September 2021 Sesshin, Day 4: The Practice of Zen by Garma C.C. Chang
4:37PM Oct 9, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the fourth day of this September, 2021, seven day sesshin that actually ends on October 1. We'll return to our text book, published in 1959, called at The Practice of Zen, translated, edited by C.C. Chang.
We left off yesterday in the autobiographical account of Chinese Chan master Han Shan, where he had, he had run into a traveling monk by the name of Miao Feng, who was - with whom he was very impressed. And he felt some kind of affinity, apparently was hoping that they could travel together. But the monk left without him knowing. And Han Shan said that he, he suppose that he just was the monk was afraid of being too closely associated with him - they might hinder his freedom. Remember, it's fear of attachment or burden or something. But we haven't seen the last of Miao Fung.
He says in 1571 I was 26 years old. A heavy snow had fallen that year. And by the time I reached young Chow, I'd become very ill. After I'd been sick for some time, he had to go and do takatsu in the street. takatsu is the Japanese word we use for the making the rounds, it's it's commonly translated as beg, which it is here. The translator says, I had to beg for food in the street. But that just is misleading. He's not panhandling, give him a context, the culture. He was a monkey was a steamed and he was giving people lay people the opportunity to acquire merit by giving to to him as a monk. They said no one gave me anything. And he wonder why, why today Am I not receiving any rice. Suddenly, I became aware that I still had some silver coins in my pocket. I then gathered all the Buddhist and Taoist monks who are unable to obtain food in the snow, and bought them dinner and an eating house, spending all the money I had. The next morning when I went to the bazaar again, to do takatsu, I experienced no difficulty in obtaining food. So Han Shan leaves it to us to come to our own conclusions.
I'm skipping whole paragraphs here. It's quite a long autobiography for teisho. That is, and in the past, it's just it's taken four days to go through this and there's a lot of pretty weird things that he reports that I think we can we can do without the interest of saving time. He mentions that he went to a certain place and the local mad magistrate had became had become a real patron, donor. And
he, Han Shan edited and checked a certain block printing of a book. And in about this book, he said I difficulty I had had difficulty in understanding the thesis on immutability. Especially the part about the Whirlwind and the resting mountain. Those words are capitalized the Whirlwind and the resting mountain. He had had doubts about this for some years he said in this in this part, an aged Brahmin retired, returned home after a lifetime of priesthood and heard his neighbors exclaim, oh look, the man of old still exists. To which he had replied, oh no, I may look like that old man, but actually, I am not he. Then when he read that, Pat, when Sean Sean read that passage, he was suddenly awakened. Then I said to myself, in reality, all dharmas have no coming and going. dharmas means all teachings of all things. Small D dharmas means things, phenomena. In reality, all dharmas have no coming and going, Oh, how true how true this is. And the words this is the changelessness within change. Many paradoxes in this Dharma capital D in this truth, this reality that we're living.
So reminds me of a line from the srirangam, a sutra, swiftly flowing water, when viewed from afar, appears still.
Another way to look at it is even more simple. Just the one thing Russia carries is a one thing we can count on, is change. The one immutable thing.
He writes, I left my seat immediately and prostrating myself before the Buddha. As I made my own basins, I felt nothing moves or arises. I then lifted up the curtain on the door, and stood on the platform outside. A sudden gust of wind swept the trees in the courtyard, whirling leaves against the sky. Yet I did Yeah, I did not feel that anything was moving. This I thought to myself, is the meaning of the whirlwind and the resting mountain. Oh, now I understand. This also reminds me of a koan in the blue Cliff record where the great Raymond Pon you after 17 years of training, when he was leaving, the monastery, he brought out was escorted to the monastery gauged by a group of monks and it was snowing. And as he stepped outside, he stopped. He looked around and he said, beautiful of snowflakes, they fall nowhere.
Later, even while passing urine, I did not feel that there was anything flowing. I said to myself, Oh, this is what is meant by the saying that rivers flow all day, but nothing flows. From that time on the problem of life and death, the doubts on the where from before birth, and the where to after death was completely broken. So real, real, deep realization. The second morning after this experience, Miao Fung came in. It was the monk who had disappeared. As soon as he saw me, he exclaimed delightedly What have you found? I said, last evening, I saw two iron oxen fighting with each other along the riverbank until they both fell into the water. Get it
Farmers only emptiness, emptiness only form. These two are merely relative and both at source or emptiness.
And then he finishes by saying about these two iron oxen since then I have not heard anything of them. Meow Fung smiled. Congratulations. He said, You ever seize the means by which you can afford to dwell on the mountain from now on.
And then he writes that Zen master whom he had long, admired, visited, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to train under him. He asked for his teaching. Master said that he should work on Zen by dissociating from mind, consciousness and perceptions and also that he should keep away from both the holy and the mundane paths of learning. When he talked, his voice was like the throbbing of a heavenly drum. had been realized that the speech and behavior of those who actually understood the truth of mind are quite different from the speech and behavior of ordinary people.
But you can take this too far. I still remember the, the voice of Tongan Roshi, one of the places I trained in Japan, you could say it was hyper throbbing over heavenly drum, but there were other rashis their esteemed teachers didn't have extraordinary voices.
Just a something from Hakuin that that line that Han Shan said, referring to what had happened to him his awakening. I saw two iron oxen fighting with each other along the riverbank until they both fell into the water. Hakuin somewhere says, The monkey is reaching for the moon in the water, until death overtakes him he'll never give up. If he'd let go the branch and disappear in the deep pool, the whole world would shine with dazzling pureness
let go the branch.
I think I may have said this earlier, but it doesn't mean doing something outrageous. Letting go the branch. It means letting go of your thoughts is returning doggedly persistently returning to the practice you're working on. And in that, in that returning to the practice is the letting go. don't have to do anything with the thoughts. We just need to return to the practice.
He goes on one day after reading some of my poems. Master fog Kwan. side. This is beautiful poetry. Where else can one find such wonderful lines? But one hole still remains on opened. He laughed. I asked. Master Have you open that hole yet? He replied. For the past 30 years I have trapped tigers and caught dragons. But today a rabbit came out of the grass and frightened me to death. I said master you are not the one who can trap tigers and catch dragons. The master raised his staff and was about to strike me when I snatched it and grabbed his long beard saying you said it was a rabbit. But actually, it was a frog. I've asked her to then laughed and let me go.
In 1575 I was 30 years old. With meow Fang. I went to Wu Tae mountain. You say a little bit about Wu Tang mountain is such a high point and literally, it was such a high point in my pilfer, right? One of my pilgrimages to China whoo timings of five terrorists mountain. Legendary, probably the most legendary holy mountain in China.
It was such a point of experience to go up and it's a big goes a lot of acreage up there. It's not don't picture you know, Mount Fuji or Mount Everest, it was a lot of out of parts to it. It was so many ruins of temples. This was 19 8085 not Yeah, 1985. There were no, I don't think it was a single functioning temple. At its heyday, probably in the Tong dynasty, even before Han Shan had had 800 temples up there. And then, by the end of the Cultural Revolution, this devastating
catastrophe in China, where the Red Guards went, amuck crazy, we're destroying everything. By the end of the Cultural Revolution, there were 75 I think and and then Then there were the ruins of only a few left. Never forget the how much had been taken over by grass, tall grass. Out of out of difference. sights of just the ruins the bricks, some bricks. But then at the same time, the Chinese government had decided that this was a way to bring in tourists. They knew the rotation. Wu Tai mountain was known worldwide among Buddhists. And that so they were investing at that time investing money in rebuilding some of these temples. In their own primitive fashion we'd see. donkeys carrying with poles, carrying up bricks and other thing lumber and I don't know what it's like now i i bet. A lot of restoration that's happened
again, he's 30 Now, our hero Han Shan and he and his sidekick, meow Fang. went up to Thai mountain. On the third of March, we cleared the snow from an old house and took residents there. ranges of mountains completely covered with snow and ice surrounded Our abode. This was the place I had dreamed of for a long, long time. Remember, a couple of days ago or yesterday maybe he had had this vision of a of chin Liang mountain that said pure meaning pure and cool, cool and summer and ice and frozen in winter. How much they affected him how much he had wanted to go there. Well, he said, this is the place I had dreamed of for so long. I felt as happy as if I entered into a heavenly paradise. both body and mind. felt at ease and comfortable. Now after some time now Fung left, while I remained alone, I fixed my mind upon one thought and spoke to no one. You know this word thought is, is probably with Japanese, or called Nam the Japanese word Nan, which is exceedingly difficult to translate it's I've talked to people about this thought moment or moment thought. It's not exactly a thought it's a moment. And we can we can see that the word Mu is this is one such so called thought, or who or what I fixed my mind upon one thought and spoke to no one. If anyone came to the door, I merely looked at him and said nothing. After a while, whenever I looked at people, they appeared like dead logs. My mind entered a state in which I could not recognize a single word. At the start of this meditation, when I heard the holding of the storms, and the sounds of the ice grinding against the mountains, I felt very disturbed. The tumult seemed as great as that of 1000s of soldiers and horses in battle. I asked me all Fung about it later. And he said, All feelings and sensations arise from one's own mind. They do not come from outside. This, of course, is standard dharma. Have you heard what the monks in the old days said. And he quotes, if one does not allow his mind to stir when he hears the sound of flowing water for 30 years, he will come to the realization of the miraculous understanding of Avantika touchbar. We could say, it's no different than like say, sitting in the city, with traffic, noise and other other noise doesn't need to be some insuperable obstacle. We can we can find a way right there in the tumult. To, we can find this inner refuge
or the poet Shelley referred to as a smooth spot of glassy quiet amidst those battling tides. Everyone here, can access that realm. Noise doesn't need to be a problem. If you get deeply absorbed enough, in the practice you're working on, and everything becomes still.
I then went to sit on a solitary wooden bridge and meditated there every day. At first I heard the stream flowing very clearly. But as time passed, I could hear the sound only if I willed it. If I stirred my mind, I could hear it. But if I kept my mind still, I heard nothing. See this again. This again, points to the distinction between no mindedness and mindfulness. Someone who, who aspire only to mindfulness would say that he's, he's, he's at fault here, he got caught, you don't hear. You don't hear the sound of the stream. But it's not that simple. One day while sitting on the bridge, I suddenly felt that I had no body. There to the whole thing about bodily awareness. probably aware, bodily awareness is good, but it's not the only thing. Are there other aspects of consciousness?
My body had vanished together with a sound around me. Since then, I've never been disturbed by any sound.
My daily food was a grill of Bran weeds, and right ice water. When I first came to the mountain, someone had given me 50 pounds of rice, which lasted for more than six months. One day, after having my grool, I took a walk. Suddenly, I stood still filled with the realization that I had no body or mind. all I could see was one great illuminating whole, omnipresent, perfect, lucid and serene. Here's like an all embracing mirror from which the mountains and rivers of the earth were projected as reflections. When I woke from this experience, I felt as clear and transparent, as though my body and mind did not exist at all. Were upon I compose the following stanza. And this is the verse suddenly the violence of mind stops, inner body, outer world, both are transparently clear. After the great overturn, the great voidness is broken through, oh, how freely the myriad manifestations come and go.
So this is an experience, of course of another enlightenment experience, seeing the formlessness of form, seeing the, the no thingness of body and mind but not resting there, then going beyond even beyond the emptiness. And when he says the great voidness is broken through. And what does it reveal? trees and cars and crusty willows and dogs and cats and clouds and how freely the myriad manifestations come and go.
For men on he writes, both the inward and the outward experience became lucidly clear. Sounds, voices, visions, scenes, forms, and objects were no longer hindrances. All my former doubts dissolved into nothing. When I returned to my kitchen, I found the cauldron covered with dust. Many days had passed without my knowing it.
In October of that year, that's 1576, my patron invited me to stay at his house. His friend there asked me to write a poem for him. I replied, there is not a single word in my heart. Now, how can I write you a poem. However, both of them press me. And after their repeated insistence is I could not refuse. And this is his, his patron. The man who pays the Piper calls the tune, I think glanced over some old and contemporary books of poetry to stimulate my thought. In casually turning over the pages, my mind suddenly became keyed to inspiration. Verse poured from me, so that a few minutes later, when Mr. who returned, I had written some 20 poems. Suddenly, I became aware of the danger in this and warned myself notice, this is just what that devil in words your habitual thought is doing to you. Immediately I stopped writing, I gave one of the poems to Mr. Cow, and kept the rest of them secret. Still, I could not seem to stop the creative outflow had started. It was as though all the poems books or sayings I had ever learned or seen in my life, appeared simultaneously before me, cramming the space and air. Even had I had 1000s of mouths all over my body. I could not have exhausted the word flow.
This is not far fetched to me what he's describing Having when I was working on Mu and getting very little sleep, working pretty much around the clock in the zendo when I finally got some sleep lay down, that was what I had sometimes going on that that tremendous cacophony of words and voices and just We are, we are engaged here in something very mysterious. This practice this intensive practice of sesshin is that as scooping out of the mind, it's like deep sea diving and scooping up the at the bottom. And all of this stuff comes flowing up. Tremendous adventure. Compared to going to go into space, or skydiving, or anything else that seems so daring, it's nothing compared to this. Robert Thurman coined the term, psycho knots, we're not astronauts, we're Psychonauts, we're, we're venturing into the recesses of the mind, really just exposing is uncovering the depths of mind that we normally don't have access to. It's exciting and can be frightening. But when it does get frightening if, when it does get frightening, we've got this practice, to hold to, that will carry us through any, even the most frightening states like Magic Flute to the Mozart opera where the hero has to, has to pass through the fires of hell. And he's given this Magic Flute as long as he continues playing this Magic Flute, he can pass through unharmed. And he does.
And then just very briefly, still now with all of this cacophony and these words and flowing out, he thought he thought to himself, this is what's called Zen sickness. You know, I've never been able to pin down this term Zen sickness, because I've heard different ways of understanding it. But this is how Han Shan is understanding it. He says, oh, who can cure me of it? Well, since there is no one here who can do so the only thing for me to do is to sleep to sleep as long and soundly as I can. So the bar the door, tightly forced himself to sleep. He wasn't able to. When lying down, he wasn't able to in line down so take a sitting posture. Before long he forgot that he was sitting he fell asleep deeply and soundly. Sometime later, the servant boy, they always have in these solitary retreats. They always seem to have someone who can bring them some some food. At that's where the patron comes into, to pay for this person to sustain them. The servant boy knocked on the door but couldn't Rouse me. He tried to open it but founded fast and then when Han Shan patron learned this here, the boy to break in through the window. Finally got in and saw Han Shan sitting there on moving. They called to him that he wouldn't respond. They tried shaking him, but he couldn't move him. And then, the patron caught sight of a small bell which lay on a table. He wants to remembered. He remembered that I once told him it was used in cases of emergency to wake a sitter from a deep trance. So he held the bell to Azir Han Shan zere, struck at lightly many times. Gradually, I began to awaken when I opened my eyes I did not know where I was or while I was in that position.
The patron said, since I left the other morning, you have been sitting in this room that was five days ago. To which Han Shan said Why? I thought only a single breath of time had passed.
He says I sat silently and began to observe my surroundings, still not sure where I was. I then recalled my past experiences, and both they and the present ones seemed like events in a dream. Whatever had troubled me had vanished like rain clouds before a clear sky. All space seemed as clear and transparent, as if it had just been thoroughly washed. All images and shadows dropped away into the great, all tranquil voidness My mind was so empty the world so serene. My joy is so great that words could not describe it.
He writes that when he was 34 years old, he devoted himself to copying the sutras. This was a a major type of Buddhist practice copying Sutras, sometimes in one's own blood. During this work on every stroke of the character, and on every mark of punctuation, I recited the Buddha's name once. Whenever monks or laymen visited me in the temple, I would talk with them while still still carrying on my work of copying. If anyone asked a question, I answered without hesitation, that my work was never hindered, nor that I make any mistakes in copying because of conversation. This is sort of a Olympic gold and multitasking. I did this every day as a routine for Not a trace of activity or quietness existed in my mind. This greatly surprised some neighbors who were skeptical about it. So one day, they sent many people to visit me and do things purposely to distract me and divert my attention from my copying work. After this visit, I showed the copy to them. And when they found not a single mistake, and they were all convinced, they question malfunction about my accomplishment. Dr. Fung said, Oh, this is nothing It is simply because my friend is well acquainted with this particular Samadi That is all. So, some, some texts distinguish between a positive Samadhi and absolute semi sub semi or wherever I am not sure about those terms, two different kinds of commodities one is just while sitting, losing track of all sense of self, self and other the world so forth. The other is functioning in the world and without thoughts and this is as you can see, would be the most the highest functioning, the highest functioning kind of activity in the world. Doing things working, free unshackled from thoughts. That's what was Han Shan is describing here.
And then skipping a couple of pages entirely. We find him 36 years old. He says I vowed to call a great congregation for dharma.
And his friend mouth meow Fung also wanted to form a non discriminating congregation for dharma. Yeah What does that mean non discriminating, I'm guessing that means non sectarian. And then they had this huge, huge events of 500 monks. And then he describes other huge convocations.
And he says, when I was 41 years old, for a long period of traveling and working, I was able to reside quietly in a newly constructed meditation lodge of my own.
I need to skip further here. And then when he's 44 years old, he began reading the complete tripitaka says that the whole Buddhist canon of Sutras, commentaries on Sutras, and the, the the all Buddhist philosophy and psychology, the Abbe dharma. He was lecturing on the Lotus Sutra, and other great texts. And now, for the finale here, ever since I left whoo Thai mountain, I had thought of visiting my parents, but I was afraid of being blinded by worldly attachments. Number in, in, in China, to be monk would mean to sever ties with your parents. And I think this is better understood in the context of Confucian a Confucian culture. Where ordinarily, you would be obligated to care for your parents, as whenever what however much it's called for. And they recognize that if monks were called away to do that, then they couldn't give themselves fully to the Dharma with undivided commitment, and so that became part of the requirement of being a monk is not seeing your parents. But here, he says. He says, I then carefully examined myself to determine whether I'd be able to visit my parents. One evening during meditation, I casually uttered the following stanza. waves and ripples flow in this cool sky. fish and birds swim in one mirror, on and on, day after day. Last night, the moon fell from the heavens, now is the time to illumine the black dragons pearl. And there's a footnote here. According to old Chinese legend, under the jaw of a black dragon, there lies a most precious pearl symbol, so it symbolizes the most precious thing to be found in the world. Somehow, having this this vision led him to the conclusion that he could now return to his native land and see his parents.
He says my old mother had heard of my coming. She sent messengers to ask me remember this mother, this notorious mother, who called him trash and threw him in the river. She sent messengers to ask me when I would visit my home, in reply, and I said that I had not been sent by the court to escort the sutras know that I had been sent by the court, the imperial court to escort the sutras not just to go home. However, if my mother could see me in a pleasant manner, without grief or sorrow, and without throwing me in the river, No, he didn't say that. As if I had never left her, then I would stay for two nights. When my mother heard these words, she exclaimed, this is an unexpected meeting, like finding someone of yours in another life. overwhelmed with joy, how would I find time for sour? Oh, I shall be quite content to see him, if only for a little while. Two nights at home is far more than I had expected. When I reached home, my mother was overjoyed. She showed no sign of grief whatsoever. In her I beheld only joy. And good cheer. This surprised me very much. And we know how people can mellow in as they age. I've heard many, many such cases, besides my own mother who became quite quite different as they as they their old age.
In the evening, the elders from among our relatives came in, one of them asked, Did you come by boat or by land? I mother immediately answered him, What do you mean come by boat or by land? What I really want to know, he said, is From where did he come home? I think this is all laced with double meaning. My mother replied, from a void, he returns to us. I was surprised to hear speak so. In my astonishment, I said, No wonder this old woman could give me a way to the monkhood. I then asked her, have you thought of me since I left home? She said, of course. How could I not think of you? I asked. How did you console yourself? She replied, at first I did not know what to do. Then I was told that you were the Wu Tang mountain. I asked a monk where this was and he told me it was just under the North Star. I then made obey sounds to the north star and recited the Bodhisattvas name that would be the Kuan Yin. After this, I felt much better and thought of you know more. Later, I just presumed that you were dead. For me, no more prostrations. No more thought of you. Now I see you as if in another incarnation. The next morning I visited the graves of my ancestors to pay my respects. This is also just expected in Chinese culture. I also chose the site for the graves of my parents. At that time, my father was 80 years old. I looked at him saying, today I bury you, and so save you the trouble of returning to this earth again, saying this, I struck the ground with a pic. Immediately my mother snatched it away from me and said, Let this old woman do the grave digging herself. I don't need anyone else to bother for me. She then began digging up the ground in a lively fashion. I remained at home three days. When the time for departure came my old mother was still in a very cheerful mood. Not until then that I become fully aware that I had a very unusual woman for a mother