On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

June 16, 2003

An Elementary Talk on Zen – Concluding Remarks

Man-an (1591-1654)

If you do not liberate yourself in this lifetime, what lifetime will you wait for? Once this day has passed, that much of your life is gone too. With each passing thought, observe the impermanence of the appearances of the world and give up thinking there will be a tomorrow. With each step tread the Great Way of the mind source, and do not turn to another road.

You should let go your hand and footholds, as if plunging off a precipitous cliff. When body and mind have died away at once, it is like standing right in the middle of cosmic space, like sitting in the center of a crystal vase. All of a sudden there will emerge the great state that is not ordinary, not holy, not Buddha, not mind, not a thing; you will attain penetrating realization that mind, Buddha, and living beings are all one. This is the reality body of all Buddhas, the inherent essence of all people. By realizing this, one becomes a Buddha or a Zen master; by missing this, one remains an ordinary mortal.

Although people's faculties may be keen or dull, and practice and realization may be gradual or sudden, the secret I have been revealing here is the teaching of attaining Buddhahood by sudden enlightenment. It is a standard rule in which higher, middling and lesser faculties are one whole. It is far from the gradual practice and learning of the two vehicles of individual liberation.

To think Buddha nature is the state where mind is empty and objects are silent, where there is radiant awareness without arousing a single thought, is to consider the conscious spirit to be the original human being. It is like taking a thief to be your son, like taking a brick for a mirror. This is the fundamental ignorance underlying birth and death. It is like being a corpse that is still breathing. You cannot release your own radiant light, illumine the self within and shine through mountains, rivers, and earth.

Even if great awakening is realized and the body of reality is clearly comprehended, if you are polluted by practice and attainment, the Buddha Way does not become manifest. You should know that there is that which is beyond even the beyond.

As for the Zen of the living exemplars, even if a clear mirror is placed on a stand, they break through it right away. Even if a precious pearl is in their palm, they smash it at once. A mortar flies through space; the eastern mountains walk on water. Having the fortune to know that all living beings have Buddha nature, and that there is already a matter of utmost importance right where you stand, investigate continuously, twenty four hours a day, in principle and in fact. What is it that is walking, what is it that is sitting, what is it that acts, what is the mind?

If you forge bravely and powerfully ahead, wholeheartedly questioning and wondering for three to five years, without flagging, the Great Wonder will inevitably occur and you will not fail to awaken.

Nurturing the embryo of sagehood, cultivating practice in the aftermath of awakening, is really not easy. An ancient said, “If your potential does not leave a fixed position, it falls into an ocean of poison.” It is imperative to know that there is cultivation on top of realization and to preserve the Way of living Zen with hidden practice and secret application.

Do not make the mistake of maintaining the idea of having gained something, lest you become a hungry ghost forever keeping watch over a treasure, or a starveling with a hoard of wealth. Even if you see a Buddha land manifest and perceive the realm of Buddha, you see only once, not twice.

I hope you will concentrate and let go as you breathe out and in, remove all leakage from the stream of mindfulness, perpetuate the bones and marrow of the Buddhas and Zen founders, dispense the pure teaching, like sweet elixir, for the benefit and salvation of all living beings, gratefully requiting the deep and far reaching blessings you have received.

Man-an (1591-1654)

Excerpted from Minding Mind – A Course in Basic Meditation Translated by Thomas Cleary (1995)

There are many beautiful principles in a life of Practice – principles that are inspiring, encouraging, challenging, and liberating. It is tempting at times to seek a formula, a resting place, a “practice point” that in reality promotes either coasting mind or gaining mind. Better yet is to let all resting places drop away and remain actively engaged in the present without any formulas.

As Manan says above, even “cultivating practice in the aftermath of awakening, is really not easy.” In the words of a slightly more contemporary teacher:

“It's been said that the Way of Practice is easy, that all you need to do is begin and continue. But the Way of Practice is not easy, for there is a third, more difficult requirement which is to, at all costs, avoid becoming a master. Never think of your self as a master or Practice will die on the spot.

So, if you want to maintain this life of Practice, you must find some way to avoid becoming a master. It's that simple. If you can study deeply, observe closely, trust in the Flow without becoming a master, you can maintain your Practice while living a life of grace and beauty.

To be or become a master is to be or become something other than the Flow; something other than the Present Unfolding. It's actually to move in the wrong direction.”

Maverick Sutras

Practically speaking this means for us that we are actively learning and looking daily, discarding views of yesterday and ways of seeing and thinking about ourselves. Questioning ourselves: “What am I missing? Is there more to see here?” rather than blindly trusting our first way of seeing, becomes second nature. We embrace the mind that actively is exploring rather than the mind that stops too easily to rest. In this way, we embrace change and Flow and become the Present Unfolding.

Keeping the Light On,
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

Recent Journals

Journal Archives