On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

August 15, 2021

Absorption in the Treasury of Light pt 3

Koun Ejo (1198-1280)

Great Master Changsha said to a congregation,

“The whole universe is the eye of a practitioner.
The whole universe is the family talk of a practitioner.
The whole universe is the total body of a practitioner
The whole universe is one’s own light.
In the whole universe there is no one that is not oneself.”

So, penetrating study of the Way of the enlightened requires diligence to learn and faith to attain.  Unless you form an alliance with the family of Buddhas lifetime after lifetime, how can you grasp what you hear in a lecture like this?  Make sure that you do not become further estranged and further remote from it.

Now, the universe spoken of by Changsha is a single eye of the individual involved in Zen study.  The entirety of space is the total body and mind.  He does not grasp the holy or reject the ordinary; he does not say that confused people are not so while enlightened people are thus. What he does is point directly to your own light:  don’t defer this to Great Master Changsha.

This sermon is an all-inclusive talk with your nostrils, a freely adapted practical lesson within your eyes.  There are those who specially bring up old model koans but never attain insight or knowledge all their lives.  Every one of them is the child of a rich family but has no britches.

Also, hearing talk of light, ignorant people think of it as like the light of fireflies, like the light of lamps, like the light of sun and moon or the luster of gold and jewels, groping for comparisons; trying to see the shining radiance, they focus on the mind and figure inside the intellect, aiming for it as a realm of utter emptiness and total silence.

For this reason, they stop movement and take refuge in stillness, or they are unable to relinquish ideas of an actual entity or false ideas of the existence of something to obtain, or their thoughts of inconceivable mystic wonder go on and on unceasingly, and they think too deeply only of its rarity. Such people, rice bags sleeping with their eyes open, are the only numerous ones.

If it were really an inconceivable mysterious matter of such great import, why do you imagine you can reach it by thinking?  This is the type of bedevilment characterized by understanding the quiet reflection of the conscious spirit as the sitting of Buddha.

This is why the founder of Zen explained that there is nothing holy in openness, and it is not consciously known.  To be given such an explanation is something that rarely happens.

Zen Master Changsha said, “The reason students of the Way do not discern the real is simply that they continue to recognize the conscious spirit.  It is the root of infinite eons of birth and death, yet deluded people call it the original human being.”

So, to cultivate realization based on ideas about your own mind and assumptions about what is to be attained is to cultivate the root of birth and death.

Now, the reference made to the real and the original human being mean the openness of the light that is inherently there and perfectly complete.  Outside of the openness of the light, what thing would you try to seek so greedily?  That is why there is no holiness, and it is not consciously known.

Zhaozhou asked Nanquan, “What is the Way?”
Nanquan said, “The normal mind is the Way”
Zhaozhou asked, “How should one approach it?”
Nanquan said, “If you try to head for it, you immediately turn away.”
Zhaozhou asked, “If one doesn’t make any attempt, how can one know it is the Way?”
Nanquan said, “The Way is not in the domain of knowledge, yet not in the domain of unknowing.  Knowledge is false consciousness, unknowing is indifference.  If you really arrive at the effortless Way without a doubt, you are as empty and open as space:  how can you insist on affirmation or denial?”

This is why the ancients, pitying those whose approach is mistaken because it is contrived based on cultivated power, painstakingly guided them by saying:

“The Way cannot be attained by the conscious mind, nor can it be attained by mindlessness; it cannot be communicated by words, nor can it be reached by silence.  As soon as you get involved in deliberation, you are ten million miles away.”


Excerpted from Minding Mind – A Course in Basic Meditation translated by Thomas Cleary

“If it were really an inconceivable mysterious matter of such great import, why do you imagine you can reach it by thinking?”

This line shines clearly in this piece, the Absorption in the Treasury of Light.  The grasping mind so wants reassurance that we are headed in the “right direction.”  But when what you are seeking is directionless and spacious, there is no measuring stick to use to find where you are.

However, the title alone conveys the inconceivable vastness that is at the same time expressed in an experience of seprateness that clouds the Unknown.  We are moving through a field of poppies being ever distracted to go back to sleep.  It all seems too hard and real to the touch.

So, what do you use to orient yourself in the here and now?  If we are truly absorbed in the Light, how do we work the body/mind and move about experiencing cause and effect?  It would seem we need just enough sense of the body and awareness of the present situation to avoid touching the hot stove, for example, or to notice to help someone with something just out of their reach.

It seems the challenge is to have just enough sense of form which permits functioning here and also can permit the skin boundary to fall away from time to time so we get a taste of full immersion.  Nothing extra, that is.

You walk in awareness of the sensation of separate entities and forms knowing full well it is all an illusion that still demands our response.  How to respond without reacting to being caught up in separateness, realizing…

“The whole universe is one’s own light.
In the whole universe there is no one that is not oneself.”

Your Friend along the Way,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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