What is it that draws us to practice and why does it seem to be more effective for some and not others? No-knowing is the only answer to that. There is a long history of trying to understand and explain these questions but it is pretty hard to say there has been any definitive answer. I certainly don’t have one. When one considers those who have traversed the path and plumbed the depths there are some salient features. Deep commitment, deep questioning and a certain flavor of skepticism. And yet there are so many outliers that it becomes difficult to make any claims of universality. In the role that I find myself in these days, I am periodically asked questions that boil down to “why hasn’t this worked?” No-knowing is the only honest answer. Sure one can suggest techniques, or practices, or even bodies of teachings, or one can point towards degrees of commitment, or issues of the self or various other blockages. But in the end there is only no-knowing.
Whenever any of us on the path speaks about such matters it is incumbent upon us to speak within our experience. If we stay within our experience we can provide some insight to others that are on the path. Everybody’s path is unique, but again there are these commonalities. One of these commonalities is what I’m going to refer to as Wayseeking Mind. That combination of determined questioning and skepticism is how I’m defining Wayseeking Mind. Many of those who have followed to the path to its outer reaches have this quality. Following my own advice I’m going to speak about this in terms of my own experiences, which are certainly limited, but give an example of Wayseeking mind—but only only one man’s path, no claims of universality or even utility here.
At Manifold-Devotion Post-Station, a Second Farewell to the Governor
Ending our distant farewell, separation
begins here, green mountains emptiness
felt. We'll never again wander together
sipping wine beneath last night's moon.
The whole country sings praises of you,
radiant through three reigns. Me, I'll go
home to my river village, nurture what
life remains in isolate depths of silence.
Translated by David HintoninSelected Poems of Tu Fu
The Discourse on the Inexhaustible Lamp of the Zen School by Zen Master Torei Enji with Commentary by Master Daibi of Unman Translated by Yoko Okuda Download pdf: here Purchase: here
For the 2020 Autumn Training period we are studying The Discourse on the Inexhaustible Lamp by Torei zenji. This is primarily through dharma talks at sesshin and similar opportunities but also through a number of planned open discussions. All of these talks and discussion will be held via Zoom due to the pandemic and thus can be recorded. Periodically these will be posted here along with the basic information on each talk and the material covered.
The Discourse on the Inexhaustible Lamp of the Zen School October and November 2020 Dharma Talks
9) October 13th, 2020 Reading for the monthly Virtual Watermoon Dojo gathering Continued Chapter 1 – Lineage part 7 & 8 p. 46 to 48 Discussed the value of knowing the ideas and history of early buddhism as well as the risks of attaching to these notions. As always it is a middle way. We don’t wish to wallow in this kind of material and in many ways it is immaterial to the direct practice. The issue of the self and how our orientation to practice needs to be for awakening for all things and not toward the self. Where traces of the self remain. Download Audio: Discourse Talk Part 9
10) October 16th, 2020 October Virtual KoSesshin day 1 Continued Chapter 1 – Lineage part 9, 10 and 11 (Torei Only) p. 49 to 54 Spoke about the Prajna Paramita, the wisdom of emptiness. Talked about how there is this view from Torei and Daibi that you can look at the evolution of the Buddhist teachings as the course a practitioner takes: begins selfishly, sees into imperamance, needs encouragement, sees into emptiness then buddha nature.Talked a lot about teaching to mixed audiences, about the mythological “buddha eye” how to reach the whole audience in the teacher. Exposed teaching device of generalities and admonitions to practice. Talked about working one on one with a student giving them what they need. This can be seen as medicine for some simply expressing Buddhanature like in the Flower Sutra can suffice. Download Audio: Discourse Talk Part 10
11) October 17th, 2020 October Virtual KoSesshin day 2 Continued Chapter 1 – Lineage part 11 – 13 p. 54 to 59 So this was on the Flower Sutra, transmission, working with koans, koan checking questions and so on. Embodying realization, seeing into original nature and working through the entire koan curriculum. The point of transmission is to know that a teacher has gone through this process. Working with the teacher in sanzen. Don’t attach to these talks. Download Audio: Discourse Talk Part 11
12) October 18th, 2020 October Virtual KoSesshin day 3 Continued Chapter 1 – Lineage part 11, 12 & 13 p. 54 to 57 This talk is a condensed version of the previous talk coverage the same sections of the text. It was for a slightly different audience and is shorter thus more compressed. While there is some variance in examples and emphasis if one has listened to the previous it can be skipped. Download Audio: Discourse Talk Part 12
13) November 19th, 2020 Virtual WMD Visit Continued Chapter 1 – Lineage part 14&15 p. 57 – 63 Concluded the Indian Lineage, Bodhidharma, 1-5 patriarchs, Hui-neng Noted that the Indian lineage is largely mythological. Discussed the mythologies around Bodhidharma including martial arts and Qi Gong. Talked about Qi in Chan. The story with Hui’ko and commitment and also the mythological aspects. Discussed the self, the utility value of the self and not identifying with it. Some discussion of Sosan Kanchi and the lack of historical reference. Chan teaching as about removal and the use of the historical record to remove supports. What remains. Download Audio: Discourse Talk Part 13
1) The Discourse on the Inexhaustible Lamp of the Zen School by Zen Master Torei Enji with Commentary by Master Daibi of Unman Translated by Yoko Okuda Tuttle Publishing (September 15, 1996) ISBN: 0804830878 Download: here Purchase: here
Zongmi had no dharma heirs and the Heze lineage faded away soon afterwards. However the impact of his theory of Chan was monumental and the form of his critique became canonical.
GUIFENG ZONGMI (780–841) is remembered as the disciple of the Sichuan school Zen master Suizhou Daoyuan. However, Zen history also regards him to belong to the Heze Zen school of Heze Shenhui. He is widely respected as the leading Buddhist scholar of the late eighth and early ninth centuries. He possessed an intimate understanding of various Buddhist schools and doctrines, and made important contributions to the advancement of Buddhism in China. He was also the fifth ancestor of the Buddhist Huayan school, which based its teachings on the Huayan (“Flower Garland”) Sutra.
Andy Ferguson,. Zen’s Chinese Heritage: The Masters and Their Teachings (p. 269).
Zongmi on Chan
Zongmi sought to ground the practice of the myriad Chan schools, in the canonical Buddhist teachings. He surveyed the schools, summarizing them as having both an ‘idea’ (theory) and a praxis. That is the root Buddhist notion that they are rooted in and the form of their practice. He offered a critique of these schools even as he showed how they were all rooted in core Buddhist thought. He was both a transmitted master of the Heze lineage as well as considered a patriarch in the Huayan lineage. He was a scholar and a Chan master a rare combination.
His analysis of practice, derived from the Perfect Enlightenment Sutra, was in terms of awakening and practice. Awakening can be All-At-Once or Step-by-step. Likewise the practice can be All-at-Once or Step-by-Step. As per the Perfect Enlightenment Sutra All-At-Once awakening followed by Step-by-step Practice was the preferred approach. In this approach one comes to awakening all at once and then via continuous practice refine, deepen and mature the practice. In his critique of the seven major Chan Schools of his day he considered where the stood on this approach. It should be noted that this is the form that all Chan and Zen practice came to take where insight is all-at-once but then there is a long period of continued practice. While Zongmi and his Heze lineage may not have lasted long beyond him, his core notions became the defacto standard.
In our examination of Zongmi we read through Jeffery Broughton’s biographical sketch and examined the ideas that drove him. We followed this up by reading what Broughton refers to as the Chan Note which was a brief description of seven Chan Houses that he appended to a commentary on the Total Awakening Sutra. In the Chan Note, Zongmi looks at each houses in terms of theory and practice and summarizes them with a single slogan. We followed up our investigation of the Chan Note by reading through what Broughton terms the Chan Letter. This is a constructed essay taken from correspondence between Zongmi and the Chinese Official and serious lay Buddhist Pei Xiu. In this correspondence Zongmi examines four Chan Houses again in terms of theory and practice. He goes into a lot more detail with potted lineage histories and supported quotes. He utilizes as a metaphor the ‘Wishing Jewel’ which is a pure, bright jewel that absorbs whatever color is shined on it. Each house is described as missing the purity of the jewel in some way except for Zongmi’s own Heze. This piece is the most didactic of Zongmi’s where he hews closer to the the founder of the Heze School, Shenhui, whose relentless attacks defined and undercut what he labeled as the Northern School. Here Zongmi dismisses out of hand the Northern and Oxhead Schools and undercuts the dominate Hongzhou school in order to dissuade Pei Xiu from his interest in that house. There is though much of value in these pieces as they provide descriptions of early Chan thought that died out and Zongmi is an astute, if partisan, critic.
We concluded our survey of Zongmi by considering Broughton’s analysis of his attacks on the Hongzhou school. Broughton sees more in it than partisanship and that his primary concerns are more about forms of practice. In Zongmi’s magnum opus, which Broughton has dubbed the Chan Prolegomenon, Zongmi is much more ecumenical granting the Hongzhou School status with the Heze and noting that these are from Buddhist teachings just with their own angle and emphasis. The Prolegomenon was not thoroughly examined but it contains a wealth of information on the Chan teachings and practice of the day and Zongmi roots them all in traditional Buddhist teachings. We concluded our survey of Zongmi’s writings by considering his influence in China, Korea and Japan. As noted above, this influence is significant and the essence of his notions persists in the Zen, Son and Chan teachings of today.
1) Zongmi on Chan Translation and commentary by Jeffery L. Broughton Columbia University Press, 2009 ASIN: B0092WV78Q
The Discourse on the Inexhaustible Lamp of the Zen School by Zen Master Torei Enji with Commentary by Master Daibi of Unman Translated by Yoko Okuda Download pdf: here Purchase: here
For the 2020 Autumn Training period we are studying The Discourse on the Inexhaustible Lamp by Torei zenji. This is primarily be through dharma talks at sesshin and other opportunities but also through a number of planned open discussions. All of these talks and discussion will be held via Zoom due to the pandemic and thus can be recorded. Periodically these will be posted here along with the basic information on each talk and the material covered.
1) August 10th, 2020 Talk for the monthly Virtual Watermoon Dojo gathering Read through the Forward by Myokkyo-ni of the London Zen Centre and the Forward by Master Daibi Began the Preface by Torei Enji reading the initial comments by Daibi Discussed the translation, which is basically an amateur production with some questionable choices. This is especially seen in the choice to unformly render 心 (hsin/shin) as Heart. As David Hinton notes while there is no distinction in classical Chinese between Heart and Mind it should almost universally be translated as mind as it refers to the mind empty of all conceptual content, not specially the emotional content that just using heart implies.
“…in Ch’an 心 should almost always be translated as “mind” because the emphasis is on consciousness empty of all contents, rather than emotions.”
2) Sept 15th, 2020 Reading for the monthly Virtual Watermoon Dojo gathering Continued Preface by Torei Enji & Master Daibi, p, 12-18 In the preface Torei somewhat obliquely describes the content of the ten sections of the book, which Daibi much more explicitly lays out at length. Topics that come back throughout I discussed as embodying realization, bringing our practice off the cushion. Discussed ‘Great faith, Great determination, Great Doubt’ as how this wasn’t an ideological stance but and actual description of the practice of working with Huatoa (Jp: Wato)
3) Sept 22nd, 2020 Autumnal Equinox Virtual Sesshin Dharma Talk 1 Reintroduced the text and the plan for reading it this autumn. Reiterated the Heart/Mind translation issue and read a bio of Torei Enji from Zen Masters of Japan by Richard McDaniel (p. 254-6, 259-60) Began Preface by Torei Enji & Master Daibi Only made it through the first part where Daibi goes over the ten sections. Bio Notes Note that Gasan Jito was a Dharma heir of Torei Enji though he began with Hakuin. Torei became abbott of Rutaku-ji – the Japanese monastery of the lineage I ordained in which has life-sized statues of Hakuin and Torei in their ancestor hall. Consider Torei’s dedication to his Great Vow even beyond death.
Preface Notes The preface briefly summarizes the ten sections of the book and noted its emphasis on embodying our realization. This is the fundamental orientation of Mahayana Buddhism.
4) Sept 23rd, 2020 Autumnal Equinox Virtual Sesshin Dharma Talk 2 Preface part 2 to p. 21Continued Preface by Torei Enji & Master Daibi Discussed zeal, Great faith, Great determination, Great doubt similarly to as before: that is as an actual practice technique. Torei goes through Koan study, advanced practice and maturity in the text, in the sections that we read about. Some of the fundamentals of Linji and Rinzai practice such as All at once awakening vs. Step by Step practice and how those are used together. Advanced Practice – Nanto Koans and the final koans one does after completing the regular koan curriculum.
Different teaching lines appear to use it in different ways. Some employ it from the early stages of koan training, combining Kattōshū koans with those from better-known works like the Wumen guan [Gateless barrier], Biyan lu [Blue cliff record], and the Linji lu [Record of Linji]. Others use it at a more advanced stage, subsequent to work with the other koan collections. According to monastic friends who have worked extensively with the Kattōshū as an advanced-level text, the emphasis—even more than in the other collections is on eliminating the last attachments to dualistic thought. The koans are thus often approached in ways quite unexpected even to experienced Zen students. As one monastic friend commented, “If there’s anything you can say about the Kattōshū koans, it’s that your first response is certain to be wrong.”
On Advanced practice and maturity, note his use of the Prison Barrier which I first read of in Sheng Yen. In Ch’an they saw three stages in practice: the initial barrier, the multiple barriers and finally the prison barrier where the last vestiges of self are let go of. Very few get past the prison barrier.
5) Sept 24th, 2020 Autumnal Equinox Virtual Sesshin Dharma Talk 3 Finished Preface (p.21-26) and Started Introduction (27-32) by Torei Enji & Master Daibi
Some Notes Strength of breakthrough – noted how depth of awakening clears away more conditioning and gives us strength.
Long Maturation — Very few get past the prison barrier, even less engaging in the Long Maturation. This is ‘returning to the Village with helping hands. Traditionally this would be the 30 years after enlightenment. Daito Kokusho in the example is from our opening chant. There have been many masters who worked with people, became doctors, lived with the homeless, and so forth. This is where you hone and mature your practice in the real world. You practice responding to all circumstances until this is your natural way of being. Rarely done now anywhere.
Transmission – Benefiting all beings is our great vow. While we can help people in the relative, the ultimate way that we help all beings is through helping them reach liberation. This is why we vow to liberate all beings, even though as the Diamond Sutra states there are no beings to liberate and nothing to be liberated from. Transmission is this process in action. A teacher has done everything they possibly can to support a student in reaching this liberation and then certifies them to do the same. This is Turning the Wheel of Dharma.
6) Sept 25th, 2020 Autumnal Equinox Virtual Sesshin Dharma Talk 4 Concluded Introduction (pp.27-32) and began Ch. 1 by Torei Enji & Master Daibi
Introduction The call to hermitage and polishing our insights. Talked about austerities and renunciation that renunciation is an important practice that it can be taken too far as Torei did causing physical injury
Chapter 1 – Lineage Discussed words and their potential for hindrance and help. That they never get at reality. That there is always at least two meanings in a masters words.
7) Sept 26th, 2020 Autumnal Equinox Virtual Sesshin Dharma Talk 5 Chapter 1 p. 36 to p.42. Torei ended partway into section 6 – Four Noble Truths, Chain of dependent origination Talked about words and their dual nature. That they never can get at it, yet it is all we have.
Chapter one goes through the lineage, began history of the buddha and his teachings. These are the foundations of Buddhism and understanding the original teachings allows you to better understand the Mahayana which gives the proper orientation for Ch’a and Zen.
7) Sept 76th, 2020 Zazenkai / Autumnal Equinox Virtual Sesshin Dharma Talk 6 Chapter 1 p. 42-46. through part 6, Chain of dependent origination and Prajna Paramita Also read this note from the editors that talked about the practitioners of greater and less abilities. It noted this was the heart of the so called Northern and Southern school splits. This is a way of looking at that that I hadn’t considered. But it makes sense, for the practitioners of great ability the sudden teachings are efficacious, for those of lesser the gradual. Read from Hui Neng on people who learn “fast or slow” and how Linji tackled students of different abilities.
The Master told Chih-ch’eng, “I’ve heard that when your Zen master teaches people, he only gives instruction in morality, meditation, and wisdom. Tell me, what does your master teach people about morality, meditation, and wisdom?” Chih-ch’eng said, “Concerning morality, meditation, and wisdom, Master Shen-hsiu says not committing evil is morality, doing good is wisdom, and purifying one’s thoughts is meditation. This is what he means by ‘morality, meditation, and wisdom.’ This is his explanation. What is the Master’s view?” Hui-neng replied, “This explanation is wonderful, but my view is different.” Chih-ch’eng asked, “How is it different?” Hui-neng replied, “Understanding can be fast or slow.” Chih-ch’eng then asked the Master to explain his view of morality, meditation, and wisdom. The Master said, “Listen to my explanation, and you’ll see how I view them. When the land of your mind is free of error, this is the morality of your own nature. When the land of your mind is free of confusion, this is the meditation of your own nature. When the land of your mind is free of ignorance, this is the wisdom of your own nature.” The Master continued, “The morality, meditation, and wisdom of your master are intended for small-minded people. My morality, meditation, and wisdom are intended for people of bigger minds. Once people realize their own nature, they don’t differentiate between morality, meditation, and wisdom.” Chih-ch’eng said, “Could the Master please explain why they aren’t differentiated?” The Master said, “Our nature is free of error, free of confusion, and free of ignorance. Prajna shines in every thought and is forever free of attributes. What is there to differentiate? Our nature is something we cultivate directly. It doesn’t have any intervening stages, so we don’t differentiate any.” Chih-ch’eng bowed and did not leave Tsaohsi Mountain. He became a disciple and was never far from the Master’s side.
1) The Discourse on the Inexhaustible Lamp of the Zen School by Zen Master Torei Enji with Commentary by Master Daibi of Unman Translated by Yoko Okuda Tuttle Publishing (September 15, 1996) ISBN: 0804830878 Download: here Purchase: here
In last months talk on Solitude I described it as a process of letting go. Of putting yourself into a place where you abandoned distractions, entertainments, modern life.Pilgrimage is in one view “searching for solitude.” It is a way, in our world, in our culture to make that space for solitude. Considerhow it was in India for Buddhists:
It was common in ancient India for yogis to remove themselves from society to practice in solitude in the forests. There they would beg for alms and offerings from ordinary people who respected them. In China there was no such tradition. Someone who went around asking for alms was simply a beggar. Practitioners had to work to survive and sustain their practice. For this reason Chan has traditionally placed great emphasis on applying practice to daily work.
Being a hermit in the West means that you are a bum, down and out, maybe crazy. Pilgrimage means you are a vagrant. But this can be worked with. There are activities we can engage in that have the veneer of respectability that allows us to engage solitude, to be on pilgrimage.
The essence of pilgrimage is commitment. Being completely committed to the path. More than just traveling to sacred places this is a form of practice itself a way of life. It ties together individual and monastic practice.The model is the method of practice in China.
Whip for Spurring Students Onward Through the Chan Barrier Checkpoints by Yunqi Zhuhong
“The Chan Whip was conceived by Zhuhong as a portable, convenient, no-nonsense “pocket companion guide” that addressed practitioners directly , providing not just method but morale. As such its selections deliberately eschew abstract discussions of theory in favor of sermons, exhortations, sayings, autobiographical narratives, letters, and anecdotal sketches dealing fankly—and encouragingly—with the concrete ups and downs of lived practice.”
–Jeffery L. Broughton, Chan Whip, p. 2
As an example of the life of practice (gongfu) incorporating the elements of pilgrimage Xueyan’s story (Ch’an Whip, p. 17). In the recording of the talk below you can hear the whole story with commentary.
The story gives an outline of how Chan practice (gongfu)was approached in the Song.This is what I mean by pilgrimage.In this story you can see that Xueyuan is completely dedicated to the path. He has his ups and downs–which are themselves instructive and part of the aim of the Ch’an Whip is to show the human side of these great teachers–but he stays with it and pushes pasts his low points. This is further an exemplar of continuous practice. Where even as he travels, is on the pilgrimage practice is ongoing.
Xueyuan, like the other longer anecdotes in the Ch’an Whip, ordains and works with a particular teacher and then begins traveling from practice place to practice place. This is the standard practice, typically one traveled after one has had an insight to test it and to push oneself deeper. Then seems to be an understanding that working with one teacher can be limiting. That is even a very awakened teacher has a style, a set of teaching devices and their own limits. All of these masters-to-be came to deeper awakenings and into their own mastery under other teachers. Not only these Ch’an Masters but all of the great Zen masters of Japan, Dogen, Hakuin Ekaku, Torei Enji, Gassan Jito, Bassui, Bankei all followed this path of pilgrimage.
Religious practice in America is essentially, I’d argue primarily,a social endeavor.Contemplative practices in contrast is a solitary practice. Even when you are siting shoulder to shoulder in the zendo, you are sitting alone.This tension between an essentially solitary practice and the American social club model pervades Zen centers.This emphasis on the group is so pervasive that it is common to encounter those that can only sit in the zendo, who are not able (or willing) to sit on their own. Considering that the essential practices are inherently solitary that orientation severely compromises ones practice.
Beyond though simply turning inward in our practice, being solitary, there is the practice of Solitude. This is an absolute core practice in my view and one well worth pursuing. In this talk we will contemplate this practice and it’s pursuit.
Throughout Chinese history, there have always been people who preferred to spend theirlives in the mountains, getting by on less, sleeping under thatch, wearing old clothes, working the higher slopes, not talking much, writing even less—maybe a few poems,a recipe or two. Out of touch with the times but not with the seasons, they cultivatedroots of the spirit, trading flatland dust for mountain mist. Distant and insignificant,they were the most respected men and women in the world’s oldest society.
No explanation has ever been offered or demanded for the admiration the Chinese have had for hermits. Hermits were simply there: beyond city walls, in the mountains, lone columns of smoke after a snowfall. As far back as records go, there were always hermits in China. – Bill ‘Red Pine’ Porter , Road to Heaven, p. 12
In Road to Heaven Red Pine encounters more Taoists than Ch’an monks and while their approach and orientation is different they come from the same place. They are rooted in the cosmology that has informed Chinese religious practice for thousands of years. Before Buddhism before Taosim this view of reality led some to look inward, to commit completely to understanding. to isolate themselves in mountains
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.
Sitting on ones own, individual sitting is an essential practice, one that all followers of the way to cultivate. Ultimately we are always sitting on our own.But solitude is a practice of letting go, of abandoning the outside world and turning inward to our Original Nature. Consider this passage from Krishnamurti:
J. Krishnamurti On Loneliness – the issue of escape.
“Have you ever tried to be alone? When you do try, you will feel how extraordinarily difficult it is and how extraordinarily intelligent we must be to be alone, because the mind will not let us be alone. The mind becomes restless, it busies itself with escapes, so what are we doing? We are trying to fill this extraordinary void with the known. We discover how to be active, how to be social; we know how to study, how to turn on the radio. We are filling that thing which we do not know with the things we know. We try to fill that emptiness with various kinds of knowledge, relationship or things. Is that not so? That is our process, that is our existence. Now when you realize what you are doing, do you still think you can fill that void? You have tried every means of filling this void of loneliness. Have you succeeded in filling it? You have tried cinemas and you did not succeed and therefore you go after your gurus and your books or you become very active socially. Have you succeeded in filling it or have you merely covered it up? If you “have merely covered it up, it is still there; therefore it will come back. If you are able to escape altogether then you are locked up in an asylum or you become very, very dull. That is what is happening in the world.
Can this emptiness, this void, be filled? If not, can we run away from it, escape from it? If we have experienced and found one escape to be of no value, are not all other escapes therefore of no value? It does not matter whether you fill the emptiness with this or with that. So-called meditation is also an escape. It does not matter much that you change your way of escape.
How then will you find what to do about this loneliness? You can only find what to do when you have stopped escaping. Is that not so? When you are willing to face what is – which means you must not turn on the radio, which means you must turn your back to civilization – then that loneliness comes to an end, because it is completely transformed. It is no longer loneliness. If you understand what is then what is is the real. Because the “mind is continuously avoiding, escaping, refusing to see what is it creates its own hindrances. Because we have so many hindrances that are preventing us from seeing, we do not understand what is and therefore we are getting away from reality; all these hindrances have been created by the mind in order not to see what is. To see what is not only requires a great deal of capacity and awareness of action but it also means turning your back on everything that you have built up, your bank account, your name and everything that we call civilization. When you see what is, you will find how loneliness is transformed. ”
-Excerpt From On Loneliness by J. Krishnamurti in First and Last Freedom.
It is this perspective that is the practice of solitude. You aren’t lonely in true solitude, because there is no self to be lonely there is only what is. The issue of escape here is also worth noting. In Krishnamurti’s view all activities that we undertake are undertaken by the self and thus are self-defeating. Ch’an of course acknowledges this, notes that all of our practice, even mediation, is upaya, a skillful use of the self to get past the self.Krishnamurti is far more radical, simply telling us to see what is.
This shows us the way to the practice of solitude: letting go of our distractions, our escapes. Turning our back on civilization.
The Practice of Solitude
How then do we practice this? In general there is no guidebook, no practice program..In general there are more warnings, than guidelines.There are concerns of escape, issues of arrogance, of not coming down from the mountain, of eschewing our great vow. In essence the practice is simply a letting go of everything. It doesn’t have to be forever, it can be for one day every so often. Spend the day in solitude.Spend a week in solitude. Spend a lifetime in solitude.
So we turn to examples, which is so often what the practice has to offer. The Buddhas and the patriarchs are examples of those far along the path. The icon of the buddha reminds us that this is possible.The Chinese hermit-monks are exemplary in showing, not telling us this path.The great documentary Amongst White Clouds, is an apt demonstration.
“They turn their backs on comforts and conveniences and entertainment. To return to something more basic. A calm and peace they trust lays at the true heart of human nature.” – narrator
“The key to this is sitting meditation. After sitting then go to bed. Wake in the morning and sit some more. Most of the hermits already understand the practice methods and they don’t make mistakes. If you have this foundation then you can live in the mountains. But you must understand the practice. If you don’t understand, in the mountains, you’l go astray and that’s nothing but torture. Just torture.”
The filmmaker and narrator of this documentary is a practitioner himself who came to the practice through very romantic ideals common in the young. He had genuine questions and was serious as well as being a talented filmmaker. He could see the orientation of these recluses even if his understanding of what drew them there was limited.
This is followed by an excerpt from a talk that the narrators teacher gives on mountain practice. He talks of having had a heated bed when he first came to the mountains but that it is unnecessary. In the quoted text he notes that there is preparation one has to have to undertake this practice. It is arduous and demanding and is not a romantic jaunt into the mountains. It isn’t “glamping”.
“What wisdom is there in solitude? What changes in a person living so close to birth and death in nature? Do I feel myself in this?Are we somehow different from this old tree? Dying to be reborn? This life, this struggle, but something in this nature, something in us all. A calm and clarity in the face of change and uncertainty.”
“’Ten thousand things, all in this breath…’ why are people in this world so busy? just for this one breath. They say, “busy, busy, mine mine…”, busy a whole lifetime for “Me”. When this breath is cut off you let go of the whole universe. Why not let go from the start?”
The second quote here has always struck me from when I first watched this documentary over a decade ago. This really is the essence of the practice in a few sentences. The documentary is filled with wisdom from this recluses and is well worth spending time with.
Attachment to solitude
Since like some many Ch’an practices, there isn’t so much a detailed description, or a set of guidelines for the practice of solitude, what we mostly find is an orientation and then a discussion of the pitfalls that one can encounter. In the previous section, quote from Amongst White Clouds, the recluses noted the issues of coming to this practice before one is ready. In the biography of the Japanese monk Bassui we see this underscored.
There was a monk from Bassiu’s hometown by the name of Tokukei Jisha who had cut himself off from the world, retiring to the mountains, practicing religious austerities for many years. Hearing of this monk, Bassui decided to pay him a visit.”
Tokukei became a mentor, friend and teacher of Bassui and is a classic example of the hermit tradition in Japan. When he first visits him he asks Bassui why his head is shaved (indicating he is a monk) but he doesn’t wear robes. Bassui at this point really eschewed formal practice and all its trappings. Tokukei could see his immaturity and while they practiced together he said he needed to resolve the great matter and to have it sealed by an awakened master.
Bassui went to see Fukuan Sōki, of Hōunji Temple in Hitachi province, a noted Zen master who had studied in China. Fukuan had a following that numbered about two thousand. Bassui, unimpressed with Fukuan, returned to his hometown and went to see his friend Tokukei. He told Tokukei that he had not got on well with Fukuan and was planning to practice by himself in some isolated mountain retreat. Tokukei, having spent over twenty years practicing austerities in seclusion, had developed a great deal of pride in his practice. This pride became the cause of much of his pain and suffering. He warned Bassui of the dangers of this kind of seclusion before fully understanding “the great matter” or receiving the transmission from a true teacher. Though Bassui had received verification from Kōzan, he gave up the idea of secluding himself in the mountains in accord with his friend’s advice and instead spent that year in a summer and winter training sesshin with Tokukei.
Here we can see Tokukei outline these pitfalls of these practices. Just like the recluse from Amongst White Clouds who said that being in the mountains before one is ready is “torture,” Tokukei is warning that if one does make it as a recluse this can lead to pride and arrogance. This he said leads to pain and suffering. Solitude as a practice can be explored and be very fruitful in short stints but to undertake it long term, you need to be prepared.
It was around this time that Bassui built his first hermitage in Nanasawa in his home province, Sagami. Tokukei came to visit him there, and this time he seemed pleased with Bassui’s decision to retire to a hermitage to continue his practice. He seemed to be telling Bassui that since he now had met both requirements—having clarified the Way and having received verification from a true teacher—he was ready to undertake this kind of practice.
Bassui now is ready for this practice and it is appropriate to do so. In fact one often feels drawn to seclusion, to focusing purely on deepening ones insight after one has awakened. Hakuin talks of this and of course it comes up in the Chinese hermit tradition. This is not a romantic notion of seclusion at this point, but the next logical step in ones practice.
To bring it back to where we began, the orientation of this retreat was to engage with a body of practices for solitary practice. These practices, the practice of Silent Illumination and the Empty Awareness practices are practices that one can engage in fruitfully on ones own. In fact these are practices born of solitude, hermetic practices.There is a straightforward path in these practices that build upon technique and experience. There are clear markers to bring oneself back to the path,for self-assessment and most importantly there is no bounding to them. These are practices for a lifetime.
Last February here at Tahoma I was in Dokusesshin, which is a solitary sesshin where you live in a primitive hermitage in the woods on the edge of the campus. You only engage with the teacher once per day, otherwise it is a self-structure and hermetic practice. During this time I every day engaged in the Empty Awareness practices, walking for an hour around the lake and through the woods.I would walk, stop and absorb what was in front of me, until I was emptiness walking. Then I would sit on the deck of the hermitage for long stretches of zazen.Sitting in Open Awareness, landscape samadhi throughout the day.
This time where we are in our domiciles, perhaps allowed to go out and walk, is an enforced hermitic situation for us all.Taking full advantaged of what is an unfortunate circumstance we are able to engaged in the two activities of this practice: zazen and taking absence walks.Most aren’t drawn toward the hermits life, but when circumstances put us there we can use it.
All of our practice deepens our ability to respond to the moment, to handle whatever life throws at us. In this time of increased suffering, these practices serve to root us in the essential, to be able to respond in the most appropriate way.As an illustration of this I am going to read from this Poetic/Spiritual Biography of the great Chinese poet Tu Fu.A Ch’an practitioner, whose poems are infused with Ch’an and Taoist elements, he lived the life of one who moves from their original nature. In The Awakened Cosmos,David Hinton ties together all of the concepts we have gone through in the terms of a masterful Poet living from absence in times of great suffering. Both a continuation of the teachings of this week, this also is a pointer for living in these challenging times.
I read almost the entirety of Chapter 7 Emptiness Dragon from David Hinton’s Awakened Cosmos (specifically p. 51-56). As I note above this chapter really captures what we are trying to get at in this practice and I recommend reading the whole thing.
Sheng Yen – Continuing practice outside of retreat.
BY NOW YOU ALL KNOW how to relax and practice just sitting. But do you know how to apply Silent Illumination to daily life? If you do not, perhaps the effectiveness of this method has not taken hold and coming to retreat has been of little use. So I want to talk about practice in daily life. It was common in ancient India for yogis to remove themselves from society to practice in solitude in the forests. There they would beg for alms and offerings from ordinary people who respected them. In China there was no such tradition. Someone who went around asking for alms was simply a beggar. Practitioners had to work to survive and sustain their practice. For this reason Chan has traditionally placed great emphasis on applying practice to daily work.
Sheng Yen goes on with a thumbnail sketch of the canonical (if somewhat a-historic) account of the development of Chan and its emphasis on work practice. Ch’an Master Baizhang’s admonition, ‘a day without work is a day without eating’ sums this orientation up. Sheng Yen’s point here is that the work that lay practitioners undertake can be view and utilized as samu, work practice. This is explicitly laid out as he continues with his discourse.
I have a disciple who was an accountant before she became a nun. When we made her the Center’s accountant, she complained: “Shifu [Teacher], I left home and became a nun to do serious practice. And here I am counting money again.” I told her, “This is very different. Before you did it for yourself and your family; now you are doing it for the sangha, the Buddhist community. And because there is no self-interest, no profit, no benefit, and no harm in your doing this job, that is genuine practice. Your mental attitude is also very different now. Before you came to the Dharma, your mind was chaotic, wandering here and there during work. Now you can attune and refine your own mind in the midst of business. You are offering your abilities to the sangha. If that is not practice, what do you call it?”
The same is true for all of you. Before you encountered the Dharma, you had no practice and your daily lives were filled with stirred-up emotions and wandering thoughts. After coming across the Dharma and learning Silent Illumination, you will be different when you go back. Work will become your practice no matter what task you are engaged in. Wherever you are, you will be able to regulate, attune, and refine your mind. On the one hand, you are practicing, and on the other, you are interacting with others while maintaining a stable mind. Wherever you are, that will become your practice.
Our practice leads toward being able to operate in this world naturally, not pushed around by our thoughts, feelings and emotions. The practice is a deliberate changing of our a brains a change that we can facilitate by practicing in every situation and practicing this naturalness. At work, in the home, out in the world practice flowing through the world, practice single-tasking, practice silent illumination.
SILENT ILLUMINATION AT WORK
When we eat we should just eat; when we sleep we should just sleep; when we sit we should just sit; and when we work we should just work. Saying this is one thing, doing it another. So I ask you, where is your mind when doing these things? Let’s consider how this applies to working. To practice Silent Illumination means putting body and mind to the task at hand. This also means applying the best method appropriate for the task. If you do it single-mindedly and with your best effort, you will complete the work with a very stable and relaxed mind. You should approach the task with a plan that takes into account the past and the future, but once you start the task, focus on the present. You should carry out the task with a very even and ordinary mind, without feelings of like or dislike, good or bad, or engaging in discursive thoughts. When you complete the task, reflect on whether changes are needed, whether the job was done well, and how you can do better in the future. This is how to practice Silent Illumination while working, but the principles are the same no matter what you are doing. Silence manifests when you do not generate vexations, attachments, and discriminations while carrying out the activity. Illumination manifests when you clearly understand the activity, focusing on carrying it to completion.
Sheng Yen clearly expresses this way of living in the world, of not being beholden to our small minds. As we practice this and as we engage in rigourous ch’an practice slowly this will become our way of life. At some point we can have that all-at-once insight into the reality of things and are able to then just continue with our practice in a natural and unaffected way.
As practitioners we should clearly understand our own abilities and limitations. We should understand our roles in society, what we are capable of, and what is beyond our ability to do. Since everyone is born with certain aptitudes and limitations, knowing our own boundaries is also practice. Some people may be very skillful with their hands while others are less dexterous; some people are good at very detailed work while others are more suited to manual labor. We should learn to be content with our own limitations while working to the best of our ability. This is recognizing clearly where you are and what role you should play. Not knowing this can create vexations for yourself and for others.
Knowing where you should put yourself is silence; very clearly knowing this while engaged in work is illumination. Consider the ox in the fields. Although powerful and dynamic, the ox does its job without trampling on the crops. It responds according to our circumstances. Being like this ox will bring you happiness and joy wherever you are, at work or with friends. If there is peace and harmony where you are, this is practicing Silent Illumination. So please be an ox in your lives.
Practice is not limited to sitting meditation. It should not happen that as soon as you get off the cushion, life becomes stressful. Be very clear about your body’s presence and its sensations. When meaningless sensations arise, do not respond to them. That is silence. Always maintain this clear awareness of the total bodymind. That is illumination. Be very clear about the environment, without being influenced by it. That is totality. The sum of all the above is Silent Illumination. Now please practice Silent Illumination wholeheartedly.
This final section here from Sheng Yen is worth reading over and over again. The absolute root of our practice is commitment; commitment to constantly return our attention to the practice; commitment to bringing our practice into the world; commitment to not increasing the suffering in the world; commitment to responding as the moment requires. Engage in the practice in every activity, wherever your are, twenty-four hours a day. There are no ‘breaks’ from the practice, can you take a break from living your life?
Today we are going to really consider the Empty aspect of Empty Awareness.This is awareness empty of the self, unmediated through our thoughts, conditioning, feelings and views.But it is also Absence, absence as the undifferentiated tissue of all things operating through us.
Absence was often referred to as “emptiness” (空 or 虚), […], and described as the generative void from which the ten thousand things (Presence) are born and to which they return. Our language and intellectual assumptions have trained us to interpret such terms—Absence, emptiness, void—as a kind of nonmaterial metaphysical realm in contrast to the material realm of Presence. We interpret Absence and Presence as a dualistic pair, in which Presence is the physical universe and Absence is a kind of metaphysical womb from which the physical emerges. But No-Gate would not have recognized any metaphysical dimensions in this dualism, for like all artist-intellectuals in ancient China, he was a thoroughgoing empiricist. And in the empirical reality of the Cosmos there is no metaphysical womb, no pool of pregnant emptiness. Absence is emptiness only in the sense that it is empty of particular forms, only Absence in the sense that it is the absence of particular forms. In normal everyday use, Absence (無) means something like “(there is) not,” and Presence (有) means “(there) is.” So the concepts of Absence and Presence might almost be translated “formless” and “form,” for they are just two different ways of seeing the ever-generative tissue of reality.
– David Hinton. No-Gate Gateway (pp. xxvi-xxvii).
This is an important point, to not see the separateness of Absence and Presence.They can be seen as two different views of fundamental reality.The view of absence is the seamless, undifferentiated generative tissue.Presence is that reality manifesting in the myriad forms. When we reach the depth where we see Presence and Absence as a singular tissue we have broken through to the very depths. The Taoist tried to capture this understanding of seamless reality beyond both absence and presence with the term Dark Enigma.
Dark-enigma is a philosophical term that attempts the impossible task of naming Absence and Presence as a single existence-tissue, as it is in and of itself before any names, before Absence and Presence give birth to one another, and before all the other words and concepts and distinctions we use to approach the nature of reality. And the “gate of all mystery” is clearly the same gate that appears twice in the title No-Gate Gateway: first as the simple Gate, and second as the primary element in the Gateway ideogram.
When No-Gate speaks of ‘passing through this gate,’ he means understanding Absence and Presence together as a single generative tissue; and that transforms things completely, for the fundamental dichotomies structuring everything vanish. Absence and Presence, generative emptiness and the ten thousand things, become a single tissue. Word and silence become a single tissue, as does meaning and meaninglessness, self and Cosmos. Thought and empty-mind become a single tissue. The mirror-deep empty-mind that perceives and the ten thousand things filling perception become a single tissue. And there, suddenly there, we are wholly a part of that dark-enigma: not just in moments of empty-mind enlightenment, but also our thoughts and obsessions and memories as we move through our routine self-involved lives: Buddha-nature as ordinary mind, ordinary mind as Tao.
Concepts at this level blur. Absence is one half of the Presence/Absence dichotomy and, at the same time, the resolution of that dichotomy, for it is the undifferentiated tissue that includes all the differentiation of Presence: landscape’s ten thousand things, individual identity, words. And so, it is hard to distinguish Absence from dark-enigma or Tao. All of which is what No-Gate means when he says Absence is beyond even the most fundamental explanatory distinction: “Absence: don’t think it’s emptiness, and don’t think its Presence.” This understanding leads to a remarkable realization: if our original Buddha-nature is Absence, and Absence is the undifferentiated and generative tissue that includes all of Presence, landscape’s ten-thousand things; then our original-nature is itself all of those ten thousand things. Hence the desire among artist-intellectuals and Ch’an monks to inhabit rivers-and-mountains landscapes: for to face such a magisterial landscape is to make one’s own internal dimensions magisterial.
– David Hinton. No-Gate Gateway (pp. xxix-xxx).
This is why we can engage in the practice anywhere, that any of the ten-thousand things can be a grateway. In the natural world where it is more clear, where the complexity is beyond human scale we can enter just as directly as when we reduce all the complexity down to the simplicity of zazen and the basic structure of sesshin.
Once this whole conceptual framework is established in No-Gate’s Foreword and first sangha-case, the purpose of all the following sangha-cases is to ‘cut off the mind-road’ and establish this identification with Absence as our original-nature, our Buddha-nature. For this is the answer to No-Gate’s first sangha-case: not some profound insight, but to inhabit Absence wholly, to make it the whole of consciousness, to become it, to enact it. A central concern in No-Gate Gateway, this identification with Absence is described repeatedly as a kindred intimacy,” and it explains the adoption of No-Gate as a spiritual name, for its deep meaning is of course Absence-Gate. This identification with Absence, this “kindred intimacy, entails a radical transformation in everyday life. One acts always as landscape/Cosmos in its most fundamental generative nature, as wu-wei (Absence-action) and wu-hsin (Absence-mind): movement through daily activity becomes the Cosmos living a life; sight becomes the Cosmos gazing into itself; thought becomes the Cosmos contemplating itself. And it also entails a transformation in death, for death becomes a return home to the generative Cosmos as our truest self, meaning that our most essential nature is therefore as boundless and enduring as the Cosmos itself. So No-Gate is being quite literal when he says: Once through this gateway, you wander all heaven and earth in a single stride.
– David Hinton. No-Gate Gateway (pp. xxxi-xxxii).
This is what it means to be in Empty Awareness. For our ego self to be hollowed out of its conditioned responses so that we identify with Absence and we are seamless with the entirety of presence. We are fundamentally reality in motion.
There is nothing that abides, unchanging, independent of the rest of the fabric of original nature. Everything is dependent on something else, when we sit still enough and are open to absence we can see this directly. Thought rise and fall. The seasons spin through their cycle. Things are born, live and die. Everything is in flux arise from the generative ground and returning to it.
The essence of this path is to get to a place where we experience this directly. A direct experience and intimacy with Absence. This is where we will turn to Sheng Yen and his pragmatic take on this as theory and praxis.