March 2022 Sesshin, Day 4: Silent Illumination: A Chan Buddhist Path to Natural Awakening by Guo Gu
2:55PM Apr 7, 2022
Today is the fourth day of this March, March and April 2022. seven day sesshin. We're going to spend one more day with Guo Gu reading from the book Silent Illumination: Chan Buddhist Path to Natural Awakening.
Yesterday when we finished we were just into a chapter entitled "Supporting Attitudes to Cultivate". And the first of those attitudes which we were reading about is "Interest".
He was saying, where we left off, let whatever arises in meditation be what it is. But don't get involved in judging or discriminating thoughts. Interest should not take you off the trail of the method, so that you become interested in everything that arises during meditation, that is just being scattered. Developing interest refers to being one with whatever you may be doing, whether it's the method of your practice, or being present for a person. And he goes on from there, we might view our method as something with which we have a relationship. If disinterest is our attitude, when we're with someone, how will our attitude affect the relationship? Certainly will not be good for us or the other person. Try examining yourself when you're in that drowsy or hazy state and see what your attitude is. Be honest with yourself. See yourself and your method. And as relationship partners. Are you being a good partner? Or are you being a pain? Grasping, rejecting, seeking abandoning? Is your interest in your partner half hearted or even lacking? A good partner is attentive and accepting, aware of the shortcomings of the other, but willing to work with them?
Yeah, I like this. This metaphor of a relationship, relationship with a loved one. We need we need devotion. We need willingness to let things work out as they do. We can't be intimate. When we're focused on getting it all of us fall into that habit. It's natural to want to get something it's natural with practice. It's natural with relationships. Why do we like someone often is because they compliment us push the right buttons because they like us
becomes transactional. It's not the way we want to go into our practice. It's not a transactional business
practice moves forward with devotion surrender, willingness or interest in the practice needs to be genuine. It's no way to manufacture it there is no technique for it
but it really is the engine the engine of practice this interest in what's there want to read? Little more from Anthony de Mello because he talks just about this
he's talking about labeling people, labeling things. Judging things before you've really looked into them people before you've really gotten to know them. says when you say of someone, he's a communist understanding has stopped at that moment. You slapped a label on him. She's a capitalist. Understanding has stopped at that moment. We could say he's a Trumper. She's a liberal, same phenomenon. How are you going to understand what you disapprove of, or what you approve of for that matter? All this sounds like a new world, doesn't it? No judgment, no commentary, no attitude, when simply observes, when studies when watches, without the desire to change what is because if you desire to change what is into what you think should be, you no longer understand. We could say you're no longer intimate. Like that saying, I love you now change. And then he gives us example, a dog trainer attempts to understand a dog so he can train the dog to perform certain tricks. And in comparison, a scientist observes the behavior of ants. So this is an entomologist, with no further end in view, than to study ants to learn as much as possible about them. He has no other aim. He's not attempting to train them, or get anything out of them. He's interested in ants, he wants to learn as much as possible about them. That's his attitude. The day you attain a posture like that, you will experience a miracle, you will change effortlessly correctly, change will happen, you will not have to bring it about. As life of awareness settles on your darkness, whatever is evil will disappear. Whatever is good will be fostered. You will have to experience that for yourself.
But this calls for a disciplined mind. And when I say disciplined, I'm not talking about effort. Talking about something else. Have you ever studied an athlete, his or her whole life is sports. But what a disciplined life he or she leads and looking at a river as it moves toward the sea, creates its own banks that contain it. When there's something within you that moves in the right direction, it creates its own discipline. The moment you get bitten by the bug of awareness Oh, it's so delightful. It's the most delightful thing in the world. The most important it's nothing's so important in the world is awakening nothing and of course, is also discipline in its own way
of course not every scientist is truly just observing what's there a lot of scientists have a theory they want to prove and then they're not just watching ants. But the point is a good one.
Why people tend to do well early on in practice, because they don't have an agenda. They don't have they don't know where they're going. It's a wonderful place to be and it's truly where we are we do not know where we're going
you need to find a way away in the way in is to be interested to be curious.
Google what whoa goo goes on to then contrast, attitude of genuine interest with disinterest. What one Zen teacher called the bag of unconcern. He says if we bring an attitude of disinterest to our meditation practice, then we're going nowhere. The more we practice with a negative or disinterested attitude, the more we will strengthen us psychosomatic pattern in our meditation. For example, every time we sit 15 or 20 minutes into the sitting we become drowsy. The body acquires muscle memory for a particular task. Playing the piano, for example. The Pianist just looks at the music score and their hands know where to place themselves on the keyboard. Similarly, whatever kind of neurobiological habit patterns we've established, over successive sittings will repeat themselves automatically, every time we practice, if we create negative patterns, we will find it very difficult to undo them. I would rephrase that say when we create negative patterns, we will find it very difficult to undo them. Inevitably. We create habits, good ones, and bad ones can't be all good. life really is very much about habit formation makes such a difference what we do, what we choose to do, how we choose to spend our time. Where do we direct our attention? How much of our lives do we spend doing the scrolling through our devices? How much time do we spend mentally complaining to ourselves about this or that aspect of our life? This is karma. What's what's exciting what what gives fuel to practice is to realize that we have the ability to change things. We have the ability to look into what's important. Take an interest in what matters. See what's there. To realize we don't know it all. Realize we know very little
he goes on the process of meditation practice is not simply a mental one. In the body, our patterns of brain activity and our neurological and hormonal levels change according to levels of concentration. In general, the mind needs engagement with an object or some kind of sensory stimulation in order to sustain attention. So practicing meditation is a balancing act. We don't want to attach ourselves to an object, but we do want to stay awake. That is where our attitude of interest is of great importance. If we sincerely care about our practice, if we are sensitive and interested in our method, then we will be creating good habits and we will avoid falling into bad ones. We have to know when to advance when to retreat, when to sharpen the mind when to relax. When we work with our method, it's a relationship. There's no one fixed way no one trick pony approach will cut it this is how to be skillful in practice. Approaches to meditation practice are not mechanical.
We students often come looking for a technique. How do I do it? How do I question my koan? Sometimes teacher can say something to help a bit. But it's not a technique
can give too much advice can become a script a formula a lot of practice is just groping in the dark. And what's important is our engagement, our sincerity. Our effort, the effort is balanced, genuine, not tense, not grasping. Things work there with their way out.
He says we have to approach our practice with finesse, adapting to the changing conditions. We may be applying our math diligently and may have developed clarity, but if there is the slightest shift in our undercurrent feeling toward disinterest, then slowly we will lose concentration. There is a taint of annoyance or resistance toward romp wandering thoughts as an underlying feeling tone, then we will have more wandering thoughts. Gradually, our minds will become agitated without us even knowing it.
It's also the case that congratulating ourselves on whatever state we've gotten into, we'll call it cause it to dissipate. That concentrated state
you have to remember also, we're not machines, we can't reach a state of peak concentration in AVID last forever. It is going to shift and change there's just a natural flow. Mind abiding nowhere.
says if we take care of our meditation practice, and develop great interest in it, we will take care of our lives the same way. If we recognize the attitude that we bring to practice, or we could say the attitudes, and by extension our lives, then we will have an opportunity to transform it. Our relationships improve, life becomes easier. In the process, we serve others more skillfully. If our attitude is one of disinterest, however subtle, we can recognize and replace it with acceptance, even love or gratitude.
It's not as easy as just saying it can cultivate an attitude of acceptance. And it does serve a purpose to reflect on our reasons for gratitude. Makes a big difference. When we realize how much is given to us how much we're supported, how much we depend on the labor of countless beings.
He says we don't need to be slaves to the habit tendencies that lie beneath the surface of our mental lives. If we practice with an attitude of interest, then every difficulty that we experience every obstruction, we will find it easier to change for the better. With interest, we will be able to give rise to great confidence and steadfast determination. And those are the next two attitudes that he discusses here in this chapter. So the first confidence is an important prerequisite for Chan practice. The word confidence in Buddhism also includes other shades of meaning, such as belief, faith, conviction, and trust. All of these qualities are based on experience. They are not based on blind belief. If they're not grounded in personal experience, they won't hold up against the challenges of life and practice. Only experience fosters genuine confidence.
experiences what we're interested in.
On the basis of personal experience, self confidence develops and on the basis of self confidence, confidence in the Dharma develops on the basis of confidence in the Dharma, trust in the teacher develops. Teachers represent the Sangha and the Buddha is the origin of dharma. Thus faith and confidence in the efficacy of the three treasures of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is established through practice. Unlike worldly accomplishments, genuine transformative practice and experience rarely come from reason or knowledge. For example, if a meditator is able to ease or even forget about leg pain, because they received proper instructions for meditating on pain, they will naturally develop confident confidence in themselves and their meditation practice. If a person just reads about meditating on pain, this experience is not actually going to alleviate that pain. However reasonable the method may sound, we have to practice it before we can form any opinion about its efficacy. Chan practitioners must have confidence in Buddha nature, or intrinsic freedom. But this confidence is not something we can rationalize. I've met Zen practitioners who in meditation, bring forth this faith in just sitting as an expression of awakening or Buddha nature. It is an expression of Buddha nature. But when I inquire further about it, I find that what they're doing is thinking about faith and conviction and Buddha nature while they sit there engaging in a monologue to remind themselves about their faith and conviction. This is not having confidence in Buddha nature, confidence is not thinking. It is a conviction that arises from experience. To develop confidence, we need to cultivate correct attitudes and use the methods of practice. When we practice with contentment, and interest, and move away from self reference, conviction, and our freedom naturally grows, the less self centered we are, the more our conviction grows. The more we learn to be okay with things as they are, be okay with adversity. Be okay with the ups and downs. The more we realize what our part is, what our job is, to do the groundwork bring our awareness to everything. Then as change happens, we do realize, oh, this really works. We may begin to realize we're a different person than we were. We go along successfully for a while our wife or husband or significant other may also notice a difference. That's a higher bar.
He says confidence builds incrementally within the range of our abilities. If you just started learning about meditation, you can't say, I'm going to sit in meditation, unmoving until I reach full awakening, like the Buddha. If you try to do this, you're going to be disappointed. Please Don't set yourself up for defeat. While the motivation is worthy of praise, you have to be realistic. On the one hand, if you say I vow not to stray off the method for five or 10 minutes of sitting, then maybe that is more reasonable. You may not be able to do it right away or all the time. But when you do, you will develop confidence not only in yourself, but also in your method. The practice can be even, just to vow to stay with one breath. When you're in the middle of the sitting and it seems like you've lost your bearings. Just bring it down to right now what's right underneath your nose. Maybe just one out breath, or one in breath. Slowly you can build work our way into it. Have to be flexible. You have to work with conditions.
When people experience some benefit from practice, they begin to have faith in it. Confidence is an attitude built on experience. It must be cultivated, so we must take action to cultivate it and let our personal experience deepen it. Confidence is a virtue we all have, but we have to engage in practice to develop it. For beginners in meditation, it's helpful to set a time every day for 10 to 15 minutes of sitting. Don't try to sit too long at first, but gradually over a period of A few months, increase the time to half an hour. As you experience the benefits of your practice, you will be more likely to want to meditate. In order to cultivate self confidence, we need to first learn to follow through on our intentions with small tasks. Don't set grand projects that are impossible to accomplish. We do things incrementally and accomplish them. We can move ourselves from I can't do I can. He says I have a student who hoards a lot of stuff. She knows that she should clean up her home, but it's overwhelming. Everything means so much to her. I told her to start with one area at a time. The stairs to the second floor, for example, or stairs are usually covered with stuff that makes it hard for her to get to her bedroom. I told you that after that, she should move on to one of her one of the rooms. Then section by section, her home would get cleaned. And she did this. When she finished cleaning her stairs. She started with another area and then moved on to another. In the process. She got rid of a lot of things she finally realized she didn't need while her house is not completely cleaned up. She's now happy tidying it up. Many other things in our lives are like that. We can work our way out of difficulties if we do it incrementally. The most important ingredient of transformation is to concretely establish self confidence.
Chan teachings are practical. They do not focus on lofty abstract theories. Look at what's under your feet is a famous Chan saying someone wants to ask John Master Yunmen. What's Buddhahood? He replied, who's asking? Another person asked him how to be free. And Yunmen said who is binding you? Right here right now? We are the ones who can answer this question. Just take care of this moment, one step at a time. If you start thinking of the future, when will I ever become awakened, then you will miss what is right under your feet. It's so obvious, so ironclad. Anytime you're looking into the future, you've lost what's here. Really lost your life. If you're always looking ahead, worrying about how to climb to the top of the mountain, then you will never get there. You will give up even attempting to climb thinking it's too arduous or long. And you'll end up feeling discouraged. Focus instead on the present and what's under your feet as you take each step. And before you know it, you'll find yourself on top of the mountain This is certainly the way to do so Shane. Stay right here. Stay here in this moment. So Sheen has such an opportunity to learn to do that. Because everything is taken care of. During our normal lives. There's a lot of planning we have to do. We do have to think about the future. So sheen, so much of that is removed for us. Truly we can do this just paying attention to what's in front of us. It's like driving across the country at night. Can never see any farther than your headlights. Yet you can go from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific
says ruminating about the past and projecting onto the future obstructs our present. Worse it leads to mistakes. Those who do mountain climbing know this climbing a mountain to focus on each step. One by one one misstep, if you're going through a treacherous traverse can mean death or disaster. It's one of the people reasons people become addicted to mountain climbing is because the level of attention that it requires. It's a way they can get out of their disinterested, unhappy lives.
He says it's the same with practice. Not saying we should never plan for the future, of course we should. But once we've set a task for ourselves, we should follow through step by step. This will strengthen our self confidence which will lead us to our destination. Yet, we should also have flexibility, when causes and conditions change, we will have to adapt to them. But our general direction doesn't have to change.
The nature of aspiration. aspiration is not so much about a goal, I've got to get this, I've got to swallow this, tuck this under my belt, it's more about the direction we want to move in, move from closed off to open, move from self preoccupied to free, free to be with others, see others.
And people sometimes compare themselves think oh, so and so is so far ahead of me or I'm so far ahead of this person. There's something I read once in a book by the scholar John Blofeld. So book about the bodhisattva of compassion. And he was talking to some Chinese friends about the superstitious Chinese peasantry and the practice of pure land Buddhism, basically, that, unlike in Zen, where we believe in self power, they believe in other power, somehow, the Buddha Almeida is going to take us to the Pure Land, and there we'll be able to practice and come to realization. That's a pretty unfair character is characterization characterization of pure land Buddhism. But what his friend said to him is, your view may be more accurate, more sophisticated, you may understand it better. But this journey is a journey of 10,000 miles. And maybe you're a step ahead. What what significance is there to one step ahead, a journey of 10,000 miles. We're all going in the same direction. It's enough. Our confidence is that we are going in the same direction. And we do develop that confidence when we see the changes that happen in us and around us. We begin to experience freedom and opening equanimity, the ability to take adversity. deal with things we don't like.
Can see that instead of focusing on Oh, I haven't gotten where I want to go. I've been practicing for this many years and I haven't done this or I haven't done that.
He says he goes on. Sometimes people don't lack confidence in themselves, but they doubt the teachings. There are many teachings that are beyond our understanding. The way to work with this is to engage with what we can and keep an open mind about what we currently don't understand. As our practice deepens, we will come to appreciate the deeper significance of those teachings. Confidence is also connected to wisdom. The Maha prajna paramitas shastra sate states. Faith allows us to enter the ocean of Buddha Dharma, but it is wisdom that delivers the significance of this passage points to the interconnection between faith and wisdom. To have confidence or faith in something is to have an attitude of openness is precisely this openness that allows us to transcend our self referential attachments. Our personal experience mediates between our faith and wisdom. When we encounter a teaching we don't just believe in we have to personally experience it. In this way. Faith becomes wisdom that is why quote, Faith enters and wisdom delivers.
Final attitude is determination. He says confidence and continuous effort together give rise to the prerequisite of determination. Usually when we think of determination, we think of diligent practice like a tidal wave. We give it our all in the process we become tense. But this kind of determination is usually contaminated by greed and anger, which are unwholesome mental factors. I want to realize awakening I want to attain Buddhahood I want this I want that. Once a student asked Master Linji and his Rinzai how to escape samsara, the sea of birth and death. Linji said that samsara I'm sure the questioner was earnest and determined, but that very desire to escape is grasping. If you are already practicing the Dharma, there is no need for you to always ruminate about liberation, just practice and when the seeking mind ceases, awakening is realized. Most of the time, we are driven by our need to grasp or reject. This is not determination. Determination may be directed as when we make vows, but it is not directed by greed. Don't think about your own gain, and never give up helping others. Practice engage in practice with contentment, interest, confidence and determination. Don't let your practice be fueled by grasping, rejecting disinterest, or self disparagement.
And he says this determination is about being steadfast, trickling on like a fine stream and a continuous flow that does not end. Even when a big boulder is in the way, the stream simply meanders around it and continues. So a Chan analogy for determination is a continuous stream of water without gaps without seams. This attitude helps us to keep the body and mind relaxed, without grasping and at the same time diligent. This takes discipline and resourcefulness is a difficult balance to learn to maintain. People often get into practice and tense up. Sometimes do that for quite a while. ventually realize it's necessary that the body and mind be relaxed. But then you swing over to the other extreme. How do we work diligently with a relaxed body and mind. It's hard, takes time it takes practice takes trying and failing and trying and failing.
He says Normally when people are tired, they are unable to practice. But when they are clear, they practice very well. But we have to be able to practice in all situations, even when we're tired. being resourceful is learning to adapt to the conditions of our bodies and minds. That's how we become skillful practitioners. So how do we practice when we're fatigued? If we try to fight through the fatigue we will become more exhausted and our minds will become more scattered. We have to know when to take a rest. When the mind is agitated or excited, how do we practice we may need to relax more and bring the energy of the body downward to get grounded. We learn to approach our practice from different angles, adjusting our attitude accordingly. All of this is part of building a relationship with ourselves. When we are skillful that our practice becomes alive. Slowly it becomes less influenced by the limits of our bodies and minds. This comes with patience and as a result of cultivating all the previous right attitudes.
Sometimes we have to take a step backward in order to go forward. In practice going backward is not necessarily regression. advancing forward is not necessarily progression. We have to assess our practice honestly. For example, on retreat sometimes if we push ourselves too much, allowing our grasping mind to seep in. We then become scattered and thoughts just come flooding in. On those occasions, we have to let the body and mind rest and give ourselves a break. In whatever situation you find yourself, never say I can't. instead ask yourself, How will I practice? If you say I can't, the gate of China is closed. If you ask how that a pathway opens, don't be limited by our narratives about what we can or can't do. In reality, there is nothing that can't be accomplished, if we put our minds to it. Henry Ford said whether you think you can or that you can't, you're right.
And finally, he sums up these attitudes, contentment, interest, confidence and determination complement one to number one another. We must cultivate them together. Sometimes we need one more than the others other times we need to develop them together, or we may explore them one at a time. But the others are always in the background. Practice is an organic process, and each of us is different. So we have to be in tune with the undercurrents of our own interior estates and know how to respond. When in doubt, ask your teacher for guidance.
Okay, it's a good place to stop. So we will stop now and recite the four vows