February 2022 Sesshin, Day 3: Faith in Mind: A Commentary on Seng Ts'an's Classic by Master Sheng Yen
2:42PM Mar 4, 2022
Today is the third day of this February 2022 four-day sesshin, and I'm going to continue reading from the book "Faith in Mind" by Chan master Sheng Yen. So picking up where we left off yesterday, he quotes one verse "Banish existence and you fall into existence, follow emptiness and you turn in you turn your back on it." Then he says, In the Song Dynasty, there was a famous Prime Minister by the name of Chung Shan Yu Li Chang Shang Yin, who was opposed to Buddhism. He wrote many essays purporting to refute Buddhism, and he would spend every evening pondering over how he could improve the essay he was then working on. His wife, observing his obsessive involvement and struggle with his writing asked him, What are you doing? He said, Buddhism is really hateful. I'm trying to prove there is no Buddha. His wife remarked, how strange if you say there is no Buddha, why bother to refute the Buddha? It is as if you are throwing punches into empty space. This comment turned his mind around, he reflected, there may be something to Buddhism after all, so he started studying Buddhism, and became a well known accomplished lay practitioner of Chan. In fact, Chung Shan yin and Chan, Mr. Dawei had the same master Yuanwu. We've read often from Dawei and Yuanwu. Two of the great masters of the Song Dynasty
going on. Thus, if you tried to destroy something, you were still bound up by it. For instance, suppose you try to clear a blocked pipe by pushing another object into it. Whatever was originally in the pipe gets pushed out, but the new object is now blocking the pipe. When you try to use existence to get rid of existence, you will always end up with existence. This is like fighting our negative thoughts. We have negative thoughts about our negative thoughts. It's ridiculous.
So much so much damage done by our unwillingness to accept things as they are. Sheng yen goes on. When you throw something away, it is gone. But does it cease to exist? In local terms, yes. In the broader picture, however, that is not the case. On this earth, no matter how hard you try to throw something away, it will still stay somewhere on the earth. There's a Chinese novel called Monkey. The hero is a Super Monkey, who is so powerful that he can travel a distance of 180,000 miles in one somersault. In the story, he was journeying to the Western paradise of Amitabha Buddha. On the way he came upon five tall mountain peaks. He figured it would take one leap to get to the other side. First, he took a rest, urinating at that spot. Monkey is kind of a bad monkey. First, he took a rest urinating at that spot, then he somersaulted over the mountains. After he landed, he noticed a funny smell. He thought some shameless monkey must have taken a leak here. Actually, he had never gotten to the other side of the mountains. He had just somersaulted back to the original spot. The five mountains in the story symbolizes the five skandhas within which sentient beings are trapped. For those of you who don't know this basic teaching of the Buddha explained, we are made up of five skandhas five heaps, sometimes five bundles, like bundles of grass that lean up against each other. The five heaps of existence, which are four sensation, perception, volition and consciousness
there's no self, there's no someone in there there's no little man or little woman. its causes and conditions, patterns vitual actions these are the five skandhas within which sentient beings are trapped. He says all of your actions will boomerang back to you and you will have to take the consequences. If you throw anything away, it will be you who has to clean it up. You may think that you can avoid responsibility by passing it on to another person. In the short term, it may work but ultimately, you have to deal with it yourself. And in addition, you have caused trouble to others. We do so much damage, trying to escape trying to escape from what we don't like especially what we don't like about ourselves trying to escape from uneasy feelings from our habitual discomfort really look at yourself see all the ways we not only do damage to ourselves needlessly upset ourselves compound our problems but we damage others we're not there for others
we we have a repentance ceremony that we do at the Center which we recite all evil actions are all harmful actions committed by me since time immemorial. I now repent having committed when we really do take a good look I can't help but feel mind of repentance
trying to get rid of what we don't like is so reactive.
And short term, we may get temporary relief. But then problems come in the wake. Whatever it is we've done whether it's drinking or using drugs or any other addictive behavior or failing to do what's hard to do. It's we don't feel like it.
As he says in the short term, it may work, but ultimately you have to deal with it yourself. And in addition, you have caused trouble to others. Therefore, you should not try to get rid of your vaccinations. Rather you should be willing to accept them. Once someone said Shifu my karmic of obstructions are too great. Please recite mantras to remove them from me. I think many of Sheng yen students were native Chinese. Anyway, in that culture, too many people here at the center who would ask to have their obstructions removed by our reciting mantras for them.
He replied, and what will happen to these karmic obstructions when I remove them from you? Should they become Shi foods? If you have difficulties you should not consider them problems. If you are obsessed with these difficulties and try to eliminate them, you're only getting yourself into greater trouble
it's a basic principle. There's a there's a passage from The Big Book of a it's right on point. guy who wrote it says when I am disturbed, it is because I find some person place thing or situation. Some fact of my life unacceptable to me. And I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing Absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake. Or in Buddhism, we would say everything is a result of causes and conditions.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober. Unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes
of course, we can go beyond that and say we can't just go in and snap our fingers and change our attitudes. We need to practice we need a method Sheng yen says those who have just begun to practice experience many problems with their bodies and minds. They are constantly saying, I have to overcome all these problems, but in trying to eliminate their problems, they struggle. This is what is meant by banish existence and you fall into existence.
The second line, follow emptiness and you turn your back on it refers to practitioners who have experienced certain breakthroughs and are approaching the state of emptiness. They may think I have eliminated all vexations. I no longer have any ignorance or attachment. But staying at this level would be considered outer path practice. The best these practitioners can do is reach the emptiness Samadhi the highest level of the formless realm Well, that's one way I guess to interpret that line follow emptiness and you turn your back on it could also see it as going back to nonsense and Josue. When you direct yourself toward it, you go away from it. I'm not gonna argue with Sheng yen. He says, I've known many people who were extremely diligent and took their practice very seriously in the beginning, but gave up too soon, is just as if when one side senses it is losing the battle. Suddenly, all resistance is gone. And they are defeated very quickly. This is listening to our thoughts. It's one thing to have the thoughts go through the mind. It's another thing to give them Credence. The wait. He says as long as everything is going well, they continue normally. But as soon as something goes wrong, everything simply collapses. So it is with certain practitioners who have been working hard and then suddenly stopped completely. They feel that practice is basically useless. They think it is a great deception, because they've put a lot of energy into overcoming their problems and have not eliminated them at all. In fact, their efforts have only increased their mental vexations and have created physical ones as well. This is the problem when our foundation is wrong. We're not coming from a place of acceptance.
As Gogu says from a place of contentment, being okay with things as they are. That's our starting point. That's where we're working from. He says because of this, many people consider serious or energetic practice demonic, they think it is not normal to devote oneself so completely to practice, such criticism is usually unjustified. However, it is true that a practitioner who does not know what he is doing, may get into deep trouble, especially without proper guidance. He may not be in a demonic state, but very likely his practice will not last long.
This is a difficult balance to find the balance between striving night we say strive as you sleep with every breath. You may wake past day, past death, striving and then there's Relaxation. Relaxing into the practice. Everyone has to find their way
the Buddha himself was instructing a new member of the Sangha, who was a musician explained to him, asked him, How is it when your strings are too loose? Get no sound. How about when they're too tight, sound is horrible. Either too loose nor too tight
everyone has their own tendency. Some people are always going off the path in the direction of unnecessary tension. Other people aren't really trying hard at all. Like most of us tend to have too much tension
it's worth taking seriously, it's worth finding a way to be comfortable on your seat. Later in his teachings, Sheng yen used to say relax your your bottom into your cushion, relax your mind into your practice.
He says it is good to have a diligent and objective attitude toward practice. But to be attached to the idea of overcoming your problems will only lead to further trouble. could say it's better to see them to learn to grow and to trust the process.
The Jesuit teacher, priest Anthony de Mello said, don't change, desire to change as the enemy of love. Don't change yourselves of yourselves as you are. Don't change others. Love all others as they are. Don't change the world. It is in God's hands and he knows. And if you do that, change will occur marvelously in its own way and in its own time, yield to the current of life, unencumbered by baggage. baggage of wanting things to be other than they are.
The next verse is excessive talking and thinking turn you from harmony with the way cut off talking and thinking and there is nowhere you cannot penetrate. He says people like to talk, especially if they feel lonely. Those who tend to talk nonstop generally have difficulty with practice, and also make it difficult for others to practice. In our Chan retreat. Talking is forbidden. But there are still some people who cannot resist covertly saying a few words. Others honor the rule and refrain from speaking. But that does not mean they're not talking to themselves. All day long while they are sitting. They come up with a theme and then carry on a conversation with themselves. They ponder over all sorts of issues. This is more common I think early in practice, but maybe some people carry it on. Just so use used to spinning thoughts through our heads sort of our comfortable little nest so pleasant to think about this or that says once a certain writer attended a retreat. During the first day he came up with the idea for a novel while sitting. He sketched out the plot and the various characters. In the private interview the next day I asked him how he'd been doing and he said, I've been making plans for my new novel. Wow. I said to him, perhaps you should go home and start writing your novel now. Otherwise, by the end of the retreat, you will have forgotten all the great ideas you have come up with. If you talk too much either with your mouth or in your head, it will be difficult to make progress. breaths. When you find it hard to concentrate, it's very easy to start talking to yourself, you may not be even able to control it
we can notice it, when we notice it, we can stop. But by not being able to control it, we may not stop it for long habits we have that have momentum, come back again and again, no other way. But to keep coming back. He says there's a deeper interpretation of these four lines
you should not try to use logic or theory to answer certain questions in your practice. Some examples are why Why have I come here for a retreat? What is the purpose of practice? What Is Enlightenment? If you get involved in this kind of questioning to justify your practice, then you simply cannot practice. Remember, back in the day, when Roshi Kapleau was experimenting with different forms, we had a session in the Zendo at Arnold Park, where people were just talking about what had brought them to the center. People had all kinds of reasons. There's one guy he was from Brooklyn, he had a really thick Brooklyn accent. He said, I come here by instinct.
As Roshi Kapleau used to say the reasons people give for what they do, are never the real reasons.
When we have to decide what to do, should I take up this practice? Or any other questions? Should I take this new job should I get into this relationship? We can't We can't do it just by thinking just by running through our thoughts. So easy to go off track. I remember being struck once that two of the greatest terrorists of the 20th century Pol Pot and Carlos the Jackal are both products of the Sorbonne University in Paris. Intellectuals can go way off the rails. We have we have another kind of wisdom we have our intuition. Wisdom of the body. spoke a couple of weeks ago about the faculty of interoception the ability to be in tune with the body to get those little messages feelings and sensations there's much more that the body knows the body mind knows than what's in our thoughts. A lot of what's in our thoughts is fake news.
It's kind of what we're seeing these days is people just running off the rails with ill Considered Opinions
confirming their prejudices.
He goes on. After a few days of practice, many people completely stop thinking about themselves and their outside affairs. However, they keep dwelling on my words. Whatever I say is meant to guide your practice. But when you're actually practicing, you should just use the method and not think about what I may have said the less you talk to yourself, the closer you will be to the highest way. So something that Roshi Kapleau used to stress to no need to remember anything said in teisho or in an encouragement talk for that matter. It goes in it's in there if you dwell on it, you're suspending your practice while you run through Remember what you heard, certainly don't want to be doing that on the mat.
He says, I once told a student, you really have to practice very hard to overcome ignorance. For two sitting periods, she was constantly thinking, how am I ignorant, unable to contain it any longer, she got up and said to me, I can eat, I can sleep, so I'm really not ignorant. I said, Look at a dog, a cat, a mosquito, they can eat and rest. Are you saying that they don't have any ignorance. Then she said, Tell me what to do. So I won't be ignorant. I said, try to meditate and recite the Buddha's name. She went back to her cushion and meditated on the Buddha's name. I guess that's a practice that they were doing at his center. But again, she thought of thought to herself, since I am here meditating and reciting the Buddha's name, I am not ignorant. After another two periods, she came to me again and said, in fact, I don't have any problems. I have been sitting here feeling very comfortable, it is you who have vaccinations. The problem was that although she took my words seriously, she would turn them over and over in her mind, instead of actually applying the method during practice, is only when you no longer have any words or thoughts, that the perfect way will manifest before you. And quote, There is nowhere you cannot penetrate.
We can let words and thoughts go. eventually find ourselves at a place with no words, no thoughts, says the meaning is not that you can go anywhere, but that there is no need to go anywhere, because in the state of no words and no thoughts, you are in the midst of anywhere and every place how do you get to the state of no words and no thoughts by picking up the method and putting down your attachment to other things. Then the next verse is returned to the root and attain the principle pursue illumination, illumination, and you lose it one moment of reversing the light is greater than the previous emptiness. He says in practice, you may try to penetrate to the emptiness of phenomena, but as long as illumination is directed towards outward appearances, you miss the primal source is only by turning the illumination inward that you return to the source and get to the meaning of all things. You can do this even for a split second, you will transcend the state of emptiness is that backward step the mind looking into the mind? Who is it? Who thinks?
What am i
Sheng yen says the source or route is Buddha nature. How do you return to the root by letting go of all words and thoughts and eliminating all grasping and rejection? You must begin with a method. But at some point, you must let it go. This can be confusing the statement of his letting the method go. It's true that we can get to a state where everything disappears working on Mu even Mu disappears. But it isn't something you have to worry about. You know am I at the point where I should let go of the method. Better not even to worry about it. Just sink into the method needs to happen will happen without your having to direct anything. He says likewise, you should not hold on to any experiences that may come up. When the method and experiences are no longer necessary to you. You will have returned to the source. The source or Buddha Nature is the lively manifestation of great liberation and great wisdom. In great liberation there is nothing left This is not the same as, quote, stubborn emptiness, liberation goes beyond both emptiness and form. It says In The Heart Sutra, form is only emptiness, emptiness only form. How could they be two things
and he goes on to the next verse, the previous emptiness is transformed, it was all a product of deluded views. He says practitioners often go from attachment to existence, to attachment to emptiness. If one thinks that emptiness is true wisdom or liberation, under this delusion, one cannot attain the ultimate. It is natural for people to become attached to their experiences. When students say who sat very well, last night, tried to repeat the experience today by recalling exactly what he did that resulted in that great sitting. But today the city went very poorly. This was due to his greed for the experience. This is so common. Get into a place we've never been before. Had this happened so many times? think, Okay, I've turned the key. This is it. I've got it. And half an hour later, where did it go? It's It's indeed, due to our greed for repeating the experience our attachment to it. And it's also just a product of normal ups and downs. Sometimes, practice is strong. Sometimes practice is weak.
But our attachment our desire to create an effect, that's not how we got that great experience. It's not how it happened. We weren't looking for it
might be of that phrase of CS Lewis, surprised by joy?
verse goes on, no need to seek the real, just extinguish your views. And Sheng yen says, We should not seek Buddha nature or enlightenment rather, we should let it come about naturally, such questions as When will I get enlightened? Or is there a Buddha nature will take you even farther away from Buddha Nature, which is a totality and not something you can grasp? Buddha nature is not a thing. He says Buddha nature is in the totality of your own self, why should it be necessary to try to attain it? And how can you get hold of it? Don't practice with the thought of reaching Buddhahood just put forth your best efforts
want to quote something here that Ramana Maharshi said the Indian sage died about 70 years ago. He said there is no greater mystery than this, that we keep seeking reality. Though in fact, we are reality. We think that there must be 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.
Going to continue with the with the poll, the next verse, but this is from another retreat given in 1984.
Previous material was from a retreat in the I was also in 1984. Okay, so this is just a month later.
In the verse goes to do not abide and dualistic views, take care not to seek after them. As soon as there is right and wrong. The mind is scattered and lost. And he says dualistic views refer to the discriminating mind. They include any doubts about the correctness of your method, or whether your decision to attend this retreat was a right or wrong On one. If you lack faith, you will doubt the method you are using. On the other hand, if your confidence is too strong, then you will be expecting something out of the practice, neither extreme is beneficial. To come to a retreat merely out of curiosity shows a lack of faith in yourself and in the practice, it would be impossible for you to get good results. From the very beginning you're denying yourself the possibility of doing well on retreat.
At the same time, you may harbor certain resentments. You may get annoyed at the people around you, or even your own body. When your legs cause you pain. You may be critical of the food or the style of the retreat
always want to take a look at ourselves when we start getting crabby. Started getting critical. Problem is on the inside. calls are coming from inside the house. He says having too much faith in yourself is likewise a problem. Someone who was extremely confident came to one retreat. He was highly intelligent and a top student. He thought if a person like me cannot get enlightened, then who can. After one day of practice his back ached, his legs hurt. He began to question if this was the way to get enlightened. One evening in the Chan Hall, he heard me say if you can do it, sit through the night. He concluded that in order to get enlightened, he should forego sleep. By midnight his eyes were heavy, but he forced himself to continue sitting. After three days of this he was totally exhausted. And he said to me, now I have some idea of this enlightenment you are talking about basically you just have to go without sleep.
Sheng yen says practices like cooking rice, if you use a gentle flame, the rice will be perfect and easy to digest. Whereas a high flame will burn it before it is done. One should practice with a very relaxed attitude. Many people sit up all night simply because they feel guilty if they don't. It's wonderful to sit up late.
get to places late at night. Sometimes that just haven't happened during the day.
maybe easier to relax into the practice at night. But if we're just struggling with ourselves doing it because we think we should try and to get a result it may be better to get some rest something everyone has to work out for themselves.
She again says if you do not abide in duality, neither having too much nor too little confidence, then what should you do? You have not come here to get enlightened, but to practice. It is not important whether you have a good grasp of the matter and can enter the practice deeply or not just do not have any doubts about the method or whether you have the quote right stuff to practice. Do not underestimate yourself. If others can practice that at least you can try
interesting he says it is not important whether you have a good grasp of the matter in enter the practice deeply or not. Because what is important is your faith in the practice your confidence in the method, your persistence.
I remember friends I knew back in the my early days at the center back in the early 70s who seemed to have a real gift for practice. And then they were gone.
Sometimes it's the stubborn ones
Suzuki Roshi said, the crooked cucumber, the only one that stayed all the other cucumbers were too smart and they ran away
what's helpful is not to torture yourself. As I guess we've said over and over again, with how things should be. It's a relief to put that aside to realize I don't have to be deciding whether I'm a good student or a bad student. Where I'm going to get what I'm going to accomplish or not accomplish. I just I can just give myself to the practice
this is the way to go through sesshin Forget everything else. Forget time except your difficulties. What's the alternative? The more you argue with yourself more you complain, the harder it is
like paying compound interest on a debt there is a simple difficulty and then there's the difficulty of our reaction to it.
Just relax the body into the cushion. Relax the mind into the practice. Our time is up. We'll stop now and recite the four vows