On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

June 20, 2002

Instructions of Shoitsu

Shoitsu (1202-1280)

In the secret transmission on the Spiritual Mountain, the pure tradition of Shaolin, actions accord, words complement each other, great perfect awareness is one’s own sanctuary. Body and mind dwelling at peace, with knowledge of equality of the real nature of all things, keep pure as ice and snow. Summon forth great energy in your efforts, great courage and determination; wielding the sword of wisdom, go directly ahead, going beyond all, beyond seeing that mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers, the whole body comes thus, the whole body goes thus – there are no complications around at all.

At this time, can you call it the fundamental business of a patch-robed monk? You must let go your hands over a mile-high precipice and appear with your whole body throughout the universe.

To Eminent Kumyo

In the direct teachings of the ancestral masters, there are no special techniques, just lay down all entanglements, put to rest all concerns, and watch quietly. Whenever you wander into distinctions among things, just bring your attention back.

Don’t think in terms like “the way to enlightenment” or “the path of purification.” Avoid consciously anticipating understanding and beware of letting feelings of doubt or despair distract you. Go directly in like cutting through an iron bar with a single stroke, where there is no flavor, no path of reason, without getting involved in other thoughts.

After some time you will naturally be as if waking from a dream, like a lotus blossom opening. At this moment, the koan you have been observing is just a piece of tile to knock at the door – throw it over on the other side and then look instead at the sayings of the enlightened ancestors and buddhas expressing activity in the world of differentiation.

All of these are just to stop children crying; the one road going beyond does not let a single thread through, but  cuts off the essential crossing between ordinary and holy, while students toil over forms like monkeys grasping at the moon.

We might say that if you forget your own body and go frantically searching outside, when can you ever find it? Sitting peacefully on a cushion, day and night seeking to become buddhas, rejecting life and death in hopes of realization, is all like monkeys grasping at the moon.

If you want some real help, it’s just that not minding is the way; yet it’s not the same as wood or stone—always aware and knowing, perfectly distinctly clear, seeing and hearing are normal; there are no further details.

Elder Kumyo sits facing a wall day and night and has asked for some words to urge him on. Not begrudging the way of my house, I have let my brush write this, 1267.

Shoitsu (1202-1280)

Excerpted from

The Original Face: An anthology of Rinzai Zen-Translated and edited by Thomas Cleary 1978

Each line of Master Shoitsu’s bears contemplation; each is a doorway into exploration of higher study. According to the Master, “This is what Bodhidharma taught, the hidden transmission of personal experience,” but to many the passive approach to practice has become their norm. We wait to be told what to do in practice, what point to look at, what koan to delve into; some even look for what to feel in meditation.

If we’re not careful in meditation or practice, we start looking for a certain feeling or state that is just one more limited state of awareness, and we may abandon the exploration for a static result. To develop the mind that does not stick anywhere, that so perfectly flows with circumstance, means to let go of understanding, feelings, and concepts so as to allow the new to enter.

That requires an active letting go and an appreciation for the vastness which can be explored. Too many of us rely on a road already charted and hence abandon our own creative involvement. “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” How far can we go with this mechanical approach? How many of us take the one corner and go find the other three as Confucius encouraged the superior student to do?

Question: You brought up archery, and sometimes in practice I’m looking for a feeling I think approximates what you are demonstrating.

Answer: Big mistake. Aiming at a specific feeling is always a mistake, because any feeling you have is merely the passing of physical phenomena. Don’t make practice dependent on feeling a certain way. In the Diamond Sutra we hear,

Who sees Me by form,
Who seeks Me in sound,
Perverted are his footsteps upon the Way;
For he cannot perceive the Tathagata.

The feeling that you are aiming at will not allow you to have the real feeling of the moment. That feeling is based on what you have decided practice should feel like. More than likely you are limiting yourself. That feeling is out of the past. It is something you are trying to recreate. This will never give you a sense of the present unfolding, a sense of adventure, a vital interest, a sense of the Now.

To do this you have to trust and not rely on something that you have previously decided is what you want. When you are experiencing an unobstructed sense of Being, there is no sense of “this is the feeling, this is it.” Otherwise you split yourself in half again. You want to go beyond these feelings whether they are strong, weak, feels right, or doesn’t feel right. The real feeling that you want is not obstructing the flow, then you can flow like water and change shape as necessary according to circumstance.

Do you want to unfold and keep learning, widening, opening? You can’t attach to any specific feeling or you split yourself in half watching for that feeling. At that point it is no longer one whole but a grasping within the whole.

– taken from unpublished transcripts (1998)

How radiant, yet how peaceful and relaxing,
The spirit of Spring is!
Surely out of this spirit
All these blossoming mountain cherries burst.

– Kamo no Mabuchi (1697-1769)

Looking with you for the 3 other corners,
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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