July 2021 Sesshin, Day 2: The Way of Korean Zen by Kusan Sunim
8:58PM Aug 4, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the second day of July 2021, seven days sesshin. And we'll resume reading from our text from yesterday by teachings of the 20th century. Korean Zen Master Kusan Sunim. The name of the book is the way of Korean Zen. Translated by Martine Batchelor, the name shown here is Martine Bachelor but then later she married Steven Batchelor. She was Martine Batchelor when I met her.
We left off yesterday with this enlightenment experience of Kusanagi was offering in the autobiographical piece or rather biographical and I just want to repeat the his verse he wrote, you often called a gotta JTA J. After that enlightenment, he said, look at the front of the mirror, it is completely dark. Look at the back and it is brilliantly clear. Just to pause there. There's a saying in Zen, the great, great round mirror of wisdom is black is pitch.
Looking at the front end is not the front looking at the back, it is also not the back. When both front and back are shattered,
form and emptiness. World of the absolute the world of relative that world of differentiation, the world of non differentiation, when these two are shattered as a as a dichotomy, then truly one has a great complete mirror. I'm going to just hit some highlights here. From the rest of the biographical piece.
He still felt that his practice of meditation needed to be deepened. There's great tribute to his the depth of faith in this essential nature. But even after this enlightenment experience, he was he knew there was further to go. He had to keep going. Therefore, he resigned his posts at a he had accepted some administrative positions and in the larger national Buddhist order. He resigned from his post and went to a small hermitage. After meditating there for three years, he underwent another awakening. Upon reporting this to master a healer bone, he received Dharma transmission. At that time, he compose these lines. Okay, another another verse. penetrating deep into a pore of samantabhadra samantabhadra is the Bodhisattva of action. penetrating deep into a pore of samantabhadra Manju Sri is seized and defeated. Now the great Earth is quiet. It is hot on the day of the winter equinox. pine trees are of themselves green. Hey stone man riding on a crane passes over the Blue Mountains.
Without getting into explaining too much about this. Let's just sort of appreciate these last two lines. It is hot on the day of the winter. Equinox Wait a minute, what does it mean? winter Equinox is here in our in our hemisphere. It's the northern hemisphere it's late December was the mean it's hot. The winter Equinox z me as a stone man riding on a crane passes over the Blue Mountains is pointing to the the incomprehensible nature of this prajna wisdom beyond anything that is makes sense logically, certainly far beyond the limits of our rational mind.
Looking at the front end is not the front looking at the back it is also not the back. What is is not what is not is
is another famous Zen saying on top of a flagpole, a cow gives birth to a calf.
These are not just nonsense verses versus random word salad that that happens to pop into their mind. This is pointing to this essential wisdom of ours is beyond anything we can we can apprehend through our ordinary mind.
And then that that master heel bone said until now, you have been following me. Now it is I who should follow you.
So it is teachers request kusano came out of his retreat and accepted the position of Abbot at such and such monastery where he obong had been currently the the abbot. He remained there for four years. And then it gets into describing some travel that Pusan went to around the world making giving talks.
Not long after his return, Master he obong passed away in the meditation posture. Shortly before he died, he he uttered his final Nirvana poem. And this is where these were his final words. All my words of Dharma were superfluous. You asked me about today's matter. I tell you that the moon is shining over 1000 Rivers.
And then, Pusan. sunim moved to this big monastery complex, the most famous in Korea song Gong saw we we read from that yesterday read description of it, became the abbot there. And at the at the inauguration of the new meditation hall, he encouraged his monks with these words. He said, in practicing meditation, you should be prepared to grab hold of the blade of a sword so sharp that it cuts through hairs nearly blown against it. You have to be prepared to seize it by the blade. Could you possibly do that in your ordinary frame of mind? As long as you are afraid of the sharpness of the blade, you are bound to cut yourself. But in firmly gripping the blade with an utterly intrepid mind, you will not even be scratched.
sesshin people sometimes are afraid that if they stay up late at night, then they'll be tired the next day. Well da Of course, you'll be tired The next day, it's pretty much the whole flavor of sesshin is being tired. But who wants to be dominated by their fears of what might happen? Same thing with food? Well, if I don't eat as much as I normally do, then something might happen. Who knows what that could be.
to the to the mind that is not ready to really commit to this practice, you can find all kinds of things too, as excuses to stop short of making your best effort.
And that is not that I don't mean to say that that's somehow disqualifies anyone this is, this is probably the normal course of things where it takes a while for most of us It takes a while to develop this desperation. And coupled with faith. That is, it takes to break through this ordinary consciousness to see beyond beyond gut, a gut a product, gut, a product, some gut.
Just a little bit more left here. He would continue in his later years to work tirelessly to develop the training Zen training facilities at Song wangsa. In spite of his old his age and other responsibilities, he would always participate in any manual work in which the other monks were engaged.
Now he may have he may have felt about that group, group manual work same way I do, which is It's fun. It's fun to work with other people. As it has a whole gang a whole whole group of people anyway, we do with the late June cheaper mill work retreat every year. Something that for some of us is exhilarating A lot of us because it's a popular thing here this work retreat every year. It's not just because of the doughnuts that are served in the morning either. During his later years, the wrathful demeanor for which he was noted earlier in his life, gave way to a kind and compassionate nature that always seemed to have room for any monk or lay person who is in need of his advice. Well, this is this is natural evolution not just in those advanced in spiritual practice, but this seems to be pretty common, generally with especially Angry Men who then will sometimes often mellow with age.
And then in 1983, he started to show signs of serious illness. Then, Monday, he gathered his disciples in his room and indicated that he would not live for much longer. And then from that point on his health deteriorated further, he can find himself to his quarters. And then he passed away in the meditation posture, the age of 74. Three days before he died, he uttered his final words samsara and Nirvana are originally not to. As the sun rises in the sky, it illuminates the 3000 worlds
as teacher, whole board member, his final line was I tell you that the moon is shining over 1000 Rivers. The moon of mine the moon of our original nature is shining over people everywhere, dogs and cats and cockroaches and swallows, trees and cars.
His body was cremated in a small field behind the monastery. his bones were ground to powder and scattered near the site of his old hermitage at the foot of Mount chateauguay. Now, we'll move into this chapter call instructions for meditation.
It opens up with a verse not not attributed to him,
winding back and forth among green trees, the golden shuttle of the orielle weaves silk, the color of spring, a monk sets dozing even the stones smile.
And then here he offers a teaching on koan meditation, he begins, a human being is composed of a body and a mind. A body without a mind is just a corpse. A mind without a body is just pure spirit.
Human beings are said to be superior to all other creatures, but how can a human being be considered superior? If he knows his body, but is ignorant of the nature of his mind? One who knows the body but not the mind is an incomplete person.
You know, you could you could change you could change your body, to body mind. And then in contrast to our original mind, that's plugged that in, how can a human being can, how can a human being be considered superior? If she knows her body, mind, her mind body, but is it ignorant of the nature of their true mind? One who knows the body mind but not the true mind is an incomplete person I would have to say we can spend years in psychotherapy and with great benefit and come to understand our various neuroses, our complexes and so forth, and as a result, get a real and renew renewal and our life and be able to work and love as Freud put it, be able to work with others and our own and love others more fully. But seeing the various features of our personality and character and coming, coming to terms with them, integrating the self, small s self as as valuable. I think as it is, it's not the same as seen this true self that is no self
However, if a human being searches for the mind to mind and awakens to it, she will realize completeness for at that time, she will know both the body, the both the body, mind and the true mind.
What's the great thing about this practice is that in, in great addressing this matter of our true mind, through the colon or the breath, in other words, by even by not dwelling on these different features of the body mind, but rather keeping the focus on what is beyond it, the breath of the colon, we come to have a greater understanding of those very aspects of ourselves, that constitute what we normally think of as the self, the body mind, self. This is what, what anyone will experience. Outside sesshin it's more, it's more apparent in sesshin, because we're just doing so much sitting, but we just in holding to only move, not going back and tracing our problems from our parents or siblings or or any of that, but just move we these things are seen these different aspects of ourselves, they they arise, they come up to consciousness, and we we see them in a new way. In other words, we come to greater self understanding small s self understanding, while only addressing the practice, the strictly the practice, we're working on the koan, or the breath, or shikantaza.
It's Zen is non analytical, rather than figuring out some, some
difficult problem we have in relating to others and ourselves, rather than figuring it out through analysis. We come to understand it in a way where we it's like we get underneath it, we get a new perspective on it. We see it for what it is. And then that in doing that, we become more integrated and more able to be able to function more effectively and relationships and, and other other aspects of our lives. It's a package deal. We get the whole thing when we, when we do our doing Zen, especially in sesshin. We get the insights into our issues that bedevil us
and the insight is most of the way toward resolving it.
He goes on upon awakening, this world becomes a pure land. Pure Land capitalized. This is a major Buddhist sect. It's it's the most popular it's the most, most numerous Buddhist number of Buddhist practitioners in Japan are those of the Pure Land school. The idea is that if the practice is this kind of mantra and evoking the, the name of avalokiteshvara excuse me, of alakija Buddha and, and in doing so, and help more than just
doing this practice as a as a practice like a koan practice, but just in, in honoring this Namo Amida butsu, now more amenable to the name of Amina Buddha, then the idea is, the idea is that then we can be reborn in the western paradise, the Pure Land. So, he's, he's saying okay, upon awakening the this world becomes a pure land forget about the next world next lifetime. This phrase when he says, upon awakening the world becomes a Puroland reminded me of what we read yesterday. Where, as as a young monk, he said, I thought that through meditation, I would be able to free myself from birth and death, and gain the power to transform this world into a Buddha realm. Same thing, the world becomes a pure land. He says, but as long as you are only concerned with the body, and enslaved by the environment, this world will remain as a defiled realm.
The saying I picked up somewhere, some Buddhist source, if you're still looking for that one person who will change your life, look in the mirror.
He continues, the ultimate purpose of practicing Zen Meditation is to awaken to the mind. the surest way to do this is through direct inquiry into a koan. An example of a koan would be a question such as What is this? What is this mind? What you are searching for can be called by many different names, mind, spirit, soul, to nature, and so forth. But such designations are merely labels. You should put aside all of these names and reflect on the fact that the true master of the body mind is more than just the label mind. The master or the body mind is not Buddha, born it is not yet awakened. Nor is it anything material, because it cannot be physically given away or received. Nor is it simply empty space for empty space cannot pose questions or have knowledge of good and evil. Hence, there is a master who rules this body, who is neither the label mind the Buddha, a material thing, or empty space. Having negated these four possibilities, a question will arise as to what this master really is. As he says, what this master really is not who because we can be sure it's not a person.
If you continue inquiring this way, the questioning will become more intense. Finally, when the mass of questioning and largest to a critical point, it will suddenly burst. The entire universe will be shattered and only your original nature will appear before you
the The great Japanese Zen master buss Sui had a natural koan natural question, Who is the master?
What is the original self? What was my face before my parents gave birth to me are pointing to this
the genius of questioning and therefore of working on a call on his that questioning empties the mind of unnecessary ideas, concepts, attachments, mental attachments, questioning is an emptying, wondering, is an empty and awakening arises from an empty mind mind of no thought.
We can't hold on to our ideas, our notions, our concepts, our mental attachments, we can't hold on to them, and question at the same time, or rather, to the degree that we're questioning, we will be freed of these mental attachments
continues it is most important to continuously investigate the koan with unswerving determination. At the beginning, you might feel as though you're trying to lift a heavy bucket full of water with a weak arm. This, I think is the common the common experience early in sesshin, where we seem to be working against this firehose of thoughts. And we can feel so ineffectual in our practice. But that's, that's it. That's how it starts. must not be discouraged by that. It changes as the days go by sitting 10 or 12 or more hours a day changes us. Change changes the practice, we get lighter. get lighter, because we stopped thinking about ourselves all the time.
says you should never relax your effort. Let me talk about effort because this is a stumbling block, or at least a question a lot of people have posed to me and to themselves. How do you how do you What does that mean? What is what is true effort? If you're not, if you don't have a goal in your mind, you're not grasping at something. I've never found a way to explain it.
And no one needs it explained. If you've got the determination to stick with this practice because you'll find your way to it. You'll find your way to an effort that is a non grasping, non self conscious effort. an effortless effort.
Effort doesn't mean straining with the body. It doesn't mean straining with a mind. Although it does mean applying oneself fully to it. If we can relax the body, if we can be if we can, which means if we can notice when we are getting tense in the body and correct, relax, then the effort will be more effective. It will be lead us to this effortless effort. But certainly, the mind has to be fully engaged. You can just go off and dwell in random thoughts. Here's another way to understand effort. It's it's returning being willing to let go of thoughts when we notice that the mind has wandered, to let go of them and get back to the practice the breadth of the koan, the willing willingness to do it right away. Because when you notice yourself, your mind having wandered, there can be the temptation to just, I just want to finish up this thought, just let me just make this stick with us a little bit longer. I'll get back to it, I'll get back to but right now, let's just finish up this thought, and I got something good happening here. I'm just gonna just stay with it. No, nothing, nothing really good is gonna come from that. It could be pleasant. Following our thoughts, there's something that can be pleasant.
But it won't lead to this breakthrough.
We have to get sick of our thoughts, these thoughts that we're addicted to. Thinking in common usage, the word addiction is usually associated with drugs and alcohol. Maybe cigarettes, video games, or pornography. But really, the ultimate addiction may be addiction to our thoughts. The strongest addiction. But it's one that we can wean ourselves from. But it takes persistence, it takes this faith that there's nothing for us in our thoughts, there's nothing in any ultimate way. They're not they're no friend to us. Even in terms of physical pain, if you want less physical, let's just keep it out of the physical. If you want less physical pain this week, then don't dwell in your thoughts. Trust the practice you're working on. And just that fact that for a lot of us, that's what finally gets us to tear ourselves away from our thoughts is the physical pain, because what we discover is that the way through the pain is through complete concentration on the colon or the breath. There are people who will, who will stubbornly refuse to do that they keep strategizing in their mind thinking about this thinking about that, sitting in their pain is not going to work in any any real final way. The way is to become so absorbed, so deeply concentrated in your practice, that the pain recedes, it moves off to the margin of the mind, it may still be there the experience of pain, but it's not the same. And even even for periods of time, it can vanish completely. You can go from extreme pain, to no pain does like if you're not thinking about the pain because thinking about the pain really means thinking about yourself.
Zen master said just give up this Small mind called self and there's nothing in the world that can hinder you.
So effort we make the effort it's it's impure for a while because it's it's stained by grasping by self interest, I'm going to get this I'm going to get that I got to do this in order to in order to. But then it purifies itself through ongoing sitting.
And then he continues, no matter what, what you are doing be solely concerned with nothing but the koan. And then he offers an analogy, if a clock were unreliable and kept stopping, you would either have it repaired or get rid of it. Similarly, when practicing meditation, you must exert continuous effort and not allow yourself to be lazy. Here too, I'm going to draw from my dog Sonic experience over the years. And I can hear people saying, they're there, they become discouraged because they can't. They can't keep a continuous well, who can in the strictest sense, so we keep finding ourselves having strayed in our mind, man, when we do we just go back to the practice. He doesn't say you must exert, you must have continuous success. Just that you must keep trying. exert continuous effort, the effort. Not whatever you may think successes. That's it. It's just the dog ID returning to the practice, every three seconds. Two sets, make a one second, every second, you notice the mind having straight so I just get back. Let's get back to the practice. So it's always there. It's always waiting for us this practice, just right there at rest, waiting for us to redirect. Pivot back to the koan, or to the breath. It's simple, a simple Two Step. Practice first noticing. At that's the mindfulness part of it, noticing when the mind is wandering, and then just pivoting back, redirecting to the practice, and repeat.
He continues in koan meditation, the key factor is to maintain a constant sense of questioning. So having taken hold of a koan, what is this? This by the way? It seems to be the the most popular the most widely assigned koan in Korean Zen is not not Mu, but what is this? Having taken hold of koan? What is this try to always sustain the questioning? What is seeing? What is hearing? What is moving these hands and feet and so on? In other words, always referring it back to the subject, not what is this bookmark? Or what is those cat tails on the line on the altar? But what is seeing the cat tails? What is feeling the breeze from the fans, subject subject
before any goes on. Before the initial sense of questioning fades, it is important to give rise to the question again.
In this way, the process of questioning can continue uninterrupted with each new question overlapping the previous one. This is sometimes called the bamboo method, where you've got the question, okay, you've got it, you've got it, it's alive, it's sincere. And then before you run out of breath, or before you get to the end of that you pick it up again, you resume you, it overlaps. In addition, you should try to make this overlapping, smooth and regular. But this does not mean that you should just mechanically repeat the question as though it were a mantra is useless to just say to yourself day and night, what is this? What is this? What is this? What is this? What is? What is this and the key is to sustain sustain that sense of questioning, not the repetition of the words. In other words, the words are there just to get us deeper into the questioning, to keep the questioning alive. Once this inquiry gets underway, there will be no room for boredom. This is an important point. Because boredom is one of many challenges we encounter, especially for sitting, day and night. There will be periods of boredom, which tells us that we are not engaged enough with it. We're letting the mind wander. We're spending too much time in our thoughts if we're bored. It's great that way. It's great. It's great biofeedback or cognitive feedback. When if you notice you're bored, then you're on the surface. You got to get into it more thoroughly.
If the mind remains quiet, the koan will not be forgotten, in the sense of questioning will continue unbroken. In this way, awakening will be easy. Right? We are time is Apple stock now and recite the four vows