September 2021 Sesshin, Day 5: Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu (trans. by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary)
4:40PM Oct 9, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the fifth day of this September 2021 seven day sesshin. And we'll turn to a book called Zen Letters, which is a collection of teachings of Chinese Zen Master Yuanwu.
This is translated by the Cleary brothers, JC and Thomas. Yuanwu you may remember, as the teacher of Ta Hui, the first sesshin, the first teisho of this sesshin. We read the biographies and biographical information on Ta Hui, and his teacher was Yuanwu, most famous as the author of the Blue Cliff Record.
A few years ago, I read the first half of this book. Now I'm going to pick up from the, from there.
It's divided into - each section is a little chapter, is one of his letters, Yuanwu's letters
He begins this one, the present perception is the truth. But the truth is beyond this perception. If you are attached to perception, then this is a perception. It is not the arriving at the truth. So perception, meaning that ordinary perception of the world of form around us.
It's, it's it, but
but not, not it as seen. If, if it's just the world of form, those who arrive at truth transcend perception, but they managed to use perception without dwelling and perception. When you pass directly through perception and get free of it, it is all the fundamental truth
lankavatara Sutra says, things are not what they appear to be, nor are they otherwise.
So are our hearing are seeing or feeling or smelling or tasting and so forth. Yes, but what is what is beyond that? Not not separate from it. But still, beyond it
continues this truth. And you wonder whether the word is that this dharma. This truth is not being or non being words. It's beyond both, both ideas of existence or non existence. It is not speech or silence. Yet it can manifest both being and non being. Both speech and silence is forever constant and unchanging. Therefore young men said it's his Japanese name is Oman. woman said it cannot be existence when you speak of it and non existent non existent when you don't, or existence when you think of it and non existent when you don't see another word, beyond our sensing.
You must suddenly arrive at this truth and get its great function. Always let transcendent wisdom appear. Whether you are speaking or silent, whether you are whatever you are doing.
So people, people working on Mu, always let Mu appear, whether you're speaking or silent, whatever you're doing. Same with Whatever what's koan is Who am I? What is it?
Can't it can't be limited to silence or sitting
to be continuous?
He says, Why would you say that it is close at hand when you are in your teacher's presence, but far away when you are in the countryside. As you go directly forward, naturally you will encounter it, wherever you are, is the same. Why would we say that it's, it's at hand, in machine and but far away when we are outside, it's a shame. It's it's the mind that determines that it's never apart from us, in sesshin, outside sesshin, no matter the circumstances,
because we do so much sitting in sesshin, we can access it, we can more attune to it, some more of it in sesshin, and less of it outside sesshin.
All the enlightened ones and ancestral teachers take this one true thing very seriously. It is spread among beings of all potentials, high and low, noble and lowly, without any preferences or aversions. It is in all the myriad kinds of action naturally real, clear and complete.
If you make a special thing out of your views of Buddha Dharma, and mystic Marvels, then there is a lack. But if you are able to refrain from creating arbitrary views, and are clean and naked like this, then it is completely revealed.
If this matter were in words, then it should be definable in a single sentence, with no further change. Why would there be 1000s and 1000s of sayings in part by enlightened ad apps, with no end to them? From this, we know that it is not within words. But we need to use words to illustrate this matter. Sharp spirited people should directly comprehend this idea. It's nothing words, is no answer. To what is this? An answer that you could type out in text someone? What is this? What is mo?
There's no there's no answer as such as in as a part of a question answered dichotomy. There's no answer. But of course, we grow into Mu. We we come to understand it
such that we can present it physically.
The great Taoist schwank said, words exist for meaning. Once you understand the meaning, you can throw away the words there Where can I find someone with whom I can speak without words?
It's really one way there are various ways one way to summarize The Zen School is that it's it we're learning to see beyond words. see beyond words and concepts, see through them.
He says, Those who realize transcendence pass through words and phrases, and can make them come to life.
Then we, we distinguish between live words and dead words, that words being just explanations that come from this discursive mind discriminating mind live words having something behind them, or maybe nothing behind them, so brings them to life.
going to skip the rest of this letter, and then the next one. When Bodhidharma came from the west, bringing the Zen transmission to China, he didn't set up written or spoken formulations. He only pointed directly to the human mind.
pointed directly it's it's, it's easy to take this literally is pointing is pointing directly was his sitting, facing the wall for nine years. Showing the way into the human mind.
If we speak of direct pointing, this just refers to what is inherent in everyone, the whole essence appears responsively responsively, from within the shell of ignorance. This is no different in ordinary people than in all the sages since time immemorial. It is what we call the natural real inherent nature, fundamentally pure, luminous and sublime swallows up and spits out all of space is a single solid realm that stands out alone, free of the senses and their objects. Again, this getting seen beyond transcending the senses in the world of objects. This this truer way of perception.
This string of modifiers here is what we call the natural real inherent nature, fundamentally pure, luminous and sublime
Can Can anyone believe that this is what a teacher sees in books with every person who enters truly, fundamentally pure, luminous and sublime.
Peter sees more than that, of course, but they're that's the that's the essence of it. That's always there.
Just detached from thoughts, cut off sentiments and transcend the ordinary conventions.
detach from thoughts Could it be any more explicit? Cut off sentiments say don't cling to emotions and feelings doesn't mean avoid them or reject them is part of our nature. having feelings and emotions come up, but but don't
attach to them.
That always means is with the mind thinking about them. Whatever the feeling or emotion is not getting caught in thoughts about them or just letting them be. Let it be.
Use your own inherent power and take up its great capacity and great rhythm wisdom right where you are, is like letting go when you're hanging from a mile high cliff, releasing your body and not relying on anything anymore.
Someone once said that a meditation at its best is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute.
The good news is that there's no ground
speaks of course to the freedom
that comes to us through letting go of thoughts.
Totally shed the obstructions of views and understanding so that you are like a person who has died the great death your breath is cut off. You arrive at great cessation and great rest on the fundamental ground. Fundamental ground is no ground.
Your sense faculties have no inkling of this, and your consciousness and perceptions and sentiments and thoughts do not reach this far. Again here don't take this literally your breath is cut off. Your life of attachment is cut off.
After that, in the cold ashes of a dead fire, it is clear everywhere. And among the stumps of the dead trees everything is illuminated. Marvelous image metaphor. He presents here after dying the great death after enlightenment. Among the stumps of the dead trees, everything is illuminated. Then you merge with solitary transcendence and reach unapproachable heights. You don't have to seek mind or seek Buddha anymore. For we could say seek enlightenment. you bump into them wherever you go, and they do not come from outside.
The hundreds and 1000s of aspects and facets of enlightenment since time immemorial are just this. This is mind there is no need to go on seeking mind. This is Buddha. Why keep struggling to seek Buddha. Buddha we can translate that as enlightened awareness. This is enlightened awareness and no need to go on seeking it.
At this stage, you are free to go forward in the wild field without choosing, picking up whatever comes to hand. The meaning of the ancestral teachers is clear and all that grows there. What's more, the thickets of green bamboo and the masses of yellow flowers. And the fences and walls and tiles and pebbles are inanimate things teaching the Dharma.
The water birds and the groves of trees expound the truths of suffering, emptiness and selflessness. Based on the one true reality, they extend object list compassion, and from the great jewel light of Nirvana, they reveal uncontrived surpassingly wondrous powers.
Someone not I forget who right now someone said to every intelligent person, the universe appears miraculous
that that's, that's
what we move toward way of perception and machine. things the same things we've always seen, take on a whole different luster and wonder.
He says the water birds and the groves of trees that were surrounded by that here at Chapin Mill, geese, bee we now have egrets on the pond, who've adopted us, all of us, everything around us expounds the truths these three are the what are called the three characteristics characteristics of existence in Buddhism, suffering, no thingness and no self impermanence.
He quotes another Master yongjia. Without leaving wherever you are, there is constant clarity. No words come closer to the truth than these. If you start seeking then we know that you are unable to see just cut off any duality between wherever you are and constant clarity and make yourself peaceful and serene. Avoid concocting intellectual understanding and seeking
Kafka once said something like this best I can remember. You do not need to leave your room. Just sit and listen. Don't even listen.
Just sit still.
The universe will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
If you can come to grips with this and penetrate through than what you see before your eyes will reach equilibrium. And the illusions that have afflicted us since time without beginning will be washed away.
It's another of his letters. Those who are determined to practice the way, practice self awareness and self understanding 24 hours a day. They think of this and focus on this. They know that the one great cause is there right where they stand, that it is in sages without being augmented, and an ordinary people without being diminished. They know that it stands alone free of senses and sense objects, and that it far transcends material things. The one great cause the translators have this in italics. The one great cause right there where they stand mind. That which is beyond cause and effect.
The Hakuin cherry scene out the gate to the oneness of cause and effect is thrown open.
True practitioners, he writes, don't set up fixed locations and anything they do. They are clear and tranquil, with solid concentration, and the myriad changes and transformations never disturbed them. They appear in response to conditions and respond as they encounter events, leaving nothing in complete.
The myriad changes and transformations never disturbed them. Zen saying great winds are powerless to disturb the water have a deep well. We're all all of us, without exception are moving in that direction this week. Beyond disturbance.
People who practice the way begin by having the faith to turn toward it. This is a very potent statement. just turning to practice
That's a real testimony to faith. We wouldn't practice unless we had faith in it. Some may have stronger faith than others but we do it because we have faith in it. It's really a testimony to our faith in our true self.
They are fed up with the vexations and filth of the world and are always afraid they will not be able to find a road of entry into the way
Remember Roshi, saying that he got to the point as he was about to undertake Zen practice where he just was fed up with a joyless pursuit of pleasure.
That even that
shows that there is an awareness of something beyond pleasure, a world of pain and pleasure. Something more that we can understand, we can live by.
But then if you are attached to this true mind, the problem is you cannot get out and it becomes a nest. You set up illumination and function in Acts and states, snort and clap and glare and raise your eyebrows, deliberately putting on a scene. I guess these seem to be kinds of poses that monks would take in the time of Yuan Mu. That's why he addresses it specifically. These are monks who want to present as though they have understanding. But it's it's just oppose.
Because when you meet a genuine expert of the school again, meaning a genuine teacher, he removes all this knowledge and understanding for you. So you can merge directly with realization of the original uncontrived and preoccupied, no minded state. After this, you will feel shame and repentance and no to cease and desist. You will proceed to vanish utterly. So the not even the sages can find you a rising anywhere, much less anyone else.
Is this is our job in Zen is to shed what we know what we think we know what the ideas the notions that clog our minds and and dim our perception or our experience of the world. He also may be talking here of those who've had some insight, maybe even some slight kensho and then are attached to that
every step of the way. Whatever we feel we've acquired insights of any kind, we have to shed we have to discard. One Zen master said having some attainment is the jackals Yelp. Having no attainment is the lion's roar.
Keeping Up ideas of attainment
never looking back, resting on his laurels, such as one may think they are.
The ancients worked hard for the sake of the one great cause. Their determination is indeed worthy of respect and they served as an everlasting example for later generations.
singular importance and Zen practice determination to press on. On beyond
When you set your body on the meditation cushion, it is no more than silencing and emptying the mind and investigating with your whole being. Just make your mind and thoughts clarify and become still a fine place to do active meditation work is amid confusion and disturbances. When you do active meditation, you must penetrate through the heights and the depths without omitting anything. The whole essential being appears ready made before you and it no longer arises from anywhere else. It is just this one great potential, turning smoothly and steadily is one great potential. The ultimate potential is no mind. The Void, the emptiness, the source, from which all things arise. Why talk anymore about worldly phenomena and enlightened truth. If you maintain a uniform equilibrium over months and years, naturally, your stand will be true and solid. takes time. To really, to really advance in this practice takes time. And there's another great resource besides determination is patience.
This statement a fine place to do active meditation work is the mid confusion and disturbances. This is counterintuitive to the ordinary person who thinks you have to have a very quiet special place to do meditation and that certainly in the beginning, it helps to not have distractions, or minimize the number of distractions. But then we can find this silence in midst of activity. We certainly don't want to be dependent on special quiet places, then that's not freedom. We come to sesshin in this quite special quiet place in order to build up these resources that we have in order to see the possibility that we can carry with us back out into the world.
He says just do not give birth to a single thought. Let go and become crystal clear. As soon as any notions of right and wrong and self and others and gain and loss are present. Do not follow them. Then you will be personally practicing with your own true enlightened teacher.
If you do that, he says what worry is there that this work will not be accomplished.
This essential nature of ours is true self is the ultimate teacher. We can always count on it. We can detach from thoughts. It will show us the way it will reveal everything
but most of us need to know Learn that through experience. This is the great thing about just doing the practice it's, we come to see that it works. earlier. In our practice, there's some measure of, of belief, maybe even hope. We're doing it in the in the belief that it'll work but, but then, with enough time, the experience our experience itself, our body of experience becomes the faith.
I have seen many people who are intellectually brilliant, but whose faculties are unstable, and whose practice is shallow. They think they witnessed transformation in verbal statements, and they assume that there's no way to go beyond the worldly. Thus the increase the thorns of arbitrary opinion as they show off their ability and understanding. They take advantage of their verbal agility and think that the Buddha Dharma is like this. When situations are born from causal conditions, they cannot pass through to freedom so they wind up vacillating back and forth. This is really a great pity. Thanks course speaking of the limitations of this discursive mind, however brilliant it may be.
They're told that yes, Tony Roshi and his lectures, opening workshops and Zen would hold up a ballpoint pen and say, if this pen is your essential mind, your true mind than the ball, the tip of this pen is your discriminating mind. discriminating many mind is no more than that. In sesshin, anytime we're sitting we're, we're setting aside we're sort of suspending is to some degree as much as we can, we're suspending the discriminating mind in order that we can see beyond it.
He continues, the ancients went through all sorts of experiences and faced all sorts of demons and difficulties. They took charge of their minds all the way along, and made them as strong as iron or stone. Thus, when it came to passing through birth and death, they didn't waste any effort. Isn't this the special strength and generosity beyond emotionalism that truly great people possess a special strength and generosity
maybe fake of generosity here it's a bit of a stretch but as the when we're unbiased or unattached. Then we get beyond this ordinary mind.
When Bodhisattvas who live a householders life cultivate the practices of home leavers is like a lotus blooming and fire. It will always be hard to tame the desire for fame and rank and power and position. Not to mention all the myriad starting points of vexation and turmoil associated with the burning house of worldly existence. It's talking about us, householders, the lay life, the only way is for you yourself to realize your fundamental, real wondrous wholeness and reach the stage of great calm and stability and rest.
When Polly sad was when householders, he saying, cultivate sand, practice the practices of home, leave monk's it's like a lotus blooming and fire.
Lotus has always been in Buddhism a symbol of purity, the purity of our self nature. Regardless of whether we're monks or lay people, it's all here. Those Lotus sculptures in the courtyard a reminder that
Lotus grows out of the water out of the muddy water they say, and the emerges unstained pure.
This is what we
can realize even in this world of coming and going, commuting and striving not surrounded by people who don't practice the Dharma, we can still have this purity of mind is clarity has to be set though it has to be set in daily sitting.
It would be best if you managed to cast off everything and be empty and ordinary, thoroughly experienced the absence of conditioned mind and observe that all phenomena are like dreams and magical illusions. be empty all the way through and continue on clearing out your mind according to the time the situation then you will have the same correct foundation as all the great enlightened lay people in Buddhist tradition. He simply does seem to be specifically addressing this, this recipient of this letter must be a lay person, according to your own measure of power, you will transform those not yet enlightened, so you can enter together into the uncontrived uncluttered ocean of true nature. Then your life here on this earth will not be a loss. We'll stop and recite the four vows