This is day five of this March 2023 seven day sesshin going to continue with the book Illuminating Silence: Insights on the Path of Chinese Zen by Master Sheng Yen and Dr. John H. Crook.
Picking up from where we left off yesterday, these are day for breakfast table remarks. Sheng yen says, during retreat, the experience of time varies. The first three days dragged by slowly, each day may seem as long as a whole year. Don't know how it was for you. On the other hand, the last three days seem to run past like a swift horse. This is because during the first half of our retreat, participants are neither used to the retreat, nor to using their method, they have a hard time. During the second half, both body and mind are adjusted to the retreat, and time seems to pass quickly. In general, this is the case, most people find that the second half of 16 goes by way faster than the first few days. But there's no hard and fast rule. And people can be in heavy, choppy water anytime during machine. But what's different in this latter half of sesshin is that we have so much Zen under our belts. And even if even if it's seems like we've never broken free from the clouds of thought, at a deeper level, things are settled, things are more quiet. And so there's there's a potentiality in these last days. That's why they're so precious. When we do a four day so sheen, always seems a little bittersweet to be stopping after four days
it's you can people who are worried about accomplishing something can get a little nuts stop. It's time slips away. Sometimes that works to to the good. more incentive to buckle down and really get serious about the sinking into the practice and letting go of the distractions, but it can also generate a sort of grasping, grasping and sometimes self critical attitude mixed bag, we just realize how precious these days are. Just let ourselves soak in sesshin.
But the mind becomes completely still the gaze completely clear.
He says Do not think that there are only two days left. And that because nothing has happened in the first four days. You cannot discover anything. If you feel this way, then you may become lacks in your effort and feeble and diligence. This would be regrettable and a great mistake. The Retreat is like a race. Only when you cross the finish line is the event over. You may manage a spurt in the last seconds and carry off the prize. But you're racing against yourself. Then he introduces another analogy another metaphor to practice with the method is like climbing a high mountain. You can only say the climb is over when you reach the summit. Perhaps you are climbing the mountain in the thick of fog or a cloud from the beginning you have no idea how high up you are. You may think you have come no way at all and then suddenly you arrive. You may think you are nearly at the peak. Then you find further slopes Rising before you, all you can do is climb. Without climbing, you'll get nowhere. In an act of faith, you simply place one foot before the other. If you believe you're getting nowhere you will become lacks in the climb will exhaust you. On retreat, do not set yourselves particular goals for practice, just keep going in the right direction
just keep going in the right direction. Stay here present in this moment let the thoughts that arise, drift off
says every single step is then an act of reaching the goal going on is the goal. The goal is in the going if you run a race in your mind is on the winning post, you split yourself into now. And then if you forget the goal, and just place all your attention on the energy of running, you will suddenly find yourself there. The climber has his mind focused on the summit, he may easily find the climb, exhausting, and stop halfway giving up. Many people who've actually climbed a mountain and have had this experience, it's so much so much longer than you think. Especially if you've never climbed a mountain before. In the end, there's nothing for it but just to plod one foot after the other. He says in climbing a mountain sometimes we encounter a steep slope and other times we find a flat area to stroll across the wise climber does not take particular notice of these differences. Both the steep slope and the flat area are high in the hills already. Likewise, when we practice sometimes there arise good conditions and sometimes troublesome ones. If you find yourself in a good place, don't get too happy. There may be steeper slope just ahead. On the other hand, in difficult times, do not get discouraged. The slope may ease off shortly. On retreat, you cannot predict how one sitting will be from the previous one. You simply have to find sit down and find out every sitting is a new birth. When climbing the mountain you constantly experienced differences in slope differences in the demands made upon your energy and resilience. This goes on until the summit is reached. Similar similarly, on retreat to not be too eager for results take up an attitude of going forward without seeking anything. Use the ordinary mind to practice diligently the ordinary mind not trying to bend ourselves into a special shape this ordinary mind does not need thoughts
everything is right there
birds in the distance rain dripping outside the windows
it's nothing special but it's always here. What is it? Who is hearing?
People sometimes feel that all they ever encounter are the steep slopes. They never come across flat areas with bad luck. Remember, you are indeed tackling a steep mountain. When this is the case, you need to build stronger foundations for your practice. What are those stronger foundations means weaning ourselves from the habit of thought the valuation judgments expectations
it helps, it helps to be determined to vow to do your best
and you don't have to worry so much just doing what you can do. Attitude of practice is one of confidence. We know this method works
just to flow with things as they are, this is a strong foundation it turns now to the evening lecture and he continues with the poem warming's poem, calming the mind to exaggerate clumsiness and covet skill does not lead to great virtue of much fame but little contribution, their reputation quickly crumbles, and Sheng yen says, Many people suffer from feelings of inferiority. Others feel themselves to be very important, they exaggerate their self respect into aggrandizement. Both of these feelings arise from comparing oneself with others. When you live alone, you find that such feelings arise less frequently. I do not know how modern psychology analyzes these feelings but from the viewpoint of the Buddha Dharma. Each of these feelings is a different manifestation of the same basic inclination. A person who feels inferior is obviously lacking in confidence, but so is somebody who exaggerates his or her importance and behaves arrogantly. Both inferiority and a sense of superiority come from lack of confidence. You cannot practice well, if you lack confidence. You look at others and think how well they must be getting on. You feel as if nobody else has a problem, as if you were the only one sitting there worried and anxious. Sometimes when I find a practitioner is troubled in this way, I say, don't be so lacking in confidence. I too, came by the same route. When I was young, I also had to endure great difficulties in practice. It was only through hard work in applying the method that eventually I had a tiny bit of understanding. Such a practitioner says to me Shifu that's the Chinese version of Roshi Shi Fu How can I compare myself with you? You are a Chan master. So how can I expect to get the same sort of accomplishment? Then there is another kind of person not so common as the first who will say to me Shifu you are now so old, and I am young. By the time I reach your age, I will definitely have surpassed you. So it sounds funny and improbable. But I have a friend who went into darkside and with Roshi Kapleau. he related to me speaking of his own ducks on he bought marched in, sat for for capital Roshi and said, I shall become a great Yogen Roshi just blasted him. You'll never amount to anything and not kicked him out of the ducks on room. That he came and told me about it. That person, however, is still practicing. So let's
he says such a person evidently has great confidence, but then upon what is this practitioner basing his opinion? How can he be so sure, actually, even with such confidence there remains a big problem. First of these practitioners is putting him or herself down. There is a feeling of inability and inferiority. The second type is filled with arrogance. Of course, I shall be very happy if all my disciples surpass me. But when practitioners show either of these attitudes, I'm not so happy. Neither attitude is helpful in practice. In particular, a person who shows his lack of confidence through arrogance has a very little chance of making progress so long as he thinks that way. Of course, that's why it was a kindness of Roshi Kapleau to blast my friend. It's like a parent seeing a child wander into the into traffic.
Sheng yen says, Now let me ask you, do you think it possible to be feeling inferior and behaving in a superior manner at the same time? Have You Ever Have you ever manifested such sentiments? I see by the show of hands, that many of us recognize such problems. The fact that we can perceive them is already a sign of progress. If you know you have such weaknesses, and yet still you try to cover them up and act as if you are truly confident, then you are like the praying mantis. There's a fable, in which the Mantis saw a carriage rolling towards it. It raised one of its legs to stop legs to stop the carriage. Actually, it knew very well that such a thing was impossible, but nevertheless, it wanted to put up a show. The mantis is actually very pitiable. Such a pretense of ability is simply a manifestation of self centeredness. Of course, there are also people who never tried to resolve difficulties. They like to evade a difficult situation as much as possible. Such a person is like the ostrich sticking his head in the sand, hoping the lion will go away. The truth is that all of us are mantises and ostriches by turns, and we remain thereby in delusion.
In the oriented many people are like this. Perhaps it is the same in the West. Have you not met the man who is approaching 30 and begins to lose his hair. So in case others should notice, he begins combing his hair in such a way that the hair on the left side goes over to the right. He had anyone who really takes a look and see it once that He is bald in the center. Of course, if you are a Chan practitioner, and you are bald in the center, well, you are bald in the center. My son had a friend who began to go bald in his 20s and he cut his hair short and labeled it bald with dignity. It's one of the advantages of having short hair
it's one of the advantages of being okay with who you are and how you are. How you look. Who else are you going to be? A Chan practitioner needs to have this self knowledge he needs to know what sort of appearance he has and feel at home in it. In whatever situation you should know how far your ability will carry you. Without the ability you act without it you do not no fuss no pretense. Of course sometimes you do something you've never known before done before and you don't know how far your ability is going to carry you. Still you act see what the results are still no fuss no pretense.
Oftentimes this sort of self knowledge comes with just getting older doesn't only happen to spiritual practitioners so many of the things we're vain about and base our confidence on begin to trickle away as we get older. But along with it comes hopefully, an acceptance of just we are who we are. Sheng Yen said earlier another gray hair face in the mirror changes. The hands look like my grandfather's No fuss, no pretense. He says when I came to this retreat, I knew that many of you are well educated with degrees in psychology and other subjects. I did not think about it very much are troubled to look up these subjects in books and prepare myself for questions about this or that I did not do prepare myself at all in fact, I just came over here I am, I can tell you what I know there are things I cannot answer. So what we can still talk together. The important thing is to recognize ourselves for what we are. Just recognize whatever you are, whatever abilities or inabilities you have an accept yourself, there is no need to get vexed over comparisons, you can manage this, you will become firm and character more healthy and at peace.
Pema children said, meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It's about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me just as we are. That's what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest.
Easy to say, but it takes time. In AAA, they call it being comfortable in your own skin. This is this is a foundation for practice.
What's important is where we're going to know that wholeheartedly. People wonder why they can't let go of their thoughts. Usually, it's just a lack of commitment. Anybody can let go of a thought in one moment. Then as we continue to sit habits creep back in. And next thing you know, we're back in thoughts. And then we're reacting to the fact that we've slipped away and we're back in thoughts. And that's more thoughts. And it's just a blizzard. But when you know what the path is, when you know what your method is? Just keep doing it. Just keep taking one step after another. How else how else can you do this? That old metaphor of somebody making a fire back in the old fashioned days when people had to rub a couple of sticks together. Try to generate a spark you have to keep doing it. You have to keep rubbing you have to you have to persevere.
can't just stop when you see a little bit of smoke it's not frantic steady.
breath by breath round by round ups and downs. Everyone has the ability to do this
coming back here, let us look at the next two lines of long Ming's verse of much fame but little contribution. Their reputation quickly crumbles. During the interviews today. One of you told me that he would like to help society. I said well in that case, you must finish your studies get a reputation and some fame, then you may be able to influence the course of social events. It is not wrong for Chun practitioners to become famous. If the reputation coincides with ability, then there's nothing problematical about it. I myself have become quite well known. I have worked hard and have been abused to people, people have come to hear of me and this may perhaps be a value. More people may be helped as a result. If and when reputation and reality can coincide. The truth is just as it is. On the other hand, when a reputation does not coincide with reality, but is simply the result of misleading self advertisement. Then there is danger. We're living in a world of misleading self advertisement. So many occupations and professions including I suppose for some people being a Zen teacher, which seemed to demand self advertisement need to have a Facebook account posted on social media so it's a nuanced thing because sometimes it enables the person to do their job to do a better job if their job is worthwhile, then okay, but is it just something wonderful about the traditional Chan approach of hiding out in the mountains and giving in when the students beat down your door, because that doesn't happen too much today.
He says the empty arrogance of such behavior can be harmful to others and deeply damaging to a person's progress on the Dharma path. says we can see that the four lines of this verse are connected. Just because we've gone so far here. Let me go back and just repeat the the verse to exaggerate clumsiness and covet skill does not lead to great virtue of much fame, but little contribution, their reputation quickly crumbles. He says a person who feels inferior may be tempted to seek a reputation that goes beyond his or her real ability. This arrogance is based on weakness, it harms others and it harms oneself. Chan practitioners need to know their weaknesses. If you seek to correct them, and do not try to cover them up. Then you will become a more complete character and one who others will trust. You do not have to become a saint, just a whole person in balance with yourself.
What we are, is wonderful, each of us even our failings it's why it's so joyous to say to quote Anthony de Mello and say I'm an Ask urine S.
says suppose you were to meet two people, one of whom was overpraising himself and the other who said straight away. Look out, I'm rascal. If you hang around with me, you'd better be careful. Which would you prefer to deal with? The first may seem easier, but the latter may turn out to be more reliable. Actually, neither of these types knows himself well enough to behave genuinely. Neither the rascal nor the self admiring Guru needs to proclaim it, their crumbled reputations have probably preceded them. merely reading books is of no lasting value. Being in really proud brings the emnity of others. What you get from books is merely knowledge. It is not your own experience. An author only tells you what he wants to say. He's not written to speak to you in a current situation. Books are useful in setting a general direction, but you have to confirm what is said in your own way. Answers from books or mere descriptions. A book answer belongs to somebody else and not to yourself. In my own books, I have written at the beginning that they have been compiled mainly for my own benefit. I like that he says that you know, when a teacher is teaching, really talking to themselves
it's good, good to move from books to practice. Many of us began by reading Zen books. I was just so struck when I first came across Ellen Watson d. T. Suzuki and and found the books of some of the old Chinese masters. But nothing happens until we sit down on the mat and actually look into the mind.
It's a sad thing to meet someone who says they're a real Zen enthusiast and what I've been doing for the past 30 years is reading Zen books, perhaps, and trading Zen stories with others. Sheng yen says if you cannot find somebody near you who can be your teacher, then you can refer to books for guidance, that give ideas about how to approach and solve problems. This is what the three pillars was really designed to do. When Roshi Kapleau wrote that book, there were very few Zen teachers in the United States. And it seemed like most people were going to have to take a book for their teacher, just, you know, it's a vast country, and very few teachers. Now you can't swing a cat without hitting a teacher.
I've been reading all these Zen books, and a friend of mine, led me the three pillars of Zen. It was his copy that he had stolen from the the college bookstore, the overland Co Op. It's obviously a fundamental flaw with my introduction to Buddhism. But it was such an amazing book when it blazed into the world of Zen here and that this country, it told you how to sit, it ran you through the experiences of other Westerners doing this practice. And coming when it did, you know, conditions being what they were generated a real upswell of Zen practice, many, many people came here, and other people having read the book went to other centers, and Zen really blossomed in the in the 60s, and the 70s.
Since the end, if you've only accumulated knowledge from books and not practiced, then you're likely to think you know a lot. This can be self deceiving. The best thing is not to compare yourself with others. In attempting to prove your superiority, you may only demonstrate the opposite. Sometimes a monk or layman may come to me saying Shifu I'm sure you have high attainments and Chan may ask you this question. I have had such an such an experience. What do you think of this accomplishment? I say I am not used. So how can I know? Of course there are criteria for accomplishment. But I cannot use my personal perspective to judge another person. I am not that individual. All I can do is respond to need. There is no benefit in confirming another person's insecurities. When there is no need for accomplishment, then perhaps something has indeed been found.
Again, the pernicious pneus of a goal oriented mind
it's deeper than grabbing an experience. I know Roshi Kapleau once said to me, John, you strike me as the kind of person who just wants to grab Kensho and run and that's a fair assessment. He was able to have that insight into me because he was a person who had wanted to grab Kensho and run. Sometimes even though we go in with a the achievement seeking mind. In the process, things get rubbed away
nothing wrong with someone who's on fire, to know who and what they are. Specially if that drive, leads them to drop everything. Give themselves completely to their practice to the method
One more stanza here. Using speech or written words to gain the praise of others is something most repulsive. John tells us that we should not rely on words. Often it is better to say nothing. In Chan practice the spoken and the rented written word are superfluous. Only a communication through a genuine mind is reliable. When old friends or family members have been separated for many years and meet again, what are the first words they say? Often there is so much that could be said that they cannot say anything. They just embrace or shake hands. That is enough. The contact says everything. Last year I went to mainland China for the first time in many years, I had not seen my brothers for 38 years. So much had happened to them in that time. So much had happened to me also, when we met, we couldn't say anything. There was simply tears rolling down our faces. Can imagine for his brother's 38 years, all the turmoil in communist China.
show trials and reeducation camps can't imagine there was simply tears rolling down our faces. I myself was too embarrassed to cry, but tears were falling inside me and racking my stomach. Everything was communicated just like that.
Wang Ming is saying that if you do not truly practice, but merely use a spoken or written word to tell others about your attainment than that is shameful. In fact, talking is useless. If people do not act upon these talks, then these two are useless. If people do not act, then this whole retreat, the lectures all the words would be comparable to my bringing a lump of clay from an Eastern Mountain and dumping it on a Western one. The propaganda of mere information is not of use to you within your practice. Some may say although Chan speaks of no self, the bodhisattva still teach compassionately to others. These are good teachings just to hear them as good and they should be handed on so it is yet I say to you, without practice, the teachings are not manifest in the world. Really, it's up to all of us to take these teachings to heart and make them real through our own efforts in our own bodies. This is what we're here to do. Start Stop now, and recite the four vows