drafty mountain hut

always at home, forever on the way

Virtual Sesshin Day 2 Dharma Talk

by tendo zenji

 

Virtual Sesshin Day 2  – May 13th, 2020

 

Cultivating the Still Pool

We began yesterday with what I call ‘relaxing into awareness’. Relaxing into awareness can lead us right down into our true nature. You relax the body until you have no sense of it, you relax your placing of attention until there is only awareness, you relax your thinking until there is only silence. This is cultivating the still pool.

Becoming like a perfectly still pool, reflecting everything and nothing. This is the basis of all of our practices. There are several paths here, following the breath, relaxing into awareness and just sitting are the routes that we are going to take.  The Ch’an approach is one of naturalness, which is something we will constantly encounter and explore.  

The question of effort is a vital one.  Whenever there is effort, the self is involved.  But we can use effort to establish a practice, toward naturalness.  This is captured simply and directly in this mondo between Chou Chou (Joshu) and Nanyue (Nansen)

Ordinary Mind is the Way

Chou Chou (Visitation-Land) asked Nanyue (Wellspring-South Mountain):
“What is Way?”
“Ordinary mind is Way,” answered Master Nanyue.
“Still, it’s something I can set out toward, isn’t it?”
“To set out is to be distant from.”
“But if I don’t set out, how will I arrive at an understanding of Way?”
“Way isn’t something you can understand, and it isn’t something you can not understand. Understanding is delusion, and not understanding is pure forgetfulness.
“If you truly comprehend this Way that never sets out for somewhere else, if you enter into it absolutely, you realize it’s exactly like the vast expanses of this universe, all generative emptiness you can see through into boundless clarity
“Now, how can you force that into coherence with the logic of yes-this no-that?”
Hearing these words, Chaou chou was suddenly awakened.

-David Hinton,  No-Gate Gateway  (p. 46).

We are going to move from relaxing into awareness into ‘Just Sitting’.  When we relax into awareness, especially if you can take that final step of relaxing your attention, you are almost there to Just Sitting.  In its purest form Just Siting, is simply sitting in empty awareness.  There is no concerns of the self, no agenda, no technique.  It is what Sheng Yen calls the ‘Method of No-Method.’  Just like with effort we can employ, very basic techniques such as the relaxing method, to reach a place where we let go of method. That place is the Still Pool. The Still Pool is bottomless, all the way down to the ground of being, fundamental reality.  We can sink down into the Still Pool until we are fully plunged into our true nature. We can drop questions in and see what emerges. And at times we can just dive right in and break through to our depths.

Ch’an Mediation

As noted yesterday, along with these direct practices to engage in, we are also examining their grounded in the classical Ch’an, which has quite a different orientation than Zen. Yesterday we considered the Taoist elements that form the heart of Ch’an practice, based in the fundamental concept of reality as a generative tissue from which the ten thousand things arise and fall back into. Ch’an meditation is a process for directly encountering this cosmological tissue, to dropping the illusory separateness that we have.

We will return to David Hinton’s discussion of this in his introduction to his translation of the Wu-men Kuan. In this excerpt he is describing cultivating the Still Pool toward Empty Awareness.

With experience, the movement of thought during meditation slows enough that we notice each thought emerging from a kind of emptiness, evolving through its transformations, and finally disappearing back into that emptiness. This leads to the realization that the cosmology of Absence and Presence defines consciousness too, thoughts being Presence emerging from and vanishing back into Absence. That is, consciousness is part of the same cosmological tissue as the empirical world, with thoughts emerging from a generative emptiness exactly as the ten thousand things do.

Eventually the stream of thought falls silent, and we inhabit empty consciousness, free of that center of identity. That is, we inhabit the most fundamental nature of consciousness, and that fundamental nature is nothing other than Absence. Here consciousness inhabits the primal Cosmos in the most complete and immediate way, dwelling as integral to the very source of the Cosmos’s generative unfolding, for this Absence is not simply the tranquil silence we encounter in meditation, but something much deeper: a dark vastness beyond word and thought, the tumultuous source of life and death.

Ch’an calls this “empty-mind” (空心). 空 is essentially synonymous in the Ch’an literature with wu, and the double meaning of wu (“not/Absence”) is used to describe this empty-mind further as wu-hsin (無心): “no-mind,” meaning consciousness free of language and thought and memory, the mental apparatus of identity, or “Absence-mind,” consciousness in its original-nature as that generative cosmological tissue. But there’s more. Hsieh Ling-yün (385–433 C.E.), the great rivers-and-mountains poet, in the earliest surviving Ch’an text, calls this empty-mind “the tranquil mirror, all mystery and shadow,” and then continues: “one must become Absence and mirror the whole.” “Tranquil,” “mirror,” “mystery and shadow,” “Absence”—this description distills the conceptual world of the Tao Te Ching, and it shares Lao Tzu’s intent: to transform immediate experience so that we dwell as integral to landscape and Cosmos. Here, the act of perception becomes a spiritual act: empty-mind mirroring the world, leaving its ten thousand things free of all thought and explanation—utterly simple, utterly themselves, and utterly sufficient. This is a perennial theme in No-Gate Gateway, and it is the heart of Ch’an as a landscape practice. In such mirror-deep perception, earth’s vast rivers-and-mountains landscapes replace thought and even identity itself, revealing the unity of consciousness and landscape/Cosmos that is the heart of sage-dwelling in ancient China.

-David Hinton,  No-Gate Gateway (pp. xxi)

Hinton here gets at how the Outdoor practices that we are engaging in function.  It is this notion of the “act of perception as a spiritual act” or as I’d put it as a practice.  It is letting this sensory data come in, without the endless commentary, of moving through the world in empty awareness. That we are practicing.  The Still Pool can be that place from which we always operate. 

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Virtual Sesshin Day 1 Dharma Talk

by tendo zenji

Virtual Sesshin Day 1  – May 12th, 2020

Practice in the time of physical distancing. 

Whenever we sit, we sit alone. And yet the motivation aspect of gathering together, sitting together, sharing space together, following a set form and schedule can’t be underestimated. There is a different energy in a room filled with people.  But in essence there is no difference sitting on our own and with others. When we open up to our Original Nature the illusory boundaries between self and other diminish. In the ground of being we are all seamless.

Over this week we are going to be looking at how Ch’an was practiced by the Chinese, which has diverged from its roots in Taoism as it migrated to Japan and the West. This will provide context for the body of techniques that we are going to be exploring in this.  My perspective is that of one in training, pointing toward the path for others. The practices and foundations that have born fruit are worth sharing.

These practices are oriented toward solitary practice, though of course can always be used in any context. But they specifically do not depend upon a teacher, though it is always worth taking advantage of a teacher when one can. We project a lot onto the teachers and they can easily become yet another barrier we have to get through. The true value in a teacher is to keep pushing you, to keep saying “not yet”, to keep hubris in check and to verify our understanding.  In leu of a teacher always know there is more to go, always keep pushing. There is no end to the path and thus you can always go deeper.

We are going to be doing practices both inside and outside that are oriented toward Empty Awareness. While one can of course use this time in whatever techniques you are engaged in, I encourage you to try out this program for this retreat. There is value in trying something different, something fresh. It can stimulate and engage your practice and when you return to your previous techniques you may find them more alive again.

Working with different practices

All practices are skillful means and there are a myriad of skillful means. This is so because every mind is different and responds to these different skillful means. It is incumbent upon us to be aware of the different upaya so that they can be employed where they are needed.  Zongmi, a contemporary of Huangbo (Obaku) wrote an extensive text rooting the teachings of the ten primary branches of the Ch’an in his time in the canonical teaching of the sutras.  In this quote he explains the value of such a treatise: 

“First, there are those who have not fully awakened, in spite of the fact that have been studying under a master, and also, those who are conducting an earnest search, but have not yet met a good friend. By enabling them to browse through this compilation, they will have before them the dead behind the words of the masters, and they will use these to penetrate their own minds and cut of any remaining thoughts,  Second there are those who are already awakened, but who desire ti go in and become masters. This compilation will enable them to broaden their learning, and increase their good skill in teaching derives in order to embrace sentient beings and answer questions during instruction .” 

“Each [of the lineages] has a purport; none of them is in conflict with the intention of the Buddha” (Jeffery Broughton, Zongmi on Chan, p. 107-8)

These two purports he puts in are the same as what I am following in these talks: to present practices that may appeal to different minds at different stages on the path. All teachings are provisional and will need to be abandoned. Do not get attached to the false notion of the “one true way.”

Empty Awareness

When we are rooted in our direct experience, our internal monologue falls away and we are just operating as Awareness. This is being in tune with our Original Nature, simply pure awareness expressing itself through our relative forms, our bodies.  When our sense of identity is rooted in our Original Nature this is Empty Awareness.  Normally our identity is rooted in our sense of self, which is an amalgam of memories, feelings, conditioning.  When we let go of our conditioning this sense of the small self is seen as fundamentally empty. Empty Awareness is what remains.

As the commentary falls away there is a sense of an immense silence. There is a great power in stillness and out of it seeps this great silence. Silence is the experience of empty awareness. When you begin to slip into this modality it almost seems like a roaring silence.  All of the practices of this retreat are devoted to silence, to pure, empty awareness.

The foundations of Ch’an practice,
Zongmi writhes that Ch’an is a uniquely Chinese Expression of Buddhism. He saw it’s pithy phrases, use of poetry, direct response to conditions as embodying the Chinese character and culture which is heavily oriented around poetry.  But its whole understanding of how the universe manifests itself and how we live within it underlies that. Without beginning from that perspective Ch’an loses much of its essence. We will examine the foundations of Ch’an primarily through the works of David Hinton and through Ch’an Master Sheng Yen we will see it put into practice.

Absence and Presence

“No-Gate Gateway’s native philosophical context extends back over two millennia prior to its composition. And yet it remains remarkably contemporary to us, for as we will see it is an empirically grounded spirituality that weaves human consciousness into landscape and Cosmos at profound levels. In its radical essence, Ch’an is a formalized philosophical practice cultivating a spiritual ecology that is an extension of Taoism, the empirically based spiritual philosophy that had shaped Chinese intellectual life for over a thousand years before Buddhism arrived in China. Ch’an originated in the fourth century through an amalgamation of these two traditions: Taoism and dhyāna (meaning “meditation,” and rendered in Chinese as Ch’an) Buddhism. It was widely considered by artist-intellectuals as a form of Taoist thought refined and reconfigured by Buddhist meditation practice.

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Virtual Sesshin May 2020: Overview and Sources

by tendo zenji

From May 12th-16th, 2020, we held a Virtual Sesshin, broadcast from Tahoma Zen Monastery. The theme of this retreat was Empty Awareness and presented a variety of Ch’an Theory and Technique around this theme. The retreat was oriented around practice and was primarily rounds of zazen. There was an emphasis on outdoor practice, with both outdoor zazen as well as specific outdoor Empty Awareness practices. These approaches complimented the seated meditation that made up the bulk of most days. Each day featured a Dharma Talk which will be posted over the forthcoming days.

wu

In this first post documenting this retreat we will examine the source material that was used throughout the retreat. The grounding of the retreat was in David Hinton’s Taoist understanding of Ch’an.

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No-Gate Gateway: The Original Wu-men Kuan
Translated by David Hinton
Shambhala, 2018
ISBN-10: 161180437X

David Hinton’s essential new translation of the Wu-men Kuan (Japanese: Mumonkan) was the core text for the grounding of this retreat into Ch’an thought. The introduction of this bought sketches out Chinese Ontology and its grounding in Taosism. This introduction illuminates how Chan practitioners approached the practice, integrated Buddhism and Taoism and worked with the Gong’an (Japanese: Koan) in this text. The translation of each case maintains the poetry, ontology grounding and elegance of the initial Chinese text.

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Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China

Translated by David Hinton
New Directions, 2005
ASIN: B00O2R6G64

David Hinton’s selection and translations of poems from throughout the entire history of the Mountains and Rivers tradition. This again features an essential introduction that grounds the poetry and the movement in its Taoist and Ch’an roots. Absolutely essential text for understanding the degree to which the natural world is considered a part of the practice and filled with wonderful poems that capture our true nature in the wild.

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Awakened Cosmos: The Mind of Classical Chinese Poetry
David Hinton
Shambhala, 2019
ASIN: B07V8C265M

This absolutely unique book is part biography, part discourse on translation and part examination of the awakened life. A companion piece to Hinton’s newly revised and expanded Selected Poems of Tu Fu this book provides deep insight into translating Chinese poems. But most essentially it displays how a person who moves through the world without obstruction operates in this troubled world.

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The Method of No-Method: The Chan Practice of Silent Illumination
Ch’an Master Sheng Yen
Shambhala, 2008
ASIN: B00C5KK72E

This was the core practice book that we used for this retreat. Ch’an Master Sheng Yen is unparalleled in presenting Just Sitting at both a practical level as well as its context within the Ch’an tradition. Featuring both a set of teisho from retreat directly on Silent Illumination it also includes several essays and translations from Chan Master Hongzhi the innovator of the technique. Absolutely essential reading for those who wish to continue on with this practice.

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Shattering the Great Doubt: the Chan Practice of Huatou
Ch’an Master Sheng Yen
Shambhala, 2009
ASIN: B00C5KK738

This volume from Ch’an Master Sheng Yen is on the practice of Huatoa, a form of incessant inquiry. As an open and still mind is a prerequisite for this work (and any inquiry work) it presents the core method of Silent Illumination and related practices. Since both this book and the Method of No-Method are taking from teisho’s in retreat, this gives a somewhat different angle on those approaches. This also was the core text for the Rohatsu Observance that we held here at Tahoma in January of this year.

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Zongmi on Chan
Translation and commentary by Jeffery L. Broughton
Columbia University Press, 2009
ASIN: B0092WV78Q

This academic translation of Zongmi’s surviving original works provides deep insight into how to look at all of the various streams of Ch’an. While not heavily used during this retreat, it has influenced my thinking on working with skillful means and understanding the different schools of Ch’an and Zen.

The Hongzhou School: Baizhang

by tendo zenji

Linage

Dajian Huineng (Sixth Patriarch)
Nanyue Huairang
Mazu Daoyi
Baizhang Huaihai

Baizhang had numerous dharma heirs including Hunangbo, teacher of Linchi from when the dominate Linchi school formed.

Baizhang in the Record of the Transmission of the Lamp

 

Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings(p. 85)

A FOREMOST DISCIPLE of Mazu, Baizhang Huaihai (720–814) was originally from the city of Changle in Fuzhou. He took his vows as a monk under the Vinaya master Fachao on Mt. Heng. Brilliant and learned as a young man, he traveled to study under the great teacher Mazu Daoyi. The Wudeng Huiyuan ranks him, along with Xitang Zhizang and Nanquan Puyuan, as one of the three most illustrious disciples of Mazu.

Baizhang represents how Bodhidharma’s Zen tradition put down roots and matured in China. From the perspective of spiritual practice, Baizhang’s teachings hewed to the tradition attributed to Bodhidharma of not relying on scripture but instead on “turning the light inward.” While this approach naturally led to a de-emphasis or outright rejection of religious symbolism and to iconoclastic tendencies, Baizhang kept Zen firmly grounded with his emphasis on ethical behavior and his “pure rules” for the monastery. This also reinforced the centrality of the home-leaving tradition. Here was a Zen teacher of clarity, who recognized that understanding the nature of the mind and observing the wheel of birth and death is not the final goal of Zen practice, but its source. He demonstrated that while the nature of consciousness is that it is not in the domain of the individual, the physical body is its vehicle—and he taught that overemphasis on “mind” while degrading the role of body leads to unethical behavior and nihilism. Here, Buddhism’s emphasis on the “middle way” takes complete form in a tradition too susceptible to philosophical idealism and metaphysics.


Practice in the Present.

 
Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings(p. 86-7)

Baizhang’s “practice in the present” is how Zen follows Bodhidharma’s instruction about “observing” mind. It is the observation that the present is the only context for life and practice, yet not imbuing that observation with ideas of existence, nonexistence, etc. The “nature” of which Bodhidharma taught and Baizhang spoke is not a metaphysical substrata of the observable world, but an undefinable quality of consciousness that, as Shitou said, lies outside the perspectives of “temporary” or “everlasting.” To Baizhang, all such views fall short of what can be directly observed.

The idea of “overcoming spurious doctrines” again reveals the contrast between Zen and the Buddhism of Emperor Wu. It draws a clear line between Zen and the parts of Mahayana Buddhism that idealized the faith and expounded it in grand metaphysical terms. This grounding of Zen in the present and in ordinary life characterized Bodhidharma’s Zen tradition from its early times to the present.

House Wind

 
Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings(p. 89)

Baizhang taught and resided as abbot and taught on Daxiong (“Great Hero”) Mountain, which was also known as Mt. Bai Zhang in what is now Fengxin County in Jiangxi Province. Besides being a Zen master of the first order, Baizhang established the monastic rules of Zen monasteries, partly on the model of the Fourth Ancestor, Dayi Daoxin. Prior to Baizhang’s times, many Zen monks lived in temples constructed by other branches of Buddhism. Influenced by Baizhang’s instructions, Zen temples evolved to be more self-supporting and independent

Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings(p. 91)

In the everyday work of the monastery, Baizhang always was foremost among the assembly at undertaking the tasks of the day. The monks in charge of the work were concerned about the master. They hid his tools and asked him to rest. Baizhang said, “I’m unworthy. How can I allow others to work in my behalf?” He looked everywhere for his tools but was unable to find them. He even forgot to eat [while looking for his tools], and thus the phrase “a day without working is a day without eating” has become known everywhere.

 

Bibliography

I
Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings
Andy Ferguson.
Wisdom Publications. Expanded edition (February 22, 2011)
ISBN-10: 9780861716173

II
Classics of Buddhism and Zen, Volume 1: The Collected Translations of Thomas Cleary
Thomas Cleary
Shambhala (April 12, 2005)
ISBN-10: 1590302184

III
The Hongzhou School of Chan Buddhism in Eighth Through Tenth Century China
by Jinhua Jia
SUNY Press; Annotated edition edition (June 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0791468240

IV
Ordinary Mind as the Way: The Hongzhou School and the Growth of Chan Buddhism
by Mario Poceski
Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (April 13, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0195319966

Working with Contradiction

by tendo zenji

Pei Xiu asked, “What is Buddha?”

The master replied, “The mind is buddha. No-mind is the Way. If you neither arouse your mind nor allow yourself to think in terms of such mental conceptions as existence and nonexistence, long and short, self and others, and subject and object, then the mind is originally buddha and buddha is originally the mind.”
-Ch’an Master Huangbo, from A Bird in Flight Leaves No Trace, p. 127

Because all things arise from the generative emptiness that is fundamental reality, our experience is rife with contradictions. This and That are simultaneously Not-This and Not-That and bear no fundamental separation. ‘Mind is Buddha‘ and ‘No Mind, No Buddha‘ can both be a reflection of reality depending on circumstance.  We can be asked to examine something from one view as absolute reality and then examine its opposite as also simply another aspect of this reality.  For where can anything arise but from the generative ground of fundamental reality? All of the dualities, contradictory thoughts, paradoxical views, all are contained within true nature.

Working with contradiction is a way to get past our discriminating, conceptual mind. Deeply engaging with something, a word, a view, a fundamental question and following it down to its essential emptiness can lead to insight.  Then contemplating its opposite to the same place can open to a deeper insight. Working with contradictory statements can efficiently reveal this inherent emptiness, that ultimately there is no there, there.

Koan’s try to “cut off the mind road.” They try to tease mind outside of thought and explanation, and so, to return consciousness to silence and the more immediate experience possible to empty-mind. That empty-mind precludes the distancing of things as object. Like meditation, Koan’s establish mind in a relation of mirror-like immediacy, allowing an immediate experience of landscape’s ten thousand things in and of themselves, an elemental mystery. And that mirrorlike immediacy reveals that we are ourselves wholly a part of that elemental mystery.”
-David Hinton, No-Gate Gateway: The Original Wu-Men Kuan,, p. xxi

Working with Gong’an (Jp. Koan) or Huatou (Jp. Wato) is a formalized practice of this type of work. But we can work with the contradiction of our lives, of the deep questions of ‘who am I, really?’ or ‘what is this?’  When dualities arise we push deeper into them, see both views as empty and ultimately seamless. For more on this topic please see the Dharma Talk below the fold.

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The Practice of Questioning

by tendo zenji

Dharma Talk from the April 25th, 2020 Day of Practice at Tahoma Zen Monastery

Meditative Self-Inquiry

The last few weeks in our talks we have been investigating the triune intertwined approach of : Being in the body, Being Outside and Being in Silence each with its many attendant practices. These practices are ones that we can do on our own with positive results.  We should always check any insights with a genuine teacher, but in these times when we have no choice but to practice more on our own, this approach has an even greater vitality.  

Once one is able to truly Be in Silence than this is the ground from which one can do inquiry, whether it be huatou (wato), Koan Study, or Self-Inquiry.  Of these practices only Self-Inquiry can be pursued on one’s own.  The core part of this sort of self-directed practice is to never be satisfied, always look again, always go deeper.

A Natural Practice

In an essay entitled The Seven Tongues of God Timothy Leary postulated that there are seven essential questions that define the religious experience: what is reality, what is life, who is man, what is awareness, who am I, what do our emotions mean and is there life after death .

“Religion is a social system which has evolved its roles, rules, rituals, values, language, space-time locations to further the pursuit for the same goals, to answer these questions subjectively through the revelatory experience. […] A religion which fails to provide direct experiential answers to these spiritual questions becomes secular, political, and tends to oppose the individual revelatory confrontation.”
– Timothy Leary, from The Seven Tongues of God in Politics of Ecstasy p. 13

Religions seem to always begin with the direct revelatory exploration of these questions and then over time codify into a set of prepackaged answers and intermediaries to that direct experience. The history of many religions seems to be one of constant schisms based on eliminating the intermediaries only to over time build them up again.  Leary on the other hand stated that not only could you discover the answer to these questions yourself but that it was our fundamental purpose do so.

Find out for yourself. Seeking. I codified this as looking into ‘What is really going on’. That is what is happening at an absolutely fundamental level.  In essence I was exploring one of the essential Self-Inqurey questions: What is this?

Many people develop these burning questions on their own and pursue them to awakening, even without any practice framework or understanding at all. But combined with a genuine practice it can be a lot more powerful.

Bassui

After I began formal Zen Practice I was listening to Dharma talks from numerous sources and from Roshi Bodhin of the Rochester Zen Center I heard a teisho from Mud and Water: The Teachings of Zen Master Bassui. Bassui felt one had to see into ones true nature before one could engage in Koan Study or other practices. From his youth he was driven question ‘Who is the Master” and strove hard until he answered this and had it verified by a genuine Master. From Braverman’s Introduction to Mud and Water:

When Bassui asks, “Who is the master?” as he did of himself during his own training, and demands that his students pursue this enquiry to its core, not stopping even at realization, but rather, “…throwing out [realization], returning to the one who realizes…” (Kana hōgo), Bassui is pointing to the nature of the Self, which can be understood when one truly learns the nature of “he” who makes decisions, he who moves the arms and legs…. In the words of Rinzai, “…you must recognize the one who manipulates these reflections. He is the primal source of all the Buddhas and every place is home to which the follower of the Way returns.”

In bringing people back to the “master who hears, sees…” Bassui, like Rinzai, is steering students away from the feeling, “I know.”
– Arthur Braverman, from Mud and Water, (pp. 18-19).

In the below talk we delve deep into the core of Bassui’s inquiry based teaching and his rigor and fidelity to the practice.   Lin-Chi (Rinzai) throughout his talks would persistently ask of the assembly of ‘Who is listening to the dharma right now?  This question, ‘Who is listening, right now’, Bassui asked himself incessantly until he truly knew. Thought his teaching career he would bring students constantly back to seeing into their own minds, to answering for themselves “who is listening?”

The Practice of Self-Inquiry

 “To relax your body, first relax your eyes, your facial muscles, and your head. Then, make sure your shoulders and arms are relaxed, then your chest, back, and lower back. While maintaining an erect posture, be sure your lower abdomen is also relaxed. If you can maintain these basic points of a relaxed body, your breath will be smooth and unhindered. However if any part of your body is tense, your breath will be short and constricted. If you relax your body in the manner I just said, your breath will naturally be smooth and unhindered; you will experience the rise and fall of your abdomen, and the breath will naturally sink down.”
– Ch’an Master Sheng Yen, Shattering the Great Doubt:, p. 8

Settle into the body, placing ones attention on anything tense and exhale, until totally relaxed. From here turn your attention upon itself, or upon the totality of the body, or simply stop placing your attention anywhere. Abide in awareness. If thoughts arise, let them arise and fall. If sensations arise, let them rise and fall. If you follow them, notice then and then return simply being in awareness. If you get too distracted, return to the body scan and relax where is tense. Conclude this with resting your attention in the tanden for a few breaths.  Then place your awareness upon itself.  From here you can begin inquiry.

In Ch’an practices are three core forms of inquiry:

Huatou (wato) is an unceasing questioning of the mind leading to ‘Apprehension and Anxiety’ the “Great Ball of Doubt” which one shatters, revealing our true nature.

Koan study looks at things through numerous angles to get to a root question. While there are koans oriented around breakthrough there are numerous other aspects of practice that is being investigated.

Self-Inquiry is asking the question into the calm tranquility of the mind and listening for the response.  It can be more thought of setting the ground, the orientation for abiding in awareness.  

There are numerous question one can inquiry into What is This? Who Am I? are the most fundamental and virtually all others resolve into this.  They are of course two sides of the same coin. But other inquiries can be useful for cutting though our own specific conditioning for getting past attachments.  What is real? What is True? Who is listening? What am I? What is most essential? and so on.

Question the self to see what comes up. Then this must be questioned. Questioning must continue until there is only our true nature remains. This process is why this is such a fruitful practice to engage in in self-directed practice. There is no endpoint, we always can keep question, going deeper. When available, like Bassui, we verify any deep insight with a genuine teacher. But otherwise we continue the questioning, always finding more.

In the talk from this day all of this and more is explored in greater depth.

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Finding ourselves Outside

by tendo zenji

April 19th, 2020, Dharma Talk from Zazenkai at Tahoma Zen Monastery 

This cosmology as dwelling-place provided the context for virtually all poetic thinking in ancient China. Indeed, it was central to all Chinese culture, for wilderness has constituted the very terms of self-cultivation throughout the centuries in China. This is most clearly seen in the arts, which were nothing less than spiritual disciplines: calligraphers, poets, and painters aspired to create with the selfless spontaneity of a natural force, and the elements out of which they crafted their artistic visions were primarily aspects of wilderness. It can also be seen, for instance, in the way Chinese intellectuals would sip wine as a way of clarifying awareness of the ten thousand things by dissolving the separation between subject and object, or tea as a way of heightening that awareness, practices that ideally took place outdoors or in an architectural space that was a kind of eye-space, its open walls creating an emptiness that contained the world around it. There is a host of other examples, such as the ideal of living as a recluse among the mountains, or the widespread practice of traveling in areas of particular natural beauty, which generated an extensive travel literature. And as we shall see, meditation was widely practiced as perhaps the most fundamental form of belonging to China’s wilderness cosmology.
-David Hinton, Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China

Continuing the discussion of the intertwined triune approach of Being in the Body, Being Outside and Being in Silence, in this talk we consider awakening in nature.

When out of doors one is natural in ones body but by being aware of our bodies, centering ourselves in the abdomen we can truly inhabit them. As we move through the natural environment with all of it’s continual change we can become increasingly aware of silence. Behind every sound, behind the incessant activity is a deep silence.  Twilight when birds come to rest and people are generally not out and about you can feel a hushed stillness. This points to the deeper silence.  Paying attention to these conditions  facilitates getting past the self. There are active practices such as empty awareness, or landscape samadhi of the Ch’an Practitioners. 

Within this underlying cosmology, Chia Tao’s poem begins to look quite different, and our reading begins to resemble that of its original readers. It is now recognizable as a poem about the experience of attending to the movements of this primal cosmology. The wild mountain realm embodies this cosmology of natural process in its most comprehensive and awesome manifestation. Its basic regions appear almost schematically in countless paintings from the Chinese rivers-and-mountains (also shan-shui, but universally translated “landscape”) tradition: the pregnant emptiness of nonbeing, in the form of mist and lakes and empty space; the landscape of being as it burgeons forth in a perpetual process of transformation; and then, nestled within this self-generating and harmonious Cosmos, the human. The silence and emptiness that suffuse Chia Tao’s landscape are nothing other than nonbeing itself, and the distilled clarity of his images renders the individuating occurrences of tzu-jan’s unfolding.
-David Hinton, Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China

As an example of awakening out of doors, consider Chapter 2 from Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (pp. 8-15). In this story Douglas is outside with his father an little brother and his true nature sneaks up on him. Hear the whole story in the recording from this talk embedded below the fold.

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WMD Virtual Visit – This World of Dew

by tendo zenji

This world of dew,
is but a world of dew.
and yet…and yet
– Issa Kobayashi

There is an interwoven triune approach that forms the foundation of my practice.  These three core approaches are:

Being in the Body
Being Outside
Being in Silence

Being, is doing a lot of work here. You could substitute embodying, or read it as intended emphasizing the root be. All of my recent talks have been on these practices, investigating them from various angles, their various aspects and tallying them with the teachings. The below talk given in conjunction with Seattle’s Watermoon Dojo investigates these three components. These three elements are simply aspects of a single approach with a myriad of practices that might emphasize one element or another. But the three are always active, always supporting or framing an individual practice.

A core practice of Being in Silence is meditation and in the talk one approach to meditating, that of Silent Illumination, is examined. There are of course many approaches each which offer their own orientation.  When one engages in mediation one roots themselves in the body and in the environment. Thus we can see the triune nature of this practice. As one lets go of feelings, sensations, thoughts and emotions one becomes aware of the silence of our true nature. Abiding in silence, in pure awareness we are rooted and can explore these depths, or engage in inquiry practices.

Likewise when Being Outside one can engage in various samadhi practices, of ways backgrounding the small self. In this case one is again firmly in the body as one walks, or sits out of doors, tuning into the silence behind the roaring surf, the bristling wind, the piercing sun, the cold reach of mountain peaks. There are myriad practices that one can engage in while outside, this talk examines just one of them.

In all of these Being in the Body is the root. If this approach can be likened to an equilateral triangle, the Body is the base. Out of the ground of being the ten thousand things emerge including our bodies.  All of these practices begin by returning to the body, moving away from any sort of feeling that our being, the “I“, is not separate from the body.

See the talk presented below for more on this interconnected approach:

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Zazenkai 04.12.16 – No Nature

by tendo zenji

No Nature. Human societies each have their own nutty fads, mass delusions, and enabling mythologies. Daily life still gets done. Wild nature is probably equally goofy, with its stunning variety of creatures somehow getting by in all these landscapes. Nature also means the physical universe, including the urban, industrial and toxic.  But we do not easily know nature, or even know ourselves. Whatever it actually is, it will not fulfill our conceptions or assumptions. It will dodge our expectations and theoretical models. There is no single or set “nature” either as “the natural world” or “the nature of things.” The greatest respect we can pay to nature is not to trap it, but to acknowledge that it eludes us and that our own nature is also fluid, open, and conditional.” – Gary Snyder, No Nature.

It is easy for us to get past ourselves when we are outside.  Lost in the continuous sound of the surf, gazing raptly at distant mountain peaks, self forgotten among the tangled complexity and glory of the forest. But there is no nature, no nature that is separate from us. It is not a thing that we abscond to, escape to. It is us.  Humans are after all a part of nature and our constructs are merely complicated termite mounds, stone bird nests,  massive cave systems.

In the talk below, I examine taking advantage of this natural receding of the self when outside, to use this as a practice, the practice of being in nature.

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April 5th, 2020 Zazenkai – Our Great Vow as Right View

by tendo zenji

The Buddha said to him, “Subhuti, those who would now set forth on the bodhisattva path should thus give birth to this thought: ‘However many beings there are in whatever realms of being might exist, whether they are born from an egg or born from a womb, born from the water or born from the air, whether they have form or no form, whether they have perception or no perception or neither perception nor no perception, in whatever conceivable realm of being one might conceive of beings, in the realm of complete nirvana I shall liberate them all. And though I thus liberate countless beings, not a single being is liberated.’ “And why not? Subhuti, a bodhisattva who creates the perception of a being cannot be called a ‘bodhisattva.’ And why not? Subhuti, no one can be called a bodhisattva who creates the perception of a self or who creates the perception of a being, a life, or a soul.”

Red Pine, The Diamond Sutra (p. 71)

In the Diamond Sutra we find the Four Bodhisattva Vows that are renewed every day in Zen temples, monasteries and centers around the world.  The first vow, which is often shortened to “I vow to liberate all beings” is quoted above in full.  When you look at how the Buddha describes “all beings” what we see is that this really is, everything, reality itself.  In essence we are vowing to awaken reality.

When we first start sitting we tend to sit for ourselves. We wish to relieve suffering, be more centered, be happy, find peace and endless other reasons. These all come from the self. If we achieve a breakthrough, a glimpse into our true natures from the perspective, or ‘view’ of the self, then it is easy for the self to co-opt our realization.  We may have a moment of clarity, of unconditioned being, but it quickly becomes part of the self, our ego identities.

This was the great insight of the Mahayana and thus the View, or orientation was changed. We sit not for ourselves, not for realizing our own desires, but to awaken all things, to embody our true nature. This topic as well as more from Ch’an Master Huangbo was discussed in the talk from the April 5th, Zazenkai, which can be found below the fold.

 

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