Sutra of the Sixth Ancestor: Three
Deirdre Eisho Peterson
Red Rocks Zen
Circle Spring Retreat in May 2019
morning, everyone. Our text for this
year’s spring retreat is a Chinese text from the 7th century known
as the Platform Sutra. It is one of the
most important texts in Zen, so it is good for us to have some knowledge of it. It is part of Zen’s continuing thread with
the Emptiness literature, such as the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra — classic
texts on prajna, or wisdom, that speak to the Absolute, to Emptiness, to the
fluid, inter-connected nature of reality that we are not separate from, and the
moment-to-moment fresh arising of this.
Platform Sutra is an account of the oral teaching given by the Chinese Zen
ancestor Hui-Neng, known as the Sixth Ancestor, and one of the most important
ancestors in the history of Zen. Much of
the Sutra is the life story of HN himself, and we will be looking at that in
some detail, because it is such an important part of the text. The text also includes teachings that HN
gave: first, teachings on the precepts, and second, teachings on prajna
paramita, this wisdom of emptiness.
is it called the Platform Sutra? Because
it is believed to have been given at a Jukai ceremony for a large group of
disciples and practitioners, who would have been standing on a raised platform
as part of the ceremony. Hence a
section of the Sutra pertains to the precepts and refuge vows, and HN’s unique
perspective on them.
of the things that is striking about the Sutra is its tone. This is not like reading a lofty or formal
text. The disciple who wrote down these
oral teachings really captured the unpretentious flavor of the talks, and their
vitality. HN frequently calls out to us,
“Good friends!” to wake us up. “Listen
how the text opens, how HN begins his teaching to the assembly: “This teaching has been passed down by the
ancients. It isn’t something I
discovered by myself. But if you wish to hear this teaching of the ancients,
you must listen with pure minds. So
listen, good friends! You already
possess the prajna wisdom of enlightenment!
But because your minds are deluded, you can’t understand by
yourselves. You need a truly good friend
to show you the way to see your nature.”
So that’s the beginning. That we already have everything we need. We
just need a little guidance to see our own Buddha Nature. And our good friend HN is going to give us
guidance to see that, to realize that, to make it real in our lives.
we’re going to look at some of the key teachings, and with this Sutra I think
it is important that we also consider the implications of them – how they
encourage us as practitioners, and what they convey about our human minds and
our practice of Zen. As the Zen teacher Norman Fischer says, says, “The teachings
in the Platform Sutra are very encouraging for us. As we will see, HN is our good friend, and he
models the way for us. He is telling us
to trust – to trust in our inherent awakeness and the inherent clear nature of
our minds. He is telling us to let go
of our ideas so we can encounter the moment directly. He is telling us to simply see the empty
nature, the inter-being, that continuously unfolds.”
translator Red Pine makes that observation that: “Normally, readers of a spiritual teaching
would expect an explanation of various concepts that appear in this text. This
is what we think a teaching consists of:
concepts, ideas, constructions of the mind. But HN’s teaching is not a teaching of
concepts, in fact it is just the opposite.
It is a teaching of no-concepts.
Every word he speaks is directed at freeing people from whatever concepts
block their awareness of their own nature.
The core teaching of HN is: “See
your nature and be Buddha.” So in other
words: see the nature of your own mind
…. This mind that freely flows with whatever is arising, that can be intimate
with whatever is arising …. To see this and realize that this is the nature of
mind is to be Buddha.
know, sometimes we judge ourselves harshly and feel like we are not good
meditators because we have thoughts arising, and our minds don’t seem calm, the
way we think they are supposed to be.
But we all have thoughts arising.
Even HN. But perhaps, as HN
teaches, it’s not about fewer thoughts.
It is to see the mirror-like nature of our mind, to experience
intimately the sounds and sensations, the moods – and that this is Buddha.
of the primary themes of this text is around meditation and wisdom, and I’d
like to look at that a bit this morning.
HN states that meditation and wisdom are of one essence, not two. Early
on in the Sutra, he says: “Good friends: meditation and wisdom are like a lamp and its
light. When there’s a lamp, there is
light. The lamp is the light’s body, and
light is the lamp’s function. They have
two names but not two bodies. This
teaching concerning meditation and wisdom is like this.”
is this teaching significant? For it to
make sense to us, we have to look at this word “wisdom”. In our culture, we often think of the word
“wisdom” as thinking up good ideas and making insightful pronouncements. Or wisdom as something in dusty books on the
shelf from ancient philosophers. But
wisdom is something quite different in the dharma. The “prajna” or wisdom in the dharma is
considered our original mind. It is said
to be before knowledge, before there is a person who knows and some thing that
is known. There is just the arising of
each unique moment.
way that we could see the word wisdom is as “clear seeing” – especially with a
sense of clear seeing into the empty, interconnected, fluid field of
reality. Clear seeing into the self, not
as isolated or fixed, separate from the rest of the universe – but as open and
fluid. Each time we sit down on the
cushion we have an opportunity to see this for ourselves. So HN emphasizes that the practice of clear
seeing is what we call meditation or zazen, and the practice of zazen is the
practice of clear seeing. One does not
come first, one is not an effect or result of the other – they are the
same. This non-dual viewpoint is
fundamental to HN. We also hear echoes
of it 500 years later with Dogen, who will declare that practice and
enlightenment are one. These are the
same truths, just expressed in different language.
this subject of this Zen wisdom, Norman Fischer also points out that “wisdom is
not knowledge. Wisdom can’t be possessed
or named. It is not a personal
characteristic. It comes and goes
freely. It is to be free from
separation. It is a way of including
ourselves in the world, so it brings us back to belonging. In terms of how we would experience it, it
would feel warm-hearted and connected. And
it is a reason we sit: to remind
ourselves that we are part of this and it is a part of us.” ~
to explore the Platform Sutra, we have to start with HN himself. His story is a fascinating one, and filled
with a number of rich and vivid chapters.
Scholars tell us that while the basic framework of the story is
historically accurate, it has also been richly embroidered over time, to serve
the purposes of Zen, into a quasi- legend. The story of HN is a kind of
foundational story about the values of Zen, in much the same way that the
quasi-mythic stories of the Buddha are teachings in themselves.
essence of the HN legend is of an outsider, a lay person, said to be unlettered
and uncultured, who brings an immediacy, a freshness, a clearness, and a strong
level of non-conformity into the traditional and structured religious
hierarchy. He is not one of the urban or
priestly people in beautiful robes or high seats. So right from the start, he is exemplifying
Zen as a direct path that does not require status or a fancy education, nor complicated
rituals and religious pieties. Bodhidharma
taught “direct pointing at the mind”, and HN, centuries later, carries forward
this same emphasis.
was born in 638, in southeastern China, and his father died when he was
young. He and his widowed mother
experienced great hardship and poverty, and to survive they sold firewood in
the marketplace. We are told that HN
never learned to read or write, and this illiteracy will become an important
part of the HN story and of Zen lore – as it was said centuries earlier by
Bodhidharma, that the essence of Zen is a special transmission outside the
scriptures, not in words and letters.
Even though Zen is full of words and letters and is quite a literary
tradition, it still loves this idea that it is not about words and letters, and
that awakening is not about something that can be written down or transmitted
in words. So HN’s illiteracy makes him a
perfect candidate, although as we will see, his illiteracy may be part of the
myth and not factual.
story goes on to say that when HN was a young man, he overheard a person in the
marketplace reciting the Diamond Sutra out loud. It is said that he heard the words, “Abiding
nowhere, awakened mind arises” and then he himself had some kind of deep awakening
experience. Abiding Nowhere, Awakened
Mind Arises. And he soon makes his way
to a Zen monastery, where he has a first conversation with the Master who asks
him, “Where are you from, and what do you hope to get by coming to this
mentions his hometown, and then proclaims that he has come to the monastery
because he wants to be a Buddha. The
master then insults him, saying ‘But you’re from down south and a jungle rat –
a barbarian — as well. How can you
possibly be a Buddha?” Apparently
calling HN a barbarian was a slur, and calling him a jungle rat was an ethnic
slur. It would be like a farmhand from the
deep south showing up with a deep accent and saying they wanted to be a Buddha. If we were feeling rude, we might call them a
hayseed, a redneck — how could you be a Buddha?
HN replies: “People come from the north
or south, but not their Buddha nature.
The life of this jungle rat and the life of the Master aren’t the same,
but how can our Buddha nature differ?”
HN made an impression. Still, he was not
allowed in the meditation hall and was sent to join the sangha workforce. He was led to the milling room, where he
pedaled a millstone, a way of grinding rice to remove the husks, for more than
eight months. Again, quite symbolic,
since more than eight months is about the time of gestation, of a fetus in the
we’ll take a pause here in the story of the 6th Ancestor, leaving
him in the milling room, and tomorrow we’ll continue with some of the dramatic
events that unfold. But as we heard
earlier, those words from the Diamond Sutra were what awakened something in
HuiNeng as a very young man. Abiding
Nowhere, Awakened Mind Arises. Abiding
Nowhere would mean a mind that is not stuck, not stuck in fixed ideas, not
stuck in fixed ways of viewing the world.
No stuck with something that happened yesterday, or 10 minutes ago. A
mind that moment after moment is intimate with what arises. This is a great
thing for us to hold close and practice with today. We’re often out there looking for Awakened
Mind, but perhaps it is actually right here, in the simplicity of our direct
experience. Let’s practice that today.
morning everyone. So yesterday we were looking at the early life
of HuiNeng, and especially this phrase that sparked something in him: Abiding Nowhere, Awakened Mind Arises. Since this teaching is central to HN’s
dharma, I want to look a little further at it.
old Chinese masters taught a kind of freedom, a freedom when the mind flows
easily with the moment to moment flow of experience. This was called Abiding Nowhere. In this context, “abiding”, or taking up
residence, would mean to be stuck. Perhaps stuck in a particular viewpoint,
stuck in conditioning, stuck in wanting things to stay as they are – or stuck
in needing for things to be different. If
you have been practicing meditation for a while, you’ll perhaps have had the
experience of noticing that when the mind feels peaceful and clear – we don’t
want that to change! We think we can
keep that mind state around, and are disappointed when it doesn’t last, when
conditions change and with it the mind. The
teachings were meant to wake us up from that.
As the great master Joshu once pronounced, “This old monk does not abide
in clarity.” Even after decades of
practice, this monk doesn’t get stuck in clarity. Sometimes clear, sometimes cloudy, flowing
number of koans that we study deal with this matter as well. Here’s another teaching story involving
Joshu. It is #80 in the Blue Cliff
monk asked Master Joshu: Does a newborn baby have the 6th
said: Like tossing a ball on
monk asked, What is the meaning of tossing a ball on swift-flowing water?
Joshu replied, “Moment to moment, non-stop flow.”
from his question, we can infer where the monk may be coming from. He’s asking about a newborn baby. Perhaps he has seen an infant earlier in the
day, and struck by the seeming freedom of their minds …. One moment they are fussing,
the next moment they are cooing and happy.
They can be totally immersed in a toy, or watching an ant crawl or
staring at a bird. Perhaps the monk
feels like this would be a good mind to have for Zen practice. The baby is free from dualistic thinking,
free from concepts, free from judgements.
Perhaps a baby is the model for Zen students. But in fact, a baby is of course not the
model for us. As for Joshu, he doesn’t
answer directly about the specifics of the monk’s question, but he simply says
“like tossing a ball on swift-moving water.”
There is a free play and flow of
consciousness. And then he
elaborates further: “moment to moment,
non-stop flow.” This is the Abiding
Nowhere that awakened HuiNeng.
so an important question for us becomes, what gets in the way of that
moment-to-moment non-stop flow? So often
it is grasping …. I want more …. or aversion … I don’t want this. It could be fear or anxiety that makes us
draw back from the stream. It is
dualistic thinking, ego-centered thoughts, judgements. So always, our practice is to notice that. This emerging now moment is always up to each
one of us. We don’t have to reinforce
old thought patterns, old conditions — we can approach it with freshness, with
interest , with attention. The clear
seeing is what gradually works to free our minds from the way these states
HN’s teachings are certainly about how to be more free. There is a direct, simple, intuitive nature
to the kind of practice he is cultivating.
In the Platform Sutra, in one of his most well-known teaching phrases, he
tells the assembly that “The Samadhi of Oneness is Straightforward Mind.” The Samadhi of Oneness is Straightforward
Mind. What does that mean? Samadhi
is a word for meditative absorption.
When we really settle into the cushion, where we are just with the
breath, just with sounds – that is Samadhi, or concentration, or meditative
absorption. All of us have experienced
this, whether we recognize it or not. The
Samadhi of Oneness is a fancy term for that unity consciousness, where we are
intimate with whatever arises. The bell
rings and there is no barrier, no separation between myself and the bell. The Sanskrit literally means “Placing
Together.” Awareness and whatever is
experienced, placed together, seamless merging.
HN tells us that Straightforward Mind, the ball flowing on a fast-moving
stream, IS this samadhi. Other
translations for this word “Straightforward Mind” say that Direct Mind, or Sincere
Mind, is this Samadhi. It is the mind
that simply flows, without obstructions or confusion, with whatever is arising,
and meets it without separation. So in
other words, we could say that Straightforward Mind is Intimate Mind. And Intimate Mind is Straightforward Mind.
the contemporary teacher Shodo Harada on this:
“In our essence of mind, mountains are mountains, flowers are flowers,
and the sound of the wind is the sound of the wind. We hear, we see, and we leave each thing as
we hear or see it, adding nothing at all to it.
Everything else is dualistic thinking.
Changing with every moment, our mind manifests our clear nature. This is the meaning of abiding nowhere,
awakened mind arises. In this way the 6th
Ancestor teaches us.”
this intimate mind is what HuiNeng is refining during those months that he is
working in the rice shed, after his encounter with the Master at the Monastery. So let’s turn our attention back to HN.
about this time, at the monastery, the Master is apparently not so pleased with
his disciples, feeling that they are not understanding the heart of the
teachings. He says, “In studying dharma,
you must not remain satisfied by just copying my words. Make a poem to show your understanding and
demonstrate your Zen abilities.” If any
of them are able to express the true dharma, he will make them his successor. So it’s a challenge.
of the monks are too afraid to try to write a gatha themselves. They assume that the head monk will write
one, and that he is the natural dharma successor. So in fact, he does write a gatha, and posts
it on the wall – kind of like the bulletin board. Here is his verse:
The body is a
The Mind is like
a standing mirror
Always try to
keep it clean
Don’t let it
this verse is emphasizing the importance of vigilance, discipline, always
polishing to keep the mirror clean.
this gatha, HN decides to compose his own verse, which one of the monks writes
on the same wall for him. Here is HN’s
has no tree
The mirror doesn’t
have a stand.
Nature is forever pure
Where is there
room for dust?
if the head monk’s verse emphasizes the need for practice and diligence, HN’s
verse shows the other side. Our Buddha
Nature is already pure. We are not
lacking. Everything is already free,
totally itself and at the same time totally inter-connected with everything
else. There is nothing to obtain, there
is nothing but this moment, and we are already here, part of it. We only have to see more clearly, or wake up to
what is already here. That’s the good
news of the vision that HN offers us.
when the master of the monastery sees the HN verse, he immediately recognizes
the understanding that is shown there.
But he waits until midnight to summon HuiNeng to his chambers, because
he is afraid the other monks who are loyal to the head monk will be upset and
jealous, and possibly try to harm HuiNeng.
Apparently Zen monasteries in ancient China were not that different from
the contemporary workplace in terms of office politics and rivalries.
we have this middle of the night ceremony, in which HuiNeng is given the
master’s robe as a mark of dharma transmission.
The Master tells HuiNeng that “My dharma must be transmitted mind to
mind. You must help people awaken to
themselves.” And with that, HN
disappears off into the night, after being advised to stay out of sight for a
number of years before beginning to offer teachings.
of course this entire story is quite dramatic, including the secret midnight transmission
and flight. And some Zen centers
continue this tradition, with teacher empowerments often kept quiet until they
are announced after the fact. It is a
little bit of a nod to HN, part of Zen culture.
let’s turn our attention back to the two poems.
So in the story, it seems that the Head Monk’s poem is inadequate, and
HuiNeng’s is the right perspective, is more profound in its understanding of
the dharma. And that suits the broader
purposes of the HN legend.
reason that the Head Monk’s poem is judged inferior is that its perspective is
that we must always work very hard to polish the mirror. That our minds will only awaken after long
and arduous mirror polishing – lots of zazen, lots of atonement, lots of sutra
chanting, lots of bowing, lots of study.
From this perspective it is a long slog to gradual awakening.
contrast, the poem of HN is pointing to the Absolute, to Emptiness, when he
says that there is no stand for the mirror and no dust. There is only this moment, always arising
fresh. And all we need to do is be fully present to it.
reality is that our Zen practice is about both perspectives. You could say it is the perspective of the
relative and absolute. In the relative
world, the world of form, we do need to practice, we do benefit from study. We need to sit still, to cultivate clear
seeing. We need to take a few days from
the busyness of our life to come together for retreat such as this.
the same time, we don’t want to lose sight of the perspective of the Absolute
that HN shows us, that everything is just as it is each moment, that each
moment has its own perfection, that we are already part of it.
it is from this perspective of the Absolute that HN will come to give his
teachings on the Precepts, as recorded in the Platform Sutra. Usually, in Buddhism, the Precepts are seen
as the guidelines for ethical conduct in the world. And of course, they are that.
HN understands them differently, and he teaches the assembly about what he
calls “formless repentance” and “formless precepts”. Sometimes this word “formless” is translated
as “signless”. Signless, meaning without
exterior signs or indicators. This is
very much in keeping with HN’s emphasis on the nature of mind – that it is here
that true morality arises. That we don’t need outside confirmation. The concept of the hidden sage.
Red Pine says this: “The Formless
Precepts are HN’s attempt to encourage his listeners to transcend the normal
interpretation of precepts, as restrictions on behavior. To HN, the precepts are not about preventing
bad deeds or even encouraging good deeds.
Instead, his interpretation is coming out of prajna wisdom. So it is something arising from our own mind,
our original mind before we “know” something, before there is a “me” who knows
or some “thing” that is known. The
ancient wisdom valued that …. The clear seeing, the spontaneous seeing, before
all the discriminating of the human mind begins, all the judging, and the
for HN, ethical conduct is folded into clear seeing, a radical reinterpretation.
here is his version of the Four Vows:
I vow to save
all beings, no matter how numberless
I vow to end all
afflictions, no matter how countless
I vow to master
all teachings, no matter how limitless
I vow to attain
Buddhahood, no matter how transcendent.
lines sound familiar to what we chant at the zendo. Yet listen to his commentary on those lines,
on how he understands the Vows:
says this: Good friends, as for “I vow
to save all beings”, it isn’t HuiNeng who does the saving. Every being you can think of saves themselves
with their own nature in their own bodies.
What does this mean? Every being
already possesses the nature of original enlightenment, and this saves them
with right views. Once they realize the
prajna wisdom of right views they dispel their ignorance and delusion, and each
being saves themselves. The false are
saved with truth. The deluded are saved
with goodness. And the afflicted are
saved with enlightenment. Those who are
saved like this are truly saved.”
although we do not always act from a place of awakened mind, HN is saying that
we each have that nature. When we see
clearly and intimately, our ignorance and delusion is dispelled …. And we can
and compassionately. It is not coming
from outside, but from inside.
we’ll take a pause here for the day. I’d
like to conclude with a gatha that was written by the Insight teacher Larry
Rosenberg, and with which he always ends his dharma talks. It is very much in keeping with the teachings
May we continue
to look deeply into ourselves
May we see
things exactly as they are
May this clear
deep seeing free us.
yesterday we looked at HuiNeng’s poem and his dramatic midnight flight after
receiving his master’s authority to teach.
We also looked at his teachings on Straight-forward Mind, or Intimate
Mind, and the way that HN saw the Precepts arising not from external rules but
as a natural orientation coming from Prajna Wisdom, the wisdom of non-duality,
the inherent wisdom, or clear seeing, that is there in each of us before the
arising of a sense of a separate “me”.
morning I’d like to look at a further chapter in the life of HN. This particular chapter also shows up as a
koan in the Mumonkan, so some of you will be familiar with it from that. It’s quite a dramatic episode, almost
the story, after HN leaves the monastery, he is pursued by one particular
monk. Apparently this Monk Myo was
previously a military commander. We can
imagine that this man has a strong sense of hierarchy and order, and he is
outraged that this newly-arrived illiterate barbarian has usurped the rightful
place of his own mentor, the head monk.
Monk Myo is determined to capture the robe and bowl that were given to
HN as signs of his dharma transmission, to take them away.
in the koan story, Monk Myo finally runs down HuiNeng. Rather than try to hide the robe of the
master or hold onto to it in some way, HN simply offers it to Monk Myo. But in
a twist, Myo is unable to lift the robe.
Perhaps realizing the violent and vengeful quest that he has been
consumed with, he breaks down. He tells
HN that he has come not for the robe, nor for vengeance …. But that he has actually
come for the dharma. HN then offers his
well-known teaching: “Think neither good
nor evil. At such a moment, where is the
mind of Monk Myo?”
this, Monk Myo was awakened. With tears
he made a bow, saying, “I am like one who has drunk water and actually
experienced himself whether it is cold or warm.
You are my true teacher.”
So. “Think neither good nor evil.” Stepping out of our judgements of right or wrong,
worthy or unworthy, pure or impure …. All those concepts that people are
willing to go to war over, to kill each other over. And how easy it is for us
to fall into this dualistic framework in so many aspects of our life and our
relationships. So HN says: drop your
ideas of right or wrong, and what is this actual moment? What is your experience if the mind is not
stuck in a rigid, conditioned, ego-centered view? What is right here? We are told Monk Myo had an awakening
experience. He saw something about
himself and about his mind that he had not seen before. There was a dropping
away of his consuming agenda, and in that space there was a moment of opening
and simple presence that he had not known before.
Roshi, a contemporary Zen master who wrote extensive commentaries on the koans
in the Mumonkan, describes the encounter this way: “Even though Monk Myo touched the robe as it
lay there on the stone, in his emotional agitation he could not lift it. Hesitating and trembling he simply stood
there, petrified. His ego-centered and
enraged self was at once completely smashed.
This inner conversion , which fundamentally changed him, was the most
important moment in his life. With quite
a different attitude Monk Myo now implored HN to teach him.”
HN cut straight to the heart of the matter with his question, “When you think
neither good nor evil, what is the True Self of Monk Myo at this moment?”
goes on to say, “When all the dualistic oppositions such as good and evil, right
and wrong, love and hatred, gain and loss, are transcended, and one is the
realm of the Absolute …. where is Monk Myo?
Body and mind have dropped away.
At such a time the reality of the True Self is vividly and thoroughly
revealed. “ ~
to know this True Self, or our True Nature, is something that is foundational
to HN’s teachings. Over and over he
instructs us: “Know your mind and see your nature.” To see your nature, your Buddha Nature. So it’s worth clarifying, what is this Nature? Why is it important to HN that we see
it? What does it even mean to see our
nature, our Buddha Nature?
of us who read Buddhist texts “kind of know” what Buddha Nature means, and we
kind of don’t know. It is confusing
because the word Buddha Nature can be used to mean different things in
different contexts, and it is rarely explained.
it is used to mean our potential for realization, for waking up, that we share
the same nature & capacity as the Buddha, the Awakened One.
the same time, Buddha Nature refers to our non-dual nature. It refers to that state of non-duality, when our minds are transparent,
completely intimate with whatever is arising. It is sometimes called our true
self, our original face, our original nature, or Mu. It is when we experience directly, without
the veil of thoughts and concepts we so often experience our life through.
may wonder if you will ever experience this.
You already have. Many, many
times. But we don’t recognize this
state, because to recognize it, we would have to be separate from it. Also, perhaps we expect fireworks and bells
to go off, but that is not the case. It
is completely natural. It is coming home. It manifests in that our sense of
disconnection from life and from ourselves, our sense of something being wrong,
starts to shift. We enjoy and appreciate
the elements of our everyday life, whether or not our life circumstances are
ideal. We feel gratitude and
teachings are predicated on the fact that we all have this Buddha nature. He says early on in the Platform Sutra: “Good friends, buddha nature isn’t different
for the ignorant and the wise. It’s just
that when people wake up and see their nature, they become wise.” Translator Red Pine comments: “Our minds are enclosed by veritable cities
of delusion. Once we open our minds to
the dharma, the light of our Buddha Nature shines through, and even the
thickest walls become transparent.”
view on Buddha Nature, on our capacity for Intimate Mind, is not some warm and
fuzzy notion that all things are One …. HN is more precise than that. He wants us to see how our compulsive
thinking creates a self-conscious sense of separation. Thoughts and mental constructs are the veil
through we often perceive reality. It is
what can lead to a persistent dissatisfaction even when our life circumstances
seem to be fine. Because when we are
only living through the veil of thought, we feel a fundamental disconnection
from life and our ourselves. Many of us
search around through various philosophies, practices, work, relationships,
social action …. When at the bottom of it is the intrinsic search for
connection. And the deepest connection
is this connection with ourselves, with our moment to moment lived experience. This is what the dharma offers us. HN’s teachings are about allowing us to
experience wholeness, and inter-relatedness, that is our true birthright, our
tells us that the whole of Zen is “to see our nature, without being
confused.” How do we understand this? First, it means moment-to-moment, it doesn’t
mean a permanent state of clarity or non-confusion. Even great master Joshu says, “This old monk
does not abide in clarity.” To see our
nature is to see, with transparency, just what is here, moment after moment, as
it unfolds. We allow ourselves to be
filled with what each moment holds.
we sit zazen, as we have been doing for the past three days, and as we practice
each week at the zendo, we are cultivating a mind that is stable enough to see
what passes through without getting too ensnared in content. And what we see is the flow …. Sounds,
sensations, thoughts, conditions of the body.
Sleepy, restless, calm, aching, peaceful. To be the flow. To be intimate with it all.
notion of the mind is linked with Chinese wuwei,
or non-doing, “doing without a do-er”.
It is an attentive but unentangled way of being. Not vacancy, but freedom. An open, non-conceptual state of mind that allows
us to experience reality directly, not meditated through thoughts. In HN’s view, natural precepts and natural
compassion arise directly from this mind.
the text HN encourages us to see our nature, and this will free us. To see that the contents of our experience
are always changing and flowing with whatever arises …. And that we are this
field of awareness that perceives all of it – sounds, smells, sensations,
thoughts, emotions. This field of awareness
is awake, intelligent, and can be intimate with its experience. It is pure in that it is not defiled by the
contents of what arises. We could walk by a garbage can with an unpleasant
smell, or walk by a garden of roses, but our fundamental True Nature is not
we’ll close with this gatha from Zen ancestor Hannyatara:
When I inhale
I don’t dwell
When I exhale,
I don’t pursue
Thus I breathe
thousands of times.
~ ~ ~