September 2021 Sesshin, Day 3: The Practice of Zen by Garma C.C. Chang
4:36PM Oct 9, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This morning we'll read from, comment on, the book called The Practice of Zen. Now, a couple of days ago, my first teisho of sesshin, I read the biography of the Chinese the 11th / 12th century Chinese Zen master Ta Hui, intending at that time to continue with his teachings for for, for my second teisho. But then I looked more closely at those at those - at that text of Swampland Flowers and saw that it was relatively recently that I last did them. I try not to go back to the same text more than every, oh, three years or so.
So now I'm going to switch horses and go to this collection. It's an anthology. It's one of the very first Zen books in English - one of the very few that were available to Roshi Kapleau to use in teisho. And when I came to the Center. And again, it's called The Practice of Zen. And it's edited by and translated by C.C. Chang. So apparently Chinese American or Chinese, and it was published in 1959. So that's, that's one of the first.
And I'm going back to an account an autobiography of a master Han Shan. This is a very distinctive autobiography. Among the Masters we've often read from the Zen masters autobiographies or biographies more commonly, and they don't have as much in them about other sects of Buddhism. It does start in I'll say more as we go on. So his dates Han Shan, was born in 1545.
I think that now it's probably even after the Song Dynasty, but it's alright, doesn't matter. Just for a little comparative timeline. In 1545, work began on the Mexico City Cathedral, very, very famous. Cathedral sort of the center when they have political protests. That's where they have them and Cathedral. That Cathedral they took 270 years to build. This was 1545 was when Michelangelo did his greatest works around that time. And is the time of Shakespeare. Alright, he begins. I was born at Tron Chow in the county of Nanking. My mother was a pious Buddhist, and had been a worshipper of Guan Yin, of course, as the Bodhisattva of compassion known in Japan has caught on. worshipper of Kuan Yin on our life, one day, she dreamed that the All Merciful mother brought into the house, a child which she received with warm and braces. As a result, she became pregnant. And on the 12th of October, I was born 1545 I'm going to what I've done in the past, is read this word for word but is like thick. It takes too long to go through everything. So in many cases, I'm just going to paraphrase and use the third person. So the next year when he was 12 months, years, 12 months old. serious illness carried him to the point of death. His mother prayed to Guan Yin in vowed that if she recovered, she would offer her offer. Han Shan to the monastery to become a monk. And when he did recover, she duly and listed his name in the local monastery the monastery of longevity was called. So right off, he's got a head start on a career as a Buddhist monk. He says when I was three years old, I prefer to sit alone and did not care to play with the other children. My grandfather would always exclaim, his child is like a wooden pole.
When I was seven years old, my mother sent me to school. At that time, he had an uncle, who, who, who felt very close to him one day, just before Han Shan return, arrived home from school, the uncle died. And then Han Shan said when I saw him lying so still on the bed, my mother tried to deceive me about his death, saying, your uncle is asleep. You might wake him up. In other words, be quiet might wake him up. He then he says, whereupon I called my uncle a few times, but he did not answer me. At this, my aunt, greatly grief stricken cried out to him. Oh, my heaven. Where have you gone? Where have you gone?
Who has not wondered that? When, at the death of someone close to you
were if you've gone
then he this young Han Shan Han Shan seven years old, said to his mother, well, my, my uncle's body lies right here. Why does my aunt say he has gone away? Then my mother said, Your uncle is dead. To which Han Shan said if one dies? Where does one then go? And from that moment, he said this question was deeply impressed on his mind.
There's a little, little charming incident where his antawn shots and had gave birth, gave birth to a child. When my mother took me to see the newborn baby for the first time, I asked, How did this baby get into the belly of my aunt? And mother patted me and said, foolish child, how did you get into my belly? Pretty good answer. Other than getting into explanations that he wasn't ready for. Then he says, From that day on, I was obsessed with the question of life and death. It's stuck in my mind and weighed like LED on my heart. Here's a long paragraph I'm just going to paraphrase. When he was eight years old, he was boarded in the home of some relatives across the river so that he could be nearer his school. His mother for bad him to come home more often than once a month. One day, though, he refused to return to school after his monthly visit. When he told his mother that he couldn't bear to leave her, she became furious. She slapped me and chased me to the riverbank. Then even then, he wouldn't leave her to board the ferry boat in a rage. His mother grabbed him by the hair, threw him into the river, and then turn homeward without once looking back. Now suspend judgment of this mother, my grandmother who is nearby calling for help, and I was saved. Finally, when I reached home, my mother exclaimed, what is the use of keeping this trash alive? It would be better if he had dropped After this, she beat me and tried to chase me away. Then I decided that my mother was too stern and cruel and that henceforth I would not go home anymore. And then he says, I later learn that my mother many times stood alone on the riverbank weeping. When my grandmother heard of this, she scolded her. With tears flowing down her cheeks, my mother answered, I must make him overcome his two effects, affectionate nature, so that he can study seriously. No, she sounds like she may have been a little bit emotionally unbalanced. But boy, she was determined that her son would make something of himself, not the last mother who had that intention for their son or daughter.
When he was 10 years old, he said, My mother was pressing me so hard to study, that I was unhappy about it. Why should I study? I asked her to get a position in the government, she replied. This, just as a, as an aside, this was the highest aspiration anyone could have in worldly occupations is to get a government post become a government official. This was everything about being a doctor or a lawyer or a systems analyst or a financial analyst, but becoming a government official. And what kind of position Can I have later in the government? I asked. Mother said, you can start in a low position, and it's possible to rise to become Prime Minister. Even if I become Prime Minister, I said What then? Well, that's as far as one can go. Well, what is the use of becoming a high government official, to toil on one's life and get nothing is futile. I wanted to attain something of eternal value. To which his mother exclaimed, oh, a useless sunlight, you could be nothing but a wandering monk. So that he pressed on, I asked, What good is it to become a monk, a monk, she said, is a disciple of the Buddha and can go anywhere in the world. He is a man of true freedom. Everywhere people will give him offerings and serve Him. And Han Shan said, This seems very good to me. I should like to be a mock.
Man, his mother said, I'm afraid that you have no such merits.
When I appeared surprised at this, you have no such merits. My mother continued. There have been many champions scholars in this world. But Buddha's and patriarchs do not often appear. Most of you know you've heard read that in China is all about merit, acquiring merit, acquiring merit, primarily by buy through charity by being generous, especially the Sangha, the boot the monastic Sangha, making donations, most commonly, of course, with just food, just giving food to wandering monks. And the highest they could hope to reach was to get enough merit pile up enough merit, that in their next life, they could become monks or nuns. So here she is. Point she's hard. I don't think you have any such merits. And I have such merits, I insisted, but I was afraid you would not let me go ahead. If you have such merit, my mother replied, I will let you go your way. And he said this promise of hers I cherished in my heart. How many 10 year olds cherish the possibility of becoming monks or nuns? Probably there's some probably a strong, I say, strong Catholic upbringing. There's a period they go through where this is very much appealing to them.
When he was 11 years old, several hours reading his word, several people came wearing bamboo rain hats. You know, these are these conical straw hats. People came wearing bamboo rain hats with carrying poles upon their shoulders, approaching our house. At once I asked my mother, who are these strangers? They're traveling monks, she replied. I was delighted and observe them most carefully. When they had nearly reached our house, they put down their carrying poles and rested under a tree nearby. They asked us where they could find some food. There gamma Chinese delicacy of indirectness. Not Could I have some food but where can I find some food. And mother had them wait and immediately began preparing food for them attending and serving them with great respect and veneration. And the monks ate and they stood up and shoulder their poles again. But what raised only one hand to express their thanks. In other words, no, no bow I guess. But his mother waved them off saying please don't thank me. The monks left without uttering a word. To which Han Shan said he's monk seen impolite. They didn't even say thank you, but just laughed. And then his mother explained. If they had thanked me, I would have obtained less merit from this good deed. And then said to myself privately, that their actions showed the supremacy of the monkhood. This encounter encouraged me more strongly than ever, in my decision to become a monk.
When he was 12, he didn't like to mingle with worldly people, as he puts it or take part in their affairs. He says, whenever my father tried to arrange a marriage for me, that, of course is the custom in olden times, and China's in Japan, Korea, I guess. Whenever we tried, I stopped him the once. One day I heard a monk from the capital say that in the monastery of power n, lived a great master named Shi Lin. Immediately I wanted to go to see him. I asked my father's permission to go but he refused. So then he asked his mother to intercede for him. And she reasoned, it's better to let our son follow his own wish and to help him and help him to accomplish it. So here you see again, another side of this mother, where she was bound and determined to have him become a government official, even to the point of driving him away. But now she she sees that that's not his path. That he was, he had convinced her over time that he was really as strong as aspiration was to become a monk. So many parents just they cannot yield their own. Their own hopes or aspirations for their children may be well intentioned, but they don't have the wisdom of this, this mother to see the handwriting on the wall and to to know when, when to fold when to allow what was clearly something that he was destined to be.
So that October, he was sent to the monastery and now revert to his own words. As soon as the Grandmaster saw me he was pleased remarking, this boy is an unusual person. It would be pitiable, if he became just an ordinary monk.
There was this other master there who when he saw Han Shan he was delighted and exclaimed, this child will become the master of men and heaven. He then patted me and asked, Would you rather be a high officer in the government or a Buddha? And I answered a Buddha Of course. Then he turned to the others and said, We must not underrate this child, he should be well educated. It's interesting, I said that, he didn't say we must not unraid this child, put them in the zendo. Put them, get them going. He said he should be well educated. Again, this strong, strong emphasis in, in ancient China and no or no doubt today also on education, getting educated as far as one can, even even in preparation for becoming ordained.
He says, in 1564, when I was 19, many of my friends gained honor by passing the official examination. When I was at bukoba, G, there was a young resident there, who, when he got there, his Japanese resident young man, when he got there, he had just passed his his exams, these all important exams to get into Tokyo University, the most prestigious university in Japan. And Tongan Roshi was is one of many examples I could relate of his adapting his, his teaching to the circumstances. He stopped us all at tea break and he said this is so and so. He just passed his his he was just accepted into Tokyo University. And he was very very laudatory is very pretty much honored him. The boy was was was blushing. But it was no nice insight into the inside. Well, he's going to Tokyo University too bad he's not being a monk. He really honored his, his reaching that that level.
So Han Shan says is my my friends urged me to take the examination also. When master Yun coo heard of this, he became worried. Don't worry about the names of these masters, he's throwing a lot of them at us there must have been thick as flies at this monastery. When master Yun coo heard of this, he became worried that I might be persuaded to engage in worldly affairs. Therefore he encouraged me to practice religion, and to strive for Zen. And this master related to him these many stories of these masters, various masters, the biographies of the great monks. I was so moved that exalted that I sighed to myself saying, Oh, this is what I would like to do. And that he, he pleaded with a grandmaster to ordain him. And now we get down to business, discarding all worldly affairs and learning, I devoted myself to the practice of Zen, but could not get anywhere, could not get anywhere. So even for someone like this, who went on to become a famous Master, it's hard at first. The problem problem would have been that he was still trying to get somewhere. If you have a thought like that in mind of progressing or not progressing, then it becomes an impediment. I could not get anywhere. It's probably sending patients there as well. It's another big impediment early in practice, especially. So they hopped over to another practice and that Zen practice, but the practice of reciting the name of Buddha Almeida. Now, this is just another another sect of Buddhism. Other than other than Chan, other than Zen. The The idea is that if you can recite this name of Buddha Almeida in Japanese, it's now more amenable to Namo Amida butsu namo Amida butsu. I placed my faith in the in the Buddha Amita. To it's a non historical Buddha, lots of Buddhas in Buddhism. But here, if you could do this, as he did reciting the name, day and night without interruption, you can the idea, well, I believe this, you can get into a kind of Samadhi or chanting Samadhi or recitation Samadhi. It's an exam. But it's not so entirely different from Zen either. And here, what I started to say at the beginning of this pack this chapter, here's where we see, in stark relief, the difference between as a generalization the difference between Chinese Chan and Japanese Zen in, in Japan, I heard many times from Roshi Kapleau, who lived there for 13 years. In Japan. They hate mixtures. You don't mix this with that. Each thing, you want to make pure and complete itself. If you're practicing Zen practice Zen if you're practicing the Pure Land school, do just that. And it's so many things foods and, and any kinds of disciplines, you don't mix two things, then you don't get the full rewards of either one for benefits. Whereas in China, apparently, it was much more common. To do it even in one monastery to have Zen practitioners and Puroland practitioners and, and other practitioners. We don't need to go any further and say there's a better or worse way to it. I always suspected that China being such a huge country, so much bigger than Japan, they naturally found themselves more broad minded and more inclined toward income inclusivity than than the Japanese. Had doesn't matter. This is the way it was, and still is, I think hako in the great Japanese Zen Master Hakuin used to rage about mixing
Zen and pure land. But here, Han Shan founded Zen Zen a little too steep at first. So he began reciting the name of Buddha Amita a did it 24 seven. He said before long Buddha Almeida appeared before me in a dream, sitting high in the sky in the direction of the setting sun. Seeing his kind face and eyes radiant with compassion, clear and vivid. I prostrated myself at his feet with mixed feelings of love, sorrow and happiness. So he got quite a lift out of this, but then he switches again and he said, that winter our monastery invited the Master Wu Ji to teach the philosophy of why yen is yet another giant sect of Buddhism the why and school or the other TomSka school based on a great sutra by that name, the y n sutra the avatamsaka Sutra. He says that, when the lecture came to the point of the 10, mysterious gates, the eternal realm of the ocean seal, I suddenly realized the infinite and all inclusive totality of the universe. so deeply impressed was I with a profound admiration for Cheng Liang as the founder of the y n school, that I adopted one of his names and called myself Ching in I then put myself under the I put my understanding before the Master Wu ci he said to me, Oh, so you wish to follow the path of y n? Good. But do you know why he called himself Cheng Liang, which means pure and cool it because he it was because he used to dwell on the Cheng Liang mountain, cool in summer and icy and frozen in winter. And then Han Shan says from that moment whether walking or standing still, I always saw before me a fantasy world of ice and snow. I then made up my mind to go and dwell on that mountain, nothing in the world could attract me anymore. The yearning to renounce this world arose continuously within me that will return to this Cheng Liang mountain a little bit later.
In when he was 20, his master died. And a few days before his death, he summoned all the monks in the monastery and said, I'm now at three years old. Very soon I will be leaving this world. I have some 80 disciples, but the one who will carry on my work is Han Shan. after my death, you should all obey His orders, and not neglect his injunctions just because of his age. It's hard to believe that he would single out this 20 year old must have seen extraordinary qualities potential in Han Shan.
And this is his master called each monk into his room to say goodbye. We're all very much surprised by this. Three days later, he settled his affairs and made his will. And at the time, he appeared to have only a slight illness. We took him some medicine, but he refused it saying, I am going away. What is the use of taking drugs.
So without his rosary in hand, he died in a sitting posture.
And then, in October of the same year, this another master opened up a meditation assembly we could say it's kind of a session. He called together 53 nationally known elders in order to reveal and propagate the teaching of meditation through its actual practice. Because of the recommendation of master Yun coup, I was able to join the assembly. At first I did not know how to work how to do the meditation, and was greatly disturbed by my ignorance. So here again, second barrier he reaches with with respect to Chan meditation. He burned some incense and offered it to the master and then asked him for instruction. He first taught me how to work on the koan, who is the one who recites the name of Buddha Amita, in this koan, you see the fusion of Zen Chan and pure land, instead of us asking this reciting the name of the Buddha Amita, who is the Who is it? Who recites that name? It's very much in line with what someone working on Who am I? Or who is this would would do is always have the presence of mind to not get caught in the content. But then ask who is doing this?
Han Shan says I concentrated for the next three months on working on this koan without a single distracting thought. And this is where he loses me it's a little hard stretches credibility, that he would go for three months without a single distracting thought. So he had places he seems inclined toward some exaggeration, but that aside, he goes on. It was as if I were absorbed in a dream. During this whole period, I was not aware of anyone in the assembly, or of anything happening around me. Now, here, I want to pause and make the point. That was he's just describing as a state of no mindedness and not mindfulness. We've reached a point in our culture, where mindfulness is held up as sort of a highest ideal. And it is, indeed, wonderful beyond words at how much people now are looking to mindfulness as a practice, but it's not the same as no mindedness. Again, I was not aware of anyone in the assembly of anything happening around me. Many people who are not familiar with Zen would would, would say, well, this, what kind of meditation is that you're not aware of other people around you and things happening. But this is a kind of Samadhi the one can reach or would lose such awareness.
Before getting to that point, mindfulness is is an important component of Zen practice, we have to be mindful to notice when our mind has wandered. It seems that here, Han Shan was beyond that point. But for everyone else, we have to be alert, we have to notice where our attention is, and bring it back to our practice when we notice that it has strayed.
But he says in the first few days in my earnest striving, I was much too anxious and impatient. My impatience caused the rapid growth of a carbuncle on my back, which swelled to a large size and was acutely inflamed. Notice how he just reports as a matter of fact that that was the cause of the carbuncle It was his impatience. And I don't find that hard to believe that you know, that there was a that was the somatic effect of his impatience. Is, he said his master was moved with great pity for him. He wrapped a shawl, the master wrapped a shawl around hunch on his shoulder, and prayed mournfully, and with great sincerity. Before certain Bodhisattva
excuse me, he Han Shan wrapped the shawl around his shoulder, and prayed and made this vow. This affliction must be a karmic debt, which I owe from a previous incarnation in which I must pay back in this life. But in order that I may complete this meditation period, so he was determined to seat see it out, go to the end completed. I beg you to postpone it to a later date. Before you as a witness, I promise to pay this debt after the meditation practice. And I also promised to recite the why yen sutra 10 times to show my gratitude to you. Thus I made my vow and feeling very tired, he went to bed that evening, not even waking. When the time for meditation was over. The next day, the master asked, How is your sickness? I answered, I don't feel anything wrong now. He then looked at my back and found that the carbuncle had healed. All the monks were moved with admiration and astonishment. And so I was able to complete the meditation practice, the period position. This, this I don't find far fetched at all. The power of the mind, power of concentration, the power of devoted concentration would have even this quite sudden healing effect on the body waiting for when such a thing might happen to me and I will be all in with what he was doing.
And he says that when that assembly was over, I still felt as if I were in meditation all the time, even while walking through the bizarre or on a busy street. This would be the most wonderful thing if one could after machine maintain that what we this kind of state that we can reach in sesshin. But it's almost impossible without sitting as much as we are. If you go from sitting 12 or 15 hours a day is is many people doing sesshin to sitting an hour a day, how can you sustain it?
Here he had the added the Add momentum of having done this for three months, so the effect would take longer to dwindle. Or he may have continued after those and he may have continued to sit in many hours a day. We don't know.
When he was 21. He made up his mind to go far away to do secluded meditation and was looking for a suitable companion companion. One day, he said he saw a traveling monk named meow Fung, who seemed to be an unusual and genuis seem genuine person. Unusual and genuine person were left to fill in what that meant. Probably a monk of great integrity. devotion. Someone who anyone would recognize as pure in his ethical conduct determined but a few days later, he left the monastery without telling me presumably he feared that a too close association with me might hinder his freedom. You know in the time of the Buddha monks, Buddhist monks were told that they couldn't sleep in any one location more than they couldn't sleep any one location to two nights in a row had to keep moving in order not to become forming attachment to the place or to the people awfully awfully strict
there's that that that old tradition is come to mind. Now this summer of clearing out our house selling our house and moving to Florida for the winter that's how a lot of letting go we've had to do this this summer and I've always been reminding myself this is this can only be good if you're not abandoning any responsibilities This can only be conducive to spiritual freedom is this letting go letting go all in really in it's all preparation it can be seen as preparation for dying. The Ultimate Teaching of Zen practice is learning to let go we learn to let go by learning to let go of what's most difficult of all which is our thoughts that's what we're stuck to more than anything if we can let go of our thoughts if we can learn over time. As a sir continuous practice to let go of our thoughts, then other letting go gets easier even you would seem, it would seem letting go of life. dying. could say that Zen practice it's all practice in dying, which means practicing living. This is the secret. The secret of life is learning to let go moment by moment starts with thoughts. That's why meditation is the basis of all freedom. Learning to let go of our thoughts so that we can be fully here, fully vividly here and not lost in our thoughts.
Time is up now we'll stop and recite the four vows