The Way is at hand, but people are looking for it afar;
People are using it every day without being aware of it;
We cannot be separated from the Way even for an instant;
What we can be separated from is not the Way.
The Way is at hand, but people are looking for it afar;
‘I often use the concept of a fraction as a teaching aid. Usually I condemn the use of concepts in Zen, but sometimes they are a necessary evil.
We know that every fraction has a numerator over a denominator. As the denominator, I use a circle containing an eight on its side. The circle of course means zero, and is empty and void. The eight on its side is the mathematical symbol for infinity. Therefore, the encircled horizontal eight stands for the empty-infinite, and the empty-infinite is a characteristic of our essential nature. It IS our essential nature.
You may ask why our essential nature is empty. Just consider what we call our mind or consciousness. Does it have any form? No. Any color? No. Any length or breadth or width? No. Can we locate it? No, we do not know where it is. The mind has nothing. The mind IS nothing. It is void and empty, and our essential nature is nothing but the boundless extension or manifestation of this ordinary mind of ours.
While being empty, our mind has, at the same time, limitless and infinite capabilities or activities. It can see, it can hear, it can stand up, it can sit down, it can take a walk. It can feel, it can think, it can imagine, it can forget. Though void, it is limitless and infinite. Therefore I call it the empty-infinite, or the empty-limitlessness, and this is our essential nature. This constitutes the denominator of the fraction.
The phenomenal world is the numerator. Anything will do – a dog, a cat, a finger, a cart, an oak tree, or Mu, or the sound of one hand, or even the whole phenomenal universe itself. Ordinary people are at home in this numerator world and think that it alone exists. They are completely unaware of the denominator world.
A most important point to remember is that the numerator and the denominator are intrinsically one. I have set up the concept of a fraction and divided oneness into two, to try to help you understand that all phenomena have empty-limitlessness behind them, so to speak.’ (Commentary on the Gateless Gate)
‘What is called the mind of the Way is not to abandon or scatter about the great Way of the buddha ancestors, but deeply to protect and esteem their great Way. Therefore having abandoned fame and gain and departed your homeland, consider gold as excrement and honor as spittle, and without obscuring the truth or obeying falsehoods, maintain the regulations of right and wrong and entrust everything to the guidelines for conduct. After all, not to sell cheaply or debase the worth of the ordinary tea and rice of the buddha ancestors’ house is exactly the mind of the Way.
Furthermore, reflecting that inhalation does not wait for exhalation also is the mind of the Way and is diligence. Contemplating the ancients enables the eye of the ancestors’ essence to observe intently and enables the ear of both past and present to listen vigilantly, so that we accept our bodies as hollowed out caverns of the whole empty sky, and just sit, piercing through all the skulls under heaven, opening wide our fists and staying with our own nostrils. This is carrying the clear, transparent sky to dye the white clouds and conveying the waters of autumn to wash the bright moon, and is the fulfillment of the practice of contemplating the ancients. If such an assembly has seven or eight monks it can be a great monastery. This is like being able to see all the buddhas in the ten directions when you see the single Buddha Shakyamuni. If the assembly is not like this, even with a million monks it is not a genuine monastery, and is not an assembly of the buddha way.’ (Eihei Shingi)
For some reason I had an urge to reread the Bendoho section of Dogen’s Pure Standards, and it plunged me back into the world of monastic life – there are distinct echoes of how he set out the expected conduct for his young monks at Eiheiji eight hundred years ago in the way we did things at Tassajara, even if some of the practices – like sleeping in the zendo – are not observed. I continued through to the section on standards for the temple administrators. Obviously, I have read and re-read the section for the tenzo many times, as it reworks the message of the Tenzokyokun, and I also remember referring to the sections for the director, from which this quote is taken, when I started that job. There are of course ways that I miss temple life, but after all, the ordinary tea and rice of the buddha ancestors’ house is not the exclusive property of the monastery.
‘I think there are many of you who think, “I must not think,” so you suppress thought. This is the worst thing to do. You are suppressing the natural flow of the Dharma itself. Don’t think of trying to suppress thought. By thinking, “Don’t think, don’t think,” your essential nature is lost. Without any freedom or comfort, you only end up sitting and thinking of trying to get rid of suffering. This is the sickness of not knowing that the thought of getting rid of suffering is suffering.
In order to understand this really well, I will say it one more time. Zen is neither thinking nor not thinking. “When there is thinking, there is only thinking, and while thinking, there is liberation.” And “”when not thinking, there is only not thinking, and while not thinking, there is liberation.”
Zazen is not something to be learned from a teacher. Zazen is something learned by means of zazen itself.’ (The Essence of Zen)
A slightly different angle on yesterday’s post, to be looked at together for a deeper perspective.
‘In the stillness (when we are sitting zazen) various kinds of thoughts arise and go away when we let them go.They disappear and only the wall remains in front of our eyes.We should be grateful to zazen, which teaches us that all kinds of thoughts fall off when we open our hands, and only the wall is left. We should understand this thoroughly. If we continuously practice, we will understand that various thoughts appearing in our mind are nothing but secretions of our brain.’ (The Wholehearted Way)
I have used Uchiyama Roshi’s observation about thoughts being the secretions of the brain almost every time I have done zazen instruction – it was so helpful to me to see this, and I hope it has a similar effect on all those who grasp it.
When I embarked on my month-long trip, a week ago, I noticed I felt almost light-headed about my lack of schedule. This was not because I am not traveling around: I will be using eight different airports and taking five significant train journeys, but apart from showing up for these journeys and my teaching commitments, it feels that I have a lot of free time.
In my day and a half for jet-lag recovery in London, I mostly walked, around local parks and along the river. Down in Cornwall, there have been daily walks with the dog as well, and I have managed a couple of runs. I also worked in the garden, stacking logs and resetting some old steps – this physical work makes me feel even more connected with the land. The weather has been kind, and flowers have been in profusion: bluebells, campion and stitchwort in the hedgerows as well as gorse and blackthorn. Most places I have been, the loudest sound has been the manifold bird songs, punctuated by occasional squawks from pheasants.
My body always settles in this ancestral Cornish landscape, which is a succession of slopes; you are always heading down to a stream or river, or up away from it. I was glad that my runs, on routes I have often found challenging, felt manageable, and I look forward to repeating some of the other runs I tried on my last visit. In particular I was very happy to visit two hilltops close at hand, both of which have witnessed many centuries of human history: Kit Hill, which is visible from all directions, and Cadsonbury, an ancient settlement site that overlooks the gorgeous, wooded Lynher valley, and yet is hidden from almost every angle.
My current email post-script reads ‘iPad-induced brevity’; this feels like a lot to try to type, and I still haven’t added photos and links. Hopefully I will manage something next week and the week after as well.
A rare view of Cadsonbury, from a footpath the other side of the river. My favourite photo of it is this one from a few years ago.
‘Without students, no teacher. And the students encourage the teacher. It is very much so. If I have no students I may goof off every day. Because I have so many students watching me, I must do something; I must study so that I can give a lecture. If there is no lecture, I will not study. But at the same time I shall be very much ashamed of myself if I study just to give a lecture. So usually, when I study for a lecture I go off in another direction, following something interesting, and most of the time I don’t study for the lecture. But still, if I don’t study, I don’t feel so good. Because I feel it is necessary to prepare for the lecture, I start to study. But as soon as I start, I go off on my own and study for the sake of studying, not just for giving the lecture. Things are going on in this way endlessly. And it is good, you know.
Someday what I study will help students. I don’t know when. Just to feel good we study, and just to feel better we practice zazen. No one knows what will happen to us after sitting one, two, or ten years. No one knows, and it is right that no one knows. Just to feel good we sit zazen, actually. Eventually that kind of purposeless practice will help you.’ (Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness)
Speaking too much degrades virtue,
No words are truly effective;
Even though the great ocean should change,
It can never be communicated to you.
‘Constantly try to realize the depth of human life. Accept the fact that whatever you do, wherever you live, under all circumstances, you have a chance to realize the truth. With sincerity, try to realize the ultimate nature of your actions: bowing, studying, talking, or whatever it is that you do. When you bow in gassho, just do gassho through and through. If you really do this, you can touch the ultimate truth. Then through gassho you learn something. By the thoroughgoing practice of gassho you return to the truth, and simultaneously gassho rebounds in the form of your human life. Maybe you don’t understand this now, but that gassho helps people and deepens and enhances your life.’ (Each Moment is the Universe)
This expresses the essence of temple practice for me: you get a chance to live in circumstances where there is the space and the understanding to try this out. As Katagiri mentions elsewhere, sometimes you start by needing to know why; why do we have to bow, what is the purpose, the significance of this action, of this form, of this guideline? But, by gently allowing you to continue doing it when it is the moment to do it, temple life allows the question to melt away and be replaced by attentive action. And this attentive action does help people, and that help also reflects back to you – this is what Dogen called jijuyu zanmai. The opportunity is not limited to temple actions – how can you make this happen in your life actions today?
‘When great enlightening beings practice dedication in this way, they do not become attached to actions, to consequences, to the body, to objects, to lands, to places, to sentient beings, to the nonexistence of sentient beings, to all things, or to the nonexistence of all things. When great enlightening beings make dedication in this way, they distribute these roots of goodness throughout the world, that all sentient beings may fully develop buddha-knowledge, attain pure minds with clear, comprehensive wisdom, their inner minds silent and serene, unmoved by external objects, as they extend and develop the family of Buddhas of past present and future.’
I am very glad that I live in a house where I can come home and find a copy of the Avatamsaka Sutra on the dining table*. I confess I have not done more than dip a toe into it occasionally; I would make it my commute read, but it is a heavy tome (the above quote is from page 634 of approximately 1500 pages). At Zen Center over the years, a number of dedicated people have led reading and chanting sessions – Jerome, Greg and Kodo come to mind right away. It is one of the more esoteric teachings in the way it presents a multi-dimensional interconnected universe, but a paragraph like this one stand easily next to Hongzhi, Ta Hui or Dogen.
*It subsequently turned out that it was not the roommate whose book it was that had taken it out, but the other one, who on this occasion had been more interested in the bulk of the book than the content, and had used it to prop up a mirror to get better lighting at the south-facing back of the house. Self-illumination takes many forms, I suppose.