July 2022 Sesshin, Day 3: Dream Conversations: On Buddhism and Zen: Kokushi, Muso (trans. by Thomas Cleary)
5:35PM Aug 3, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is day three July 2022, seven day sesshin. And we'll return to our text from the previous days the session. It's called Dream conversations on Buddhism and Zen. It's the teachings the written replies about Zen practice to by Muso Kokushi, National Teacher Muso, the 13th and 14th centuries translated by Thomas Cleary.
She's so short entries here, no particular order. essentials and meditation is not just a matter of controlling thoughts and keeping the body immobile. So we cannot say that it is important to sit facing a wall and stop thinking. Also, it is not a matter of contemplating doctrinal principles. So we can say it is important to learn doctrinal principles.
So far as I know, sitting has been a big part of Zen practice in every temple and monastery, it will be these days, believe it or not, there is very little Zen that happens in Japan, at Zen temples, most of the practice this was this is quite a revelation when I read this, in a book written by an American woman who had spent 30 years as a Zen priest in Japan. Most temples there, don't do Zen, they, they do a lot of memorial services. And that's how that's their source of income. But historically, historically, this is a huge part of Zen practices, the sitting, but he's making the point that it's it's just one mode of Zen practice, the other is active awareness and concentration.
He goes on, it does not require wealth. So we can't say we are too poor to do it. It does not require physical strength. So we can't say we're too weak to do it. It does not claim there is no Buddhism within worldly passions. So we cannot say that it is inaccessible to ordinary people. Yeah, this is one of the basic discoveries one finds in in the Dharma is that it's not apart from the worldly passions or the afflictions of ordinary people. It's more about how to work with those, how to read and more how to see through them, see what is beyond our afflictions, mental, emotional, physical afflictions.
is another one. The various formal teachings and practices of Buddhism are designed as expedience, to guide people according to their individual needs and potentials. They are formulated to lead people into the realm of enlightenment, and are applied to the state where an enlightenment and enlightenment have already been distinguished. So this is other kinds of Buddhas and not Zen. Then he says Zen In contrast, aims for the fundamental state, which is prior to this distinction, that is prior to such dualistic ideas as enlightened and unenlightened. Past and future right and wrong. Therefore, does not admit of practices based on an existing dualism, but points directly to the primordial unity underlying fabricated dualities.
So here what springs to mind is, say in Tibetan Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhist altar has different kinds of deities, wrathful deities, compassionate deities. And working with practice Tibetan Buddhist practices to work with different states of mind. Zen is more simple than this. It's getting to the ground of it all the source of all different states of mind
when I was still living, and living in, in Michigan, before I came here, it's starting to practice down there with the Ann Arbor affiliate group. 111 day we learned our little affiliate group learned that Gary Snyder was coming to Ann Arbor, is invited as a guest speaker. And we had heard that he had practice Zen. So our little group contacted his host, where he was staying there in the town of Ann Arbor, and asked if we might meet with him. This man who had spent eight years in a grueling Rinzai monastery in Japan. And to our surprise, he said, we'll come over and we'll have breakfast together. And so we had this informal breakfast sitting, holding our, our bowls up. And then he took questions. One of the questions was, what's the difference between Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism? I know I've told the story, but I hope not, too recently or too many times. I still think his answer squares with my understanding, he said, think of the mind, capital M mind as a, as a great pond. In Tibetan Buddhism, you explore the pond on your way down to the bottom, you take your time, and you go around, investigating looking at all the different plant life and other simple forms of life and the contours of the of the pond, and you get to know it very well on that level, as as a thing. So may take you a while to get to the bottom. Whereas Zen, he said, you dive straight down. And you do you do you don't know the pond, in that relative sense of gathering information and data. You don't know it that way. Until on the way back up, then after you reach the bottom, the bottom of course, is awakening. Seeing the ground, the fundamental reality, it's after that, that you have the work of learning more about the pond. So different strokes for different folks, some people want to go do a one way and those of us here want to do it the other way. I always to me, it was never a choice I had to come to awakening before I died. And since we don't know when it was going to die, we had no there was no time to waste learning about the pond, but to get down to the very bottom first
and then he in the next one he uses a different metaphor for the same idea. He says when we plant a tree as long as the roots take the branches and leaves will naturally grow and the flowers and fruits will develop. So when we plant the tree we are concerned about the roots and not about the branches and leaves As long as the roots have not taken a firm hold, we prune off the small branches, so that the energy will go to the roots. Or we can say go to the bottom of the pond. That does not mean however, that we plant the tree for the sake of the roots alone, we take great care with the roots for the sake of the branches, leaves, flowers and fruits. So we want to see into the fundamental, the non dual nature of reality, so that what he's calling the branches and leaves and flowers and fruits, we can understand them in a see the essence of all those branches and flowers and leaves and so forth. So for example reading and Zen the emphasis is as first understanding the the real underlying truth of the sutras so that we can then later go back and and study the sutras maybe if we want to, and see them in a whole different way. And same with other what are sometimes called secondary practices in the Zen maintaining our health, diet. And then if we extend that out, getting into maybe working relationships now that we can't be in a relationship or we're all in relationships of one kind or another, but it's such work acquires a, a, a fresh and the freshness and a depth after the experience of the fundamental culture, politics, information in general. But going back to Zen practice, other secondary practices are the, the devotional side and prostrations bowing, chanting, ceremonies, all these come alive in new way, after we have seen into the essence of of it all.
The next one he picks up. Even those who have realized the fundamental are still not completely enlightened, as long as they do not know the techniques of a living practitioner. Such people may indeed have self realization, but they cannot function as guides, teachers, if they lack methodological skills for helping others. This distinction is sometimes referred to as attaining the essence, but not the methods. I would say attaining the essence awakening without the developing the skillful means to help others. That's ideally what you want him to teach her.
Then again, he says even though people may have figured out some of the methods, the skillful means they themselves cannot be teachers, if their own perceptions and I clear. These are people who have reached the method, but not the essence
and that's actually the case now largely the case in Zen in, in the United States in the West United States and Europe and South America and Japan is teachers who've been trained in all the rituals and posture and ceremonies and and so forth, but actually have not seen into the root of it all the source, the essence
of How do I know that? Well, it's just a guess, having been to some eight or 10 meetings of Zen teachers, American Zen teachers association meetings, where most of the teachers don't even claim to have any attainment. But are they're masterful in terms of posture and ritual ceremonies bowing, robes
which is not nothing. These are these are not unimportant. I used to, in my early years, I used to dismiss posture as sort of that beside the point, it's, it's all about the mind not not posture. If you have enough, ardor, enough determination, then posture, whatever. I mean, of course, I believed in the teaching that it helps to have good posture. But as the years have passed, I've come to appreciate how important posture is how important it is to, to work on posture, one's posture. To the extent that one still can, because we get our posture gets can get kind of stuck, especially in in old age, we can so easily develop a stoop. And it's not so easy to undo when you get to be in your 60s or 70s, or even 50s. Now i i with the with the staff in Rochester, I, I do from time to time, make points about fine points about posh, everyone knows you want to sit with a straight back, stable position, but there's fine points that can really help well, not to leave anyone wondering what I'm talking about them. The main thing is to have a good stable base with the with this pelvic tilt. So when you take your seating position, regardless of the posture of a chair, even a chair, that you get the buttocks back, so you're sitting on the sit bones This makes it much easier to sit upright without strain. The vertebra just stack up one on top of the other. And then the other thing is the other end, there's the bottom, and then there's the top which is the head to to pull the chin in. To get the head back to get the weight of the head on the trunk and not cantilevered out even a little in front, get the ears in line with the shoulders as much as possible. Now, again, we can develop habits that will get entrenched over the years, so not everyone can get their head back. So it's resting squarely on the trunk. But to the extent that one can, it's going to be a little less difficult to concentrate than if the head is out in front of the shoulders. And of course to relax the shoulders utterly. We don't want any tension in the shoulders. Lengthen the back of the neck, feel the the the collar against the back of the neck all the time, sitting keening walking down the hall to meals. The back of the neck against the collar. It's another way of getting the head pulled in, pulled in like a drawer. I just got that analogy. Not too long ago, I took a yoga class and that you know this is not just Zen this posture stuff. This is this goes back 1000s of yours in terms of meditation postures in this yoga teacher. He used that analogy to pull the chin and not not. Not let the chin go down. You're not dropping the head and you're not raising the chin at all. You're you're keeping it tucked in, pulled back like a drawer straight back. All right. Those are the main things. One Most of us, it takes a long time to really forget find our seat in mythos with these different features of the posture. But it's worth, it really is worth working on it.
He continues now, according to an ancient saying, those who have not yet attained enlightenment should look into the essence rather than the method. The easiest easiest and the word expression, while those who have attained enlightenment, should refine skillful means, rather than be concerned about the essence. Well, once you've seen it, the essence you want to seek more fully and more deeply into it, but not to put the cart before the horse. See into this the very nature of mind before presuming to develop some kinds of skills, more subtle skills to help others. He goes on to say the essence is the inner meaning of Zen, which is the fundamental that is inherent in everyone. The expression, or the method is the very methodology of the Zen schools. The essence is the root. The method is the branches.
Well, it's not quite so black and white, we still I mean, one. As everyone here knows, we got to learn the method, you got to learn how to sit and carry ourselves and, and find our way through the various rituals of Zen for going to participate with other people. But it's just the importance of the essence. And then one more here, one more entry continues on. After realizing the essence of Zen. People in ancient times used to spend decades, polishing themselves thoroughly, in order to free themselves from compulsions of conditioning and habit. This is called the work of maturation, the completion of maturation is called the attainment of integration. A lot of conceptual words here, let me see if I can offer some alternatives. So there's first there's the insight, which for most people is quite faint, but it's maybe real enough, but it's nothing compared to what we can see in the future going forward. But, this phrase, polishing decades polishing ourselves to free ourselves from compulsions of conditioning and habit karma.
habitual reactivity, reacting the way we react, reflex way of really reacting to, to people in stressful situations to circumstances. This is this is more or less what he's talking about, conditioning and habit.
And this is this is daily sitting. And sesshin means when we can manage to do them. This is the maturation the seasoning. It goes into practice, long practice. And then what he's calling the completion of this maturation or seasoning is is having integrated the, our essential insight having integrated that into the complexities of of daily life I pushed out one of my favorite passages about all this. This is from the Golden Age of Zen, edited by John Woo. And here's here's the passage. And this is his These are the words of question or question. His Japanese name is Isa koan. He's probably most famous for his the koan in which he kicks over the water water bottle. The abbot chakra, Joe, the abbot of this huge monastery decides he needs to find someone who's capable to take over a different monastery. And so he hatches a plan to test before the whole Sangha test the insight of, of the of the monks who want to compete, so called. And so he sets a water bottle on the ground. And he says, without calling this water bottle, what is it and the head monk knows that it's his position to to step in and offer his best. So he comes in, I can see his hands folded at his chest in the formal way of a Chinese monk. And he said, it cannot be called a wooden sandal not a bad response, it's he's he doesn't fall into the trap of naming it something. He says what it can't be called, it's pretty good, he's been around the block. But then Glacia on his son comes forward and just kicks off kicks over the water bottle and keeps walking. And
he aka Joe says, Alright, you are the winner.
So that's this question here, the one who kicked over the water bottle. And he says, If one is truly enlightened, and has realized the fundamental, he is no longer tied to the poles of practice and non practice. But even though the original mind has been awakened, there still remains the inertia of habit formed since the beginning of time, which cannot be totally eliminated at a stroke he must be taught to cut off completely the stream of his habitual ideas and views caused by the still operative karmas. This process of purification is practice
so, regardless of what we see, or what we obtain, we have to do this our whole life
because our our habitual reactivity, them mind and the body is it's so so entrenched in us the things that keep getting us into trouble in our relationships are our reactions to people close to us, spouses, friends, family, parents, children at all reactivity, reacting, reacting, keep getting stumbling caught, regretting it. Oh, hopefully apologizing. But, but the most essential thing is to keep the practice going day after day. And this has is a way of snipping the roots. The tendrils of these habit forces, this reactivity. It keeps them from digging too deep and setting down their roots too far.
I've heard from more than a few of my students who say kind of kind of a faint smile that their their wife or husband said you know I think maybe it's time for you get to another machine that's that's the lucky one whose partner is on board with it. The ones who have to the ones who have either a handicap or the part of the partner who is against the practice
turning some pages here
here's about the translator gives it the little heading worldly feelings. Attraction and aversion are two feelings that keep people within the bondage of ignorant repetitive behavior. Again, karma those who seek only what pleases them and try to avoid what displeases them, are acting in this way because they do not realize the nature of the world. The nature of reality
to seek only what pleases us and try to avoid what doesn't, what displeases us, it is the comp between the pillars of pleasure and displeasure. He says, just don't realize the way things work in the world. And honestly, I can say they're bad people. It's just, it's futile. It's futile to devote oneself to seeking just what gives us pleasure and, and trying to avoid what gives us displeasure. Because it can't be done. There always going to be error, it's going to be something that some kind of aversion, displeasure. And then he elaborates for those who know the nature of the world. Lack of complete satisfaction or fulfillment in things of the world is in itself advice, to cultivate detachment. So yeah, the first Noble Truth, dissatisfaction, suffering, that's where practice starts. That's where evolution starts, is discontent,
that's the that's the, the engine that gets us to the mat. We're not happy with ourselves the way we are. And then he says, If people do not crave to be pleased, they will not be displeased. That's a really profound statement I underlined underline that if people do not crave to be pleased, they will not be displeased.
Shakespeare said the ocean half bounds but deep desire have none. No matter how much we acquire, how much we gain. It's never going to be enough. I'm a worldly level, never going to be enough things or success. But you all know this, this is just Buddhism 101. So the intelligent way of dealing with our unceasing desires is to reduce the desires rather than to imagine we can fulfill them all. You know all this. And the final sentence here, what causes mental suffering is not the environment, but the mind itself.
It's a real leap in evolution, when we realize this, it's the mind. It's the mind it determines just about everything certainly determines our degree of happiness
circumstances and conditions okay, they play a role but not compared to learning to use the mind in a skillful way in an intelligent way, which means using our attention, or awareness and that's why we're all here.
Think as an introductory course in Buddhism would often say that the Buddha taught that the cause of our unhappiness is being caught between desire and aversion, pursuing desire desires and trying to avoid our what is aversive to us? Our likes and dislikes. Yeah, we have our own nifty way of saying that and informing faith in mind the chant we do great ways not difficult to those for those who do not pick and choose when preferences are cast aside. The way stands clear and undisguised.
Things get easier if we're not bound by our preferences. It's just easier, lighter.
So, Buddhist, the Buddha's teaching is almost a science more than a religion, he just how can we reduce suffering our own suffering and that of others. Cause and effect this causes suffering. This doesn't. habitual reactivity causes suffering and not being bound to reactions is freedom from suffering.
The next one, it is not necessary to get rid of worldly feelings in order to work on the fundamental. Those who are keenly aware of the precariousness of our situation as human beings and the brevity of our opportunity to awaken and who use this awareness to hone their will are not distracted from the work by worldly feelings.
Feelings that arise because of circumstances can actually be used to fuel the urgency of work toward the fundamental. Preliminary methods of softening worldly feelings are taught for the sake of those with insufficient determination. This does not mean that work on the fundamental is to be understood taken only after worldly feelings are ended. Well when he talks about methods of softening worldly feelings, so here's one, here's one that springs to mind. metta meditation, very effective way of softening feelings of ill will towards someone it's 10 TIMES as effective if we have a background of, of concentration practice. Zen metta strictly speaking is not Zen as such it's it's can be useful as a kind of a tool if we're find that we're boiling with anger towards someone, and we can employ metta meditation is it's kind of a homeopathic doses, but that I think is an example of what he's referring to softening worldly feelings
so, he's distinguishing between that, working with the feelings rather than seeing what is beyond all feelings, beyond emotions, that's the
other obstructive feelings that we can can find ways of working with soften them is grief. Envy
is getting out of the grip of these feelings, not suppressing them, just not having them dominate us dominate the mind. And that happens also through Zen. It may take a while, it was a strong feeling like hostility or or envy or grief, jealousy, things like that, you can take a while, but then just by allowing thoughts to settle in simple Zen just allowing that to happen, we we gain some freedom from these binding feelings
and, of course, method methods of softening worldly feelings would also include psychotherapy can help psychotherapy can can pull out wedges from our psyche that get in the way of practice psychotherapy as a way of getting unstuck in certain ways that enable us to to get deeper into Zen practice.
even while you call to mind ways of softening worldly feelings when they arise, still, you should not give up work on the fundamental. So yes, psychotherapy definitely definitely has its place but don't drop the sitting or you're doing in the months or years that you're doing psychotherapy. It is said that people with intense determination for awakening neglect, even to eat and sleep. Such people do become tired and do become hungry, but they rent rest and eat in the midst of the work and therefore are not hindered even when sleeping or eating. So with respect to eating, of course, while we're eating, we keep keep our awareness of the practice. We don't need to drop it in order to eat may be hard, but we work at it. We keep coming back. We take a mouthful and we've already forgotten about the practice we're working on but then we come back to it. resting saying we have periods rest periods during machine, we can rest and keep the mind aware of the practice. Keep the attention on the practice
if people who lack such determination go without eating or sleeping, they will become ill. This will hinder their practice so they are encouraged to eat enough to overcome hunger and sleep enough to overcome fatigue. This does not mean however, that they should forget the work while eating or sleeping. Now, if you are puzzled how we can avoid forgetting the practice while we're sound asleep. I'm with you. I never understood this line. It's not the first time I've read it and teisho when you're unconscious, what were what what can you do?
An ancient Zen master gives this advice. When you walk, watch The Walking. When you sit, watch the sitting. When you recline, watch the reclining. When you see and hear, watch the seeing and hearing. When you notice and think watch the noticing and thinking when joyful, watch the joy when angry watch the anger. So mindfulness in a word
the buddha mind awareness.
Just a little more here, there is a popular practice this is we're talking about the 14th century. There's a popular practice commonly found in Buddhist sutras and Zen writings that consists of looking upon all phenomena as if they were dreams or illusions. And then he says this practice is in the realm of method and is not an Ultimate Teaching. So you can imagine walking around and having this mindset okay, this is an illusion. This is an illusion. This is dreamlike. There's no substantiality to this. This is sort of this kind of self talk is not Zen, really
look not to start with a template of seeing everything as illusory, but just look and see the nature of things and the mind with the practice the breath practice of the koan. shikantaza
It's not so much. This is like a tool probably as somewhat effective tool. But pure Zen practice is is not really a tool Exactly. It's just seeing things as they are not as we've read about them and teach in a in a sutra.
i In college I, during my brief drug phase had a friend who when we were tripping, he would come out with these formulas like it's all illusion. It's all illusion. It's all Maya. Okay. Good for you.
All right let's stop now we're gonna reset the four vows