Just Be (teisho 1357 -2015)

This teisho was based on comments made by Nisargadatta, as follows:

‘Keep very still and be aware ……
Reject the known.
Welcome the so far unknown, and reject it in its turn.
To know by being is direct knowledge. It is based upon the inseparability of the seer and the seen. Indirect knowledge is based on sensation and memory, on the proximity of the perceiver and the perceived, and limited by the contrast between the two of them.
Our true nature is happiness, which is uncaused and cannot disappear for lack of stimulation.


The true secret of practice:  keep very still and be aware.  Awareness is the substance of everything.  It is the emptiness of form. You cannot get outside of awareness.  It has no beginning and no end.  But awareness has the capability of reflecting on itself, awareness of awareness, and this is the trap that it is so easy to fall into.   It gives a comfortable sense of being, but this is simply the mind being reflected against the mind.  You could say that awakening is no reflection, and the struggle of practice is to break this habit or reflection.

To be still is to let go of the reflection, it is to no longer be aware that you are aware. There is a purity, a clarity, a complete simplicity in awareness. This is clouded over once we are aware that we are aware. Many people when following the breath are simply aware of following the breath. They think that this is what is required, and it leads into a kind of dream state which is very peaceful, but at the same time it is illusory and does not last. To be aware of being aware is to stand outside ourselves.

When you are aware of, you are separated from; there is something apart from you that you are aware of.  But when you are aware as the pain, the thoughts, the situation generally, there is just awareness. The content of the awareness is incidental; when you acknowledge it and just allow it to be, it loses a certain kind of significance.  It is this significance that is the core of the problem.  It is this which is the anxiety aspect of anxiousness.  It makes it real. If one can just be anxious and let go of the significance, this is rejecting the known, this is no longer taking the known as having meaning and importance.

The whole world, the whole of your life is without meaning. This does not mean that every action you take is not meaningful:  it is meaningful because it is an action that you take and this automatically grants it meaning. You do not have to find some significant meaning, some ultimate significance to life.  Anything that you do, if you do it without reflection, without that sense of looking back at it, is a meaningful action.

The unknowable is the foundation of it all.  Allow the unknowable to arise, without trying to grasp it. We want to know everything;  we want to know what reality is, what God is, we want to be able to put everything into some formulation, some kind of conceptual box. Welcome the unknowable, allow it to be.  Then you come to a state in which there is no knowledge, only being; in which being is knowing. But this ‘is’ is not the is of identity: knowing is what being is not,  being is what knowing is not.

We talked earlier about stillness. If you can allow the stillness to arise, you can allow seeing to be the room.  But if you are noisy, if you are reflecting, if there is a separation of seeing from being, then, of course, this will not be possible. Knowing by being is direct knowledge. Direct knowledge is based on the inseparability of the seer and the seen. This is I am.  Indirect knowledge is based on sensation and memory, on the proximity of the perceiver and the perceived, and limited by the contrast between the two of them. This is the knowledge that you have to learn and is what we are carrying around with us most of our life. How much of what you know is your own?

To see into ‘the seer is the seen, the doer is the doing, the hearer is the hearing,’ is the direction in which you are going. If you can reach that state where there is no longer a reflection, a mind aware of itself, you will know pure happiness. Our true nature is happiness,  which is uncaused and cannot disappear for lack of stimulation. Beyond it all is the light that is shining. True happiness is not the opposite of sorrow, it includes all sorrow, all suffering.  You do not have to get rid of suffering, get rid of pain, of difficulty, of conflict to be happy.  Happiness is your natural state.  This is why when you come to awakening, you realise there is no awakening. This is why it is said, ‘From the beginning, all beings are Buddha.’

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The Illusion of Reality

teisho 1310  (2013)

Someone asked Huang Po, ‘What is implied by seeing into our true nature?’   Isn’t there a contradiction here? Is there a true nature you can see into, something that you can perceive? It is the same when you are asking ‘Who am I?’  What are you asking about?  The problem in Zen practice is not to find an answer but to find the real question.  As long as you ask the wrong question, you are going to waste your time.

What does this question mean?  Is there a seer and something that is seen? Huang Po replied that true nature and the perception of it are one.

The belief that there is someone who perceives and something that is perceived is basic to the illusion of reality.  It is this illusion that we must struggle to work with.  But if you struggle with it without appreciating the nature of the problem, you are simply going to perpetuate the problem; you are going to perpetuate the sense of separation, which is the major illusion: the illusion that there are two – that there is emptiness or mind and there is form.

When asking ‘Who am I?’ the question and the answer are the same. There is not a self to be seen and grasped. Faith is the leap across the chasm of separation.

There is the koan ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?’  With the sound of two hands clapping, it can be approached in the normal belief that there is the hearing and there are the hands clapping. But the sound of one hand clapping is not separate from the hearing. To see into this koan you have to see into the nature of hearing. Normally we overlook hearing, overlook seeing, focus only on what is heard or what is seen.

If when you are working with ‘who am I?’ you feel that you must find out who you are, that you must find something you can identify as ‘I’, you are simply perpetuating the illusion of separation. ‘I am’ and the question ‘who am I?’ are not different.

If you form a concept of the true nature of anything as being visible or audible, you allow a dharma of separation to arise. After years of working with ‘who am I?’ it can become very subtle, but it is still something, over there, outside, it is still an attainment, something I can get that I do not have at the moment; with it will come awakening. But the question ‘who am I?’ is an invitation to the wonderful mystery of being.

The perceived cannot perceive. If you are looking for that which you think you are, you are looking for the perceived, when in fact it is the perceiver, the perceiving, and this is what you are ignoring.

All beings have been free from bondage from the very beginning.  This is how it is now, this is how it is when you are born, and this is how it is when you die.

What is freedom?  It is unrestricted openness.  Freedom is not living in a world without limits; when you live in a world you automatically take on all the limitations of that world.  There is no separation – freedom and bondage, purity and illusion – it is only from the viewpoint of illusion that you can get freedom and bondage.  When you come to awakening it is to realise there is no awakening.  Awakened and unawakened are the results of living in the illusory world of separation. If you set awakening up as a goal, as an ambition, you are perpetuating the very division, the very illusion you feel awakening is going to free you from.

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The Miracle of Being

teisho 1062  (2006)

How does one come to terms with what is beyond all terms? How does one find a foothold in that within which there are no footholds? It is the seeming impossibility of this work which is its challenge.

Ask yourself: What is for me of utmost concern? What my colleagues think of me? to get as much money as I can? to get as comfortable as I can? Is it to get as secure as I can? That concern, that is the way in. That concern is Mu, Who. Without that fundamental concern, they are just techniques.

Ultimately one reaches a dead end. But it is not until you have pushed the questioning of any koan to its limits that the koan will yield its truth.

People have a koan and all they want is to find an answer, some fancy way to demonstrate it. This is a waste of time.

Because we have covered everything over with the screen of words, including ourselves, the miracle of being constantly evades us. The miracle of being, I am, is like a pearl thrown in the mud. We do not recognise the astounding quality of  ‘that I am’ – it has no meaning in the way that words normally find their meaning.

Everything is out there, everything except ‘I am’. Everything takes its stand from ‘I am’. ‘I am’ is the screen against which the drama of life is projected, and we take it for granted.

We are trying to find truth as an ongoing condition, we think it has a substratum, that it is something we can grasp, something we can know. We want to have it, to name it, to label it. Yet the whole secret of practice is to see it on the fly.

One needs to find out what the koan is about, what is the twist of the koan? Mu is the transcendent of anything that can be known. Every koan has this imponderable quality. It is a way of revealing what ‘I am’ means. Without asking the question, there is nothing that can be done.

In that asking is all that you need to know. In that asking is the resolution you are seeking so ardently. But you are looking outside it, you are looking to add something to the questioning, you are looking for an answer. Don’t look for an answer, find ways to deepen the questioning. Because the questioning is you. There is nothing outside that questioning. When you sit and question it means that you are putting into action this marvelous, creative essence which is yourself. Your question is your treasure.

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The Right Practice

teisho 1041 (2006)

Case 28 in the Hekiganroku:

Hyakujo asked: “Is there any dharma that has not yet been taught?”
Nansen said, “It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not a thing.”

A koan pushes us beyond our normal range of understanding. Some people say they do not know what koans are talking about. You are not supposed to know what they are talking about – something else has to be summoned in order for them to make sense. When that something else is summoned, it makes all the sense in the world. This ‘something else’ is not something out of this world; you do not get an experience of the transcendent. There is a turn-about and one sees the world in a new way.

One hears again and again of someone asking: “What is the Buddha?” or “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?” It is asking in a formalised way, what is the transcendent? The form of the question is not so important, it is the questioning that is important, there is an opening there. If it is a genuine question, the person is asking to be shown what it is. A monk asked, “What is Buddha?” and Hyakujo responded, “Who are you?” There is the only possible response to all your questions: “What are you?” And the monk replied, “I am I.” Hyakujo then asked, “Do you know this I or not?” Why did he ask that question, what is behind that question? Hyakujo then held up his whisk and asked, “Do you see this?” Does the eye see it or do you see it? Is there a difference?

A monk asked, “How can I abide in the right dharma?” In other words, how can I practice correctly? Hyakujo said, “To seek to abide in the right dharma is the wrong dharma. The right dharma is neither right nor wrong.” People ask, what is the right way to practice? And once they have asked that, they are out of the practice, because they think the practice is over there and I am over here. They feel it is something apart from themselves that has to be added to themselves. You are the only right dharma, you are the only right practice. As long as you think there is a practice apart from yourself, then it becomes an exercise or a discipline. Allow the practice to arise. As the practice arises you are automatically one with it. Practice is you in process. Practice is an openness. Whatever is present at the moment – dryness, lots of thoughts – this is what you work with, this is you at the moment, this is the practice.

People want to get outside their personality and Hyakujo is saying that you do not have to do anything about the personality, just refrain from sullying your self nature. How do you sully your self nature? By believing that you are the personality. How do you not sully your self nature?- by seeing that you are the personality. When you believe you are the personality you are identified with it. But the personality is just the way you act in the world, it is not ‘something’, you do not have to change it.

Someone asked, “Can we find deliverance by following your teaching?”
Hyakujo replied, “Since you are not bound, why do you seek deliverance?”

One of the functions of a teacher is to keep finding ways to break up the set views or habit patterns of students. This is why each time we talk we try to say it in another way, try to avoid getting into a rut as far as the teaching is concerned.

The primary thought structure that must be dissolved is: I am something, the world is something else. This is the primary ignorance. It is thoroughly ingrained in us, by our language, culture, by our education, and by our inclination.

How can we see into our true nature? How do we see into I am? That which ‘sees into’ is your true nature.

If you are working on Mu, you are working on Not Mu at the same time. If you are working on Who am I? you are working on no self at the same time. All that you know at the moment are somethings, this is the problem. So one works on ‘there is something’, but you work with the faith that there is no something. It is these two together that will make your practice.

When one is working on a koan one must find something that does not fit, a contradiction. You cannot take what Nansen said and try to understand it. When he said: “It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not things,” he is giving a teaching that the ancients have been unable to preach. Yet he is saying something that has been said over and over again in different ways, so how can it be said that it is something that has not been taught? How do you say something that cannot be put into words?

Just before his death, Buddha said that in all his years, he had not taught a single word.

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Working on yourself.

(extracts from various teishos)

The idea that the craving for experience, the clutching after this, that and the other, may be a cause for suffering is not difficult to accept. It is more difficult, but nevertheless possible to accept that the craving for a completely different kind of life, to be ‘reborn’ psychologically or even physically, causes suffering. But Buddha goes beyond that: “we must give up the need or wish to get beyond it all; the wish to get out of suffering itself.”   It is of no value to wish for the end of this particular set of problems, because another is bound to take their place. We need to go not only beyond anxiety, but beyond pleasure as well …….

Our practice requires delicacy, the feather touch.   We must go constantly towards the simple, towards movement which is no movement. It is only when you are satiated with the changeable that you are ready to turn around and step into what the mind sees as emptiness and darkness. We fight constantly to stay away from this emptiness and darkness,  yet it is only emptiness and darkness from the point of view of the mind.   It is pure serenity.   And it has light, because you are the light.

It is the questions that nobody asks because they sound foolish that can help us, can open up vistas that were closed because we took them for granted. Possibly the most foolish question is ‘what is anything?’   What is a thing?  When we use the word ‘it’, which we use constantly, what does ‘it’ mean, what lies behind it, what gives it power and meaning?

Another such question is ‘what am I?’   These questions are foolish because they have no answer, no conceptual correspondence. One tries to answer the question ‘what am I?’ and in doing so one has to bring everything we take to be ourselves into consideration.  We know that we identify ourselves with situations, with our emotions, with what is going on around us, with things that we feel we possess.  What does it mean to identify?  We seek an identity.  What is this identity?

In other words, look for that which is constantly part of our vocabulary, constantly being used.  That which we have used all our lives on the assumption that we knew what we were talking about.    For example, what does it mean ‘to know’?   What does it mean ‘to be’? What does it mean ‘to own’?   It is no good bringing forth another word to define the one being questioned.

A word is like a window, which opens up if you look through it, but which of itself is just a blankness. You have to look through the window, or allow light to shine through the window, for the window to fulfill its function.  In the same way the word ‘being’ or ‘knowing’ is an indication to open the mind in a certain direction.  Unless that invitation is accepted, to use the words is really to deal with something quite meaningless. If one looks through the word then one will have some realization of what the word is opening on to.

What lies behind the structure of concepts and memories that we call knowledge? What gives it reality?  Reality is not given by what words designate, so where does it get its meaning? When you investigate this conceptual structure, which is one of the ways we use the word mind, when we look at it in terms of what gives it its meaning, its value, we realize it is awareness. It is the means by which we focus and fix awareness in a particular way.  By investigating we dissolve this fixity.

This is of course very true in terms of that which we see as most solid, our suffering. If we can have the courage to face our condition, our anxiety, fear, terror. if we can look into the heart of this, where it gets its power from, see what gives it that particular absolute quality,  if we can identify what gives it this power over us, then it loses that power.

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Everyone has their own light (teisho 1007 – 2005)

Before the thought ‘I am’ arises, what are you? You are always before the thoughts. You do not have to go backwards in some inner space, or go backwards in some inner time to get to the before. You are already before. When it says ‘From the beginning all beings are Buddha’ it is saying: at the origin, at the very source, this is your home, this is where you reside. Coming and going, you can never leave home, you are always at the source. This source is now. It is not a new way of knowing, it is dropping the illusion that goes with knowing, the illusion of something.

It is not a matter of understanding or interpretation. When we ask ‘who are you?’ we are not asking for any kind of definition. You cannot draw a boundary around it. There is only one world. That world is you. This matter is not in the eye, or in the ear, or in the environment. You can’t see it, you can’t hear it, it is not out there. As long as there is something to know, you have missed it. Forget gain and loss, forget achievement, forget getting something.

Everyone must investigate for themselves. Everyone has their own light, shining continuously now as of old. It is not something you see but something you see with, know with. Because of this light you see, you hear, you feel. This light is the seeing, the hearing, the feeling. The entire world is your divine light. The entire world is within your light, and the entire world is inseparable from yourself.

What was your face before your parents were born? It is because we are imbued with the notion of beginnings and endings, of birth and death, that we feel we are contained, that we are defined by life, by our bodies, by our experience. We feel we are subject to experience, that experience is primary. We feel the world is primary, that we are born into the world and die from the world.

Before existence, what are you? Before a thought arises, what are you? It is in the immediacy of the moment, now, that you can respond. A moment’s hesitation and you are in a state of reflection, which means you are outside yourself.

Knowing is not illuminating something, knowing something; Knowing illuminates itself.

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Questioning (teisho 1169 – 2009)

Nisargadatta: “As long as you take yourself to be a person, a body or a mind, separate from the stream of life, having a will of its own, pursuing its own aims, you are living merely on the surface.”

This points the direction we must go in our practice. What is a person? What does it mean, I am a person? We call this person ‘I’. It is this ‘I’ that we are investigating. We believe intently that we are this ‘I’. When we think we are a person we think we are something, that there is some form that we have, some shape, some kind of existence that we have. We are so habituated to the notion that there has to be an I – that thinks, that feels, that makes decisions – that we do not bother to question it. We pay lip service to the question, but always behind the question ‘Who am I?’ lies the certainty that I am something. So the question ‘Who am I?’ becomes ‘What sort of thing am I?’ We can never hear the answer because we are asking the wrong question.

All we want are answers, but it is realising the importance of the question that is necessary; of understanding the question, of asking the right question. The answers are all there, in the chants, in the sutras, but they are useless unless we can really ask the question. In grasping after an answer we let go of the question; we go into the dokusan room to ask ‘Is this the right answer?’

The frustration of the koans is that one wants to give an answer, but the koan is pointing to the question. Understanding the question is having the answer. One can only understand the question if one has the answer. There is no before and after with question and answer, no separation.

Questioning takes us beyond the fixed form of the self, the ‘I am something’. Answers inevitably take us to something. Or one could say that all we can accept as an answer is something. This is the trap of words. We can’t hear the answer because it is tied up in words. It can be tied up very nicely, very simply, but still tied up: ‘true self is no self, our own self is no self.’ We have to get the question, and not just in words, to unlock the answer.

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