On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

September 16, 2004

Empty and Quiet

Yuan-hsien (1618-1697)

People learning the way should first empty and quiet their minds. This is because the mind must be empty before it can mystically understand the subtle principle. If the mind is not emptied, it is like a lamp in the wind, or like turbulent water, how can it reflect the myriad forms?

Therefore learners should first stop cogitation and minimize objects of attention, making the mind empty and quiet. After that you have a basis for attaining the way. As Te-shan said, “Just have no mind on things and no things in your mind, and you will naturally be empty and spiritual, tranquil and sublime.”

Nevertheless, you should not settle in empty quietude, sitting relaxed and untrammeled in nothingness. You must be truly attentive, investigating diligently, before you can break through the barrier of illusion and accomplish the great task. People's forces of habit, accumulated since beginningless time, are deep seated; if you want to uproot them today, it will not be easy. You need to have a firm will constantly spurring you on. Strive to make progress in the work, without thinking about how much time it will take. When you have practiced for a long time, you will naturally become peaceful and whole. Why seek any other particular method?

True Mind

There are not many arts to Zen study: it just requires knowing your own true mind. Now observe that within this body the physical elements combine temporarily, daily heading for extinction: where is the true mind?

The flurry of ideas and thoughts arising and passing away without constancy is not the true mind. That which shifts and changes unstably, sometimes good, sometimes bad, is not the true mind. That which wholly depends on external things to manifest, and is not apparent when nothing is there, is not the true mind.

Suppose you turn the light of awareness around to look within, and sense tranquility and oneness; do you consider this the true mind? You still do not realize that this tranquility and calm oneness are due to the perception of the false mind: there is subjective mind perceiving and the object perceived. This tranquility and oneness belong to the realm of inner states. This is what is meant by the Heroic Progress Sutra when it says, “Inwardly keeping to tranquility is still a reflection of discrimination of objects.” How could it be the true mind?

So if these are not the true mind, what is the true mind? Try to see what your true mind is, twenty four hours a day. Don't try to figure it out, don't try to interpret it intellectually, don't try to get someone to explain it to you, don't seek some other technique, don't calculate how long it may take, don't calculate your own strength, just silently pursue this inner investigation on your own: “Ultimately what is my own true mind?”

Yuan-hsien (1618-1697)

Excerpted from The Teachings of Zen Edited by Thomas Cleary

\\n all the journals our aim is to offer insights to help you steer clearly through the adventurous seas of self discovery and spiritual truths. Most of the pieces require some time just to understand what is being conveyed. No matter how long we have trained, there will always be the need to stay awake. No matter what you've understood in the past, you will always need to stay clear in the present.

While studying with any teacher or reading any spiritual writings, we want to remember our own questions, the ones that are motivating us here. If we can step back and examine clearly, pause and listen to the thought before the thought, we have a life skill that will serve us better than anything we can read in books.

What Do I Really Know?

This exercise is a return, through enquiry, to the wonder of not-knowing.

Not-knowing is unlimited; knowledge is limited. Not-knowing is the ground of mystery, the land of wonder; a haven to be visited daily. It is the source of creativity, inventiveness, and tranquility all in one. Not-knowing is the only place from which freshness can emerge.

Of all the knowledge which you consider “yours,” how much is merely the leavings, the conditioning of others? What have you truly learned on your own, through observation, intuition, enquiry? Return to not-knowing! Rest there a while. Expect nothing. Then emerge gently to view the world with fresh eyes.

Not-knowing. Go there daily! This is meditation, rejuvenation, the source of creativity, even therapy, all rolled into one.

-Maverick Sutras

Embracing questioning,
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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