Returning home from a day of begging;
Sage has covered my door.
Now, a bunch of leaves burns with the brushwood.
Silently I read the poems of Han-shan,
Accompanied by the autumn wind rustling through the reeds.
I stretch out both feet and lie down.
What is there to fret over?
What is there to doubt?
Returning home from a day of begging;
‘Through the practice period Buddha’s way will be known in America. The practice period originated with Buddha’s sangha (community of disciples) during the rainy season in India when the monks could not go wandering from village to village begging and teaching. In Japan only certain Zen temples are given the privilege of being able to hold practice periods. Now this indispensable practice has begun in America and it must not be discontinued. Each year we must have at least one practice period; it is indispensable for the students at Zenshinji and for the existence of Zenshinji itself. Strict observation of the practice period with qualified teachers and qualified students is one of the foundations of Zen Buddhism and is the most important reason we started Tassajara.
There are not many teachers in this world, and there are many students. Of course teachers and students are not different, but we must begin with a teacher. The teacher works and practices under the same conditions as the students. But there is some difference. The student perceiving this difference is shown the way to the Buddha in himself and the Buddha in his teacher. This is the most fundamental way to help others. So direct contact with the teacher, listening to his lectures, working with him, receiving personal instruction, is very important. By this we can go beyond any physical, mental or emotional ideas we have about practice. It is possible to practice by yourself, but when we practice in a group we can help each other; and by practicing with people under the same conditions we can eliminate self-centered practice. When there ore not many teachers, group practice is the only way possible to have direct contact with a teacher.
The purpose of group practice is not the observation of rules and rituals. Although the rules do allow you to focus on your practice, and to live according to the essentials needed to practice together, the purpose is co obtain freedom beyond rules and ceremony, to have naturalness, a natural order of body and mind.
To live in this world means to exist under some condition moment after moment. We should have the flexibility of mind to adjust our being to these conditions so that when we do change our attitude or circumstances, there will still be a fundamental imperturbability to our minds and bodies. This imperturbability gives us absolute freedom and we should practice our way until we obtain this. Group practice. is the short cut to the imperturbable mind which is beyond concepts of personal or impersonal, formal or informal.
At first group practice seems restricting, but later you will find the freedom in it. At the same time, of course, it is easier to observe some rules rather than to practice your individual way or to practice in various ways. A person may be said to be a good Zen student if he knows his own way in its true sense; but it is very difficult
to know what your own way is. For finding what your own way is, group practice is best. For example, a woman will go to a store thinking that she knows exactly what she wants. But when she gets there and sees all those things, she may no longer know exactly what she wants. So she may buy many things, and end up wasting money. So we limit our life to find out true way. It may be how to know your way in the grocery store! Of course the best way is to use something when you have it; and if you buy things, at least you can use them until you know why you don’t want them. Then you will have some sense of choosing things as your own.
So through group practice you find out how to know your own way. For example, Buddhist ceremonies are too complicated to do perfectly and so in our observance of them we can see our own way and not just the way of the ceremony. And in learning to accommodate ourselves to the practice of others and to our teachers, we will find out how to communicate with others and with all worlds and their various Buddhas. This is not just verbal communication. It is more direct than that. It is person to person and beyond any specific way. This is known as the Bodhisattva’s way.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)
I wondered about just taking one or two sentences from this piece to post – but I will save that for Instagram. There is something deeply moving about how he expresses his wish for the practice to flourish (just as when Dogen in the Bendowa imagines a future community of practitioners), through practice periods at Zenshinji, the formal temple name for Tassajara; now that we are a hundred or more practice periods down the road, that person to person communication has hopefully had a chance to flourish.
‘If I say, “When you do zazen you become buddha,” that is beautiful, but it is still words, still doctrine, still the moon in the water. Put it aside and just do zazen.’ (Returning to Silence)
Let’s face it, whatever the phrase is, put it aside, and just do zazen. You’ll get into less trouble that way.
‘Each of the two views, both dual and nondual, enhances and informs the other. If we look at our differentiated, relative world from the realm of nondual awareness, each object in the relative world is rendered unique by the possibility of its disappearing into undifferentiated reality. One Zen master said that when he took his teacup down from the shelf, filled it with tea, and drank from it, he very consciously handled it with great reverence and love. In his mind’s eye, he could see it broken already, and so it assumed a preciousness and matchlessness that made it unlike any other teacup. This is seeing things as different from one another, while at the same time understanding and accepting that in the realm of direct experience, whatever arises shall eventually pass away.’ (The One Who is not Busy)
‘I have spoken many times about posture, which is one third of the sitting position, but also the breath sits, the mind sits. It’s hard to talk about zazen body and zazen mind separately. Maybe it’s just a convenience to say, “From the physical, bodily perspective, I sit this way.” On the other hand, one can say, “Mind alone is sitting, nothing else exists.” That perspective is also possible. Also, from the viewpoint of breath, there is no body and no mind, only breath, and breath sits. You can work on these three perspectives of one sitting. But it’s not like I work on my body position, my breath, and then my mind. You don’t need to think that way. This point is very important in not misunderstanding sitting. You could sit your whole life with kind concerns about yourself or about the world in which you exist, and not reach to the point of sitting.’ (Embracing Mind)
Compare and contrast with yesterday’s post. Where is your mind now?
‘Most people allow their mind to be obstructed from the world and then try to escape from the world. They don’t realise that their mind obstructs the world. If they could only let their minds be empty, the world would be empty. Don’t misuse the mind. If you want to be free of the world, you should forget the mind. Once you forget the mind, the world becomes empty. And when the world becomes empty, the mind disappears. If you don’t forget the mind and only get rid of the world, you only succeed in becoming more confused. Thus, it is said, ‘all things are only mind.’ But the mind cannot be found. When you can’t find a thing, you have reached the final goal. Why bother running around looking for liberation? This is how you should control the mind. Once you see your nature, you won’t have any deluded thoughts. Once you have no deluded thoughts, you have controlled your mind.’
He makes it sound so easy doesn’t he?
‘Seeing is never from memory. It has no memory. It is looking now. The total organism is involved in seeing. Not thinking about what is said from memory, but listening and looking openly now. No one can do that for us. We can only do that ourselves, discovering directly whether what is heard, said, or read is actually so.
Most of the time we take on faith that whatever comes from a respectable or traditional source is true. But we’re asking whether one can find out firsthand, not secondhand, but firsthand, first sight, whether what is said, heard, and read is actually so. Not that one takes over mechanically what someone else says. One has to be very clear within oneself that “Yes, this is so,” or “No, it isn’t so,” or “I don’t know, let me find out.”‘ (The Work of this Moment)
These words from a few decades ago are still entirely relevant to these moments.
Actually there isn’t a thing,
Much less any dust to wipe away;
Who can get this straight
Doesn’t need to sit there stiff.
(in response to this famous pairing)
‘Magu, Nanquan and another monk were on pilgrimage. Along the way they met a woman who had a teashop. The woman prepared a pot of tea, and brought three cups. She said to them, “Oh monks, let those of you with miraculous powers drink tea.”
The three looked at each other and the woman said, “Watch this decrepit old woman show her own miraculous powers.” Then she picked up the cups, poured the tea, and went out.’
There are a few stories like this from the golden years of Chinese zen, where the presumption or pomposity of various male monks gets punctured by a woman. We are invited to imagine her as not being a practitioner in the traditional sense, but her understanding gets the better of the supposedly wiser men. In a few cases, happily, the men realise their shortcomings and vow to match the women’s wisdom, or even follow her as a disciple.
‘One of the nuns at Lungwang Temple told us that Yuan-chao was living in an adobe hut on a small plateau that had been leveled off for Kuan-yin Temple’s future shrine hall. We followed the nun up the slope to Yuan-chao’s hut. She was sitting cross-legged on her k’ang, an adobe bed with a built-in oven common throughout northern China.
As I walked in, she said, “You’re back. Good. Now we can talk. Last time I wasn’t sure. Now I know you’ve come for the Dharma.” I was glad I had made the effort to visit her again. She was eighty-eight, but I’ve seldom talked with anyone as alert. She was born in Chilin Province in northeast China into a family of six generations of doctors. Her grandfather was a Buddhist monk, and her father also became a monk. She became a novice at sixteen and graduated from the Buddhist academy in Peking. Afterward, she returned to the northeast, where she established four Buddhist academies. I asked her why she left northeast China and came to the Chungnan Mountains.
Yuan-chao: I was tricked. It was Chih-chen, the abbot of Wolung Temple in Sian, the one who chants the Diamond Sutra thirty times every day. He came to visit me in 1953, and when I went to see him off at the train station, he shoved a ticket in my hand and put me on the train with him. I arrived in Sian with nothing, not even a change of clothes. He wanted me to stop working and to practice instead.
Later I took over as abbess of Tsaotang Temple. When the Red Guards came, I told them to go away. I didn’t let them in. If I had, they would have destroyed Kumarajiva’s stupa. I was ready to die. That was a long time ago. Finally, temple life got to be too much for me, and I moved to Kuanyinshan. That was ten years ago. I thought it would be a good place to die. Last year, I decided the front side of Kuanyinshan wasn’t quiet enough, too many people hiking to the peak, so I moved to the back side. People still visit me, though. Two weeks ago, several university students came up and spent a week with me studying the Avatamsaka Sutra.
Q: I understand you practice Tantric Buddhism?
Yuan-chao: Yes, but there aren’t many of us left. Very few people practice Tantra anymore. I first studied in Peking with the sixtieth incarnation of Gung-ga Buddha, the head of the Red sect. It’s not the same as the Yellow sect of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. The Tantric path is shorter and faster. I was in a hurry to die, so I studied the Tantric path. I’m still waiting to die, just waiting for the fire.
Q: Is Tantric practice similar to Pure Land practice?
Yuan-chao: Tantric practice is closer to Zen. It’s the pinnacle of Zen. But it’s not for ordinary people. It’s like flying an airplane. It’s dangerous. Pure Land practice is like driving an ox cat. It’s safe. Anybody can do it. But it takes longer.
Yuan-chao had taught Buddhism to so many students for so many years, I think she had her lectures memorized, or at least her quotes, which she chanted. From my bag, I took out a sheet of calligraphy paper and asked if she would write down for me the essence of Buddhist practice. She put the paper aside, and I didn’t raise the subject again. Two months later, back in Taiwan, I received the sheet of paper in the mail with four words: goodwill, compassion, joy, detachment. Her calligraphy was as strong and clear as her mind.’
I enjoyed re-reading this passage from Red Pine’s book on hermits.