This is the first day of this March 2023, seven day sesshin and I'm going to start off reading from a book of teachings talk of Master Sheng Yen, the late Chinese Zen master Chan master, of course Zen in China is referred to as Chan, who lived from 1930 to 2009. So he died just 14 years ago. Both Roshi Kapleau and Bodhin-roshi met Sheng Yen. He was really a friend of ours. And then I think really a fine teacher. I want to I want to read a little bit about his life. This is from a section called the Autobiography of Master Sheng Yen. I'm not going to read the whole thing. It's, it's fairly long. And some of that I think I'll just summarize. He was born as I said, in 1930. And he says into a family of poor farmers who lived in the countryside outside Shang, Shanghai
was I had three brothers and two sisters. None of whom became monks or nuns. There was only Sheng yen. He says, As a child, I was very slow to develop. And only when I was six, six, did I start talking? Even then I couldn't tell left from right. Nortel the time
and then, when he was seven, a master who became his first teacher wanted to find a disciple. This is something really Chinese I guess are a little reminiscent of the Tibetans. And he had the waist Sheng yen puts it is he asked the Buddha where to look. The Buddha told him to go to the source of the Yangtze River. So he looked in that direction. And at some point in that area, he happened to come by the house, shuns family's house, and came in to escape a downpour. As he was talking to my mother, he noticed a small boy in the room, myself. He asked my mother whether it would be all right, if this little boy became a monk. My mother said, Oh, that's his choice. If he wants to, that's fine by me. So the man asked me if I would like to become a monk, but I did not know what a monk was. Nevertheless, the master made note of him, and put, put his name up in front of his Buddha figure. And half a year later, he came back and asked if this was the correct choice. And the Buddha said yes. Said you know, in some Chinese temples, the sticks of the eaching book of divination are used to choose disciples. But the method whereby I was chosen was very unusual in China. Well, the the school where he went at the age of eight was sounds pretty rudimentary, said none of us young monks had any idea of the nature of Chan training, and we received no adequate instruction. He was asked to memorize sutras, and at this I proved singularly inept. My master told me that my karmic obstructions were very heavy, and maybe prostrate endlessly to Guan Yin. That's the bodhisattva of Allah kita. I prostrated 500 times every night and again in the morning, after three months, I felt a curiously refreshing experience. My mind became clear and I no longer found memorization a problem. Even today, I believe Guanyin came to my aid for I was really very dull of mind until that time.
At some point he he left The monastery with the permission of his master, and went to seminary school, learned various kinds of Chinese Buddhism says we practice meditation but without adequate instruction, I simply did not know what I was supposed to be doing. I puzzled over this so much, that I became a great bag of doubt. Only when the bottom fell out of the barrel, that's in quotation marks, were we allowed to see the master. But nobody seemed to know what this meant. And my doubts could not be resolved at this time. And then picking up the war years, that's World War Two, of course, we're very bad. When the exiled Chinese government went to Taiwan, I was in the army and went with them. So between the ages of 18 and 28, I was a soldier. There was no way I could leave the army between 1949 and 1959.
The great doubt persisted, I was constantly wondering what enlightenment or Buddhahood was, there were so many contradictions in the teachings that I could make no sense of them. The deeper I looked, the worse it became. Then, when I was 28, since after leaving the army, I had a profound experience of dropping the mind. I had been practicing a lot and had had some small experiences. You had all these questions kept running through my head. I went on retreat in a monastery in southern Taiwan, where a famous monk leading you on was visiting. One night he and I were sharing the same sleeping platform. Seeing that he was meditating, I sat with him. The questions were going round and round in a circle, one leading to another. They were all about the nature of vexations life and death. After some hours, it was past midnight, and these questions became intolerable. I asked the master whether I could ask him a question. said yes. But when I started, there was a sudden flow of questions like water, they all poured out of my mouth. It went on and on for two or three hours. I really felt I needed answers from this monk, who seemed free and easy in himself. All he did was to listen. He said nothing, or simply asked anymore. It was very strange. I had started with one question. And suddenly there was this endless flow was the great ball and ball of doubt. Finally, the master suddenly side, lifted his hand and struck the bed hard. Put it down, he said, suddenly, my mind seemed to snap. I was pouring with sweat, and felt a great weight being suddenly lifted from me. There was nothing there. It seemed, there was no problem anywhere in the world, everything had gone, we simply sat on not saying a word, I was extremely happy, the next day the whole world was fresh, as if I were seeing it for the first time. Then he goes on to say, in the practice of meditation, it is not possible to see the nature that is to come to awakening, through wheeling it or even intending it, you have to let go into purposeless practice. If there is a purpose, the discriminating mind is active and the ego is present. You just work hard on your method. It is not waiting is not even not waiting
later on, he did a solitary retreat, eventually was going to be for three years ended up extending it and was there for six years. It was it was meditation and and also study.
Meditation prostrations some sutra reading. says after six years I had written several books and learn to read Japanese. I then stopped my retreat and went to Japan for further studies. I'm taking a doctorate in Buddhist literature at reshow University in Tokyo. I also went on retreats, especially with Ben tetsuzo Roshi, a disciple of Harada. Roshi, believe that's the heart of Roshi with whom. Roshi Kapleau studied it. Oh Shinji. I attended winter long retreats at his temple in the harsh environment of northern Japan. He was particularly scathing about my learning and studying at university. When I left him, he told me to go and teach in America. I complained that I did not no English. He said, Do you think Zen has taught with words? Why worry about words and that's the end of the of the autobiographical section. So the bulk of what we're going to be reading from over these next few days is transcription of talks he gave at a at a session that was held in Wales.
The leader of the group there was a man named John crook, also born in 1930 and has also died. He died in 2011. So two years after Sheng yen. I remember hearing from him after Roshi Kapleau. died, just wrote a very nice email to us, describing how much admiration he had for Roshi Kapleau is integrity. He John crook had been teaching in Poland where where Roshi Kapleau had many students and taught
so let's just start right off here. This section is called arriving in Wales. And this is Sheng yen speaking, says I expect some of you can understand that getting to Wales has been somewhat like undergoing a Chan retreat. In the last three days, we have spent over 50 hours on planes without a proper night's sleep, and with a complete uncertainty as to whether we were actually going to arrive yet here we are. And as I can see, you are all ready to begin. Everything is arranged. You all have your places marked and your jobs allocated. So we must certainly start at once.
You know that I intended to come here last year. But at that time, we were not aware that I had to have a visa. Then this year we got the visa. But when we arrived at the Taipei airport, we found it a just expired. What an obstruction. The only thing to do was to fly at once to New York, where it would be easy to get another visa. So we spent a few hours in New York and got on another plane. Would you believe it? The plane developed a fault before takeoff, and we all had to disembark. Of course, we were very tired even by that time, you can understand that at the moment. The only thought in my head is sleep. I shall not say very much now. Actually, I should tell you that we almost gave up the idea of coming. But then I thought of all the work you have done, John, especially in arranging this event, and I felt that I no account could I let you down? So here I am. This is then a very precious occasion. Despite numerous obstacles that has come about, I hope each one of you will treasure the opportunity and work hard.
Now tell me, how many of you have never experienced a retreat before? How many of you have done three or more retreats? Has anybody participated specifically in a retreat in the Soto tradition? Or the Rinzai? Tradition? Has anybody read any of my books? Oh, two of them great. You will know that Zen Chan and Chinese is not for the purpose of getting instant enlightenment. Rather, the practice itself is the goal. Most people think that seeing into one's nature using some method of instant enlightenment is a convenient and speedy path. But this is a serious, severely erroneous understanding. Of course there is enlightenment. But mostly there are false enlightenment's. If you're very anxious to get enlightened, you can precipitate a kind of mistaken experience that you call enlightenment. That can be very sad. After so much difficulty in getting here, I have not come to give you enlightenment. That would be absurd. Rather, I've come to see whether it is possible to pass on to you the methods whereby you can improve your practice, it is like eating, we cannot expect to be filled by taking one mouthful and munching once or twice, we need to ingest a whole meal until we know we have had enough. We're going to use the methods of practice to benefit the body and mind that is the most important thing.
There are a number of methods one can use. In the first interviews I will discuss with each one of you which method is best suited to your needs. To begin with, if you are in doubt, just count the breath. The other method methods are silent illumination, which is similar to the shikantaza or just sitting method of the Japanese Soto school. There are also the Wado and koan methods, we shall talk about these. Just as we had problems getting to whales, so too will you encounter obstructions in the practice of your method. These arise from your own mind and body not from elsewhere. One simply has to persist and continue with practice. Be prepared for struggle. We have six days ahead of us and even to recognize the obstructions is in itself, the beginning of to true practice. In this small house, we are hidden away in the mountains. The moment is suspicious now sit so they're off.
Next session section is entitled day one first talk. He says. First of all, we must understand that Inchon, there is no fixed method. Each retreat is unique. It adapts itself to whoever is present to the environment, and to the time. Since this is my first visit to your country, we'll work out together the best way to proceed. Maybe the style of New York or Taiwan is not suited to a small farmhouse in the hills of Wales, we shall see. To begin, let us set out some basic rules for the retreat. No talking. Of course, for some jobs, a few words need to be spoken, especially in arranging the cooking for example, but apart from such necessary interactions, there should be no conversation whatsoever. Talking about how you are or how you think the retreat is going is of no help to practice. It is just a distraction, and it wastes the energy of a focused mind. No noise, Keep yourselves tidy and quiet. No thinking. For some tasks you need to consider what you're doing or to plan the sequence of your actions. But for many jobs, thinking is not essential. Just let the hands do it. Let the mind be on whatever you are doing. Just do it. Don't evaluate it or compare yourself with others. Put your mind on the job on the eating on the toilet. You do not need to judge what you're eating. All you need to do is fill the stomach to have the energy to practice so easy for thinking to creep into the mind it's a habit that everyone has some of us worse than others of course. Yet it's so relatively unnecessary there's so many things that don't require a commentary don't require our deciding I like this or I don't like that don't require our gaming out what might happen in the future. How's this going to work out for me?
Let the mind fall silent.
It goes on no looking at others. It is of no value to you to see how others are doing or coping with problems on a retreat to consider how others are is to fill the mind with essential because concerns is not your business. Looking about no listening to pleasing sounds, keep the senses quiet. If you look around at the scenery, you will start judging it. How beautiful the sunshine. Oh dear, here comes the rain. Likewise with sounds birdsongs tractors and sheep bleeding, treat them all the same. Pay no attention. Of course you will see and hear. But do not intentionally look about or evaluate sounds you hear. The aim is to stop the sources of discrimination. No analysis of whatever is said in the talks or instructions. If I say something that is helpful to you, fine, if not forget it. Then this, maintain your separateness. Each of you is quite independent. Don't pay any attention to whoever is sitting next to you, whether they are complaining or happy. In this world, all you know is yourself. Nobody else. And in fact, you don't know yourself either. The best thing on retreat is to keep the mind filled only with practice. Be on time. There are plenty of toilets so there is no need to be late when the bell rings or the boards are struck. Indeed, unless you are sick, or there is some special reason, you should always be early and ready to sit on time. The whole day's practice, whether we are sitting, doing exercises, slow or fast walking, doing prostrations or cooking listening to a talk, the whole focus is on the practice.
We've all learned the schedule and been taught the signals from the various events. We will talk about posture and methods individually. I shall only use the kiss Saku if you wish for it. It may be valuable when you're asleep or distracted. But you must ask me I won't use it unless you ask. We originally use the key of SOCO in that way, but it can become a bit of a thought in the mind shall I asked for the stick should I not. And so now we've just used it at the discretion of the monitors. might be good to mention. I don't know if Tom said this last night. But if you have any problem with the frequency or how hard or softly you're being hit, you can write a note to the monitors. Of course, put your name on it, first name last name and leave it on the first monitors mat right on your left as you come in the Zendo it's fine to ask for more stick or if it's a problem for you, you can ask that the stick not be used on you.
Says now you can now we can start. As many of you already know something of the benefits of meditation, we can have a valuable training period. Let us have six memorable days together interviews, that is no sign will begin this afternoon.
Then this is from his lecture on the first evening. He said I have only been in your country for a day. But already I have learned something about you people. You have a love for ancient things. This house is a hunt is hundreds of years old. You treasure the worm eaten beams and the crumbling stone walls, the bent timbers of the old barn in Taiwan we are busily engaged in pulling everything down and building up the new Inchon we treasure the old always making it new. So it is appropriate here that I should talk to you about one of the oldest of the Chinese scriptures don't know what was happening in Britain in the sixth century. In China, it was the time of the young dynasty. And from 502 to 556, the current era Buddhism was already established and Chan was developing. Yet in those early years the Chinese did not distinguish too clearly between their own Taoist ideas and those of the new religion. So in this text, you will find a number of Taoist ideas which give a particular flavor to the Chan of that period. The text is so ancient, that we're not sure who wrote it. He is known as Wong Ming, but that may be a pseudonym is surname was sung, and he served as a government official but when the dynasty ended, he became a monk and took his vows under a Chan master. Its intellectual ability implies that he studied theory With numerous teachers, Wang Ming emphasizes the unification of mind is especially important. And this goes back both to old Taoists notions and to the Indian idea of bringing bringing the mind to single pointedness. He calls his poem calming the mind. It is a valuable one for beginners describes the method of practice and how to do it. Long meaning advises us to let go of our anxieties and vexations and to let life roll unroll naturally. In the poem, mind can be used in two senses. As we shall see, the first usage refers to the worried mind of discrimination, the tense mind that needs to relax, it is this mind to which the title refers, yet when the mind becomes relaxed? What is the mind then? This is the second usage of mind beyond illusion, beyond illusion, discrimination, and the need to relax. One of you has remarked how difficult it is to concentrate, which mind are you trying to concentrate, we must be certain that we speak here of the mind of illusion that needs to become calm in order to see clearly is the mind it is the mind that discriminates, and then favors one thing more than another, that always creates tensions.
When you try to calm the mind, there are two important principles to observe. We need to be clear about these. The first is to cease worrying. And the second is not to be concerned with knowledge. For your practice to be effective, you don't have to worry and you don't need to understand intellectually. We would like to be able to concentrate fully on our method, be it counting the breath, silent illumination, or working with a koan it, the more we try, the less concentration we achieve. Our minds simply do not obey our intentions. We try to stay with a method. But before we know where we are, the mind has drifted away on to something else. Our attitude is wrong somewhere. We feel frustrated and lost. This morning, I asked you to leave behind for the moment all those people in events with whom you have been relating, we should stop thinking about the ongoing problems of our lives and relationships. Of course, these things are important. And after the retreat, we shall take up such issues again, but here and now in the retreat, we should let them go. Keep your distance from the past and the future. This is this is here, he's pointing to the way to do sesshin. Stay now stay here now. Everything that you drift off to think about in your life, you can address so much more effectively. If you just give yourself fully to the practice here in this in our case in seven days.
Such an opportunity yet, find ourselves drifting away again and again. Don't let yourself be discouraged. Everyone, all of us work from where we're at. We are.
Many people when they first realize how scattered their minds are, become discouraged. It's depressing. But actually, it's the first step to know where things are at. Sheng yen Selzer says elsewhere, often simply noticing is enough to make the thoughts drop away, knowing what's going on. But more and more over time, as we find the willingness to let go of our concerns, return to the method we always have that home to come to. The more we do that, the more readily we do it in the future, the mind trains itself
what seems a natural becomes a refuge becomes a joy. Have to work of course. But why not work?
He goes on, what is it that makes this so difficult? Mostly the thoughts that arise are concerned with the past or perhaps with a future that will arise as a result of the past. This involves discrimination, judgment, comparison and memory. It provokes an anxious tension that varies in strength according to the topic that comes up and your own disposition is vital to practice putting all this down, just put it down. Leave aside all past all knowledge. With practice, you can let go. When you can do this for as long as you wish. You have found a certain freedom. Yeah, we can say a certain remarkable freedom. Please do not misunderstand me. It is not that knowledge and experience are to be avoided or condemned. They're to be valued, but we need to gain control of their use. If we leave them to ramble haphazardly through our heads, sowing worries and agitation, then they become a burden to us, a vexation and an obstacle. Some people spend all night worrying, others put away their thoughts and sleep soundly. We need to cultivate the art of putting aside our memories, our concerns and our intellectual knowledge.
And then he turns to this poem by Wang Ming, calming the mind, and he says, the first stanza of the poem reads, too much knowledge leads to overactivity. Better to calm the mind. The more you consider, the greater the loss. Better to unify the mind. By the more you consider it's the more you think. So the more you think the greater the loss that are to unify the mind. And Sheng yen says the more you know, the more things can cause you distress. When you know little, then you can be simple and practicing do not consider what you're doing intellectually or theoretically. All you need to do is the practice. Use it to replace everything else. When you're confused and filled with conceptual fog, you may get depressed and struggle it's important not to become too judgmental. So hard when a strong judgment comes up especially criticism of ourselves. People feel pinned to the wall it's just a thought has no real power. We give it power by buying into it
we're all a mess. Stop trying to put up a perfect front. Stop trying to hide from yourself your shortcomings
let it be move ahead says in fact any thought is illusory. It is never the thing in itself. Whatever you think is illusory. Illusion is normal. Do not be afraid of the rambling mind nor condemned angrily. The important thing is simply to recognize the state of thought that was that at that moment inhabits you, recognizing an illusory thought will usually get rid of it. To have an aversion to thought is to sustain yet another level of illusion. It's no point thinking about our thinking. In Chinese, better to unify the mind can be translated as guard the one what is this one? There are two meanings here. The first applies to the mind that is split up discriminating, filled with illusory intellection. This mind needs to be focused, brought to a single point. Guarding the one means bringing the mind to this single place that is done through the method of practice. Training is protect portrayed in the Chan tradition. By the parable of the ox herder, the ox has to be trained to do its job and not wonder about over other people's gardens. To begin with. The Oxford must uses whip and apply discipline. Later the ox is tamed when eating it eats when drawing the plow at holes does the thing in hand without distraction, this is guarding the one. Once the mind has come to a single point, the term one acquires a further meaning, the mind is no longer practicing is arrived, the web can be put away, three things are happening. One, body and mind are one, two, internal and external are unified, and three, previous and subsequent thoughts are continuous. No longer is there an experience of the mind being separate from the body. No longer is the observer separate from the observed experience flows without time being split into now. And then these three conditions arise together, if one is present, so are the others. Once the mind is unified, the one is guarded. I'm sure those of you who have participated in several retreats have had some experience of this
can be so confirming when we slip into a state of relative oneness, not talking about awakening just our concentration coming together. So we're only attending to the practice. To completely different world it can be startling, and exhilarating. Often it doesn't last very long.
We get excited, start thinking about it.
It's the natural outcome of placing our attention on the practice. It's all we need to do. Don't need to push it along in any way. Just keep our mind on the method, not on the results requires a certain amount of faith doesn't it? But that faith grows, starting with just a willingness to try. As we move along, we begin to understand how healthy that direction is. Let go of the complaining worrying anxious mind.
He goes on in the poem. 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. Again, do not fall into the mistaken belief that Chan is anti intellectual. I myself have persevered and scholarly studies and looked into theories and explanations. And so as many of you these lines refer to the inappropriateness of thinking in the context of practice. Sometimes somebody comes to me with an answer to a koan. I may ask them from where they got it. Sometimes it obviously comes from a book. The answer has been a consequence of knowledge of thinking is not an answer arising from a mind free of illusion. This is not wisdom. If you're relying on books or theories or other people's descriptions, you can never solve a koan. The wisdom of the book is not the wisdom of seeing. If you deliberate, you are far from the mark. If you are far from the mark, you are confused and there will be vexation. If there is intellectual doubt there is only faulty awakening.
Bout to start a new section. But I think our time is, is up. So we'll pick this up tomorrow. And we'll now recite the four vows