July 2022 Sesshin, Day 6: Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu (trans. by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary)
5:37PM Aug 3, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is day six of this July 2022, seven day sesshin. We'll return to the teachings of 12th century Chinese and Master Yuanwu reading from the book Zen Letters, translated by the Cleary brothers, who else.
Fundamentally the path is wordless and the truth is birthless. Beyond time. Wordless words are used to reveal the birthless truth. There is no second thing. As soon as you try to pursue and catch hold of the wordless path, and the birthless truth, you've already stumbled past it
there is no second thing in this not to all is the same, with nothing separate or outside.
That is why when the ancestral teacher of Zen came from the West, probably referring to Bodhidharma, the founder, he only propagated this thing. He only valued personal apprehension outside of words and direct comprehension outside of mental maneuvers, mental maneuvers, where we become familiar with those in the course of positioning. Apart from those of the highest potential and capacity, who could take it up immediately
my one quarrel with the Clary Brothers is how they, how many of the words they render as very long abstract words multiple multiple syllable words, but who could claim to do any better than they do? And he says, if you have set your Will I miss you do not calculate how long the journey will take. In establishing your will, you must be independent and deadly serious and succeed and cutting clear through
it's never a good sign when someone new to Zen asks how long it will take it's hardly a deal breaker. It can be it's just one phase one can go through early in practice trying to figure out trying to apply transactional assessment of it how much do I how much time do I have to give in order to get what I want and that that falls away as we go on. But you can come back here at too often with people who've been to many machines without having had a break through and may go through all of these mental maneuvers. But how long it's been how much longer it'll be it's just just only creates a further hindrance to go through this calculations it's it's understandable i i went through it myself for a while, but you just can't give way to that. Those kind of calculations when quality people plan to investigate mind, how can they set a rigid time limit Listen, we've read accounts in teisho, of young, young ardent monks who say okay, I'm going to give it 90 days. And if I don't get it, then within 90 days then I'm out of here must have been, you know not so rare for the these newcomers to SET set the time limit like that, but he says here, how can they set a reg rigid time limit, just achieve deep faith and consistently go forward you are sure to walk upon the ground of reality, if you renew yourself day by day and strip away your illusions day by day. Step back all the way and it is this When you reach the point that even this is not established, this is precisely the place to do the work.
Ever since ancient times, people with a will for the path have traveled around from region to region seeking instruction. From adept practitioners. They truly did not let their lives in this world go by in vain. Thus, they did their best to put their condition minds to rest and picked out teachers who genuinely possess the Enlightened eye. When they encountered such teachers, they put down their baggage and stayed for as long as necessary relying on these teachers to help them complete the work. When we observe the paths they followed, we see that they were real dragons and elephants. So, here just calling out the value of commitment and doing taking as long as it takes. Right now, if you have within you the will to proceed for the great cause, you must put all your strength into concentrating your focus on it and making your concentration solid ensure forget about eating and sleeping, do not shrink from strenuous efforts, work hard and endure the pain if you investigate it with your whole being after a long time, you will naturally achieve certainty and enter the way
this one great cause has been perfectly complete right within us since the beginning. This is one way that Chinese teachers refer to this essential nature of ours that is beyond cause and effect. This one great cause has never been lacking in you it is in you know different than in the Buddha's and enlightened teachers. You cannot directly experience it as it really is simply because you give rise to erroneous knowledge and views. You impose arbitrary separations and occupy yourself with emotional attachments and empty falsehoods.
This is the hardest thing for a teacher to convey. Is this sense? It has never been lacking in you. It is in you no different than in the Buddha's and enlightened teachers. I know from being at the other end of it that you can think that you believe that okay, yeah, sure. That's why I'm here. I believe that but But there can still be less than 100% faith in that
this, that, from the very beginning, all beings are Buddha, we hear these phrases, we hear these things over and over and over again. But how much do we really take it in
it's true what is common to all of us to all beings is this luminous, enlightened nature
awakening confirms it that you don't, you haven't acquired anything that everyone else also has. Doesn't have
Lin-chi Rinzai said, what I see, I want all people to know
another letter here. He is a quote he doesn't attributed but it's just a quote, the wonders of the path are as simple and easy as can be. Then he says how true these words are. But those who have not reached the source think that the path is extremely abstruse and mysterious. They think that the ultimate reality of the path lies before the empty en before the differentiation of the primeval chaos, before Heaven and Earth were formed. In other words, they think it's something inaccessible, otherworldly. They think it is something silent and dark and vague, something impossible to fully fathom, or investigate or probe and that only the sages can experience or know it. That's they know the words of the sages, but do they they do not know their meaning. Can we talk to them about this matter? People who think like this are far from realizing that the way is perfect and complete right under everyone's feet, that it is pure and naked in the midst of everyday activities. It encompasses all mental moments and is omnipresent in all places. There is no dark place it does not illuminate and no time it is not in functioning. It is just that people have been running off in the opposite direction for a long time branching off in aberrant ways, unwilling to believe in their own Buddha nature, always seeking externally that is why the more they seek the further away they get from the way.
Let me read a passage from another of the Japanese national teachers dial cook she not our Musoke she from earlier in sesshin, but dial Kochi he says there is a reality even prior to heaven and earth. Indeed, it has no form, much less a name. Eyes fail to see it. It has no voice for years to detect. To call it mind, or Buddha violates its nature for them becomes like a visionary flower in the air. It is not mind nor Buddha. absolutely quiet and yet illuminating in a mysterious way. It allows itself to be perceived only by The clear eyed it is dharma truly beyond form and sound. It is Tao having nothing to do with words.
Wishing to entice the blind, the Buddha has playfully let words escape his golden mouth. Heaven and earth are ever since filled with entangling briars. And then he finishes Oh my good worthy friends gathered here. If you wish to listen to the thunderous voice of the Dharma, exhaust your words, empty your thoughts for then you may come to recognize this one essence
Nobody said says indeed it has no form much less than name. Another way to say that is it's it's beyond names and forms, but it's not separate from them.
the subtle, wondrous path of the Buddha's and enlightened teachers is nowhere else but in the fundamental basis of each and every person. It is really not apart from the fundamentally pure, wondrously illuminated uncontrived unconcerned mind. If you have sincerely devoted yourself to it for a long time, yet are still not able to become really genuine. It is because you have been trying to approach it via your intellectual nature and its many machinations. You should simply make this mind empty and unoccupied and quiet. And still. If you continue in a state of profound stillness, and harmony with reality as it is, for a long time without changing or shifting, there is sure to come a day when you enjoy total peace and bliss.
What you should worry about is that you will be unable to stop and will go on seeking outside yourself with your intellect. Literally, you realize that the real nature you inherently possess is hard and solid as a diamond, secure and everlasting. It's just a matter of knowing never letting there be even a moment's interruption in your awareness of your real nature wareness of your practice
if you put your conditioned intellect to rest for a long time, suddenly it will be like the bottom falling out of a bucket. Then you will naturally be happy and a peace. If you seek teachers and insist on memorizing a lot of their instructions, you are even further off. Make make a substitute instead of just buckling down committing, doing practice one place good and long. If you if you go about seeking teachers as a substitute for that and you insist on memorizing their instructions you're even further off. What you must do is use your bold basic nature and boldly cut off and abandon You're conditioned mind as He's emphasizing the need to quit the intellect while doing Zaza use it of course in our life as we need to but in our sitting, and even in our life when we don't need it, why have it was running on and on, in when we're doing simple things in our life no one has ever figured out Mu it's not something that can be figured out with this ordinary cognition
I have to stop trying to figure out anything. abandon this big brain of ours and, and just trust that in becoming one with the practice, abandoning ourselves to the practice surrendering to the practice, we then can still realize it, which is beyond anything, any kind of conceptual understanding.
Again, he keeps hammering away this thing is there with everyone right where they stand, or sit. But only if you have planted deep and strong roots in the past, where you have the strength in the midst of the worldly things to be able to push and tangling objects away. Get another quarrel with translating your intended to push anything away, we just need to notice where our tension is going. And if our attention is getting bogged down in things of the world, anything, then not to bring it back to this fundamental awareness, her own mind.
But only if you've planted deep and strong roots in the past, where you have the strength and in the strength to do this, to return the tension to reality itself. This is the value of this energy in sesshin, that builds up as the days pass is that earlier in session, we may not have the the the energy, the strength of mind to leave thoughts alone. Whereas as it goes on, our odds are better we stand a better chance of being able to do this. And that's all it is just just returning the attention to the practice and not lingering in our thoughts. At this stage of sesshin thoughts can become so sticky thoughts that just hold us captive. And and it takes because of the power of those thoughts. It takes strength it takes energy to resist getting stuck getting stuck in them. I say they're their strong thoughts only in their effect, but there's nothing to them. These thoughts have no substance to them no roots to them. We have to remember that when we're captive to them even just momentarily.
You must constantly step back from conventional perceptions, and worldly entanglements. To move move along on your own and reflect with an independent awareness. cleanse and purify your karma of mind body and mouth. Set up right and investigate reality until you arrive at subtle insight and clear liberation.
Yeah So this is uh
announcing the importance of, of upholding upright conduct in our lives because it has very much of an effect on our chances of awakening
right in your own life, detach from conditioned views and cut off sentiments stand like a wall a mile high. Abandon the deep seated conditioning and the erroneous perception that has been with you since time without beginning. Smash the mountain of self to pieces, dry up views based on craving and directly take up the truth the 1000 sages cannot alter it in the myriad forms cannot cover it or hide it it lights up heaven and earth
deep seated conditioning all we all know that the memories that falsely tell us we're there's something wrong with us we're inadequate were or that we're better than other people either way
the erroneous perception that has been with you since time without beginning it's this ego consciousness separations self and other
smashed the mountain of self to pieces this is this kind of language is vivid but we mustn't think that there's anything there to smash we just have to take our attention off the South the eye the me in the My and it will crumble on its own.
This Dao is deep and remote. Beyond the time before Heaven, Earth had taken shape. And sentient beings and Buddhas were separated that is, before we conceptualized Heaven and Earth as being a part Heaven and Hell, or before we conceptualize things in terms of the enlightened than the unenlightened. It was profoundly clear, solid and still as the root of the myriad transformations. From the beginning, it was beyond existence and non existence and never fell into the dusty realm of such sensory objects. This Tao, more Buddha Nature shines and glitters, and none can fathom its limits. It has no reality that can be considered real and no wonder that can be considered wondrous. It is absolutely transcendent and lies beyond the scope of concepts and images. There's nothing that can be used to compare it with.
If you are in opposition to anything in this creates duality. Then you are stuck with selfishness either gain or loss and you are unable to walk upon the ground of reality
at least to notice it's so it's so instinctive to sometimes fall into opposition thoughts of opposition, above all in politics, but to at least notice it and consider whether we're doing ourselves any favors by dwelling in such thought.
Fundamentally, this great light is there with each and every person right where they stand, empty, clear through, spiritually aware, all pervasive
sentient beings and Buddhas. In other words, the so called enlightened and unenlightened are both inherently equipped with it. It is perfectly fluid and boundless, fusing everything within it. It is within your own heart and is the basis of your physical body and the five clusters of form, sensation, thought motivational synthesis and consciousness. five skandhas is never been defiled or stained, and its fundamental nature is still in silent.
False thoughts suddenly arise and cover it over and block it off and confine it within the Sixth Sense faculties. And sense objects. Sense faculties and sense objects are paired off and you get stuck and begin clinging get it getting attached. Sense, sense faculties. So seeing sense faculties and sense objects, so seeing and that which is seen hearing and that which is heard, so forth. You grasp but all the various objects and scenes and produce all sorts of false thoughts, and sink down into the toils of birth and death, unable to gain liberation
is koan in the Blue Cliff Record where Imoen says Everyone has his own light, though when you try to see it, you cannot, everything is dark.
Want to pass through easily and directly right now. Just let your body and mind become thoroughly empty. So it is vacant and silent, yet aware and luminous? Well, that's the only way for our body mind to be aware and luminous is for it to be vacant in silence to empty what's in it this mind
inwardly forget all your conceptions of self and our li cut off all sensory defilements when inside and outside are clear all the way through there is just one true reality.
Hear it again. He makes him nods makes a nod to the precepts. We must search out our faults and cultivate practice. This is like the eyes and the feet depending on each other. It is So, think of the three essentials of practice is sitting or Zen. More the precepts moral conduct, and awakening. Here he's talking about the sitting close, mutually dependent relationship between sitting and not causing harm. He says if you are able to refrain from causing harm and refine your practice of the many forms of good, even if you only uphold the elementary forms of discipline and virtue, you will be able to avoid sinking down to the levels of animals, hungry ghosts and hell beings. This is the three lowest of the six realms of unaligned existence. This is even more true if you first awaken to the indestructible essence of the wondrous, illuminated true mind. And after that, cultivate practice to the best of your ability and carry out all forms of virtuous conduct. So even after awakening, continue practicing and upholding the precepts.
Among the marvels of the Dharma nothing surpasses the Zen school for experiencing direct surpassing realization, and reaching quick accord with transcendent wisdom. This is not obtained from anyone else, it is just a matter of bold and sharp practice on your own part.
And this is a nice
analogy here. It is like cutting through a skein of thread. When one thread is cut, they are all cut. Your inherent spiritual awareness is instantly liberated. One moment you're an ordinary person, the next moment you're a sage. Whether you intended or not, the ordinary and the sagely are one suchness embracing all of space, with no more direction or location. He keeps trying and probably as eloquently as anyone could, to to describe the indescribable pointing hoping to inspire some people to to take the spirit of what he's saying, to get the gist of it and so that they might exert themselves to the utmost to experience what he's experienced.
To follow the path, you should step back and practice with your whole being. Make birth and death your only thought the worldly truth is impermanent. This body is not everlasting. Once you stop breathing, and it's already another lifetime. In another birth, you may sink into non human species. And then you might go on for 1000s of lifetimes through countless ages without emerging. I asked Roshi Kapleau once what his understanding was, can we what it would, what it would take to be reborn in a sub human species as an animal, let's say and he was careful. He said, my understanding is that you have to really blow it to sink in to animal or other non human form. But I think he would be the first to say How would he know? I mean, there's there's the doctrine, there's stuff we read in books like this. You may sink into non human species and go on for 1000s of lifetimes. This is not exactly the motivating force for many people. But it may, it's possible it should be when you consider if he's right. Said in Buddhism that is only from from a human life, human consciousness, that we can apprehend the possibility of awakening and, and then act on that.
And then he any shifts here and says luckily, at present, you still have plenty of time. Now is the time to apply effort to turn toward the way every moment without your mind wavering or your attention, faltering catch sight of it right where you are. When you reach the point where not a single thought is born, and before and after are cut off is beyond time, you will suddenly penetrate through to freedom. It's like the bottom falling out of a bucket still have plenty of time. And you could say the same. Now in session, you still have plenty of time. Yes, it's only a little more than a day and in Ordinary Time. But that's beside the point. All it takes is to thoroughly to reach a Samadhi of one's practice to get completely one with the breath, the colon. And that's the the condition out of which awakening can happen.
At this stage of sesshin, with some six days behind us, this is not so hard for anyone who's done this. If you're not giving way to doubts, thinking about time, just bear down on the practice. You can be shocked at how everything just turns around in an instant.
completely unexpected. But it takes this believing mind this mind of faith has no time for anything except the practice whether you're sitting or moving about sticking with a practice holding to it in the mind. And when you lose it, getting back to it and you lose it again you get back to it. Nothing really lost. Nothing essential to you that you could lose. It's always here. They're within you
this is the time these next 24 hours 30 hours starting with now we'll stop and recite the