September 2021 Sesshin, Day 6: Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu (trans. by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary)
4:40PM Oct 9, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the sixth day of this September, 2021, seven day sesshin. And the first day that we are all free of masks - our COVID masks. If the recording of this teisho is still around in the future, that this notation will be a kind of a marker of a historical marker, of a terrible, terrible time in our, in our world history.
We'll take one more dip into the teachings of Yuanwu, from the book called Zen Letters, translated by JC Cleary and Thomas Cleary. One dimension that Yuanwu and his disciple Ta Hui, whose biography we read from day one. They distinguish themselves by having included women among their Dharma heirs, which was evidently an exceedingly rare thing at the time - to us is the most natural thing that women will not be excluded. But in 12th century China, this was just about unheard of.
And - start a new letter here. He says, The essential thing in practicing the way is to make the roots deep and the stem strong.
The routes or the route is not just as that's a it's a perfect embodiment of the route but more broadly, the realm of no mind which is something we can extend out out from the city out from Alexander. We talks about making the roots deep mean just always fortifying this, this channel into an empty mind, a mind on shackled to thoughts.
roots deep in the STEM strong. Not sure how to distinguish the roots from the stem. Be aware of where you really are 24 hours a day is no small thing. Most people are divided for doing one thing in their mind is somewhere else. Their body is in one place, maybe moving maybe still. Their mind is somewhere else. Because their mind is somewhere else they're not aware. So it's a tall order. Be aware of where you really are 24 hours a day. So I cartoon in a pass in a periodical, the president Buddhist periodical showed someone watching TV and on the screen. There's just a single message. Where is your mind?
That would be roughing worth watching TV for that. You must be most attentive you must be but that doesn't come easily. We're so habituated to having our mind wander and not knowing is one This is the the basic challenge is to notice when it's wandering are so
attached to our
random thoughts that we need to get lost in them. So to say you must be here Yeah, but how do we get there through sitting, it's through sitting that we develop this greater ability is still not perfect, but we're more likely the more sitting we do, the more likely we are to notice soon sooner when the mind is wandering. Because if your mind is lost in thoughts, it doesn't matter what you've been told you must be aware
when nothing at all sticks to your mind, it all merges harmoniously without boundaries, the whole thing is empty and still and there is no more doubt or hesitation in anything you do. This is called the fundamental matter appearing readymade. We have this this convention in, in Chinese texts Zen, at least the Chan text then text of presenting what something is called, do you see this all the time, we'll see it probably even today just a little further into this text. The stopping to say this is called the fundamental matter appearing ready made, or whatever it is, seem to really value getting a label for things.
There's no more doubt or hesitation in anything you do. Doubt of course, is a thought or a cluster of thoughts in the mind. And and thoughts tend to obstruct us in our responses in our actions.
Here to, to the awareness, the fundamental importance of awareness. In when we are beset by doubts. And of course, they come at us in session to be aware, right there in, in the barrage of doubts, to be aware that their thoughts and nothing more.
There's never been a doubt other than as a thought. And if you can just have the presence of mind is that what rose? Alright? This voice this doubting voice that tells me that I'm not up for the task, I'm not as good as others or I don't have it in me. It's a thought. It's nothing but a thought. Why would we put any stock in a thought?
Yes, thoughts have their place of course, thoughts inspire. Acts of creation and, and ways of solving problems. But this time what we're talking about, doubt about oneself. That's, that's. So I say all the time. doubts are not your friends, as the thoughts are not your friends. Same thing.
continues as soon as you give rise to the slightest bit of dualistic perception or arbitrary understanding. And you want to take charge of this fundamental matter and act the master, then you immediately fall into the realm of the clusters of form sensation, conception. I'll use synthesis and consciousness Okay, okay, those are the five skandhas that's that's the Cleary brothers. translation of the five skandhas the five components of individual personhood. We say them in the project of paramita. Back in the before times when we chatted up Prashant paramita. with fear form, feeling, thought and choice and consciousness. Those are loose renderings. Because they're, they're simple words represent relatively simple. Form is our body sensation, obvious conception or thought of value synthesis, as the first time I've seen that translation means volition. In the, in our choice, that gives rise to patterns, karma. And then the last of the five is consciousness. So back to what he started. Says, soon as you, you want to take charge of this fundamental matter and act the master, then you succumb to this notion of a self is saying, don't be deceived by the illusion of control. We have some degree of control in terms of where we direct our chin, our attention where we choose to direct our attention. But don't we can't imagine the birth of boss, the mind.
This is where will the idea of will has its limits? Yes, it's good to have a strong intention can come from vows. But don't, we can't deceive ourselves into thinking that there's some kind of a self here some bigshot who can control things and have his or her way. Mind as other other things on its agenda. That's why what we want to do is turn turn it over to this true mind, there's no mind. That's, that's where we get out of the way. That's where things open up. To the degree that we can surrender, we can turn it over, to move to the breath. to whatever koan was working on to that degree, we will be empowered, that we don't have to rely on some boss who is directing things.
sensitive point we we need to have to make effort, we need to be clear about what what we want in terms of, you know, thoughts or no thoughts. But then, it comes a point where we have to yield to this, this mind of wisdom this body mind, it is beyond thought, beyond, even designs beyond agenda. Beyond desire,
you are in trapped by seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing it is the six senses by gain and loss and right and wrong. And all other we could say all other conceptual dualistic conceptions, were half drunk and half sober and unable to clean all this up.
How toxicated we are with our thoughts. Don't worry if, if before we come to sesshin we don't know what we're up against. We find out as sesshin goes on the tenacity of this discriminating mind. This illusion of selfhood is really either me and the my. How determined it is to maintain control.
It continues, frankly speaking, you simply must manage to keep concentrating, concentrating even in the midst of clamor and tumult. Acting as though there were not a single thing happening, penetrating all the way through from the heights to the depths, concentrating even in the midst of clamor and tumult even when in the zendo when it's noisiest, even in a crowded, bustling airport. Even in a busy intersection, midst of traffic and honking horns,
we have this capacity, must, must find this out in sesshin. To to keep ourselves through the strength of our bar focused attention to keep ourselves as Emerson said enclosed in the tumultuous privacy of storm. Maybe wrapped everything around us a commotion, but we have this ability to find this, the eye of the hurricane, through our own the way we use the mind,
you must become perfectly complete without any shapes or forms at all. Without wasting effort, yet not inhibited from acting. Whether you speak or stay silent, whether you get up or lie down. It is never anyone else is no
no self consciousness.
He says without any shapes or forms, coarsely means without attaching to. When in Buddhist text is called name and form.
If you become aware of getting it all stuck or blocked, this is all false thought at work. This is a very common experience, of course, went through it so many times myself where we feel like we're up against a wall or a boulder, some immovable object in the koan.
It's an illusion.
Where is there an object there? Or is there anything concrete?
Just false thought he says.
And thought is something that we can work our way through by not attending to it.
Make yourself completely untrammeled like empty space, like a clear mirror on its stand, like the rising sun lighting up the sky moving or still going or coming? It doesn't come from outside is everything is just this one. Mind. knows no seams, no inside or outside. Hind, Mo
let go and make yourself independent and free. Not being bound by things and not seeking to escape from things
Saying in Zen, the enlightened person is not bound, nor does she bind
from beginning to end, fuse everything into one hole. Again, language is deceptive. We don't have to make that a project. Okay, we're going to get into fusing now. It's, it's, it's it's just a matter of complete, wrapped, thorough absorption in the practice. That's where the fusing happens. Where has there ever been any separate worldly phenomenon, apart from the Buddha Dharma, or any separate Buddha Dharma apart from worldly phenomena? Weiss warning here about this, of make believing in some dichotomy because of words, believing the dichotomy between the Dharma on the one hand and all this worldly phenomena.
This is why the founder of Zen, pointed directly to the human mind. This is why the Diamond Sutra taught the importance of human beings detaching from forms. forms of course, the the most troublesome of all forms is thoughts. Thoughts are forms immaterial forms,
detaching from forms.
To put another way, not getting attached to what we see or hear or taste or smell, or feel, or think about.
to develop this essential insight, it is best to spend a long time going back into yourself and investigating with your whole being, so that you can arrive at the stage of a genuine experience of enlightenment. This is what it means to practice with boundless, infinite enlightened teachers everywhere in every moment.
this realm of no mind. We're free of thoughts. We are. We are receiving the teaching of boundless, infinite enlightened teachers everywhere and every moment
describes Mu describes the breath right there, the breath itself comprises boundless, infinite, enlightened teachers, and we have it available to us everywhere in every moment. Some marvelous thing about the breath whenever separate from it.
He closes the letter by saying strive sincerely for the for true faith, and apply yourself diligently to your meditation work. This is the best course for you.
How do we strive sincerely for true faith? Isn't that faith a matter of something either we have we don't, in one degree or another? No, that wouldn't be the end of it. Because faith is a is something we develop. And we develop How do we do that we develop faith. Every time we turn our mind back to the practice we're working on. That's it's a it's a, it's a it's a testimony to our faith. Our faith and what is beyond this ordinary mind is thinking mind. It's it's, it's an act of faith and it develops more faith
because this realm of no mind, of Mu of breath so forth. It never stops giving.
without bottom to it.
He quotes another great Chinese master young tau, Japanese Japanese named gundo. Abandoned abandoning things is superior, pursuing things is inferior.
You know, he's a, he's you on Whoo, the the author of these letters, he's a he's a monk. And as a monk, he's made this he's renounced the world. But this is these are words, we can still use we householders abandoning things, starting with thoughts.
If your own state is empty and tranquil, perfectly illuminated, and silently shining, then you will be able to confront whatever circumstances impinge on you, with the indestructible Sword of wisdom, and cut everything off everything from the myriad and tangling objects to the verbal teachings of the past and present. Then your awesome chilling spirit cuts off everything. And everything retreats of itself without having to be pushed away. Without having to be pushed away very important. Never do we want to push anything out of the mind. And practices beyond Reject rejection of anything.
If the basis you established is not clear, if you're the least bit bogged down in hesitation and doubt there's that word again, then you will be dragged off by entangling conditions. And obviously, you will not be able to separate yourself from them. How can you avoid being turned around by other things? When you are following other things, you will never have any freedom.
You have a great linji rinzai said a moment of doubt in your heart is Mara Mara. Mara, sort of just to keep it simple sort of Buddhist devil Buddha Satan. And but from Zen perspective. That's Mara, a moment of doubt in your heart. Giving way, giving way to doubts.
Another way of understanding more of another Buddhist ways. Mara has access to us, wherever we're attached,
is going back to this earlier in this paragraph where he's gone till he quotes Kanto abandoning things is superior. And he says this during this you'll be able to confront whatever circumstances impinge on you. So to be clear, this is a way of functioning more effectively. This not not attaching to, to just random irrelevant thoughts. And not not not getting bogged down in Roshi Kapleau used to call fighting is nothing wrong with thinking. Thinking is a great endowment we have as human beings to solve problems and find our way through the world. But fighting, just being awash in thoughts of the future and the past and every fantasies. This is does not heighten our functioning in the world. It's being free of that. Abandoning those that stuff when we don't need to use this marvelous discriminating mind.
next letter, round and clear, empty and still, such as the essence of the way extending and withdrawing, killing and bringing life such as its marvelous function. So, here contrasting the two, the two aspects of mind one is the essence. Clear, empty still. And the other is the function the activity says killing and bringing to life and understand this is whenever we we detach from thoughts we're killing this self centered mind wrapped around I me and mine and bring to life this true self of ours
when you're able to travel on the swords edge when you are able to persevere and hold on. When you are like a pearl rolling around in a bowl, like a bowl, rolling a pearl around inside it. When you never fall into empty vanity even for an instant when you never divide worldly phenomena from the Buddha Dharma but fuse them into one hole. This is called meeting it wherever you touch. Why there's a lot packed in here. And you're able to travel on the swords edge I mean, being being being fully present this this Razor's Edge of neither the past nor the future. But right here, right here. And here. And again. The present only
When you're like a pearl rolling around in a bowl, like a bowl, rolling a pearl around inside it.
No, no, none of the sharp corners and sharp edges of our emotional afflictions are personality issues. Adapting, responding to things
be breathing and being breathed.
Clouds and water are adapting to circumstances as they change. Moving along with things not setting ourselves against things against people never fall into empty vanity. And we just take that as just our, our route, self centeredness.
Even for an instant he goes on,
you will appear and disappear and move freely in all directions. And there was never anything external. You are clean and naked, turning smoothly sealing everything with a fundamental it is clear everywhere complete and everything. When Has there ever been gain and loss or affirmation and denial, or good and evil or long and short?
Free the naked
without affectation without duplicity
without a scheming for self aggrandizement scheming to to get it to
feed the self.
The verbal teachings of the Buddhas and ancestral teachers are just a snare and a trap. You're used as a means of entry into truth. Once you have opened through into clear enlightenment and taken it up, then in the true essence everything is complete. Then you look upon all the verbal teachings of the Buddha's and ancestral teachers, as belonging to the realm of shadows and echoes, so you never carry them around in your head. This is just classic Zen, classic teaching of Zen school. Beware words
can so easily become bewitched by words.
There are two earlier masters, Chinese masters glaceon. And the young Sean weird way, Sean said, in the 40 rolls of the Maya in the 40 rolls of the Maha Nirvana sutra, some highly esteem sutra, how many words of Buddha's and how many the demons and yon Shan said, all words belong to the demons.
Having Zen it's not the words, it's what's behind the words. It's the spirit, the words the understanding or lack of understanding behind the words.
So he elaborates a little bit says, having mind and having no mind, having views and having no views, both alternatives vanish like a snowflake put on a red hot stove.
Just bring this to complete purity and ripeness, and you will naturally become a true person. Beyond study and free from contrived activity. A true person whom 1000s and 10s of 1000s of people cannot trap or cage, trap or cage in words, for example.
He says, bring this to complete purity and rightness, that takes time. The longer we are at this, the more we see how much further there is to go.
Zen Master Hakuin said that the Dharma is like the sea. The further you get into it, the deeper it gets.
One little bit more. He says, For the sake of this great teaching, the ancients gave up their bodies and their lives. hives and endured endless in measurable hardship and toil, until the thoroughly clarified its profound, essential message.
So ironclad law of life, isn't it, the more we put into it, the more we'll get out of it. And nothing of of real value is done easily.
Nothing real value can be done except through long time. The stages as seen when we're, we're up against, still some resistance about, say, staying up, doing extra sitting at night.
We have to somehow find the faith, it comes down to faith really, faith in our nature, faith in this, this mind that is beyond our discriminating mind. It's that we we access through the colon or the breath.
But it takes effort.
I love what William James said. It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all. Beyond the very extremity of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power. We never dreamed ourselves to own sources of strength never taxed at all, because we never push through the obstruction.
We are all stronger than we think we are. This is what Roshi Kapleau Phillip Kapleau at the time, after spending a night in a little hut in the monastery in Japan where his dear mentor, one of the monks was using the stick on him through the night and the last night of sesshin to help him break through final barrier. He was one of the one of the defining experiences of his Zen career. He talks about it in one of his books. At the end, when they heard the tolling of the bell signal, morning sitting. They turned to each other they bowed. You can be sure that there was just inexpressible gratitude and mutual respect there. And Tongan Roshi said to him Kapleau son, you're stronger than you think. We all are. It's nothing. Capital, some had that we don't have. Nurse, true self. We can all do this. We can all go deeper, endlessly deeper.
We we have the faith of faith.
Stop now and recite the four vows