March 2022 Sesshin, Day 3: Silent Illumination: A Chan Buddhist Path to Natural Awakening by Guo Gu
3:01PM Apr 7, 2022
This is the third day of this March 2022, seven day sesshin. And we're going to read again from book by Guo Gu Silent Illumination: Chan Buddhist Path to Natural Awakening.
When we left off, yesterday, we were reading from a section entitled "Contentment". The first and according to Guo Gu, the most important of the attitudes that we can cultivate in relation to our practice relation to our lives.
He says, contentment is traditionally expressed in John as non grasping. Other words contentment and non grasping. Same thing in the platform scripture master way none live from 638 to 713. The Sixth Patriarch, considered to be the founder of one of the founders of Zen was under why nang that Zen took its form. Even though we trace back quite a ways to Bodhidharma over 100 years earlier. Says master waiting provides three principles to deal with it, no thought, no forum, and not abiding.
We just read in the Hacohen chat, our forum now being no forum and going returning we never leave home or thought now being no thought, our dancing and songs are the voice of the Dharma.
So master winning way none, lays out, no thought, no form and not abiding. These three principles are antidotes to our grasping of our inner world. It's no thought under relations, it's no form, and identity. Who we are not abiding. In order to appreciate the three principles, we need to recognize grasping as a deep seated feeling tone, it's a sense of lack of thirst for some thing. Of course, being discontented can bring about change for the better in our lives. But here, I'm referring to a habit of possessiveness, which arises from self grasping. Wait on the says, good friends. Since the past, this teaching of ours is first taken no thought as its principle, no form as its essence, and non abiding as its foundation. No thought means to be without thought, in the midst of thinking, no form is to transcend form, within the context of forms and appearances. Not abiding is your fundamental nature. All worldly things are empty. Then go Google's on thoughts, feelings and narratives are what we grasp internally. Form is what we grasp externally, and this can include our bodies, objects, environment, status, wealth, and appearances. None of these objects of grasping are in and of themselves bad. Sometimes they're needed to help us navigate through life and improve our circumstances. However, when our grasping is driven by possessiveness and obsession, it brings about suffering for ourselves and others. Not abiding is just a Chan way of saying non grasping. Everything is fluid, changing, open to opportunities. This is how things including ourselves. are nothing is fixed, rigid. So how can anything be grasped?
Grasping and rejecting are always based on our self referential obsessions. If we are captivated or repulsed, by whatever comes up in our practice, that it gains power over us. And the problem becomes worse. When difficulties arise, it is important to see them clearly. Accept them, work with them, and let them go. The true nature of things is non abiding, fresh and dynamic. Relating to our feelings and thoughts through grasping and rejecting ruins, everything we grasp at them are going against their nature, we suffer, and probably cause everyone around us to suffer. When we grasp and reject, are ultimately concerned with me, I and mine. Were thinking, self referentially. And all of us do this.
It's an addictive behavior. It's an unskilful, reactive mode that we go into trying to find our footing, trying to get out from underneath, trying to get what we want and avoid what we don't want. The basic human problem
is the grist for the mill of practice.
He says the opposite of thinking grasping and abiding is contentment. And it's the most important of all attitudes to cultivate in order to see our inner experiences and outer relations in our as our true nature. Want to make sure that people understand that by contentment, we don't mean there is nothing to do. In one sense, there is nothing to do something to see. But it doesn't mean a lack of motivation. It means that we're content to work from where we are, and how can we work from anywhere else. It's natural to want to sort of leap into some better state to be somebody that we're not. real work begins, we start from where we are.
Okay, so now he goes into these three aspects, no thought, no forum and not abiding. So with no thought, how do we relate to our inner experience? In the above platform, scripture passage, no thought does not mean cutting off thinking. It means there is no fixation in regard to the free flow of our thinking. We don't need to ratify or solidify what we experience into my thoughts, my feelings. If self grasping is present, then thoughts don't flow. When we suffer, we are caught in the middle of the story is that we're fabricating and in this way, we prolong that suffering. We that is we think the same things over and over again, we per separate
many times do we go around the same circle whatever it is, for us, never form of self criticism, dissatisfaction, restlessness. get caught up in our thoughts, believe them. And then we're stuck. He says ordinarily, our happiness is completely dependent on thoughts, narratives, concepts and words. So if we have negative self disparaging thoughts, and we automatically identify with them, then we will feel very unhappy. If someone praises us, and we identify with that, then we will feel very happy. This is quite normal. Unfortunately, when we're tethered to our thoughts, we actually lose our autonomy. Like a puppet, we're tied up by the strings of our thoughts completely at the mercy of our narratives. The problem is not with thoughts. The problem is the strings that tie us to those thoughts are grasping and rejecting. And we could also say, the problem is our believing those thoughts.
Think I'll indulge myself here and read a passage from my friend Anthony de Mello. And that really addresses this whole phenomenon
he says, Do you want to see how mechanical you really are? My that's a lovely shirt you're wearing? You feel good hearing that, for a shirt for heaven's sakes. You feel proud of yourself. When you hear that? People come over to my center in India and they say, what a lovely place these lovely trees. This lovely climate. And already, I'm feeling good until I catch myself feeling good. And I say Hey, can you imagine anything as stupid as that? I'm not responsible for those trees. I wasn't responsible for choosing the location. I didn't order the weather. It just happened. But me got in there. So I'm feeling good. Feeling good about my culture and my nation. How stupid can you get? I mean that. I'm told that my great Indian culture has produced all these mistakes. I didn't produce them. I'm not responsible for them. Or they tell me, this country of yours. And it's poverty. It's disgusting. I feel ashamed. But I didn't create it. What's going on? Did you ever stop to think people tell you I think you're very charming. So I feel wonderful. I get a positive stroke. That's why they call it I'm okay. You're okay. I'm going to write a book someday. And the title will be I'm an ass urine s. That's the most liberating wonderful thing in the world. When you openly admit you're an ass. It's wonderful. When people tell me you're wrong, I say, what can you expect of an ass? All of us are all of us. imperfect, human beings. Everybody is an ass. He says dismissed or disarmed everyone. Everybody has to be disarmed. In the final liberation. I'm an Ask urine s. Normally the way it goes, I press a button and you're up. I press another button and you're down and you like that? How many people do you know who are unaffected by praise or blame? That is inhuman, we say. Human means you have to have a little you have to be a little monkey. So everybody can twist your tail and you do whatever you ought to be doing. But is that human? If you find me charming, it means right now you're in a good mood. Nothing more. Later on, he says, If you ever let yourself feel good, when people tell you you're okay, you are preparing yourself to feel bad when they tell you you're not good. As long as you live to fulfill other people's expectations. You better watch what you wear, how you comb your hair, whether your shoes are polished. In short, whether you live up to every damn expectation of theirs. Do you call that human? Really, there is no difference between our buying into the praise or criticism of others will think of praise and blame and are buying into our thoughts. Our thoughts of how good we are or how inadequate we are. It's all the same.
Going back to go goop. He said the problem is the strings that tie us to those thoughts are grasping and rejecting Hear a thought has two levels of meaning. The first refers to our mental activity, our brain's natural ability to think symbolized conceptualize, cognize and perceive. The second level refers to our fixation on our constructs notions and storylines. In other words, our tendency to reify ideas and feelings into discrete realities into things. There is no problem with our natural ability to think imagine and so on. The problem is when we start to solidify our thoughts and feelings into fixed notions of me, I and mine. To practice contentment, we have to first expose our sense of lack, or our need to possess something. We always have to start by seeing he says, don't identify with these subtle feeling tones. At the same time, don't block them either. There are reasons why we feel and think the way we do. Our thoughts and feelings reveal something about us. recognizing them as they arise, and not grasping or rejecting them, is itself a way to own and embrace them can say we could say get some distance from them, not have that automatic flinching or grasping.
Be able to see these things come and go. Realize this doesn't touch our true self. He says when we can allow ourselves to be with them, we can start to work with them, to work through them, and to let go of them, which means they no longer have a strong hold over us. We generally believe that the way we think about ourselves is how we actually are. We cannot distinguish between our thoughts and the reality of who we are. Moreover, we tend to treat ourselves according to whatever so subtle feelings we happen to have at the moment. If we're feeling negative, we don't see anything good about ourselves. When we're in a good mood, even a shortcoming is adorable. This projection happens so quickly, that we don't usually recognize it. But this subtle feeling is what the passage above cause thought. So when you feel something within recognize it, but don't ratify, that is don't make it a thing. Don't solidify it into a thing. Definitely don't definitely don't build the whole narrative around it. This is the meaning of practicing no thought amid thoughts. It's learning to have a healthier relationship with our thoughts instead of being conditioned by them. Or we can say instead of being controlled by them, manipulated by them.
It goes on. Sometimes we build a whole narrative around some spiritual experiences we've had. This is another way we reify the natural flow of thoughts. When we have powerful experiences and want a teacher to verify it as awakening, then this very need for verification is a form of self grasping. If a person has woken up from a dream, why would they need verification from someone else? Why would there why why would there be a need to announce to the world that they've woken up
so much room to get messed up with the whole idea of having had an experience. Usually, that's something people have to work through. Clearly, we want to see the truth we want to wake up. It's the most wonderful thing in the world. But then to want to be a person who woken who's woken up to make that our identity. It's ridiculous. Fact it's an indication we've gone back to sleep.
Google says the free flow of our minds is the wonderful dynamic activity of our creativity and intellect. There is no need to stop thoughts. At the same time it is necessary to develop The ability to be free from thoughts. One way to do that is to cultivate through meditation. The ability to bring the mind from a scattered state, to a concentrated state, and from the concentrated state to a unified state. That is to a state with no subject and object completely one and then to free our grasping of even the unified state, the place where subject and object merge.
Then he turns to no form. No form is a teaching on how to relate to the external world, or narrowly we grasp appearances and characteristics as discrete things. But there's really not a single thing, nothing is fixed. Roshi has a calligraphy scroll in the teachers quarters. What it says is from the very beginning, there has never been a single thing.
There is no fixed objective reality, to transcend form within the context of forms, as we nung says, is a teaching on not denying or divorcing ourselves from form, but allowing all appearances and characteristics to be without us contaminating them with our projections, ideas or feelings. We must engage with the world while at the same time we have no vexations about it. When there's room for improvement, we try our best to improve the world of form. When things need to change, we make the change. But emotional afflictions only lead to more vexations that can contaminate and ruin everything we see hear, smell, taste, and touch. Such a difficult thing to learn to do, to work for change without becoming critical and bitter. Seeing the shortcomings of those who resist our efforts
we need to be a happy warrior. So much good that we can do. But things are the way they are. You have to always whether it's working on ourselves or trying to make improvements around us have to start from where we are. Well, Google says how do we contaminate forms and appearances? We defile them by attaching to them reifying them as things out there. When we make everything into a thing. Everything we touch can become a problem. For example, I have a student who makes a big deal out of everything. Every task she takes on however small she makes into a thing. And it's always a struggle, always complicated because she overthinks it I have another student and for him, everything he encounters is not a big deal. Yet because he feels it is not a big deal. All sorts of unexpected things come up and he makes mistakes. Still, that doesn't really bother him. Both attitudes are problematic. Both follow their own ideas about things out there. Both have contaminated the form with their own habit tendencies. This is not the meaning of no form. Engage with forms and appearances, do what is appropriate but without grasping onto a fixed way of doing things. No form also applies to meditation practice, the platform scripture states, good friends, what is meditative concentration. Externally, to transcend characteristics is meditation, internally to be undisturbed is called concentration. This passage says that meditation means to not be externally swayed by causes and conditions and not be internally disturbed by our own thoughts and feelings. But to do this, we have to first become aware of what's going on inside us how we're projecting our own standards, ideals and expectations onto the world of form. So No thought is intimately connected to no form. How we feel inside is how we relate to others. We externalize our internal habits
One of the most common forms of conditioning and meditation is to fall asleep. When we relax, trying to be clear, we tense up and give rise to wandering thoughts. To practice no forum in terms of seated meditation means to stay relaxed but wakeful, clear, but without wandering thoughts. Whether in daily life or in meditation, the world of form operates through causes and conditions. All appearances are fluid. How then do we work with the changing appearances of form? How do we live in the world of causes and conditions? What about injustice, discrimination wrongdoing, of course, the wrongs of the world must be corrected. Each thing is exactly each thing is exactly how it's supposed to be through the workings of causes and conditions. It say exactly how it has to be. Because it's a product of the workings of causes and conditions. This means we need to engage with causes and conditions, if we are to better the world. causes and conditions are about relationships, and working with various relationships, we have to recognize, adapt, wait and create the right causes and conditions for change. Otherwise emotional afflictions which will follow our every move.
going to skip a little bit and then he turns to NOT abiding. Not abiding is relating to ourselves and others in an open and receptive way, where we allow everything to flow and recognize that each moment is alive, vibrant, filled with infinite possibilities. This is actually the nature of experience experiencing the workings of Buddha nature and the direct expression of natural awakening. For this reason, quote, non abiding is your fundamental nature. As Wayne Yun said it is who we are free from the internal shackles of thoughts and feelings, and the inter external conditioning of forms. This is the quality, quality of non abiding that we see in children. Seeing a baby wide open, utterly wide open and never stuck. See kids can be squabbling and quarreling, and then the next minute they're playing and happy. This is our nature. It's because we're caught up in thoughts and forms that we lose, lose touch with our non abiding nature. He says we want things to stay the same, because it gives us a sense of security and control. But nothing stays the same. When we embrace change, we become vulnerable. And this vulnerability is true courage. Their strength and being okay with a loss of control with unpredictability and potential loss. In truth, nothing can break us. We as humans are so resilient. It's only when we try to control and hold on to things that we feel broken. Or we can say we feel brittle.
think most people know who Helen Keller was? case you don't. She was somebody who was born blind and deaf. Somehow rather, really dedicated teacher was able to teach her how to read Braille. And she had a pretty wonderful life. And she said this, she said security is mostly a superstition does not exist in nature, nor to the children of men as a whole experience. avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. We want to be alive. We have to be vulnerable have to give up trying to control things trying to find some safe place where we can stay. Remember, in my early practice, always wanting to just get it right and then be able to relax. They don't let you relax.
Says it's only when we try to control and hold on to things that we feel broken. The reverse is also true. When we experienced loss we desperately try to control. This is because deep inside we feel broken. So we try to fix ourselves, we resist how things really are. But if we embrace our vulnerability, tap into who we truly are, and align with non abiding, whatever difficulties we face will eventually be integrated within us and will be resolved.
This principle, not abiding allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Reminds me of the first step in AAA, the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is we admitted we were powerless over our drinking and our lives had become unmanageable. The whole program of AAA begins with that admission, that vulnerability. Everything becomes possible when we lower our pride. No longer trying to uphold an image for other people and for ourselves. When we can be who we are. When we can be content
makes a huge change. To see change. Can be okay with being an ass. Being a garden variety human being that we have a solid ground to work from. It's not an image. We can be who we are. Be okay with the results we get. put in the effort. The results are up to others up to causes and conditions.
Guru says how do we cultivate non abiding by Hive having the courage to be vulnerable. By engaging with ourselves in the world without fighting everything. There's always going to be opposition. When we fixate on ideas about me I in mind that we can respond to the world without injecting a sense of self into our decisions, views and endeavors. This means our own ideas about gain and loss, benefit and harm did not block our decisions and experiences. Instead, we consider what is needed dependent depending on the circumstances. It also means we're free to act on what we value. Think the basketball star All Star Julius Erving said, being a professional is doing what you love, even when you don't want to. So finding the ability to do what we know we have to do, even when we're not, we're not feeling it. Friendly of mine once said I could do my taxes if I had the right drugs. Well, sometimes you have to just do your taxes.
Google says the difficulties we face in life are indicators of where we are stuck. We must allow ourselves to be open to our underlying feelings and allow them to come through without judging ourselves. Then we can be content and relax our grasping tendencies. We are then able to face causes and conditions and work with them in non opposition and openness, everything eventually works out within us. We have to cultivate an attitude of contentment, of harmonizing our feelings and both of these in combination with the three teachings above from the platform scripture. When we do this, our hearts and minds will be open and integrated
Three teachings, freedom, often from thought of in from form, and the freedom to act to move on. Not being stuck
we have a little time and I'm going to move into the next chapter. And this is entitled, supporting attitudes to cultivate. He says in the last chapter, we looked at the importance of contentment. Here we'll consider several additional attitudes that are beneficial to cultivate. first of these is interest. Interest is an important attitude that we should cultivate in our lives as the quality of engagement, but is not it is not controlling. It is fascination without interference. A good analogy for non interference is that of a mother sitting in a room with her toddler, letting the toddler play while she knits. In this way, she's pregnant with the child, but doesn't have to fixate her gaze on them, or control their every move. Similarly, in our meditation, we're engaged with a method, but we're not tensely focused on it. Our attitude is contentment, yet with interest. If we're tense or controlling that even if we have the best method in the world, we're not going to be able to use it, because our minds will be agitated. Another way to see this, this quality of non controlling interest is good listening. When we can listen to someone without continually interrupting, it's amazing how many times someone may be telling us something really significant. And we jump in there with our suggestions or our clarifications. Cut off their flow. The ability to listen. We really help people when we can do that. Just having interest. It's incredibly healing. Of course, it's a quality that's extremely beneficial for practice. He says think of the analogy of a relaxed cat watching a mouse hole. The cat is not terribly intense when watching a mouse hole, but it is focused. It's relaxed, but ready at any moment to pounce on a mouse if it comes out of the hole.
I always think of what happened one Christmas when I was a teenager or home. We're opening presents and of course they had that pile of wrapping paper that you pile up and my parents used to like to burn it in the fireplace. So my dad opened up the flue and got some kindling in there and got it going. Guess the paper must have been the kindling. And when the smoke started going up the chimney, suddenly a bird flew out. And our cat was just asleep lying on the floor. And it met the bird in midair. It just it levitated. It was there
no tension at all. Just response.
It's relaxed, but ready at any moment to pounce on a mouse if it comes out of the hole. It's not tense but ready and awake. Its mere presence. Sitting awake in front of the mouse hole is enough to scare the mice. They dare not come out because they know that the cat is there. If you adopt this kind of wakeful interest. Your wandering thoughts are subdued because the mind is at once relaxed, yet focused and watchful. Really, this is the gold standard for good practice.
non interference does not mean disinterest. However, when I was in college, I lived in New York City above a Buddhist temple that had a lazy temple cat. Temple also had mice, lots of them, but the cat never did anything to them. You might say that the cat was too compassionate because he didn't kill any of the mice. But I think it was simply disinterested. The mice would walk across the room scavenging for food and crumbs as we ate our dinner, and the cat would just lie there sleeping. Sounds like my dog. In practice, you have to be interested. You can't be like the disinterested lazy temple cat, you have to develop a clear watchful mind with which you experience the method, whatever that may be. The mice, your scattered thoughts wander. If you don't do anything about them, they will continue ceaselessly.
If you're meditating on the sensations of the breath, while cultivating an attitude of interest, then every breath is fascinating and includes new sensations. The interest keeps you on the method. There is no need to get rid of wandering thoughts. Just be more interested in your method. This attitude of interest has a freshness to it. If your mind is interested, vibrant and wakeful, you won't take your method for granted. Believing that you already know how to do it, every moment is fresh and you can engage with it fully. This is the right attitude of interest.
The attitude of interest works together within with contentment. Thus, I am not saying we just accept what is when you say something is you've already labeled it and made a decision to accept it. Rather let whatever arises in meditation be what it is, but don't get involved in judging or discriminating thoughts. interests should not take you off the trail of the method so that you can become interested in everything that arises during meditation. One example we can give of courses when molecule arise strange visions or sensations to turn to them is to leave the practice. Developing interest refers to being one with whatever you may be doing, whether it's the method of your practice, or being present for a person.
One of the things I think that short circuits are interested in our practice is our concern with results are concerned with our present condition, worrying about how it is so dull, I'm so sleepy, sitting well earlier. Now I can't seem to get a handle on it.
Practice is very simple. Forget about results. Turn the mind to the method. Whatever your practice is, breath or the koan. Just sitting
we're so freed up. When we stop judging. We get out from underneath that burden. Then we have energy. Then we have something we can work with. To try to conform to someone's idea, our own or someone else's. how things should be what kind of a practitioner we should be. Just cuts us off cuts off our genuine being our authenticity getting caught up in worry about how fast I'm progressing, where I'm going to get so much more helpful to enjoy our practice. To realize here we have this opportunity doesn't have to be a brutal slog. Sometimes it is sometimes it is a brutal slog then that's just things as they are nothing stays the same. Everything changes and shifts, especially when we're open. We allow ourselves to be open to be vulnerable to be present. Okay, time is up. Stop now and recite the four vows