On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

July 16, 2004

Instructing the Group Part II

Lin-chi I-hsuan (d.866)

Followers of the Way come from all over to study the Way. I myself in past years turned to monastic discipline and delved into the sutras and treatises. But later I realized that these are just medicines to cure the sickness of the world, expositions of surface matters. So finally I tossed them aside and sought the Way through Ch'an practice. Later I encountered an excellent friend and teacher, and then my Dharma eye at last became keen and bright. For the first time I could judge the old teachers of the world and tell you who was crooked and who was straight. But this understanding was not with me when my mother gave birth to me; I had to probe and polish and undergo experiences until one morning I could see clearly for myself.

Followers of the Way, if you want to get the kind of understanding that accords with the Dharma, never be misled by others. Whether you're facing inward or outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it! If you meet a Buddha, kill the Buddha. If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch. If you meet an arhat, kill the arhat. Then for the first time you will gain emancipation, will not be entangled with things, and will pass freely anywhere you wish to go.

There's never been one student who didn't appear before me depending on something. So I start right out by hitting them there. If they come with a raised hand, I hit the raised hand; if they come mouthing something, I hit them in the mouth. I have yet to find one who comes alone and free; they're all caught up in the idle devices of the men of old.

I don't have a particle of Dharma to give to anyone. All I have is cure for sickness, freedom from bondage. You followers of the Way from here and there, try coming to me without depending on anything. I would like to do some testing with you. For ten years, for five seasons, there's never been such a person. All I get are things stuck to stems, wild fox spirits! They chew away frantically at every lump garbage they happen on.

I tell you, there's no Buddha, no Dharma, no practice, no enlightenment. Yet you go off like this on side roads, trying to find something. Blind fools! Will you put another head on top of the one you have? What is it you lack? 

Followers of the Way, you who are carrying out your activities before my eyes are no different from the Buddha and the patriarchs. But you don't believe that and go searching for something outside. Make no mistake. There's no Dharma outside, and even what is on the inside can't be grasped. You get taken up with the words from my mouth, but it would be better if you stopped all that and did nothing. Things already under way, don't go on with them. Things not yet under way, don't let them get under way. That's better for you than ten years traveling around on pilgrimages.

The way I see it, there's no call for anything special. Just act ordinary, put on your clothes, eat your rice, pass the time doing nothing. You who come from here and there, you all have a mind to do something. You search for Buddha, search for the Dharma, search for emancipation, search for a way to get out of the threefold world. Idiots, trying to get out of the threefold world! Where will you go?

Buddha, patriarchs- these are just laudatory words and phrases. Do you want to know what the threefold world is? It is nothing other than the mind-ground that you who are now listening to the Dharma are standing on. When you have a moment of greed in your mind, that is the world of desire. When you have a moment of anger in your mind, that is the world of form. When you have a moment of ignorance in your mind, that is the world of formlessness. These are the pieces of furniture in your house.

The threefold world does not announce, “I am the threefold world.” Rather it's you, followers of the Way, who do so, this person here in front of my eyes who in marvelous fashion shines his torch on the ten thousand things and sizes up the world. It's he who assigns names to the threefold world.

Fellow believers, this body made up of the four major elements has no permanence. Things like spleen and stomach, liver and gall, hair, nails, teeth are simply evidence that all phenomenal things are empty of fixed characteristics. When your mind has learned to cease its momentary seeking, this is dubbed the state of the bodhi tree. But while your mind is incapable of ceasing, this is dubbed the tree of ignorance. Ignorance has no fixed abode, ignorance has no beginning or end. As long as your mind is unable to cease its moment by moment activity, then you are up in the tree of ignorance.

Lin-chi I-hsuan (d.866)

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

It is tempting to want some kind of “measurement” of practice. Students always want to know that their energy and time is well spent. Many devote years to practice only to wake up one day to their delusions that have kept true clarity at bay. Of course the paradox of practice is that still we polish, even though one day we all come to the understanding that there is no mirror or polishing necessary. Lin-chi cuts through many of the side trips taken to study.

How many of us have read all the stories and used them as some kind of measuring stick? We can't possibly “be there” because we haven't experienced what the old guys described as enlightenment, nirvana, or awakening the kundalini.

The simplicity of Lin-chi is almost too much for us; the dropping of cherished ideas of teachers and teachings seems a little like stepping off a curb we didn't know was there. What's left to stand on? Nothing more than a readiness, an alertness, that beginner's mind that isn't already full of ideas of enlightenment stories and comparisons. And yet it is easy for many to go far in the other direction and intellectually “get something” which seems to tell them there's no more need to practice.

Therein lies the beauty of the middle way of Buddhism. If the mind goes too far in the stiffness of dogma, we pull it back to center. If we get too lax feeling there's no need to practice at all, we recognize the lostness of that attitude as well and return to center. Luckily there are some helpful hints along the way mixed in with the folklore:

Are you concerned with enlightenment, which implies a static attainment, or rather with enlightening, an unending process of continual opening? 


Balancing along the Way, 

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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