This is day four of this March 2023 seven day sesshin. I'm going to read again from the book Illuminating Silence by Master Sheng Yen.
am going to pick up where we left off yesterday. The next section is day three it must be evening lecture it says inverting lecture typo
and he continues with the next stop stands of warming's calming the mind. And it's this literature and art are busy gnats in the air, technique and ability, a solitary lamp in the sun. He says whatever our skill or learning, we should not consider ourselves to be extraordinary or our abilities special. There is a Chinese philosopher who said that whereas one's life is limited knowledge is unlimited. How then, can one be proud of attainments? Intelligent people who are learned and proficient in complex disciplines or who practice skills and the arts, often think of their activities as the most important in the world. It take pride in their accomplishments and look down on those less skilled they have the habit of comparing the grand juror of their abilities with the mediocrity of ordinary folk. Doubtless such people are exceptionally talented, but they would have great problems in the practice of Chon.
Really, what what is true accomplishment so many people who are extremely clever, maybe extremely artistic
and yet their lives are a disaster. Their minds are a mess. Even if you can focus well in one arena How is it when you're talking to your children or addressing your friends or spouse?
Where do you place your attention? What do you value says the accomplished academic. Polished in his field and skilled in its discipline tends to see everything through the perspective of learning. A scientist may see everything from the point of view of an exciting paradigm. A philosopher usually praises a certain school the artists practice a one style admirer is it more than others. All such tendencies are actually attachments to self rather than to knowledge. attachments to my school, even within Zen practice, we can be attached to our particular flavor or we can be attached to Zen as opposed to other spiritual paths some of the stake somebody said just because someone isn't on your path doesn't mean they're lost
we're really in it with everyone all of humanity problem of birth and death problem of self and other
saying I saw it attributed wants to Bob Dylan's mother. everybody you meet is fighting a hard battle
it's so, so sad when people puff themselves up. They need in order to feel right need to compare themselves to others to feel superior in some way. And their whatever they may be able to do may indeed be wonderful. But the price Is is a huge flaw and then the flip side of that people who feel oh I haven't accomplished anything look at me in comparison to other people can be in ordinary endeavors my education isn't that great my job isn't that important I'm not supervising people there are some wonderful people in this world who are simple straightforward and happy
Italian saying at the end of the chess game, the pawn and the Queen go back into the same bag
some people have learning disabilities they just they their mind processes things in other ways. As a result, they may be better at artistic things or they may move smoothly in areas where others have a struggle
the read something that the Zen teacher John Tarrant once said, he said, we're all all of us are flowers. What kind of flower is none of our business? Our job is to blossom.
You can you can see great athletes whose powers of concentration are just amazing. Truly, truly just hard to believe that they can do some of the things they do. And yet when you read about their personal lives, there is nothing there is nothing to envy. You'd think with that ability to be so focused, surely they'd be enlightened right? But no, that's not the case. So much more than simple skill and concentration. There are there Zen teachers and students who are extremely able in terms of ability to get into samadhi maybe even maybe even some real insight and yet we look at their behavior something is wrong
our heart needs to be in the right place. Then all the skills and accomplishments that we have can be in service of something bigger than the self there is any skill that I'd say is an conditionally valuable it's the skill of letting go of self partiality.
Why are we so
attached to our personal drama? It's so baked in can be in a crowd of people and conversation going on all over the place. Just a buzz. Somebody happens to say your name boom you hear it right away. You look at a group photo and who do you look at first it's such a relief when we find ourselves free of that if even for a short time
going back to Sheng yen. He says all such tendencies are actually attachments to self rather than knowledge to have developed a skill becomes a mark of what one is, and we defend it by superior attitudes with pride. Such techniques and abilities are like lamps standing in the light of the sun. This is going of course back to the to the poem, technique and ability of solitary lamp in the sun. being constrained by pride prevents one from becoming one with the sunlight, extending one's mind to infinity. There is a fabulous bird with wings that extend from one horizon to another. In comparison, gnats are insignificant. It's a mythological bird and I guess in Buddhist cosmology, believe it's the Garuda so large that its wings go from one horizon to the other. He says, Once when I was in Japan, I attended a Zen retreat. In the evening, the master gave a talk. He spent two whole hours in scolding me all because I had a doctorate in literature. What is the use of all this reading and scholarship, he said, is only an obstruction to practice. Such study only leads to arrogance, a belly full of straw, belly full of straw never heard that before. Afterwards, I thought about it, and went to see the master. I said, How come you spent so much time scolding me? You replied, If my words had not got to you, you would not have come to see me. I had to acknowledge that this was indeed the case. Too much learning may indeed become an obstruction. At the beginning of this retreat, John, that is John crook, leader of the group there and Wales, remarked to me that most of the participants were well educated and intelligent. And that that in itself could constitute a problem. Is that so?
Then going on with the poem, those able and talented ones are really stupid fellows, discarding the pure and simple, they drowned in too much beauty. Those who consider themselves able and intelligent or actually foolish, you possess the seeds of wisdom, if you think of yourself as a fool. Or we could go with Anthony de Mello and say, I'm an S. A practitioner who experiences problems in doing well. A practitioner who experiences problems is doing well. One who thinks he has no problems really has difficulties. Of course, if you are fully enlightened, there are no problems. But for those of us who have barely started to practice, it is important to recognize our problems. Otherwise, we are likely to have a troublesome time.
It's normal to have problems. The fact that we that they come up, of course, gives us a chance to work with them. So danger when everything goes too smoothly. And why then whenever we run into an obstruction, do we suddenly Quayle and think everything is wrong and second guess ourselves. It's just normal. Practice has ups and downs. We're not in charge of it. Really. We have to trust ourselves to the practice. And we're not in charge of deciding what's good and what's bad. Just not in a position to be able to see have to put our faith in the method and let it unfold. Confidence comes from being really willing to do that. To take what comes not make demands
just need to be going in the right direction. When we find we're going in the wrong direction. All we need is a course correction. There isn't a need to suddenly bring ourselves up for Inquisition and a flogging.
He says often I find myself counseling practitioners who have lot lots of problems with vexations of body and mind I tell them that if you recognize your obstructions you are certainly practicing well and with sincerity. Find out what you can do about your vexations. If you're stuck, then come and see me. Eventually the difficulty will be resolved. If the vexation is the belief that you have no problems, that is sometimes a very difficult case, it's difficult for such a person to find the right motivation. On Main tells us that if we can let go of our attainments and return to a pure and simple state, then we can make progress. If not, there's Trouble in Store. Often the problems that people are running into are seem so intractable. They're the same problems they've been dealing with year after year after year.
What, what other choice is there, then to continue to work on them.
There is a story of a man who somehow learned that the gods had hidden a treasure down at the bottom of the sea. And he decided that in order to provide for himself and his family, he was going to get that treasure. So he went to the sea traveled to the sea, got himself a big bucket. And he started emptying it out, putting up a bucket full and carry it over the sand dunes and dumping it out and coming back. Not sure if he understood about the principle of underground water. But let's let's, let's give him that. He's found a base and he can enter it, dump it into where it won't come back in. And the gods looked down and and were quite amused, the ocean is vast and wide the sea. And you know, how big is that bucket? And one of the gods came down to him and said, you know, what are you doing? And he said, I know there's a treasure here. And I'm going to get it made up my mind.
God said, you could you could do this day after day, month after month. You could do this for your entire life. And you'll barely make a dent. And the man said, yeah, that may be true. But even at the end of my life, when I die, I'm going to be reborn, I'm going to come back, I'm going to continue, I will never stop. And in the story, the gods realize he can't be stopped and they empty the sea for him.
If the problem we have is really sticky and difficult. That is a big deal. It's important in our lives. It's where we need to be working.
To move to freedom from our obstructions, from the vexation of self criticism or comparing ourselves to others or easy discouragement or all the different things that people struggle with. It's good to have help, be able to see a teacher. Have a therapist for some of this stuff. Make sure we found a good way to work. But then there's just no there's no other way we have to work on it. Have to be willing. Willingness is so important.
Sheng yen says practitioners of Chinese should learn all kinds of skills and attain excellence in many disciplines. These things are the light of the mind and show us the breadth of our mental scope. They may also be the means whereby we can help others who had never mistake them for the unlimited wisdom. If these skills and attainments in the skills and attainments there is nothing reliable, if you're attached to them, then you're into allegiance has made you stupid. Even short of awakening, the progress that we make, in practice makes us more available to other people. It grows our own natural compassion. It gets the self out of the way. The self is out of the way we can see and we can hear, see and hear what's needed, respond, notice and respond. The poem goes on. Consciousness is an untamed horse, the mind is an unruly monkey. If the Spirit is overactive, the body will sicken and die. And Sheng yen says, If you recognize the unruly monkey, then perhaps you can set about finding out what sort of wandering thoughts possess you. If you examine them, you will find that rather than being of unending variety and interest, they are in fact few limited in scope, repetitious and boring. I think in the last four days, all of us have had our noses rubbed in this. I always think I would hate to have to read a transcript of my mind. says maybe you don't know how many wandering thoughts you have or what their nature is. They're like the sheep around here. Of course, being good practitioners in the middle of a retreat, you haven't really looked at them, but you probably saw them before the retreat started. To find out how many sheep you have, how many black ones and how many white, you need to be like the wealth Welsh Shepherd, who rounds up his sheep with skilled dogs and corrals them in a pen. Then when they're all collected, you can count and examine them, give them names, even whether you like whether you are like an untamed horse, an unruly monkey, or a bleeding sheep, the same principle applies, be like the shepherd who rounds them all up, then you can see what the problem is. The problem is how to tame the monkeys. The first method of practice is to pan them up, you can do them this by holding them in one place, you can catch the thoughts as they come up, and prevent them from wandering on. A device for doing this is the method of counting the breath. There are many variations of this method, depending on the unruliness of the monkey's. If the mind is quite concentrated, then all you need to do is be aware of the breathing. You don't need to count at all. With a less concentrated mind. Counting is useful since watching and the breathing is insufficient to prevent wandering thoughts. And he goes on to mention other strange breath practices. Counting the breaths in reverse order. odd number is even numbers that I've heard of counting backwards from 100. Think we're all Nobody here is needing to do that. The monkey isn't quite that untamed. Says the method of koan. It's in Chinese it's going on. Though method the koan method is based on a similar principle, it enables us to reach a point where we do not even have to concentrate. To begin with using the colon is just like mechanically counting the breath. One repeats the colon over and over like a mantra. As the mind becomes more focused, you can use the colon in a more precise way. In Chinese This is called Sun, T apostrophe S A N. It means investigation, looking into the mind to perceive its nature. When the mind is focused, you get a certain flavor from using the koan, and derive power from it. It is like eating ice cream on a summer day, it gets more and more attractive. And as you immerse yourself more and more into it, wandering thoughts a lesson. They may even disappear completely. However, this does not mean you're enlightened. It simply means that thinking in a random way has come to an end. The koan ties the monkey to the tree, you go deeper and deeper into it until you reach the point of enlightenment. What is that? No explanation will help you. You must experience that inside yourself. Although the koan method resembles counting the breath at the beginning, it will take you all the way this is unlikely through counting the breath alone. Even so, through counting the breath one can enter Samadhi, which is a valuable aspect of training.
Wyoming says that if the Spirit is overactive, the body will sicken and die. He means that if you struggle too hard with too much discursive thinking, you will get very exhausted. wild monkeys in a cage rush about destructively, you must consider the methods of training to catch the feather. You need to practice with a peaceful frame of mind, a gentle approach. There's a little bit of a difference in emphasis or the flavor between Chinese practice and Japanese practice, maybe, of course, generalizations are odious all of them. And there. There are many ways of practicing both in China and Japan. But there is a tendency in Japan to just come at it ferociously. And for some people, this really works. Just take a hold of a dog grabbing hold of a bone. Grab it and don't let go. But for other people that doesn't work out so well. And it often is more sustainable, to diligently, meticulously avoiding any interaction with the random thoughts that flow through the mind. Just stay in stillness. Stillness, like a, like a calm pool, letting everything settle, look directly
this tool will get the job done.
The poem goes on wrong conduct ends and delusion. Those treading this path become mired in mud. To regard ability as precious is called confusion. And he says, you probably think that you must start climbing by going up, or that you must study to find wisdom. In the perspective of Chan, this is inside out thinking. Whoever seeks to climb ends up going down. Whoever seeks wisdom falls into confusion. Where is the highest mountain in the Karakoram or the Himalayas? Let us say in the Himalayas, and whereas the deepest part of the ocean, maybe in the Atlantic or somewhere off Japan, we're lucky we don't have an oceanographer here, we might discuss it all night. The more we know, the more we find problems. In our common sense perspective, we say that the Himalayas are the tallest and the Atlantic perhaps is the deepest. But if you go flying in a satellite, then you get a different view. What then is high What then is deep, far or near tall or short, big or small? These are all relative to the standpoint we adopt. Hi to an astronaut is altogether different from what Hi means to an inhabitant of Holland, usually or an inhabitant of Kansas. Usually our mental scope is narrow and limiting is if it is as if we create absolute values and scales with which to judge things. On the other hand, with a big enough mind, we do not attach ourselves to common sense conceptions we can contemplate with an unlimited range. From an earthlings viewpoint however high one climbs is nothing compared to the altitude of the astronauts experience. divers who go deep and rivers cannot conceive of the depths of an ocean
remember, when my family my wife and I and our two kids all learned how to scuba dive and we learned in a swimming pool and a why in? Actually there's why in Pittsford not so deep that you do find out things I found out that the drain in a public swimming pool is disgusting. And then we had our open water test in some scum EES salt pond down in Florida. And then we went to the Bahamas, and we did our first ever open dive or ocean dive. And where we went was like, the bottom was 80 feet below, you could see it so clearly and once we got down there, you could look up and there was the boat vivid above us. And then swimming just a little way. We came to the edge of some sort of shelf where you couldn't see how deep it was. It was i i read that it was 600 feet deep there is just, you're going along flat and all of a sudden there's a vertical cliff. It's just amazing
can be kind of scary, so deep.
Sheng yen says knowledge is framed by our viewpoint, it is necessarily limited by the scope of intellection. If we spent a whole lifetime accumulating knowledge, it would still be like a termite mound compared to Mount Everest, is it not at all, it is not at all in the same dimension as wisdom. What then is wisdom, or we could say prajna waken state. In the Chan perspective, wisdom is a state that is free from attachments, free from measurement, free from self reference, an empty of vexation cannot be found through accumulation through adding to a pool of knowledge, or through measuring how far we are ahead of others. on that path, we only pile confusion on confusion.
In using the koan, we usually focus on just one saying from the story, the saying is called the Watteau. We use it like a kind of lens to peer closely into the mind. Yet this is not an intellectual process. We are not for example, we're not saying for example, who am I or what is Mu, in order to pile up descriptions or to elaborate theories, to sign the Wado to look into the colon means to look into it, to appear with the mind's eye, rather than that with the minds reason. To look with awareness, rather than with logic, rather than with thought. looking directly into the moment of experience that is happening right now. Description takes time it accumulates piles up, son has no time for it occurs in the duration list present, it is a bear looking into the space of the mind, like peering thoughtlessly into a goldfish bowl to look directly without thought. He says there may be movement, sunlight glinting on the scales of fish, but there is absolutely no conceptual examination, there is merely the bare observation itself, it goes on and on and on. The Wado as it were, is merely the target setup for you to aim at. Furthermore, although it may have the form of a question, the mind cannot make some sort of quick intellectual reply. The usual sort of clever response is quite short circuited, fuse is blown somewhere. Such look looking generates a great doubt. The doubt becomes so intense that the mind automatically comes to one place, totally immersed in the paradoxical unresolved ability of the lotto. You're lost in the lotto. When you are totally lost, that is son. When the intensity of focus is long, sustained, suddenly the whole mass of doubt breaks down and dissolves. That moment is enlightenment. Nothing can be said of what there is there then it's beyond words.
There's also another method that I do not usually recommend to beginners requires a measure of prior practice. This is the silent illumination method of the Cowdog school. Soto school advocated especially by Hong Ji Zen Zhu in the 11th century. This was the method favored by the great Japanese mastered organ who took it to that country, where it is known as shikantaza. Actually, it is probably a very ancient method that goes back to the times of the Indian patriarchs. You might say it is son, without the Wado as a target, you sit gazing silently into experience as it arises. On G said of it, in this silent sitting, whatever realms may appear, the mind is very clear as to the details, yet everything is where it originally is in its own place, the mind stays on one thought for 1000 years, it does not dwell on any forms inside or outside. In this method, we let the mind go deeper and quieter, immersing itself in its own silence. It's like allowing the water of a pool to become utterly still. every speck of mud drifts to the bottom and the water is crystal and in its clarity, this crystal and clarity becomes enlightenment naturally and without effort, like the method of koan, this is a wonderfully direct path. As you see, no knowledge, no attainment
usually don't talk much about Silent illumination in sesshin. It is a it is a difficult practice. For most people, the koan or the breath practice is the most skillful way of working with the mind but here he's really just laying out all the different ways that we can bring the mind into its its its own natural stillness
get a sense of how many tools there are in the Zen bag not as much of course as some other practices where there are all kinds of visualizations and other things that one can do all of which also have value. Zen the Zen way is so direct
can take us all the way take us right down to the bottom
just need to be willing have confidence
the more of this the more this grows, the more this comes in to the mind on a deep level. The more certain we become about this path and the more willing to walk this path with all the difficulties that come up all the vexations. Exist session goes along everyone's mind settles it's far different today than it was on day one. It will be different again on day seven.
Always all we need to do is work with what's in front of us. Don't need to figure anything out
don't need to sit in self criticism or greed. No need to get overly excited all of us together just looking into this great matter. Time's up. We'll stop now and recite the four vows