Ambiguity: teishos 630/1998 1370/2015

Even if blows fall from the stick like raindrops, with all the encouragement talks, all the dokusans, you are still far from the truth of Buddhism. Hyakujo said, “throughout the whole of China, there is not a single teacher of Buddhism.”

We search for the absolute. We want the One, the Whole, the Holy. But the opposite of the absolute, the One, the Holy, is not the devil, it is the ambiguous. And the ambiguous, when we have to act on it, forces us into the dilemma. We have to choose because we want the One, but the problem is not choosing between good and bad. The problem is choosing between the good and the good, it is this that tears us apart. It is like a child who has to choose between security and freedom. If he chooses security, he must pay for that with his freedom. If he chooses freedom he must pay for that with his security. This is the type of choice we have to make all the time in life. We deal with this by saying, once we have made our choice, that the other option is bad.

This is the tragedy, we have to choose because we want the One. How can we live in ambiguity and at the same time be whole, be One? This is the challenge: it is not to attain to the One. This is why Joshu said, “the great Way is not difficult, simply avoid choice and attachment.” But even with a single word, there may be choice and attachment. Resolving ambiguity by choosing one side absolutely is attachment, that is choice. How do you live a life within ambiguity without turning your back on the One?

In the ten Ox-herding pictures, picture number 8 is a circle, this represents clarity, Oneness. But there are two more pictures, the last one, number ten, being a picture of a man with a bottle of wine in the marketplace. A man who has no sign of clarity, no mark of Buddha. How do you live in this world of choices without being attached and rejecting?

People want to retire, withdraw from the world of ambiguity. They dream of monasteries, convents, mountain tops. They dream of a quiet harbour, they dream of death. Ambiguity is suffering and uncertainty, it is having no absolute, nothing to hold on to; it is living according to the moment, but it is living according to harmony and wholeness. How do you do this? How do you live without rules or principles? Rules and principles are sentries with which we barricade ourselves into the good.

The great way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose. When you ask “Who am I?” are you picking and choosing? Are you looking for this rather than that? Have you made up your mind in advance what it is you are seeking? You think you are seeking clarity, and that is the problem. It is only in confusion that you will find yourself. It is only when you let go of the search for the One that the One can manifest. But to let go of the search for the One is to let yourself go into confusion and uncertainty.

The great Way is not difficult until you try to find it here rather than there, up rather than down, in rather than out. The great way is not difficult until you pick and choose. But how are you going to go forward without picking and choosing?

In One there is diversity, in two there is no duality. How can we understand this? One moon shines in every pool: in one there is diversity. You are not part of the One, you are the One. From the beginning all beings are Buddha. It is not that all beings are part of Buddha or the children of Buddha: you are the whole, the One. In One there is diversity, in two there is no duality. How can we see beyond one and two? How can we see that in Oneness there is diversity, but it is still One? How can we see that in two there is no duality, but it is still two? How can there be a world of One and there still be me and you?

When you have not penetrated the great Way it is like a silver mountain and iron fist. When you have penetrated you find you are the silver mountain and the iron fist. When you have not penetrated the great Way, it is impossible. It is like a mosquito trying to penetrate an iron plate with its proboscis. It is this impossibility which is the hallmark of true practice. If you simply stay with what it possible you simply stay with what is remembered. It is always based on the past, and nothing new can come through. It is going beyond the possible and impossible. It is impossible because you are using the wrong kind of mind to penetrate this barrier. Once you move from the discriminating, conceptual mind with which you are trying to solve a problem that is unsolvable in that way, then you are the silver mountain. Before you come to awakening you feel a blockage, but once you come to awakening you are the blockage, you are everything, everything is your experience.

Everything is what it should be, and this itself is worthwhile pondering on. We are always thinking it could, should or might be different and it is this belief that prevents us from entering wholeheartedly into any situation. As long as you feel “well, I will do this for the time being, but I am sure there is another way of practicing that is probably better”, – all of these doubts that accompany your practice keep you from being totally involved. When you are involved the sense of self looses a lot of its power. The sense of self and the situation become more or less one, there is a kind of unity, and in that condition it is possible for something else to transpire.

You are already awakened. You are not going to add anything or take anything away, so it doesn’t matter from the point of view of the great Way whether or not you come to awakening. The pain of life as it is being lived provides the motivation to work to come to awakening.

Why is talking about it a waste of time? Why are explanations and descriptions of how it is not accepted? Why does one have instead to give a demonstration? What can a demonstration give that words cannot? The words, the discriminating mind, is the fundamental problem in Zen and the fundamental problem in life. The reason being because we are substituting a verbal world for the real world. We live ‘as if’; we do not live as the situation is, but ‘as if’ the situation is.

The full moon in the sky, where does it’s light originate? The full moon is a metaphor for the awakened self. Where does it get its light from? It is a light that shines by itself. You do not need anything outside yourself either to know or to be. You are not the effect of any cause. Your body, your personality of course are, but that which you are has no cause, no origin outside.

When you are sitting in zazen you get to the point where your legs ache and you try to find a more comfortable position. And it is impossible, every position has its own difficulties. And this is typical of life itself. Life is both comfortable and uncomfortable, good and bad. This is why in Zen it is said there is no good and bad – what this means is that there is no absolute good, no absolute bad. There is always a wish to find something absolute.

If we do not make preferences what kind of life are we going to live? Naturally for some time it will be a life which is confusing, we will constantly have to slip away from attitudes of mind that lead us to be dogmatic, certain and sure of ourselves – states of mind that most people feel are highly desirable. If we let go of being sure of ourselves, there is a feeling of weakness, of being unable to stand up to things. But this is only a feeling, it is not the truth, it is simply the other side of the feeling of being in control, in command, which is also just a feeling.

Let me repeat, it is just a feeling, it is not how it is. How it is is that you are fundamentally Buddha – that is the only reality, all the rest is dreams and delusions. You are already awakened. All the feelings do not matter, they are simply dreams and delusions. If you can let go of the need to choose, then the truth will shine through.

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An inclusive, dynamic, living One.

teishos 1090 & 1088 – year 2007

Buddha said, “When I came to awakening, the whole world came to awakening.” It is this awakening that is fundamental, it is not the pacifying of the personality. This awakening is prajna, it is what the Prajna Paramita is all about. Manjusri on the alter during sesshin is the bodhisattva of prajna.

When we had the Manjusri on the alter made, we gave certain specifications: one of them was that the sword must be in action, not just held upright; and we asked that the lion be active, the paw upraised. They did a marvelous job of portraying the dynamism and action of prajna.

‘jna’ means primordial knowing. Knowing beyond content. It is the light of the world. It is that primary condition out of which everything arises and to which everything returns.

Why we have to practice so hard and so long is because this primordial knowing, this knowing without content, is ignored. We have turned our backs on this which is the fundamental treasure. Our practice is to turn around, to go beyond, paramita.

In the Prajna Paramita sutra it says ‘emptiness is no other than form, form is no other than emptiness.’ This is the heart of the sutra. The rest of the sutra is an expansion of these two phrases.

At the end of the sutra we have the mantra:
gone, gone,
gone beyond,
gone right beyond,

This is a dynamic expression of paramita.

Then is says ‘bodhi’. Bodhi is the light, the light that shines by itself, it is pure knowing. This knowing is right now, and it is essential to see this. It is right now.

You go into a room and you see the room – in that is the problem. The seeing is already the room. The room is empty of the room, there is no room. There is the seeing. This is paramita, the turn about. It is equally true to say there is no seeing, the room is already the seeing. We insist on the room, we insist on the seeing. But beyond the room and the seeing, what is there?

When you ask ‘who am I?’ you go at it with the same attitude: that you see the room, or you hear the bird, or you feel the cushion. There is no room, there is no bird, there is no cushion. Buddha said that there is no world, that is why we call it a world. When you are working with ‘what is Mu?’ that already is Mu. It is not that if you work on Mu, one day you will discover Mu. Asking ‘Who am I?’ will not eventually lead you to some kind of response. You are always looking for something. There is no Mu; Mu is empty of Mu; that is why it is called Mu. As long as you feel there can be a result and that it is the result that matters, you have set up an impassable barrier.

Praja is already paramita. As you are you are already awakened. True nature is awakened.

The first of the four vows: “all beings without number, I vow to liberate”, lets us out of the prison of ‘I’ into the freedom of One Mind. This vow is a vital part of our practice. It is not a vow to become a person who does ‘good deeds’ for others. On the contrary, it is recognizing that there are no ‘others.’

We are so used to seeing ourselves as an atom in a vast world, a vast universe. We have the feeling we are just an accident, something that might never have been. And yet we are that knowing/being, that light, which not only contains everything but which is everything. What is this light? It is the light beyond all shadows. It is not something you can see. What is your light? There was no time when the light was switched on and there will be no time when the light will be switched off. It is far removed from what you see and know.

We chant ‘all beings are Buddha.’ We do not chant ‘all beings are Buddhas.’ There is only One; not a numerical one, but an inclusive, dynamic, living One. Each of us is that light, that One. You can only see the truth of this when you shed the skin of personality. Let go of all the ways by which we identify ourselves, how we determine what we are, how good we are, how important we are – see beyond all that. These are the chains that bind us.

We are identified with the clash and clang of existence, but we can step outside this. It is not necessary to undo the mess of existence, – with the question ‘what am I?’ we can stop all this activity and come home. To begin to understand you must cut off what you know and what you see. As long as we are identified with what we know and what we see, as we invariably are, the subtle essence will always escape us. Our life is set up as a kind of competition, we are either winning or loosing, we are making the grade or not making the grade. Forget gain and loss. Ummon said, “let that go; life is not a competition. It is not a course to be run, it is not something we can win, loose or fail in. Life is, and that is all.”

What is reality? First there is knowing/being. First there is you. I am is the beginning of it all. Not the words I am, not even the thought, but beyond that, what is there? Fundamental emptiness. Emptiness is real. The terrible scourge of our life is that we take for granted that which cries out for close attention.

The truth is so vast, it is so magnificent that we shy away from it. It is like trying to look at the sun, we are blinded. Everything is contained in It, and this means there is one world, one world of light. Knowing and being are essentially one: knowing is being and being is knowing; but this ‘is’ is not the is of identity but the is of non severability. When it is said that emptiness is form, it does not mean that emptiness is identical to form, but that you cannot separate one from the other. Knowing/being contains it all, and does not only contain it, but is it all.


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Early days, late days.

I want to write for those of you who are getting older, much to your consternation. Aches here, aches there, unable to sit in the half lotus on the tan. After all, that is what Zen is all about, isn’t it? No.

I remember in the early days, when I was just beginning to question. I could not sit still for long enough to read a couple of chapters of a book that seemed to have something to say. And then we came across the book called Hara. It said to put the attention in the lower abdomen, the hara. I did this, and was able to sit and read the book. It was one of the amazing moments of my life. To just be able to sit there and take in what was being said, without fidgeting and feeling the need to move.

And this is what the zazen posture is about. Allowing one to sit and question deeply.
But it is the questioning that is the important part, the posture simply allows this. And when you have done years of zazen, as many of you have, the fidgeting and need for movement drops away. So when your back aches, your knees won’t bend and it is impossible to stay sitting on the tan, there is no need to panic. Can you still question? That is what is important. Gurdjieff reckoned that it was only being aware of the nearness and inevitability of death that could help mankind do the necessary work, and certainly, old age brings death into focus, the death of near ones and one’s own death.

What was your face before your parents were born? One of our first efforts at finding
a way to work was with hypnotism. I was quite convinced I could not be hypnotized, but
one evening, in the small group we were working with, I found myself up on the ceiling; I had been told to relax and let go of everything! When I say ‘I’ was up on the ceiling, it was not what I usually refer to as ’I’. There were none of the usual body parts, I was like a bean, but nevertheless my ‘back’ was pressed against the ceiling and my ‘face’ was looking down into the room. What was my face at that moment? Just that sense of being. And that I was desperate to get down off the ceiling! Fortunately, the doctor who was carrying out these experiments showed no surprise or unease, just suggested I came down, and as I was under hypnosis, down I came.

What was your face before your parents were born? You did not have the face you look upon as yourself, did not have the name you are so identified with. One does not need to sit on the tan to do this. What was before I am? It is what has been ‘with you’ all your life, before you could talk, walk, before you identified with a name – an awareness before the awareness that is expressed as I am, an awareness before I am and I am not. An awareness that is not caught up in language and classical logic, in what we look on as reality. An awareness that cannot really be expressed by the word ‘awareness’.

People are concerned that now that Albert has gone, there is no teacher. Nisargadata came to awakening after the death of his teacher, his awakening was confirmed in a dream. Albert used his words just as much as he used koans as a basis for teishos. If it is a question of needing the teaching, it is all there in his books, blogs and teishos. Perhaps his no longer being here is what is needed to drive us to do the work that is needed. As he says in one of his blogs, he cannot do the work for us. Although he tried hard enough!





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The worth of being (teisho 912-2004)

I have just been reading that first posting I did, January 2016. And all the laughter bubbled up again. Ask a question without worrying about an answer? Do we ever ask a question without trying to get an answer? I had certainly spent all my time trying to get answers. Just stay with the question? How can you stay with a question if you have the answer to it? And he said it casually, with a straight face, as if it was possible to do. The only response was laughter, laughter and more laughter. The laughter of release.

That posting may have left you with the impression that we sat of an evening with Albert giving me a sort of informal dokusan. But it was a rare occasion. Normally we just sat together, him with a glass of port and me with a glass of sherry, if it wasn’t a dokusan evening. A little light music, and just enjoying each other’s company. It was an unusual evening when he said that to me. And just in time. Shortly after he went into the hospital and did not come home again.

But in those few moments, he left me with the essence of it all. What is your face before your parents were born? For the first time, I asked a question and stayed with the question, not rushing on to look for an answer. This is the essence of our practice: staying with the question. After all, we are the answer, we do not have to look for it.


                                               teisho 912 2004

Much of the Zen tradition is attributed to Hui Neng. The spirit that he embodied was remarkable, a spirit that flared up over a period of about 300 years, it was called the golden age of Zen.

Hui Neng’s “From the beginning, not a thing is” is the ultimate challenge. It is such a radical statement that we shudder away from it.

He had his original awakening when he heard a monk reciting: “arouse the mind without resting it on anything.” Before this, he had had no Zen training. The 5th Patriarch made him the 6th Patriarch, but told him not to start teaching for another fifteen years – this was to give his awakening time to maturate as he had done no work previously. Most people do this work, as you are doing, previous to awakening. After this maturing process, Hui Neng came back to the monastery and started teaching. He himself did not hand on the robe and bowl.

Hui Neng said, “Nowhere is there anything true.” One does not look into the world for truth. “Do not try to see the truth in any way.” Hunting after the true word, the secret word, the last word is pointless. Everyone has the truth. He says “If you try to see the truth, your seeing will in no way be true.” There is nowhere to go, there is nothing to get – the recognition of this is the beginning of practice.

One sees the pain, the arrogance, the shame – all that goes on in the mind – and one allows it to be. One does not judge it or disturb it, one does not try to change it or get rid of it. One sees that this too is life, this too is it. By being one with whatever is, one separates from it, one discerns one is not it. Whatever it is, loses its acrid poison.

“Distinguishing well the forms of the various dharmas” – in other words, being well established in the world, in everyday mind – “remain firm within the first principle.” It is possible to remain firm because one is the first principle. But if we vacillate, there is no possibility for us to establish any kind of reality for ourselves. We must recognize our own worth before we can find anything of value. Yasutani used to say that the only sin in Buddhism is to hate oneself. Forgive yourself, and then be yourself. Become aware of the worth of being, this is the function of true reality.

“Don’t cling to the belief in birth and death.” In other words, do not cling to the conviction I am something, something that was born, something that will die. “Don’t think this is good, this is bad. Now, where is the original self?”

You describe it in vein;
You picture it to no avail.
Praising it is useless;
Stop trying to grasp it.
There is nowhere to hide your true self;
When the universe is destroyed
It is not destroyed.

What is your face before your parents were born?











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Beyond any movement of the mind teisho 1005/ 2005

In this teisho Albert was talking about the four noble truths of Buddha, the first one being that life is suffering, and he said it is only by seeing this thoroughly that we are going to really question, which is the essence of the work that needs to be done. He pointed out that hearing of someone suffering and about to die in Toronto, brings home to some people that life is suffering. With another person it takes someone suffering nearer to home, say in Montreal, to start them questioning. But with most people it takes a loved one suffering and dying, to make them get down to it. Perhaps in dying Albert gave us the final help we needed to do the work he urged us towards in his teishos and dokusans. So instead of looking on his death as the end, we should look on it as the beginning of work. People say, he is no longer here, how will I be able to carry on with the work. Everything that can be said he said over the years and it is all recorded; all it needs now is our side of it, our application. Perhaps it is not a question of carrying on with the work but starting it. ‘No one can purify another.’

The teisho was on the koan ‘a non Buddhist questions the Buddha.’ The non-Buddhist
says to Buddha that he doesn’t want words and he doesn’t want silence. This is all he says;
where is the question? what is the question? This is the essence: finding the question. It
is no good taking a question like ‘what is Mu?’ or ‘who am I?’ and reiterating it. These
questions are of no use unless we make them our own, unless they come out as a deep groan –beyond words and beyond silence. Unless they come out of our own perception of the truth that life is suffering.

Most of us cannot do what Buddha did, seeking out places that roused in him the fear
of death and a feeling of panic and horror, doing this again and again. Rather we do just
the opposite, shut our eyes, our ears at the slightest hint – turn on the television, get
out the iPhone, look up emails or Facebook, whatever distraction that we can grab at.

Buddha roused the fear in order to face it and deal with it. As long as we are running away
from fear we are running away from life. It says in the teisho that it is not a question of
steeling oneself, of fighting it, but rather of addressing it in a condition of humility. Thy
will be done. Facing this fear when it arises with an attitude of contrition in the heart, one
allows the fear to just be there. He adds that it is not an easy thing to do, but until we do
it we are not doing the work we want to do.

Buddha said, we need to think the unthinkable. The question, ‘Who am I?’, the question “Mu?”, is unthinkable. But it takes a long time working with these questions for this to finally come home to us. So many people, hearing that it is unthinkable, think that all they have to do is just sit passively and wait for the truth to appear; this of course is dead void sitting and it stultifies the mind. But Buddha says that his doctrine implies thinking of that which is beyond thought – arousing the mind without resting it on anything: without images, ideas concepts or words; but nevertheless there is thinking, the mind is active, but not in an agitated way; there is no grasping, the mind is simply open. One goes beyond any movement of the mind.











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Two monks roll up the blinds

Early on in these postings I wrote about the smile. I have continued to work with the smile for this past year. A good deal of the time it was impossible, sometimes it was possible. But eventually I have come to see more clearly what it says about awakening.   This smile is not confined to happiness as we normally think of happiness, nor to pleasure or joy or amusement.   It expresses one thing: openness. Openness to everything: fundamentally everything, everything, is OK. In the following teisho it is pointed out that Oneness is not simply good, it is good and evil, beautiful and ugly, high and low. This is what that smile is expressing. Openness. Just being present to what is. Awakening.

Many of you have mentioned Albert’s smile and this is because in your heart you recognised what it was saying: whatever you are going through, fundamentally everything is OK. From the beginning all beings are Buddha.



The world is one mind     (teisho 689/1999)

Koan: – Hogen pointed at the two blinds. Two monks simultaneously went and rolled them up. He said, ‘one has it, the other doesn’t.’

Who had it and who didn’t? If your eye is single you will see where Hogen failed. However, I warn you against discriminating between has and has not.

There is another koan which this one is often linked with: Joshu investigates the two hermits. Both of these koans are dealing with something fundamental in terms of awakening; what it means when it is said that the world is one mind.

The two monks roll up the blinds simultaneously, in other words they do it exactly the same. And yet Hogen points out a difference.

There are four wisdoms, two of them are the wisdom of equality and the wisdom of differentiation.   Joshu challenging the two hermits is dealing with equality. Hogen and the two monks is dealing with differentiation. We should keep in mind that differentiation is quite different from discrimination, judgement.

The three worlds return to mind only, things to consciousness only. Is this stone inside or outside your mind? The monk says it is in his mind. This is Solipsism – everything is a product of my consciousness. Is this room inside or outside your mind? Are you in the room or is the room in you? Speaking from the point of view of Buddhism, everything directly presents itself. The room is the mind appearing. There is no mind which contains the room. The mind is not a box that things can be inside or out of – there is no inside or outside.

There is the saying:

Before I practiced Zen, mountains were mountains, trees were trees.
When I had practiced Zen for a while, mountains were no longer mountains and trees no longer trees.
Now that I have practiced for a long time, mountains are again mountains and trees are again trees.

With the first awakening, which is usually seeing into emptiness, there is something of the vedantic view – everything is one, mind is one, everything is mind. This is encouraged when we say it is like a mirror with reflections, that you are the mirror and all is reflected in you. This is the view of equality, that oneness is not simply good, it is good and evil, beautiful and ugly, high and low.   Seeing it like this, that form is emptiness, enables us to let go of the grasping quality that we have. We start off seeing mountains as mountains, in other words everything is something in the world of somethings: houses, cars, trees, hills. When one sees with the eye of equality, everything is equal, everything is a reflection, everything is Buddha nature.

But then the problem is that there are things. There is you and there is me. How do we deal with multiplicity? If it is One, how is it multiple? One means one, an apple for example is one, and if you add another apple you have two; in other words, you add one to one. That is one way of looking at one. But this one apple can be looked at in another way: it is whole, it is complete. In this way we can say that the world is One. But if it is One, what about you? How does one understand multiplicity while maintaining the truth that all is One? How does one understand differentiation, understand things while at the same time maintaining the truth that all is One?

If all returns to the One, what does the One return to?   The one returns to this stick, to this stone, to this shirt. Everything directly presents itself.

Hogen in an exponent of the Hui-Yen philosophy. A demonstration was given to the Empress of China. When preparations had been made the teacher went to her and asked her to go with him to the place where the demonstration would be given. He leads her to a room lined with mirrors, on the ceiling, floor and all four walls, all facing one another. Then he placed an image of Buddha in the middle of the room.  The Empress gazed at this panorama of infinite inter reflections. This is a demonstration of one in all and all in one. In order to appreciate what is going on, one has to be one of the mirrors. Otherwise one is going to take an outside viewpoint of the whole thing. This is the viewpoint of God, the objective viewpoint that we refer to when we are thinking about the question of One and many. When one asks ‘Who am I?’ one must become one of the mirrors. But most often one takes a viewpoint outside the mirrors. It is said ‘you create the world’, and then people say, ‘but my wife is not here at the moment, I am not creating her world, there is a world there that I am not creating.’ They are taking a viewpoint outside the experience of being. It is this outside viewpoint that is the problem and which reduces everything to a shadow of the living, real experience. It is taking this viewpoint which makes it impossible for us to understand or to answer the above question. This is the fixed viewpoint we need to free ourselves from; this pretense that we are not one of the mirrors, that it is possible to take an outside viewpoint which we regard as the truth.

A single viewpoint which is objective and outside is God’s viewpoint. Now it has been taken over by the scientists and we all subscribe to it; it is a kind of invasion into reality and we are all supporting it constantly. When we are working on ‘Who am I?’ it is necessary to see into the all pervasiveness of this static and objective outside viewpoint – it is a viewpoint constructed by language. It is the pretense that we can observe without participating. It is necessary to let go of that exterior, pseudo viewpoint. If we look as one of the mirrors, the whole world and all other mirrors are reflected in me. There is only one world because there is only one mirror. But each of the mirrors is saying that, each is the only mirror. If one mirror has it, the other mirror looses: one has it, the other does not. To say which has it and which one does not is trying again to get that objective viewpoint, trying to say which is the real mirror, and there is no real mirror, each one is the mirror.   We cannot see the world, we can only see a world.

In the demonstration a figure of Buddha was put in the middle of the room, and so one Buddha was reflected in all the mirrors, the one reflected in the many and the many reflected in the One. There is just one Buddha, each one of us is that one Buddha. We are not part of a whole, each one of us is the whole.

You and me arise simultaneously, there is never a me without you or a you without me.   But we rarely encounter you, that is the problem. We encounter it, or her, or him.   The immediate encounter with you is love. When me and you encounter, we are one, we are one love, we are one Buddha. But at the same time we are two, one has it the other doesn’t.

If your eye is single you will see where Hogen failed. But I warn you against discriminating has and has not.   He is saying one must not forget equality. Everything is reflected in me as the mirror.   But then, after one has practiced for a long time, the Buddha is reflected in everything, everything returns to the one, and the one returns to the stone, or the table in front of me. One sees everything as the appearance of Buddha. Everything is the appearance of Mind.   Everything directly presents itself. Mountains are mountains and trees are trees.

We tend to practice in the zendo, but what is being said here will only have meaning for you if you work with this question ‘Who am I?’ in the here and now, in the concrete situation that you are living now.   When we practice in the zendo it is quite possible for mountains to be no longer mountains and trees no longer trees; we can lose ourselves in the Samadhi of the moment. But in the world, when someone treads on my toes, mountains are mountains and trees are trees. How do we cope with life as it is being lived and still remain within the understanding of our practice?   Once one can see into this, with the eye of equality and then the eye of differentiation, and move freely between them and within them, it is possible to live a life full of life. To see that fundamentally, everything is OK.











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Practice (teisho 1364/2015)

One should always start with the realization that fundamentally everything is OK.   We can say instead: ‘All beings are Buddha’; or we can say, more enigmatically, ‘Everyday mind is the Way’. Or we can say, ‘Nothing needs to be done’.

This is the problem, you are certain that something needs to be done.   We suffer from insecurity, uncertainty, vulnerability, and we feel if we can find something, some experience, some person, some object that is stable and we can cling to that, we shall resolve this problem. But there is nothing in experience that can give any kind of salvation. A search for any kind of experience, including what you are supposing to be the experience of awakening, is of no use.

We do not practice Zen to feel good, to solve the problems of life, we are not here to gain knowledge, and we are not here to get kensho. As long as you are looking within the content of your consciousness for something to give you the security for which you search, you will search forever.

The biggest problem with this kind of search is that it is ‘me’ that is searching. A teacher was asked, ‘are you awakened?’ And he replied, “I am not awakened, I never was awakened and I never will be awakened.” As long as the ‘I’ is doing anything, it is the main problem. When there is ‘I’ there is separation, when there is separation there is suffering, and when there is suffering there is restless activity and this activity generates more suffering.

You cannot practice Zen unless you realize that this ‘I’ must die.   This ‘I’ that you constantly look after and protect is your enemy. You have to get to know this ‘I’ thoroughly. This is why we have the question ‘What am I?’ One could ask ‘what does it mean to be a woman?’ or ‘what does it mean to be a father?’ or ‘what does it mean to be a mother?’. If you just sit there and ask ‘what am I, what am I, what am I?’ it is useless. You must change the question, move it around. When you are at a check-out counter, what are you? When you are at work, what are you? When you are with your family, what are you?   They are all different ‘I’s .   Each situation has a different ‘I’.   You have to use your intelligence.   If you are working on a koan, you don’t just sit with the words of the koan. You move it around, change it. If there are two protagonists, then make it three; if there are three, make it one.   See what this does to the koan.

Our practice is essentially a voyage of discovery.   You are intent on finding out the truth. If you are going to undertake this voyage of discovery you must try to understand what you are being told, you must use your intelligence. Take for example ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?’   What is it really asking?   What is the koan wanting you to come up with? What does it want you to realize?   You should be looking at this when you are not on the mat, during your regular day.   Sitting on sesshin should give you the strength, energy, and power to work like that; and working like that during the day should give you the strength, energy and power to work on sesshin.

When Hakuin says ‘it is like one in water crying, I thirst,’ he hits it right on the head. “Do you see this room?   What more do you want?”   It is only what you see that is important to you; you overlook that you see.   You overlook yourself.   You are seeing, you are knowing. You are awareness. But you forget that. You forget yourself. You are fixated on the room.

So what is the sound of one hand clapping asking you? It is asking: what kind of hearing is there when there is nothing to hear?

You let the world come to you, you are passive, the world is your master, it dominates; what the world says is the case, is the case.   You need to turn this around and this is what is meant by ‘wake up.’   When you are passive you are sleeping, and you have bad dreams: you get a pain in your leg and you cringe with the thought it might be cancer. Or you forget something, and wonder if you have Alzheimer’s. You have been taken over by a thought because you are passive, because you are open to it, receptive to it. This is where the need for effort comes in. What kind of effort is it?   No matter what you do it is no good. So what are you going to do? Obviously it is not an effort of doing. You have to use your intelligence.   There is nothing that needs to be done – seeing into that is its own kind of effort. Seeing into it, knowing into it, not using your muscles to strain into it or your brain to think about it. It takes a sacrifice. You have to sacrifice all that you think you know, all that you think you are.

What is supporting all of this? What supports the certainty ‘I am a person’?   What is the root of the feeling ‘I am’?   It is the sense of self.   You need to see yourself in all kinds of different situations: angry situations are good, humiliating situations are better. Happy situations don’t help much. Remember yourself.   You will get to this sense of self, and this is what you must investigate. Don’t analyze it – just let it float in awareness. You are not trying to do anything about it.   It is a coagulation of awareness.   There is nothing but awareness. Nothing outside of awareness. Nothing outside of experience. You do not experience the world, the world is only your experience. The basis of experience is knowing or awareness. So all of your experience is knowing. The world is your knowing. But it coagulates, it gets into lumps, it freezes into lumps.

I am not giving you a technique for how to work, I am trying to describe to you the workings of the mind so that you can practice intelligently. You yourself have to find out how to use what you are being told in an intelligent way. I cannot do it for you.   You have to see into this in an intelligent way so that you are undertaking a true voyage of discovery. Do not use zazen to get away from life. You cannot get away from life. If you are looking for security, stability – these are all creations of the mind – the only way to gain security is to let go of your search for security. Fundamentally everything is OK.   Faith is the willingness to be without support.











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