On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

January 09, 2008

Avoiding Foxes and Dogs

Yuan-hsien (1618-1697)

The basic essential nature inherent in all people is clearly evident when you constantly perceive it within yourself; if you pursue external objects, then it becomes obscured; you get confused and are not awake.

That is why people of old would look into a saying; immediately attention is gathered on one point, and you are not drawn by the external world. Eventually the world is forgotten and objects disappear; then the original inherent light naturally comes through revealed.

If you arbitrarily start trying to figure the saying out, you immediately enter a mistaken path. If you want to ask other people, that too increases your confusion and distress. Therefore the method of looking into a saying is just to keep your mind on it, with a feeling of doubt that does not dissipate. Great doubt results in great enlightenment, small doubt results in small enlightenment, no doubt results in no enlightenment. This is an established fact.

People nowadays are unwilling to look into sayings: they just get together in groups to discuss this and that saying as being thus and so, calling it great enlightenment when they’ve managed to explain them clearly. Since the teachers have no true insight, when they see a resemblance in the words of others, they give them useless stamps of approval, saying they are people of attainment. The teachers and their followers are engaging in mutual deception, defrauding each other.

Effort and Study

Everyone has a torch giving off great light: originally it spontaneously illuminates heaven and earth; there is no distance to which it does not reach. It is no different from the buddhas and Zen masters, but when it gets covered by false ideas and material toils, so that it cannot come out, it is therefore necessary to use effort in study to polish it.

What is effort in study? It means placing your everyday mental and physical energies on one saying, without allowing any deviation. After a long time, not only will your mental and physical energies congeal into one mass; the whole earth, mountains and rivers, and the space of the ten directions will also congeal into a single mass, like an iron pill.

One day, through some chance event, the iron pill will explode, producing the eyes of Zen; then the mountains, rivers, and whole earth are all one vast treasure of light.

The Spiritual Light  

“The spiritual light shines independently, transcendentally liberated from organs and objects of sense.” If you can understand this, how can I presume to talk a lot? If you can't, then I'll go on and make some complications for now.

The spiritual light of living beings originally has no obstruction, yet deluded feelings arise in confusion. From this there are six sense organs within and objects of the six organs outside: with the opposition of organs and objects, false consciousness arises uncontrolled, producing good and bad, initiating virtuous and evil actions.

Because of these actions, living beings revolve in a variety of mundane states, like a pulley wheel, wave after wave, age after age, emerging and sinking, with no end to it. The buddhas took pity on them and expounded the great teachings to them, all just to clarify this independent shining of spiritual light.

If the spiritual light is not obscured, organs and objects suddenly disappear, mind is forgotten, and the world is silent: panoramic awareness all embracing, the substance of awakening is being as is.

If the light is not revealed, you need a method. The method is not asking someone to explain, it is not studying scriptures, it is not doing a lot of charitable acts, it is not closing the eyes and sitting as if dead.

Just look intently into the question of what your original face is in the course of daily life. Don't think about whether it is hard or easy, remote or near; and don't worry that your own faculties and potential are slow and dull, or that you are too heavily obstructed by past habits. Just go right ahead and do it; after a long time, eventually you will bump into it all of a sudden.

Yuan-hsien (1618-1697)

Excerpted from Teachings of Zen Translated by Thomas Cleary

Occasionally readers write that they have difficulty understanding some of the journals and seem a bit perplexed about what to do when they hit something they don't immediately get. What I like about this selection is that Yuan-hsien hands us some very concrete directions about “looking into a saying.”

All too often when we get stopped, we almost gloss over the text and move on to something we “get.” However, what they're teaching in Zen is something beyond comprehension using our regular intellect. One approach is to still ourselves before the reading, then let the reading wash over and through us, trusting that the effect of the reading will penetrate without our having to “try” so much. Like a seed planted, the teaching will take root and grow according to the needs of the student.

Yuan-hsien talks about placing one's attention into the saying, returning to it to the exclusion of all else. While this may be a big step for us in the pace of the world we now live in, to return to a reading and stay with it, one usually will absorb a more whole sense of the teaching.  Just as in koan study, the student stays with one phrase until penetrated, any phrase or teaching can become a type of koan.

And as he says above, if the spiritual light is not revealed, we need a method. He generously gives us a few tips; the challenge is whether we can follow through….

Embracing the Light Within,


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