An Elementary Talk on Zen - Part I
— Man-an (1591-1654)
Although the Way of Buddhahood is long and far, ultimately there is not an inch of ground on earth to travel. Although it is cultivated, realized and mastered over a period of three incalculable aeons, the true mind is not remote. Although there may be five hundred miles of dangers and difficult road, the treasure is nearby. If people who study Zen to learn the Way mistake a single step or stir a single thought, they are ten trillion lands and a billion aeons away.
You should simply see your essential nature to attain Buddhahood. The scriptural teachings expounded by the Buddha over the course of his career are instructions for seeing essential nature; when it comes to seeing essential nature itself and awakening to the Way, that is communicated separately outside of doctrine and does not stand on written symbols.
In this there are no distinctions between the sharp and the dull, the rich and the poor, mendicants and lay people, Easterners or Westerners, ancients or moderns. It only depends upon whether or not the will for enlightenment is there, and whether instruction and guidance are mistaken or accurate.
Even if you get directions from a thousand Buddhas and myriad Zen masters, if you yourself do not continue right mindfulness with purity and singleness of faith, you can never see essential nature and awaken to the Way. This is why you realize your own essential nature by means of your own mind and understand your own life by means of your own insight. If right mindfulness is not continuous and concentration is not pure and single minded, your efforts will be in vain.
As long as our concentration is not purely single minded in both activity and stillness, it will be hard to attain even a little accord. Concentration of right mindfulness should be cultivated most especially in the midst of activity. You need not necessarily prefer stillness.
There is a tendency to think that Zen practice will be quicker under conditions of stillness and quiet and that activity is distracting, but the power attained by cultivation in stillness is uncertain when you deal with active situations; it has a cowardly and weakly function. In that case, what do you call empowerment?
Concentration of right mindfulness is a state of absorption that is in oneself twenty-four hours a day, but one does not even know it consciously. Even though you work all day, you do not get tired out, and even if you sit alone or stand silently for a long time, you do not get bored. To search out enlightenment with principle and fact unified is called genuine study.
If you want to quickly attain mastery of all truths and be independent in all events, there is nothing better than concentration in activity. That is why it is said that students of mysticism working on the Way should sit in the midst of the material world.
— from Minding Mind - A Course in Basic Meditation
Translated by Thomas Cleary (1995)
In the beginning of practice we all understand beginner's mind. In fact in starting any new venture one feels the spark of beginner's mind. Naturally one can feel the sense of adventure, that sense of listening for an unknown sound in the night. As Man-an intimates above, even if we have heard all the greatest teachings, read the sutras, it amounts to nothing without the active participation of a vitally involved person.
A whole or complete Way includes both receptivity and action. However what begins as receptivity often turns into passivity. Following set rituals, mind numbing routines, and the protocols can in time turn into "just showing up" and leaving our questioning awareness behind. One of the key points to tend to in practice is to nourish the mind that stays actively engaged in looking, questioning, and seeing freshly. To establish for oneself each day what one's priorities are and to take the steps, the actions that lead in this direction is paramount to keeping practice alive and vital in the present. Until one can take in the principles and develop for oneself a fresh approach, most training will remain a form that has somewhere along the way lost heart.
So whether we read the teachings, meditate, or practice a moving meditative art, what we can implement in life from our own experience helps to keep the quest alive and fresh; helps us to make the jump from head understanding to practical, visceral life understanding.
"This is why you realize your own essential nature by means of your own mind and understand your own life by means of your own insight." — Man-an