June 2022 Sesshin, Day 5: The Practice of Zen by C.C. Chang
4:28PM Jun 16, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is day five of this June 2022, seven day sesshin. And we'll pick up with the book we're reading from yesterday the practice of Zen, by CC Chang and
yesterday, we were reading the discourse of Master Poshan. And now we're going to turn to the discourse of Master Han Shan.
And, again, there's no biographical material that I could find the same as with potion, nothing on Han Shan or even his dates, but I get the feeling that it's somewhere in medieval times, there 1300 14 under 15. But you know, what, what he talks about in terms of his experiences, others experiences and his advice. And then practice is, could have been written today, yesterday. And tomorrow. It's timeless. It is a timeless practice we are doing. He begins concerning this great matter, the DAO, everyone has possessed it from the beginning. It is always with each of you. The difficulty is that from the very no beginning time, the wonderful illumination has been covered over by seeds of passion, streams of thought, the flow of conceptualization and deeply rooted habitual thinking. Yeah, that covers it. Nothing different today than in the 1500s. When he says everyone has possessed it, but take a little issue with the translator that everyone is it saying we possess it? It's like if Joe shoe were to say that dog has Buddha Nature every one of us is it.
me just repeat that series of afflictions that cover up this luminous, original mind of ours that seeds of passion. We refer to that in the four vows and list blind passions. I think of particular reactions to people and things anger and other passions streams of thought well, we're getting close terms of that this week, the flow of conceptualization, dito and deeply rooted habitual thinking. Again, we know what this is. Therefore, we have never been able to grasp the actual realization itself, but instead have wandered among the shadows of delusory thoughts about mind about the body and about the world. This is why we have been ever roaming in samsara.
From dark path to dark pi path we've wandered in darkness How can we be free from birth and death?
Previously the Buddhas and patriarchs who incarnated in this world Through the use of 1000s of words and various methods, taught either the doctrine or Zen. Here the doctrine is capitalized as Zen. Either the doctrine or Zen is a footnote here. Let's go with this. Chinese Zen Buddhists divided Buddhism into two main distinct groups. One is designated as the principal and the other as the doctrine. The principal is the teaching of Zen. And the other one, the doctrine is the teaching of all the other Buddhist schools. Okay, not important. He continues, all all their teachings were nothing but instruments to crush the habitual cleanings infecting human thought.
You could say that, if you had to pick one word that summarizes what we're up against, in Zen practice, clinging would be a good one. There's another word for attachment. Like people, commonly they hear the word attachment and they think of being attached to Oh, smoking or being attached to food and sleep and all those are the minor ones compared to our attachment to our thoughts.
With respect to thoughts, we might better use the word addiction, we are addicted to the thoughts.
There is no dharma in the sense of something real or concrete, in that which they handed down to us, that is the the ancestors. The so called practice or work is merely a method for purifying the shadows of our habitual thinking and flowing thoughts. To concentrate all one's efforts to this end is called work or practice. If suddenly the surging thoughts stop, when clearly sees that his self mind is originally pure, genuine, vast, illuminating, perfect and devoid of objects. This experience is called enlightenment. There is nothing outside of the mind nothing which can be worked upon, and nothing to be enlightened. However, the egotistic passions long accumulated and rooted within us are difficult to wipe out but again, these passions are not something we want we want to make war on. We just have to notice is that key word noticing so everything starts with noticing, noticing these passions or thoughts or, or other afflictions and not cling to them our passions often are, are sustained and even heightened by our thoughts
it's it's part of the human body mind. times to have strong feelings, passions rise up. And that happens on its own but then it To not not bind them to us with our thoughts. So for example, someone does something that makes you angry. And okay, anger comes up. It'll pass sooner or later, it'll pass sooner if we aren't dwelling in thoughts about that person who we feel mistreated us. So thoughts are a big part of getting free of these toxic passions, blind passions
he continues, fortunately, in this lifetime, through the help and instruction of teachers, the prajna seed within you has had an opportunity to grow prajna means wisdom, transcendental wisdom. Thus, your spiritual aspirations and your determination had been awakened. But he must realize that it is not easy to pull out all at once the roots of samsara, which have been deeply embedded within you from beginningless time. This task is not trivial. Only those of will and might brave enough to shoulder such a burden, and to press straight forward. Without the slightest hesitation or timidity, we'll be able to enter into it. It is enlightenment.
I can I've learned over the years in talking with students that when they hear something when some students hear this only those of us
have will and might, there's a certain personality type that will say, Oh, well, that leaves me out, I don't have that much will or might. So I guess I'm cut out of that. Well, there may be some slight truth to that at any given time, but will and such such qualities are not static and not fixed. We we grow them through practice. We grow this willpower. We grow faith. People who say I'm a little short on faith, I don't know how far I can get well, every time you return your attention to your practice, you're growing that faith.
Says generally speaking at this time, there are many who practice the Dow, but few of them can come to actual realization. Growers and hard workers are many, but beneficiaries and finders of the path remain few. Why? This is because most practitioners do not know how to work how to enter into the task at the very outset. What they do instead is to fill their minds with the words and ideas that they have formed through thinking or they measure things by means of the discriminating mind or they suppress the stream of thought or dazzle themselves with visionary be wilderness.
This this one clause, or they measure things by means of the discriminating mind. Well, the most maybe one of the most troublesome these measuring things is our practice our progress.
To really surge ahead, in our practice, we have to not entertain the mess During mind, where I am, where I am in relation to others, how much further I have to go, how far I've come. It's measuring mind is just deadly. And we have to learn to see it as its operating. And so that we can then return our attention to the practice, get off this measuring mind that's the irony, the more we we use the mind in this way, the more we spend time judging evaluating our practice, the further we get, the worse it gets.
Some of them have stuffed themselves with the mysterious words of the old masters, and treated these instructions or understandings as their own. They do not know that all these things are useless. This is what is meant by the saying, to acquire understanding at the hands of others, is to close the gate of self enlightenment.
The first step you should take in Zen work is to forget about all understanding and knowledge and concentrate on one thought. Thought is one translation for he's leading to
firmly believe that your self mind is originally pure and clear, without the slightest trace of any existence, bright, perfect and ubiquitous throughout the entire universe. From the beginning, there was no body, mind or world, nor any erroneous thoughts or infective passions. Right at this instant. The appearance of this one mind is in reality, non existent. So this is a little steep for some people. It's talking about how fundamentally is sent in essentially, there is nothing
this world that we think of as the world gives the appearance of being real enough. And we have to respect that side of things. But in its essence, in its essence, it's nothing there. Nothing that is not in flux. It's one way to understand emptiness is whatever is in flux. You can't say it has any substantial identity to it. It's change.
So, that's what he means from the very beginning there is no no body, no mind,
or a world
we call the world doesn't exist apart from our own mind
where things are things because of mind, as mind is mind because of things. These two are merely relative and both at source or emptiness. The only way to really grasp this is to confirm it through direct experience of awakening. Many people may be able to understand it conceptually, but that's very different from really experiencing it.
He says all manifestations before my eyes are also delusions devoid of substance. They are merely shadows within the mind. You know, if this this kind of profound teaching is too much to swallow, you don't need to you just do your practice. You don't need to believe this. If you do your practice long enough and intensely enough you will confirm it through your practice the trouble is that too many people take this to mean well, what do you mean it doesn't exist it's empty. Again, this is speaking from the essential side of things, the other side side of of relative substance changing substance. Yeah, we have to respect the world of change and speeding cars and other things that are obvious
one of my very favorite statements and all of Buddhist teaching is from the Lankavatara Sutra things are not what they appear to be nor are they otherwise
he quotes a master Yong Jia, one of the more famous of a Chinese masters warning the thought of continuation should be cut short. That means the the notion of anything continuing from one moment to the next unchanged
said Master Dogan said firewood does not become ash.
Certainly in the realm of of thought. Han Shan here says, floating delusory thoughts are rootless and unreal. Never treat the distracted thought as a concrete thing. When it arises, notice it right away, but never tried to suppress it. And let it go and watch it as one watches a gourd floating on the surface of a stream.
Again, this is some five or six centuries ago, this this document was written. But how could it be any different then from now? He's talking about the nature of thought. How could that change?
The The trick is to to notice the thought in the mind to notice it as a thought. That's, that's the hard part. Because we so often are enmeshed in our thoughts. We don't see them as thoughts out there. We're just captivated. We're recording them. We're snared in these thoughts. But the mindfulness feature of Zen meditation gets grows and we can more quickly notice when we're in thought. And then it can just help as he says, just to remind oneself, that there's nothing to thoughts they have no roots there but they're not there.
Probably the most corrosive type of thought is doubt about the doubt that is skipped set skepticism the doubt that causes us to lose faith and probably everyone encounters dark doubts along the way. And so Shane one can suddenly be beset by doubts
it's a big turning point for me, when working on Mu when when I started to have doubts, particular doubts of whether I could do it, you know, do I have it in me, to come to awakening is to be able to remind myself Okay, a doubt is a thought. A doubt is a thought. Is it not? Who would say it's anything but a thought?
Thoughts have no roots to them and no substance to them. Don't believe them? To believe that doubt,
Shake It Off
he continues, what you should do is take up this awareness, as if it is like the awareness not only of the koan, but awareness of the breath, whatever our practices take up this awareness as if holding a sharp sword in your hand, either in in olden times, they very often would use these martial analogies, there's so much war, civil war and other war as if holding a sharp sword in your hand. No matter whether Buddha or devils come just cut them off like a snarl of entangled silk threads. Use all your attention and strength patiently, patiently to push your mind to the very dead end of consciousness. Just push it on and on. When he says no matter whether Buddha or devils come, of course, he means thoughts of Buddha's thoughts or Bodhisattvas.
Rinzai Lin-chi famously said, Kill father kill mother. Of course, that's what he meant. The thought
in terms of the, the very purest clarity of mind, there are no there aren't anything better about good thoughts than bad thoughts, thoughts or thoughts? or obstructions?
Those who determined to practice the Dharma should be leave firmly the teaching of mind only. The Buddha said everything is mind. All 10,000 dharmas our consciousness. Dharma is here. When it's plural, it means things phenomena. All Buddhism is nothing but an exposition of this sentence. How that's worth repeating. Everything is mind. All 10,000 phenomena are consciousness ignorance or in latent virtue or wickedness, cause or effect are nothing but one's own mind not one iota of anything exists outside of mind.
Be Zen practitioners should completely cast aside her former knowledge and understanding here scholarship or cleverness is useless. Rather she should look on the whole world as hallucinatory. What she sees are mirages, mirror images, like the moon reflected in the water the sounds she hears are hymns of the wind blowing through the trees she should see all manifestations as clouds floating in the sky changing and unreal not only the outer world, but all habitual thoughts, passions, distractions and desires within one's own mind are likewise in substantial non concrete rootless and floating
what a how liberating it would be to to always see problems in that in that way
when when he says completely cast aside her former knowledge and understanding well yeah, good luck with that all your former knowledge and understanding it's not something we have to do. It happens on its own through rigorous practice. We we have all of these ideas we've that we've picked up we have it sanded away through practice it happens on its own and usually it takes a long time it doesn't of course, it doesn't mean that we become illiterate or somehow stupid it's it's get finding freedom from these assumptions about the world and people and things.
He continues to work on the koan. You must have firmness, unshakable determination and solid perseverance. He should not have the least hesitation or ear resolution, nor should you practice one koan today and another one tomorrow. You should not entertain any doubts about attaining enlightenment, nor about the koan being too deep or mysterious, and so on. All such thoughts are hindrances, as is by the way, the thought of enlightenment. I point them out to you now so that you will notice them later when they come up. When your work is being done, well, things in the outer world will not bother you very much. Again, Rinzai Lin-chi famously said, there is nothing I dislike. I think a better translation is there is nothing to be disliked. It speaking from the point of view of seeing the no thingness and everything
The trouble is that mental disturbances will arise feverishly in your mind with any without any obvious reasons. Sometimes desires and last well up. Sometimes an indescribable restlessness bursts forth numerous other hindrances will also appear. I mentioned this yesterday as I do every session, these are the side effects of strong sitting, we have to contend with them. All these difficulties will tire you mentally and physically, so that you will not know what to do. You must then realize that all these harassing experiences are produced by your meditation effort, which has stimulated into activity, the seeds of habit deeply hidden in your store consciousness from the very no beginning time. The store consciousness, a lie a vision Anna is a big part of Buddhist psychology that that all of our perceptions, what we see hear, smell, taste, touch, and think, as a sixth sense. Everything is being filed away in this storehouse consciousness. And the reason I have no doubt about that, is that that things, things from decades ago, will suddenly pop up out of nowhere, especially in sesshin sesshin we're excavating and we're getting opening up this storehouse consciousness and I would be almost sure that everyone who goes to sesshin long enough, long enough has these amazing bursts of memories or just
from childhood even.
I would also put a earworms in this category is in my experience, it was songs little bits of songs, melodies, usually inane, stupid songs that got stuck in there somewhere, just suddenly popping up. Anyway, whether you believe it or not, let's continue. These are these are stimulated into activity, the seeds of habit deeply hidden in your store consciousness from the very no beginning time. At this crucial stage, you must recognize them thoroughly and break through them. Never take them as real. Never subject yourself to their control and deceptions. Yes, ear worms same as thoughts. People come to duck son. report these things, some stupid song that's been hanging their mind for a day and a half. Just leave it alone. Get your mind back on the practice stop worrying about these these things that come up.
He goes on after this stage, you will feel comfortable and infinitely light filled with boundless joy.
But this is just the beginning of knowing how to work. There is nothing wonderful about it. Never rejoice and wallow in this ravishing experience. If you do, the devil of joy will possess you. That's a that's a warning. People can suddenly have some wonderful insight and sesshin just just go wild with joy. But that kind of joy. Not that deeper, grounded joy that comes from years of pride. practice but that kind of joy doesn't last. How could it
he says those whose hindrances are too great, whose seeds of passion are too strong, and whose habitual thoughts are too inveterately rooted in their store consciousness, not knowing how to observe their minds or how to work on the koans should practice prostrations before Buddha recite sutras, and repent for their wrongdoings. I did that once for a while, a whole year, that repentance part and it did leave me feeling relieved of things that have been weighing on me. These are these are secondary practices. They're not at the center of Zen practice, but they definitely can can nourish our present practice.
He's talking about the enlightenment experience. possessing this experience one merges her mind with all conditions of life, cleansing all the commas and streams of passion and desire. Even doubts are fused into one real mind. But this enlightenment has different degrees of profundity, a very important point. If one is able to work on the basic principle and breaks right through the nest of the eight consciousnesses, to turn over the cave of blindness, and with one great leap to pass right through, then there is nothing more for him to attain. He is indeed deserving of consideration as a highly endowed person. His real realization is the deepest. But many of those who practice through gradual steps gain only shallow realizations. This is absolutely true.
The worst thing is to be content with a small and shallow attainment. Long ago I came across a words to this regard from a a Syrian Syrian of the early 20th century. I'll have a stab at his name. Ahmad Mu Tana Nabil and I saved it because it goes right to good Zen advice. Who so desires the ocean makes light of streams?
The last sentence of his discourse of Han Shan is discourses. The crucial point of this practice is continuity and consistency, continuity and consistency. Stop and recite the four vows