Brave-spirited wearers of the patched robe possess an outstanding extraordinary aspect. With great determination they give up conventional society. They look upon worldly status and evanescent fame as dust in the wind, as clouds floating by, as echoes in a valley.
Since they already have great faculties and great capacity from the past, they know that this level exists, and they transcend birth and death and move beyond holy and ordinary. This is the indestructible true essence that all the enlightened ones of all times witness, the wondrous mind that alone the generations of enlightened teachers have communicated.
To tread this unique path, to be a fragrant elephant or a giant, golden-winged bird, it is necessary to charge past the millions of categories and types and fly above them, to cut off the flow and brush against the heavens. How could the enlightened willingly be petty creatures, confined within distinctions of high and low and victory and defeat, trying futilely to make comparative judgments of instantaneous experience, and being utterly turned around by gain and loss?
For this reason, in olden times the people of great enlightenment did not pay attention to trivial matters and did not aspire to the shallow and easily accessible. They aroused their determination to transcend the buddhas and patriarchs. They wanted to bear the heavy responsibility that no one can fully take up, to rescue all living beings, to remove suffering and bring peace, to smash the ignorance and blindness that obstructs the Way. They wanted to break the poisoned arrows of ignorant folly and extract the thorns of arbitrary views from the eye of reality. They wanted to make the scenery of the fundamental ground clear and reveal the original face before the empty eon.
You should train your mind and value actual practice wholeheartedly, exerting all your power, not shrinking from the cold or heat. Go to the spot where you meditate; quiet your mental monkey and pacify your intellectual horse. Make yourself like a dead tree, like a withered stump.
Suddenly you penetrate through; how could it be attained from anyone else? You discover the hidden treasure, you light the lamp in the dark room, launch the boat across the center of the ford. You experience great liberation, and without producing a single thought, you immediately attain true awakening. Having passed through the gate into the inner truth, you ascend to the site of universal light. Then you sit in the impeccably pure supreme seat of the emptiness of all things.
But this is not yet the stage of effortless achievement. You must go further beyond, to where the thousand sages cannot trap you, the myriad conscious beings have no way to look up to you, the gods have no way to offer you flowers, and the demons and outsiders cannot spy on you. You must cast off knowledge and views, discard mysteries and marvels, and abandon all contrived actions. You simply eat when hungry and drink when thirsty; that's all.
At this stage you are never aware of having mind or not having mind, of gaining mindfulness or losing mindfulness. So how could you still be attached to what you have previously learned and understood, to “mysteries” and “marvels” and analysis of essential nature, to the fetters of names and forms and arbitrary opinions? How could you still be attached to views of “Buddha” and views of “Dharma” or to earth-shaking worldly knowledge and intellect? You would be tying and binding yourself, you would be counting the grains of sand in the ocean. What would there be to rely on?
All those who are truly great must strive to overcome the obstacles of delusion and ignorance. They must strive to jolt the multitudes out of their complacency and to fulfill their own fundamental intent and vows. Only if you do this are you a true person of the Path, without contrived activity and without concerns, a genuine Wayfarer of great mind and great vision and great liberation.
Excerpted from Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu Translated by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary
Every month we travel back through the teachings of the past searching for the voices with relevance today. Our aim is to illuminate, not to add to the confusion along the Way. While many recognize the name Yuanwu as being the author of the Blue Cliff Record, that text is subtle and sometimes out of reach for many practitioners. In this collection of letters written to various friends and disciples, to women as well as men, Yuanwu's insights become more available to all of us.
The unique contribution of Zen is its step away from intellectual answers and forward into a new land of direct experience. Free of dogma and the constraints of tradition, one is invited into a world of direct perception and direct response. For many this is a challenging path as one is called to a life of spontaneity that, in the beginning, feels as if there is nowhere solid to stand. Similar to when the young bird is pushed out of the nest to fly, one must at some point take that step that does not rely on answers from the past or other's responses.
It's been said that the Way of Practice is easy, that all you need is to 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 yourself as a master or Practice will die on the spot.
If you want to maintain a life of Practice, you must find some way to avoid becoming a master. 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.
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen