January 2023 Sesshin, Day 5: Song of Mind by Sheng Yen
3:30PM Jan 19, 2023
This is the fifth day of this January 2023. Seven Day Rohatusu sesshin. And we're going to turn from Ajahn Chan, to Chan master Sheng Yen. And I'm going to be reading from a book entitled Song of Mind: Wisdom from the Zen classic Shin Ming.
Sheng yen for anyone who doesn't know, was a contemporary, Chinese Zen teacher master based in Taiwan, but he had a center in Queens, New York and taught all over the place. produced a great many books. And I know that Roshi Kapleau visited him in Taiwan, at least on one occasion, and maybe more, and Bowden Roshi actually traveled to Taiwan for the dedication of the huge complex temple that was built there for him.
This, this text, this text that he's commenting on, it's an ancient Zen Classic
and the author was a Chan master and Yoto forum.
His dates were 594 to 657. So this was, was really really in the early days, but as close to Bodhidharma, as to waiting, why none. Says here he was a disciple of the fourth patriarch of Chan Buddhism, di ye Tao sin and also a Dharma brother of the fifth patriarch Dhamma and hyung Ren. Names people may remember from chatting the long ancestral line
the the song itself or the poem The Treaty free this is pretty long, and there's no way between today and tomorrow that we would get through it all. Sheng Yen is comments take up an entire book. But I'll read a read just a few of the opening stanzas and you can get a little flavor of it. The nature of the mind is not arising. What need is there of knowledge and views. Originally, there is not a single dharma. Why discuss inspiration and training? Coming and going without beginning sought for it has not seen no need to do anything. It is bright, still self apparent. The past is like empty space. No anything and the basic principle is lost. Casting a clear light on the world illuminating yet obscured. You if one mindedness is impeded, all dharmas are misunderstood. Coming and going thus, is there need for thorough investigation. Arising without the mark of a rising arising and illumination are the same. Desiring to purify the mind. There is no mind for effort. Sure, everybody understands all of that.
These this book is made up of talks that Sheng yen gave at a number of different Zen retreats Over the course of some time and we'll start right at the beginning. The nature of the mind is not arising, what need is there of knowledge and views. Your toes opening line, the nature of the mind is not arising. This is Sheng yen, is what the Buddha himself taught that all thoughts are illusory. People on retreat are often concerned with sleepiness and scattered mind. However, these thoughts come and go, they were not originally present in the mind, nor are they ever present. Thus, we call them illusions for Buddhism considers all temporal phenomena to be illusory.
They're not permanent. They're not certain changing. If scattered mind, were not illusory, it would always be present and it would never change. If sleepiness were not a temporal phenomenon, you would be sleepy all the time. The fact is, that when the mind is concentrated, scattering disappears, and when it is awake, Drowsiness is gone. Therefore, sleepiness and scattered mind are both illusory. Meditation is also an illusion, but we use it to help the illusory mind to cease arising.
To come to retreat, expecting to get enlightened, to experience buddha mind is self deception. Indeed, since there is no such thing as mind, there is also no such thing as buddha mind. The self nature realized after eliminating illusion is also illusory. So, it is a mistake to practice with the idea of replacing illusory mind with buddha mind.
Why would we replace one concept with another?
He says, Does this mean you will spend the rest of your life replacing one illusion with another, The Heart Sutra says, form is not other than emptiness and emptiness not other than form. Form is precisely emptiness and emptiness is precisely form. It's a slightly different version than the one we do. Form is only emptiness, emptiness is only form form is no other than emptiness, emptiness, no other than form. And he says, When form disappears, there is no emptiness to speak of. When the illusory mind disappears, true nature disappears as well. Not two things. When the illusory mind does not move, to bind is not there. aspiring to enlightenment makes us diligent. But we should not have the idea in mind when we practice. Even if we become enlightened, we should not think that we have attained anything. Before practice, people are not aware of their illusory mind. They think that everything they experienced is real. After they begin to practice, they learned that the mind is illusory. When they finally experience enlightenment, they may think they have replaced illusory mind with true mind. But the song of mind negates this idea. If the nature of mind is not arising, then neither illusory mind nor true mind exists. John Master Lin-chi That's of course Rinzai said that the mind that seeks Buddhahood is the mind of samsara. You have come to practice that is enough, did not seek anything beyond that.
goes on to the next line. What need is there of knowledge and views means that one should not crave knowledge. You may think practice is difficult, but it is actually easy. Just put down your knowledge and views the sources of vexation and the mind of illusion will disappear. Scattered mind is only the visible tip of the iceberg. The hidden part is all the knowledge and views that you have accumulated since birth. The way to begin practicing is to first calm your scattered mind
well, he can say you may think practice is difficult, but it is actually easy. But we may have a different opinion could say you may think practice is complicated, but it is actually quite simple
going on, the song says, originally there is not a single Dharma, why discuss inspiration and training. He says one retreatant here has two problems. He wants to grab hold of something but cannot and he wants to get rid of his ego but cannot. In fighting himself, he's making more trouble for himself and trying to eliminate ego he is making it more tenacious. He's not alone. Everyone has problems with practice. After all, if you had no problems, you would already be enlightened.
We think there's something wrong with us when we run into difficulties. But the whole point of practice is to work with what you are with where you are. You said before it is enough to practice. Utah says originally there is not a single dharma. Why discuss inspiration and training. And Sheng yen says here dharma means all phenomena, we can just say all things. Not only physical things, but all thoughts all sensations represents all phenomena, including the Buddha Dharma, the teachings of Buddhism. These words may be disturbing to someone seeking remedies for problems that arise in practice. After all, if there are neither neither dharmas nor Buddha Dharma, what guides your practice, even longtime Chan practitioners wonder what use it all is? This is the wrong attitude. Don't worry whether practice is useless. Just focus on the practice itself with no other thought, especially that of enlightenment. Practice is like a dream, in which you may walk slow or fast, go near or far. But when you awaken, you realize it never really happened. How fast or far you walk in your dream has nothing to do with waking up. One does not practice to become enlightened. But when it happens, it is like waking from a dream.
I want to quote something that Ramana Maharshi said there is no greater mystery than this, that we keep seeking reality, though, in fact, we are reality. We think there is something hiding reality and that this must be destroyed before reality is gained. How ridiculous. A day will dawn when you will laugh at all your past efforts. That which will be on the day you laugh is also here now.
It's a delicate balance, isn't it? If we didn't have the aspiration to come to awakening might not come to so sheen. might not come to as many machines as many of us have. But that's an illusion. We're positing something that's outside of us something we're we're going to get to. We know intellectually, that's not the case. But even from a practical point of view, as long as you have some goal in mind, you're not fully here. As long as you're not fully here. You're not going to get there
goes on quoting coming and going without beginning sought for it is not seen. And he said As you can tie a piece of meat on the end of a stick, and then tie the stick to a dog's back so that meat dangles in front of its face. No matter how much the dog chases the meat, he won't get it. Seeking results and meditation is like this. Here's another analogy. Wherever you walk, your shadow follows, so why get disgusted when you can't get rid of it? Trying to get rid of vexations is the same. And one more analogy. Pet hamsters often have treadmills to keep them occupied. The faster the animal runs, the faster the treadmill turns, but the hamster never gets out of its cage. And the wheel doesn't go anywhere. That is where your practice is going with an anxious expected mind. Nowhere. The same analogy applies to trying to escape from death and vexation. Who is it that wants to escape? Is the ego but how can the ego escape vexation if the ego is vexation?
One person in the East looks westward and calls it West. Another in the West looking eastward calls it east. But looking at the same thing is relative there is no ultimate east or west. If you run to the west to find its origin, you'll be running forever. Trying to pinpoint enlightenment is like trying to find the origin of east or west. You want to get enlightened, you want to see your true nature. You want to be free of vexation How is it possible for you to get enlightened, if it is you who can't let go.
Some people hoped for blessings or power to practice from a bodhisattva or the Buddha, others wish to practice. So they can use what they learned to help others there are still others and this is the best approach, who see practice as just their entire life. Outside of cultivation, there is nothing life itself becomes practice. They do not try to do anything, yet everything gets done. And when asked they will say they have done nothing. We should aspire to be this type of practitioner. This is what your toe is talking about.
Some practice to gain something so others resolved to manifest Bodie awakened mind become bodhisattvas and help sentient beings. Utah is telling us to go one step further and practice without seeking anything
we know this. Any idea in the mind? Any goal we carry is going to be a source of trouble. How can the mind fall profoundly silent? As long as we're holding something in the mind
there's no way we're going to think our way out of it. So the reason we have a method the reason we have a practice
as he said earlier we use the illusion of meditation
to wipe out the illusion of everyday mind an enlightened mind.
Going further in the song. Next lines are no need to do anything. It is bright, still self apparent. And Sheng yen says sentient beings point of view from sentient beings point of view, the Buddha exists, but the Buddha has no conception of being a Buddha. If the Buddha thought that he was helping sentient beings, he wouldn't be a Buddha. As Master Lin Lin-chi said, trying to become an enlightened patriarch is samsara karma, a product of the ego.
People who have gotten something from the practice often tell me thanks for giving me so much. I've gotten so much benefit. Yet it is my hope that by practicing you get rid of everything you have and go away with nothing. The more you obtain, the more Trouble it will be for you. If you take home all that has been said, and all that you have been through here, you will take home a lot of trouble. It's useful to listen to what I say at this time, but it is meant for this time, there is no need to keep on thinking about it or to cling to it. Of course, this is the same advice that we give or anytime you're listening to teisho don't hold on to it, don't chew it over.
teisho is over, put the dividers back then zucchini and we sit.
Think eventually in practice, we begin to get a taste for losing instead of gaining. begin to notice how much more responsive open we are. We're not carrying things in the mind. Whether they're base or exalted. Anything is really a source of trouble. And we begin to we begin to understand to know in our bones that we don't need to carry anything. We work pretty good without piling things on.
Sheng yen says, When you meditate, begin by isolating yourself. First isolate from your daily life and your daily concerns. Second, isolate from the people and things around you. Third, isolate yourself from your previous and future thoughts and stay in the present moment. There is nothing else to do. Because if you are not bothering with your next thought, then you are not chasing after anything it's really the prescription for doing so sheen. Each of us sitting alone on a mountain and yet all of us together. Together here together online.
The greatest good you can do for yourself and for everyone else is to drop your thoughts. Drop your ideas.
Sheng yen goes on. There is a story about an old Chan monk who was dying, because his virtue and merit were so great. All the heavenly realms were open to him. He could have encountered Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. But he realized that if he went to heaven, it would just be a self that goes, he thus decided there was no place to go or not go. Then a demon from hell appeared and said, I have orders from the King of Hell to take you with me. The old monk said, I'm not here. So go ahead and take me if you want. true liberation does not come from wanting to be liberated and true liberation, there is nothing to want nothing to discard, no place to go, no place to avoid. It means not being moved by the environment, not having likes and dislikes. The great way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose. When preferences are cast aside, the way stands clear and undisguised.
The ways stance clear and undisguised and there are no problems. All our problems seem to come from what we want and don't want grasping an aversion
as the Buddha pointed out, cause of dukkha of suffering
the song goes on. The past is like empty space, no anything and the basic principle is lost. No anything and the basic principle is lost. And Sheng yen says, without the accumulation of experience, knowledge and views, there would be no illusory mind. If you never learned the name We were given at birth, you would not know your name today. If you cut yourself off from the past, you wouldn't have any illusory thoughts. In fact, you won't have any thoughts at all since there are no illusory thoughts in the present moment. thoughts arise because of attachment to the past, in anticipation of the future. We connect these thoughts to make comparisons and judgments. I'm sure all of you were thinking today while sitting on your cushions, some of your thoughts were of the future, your job plans, families, friends, and so on. All of these thoughts come from the past. If I scold you for thinking, you might be sad or angry or happy, let's say you were happy. This happiness comes from past experience, you know what to expect from me, and my guidance makes you happy. The song of mine says, the past is like empty space, your previous thought is no longer present. Neither is the thought before that one, and on and on. There is nothing in the past which is already gone. Wouldn't it be interesting if the past continued to exist? If a car went down a street in the past continued, then instead of going from one point to another, the car would form a continuous entity and block the street? How could we do fast walking meditation if the past existed? Yeah. However, even though the past does not exist, good thing, we can't seem to seem to stop thinking about it. There is nothing substantial about our past fortunes, misfortune, successes and failures, yet we cling to them. The argument you had the other day is gone a thing of the past, Why dwell on it? If we can grasp the principle that the past is like empty space, then one second of practice is all we would need to succeed, then there will be no illusory thoughts to deter us.
All the troubles you've had before and so sheen, none of them exist. All your perceived failures, difficulties. Why hold on to them. Every moment is opening up fresh.
Turn your mind to the present. The joy of practice. Somewhere someone had the image of a sticky sweaty garment, strip that off. Let go of what you're holding on to.
Of course, people think about the past. We learn from what we've done wrong. But we go so far beyond that. carry it around with us. Really what we're practicing doing is just opening up starting a new now. Now. Today, this is Sheng yen says, someone said to me, if the unmoving mind is Buddha nature. I'll just tell my mind not to move I don't know where he gets the students. Unfortunately, when you tell your mind not to move, you are moving up. If you say that your mind isn't moving, who is thinking that thought? The mind that feels or thinks these things is moving? It is difficult to have an unmoving mind. Because we carry so much of our past with us. We may intellectually agree that the past is illusory, yet we hold dearly to it. We are not wholly convinced that our past our thoughts in our mind are illusory. That is why we use a practice method as an illusion to replace our other illusions.
The Buddha compared it to a raft. When we reach the other shore we throw the raft aside.
He says a line of the Diamond Sutra reads, there should not be anywhere that the mind abides. In other words, the mind should not stick to anything. This is wisdom. The second line of the verse above says, no anything and the basic principle is lost. If the mind abides on anything, that would be illusion, attachment and vexation, thoughts of money work or loved ones or vexation. But so our thoughts of enlightenment wisdom, or Buddhahood.
could add to that thoughts of doing poorly, our vexation, so are thoughts of doing well.
Goes On, someone approached me about attending a retreat. She said, I'm very old. I don't know how much time I have left. So I'm anxious about getting enlightened. I asked her if she knew how to meditate. She said yes. But I want to find a Master who can help me get enlightened. I replied, when people come here, I tell them not to think about getting enlightened. Do you still want to come? She answered, if there is no enlightenment hear that I won't attend the retreat. But that's impossible. You say in your books, that there is such a thing as enlightenment. And Sheng yen replies, that's right. But I don't tell people to get enlightened. The woman thought my words were strange, but they're not strange at all. If you seek after something, that itself is vexation. Seeking enlightenment is vexation. Wherever there is attachment, there is also vexation. If you were to fall in the ocean, of course, you would want to hang on to something to survive. Think about this, all around you is a vast ocean, but you don't want it. You are desperately looking for something to hang on to. As long as there is an ego or self that you hold on to, you cannot be liberated. If you let go of your ego, that is liberation. If you had fallen from the boat, and instead thought, Great, I'm now free from that little boat, you would not be seeking to grasp anything. On the other hand, you may fall into the ocean and think I'm dead. That is not liberation, that his death. Someone is truly liberated. Only if they have no attachments. Yeah, so the ocean he's talking about is not one that you're going to drown in. But we think we will. You know if we were afraid to let go or hold at the edge of the cliff. If you let go you're holed at the edge of an actual cliff, you'll fall to the bottom and leave a crushed pile of bones. And then yet, even though it feels like that, we have to let go. Letting Go has to happen. Let's put it that way. How does that happen? Someone once said that awakening is an accident. Practice makes us accident prone.
Someone is truly liberated only if they have no attachments. When there is no attachment, there is no aversion and no fear.
Then he continues with the with the poem, casting a clear light on the world illuminating yet obscure obscured, says the previous lines say that mind does not exist in time or space. These lines say that the enlightened mind does function. Yet there is nothing real or substantial in it that one can point to an enlightened person still has the will or vowed to help sentient beings. Sentient beings perceive a mind to be present, but the enlightened person does not the mind functions. That is all. Someone asked during a lecture if enlightened people got angry. Yes, I replied. That strange. They shouldn't have any vexation. I said, ordinary people get angry from within. But enlightened people get angry because other people cause them to do so. The person asked how can others make them angry? Their minds should be unmoving not be affected by others. enlightened people simply reflect things I answered. If others are present, they enlightened people will reflect their presence, but there is nothing in them. When ordinary people get angry, they don't forget. But enlightened people forget their anger, the moment that the cause disappears, there's nothing left in them. After a thunderstorm, the sun comes out, and everything is beautiful again, the thunder and rain are gone. All that is left is the beautiful day. If after the weather clear to continue to rain and thunder, that would be strange. There is something that relates to this, written by a woman named Jill Bolte Taylor, who wrote a book called Stroke of Insight. I think a lot of people may have read that or heard about it, she actually had a stroke. And for quite some time for some months. The left half and the right half of her brain were not talking to each other. And she learned a lot from that experience.
But what she says is, when a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there is a 92nd chemical process that happens in the body. After that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop. Of course, we say choosing maybe better to say failing to let go.
Something happens in the external world, and chemicals are flushed through your body, which put it on full alert. For the for those chemicals to totally flush out of the body takes less than 90 seconds. This means that for 90 seconds, you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away. After that, if you continue to feel fear, anger and so on. You need to look at the thoughts you're thinking that are re stimulating the circuitry that is resulting in you're having this physiological response over and over again.
One of the things I've seen often in my teacher in Bowden Roshi there is anger and then it goes
how freeing it is where normal where human causes and conditions arise. Anger other adverse emotions arise. But we don't have to pick over it. We don't have to chew on the reasons our we don't have to indulge in Justified Anger. So reason they use the phrase nursing your anger. It's really it's an image holding a baby up to the mother's breast and feeding it. Keeping that little anger alive. So cute.
says there's a priest in Taiwan, who is the President of University, one of his students said that this priest gets angry. But afterwards it is as if nothing happened. Perhaps because he is a cleric. He only argues for other people's sake, since it has nothing to do with him. Why should the anger linger? cultivating this skill would be good. But it is difficult because of our attachments. When we fight with our loved ones, it is hard to forget because they are part of us. If someone takes your money, you cannot forget because you think the money belongs to you. If the mind does not exist in time and space, then there is nothing in the mind. Whatever happens in the mind can be put down so that nothing remains. Do you still have things you cannot put down? You might say I'm meditating well, and I feel good. I guess it's all right. If I think about other things for a while, then things change. You're not counting your breaths well, and you think I'm doing poorly now. These thoughts arise because your mind clings to the past and thinks about good and bad. I've been talking about throwing away the past, but you should throw away the present as well realized realize, however, that throwing away the past and present doesn't mean having a blank mind. You're still aware of things, yet the mind is clear and unattached. We say for convenience sake, we say the present as if it were a thing. How could it be a thing we say just this and then we think just this is a thing. No, no. Look deeper. Well, our time is up. We'll stop now and recite the four vows.