February 2022 Sesshin, Day 4: Faith in Mind: A Commentary on Seng Ts'an's Classic by Master Sheng Yen
2:42PM Mar 4, 2022
Today is the fourth day of this February 2022 four-day sesshin and we will continue with the book "Faith in Mind: A Commentary on Seng Ts'an's Classic" by Chan master Sheng yen.
Going to pick back up where we left off yesterday
he just said, do not have any doubts about the method, or whether you have the right stuff to practice. Do not underestimate yourself. If others can practice that, at least you can try. And he says, Once a student who did well on our first retreat came a second time. At first everything went fine. But then a problem arose. While sitting, it occurred to her that counting the breath was very boring. If she spent her time reciting the name of the Buddha, she thought that at least she would be accumulating merit. But what was the use of counting from one to 10? Towards evening, she said to me, she foo, I don't want to stay on this retreat. 1-234-567-8910 even a kid in kindergarten can do that. Why should I waste my time here? He says, When your mind strays from the method, problems will appear. In fact, the method is inherently meaningless.
The minute we start looking for the meaning, we're going to go astray. I used to be as a child plagued with the question, what is the purpose of life My mother actually was concerned enough that she sent me off to a child psychologist.
I brought it up once with Roshi Kapleau. And he just shot right back, the purpose of life is living, which at the time struck me as kind of a Zen quick answer. It didn't really hit home. But that's it exactly.
Of course, it's just one of those things, it's obvious. Once you see it
says the method is inherently meaningless. It is irrelevant to discuss whether it brings merit or not. The purpose of a method is to train your mind.
Many people feel the purpose of the method is to produce a result. I guess in a way training your mind could be considered a result your mind is trained. But really the purpose of practice is to practice. Says you can raise the same objection about prostate straightening to the Buddha or morning and evening chanting. Why should practice take these forms? People often wonder if Chan is a method of sudden enlightenment that does not depend on meditation, then why do we practice meditation and go on seven day retreats. If someone objects that these things are unrelated to Chan, I say that if you want to study Chan, I will instruct you in exactly these methods. In order to practice, you must believe in your teacher and his methods. If you search for methods on your own, you may not find anything and eventually give up practicing. Or you may find something weird and end up in a demonic state with mental and physical problems.
Sort of a perennial complaint from people who've studied Zen, intellectually. Why do we need to sit? I was introduced to Zen myself by reading Alan Watts who was pretty dismissive formal sitting practice, when he called square Zen
was such a eye opener when I finally came across the three pillars of Zen found out you could do something to actually realize what Alan Watts was talking about.
Skipping ahead a little bit. He says meditation should just be a part of life. Just something we do, it's like brushing your teeth. Don't have to think about it. So important to practice every day, find a way to get your butt on the cushion every day. I tell people, if you don't have any time, see if you can find five minutes
just breathing behind the wheel of your car. Breaking that flow. One thought after another one problem after another one thing to do after another.
Meditation should just be a part of life. If you have other motivations, it will lead to problems. When you approach the practice with any expectations, you will not be able to sit well because you step out of this moment, or you're looking into the future, that's not practice. That's not the method. We need to learn to do what's right under our nose, right in front of us.
But it goes against our inbred habit of looking into the future of anticipating problems.
says not only should you not have any expectations of getting enlightened, or becoming a Chan master, but you should not even expect to be free from your pain. Do not hope that your legs or back will stop hurting did not try to overcome the pain as if you had to if as if you had to burst through a barrier. simply accept the pain
you may not feel very happy about it. But at least do not resent it. If you cannot accept it, then ignore it and turn your mind to the method. When the pain becomes too great to ignore, place your attention on the pain itself. disassociate yourself from the part of your body that is painful. Let it ache away. Similar to something that shouldn't be real Suzuki, the late abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center said Your legs are practicing their own Zen independently in are completely involved in their own pain. They're doing Zen through pain, you should allow them to practice their own Zen It's remarkable how a slight shift in our relationship to our pain. Getting out from underneath it not feeling identified with it can diminish it. And Sheng yen says if you can take this attitude, eventually it will go away. When you really get into the practice, all bodily sensation will disappear. You've said before working with pain is one of the great lessons of Schutze machine. So much to be learned about our preferences, our expectations
about how our avoidance behaviors make things worse. Sometimes people learn to work with pain, and then over time it diminishes and suddenly they're doing pain freeze as in And they miss it. It's easy to lose your impetus don't have that familiar? goad.
My early days when I was constantly unhappy in my practice, I ran ran across that I ran into that finally got through the pain and then all of a sudden, oh, I have to actually sit.
He says the important thing is not to have any resentment against your suffering, or any expectations of happiness. As soon as ideas such as suffering versus happiness arise, your mind will already be straying from the method caught up in duality. You're all aware that this center is not an ideal environment for practice. The center here in the United States for sharing ends group was or is, in Queens, New York on a busy street says the neighbor's hammer against the walls. Outside there is a continual stream of traffic and airplanes passing overhead. Yet even in the midst of this noisy and crowded world, we are given a small area to practice. So we should not let our minds be distracted by what is going on outside, or by what comes in contact with our senses. Of course, here at Chapin Mill, we could say that it's kind of an ideal place to do so Zen to hold retreat, staffs machine. But even here in this ideal place, our problems are still with us. And we ourselves are the problem. He says on retreat, you're living with many people, which may create an uncomfortable environment, you don't feel free, or find it as convenient as at home. On the other hand, the presence of others will encourage almost force you to practice. Even if you're not practicing energetically, at least you will make an effort to appear to be practicing. Don't think I need to say we don't want to settle for that. But a lot of people have kept going just to keep up appearances, and eventually found something more says when people sit together and they can be of great benefit to each other. Whether you practice well or not, treasure this rare opportunity and do your best
that used to always bugged me. Roshi Kapleau would say Just do your best. So I never felt it was my best to be self critical and say Well, I'm sure I could do better not what it means, do the best you can do right now.
Skipping ahead a bit. The verses in our translation for things are things because of mind, his mind his mind because of things. These two are merely relative and both at source are emptiness. In emptiness, these are not to get any char contained all forms. Then Sheng Yen is translation his object is object because of the subject. Subject is subject because of the object. Know that the two are originally one emptiness and emptiness. The two are the same, containing all phenomena. He says these lines describe a non discriminating mind in which nevertheless, there is perfectly clear discrimination. In the course of practice, the more negative things you discover about yourself, the clearer you will be as to the road you should walk. After leaving mainland China, I was conscripted into the Nationalist Army of Taiwan. This is when he was in his 20s Very young. He really had no choice. So he had to leave being a monk and enlist in the Taiwanese army. Says at that time, everything was in a state of confusion, and the troops were crowded together in a warehouse. In this warehouse, there were no windows or lights. And at night, people couldn't see their way to the toilet. So many just relieve themselves where they were. Others who decided to feel their way outside ended up stepping on the mess in the dark. However a daybreak, one could see the shit very clearly and avoided. It was a mistake to imagine that just because you couldn't see it, there was no shit on the floor. Those who have never taken up the practice or like the people in that dark room, no matter where they walk, they step in shit. Coming to retreat is like putting a light on light into the room. Maybe the light will only stay on for a minute, but at least you can see some of the problem areas. Gradually, you'll be able to tell exactly where the shit is and where it isn't. The more you know, the less likely you will step in it. But to get angry, when you discover problems, would just be adding trouble to trouble. It would be as if, after realizing you stepped on some shit. You did it again, just to punish yourself. And yet it's so hard when problems arise, not to see them as something we want to wish hadn't happened. There's a saying. A Buddhist saying, liberation is being glad to see your karmic hindrances arise can be painful, but it's so valuable. If we never see it, that nothing ever happens, nothing ever gets improved. We don't move along
someone else said, it's like a compassionate alarm bell, reminding you you're lost in the dream. Dream of good and bad. He says retreats are like road repair. When there's a problem underneath the road the worker is break up the pavement in order to fix the cables pipes, or whatever is faulty. After they finish the work, they pave over it again and everything is just as it was before. Likewise, in order to make our own repairs, we have to break up the road and mess things up temporarily. Thus, discovering one's problems in the course of practice is very useful. But do these problems actually exist? Yes, the miseries of the retreat are quite real. You are truly tired and uncomfortable. You are definitely in this place and not some other. Yet you must look at non existence from the point of view of existence. When you can't concentrate on the method when you haven't gotten enough sleep, when your legs are painful, it is all really happening. But originally your legs were not painful. It was only after you started sitting that they became painful. If you stretch out your legs they will no longer hurt. Thus when you experience pain, you should keep in mind that it doesn't have a true existence. If it did, it would be there even when you're not meditating
though some of you have trouble concentrating, it cannot be the during the entire retreat there has not been at least once when you could concentrate to some extent. He's pointing out that none of these problems are permanent. Everything is fungible, everything changes. He says if you can use your method even for a very short time, that already lets you know that your scattered mind does not have true existence. Do not be fearful when your mind is scattered. Just recognize that it is temporary. We understand this we can have confidence. We have a foundation for practice. We know we can move in the direction we need to go doesn't mean everything is going to get fixed in any anything close to our own schedule.
He goes on when you succeed in concentrating. Is that mind real? Of course not. The mind were truly concentrated, it would not become scattered again. Now, if both the scattered mind and the concentrated mind are unreal, that means there is originally no mind. If this is so it should be very easy to progress in the practice. To be aware that mind does not exist, will strengthen your faith, even though you have not experienced no mind can know that the mind is not a thing. We speak of the mind all the time, but what on earth do you imagine it his mind here and the contents of the mind somewhere else
says so long as you have faith in the non existence of mind, you can keep on practicing without any anxiety or disappointment. small setback does not mean that you have failed. It's just that the time has not yet arrived. If you climb halfway up a mountain, you cannot say that you have failed. Just need to continue climbing until you reach the summit. One time I was in a car with a few people driving up a mountain. After two hours I asked the driver what's going on. We don't seem to be getting anywhere on this mountain. He said, Actually, we've reached the top. It was a very flat, gradual rise.
Sometimes it's like walking through mist. We get wet without even knowing it. People change and they don't even realize it. See somebody who's been practicing for years or months you haven't seen before. You can see a difference. Maybe it's a difference they don't see
like meeting someone else's children, you haven't seen for a few years, it's gotten so big. But for the parents, it's just been saved each day. They can look back and say oh my gosh. This used to be an adorable baby. Now it's a solid resentful and adorable solid resentful teenager.
says Now let us look at existence from the point of view of emptiness. For example, a monk cannot say that women do not exist just because he does not have relationships with them. The story often tell from the koans a monk who was practicing Chan was being supported by an old woman who provided him with a hut and daily offerings of food. One day she decided to test his practice. She told her beautiful daughter to bring the monkeys food and then embrace him. The next day the old woman asked the monk How did you find my daughter? He replied, like dry wood leaning against a cold rock. With that she grabbed a broom and she drove him off saying all this time I thought you were a man of Chon.
Although this monk had reached a deep level of practice, he had not yet yet realized Chan being attached to emptiness He denied existence
where is the response to the daughter?
Practice shouldn't make us rigid. To be flowing, spontaneous, flexible. Where and compassionate. Be able to notice and respond
Sheng yen says during a retreat, you can enter a state where you did not taste your food or know where you are walking. You did not recognize the person you are looking at. In this condition your body follows the normal routine, but your mind is totally absorbed in the method. You have entered the great doubt sensation prior to this when your mind Still scattered, I tell you to concentrate carefully on whatever you are doing, and to maintain a total awareness of every action. When you are completely focused, you may slip into the next stage where you lose awareness of your body, even as it continues to function smoothly and automatically. The third level is to return to total awareness. However, unlike the first level, there are no scattered thoughts whatsoever. When you're eating, you're just eating. When you're sleeping, you're just sleeping, no more, no less. Originally, you had to work very hard on your method. But when you get to the second level, everything flows naturally, the practice just keeps moving like a ball rolling down a hill. At that time, even though you are practicing very well, you would not think of yourself as practicing. This is called the true existence of emptiness. That is to say, you feel that nothing exists, but your mind is really there working on the method.
Again, skipping ahead. So the section that begins with this verse of the poem, in our version, it's just let go now thinking mind and all things are just as they are. In essence, nothing goes or stays. See into the true self of things, and you're in step with a great way, thus walking freely undisturbed. And in Shannon's version, let it go and be spontaneous. Experience no going or staying a chord with your nature, unite with the way wander at ease without vexation.
And Sheng yen says, The most important thing in practice is to be natural and spontaneous. Being natural does not mean neglecting everything. It requires careful attention. In meditation, you should sit in a natural posture and use your mind in a natural way. Sitting in a natural posture means sitting just right. If you're comfortable when you first assume the sitting posture, even if pain develops in your legs later on, that is still natural. It is unnatural, however, to sit bent over or leaning to one side or with your head tipped back. A natural posture should follow the demands of your physiology. It's not natural to tighten your stomach muscles, or straighten your back by protruding your chest. You can become easily too obsessed with your posture, need to be sitting upright, either have a solid foundation. When you're in a good posture, you're less likely to have aches and pains, stiff neck, shoulders. But sometimes they're unavoidable tension we have not yet let go of creates those problems. says to use your mind in a natural way means to avoid trying to control it. The more you try to control your mind, the more stray thoughts will come up to bother you. In fact, the very fear of stray thoughts is another stray thought. Therefore, if you have many strange thoughts consider the natural phenomenon and do not despise them. But on the other hand, if you completely give into a train of wandering thoughts, that's not correct either. What is the best approach? Pay close attention to the method. If you do that, stray thoughts will be kept to a minimum. Roshi is fond of saying the brain is an organ that secretes thoughts. It's natural for them to come into the mind. Sheng yen says it is not that they will not arise, but you will not worry about them. If you're really paying attention to the method, you will be aware of a stray thought as soon as it arises. When it comes up, just let it go. So much of practice is that awareness, catching the thought right in the beginning the image of someone smoking a cigarette and the ash drops on their wool sweater. They brush it off immediately. No damage done. But if you let it linger, all the sudden you've got a problem
let it go see it, and return. He says it's just like a person who's carrying a stack of bowls. If someone says to him, Be careful, you're going to drop them, he'll drop them. But if nobody says anything, he'll just keep going. Did not fear failure. Whatever happened in the past is past. Don't worry about it happening again. Before you meet with success, failure is natural and necessary. As a baby learns to walk it keeps falling down is this failure? Throughout our life, we go through similar processes, going to school pursuing a career practicing Chan. After my first book, someone said to me, now you're a success. I said, No, that book was a failure. I would write it much better if I had to do it again. It is the same with practice, there is never a successful conclusion. When you're working hard, failure is natural. If you've never failed, you have never tried.
Dobin said Zen practice is continuous failure.
Don't let your fear of failure prevent you from doing what you value what you need to do.
He says on the other hand, you should not have a defeatist attitude thinking as long as I'm going to fail, let me fail. According to Buddhism, nothing can be perfect can be a perfect unqualified success. If you were elected President of the United States, would that be a success? Oh, that sentence reads so differently since 2016. Later on, you would likely be criticized as a failure. Even President Lincoln would probably consider himself a failure. This is natural. Even when you do not feel it is when you do not feel successful, that you put in the effort. When you no longer need to make an effort that is true success or liberation. At that point, there are no vaccinations. Nevertheless, you have neither thrown away vaccination, vaccinations nor grasped liberation. If you want to hold on to enlightenment and keep away vexations that is not the true natural state.
But to follow your own nature in this sense is not the same as following your personal habits or whims, as in the expression be natural or Mr. Natural. Nature here refers to yourself nature or Buddha nature. Some people think that one can become a Buddha through meditation, this is wrong, the potential for Buddhahood is already within your own nature. If it were true that Buddha hood depended on meditation, then if you stopped meditating after becoming a Buddha, you would become a common person again. The objective of practice is to be in accord with the natural way so that your true nature can manifest itself. Just practice according to the methods taught by the Buddha and do not worry about being a success. The Heart Sutra says there is no wisdom and no attainment. Although practice may be trying, even physically painful, if your heart is carefree, nothing will bother you. A carefree approach does not mean not caring about how you practice. It means considering anything that happens as natural. There may be some pain, but there will be no suffering. There's nothing in your mind that you cannot put down. There may be the raw direct experience of pain, but there's not pain on top of pain. That sense there is no suffering. Not making a problem out of what comes in the natural course of events. Making problems out of our so called failures. Using them as a course correction, moving ahead. There is nothing in your mind that you cannot put down.
It says in the sutra, mind abiding nowhere should flow forth
and then this verse, bound by thoughts, you depart from the real and sinking into a stupor is as bad. And he says, To be in bondage to your thoughts means to be influenced and carried away by various conditions in your surroundings. If you do this, you're grasping the false. You can try to limit your thoughts by using the method. But in fact, as long as the method is still in your mind, you are still abiding in the false not in the real. But in that case, should you discard the method. The problem with discarding the method is that while you may seem to have no thoughts, you may still fall into a foggy state. Even though the method is not real, is even worse, to be suspended in a nebulous frame of mind. The ideal state would be to drop the fogginess along with a method to be unattached to conditions. What does it mean to be unattached to conditions, it means that there are no thoughts in your mind. But whatever appears is perfectly clear. When you reach this state, you will perceive everything as equal. This is because at that time to you, nothing really exists. Reality cannot be divided into individual people and objects. But nothing is in front of you. It is the same as when there are many things there. In a room full of people you would not feel crowded in a room and if a room were empty, you would not feel lonely. Though there is no discrimination in your mind. When relating to people, you distinguish between a monk and a lay person, or a man and a woman. You follow worldly conventions. In other words, you're not stuck anywhere.
However, if your mind is blank, does this not mean you have discarded conditions and reach the state of no thoughts? The blank state, the blank state would be equivalent to the foggy state, rather than to the true empty state. Sometimes when you're exhausted, your mind takes a rest. You're not thinking of anything in particular in particular, do not confuse this with enlightenment. The method is another way of grasping on to thoughts, but it is a way that allows us to eventually overcome grasping. Using the method effectively is like knitting a sweater. You cannot drop one stitch, otherwise the whole piece will start unraveling. The method should be practiced in the same dense matter. Dense means that your attention is so continuous that there is no space between for any interruptions. Roshi Kapleau used to use the metaphor of rubbing two sticks together to make fire. If you rub for a little bit and then you stop and rest and then you rub again, never going to get that fire or it's like pumping water from a well old fashioned mechanical pump with a pump handle. I used to have those back in ancient times when I was a kid. You pump and pump and pump and nothing is happening. Keep at it. All the sudden the water is gushing out
this is the way to practice. unhurried, steady, continuous. Not being thrown by what happens by our failures by our obstacles, vexations. With faith faith in the method faith in this practice
so wonderful. No matter how difficult it's so wonderful to sit together, day after day doing this much Sitting, coming back again and again to the practice growing into our real life
the more we can avoid being thrown by critical self judgment. Falling into irritability, falling into despondency. Just realize that every moment we can pick ourselves up, can turn the mind, have that ability. When you can say to yourself, no matter what, gotta keep doing this then your practice really will have reached an important stage. Okay, time is up, stop now and recite the four vows