To break through the impossible barrier

teishos 1101 2007/ 954 2005

The kind of work that we need to be prepared to do is like cutting through nails and breaking steel. There must be utter determination to let nothing stand in the way.  We need to be prepared to work unconditionally, without any ifs and buts, without any kind of expectation.

This does not mean one must take up a heroic stance in relation to the practice. Zen practice is not about bracing oneself, tensing inwardly. To cut through nails and break steel requires patience and dedication, unremitting work.   One does not look for a way out, one stays with whatever is, without trying to do something about it.  One continues in the face of remorse,  regret, and anxiety.  Questions like ‘what is the point?’ ‘is it worth it?’ are thrown up by the personality, by those habits so ingrained of turning away from difficulty, of constantly looking for comfort and security.

When life’s circumstances crush down, what will you do then? Where is that place that nothing can touch?  If you can be in that place where even a needle cannot penetrate, where nothing can touch you in any way, what does it matter what life presents?

The only way that you can get anything worthwhile regarding knowing and understanding is by your own labors, by your own willingness to work. Anything that you take from outside can be taken away; anything from outside is of a speculative nature.

One of the obstacles in practice is the desert, the dryness, an absence of any kind of stimulation, interest, or, it seems, of any value.   We have to face boredom.  Anyone unable to open themselves to boredom will be unable to see into their true nature. Boredom is the feeling we all flee from.

We have many members in the Sangha who are coming up to old age, if they have not already arrived there. With old age, we get a glimpse of ‘the concrete and perfect life of the spirit which manifests itself in the complete absence of all sweetness, in aridity and distaste,’ as St.John put it.    How can this desert be the perfect life of the spirit?  The sense of self has at last met its match, something is possible now which has never been possible before. When practicing, we look for those moments that are peaceful and easing, that have a sweetness to them. But this is still within the realm of experience.  We cannot imagine a life where there is no experience, which is more wonderful than any kind of experience; imagination can only work regarding experience.  But it is being at one with whatever is that is the true life of the spirit. This means above all being at one with the swords and arrows of outrageous fortune, with the dust and dryness of the desert.   It is not that one has to turn away from peace and sweetness, but that one is open to everything, not only peace and sweetness.  One opens oneself also to boredom, to the dryness. The complete absence of excitement, of enthusiasm, dried up emotions – this is the true cleansing of the soul, the real purging of the spirit, the purgatorial fire we must pass through.

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A point of view (teishos 1066/ 2007 – 1224/2010).

Although you say ‘it is’ there is nothing that ‘it is’ can affirm. Although you say ‘it is not’ there is nothing that ‘it is not’ can negate. It is not true to say ‘I am’ and it is not true to say ‘I am not.’ It is not true to say that the world is there and it is not true to say that the world is not there. In other words, all affirmations are provisional and all depend on a point of view; and just in the same way all negations are provisional and depend on a point of view.

We tend to believe that the world is as we see it.  We say, ‘that is it.’  And we are astonished to find that other people see things quite differently and we then assume that they are mistaken or do not understand. The idea that people can see the world radically differently to the way we see it is something we find intolerable.

What I know to be the case is the case – this is basic to the way we see the world. It is fixed.  This background that we have, that we know to be the case, is the problem. When you assert that it is, there is nothing that ‘it is’ can affirm.  This is a  point of view that we have.  Once we can call into question the very basis of our  world, we are freed from the rigid prison in which we have found ourselves.  The  two most fruitful ways of working on this is to see into the belief that “I am something,”  and at the same time see into the illusory notion that the world is independent and real apart from my perspective.

When ‘is’ and ‘is not’ are gone beyond, success and failure, winning and loosing are no more.  This means that winning in an absolute way, or success or failure as  an absolute state, are no more. One can undertake work in a completely new way: the process of doing things, the creativity involved, are the attraction, not the result.  The joy is in the doing. All is open and unobstructed.  Instead of having a world of things that are jostling against one another, one sees the world more in terms of a flow: of  movement, development, change.

We have the question, “what is in front of me?”  The answer depends on what you regard as ‘me’.  If it is the body, then it is a window in front of me.  In that case, what is in front of me will be quite different from what is in front of someone else; what is in front of me may in fact be behind another person.  This brings out clearly that the world is the result of a point of view.

We must be careful not to look on this as the world is only a point of view.  If we do that it suggests there is another superior way of seeing the world.  But there is no superior way of seeing the world.  By seeing that the world is a point of view we  can see that it is a creation, and see at the same time that we are both one and a multitude:  I am myself, but in being myself I am you as well.  To put this in  another way, selfhood includes otherness. Normally we look on otherness as the not self, but the self and the not self are one; although they are not the same.  When people hear it said that the world is one, they think it is an homogenous condition, everything the same.  But a diamond is one, yet gets its beauty from its multi-faceted character.  It is the same way with the world, it is a sparkling diamond.

We must see the question ‘what must we do?’ as different to all the other  questions we can ask.  All the other questions look outside the question for the response, for the resolution. All the other questions are the expression of the separation, the dualism, that is our condition. How do you practice without practicing? Whatever you do is no good.  There are so many hidden agendas.  You must start with the correct orientation, you must listen to what is being said.  The problem is the problem. There are all these thoughts, wave after wave of the mind; there is the upheaval of feeling, there is all the disappointment of life, the anguish that has come from failures, betrayals, humiliation and frustration.  But this doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Take away every thought, every feeling, and now, what is there?  You cannot get behind yourself. You cannot step outside yourself.  You are bigger than any question you can ever ask. You encompass every problem, every failure, every frustration. You do not see this because you always start with where you want to be;  you are already out in the distance, running to find yourself.  Come back to what is.

It will always be uncomfortable when you first open up. Let go of wanting to get into heaven with your boots on, as Gurdjieff would say. See all the debts that have accumulated, but not as something to be overcome or seen through or worked with. Just see it all as it is, for what it is.  You will only be able to do this for a fraction of time, because the mind slips away into a self calming routine because of the way we have trained ourselves.  But come back, and see it is always you, it is always life, living.  It is you as your own way of being. It is not something inflicted on you.  Embracing this in this way, there is no separation, there is no before and after.

From the beginning all beings are Buddha.  Whatever your practice, your practice is that.  If you start with the assumption you do not know the answer to your question but that you will find out one way or another, you have entered into a maze from which there is no exit. It is that need for something that is holding you up. The only breath that you can follow is the breath being breathed right now.  And that is life. There is no truth outside the breath going out, the breath going in.  All truth is contained in that.

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The real sacrifice

I prepare these postings in the hope that they will encourage you to listen to the teishos they are taken from. The voice holds so much more than the written word. All members can now listen to teishos free of charge so that costs do not cause you to hesitate in taking full advantage of these spoken words. Albert is no longer physically with us, but his voice is.

teisho 1190 – 2009

In answer to the question: ‘what is the experience that is nearest to the Supreme?’ Nisargadatta said, “Immense peace and boundless love.”

When people hear this answer, they tend to feel this is the way to awakening, that they must somehow induce this peace and love in themselves, that this is the practice.

Harada roshi started his workshops by showing four pictures: one of a cat sleeping in front of a fire, the second a moon rising over a mountain, the third a mountain stream, and the fourth two drunks fighting. And he would ask, which of these pictures comes nearest to what Zen is about? And the answer was, two drunks fighting. This is the other side of peace and love because this openness includes being open to the eternal conflict, the struggle. To feel there must be a way out of the struggle, out of this cosmic conflict, is to feel that in some way we can withdraw ourselves from all that is. On the contrary, the practice leads to the realization that one is all that there is, wherein all is included, nothing rejected.

Nisargadatta goes on to say, “realize that whatever there is that is true, noble and beautiful in the universe comes from you. You are at the source of it all.” But the all includes conflict and struggle.

When we ask ‘who am I?’ or ‘what is Mu?’ we are not looking for boundless peace and immense love. As long as we do that we turn our back on our true nature. Conflict and struggle are as much you as all that is true, noble and beautiful.

The questioner asks, “how does one reach the supreme state?” He is asking “What is the way?” And this question is what must underlie all of our practice. When you ask ‘What is Mu?’ or ‘Who am I?’ are you doing it because that is practicing Zen or because it is a question that comes up from within yourself? As long as we think there is a way, we are looking outside ourselves. To say there is no way is to miss the point, but to say that there is a way is to suggest that there is something fixed: sitting in zazen, working with koans, following the breath; and this is not the way of Zen.

Nisargadatta answers the question by saying, “by renouncing all lesser desires.” People ask, “Why is it so difficult to come to awakening? Why does it take so long?” And the answer is that something in your life is more important to you than coming to awakening, than seeing into your true nature and realizing fundamentally what it is you are.

Ouspensky writes of the ability Gurdjieff had to hypnotize people in such a way that the personality was put to sleep and the more basic desires of the person allowed to come to the surface. And how he hypnotized one young man who was always talking about how important spiritual work was in his life and asked him what he really wanted, and the young man replied: ‘a spoonful of strawberry jam.’

As long as you are satisfied with the lesser you cannot have the higher. As long as you are pleased with what you find around you, as long as your desire is for comfort, security, certainty, peace, then you might get a certain amount of this from the practice; but is this really what you want? Do you really want to use the sword of Excalibur to sharpen a pencil?

Ummon said, “Even a good thing is not as good as no thing.” Our practice requires a total renunciation. This does not mean we have to become an ascetic, give up eating and all the various desires in life. The asceticism that is required is to see that fundamentally one is not a thing, that from the beginning not a thing is. This is the real sacrifice.

When you are working with the question ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What is Mu?’ this is the direction you must go. As long as you are clinging to something, no matter what it is, that something is an immense barrier. Whatever pleases you keeps you back. It is not a question of giving it up, but of seeing how you are entranced by it, how you are held captive by it. Each of us has our own compensation, the constant self-manipulation that we do to reassure ourselves that everything is OK. Nisargadatta says, “until you realize the unsatisfactoriness of everything and collect your energies into one great longing, even the first step is not taken.”

If you are honest with yourself, everything is unsatisfactory. Achievement becomes unsatisfactory almost as soon as it is achieved. It takes honesty to see this. The very fact of achieving makes us thirsty for more.

Nisargadatta: “The integrity of the desire for the Supreme itself is a call from the Supreme.” The Supreme is always calling. It cannot do anything else but call. You see that what you are doing is a fantasy because you are the Supreme. Everything in the light of the Supreme is a mere shadow.

“Nothing physical or mental can give you freedom.” No experience can give you freedom. Dwell on this. “You are free once you understand that your bondage is of your own making, and you cease forging the chains that bind you.” This is the ultimate realization. First, must come the realization that I suffer because I am human. As long as you feel something outside yourself causes you to suffer, you must always look outside yourself for the resolution, something that will give relief. It is the search outside yourself for the ultimate which is the ultimate agony. “It is enough if you do not imagine yourself to be something. It is the ‘I am something’ idea that is so calamitous.” This is what must be surrendered. The time when you have the greatest opportunity to realize that you are not something is when someone insults you, when you feel humiliated by the situation. Nisargadatta is asked: “How does one find faith in a teacher?” and he replies: “To find a teacher, and to trust him or her, is rare. It does not happen very often.”

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“I am something”

Questioner: It is part of the Indian spiritual tradition that living in the proximity of a sage is conducive to liberation. Why don’t you organise an ashram so that people can live near you?

Nisargadatta: I am available to all.  Common roof and food will not make people more welcome. “Living near” does not mean breathing the same air.  It means trusting and obeying, not letting the good intentions of the teacher go to waste.  Have your teacher always in your heart and remember his instructions – this is real abidance with the true. Physical proximity is least important. Make your entire life an expression of your faith and love for your teacher. That is dwelling with the sage.


teisho 635  – 1998

Nisargadatta asks: If you are still under the influence of the primordial drug, of what use are the superficial cures?

What is this primordial drug?  It is of course “I”,  “I am something.” One could look upon the Zen Centre as a detox Centre. and sesshin as a detox programme.  We have to break this addiction that we have.

During a sesshin the real work is done in the desert. When you have a period when things flow easily it is because of the work you have done earlier.

People feel these times when things flow easily is the real work; but the periods of dryness, when nothing seems to work, when one is so ineffectual,  these are the times when real work is being done.  We use the word desert, but one can also use the word boredom.

A nobel prize winner for literature gave a commencement address at a college and what he said is very pertinent to what we are looking at here:

“A substantial part of what lies ahead of you is going to be claimed by  boredom. The reason I would like to talk to you about it today is that I believe no liberal arts college prepares you for that eventuality. Neither the humanities nor science offers courses in boredom.  You will be bored with you work, your spouses, your friends, your lovers, the view from your window, the furniture in your room, your thoughts, yourself.  Accordingly you will devise ways of escape.  You may  change your job, your residence, company, country; you may take up promiscuity, alcohol, travel, cooking lessons or psychoanalysis.  Boredom is an invasion of time into your set of values. It puts your existence into its proper perspective, the net result of which is humility. The more you learn about your own size, the more humble and compassionate you become. If it takes paralyzing boredom to bring your insignificance home, then welcome the boredom.  What is good about boredom, about anguish and the sense of meaninglessness of your own and everybody else’s existence is that it is not a deception.  Try to embrace, or let yourself be embraced by boredom and anguish.  Try to endure it as long as you can and then some more. Above all, do not think you have goofed, don’t try to retrace your steps to correct the error.  No, believe your pain.  Nothing that disturbs you is ever a mistake.”

Why we say working with boredom is so salutary is because it means all the subterfuges that you have used to date have been brought into question. But  it is not enough to grit your teeth and hope it will not last too long, you must embrace it.  If you are serious with your practice, you must look upon boredom as a kind of medicine you are taking, as an essential and valuable part of the practice.  The fact that your practice is ineffectual is not a failure, on the contrary, it is a success.  It is because of your seriousness that you have got into this desert.  If you were not serious you would not be there.  But on the other hand, don’t prolong the process by rejecting it, or rejecting yourself or punishing yourself and looking upon yourself as an inferior practitioner.

It is the inability we have to tolerate ourselves for two minutes that is the real problem. It is in these times that the creative power is mobilized. It is at these times that the true impetus to freedom has a chance to grow.

During a sesshin we keep the blinds drawn, we cover pictures, we put away books and all the things the restless mind can feed upon.  We make the place as sterile as we can.  You then sit and face the wall. We do our best to keep out sounds and keep any distractions from outside to the absolute minimum. We keep the food as plain as possible.  All of this with a view to helping you to get into a state of austerity.  This is what the heart of the sesshin is about.

When the mind wanders the personality is searching for anything, it doesn’t matter what it is, in order to get distraction.  Each depressing thought that you have, you have given the power to damage you – see it for what it is, a distraction, something taking you away from what you see as barrenness, but which is really the most wonderful opportunity for truth to start emerging.   Recognize what is at issue – the sense “I am something” being eroded;  and in the erosion it is not that nothing is going to be left behind, but that everything is left behind.  It is an illusion that distracted activity gives any kind of pleasure.

One has to examine all the things one takes for granted.  And above all what one must examine again and again is the belief in something.  How do you get beyond something and nothing?

Nisargadatta:  Search, find out, remove and reject every assumption till you reach the living waters and the rock of truth.












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Practice is not magic (from a teisho)

People sometimes tell me, “I’ve tried this and that but nothing has happened!” This no doubt means that that they feel that there is, or should be, some kind of magic that either they or a teacher can call upon to make something happen.  They believe that if they go through the right kind of incantation, do the right things, say the right words, or feel the right things, then, because of the magical power of this teaching or technique, wonderful things should happen to them.  Meditation still has a kind of magical aura that surrounds it.  This is obvious if one picks up a New Age magazine or New Age books that talk about meditation.  It’s all flowers and halos.

There is no magic.  Or rather, the magician is you.  To look outside yourself, to expect someone else or some system to do something for you is really putting yourself in the position of a slave.  If somebody can do something for you that is of vital importance, you are dependent upon that person.   And this dependency is a form of enslavement. The only true value, the only true possibility, comes from your own power, faith and wisdom.  This means that you are already free.  You do not need a teacher or a teaching.  All that a teacher or teaching can do is to allow you to work for yourself.

But you must have a single-minded desire or longing for the truth. Ultimately all our desires are the desire to find ourselves.  Even joining the various isms that we can join in the world is done in the hope that it will lead us home.  People do not use these words “lead us home;” they use instead words like ‘happiness,’ ‘success,’ ‘fulfillment’ or ‘perfection.’  But these are substitute words.  Where is there fulfillment, perfection, happiness, and success outside of yourself?  When are you most happy?  It is when you are most at one with whatever it is that you are doing.  When you can give yourself over to it without reservation.  When you want it and, at that moment, want nothing else.

Our problem is that we cannot seek to know ourselves unconditionally and without reservation, except after much practice and much suffering.  People ask, “Why does it take so long to come to awakening?”  And the answer is, of course, that we want something else.

People feel that it is enough simply to say they want this or that, or even just to think they want it.  Sometimes I ask people, what is it you want from practice?  And they say, “Oh, I’d like to come to awakening.”  And very often they give a little laugh afterwards.  They reply much in the same way they might say, “Oh, I’d like a new hat.” A Hindu story tells of a guru and his student walking along the seashore.  The student told the guru that he would very much like to come to awakening.  The guru seized hold of the student and thrust his head under the water and held it there while the student thrashed around helplessly.  Eventually the guru let go of the student who arose spluttering and coughing, sucking in air as fast as he could. The guru said, “”When you want awakening as much as you want air at this moment, nothing can stop you.” When the pain gets so bad, when you really do feel that you have reached the end of the road and you have exhausted all your strategies to avoid seeing the truth that life is suffering, then it will be possible for you to say truly, “I want nothing else.”

Basically, everyone wants to come home and nothing else. And everyone will eventually come home. If everything comes out of and returns to the One Mind, then such a statement is a truism.

When you are practicing with Mu or Who or when you are following the breath, this practice will enable you, if you are sincere and honest, to come to the point where you will truly want nothing else.  But this means that you must practice without protest.  You must practice without complaint or self-pity.  And also, of course, you must practice without expectation.  Protest and complaint simply undo the work that you have done so far.  Protest and complaint sets up a counter current to the current of the work.  It sets up a conflict and it generates its own kind of pain.  Truly, only by trudging through the desert of the mind will you find the truth.  You do not find the truth in lush meadows.  In the desert, everything is taken away from you.

You have the belief that Zen practice is in addition to the question “Who am I?”  One keeps touching this ‘practice’, stroking it, feeling it for reassurance.  You ‘practice’ just in the same way that some people carry magic pebbles or wear crosses.  In the desert, even this is taken away.  All of your talismans, your magical charms are taken away.  One feels, I have nothing to look forward to.  That’s right!  There is nothing to look forward to.  ‘Looking forward to’ is the lure, the bait that constantly attracts you out of yourself.  You are always looking for the promised land.  But in the desert, the promised land just dries up and shrivels.

You do not even have feelings in the desert; just flat emptiness.  This is again a good thing because so many people feel that to ‘turn inward’ is to turn into their feelings.  In the sixties feelings were themselves a new religion.  In the New Age philosophy, feelings­­–– feeling good about yourself, feeling good about others, feeling good about one’s life, one’s situation­­–– were all that mattered. But in the desert, feelings dry up and all that is left is a naked, bare, austere possibility.

This is the master’s furnace.  It is during these moments, during this time in practice that the real work is done.  The dross is burned off and only what is true remains.  Don’t back off the desert!  It is true that during these times it seems that the practice is so remote, so uninteresting.  You feel so feeble, so futile.  But it is the personality that suffers. You must go on even so, although now it is no longer the personality that goes on.  It is what is true that does so.  Do not force yourself.  Just be there; just stay there, moment by moment. Come back again, and again and again, come back.  Not with force or fury, not with gritted teeth, not with clenched fists.  You just come back and then you come back again.

In this way you are starting to be honest with yourself.  And you are starting to really want nothing else.

The problem is not that we have other desires, but these other desires are so often in conflict one with the other.  How many people are there that have the real need to live a life that gives them the possibility to turn in on themselves fully and completely;  and yet at the same time they have the need to become engaged as fully as possible in the world, to be lost in some profession, undertaking, or project.  It is as though in each of us there are the two: the hermit and the professional.  A monk and a business-man.  The nun and the business-woman.  And they both have their own agendas and these have their own sets of conflicts. Sei and her soul are separated!

These conflicting needs and desires that we have are what Buddhism calls the Wheel of Samsara.  The need to be the business man but then to be the monk, keeps the wheel turning.  The need to lose oneself, to give oneself over to something outside oneself,  yet also to live a meditative life keeps the wheel turning.

Sometimes people phone to ask whether I could recommend a monastery where they could go to live and ‘really practice.’ Unfortunately, there are still Zen Centers that encourage this kind of activity.  I say ‘unfortunately’ because it does give the impression that the real work that one does in the world is not ‘spiritual’ work, and only work that one does in a monastery, center or ashram is real.

These people who phone have the yearning to retire from the world that many of us have.  The nun or the monk part of us longs for this kind of life.  As a consequence, we tend to look slightingly on our day-to-day activities, the work that we have to do, the mundane work that seems to be so boring, tedious and inconsequential. I have heard people who have undergone extensive training in a profession say that they feel their lives and their work are meaningless. It is true that, in terms of the absolute, whatever is relative is inconsequential.  Yet, even so, the only way the absolute can manifest is through the relative, through what we look on as inconsequential and contingent.

A disciple said to his master, “Everything is an illusion.” and the master said, “Don’t insult Brahman.” Layman Pang said, “My magical power and miraculous activity are chopping wood and carrying water.”

When we are told that we must want to see into ourselves and nothing else, this is not an invitation to depreciate what we do on a day-to-day basis.  On the contrary, it means that we must see whatever we do on a day-to-day basis as the fullest manifestation of our true nature.  In that way we will do it with full awareness, full commitment.  Whatever you do, do it!  Don’t judge it.  If it is necessary to change your job, you will change it.  But it is not necessary constantly to spend time wondering whether you ought to do so. Many people keep themselves in a state of suspension in this way.  Their inability to commit themselves, their unwillingness to commit themselves prevents them from finding the fulfillment that they seek. They want to have their cake and eat it. And yet in this suspended state, they lose the cake altogether: they lose the possibility to be at one with what it is they are doing.

So many people spend their time wondering how they can get into more activity, do more things, meet more people.  In the extreme, they are workaholics who are always busy, always on the go.  Never do they have the possibility of just sitting and enjoying just sitting, or of just reading and just enjoying reading, or of just gardening or of just walking.

Christ said, “Seek yea first the kingdom of Heaven and all things will be added unto you.” Find yourself and do as you please, because everything you do then will be fulfilling.  But first you must really find yourself!

Let me repeat: finding yourself is possible in sweeping the floor, in carrying out the garbage, in doing whatever it is that your work calls upon you to do.  It is true that if situations were different you could be employed better.  It is almost certainly true that most people are not fulfilled in their work in a way that might be possible were the society organized in an ideal way.  But it is also true that if pigs had wings they could fly.  It is a waste of effort, time and energy to dwell on what is possible: everything and nothing is possible.  But it is not a waste of time to keep bringing yourself back to the moment, wherever you are, and giving yourself fully to what you are doing.  When you do something, do it simply because it is there to be done, and not because of the rewards that you will get or the results that you will attain.

This does not mean that we are not pleased when others appreciate what we do.  Of course we are.  But this is not why we do it.  We do it because it is there to be done. This, too, is how to practice.  Some people are proud of their practice.  They feel that they are superior to others in some way.  They feel that they are on an inner track.  Others are disappointed and dejected about their practice.  They are not getting anywhere they say. Give yourself over to the practice because that is what is required. When we really give ourselves fully to the practice, we know this is right.  This is it!  This is what I have been looking for.  We have a sense of completeness such as we can get in very few other situations.

Doing something because it is there to be done is particularly important when helping others or ‘doing good.’ There was a master who used to live in a tree.  He would never go into a monastery or a temple.  But he would sometimes sit in a tree outside.  And he did this up to a very advanced age, even when he was about eighty, he still sat up in trees.  And a monk came along on one occasion and said, “What are you doing up there old man, it is dangerous?” The master looked down and said, “It is not as dangerous as what you are doing down there.”  The monk asked, “What do you mean?” “You don’t even know how to live,” replied the master. “All right, how do you live?” responded the monk.  “Avoid evil, do good, save all sentient beings.”  “Oh, a child of eight knows that!” snorted the monk. “Yes, but an old man of eighty can’t do it,” retorted the master.

What is interesting is that the master says first of all “avoid evil.”  So many people want to do good, and yet they do not know how to avoid doing evil.  This need, this wish, this longing to do good is an expression of our true nature.  But once it becomes the desire to be a good person, it becomes a form of sentimentality, and sentimentality is the desire to experience pleasure without having paid the price to do so.

“Avoid evil.”  And how do you avoid evil?  The only way to avoid evil is to know yourself.  It is to see into one’s own conflicts and go beyond them.  Because all evil comes from people acting in dreams.

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Working on Mu: teisho 944-2004

The problem is we feel things are absolute. We believe that there is a world and that we live in this world. It is as though there is water and it freezes and now you have chunks that you can break up into bits. In a way, you could say things are frozen knowing. When we are practicing with Mu, the thing is to melt down this frozen world. As long as it is frozen it gives us a sense of there being absolute right and wrong, yes and no.

When one sees into Mu one sees things are like reflections in a mirror. There isn’t a mirror that one sees that one calls Mu, it is simply seeing everything as a reflection, things lose their selfhood. Mu is not something, it is not a state, it is not an underlying condition. There is no substratum. We have the conviction of things because we have a fixed idea of ourselves. We have a fixed viewpoint and this is what we are questioning when we ask ‘Who am I?’ A world of things comes with this sense of separation, this illusion of separation. It is not the things that are illusory, it is the belief in separation, that I am here and the world is there. This is what you are working with if you are working on Mu or Who. One is working on seeing into the illusory nature of separation. But how can you see into an illusion? How can you see what is not really there?

How can we take hold of the possibility that there is just one world.? This is the question we need to ask.

The thereness of the world makes death terrible. The thereness of the world compared to the no thereness of death. When one sees the illusion of the thereness of the world, that cliff edge, that line that one crosses from life to death, loses its sharp edge. By seeing into this we can see more clearly what we mean by ‘no thingness.’ It shows up in sharper outline the illusory nature of a defined entity called ‘me’.

What is silence? Is there an isness to silence, does it have its own being? If it doesn’t how do sounds that come out of it have any being of their own? Silence stands to sounds as what you know and that you know stand to each other. What you know comes out of knowing and returns to knowing. What sort of being does knowing have? It is not something, but it is not nothing. When you say I know, what is this knowing? You cannot hold it at arms length and examine it, you cannot separate the knowing from knowing in order to know it. It isn’t an absence. When you know I am, upstream of all saying, what is it that is being known? This is not an idle question. It cannot be given a verbal answer because it refers to that which is upstream of verbalization. It is like silence. We ignore the knowing, we are taken up with experience, sensations, emotions, thoughts – they all have their being in knowing. All of them are knowing made manifest. So what is this knowing? ( The ‘is’ is unfortunate – seize the spirit of the question.)

Throughout the whole day, thoughts and feelings are coming out of knowing. We say that this is my life, this is my experience, or this is the world. We say the room is real. But what is real, is it the room or is it knowing the room? Can we make a distinction? Where does the room end and your seeing it begin? Knowing has no past or future. It is what is known that has a past and future. One must be taken up in the wonder of it, letting go of prejudgment, letting go of taking it for granted, unfreezing, allowing what is to be, rather than how we think it ought to be. So what are you, what is the world, what is Mu?

We cannot discover reality, we cannot discover truth, we cannot discover meaning, but we can see into what is not the case, what is not so: see into the notion that thoughts are absolute, see into the claim that I am something, separate, apart, distinct, unique. By seeing into the falseness, the truth shines out by itself.

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No separate entities

We have Yasutani Roshi saying, “the fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.” And Nisargadatta saying: “we think we are an individual, a person, when we are not an individual, we are intrinsically always and only the Absolute.”

The Absolute, the One, Buddha nature, Knowing, Emptiness, Mind – so many different words used in an effort to express the ineffable; to point us in a direction we have never thought of going; you might say, pointing us south when all our lives we have been going north. Turning everything on its head really; no wonder there is anxiety when we start to get a glimmering of what is being said when we allow what is being said to penetrate.

teisho 1155 /2008

It is the direction in which you are looking that is important. Zen is not a collection of techniques to fix things or change things; it is this feeling of control that is the great illusion we have. This does not mean we do not make a contribution, but the major contribution we make is interference.

When we talk about practice we are not suggesting there is something you can apply and thus get beneficial results; it is more pointing in a direction in which to look. By looking we mean turning your whole orientation in that direction. Nisargadatta challenges the orientation we have, the way we look at things, feeling we are a body or a person or a mind, – it is the notion of a separate entity which is at issue here.

With the idea of a distinct entity comes the notion of this entity being in the world, part of the world. The world is regarded as a big box with everything in it, including ourselves. When it is said that the trees and fields are my face, people think there is an entity that has a face, and wonder how fields and trees can be that face.

It is the same with practice: we start with this entity, and feel we have to find out what this entity is, what it consists of, its form, its shape and colour.

When we ask ‘Who am I?’ we cannot start by taking it for granted that we know what the question means. If we think the question is addressing that separate entity, that distinct individual that we feel ourselves to be, and struggle to make sense of the question within that context, then we are bound to be frustrated.

With this question, one is going in a very definite but unknown direction. This means we must question everything, even what seems so obvious. It seems so obvious that I am here and you are there, and yet this is provisional only, ‘as if’ I am here and ‘as if’ you are there. All the words we use should be qualified by ‘as if’ – ‘as if’ I am a man, a woman, ‘as if’ I am a human being, ‘as if’ I am a mind, – otherwise words have the capacity to fix things as real and separate.

When we see that there is a sense of self-will and that which is beyond self will, we can begin to loosen the hold that this idea of a separate self has. When you follow the breath, you are releasing the grip that this sense of self has. But you must be following the breath, not controlling it. Controlling the breath simply reinforces the sense of being a separate individual.

It also applies to working on ‘who am I?’ You are.

From the beginning all beings are Buddha. This is dynamic unity, the wholeness out of which the sense of self comes. It is beyond the conscious mind to conceive of the truth. It can only conceive of shadows, it cannot conceive of light.

Although when you are working with the question ‘Who am I?’ you are working with the unknown, the unknowable, you are not working with the nonexistent. ‘I am’ has its own evidence of being, which is reality. Nothing else has its own evidence of being.

I am is self affirming, self realizing.

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