July 2021 Sesshin, Day 4: The Way of Korean Zen by Kusan Sunim
8:59PM Aug 4, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is day four of this July 2021, seven day sesshin -- back to the teachings of the Korean Zen Master Kusan Sunim from the book The Way of Korean Zen. I'm going to skip up to chapter six, which is titled discourses from a winter retreat.
And this is called first lecture, we can say teisho I venture to ask the assembly, all of you with a pure undefiled original nature, have you completely awakened to it or not? If by chance, you have penetrated the profound meaning of the patriarchs, than say something you may know the unchanging nature by seeing bamboos and pines in the snow, do you understand?
Within snow which is always in flux, stem, the bamboos and the pines within change changelessness.
Maybe, opposite verse with the cessation of defilements, there is no high or low place. It is the defilements for example, the defilements of dividing the world into high and low the pure original face cannot be assailed in ice, flames appear, the bright light is all pervasive. The subtle Dharma limitless is the sands along the Ganges adorns the entire world.
Many goes on, although many rivers converge in the sea. In the end, their taste is one and the flow of their water is comes to an end. Likewise defilements and false thinking endlessly flow from the conditioned mind. Due to this we suffer beneath the wheel of birth and death. But when the mind from which defilements and false thinking flow is completely cut off, the high and the low disappear, common and accomplished beings vanish. Originally, all is equal. Therefore, the pure original face cannot be assailed. Of course base. It's our nature, the original nature cannot be tainted, diminished
the pure original nature that is able to hear this sound and see the staff cannot be assailed. It does not undergo the suffering of birth and death. It is not stained by defilements.
And this is this is what awakening reveals that no matter how many afflictions we have, no matter how unpleasant or quarrelsome or unhappy we are still within that, within that mind body complex. There is this original luminous nature
I'm afraid that for most people who hear this, this sort of roll off, roll off the mind. But to to confirm it, to confirm that there is only this Buddha nature. It's not that this, this original nature is somehow buried under all these personal afflictions that we have. But the afflictions themselves are not apart from not. They're not separate from this essential mind.
All the affairs of the world are just like dreams. With a single stroke of a knife, completely sever all concerns. Only search for awakening. Not only must you discard all worldly fame, wealth, glory, comfort, learning and cleverness. But the Buddha's as well is the enlightened ones, our predecessors, even met, we don't want to be attached to even those, you must finish with at all.
This image of a, of a knife, a stroke of a knife is a favorite one. In in Japanese, and as it is in Korean Zen apparently, can be misleading. There's nothing we we don't need to really we don't need to address our attachments and then cut through them. The cutting is it's an imperfect analogy. Whenever we are, whenever we detach and whenever we disengage from our thoughts about ourself, that is the cutting, redirecting our attention to the breadth of the koan, that's the cutting.
Because the all those attachments, they have no roots to them. It's only by attending to them, it's only by engaging with them, involving with these mental attachments, that we sustain them without our attention. they wither
quotes, quotes what it says here is an ancient master once said, The bright light of the mind has never darkened. from ages past to the present. It has been the brilliant way when entering this door, discard intellectual knowledge. That's the end of this masters, pack quote. And then kusatsu name says this bright spiritual light which is able to hear the sound and see the staff has not darkened even once. It is eternal. This light this light everyone has in common.
For this reason, it is the way that is eternally radiant. The way the Dow therefore when entering this door, discard intellectual knowledge. Good advice to people coming to sesshin may show up the suitcase, the front door Could have the greeter say discard intellectual knowledge.
Another feature of the discipline we maintain in sesshin is no reading like this is why
in sesshin, we read ourselves even that is not quite precisely accurate the we are read by ourselves, we see ourselves
after practicing for a while you may come to think that you know something, then you start conceptualizing. For example, if you've been working on Mu, you may think that which says Mu, Isn't that it? But was working on what is this may think that which says, What is this? It's an added this approach is wrong. Therefore, avoid speculative thinking. Really, what people who are working on a koan should need to eventually understand is if you don't, we're not trying to come up with an answer, you're not trying to come up with an answer. You're just questioning. There's no answer, as such, like a sentence or several sentences, it's not something that can be figured out. And if you can, if you can, think you have it, if what you have is words, a description or explanation as an adage, it can't be figured out, it doesn't have to be because it can be embodied. embodying this Mu, or this embodying is infinitely better than talking about it.
It's not, it's not about coming up with answers.
So it's kind of a subtle point, but a very important one. Just be the questioning. Be the breath.
So it's more being than answering.
You must possess truthfulness and sincerity in order to practice correctly. Yeah, this word sincerity, it's a it's a really a rich word may get past us. To be to practice sincerely, really means to put our whole mind into it. Not part of our mind, not to split the mind. Between the practice we're working on and other things. It's one with one's whole heart. That's sincerity. And for the longest time, we won't be wholehearted about it will, we will see our attention split between the practice maybe 60%. And then other odds and ends another 40% or further fracturing in there. But through all this sitting, day after day, we get percentage up or eventually can be 90 and beyond for more and more fully absorbed and in the practice more more sincere. It won't it leaves that kind of increased attention on the practice leaves you feeling more sincere about it. You realize that earlier. You weren't completely sincere because you had other things floating around in the mind.
To practice simply because others are doing so is just imitation. You will never achieve anything in that way. I think of yassa I spent my share of time just showing up for yassa because others are doing so and I didn't want to be seen missing and No, it's not. It's not nothing like just coming in for you because you feel compelled to do so. But at least you're sitting not fast asleep in bed or tossing and turning, you're, you're doing you're sitting and if you have pain to contend with, then it kind of forces you to get concentrated. So it's not a it's not a waste, just because your your motivation isn't so pure. Anything to to keep logging more and more hours of sitting is going to be purifying the mind purifying, one's one's intention, one's aspiration. I mean, if you're doing halfway decent effort at it, certainly, you can't just be sitting and and daydreaming that really doesn't do much.
says you must truly awaken in order to be freed from the suffering of birth and death. This this pairing of the word birth and death is something I've never seen except in Buddhist texts. Normally, we think of the pairing of life and death. But it's usually birth and death in Buddhism, because it's referring to the wheel of suffering, where we suffer to a larger or greater or greater or lesser extent, through our lives, different intermittently, worse. And finally, the body passes and then we're reborn to repeat the whole cycle. That's that's the teaching of rebirth. So, birth and death means this whole his whole wheel.
Knowledge and conceptualization are not appropriate.
When you investigate the koan, and intend to awaken to your great original nature, you must be like a hen hatching eggs. Think about how much effort the hen must exert in order to successfully hatch eggs. from dawn to dusk, she constantly pecks and searches for food. Imagine how hungry she gets while sitting on the eggs all day long. Remember, Pusan as a youth was grew up on a farm. If she frequently leaves to eat or drink, only half of them will hatch properly, the rest will rot while the hand is hatching her eggs she does not just sit quietly. She moves the eggs around with her feet in order to evenly distribute the heat. Only in this way Well, the checks chicks hatch successfully.
How does How do those hands know to do that?
Again, mind so much bigger than us and our plans and our learning bigger than what we learn.
Does the How does our breath know to come in and out of the lungs ceaselessly around the clock, on and on and on year after year, or the blood to circulate the heart to beat. We didn't learn that.
He's using this as an analogy for how we need to actively engage with the koan, and not just in a mechanical way, just like a zombie, just just repeat the same words. Ideally, ideally, it's an investigating, investigating meaning not analytically Of course, but really looking peering looking into questioning in a questioning way. What is it? What is more,
says it is the same for somebody practicing meditation. Whether you are investigating what is this? Mu, or the Cypress in the courtyard, famous koan momon Khan. The practice will not mature if you just hold the koan motionless. If you just watch it repeating, what is this, what is this, then he would be like a hen trying to hatch her eggs without moving them. You cannot awaken in this manner, you must be like the hand who moves her eggs around. So yeah, questioning, questioning is an active thing. And then, but then, I often hear from people who say, Well, you know, I have to be honest. I don't feel a great deal of questioning. And now I've tried in the questioning just doesn't take hold of me. Okay. Yeah, that's common enough. You don't want to make a contrivance to fabricate something that is not is not really there. So you, you you just do your best from now now and then to see if you can stimulate some some wonder at this, the koan that you're working on. Even if you're not questioning your engagement with a practice must be active that is vital. Sincere, not not static. Yes, we're sitting. We're developing stillness, but it's to be a vibrant stillness, and that's where the stick also can help. The stick keeps us from or helps anyway helps keep us from sinking into the real kind of a trance.
several paragraphs here that I'm going to skip over. Here's he pulls out another really classic analogy. You must also be like a cat trying to catch a mouse. Watch the look of a cat that is trying to catch a mouse at the foot of a stone wall. While slinking along at the base of the wall, it keeps its eyes firmly fixed on the hole where the mouse entered. at a place far away from the hole it then sits silently in hiding. Its eyes continue to stare piercingly at the hole while waiting for the mouse to come out. at such a time, even if a person a chicken or a dog goes near the cat. It takes no notice of their passing. continues to watch the mouse hole. If the mouse appears for even an instant, like a flash of lightning, the cat leaps and grabs it. If even a cat proceeds so mindfully, when trying to catch a mouse, how much more so should a person pursue awakening? when practicing meditation?
I would say maybe a better word than mindfully is so concentrated Li.
Furthermore, you must practice with a feeling of urgency, as though you are trying to extinguish a fire burning on your head. That's another classic analogy, Zen master Erdogan, among many others used in such a situation, would you stop to ponder? Is this heat due to fire? Or is it really burning or not? Is there anybody present here who would experiment and let the fire burn for a while to see how well it burns? Under such circumstances, without thinking you would immediately brush your hand over your head in order to get rid of the fire. You should cultivate meditation with the same sense of urgency. And then I can hear people now in their thoughts thinking, well, geez, I don't have that sense of urgency. Great. Where am I going? This is this is so
it's, it's undercutting our efforts when we compare ourselves to others are to this imaginary person. I think I think comparing oneself to others and sesshin is, is a real hellish state. And I speak from plenty of experience at that, my early years. If it if it if it could inspire one, to step up one's efforts, okay, here, it wouldn't be so bad, but all too often it just sort of stops one on one's tracks.
In popular Buddhism may have these hell's the hell of flaming swords or boiling kilns. They have this in the hell of that I would nominate comparing oneself to others to go into that. hellish, hellish realms. Swan is so divided when we're comparing ourselves to others.
So, okay, so some people tend to do this. How do you get out of that? Well, you just apply yourself with greater vigor to the practice you're working on. You don't have to expel the comparing thoughts. You just again, just redirect the attention and with greater vigor, more word sincerity to the practice you're working on. And then those comparing thoughts will evaporate, or certainly diminish to a great extent. We're not making war on our thoughts.
And then he steps back and kind of looks at the whole picture. The big picture to live long would be to live for 100 years. I mean, in other words, that'd be a long life. 100 years. A short life is over in the time it takes to inhale and exhale, a single breath. 100 years of life depends upon a single breath for life stops when rest duration ceases. Can you afford to wait for 100 years, when you do not know how soon death will come? He may die after having eaten a good breakfast in the morning, he may die in the afternoon after a good lunch, some die during sleep, you may die in the midst of going here and there. No one can determine the time of death. Therefore, you must awaken before you die.
He's obviously striving to, to inspire his students to not take anything for granted not take this life for gratitude. And so to make one strongest effort while we can, we can.
When we're young, we tend to think we just have all kinds of time ahead of us.
As the years pass as the decades pass, we find that we often can't practice with the same comfort, for sure. As the body becomes more painful, we have to compromise with posture.
We lose some, some stamina.
My one of my all time favorite passages about the the unavoidable law of impermanence comes from the Tibetan Master milarepa. fares and business will drag on forever. So lay them down and practice now the Dharma. If you think tomorrow is the time to practice, suddenly you find that life has slipped away. Okay can tell when death will come.
He also said all worldly pursuits have been one avoidable and inevitable and which is sorrow. acquisitions and in dispersion, buildings in destruction, meetings in separation, births in depth. Knowing this one should from the very first renounce acquisition and heaping up and building and meeting and faithful to an eminent teacher set about realizing the truth.
One, unavoidable and inevitable end which is sorrow.
The great Buddhist monk shantideva said, that which is not dear to me will not be that which is dear to me, will not be in I will not be and all will not be
acquisitions and in dispersion. As any householder knows who moves to a new house bill buildings in destruction. We see it already underway, gradually, early signs of, of this facility wearing this relentless march toward, of entropy, destruction, decay meetings in separation meetings of course meaning, partnerships marriages, friendship, family and in separation.
And then he, he says look at the sea, not only when there is wind, the waves arise, even when the sea is calm, waves are rising and falling 1000s of times. Again, flux the flux that is not everything, not just everything around us but our own body minds in flux change.
A defiled person will call this world a sea of suffering, an awakened one we'll call it a Buddha world. At that time, the 10,000 things will be transformed into the 10,000 subtle functions. That is the, the amazing in, in inexpressible in comprehensible, unfathomable workings of everything, everything around us, our own bodies, again our hearts breath. For an enlightened person, it is simply all illuminated. For a defiled person it is simply all defiled. All is arising from your own mind. The Buddha world arises from your own mind, its transformation into the sea of suffering likewise, arises from your own mind. These days, I will often when starting an introductory workshop, congratulate people for having come to learn meditation. And that can be any kind of meditation because it is our experience of the world is determined as much by the mind as by circumstances and conditions. We have the power by how we, how we use or misuse the mind to transform things, transform our families, our work the natural world around us our whole experience of reality. Meditation, then is the most intelligent thing anyone can undertake. For things are things because of mind.
And then, we go into the last few minutes, second, second day, lecture teisho make it a begin since we have entered this meditation retreat, two weeks have gone by now, only 75 days remain.
It never fails to draw a laugh. You hear one shoe drop and then it this way. Truly where is the subtle principle? If you awaken to the Dharma of one mind, simultaneously, you will completely penetrate the 1000 kinds of concentration in the countless subtle fundamental principles. He was reached at say something what is the Dharma of one mind
the sufferings of rebirth within the ocean of birth and death, as well as the happiness of the sublime Dharma datu appearing willingly clear before your eyes do not come from outside. Okay, same thing. They are also not given to us by anyone else. You do not have to endure sufferings, because someone else gave them to you. Neither does somebody else grant you happiness, they are created an experienced by yourself alone. You have to endure sufferings because you created them yourself. Likewise, you experience happiness, because you have created it yourself. So this is the law of karma. In other words, he's using other words for that. No one can ever prove the law of karma in the empirical way. But believing in karma, the law of causation that there are no accidents as as a way of really enriching one's life and, and, and also in enabling one to deal with change. Maybe especially painful change. It it if we don't, if we if we can accept what he's saying. We don't have to endure sufferings because someone else gave them to you. Then it puts us in the driver's seat, it empowers us, okay. Maybe I set this in motion 25 lifetimes ago, now I have a chance to write things, I have a chance to square the accounts. That's always worked for me that line of thinking when painful things have happened.
Actually, that's what sesshin is. It's it's balancing the account sheet. The pain we experience, whether it's physical or emotional pain, if we can, if we can. move through it. With with grace with with acceptance, then we are expiating painful karma. And how do we move through it with grace, of course, through this through the zozen through the sitting through the returning again and again to the practice
then we're, we're really riding the waves sesshin is is like being on a on a turbulent sea a tie at times, it gets calm at times, but it's can be pretty turbulent. And then we just have to ride those waves how do we ride them through oneness with the practice? Don't take my word for it, see what makes see what works better becoming one with the with the practice or thinking about yourself.
If time is dragging, periodically fields, sessions never going to end. Well. There to compare thinking about that versus plunging more thoroughly into the practice. Time is that is is is a construct of this thinking mind. If we're not thinking if we're beyond thought, there's no time.