‘To sit without delving into existence or nonexistence is called wholeheartedly sitting.’ (The Third Turning of the Wheel)
Perhaps this quote might seem a little scary – how can we not be delving into existence – or nonexistence. It brings to mind the phrase from Dogen, ‘no longer concerned with conceptual distinctions.’ I remember how long that line was debated when we studied it at Tassajara in 2004; now I see it very simply. There are conceptual distinctions, just as there is existence and nonexistence. It is the delving into, or being concerned with – or getting bogged down in your ideas about, to put it more bluntly – these things that causes the problems.
‘To appreciate things and people, our minds need to be calm and clear. So we practice zazen, or “just sitting” without any gaining idea. At this time you are you yourself. You “settle yourself on yourself.” With this practice, we have freedom, but it may be that the freedom you mean and the freedom Zen Buddhists mean are not the same. To attain freedom, we cross our legs, keep our posture upright, and let our eyes and ears be open to everything. This readiness or openness is important because we are liable to go to extremes and stick to something. In this way we may lose our calmness or mirrorlike mind.’ (Not Always So)
Perhaps the least conspicuous line here is ‘At this time you are you yourself.’ How would it feel if that were the case all the time? If you are wondering how to do that, not sticking to something, including our idea of who we are, is a good way to head towards freedom.
‘I used to be afraid of being… viewed as “soft”. How could I be tender in the liberated sense, and be strong and safe? How could I meet disrespect or disregard with tenderness? How could I trust it? How can I be tender when there is war?
How can I not be tender when there is war? When I contemplated being tender in this way, I realized at it did not equal quiescence. It did not mean that fiery emotions would disappear. It did not render it acceptable that anyone could hurt or abuse life. Tenderness does not erase the inequalities we face in our relative and tangible world. I am not encouraging a spiritual bypass of the palpable feelings the we experience… I say that complete tenderness is an experience of life that trusts the fluidity of our life energy and its extension into those around us. On the way of tenderness we allow rage and anger to flow in and out again, in and out again, instead of holding on to it as proof of being human. We can let go of stockpiling out rage for fear that our suffering might go unrecognized or that we’ll appear apathetic or naive.’ (The Way of Tenderness)
A rag-robed chewer of vegetables,
my heart is like the clear autumn moon
through and through.
Ask me where I’m from,
all I can say is
blue waters, blue mountains.
‘We can learn a lot by observing how we oscillate between distraction or entertainment and boredom. Boredom has an edge to it. We feel our ground slipping away; we struggle to find some way to secure ourselves. There is too much space; we need to fill it. There is nothing happening; we need to do something. It is too quiet; something must be wrong.
Paying attention to these kinds of responses to boredom is extremely valuable. It is a great practice.’ (quoted in Lion’s Roar)
A monk asked Xuedou, “What is your manner of teaching?”
Xuedou replied, “When guests come, one should see them.” (quoted in Zen Essence)
If you have been reading this blog from the very beginning, and have a good memory, or if you have read the Tenzokyokun a fair number of times, the name Xuedou will ring a bell. Dogen quotes his wonderful poem in that piece, and I recently dug out the three translations I have to look at with my students. I think what he is saying in this exchange is very much in line with the poem, though perhaps easier to grasp.
‘At times, reality is love’s great challenge. When our old stories and dreams are shattered, our first instinct may be to resist, deny, or cling to the way things were. But if we loosen our grip, often what fills the space is a tender forgiveness and the potential for a new and different kind of love.’ (Real Love)
I feel like I have managed before to open this book at a random page and find a beautiful passage to quote. It certainly happened this time.
‘You are trying to attain thusness, yet you already are a person of thusness. As you are already a person of thusness, why be worried about thusness?’
I think it is okay to repeat myself every now and again. This phrase came to mind while I was musing over what to say for yesterday’s quote – there seemed to be an echo in the line of thought, but on further reflection, the parallel was not quite so straight. How do you find the two together?
Sansheng asked Xuefeng, “The golden fish that’s passed through the net – what does it use for food?”
Xuefeng said, “When you come out of the net, then I’ll tell you.”
Sansheng said, “The teacher of fifteen hundred people, yet you don’t even know a saying.”
Xuefeng said, “My tasks as abbot are many.” (Book of Serenity, case 33)
Xuefeng throws some serious shade at the end, and rightly so. The point is that if you ‘pass through the net’ – or the ‘gateless gate’, to use an analogous expression – you no longer worry about the things you worried about before, and if you have not passed through, then why waste time being concerned with what is in the future? It will not, as Dogen pointed out in Shobogenzo Yuibutsu Yobutsu, be the way you thought of it at all (I am surprised that I don’t seem to have quoted that passage, and I shall rectify it soon…)
It is also worth considering the Xuefeng is not letting on whether he has ‘passed through’ or not (we assume, as the monk does, that he has), but in either case, he still has work to do as abbot.
‘Going to the seashore to count grains of sand vainly wastes one’s strength. Polishing a tile to make a mirror is a meaningless use of effort. Don’t you see that the clouds above the tall mountains naturally wind and unwind around each other, so how could they be intimate or estranged? The water of a deep river channel follows along the straight stretches and curves without preferring this way or that. The daily activity of living beings is like clouds and water. Clouds and water are like this, but people are not. If they could be like this, how could they ever transmigrate in the triple world?’ (Extensive Record, 281)