Monday, August 21, 2017

D.T. Suzuki on Satori

Does the cat have buddha-nature?

The object of Zen discipline consists in acquiring a new viewpoint for looking into the essence of things. If you have been in the habit of thinking logically according to the rules of dualism, rid yourself of it and you may come around somewhat to the viewpoint of Zen. You and I are supposedly living in the same world, but who can tell that the thing we popularly call a stone that is lying before my window is the same to both of us? You and I sip a cup of tea. That act is apparently alike to us both, but who can tell what a wide gap there is subjectively between your drinking and my drinking? In your drinking there may be no Zen, while mine is brim-full of it. The reason for it is: you move in a logical circle and I am out of it. Though there is in fact nothing new in the so-called new viewpoint of Zen, the term “new” is convenient to express the Zen way of viewing the world, but its use here is a condescension on the part of Zen.

This acquiring of a new viewpoint in Zen is called satori {wu in Chinese) and its verb form is satoru. Without it there is no Zen, for the life of Zen begins with the ‘opening of satori.’ Satori may be defined as intuitive looking-into, in contradistinction to intellectual and logical understanding. Whatever the definition, satori means the unfolding of a new world hitherto unperceived in the confusion of a dualistic mind. With this preliminary remark I wish the reader to ponder the following mondo (literally, ‘asking and answering’), which I hop>c will illustrate my statement.

A young monk asked Joshu to be instructed in the faith of Zen. Said the master: "Have you had your breakfast, or not?" "Yes, master, I have," answered the monk. "Go and get your bowls washed," was the immediate response. And this suggestion at once opened the monk's mind to the truth of Zen.

Later on Ummon commented on the response, saying: "Was there any special instruction in this remark by Joshu, or was there not? If there was, what was it? If there was not, what satori was it which the monk attained?" Still later Suigan had the following retort on Ummon: "The great master Ummon does
not know what is what; hence this comment of his. It is altogether unnecessary; it is like painting legs to a snake, or painting a beard to the eunuch. My view differs from his. That monk who seems to have attained a sort of satori goes to hell as straight as an arrow!"

What does all this mean — Joshu's remark about washing the bowls, the monk's attainment of satori, Ummon's alternatives, and Suigan's assurance? Are they speaking against one another, or is it much ado about nothing? To my mind, they are all pointing one way and the monk may go anywhere, but his satori is not to no purpose.

Tokusan was a great scholar of the Diamond Sutra. Learning that there was such a thing as Zen, ignoring all the written scriptures and directly laying hands on one's soul, he went to Ryutan to be instructed in the teaching. One day Tokusan was sitting outside tr\'ing to look into the mystery of Zen. Ryutan said, "Why don't you come in?" Replied Tokusan, "It is pitch dark." A candle was lighted and held out to Tokusan. When he was at the point of taking it Ryutan suddenly blew out the light, whereupon the mind of Tokusan was opened.

Taken from ‘An Introduction to Zen Buddhism’ by D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Ajahn Chah on Reciting 'Buddho'

Ajahn Chah: Bud-dho, Bud-dho, Bud-dho...

Meditate reciting Buddho, Buddho until it penetrates deep into the heart of your consciousness. The word Buddho represents the awareness and wisdom of the Buddha. In practice, you must depend on this word more than anything else. The awareness it brings will lead you to understand the truth about your own mind. It’s a true refuge, which means that there is both mindfulness and insight present. Wild animals can have awareness of a sort. They have mindfulness as they stalk their prey and prepare to attack. Even the predator needs firm mindfulness to keep hold of the captured prey however defiantly it struggles to escape death. That is one kind of mindfulness. For this reason you must be able to distinguish between different kinds of mindfulness. Buddho is a way to apply the mind. When you consciously apply the mind to an object, it wakes up. The awareness wakes it up. Once this knowing has arisen through meditation, you can see the mind clearly. As long as the mind remains without the awareness of Buddho, even if there is ordinary worldly mindfulness present, it is as if unawakened and without insight. It will not lead you to what is truly beneficial. Mindfulness depends on the presence of Buddho – the knowing. It must be a clear knowing, which leads to the mind becoming  brighter and more radiant. The illuminating effect that this clear knowing has on the mind is similar to the brightening of a light in a darkened room. As long as the room is pitch black, any objects placed inside remain difficult to distinguish or else completely obscured from view because of the lack of light. But as you begin intensifying the brightness of the light inside, it will penetrate throughout the whole room, enabling you to see more clearly from moment to moment, thus allowing you to know more and more the details of any object inside there.

Note: The word 'Buddho' (a variant of 'Buddha') is often taught as a word to recite mentally in combination with the breath, by meditation masters of the Thai forest tradition. One recites the syllable 'Bud' on the in-breath and 'dho' on the out-breath.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Buddha on the Mantra 'A'

Everybody say, "Ah!"

The Sutra of the Blessed Perfection of Wisdom, The Mother of All the Tathagatas, in One Letter

Homage to the Perfection of Wisdom!

Thus have I heard at one time. The Blessed One dwelt at Rajagrha, on the Vulture Peak, together with a large congregation of monks, with 1,250 monks, and with many hundreds of thousands of niyutas of kotis of Bodhisattvas. At that time the Lord addressed the Venerable Ananda, and said:

"Ananda, do receive, for the sake of the weal and happiness of all beings, this perfection of wisdom in one letter, A."

Thus spoke the Blessed One. The Venerable Ananda, the large congregation of monks, the assembly of the bodhisattvas, and the whole world with its gods, men, asuras and gandharvas rejoiced at the teaching of the Blessed One.

Notes: 'Blessed One' (Bhagava) is a title of Buddha; 'Perfection of Wisdom' (Prajna-paramita) is a class of highly regarded teachings in Mahayana Buddhism; 'Tathagatas' refers to all buddhas of past, present & futture; The syllable 'A' is a meditation object in the Tantric Buddhist schools of Tibet & Japan, amongst other places.

For more on this subject see Kukai on the Mantra 'A'

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Keido Fukushima: Everything Exists, Nothing Exists

Keido Fukushima: A smile, and yet not a smile

"In the world of philosophy and in the world of common sense, when something exists, it exists, and when something doesn't, it doesn't. That's the common-sense view. What makes the notion of Mu so difficult is that while everything exists, nothing exists, and while nothing exists, everything exists. Because of this profound meaning of Mu, we can't simply translate it as 'nothing.' In addition, translating Mu as 'nothing' creates a very negative impression, but the Mu of Zen includes both the affirmative and the negative. It is essential to understand this if you want to understand Zen.

If you don't comprehend this notion -that while everything exists, nothing exists, and while nothing exists, everything exists - it's very difficult to understand Buddhism, including Zen Buddhism. There are about three thousand sutras, or Buddhist sacred scriptures. The Prajnaparamita, or Perfection of Wisdom, sutras are one set of these sutras, made up of six hundred volumes. The essence of all these volumes is expressed in the Heart Sutra, and the central phrase of the Heart Sutra is while everything exists, nothing exists, while nothing exists, everything exists."

(Zen Master Keido Fukushima, 1933-2011, was head abbot of Tofukuji in Kyoto, one of the most famous Zen temples in Japan. He trained Japanese and foreigners alike, with his wit and insight. A book of his teachings, Zen Bridge: The Zen Teachings of Keido Fukushima is published by Shambhala Publications, and contains many wonderful teachings as the extract above.)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Basho on This Wandering Life

Basho's hut was not his true home...

Days and months are travellers of eternity. So are the years that pass by. Those who steer a boat across the sea, or drive a horse over the earth  spend every minute of their lives travelling, and the journey itself is home. There are a great number of ancients, too, who died on the road. I myself have been tempted for a long time by wind-blown clouds into dreams of lifelong travelling.

It was only towards the end of last autumn that I returned from rambling along the coast. I barely had time to sweep the cobwebs from my broken house on the River Sumida before the New Year, but no sooner had the spring mist begun to rise over the field than I wanted to be on the road again to cross the barrier-gate of Shirakawa in due time. A wandering spirit seemed to have possessed me and turned me inside out, roadside images seeming to invite me from every corner, so that it was impossible for me to stay idle at home. Even while I was getting ready, mending my torn trousers, tying a new strap to my hat, and applying *moxa to my legs to strengthen them, I was already dreaming of the full moon rising over the islands of Matushima. Finally, I gave my house to another, moving to the cottage of my patron Mr. Sampu for a temporary stay. Upon the threshold of my old home, however, I wrote a linked verse of eight pieces and hung it on a wooden pillar. The opening verse was:

even this grass hut
may be transformed
into a doll's house.

Note: Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) is Japan's most celebrated haiku poet, and one of its most revered literary figures. He was also a Buddhist, whose work reflected the transiency of life, its innate unsatisfactory nature, and the value of living in the present moment. *Moxa is a dried leaf applied in small doses to the skin and burnt, in the belief that it has curative properties.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Buddha on Greed, Hatred & Delusion

"Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them.'

"What do you think, Kalamas? Does greed appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"

"For his harm, venerable sir."

"Kalamas, being given to greed, and being overwhelmed and vanquished mentally by greed, this man takes life, steals, commits adultery, and tells lies; he prompts another too, to do likewise. Will that be long for his harm and ill?"

"Yes, venerable sir."

"What do you think, Kalamas? Does hate appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"

"For his harm, venerable sir."

"Kalamas, being given to hate, and being overwhelmed and vanquished mentally by hate, this man takes life, steals, commits adultery, and tells lies; he prompts another too, to do likewise. Will that be long for his harm and ill?"

"Yes, venerable sir."

"What do you think, Kalamas? Does delusion appear in a man for his benefit or harm?"

"For his harm, venerable sir."

"Kalamas, being given to delusion, and being overwhelmed and vanquished mentally by delusion, this man takes life, steals, commits adultery, and tells lies; he prompts another too, to do likewise. Will that be long for his harm and ill?"

"Yes, venerable sir."

"What do you think, Kalamas? Are these things good or bad?"

"Bad, venerable sir"

"Blamable or not blamable?"

"Blamable, venerable sir."

"Censured or praised by the wise?"

"Censured, venerable sir."

"Undertaken and observed, do these things lead to harm and ill, or not? Or how does it strike you?"

"Undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill. Thus it strikes us here."

"Therefore, did we say, Kalamas, what was said thus, 'Come Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, "The monk is our teacher." Kalamas, when you yourselves know: "These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill," abandon them.'”

*Note: This is an extract from the Buddha's discourse to the people of the town of Kesaputta, called the Kalama Sutta. The formula on how to decide a teaching is worth following or not at the beginning and end of this extract is one of the most famous of Buddha's teachings.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ajahn Sumedho on Identity

Ajahn Sumedho: Without any real core or essence

We’ll sacrifice our life for an illusion, to try to protect our identities, our positions, our territories. We’re very territorial. We think this England here belongs to the English. When we take that apart, does this plot of land here say it’s England? When I do jongrom (walking meditation) outside, does the earth come up and say, “You’re walking on me — England.” It’s never said that, never! But I say I’m walking here in England. I’m the one who’s calling it England, and that is an identity, a conventional identity. We all agree to call this plot of land here ‘England’, but it’s not really that; it is what it is. Yet we’ll fight, torture and commit the most atrocious acts over territory, quibbling about just one inch of property on a border. The land doesn’t belong to anybody; even if I own land legally — “This belongs to Ajahn Sumedho” — it doesn’t really; that’s just a convention.

When we bind ourselves to these conventions and these illusions, then of course we’re troubled because these are so unstable and not in line with Dharma. We end up wasting our lives around trying to increase this sense of identification, the sense of, “It’s mine, it belongs to me and I want to protect it. I want to hand it down to future generations.” On and on like this, into future lives and the generations that follow. We create a whole realm of illusion, personality and identity with the perceptions that we create in our minds, which arise and cease, which have no real core to them, no essence.

We can be very threatened when these illusions are threatened. I remember first questioning the reality of my personality. It scared me to death. When I started questioning, even though I didn’t have particularly over-confident, high self-esteem (I have never been prone towards seeing myself in megalomaniac perceptions; usually the opposite, very self-critical), even then, I felt very threatened when that security, that confidence in being this screwed-up personality was being threatened. There is a sense of stability even with people who are identified with illnesses or negative things, like alcoholics. Being identified with some sort of mental disease like paranoia, schizophrenia or whatever gives us a sense that we know what we are and we can justify the way that we are. We can say, “I can’t help the way I am. I’m a schizophrenic.” That gives us a sense of allowing us to be a certain way. It may be a sense of confidence or stability in the fact that our identities are labelled and we all agree to look at each other in this way, with this label, with this perception.

So you realise the kind of courage it takes to question, to allow the illusory world that we have created to fall apart, such as with a nervous breakdown, where the world falls apart. When the security that is offered, the safety and confidence that we gain from that illusion starts cracking and falling apart, it’s very frightening. Yet within us there’s something that guides us through it. What brings us into this monastic life? It’s some intuitive sense, a sense behind the sense, an intelligence behind all the knowledge and the cleverness of our minds. Yet we can’t claim it on a personal level. We always have to let go of the personal perceptions, because as soon as we claim them, we’re creating another illusion again. Instead of claiming, identifying or attaching, we begin to realise or recognise the way it is. This is the practice of awareness (sati-sampajanna), paying attention. In other words, it’s going to the centre point, to the Buddho (the one who knows) position. This Buddha image in the temple: it’s the still point. If you look at this Buddha-rupa, it’s a symbol, an image representing the human form at the still point.

(Ajahn Sumedho is the senior monk of the Western Forest Sangha, as well as former abbot of Wat Nanachat in Thailand & Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in England. His teachings are highly regarded across the globe. In the above talk, I have replaced the Pali word Dhamma with the more widely known Sanskrit term Dharma, both meaning 'Buddhist teachings' & 'the truth of the way things are.')