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Tag: Dharma Talks

Discourse on the Inexhaustible Lamp – Talks Dec 2020

by tendo zenji

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 other opportunities held via Zoom due to the pandemic and thus are being recorded. Periodically these will be posted here along with the basic information on each talk and the material covered.

Previous Talks

Part 1: Discourse on the Inexhaustible Lamp – Talks July-Oct. 2020

Part 2: Discourse on the Inexhaustible Lamp – Talks Oct/Nov 2020


14) December 1st, 2020
Virtual Rohatsu day 1
Continued Chapter 1 – Lineage part  16-17 p. 63-67
Northern and Southern Schools, Hui-neng, Nanyue. Considered myth, history, teaching value of archetypes. The archetype of the unlearned zen master. The teaching value of tearing down support.
this talk wasn’t recorded.

15) December 2nd, 2020
Virtual Rohatsu day 2
Continued Chapter 1 – Lineage part  18-19 p. 67-71
Baizhang, Huangbo, Linji
Began by talking about Rohatsu and lineage, how the great effort is put into Rohatsu ala the historical Buddha. The debt owed to the lineage. Not worshiping the ancients but gratitude. Considered the Baizhang Monastic Regulations and sam and the great succession of Matsu, Baizhang, Huangbo and Linji. With the Linji note how essential his teachings are, both in how we function but also directly as koans. Read from the Linji Lu on the costume a teacher puts on and discussed his core teachings such guest and host, person of no-rank and so on.
Download talk: Discourse Talk part 14

16) December 3rd, 2020
Virtual Rohatsu day 3
Continued Chapter 1 – Lineage part  19-21 p. 71-73
Wrapped up Linji section and continued on with the lineage through Koke and Nanin. It is vital to grasp the importance that the Recorded sayings of Linji has to all of Chan and the very conception of Zen. Capped the Linji section with a selection from a Hisamatsu lecture on the True Person of No Rank.
Download talk: Discourse Talk part 15

17) December 4th, 2020
Virtual Rohatsu day 4
Continued Chapter 1 – Lineage part  23 & 24 p. 73-75
Sekiso Soen, Yogi Hoe
 Read Practicing Mu at 27 Degrees Below Zero ( Sheng Yen, Shattering the Great Doubt p. 98) and noted the privations and suffering in practice and how we have experienced that at Tahoma and Sogenji. Commitment can be simulated by a stressful schedule, giving one no choice. In a virtual sesshin, like all sesshin, that commitment has to be genuine. If one genuinely sits even for one sitting it is far more fruitful than hours of artificial commitment.  This lead into the text, where I read through the lineage so far with the Chinese names I had dug up (see here: Linji Lineage). Then read the entries on Sekiso Soen, Yogi Hoe. Sekiso Soen was the fellow who kept himself up stabbing himself with an awl. This story related in the Chan Whip inspired Hakuin to keep on the Zen path.  Yogi (Yangqi) was the founder of the two main lines of Linji Chan from Sekiso Soen. All Linji and thus Rinzai lines descend from him. Read a little from Zen’s Chinese Heritage on Yogi to flesh out his contributions to the line. Talked about the use of poetic language to arose some of the feelings that can arise from the ineffable. Concluded with an exhortation to sit severely and experience “The clear moon of the universe. The clear wave of the blue ocean.”
Download talk: Discourse Talk part 16

18) December 5th, 2020
Virtual Rohatsu day 5
Continued Chapter 1 – Lineage part  25-28  p. 75-80
Haku’un (White Cloud), Goso Hoen, Engo Kokugon (BCR Biyan Lu)
This talk delved into mediation, the Social Construction of seeing past the self which is this construction. Mediation in texts and mediation in how the practice is done. At first it was direct, then it was increasingly mediated. That is at first teachers confronted students directly, then they began to use the words of previous teachers, then they collected those encounters and then we worked with those collections. In Japan this became systematized and further mediated.  Talks are on this past events and original nature is seen through that lens.Examined the three lineage holders concluding with Kokugon who was like a sleeping tiger, but beware of his claws and fangs. Noted that this is the way of a master, they may seem meek and compassionate but they are uncompromising where it counts. Pushing students toward awakening their commitment is total.  Zen in the west is often compromised, But our own commitment doesn’t have to be.
Download talk: Discourse Talk part 17

19) December 5th, 2020
Virtual Rohatsu day 6
Continued Chapter 1 – Lineage part  29, 30  p. 80-81
Kukyu Shoryu, Oan Donge, Mittan Kanketsu, Dahui, Huatou Chan. The literary period had another peak surrounding the development of the koan collections and Huatoa. Last real devices created. Looked at the mediation with Dahui though where Chan masters mostly reference older Chan Masters. How much more so today!  Considered the complicated issue of the lineage surround Kukyu Shoryu, Oan Donge, Mittan Kanketsu and Dahui. These students worked with teachers of multiple generations, Dahui had gotten “the robe” from Engo Kokugon and gave it to Oan for safekeeping and then allowed it to pass on to Mittan. Is there a straight lineage here? Does that even matter much. Considered Dahui and the impact of Huatoa.
Download talk: Discourse Talk part 18

20) December 7th, 2020
Virtual Rohatsu day 7
Continued Chapter 1 – Lineage part  31 and 32 p. 82
Sogen Sogaku, Unman Fugan,  Kido Chigu
Spoke about the practice of Chan at this time and the next period. Gongfu, the dominance of Huatoa Chan. The importance of koans to Rinzai zen, this independent practice that can be carried from place to place. Read from the Chan whip an example of a monk going from place to place and working on huatoa.  Koans infuse the Torei text embedded in these stories and then the focus of later chapters.  The direct encounter with a master becomes one with a text. Completed the Chinese lineage with Sogen Sogaku, Unman Fugan and Kido Chigu.
Download talk: Discourse Talk part 19

21) December 19th, 2020
Virtual Solstice Observance
Continued Chapter 1 – Lineage part 33-35 p. 82-88 Nanpo Jomyo (Daio Kokushi), Shuho Myosho (Daito Kokushi), Kanzen Egan
Enmity between the Tendai and Zen sects. Kokushi means National Teacher. Hanazono – retired emperor who found Shuho under the bridge and brought Kanzan back from the farm to lead Myoshin-ji.These three founded the bedrock of Rinzai Zen: Daitokuji, Myoshinji and the “retired emperor” Hanazono, the Rinzai University was named after. Shuho – Wrote a Koan collection of 120 koans that evolved into Entangling Vines. Entangling Vines – contains koans involving Nanpo, Shuho and Kanzan
Download talk: Discourse Talk part 20

References

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

2) The Record of Linji: A New Translation Of The Linjilu In The Light Of Ten Japanese Zen Commentaries
by Jeffrey L. Broughton
Oxford University Press, USA; (December 11, 2012)
ISBN: 0199936439

3) Critical Sermons of the Zen Tradition: Hisamatsu’s Talks on Linji
Edited by Christopher Ives and Tokiwa Gishin
Univ of Hawaii Press (January 1, 2002)
ISBN:  0824823842

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

5) Shattering the Great Doubt: the Chan Practice of Huatou
Ch’an Master Sheng YenShambhala, 2009
ASIN: B00C5KK738

6) The Chan Whip : A companion to Zen Practice
Jeffery L. Broughton with Elise Yoko Watanabe
Oxford University Press 2015 New York, NY
ISBN: 0190200723


Wayseeking Mind

by tendo zenji

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. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Discourse on the Inexhaustible Lamp – Talks Oct/Nov 2020

by tendo zenji

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 first series of talks from July through September 2020 can be found here:
Discourse Talks July-Sept.

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

References

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

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


Discourse on the Inexhaustible Lamp

by tendo zenji

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.”

David Hinton, China Root, p. 140

Download Audio: Discourse Talk Part 1


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)

Download Audio: Discourse Talk Part 2

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. 

Download Audio: Discourse Talk Part 3


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.”

Entangling Vines by Thomas Yuho Kirchner

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.

Download Audio: Discourse Talk Part 4

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.

Download Audio: Discourse Talk Part 5


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.

Download Audio: Discourse Talk Part 6

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.

“Words, words! They’re all we have to go on”

Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.


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.

Download Audio: Discourse Talk Part 7


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.

Red Pine. The Platform Sutra: The Zen Teaching of Hui-nen

(Note: failed to record this talk)

References

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

2) The Platform Sutra: The Zen Teaching of Hui-neng
Hui Neng, translated by Red Pine
Counterpoint (November 28, 2008)
ISBN: 1593761775

3) Zen Masters of Japan: The Second Step East
by Richard McDaniel
Publisher : Tuttle Publishing (November 1, 2016)
ISBN: 0804847975

4) Entangling Vines: A Classic Collection of Zen Koans
by Thomas Yuho Kirchner
Wisdom Publications; Annotated Edition (June 11, 2019)
ISBN: 1614296154

5) China Root: Taoism, Ch’an and Original Zen
David Hinton
Publisher : Shambhala (September 29, 2020)
ISBN: 1611807131


Virtual Sesshin Day 5 Dharma Talk

by tendo zenji

Virtual Sesshin Day 5  – May 16th, 2020

Beyond the Self

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.

– Sheng Yen, The Method of No-Method (pp. 42-44)

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.

– Sheng Yen, The Method of No-Method (pp. 45-49).

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?

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Virtual Sesshin Day 4 Dharma Talk

by tendo zenji

Virtual Sesshin Day 4  – May 15th, 2020

Emptiness

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.

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Virtual Sesshin Day 3 Dharma Talk

by tendo zenji

Virtual Sesshin Day 3  – May 14th, 2020

Moving through the world without obstruction

Everything that we are engaged in during this retreat is oriented around naturalness, around moving through the world without obstruction.  We are ‘just sitting’. We we are engaged in the outside practices we are ‘Just Walking’ and ‘Just Gazing’.  When we are doing samu, we are ‘Just Working’. Just doing whatever task we are engaged in.  When we chant we are ‘Just Chanting. All of these activities as well as all of the activities in our lives can be done directly  from our true nature. When we operate from the self, we are at least one step removed. This artificial construct of memories, feelings, conditioning takes in our surroundings and circumstances and processes it through this conditioning. The signals and hints that our true nature sends up to us — the feeling that we are in sync with circumstances — is treated as another input. An input that is so often overridden by our small concerns, our conditioned responses.  But when the self recedes and is revealed as inherently empty, when our identity is that of True Nature then are responding directly, naturally to circumstance and the environment. 

Wu Wei in Chuang Tzu. It is the title of Chapter 1, and section 11 of Chapter 6 includes this description of two sages: 

On loan from everything else, they’ll soon be entrusted back to the one body. Forgetting liver and gallbladder, abandoning ears and eyes, they’ll continue on again, tumbling and twirling through a blur of endings and beginnings. They roam at ease beyond the tawdry dust of this world, nothing’s own doing [wu-wei] wandering boundless and free through the selfless unfolding of things.

-David Hinton. Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China (p. 270).

The practice of Wu Wei, Non-Doing or Effortless effort, is the heart of this retreat.  All of these practices are are oriented around slipping past the self, to pure awareness. When we see the conditioned self as empty, we then operate from Empty Awareness and move through the world without obstruction. It’s not that there are not obstacles in our path, but that we flow around them like water flowing past a rock. We are not pushed around but the thoughts, feelings and emotions. They arise from circumstance but the Still Pool can absorb it all without a ripple. 

Wu Wei

Wu has a double meaning that creates a profound literary/philosophical resonance here in these names, and in the book’s celebrated first sangha-case. In addition to meaning “Absence,” that fundamental cosmological/ontological principle, wu is a simple grammatical function word meaning “not.” So on the surface, Wu-men means simply “no-gate,” investing the title with the enigmatic and, as will become clear, profound concept of a “no-gate gateway,” a kind of distilled sangha-case. But wu must also be read as that generative Absence, transforming “no-gate” into “Absence-gate.” This adds a whole new dimension to the title—Wu-men Kuan—for it now means “Absence-gate gateway,” or perhaps “Absence’s gateway.” And that Absence-gate also appears in the first couplet of the four-line gatha that ends the book’s Foreword, where Tao (Way) also appears, together with Presence, the other fundamental element of Taoist ontology/cosmology: The great Way is a single Absence-gate here on a thousand roads of Presence. Once through this gateway, you wander all heaven and earth in a single stride.

This double meaning of wu had long been exploited in the philosophical tradition, complicating terms such as wu-wei and wu-sheng. Wu-wei (無為) dates to the earliest levels of Taoist thought and means literally “not/Absence” (wu) + “acting” (wei). It was a spiritual practice among ancient artist-intellectuals, and it was further cultivated in Ch’an practice. Wu-wei means “not acting” in the sense of acting without the metaphysics of self, or of being absent when you act. This selfless action is the movement of tzu-jan (Tao unfurling as the ten thousand individuated things), so wu-wei means acting as an integral part of tzu-jan’s spontaneous process of Absence burgeoning forth into Presence, and Presence dying back into Absence. This opens to the deepest level of wu-wei’s philosophical complex, where the term’s alternate sense of “Absence” + “acting” means wu-wei action is action directly from, or indeed as, the ontological source. As Ch’an masters dramatized in their wild antics, behavior that likens them to Chuang Tzu’s zany Taoist sages, to practice wu-wei is to move with the wild energy of the Cosmos itself, energy ancient artist-intellectuals recognized most dramatically in rivers-and-mountains landscapes.

-David Hinton, No-Gate Gateway (pp. xvi-xviii).

Acting from our True Nature

This naturalness, this Wu Wei is nothing less than our true nature acting through us.  When we move through the world from our true nature than there is nothing that can obstruct us. Barrier arise and are flowed around, circumstances do not overtake us.  When the small self is running the show, endlessly commenting on everything, we are removed, distanced from our surroundings. This adds a hesitancy, a self-conscious remove from responding to the moment. Those who hesitate are lost!

Wu-wei:  Nothing’s own doing, etc.

Impossible to translate the same way in every instance, wu-wei means acting as a spontaneous part of tzu-jan (things occurring of themselves) rather than with the self-conscious intention that seems to separate us from tzu-jan’s selfless process. Different contexts emphasize different aspects of this rich philosophical concept as writers exploit the term’s grammatical ambiguity. Literally meaning “not/nothing (wu) doing (wei),” wu-wei’s most straightforward translation is simply “doing nothing” in the sense of not interfering with the flawless and self-sufficient unfolding of tzu-jan. But this must always be conceived together with its mirror translation: “nothing doing” or “nothing’s own doing,” in the sense of being no one separate from tzu-jan when acting. 

As wu-wei is the movement of tzu-jan, when we act according to wu-wei we act as the generative source. This opens to the deepest level of this philosophical complex, for wu-wei can also be read quite literally as “non-being (wu) doing.” Here, wu-wei action is action directly from, or indeed as the ontological source: nonbeing burgeoning forth into being. This in turn invests the more straightforward translation (“doing nothing”) with its fullest dimensions, for “doing nothing” always carries the sense of “enacting nothing/nonbeing.”

-David Hinton. Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China (p. 270)

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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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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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