‘Yunyan asked a monk what he was doing. The monk replied, “I’ve been talking to a rock.” Yunyan said, “Did it nod to you [indicating that it understood you]? When the monk didn’t reply, Yunyan answered for him: “It nodded to you before you even said anything.”‘
‘What is called Zazen means to live at peace in the true basis of the universe, which is stillness. Movement is a secondary attribution: stillness is the real condition. Out of stillness comes all activity.’
I will be saying a few words about zazen, and then sitting still, at 6pm this evening, in my regular class for Within Meditation.
‘The Patriarchs and the descendants of the Bodhidharma are not supposed to rely on words and letters. Is that supposed to mean that silence is to be preferred and words are to be avoided? On the contrary, the one thing they want is for students to see that the real truth lies neither in words nor in silence. Once this fact is clear to you, all the teachings of the Buddha and the Patriarchs are matters within your own house. So if you want to understand their teachings, please let go of whatever knowledge and wisdom you may have acquired up until now.’ (West Mountain Evening Talk)
But then, don’t get stuck in ignorance either.
‘It’s a fairy tale to think that once we have attained deep faith, or have had some great enlightenment experience, our whole life will be one joyous delight after another and all sadness will be swept away, so that all we can see is paradise. Living a life of true reality, experiencing an ongoing restlessness with alternate moments of joy and sadness, there has to be a settling into one’s life in a much deeper place, where you face whatever comes up. Likewise, true religious teaching is not a denial of our day-to-day predicaments; it is not cleverly glossing over reality, or feigning happiness. On the contrary, true religious teaching has to be able to show us how we can swim through one wave at a time—that is, those waves of laughter, tears, prosperity, or adversity.
Studying and practicing the buddhadharma is neither a kind of academic exercise to be carried out only after your livelihood has been secured, nor some sort of zazen performed when circumstances are favorable. I was forced to search out what true religion is when I was not unlike a stray dog, always badgered by anxieties over daily life, having to pick up whatever scraps I could.’ (from Laughter Through the Tears)
When the sky clears, the sun appears; When the rain falls, the earth is wet. With all one’s heart, one has preached everything, But I fear nobody can believe it.
‘It is very important to experience the complete negation of yourself which brings you to the other side of nothing. People experience that in many ways. You go to the other side of nothing, and you are held by the hand of the absolute. You see yourself as part of the absolute, so you have no more insistence of self as yourself. You can speak of self as no-self upon the absolute. Real existence is only absolute.’
How does that resonate today?
‘Yunmen entered the hall to address the monks, saying, “Why are you all aimlessly coming here looking for something? I only know how to eat and shit. What use is there explaining anything else?’ (Zen’s Chinese Heritage)
Suffice to say that Yunmen did not stop there, but continued berating his monks, and then drove them out of the hall with his staff. Perhaps they got the point.
‘Master Guling Shenzan returned to his home temple after years of practice. When he returned, his master said, “I have had no word from you for a long time. What have you been doing out there all his time?”
“I haven’t been practicing at all,” Master Guling replied, “I’ve only been walking here and there.”‘ (Quoted in Unfathomable Depths)
Without wishing to give away the plot, it may be that Master Guling is hiding his light under a bushel, though it takes his master a little while to figure that out.
‘It was said that the Tathagata cannot be seen by means of attributes, and yet he does not lack attributes. Attributes are basically the appearance of dharmas. This does not mean to get rid of appearances but only to remain detached from dharmas. This means that when we see that dharmas have no self, and accept that dharmas have no self, prajna will appear.’ (Commentary on the Diamond Sutra)
I sometimes find the word ‘detached’ can lead to wrong impressions; I would trade it in for ‘not get caught up in’. But then, don’t get caught up in that either. And so on.
‘When I speak of trust and confidence, I am talking about taking refuge in my basic experience of myself. I trust that I have the ability to experience and feel. I trust that I have the ability to empathize. I trust my ability to change. I trust my ability to embody agency. I trust that I can discern the positive and constructive things the world can offer me as feedback that can help me grow through my suffering. I also trust that I can discern through the bullshit what the world is trying to tell me about myself that has nothing to do with my benefit. This trust in myself doesn’t mean that I’m okay all the time, but it does mean that when I am not okay, I can let myself be not okay and I can take care of that not-okayness. This trust is built upon a real acceptance of myself that is supported by intense gratitude. I have to let myself be sick in order to have the space to start working towards being well.’ (Love and Rage)
I read this passage with my student group last Tuesday evening, and thought it notable and worth quoting here. As I type it up, I think of how it reflects upon those who took part in the insurrection last Wednesday, and one of the phrases I saw circulating on social media came to mind – that some men would rather storm the Capitol than go to therapy. Perhaps it just boils down to discernment and empathy.