September 2021 Sesshin, Day 1: Swampland Flowers: The Letters and Lectures of Zen Master Ta Hui
4:36PM Oct 9, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the first day of this September 2021, seven day sesshin. So our second seven day sesshin since the pandemic began at which we have a good majority of people at in person at Chapin Mill twice, plus some 20 others online.
We're going to go back to what I see is, I've commented on many times in sesshin. It's the teachings of the Chinese Zen master Ta Hui. It's from a book called Swampland Flowers: The Letters and Lectures of Zen master Ta Hui. And this is translated by Christopher Cleary.
I'm going to - there's a there's a, some biography of Dawei in in this swamp land flowers book, but there's also one in the book Zen's Chinese heritage by Andy Ferguson. I'm going to start off with that one, the latter one. His dates that always dates are 1089 to 1163, which places him in the Song Dynasty. We often hear about the previous dynasty, the Tang Dynasty as the Golden Ages. And there are scholars who think that the soon distinguished itself even more but that's that's discussion for scholars both both of those periods of time in Chinese history were, were great periods. Zen was writing Hi Chan. Actually Chan is the original Chinese word. And then when it went to Japan it came became Zen. It was a disciple of Juan will put you on was was famous as the author of the blue Cliff record collection of koans.
He left home at the age of 17. To live at wisdom cloud temple, and received ordination there the following year. As a young man, it says as a young man, doorway happened to encounter a copy of the record of young men. It really means this is a standard kind of titling the record of your men the record of lunchy and so forth, it means the teachings of, of young men young men, his Japanese name is Oman, who appears and more koans than anyone other than Joshua Zhao Joe, so Dawei read this copy of the record of young men. He felt strangely familiar with the text, as though he had previously studied it. Later, he traveled and practiced under various Zen masters.
He climbed a certain Mountain Dew train under a Zen master named John Tang Zhong John recognize doorways unusual ability, and beside him assigned him to work as his personal attendant. It's considered quite an honor. But this is what's interesting, but Tao ways, obstinate personality, clashed with his teacher, leading to an exchange in which John ridicule the young students saying you haven't experienced enlightenment. And the problem is your intellectual understanding.
I can sympathize with the teachers. reaction to this it's it's a tough sledding when a teacher is trying to work with an obstinate personality. obstinate is pretty close to stubborn. Recently I was talking with someone and said that I stubbornness is not true. Pray that we want to develop in Zen practice it can be a real impediment to going further in our culture, stubbornness. There's a certain I don't know. pride that people take Oh yeah, I'm stubborn. I'm a stubborn guy. I'm stubborn. Yeah, like, I stubbornly refuse to get vaccinated. I stubbornly refuse to wear a mask. It's it's also, I think what they have in common, obstinate and stubborn is rigidity. And that's not at all. What, what is developed through Zen practice. It's the opposite. We want to learn to flow to, to accommodate ourselves to the situation, to circumstances. So that gave us a little snapshot of Dawei his obstinacy? I would say probably Roshi Kapleau, may have been obstinate when he first landed in Japan to begin Zen practice.
goes on later, John, that's the teacher became very ill. He called Dawei to his side before he died, and he directed him to seek out you want to woo become his student. And so things came to pass. John died and Dawei did go to Yon Wu's temple, where he heard the master address the monks in his talk, Juan Mu spoke of an incident in which a monk asked young men were back to you and men there, what is the place where all Buddhas come forth? Quite a provocative question. What is the origin of all the Buddhas? What is the origin of this world? To which young men had answered the water on East mountain flows uphill?
So that was one Whoo, relating that thing with a human man. And then someone in the audience asked, Why don't you want to? Same question What is the place where all Buddhas come forth. And you want Wu said, warm breezes come from the south. But in the palace is a cold draft. And upon hearing these words, die away who is in the assembly? It says di ways past and future were cut off. He found himself in a Samadhi no thoughts of past nor thoughts of future and our thoughts are present. No thoughts. No mind absolute purity, of purity of an empty mind. It goes on to say although there was movement forms were unmanifested he felt himself sitting in a still barren place. And you want Mu continued speaking at that time. It hasn't been easy, but you've made your way to this great field. What a pity if you were now to die and not be able to attain life it's a great error to rely on words. Without knowing where you'll fall just let go the edge of the cliff let yourself do this. After you wake up you won't be deceived again. You must believe in this
so this is very well put run whoo you've made your way to this great field this this illimitable luminous realm of no mind Samadhi the precondition for awakening. He saying okay, you made it. He made it to the door. To the doorway now Don't rush don't settle into that and be satisfied with a Samadhi even a deep Samadhi Am I saying this? emphatically because it's one of the the tests that some people will encounter laters most likely later in fishing or they have the camp may have the temptation of just settling into this and that and just blissing out instead of pressing on.
It says there after doorway was selected to be an attendant in the Woodhall I have no idea what that is. In this post each day, he accompanied the patrons of the temple when they waited to see and then and then and when they waited to see and then entered the Abbott's quarters for interviews.
You want Mu always said to them it's like words without words like creeping vine held up by a tree
and then there's this lengthy account of the specifics of doorways second enlightenment experience and you know I've read a prominent teisho and I always get tangled up in so and so saying to so and so who was repeating what he had said earlier to so and so. And then it comes to this point where what were the words that brought doorway to awakening? Or just it's it's so anticlimactic? It's it's hard to understand what the happened there it is the the master Here we go. I'm not I'm not I'm not getting drawn into that. It's just too hard for people hearing it orally. It's hard enough reading it to keep straight who's saying what to whom, and then it ends with what sounds like kind of a very, very puzzling response. So Miss gonna switch now to the next text, where we started swampland flowers to their biographical account his rather the query brother, Christopher Clary.
I'm just going to back up a little bit to before doorways first awakening, says he took delight in the doings of the Chan school and read through the records of all the houses there are five houses are five main teaching lineages at the time. It says but he had doubts about the five schools since Originally there had been but one Bodhidharma Why were there so many different schools? I remember when, man I used to wonder about studying to understand that all religions teach essentially the same thing. That wonder why are there all these different religions? Well, the answers not going to be surprised to most people, it's because different people, different types of people, that people have different temperaments, and different affinities with different religions. So it's only only makes sense that there would be different religions.
It says that even at his at this early age, the age of 19 got away with would be taken for a later embodiment of previous Chan masters.
And here again still before before his first awakening he went to The previous master before you won whoo says when he got there his intellectual lism was unrestrained yeah people who are good at connecting concepts, binding relationships with with man concepts want to stay on that ground and converse in that and that those terms. One day that previous master asks, Why your are your nostrils? boundless today something there in the translation that leaves me wondering, maybe some idiom, no doubt in China, and Dawei that's not the important part. Dawei replied, because I'm at your place. To which the Master said you phony Chan man.
One day, that was reading a sutra and the master asked what sutra are you reading? He answered the Diamond Sutra. Master said, quoting quoting the Diamond Sutra, this Dharma is everywhere equal without high or low. Why is yunju Mountain High and power fund mountain low? Dawei replied, this Dharma is everywhere equal without high or low. To which tongue Master said you could be a lecturer as assistant.
One day a teacher then said to Dawei you understand my Chan here at once. When I had you explain, you could explain how these these types are good at explaining mansplaining you could explain and when I had you give informal talks of general lectures commenting on and extolling the ancients, you could do that too. There's just one thing that's not there. You know what? That way answered? What the teacher said, you only lack this one liberation, that's in the burst of power. If you don't get this one liberation, there's Chan while I'm talking with you in private, but as soon as you leave the duck sunroom, there's not there's Chan while you're awake and thinking, but as soon as you fall asleep, there's not if you're like this, how can you be a match for birth and death? To which Dawei replied, this is precisely my point of doubt. Other words, this is what's knowing at me. So, a good sign here the doorway would kind of submit to His limitations, recognize his limitations and acknowledge that he was he comes sort of come to his limit.
And then we already related from the other biographical account when this teacher was dying he said, recommended he go to you on Whoo.
And then I've read more about I read that already from the other for Andy Ferguson's book.
And now that way had come to quite deep realization. And you want woo had divided teaching duties with doorway. Soon doorway was widely esteem throughout the Chan communities. He came to the notice of a high minister was given a purple robe and the name Buddha son, s un Buddha son as a sign of Imperial honor. And this was at the age of 37. That way, it was only 37
and then some some politics here a little drama. Any story you know, Netflix they like to work in some some drama when the chin forces took the song cap Row 1126 Dawei was well enough known to be on their list he had to flee south to avoid being part of the booty the new Emperor invited in quotes invited you on will to take up residence at a certain leading monastery Dawei went there the Emperor invited you on whoo not that way to take up residence at a certain leading monster doorway himself also went there and you want to invited him to be the head monk
is another little exchange between doorway and his teacher you want will, whenever he went to joke's on you, one would always listen to his words. Afterwards one day as they were going to their private quarters, you Anbu said, if there were a Chan man like me, how would you deal with him? This is classic Chinese indirect speech, using the subjunctive he's saying, here on a Chan man, how are you going to deal with me? But he says in this very refined if there were a Chan man like me, how would you deal with them? That way said, What unexpected good fortune if there were, as Dong Bo said, having been an executioner all my life, when I meet a fat fellow, I slice you on whoo laughed loudly and said, rather, it's you who should enter the room with me and be my teacher. You've pinned me to the wall.
One will later asked him sitting on the tiger's head, gathering in the tiger's tail. Understanding the source meaning of the first phrase, what is the first phrase that way said. This is the second phrase
is so sounds like again, a doorway had a keen wit. And wit I'm using the word in the old, the old sense of the word of intelligence. Sometimes the two go together, just keen intelligence and being humorous. But it certainly has, can be a problem. In terms of real deep Zen practice,
students then flocked to Dawei. He himself received an imperial summons. Within a year, over 1000 disciples had gathered and lint and doorway was becoming known as the Great reviver of Lin ci Chan. lingshi rinzai. Zen and that's still how he's known. He's kind of the, he's often mentioned in the same sentence as Hakuin Hakuin was Japanese Of course. And he was considered a great reviver of koans. And that's, that's more or less how we can understand rinzai Zen or Lin cheese and but several 100 years earlier, it was Dawei, who really revived the koan system.
And then this, this political dramas continued high, high circles in the government were torn with dissension. I don't need to go into any any detail at all. repercussions of the political struggle reached Dawei. He was stripped of his Imperial honors and certification. See this, this still goes on, doesn't it? People who keep informed of Chinese politics, they're these. They run hot and cold with certain people who ascend in government and then pull plummet to disgrace and then maybe even the resuscitated again later in their life. It was a big thing in the Cultural Revolution. And then from the mid 60s to the mid 70s. And he was he was sent to a malarial area in a certain province. It says, of course, he continued the teaching of Chan, and in one summer is said to have produced 13 enlightened people.
And then, sure enough, Dawei was exonerated of whatever. And at the age of 68, after 15 years in the back, 40, the next semi exile, he returned, turn to the heart of the Empire.
He was asked, he was asked to be excused from official temple duties, and he was allowed to retire. And then at the age of 75, I began showing signs of serious illness. And he told the congregation of monks and nuns and laypeople tomorrow, I'm going and then toward the pre dawn hours after he'd written his last bequest, and a letter to the Emperor, the monk, who was attending on him asked him for a verse, this is standard operating procedure, with Zen masters a final verse. And die away and facetious voice said, well, without a verse, I couldn't die cry. But they did take up a brush, and he wrote the following. birth is the US, death is the US verse or no verse, what's the fuss? Then he let go of the writing brush and passed on. And that's the doorway story. And then the remaining time, I'll wade into where we left off, the last time we read from this text, a year or so ago. And on page 43,
again, the remember the subtitle, the letters and lectures, exam master doorway. And here's how we start. The Buddha pre preached all doctrines to save all minds. I have no mind at all. So what's the use of any doctrines? Or words, I'm beyond this, this ordinary, discursive mind that works with doctrines and concepts and await This is him quoting someone else. It's not always obvious in these books. But it was in quotes. And then he himself says, basically, there is nothing in any doctrine and no mind in mind. The real character of both mind and things is emptiness. We know this is familiar from our affirming faith and mind we're back when we used to chant. One of the main texts was affirming faith in mind, where we say things are things because of mine, as mine is mine because of things. These two are merely relative, and both at source are emptiness. And then doorway continues, but these days students are the path often fear falling into emptiness. Those holding such views Miss apprehend expedient means and take the disease for the medicine. They are to be pitied deeply. They mistake the disease for the medicine. They think that that emptiness is some kind of a problem when it's actually the cure. And emptiness here. It's such an abstract word, but let's just say Bring it to the level of method of practicality of having nothing in the mind being liberated from attachment to thoughts. That's how we can understand his meaning of emptiness. This is the, this is the, again the purest state we can reach. Empty having an empty mind means being beautifully wondrously present, awake. And yes, responsive, responsive to everything and everyone.
In many quoted a famous layman Pon naman Pong was one of the three most famous lay people in the Zen tradition. Lehmann palmful, daishi, and bimala keerti. Lehmann Pon said, don't be averse to falling into emptiness, falling into emptiness isn't bad. And then Dawei also said, he also said, just vow to empty all that exists, don't make real that which doesn't exist, just vowed to empty out you don't want to make a project out of emptying things. There is no Zen as a practice, ultimately, of non doing, there's nothing we need to do, we don't need to create an effect in our sitting. What he really means is, we can just put it in these terms allow all of the phenomena of the mind, to recede, to, to be seen as empty. Don't make real bets, which doesn't exist, is a word that conveys this reify reifies to make real, what doesn't exist. Most people make their thoughts real. And so they're deceived by their thoughts, they believe their thoughts. They hear their thoughts, they notice their thoughts, and they somehow fall prey to them. But if even if even physical things are empty, ultimately, without any substance, and this just means without any substance to them, how much more so can we see that thoughts and feelings and emotions are empty, concepts are empty, ideas are empty, empty, this means yes, no substance to them, no roots to them. They have no abiding reality. They are impermanent. They arise in the mind. Whether it's thoughts, emotions, get a rise in the mind, they last a shorter or longer period of time. And then they pass. That's what empty means.
Don't make real that which doesn't exist, don't react to your thoughts. Don't get bogged down in your thoughts. And then that way, says, if you can see through this one saying, then the ignorance bound of the ignorance born of boundless, evil deeds will instantly melt away and disperse. Even the whole great cannon preached by the taiga, the Buddha cannot explain this one sentence. This is our job this week, folks, is not making real bad which doesn't exist. Not dwelling in thoughts, not getting snagged by thoughts. What that requires is that you notice when the thoughts are taking ahold of you taking hold of the mind. That's the real challenge is we can be said We can be subsumed in our thoughts without knowing it. We can be lost in our thoughts for 10 minutes, 20 minutes longer without knowing it, because we're lost in them. So the work starts by noticing the thoughts. And then we can go back to whatever practice you're working on. Now, as I've said so often from this seat, we can't notice them until we notice them, we can't decide to notice the thoughts.
But it's through the sitting, that we begin to notice them more quickly. We're not last as long. In thoughts, we notice them more quickly. The more sitting we do, the more quickly we notice them. That's why sitting with all rather spice sesshin with all of the sitting we do, why it is such a powerhouse method of coming to awakening, or at least a method for developing a kind of a turbocharged development of one's practice because of all the sitting. The more sitting, the sooner we notice the thoughts and the sooner we can drop them by returning to our practice.
And then more from Dawei This must be a letter because skipping a couple paragraphs here, and he writes, Buddhist disciple Chen, you have realized that personal existence is false, and that things are illusory. Again, loser in the sense of everything's in flux, everything is evanescent. It losery a mess amidst illusory falsehood, you were able to work on the saying a dog has no Buddha nature. Suddenly, while washing your face, you found your nose and sent me a letter expressing your understanding. trying your hand at explaining Chan. This is like a three day old tiger cub who already has the spirit to devour an ox. The the kind of charming audacity to come before the teacher and explain rather than show one's understanding. He goes on the message you conveyed in your explaining, was like a lucky monkey hitting the ground with a stick, where it hit it went in a few inches, but where it missed it had no grasp of the issue at all. I've so often seen this in dog song where someone comes in. It's a beginner usually they they explain what Mu is they just they started working on mo and they come in and explain it how they're it's all conceptual, since their ideas about it. It may be good as far as an explanation goes. But what do we say a missus is good as a mile.
That way continues though, in the main your basis is already correct. You are not yet clear about the great dharma. This is a common disease of beginners entering the path. If you can realize such a thing, push it to one side and take the essential gate of all the Buddhas and patriarchs and shut it at once. Only if you find a life on the other side of the primordial Buddha, will you gain mastery of the Dharma? The other side of the primordial Buddha what was that question that we read earlier than doorway story? What is where do all the Buddhists From where do other Buddhists come for the beginning of everything the origin this source that no beginning is beyond time.
He ends this doorway ends this letter to his disciple.
Just get the route. Don't worry about the branches. over a long, long time it will sink in thoroughly. Don't worry that you won't attain oneness. Work on it.
Just get the route. The route is what is beyond all thoughts beyond phenomena. The emptiness, the realm of emptiness, no mindedness. Don't worry about the branches, the branches are all of the secondary things related to Zen practice.
the various devotional practices, psychological study all the branches just get the root just Mu What is it? What am I