On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

September 16, 2005

The Cooperation of Concentration and Insight

Yung-ming (905-976)

In Zen and the Teachings there are two methods, most honored of the myriad practices of ten perfections. At first they are called stopping and seeing, to help new learners; later they become concentration and wisdom, roots of enlightenment.

These are only one reality, which seems to have two parts. In the silence of the essence of reality is stopping by comprehending truth; when silent yet ever aware, subtle seeing is there.

Concentration is the father, insight is the mother; they can conceive the thousand sages, developing their faculties and powers, nurturing their sacred potential, giving birth to buddhas and Zen masters in every moment of thought.

Concentration is the general; insight is the minister; they can assist the mind monarch in attaining the unexcelled, providing forever means for all to realize the Way, in the manner of the enlightenment of the ancient buddhas.

Concentration is like the moonlight shining so brightly that the stars of errant falsehood vanish. If you can hold up the torch of knowledge, so much the clearer. Irrigating the sprouts of enlightenment, it removes emotional bondage.

Insight is like the sun shining, breaking up the darkness of ignorance. It is able to cause the Zen of the ignorant with false views to turn into transcendent wisdom. 

A brief time of silence, a moment of stillness, gradually build up into correct concentration. The sages, making comparatively little effort, ultimately saw the subtle essence of the pedestal of the spirit.

As soon as you hear even a little bit of the Teaching, it can influence your subconscious such that seeds of awakening develop. The moment you turn the light of awareness around, accurate cognition opens up; in an instant you can accomplish Buddha's teaching like this.

The power of meditative concentration is inconceivable; it changes the ordinary into sages instantly. Boundless birth and death is thereby severed at the root; the nest of accumulated ages of mundane toils is destroyed. This is the water that stills the mind, the pearl that purifies the will; its light engulfs myriad forms, lighting a thousand roads.

When you open your own eyes, there are no obstructions; originally there is nothing in the world that constrains. When thieves of attention and reflection are quelled in a timely manner, then the sickness of obsession with objects suddenly clears up.

Washing away the dirt of thought and cleaning away the dust of confusion reveals the body of reality and strengthens the life of wisdom. Like an immutable mountain, like a still sea, even if the sky should flip and the earth overturn, you would not be changed. Bright as crystal imbued with moonlight, serene and unbound, you are independent.

No one can measure the insight of wisdom; it naturally manifests the light of the mind according to the occasion. It is the leader of myriad practices, the spiritual ruler at all times. It evaporates the ocean of misery and shatters the mountains of falsehood.

Yung-ming (905-976)

Excerpted from The Five Houses of Zen Translated by Thomas Cleary

Sometimes reading Zen writing one is reminded of the writing of Taoists. The allusions to moonlight, sun, and mountains take us out of the monastery walls and outdoors where nature is the also our teacher. During the Spring/Fall colors are exceptional; the honey color of sunlight in late afternoon in fall reminds us days are getting shorter. Our time here also is shortening with the passing seasons.

In the Spring and Fall Ryokan's poems beckon and evoke an experience of Zen that is truly beyond words and letters. Many of the Zen masters have written poetry representing their understanding of Zen, but Ryokan, being a simple monk, lived Zen without preaching it.

Two Poems by Ryokan ….

The rain has stopped; 
The clouds have drifted away,
And the weather is clear again.
If your heart is pure, 
Then all things in your world are pure.
Abandon this fleeting world,
Abandon yourself,
Then the moon and flowers will
Guide you along the Way.


If there is beauty, there must be ugliness;
If there is right, there must be wrong
Wisdom and ignorance are complementary,
And illusion and enlightenment cannot be separated.
This is an old truth,
Don't think it was discovered recently,
“I want this, I want that”
Is nothing but foolishness.
I'll tell you a secret,
“All things are impermanent!”


One Robe,One Bowl – The Zen Poetry of Ryokan

Heading to the mountains,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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