On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

April 20, 2002

Mud and Water

 Bassui (1327-1387)

Questioner: “There is not one among the good teachers from ancient times up to the present who hasn’t said that there is no Buddha existing outside of the mind. Though it is clear from this that all phenomena are delusion, I am not able to let go of the belief in the existence of phenomena. Is this a result of lingering habits from my mind?”

Bassui: “You are unable to dismiss lingering habits simply because you are not looking into your own nature. If you clearly penetrate this truth of seeing into your own nature, arousing the great prajna wisdom and realizing that all names and forms are illusion, you will never again have feelings of attachment to either existence or emptiness. Hence it is said in a sutra: ‘When you know it as illusion, you are at that moment separated from it and have no need for any expedient means.’

“If you try to remove lingering habits that come from attachment to form, not yet having seen into your own nature, you are like one in deep sleep trying to rid oneself of a dream. The desire to rid oneself of it is itself a dream. The knowledge that it is a dream is also nothing but a dream. As for completely waking up from this sleep, no matter how much you seek something within a dream you will never attain it.

“The Buddha said: ‘All karmic paths are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, and shadows; they are like a dewdrop or a flash of lightning – thus shall you think of it.’

“Bodhidharma is the living patriarch who harmonized the four elements. This old master single-mindedly transmitted the mind seal. He pointed directly to people’s minds, showing them that seeing their own nature is Buddhahood. He based his teaching neither on words nor on forms. And though the Buddhas of past, present, and future and the historical patriarchs all appear in the form of living beings, not one physical body remains; they all perish. Only a word or a phrase remains in this world.

“If you truly want to read the sutras, you first have to awaken the mind that does the reading. All formal readings from the sutras can be destructive. The wonderful dharma of one’s mind does not change through successive eons; it is the essence of all the sutras. If you want to comprehend this essence, you should know that the voices of frogs and worms, the sound of wind and raindrops, all speak the wonderful language of the dharma and that birds in flight, swimming fish, floating clouds, and flowing streams all turn the dharma wheel.

“When you see the wordless sutra only once, the sutras of all the heavens with their golden words which fill one’s eyes clearly manifest. If you do not have this kind of understanding, you will spend your whole life covering the surface of black beans.

“Though the mind of ordinary people is clear and one with the Buddhas and patriarchs, unable to believe it you fail to rid yourself of the spirit that attaches to form; therefore you transmigrate through the six realms, binding yourself and enduring suffering.

“If you want to remove all feelings of attachment and attain the way of liberation, you should neither turn to things external, grasping them as ‘ordinary’ or ‘sacred,’ nor turn inward and cultivate a sense of the me. You should, rather, look carefully into your inherent nature directly; then, for the first time, you will attain it.”

“All of you! If you want to return to your homes, simply wake up to your true nature. This mind nature is the original source of all Buddhas. It is the names of all the sutras. Sometimes it is referred to as the Unique and Wonderful Dharma, sometimes as Perfect Awakening, sometimes as the Void, sometimes as the World, sometimes as the Pure Land. All of these names simply point to the One Mind. Though there are ten thousand different names, there are not even two dharma realities.

“For that reason it is written in a sutra: ‘The teachings in the sutras are fingers pointing to the moon. When you see the moon yourself, you realize there is no moon to point to after all.’ The enlightenment in which you see your true mind and realize your true nature is transmitted outside of the scriptures; it is not based on names and words. That is why it is said: ‘When you see the moon, you know there is no moon to point at.'”

 Bassui (1327-1387)

Excerpted from Mud and Water – A Collection of Talks by Zen Master Bassui – Translated by Arthur Braverman (1989)

Through the timeless activity of questions and answers, we glimpse the wordless transmission that occurs between teacher and student. Sometimes we identify with questions similar to our own and enter that moment of stillness where something new can happen through dropping ideas, conceptions, and opinions.

For many, however, this is all that is left – the stories. The pause, this ability to see clearly, is waiting for any of us intending to wake up. The opportunities come up endlessly during any day; most of us are just too busy or caught up to pay attention. We've turned enlightenment into something exotic and far away from where we are. “Someday” … we tell ourselves, after that next retreat when we can slow down enough to perceive clearly and freshly.

The language sometimes gets in the way; terms and concepts can obscure rather than enlighten the Way. How close is it really, how difficult?

Experience now that your mind is totally still, yet totally present and alert; not still like some stage of sleep, totally still like an alert tree. Once you have entered this stillness, there is nothing worth throwing this away for. Even when you are having a bad day, that is the very time to Practice. The more you throw this away, the more you keep setting the precedent to identify with the clouds which come up.

You can be your own sage; you can be your own teacher, if you are a person for whom no task is worth losing the Way. No goal, no thing, nothing you are doing is worth throwing out that clarity. No feeling that you have is as important as staying at that cool, clear center of awareness. If you are going to be a fly buzzing around, or you are going to be oppressed by a thought or feeling that comes up, where is your love of the Way then? That is when you have to keep coming back, to Return.

This takes a tremendous effort in the beginning. It's like being an athlete pushing your way to the second wind the next time you feel pulled around by feelings or events around you. The next time you have a feeling that is oppressing you, use every atom of your energy to observe. Don't just sit there and let it push you around.

To be that still, clear mind everyday is the only thing that makes life truly worth living. The rest is just gain and loss. Find that state before you get lost, before you get attached to things. It is there before thought-feeling-reaction. Huineng talked about turning your light inward, instead of always running out after things.

In the beginning you take it on faith that you are this Blue Sky Mind, this unstainable consciousness. Practice means that as things come up, you can choose to identify with the things that come and go or you can Be that consciousness. The more time you spend as the Blue Sky, the less time you want to be identified with the clouds.

There's no time like the present,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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