March 2022 Sesshin, Day 2: Silent Illumination: A Chan Buddhist Path to Natural Awakening by Guo Gu
3:01PM Apr 7, 2022
This is day two of this March 2022, seven day sesshin. And I'm going to continue reading from this book, Silent Illumination, by Guo Gu, Chan Buddhist Path to Natural Awakening.
So we finished up reading this yesterday. He says, "We can free ourselves from this cycle." Cycle of loss and success and failure, victim and perpetrator "Can free ourselves by not confusing emotional afflictions, with our true nature. By not confusing the furniture with the spaciousness of the room. When we free ourselves in this way, we allow the Buddha nature of those around us to also manifest. Through our understanding, we can engage with all beings in such a way as to help them bring out their own wisdom and compassion. To do all this, we must engage in practice." And he goes on. "As my teacher once said, people who experienced personal suffering and undergo calamities and disasters are all great bodhisattvas why should we reduce them to pitiable victims? Conversely, why should we see those who inflict harm as perpetrators? Is it possible that they are themselves victims in some way? Moreover, do their actions possibly reflect our own tendencies? To some extent? Could we see them as bodhisattvas and let them draw out our compassion for ourselves and them and therefore change the world?"
For everything that people do, there's a reason there's a cause. Some people have a tendency to forgive themselves for the wrong that they do because they kind of know how it happens or they think they do. But when they see others, they assume it's just deliberate evil.
He says what is unjust and wrong, must be corrected. But we can do so with wisdom and compassion for ourselves and for others. All beings, including us, are suffering in a world of opposition's. Yet in this suffering, there is also Buddha nature and awakening. As we said before everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Sometimes harder than we can know. One of the great benefits of personal suffering is just to help us have empathy for others. For Life is too easy.
Sort of reminds me of the baby boomer boomers saying well, why don't these millennials just get a job? Everybody's conditions are different. He says Buddha nature nature is not something we've lost. But it is present right here. And now. It's not a primordial state that we have to get back to. If we think like this, then we will create an opposition of past and present. We might even blame others for why we've lost it in the first place. We may see ourselves as the victims of our history, our culture, our education system and so forth. Many people blame their parents. People in the past who mistreated them
says all the things that have made us quote lose our true nature. Buddha nature exists in all right here and right now. It is up to us to actualize it but in nature It manifests in all situations and at all times, is empty of fixations, but full of possibilities. It can be empty of delusions, but full of compassion. This is the correct understanding
whatever difficulties we face, it's all good. I ag as I like to say. We practice engaging with all sentient beings, so as to be free, so as to free all from suffering. One of the wonderful aspects of practicing is just opening up to the people we meet people we don't even know shop clerks. People we may suspect, or Trumpers. Everybody is just so fascinating. So present
the whole joy of practice is opening, opening up working with the ways that we've closed down and beginning to realize that you can change that's why we're all here.
This next section is called the self and he says in delusion, Buddha Nature appears itself. Yet originally, there is no self, it only appears as such because we attach to it, the sense of me, I and mine. And all the objects that we hold on to self is the result of grasping. Cultivation begins with exposing, embracing, transforming, and letting go of self referential grasping. So we can realize the full potential of Buddha nature as wisdom and compassion. This is a formula he repeats several times exposing, embracing, transforming, and letting go.
Do this when things come up things we don't like? Pain, discouragement, stead of pushing it into the background, leaving it to fester. We air it out, we bring it out we see it. Except it lets the embracing this is how it is. This is what I'm working with. That it transforms and we can let it go. For most of us, attachments to our thoughts and feelings, our inner monologues, defines who we are. They are all that we've ever known about ourselves, are completely entwined with them. And we find it difficult to understand that we are more than just our own narratives, likes and dislikes, that we are originally free. Buddha's teachings point to the moment to moment emergence of phenomena in our minds, sensations, conceptions, and give these mental phenomena the general label of mental continuum. This mental continuum is experienced at different levels. At the very coarse level are experiences that have a self, we have a sense that we are here, separate from what we see there. Even when we use a method of meditation, we feel worse we are sitting using a method and thoughts come and go invading our mental continuum. There seems to be an AI that sitting and experiencing my thoughts. This I feels like a solid reference point. A center through which we experience everything that's not the center of course even short of awakening, certainly short of full awakening. This the solidity of this AI begins to dissolve. find ourselves a little freer find ourselves able to say enjoy the success of others.
find yourselves read more ready to take on difficult tasks, say difficult things.
But to one degree or another, and this I feels like a solid reference point. He says, For example, if you read these words, you probably see their visual form and hear the internal speech they elicit as you read them. You also feel the sensations in your body as you read, and are aware of the one who is witnessing all of these things. In other words, there's you and that all the things you are experiencing. On this very superficial level, you feel there's a mind containing all these objects. And there is someone who possesses this mind cluttered as it sometimes is. He puts it that way, it sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Mind containing all the objects and then someone possessing the mind. Even the internally generated thoughts are somehow objectively experienced by the me of you, you feel you are the subjective experiencer. And you have a sense of AI that is in opposition to the world out there. This sense of AI is a byproduct of the natural functioning of the brains neurological wiring, which generates a sense of self that helps us to navigate the world.
We're designed to have the sense of I it's not a mistake, said this subjectivity. That sense of a separate self is not where the problem lies. Subjectivity is the natural function of the brain. The problem lies with our deep seated attachment to this me I and mine, and the discursive thinking that ratifies it into a thing. Well, reify means make into a thing. So literally. You said so it's our attachment to this metal construction, that leads us astray from our true nature.
whole project is letting go of our sense of a solid self. Sometimes people find it a little frightening, to get deeper into their practice and things start to shift and change. feel like they're going to fall into emptiness. Where would you fall but sometimes we have to come up to the edge retreat, come up retreat. Over time it sinks in. He says, John teaches that this nature is intrinsically free from these fragmented random mental activities that come and go, rise and perish. That's their nature. They liberate themselves instant by instant as they come and go. That said, no self is not a concept that we need to take on faith. Nor is it a particular belief system that we have to accept unreservedly. It is simply the way things are. Even neuroscientists tell us that our self in quotation marks here is just patterns of neural synaptic firings, that change continuously. When we fixate on something that doesn't exist, we make erroneous choices and experience the consequences. Suffering.
What do we do? says one way to realize the selfish free the selfless freedom, this fluid nature is to apply ourselves to meditation. As we practice meditation, the mind starts to become more calm, concentrated and clear. As our discursive thinking starts to subside subside, the mind naturally becomes focused on one thing, the method of meditation itself. As we progress, a subtler level of experience begins to manifest moment to moment. I call this freshness. There's only the experiencing itself, which is vibrant, not abiding anywhere, and lacks words or language to describe it.
The good word is vivid.
find ourselves suddenly surprised by an object or color.
begin to appreciate things like snowfall rain. Realize that the world is so rich. We've sucked the life out of it, with our fixation on ourselves, with our sense of me and everything that isn't me. He says, At this subtle level, while we're meditating, we might hear the sound of an automobile going by, but it's passing doesn't leave any trace of our minds. In each moment, we proceed with freshness, and when the object disappears, our perception vanishes with it. We continue with our meditation. If we persist in the practice, all of our fragmented and scattered thoughts are reduced to a single point, the present moment and going further, even our last bit of attachment to the present, may suddenly vanish. When this happens, self grasping disappears, leaving us with just experiencing without self. Buddha Nature manifests this vivid experiencing, wakeful and focused is liberating.
To sit down astounding, just to be completely in the present and even to say the present
just completely there. There isn't any time when we cut off past cut off future
there's a quote from the Zen teacher John Tarrant. It's pretty apt says there's a gate in the mind. Stepping through is like leaving the palace that has come to feel like a prison. On the other side of that gate, silence fills the spaces. Nothing is happening. But what's happening. There's no urgency. Nothing more is needed than what's here. In that silence, and plainness, things step forward and shine by themselves. Though I enjoy seeing this, I don't make it happen. It's not something that can be controlled. Help is unexpected.
Self dissolves, you make ourselves open to help. Open for things to shift and change. Open to see things we've never seen before.
Gogo goes on. That said, our persistence and genuine practice is dependent on our ability to work with the undercurrent, feeling tones, all the subtle thoughts that shape our everyday experience. And then he goes on to examine those in the next chapter, which we're going to move to now.
This chapter is called the underlying feeling tones. To be free, we must know what we should be free of. Ordinarily, our minds are cluttered with the thoughts and feelings of everyday life living. Sometimes these thoughts are not fully formed concepts, but are simply underlying feeling tones. Most people are unaware of these feeling tones. Yet it is precisely these feelings that shape our choices, reasoning, experience and judgment. One of the reasons, Roshi Kapleau used to say the reasons people give for the things they do are never the real reasons. We're not even aware of what makes us do what we do. So much that we're missing. We don't see he says We have to learn to recognize them and work with them by cultivating particular attitudes. In practice, we need to develop an awareness of the overall tone of our internal states by helping us to clear out the clutter in our minds. Meditation exposes these hidden internal states, so that we can do something about them. Is this clearing itself awakening? No, it is simply practice and self grasping may still be present. In the yoga Chara, or consciousness only School of Buddhism, the underlying feeling tones are understood as mental factors. At any given moment, in waking or sleeping life, there's always a mental factor present. If for him, for example, the mental factor of restlessness is present in your mind, then no matter how you meditate, you will not be able to settle down. I call these mental factors underlying feeling tones. Attitudes are moods we need to work with because they're often obstructive or negative. They can color our experience and prevent us from seeing things as they truly are. On the other hand, if we become aware of these feeling tones, and learn to cultivate the right attitude toward them, then we will feel more grounded, our wandering thoughts will decrease and we can become more focused in meditation and life.
Chan master Han Ji, this is the master will probably first set forth the method of silent illumination, equilibrium in many places in the book. John Mr. Hong Ji refers to feeling tones as dust like intentions and concerns that conceal the original bright mirror mind of natural awakening. As long as he teaches that we have to recognize that there is nothing outside ourselves. If we expose and loosen our grasp on these feeling tones, we will not be affected by the objects of our experiencing either because we no longer experience subject and object is separate, even when we fully engage with the world. And then he quotes him. silent and still abiding in itself, this suchness is apart from conditioning. Its luminosity is vast and spacious, without any dust directly, delusion is thoroughly relinquished. Arriving at this fundamental place, you realize it is not it is not something newly acquired today. Though it is like this, it must be actualized. to actualize it in this moment, is to simply not allow a single thing to arise a single speck of dust to cover it be spaciousness, and completely clear. Don't engage with dust like intentions, dissolve your concerns. Just take a backward step and open your grasping hands beautiful to read very, very hard to do.
Once we've exposed negative feeling tones, we can foster correct attitudes that resonate with our original freedom. Many of our subtle tendencies are hidden from our awareness. If we are unaware of what's going on inside us, simply practicing seated meditation won't take us too far along the road to liberation. This is why many practitioners after years of meditation, wonder why it is that they are still vexed by the same people and events in their lives? How can it be that unseeded meditation they're able to gain peace, but in the busyness of life, they're basically the same people. If we don't expose the subtle tendencies that govern the way we practice, and in turn, cultivate correct attitudes, we inevitably perpetuate separateness, opposition, and self referential thinking. The subtle undercurrent tendencies manifest as the attitudes we have toward life. We need to expose them and cultivate the right attitudes to bring out our wisdom and compassion.
Where do we find them? Find them in all the things we dread every time we have have a bad feeling there's something there to look at. Getting a reminder, there's grist for the mill
it's not a problem. It's a call to action, call to awareness. He says from a Buddhist perspective, the distinction between thoughts and feeling tones is that thoughts are fully formed concepts. While the feeling tones are subtle intentions, perceptions, or moods, which are subtle thoughts, whether we realize it or not, there are millions of subtle feeling tones that shape our experience in any given situation. We're just not aware of them. There is no clear cut difference between thoughts and feelings, yet we make a clear divide between them. And then which then shapes the way we articulate our inner experience and even understand Buddhism. For example, many people read the Buddhist literature on the importance of having correct view is one of the one step in the eightfold path, the Buddha's eightfold path and they interpret it as some kind of knowledge or understanding, in other words is correct thoughts. This is only partially correct. In Buddhism, thoughts and feelings are inseparable. If we can cultivate wholesome attitudes, we would naturally have correct understanding of these things. Therefore, I emphasize cultivating correct attitudes and being more aware of subtle feeling tones.
In order to become aware of undercurrent, feeling tones, we have to train ourselves to experience them. The more immersed in our inner states we are, the more experienced we become, and the more we're able to navigate them and become skillful practitioners. We develop the ability to know what's going on. Never know everything that's going on. Body and mind are so incredibly complex, so much going on.
Think I might have heard somewhere that there are more connections in the brain than there are stars in the universe. There's so much more that we can know. says we have to cultivate some important attitudes in our practice. These should be cultivated in all aspects of our lives beyond merely sitting meditation. Very important point. Everything we accomplish in Zen is for the purpose of our life. Zen supports our life. Our life ideally supports our Zen if you're maintaining awareness when you're off the mat when you come back to the mat, so much easier, so much quicker and simpler. To find your way back. So sheen, it's so important. Walking down the hall going to lunch, doing your work. Don't let the mind drift. Don't fall into your habitual ways
bright and alert aware.
says we have to cultivate some important attitudes in our practice. These should be cultivated in all aspects of our lives beyond mere sitting meditation. In the remainder of this and the next chapters, I list some of these important attitudes. It is up to each of us to explore them one by one, then together to see their interconnections and also the ways they affect our inner experience. Cultivating correct attitudes, transforms the way we carry ourselves, relate to others and engage with the world. In this way, everything becomes our path. Life becomes practice. So we can foster the necessary proactive prerequisites for realizing ourselves. We learn how to open how not to close off. We learn how to enjoy our life. It's not grim. It's not about rubbing our noses in what we don't like. It's about freedom.
And this next section is called how to cultivate right attitudes. He says we can cultivate right attitudes through a fourfold process of exposing, embracing, transforming and letting go. When practitioners come across the familiar Buddhist teaching of non grasping, they think that they have to let go of everything, and that this is something they can do right away. And that once they've done, so everything will be fine. The truth is, we have to first see what it is that we have to let go off, we have to expose our subtle emotional afflictions and negative habits. And exposing them we may recognize that they have been part of us for a long time, that there is a history behind our behaviors, they may be part of our defense mechanisms, and survival skills. So we have to accept them. The times are things from childhood. Think of a child so powerless in relation to the adults, so dependent on their parents, even the best parents are going to make mistakes. child learns, finds ways of protecting itself, they're not always skillful. So the point that Joko Beck makes quite a bit that we carry them into our adult life. defense mechanisms that made sense, when we were a child, they don't serve us any longer. He says we have to accept them. They're there, they're part of us. So okay, only once we accept them will we be able to take responsibility for and work through them, then we will no longer be under their influence. This is letting go of them. This is a long process. And it's not linear but circular. The more we're able to see, see and see, the more we need to embrace. The more we embrace and let our feelings come through us. The more we're able to expose the deeper layers of our habits. The more we work through them, the more we are able to let go and accept ourselves in time, we become freer. This letting go is actually the easiest part of the process, because it happens naturally and suddenly. But we must first do our preparatory work. We cannot anticipate when those habitual tendencies will release themselves, and we cannot will it to happen. fact this is completely counterproductive. When those tendencies are tendencies to say, anxiety, Dread, we want it to go we want it to go and we're impatient. We have to expose it which means we have to accept it, we have to embrace it. Have to let the process work.
He says practice is a lifetime process that brings out the best in us.
So I think we have time to begin on the first of those attitudes. This is contentment. The first attitude we have to cultivate is the feeling of contentment, contentment counters and overrides our constant tendency to grasp and chase after things. Contentment, as the flavor of being at ease. Grasping nothing lacking nothing is being open and leisurely. In this state, we don't make anything into a big deal. All at the same time we engage with the freshness of each moment. cultivating an attitude of contentment is engaging with and yet not grasping at causes and conditions. were swayed by causes and conditions when we feel a sense of lack and when grasping is present. We inevitably get sucked into the vortex of grasping and rejecting, having and lacking. These polarities bring up all sorts of other issues, such as trying to escape from who we are, or alternatively trying desperately to be someone we're not. Of course contentment means being okay with who we are First heard in a being comfortable in our own skin
he says there is no formulaic way to cultivate contentment or non grasping. We need to personally explore the flavor of contentment and digest this feeling little by little becoming familiar with it in our lives. We can't just force this attitude on ourselves and expect to be able to plow through all of our problems. Contentment is not a mere concept. We need to appreciate the depth of what it means to be content. It's not just being disinterested, or detached from everything.
Really contentment is the deepest happiness. Contentment is being able to sit quietly in a room being able to wait in line without impatience. Being okay when we're late somewhere it's being able to move along with things as they are.
Deadman is being here. There's a guy named Sam Harris. Neuroscientist and a Buddhist meditator said most of us spend our time seeking happiness and security. without acknowledging the underlying purpose of our search. Each of us is looking for a path back to the present. We're trying to find good enough reasons to be satisfied now.
So Shane has such an opportunity to be here now. Fact is the best way to do so sheen. Don't worry about what's coming next. Don't get into thinking about time. Don't worry that you can't handle what's coming up. You can especially if you're not tied in knots, by trying to avoid it.
Go go. Gogu says, when we're content, we appreciate what we have. And we are able to engage fully with whatever may arise. There's a freshness to it. With contentment, we're able to avail ourselves openly of everything without rejecting anything. In this process, there may be pain and grief, that we are cultivating the ability to feel fully to be present to whatever arises without judgment. Allowing such feelings to move through us will make us stronger. We are incredibly resilient. Our hearts and minds will eventually accept and release whatever comes through us. Don't think that your suffering has no purpose.
We bring awareness into the equation. We grow. We learn our compassion grows. Our confidence grows, realize we can handle it.
He says to do this we have to be in tune with the body and anchor ourselves in it. Contentment resides in the heart. And it has an associated bodily component. Of course everything. Everything has a bodily component. We experienced everything in our bodies. So the easiest way to become familiar with contentment is to physically relax the body. We relax from the crown of the head to the toes, section by section. We relax the skin, pores, muscles, tendons. This means actually feeling different areas of our bodies. Most people are so out of tune with their bodies that they don't really know how to relax or what their bodies feel. So this requires practice
helps when you take your seat just to make sure the body is relaxed. Shoulders loose. No strain
stomach relaxed, chest open
something we can do a lot with outside of sesshin.
But even in sesshin when we're resting, really rest but the tension flow out of you
see where you're blocked release. He says being in tune with bodily feelings of contentment, and non grasping releases physical pain. For example, sometimes after long hours of sitting meditation, we experience waves of bodily pain and an attitude of repulsion sets in. Naturally, we want to escape the pain. If we are oblivious to the subtle undertone of repulsion, the pain becomes more acute and intractable. Soon our whole body is burning up. However, when we expose what is happening within us, we can detect whether we are feeling aversion. Perhaps we are bolstering this discomfort with stories and images. Is there an undertone underlying tone of fear? When a version is present, pain becomes exaggerated. So if any of these negative feelings are present, we need to first expose our attitude and then relax the body physically. Only then will it become easier to soften our negative feelings and to release them. This work will naturally bring about a shift in our attitude toward physical discomfort. Not only does our threshold for it increase, the pain itself actually becomes bearable. But if we can't even recognize how we're feeling and how it is shaping our actual experience, how can we let go of negative mental states
I struggled mightily with pain in my early sessions. And I had something happen over and over again. It's a pattern I would go through the first 10 or 15 minutes of the round. Okay, pain not really there. And then maybe the monitor would get up or it would occur to me that I was about into the middle of the round. And the minute I had that thought the pain would flare up. It's just automatic. And clearly I was tensing up didn't know what to do with it. I just suffered. But over time, body relaxed, the stretched out and it wasn't quite so terrible. But even after many years, I remember going to Roshi once and just talking about how much trouble I was having with physical pain. And he said, John, you just have to trust the process. And something turned not that the pain went away, but it's just more workable. Now dealing with pain on top of pain
in what applies to physical pain applies to mental and emotional pain as well. Okay, we're at our time limit. We'll stop now and recite the four vows