June 2022 Sesshin, Day 3: Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu (trans. by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary)
4:29PM Jun 16, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
hot air balloon
Could conditions be any more perfect for sesshin than this
we designed this large spacious Zendo specifically for sesshin with 45 windows at about head level and other 19 I think up in the call the monitor the peak of the ceiling big ceiling fans. I mean we don't have to use air conditioning
to be able, at least in in the warmer months to be able to hear the sounds, the birds, the insects, the boughs of trees, leaves and this is if that weren't enough, this morning, we have a soft rain
is this place where we stand is surely the pure Lotus Land
This is day three of this June 2022 seven day sesshin. And we'll take a little more with the text of the previous two days. The book is called Zen letters is the teachings of Chinese and master Yuanwu lived in the 11th and 12th centuries
we started on a letter these are all letters started on one yesterday, there's to pick up there in the present time. These are coasts are the words that you want will in the present time, those who want to draw near to reality. I would read that as those who want to awaken to reality must boldly mobilize their energies and transform what is within them. There's that problematic word within them it's hard to hear that and not think that it's inside but not outside. No such distinction with this reality as the translator renders it is just this this not inside outside
the be the master or at least the translator chooses within the word within because so many people think it's without it's outside us just outside us. But he continues he must not cling to wrong knowledge and wrong views there's that word views again we talked about it yesterday the day before mustn't not cling to wrong views or hear the big ones. ideas of what is good what's bad, what's right, what's wrong, what is success or failure. This and that. views on the way things should be the way people should be
and the most troublesome one the idea of oneself as fundamentally deluded as not already innately enlightened
and there are probably hundreds of other wrong views So, as I said before, it's half of them are not even conscious of them, we just carry around with them with us. It's like wearing glasses that are colored, or the tower dusty. And we think what we see as it is, is the way things are. He says you must not mix poison into your food. I think again, referring to wrong views wrong knowledge
food, the spiritual sustenance of daily activities don't contaminate those activities with these ideas in the mind. You must be uniformly pure and true and clean and wonderfully illuminated to step directly into the scenery of the fundamental ground and reach the peaceful and secure stage of great liberation
only the fundamental ground fundamental reality can offer us security any, any fundamental security
someone someone came up with the comparison of meditation as it's like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. The good news is that there's no ground
clever, but it's also there's a lot to it. And we can encounter this state of, of emptiness of being unmoored. We can do this in sesshin it's not that hard to reach that stage and that can provoke fear but if we can just remember that there's no ground to worry about.
Then you stand aloof and alone. So that wind cannot blow in and water cannot wet you completely impervious to the assault that changing circumstances can cause impervious because not apart from
he used that phrase water cannot wet you we come in and I met earlier in sesshin. Wind can I blow in
my father once went on a hot air balloon ride. We used to have them. Our house in Michigan in the woods was over a flight path favored flight path of hot air balloons. And after running out and talking with them, they're very low. Talking with the riders in the balloon. He finally for 60th birthday. He got a gift from Mother of a ride in that hot air balloon. And when I saw him not long afterward I said well how was it dead? And he said, Well, it was a little a little disappointing because there's no sense of movement. You're in the basket. They're up there in that balloon and you put your arm out And there's there's no wind, there's no resistance because you are the wind. There's no difference between the vessel you're in and the wind. It is, you could say the, the manifestation, the concrete manifestation of this invisible wind.
And this is how we can develop those end practices. By becoming the change, coming into a chord with the flux of changing circumstances and conditions, rather than resisting them, moving along with them as it may be appropriate to do so, then they're not a threat.
The true essence becomes manifest. And in your daily activities, you have a measure of power. As you hear sounds and see forms, you don't give rise to grasping or rejecting. With every move, you have a road to get out on.
And don't give rise to grasping or rejecting. That's another yesterday I mentioned that traditional eight winds of that can impact us in terms of desire and aversion, fame, and distribute and so forth. Well, there's another pair of wins grasping or reject them.
And they may very succinctly prescribe for us what not to do when we're confronted with problems in our sitting. We want to neither say no thoughts. Let's take a common example, thoughts. We neither want to grasp at them. Like, for example, the thought of awakening, we neither want to grasp that, nor do we want to reject. We don't want to waste any time trying to expel thoughts. It's futile. That's no way of managing thoughts. Neither suppressing them, nor clinging to them. How do you neither suppress nor cling to thoughts? How do you neither reject them nor grasp at them? Well, by doing the practice you're working on, you don't have doesn't take figuring out of how to walk that line between those two, you just do the practice. And to the extent that you can be absorbed in the practice, then you will be neither rejecting or grasping, neither suppressing nor clinging.
And that's what he means by every move, you have a road to get out on a road of non clinging. Detachment, not getting caught in the story, the content of those thoughts.
To the extent that we can do this, and it's not easy, we've been doing it our whole lives. To the extent that we can do this, then we will not feel blocked or stuck in our practice.
He begins the next letter by quoting the great Joe Joe. Josue. I don't like to hear the word Buddha. And then Yuanwu comments tell me why was he like this? It wasn't because Buddha means omniscient person, that he didn't want to hear the word. Clearly, this was not the reason. Since it wasn't this, then why didn't he want to hear Hear the Word. If you are a clear eyed person, then you'll grasp it. As soon as you hear this. Let me ask you, what does it really mean? Try to divulge what you think about this so I can see
it is such a loaded word Buddha, especially for those of us who weren't raised in Buddhism seems so foreign. Then many Westerners have, it's just chock full of associations, ideas, biases. That's one reason. That one might not want to hear the word. Really, but I think it may help some people to remember that Buddhist means awareness. Awareness. Yeah. So why don't we use awareness instead of Buddha? Well, it's not just ordinary awareness. It's just, it's not just like mindfulness. It's awareness. With a capital A, it's our fundamental awareness. It's that which here's the rain at which feels the breeze. That which thinks and is aware of thinking
so we, we keep this word Buddha
the other one that makes me wince is enlightenment, or awakening. There are a lot of Zen centers where the word those words enlightenment awakening are almost like dirty words. Wow, as soon as you say the word enlightenment, then you're dividing what is indivisible, you're implying that there is anything other than enlightenment. Since the very moment we were born, there is only enlightenment. And that's true. But if we never, ever point to this experience that's possible for everyone. If we never mentioned it, for we shrink from even offering that as what is is possible for everyone. I think that's not any solution. It's a dilemma. Don't want to say it I don't like to not say it. Ever.
The three pillars of Zen has some nine or 10 Min Lightman accounts. And for those who shrink from the whole idea of an experience called awakening enlightenment. They find fault with a book because of these very vivid accounts of awakening. But so many, hundreds so many 1000s of people have taken up practice after reading of those accounts.
In the annual meeting, annual meeting of Zen teachers, the ACTA that I used to go to occasionally people would send me his report quite a few people would report quite a few teachers report that's what got them started reading the three pillars being inspired by it. And yet some of those same teachers came to convince themselves that we shouldn't talk about
it. He continues when LOOT zoo saw a monk coming, he would face the wall was this helping people or not? Yeah, this this guy was became famous for that response. No words of that. Armah not even not even little posture demonstration just turning and facing the wall where is the proper proportion? If you want to act in accord with him what approach should you take
Yeah, he was he was demonstrating this practice facing the wall inviting the monk to do just that can you imagine today someone, people coming to an introductory workshop and just having me or someone else just turn and face to face the wall
this loot zoo probably just for reasons of his own, he just didn't want to complicate things with words. Didn't want to risk
cluttering the minds of the monks with words, and but it just go right to the the essence of it all.
Every time by John, this is one of the early Chinese masters one of the most illustrious of the Chinese masters every time by John went to the hall meditation hall or rather the Dharma Hall where the talks are given. When he had finished expounding the Dharma and the assembly was dispersing, he would call to them again when they turned around he would say what is it
what is it?
Not what's the rain, but what is hearing the rain or who is hearing the rain or what is Mu.
Next letter Dawei the patch robed one with his fearless and sharp nature traveled all over the country visiting the expert craftsmen of the Zen school. The former prime minister and Zen master Jang Woojin, came to know of him and respected him deeply as a vessel of the teaching. Prime Minister and Zen master Wujin. Since Dawei, had an extraordinary spirit, he was not contempt to follow small understanding that is a small Kensho. After demonstrating his sincerity, he became one of my associates. This is Yuanwu speaking but that doorway who became one of the greatest of the Chinese masters and then known Mike Hakuin, after him as the great reformer of the Lin-chi school or, or the Rinzai school. He's saying you want to we're saying that after Dawei had demonstrated his sincerity, he became one of my associates who prob maybe some kind of assistant teacher. We reached a chord at a single word, and he shed the halter that had hit her to bridled him. Though he had still not reached total comprehension He was a robust and lively fellow whom nobody could suppress or rein in. So associate, yeah, let's say he was a kind of a junior teacher. But he didn't want to settle for the understanding that he had. And he, he needed to go deeper, to see more deeply. And so he did, when you need to, you do
when we trace back where this came from, after all, it was due to Master Wu Jin inspiring him. So let's get this clear. So, you won will became sort of the teacher the elder brother of Dawei and Dawei had already drawn this Wujin the prime minister to him so I think what Yuanwu is saying here is that the doorway was inspired by his disciple Wujin and and let us appreciate that teachers can be inspired by students it's a two way street
the the ardor of a student the sincerity, the perseverance of a student is inspiring.
To the teacher
that's part of our spiritual sustenance, we as teachers.
And then the letter continues, you won was letter, subsequently Dawei brave the freezing cold and came for a while to visit me at Shan ping. When he came to announce his departure, he asked for some words of teaching, which I accordingly gave him. This is what I told him. Those who were the patched robe of a Zen monk should be completely serious about taking death and birth as their business. You should work to melt away the obstructions caused by conditioned knowledge and views and interpretive understanding and penetrate through to a realization of the great causal condition communicated and bequeath by the Buddha's and ancestral teachers don't covet name and fame. Step back and turn to reality until your practical understanding and virtue are fully actualized.
Don't covet name and fame. You see this enough in the old texts to conclude that this was a problem then even as it is now, teachers who for whom fame reputation was too much of a prog preoccupation for them. Teachers may be who are too eager to get in the pages of Buddhist magazines.
Step back and turn to reality. Turn to what is beyond success. Turn to what is beyond all phenomena. back to the source
and this isn't good advice just for teachers. For anyone, every single person, there's a there's a, there's a saying that comes from the island of Cyprus leave where you have succeeded, return where you have failed
Excellent advice at every stage of the path. Excellent advice in session we find that some insight has come to us of any kind, any kind of insight to let it go. Don't befoul it? By thinking about it, move on. Because there's nothing there to hold on to except thoughts. Why would we ever want to hold on to thoughts about some experience we've had that's that's letting go is turning to letting, leaving where we've succeeded letting go is turning to reality, in the one whose words
return when we have failed, we're always always failing to a degree until supreme perfect enlightenment. We have we have further to go your shadows yet left that have to be seen through
and then the final clause until your practical understanding and virtue are fully actualized.
Enlightenment experiences aren't enough unless they are revealed themselves through upright conduct virtue not causing harm to others in our in our words or our deeds
and then he then you want to continue is with the advice here to his monks. When there is real attainment, the more you try to hide it, the more it cannot be concealed. All the sages and the Devas and Nagas will try to push a person of real attainment forward especially after years of cultivation and refinement. devas and Nagas are the seeds benevolent beings wait until you are like a bell sounding when struck or a valley returning an echo beautiful images they're a balanced sounding unstruck no self, no agenda
or a valley returning an echo. Wait until you are like pure gold coming forth from a forge whereas been smelted and refined 10,000 times so that it will not change and 10,000 generations. So that it is 10,000 years in a single moment
is fully realize the timeless what is beyond time.
And then finally, he says when the grip of transcendence is in your hand. When the grasses bend down as the wind blows, then won't you be expansive and generous with resources to spare? And then he concludes the letter. Remember, what is important in practice is perseverance and consistency.
And then one final bit in that letter. By even speaking a phrase to you, I have already doused you with dirty water. This is what I was referring to earlier about a teacher the the dilemma of a teacher and using words, it would be even worse for me to put a twinkle in my eye and raise my eyebrow to you, or wrap on the meditation seat, or hold up a whisk or demand. What is this? As for shouting and hitting, it's obvious that this is just a pile of bones on level ground.
There are also the type who don't know good from bad, and asked questions about Buddha and dharma and Zen and the Tao. They asked to be helped. They begged to be received. They seek knowledge and sayings and theories relating to the Buddhist teaching and to transcending the world and to accommodating the world. This is washing dirt in mud, and washing mud in dirt. When will they ever managed to clear it away? He's not he's not really finding fault with people who have asked sincere questions related to practice. He's he's really referring as I see it, he's referring to people who are avoiding practice by coming up with theoretical and other questions that really don't bake any bread
that's why in, in dog son, we try to add here too. pretty limited range of of questions, especially in sesshin, with so many people, to keep it to practice, not dogma, not doctrine is a place for that. But it's not in this great effort we call sesshin.
Truth is we all know, we all understand, in our essential nature, we have all wisdom that we could ever need. And too often, questions are just a way of circling around the thing itself.
Some people hear this kind of talk and jump to conclusions claiming I understand. Fundamentally there is nothing to Buddhism. It's there in everybody. As I spend my days eating food and wearing clothes, has there ever been anything lacking? Then they settled down in the realm of unconcerned ordinariness? Far from realizing that nothing like this has ever been part of the real practice of Buddhism. Yeah, this is this is this is very much like boujee Zen This is mentioned in three pillars of Zen Bucha Zen, I think the the, the the means those who say okay, we're already Buddha's, we're already in our fundamental nature fully enlightened. So what's there to do
so real terrible, handicap that, that idea. crip crippling? Yes, we are all fundamentally enlightened, equally endowed with this luminous mind of enlightenment. But until we realize that we make it real, confirming it through our experience, then don't talk that way.
Leaving behind all leakages. Leakages is a term for refer to just basically thoughts, thoughts errant thoughts, thoughts is take us away from the direct experience leaving behind all leakages day by day you get closer to the truth and more familiar with it. As you go further you change like a panther who no longer sticks to its den. You leap out of the corral then you no longer doubt all the sayings of the world's enlightened teachers, you are like cast iron. This is precisely the time to apply effort and cultivate practice and nourish your Realization.
You change like a panther who no longer sticks to its den, you break out of this self imposed idea of oneself. After that, you can kindle the inexhaustible lamp and travel the unobstructed path. You relinquish your body and your life to rescue living beings liberate living beings. You enable them to come out of their cages and eliminate their attachments and bonds. He's talking here about great teacher, you cure them of the diseases of being attached to being enlightened. So that having emerged from the deep pit of liberation, they can become uncontrived, unencumbered, joyfully alive people of the path. The deep pit of liberation just means still clinging to the idea of having attained something that one didn't already have from the very beginning. When you yourself have crossed over you must not abandon the carrying out of your bodhisattva vows. You must be mindful of liberating all beings and steadfastly endure the attendant hardship and toil in order to serve as a boat on the ocean of all knowledge. Only then will you have some accord with a path. And then he finishes with advice for those who might become attached to some opening some experience they've had. Don't be a brittle pillar or a feeble lamp. Don't bat around your little clean ball of inner mystical experience. You may have understood for yourself, but what good does it do for others? perfect segue to the four vows will stop now