Master Hakuin's Chant in Praise of Zazen, Part 2
4:23PM May 10, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is May 8 2022, Happy Mother's Day, all of you who are mothers. You know, what what work could be more important than being a mother.
To have such a profound influence on a child, baby and a child and its formative years that will affect it for the rest of its life.
I've heard that it's not that uncommon for soldiers on the battlefield, as they're dying or being tortured or or, you know. Yeah, I think that's mainly what I've heard, to be crying out for their mother.
High School when these biographers say Hakuin felt very close to his mother, his whole life, and credited her with getting him to the Dharma. And we're going to pick up today, about halfway through Hacohen Hacohen Chan ha koans. Pray Chan praises Zen. We did part one yesterday. We'll finish it today. And it starts this part to the second half starts with hearing this truth, heart humble and grateful to praise and embrace it to practice his wisdom brings unending blessings brings mountains of merit.
Hearing this truth
remember Roshi Kapleau, saying that there is this, this, this injunction in, in the sutras, hear the truth, believe it, practice it and realize it. Against with hearing what spectacularly good karma we have to be able to hear the Dharma. What does that mean? What is hearing the Dharma it means hearing? Well, we could say the three characteristics of existence that of suffering that suffering, pain is the nature it's it's pervasive in all for all beings. This is a way of saying we gotta we got to come to terms of that we have to accept it and and see how we can manage it, suffering the first of the Four Noble Truths. The second of the three characteristics of existence is that of impermanence. Who who have any other religion would look at this aspect of the Dharma and say, no, no, I disagree. Things are, some things are permanent. Yes, some things are relatively permanent, some things are apparently permanent. But there is no qualification to that. Ultimately, everything is in flux. Everything is changing. It's nothing we can hold on to forever. No one we can hold on to forever, even our mothers so the first was suffering. The second is impermanence. And the third is no self and this is one where you get a lot of pushback from people of other religions, I suppose. But it really follows from a teaching of, of impermanence, that there can't be any fixed, permanent self standing self. We feel like there's someone in here there's some person who is continues from birth to death. And and that's true. A relatively Yes, there is some some continuity of personhood, of our temperament or personality, our looks, yes. But what awakening reveals is that there is nothing here to endure, even from moment to moment, nevermind from childhood, comparing a child to an old person. Yes, there's a lot of continuity. But within that continuity there is always changing. So it's a very promising, very promising truth that we can change. We're not stuck with a self
so again, hearing this truth, we just enumerated three features of the Dharma, hearing it, believing it, practicing it, at least, believe it enough to practice it. And then the realization of it, awakening hearing this truth, heart humble. The heart grows more humble, the longer we practice and so does our gratitude. This is the inevitable outgrowth of practice long years of practice is gratitude. Don't have to try to feel grateful. It happens. The longer we practice and the more we practice that is, the more we practice in a week or a month or a year.
He continues to praise and embrace it.
Embrace it really means practicing it, the Dharma sitting and extending this mind of sitting this mind of meditation into our everyday life. To practice its wisdom brings unending blessings brings mountains of merit
one of one of my my very most favorite
verses in the Mumonkan by Zen Master momon is where he says it helps you cross the river when the bridge is broken down. It accompanies you when you return to the village on a moonless night.
I think these last couple of years, possibly more than any two years of my life more people are facing are trying to find their way through this moonless night dark
despondency discouragement, depression
we are in a period of darkness with everything that's happening. More climate change, spinning out of control forest fires and flooding and the terrible toxic political divisions and poverty and it's got our we got our hands full now. But to to believe in the Dharma means to believe that this will change to have faith that there's not a permanent condition
anyone Any student of history can find far worse periods, even in our own country, but certainly, globally other countries, China, Japan, the horrible civil wars and famine it was it was hellish, but it passed. Why would this not pass what we're going through now, this is this is such a central article of faith and hope in the Dharma is the passing nature of things.
Said master Dogan, this just comes to mind right now, Zen master Dogon said, one who would practice the Dharma must have faith in karma. And believe in the impermanence of all things, something like that.
Somehow, we'll find our way out of this or if we don't, our descendants will. Nothing is permanent.
Again, brings unending blessings brings mountains of merit. This this word merit, I think, to the extent that Zen prep practitioners here are familiar with that word. Some may think of it just in the negative that is that this legendary encounter between the great Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen, between Bodhidharma and the Emperor, and the Emperor is kind of boasting about all the 1000s of monks he's supported and the monasteries he's had built. And he asks, What merit is that he just wants confirmation he wants Bodhidharma to pat him on the back. And Bodhidharma says, no merit at all. But Bodhidharma was just speaking from the side of emptiness of the absolute from that side. And we talked last week and teisho, as we have so many tears shows that there are two sides of this. What the Tibetans call this non dual reality, the one side No, there's no merit, there's no time there's no space, there's no self or other, there's nothing. But that's just half the truth. The other half is yes, depending on our actions, and our words, and our thoughts, that, to a large extent, determine our actions and our words. Based on all those things, the way we live our lives, we can acquire merit good karma.
That, yes, in ancient China, so the situation was that if you wanted to practice the Dharma seriously, you had to become ordained. And lay it was the, it was the hope of lay people that at least they could by supporting the monks and nuns that they could hope for, to be born as to be born into the life of the monkhood and their next life, but the most they could do now is just support the monks and nuns so we can we can see how skewed that is. And it's what a great thing it is, now that we can we can we've shown for some 60 years now, we meaning Western Buddhism, that you don't lay people don't have to limit themselves to just financially supporting others. We can practice as lay people
and that brings, we would say in Buddhism that would bring the highest merit is practice. Yes, yes, supporting it. financially and other ways that also accumulates merit for us good karma. But why limit it to that if we can practice, we can cross our legs in our own homes, sit in chairs, and do Zen.
In the next stanza, how koan says and when we turn inward and prove our true nature, the true self is no self, our own self is no self. We go beyond ego and past clever words. And when we turn inward, improve our true nature, it when we first began chanting, Hacohen chant, in the early 70s. It read one month difference that we said, and if we turn inward, improve our true nature, of course, he's referring to awakening. And then we changed if to when. And anyone can appreciate the difference between If and when. Because in Buddhism, we would say it's just a matter of time. It's not if of course, time is a very long arc to it doesn't mean just this lifetime. Say in the, in the sutras that may, it's inevitable, it's inevitable, that we will awaken to our originally enlightened nature.
turn inward, doesn't mean shutting out the world, that doesn't mean only sitting. turn inward means not getting caught in objects.
And objects doesn't just mean physical things, people and things. It means the objects of the mind thoughts. We can be fully engaged in the world and be turned inward. If we're not clinging to our thoughts.
Still, there's no better place to to No, no place where we're more likely to prove our true nature than in sitting, and especially sesshin. Yes, people awaken outside sesshin. It's very unusual, but it happens. It's much more common in sesshin. And if you think I'm making a pitch for the goat for people to go to sesshin You're right. I am. I know that's for some people, maybe many people that's beyond what they can do at maybe at some moment because of their circumstances of their life. But there's no there's no no place where you're more likely to confirm everything Hacohen is saying and confirm your original nature then in sesshin.
True Self is no self, our own self is no self. This is the basic paradox of the Dharma that things are no things
this is the problem with words. When we say our true self, our Buddha nature and on so forth all those various synonyms for the ultimate. Then we so easily get caught in. Well notions of selfhood
So why why do all these great Zen masters use these terms like our true self, true mind, original self and so forth? Because they're trying to point to what is beyond words, trying to point to reality. And that's how do you do that without some words?
I've read I would never claim to be a scholar of Buddhism or Zen, but I have read a book more than one place, but at one book in particular called Buddha nature. And, and the author makes the point that in original Buddhism, they don't have these terms, True Self true nature. These were, these were used later, as a form of what we call skillful means of helping people relate to what is really nothing. In original Buddhism, yeah, they didn't have those terms, that the Buddha spoke mostly in terms of negation, what is not his probably his most succinct such statement is not this not that.
One way to understand the word Mu, the koan Mu or the word Mu, is in like, this is also from a book about foreign words that are difficult to translate. One of the entries of the several 100 entries is the word Mu, and the author seems, has nothing no, nothing to do with Zan doesn't refer to it. But he argues that Mu is best understood as it's not what you think.
So, so plug that into that exchange between a monk and Josha where the monk says, Even a dog, have Buddha nature. And now think of Joshua's replying. It's not what you think anything you think, can't be it
this True Self that is no self is of course ever changing. That's because that's its nature, it has its formulas, I mean, it gives the appearance of form physical form that we see we look in the mirror we we have bodies, but But ultimately, there is a a dynamic nature to the self. And that's what water and is getting at. There is you know the Japanese word for a novice mark his own sui own sweet means cloud water. Clouds and water have no fixed form. They are always adapting accommodating to circumstances and conditions. This is our nature.
In last teisho, though, I did the first half of the Hacohen chat, I meant to mention this one near the beginning, where Hakuin says from the very beginning all beings are Buddha like water and ice without water no ice outside us no Buddha's
Through Zen practice, we are going from ice to water going from clinging to our ideas about ourself and others and things going from rigidity that comes from attachment to thoughts and ideas going from that to well melting
there's a phrase by Japanese Zen master min Zhan he said melting the frozen block of emotion thought he emotion thought all that stuff that we can come run up against in our sitting in our cell outside are sitting too
our nature, okay our true nature is water. Clouds flexibility adaptability, openness, movement, fluidity.
And that's what we are reclaiming through Zen practice it may take a while these things don't happen overnight. We've we've been frozen blocks of ice for a long time it takes a while for it to melt. And the fastest way to melt it is in sesshin. It's like putting that ice over a flame. Okay, after sesshin it kind of refreezes a little bit. But we always have daily sitting between sessions to keep it from locking up completely like ice.
I think it's interesting had just noticed this after 50 years of chanting this, this stanza ends with we go beyond ego and pass clever words. Again, he says when we turn inward improve our true nature the true self is no self, our own self has no self, we go beyond clever words. Again, the the the emptiness of terms like true self that can so easily snag us into thinking there's something substantial and permanent
historically that has been known as the sect of Buddhism, that is beyond words and words and concepts really.
Zen has always recognized the danger of words, how easily we become attached to them. And that, that itself comes from our attachment to our thoughts could say that the whole the whole con system is designed to us in particular is designed to help us see through words and concepts. It's a good way to sum it up. But then you could say the same for Zen practice of any practice breath practice shikantaza. As we come to see the emptiness of our thoughts, then it just naturally follows that words are just as empty, useful to a point.
On this stuff In this statement from an 18th 19th century French moralist by the name of Joseph Zubair, it's really nifty. He says, words like eyeglasses, blur everything that they do not make more clear
it's not just an exam, that wise men and women have seen the deceptive nature of words and the need to go beyond them, Walt Whitman, the great Walt Whitman, who I suspect was someone of realization real what we exam would call realization, this is what he wrote at some point in his in his Leaves of Grass. There is something that comes to one now and perpetually. It is not what is printed, preached, discussed, it eludes discussing and print, it is not to be put in a book, it is not this book is not in this book. It is for you, whoever you are, it is no farther from you than your hearing and sight are from you. It is hinted by nearest communist readiest it is ever provoked by them.
People who are very clever, manipulating words, either spoken words or written words are in a state of, of danger. Because they can be so successful through that medium through manipulating symbols it's like like numbers to numbers and letters and words, symbols that they may find little riddle little incentive to go beyond words. Zen Master Umar one of the greatest most illustrious of a Tang Dynasty masters. They say his biographers say he was absolutely brilliant with words. And to the point that he came to see the danger of words. And as a master, he came to be known for his one word, responses, he was very he was very short of words, he was very laconic because he knew what this Jubeir knew that they can so easily blur things that they don't make more clear. And this is the dilemma of a danger that anyone who is presenting Dharma talk of any kind, this is the danger we face is mucking things up. There's so many so many passages in old Zen texts where the masters at the beginning of their talks, they may offer this kind of lamentation that they they have to use words because of the danger of words complicating everything.
Moving on here, because time is moving on the next stands up then, then the gate to the oneness of cause and effect is thrown open. The gate to the oneness of cause and effect is thrown open. Cause and Effect is just that one side of the coin the side of relativity of the phenomenal world. The other side is this beyond cause and effect
this is translated as the oneness of cause and effect Okay. Fair enough. Another way to say it is the gate to the the emptiness the no thing cause and effect
that is the realm of the undifferentiated.
There's a reverse of the last koan and the Mumonkan. Actually the final line I think that's the final line of the whole collection, the whole Mumonkan is up although each move is ahead of the next know that there is another way up
here he is when he says the gate is thrown off and of course, again he's referring to awakening. He goes on not to and not three, straight ahead runs the way
beyond multiplicity beyond differentiation, there is a way the Dow, the Dharma
Heir in another koan in the Mumonkan, called up, Joe shoe sees through the old woman that opens with monks, challenging this old woman, they encounter at a tea stand on the road to great, great holy mountain, Mount Wutai. And they ask, what is the way to Mount Wutai? And she replies, go straight ahead. Go straight on. Well, of course, because this is a koan, we know that she's not saying literally don't turn left don't turn right. Just go down this dirt road right here.
It was quite, quite a thrill. When I was on that road to Mount gotei, some 37 years ago and in China, one of my pilgrimages to see that that road that I'm speaking literally here today, the physical road to Mongolia, gotay is extremely winding road. It's, it's it's other than a road I was on once going from in Mexico from Wahaca, to the beach, the coast. That's the most serpentine I've ever been on hours of curves and curves and curves. This was like second most. Go straight ahead. Proceed with an undivided mind. That's the way to this mountain of wisdom.
He goes on our form now being no form, and going and returning we never leave home. Again, he's speaking from the absolute side, the undifferentiated side. Once we've seen that this world of form is ultimately essentially in its essence is formless, then we never leave home. And the same with fights are thought once we've seen that our thoughts are ultimately without substance to them, they're no thought. And our dancing and songs are the voice of the Dharma. In other words, the Dharma is not limited to it's not a limited period. Even our dancing and songs are this, this could be misused. This can be used as a justification to just go out and horse around and bars and and do a lot of foolish things. But Hacohen here is speaking from the He really deep his own deep awakening that we really can't divide reality into what is what is Zen and what's not seven in ultimately it's all the Dharma. That's the other definition of the Dharma doesn't just mean the teaching of the Buddha, and has many, many masters after him. But the Dharma is just the truth, or dancing and songs of the truth. How can they be outside the truth? How can anything be outside the truth? If the truth is The truth is everything.
How vast is the heaven of boundless Samadhi? Here Hacohen is just is just just enraptured by what he has seen are vast is the heaven of boundless Samadhi Samadhi. Again, as we said last week doesn't just mean while you're sitting Samadhi is when you're free of thoughts that encumbered the mind when you're unshackled from the mind from thoughts. How fast is the heaven a boundless, samadhi, featureless, undifferentiated, limitless, boundless freedom? How bright and transparent the moonlight of wisdom he can't restrain himself. He's just, he's just blasted here as he's writing this. We can get a taste of that. After when we come out of session especially as seven day sesshin. And then he ends the final stanza. What is there outside us? What is there we lack?
What could there be outside us? When there is no us, apart from everything else?
What could we possibly lack?
Nirvana is openly shown to our eyes.
Another fundamental teaching of the Dharma, confirmed through awakening is is the very very dichotomy of Dighton Nirvana and samsara is limited. It's not the full truth. This this world right here nirvana is openly shown to our eyes right now. Look around the Zendo the room we're sitting in our families the flowers and not just the flowers, beautiful spring things but the sad faces the suffering.
This Earth where we stand is the pure Lotus Land.
Spray body, the body of Buddha.
Buddha once said, I declared to you that in this very body, though only six feet in length, but conscious and endowed with mind or the world and the origin of the world and the ceasing of the world. And likewise the way that leadeth to the ceasing thereof
very body the body of Buddha The Chinese masters refer more than the Japanese masters they refer to the body of reality. This world of Formless form
the visual acuity sutra it reads this body is like floating clouds that change and pass away in a moment
right let's end it there when I stop and recite the for virus