June 2022 Sesshin, Day 2: Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu (trans. by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary)
4:30PM Jun 16, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the second day of this June 2022, seven day sesshin. And we'll return to our text from yesterday. The teachings of Yuanwu. In a book, titled Zen letters Yuanwu was the 11th and 12th century, Chinese master famous for having been the author of The Blue Cliff Record Hekiganroku.
And we finished with one letter yesterday. And here's the next when your vision penetrates through, and your use of it is clear, these are two very different things. There's the seeing, and then there's the use of the application, the how it how it works in functioning amongst life, there can be quite a gap where there is the the insight, the realization, but a lag in being able to integrate that into one's one's life. When your vision penetrates through and your use of it is clear, you are spontaneously able to turn without freezing up or getting stuck amid all kinds of lightning fast changes and complex interactions and interlocking intricacies.
Lightning fast changes complex interactions and interlocking intricacies, makes me think of the Zoom dog some process of doing ducks on procedure. PSA can get so complicated with the sometimes unpredictable operation of the technology. So really a great, great practice for all of us in forbearance. Forbearance is one of the the six parameters the six qualities we develop. In the Dharma forbearance, the The Sanskrit word is Shanthi. Patients it's often translated as patients.
But surely, every one of us in our life can can remember situations emerging circumstances that require us to to turn to to adapt without freezing up or getting stuck
amid complex interactions and interlocking intricacies, most of them are involving people, the complexities of intimate relationships, balancing things.
Zen practice is no guarantee that we will ever master these kinds of things, but it enables us to do better at it to get more proficient at it. He goes on you do not establish any views or keep to empty any mental states you move with a mighty flow. So that quote when the wind moves, the grasses bend down. Moving with a mighty flow
being born along by things as they are this the river of changing conditions and circumstances not setting ourselves apart. And through practice drawing from a deeper place a deeper kind of assure functioning then from personal choice and ideas
this this word views you do not establish any views always in Buddhist context, it means, getting caught with a notion or idea about things. And a priest preset idea about the way things are, this is this is such a, such a subtle affliction, that surely we all have until I suppose full enlightenment, we have these views these these notions in the mind, and the really troublesome ones are the ones we're not aware of. We're not aware of them, we just placed them in this category of the way things are the way the world is the way people are. That's what these Buddhist texts mean by views.
In Zen we, we might say that, when we have no views, we can see see things as they are see people as they are, instead of the boxes we put them in.
Again, this phrase when the wind moves, the grasses bend down, we can get a sense of this also in sesshin, especially later in sesshin, when the the wind of this collective mind with a capital M mind is carrying us along.
continues when you enter into enlightenment right where you are, you penetrate to the profound the source
the profound a source, because it is the is essential nature. The fundamental ground
it's not about learning. We can through many years of working at something particular field of of work we can get eventually get to know the I'd say I suppose there are those who who become master chefs who then might say legitimately they've gotten to the essence of, of cooking or the essence of yoga or the essence of mechanics, as in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This isn't any particular essence it's the essence. Awakening reveals the essence of everything
he says you cultivate this realization till you attain freedom of mind, harboring nothing in your heart.
Again, here, there's the distinction between the realization that you then cultivate until you attain freedom. Again, that same leg, that same distinction, there's the insight, and then much later, comes real freedom. To be able to live in accordance with what we've seen.
Here there is no understanding in quotation marks to be found much less not understanding. Even understanding in quotes is a thing. And freedom means being free of anything, everything
you go on like this 24 hours a day unfettered, free from all bonds. Since from the first you do not keep to subject an object or self and others, how could there be any, quote Buddha Dharma This is the realm of no mind, no contrived activity and no concerns. How can this be judged with mere worldly intelligence and knowledge and discrimination and learning, if the fundamental basis is lacking, that is the fundamental insight into essential nature.
Again, this realm of no mind no contrived activity, no concerns, minds me of this Zen saying nothing distinguishes the enlightened person
at its at its purest that is at its most refined awakening, there's no artifice no no stink. Zen phrase meaning some, some odor of specialness, nothing at all.
Mere worldly intelligence, IQ, knowledge, education. These are all very low laudable things to have this completely different from Awakening.
Even raising raises a rhetorical question, did Bodhidharma actually bring this teaching when he came from the west?
Well, if he brought a teaching he brought to China anything that it can't be the real dharma. All he did was to point out the true nature that each and every person inherently possesses. To enable people to thoroughly emerge clear and pure from the orbit of delusion, and not be stained and defiled by all their erroneous judgment, excuse me, erroneous knowledge and consciousness and false thoughts and judgments. That's quite a basket of deplorables there erroneous knowledge and consciousness and false thoughts and judgments is a deep stains that we encounter along the path. Sooner or later. We, as we sand away our afflictions our delusions, we come into contact with these things we realize how limited is the value of knowledge, anything acquired, learned? Our thoughts are all bogus judgments of course I've heard so many people with their first machine Express horror at realizing how much they judge other people. And then I silently in their thoughts. And then I always point out and if you're judging other people, you can be sure you're judging yourself
and then we come to see that too, usually it's judging others that is, wakes us up. And then we see that we're doing the same thing to ourselves all the time. Why would it be any different when self and other are not to they're just some kind of arbitrary division.
As a general rule, I don't know if it's invariable, but as a general rule, whatever we're dumping on other people, we can be sure we're dumping on ourselves somewhere, we now may not be aware of it.
Later in the letter, now we're picking up once you merge your tracks into the stream of Zen, you spend your days not only spend your days, silencing your mind, and practicing with your whole being, silencing your mind. practicing with your whole being doesn't doesn't mean just sitting. silencing your mind, by not clinging to thoughts when we catch ourselves, dwelling in thoughts wherever we are, doesn't have to be a mat. And that's practicing that Zen practice. terms of time, the time we have in any given day, the sitting is the least of Zen practice. Acceptance machine but outside sesshin. Practicing has to go on all the time. Other than in sitting, in addition to sitting. It's the same thing. It's all practice. We're using the mind in the same way. It's just a two step process. We notice rather when we notice that the mind has wandered that we're dwelling in thoughts, we bring it back to this. This can mean the practice the koan, or it can mean whatever one is doing, but it's always in the present. Bringing back the bringing back our attention to the present. This here now as practice the posture we're in whether we're sitting or standing or walking or running or working, vacuuming or sweeping or anything else that's that's secondary.
You realize he continues, you realize that this great cause, again, those it's capitalized, great cause is not obtained from anyone else. But it's just a matter of taking up the task boldly and strongly and making constant progress.
Day by day, you shed your delusions and day by day you enhance your clarity of mind.
That's how we get more clear and bright. Is through that shedding of delusions. It's not really that that we any one of us is shedding them this it's nothing we have to make a project out of. They are shed. Their sloughed off if we're sitting every day
it's not something that any of us does it happens as a result of the setting and and the ongoing practice in addition to setting
that famous saying Zen as a practice of daily losing
in sesshin, where this process is accelerated because of the many hours we sit, we confirm that we lose nothing by losing that the losing is a liberating
your potential for enlightened perception is like fine gold, that is to be refined hundreds and 1000s of times
I would springs to mind is an analogy. Someone came up with many years ago, someone was giving a talk in the Zendo in the 1970s. She was from Vermont. And she used the example of maple syrup how have you heard this maple syrup is made she her father used to do it on their farm there was the plot there, where she said you take the hit the sap out of the tree in the buckets. And then you know, it requires a lot of burning a lot of wood. But you you boil the raw sap from the trees from the maples and you you boil down 30 gallons to one gallon that's what a gallon or maple syrup is. It's comes from 30 gallons of sap kind of a cool analogy for practice.
And then he wraps up this paragraph by saying what is essential for getting out of the dusts. What is basic for helping living beings is that you must penetrate through freely in all directions and arrive at peace and security, free from doubt and attain the stage of great potential and great function
Christ here he's talking about deep, deep enlightenment very different from just a first experience of what we call Ken show.
This work is located precisely in your own interactions. I would take that to mean your own mind the way that you're using or misusing your attention. That's the work at any given moment. How are we using our attention?
The Spanish philosopher writer Jose Ortega y Gasset said, Tell me to what you pay attention and I'll tell you who you are
It is just a matter of being in the midst of the interplay of the myriad causal conditions every day in the confusion of the red dusts, amid favorable and adverse circumstances and gain and loss, appearing and disappearing in their midst without being affected and turned around by them. But on the contrary, being able to transform them and turn them around.
Zen Zen master Zhao Jo Jo Shu said, most people are used by the 24 hours, I use the 24 hours. Again, on the basis of how he uses his attention
the dusts in the previous paragraph he refers to Deus Harry refers to read dusts. Thus their thoughts not not thinking, which is useful to think our way through some problem or by but just the, the thoughts just drag us here and there that have nothing really to do this. kind of almost like fantasies, these thoughts, these dusts, the red dust, maybe my red, red is always a red flag, meaning the passions the passions, we we heighten the passions, we sustain the passions, these blind passions with our thoughts. In in some cases, that's how it works. Like, we get angry, okay, it's and then and then it's it's thinking about the situation thinking about the person who has angered Us that sustains the anger. Anger by itself is just natural human response. And at times, the problem becomes, when we nourished the anger with our thoughts about what happened, what what we'd like to do to the person or anything like that, that's something we have control about, the anger just can pop up out of nowhere. But then, to chew on the matter, the person that's what binds us to suffering.
And that's what Yuanwu means, by being able to transform them and turn them around these passions that say he continues when you are leaping with life, and water cannot wet you. This is your own measure of power. Water cannot wet you. Water can't wet you when there's no self that is reacting. It is in the in the realm of no thought, no self. There's no reaction. This is I think he's referring to equanimity, evenness, non reactivity.
You reach an empty solidified silence. But there is no duality between emptiness and form or silence and noise solidified silence
maybe deep silence secure silence solidify It is kind of a funny word and a Buddhist text since the essential nature of all phenomena is non substantiality.
You equalize all sorts of wondrous sayings and perilous devices and absolute perceptions. Ultimately there is no gain or loss and it is all your own to use parentless devices, I wouldn't venture to know what the translator what that what the original was here. You know, most of you know this from other talks are your own reading that the Chinese language is such a bear to translate the I've always heard or the the language the written language is so opaque it's so imprecise and it's it's very much depends on the individual translators interpretations of what is meant. When you get into reading Buddhist, Zen and other Buddhist texts you see of different different translators, you see how differently they can translate the same thing.
When you go on grinding and polishing like this for a long time, you are liberated right in the midst of birth and death. And you look upon the world's useless reputation and ruinous profit, as mere dust in the wind. As a dream as a magical apparition as an optical illusion. There's a lot packed into this sentence. Let's break it down. When you go on grinding and polishing like this for a long time. Can't help but think of polishing a gem a diamond. Because that's our mind. This mind we all share is the most extraordinary of jewels and in practice, and above all in sesshin we aren't polishing, we are polishing and grinding. And could there be any work that is more vital to undertake and maintain as a human being in this grinding and polishing
into to to sustain it to persevere at it?
On my favorite words about quotations about perseverance is attributed to Calvin Coolidge, American president of last century I think, this is what he said. And I salute him for saying this. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not the world is full of educated derelicts. persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
If only everyone would stay with this practice, stay with it year in year out for decades. You will confirm the effectiveness of it the the profundity of it stay with it.
Day You are liberated right in the midst of birth and death. It is right in the midst of this world of suffering, of suffering based on change, that we'd rather not see things change loss, your liver liberated right in the midst of a loss
and then he refers to you look upon the world's useless reputation. It is the uselessness of reputation as a marker of fulfillment. As an end profit, useless reputation and ruinous profit is mere dust in the wind. And then the rest of that sentence is, I think the words of the Buddha as a dream as a magical apparition as an optical illusion and the words nothing of any substance
probably all of us have heard, I don't know how common it is, but I've heard so, many people on their deathbed, I mean mostly in books say how how liberating it is to see that what the what a waste of time it is to be concerned about reputation and profit, wealth property, how it is seen as so unimportant.
In Buddhism there are what are called the eight winds. And you can understand that as the eight winds of change what that really means the the eight the eight major things that human beings have to contend with because of change. One is one that has four pairs. First is desire and aversion. liking and disliking what we want what we don't want fame and disrepute is the second pair. That is, yeah, as opposites having one's reputation grow better or worse. praise and blame. That's a big one. They're all big ones. But it's more more commonly faced I think in daily life more frequently praise and blame. So, all of these eight are so disruptive of our peace of mind potentially. And then the fourth pairs gain and loss is look at the stock market go what people go through attached to the fluctuations in the stock market.
Seeing this as all of these eight is mere dust in the wind
and he's finally says set free. You pass through the world. Isn't this what it means to be a great sage who has emerged from the dusts of sensory attachments?
Start this next letter or Yuanwu quotes The Joe Joe Joe Show. During my 30 years in the south, the only times I mixed mundane concerns into my mental activity were during the morning and noon meals.
Yeah, I don't know quite how to take that. Let's just move on from this, then then this is Yuanwu. Now, from this, we should realize that in carrying out this matter, the ancient worthies did not take it as a casual thing. On the contrary, they took it seriously and treated it with respect. That's how they persevered in their practice and attained insight. That's how they reached thoroughgoing clarity and never fell into empty vanity in action or speech.
They took it seriously and treated it with respect how can we not treat with respect this method can free us can enlighten us
it's very, very, I think a very useful way to understand the word enlightenment is, is that happens through practice for years and years we become enlightened we become lighter, we become lighter, because we are less burdened by this illusion of a self standing apart from others. How can we not treat with respect that which will take the weight off us in our daily lives?
Again, referring to these great masters reaching thoroughgoing clarity and never falling into empty vanity in action or speech. Kind of a an accessible way of understanding the root cause of suffering for human beings. Is, is the term self centeredness? How, how self centered we are just by constitution. And this is another thing that we expose through ongoing practice. One author put it I think, in a very memorable way he said when when you look at a group photo that you're in, who do you look at first?
Either translators have called it self partiality. It's so deep. I mean, the word deep doesn't capture it. How much through our conditioning, through our inheritance as a form of animals, how we are disposed to see things circling around us are at the center of things. That's what this translator renders is vanity, empty vanity in action or speech, and that's just action or speech. What about thoughts? The thoughts that almost continuously going through the mind about oneself? constantly thinking about oneself this is, this is what we're up against, with serious practice. And it is daunting as it seems. We just have to persist at it. It works. I can't speak of any absolute transformation but it does work. We we get lighter.
Our time is up. We'll stop now and recite the four vows