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.On The Way

Instructing the Group, Part III

Lin-chi I-hsuan (d.866)




Followers of the Way, I tell you there is no Dharma to be found outside. But students don't understand me and immediately start looking inward for some explanation, sitting by the wall in meditation, pressing their tongues against the roof of their mouths, absolutely still, never moving, supposing this to be the Dharma of the buddhas taught by the patriarchs. What a mistake! If you take this unmoving, clean, and pure environment to be the right way, then you will be making ignorance the lord and master. A person of old said, "Bottomless, inky black is the deep pit, truly a place to be feared!" This is what he meant.

But suppose you take motion to be the right way. Every plant and tree knows how to move back and forth, so does that mean they constitute the Way? To the degree that they move, it is due to the element air; to the degree that they do not move, it is to the element earth. Neither their moving nor their not moving comes from any nature innate in them. If you look toward the area of motion and try to grasp the truth there, it will take up its stand in the area of non-motion, and if you look toward non-motion and try to grasp it there, it will take up its stand in motion. It is like a fish hidden in a pond who now and then slaps the surface and leaps up.

A man of old said:

The mind changes, following along with ten thousand environments;
The way it changes is truly most mysterious.
If you follow its flow and can perceive its nature,
You will have neither joy nor sorrow.

Followers of the Way, you lug your alms bag and rush off on side roads, looking for buddhas, looking for Dharma. Right now, all this dashing and searching you are doing, do you know what it is you are looking for? It is vibrantly alive, yet has no root or stem. You can't gather it up; you can't scatter it to the winds. The more you search for it, the farther away it gets. Don't search for it and it's right before your eyes; its miraculous sound always in your ears. But if you don't have faith, you'll spend your hundred years in wasted labor.

In the space of an instant you may enter the Lotus Treasury world, enter the land of Vairochana, enter the land of emancipation, enter the land of transcendental powers, enter the clean, pure land, enter the Dharma realm, enter filth, enter purity, enter the state of a common mortal, enter that of a sage, enter the realm of hungry ghosts or animals. Whatever place you journey to, whenever you hunt or search, nowhere will you find the living and the dead. All are mere empty names.

The way I do things at present is to go about in a true and proper manner constructing and demolishing, toying and sporting with supernatural changes, entering every kind of environment but doing nothing wherever I am, not permitting the environment to pull me awry. Whoever comes to me seeking something, I immediately come out to size him up, but he doesn't recognize me. Then I put on various different robes. The student forms an understanding on that basis and begins to be drawn into my words.

Hopeless! The student concentrates on the robe I'm wearing, noting whether it is blue, yellow, red, or white. Don't get so taken up with the robe! The robe can't move of itself; the person is the one who can put on the robe. There is a clean pure robe, there is a no birth robe, a bodhi robe, a nirvana robe, a patriarch robe, a Buddha robe. Fellow believers, these sounds, names, words, phrases are all nothing but changes of robe. The sea of breath in the region below the navel stirs itself into motion, the teeth batter and mold it, and it comes out as a statement of an idea. So we know for certain that these are mere phantoms.

The karma of sounds and words finds outward expression; the objects of the mind are manifested within. Because of mental processes thoughts are formed, but all of these are just robes. If you take the robe that a person is wearing to be the person's true identity, then though endless kalpas may pass, you will become proficient in robes only and will remain forever circling round in the threefold world, transmigrating in the realm of birth and death. Better to do nothing, "to meet someone but not recognize him, talk with him but not know his name."

The trouble with students these days is that they seize on words and from their understanding on that basis. In a big notebook they copy down the sayings of some worthless old fellow, wrapping it up in three layers, five layers of carrying cloth, not letting anyone else see it, calling it the Dark Meaning and guarding it as something precious. What a mistake! Blind fools, what sort of juice do they expect to get out of dried bones?

You rush around frantically one place to another. What are you looking for, tramping till the soles of your feet are squashed flat? There is no Buddha to be sought, no Way to be carried out, no Dharma to be gained.

Seeking outside for some Buddha possessing form
This hardly becomes you!
If you wish to know your original mind,
Don't try to join with it,
Don't try to depart from it.

Followers of the Way, the true Buddha is without form, the true Way is without entity, the true Dharma is without characteristics. These three things mingle and blend, fusing together in one place. Because you fail to perceive this, you let yourselves be called creatures muddled by karma- created consciousness.

Master Lin-chi

Excerpted from "The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi"
Translated by Burton Watson







Like all great teachers, Lin-chi is master of pulling the rug of attachment out from under the student's feet. We are left with nothing to hold onto, nowhere to stand momentarily, speechless for a while. Returning to that Blue Sky Mind more often would certainly be a help here in "grasping" the whole of Lin-chi's teaching. In addition to all the mistakes we have made as students over the years, we need something positive to aim for still.

There are paths of subtraction like "neti, neti" in Indian traditions, "not this, not that" which can be helpful to break attachments and to "gain by subtraction." You can definitely avoid going down any side tracks that way. But there are also constructive tools like meditation and breathing exercises which, properly practiced, are most helpful to this conscious evolution we are participating in.

Can you pause when you feel drawn into the flow of events? Have you ever stopped suddenly, completely, when you felt compelled to act and become totally still? If so, you may have felt the tremendous energy inherent within the pause, the sudden intensity of energy which collects when not continually drawn off into the well of habit. It is something which seems to permeate every cell, a great store of undirected power which has been there all the time. The organism is humming, almost crackling with an unaligned, alert power. That intensity will quickly fade if you marvel at it, get lost in the flow of events or lose the awareness engendered by it. For the energy which becomes available in these moments, the energy of the pause, is the primal vitality and arises directly from intimate contact with the vital unknown.

your host, the monkess


Pausing here to listen,
The Monkess


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