This is the second day of this July 2023, seven day sesshin. And we'll return to the teachings of the 12th century Chan master Ta Hui. This is from the book, "Swampland Flowers: The Letters and Lectures of Zen Master Ta Hui."
He starts off, in this letter, he starts off strong, where do we come from at birth? Where do we go at death? If you know where we come from and where we go, then you can be called a student of Buddha. Who is it? Who knows of birth and death? And who is it who experienced His birth and death?
Again, who is it who doesn't know where we come from and where we go? Who is it who suddenly realizes where he comes from and where he goes to? And who is it who, pondering these words, blinks his eyes, unable to understand his belly, churning up and down, as if a massive fire were placed in his heart. If you want to know, just apprehend him at the point where he can't understand. If you can recognize him, then you'll know that birth and death surely have nothing to do with him. That has nothing to do with he or she. It is beyond all this, he or she that is the seer the Knower.
The word Buddha, one very essential way to understand the word Buddha is enlightened awareness.
That's, that is what doorways is speaking of here. And know the birth and death, birth and death. As we've said, so many times, a better way to maybe an easier way to understand the term birth and death which is very common and Buddhist texts, birth and death is a world of change. Impermanence the cycle of existence and that's not the whole of reality. This world of change. There's a there's a, there's a back side to this and reverse. The other side of the coin is that which is beyond birth and death.
Zen master Dogan said when there is Buddha in birth and death, there is no birth and death.
When we can rest in that fundamental awareness that can be called Buddha or not. When we can rest in that fundamental awareness and we're free of the change of dying, sickness, old age and death
this going back to the sentence, or he says and who is it who, pondering these words, blinks his eyes unable to understand his belly churning up and down as if a massive fire were placed in his heart
that's, that's the fortunate one. The one for whom this creates real unrest. Doubt questioning The longing to know it's no no better fuel for awakening than this, this discomfort dukkha
Doka the first of the Four Noble Truths This dissatisfaction
he goes on whenever you're reading the sutras or the Enlightenment stories of the Old Masters when your mind doesn't understand clearly and it seems bewildering and stifling and flavourless, as if you're gnawing on an iron spike this is just the time to apply effort above all you must not give up this is the place where conceptual knowledge doesn't operate where thought doesn't reach or discrimination is cut off and the path of reason is annihilated. Where you can always explain reasons and apply discrimination this all pertains to emotional consciousness time and again people take this thief as their son be aware of this this should really be very, very encouraging reassuring when you when when when we don't understand we're in a state of not knowing and we're our efforts just seem to to don't They don't seem to get us anywhere. That is assuming there is effort this is where conceptual knowledge doesn't operate we're getting outside of our comfort zone a comfort zone always is thoughts that's that's the default that's the path of least resistance getting drawn again and again and again into our thoughts but he's he's describing the place that is beyond thought where the rational mind or logic or reason doesn't operate it doesn't it's does us no good. That's where we want to be. In Zen practice, gets save it. Every every koan is a kind of a delivery system to get us out of this box of our ordinary discriminating consciousness. But when we get out of it, we are lost. We lose our bearings.
investigating a koan, whether it's Mu What is this? Who am I? Who is this? We're not trying to come up with an answer. That may strike some people as very odd. We're not we can't figure it out. And we shouldn't even try to figure figure out suggest working with the discriminating mind with our discursive consciousness without reason and it's not something to be figured out. That's why it can help if we can find the questioning of the con more in our midsection in the in the Hara.
No one's ever figured out Mu. No one's ever figured out what this is, or who am who I am. Beyond figuring.
Rather, with a koan, we just, we just want to lose ourselves in it. become so absorbed in it in EDS in the questioning, but without any thought of an answer. It's a very important point. We're not trying to get somewhere, we're just trying to thoroughly become the koan. Have it fill our whole consciousness in the case of Mu, that just become mo whatever the question is, just become it. Unify with it. But as a question Yes.
Next letter to a li sherpao. You've indicated you want me to instruct you by letter in the direct essentials. This very thought of seeking instructions in the direct essentials, has already stuck your head into a bowl of glue.
Is it fundamental misunderstanding or mistake? To think that we need in Zen practice we need to be instructed in how to work? Yes, there is a place for that. For sure. Place for getting one's posture settled, and just the basics and how to work. But no, no teacher or anyone else can instruct anyone in the essentials. The Essentials is something we don't need instruction and the Essentials is what comes to us, but we uncover ourself.
I read somewhere maybe in maybe in the three pillars of Zen a long time ago, that Yasutani Roshi, Roshi, capitalist, main teacher Yasutani Roshi once said, So Shane, is 1/3, Zen 1/3 teisho and 1/3 doxa. But I'm seeing the strong conviction that whereas that may be true for Japanese, who have such an intense, intense relationship to the teacher. It is not so for Westerners, I would have to say for Westerners, it's two thirds Zen. Three quarters Zen and the rest teisho and doac son because Zen is where we're finding our way to our innate wisdom. It has to come from within. You can get some things straight, something straightened out. It can in dog sun, but the real work is facing the wall. That's, that's the payoff.
And it would have to be because we we all equally share in this, this body mind the mind of wisdom. It's all within us. It is just uncovering it.
When I was working on my first koan, I remember sitting in the in the ducts on waiting line, going up from mat to mat and suddenly realizing that I've got to do it myself that no, no answer that the teacher can give me is really going to do it.
Then he says though I shouldn't add another layer of frost to the snow. Nevertheless, where there's a question that shouldn't go unanswered, and then he answers, I asked you to abandon at once all the joy you've ever felt in reading the words of the sutras yourself, or when being aroused and instructed by others. My so it would seem that this letter is going to someone who has great love of the sutras, and maybe spends more time studying the sutras than doing Zen. Abandon that wants all the joy you've ever found in reading the words of the sutras yourself, or when being aroused and instructed by others in other words, detaching from words. This is the hallmark of Zen school, teaching beyond words. And he goes further, be totally without knowledge and understanding, as before, like a three year old child. Though the innate consciousness is there, it isn't operating. At again, the the stirring of the mind the figuring out is not as is not there.
Then he says, and then contemplate what's there before the thought of seeking the direct essentials arises, look, and look. As you feel you're losing your grip more and more and your heart is more and more uneasy, don't give up and slack off. This is the place to cut off the heads of the 1000 sages that is to free oneself from the words of others.
Let me back back up there. As you feel you're losing your grip more and more. This is what happens as we as we unshackle ourselves from the thinking mind from our thoughts. It is feel like we're we're losing our bearings we're losing our moorings. For most people this is this is still a bit early in sesshin for that, but it's something that can often arise later in sesshin when we are getting free of this discursive mind
this morning and ducks on someone reported last night a period of sitting where she felt she was in a haze and it's a it's a common enough state of mind to go in and out of during machine a kind of a cloudiness confusion kind of white noise in the mind. So Sheen is just a whole series of different states of mind we go through and we really we're really getting somewhere when we when we have the presence of mind and Any state of mind let's say with this this one haze a state of haziness and confusion, if we have the presence of mind to step back and say, Okay, this is just a state of mind, it's going to pass so important not to, not to dwell in any state of mind not to dwell in a state of no mind that gets caught in whatever phenomenon is happening at the moment. How do you do that? How do you not get snagged by any state of mind while you stay with the practice you're working on. Even if it feels it feels ineffectual. And especially in the first half of sesshin, we can, we can often feel ineffectual in our work. Like we just can't, can't get traction, spinning our wheels. But we mustn't be discouraged at those times, it's the important thing is not the results, such as may we may want them to, not the results, but the effort, just the the continuous effort. Right there in the midst of the haze or the confusion, or the tiredness is just to to maintain the effort as best we can under those conditions.
losing your grip more and more in your heart is more and more uneasy. Don't give up and slack off. Students of the way often retreat at this point. If your faith is thorough going, just keep sitting. What precedes he's asking what precedes the thought of seeking instruction in the direct essentials.
comes before all questions about the mechanics or the other instructions and he says suddenly you will awaken from your dream and there won't be any mistakes about it.
Here's a letter to another of his students. Someone who is working on the koan Mu whether you're happy or angry, in quiet or noisy places, you still must bring up Joe Joe's Mu. Above all, don't consciously await enlightenment. If you consciously await enlightenment, you're saying, in fact, right now I'm deluded. If you wait for enlightenment cling to delusion, though you pass through endless eons, you still will not be able to gain enlightenment. So he's making the point that if, if we have if we're holding in the mind the thought of enlightenment, then then it's just logical that we think we're not if we're if we're if it's if we're positing some place out there in the future, some experience then we're there's a kind of a presumption that we're basically deluded and that's that's the problem that split between delusion and enlightenment.
This, this is maybe the most difficult of the barriers of practice is the thought of awakening. Since there's even a trace, A, the tiniest modicum of a thought of awakening, then the mind is divided. And that's where the practice comes in. If not the koan, and the breath practice, to the degree that were absorbed. In our practice, there won't be any such thought. We're free
I spent so many sessions thinking I was working on Mo, but really it was, it was more contaminated by the thought of awakening. It was it was Mu as a way to get to awakening. Okay, all right, I'll do Mu Yeah, whatever you say, I'll do Mu, as a way as a means to an end. But I couldn't get rid of the end. The goal? Until I did, because it's painful, to be in that state of of pining for something in the future that you imagine. When when we get desperate enough, then we can turn all all of our attention, all of our concentration into this one question. Mu What is this? Who am I? The breath. There is no longer using it as a way to get something back can take a long time. It's a state of great purity of mind, to be truly single mindedly absorbed in the koan. And it and it requires such faith. Such faith in and let's say, let's stick with Mu for now. It says if it takes faith in Mu. And luckily, faith grows. The longer we work on Mu or any koan, the more faith we find in it until it just takes over and we have total faith in it. And we give up our attachment to our thoughts. There's no room for thoughts in this complete devotion to the practice.
He continues whether eating or drinking, whether in quiet or noisy places, you should make scrupulous efforts from moment to moment, always as if you owed someone millions with no way out. Your heart sorely troubled, with no opening to escape. When your awareness has gotten like this, this is precisely the time to apply effort. Concentrate on the koan right here.
A monk asked Joe Joe, does a dog have Buddha nature or not? Joe, Joe said, Mu. As you work on this, don't try to figure it out. Don't try to explain it. Don't demand clear understanding. So they're too accepting, when our understanding is is hazy, don't demand it. Don't take it verbally. Don't construe the raising of it as the principle. Don't fall into empty quiescence. And then again, don't consciously anticipate enlightenment. Because that means you've got the thought of it in your mind. Don't take your understanding from the explanations of the teachers of our school. Don't drop it into the bag of unconcern. This. This is a state that many, many of us have experienced where, again, another temporary state of mind where we just sort of go flat. And we just think okay, whatever. Who cares
this, this one phrase here don't fall into empty quiescence don't become attached to states of quiet. Sometimes the koan slips away, and we can relish the experience of just having the mind quiet and settled. It can be very seductive. But that's, that's a conditioned state, that any kind of breakthrough is just a temporary, lovely state of quiet and not something we want to linger in.
And he repeats whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down, just constantly call the koan to mind. What is Mu? What is it? What is this? Who am I?
When you can keep your attention on fully when verbal discussion and intellectual consideration cannot reach and your heart is agitated. When it's like snowing on an iron spike, without any flavor, then you must not falter in your intent. When you get like this, it's good news. Hat shirt, it isn't comfortable, that's for sure. And then when we're gripped by the state of doubt of questioning, it's a state of unrest.
Sentient beings obstruction by harmful deeds is serious sentient beings? Is this another way of saying the unenlightened? No sooner do they get out of bed each day in their minds fly around in confusion. Thinking of fame and profit, they take up the false concept of others and self continuing unbroken like the links of a chain from morning till night without ever growing tired of it. It just occurs to me as I'm reading this that is taking up the false concepts of others and South boy that has really, really gone into overdrive through social media. What a what a pit, to fall into this comparing oneself to others seeing one's either one's photo, the photos on on social media, Instagram, so forth. And comparing oneself I don't know I've never been on those things. But I've read a lot about that they've how tormenting it can be to be comparing oneself to others. It's a kind of a Hal
thinking of fame and profit, he's or he tosses this off and just a few words about so many people spend so much time thinking of fame how to become famous again. That too is is really inflamed through social media fame, and profit. How do we gain and avoid losing? And this all becomes like the links of a chain He says if perchance they think of entering the Zen school, they think about it intellectually and immediately want to understand it themselves. Since the judgments of the minds conceptual discrimination do not apply here it is they don't they don't work. Just thinking about it, they get annoyed and already want to give up saying what reason is there people like this are beyond counting
then he, he lays on a bit of praise to this, the recipient of this letter but you are not this way shun Yuan companion in the path. Knowing all the empty falsehoods of this defective world, with singleness of mind and intent, you want to understand right where you are, where we come from, when we're born and where we go to when we die. Since you don't know where we come from, you don't know where we go either. The clear solitary light present right here the one that distinguishes right and wrong, good and bad for people decides what is and what is not. what's true and what's false decides what isn't what is it what's true and what's false. This is again the the mind of our fundamental awareness with a capital A also known as Buddha or Buddha Nature
wait till you're like one drinking water who knows for himself whether it's cold or warm and doesn't accept the judgment in the mouth of someone else. That's that's been the the hallmark of the Zen school for 1500 years direct experience, direct experience suddenly, you will burst forth and reach the ultimate peace and bliss the place of great rest and great searcys Then for the first time you give your own approval you've one knows for oneself?
Haven't you read how in the old days, Master su who said the patriarchs coming from the west only means that winter is cold and summer is hot. Night is dark, and day is light. It's just that you vainly set up meaning where there is no meaning, create concern, where there is no concern imposed inside and outside where there is no inside or outside. And talk endlessly of this and that where nothing exists.
You vainly set up meaning where there is no meaning unnecessarily
life isn't a riddle to be solved, but a reality to be lived.
We impose these these complications, meaning ideas of inside and outside this and that, we would this is an overlay that we bring to reality through this discursive discursive mind of ours
therefore, your cessation cannot be perfectly clear, so that you cannot be independent of the senses and their objects. By this assessment you have never come to my place seeking words of instruction John, and I have never written a single word for you. He's talking about the realm of the essential the the the eternal, the unmoving. Winters cold summers heat, nights, darkness days light, inside, outside, in between east west, south north, have never varied, never increased or decrease the least little bit. What's the reason he asks? And then he seems to be quoting someone here there quotation marks. Our school has no words and phrases, nor is there any doctrine to give to people since there's not a single doctrine to give to people, what's this that's written here? And what is it that speaks of winter winters cold summer heat inside outside and in between? What is it that is never shifted east west south or north a hair's breadth bah. Let go of all these concepts he's saying. They have their use, of course, words have their use and all of these discriminations, these distinctions have their use but they're useless in terms of realizing the essential for that, we have to find our way free of these things to the other side, the Dark Side of the Moon.
existence cannot be grasped non existence cannot be grasped either winter is cold and summers heat cannot be grasped inside outside and in between cannot be grasped.
Well, that's the end of this letter. So we'll stop now and recite the Four Vows