January 2021 Online Sesshin, Day 6: Teachings and Life of Zen Master Hakuin
9:11PM Aug 4, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the sixth day of this January 2021 seven day Rohatsu online sesshin. We're going to stick with Hakuin today. We've been reading from him the last five days. I considered switching horses this morning to a different master. But the text that I had with me was so dry and (just make it dry) compared to Hakuin's writing that decided to go with Hakuin again.
And now we're we're to the book book called The Zen Master Hakuin. This is a third one I've used this sesshin. The first one was Wild Ivy. The second one was the The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin. Those are both translated by Norman Waddell. And this one The Zen Master Hakuin is translated by Philip Yampolsky. And I'm just going to pluck out a couple of segments here that I think might inspire one or two people here as we approach the last day of sesshin, seven day sesshin. I'll just pick right up in his, what he calls oreca gamma.
How truly sad. Human beings are endowed with the wisdom and form of the Buddha, there is nothing they lack. Each person is possessed with this treasure jewel, that is the Buddha nature, and for all eternity and he radiates a great pure luminescence. That, by the way, is whether or not we've awakened to it. For all eternity, it radiates a great pure luminescence. In every single person without exception. He continues, but while dwelling in that true Land of the pure Dharma nature, where this very world is the light of Nirvana, people because their eye of wisdom has been blinded mistake this realm for the ordinary evil world and err in thinking that it is peopled by sentient beings. sentient beings is the term commonly used in previous centuries to refer to unenlightened so called on enlightened people and thinking that is peopled by sentient beings. Here he kind of restated what the Buddha himself is said to have cried out at a moment of his awakening. He says each each person is possessed with the treasure jewel that is Buddha nature. And for all eternity radiates a pure but because our eye of wisdom has been blinded, and so forth, the the words most commonly used for the Buddha's experience or wonder of wonders, from the very beginning, all beings are endowed with enlightenment, but because their minds are turned upside down through delusive thinking, they failed to perceive this. More or less those words. This is the great predicament of human beings is that with not a single exception, every person, the person we hate the most in the world. People who see most most sunk in ignorance and cruelty. Equally are endowed with this luminous mind, of wisdom and compassion, and then the contraction but because people's minds are turned upside down through delusive think because of our conditioning, because of the the habitual ways we have clouded our minds before Because of our misconceptions about who we are, and who others are, and the nature of reality, because of all that, we fail to perceive the exquisite perfection of ourself and all, all others. No wonder he begins this paragraph by saying how truly sad
me continues in this one birth as a human being, one so difficult to obtain. They spend their time wandering about like ignorant horses and oxen is like animals just pursuing physical pleasure. just wandering here and there for what we mistakenly think will bring us some kind of lasting peace of mind and happiness.
When he says this one birth as a human being so difficult to obtain, there are analogies that have come down to us from ancient times, about how, how exceedingly rare it is to have earned the birth of a the rebirth of a human being. The one of my favorite is, it says, though, this is from some sutra from centuries ago, it is as though it's like a sea turtle. That comes up to the surface of the of the water, just once it once a year. And the the likelihood that that one day when it pokes its head up through the surface of the water, the likelihood of it happening to come up in a wooden yoke, let's make it anything. inner tube, that it would come up right there in the inner tube, this happened to be floating on the ocean. That's how rare it is, for us in our and beginningless endless journey through the realms of various realms of existence from hundreds and 1000s of rebirths. That we will be born as a human being. Well, you can take that or leave it, I want to take it because to appreciate this birth this this human life is likely to get us to work on using it.
Again, he's going to talking about the the average person with no discrimination whatsoever, they extinguish the light and wander through the realms of the three painful evil existences and suffer the sadness of the six forms of rebirth. Let's see here. There's a foot note. I don't think we really need it, but there might be something
stay with me Don't go anywhere.
Yes, it's one of these books where the the footnotes are appeared there regularly and intermittently and in spaces, all right, I'm gonna do my best here. The reference was for the wander through the realms of the three painful existences. That usually means the three lowest of the six realms of unenlightened existence. So three low Because the realm of hellish suffering, the realm of endless craving, insatiable craving or addiction, that's the realm of hungry ghosts and thirsty spirits. And then the realm of animals, which is a realm of, of almost blind, instinctual reactivity of always either eating or being eaten or life of, of fear. And the six forms of rebirth where that will be the six, all six realms of unaligned existence. So in other words, he says, wandering through all that lifetime, after a lifetime, they grasp at the true Land of the Buddha's unchanging, eternal, calm, and in their fear and delusion, cry in pain, believing it to be eternal hell, they pride themselves that we're living to stop, they're believing it to be eternal hell, there's no, there's no state of existence. And that is that is eternal. There's no everlasting hell that we we in Buddhism, there's reference to these this hell realm, sister realm of terrible suffering, and it's not permanent, nothing is permanent. It's no permanent, everlasting hell, or heaven. Everything is in flux, we always have the freedom to evolve. So that we don't evolve, evolve, we evolve through doing what what we're all doing right now is learning on the mat, learning to detach from thoughts and find some freedom, where we're not just reacting to things, we're not bound by our karma. We have some freedom there, too, in whispers respect to how we respond to people and circumstances and conditions. He goes on, they pride themselves in their ordinary, pointless, insignificant views, reveling in the small prejudice learning that has entered into their mouths and ears. While they're, I can't help but think of all the idiocy on social media. And how, how people now so reflexively have to say what they like, or don't like, thumbs up or thumbs down, pride themselves in their ordinary, pointless, insignificant views. He goes down, they do not believe in the Dharma, have not listened to the true law. And their days prayed in nonsense. And it failed to guard even for a moment, the mind that is the master of true meditation. What is that mind? Mind is the master of true meditation. It's our, our fundamental awareness. Which is wait one way to understand Buddha awareness. recap Oh, a
more pitiful still is that they revolve for eternal kalpas in the coils of their evil actions. And even more frightening. They earn only the bitter fruit of the long nights of birth and death.
Now I'm going to turn about 30 pages deeper into the book. And
read another segment here. He quotes he quotes the Chinese master doorway, who I've mentioned earlier this week, was was also kind of the forbear of Hakuin, in that they both are credited with having massively reformed the Zen School first doorway, and then in China and then Hakuin a few centuries later, and now he's quoting that way, at all times test to see whether you have lost the true meditation or have not lost it. And words whether you're aware, aware, and that lost in thought and have an that and the true meditation also further meaning, the ability to maintain one's centeredness, one's groundedness, even in the midst of a lot of commotion in one's daily life. That's the end of his quoting doorway and then Hakuin says, this is a generous description of the true meditation, as it has been practiced by all the sages of the past. This has been the true practice unchanged from remotest antiquity. It has been called direct mind, the Buddha nature vody Nirvana, the true person without rank. This true person has never since before the kalpa of emptiness or after it had the least sign of illness, or the slightest indication of even a cold.
In the Lotus Sutra, he is honored as the ancient Buddha, who gained enlightenment in remote Calpis. If you make offerings to him, venerate him, draw close to her and do not lose her, what disease cannot be cured? What way cannot be fulfilled. Under the law, the Buddha even a diseased old woman, or an emaciated old man, if they practice true meditation without seas can become strong persons healthy, and without infirmities. Here again we, we see this tremendous faith of Hakuin have faith in the way this method, this method of allowing the mind to settle and be centered,
he continues, but even if one has a body seven or eight feet tall, even if he has the wisdom of sorry, Putra and the eloquence of Poorna. These are Buddha's disciples. And even if he can lecture on the three sutras and the five Shastras. Before not here says there are several such group groupings, three sutras and five Shastras. Shastras means the commentaries. Which one Hakuin had in mind cannot be determined. Yeah, so should the surprise no one who's been listening to these writings of Hakuin, that he would sometimes play fast and loose with his references. And either Yeah, just toss out things and Miss Miss attributed things.
Even if he can do all these things, even if he has penetrated to the ultimate meaning of the teachings of the five houses, and the seven schools, even if his strength is sufficient to raise the tripod of the court of ciao. Don't know what that is, even don't need to just get the spirit of it. Even if his eyes can penetrate to the remotest corners of the universe. If he does not possess this true meditation, he will no more he will be no more than a putrid, bloated corpse. Use caution. Meditation is nothing that can be taken on lightly. The great matter of true meditation is really difficult to maintain, really difficult to guard. The most pathetic thing about this degenerate age is that everyone is constantly in search of fame and profit. Let me just pause there because it's the same today, isn't it? fame and profit, wealth fame There are those whose hearts turn toward the way, but only to make a vulgar show of things. One who is really determined to practice true meditation is difficult to find. Indeed, if you were to look for a person whose determination is set on uninterrupted true meditation, you would have difficulty in finding one among 1000, or even 10,000 persons, uninterrupted key word there being uninterrupted true meditation that is extending this settled mind this bright, aware, attentive, settled mind extending it into all the coming and going, commuting, the the conversing the work, of course, all the forms of work we can do, to keep that goal going to keep the presence of mind is mindfulness, if you will, to keep it going all the time. It's a very advanced state, let's, let's face it, who can do that? For much of a day, we have a, we have a fighting chance during session, because we're doing so much sitting. That's the key. We're not going to get anywhere with bringing this into our daily life. Unless we're doing we're sitting and the more sitting the better. But even following the sesshin schedule of these, whatever, nine or 10 hours a day, it's not easy as that. We keep noticing. Our mind has wandered again. We keep noticing that. We haven't thought about our koan. We haven't been in touch with what we're doing for minutes, many minutes, maybe, maybe hours, even during the machine. How do we what do we do when we catch ourselves for the 100,000,000th time, having allowed the mind to wander? Well, what what else can we do? But return our attention? If you're practicing, while sitting is the breath we return our attention to what it is we're doing physical things that we're doing, we return our mind to the present. In other words, to the direct experience of this moment. Well, I said retardedly What else? What else can we do? Well, we know what else we can do, we can then start beating ourselves up when we learn that we've lost our awareness for the 100,000,000th time, we can then start beating ourselves up and berating ourselves and judging ourselves and making a huge thing of it. Yeah, we can do that. But of course, that's not going to get us anywhere. The sooner we can get back to the practice, over and over and over again, the more we will develop this,
this space, this, this freedom, where we're not bound by our habit forces.
He continues, when I was 13, I came to believe in the validity of the Zen teachings. When I was 16, I destroyed the face that I received from my mother. So that sounds like a catch up. And 19 I left home to become a monk. And at 35 I concealed myself at this temple. And this is the well showed you in the temple where he mostly taught his life. Now I am almost 65 years of age. For some 40 years, I have cast aside all mundane affairs, cut off my ties to the world and devoted myself solely to guarding my practice. Finally, five or six years ago, I became aware that I had attained to the state where I could continuously carry on the real true meditation practice is it is excuse me Often Zen masters and their students as well make constant abundance into luxurious living. And the prosperity of the temple gives the style to the teaching. They drink that eloquence and a clever tongue. No, excuse me. They think that eloquence and a clever tongue, make for wisdom, equate fine food and clothing with a Buddha way, make hardiness and beauty into moral qualities, and take the faith exhibited by others as an indication that they themselves have attained the Dharma. Yeah, let's break this down.
This seems for people who are not familiar with the state of things, especially in in some of these other countries, I don't know so much about our own. I haven't heard this so much, but the, the, the luxurious living. I was told in Japan that, that Zen priests there make a lot of money. And this reference, thinking that eloquence and a clever tongue make for wisdom. This is very important to be able to distinguish between eloquence, and we know there's a lot of it around. Between that and real wisdom. Some people just have a certain facility with words. They're good with words, it means nothing in terms of wisdom. In fact, this just springs to mind. I read once a book about the Japanese people, they don't trust people who are too articulate to eloquent, they don't trust them.
They appreciate people who can't find the words. They appreciate what's behind that the experience behind that. When when people can't encompass? What is what is really beyond words. Sometimes I had dogs on someone who will say, I don't, I'm having a I don't know how to describe it. It's, I said, you don't need to. You don't need to describe it. It's important as you experienced it. I'm not talking about awakening, I mean other experiences. The the deepest experiences, the most moving experiences are very difficult to put into words.
He continues, but saddest of all, they make the human body that always means body mind, not just body. Everything we're endowed with this body mind complex. They make the human body this thing so difficult to obtain a slave to their search for fame, and thus bury the unsurpassed Buddha mind under the dust pile of delusions. For this invitation for that offering ceremony, they adorn themselves lavishly and inappropriate silken gowns, and preach recklessly about the difficult to attain doctrines of Zen and the Dharma, even though they do not understand them themselves. Yeah, I have to say that I see this also in senior teachers and Japanese teachers. And not maybe not just Japanese, but I'm thinking of a couple in particular, who have such a wardrobe of silken robes. When dealing with the on educated layman, they give forth with the eloquence of Kunming or Zhu Fon Yeah, these were through people in ancient China noted for their famed for their eloquence in deftly acquiring offerings, the money that represent much backbreaker Looking toil on the part of the populace, they would appear to have gained the miraculous powers of a Magog Liana or sorry, Pooja. Definitely acquiring offerings of money speaks to the cage Enos. Of these, these monks their their craftiness in manipulating their lay supporters seeking to steal temporary fame and profit. They neither believe in karma nor fear, it's Recompense. When the time to die arrives, and the solitary lamp flickers as they lie halfway between life and death, they cry and moan. The seven upside downs and the eight upsets a sale them. I put a note here says unclear Hakuin is probably referring to the seven or eight false reviews whatever those are. This is such a evocative phrase isn't it? When the time to die arrives, and the solitary lamp flickers as they lie halfway between life and death.
Just let's just pause and imagine that because I don't think it's just all too easy for us just to run along through our lives year after year, decade after decade. busy busy, busy busy, without pausing to consider what lies ahead.
solitary lamp flickers as they lie halfway between life and death.
We we have a wooden block suspended outside the zendo at Arnold Park, from what I remember 10 months ago, or at least we used to a wooden block with the following inscription on it. Very famous and Zen grade is the matter of birth and death. Life slips quickly by Time waits for no one, wake up, wake up, don't waste a moment.
And rinzai lingshi the murderous demon of impermanence strikes in a single instant, without choosing between high and low, old and young.
try this out. If you find that it's you still cannot just put the certainty of death and the uncertainty of the time or death out of your mind and just carry on as though we're not like fish in a pool that is being steadily drained. Then what might work to open your eyes is to reflect on people close to you. Who you will be separated from the people closest to us. We will be separated from Sunday. spouse, children. Parents. It's a matter of time, isn't it? It's just a matter of time. Either we will go before they do or they will go before we do but there will be a parting
This is the time to come to terms with life and death to face death. And we can do that. We don't have to wait until we're lying and alone with a flickering lamp, we faced death every time we detach from our thoughts. And we turn the mind into the darkness of this no mindedness. Death, what is death, death is disappearing, the loss of self, the disappearing of the self, or other, make it that Yeah, the loss of self and other the disappearing of self and other, that's what happens in deep absorption in the colon or the breath. There's no self, no other. Every time we do that, every time we turn the mind away from thoughts to this realm of no mind that is the particular practice of working on every time we do that, we are practicing we are exercising this ability to come to terms with death, no self.
It's no exaggeration, I firmly believe, to see that sesshin or even even Zen dailies or Zen. But let's now it's sesshin. sesshin is the most important thing we could do anyone could do. Because when we learn, to let go of thoughts when we learn to bring our attention back to the direct experience of this moment, we're not just becoming practice training ourselves and how to die, how to how to accept and face death. We're training ourselves and how to live. It's living in a cloud of thoughts is no way to live. What is that? Going through with our mind through life, morning, afternoon, evening with our mind buzzing with thoughts. That's Yes, that's existing. But he's truly living. Yes, we return the mind to the future when we need to plan something we can retrieve memories in the past. But otherwise, what a difference it is. To move through our daily lives, in direct experience and not in a haze of thoughts. So much more vivid, vivid way of living. Complete.
Go on. Now it goes further than I and I just did in, in trying to wake people up to their mortality. He says, driven mad. He's back in this death Ward with a flicker with a flickering lamp driven mad with no place to put their hands and feet. They die so agonizing a death that their disciples and followers cannot bear to look at them. Make no mistake about it. With people today disposed in this way, what Zen practitioner no matter what province he came from, and no matter who he was, could possibly achieve the status of a Buddha or a patriarch. By a strange series of circumstances, people have come to this dreary place to spend the summers meditation session. Is there any reason that I should spread evil teachings among them? I'm an old monk who lives in a dilapidated building and knows nothing of the world. But I do make that I do not make the Buddha Dharma into a sweet and simple thing. So no apologies from Hakuin about reminding people of the preciousness of this opportunity. And it's, it's this opportunity of a of a human life is never more precious than in sesshin where this this Rate great. Pregnant opportunity is right here. Our chance to awaken from this nightmare of self and other us and them right and wrong.
Here's the one of the most more memorable of many memorable hacohen stories. At any rate, there is no worse thing than for the Zen practitioner to treasure his body, give it value and pay it favor. That is, in modern terms, say giving it too much favor, course we, we, we need to attend to our health. That's what siddartha himself found, after six years of austerity, when he realized that he had to switch to the middle way. But one here is in his very dramatic style. His warning about being attached to the body, certainly attached to vanity. But even more than that here. He says one year when a large number of wolves were ravaging the village at the foot of the mountain. I went for seven nights to sit in meditation in the graveyards here about I did this to test whether or not I could practice true uninterrupted meditation, while surrounded by wolves that were sniffing in my ears and throat. You could you take that with a grain of salt please. But back to hog one, even if surrounded by snakes and water spirits, a person once he is determined to do something must resolve not to leave unfinished what he has started. No matter how cold or hungry he may be, he must bear it. No matter how much wind and rain may come, he must withstand it. Even if he must enter into the heart of fire are plunged to the bottom of icy waters. It must open the eye that the Buddhas and patriarchs have opened their door it's come to awakening achieve the status that the Buddha's and patriarchs have achieved. penetrate the essential meaning of the teaching and see through to the ultimate principle. This reference to enter the heart of fire a plunge to the bottom of icy waters and see these as as vivid metaphors for the kinds of trials we we are called upon to face and and prevail through and extended sittings like sesshin where we are, we are uncovering the depths of the mind where so much can be can be threatening. He must smash the brains of Zen monks everywhere, pull out the nails, knock out the wedges, and thereby recompense his deep obligation to the Buddhas and the patriarchs. If you devote your efforts uninterruptedly, and without backsliding to fulfilling the four vows, where is there a place for disease to strike? If you take the practice of the ancient patriarchs to yourself, and are never negligent, you are gravely to be venerated, but you but if you are careless, you will become a false practitioner of Zen. By false I mean someone who has the mind of a fraud. There is no one who consciously wishes to change his defect list body into a fraud. But if you do not follow Well, the examples of the ancient masters do not deepen the mind that seeks the way and talk of Zen and gain the veneration of others. Although you possess only a modicum of understanding yourself, you will become a splendid fraud. If you find that being circumspect in conduct, and guarding your thoughts, is not sufficient, then you would do well to starve to death in some distant field or freeze to death in the depths of the mountains. Gold is still gold even when wrapped in straw.
And then he concludes, these and other things were told to two or three attendant monks from eight in the evening, until three The next morning, yet so fascinated were they that it seemed as though only a moment had passed. They shed tears of gratitude, and his words were engraved on their minds, and their skins broke out in cold sweat. Let later whenever I became ill, I thought of what he had told us and my heart would suddenly be struck with shame, and my ILS would seem not so serious after all. Perhaps the gist of what I have written will be of some help to people in the sick room. Well, you could say we're all in the sick room. until fall in Leiden, enlightenment. We're all on the sick room. Let's do everything we can now especially in this last day and a half to get out of this sick room. define what is beyond sickness. We'll stop now and recite the four vows