On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

November 22, 2000

The Perception of Sages


The Scripture on Infinite Light says, “Rivers, lakes, birds, trees, and forests all invoke Buddha, Truth, and Communion.”

In a moment of awareness without discrimination, great wisdom appears. This is like pouring water into the ocean, like working a bellows in the wind.

Furthermore, how do you discriminate? “Buddha” is a temporary name for what cannot be seen when you look, what cannot be heard when you listen, whose place of origin and passing away cannot be found when you search.

It covers form and sound, pervades sky and earth, penetrates above and below. There is no second view, no second person, no second thought. It is everywhere, in everything, not something external.

This is why the single source of all awareness is called ‘Buddha.’

It doesn’t change when the body deteriorates, it is always there. But you still cannot use what is always there. Why? Because, as the saying goes “Although gold dust is precious, when it gets in your eye it obstructs vision.” Although buddhahood is wonderful, if you are obsessed with it it becomes a sickness.

An early Zen master said, “It is not mind, not Buddha, not a thing – what is it?” This says it all. It has brought us the diamond sword that cuts through all obsessions.

Another classical Zen master said, “The slightest entangling thought can cause hellish actions; a flash of feeling can chain you indefinitely. Just end ordinary feelings, and there is no special perception of sages to seek – the perception of sages appears where ordinary feelings end.”

To learn to be a Buddha, first you should break through the seeds of habit with great determination, and then be aware of cause and effect so that you fear to do wrong. Transcend all mental object, stop all rumination.

Don’t let either good or bad thoughts enter into your thinking; forget about both Buddhism and things of the world. Let go of body and mind, like letting go over a cliff. Be like space, not producing subjective thoughts of life and death, or any signs of discrimination. If you have any views at all, cut them off and don’t let them continue.

Xiatang (12th century)

Excerpted from Zen Essence-The Science of Freedom translated and edited by Thomas Cleary (1989)

Xiatang (birth and death unknown) points out that the awareness basic to Zen is inherently non-discursive; it is not reached by suppression of reason, but by a level of attention beyond that of ordinary sense.

Much of what has been written of old is truly more like a finger pointing at the moon because, as Xiatang alludes, this awareness is non-discursive. However, occasionally we find a kind of writing that takes us beyond the letters and images into a different realm of perception.

Many of us have been delighted and enticed by images similar to those expressed in The Scripture on Infinite Light: “Rivers, lakes, birds, trees, and forests all invoke Buddha, Truth, and Communion.” I have one source I return to often in my quest to develop the awareness to learn from nature….

The mountain presided over the landscape so vividly that it seemed to be an illusion of rock and snow conjured up to fill a void. A hologram to fill a bare place in the universe. A real illusion, one you could fall from. A void was just somewhere your thoughts couldn't reach at all, some place left uncreated and unhandled by knowledge, some place here.

The peak stood against the sky like an enormous cutout behind which lay the unknown, an unknown that did not lie merely ahead, but also behind the eyes of the one who listened and watched. When you become caught by what you see and hear, when you become lost in your thoughts, you diminish the world. Then the far ridge of the mountain and the eyes of the watcher mark the circumference of a sphere of the mundane. Both then lie on an orbit of beginning and ending, a mean circle of tired knowledge. A circle much smaller than most would dare to hope.

Yet beyond your thoughts, untouched by history, is a beyond that lies outside the orbit. You have to relax into it, and the periphery of that beyond is right here, right now. It passes behind your eyes, through your core, directly to your heart. It turns continually so that the unknown beyond and the unknown within constantly exchange places and become just two aspects of one limitless something. Intuit it, but don't chase it – let it come to you.

If you pass beyond that circle without budging an inch, you'll enter a vast clarity that excludes nothing. Not even illusion. First you have to see the borders of your smallish world, the circumference of the sphere, in order to pass beyond. See clearly the boundaries of the island, and you will simultaneously see the immense sea. To pass beyond you have to see the edges of your mundane world of thoughts.

A scene from a dream. A white wonderland with a hint of spring that knelt and paid homage to the stark monolith whose melting snows allowed its lushness. The islands of spring were opening like eyes in the meadow. In them hellebore was still pointed tightly and shot up like reddish-green missiles. Thick patches of both pink and lavender phlox bloomed in lovely heaps next to the crusty snow.

When things become achingly lovely, it means you've fallen back within the old circle, imprisoned within the small sphere of history. It's the sense of separation that aches. When you let go of the contents of the circle everything feels serene. Then even the circumference dissolves and illusions become the truth. The art of life is to know the borders of the mundane sphere, to keep the narrowness from taking over your life.

– from Journeys on Mind Mountain

There is a vastness right here when we unlearn enough to see. Until then the division between self and the immensity around us seems very concrete. Somehow we must soften our hold here and gently intend forward.

Something hidden, go and find it,
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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