February/March 2021 Sesshin, Day 4
9:18PM Mar 12, 2021
This is the fourth day of this February March 2021, four day sesshin and we're going to continue with book we're reading from entitled catching a feather on a fan, a retreat with Zen master with Master Sheng Yen and edited by John Crook.
And we're going to dive in here with again with the poem by Wang Ming. Calming the mind is the title of the poem. And here's the verse. Using speech or written words to gain the praise of others is something most repulsive. And Sheng Yen says, Chan tells us that we should not rely on words; often is it is better to say nothing. In Chan practice the spoken and the written word is superflous. Only a communication through a genuine mind is reliable. When old friends or family members have been separated for many years, and meet again, what are the first words they say? Often there is so much that could be said that they cannot say anything. They just embrace or shake hands, and that is enough. The contact says all the words. Last year I went to mainland China for the first time in many years. I had not seen my brothers for 38 years. So much had happened to them in that time. So much it happened to me also. When we met we couldn't say anything. There were simply tears running down our faces. I myself was too embarrassed to cry, but tears were falling inside me and twisting my stomach. Everything was communicated just like that.
Legend tells us that Shakyamuni passed on the whole Buddha Dharma to the first patriarch Mahakashyapa without saying any words; the Buddha was just holding a flower in his hand. Mahakashyapa smiled. And the Buddha said that's it.
Wang Ming is saying that if you do not truly practice, but instead use the spoken or written word to tell others about your attainment, then that is shameful. In fact, talking is useful, excuse me, in fact, talking is useless. If people do not act upon these evening lectures and mealtime talks, then these too are useless. If people do not act, then this whole retreat, the lecture is all the words,would be comparable to my bringing a lump of clay from an Eastern Mountain and dumping it on a Western one. The propaganda of mere information is not of use to you within your practice. Some may say although Chan speaks of no self, the Bodhisattvas still teach compassionately to others. These are good teachings just to hear them is good; they should be handed on. So it is that I say to you, without practice, the teachings are not manifest in the world.
So much depends on the listener. Maybe the listener is more important than the speaker. Really. Is the mind receptive? Is there right motivation? Sometimes we can hear something again and again and again. Such a common experience. And then all of a sudden, on the fifth or the 10th or the 15th repetition, it sinks in and you say, Oh, why didn't you tell me that?
Readiness is everything. And that's the reason why the same things are repeated over and over and over again. Even the the person speaking even the so called t teacher needs to hear these things. At least he does in my case.
And then skipping this is day five early morning, his early morning talk. And he says today there are two important phrases for you to bear in mind. These are ordinary mind and wanting nothing.
The unbiased content of the ordinary state of mind is both natural and everlasting. To be natural, the mind needs to be free from anything artificially created by thought, or reasoning, from anything shaped by an experience or judgment. When these things are absent, we say the mind is in its natural state. When the mind is natural, it is in conformity with Tao. With the way. Let me put it this way, here in the mountains in this old farmhouse of stone and wood, we're living close to nature, yet the tools we use and the clock that tells the time remain manmade; they are not completely natural, but for us, the use of such simple tools is natural enough; it is of our nature to use such things; to wear clothes is natural, and we feel comfortable; to take them off and be uncomfortable would not be natural for us, even if at first sight nakedness might be nearer to our original condition. Natural is what is appropriate. Natural is this; when there is one, there is one; when there are two there are two; things are as they are; we do not need to add criteria of evaluation to fit our moods, thoughts or judgments.
Such a simple state, so difficult to achieve. Whatever is truly natural is everlasting. That is to say the natural forms part of an unending timeless process which obeys unchanging principles. The sunlight from the window moves as a patch across the floor. It comes and goes as a clouds move across the sky. The sun itself follows its own unchanging route. The Earth revolves on its axis so that we have the experience of the sunrise in the morning, and sunset in the evening. The patch of light on the floor appears according to the rules of place, time and weather. All this is natural and everlasting. Water becomes rain and rain becomes water. This too is everlasting. It is of the eternal.
We feel this when we are out in the natural world. It's why it's so helpful, so healthy, to get outdoors. Get out, get under the stars, get into the woods, walk around the block, breathe the air, feel the sun. And it's so easy. Maybe even more so, during the pandemic I don't know. It varies from person to person and situation to situation. But to be shut up in our house, with nothing but books and devices. Something something deeper, something eternal, that we can find if we if we just take the time. Just a little commercial for getting outdoors.
He says in the practice of Chan it is important to discover and to maintain the natural basis of the mind. If a practitioner remains with his illusory thoughts, his mind is split. It does not come to rest in its natural state. Without discovering the natural basis, the practitioner sooner or later abandons his quest. He has not hit upon the eternal. Once the eternal is perceived, the practitioner is unlikely to give up for he has discovered his own basis.
I'm reminded of the story of the Buddha just before his great awakening, just before the seven days of sitting that preceded it, remembered an experience from his childhood -- sitting underneath a tree, and everything fell away. He felt himself to be as vast as space.
All of us have times when we've been more in touch with this deeper, truer mind. We were all children, connected in a in a more immediate way. Zen is a way back to that kind of spontaneity, connection, the natural workings, the human being, way out of the thicket of thoughts and opinions, worries, grasping, aversion, greed, anger, delusion.
He says, when we are born, the body mind is in its natural state. Gradually, we adopt unnatural contortions, defending ourselves where if we were wise, we would find that no defense is needed. The practice of Chan enables us to go back to being natural, to rediscover the eternal quality of being. Everyday we get up, wash, eat, go to the toilet, all this is natural. Similarly, we need to build into our everyday lives, the practice of meditation, let it be a natural part of daily life, not something special set aside with a time set aside for it, but a quality of ongoing awareness.
Of course I would add how helpful it is to have a time to sit or some routine that makes sure we do get to the mat. Formal sitting, whether you do it at a specific time or you do it as the spirit moves you makes it possible for you to have that quality of collected awareness. To have that infuse your life
He says when we look at the stream outside, we see the water flowing; what is its purpose; there is no purpose; it is simply flowing. So, let it be with practice. Practice itself has no particular purpose. If you give practice a purpose, then it is not natural practice. It is not rooted in the eternal. When your practice has no purpose. When practice itself is the purpose, then it is natural practice. Only this natural practice has the quality we call everlasting. When your practice has no purpose, you're not seeking anything, you are wanting nothing. When you want nothing and there is nothing to want, what is there then.
Today is the last day. Please just use an ordinary state of mind to practice; no need for assumptions, moods, emotions, judgments, simply follow your method. Work hard for no reason. Sit without any purpose in your sitting. Let the natural state arise everlastingly.
To sit without purpose, we're led to joy.
It's the purpose, it's the the goal orientation. And then of course with that comes the evaluation. Am I there? Am I getting close? Am I going in the right direction? All those things sap the integrity, vibrancy. Such good advice to enjoy your practice.
The next section is day five breakfast table remarks. The attitude we need to adopt in the practice of Chan is different from the attitude we take when doing work of other kinds, such as an academic study, not only is it different, it should be quite the opposite. Usually when we are involved in a task that needs discipline or study, we like to get on with the job to get things done fast. If we hurry and get a move on, then we can get as much done as possible. If we hurry and work hard, then the result is usually proportional. On the other hand, if you take a hurrying attitude in the practice of Chon, you may achieve merely an undesirable result. If you try to hurry in calming your mind, the more hassle you are general you will generate. If you hurry to get enlightenment, the more vexations you will create and you will be further away from your goal. And the practice of Chan involves training and patience in determination, it requires the development of the will. The purpose of practice is to free ourselves from the self to go beyond attachments to the self. If we are seeking rapid results, seeking to gratify ourselves and reaching some goal or some attainment, then this is the opposite of the purpose of Chan. If we get anxious because there appears to be no result from practice, we are making a mistake in Shawn, trying to make progress ensures no progress. This is one of those things that probably has to be said 15 or 20 or 50 times. He says let us return once more to the analogy of the feather in the fan. Before you can get any results from your practice you have to hold the fan in a very stable and peaceful manner. And if the feather does not end up on your fan, it does end up on your fan. It is important not to get excited. If you get too happy, there will be a slight stir of your hand and the feather will be gone. The question is When will the feather drop on your fan and never fly away again. As long as there is an idea of attainment in which you imagine something unwanted, the feather will keep floating away. In fact, the problem will last just as long as the feather and the fan exist for you. Only when there is no person seeking of attainment and no attainment to be realized, will the ultimate solution arise. That of course is a very advanced state.
Moving on, day five lunchtime remarks says during practice a lot of people find it difficult to distinguish between being diligent and being tense between being lazy and being relaxed. In fact, the mind sometimes needs prodding or even whipping. While at other times it needs comfort or consolation. Applying the method has to be done skillfully we have to learn through experience the skillful means of practice if you feel tired or exhausted, it is probably because you have been sitting in too tense a manner. On the other hand, if you are dozing off and nothing seems to be happening, you may be too relaxed and becoming lazy to find the right balance between tension and relaxation is not easy. always an easy easy matter. Many of us have a tendency towards one side or the other tension or relaxation. The good most people there's a tendency towards being tense and even when we hear this and and take it in, believe it I know that that my tension my my low level anxiety and striving I know this is keeping me tied to the dock. We can we end so we try to relax but it doesn't always go so easily. Because we're afraid we're just afraid of being relaxed. You know? It's my gonna look like I'm working. What are people gonna think of me? How do I ever get anywhere if I'm if I'm relaxed Bosman told myself and others if you if you are trying to go down the middle of a road and stay in the middle, and you keep veering off to the right, in the course of correcting yourself and finding the middle of finding your way to the middle, you're going to have to veer off to the left a little bit. If you never ever, if you're off to the left, if you never become too relaxed, it's likely you're going to continue to go off to the right. It's because there doesn't need to be this sense of hurry. This overwhelming sense of a destination that has to be reached, we have the space we have the time to find our way. We have to trust ourselves, have to trust the practice. Not and not be afraid of making mistakes. maintain our awareness, the most essential thing nothing wrong with needing to make a course correction.
Sheng Yen goes on, sometimes you may find that you have become too tense. at such a time, the best thing to do is to take a rest. simply close the eyes and let the mind relax for five to 10 minutes, not trying to do anything. It is important however, to remain in the meditation posture, to lie down would be to lose all focus. Even though you have temporarily abandoned the method, you should not let go of the posture. So this is not something that I've ever heard advocated in our zendo. But I don't know that it's so wrong. If you're really continually frustrated by your inability to let go of your attention. My try that five or 10 minutes still sitting up right. Not indulging in thoughts. It's not talking about letting the mind wander, but not trying to accomplish anything.
He says in the first days of the retreat, it is important to maintain the posture rigorously and not move about. There is now only half a day left for the retreat. The important thing now is to maintain the focus and peaceful quality of your mind. There is no need to drive the body too hard. If you're still having a lot of pain in the legs or back, then adopt a less problematical posture. If you still have pain, you must nonetheless maintain a minimal amount of discipline, do not move about too much because that will disturb others. As the retreat progresses, some people can concentrate more and more effectively. But for others an opposite tendency emerges. their backs their legs or back ache more and more, and they find themselves fidgeting about a great deal. Again, this fidgeting may disturb others and it is important to create a time to relax and to become more peaceful. If you happen to be sitting next to a fidgety person, or even between two of them, then you should assert yourself and maintain the peaceful stability of your mind. This is a difficulty we don't run into as much in online sitting. But the counterbalance that We miss the support of so many people sitting with us in the same room. And even when you're sitting online, there can be people in your house or noise outside or disturbances. In any case, when we're faced with those distractions, we need to maintain just to maintain our focus and not to get caught up in wishing things were different than they are. He says in this way. by discovering the skillful means for practice, you become mindful within the practice, you become able to maintain stability and peacefulness, irrespective of disturbances within your body or in the room around you. Such training within practice has benefits in everyday life. you cultivate mindfulness and are less susceptible to the impact of others. You're not so easily thrown into laughing or crying Fitz, or a bad temper tantrum. Instead you maintain an evenness of awareness and are able to respect And appropriately to whatever is happening around you.
And then skipping ahead, day five evening talk, while Ming goes on to tell us what common people regard is auspicious, the sage takes as evil. The enjoyment gained is fleeting, but the sour sorrow is everlasting. And he says by now some people have had some experience of the meaning of practice, and others may feel envious of their good fortune. From an ordinary point of view, such experiences are indeed valuable, but from an ultimate point of view, they are not to be regarded as good. They are nothing special. We've been talking about people climbing mountains. Some encounter easily easy flattish areas while others come across exceedingly steep slopes. We are pleased with the easy slopes and feel the mountain climbing is going well. But um, the flat area, the climber is not getting any higher. Someone struggling with cliffs and boulders on the steep slope may be on the quicker path. The climber wandering along the flat area may be going around the mountain rather than up but this is especially likely if he is climbing in a cloud. Yesterday morning, I said it was tough luck, if someone seemed always to be on a steep slope. Actually, this may not be the case at all. Such a climber may be the most fortunate. Some years ago, during a retreat in the USA, I described the practice of Chan is like climbing a tall mountain. This mountain is made of glass. Furthermore, its surface is covered with layers of oil and grease. It is extremely slippery. If you try to climate, there is no way you will not slide down. Nonetheless, this is the task before you. The mountain is very tall, but still you must climb and still you slide down. This is the way Chan practice is. In the end, you discover that the glass mountain is an illusion. It has no real existence. One day when you climb up some distance and then fall right back to the bottom, you suddenly come to see the top and bottom are not different. Indeed they are the same. To understand this, you have to become a climber. You have to make the effort to climb the slippery mountain. Unless you climb, you can never know that top and bottom are the same.
Wang Ming is saying that for one who has never practiced certain states and certain experiences are good and valuable. The sage however, recognizes that attachments to experiences are high states are a hindrance for they do not lead to liberation. The Exalted states, the peaks must also be put down, you have to go beyond this type of evaluation. You may enjoy certain states or conditions and come to value them highly is like climbing up to a flat area with beautiful trees and running Brooks. You arrive there and find it quite gorgeous. So you sit down saying oh how beautiful this is. You forget about the climb. And the next time you make the ascent again you sit down in the comfortable spot. Perhaps you enjoy a snooze. In your dreams you are Lotus eating. Have some of you found such a place on the mountain. The ancient patriarchs cautioned their disciples about this, especially those who had had a first taste of enlightenment. They told them that the road ahead was still very long. If you've only just begun to walk, then there is a long way to go. If you've had a glimpse of seeing the nature, then you have to practice even harder. Of course, when you fully understand there is nowhere to go. The danger is that people who have had a taste of enlightenment, confuse pleasing sensations with the real thing. They believe that's it. These sensations are perceptual experiences. Mental responses are states which are refreshing and give one a feeling of calm peace or even a unity of body and mind. All these pleasing experiences have nothing to do with enlightenment. They simply arise on the path. At this point, the WISe Practitioners should be very careful. Maybe you have come to experience the unity of previous Thought with the subsequent one dropping away of time, the experience is valuable. It is a sign of strong meditative practice. Yet this is not enlightenment. becoming one is becoming one, that is all you had because it feels good. And because you do not know what enlightenment is, you may mistake it for the real thing. So, be cautious, just continue without attachment to states that arise. As Wang Ming says, such enjoyments are fleeting, but the illusion might last forever. Again, perhaps you have seen the nature. That's a phrase that Sheng Yen uses for a kensho you will perceive the emptiness of self in all things you have experienced in awareness of the absence of self, you have seen the empty state where there is no self, because the self has vanished, you have had an initial taste of enlightenment, you need no longer doubt it. That's the value of the experience you need no longer doubt it as soon as you realize it and think about it, you are no longer there anymore. When you speak of it, you are speaking of something past, a one time experience. Such an individual is in danger, if you've ever thinks he is enlightened. What was it? Now it is only a dead experience. So the word enlightenment is used really in two different ways.
The the deeper meaning of enlightenment is genuine liberation, no longer caught up in achievement and experiences. But it's also used sort of loosely, if somebody has some sort of insight, seeing the nature. But that is in the end, that's an experience. It brings some understanding, it definitely brings motivation to continue on this path. But if you emphasize the experience and confuse it with great attainment, very often the wind can go out of your sails, and the practice does not continue. Of course, that's why people are warned. After an experience like that, they have to work even harder. He says if you take this attitude, there is no way you can make progress. One being tells us that if we have a good experience and hold on to it, evaluating it and wanting to repeat it, then we will have a very long night ahead of us.
going to skip on further.
Since day six early morning, he says this is our last early morning meeting together. So I would like to leave you with two sets of principles. The first for your practice of meditation, and the second for your everyday life.
When you are meditating, the three principles to bear in mind are regulate the body, regulate the breath, regulate the mind. When you sit it is important to sustain the correct posture to regulate the body. This is most beneficial for the whole practice. Sitting correctly is good for health. It can even cure certain problems. The legs should be either in the Lotus or the half lotus position. However, if these positions are too difficult for you, then there are other approved proper postures that you may use. And of course, if necessary, you can do Zen, sitting in a chair. Doing some yoga to make the legs flexible is much to be recommended. Especially for beginners who find sitting uncomfortable. think most people know well. I'm not sure many people know that Roshi Kapleau when he first went to Japan in his early 40s, I believe back in 1953. So what would you have been 41 at that point, had to use a chair to sit when he came back to the The United States 1966 he was sitting in full lotus effortlessly. And that's because of real diligence in the practice of yoga. He really took it to heart. Think it was something that he picked up from harder Roshi who would do yoga on a regular basis. There are a lot of really interesting pictures of Roshi Kapleau. doing yoga one of them he is doing a headstand and the full lotus.
Very often, pain in the knees, for instance, can come not because of a problem in the knee so much as the fact that we're not stretched out enough in the hips.
He says, the back neck and head should be vertical but not strained. The mouth should be closed with the tip of the tongue touching the upper palate. The hands should be held in the lap with the fingers joined in the proper way. Usually you should keep the eyes opened and directed downwards at about a 45 degree at about 45 degrees to the horizontal. Once you have adopted a correct sitting posture, you should make sure you are not sitting tensely with the muscles under strain. It is important not only to hold the correct posture, but to do so in a relaxed manner. The breath should be smooth and natural is not necessary to control it in unusual ways. Just notice the breath flowing in, in and out through the nostrils. After some time move on to observing the breath as it reaches down into the abdomen. Noticing also the slight movement of the abdomen itself. Once you focus for some time on these movements, let the center of awareness simply come to rest in the region of your navel. It's extremely helpful to have our center of gravity low in our sitting and in our moving about. Sometimes we're sitting it can help just to be aware of our seat touching the cushion that point of contact. Some somewhere Sheng Yen says, Let your body sink into the cushion. Let your bottoms sink into the cushion and your mind sink into the practice sink into the method.
You can also put your awareness in the palm of your left hand the hand that's on top as you sit in these zones and mudra. For some people, that's helpful way of getting their attention down lower. Something that Zen master Dogan recommended.
But the main thing is just to not to be stuck up in the head and the neck and the shoulders. get a sense of the whole body. So there's a weight stability down below, and the rest of the body just floats up the chest open.
Roshi always recommends lengthening the back of the neck, bringing the chin in as if you were pulling in a drawer.
I think that one of the keys to finding your posture, finding your seat is to to find where you were It feels good if you went one year, when you even if you still needed to correct yourself from time to time. As long as you don't feel like you're fighting yourself like you're pushing against tense muscles. You're on the right track. There's a saying in Japan that it takes three years to find your seat. And I guess for some people just beginning that's kind of discouraging news. Would that it were only three years, maybe three years to adequately find your seat in order to do effective Zen. Although you can do effective Zen from day one. But to truly become let's put it this way, your seat becomes more and more stable, more and more. comfortable. Natural maybe is the best word As time goes on, it doesn't stop getting better. It's my experience.
Okay, one last section I want to get to. This is towards the end of his closing ceremony and final words. And he says, There now just a few final things to say, I myself do not have great practice. It is simply that I left home when I was 13 years old. And now that I am 61, I've had 48 years collecting some experience of Buddha Dharma. I've come to realize how great and how good this Dharma is, and how very few people truly appreciate it. I'm just an ordinary person, exactly like everyone else here. I am not a Buddha. All I am doing is trying to apply what I know in order to help others. It is not I who helps others. It is the Buddha Dharma that is helping people. Yesterday morning, I said I felt like a traveling merchant who goes to far off places carrying a bag of wares. In this distant place, I would like to open my bag and leave everything behind. Then I can go home, empty handed at ease and happy. Whether the things I have brought here are useful to you people or not is for you to say, if it has been abused, naturally, I shall feel grateful. But the bringing of the Dharma here is actually not for any purpose. It has not come for any reason at all. The Buddha Dharma itself is the purpose. So in bringing the Dharma here, I'm not asking for anything in return, I would like to suggest that you adopt the same attitude. Each of us can bring the Dharma to him or herself through trading, and then reveal the benefits to other people. Very often in the teachings we are asked to express gratitude to the Buddha and the three treasures. But Buddha is already complete, perfect. He does not need anything from anybody. The best way to express our gratitude is to reveal the benefits of the Dharma to everybody, to every sentient being.
When Shakyamuni Buddha was about to pass away, his disciples asked him Buddha after you have passed away upon whom can we rely, the Buddha replied, the teachings that I've given you for some 40 years. That is the Dharma upon which you should rely. You too should rely upon the Dharma, the precepts and your own efforts, and not upon the teacher. Of course, if there were a great Chan master who came to Britain, that would be good. And whether there is a Chan master in Britain or not, is not the crucial matter. So long as people have a good understanding of the Dharma and practice accordingly, benefits will arise. Even if I were to come here every year until I was 100 years old, it would only be in certain times of the Dharma was practiced. The Buddha Dharma is eternal and ever present. This person Sheng Yen is of no importance to you. The vital spark is the teaching that he leaves behind with you. And this Dharma is not my dharma. It is the Buddha Dharma of Chan. Well, no better place to stop than at the end of the book. Time is up. We'll recite the four vows.