The Teachings of Empty Cloud (Xu Yun) followed by Q & A
12:54PM Oct 4, 2022
This is the Dharma talk on the first day of the September 2022 two day sesshin. And we welcome nine people for whom this is their first sesshin.
And so now I'm going to make a confession. I had a text prepared, which seemed really appropriate for helping people for whom this was a new and somewhat bizarre experience. And then when I came to just a couple of hours ago, download the biography of the master that I was going to read from, discovered that it's Maezumi Roshi, who founded the Los Angeles Zen Center, but I had forgotten of his somewhat, would you say, unfortunate history with sexual behavior with his students, and I just felt, I couldn't really resonate very well with the texts.
So there we were. A Dharma talk with no text. So I apologize if this is going to be a little ragged. I do remember when I was acting in in high school, and I was, because it was a girl school, so you had to be play man as well as women. And I was the Fourth Prince, I believe. And we each had to bow, as we said, why we had come to claim the hand in marriage of this beautiful princess. So Prince one goes down and says bit, Prince two goes down and says he's bit, Prince three, Prince four then goes down, and the mind is completely blank. So that's an experience actually have an empty mind. But I'm afraid it's not the empty mind that we're looking for in Zen, because it's totally driven by our brain chemicals and the amygdala fires up and off we go. Fortunately, the prompter came in, and so life was saved.
However, the text I'm going to use is from Master Xu Yan, who his Dharma name in English is Empty Cloud. Very famous. And I'd like to read his biography because it tells everything about his journey. And his prediction actually for, for Zen and for a deep spiritual awakening. He was born in 1840. And he died in I think, in the 50s. Yes, his mother died during childbirth, and his grandmother insisted that his father then take a wife in order to continue the lineage. No, actually, it was the grandson. So it was Xu Yan himself, who was destined to marry when he would be old enough to women, one from one family and one from the other. His first exposure to Buddhism was during the funeral of his grandmother, and as those of you who have experienced loss of a parent, or even a loved one, it shakes you to your foundation, regardless of whether you had a good relationship with that person or not. It's the in your face actually moment of the passing of things. He began reading Buddhist sutras and he made a pilgrimage to a mount hang, which was one of the most important Buddhist sites in China. And when he was 14, he announced that he wished to return renounce the material world in favor of monastic life, and his father did not approve of Buddhism, and had him instructed in Taoism instead.
But Xu Yan was dissatisfied with Taoism, which he felt could not reach the deepest truths of existence. And going through some books in his house, he found a volume called The Story of incense Mountain, which described the life of Guanyin or condone, as we know the Bodhi tree adverb of compassion, and then he was totally inspired to go forth to monkhood to practice Buddhism. So when he was 17, he tried to flee to become a monk without his family's permission. But then on a winding mountain path he encountered invoice sent by his uncle to intercept and exploit him back. So he had to just stay home. And when he arrived home, the family feared that he would escape again. So he was sent with his first cousin to Guang Joe and his father, to make matters worse, formally received the two brides that he had been promised to marry and his marriage was completed. And this is interesting although they live together, Xu Yan did not have sexual contact with his wives. Moreover, he extensively explained the Dharma to them and they to eventually would practice Buddhism. So when he was 19, he goes to drum mountain and yes. And when he was at the Mount monastery there, his head was shaved and he received ordination as a monk. And then his father again sent agents to find him he concealed himself in a grotto behind the monastery, where he lived in solitude for three years. And at the age of 25, he learned that his father had died, and his stepmother and two wives had entered the monastic life. During his years as a hermit, Xu Yun made some of his most profound discoveries. He visited the old master Yong Qing, who encouraged him to abandon his extreme asceticism in favor of temperance. He instructed the young monk in the sutras and told him to be mindful of the Wado while the koan, who is dragging this course of mine in his 36th year with the encouragement of Yong Qing sue you and went on a seven year pilgrimage to mount couta of the coast of Ningbo, a place regarded by Buddhist as the body mandala, an advocate of canon. Anyway, he tirelessly worked as a bodhisattva teaching precepts, explaining sutras and restoring old hermits and the old temples. This was after he actually became the abbot of this one temple. Of course, at this time, China was going through an enormous upheaval and Shu Yuan stayed in China for this whole period and in the spring of 1951, Xu Yan and his 25 monks were accused of hiding weapons and treasure that was by the then Mao government, they were arrested and tortured in Yun min monastery. Some of the monks were tortured to death or suffered broken bones. Xu Yan endured several savage beatings during the interrogations, causing fractures in his ribcage. He closed his eyes and would not talk, eat or drink, and stayed in the Samadhi for nine days with his attendance Feyen and onetoone waiting on him. Several of his works on scriptural commentary were also destroyed. And then, eventually, the premier of the People's Republic of China show in lie managed to put an end to the abuse after three months. So this is a teacher who obviously had great aspiration, a long and complicated life and stayed through this period of unrest in China. So he has a lot of things going for him. Most people who come to Zen come through suffering it's probably nobody here if you said have you never suffered, nobody could put up their hand.
Actually, is there anybody here who hasn't suffered? I mean suffering where it really hurts. Now what that does tend to push us into into finding some answers and finding our way. So now for Master Xu yawns article actually, when we visited China, I can't remember how many years ago now, in the temple that we went to, which is actually Joe Joe's temple. There was a big photograph of empty cloud behind the altar. And it's a very amazing face really, very old. Long, scraggly beard from you know, China, kind of Chinese beard. And yeah, very impressive face. Sometimes a face can say 1000 Words. I think Ramana Maharshi was a similar presence if you saw a picture of him. So he says the objective of Chan practice, the objective of Chan practice is to illuminate the mind by eradicating its impurities and seeing into one's true self nature, the minds impurities of thoughts and attachments. Self nature is the wisdom and virtue of the Buddha. And the wisdom and virtue of Buddha's and regular sentient beings are not different from one another. To experience this wisdom and virtue, leave behind duality, discrimination, wrong thinking and attachment. And this is Buddhahood. If we go here to our founder of the whole Zen sect Bodhidharma, he has, what he says about Buddhahood is that awareness is widowhood. And we'll get to that in just a moment. The prerequisite for Chan practice is to eradicate thinking, Now eradicate strong words. So in our practice, what we do is to become aware of sorting, but we don't try to suppress it or because the minute you start talking to it there, you've got your string, and then you're lost in another, you know, string of thoughts. So, just to not use the word eradicate is a little strong. Shakyamuni Buddha taught much on this subject, his simplest and most direct teaching is the word stop. From the expression stopping is Bodie. From the time when Bodhidharma transmitted Chan teachings to today, the winds of Chan have blown far and wide, shaking and illuminating the world. Among the many things that Bodhidharma and the Sixth Patriarch taught to those who came to study with them, non is more valuable than the saying, put down all entangling conditions, let not one thought arise. This expression is truly the prerequisite for the practice of Zen. Now that we know this, how do we accomplish it?
And that is the essence of what are practices we letting go of thoughts. First, recognizing that what we see as our self is really just a bunch of thoughts and concepts that we've built up over time. So, Xu Yan says all things are dreams and illusions like bubbles or reflections Do not be captivated by the arising abiding, changing and passing away of illusory phenomena, which give rise to pleasure and pain, grasping and rejecting all the sensations of pain, suffering and pleasure which attend the body hunger, cold satiation warms, glory, insult, birth and death, calamity, prosperity, good and bad luck, praise, blame, gain and loss, safety and danger will no longer be your concern. That is what is meant by renouncing all phenomena. When all phenomena are renounced, and when thoughts no longer arise, the brightness of selfing Nature manifests itself completely. And this brightness of self nature is what we call awareness.
Many Chan practitioners asked questions about the teaching. The teaching that is spoken is not really the true teaching. As soon as you try to explain things, the true meaning is lost. When you realize that one mind is the Buddha, from that point on, there is nothing more to do. And then from there, I'd like to read what Bodhidharma said about Buddha.
Buddha is Sanskrit for what you call aware, miraculously aware, responding, perceiving, arching your brows, blinking your eyes, moving your hands and feet, it's all your miraculously aware nature. And this nature is the mind and the mind is the Buddha. And the Buddha is the path and the path is Zen. But the word Zen is one that remains a puzzle to both mortals and sages. Seeing your nature is Zen, but if you're still lost in thoughts, you won't see your nature. The way is basically perfect. It doesn't require perfecting the way has no form or sound. It's subtle and hard to perceive. It's like when you drink water, you know how hot or cold it is, but you can't tell others.
So look inward, do it by yourself. Do not seek outside yourself for it. All sentient beings can immediately attain awareness if they wholly believe in the sincere words of the Buddha and the patriarchs. This is not a boast, nor is it a baseless, empty bow.
The Buddhas and patriarchs do not deceive us. Unfortunately, we are confused. And for limitless lives have experienced birth and death in the sea of suffering, appearing and disappearing, endlessly taking on new forms of life, dazed and confused, entangled in the worldly dust of the six senses with our backs to enlightenment, like pure gold in a cesspool. Because of the problem, Buddha compassionately taught at 4000 Dharma doors to accord with the varying karmic roots oh this is very unnecessary to have so many words here, but it just shows you the magnitude of the problem for us to return to our essential essential awareness.
Since the time when Buddha held up a flower and Bodhidharma came to the east, the methods for entry into this Dharma door have continually evolved. Most practitioners before the tang and song dynasties became enlightened after hearing a word or half sentence of the Dharma. The transmission from master to disciple was the ceiling of mind with mind, there was no fixed dharma. Everyday questions and answers only untied the bonds It was nothing more than the right medicine for the right illness. Since the Song Dynasty, however, people did not have a good comic roots as their predecessors, they could not carry out what had been said. They could not do put down everything they couldn't avoid thinking about good and evil. Under these circumstances, the patriarchs had no choice but to use poison to fight poison, so they taught the method of investigating koans. When one begins looking into a koan, one must grasp it tightly, never letting go. It is like a mouse trying to chew its way out of a coffin. It concentrates on one point, it doesn't try different places, and it doesn't stop until It gets through. Thus in terms of Wydo, or koan, the objective is to use one thought to eradicate innumerable other thoughts. So the whole objective is to somehow enable us to get below 14. And the koan is a concentration practice that but it could be really Baa Baa Black Sheep, and it's not. It's a method and and the inquiry in it, using it as this way of getting underneath getting back to the awareness. That's that's the function of it. And of course, in the old days, apparently, they didn't need to do that. But that's certainly not true now. The ancients used koans. And some of these are who is dragging this quartz around, which is what Shu Yuan had, before you were born. What was your original face? Who was reciting Buddha's name? In fact, they're all the same. There's nothing uncommon, strange or special about them. If you wanted to, you could say who is reciting the sutras who's reciting the mantras? Who's prostrating? Who's eating? Who's wearing these clothes? who's walking, who's sleeping, they're all the same? The answer to the question, Who is derived from one's true nature? This next line is important. True Nature is the origin of all words. Thoughts come out of mind. Mind is the origin of all thoughts. In your numerable dharmas generate from the mind in other words, you start thinking and then something else comes up and something else in a story. And so, off we go. But, but true mind is the origin of all phenomena, all dharmas and in fact, koan is a thought and before a thought arises, there is the origin of words. Hence, when you look into the con, it is contemplating your true mind. There was true mind before your parents gave birth to you. So looking into your original face, before you were born, is contemplating your true nature. And true nature is mind with a capital M, you could say true nature is awareness. Perfectly, he says here, when one turns inward to hear to hear oneself nature. interesting use of the word here, when one turns inward, to hear one's self nature, one is turning inward to contemplate mind with a capital M. In the phrase perfectly illuminating pure awareness, pure awareness is mind and illumination is meditation.
investigating a koan, hence is illuminating pure awareness and it's also illuminating the Buddha nature within oneself. Mind is nature pure awareness Buddha.
Although many modern day practitioners use koans few get enlightened, that's not spare here. As we practice this awareness, you know we're getting closer and closer and even after even a small initial awakening, then there is still this continuing. deepening of that awareness until we get a more understanding.
Although many modern day practitioners use koans few get enlightened. This is because compared to practitioners of the past, practitioners today have less comic roots. Also, practitioners today are not clear about the purpose and path of The koan. And again, this comes back to the path of the reason for the koan is to come to awareness to cut off, cut off all distorting and it's that's what we do. It's very simple you know, it's not a something we have to really study very much
one reason is people use their intellect and tap and attach only to the tail of the words. But the koan is one mind, and this mind is not inside, outside or in the middle. On the other hand, it is inside, outside and in the middle. It is like the stillness of empty space prevailing everywhere. It should not be picked up or pressed down. If you pick it up, meaning if you start thinking about it, your mind will waver and become unstable. If you press it down, you will become drowsy. Practitioners are distressed by wandering thoughts and they think it's difficult to tame them. Don't be afraid of wandering thoughts
do not waste your energy trying to repress them. All you have to do is recognize them. Do not attach the wandering thoughts. Do not follow them and do not try to get rid of them. As long as you don't string thoughts together, wandering thoughts will depart by themselves
I think I'll read that again because I think it is the nub of this whole practice that we do. Practitioners are distressed by wandering thoughts and they think it's difficult to attain them Don't be afraid of wandering thoughts. Do not waste your energy trying to repress them. All you have to do is recognize them. Do not attach to wandering thoughts do not follow them. And do not try to get rid of them. As long as you don't string them together, wandering thoughts will depart by themselves.
Since this is a rather unprepared talk, I thought we would just open it up to questions people might have answers to which may or may not be possible to give. But anybody got a question?
Someone does ask a question. You'll have to repeat itself.
Oh, Wayman has a question. Go ahead, Wayman. Oh, sorry. Somebody does. Bruce.
Bruce, if you could give us some pointers on how to sit with payments, always very challenging.
The question is, could we have could we give some pointers on how to manage pain, which is very challenging. First of all, we resonate with you, Bruce, it's everybody has different degrees of pain. One of the things that's really important is to make sure that you're sitting posture that you have everything you want a need to be as stable and as comfortable as you can be, this is not a practice about gritting your teeth and bearing down. We're not giving birth. Well, you're in one sense, but we're not giving actual birth. And what you find this is where really focusing on your practice, whether it's the breath, or, or a koan. If you get really deep into concentration, and you look at the pain instead of, you know, we want to, I think what used to happen for me, and still does is I say, When will this stop? When will they ring that bell, you know, and so then you are now in, all your hormones are ramped up for escaping this, you know, prison that you're in. And so trying to calm yourself down, and by looking at the actual pain, you know, look at it as experience it in the moment, for some amazing reason, it really helps. But it's hard to stay with it because you want to escape it. But once you actually stick with it, I think you'll find that it sort of can go away. In the old days of practice, you couldn't go to a chair either. But now we do have chairs, and you can always go to a chair. And rather than, you know, saying, I can be a warrior, I can do this, it's good to take a break when you need to, and stretching and other things can help. And if all of that fails, then you know, people, especially older people, will will have to take some kind of medication, you know, and that's okay, too. It just may make you a little more sleepy, but it's no, no shame to it. What what do you do to help you with pain?
If it varies, sometimes I can sit with it and observe it. And and it doesn't make any sense. But I can I can make it evaporate from my body. I can do that for a little while. And that's pretty amazing. But sometimes, I'm doing the gritting my teeth, and waiting, waiting, waiting for that bell to ring. So that I can that creates a downward spiral. As I as I've been sitting more and more, I do less of that, but you know, sitting with your pain, you know, it's, it's, it's kind of abstract. Thought, and I don't always know how,
but actually, you're very present, you know, you're totally present. When you have pain. You're in your awareness, your awareness is of pain. And so it's not that you're not practicing. I mean, I think that's the thing we get into Zen thinking always there's a goal out there, like, I want to get enlightened, I want to, you know, I want to have a Samadhi and we're always in the future. But the living in our reality is what we really want to do. And that's what happens if you practice a long time you start to be able to live in what is rather than what you want life to be. So I would take it as it will get better. And if you practice daily, that will help you you know, it's coming here and suddenly doing 10 and a half hours a day of sitting when you've been doing maybe half an hour, your body is going to be very unhappy. So So I think you'll have your answers actually doing great. Any other questions? Can
you speak to emotional pain? Specifically like trauma related?
Modern of the question is could could we speak to emotional pain? The kind of Yeah, searing? Well, the question it didn't say it was searing pain, but we know that this is this is true. And this is pain that comes from one's past. And more and more psychology is beginning to realize that that pain from trauma is experienced in the body. It's not. You can have bad thoughts about it, but it's actually experienced in the body. And there are some ones For books, you know, the Body Keeps the Score and so forth. I think you want to do the work that you have to do off the mat, which is, you know, therapy work. And just being very gentle with yourself, you know, not pushing, pushing, pushing hard, but recognizing the suffering. I know this practitioner who was a was in our Sangha became very serious person, a priest, and left the Sangha eventually, because they were beginning to experience a lot of emotional turmoil. And then after they left, they did some other kind of work and found found some release in it. Zen can be an answer to suppress your emotions, you know, when you're sitting, if it's not, you don't want to bring it up, if it's not there. But if it's there, then you need to make sure that you are paying attention to it. If not, if you can't put it aside while you sit, then you need to address it, address it later. It's it's a huge subject and I think everybody who has had physical trauma or sexual trauma or abandonment trauma, that that all has to be has to be folded into our reality and and working with it. Maybe someone else has an offering on that.
People who've dealt with drum Wayman.
Maybe you said this. Probably. I'm not sure that I heard you say, but there was this famous statement by Bodhidharma. Awareness is good. Yeah. And that is, I think, one of the most did you say, okay, it can't be overemphasized that turning again and again, to awareness, rather than your thoughts, rather than your daydreams, rather than even your painful feelings of awareness means being aware of your painful feelings. But I think that's a very important thing to keep in mind that awareness is what we're all looking for that.
think the other thing actually is, though, that when we realize how many of us have this trauma, you're not alone, you know, we tend to feel very alone, don't you? I mean, with trauma, you feel you feel very alone with trauma. It's it's so consuming, and so it takes over your life. You're not. You're not free of it. So recognizing that. When we asked the question at the beginning, is there anyone here who hasn't experienced suffering, then in this community of suffering? I think there's a lot of healing in that but
not much to offer.
Yeah, go ahead. I offer something. Absolutely.
So this is coming from an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy background that talks a lot about this essential awareness as an important part of you. I think, when we go through trauma, we think that it changes us. But this awareness cannot be damaged or altered or changed or harmed is the place that you experienced this pain. It is a place that you experienced anything, any any part of your life, but there's a place you can always go to. That is not touched by it. Standing behind the waterfall. I think they can be helpful.
That's it Very important, and that is when we talk about awareness, it is going back to that fundamental, unchanging, always present, which is really love itself. It's underneath all of it, there is something that sustains us. And so as you offered, then that's where to go, that in within you, whoever survived this, whoever came to the Dharma, whoever on understands it to whatever degree that is your refuge, you have this refuge you are the refuge
and the silence is the refuge to the silence in Chapin Mill of birds the crickets right now.