On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

May 12, 2016

Essentials of Mind – Part 1

Yuan wu (1063-1135)

When the founder of Zen came to China from India, he did not set up written or spoken formulations; he only pointed directly to the human mind. Direct pointing just refers to what is inherent in everyone: the whole being appearing responsively from within the shell of ignorance, it is not different from the sages of time immemorial. That is what we call the natural, real, inherent nature, fundamentally pure, luminous and sublime, swallowing and spitting out all of space, the single solid realm alone and free of the senses and objects.

With great capacity and great wisdom, just detach from thought and cut off sentiments, utterly transcending ordinary conventions. Using your own inherent power, take it up directly where you are, like letting go your hold over a mile-high cliff, freeing yourself and not relying on anything anymore, causing all obstruction by views and understanding to be thoroughly removed, so that you are like a dead person without breath, and reach the original ground, attaining great cessation and great rest, which the senses fundamentally do not know and which consciousness, perception, feelings, and thoughts do not reach.

After that, in the cold ashes of a dead fire, it is clear everywhere; among the stumps of dead trees everything illumines; then you merge with solitary transcendence, unapproachably high. Then there is no more need to seek mind or seek Buddha: you meet them everywhere and find they are not obtained from outside.

The hundred aspects and thousand facets of perennial enlightenment are all just this: it is mind, so there is no need to still seek mind; it is Buddha, so why trouble to seek Buddha anymore? If you make slogans of words and produce interpretations on top of objects, then you will fall into a bag of antiques and after all never find what you are looking for.

This is the realm of true reality where you forget what is on your mind and stop looking. In a wild field, not choosing, picking up whatever comes to hand, the obvious meaning of Zen is clear in the hundred grasses.

Indeed, the green bamboo, the clusters of yellow flowers, fences, walls, tiles, and pebbles use the teaching of the inanimate; rivers, birds, trees, and groves expound suffering, emptiness, and selflessness. This is based on the one true reality, producing unconditional compassion, manifesting uncontrived, supremely wondrous power in the great jewel light of nirvana.

That is why one ancient adept was enlightened on hearing the sound of pebbles striking bamboo, while another was awakened on seeing peach trees in bloom. One Zen master attained enlightenment on seeing the flagpole of a teaching center from the other side of a river. Another spoke of the staff of the spirit. One adept illustrated Zen realization by planting a hoe in the ground; another master spoke of Zen in terms of sowing the fields.

An ancient master said, “Meeting a companion on the Way, spending a life together, the whole task of study is done.”

Another master said, “If I pick up a single leaf and go into the city, I move the whole mountain.”

All these instances were bringing out this indestructible true being, allowing people to visit a greatly liberated true teacher without moving a step.

Carrying out the unspoken teaching, attaining unhindered eloquence, thus they forever studied all over from all things, embracing the all-inclusive universe, detaching from both abstract and concrete definitions of buddhahood, and transcendentally realizing universal, all pervasive Zen in the midst of all activities.

Why necessarily consider holy places, teachers’ abodes or religious organizations and forms prerequisite to personal familiarity and attainment of realization?

Once a seeker asked a great Zen teacher, “I, so-and-so, ask: what is the truth of Buddhism?” The teacher said, “You are so-and-so.” At that moment the seeker was enlightened. As it is said, “What comes from you returns to you.”

An ancient worthy, working in the fields in his youth, was breaking up clumps of earth when he saw a big clod which he playfully smashed with a fierce blow. As it shattered, he was suddenly greatly enlightened.

After this he acted freely, becoming an unfathomable person, often manifesting wonders. An old master brought this up and said, “Mountains and rivers, indeed the whole earth was shattered by this man’s blow. Making offerings to the buddhas does not require a lot of incense.” How true these words are.

Yuan wu (1063-1135)

Source – The Five Houses of Zen trans Thomas Cleary 1997

Zen teaching is filled with enlightenment stories and koans that sound like mental gymnastics to the beginner. At times one wonders the purpose of them, other than to illustrate how futile all our striving really is. However, any genuine insight comes after years of practice chewing on a spiritual question we just can’t let go of or sitting on a cushion because we have faith in the way…..that eventually we, too, will wake up.

Mostly they seem to illustrate the unpredictable and unmeasurable aspect of practice. But in truth, they are all someone else’s story, not intended as a yardstick to measure ourselves by. They serve to bring us back to the integral concept of viriya, one of the six perfections.

Viriya is strength, courage, the physical and mental energy needed to carry on a practice through life. We develop viriya through practice and by taking care of ourselves physically and mentally. These are stories of people who threw themselves whole heartedly into practice with no looking back. And they are to inspire us on.

“The hundred aspects and thousand facets of perennial enlightenment are all just this: it is mind, so there is no need to still seek mind; it is Buddha, so why trouble to seek Buddha anymore? “

However, no matter how deeply or shallowly we understand this, we still are faced with bringing our actions in daily life into accord with our understanding. How will we manifest meditation in action?

Without a code or guiding principles like the six perfections, practice progresses in a willy nilly fashion. We may have the costume and makeup of someone who practices, but how do we respond when our patience is tried, our morale character is challenged, our generosity is called upon?

Hopefully we can avoid falling into gathering a bag of antiques that Yuan wu alludes to above; teaching is intended for action, not collecting special passages like antiques to own.

Examining principles together,


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