July 2022 Sesshin, Day 5: Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu (trans. by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary)
5:34PM Aug 3, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the fifth day of this July 2022, seven day sesshin. And we're back to the text or text from yesterday, the teachings of 12th century Chinese Master Yuanwu. The text is called Zen letters translated by the Cleary brothers.
Some of this will sound familiar from Mu so Kokichi earlier in this session what is important is to respect the root and extend it to the branches. This will benefit both root and branches and also illuminate the legitimate and fundamental task of people have complete enlightenment and comprehensive mastery. If you work hard to carry this out, you will surely improve.
The root of our tradition the root of in our tradition is Zen practice the actual practice of the moving and and a stationary practice of emptying the mind. And in the moving part, that means whatever we do to do it no mindedly to notice when thoughts are intruding and returned to just this what we're doing that may mean the koan.
Respect the route and extend it to the branches to so then to bring into all of our every aspect of our daily life, this still mind this empty mind, such as we can find it. For someone working on a colon, the root is the yes, the colon but ideally the questioning of the colon. Everything comes from that upholding the precepts, repentance, giving many good deeds in the way of right living. All come from Zen, strictly speaking, zozen means sitting Zamin sitting. But really, it's it's anything we do with a mind of stabilized awareness. Or we're not holding on to anything in the mind
the branches, does briefly, because we covered this earlier and sesshin is all of a secondary practices of Zen, the devotions, the rituals, chanting frustrations, very whatever ceremonies, I be able to take part in. But also the branches or you could say much more broadly our words, speech, to bring that know mind that stillness that that emptiness into our speech. Conversations. What does that mean? Well, for example, it can mean allowing some silence in our talk and then certainly listening. Being able to to be quiet and listen. So here's more and more evidence that this is a terrific asset for anyone in any any walk of life to be able to be quiet and listen, when it's called for and then speak, when it's called for.
We could say that in a in a in a way, the intense concentration it's a kind of listening
When questioning a koan, there's the question and then there is naturally the listening for a response. When we're really absorbed and Moon questioning Mu, we're listening
when Mother Teresa of Calcutta had become world famous, a journalist asked her interview, when you pray, Mother, what do you ask for? And she said, Oh, nothing I, I just listened. And the journalist now is really interested. He said, Well, what? What does God say to you? And she said, Oh, he's just listening to.
It's that suggest quite an intimate relationship to God as she understands him that if she's listening, and they're not to, and of course, he's listening
that when you when you reach a certain depth of concentration, with a koan, it's the whole subject object thing just kind of breaks down. Am I calling to Mu? Or Mu calling to me? Am I asking what is this? Or am I being asked?
He continues in general, to follow the path and seek out the mystery. You must have a great basis in faith. You must use this faith to believe and a deep sense that this matter does not lie in words, or in any of the many states of mind. In fact, in truth, the way is right where you stand.
In a very nuts and bolts kind of way, faith really means faith in the practice. But more more broadly, means faith that there is something beyond our ordinary mind that can be understood something beyond answers that can be realized.
Put aside the crazy and false mind that has been concocting your knowledge and understanding and make it so that nothing whatsoever is weighing on your mind. Fully take up this matter in your perfect, wondrous inherent nature, which is fundamentally pure and quiescent. subject and object are both forgotten, and the road of words and thoughts is cut off. You open through and clearly see your original face. Make it so that once found, it is found forever and remains solid and unmoving. The words don't settle for a small Kensho
The Wondrous Path of the Enlightened Ones is straight and direct. That just pointed directly to the human mind. So we would work to see its true nature and achieve enlightenment. This mind source is originally empty and peaceful, clear and wondrous and free from the slightest obstruction. But we screen it off with false thoughts and give rise to defilements and blockages in this unobstructed one we turn our backs on the fundamental and pursue the trivial and foolishly revolve in the cycle of routine boy that captures what for so many of us our lives are pursue the trivial and foolishly revolve in the cycle of routine busy busy busy busy no time to sit gotta keep busy gotta be run here run there do this do that
check in every 10 minutes and Facebook
do we really want to spend our life doing these things? There's something more
there was a some graffiti on a wall I saw once in Santa Fe I think it said work by consume die
the consuming the endless endless ways of consuming mostly on the internet. But we can find all kinds of other ways we can avoid facing our inevitable death by consuming
if you have great capacity, you won't seek outside anymore. Right where you stand you will come forth and independent realization. When the transitory blinders of false perception had been dissolved, the original correct perception is complete and wondrous. This is called the identity of mind and Buddha is a famous koan in the in the Mumonkan What is Buddha that means really what is ultimate truth? And the answer is this very mind this Buddha
this reference to blinders and perception and Zen practices been compared to cleaning one's glasses one's eyeglasses. Emphasizing the point that it's it's when all of a sudden done much of our unhappiness comes from just false, seeing things falsely as not seeing things wholly
seeing others as other not self. seen things in terms of us in them separation in a word separation
it's probably the closest thing we have in Zen, to the word sin is separation, separating ourselves from others, separating ourselves from our circumstances, and the conditions we find ourselves in
the practice of joining with the breath or the koan, shikantaza this is practice in non separation, the better we get at it, the more we can bring that into our lives and not separate ourselves from others. It's, it's, it's really, it takes practice because for so long, we have just been reflexively separating ourselves dividing the world in these ways, so it takes a lot of sustained effort to I don't know lay down new circuitry, so we don't just instinctively see others as apart from us see circumstances as a part from us.
From this once realized, it is realized forever it is like he's talking about deep enlightenment, it is like the bottom falling out of a bucket, you open through and merge with the way and there is nothing occupying your mind by holding the essence pure and still you receive the use of it and have no more doubts than when one is comprehended all are comprehended.
falling rain itself is presenting this essence pure steel still even if it's movement or stillness.
The ancients were always mindful of this matter whether deep in the mountain valleys or in the bustling villages, and towns, they never turn their backs on it for an instant is the matter of wareness presence. Whatever scenes or circumstances they encountered, amidst sound and form and the course of movement in action, they invariably turned around and focus back on their own true selves. The practice of all practitioners since time immemorial, who completely penetrated through was none other than this.
dispraise turned around and focus back on their own true selves. This is not of course, in some articulated deliberate way saying oh yes, don't Forget my true self, don't forget my true self. It's, it's, it's not. But maybe it's easier to put in the negative. It's not being fully bound by conditions or circumstances not enmeshed in them having some, some might call meta awareness, a little distance of seeing what's what's going on. It's another way of understanding mindfulness, not getting caught in the story. And melodrama. This is not something we have to assign ourselves as some kind of a project that it happens, it unfolds through long practice where we feel this is a measure of a freedom from the world. It's going to mean by a little distance awareness. Not to put it maybe in a better way, not just blindly reacting to people and things.
It was a Rinzai who said, on the outside, cut off all attachments on the inside, make your mind like a mountain and enter the way Yeah, non attachment. And there is a world of difference between non attachment and oneness. It's very subtle, but very important difference not to separate ourselves, but not to be attached to things.
Thus, with our fundamental bases firm and strong, they were not blown around following the wind of objects. They were serene and at peace and did not fall into the scope of feelings of holy and ordinary. They came directly to great cessation and great rest, they found the seat and put on the road. It say just making everything the practice
now you are returning to your home village. The letter continues, able to see as the ancients saw, if you can make it continuous and unbroken. How will it be any different than when you were in the monastery being guided by the Abbot and doing your meditation work. If you turn your back on it at all, and there is some break in the continuity, then you will lose contact reminds me of what I was just saying this morning, not our last yesterday not to leave your practice behind in the Zendo. When you go out for break periods of meals. Don't turn your back on it. Keep it continuous, as much as you can. And when you find that you haven't kept it continuous, then don't make a big issue out of it. Just pick it back up, pick the practice back up. I wasted so much time in sesshin beating myself up during break periods or even during sitting. Having lost it having lost the koan. Instead of just going back to it. This is where the south really does its dirty work. There's the noticing that we've lost it. You don't need to bring yourself in then just back to the practice. Why make it about oneself. Takes a long time for some of us, takes a long time to break this habit of commenting on our failures. Immediately skipping that step and returning to the practice
So apparently this, this letter he's writing to someone who's or maybe his monks as they are about to leave to go on a pilgrimage, because the ends we are about to part. So remember these words, another time in the future, don't look back and blame me for not admonishing you.
Come to believe that there's so much of what I say, and what any teacher says. It's just not not being heard, or not being taken seriously. We say these things because it's the way things are. It's the truth. And maybe in hopes that when the student catches up and discovers for herself or himself discovers the truth of it, that maybe it'll boost their faith in the Dharma or teacher.
Just one paragraph here, where he's, he's urging his monks to be, to be simple, keep it simple. Not to try to be clever. He says, never make any displays of clever tricks. Be like a stolid simpleton in a village of three families.
Among the Enlightened practitioners, being able to speak the truth has nothing to do with the tongue. And being able to talk about the Dharma is not a matter of words. This is so so alien to most churches and synagogues. Where being articulate is, is so so highly valued much more so than in Zen. In, in Japan, I've read, they don't trust politicians who are too eloquent. Because it means that what they're saying can't be coming really from the heart. It can't be coming from a guts. Too clever. too smart. not genuine.
Clearly, we know that the words spoken by the ancients were not meant to be passively dependent on anything the ancients said was intended only so that people would directly experience the fundamental reality. Thus, the teachings of the sutras are like a finger pointing to the moon. And the sayings of Zen masters are like a piece of tile used to knock on a door. Great, great analogies. Don't mistake the finger Don't mistake the words for the reality that they point to. Don't mistake the tile or the brick for the sound it makes on the door. And he says if you know this, then rest. If your practice is continuous and meticulous and your application broad and all pervading, and you do not deviate from this over the years, then you will mature in your ability to handle the teaching. means to gather up and to release. And you will be able to see through petty things and cut them off without leaving a trace
this phrase to see through petty things you know in the depth of Zen, especially in 16, just about everything seems petty compared to the moment what's happening the present this is the great gift of sesshin it offers a a, a new perspective
so, like getting again getting some distance, in from the distance from the 20,000 foot altitude things, we see things so differently. We, we come to, to know, to know what is important what matters in this life that will pass all too quickly
petty concerns that clog our minds outside of fishing get flushed out in session. We see things in a whole different way. This is what gives us gives us the ability to make changes in our life that need to be changed
establish priorities that that really match what our real values are our longings how to use our time
then when you come to the juncture of death and birth, where all the lines intersect, you won't get mixed up. You will be clear and immovable. And you will be set free as you leave this life behind. This is deathbed Zen for the last day of your life
it's certainly true that these the ways in which we grow in sushi and the ways we we come to new things we come to see will serve us very well. When we are on our deathbeds. I just don't see how anyone could argue otherwise. That change of perspective, seeing things that what matters and what doesn't. But it would be a shame to for not have this kind of new kind of seeing until that late it sure it will it'll help on our deathbeds. But it also helps in our lives going forth
he might be using this example of what will help you on your deathbed to get people's attention, especially people who have a fear of death. So they might practice but what really comes from it is far more than any great resources on our deathbed its resources in our daily lives. Because what is dying but but letting go. And that's arguably the most important thing we can bring into life has been the ability to let go
to yield rather than to fight to listen to open rather than be closed. It's this the secret to dying is the secret You're living
here's another letter. In visiting enlightened teachers and questioning them, you must see essential nature and awaken to the truth. As you directly forget feelings and put an end to views, you are inwardly washed clean. You become like a simpleton. Not calculating gain and loss, not contending for superiority, favorable or adverse, you cut everything off and don't let it continue. After a long time at this, you naturally arrive at the stage where there are no contrived activities and no concerns.
This phrase as you directly forget feelings and put an end to views, getting meaning getting free of bondage to feelings, not denying feelings. Anything becoming more feeling. In Zen, Roshi Capris to St. Jiang and Zen, we're trying to do less talking and thinking and more feeling and acting. But then not to cling to our feelings, this is the point or our views or opinions or ideas
and then he picks up on this last phrase where there are no contrived activities and no concerns. As soon as you have a slightest wish to be unconcerned, a concern has already arisen. Once one wave goes into motion, myriad waves follow when will it ever stop? When death comes upon you in that condition, you will be frantic and confused simply because you are not free and clear.
Just make this work sure and true and naturally even in a noisy marketplace, it will be silent and still as water Why worry them that you will not accomplish your task
I would understand this in contemporary terms as naturally even in a noisy internet site Facebook where people are shrieking their opinions and bullying and everything else. The noise the noise have online life be still in silent is one this is this is a very very lofty say a very advanced state to not be affected by and not react to not react to all of the trash and it's on the internet
the saying in Zen great winds are powerless to disturb the water have a deep well?
Well, I'm afraid I can't compete anymore with this rain. So we'll stop now and recite the four vows