, the late 11th and early 12th centuries, sporadic peasant uprisings broke out to challenge the growing inequality of wealth. A reform minded faction in the Imperial via bureaucracy aroused the bitter opposition of the bulk of the landlord elite and went down to defeat. You can see that civil strife, rebellion anti government behavior is nothing new.
The bloated military establishment, although it was adequate to the task of keeping the peasantry in check, he was about to go down to crushing defeat at the hands of a relative handful of barbarian invaders. Can't help but think of January 6. Whatever its glories, the world of Sung Dynasty China was anything but the serene homeland of, quote The wisdom of the East that some modern Westerners like to imagine.
These are letters No, that's then the title Zen letters. So the first letter begins, you on will begins ever since antiquity, with excellence beyond measure, the sages have experienced this great cause alone, planting great potential and capacity. By the power of their vows of compassion, they have brought forth direct indications of the one thing that is most profound and most recondite, the common essence of all the myriad forms of being, let's break this down. The sages have experienced this great cause alone, great cause is capitalized. We can take it to mean that which is beyond cause and effect. The absolute, the essential
and by the power of their vows of compassion the Sages were in teaching they were expressing compassion
they resonated with the most famous words of the Buddha who said, I teach but two things suffering and the end of suffering
How can we end suffering
for others, and for ourselves
what is this and now he changes the reference to this one thing again capitalize this one thing that great cause the common essence of all the myriad forms of being that's really our work this week. To realize this one thing, this essence this formlessness of the world of form
without setting up stages, and there's without being concerned about it, progress really, they abruptly transcend to realize this essence alone. Since before the time when nothing existed, this essence has been ever still an unmoved determining the basis of all conscious beings
It's been called the substratum of all phenomena, this realm of emptiness, the void. It permeates all times and is beyond all thought. The only thing that could permeate all times and be beyond all thought is emptiness, the void, no thingness he goes on it is beyond holy and ordinary and transcends all knowledge and views. It has never fluctuated or wavered. It is their pure A naked and full of life. This shunyata to use the Sanskrit word this fundamental void is a dynamic emptiness, a vibrant emptiness. And we see it's vibrance all around us
all beings, both animate and inanimate, have it complete within them. The trouble with a word within is it sets up dualism. It's within but it's not without. It's not outside. It is and what could possibly separate within from without. If we're talking about one skin, then that two is empty, has no substantiality to it.
That is why when Shakyamuni Buddha was first born, he immediately pointed to the heavens into the earth, and with a great lion's roar brought it right out in front. Then after he had left home and sought enlightened for six years, he awakened at the sight of the Morningstar. In the end, on Vulture Peak, he initiated the Zen transmission by holding up a flower. All that was important is that we should possess the comprehension of this true eye.
The true AI is the direct translation of the Chinese word for enlightenment the the Chinese and their language were used very concrete language as is the concrete as the Indian language was abstract. And so, in China enlightenment became the i e, y e, the true AI or true i letter I able to work through self.
From the time of Shakyamuni the true I was secretly transmitted through the 28, Indian patriarchs and the six Chinese patriarchs those who do not know of the existence of a true AI that is, those who hadn't experienced it thought that there was some kind of supernatural power or magical ability involved and just spoke of going along with the waves and pursuing the current never searching out the root of the transmission. Here this is he's referring to Taoism.
When Buddhism came from India to China, it encountered well it eventually melded with Taoism and Confucianism to become Chan, Zen.
There's a lot of Taoism and Zen. But they for sure different. In Taoism I've never read of, of anything referring to an enlightenment experience. I've never read of morality as the foundation of practice or of the bodhisattva ethos, saving all beings, doing this practice to help to liberate others. And here Yuanwu Is, is I think, correctly pointing out that he really the apples and oranges, that these Tao is just spoke of going along with the waves and pursuing the current
you might summarize Taoism as just go with the flow. But then you want to says never searching out the root of the transmission. What is the root
all of this natural forces that the Daoists are so enamored of So, so appreciative of these marvelous forces of nature, where do they come from? What is their essence?
He continues in general, when superior wisdom, excellent capacity, and natural potential are already there. It is just a matter of working to penetrate through surely and truly when you put it to use, you command great potential and unfurl great function, moving even before any impulse to action, operating free of things.
Then he quotes another master Yong Yong, Tao, canto canto and Chai in Japanese. spurning things is superior, following things is inferior. Let's make that a little maybe a little more accessible spurning things that is not being attached to things not getting caught, are bound by things, spurning things is superior, following things is inferior
another master put it very simply cut, cut, cut, cut
and then he says one more thing. That's this earlier Master Yun Tao. If we talk about battle, each one's strength is in the turning point the turning point, good phrase for practice. Every time we notice the mind has wandered, we just turn back, turn back to the practice we're working on pivot
in doing this, we move toward this non abiding quality, that is the the very essential quality of our inherently awakened minds. Non abiding non clinging, non attachment
then he says if you can turn fast on top of things, if you can do this right away, you notice you thought about lunch, let's say thought about lunch, back to the practice right there is back. Thought about the person to your right is back back to the practice. Thinking about tomorrow back to the practice.
If you can turn fast on top of things, then everything will submit to you. Everything will be in your grass. Capturing and releasing, rolling up and rolling out. All can be transformed. transformed because we don't get bound by things by change by circumstances and conditions. We remain free, untethered. All can be transformed. At all times you remain peaceful and tranquil. Without having anything whatsoever hanging on your mind. In action, you accord with the situation and its potential, holding the means of discernment within yourself. shifting and changing and successfully adapting, you attain great freedom. All things and all circumstances open before your blade like bamboo splitting, all bending down with the wind. It's another reference another Zen phrase like the grass bending down with the wind, yielding, leveling.
Therefore if where you stand is reality, then your actions have power. Needless to say, leading brave heroes commanding fierce warriors, routing powerful bandits comforting the farmers, pacifying the nation and assisting the work of restoring social harmony and cultural fluorescence all depend on this one revelation.
Let's go back to that phrase, if where you stand is reality what what is real, but this now the present
if he's saying if you can remain in the present, or avoid getting pulled into the past thoughts of the past thoughts of the future and your actions have power and sesshin is a reminder of that. That We do feel so empowered, so energized, when we can refrain from dwelling in thoughts of the past refrain from worrying about the future imagining something in the future if that the only reality is the present this everything else is thoughts fantasies this which includes feelings emotions, and yes thoughts, present thoughts are not a problem if we don't cling to them
and then he quoted earlier master Yong Jia, who said it is not apart from here always profoundly clear and still if you search for it, you know you cannot see it at his if you are looking for outside yourself
so that is our work this week is to to stop to notice when the mind is drifting in any direction from both from right here and now and return to the practice we're working on. It's it's it's not easy. We all know it's not easy, but it couldn't be more simple. Uncomplicated two steps, noticing when the mind has wandered, step to come back. Noticing returning
again, back to his phrase, if you can turn fast on top of things, right as you notice, the mind wandering, then everything will submit to you and everything will be in your grasp. We'll stop now and recite the four vows