This is the first day of this, September 2023, seven day sesshin. And we'll start off with exploring teachings that predate Japanese Zen, by delving into its Chinese roots, that is Chan Buddhism.
I've long been struck how the teachings of the early masters, despite being in a very different cultural context, a different time and place, are still relevant to practice in contemporary American life. And that may be because human habits and basic conditioning haven't really changed much. Whether it's due to learned behavior, or biological hardwiring, or some combination of the two, we humans, it seems, tend to divide the world up into subject and object. This and that. And I suppose that hasn't changed very much across time and space.
And so, so much of the dissatisfaction and anxiety and anguish that we experience in our lives comes from this predisposition towards duality, positioning ourselves as separate and often in opposition to others. And the positions we take are not just about ourselves and other people, but also about animals and objects. Even the, even the human brain is divided into two spheres.
Through through practice, through persistence in practice, and in making Zen, the foundation of our lives though, we can undo this inclination towards duality towards Tunis. We can uncover what's been there all along our innate wisdom and compassion, our birth right from the very beginning of Buddha, through and through
I'm going to be relying on two sources. One is called Zen essence, the science of freedom, translated and edited by Thomas clearly clearly. And it's a collection of translations of the teachings of various Chan masters of Tang and song dynasties, and it includes nearly 20 Masters so I'll just zero in on a couple of them. In his introductory remarks, clearly speaks to the timelessness of the early Masters teachings. He says. Because of the very nature of Zen, its essence is neither of the east nor have the West. The classical Zen masters have said that this essence does not belong to any particular social class or group Zen poet remarked, on whose door does the moonlight not shine it is at the source of ideas, not a product of ideas. And this is what distinguishes the essence of Zen from all derivative, philosophy, religion, art and science.
There you have it, our true nature is the source. It's who we are. Doesn't matter what our background is, doesn't matter how old or how young we are, our ethnicity, or race or gender, or sexual orientation, all the ways that we've come to identify and position ourselves in relation to others in order to navigate what sometimes can feel like a very complex social world. But beneath all that complexity, on the surface, beneath all the distinctions and the labels we've come up with, beneath all of that is the source. And it's very simple. It's our being
just that just being
the second book I'll be using is Zen's Chinese heritage, the master and their teachings by Andy Ferguson. He visited our center on a couple of occasions. This was years ago, and even led a Zen Center sponsored group tour in China, of monasteries and other important sites that was back in I think 2010 or something like that. And his book is a compilation of Tang Dynasty masters.
We're going to start with the teachings of Yuanwu who is recognized for being the author of The Blue Cliff Record, the Hekiganroku in Japanese koan collection. So we'll begin with some biographical details Yuanwu Was yours are 1063 to 1135. And he was a disciple of Wu Zhu Fiberon. in Ferguson, begins by describing Yuan Wu's early years, and I'm going to skip over some names that aren't necessary to the gist of the story. I'm also going to stick with referring to Yuanwu by that name, and not another name that he went by which was FUBU.
Ferguson says a Gifted Youth who thoroughly studied the Confucian classics Yuanwu is said to have written 1000 words every day.
During a visit to a monastery, he observed some Buddhist scriptures and was surprised by a strong feeling that he had previously possessed them. He then left home and studied under Vinaya master and a scriptural teacher. In other words, a sutra teacher Confucianism was and still is a major cultural force in China. And it's based on a set of norms and values aimed at achieving a harmonious society. And these include things like loyalty to one's parents. respect for authority in general. Humility, reciprocity. Do unto others as they would do to you. And along with that, in the vinyasa School of Buddhism, it you emphasized a set of rules. These were for monks and nuns to follow in order to live and practice and work together in harmony.
In our tradition at our center, we can see that having a set of guidelines for the training program and versus sheen. This is a valuable tool in helping us to let go of our personal preferences or inclination to act out of self interest.
At the time, the vinyasa rules covered a wide range of things like food, when to eat, what to eat, clothing, conflict resolution, gender segregation and just following the daily monastic schedule, and, and the rituals for recitation of sutras. The young Yuanwu discovered that he had a strong affinity with the teachings of the sutras. And so much so that he felt that he he must have memorized them in a past life. He previously possessed them somehow. It's easy today to relate to that same kind of feeling of connection to the Dharma. That's how it was for me. When I came to the center for the first time for an introductory workshop. I couldn't explain why, when I stepped into the door, I knew it. This was what I would have been looking for. something just clicks and we say this is my path. But for Yuanwu at the time, his his understanding of that path was limited to the Sutras, the teachings of the sutras. His practice had not ripened yet. Ferguson goes on to tell a story. He says Yuanwu Once became deathly ill, he realized that his scriptural study and chanting of the Buddha's name was insufficient. Saying, the true path of nirvana of all the Buddha's is not found in words. It I've used sounds to seek form, but it's of no use in dealing with death.
The true path of nirvana of all the Buddhas is not found in words. I've used sounds to seek form, but it's of no use in dealing with death.
What happens when we we hear a sound in our ordinary way of perceiving the world? We hear it. But that's not all. We label it, we put a word on it. And then we take it further conceptualizing it, defining it, judging it
and most people live their day to day lives, clinging to the ideas they have about people and objects and situations. That's all wrapped up in a terminology or labels and definitions, assumptions, we place everything into categories good and bad. And in our drive, to feel secure and comfortable and in control. Of course, we chase after the things that satisfy us the things that we like and then we run away from and reject the things that we don't
we see the world in conflict intention when really it's just as it is.
And we also end up going on to this you know, vicious cycle because any temporary happiness that we experience, from the things we like, ultimately is followed by discontent, dissatisfaction. And that's because our happiness is fleeting.
Everything is impermanent. Everyone and everything, subject to change.
Subject to life, and death.
upon recognizing this Yuanwu knew what he needed to do.
After he recovered from being sick, he set off to seek instruction from the Zen school. He first studied under a Zen master named Shang in Sichuan. During one of their discussions, Sheng pricked his own arm and blood, a few drops of blood. Sheng showed it to Yuanwu and said this is a drop of Cow Creek so he pricks his arm, lets the blood trickle out and shows that shows it to Yuanwu and says this is a drop of Cow Creek or we could say Bigelow creek or chipping pond.
This the startled Yuanwu And only after some time, he responded saying is it really is it really
He was confounded
What did what did Master Sheng mean? When he said the drops of blood trickling from his arm we're not other than the water flowing in the creek. How could that be?
Yuanwu then left, Sichuan in Ferguson says he traveled to see several other teachers. Everywhere he went, his teacher said that he was to be a great vessel for the Dharma. And one teacher declared, someday the entire Linji school will be His disciples. So Yuanwu must have made quite an impression in his sincerity and strong determination.
For those who may not know, Linji is the Chinese term for Rinzai in Japanese, and it emphasizes koan practice, as a method for waking up to our true nature. And our centers lineage to developed as a hybrid a blend of Rinzai and Soto which is cadang school in Chinese. So whereas whereas the Soto school emphasizes that we are already enlightened, every one of us from the very beginning without exception, and that is true. The Rinzai school emphasizes that until we realize it, until we experience it directly. We won't be able to actualize it in our lives.
Ferguson goes on. Finally Yuanwu met the great teacher will sue. However, Yuanwu felt that their first meeting was a failure, because Wufu seemed aloof and unsympathetic. Yuanwu became angry and began to walk away as he left wuzhou called after him wait until you become feverishly Ill then think of me
so Yuanwu walks away angry. It seems becoming angry at one's teacher is nothing new to Zen practice. For some, it's it's an important part, actually of the process of maturing. That's how it was for me. There were a number of times when I became very frustrated and angry with my teacher, Bowden Roshi Why wouldn't he help me chrony see that I was struggling Why wouldn't he give me more direction other than just saying just this just Mu Keep at it trust the practice
if you ever find yourself in that position blaming a teacher for your lack of SOCO Old progress thinking that the barrier to Insight is them or something outside you not your own clinging to thoughts about it attainment then look into that. look inward
sometimes we learn that the hard way though
when Wu Zhu told Yuanwu Think of me when you're feverishly ill in fact he was saying, your practice will ripen when you realize no one can do it for you
so really, it was at a sense of faith in Yuanwu that he said that
looking outward, looking for someone else to give you relief from being sick or whatever condition you're in won't do. When you're gravely ill. What are you going to do then? You can deny it. You can put a bandaid over it you can distract yourself. But then what.
Next, the book goes on to provide an account of Yuanwu was awakening. It says Yuanwu went to Jin Shan, which is a geographic location, a district south of Shanghai. Yuanwu went to Jin Shan and while there he became extremely ill. So this is his second serious illness. The first being in his youth remembering was Zoo's words, he pledged to return to study with him when he recovered. When Wu Zhu saw you on Mu return, he laughed and told him to go to the practice hall. Yuanwu then took the position of losers attendant. And then what happened next involves an exchange between Wu Zhu Yuan Wu, and a government official
and official of the Exchequer that is the national treasury, an official of the Exchequer, named teaching, retired and returned to Sichuan, where he sought out Wazzu to learn about Zen Woods who said to the official when you were young, did you read a poem by Shri Yao Yan or not? There are two lines which went something like oh, these trinkets mean nothing for I only want to hear the familiar sounds of my lover. So Wu Zhu ASAM asks him about this poem. Have you heard it? And he recites the two lines? Oh, these trinkets mean nothing for I only want to hear the familiar sounds of my lover
What is this line from a poem have anything to do with learning about Zen? That's what the government official was asking him about.
We can imagine two lovers that have become separated. Seeking to reunite yearning to be one to be whole again
teaching said yes, I read those lines. And then was you said, The words are well crafted. Just then Yuanwu came in attendance. He asked, I heard the master mentioned the poem by Shri Yao Yan does teaching know it or not? And then Wu Zhu said he just knows the words.
And then Yuanwu said, quoting the lines of the poem, I only want to hear the familiar sounds of my lover. If he knows the words, why doesn't he understand it?
So you're on Yuanwu was perplexed.
Still caught up in the conceptual but questioning.
wuzhou then said, Why did Bodhidharma come from the west? The cypress tree in the front of the garden? Why did Bodhidharma come from the west? The cypress tree in the front of the garden?
This question, why did? Why did Bodhidharma come from the west is one that appears repeatedly in koans, including in the Blue Cliff Record, which Yuanwu wrote years later, when he became a Zen master. And it's not a question to be taking literally. So job of the student working on such a koan to see what's underneath those words.
And then Wufu he answers he poses the question and then he answers it himself. The cypress tree in the front of the garden just that the willow tree at the edge of the pond that
and it was that these words that Yuanwu was suddenly enlightened. In a flash it happened the mind can just suddenly turn over. Suddenly, we're no longer filtering life through thoughts, but experiencing it directly. But if we're not paying attention, we missed it.
Yuanwu then went outside the cottage and saw a rooster fly to the top of a railing beat its wings and Crow loudly. He then said to himself is this not the sound?
Is this not the sound?
This not the sound of my lover.
There's more to you on whose biography but I'm going to put that aside now and turn to his teachings as they were translated in queries text Zen essence. And this book consists of a series of short writings from each master, some less than a paragraph in length, or even just one sentence, each attempting to convey in words, that which is beyond words.
The first snippet is titled, immediate Zen. And again, this is Yuanwu. If you have developed great capacity and cutting insight, you can undertake Zen right where you are, without getting it from another, you understand clearly on your own. The penetrating spiritual light, and vast open tranquility have never been interrupted, since beginningless. Time. The pure uncontrived ineffable complete, true mind does not act as a partner to objects of material sense, and it is not a companion of myriad things. When the mind is always as clear and bright, as 10, sun's shining together, detached from views and beyond feelings, cutting through the ephemeral illusions of birth and death. This is what is meant by the saying, mind itself is Buddha. So, very colorful paragraph, but what he's saying is that consciousness is Buddha. Being in a body is Buddha, hearing sounds Buddha feeling tired, feeling hungry changing conditions of all kinds. All Buddha
and it's accessible right now. No matter no matter what we're experiencing in any moment. No matter how we're feeling. One of the more stickiest thoughts we can have in sesshin is the idea that practice has to feel good in order to be doing it well. And this can really bother us during the early days of sesshin. When we are tired
we may feel fatigued, achy tension
but still, still you're a Buddha.
This is where faith and persistence come in. Just putting our putting our faith in this method that's been practice for more than 2500 years. It's got staying power we can put our faith in it.
Another this snippet is titled The purpose of Zen. Yuanwu says, over the course of centuries, the Zen has branched out into different schools with individual methods, but the purpose is still the same to point directly to the human mind. Once the ground of mind is clarified, there is no obstruction at all. You shed views and interpretations that are based on concepts such as victory and defeat, Self And Others, right and wrong. Thus, you pass through all that and reach a realm of great rest and tranquility.
Shedding views, passing through thoughts whatever practice we're working on, whether it's a koan, a breath practice or shikantaza. It doesn't actively involve getting rid of or extinguishing thoughts or not rejecting or opposing anything like let them pass through let them be and don't hold on to them. Let them flow through us. Little a little further on Yuanwu says in giving some advice, you should refrain from dependence on anything at all pure or impure. Then mindfulness and mindlessness views and no view will be like a snowflake on a red hot furnace.
Seeing thoughts like a snowflake on a red hot furnace
or a cloud, take shape takes form in the sky, and then it disappears. Gone.
A train rolls by makes a lot of noise. It continues on gone.
without our having to do anything about it. We can just let the thoughts be.
And then one more snippet called Half Baked Zen. What is most difficult to rectify is half baked Zen, where you stick to quiet stillness and consider this the ultimate treasure. Keeping it in your heart radiantly aware of it all the time, carrying around a bunch of mixed up knowledge and understanding, claiming to have vision and to have attained the approval of a Zen master just increasing your egoism. So here Yuanwu is identifying a couple of forms of attachment. One is clinging to some notion of attainment even perhaps boasting about it or taking on an attitude of superiority. And Yuanwu says later, if you have the idea of superiority and are proud of your ability, this is a disaster. In other words, you have a mess to clean up. The other kind of attachment here that he's referring to is one to stillness and quietude. This comes up in sesshin where we get annoyed by the sounds From Inside or outside the building might be people coming and going. Might be sounds of what sounded to me like Target practice this morning, off in the distance pop up. But if we're annoyed by it, it's fueled by separation. Not being one with things as they are. And that's why we're more likely to feel that earlier in sesshin. And later, when our mind becomes more settled another kind of attachment that comes up in sesshin is dwelling on our past experiences, which can take the form of making comparisons and contrasts with past sessions. also engaging in self talk about one's progress or lack of progress. Okay, how am I doing? That last machine was so painful. This one. Okay. So far, so good. Or last machine was amazing. Why do I feel so stuck already. And we can do this from block to block round to round as well. Oh, that last round was rough. Here we go again. That's all half baked Zen as well. There's nothing that binds us to the past. Nor to some imagined future of attainment that we imagine in our head. The only thing that can bind us is thoughts clinging to them. Not that we have them that's fine. That's what our brains designed to do. But clinging to them in truth, we don't know what the next round or day or month or year will bring any more than we know what the next moment will bring.
Practice is a journey into the unknown moment by moment. And when we enter into it with a mind of wonder and curiosity not through our fixed ideas. We see clearly we don't mistake it for anything but this.