Septober 2022 Sesshin, Day 5: Zen Master Bassui from Mud and Water (trans. by Arthur Braverman)
2:22PM Oct 12, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the fifth day of this Septober 2022 seven day sesshin. Going back to the letters of Japanese Zen master Bassui from the 14th century. We left off partway through a letter. Reply he wrote to the abbess of Shinryuji. The mind essence is intrinsically bright and unblemished. In it, there is no distinction of Buddha and sentient beings or the enlightened or the unenlightened.
But its clarity is hidden behind elusive thoughts, just as the light of the sun or the moon is obscured by clouds. Yet such thoughts can be dispelled through the power of Zen. In the same way that clouds can be dissipated by a blast of wind. Once they vanish, the Buddha nature reveals itself just as the moon makes its appearance when clouds disappear. This light has ever been present, it is not newly obtained outside oneself. The Buddha said this mind is bright and self luminous, but it is stained by adventitious defilements. adventitious meaning, they're not essential to us not in our essence. In this case, defilements that have come. But as this as well can go. If you would free yourself from being driven within the six realms of existence, or from the sufferings of birth and death samsara you must dispel your delusive feelings and perceptions. To dispel them, you must realize this mind. To realize this mind you must do Zen. How you practice is of the utmost importance. You must penetrate your koans to the very core. The foundation of every koan is one's own mind, the deep yearning for the realization of mind, we call desire for truth or thirst for realization. She is wise, who deeply fears falling into hell. Only because the terrors of hell are so little known to them. Do people have no desire for the teachings of the Buddha? I know that for some people, this is a little hard to accept the stuff about the tears of hell. If you can get your mind around causation, cause and effect that everything is the effect of a previous cause, and is itself the cause of a subsequent effect. Then that would get you halfway to really appreciating what by sui is saying here, because hell is just any horribly painful state. And if you can buy into the law of causation karma, then you will see that when we when we do pain producing things, then we will inevitably have to suffer pain. Suffer let's call it hell if it's bad enough. If so, many hellish states we read about now in the media, starting with Ukraine, but hardly limited to that. Situations all over the world in our own country, of course. That's what he's talking about. Don't Don't make the mistake of rejecting it because it sounds quaint and medieval. It's talking about suffering, how we can have avoid suffering causing ourselves suffering. The Buddha, the Buddha put it very simply, I teach the two things suffering and the end of suffering.
It's not this Zen practice is not a belief system, something you have to believe it seems contrary to understanding. It's a it's just a way it's, it's medicine. It's, we're sick, in one way or another, we feel it. If not physically, psychologically, spiritually, we're sick. So, the medicine is practice and practice very practical, practice Practical, not belief systems. And then if, if you recognize in Buddhist doctrine, what you have experienced through long practice, then you can put two and two together and see that there is something to this dharma. But until then, you don't have to believe anything. Because it's a practice you have to believe in the practice doing it. Find out see for yourself, if this works.
Do not try to prevent thoughts from arising very important. And do not cling to any that have arisen. Just as important. Let them appear and disappear as they will don't struggle with them. You need only unremittingly and with all your heart at Ask yourself, What is my own mind? Or what is Mu? Or what is it? Who is it? Who am I? He says very flatly I keep urging this because I want to bring you to self realization. When you persistently try to understand what is beyond the domain of intellect, you are bound to reach a dead end completely baffled. But push on sitting or standing, working or sleeping probe tirelessly to your deepest self with a question what is my own nature Fear nothing but the failure to experience your own true nature. This is Zen practice
and not only Zen practice is statement affairs.
Push on it's a shorter sentence in this whole section but push on the wonderful Sufi and no doubt enlightened master Rumi. His usual magnificent way a put it this way. Grind yourself. Strip yourself down to blind loving silence. Stay there until you see you are gazing at the light with its own ageless eyes
Zen practice to stripping away all of this mental dross. it obstructs us how it is just through redirecting the mind back to the practice entirely tiring Lee returning again and again and again. Push on. He continues when the intense questioning envelops every interview and penetrates to the very bottom of all bottoms, the koan Shin will suddenly burst. And the substance of this true mind be revealed. Just as a mirror, concealed in a box can reflect its surroundings only after the box is broken apart. So the mirror is always there, this mirror of our essential mind. The radiance of this mind will light up every corner of a universe free of even a single blemish. It's already free of a single blemish, I just have to see that is the case. You will be liberated at last from all entanglements within the six realms. All effects of evil actions having vanished the joy of this moment cannot be put into words
it's very, very important if you can see behind all of these exhortations, this battering away at the reader at this is, is the recipients of his letters of his and his monks and us this this relentless pounding away compassion, he's dying for everyone to have this experience. So, the most important thing in the world to him
not for his sake.
Continues Enlightened Ones bear the same relation to the unenlightened as water does to ICE, ICE like stone or brick cannot flow. But when it melts, it flows freely in conformity with its surroundings. So long as one remains in a state of delusion, he is like ice upon realization, he becomes as exquisitely free as water you will understand there is no difference between ordinary beings and and will be enlightened except for one thing delusion when it is dissolved, they're identical just occurs to me to read a passage here a sentence or two from the account of an American ex businessman
seeing as I flip through these pages, little bits of his own experience pain in legs unbearable
why don't I quit he says here who can relate to that
reached a white heat today
here it is. August 9 1958. This is after his Ken show. Feel free as a fish swimming in an ocean of cool clear water after being stuck in a tank of glue and so grateful
Grateful for everything that has happened to me grateful to everyone who encouraged and sustained me in spite of my immature personality and stubborn nature but mostly I'm grateful for my human body for the privilege as a human being to know this joy like no other.
You know, he did hate machine in the early 70s definitely at least the early ones but A day. He, he needed so badly to find some kind of freedom, some release from his suffering that it just drove him back as much as he hated it. And then, you know, sesshin is there's a learning curve, you start to get out of your own way. You start to learn how to deal with physical pain, you start to basically you learn to let go at what's going on in your mind, and not cling to it. That's, that's when all of a sudden down that's what it comes down to. Learning that our thoughts are not our friends. Learning to choose, learning to instead of lingering thoughts, to just turn back to the practice.
By so he continues, don't allow yourself to become discouraged. If your desire for truth is wanting, you may be unable to attain enlightenment in this life. But if you carry on your Zen practice faithfully, even while dying, you will be unquestionably, you will unquestionably achieve enlightenment in your next existence. But don't dawdle. Imagine yourself on your deathbed at this very moment. What alone can help you? What alone can prevent you from falling into hell? Because of your transgressions? There is fortunately a broad path to liberation. From your very roots, ask this one question, what is my buddha mind? If you would see the substance of all enlightened ones, immediately realize your own mind.
Upon your enlightenment, the Lotus will blossom in a roaring fire and endure without throughout eternity. Human beings inherently are no different from the lotus. Why can't you grasp this?
And now, writing to a lord Nakamura, who was a governor of some province. You asked me how to practice Zen with reference to this phrase from a sutra arouse the mind without its abiding anywhere. This this, this arrives the moment without biting anywhere, is the is a phrase that brought the Sixth Patriarch way nung to deep enlightenment. As he was about to leave the monastery he had, he had had his first Kensho overhearing a wood, wood. Someone hauling firewood, reciting some other line from a sutra, and that took him to the fifth patriarch. And, and then there was this encounter with the rotor versus on the wall. The sixth way nung wrote his verse on the wall and the fifth patriarch recognized he was a man of realization. And so in the middle of the night, in the middle of the night, of course, it would be in the middle of the night. The fifth patriarch was reading to him from a sutra and this line is what opened his mind even more. rouse the mind without its abiding anywhere. So he says, There is no Express method for attaining enlightenment. If you but look into your self nature directly, not allowing yourself to be deflected, the mind flower will come into bloom therefore the sutra says, and by the way, that's from the Diamond Sutra. Arouse mind without its abiding anywhere 1000s of words spoken directly by the enlightened ones and ancestors add up to this one phrase. Mind is the true nature of things transcending all forms. True Nature is the way the Tao, the way is Buddha Buddha is mind mind is not within or without or in between, it is not being or nothingness or non being or non nothingness or Buddha or mind or matter. So, it is called the Abode LIS mind. This mind sees colors with the eyes hears sounds with the ears. Look for this mind directly you know this, this line arouse the mind without biting anywhere is an excellent very succinct instruction on how to practice them, not just sitting. How to practice them, is Be alert. Be aware, be attentive. Keep your eyes open. And don't abide anywhere. Don't dwell in anti any mental phenomenon, thought form or feeling or motion. Fantasy don't dwell in any of those don't dwell in any sensory phenomenon
letting go letting go discarding moving on.
Rinzai quotes Rinzai Linji one's body composed of the four primal elements can't hear on our understand this teaching the spleen or stomach or liver or gallbladder can't hear or understand this teaching. Empty Space can't understand that. Then what does hear and understand strive to perceive directly. If your mind remains attached to any form or feeling whatsoever, or is affected by logical reasoning or conceptual thinking, you are as far from true realization as heaven is from Earth. It's another nice way of summing up a rouse the mind without its abiding anywhere is non attachment. People fastened on that word, non attachment. And from what I've often heard, they fasten on giving up their material things, their belongings, giving up marriage or romance giving up all manner of things. That's the least of it. The real difficulty the real challenge is giving up our thoughts that we don't need. Yes, we think we are problem solvers a place for thinking but so much of the dust in the mind is just on on usable thoughts. So that's detachment detaching pulling free from detaching from thoughts that have no real purpose in the mind.
He goes on how can you cut off at a stroke the sufferings of birth and death. As soon as you consider how to advance you get lost in reasoning. And the words if you plot, plan, a strategy. You get lost in reasoning. But if you quit If you are adverse to the highest path, to be able to neither advance nor quit is to be a, quote, breathing corpse. If in spite of this dilemma you empty your mind of all thoughts and push on with your Zen, you are bound to enlighten yourself and apprehend the phrase arouse the mind without its abiding anywhere. Instantly, you will grasp the sense of all Zen dialogue as well as the profound and subtle meaning of the countless sutra sutras.
The layman whole asked baso what is it that transcends transcends everything in the universe? By so answered, I will tell you after you have drunk up the waters of the West River and one gulp, at that whole came to enlightenment. See, hear what does this mean? does it explain the phrase arouse the mind without its abiding anywhere? Or does it point to the very one reading this? If you still don't comprehend, go back to questioning what is hearing now. Find out this very moment. The problem of birth and death is momentous. And the world moves fast. Make the most of time for it waits for no one.
care goes on in your Zen, think in terms of neither good nor evil. Let's just consider that. Really, it's this includes this thinking of good and evil really means judging, judging one's practice, judging others judging oneself thinking in terms of right and wrong
is a wonderful phrase I read somewhere in Zen. It's just try like a child drawing without any thought of right or wrong, good or bad?
Now, even though your questioning goes deep, you will get no answer. And eventually you will reach a cul de sac. Your thinking totally checked. You won't find anything within that can be called eye or mind. But who is it that understands all this? Continue to probe more deeply yet in the mind that perceives there is nothing will vanish. You will no longer be aware of questioning but only of emptiness.
In Zaza neither loathe nor be charmed by any of your thoughts. With your mind turned inward, look steadily into their source and the delusive feelings and perceptions in which they are rooted will evaporate. This is not yet Self Realization. However, though your mind becomes bright and empty like the sky and you have awareness of neither inner or outer and all the 10 quarters unclear and luminous. So he's talking about a state of great clarity, emptiness, no thought. To take this for realization is to mistake a mirage for reality. Now even more intensely search this mind of yours this mind of yours that hears your physical body is like a phantom without reality, yet apart from this body, there is no mind the empty space of all 10 quarters can neither see nor hear still something within you does hear and distinguish sounds who are what is it? When this question totally ignites you, distinctions of good and evil, awareness of being or emptiness vanish like a light extinguished on a dark night though you are no longer consciously aware of yourself still you can hear and know you exist Try as you will to discover the subject that is hearing your efforts will fail and you will find yourself at an impasse notice he says over and over you're not going to get an answer there's no answer it's it's growing into no mind no thought all at once your mind will burst into great enlightenment and you will feel as though you have risen from the dead laughing loudly and clapping your hands in the light if if someone were to ask what does one's buddha mind look like? I would answer in the trees fish play in the deep sea birds are flying What is this mean? If you don't understand it, look into your own mind and ask yourself what is he this master who sees and hears
and then he finishes make the most of time it waits for no one
we human beings so so naturally assume that we have all the time we need we just see it stretching on and ahead of us it's really hard isn't it to to grasp but it can all end at once
our lives rests on assumption the assumption that it will just go on and on and on and on. From time to time of course we remind ourselves that it won't go on forever. Someday we're gonna die. But how much does it mobilize us to really do something about the fact that effectively the certainty of death and the uncertainty the time of death
there is a Buddhist practice I've heard Where are you meditate on death that would help but it's it's not Zen as I've ever heard about it or understood it Zen all the all the emphasis is on this here now. The present.
To a dying man. Your mind In essence is not subject to death. Nor is it something that feels pain or joy. However much you try to know with your rational mind, that which is now sick, you cannot get if you think of nothing, wish for nothing, want to understand nothing, cling to nothing. And only ask yourself, what is the true substance of the mind and at this one who is now suffering, ending your days like clouds fading in the sky, you will eventually be freed from your painful bondage to endless change. Painful bondage to endless change
this is a sort of a central challenge of human existence is, is meeting change and, and dealing with change. We spend so much time trying to arrange everything in accordance with what we want, what we don't want. We may have some success in getting it all set up the way we want, but then things change.
Hearing just one bit more about his warning about getting into a state when when sitting getting into a deep state of emptiness. And he issues the same morning that other masters have and that I have and ducks on. This last appears when the true nature begins to manifest itself, but it cannot be called genuine self realization. Zen masters of all would call it the deep pit of pseudo emancipation. Those who reach the stage believing they have no more problems. In the Dharma Heir behave heartily through lack of wisdom. Engage eagerly in debates on religion, taking delighting cornering their opponents but becoming angry when cornered themselves. Appear perpetually discontented, while no longer believing in the law of causation. go about telling jokes in a loud jabbering voice. Deliberately disturb and ridicule those who study and strive earnestly? Well, it's, I don't see much of that, that our Zen Center. Probably our other Zen centers either was more of a problem. I think in ancient times when so many of the monks didn't really want to be there for any kind of spiritual aspiration, but just are left there by their parents who can't afford to care for them or they did it to escape the draft or to avoid paying taxes. But this deep pit of pseudo emancipation is something to be very weary of, can be so. So luscious to have a mind fall silent and enter the state of bright, clear emptiness and just want to stay there who wouldn't? This marvelous state of freedom. But it's a conditioned state, it arose out of certain conditions. And it will pass when those conditions change. So we can't let ourselves linger there. f2 If the koan has disappeared, don't let it get it back. Keep up with a questioning of it. It's kind of it's kind of unpleasant when you're in that state to have to take up this get back to the koan. It seems so impermeable in penetrate But but that's exactly what we have to do if we want to see into the unconditioned have to again, let go, same thing without abiding anywhere, don't abide in that state of emptiness. And if you're working if you're working on a koan keep chewing on the koan, as tasteless as it may be to do that.
He's writing out to a monk in shobo hermitage at the monks urgent request. By Sue writes in my boyhood, this question perplex me aside from this physical body, what replies I am so and so. When asked who are you? This perplexity having once a risen, it became deeper year by year, resulting in my desire to become a monk. And I made this solemn vow now that I have determined to be a monk I cannot search for truth for my own sake. Even after winning the supreme truth, I will defer enlightenment until I have saved every sentient being. Furthermore, until this perplexity has been dissolved, I will not study Buddhism or learn the rituals and practices of a monk. So long as I live in the human world, I will stay nowhere except with great Zen masters and in the mountains. He goes on reminiscing about his earlier life. After I entered a monastery, my perplexity increased. At the time, the same time a strong resolve arose from the bottom of my heart and I thought, the Buddha has passed already and Miroku the future Buddha has not yet appeared. During this period when authentic, Buddhism has declined to the point where it is about to expire. May my desire for self realization be strong enough to save all sentient beings in this Buddha lifts world even should I suffer the pangs of everlasting hell, as a result of attachment? This attachment so long as I can shoulder the sufferings of sentient beings, I will never become discouraged or forsake this eternal vow. He is continuous with evolve. Furthermore, in practicing Zen, I will not idle away my time thinking of life and death, or waste even a minute in trifling good works, trifling good works. So here he is distinguishing between doing good things, and seeing, seeing into the self nature, nor will I blind others to the truth by trying to minister them, so long as my own spiritual strength is insufficient to lead them to self realization. I think what's most important here is his determination besides the determination to come to enlightenment, his saying, I cannot search continue to search for my own sake, meaning my own sake alone. He says his, his bodhisattva nature, his awareness that to to advance spiritually oneself to have breakthroughs to come even come to enlightenment means is insufficient, when there's so much suffering in the world. This elevates this aspiration from what is basically that it was based on self interest to something that is far greater and more powerful, more powerful when we when we realize that we have to do this for others. All beings without number I vow to liberate
Some people who hear this will think, give me a break, I just want to, I just want some out of my own suffering. First is that too much to ask? But, but it can, it can change, it will change as you go on, where it isn't enough just for one's own sake, you can divide one's own sake from the sake of others, the well being of others
he goes on talking to this dynamic, these resolutions became part and parcel of my thinking, bothering me to some extent in my Zen, but I could not do otherwise. I constantly prayed to Buddha's for strength to carry out these resolutions, which I made the standard of my conduct in both favorable and unfavorable circumstances. Thus, it has been up to the present. And then he lapses into self-effacement He says, it is really pointless to tell you about these delusive states of mind, but as you make bold to ask, I write here of my aspirations as a novice.
All right, our time is up will Scotland recite before virus