January 2021 Online Sesshin, Day 4: Teachings and Life of Zen Master Hakuin
9:10PM Aug 4, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is day four of this January 2021 seven day Rohatsu online sesshin. And we'll return to the Japanese Zen Master Hakuin who lived in the 17th and 18th century.
We'll kick kick off this, this teisho with starting at a chapter in this book reading from. It's titled The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin, translated by Norman Waddell. And this chapter, the is called the difficulty of repaying the debt to the Buddhas and the patriarchs.
And he begins, Buddha means one who is awakened. Once you have awakened your own mind itself is Buddha. by seeking outside yourself, for a Buddha invested with forum, you set yourself forward as a foolish, misguided person. It is like a person who wants to catch a fish, he must start by looking in the water because fish live in water and are not found apart from it. If a person wants to find Buddha, he must look into his own mind because it is there and nowhere else that Buddha exists. Buddha no matter how many times we hear of the the meaning of Buddha one who is awakened. And even if we hear that it it from his point of view, it really means more Buddha nature, our true nature, our essential mind. Still, I think for many people, when they see this word Buddha, it's just it's so foreign. And it almost inevitably conjures the image of Buddha figures. And while that, in itself is doesn't need to be harmful, it's so limited to see Buddha and in those terms, it's just a word we give to point to our essentially enlightened nature. In, in ha koans, de and probably, but also certainly, in ancient China. This was the question that so many monks asked is what is Buddha? And the Masters recognize that no, no complete answer would, would be that it Oh, it's this guy who lived 2500 years ago in India. It's he any teacher would understand that the person is really asking what is this essential nature of ours? But even as I was reading this paragraph is first paragraph in this chapter, it occurred to me that it can be misunderstood.
I think a more a more common question for sure and more common in Western culture, among people who practice is not what is Buddha. But what is enlightenment? And they're certainly related. Enlightenment is just realizing our Buddha nature. There are all these examples of the Masters warning students not to get caught in this word Buddha. One of them is semester momon. Chinese master actually you met woman said one who, one who utters the word Buddha must wash out her mouth for three days. It's it's, I have a similar feeling about the word enlightenment. It's very hard to appreciate that word as something accessible to everybody, it becomes a kind of a Oh, so easily becomes a goal and award that you hold in your mind, that's the last thing we want. And so I, I, even even while sometimes using the word enlightenment or awakening, it makes me wince to say it, because it so easily can be taken as some other realm, some future state we could only hope to reach someday when actually is right here and originally enlightened mind.
But his point, of course, is the same. If you want to find this enlightenment, you look into your own mind because it's nowhere else it's not out there in the future, it's not invested in someone else more than you question in that case, what can I do to become awakened to my own mind? And then how koans response what is that which asked such a question? Is it your mind? Is that your original nature? Is it some kind of spirit or demon? Is it inside you outside you? Is it somewhere intermediate? Is it blue, yellow, red or white? Of course hacohen here is trying to elicit the questioners own innate wandering mind. That's how she or he will realize this, this Buddha nature is by enlisting the the one's own mind bring full attention to it either through questioning or through just sheer concentration. Without going continuous, it is something you must investigate and clarify for yourself. You must investigate it whether you're standing or sitting, speaking or silent. When you are eating your rice or drinking your tea, we could say eating your sandwich, eating your pizza, eating your cereal, drinking coffee,
drinking Coke, you must keep it keep at it with total single minded devotion. And never whatever you do look in sutras or in commentaries for an answer or seek it in the words you hear a teacher speak.
That is not mistaking the finger for the moon. The words are pointing to this nature, self nature of ours. Don't think it's it's there in the words. It continues when all the effort you can muster has been exhausted and you have reached a total impasse. And you are like the cat at the rat hole like the mother hen warming her egg. It will suddenly come and you will break free. The Phoenix will get through the golden net. The crane will fly clear of a cage the Phoenix says in East Asian myth of Phoenix is rises up from the ashes to become reborn into a new life.
Here are these these images he's offering like the cat of the rat hole, the mother hand warming or egg points to the the patient's
steadfastness of intention and yes again the patience required to do this this Single mindedness.
But even if no breakthrough occurs until your dying day, and you spend 20 or 30 years in vain, without ever seeing into your true nature, I want your solemn pledge that you will never turn for spiritual support to those tales that you hear the down and out old men and washed out old women peddling everywhere today. I know know what he's referring to. If you do, they will stick to your hide, they will cling to your bones, you will never be free of them. And as for your chances with the patriarchs difficult to pass koans the less said about them the better because they will be totally beyond your grasp. Let me pick up just one phrase here. He saying even if you spend 20 or 30 years in vain, without ever seeing into your true nature, it's never in vain. If If, if you're doing your best if you're if you're persevering in daily sitting, year after year after year, there are a lot of benefits that you'll notice. And yet he the way he's phrasing it is short of awakening okay.
He continues, hence a maga former times. Cow Fung one yard said, a person who commits himself to the practice of Zen must be equipped with three essentials. A great root of faith, a great ball of doubt, a great tenacity of purpose. lacking any one of them. He's like a tripod with only two legs. Now this, I would, I would say really is meant more for people working on a koan. That is the second one doubt the first one is everyone. Great root of faith. Well, let me let me give you his words, by great root of faith is meant the belief that each and every person has an essential nature, that he can see into and the belief and a principle by which this self nature can be fully penetrated. Even though you attain this belief, you cannot break through and penetrate to total awakening, unless feelings of fundamental doubt arise. And even if these doubts, doubts, meaning questioning, even if these doubts build up and crystallize, and you yourself become a great doubting mass, you will be unable to break that doubting mass apart, unless you constantly bore into these koans with a great burning tenacity of purpose. Now, I'll add some of my own words. So faith, a great root of faith. He says the belief that each and every person has this is endowed, is endowed with this mind of wisdom and compassion. For us, the Buddha's words, that this mind is bright and self luminous, that it is stained by adventitious defilements. It's, it's lack of faith in this. It is usually at the bottom of those who haven't yet come to awakening. They may think they believe it. Sure, of course, I'm practicing I'm here I am on the path of Zen. I must Shouldn't I must not believe it? Well, yeah. Maybe mostly you believe it. But fully Are you convinced, completely convinced? If you are endowed with this self nature For me, it wasn't till after that I realized that I hadn't been completely convinced. My faith was not complete. And we can't just automatically boosts our faith, an instant. What it takes is we have to, we what we can do is grow this faith. We grow it through Zen practice, not just sitting. But carrying that mind, that's that mind that seeded mind, into our daily life. That's how we develop and grow that nourish this faith. So even if we feel we're, we're short of faith. Doesn't it's no deal breaker. It's this this faith mind as sons on put up this. This is equally in all of us. So it's just a matter of growing it. Now the doubt this, this, what Zen means perplexity or questioning or wondering, it doesn't mean doubt as in one of the five afflictions of Buddhism, the five afflictions and classic Buddhist doctrine is
desire, aversion, restlessness, torpor, those are four, and then the fifth is doubt as in the opposite of faith. gout can be crippling, if we listen to it. That is ordinary doubt. The the kind, that means more like skepticism. We don't have quite the I can't find quite the word in English to make the distinction there. I mean, doubt the Zen doubt. It means perplexity you're questioning. The other one is about lack of belief, I guess. lack of faith. But this doubt he's talking about this, this element of questioning is, is the the other side of faith. That if, if we have faith, now, let's let's make it improve in terms of a koan, if we have faith, that our our we are this call on this, this, let's say Mu, that our very nature is Mo, then what comes from that is the question of Well, where is it? What is it? How do I reach it? How do I realize it? What is it? What is this? Who am I?
It is this element of doubt or questioning that really distinguishes a koan from breath practice, or shikantaza. Questioning
to, to tap into this question, this questioning, really, let me start again. The premise is that to be human, is to wonder, to question about our life, our death, where we came from, where we're going, who we are, what all this is, what is the meaning of our life? This may not be active in the minds of most people. But I'm convinced that that it's there it lies there dormant. Even people who say they never consider such questions. It's dormant because it's diffuse. It doesn't have any focus to it. And so the job of the koan is to bring forth this, this question, what is it Who am I and so forth, that will focus all this questioning that would otherwise be done views and not particularly useful.
It's like the sun. This sunlight. It's it's pleasantly warm. But it isn't till you bring, bring out a magnifying glass and it focuses it in with that magnifying glass, you can start a fire, and that magnifying glass is the colon. And yet, even
with a koan many people I would say most people can spend years where the questioning doesn't really kick in. But it can't all of a sudden, it can in an instant. Instead of it being just repetitive, mechanical, going through the motions. Once that question grips us, then we're on our way, we're near the entrance. So faith, faith, and in our nothing lacking true mind, true nature, the questioning that comes from more Where is it? This was gogans. burning natural colon, before his awakening was if well, if we are all endowed with this essential nature, why do we have to go through so much practice in training, sitting and sitting and sitting? Why is that if we it's our nature, to have this. And then the third of the three essentials is person perseverance, determination, to not quit to stay with it.
And to repeat his words, even if these doubts his questioning builds up and crystallize, you will be unable to break that questioning, mass apart, unless you constantly bore into these koans with a great burning tenacity of purpose. So I don't think there's a better analogy than the the one offered in the three pillars of Zen, about the man who's sitting in a study, smoking his pipe, in his favorite chair, stuffed chair, no doubt. And all of a sudden, he can't find his pipe. Now, he hasn't gone anywhere, he has left the room. Let's say he hasn't even got up from the chair. That he can't find his pipe. No one's come into the room. It's just convinced completely quiet, maybe the talk of the clock on the mantle. But otherwise, he's then wonders, he wonders, wait a minute, it was Oh, no, not well. And the his his questioning is directly directly proportional to his conviction that the pipe has to be there. And his determination his stick to itiveness to find that pipe is also in direct proportion to the faith. It all starts with the faith. Maybe a more common example that more people can relate to is misplacing your keys your your you have to be somewhere if the drive and get to an appointment. And what you can't find your keys that well. I always leave them right there by the door in that little dish or wherever that they are okay, well then I must have put them in a my pants pocket or a coat pocket? No. You look all those places three or four times and then you start turning things upside down looking for those keys. Same thing, if you're convinced that they have to be there Then you will persevere to find them. If you're convinced in this fundamental teaching, that we, we all are equally endowed with this essential nature, then you will harness step faith and move on.
Resume here with high koan. Thus it is said that it takes three long CalPERS CalPERS just to Indian word for like an Eon it takes three long kalpas for lazy and inattentive, sentient beings to attain Nirvana. Well, for the fearless and stout hearted Buddhahood, meaning enlightenment Buddhahood comes in a single instant of thought. Now, let's leave out the thought it comes in in a single instant. If you're dwelling in your thoughts, it's not coming. It comes in a single instance, what you must do is to concentrate single mindedly on bringing all your native potential into play. The practice of Zen is like making a fire by friction. The essential thing as you rub wood against stone is to apply continuous all out effort. If you stop when you see the first sign of smoke, you will never get even a flicker of fire, even though you keep rubbing away for two or three Calpis. They just come at this. hearing these this strong teaching can leave some people feeling deflated. Wait a minute.
These words continuous all out effort? Well, hi, I have to admit I don't I don't make continuous effort. I mean, I go, I go flat. Sometimes I just fall kind of get stalled out in the zendo. And well, of course you do. And this is natural. So I would just add that to Hakuin hacker ones exhortations is Yes, you will. We all do. We go through periods that aren't very fruitful, and can even be really flat. But then we come back to the practice they're
the worst thing when we get stalled out is that they all here I am stalled out. How long will this last or here I thought I put so much work into this. And here I am, Whiteside years why I know it's no, it does no good. fall off the horse to get back up. And now Hakuin comes brings us another one of his many analogies. Only a few 100 yards from here is a beach. Suppose someone is bothered because they've never tasted sea water and decides to sample some he sets out the direction of the beach, but before he has gone 100 paces, he stops and comes back. He starts out again. But this time he returns after is taken only 10 steps. But if he keeps going straight ahead without turning back, even if he lives far inland, he will eventually reach the sea. by dipping his finger in the water and tasting it he will know instantly the taste of seawater the world over because it is of course the same everywhere in India, China, the southern sea or the northern sea. In other words, we can just continue to think just avoid stopping quitting. We will get to the seashore.
He goes on those Dharma patricians who explore the secret depths are like this too. They go straightforward, but pouring into their own minds with unbroken effort, never letting up or retreating. Then the breakthrough suddenly comes in with that they penetrate their own nature, the nature of others, the nature of sentient beings, the nature of the evil passions and of enlightenment, the nature of the Buddha nature, the god nature, the Bodhisattva nature, the sentient being, nature, the non sentient being, nature, the craving, Ghost nature, the contentious spirit nature, the beast, nature has go running through the six realms of unenlightened existence. They are all of them seen in a single instant. The great matter of their religious quest is completely and utterly resolved. There is nothing left they are free of birth and death. What a thrilling moment it is.
To awaken is to see into the nature the nature of things, which is the nature of everything, all phenomena.
More in the moment con Zen master mon, there's a line if you know it once the candle light is fire. And you know, the meal has long been cooked.
As a Zen master haka, one would often warn about quietism succumbing to the idea that if we can just be quiet and still enough that we've arrived, that even without awakening to our true nature, it's enough just to reach this place of rest, and stillness.
Apparently there was there was quite a strong narrowed narrative in Japan at the time. I like that. That was in which the teachers teachers who like that would, would warn about getting snarled up in koan work.
And I plucked out a passage here where Hakuin is snorting, about those who save at koans aren't the real practice how this read here? From the Zen people of today who are content to sit quietly submerged at the bottom of their, quote, ponds of tranquil water. You often hear this, don't work on koans koans are quagmires. They will suck yourself nature under have nothing to do with written words either. Those are a complicated tangle of vines that will grab hold of your vital spirit and choke the life from it. And then how koans retort don't believe that for a minute, what kind of self nature is it that can be sucked under? Is it like one of those yams or chestnuts you bury under the cooking coals? Any so called vital spirit that can be grabbed and choked off is equally dubious? Is it like when a rabbit or Fox gets caught in a snare? Where in the world did they find these things? The back shelves of some old country store wherever it must be a very strange place.
And then later in this book, again, he addresses this what he would consider heresy. That it's enough just to sit quietly
Actually he's quoting doorway doorway is his predecessor Chinese Master, who was the proceeded Hakuin centuries earlier. As a reformer of Zen. He quotes that way. At the present time, the evil ones influence is strong and the Dharma is weak. The evil one we can just take as the the power of the ego. The great majority of people regard, quote, reverting to tranquility and living within it as the ultimate attainment. And then, that way continues. A race of Sham Zionists has appeared in recent years who considers sitting with dropped eyelids, and letting illusory thoughts spin through their minds to be the attainment of a marvelous state that surpasses human understanding. They regard it as the realm of primal Buddhahood existing prior to the timeless beginning that's in quotation marks. And if they do open their mouths and utter so much as a syllable, they immediately tell you that they have fallen out of that marvelous realm. They believe this to be the most fundamental state is possible to attain. Satori is a mere side issue, a twig or branch, those are in quotes. So that's probably what these who dismiss awakening, they're probably their words, just a twig or a branch. Such people are completely mistaken from the time they take their first step on the path. That's, those are doorways words.
And then Hakuin continues to these people who ally themselves with a devil are present in great numbers today as well. To them I say, number, never mind for now about what you consider non essential side issues. Tell me about your own fundamental matter. The one you hide away treasuring so zealously. What is it? Like? Is it a piece of solid emptiness fixed firmly in the ground somewhere, like a post for tethering mules and horses. Or maybe it's a deep hole filled with a sheer black silence. Whatever it is, and makes my flesh creep. Here, Harry's poking holes in this idea that there's a thing any kind of special place in us or anywhere that is not our own mind, part of our own nature. It's very easy to, to think this way. I remember having this idea that if only could could find this, this dark, marvelously dark, mysterious place and just stay there. Just just build a nest in there, then that's it. But it's it's it's it's a delusion to think really, that there's anything inside that isn't also outside to delusion to think that there's any kind of any kind of substantial boundaries that there's any this or that inside outside hearing there now and then. That's the mistake. That's the delusion that we, we use our imaginations to create this, this image or this. Make it it's vague. Probably in most cases. It's vague. It's some some exotic, very special, special place that we need to get in and stay in. It's this. This here, where else could it be? It's this look around.
For me, it took the form of thinking of fixing my my gaze too low. It's like I in some vague way I thought okay, if I could just get into my Hara. Forget just find a way in. That's where it is no, it's no more in the hora the belly than anywhere else. It's just that in our, in our Zen, if we can work from the horror from the belly, then well, that's, that's our center. Physically, it's our center. It's our center horizontally, it's our center, vertically, the horror. So it's just a way of getting out of all the trafficking of thoughts in the in the head. So if we can work from the horror, but not imagined, that that's where it's at. In the horror, and not in the pinky, or in the wastebasket. Or in the tree outside.
hacohen continues, once a person is able to achieve the true single mindedness in his practice, and smash apart the old nest of Elia consciousness into which he has settled. The great perfect mirror wisdom immediately appears and the other three great wisdoms start to function. If, on the other hand, he allows himself to be seduced, let's make it misuse the feminine. Why not? If, on the other hand, she allows herself to be seduced by these latter day devils, into hunkering down inside an old nest and making herself at home they're turning it into a private treasure chamber, and spending all her time dusting and polishing it, sweeping and brushing it clean. What can he hope to achieve? Absolute absolutely nothing. Basically, it is a piece of the eighth consciousness the same ape consciousness that enters the womb of a donkey and enters the belly of a horse. So I urgently exhort you to do everything you can strive with all your strength to strike down into that dark cave, and smash your way open into freedom. This, these references he uses to dusting and polishing and sweeping and brushing. This no doubt he gets from the those who practice this quietism and they and they while denying or ignoring or dismissing awakening, they just say oh, we just need to keep the dusts from accumulating this goes way back to this original battle between the well it's not exactly a battle very briefly, where the the fifth or fifth ancestor the whole monastery was challenged by him to come up with writing on the wall to show their understanding and the head monk came forward he talked about this mind is like a mirror and we just need to polish it and keep it free of dust. And then and then Wayne on who became later became the sixth patriarch. He said there is no mirror mind and there's no dust that can i right. And so he got the job of being the fifth patriarch successor.
There's this misunderstanding that Hakuin pitted himself against Dogan Dogan would be the good most maybe one of the most enlightened proponents of this other approach of just getting free of this whole idea of enlightened or unenlightened. gogan Dogan respected or excuse me hacohen respected Dogan I found a passage in here.
This is in this other book I was reading from earlier in sesshin. Wild IV The spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master hacohen in the introduction, which is mostly what I read from
here's here's what the translator Norman Waddell says. Although the practice methods of contemporary Soto teachers come in for a good deal of extremely hostile comment later in Hawkins writings during his travels, he seems to have visited many Soto temples. Dogan, the founder of the school is frequently quoted and always mentioned in terms of the greatest respect.
So whatever sect whatever religion we are weak, it's we can we can misuse it, we can corrupt it, if we're not going to have both eyes open. The the danger with the non koan practice is that a big discount can settle into this sludge of quiet where you're you're not really engaging with the gray matter of birth and death. The danger of the other high koan, the rinzai, and the koan practice is that even if you, you do, awaken use the koan to come to awakening, then you can become well even before awakening, you become attached to the idea that it's a huge obstacle, the notion the thought of awakening or getting through your koan. Every thought is an obstacle, no matter what the thought is, and then afterward, even if you do have a breakthrough, then it can be the danger of clinging to that experience.