On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

March 07, 2012

Sitting Meditation

Foyan (1067-1120)

Sitting Meditation

The light of mind is reflected in emptiness;
Its substance is void of relative and absolute.
Golden waves all around,
Zen is constant, in action or stillness.
Thoughts arise, thoughts disappear;
Don’t try to shut them off.
Let them flow spontaneously—
What has ever arisen and vanished?

When arising and vanishing quiet down,
There appears the great Zen master;
Sitting, reclining, walking around,
There’s never an interruption.

When meditating, why not sit?
When sitting, why not meditate?
Only when you have understood this way
Is it called sitting meditation. 

Who is it that sits?  What is meditation?
To try to seat it is using Buddha
To look for Buddha.
Buddha need not be sought;
Seeking takes you further away.

 In sitting you do not look at yourself;
Meditation is not an external art.
At first, the mind is noisy and unruly;
There is still no choice but to shift it back.

That is why there are many methods
To teach it quiet observation.
When you sit up and gather your spirit;
At first it scatters helter-skelter;

Over a period of time, eventually it calms down,
Opening and freeing the six senses.
When the six senses rest a bit,
Discrimination occurs therein.

As soon as discrimination occurs,
It seems to produce arising and vanishing.
The transformations of arising and vanishing
Come from manifestations of one’s own mind.

Put your own mind to use to look back once:
Once you’ve returned, no need to do it again;
You wear a halo of light on your head.
 The spiritual flames leap and shine,
Unobstructed in any state of mind,
All-inclusive, all-pervasive;
Birth and death forever cease.

A single grain of restorative elixir
Turns gold into liquid;
Acquired pollution of body and mind
Have no way to get through. 

Confusion and enlightenment
Are temporarily explained;
Stop discussing opposition and accord.
When I think carefully of olden days
When I sat coolly seeking,
Though it’s nothing different,
It was quite a mess.

You can turn from ordinary mortal to sage
In an instant, but no one believes.
All over the earth is unclarity;
Best be very careful. 

If it happens you do not know,
Then sit up straight and think;
One day you’ll bump into it.
This I humbly hope.

 Seeing and Doing

Many are those who have seen but can do nothing about it.  Once you have seen, why can’t you do anything about it?  Just because of not discerning; that is why you are helpless.  If you see and discern, then you can do something about it.

Nevertheless, if you expect to understand as soon as you are inspired to study Zen, well, who wouldn’t like that?  It’s just that you have no way in, and you cannot force understanding.  Failing to mesh with it in every situation, missing the connection at every point, you cannot get it by exertion of force.

Whatever you are doing, twenty-four hours a day, in all your various activities, there is something that transcends the Buddhas and Zen masters; but as soon as you want to understand it, it’s not there.  As soon as you try to gather your attention on it, you have already turned away from it.  That is why I say you see but cannot do anything about it.

Does this mean that you will realize it if you do not aim the mind and do not develop intellectual understanding?   Far from it—you will fail even more seriously to realize it.  Even understanding does not get it, much less not understanding!

If you are spiritually sharp, you can open your eyes and see as soon as you hear me tell you about this.  Have not people of immeasurable greatness said this truth is not comprehensible by thought, and that it is where knowledge does not reach? 

Were it not like this, how could it be called an enlightened truth?  Nowadays, however, people just present interpretations and views, making up rationalizations; they have never learned to be thus, and have never reached this state.

If people with potential for enlightenment are willing to see in this way, they must investigate most deeply and examine most closely;  all of a sudden they will gain mastery of it and have no further doubt.  

The reason you do not understand is just because you are taken away by random thoughts twenty-four hours a day.  Since you want to learn business, you fall in love with things you see and fondly pursue things you read; over time, you get continuously involved.  How can you manage to work on enlightenment then? 

Whenever you seek Zen, furthermore, your mind ground must be even and straight, and your mind and speech must be in accord.  Since your mind and speech are straightforward, your states are thus consistent from start to finish, without any petty details. 

Do not say, “I understand!  I have attained mastery!”  If you have attained mastery, then why are you going around asking other people questions?   As soon as you say you understand Zen, people watch whatever you do and whatever you say, wondering why you said this or that. 

If you claim to understand Zen, moreover, this is actually a contention of ignorance.  What about the saying that one should “silently shine, hiding one’s enlightenment?”  What about “concealing one’s name and covering one’s tracks?”  What about “the path is not different from the human mind?”

Each of you should individually reduce entanglements and not talk about judgments of right and wrong. All of your activities everywhere transcend Buddhas and Masters, the water buffalo at the foot of the mountain is imbued with Buddhism; but as soon as you try to search, it’s not there.  Why do you not discern this?

Foyan (1067-1120)

Excerpted from Instant Zen-Waking up in the Present trans by Thomas Cleary 1994

Here we have several very different examples of Foyan’s skill as a teacher. The crystal clear teaching poem on sitting meditation juxtaposed with the conversational skill he has in communicating with his students. You can feel the evolution of the sitting process itself; we all have felt the mind’s endless distractions which all settle in time.

With Clarity,


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