This is day two of this March 2023 seven day sesshin. I'm going to continue reading from the book Illuminating Silence : Insights on the Path of Chinese Zen by Master Sheng Yen with Dr. John Crook. I'm going to pickup here. Day two, we're in sync together. Day two early morning talk. Huh? And Sheng Yen says, I have three words for today. These words are isolation, non dependence, non attachment. The purpose of these words is to give you a focus for attention within your practice, and awareness from moment to moment, whether in sitting or in relation to the group while you're working or eating. Isolation, first of the three words, isolation means keeping yourself separate from the environment and from others. Isolation is an attitude of practice.
Even though you are sitting and working with others, let it be as if you were the only one here. As if there was only one sitting place in the meditation hall, in the whole building. It is as if you are alone, a solitary practitioner in the mountains is important sometimes to withdraw and be solitary, to be isolated and separate. Usually, we're in constant interaction with the environment, our everyday worlds. were disturbed by the ongoing concerns of the world. The news bulletins, politics, new taxes, old commitments. All this involvement causes us to lose touch with our basic being. We're filled with the noise of the world. Sure, I'm preaching to the choir. This is so much the case today. The news and gossip and latest outrage creep in so persistently through so many channels.
Everyone being wired together, really, really increases the amount of disturbance that each of us picks up with all the troubles in the world. Some of them severe and desperate, some of them trivial or mildly amusing.
We pay a price. The price for that is a real case to be made for taking a really strong, dispassionate look at how we use our time. How much time do we spend following things and we don't actually need to follow
following them in a detail and a closeness, that's really nothing but finding a way to fritter away our time. People refreshing their news feed every hour to.
We become as he says filled with the noise of the world. If you isolate yourself and practice from past and from future, just being present, then you can see yourself nature more easily without interference. As you go into this, you may eventually isolate yourself from previous thought and again from subsequent thought. As you withdraw from your own thoughts, you begin to discover what the independent unconditioned self is. Who are we without our thoughts? Who is it before a thought arises?
He says, by non dependence I mean not being concerned with what others are thinking doing or saying most of our lives are spent in some sort of adjustment to other people whom we want to influence in some way. Maybe we want to please somebody, or we feel obliged in some way or we owe somebody a favor, or we may want to reject or harm somebody. We're driven by our involvement with others and cannot let it go. This is dependency. Again, this is the second of his three words non dependence. When we let ourselves be ourselves, we're not involved with others, we may still be concerned about other people, but not dependent on their thoughts, attitudes or opinions. Even here in a retreat, with the rules of silence and such, where it should seem to be easy to be free of dependency, you may not find it. So, you may be aware of others attitudes, you may develop feelings of attraction or repulsion towards another. You may be concerned whether I am thinking well or unfavorably about you. You're not independent in your inner self. You're still bound by habits of dependence which you are throwing out around you as you sit or as you work. If this is the case, notice it separate yourself find a mind that is not dependent on others. Even if you are afraid of loneliness, you need to experiment with this to make proper progress
such a mark of having some practice under our belts. We have this we begin to get a feel for this independence get a feel for the fact that we're all we need. Okay, just the way we are. And of course, talking about this, feel obliged to drag in Anthony de Mello. He has something to say on of course, exactly this topic.
leads in by making a pretty big deal out of it says what I'm about to say will sound a bit pompous. But it's true. What is coming could be the most important minutes of your lives. If you could grasp this, you'd hit upon the secret of awakening, you would be happy forever. You would never be unhappy again. Nothing would have the power to hurt you again. I mean that nothing. It's like when you throw black paint in the air, the air remains uncontaminated. You never color the air black. No matter what happens to you. You remain uncontaminated, you remain at peace. There are human beings who have attained this, what I call being human. Not this nonsense of being a puppet jerked about this way, and that letting events or other people tell you how to feel. So you proceed, proceed to feel it and you call it being vulnerable. Hmm. I call it being a puppet. So you want to be a puppet, press a button and you're down. Do you like that? But if you refuse to identify with any labels, most of your worries cease.
Later on, he says, You don't need to belong to anybody or anything or any group. You don't even need to be in love. Who told you you do what you need is to be free. What you need is to love. That's it. That's your nature. But what you're really telling me is that you want to be desired. You want to be applauded, to be attractive. To have all the little monkeys running after you. You're wasting your life. Wake up. You don't need this You can be blissfully happy without it. Your society is not going to be happy to hear this. Because you become terrifying when you open your eyes and understand this. How do you control a person like this? He doesn't need you. He's not threatened by your criticism. He doesn't care what you think of him or what you say about him cut all those strings he's not a puppet any longer
it's not that he doesn't hear criticism criticism that's valid. But it doesn't there are no Barb's it's okay, there's nothing that needs to be defended.
Coming back to Sheng yen says you need to train yourself so that anytime at any moment you choose, you can free yourself inwardly from your world, from others from the past, from the future, from the previous thought, and the next thought. That is define freedom. That's what we're doing here on the mat, even though feels like you're trying failing, trying failing. Every time you let go of thought, returned to awareness of what's actually here. What's not a thought? You develop the ability to do this you provide the possibility to see what's really there.
He says that is to find freedom. Yet if you then think you are free and have some wisdom, this is not so you should not be attached to solitude or to experiences of relative freedom. When you're attached to neither attached neither to independence, nor to company, then wisdom will manifest. Isolation and independence constitute non attachment I mean non attachment to yourself to the devices by which you keep yourself safe. When you go beyond this illusory safety, you find freedom and wisdom and from wisdom as you look at the world comes compassion
How can we truly have compassion for other people when we feel we need things from them can easily devolve into codependency?
spend so much time worrying about worrying about how other people will react to painful things. We need to tell them how other people will react if we choose to do what we want to do and not what they want to do. Most of it is just speculation. It's amazing how many times we have what we think is going to be a difficult conversation. And lo and behold, the other person can take it, they're fine with it. What was the problem? Then so much time gaming out the future.
Like the phrase he uses the devices by which you make yourself safe. Again, when you go beyond this illusory safety, you find freedom and wisdom and from wisdom as you look at the world comes compassion.
Moving on The next section is day to lunchtime remarks is getting ahead Let us know. Whether we get to that stage where the mind and body are united within practice depends on whether we can relax our attentions and allow the body to be at ease. This is like learning to ride a horse. For a beginner, the motion of the horse is very tiring, even for an accomplished equestrian equestrian, if the horse is a wild one, the writer can have an exhausting time. Yet for a beginner with a tamed horse, or a skilled writer with a wild one, the writing can become comfortable and effortless. The writer in the steed are one there is no feeling of struggle or separation. If the body is having a hard time, getting tired of sitting, for example, then we feel fatigued by the effort. Yet when the method runs along smoothly, we forget about the body and mind because they are united, we feel pleasant and relaxed. When we meditate for long periods, it is important to forget the body. Likewise, in retreat, when we have a task to do, just do it. And do not be concerned with how the mind feels.
The mind is scattered when we're doing a task, then many thoughts arise one after the other, the mind separates from the action of the body. If we concentrate on the task, just performing it, cutting up the carrots cleaning the table sweeping the floor, then we're unaware of the mind. That is thoughts are not arising it if they arise they're not sticking. On the first day of retreat, most people are not accustomed to the schedule. Now that it is the second day, whether meditating or doing your task, let your mind and your actions become one do not allow them to become separate. To real value and says sheen to the work we do outside the Zendo. Another form of practice walking walking to the dining room for a meal with a mind free tendency when the round ends to let the song and dance start back up. But don't shortchange yourself
find the joy in a unified mind. Whatever we need to do is right in front of us. So Sheen is such an opportunity. So difficult and so joyous. Changes from moment to moment. Keep at it
moving on now to the day to evening lecture. And this again is the poem by Juan Ming. Yesterday we got through the first two stanzas I'll just read them once again. Too much knowledge leads to overactivity. Better to calm the mind. The more you consider, the greater the loss. Better to unify the mind. EXCESSIVE THINKING weakens the will. The more you know, the more your mind is confused. A confused mind gives rise to vexation. The weakened will obstructs the Dow that it continues, don't say there is no harm in this. The ensuing pain may last forever. Don't think there is nothing to fear the calamities churn like bubbles in a boiling pot. And Sheng yen says Wang Ming does not intend us to take him lightly. He's very much in earnest. He says that if we cannot put down the habit of reasoning, of turning our knowledge over and over, then we cannot obtain the benefits of meditation. To continue with such a habit constitutes a serious problem. No one should think there is nothing to fear. Rather, you need to know that such a habit generates harm that can continue indefinitely. And, of course, it is a habit. And as such, it's not going to disappear overnight. What the mind has always done, the mind continues to do, there's a momentum, it's not to be ignored. Change comes gradually the value of practice the value of sesshin, we have this opportunity for an extended period, without any interruptions or disturbances. To learn to turn the mind inward, letting go of thoughts, attending to what's really there.
He says in the sutras, there's a particular term doesn't say what this term is, but there is a particular term, which points at our capacity for tolerating this world of suffering. Although we recognize that this is a world of suffering, we continue to put up with it. Not only that, we are willingly tolerant of suffering. We remain attached to the concerns of worldly life, the worries, the vanities, and the discriminations that we use to judge one another. This is a world where we endlessly cope with suffering, and rarely go beyond it. Likewise, a practitioner of Chan may know very well, that wandering discursive thoughts are potentially harmful, but nonetheless, she may or may remain positively attracted to them. After all, they are amusing. When told not to entertain such tantalizing ideas and to think of nothing, the practitioner soon finds practice very boring. For example, we've agreed not to talk to one another, we know very well, the talking causes us to lose our meditative focus. Nevertheless, situations arise in which a few remarks are passed. We cannot resist prolonging the interaction with a few more words in reply, it seems such an enjoyable thing. Since we are indeed serious about practice, we should not go we should not think lightly of these warnings. If we heed them, we can go beyond knowledge and true practice can begin go beyond thoughts reminded of a passage from Dawei about the danger that you waiting ourselves to to thought in a short letter you wrote to one of his students.
He said the obstruction of the path by the mind and its conceptual discrimination is worse than poisonous snakes are fierce tigers. Why? Because poisonous snakes and fierce tigers can still be avoided. Whereas intelligent people make the minds conceptual discrimination their home so that there is never a single incident, whether they're walking, standing, sitting or lying down, that they're not having dealings with it. As time goes on, unknowing and unawares, they become one piece with it, and not because they want to either, but because since beginningless time, they have followed this one little road until it's become set and familiar. Though they may see through it for a moment and wish to detach from it. They still can't. Thus it is sad that poisonous snakes and fierce tigers can still be avoided. But the minds conceptual discrimination truly has no place for you to escape.
course it's not hopeless. Just just a small change brings a true benefit. It's like coming out of a fog coming out of a world where everything's great off. Never seeing the real thing only seeing the picture. never being here, always being caught up in the past or anticipating the future. Even though we have this resistance even though we're so habituated, we see the value, cutting off thought, opening our eyes and we have this method whereby we can do it, just have to keep at it. Somewhere I read that the Buddha said there are only two mistakes you can make in practice. First is not to begin, and the second is to stop.
It goes on to the next. Next stanza, water dripping and ceaseless Lee will fill the four seas, specks of dust not wiped away, will become the five mountains brings to mind the poem we used to recite little drops of water, little grains of sand, make the mighty ocean and the pleasant land. says don't think that a little bit a tiny bit of wandering thought is irrelevant. Maybe there is only a tiny bit of wandering thought in this sitting this day this retreat. But the accumulation of these tiny wandering thoughts becomes one gigantic wandering thought a monster. This habit has been formed since time without beginning endlessly, we are judging things in one another, by using our knowledge and our memory of past experiences. And this has been passed down from life to life. Indeed, it is karma itself. We are this habit entangled and constrained within it, it of this we are unaware. When we focus in practice, it becomes quite easy to see the truth of this, we can see the scattered thoughts and how difficult it is to let them go. The endless cycling of our limited and caging ideas and judgments are prejudices. And the clearer we see such things, the better the chance of our success. The more speedily we recognize it when we drift away. The shift can begin. So many of the thoughts that have a charge the feelings of not being adequate. I'm doing it wrong. Although self judgmental thoughts. Those are harder to spot sometimes. We're just scrambling to avoid the pain, wishing for a way out. Don't Don't, don't take what you think so seriously. How many times do the same Bunnell self self critical thoughts run through the head? It's just noise. We see that we can let it go. When we let it go, time and time again over a long time. It doesn't arise as frequently and when it does, we spotted quicker. He says now in the last two days, what have you found to be the most difficult element in practice is that when we are dozing off, or is it when we have wandering thoughts. When sleepiness is the greater problem, it may be due to a lack of energy or to temporary mullahs a cold or a virus. If you're practicing well, and a great sleepiness comes, then sometimes there's nothing that can really help you become very exhausted, then it is important to take a rest. But if you lack energy through laziness, or merely a little drowsy, that if you increase your breathing, take in some fresh air or do some exercises you may energize yourself again. And in fact, while Ming doesn't discuss discuss the problem of falling asleep, perhaps in his day, practitioners never lacked energy. Get a real chance to work with this. In Yassa in late night sitting, we sit outside the regular rounds. How tired are we really? What will happen? A lot of times people are so worried about it becoming too tired, that they do far less than they could. Other people feel so guilt ridden, that they do more Zen maybe than is good for them and they do exhaust themselves. But even if you do that, get a rest and you can come back. Time and Zen is not wasted. So it's a balance that everyone has to work out for themselves. How far do I push myself beyond what's required?
Says the remaining problem is the wandering thoughts. Do you know how to deal with wandering thoughts? The first step is to recognize when the mind is wandering, often it comes over you so subtly that you do not even notice it. Then suddenly, we say, What on earth am I thinking about? So we have to be mindful of what we are doing in our practice. Many people have heard this before. But practice is a combination of bird with two wings, there's the mindfulness aspect. And then there's the aspect of concentration or absorption.
We can become very concentrated. And then when we go off on a tangent we don't even notice. So focused, can happen off in a sort of a macho and says sheen, that all of a sudden you remember some slight or incident and fly off in a rage, chewing over your anger, nursing your anger, not even realizing what you're doing. Roshi likes to point out that when you're lost in thought, you're actually kind of helpless. Until you notice, how are you going to do anything. But when you do notice, you can step right out, the thoughts have no power, there's no solidity to them. If you've drifted off the highway, just get right back on.
Again, we have to be mindful of what we are doing in our practice. And when we do detect that our minds have wandered, it's important not to feel an irritation with oneself, or an aversion towards the thoughts. It simply tires you out, if you take up a belligerent attitude towards your own mind. The paradoxical thing is that very often, as soon as you recognize the fact of wandering, the mind clears, recognition itself can do the trick. That recognition becomes much more sensitive much quicker as we go on in our sitting. And I want to underline this point of the unskillful illness of taking up a belligerent attitude towards your own mind. Try being kind to yourself, give yourself the same consideration you'd give someone else some fret friend, be patient, kind, patient, determined and confident. We all have the capacity to do this. We all have the time. For now.
He says sometimes the wandering of the mind is due to fatigue or lack of energy, there may be a physiological cause for it, maybe you do not actually feel drowsy. But nevertheless, the energy for concentration is lacking. The art of it is to recognize again and again, the state of the mind. If it is wandering, simply bring it back into focus. By doing this again and again. Eventually the body energy will be renewed and you will have fewer periods of wandering thoughts. There is a daily cycle of energy. Within some power periods, you'll have less that is less energy than at other times. This is natural. There is no need for a fight. Simply be attentively aware at all times.
We can make use of an analogy here. Meditation is like using a fan. The old fashioned handheld type If you have the task of catching a feather on a fan, every time you move the fan, the feather is likely to be blown away. So delicate business you have to hold the fan quite still just under the space through which the feather is sinking of its own motion. Rather than comes to rest on the top of the fan, you can imagine how difficult or how easy this may be any use of force
and he use of force and the feather is lost. He had once you grasp the principle it is something very easy to do. stilling the mind is like catching a feather with a fan. It needs patience and persistence. When practicing Do not be afraid of a distracting thought. If your body has a problem, do not be concerned with it. If your mind is worrying, put the worry down. Keep the mind on the method waiting for the feather to sink onto the fan. Supposing you're in a very good situation, no distractions, no wandering thoughts. Whatever you do, never congratulate yourself. Away goes the feather at once. So don't be happy. Do not think how successful you are. Just observe the situation without movement towards or away. If the mind moves, wandering thoughts begin
another analogy some feathers come from chickens, some from ducks. The Ducks feather is waterproof. The duck floats happily in the water. Nope trouble. The chicken is a different case altogether. Imagine the state of the feathers of a chicken trying to swim.
Imagine the state imagine the state of the feathers of a chicken. When we train. The mind begins with feathers like those of a chicken is easy to be disturbed by anything. But in the time we find in time we find a state where equanimity equanimity appears we are not bothered by any passing thought. At that time we have duck feathers. Of course chickens cannot change into ducks. But through practice the mind can become impermeable to the showers of passing thoughts.
He's about to start a new passage here and our time is just about up. So we will stop now and recite to four vows.