On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

June 16, 2004

Instructing the Group Part I

Lin-chi I-hsuan (d.866)

Someone asked, “What do you mean by the mind that moment to moment does not differentiate?”

Master Lin-chi said, “The moment you ask such a question you show that differentiation has already taken place and that inherent nature and its manifestations have gone separate ways. Followers of the Way, make no mistake! The various phenomena in this world and other worlds are in all cases devoid of intrinsic nature. They are also devoid of any nature that manifests itself. They are empty names, and the words used to describe them are likewise empty. But you insist on mistaking these idle names for reality. This is a great error. Even if something did exist, it would in all cases be no more than an environment that changes with what it depends on.

“There is the dependent condition called bodhi, the dependent condition of nirvana, the dependent condition of emancipation, the dependent condition of the threefold body, the dependent condition of environment and wisdom, the dependent condition of bodhisattva, the dependent condition of Buddha. You live in a land of changing dependent conditions, what is it you are looking for?

“And things like the Three Vehicles and the twelve divisions of the scriptural teachings, they're all so much like an old rag to wipe away filth. The Buddha is a phantom body, the patriarchs are nothing but old monks. If you seek the Buddha, you'll be seized by the Buddha devil. If you seek the patriarchs, you'll be fettered by the patriarch devil. As long as you seek something, it can only lead to suffering. Better to do nothing.

“There are a bunch of bald-headed monks who tell students of the Way that the Buddha represents the ultimate goal, and that one must spend three kalpas carrying out and fulfilling all the religious practices before one can gain complete understanding of the Way. Followers of the Way, if you say that the Buddha represents the ultimate goal, then why after living just eighty years did the Buddha lie down in the grove of sal trees in the city of Kushingara and die? Where is the Buddha now? From this we know clearly that he was no different from us in the realm of birth and death.

“Followers of the Way, the true Buddha is without form, the true Dharma is without characteristics. You are striking poses and donning attitudes all because of a mere phantom. Even if in your seeking you got something, it would all be the work of wild fox spirits, certainly not the true Buddha. It would be the understanding of the non-Buddhists.

“A true student of the Way never concerns himself with the Buddha, never concerns herself with bodhisattvas or arhats, never concerns herself with the blessings of the threefold world. Far removed, alone and free, he is never entangled in things. Heaven and earth could turn upside down and she would not be disturbed. All the buddhas of the ten directions could appear before him, and his mind would not feel an instant of joy, the three realms of hell could suddenly confront him, and his mind would not feel an instant of alarm. Why is this? Because they know that all things of the phenomenal world are empty of characteristics. When conditions change, they come into existence; when there is no change, they do not exist. The threefold world is nothing but mind; the ten thousand phenomena are nothing but consciousness. These dreams, phantoms, empty flowers, why trouble yourself trying to grasp them?

“There is only you, follower of the Way, this person in front of my eyes now listening to the Dharma, who enters fire without being burned, enters water without drowning, enters the three realms of hell as though strolling in a garden, enters the realms of hungry ghosts and the animals but undergoes no punishment. How can one do all this?

While you love sages, loath common mortals,
You're bobbing up and down in the sea of birth and death.
Earthly desires exist because of the mind;
If no mind, what can earthly desires fix on?
Don't labor to discriminate, to seize on marks;
Then without effort, you'll gain the Way in a moment.

“If you rush off frantically on side roads, studying in hopes of gaining something, then for three kalpas you will remain in the realm of birth and death. Better to do nothing, just sit in your seat here in the monastery with your legs crossed.”

Lin-chi I-hsuan (d.866)

Excerpted from The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi Translated by Burton Watson

Lin-chi teaches with a directness that is sometimes shocking, but often in training there is the experience of “having the rug pulled out from under your feet.” Opinions, habits, and beliefs are just the things we want exposed to the light of day; after all, wasn't part of our motivation in practice “to see clearly, without obstruction?” As we gain a foothold in understanding, this is precisely when we need to let go. If we insist on holding onto our small enlightenments, this becomes an obstacle to seeing clearly.

Just as stepping into a rushing mountain stream clears the mind of all but the icy freshness, the open mind that results when we let go of the known returns us to the beginning. Otherwise we are just creating another life of fantasy, a more seductive one, the spiritual fantasy where the trappings of the teaching become more important than the clear seeing that once accompanied them.

The blue sky is independent of the billowing clouds, and this prior, clear mind, this Blue Sky Mind, doesn't get confused, even when clouds of confusion are present. Return over and over to this calm, unpressured Blue Sky Mind. Begin to see that it's all there even when apparently obscured by passing clouds.

Maverick Sutras

Returning to Blue Sky Mind,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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