A different way of working

teisho 1199 – 2009

I emphasise constantly the importance of suffering, both in our lives and in our practice. Suffering indicates the possibility of realization.  It is the fact that we are in conflict with ourselves that is our greatest hope. If you have worked with suffering you will know that in the more acute periods of suffering the practice becomes most intense, meaningful and necessary.  But this does not mean that we encourage people to seek suffering for its own sake.

Our ultimate direction is to realize that true self is happiness. But we should not seek happiness or peace because if one is trying to find peace or happiness it means to say we are turning our backs on the source, on the possibility of realizing true peace and true happiness. Nisargadatta: ”Do not try to make yourself happy.  Rather question your search for happiness.”  We have a kind of superficial way of handling ourselves, situations, other people and so on.  A hand-me-down way of reacting,  ‘everything is fine’.  Faire enough at one level, but it is not any good when one is working on oneself.  One must be open to allow what is really of concern to arise in ourselves.  Nisargadatta: “It is because you are not happy that you want to be happy, you feel an acute lack.  So ask yourself, what is it I lack?”

Some people feel they are lacking affirmation. Their reaction is either to try to get people to recognize them or to give it all up: ‘it doesn’t make any difference to me,’ a sour grapes attitude. If one recognizes there is unhappiness here and asks ‘what is the source of my unhappiness?’ one is now prepared to get the feeling of the unhappiness or failure or being unloved by others.   You don’t search for this, but the unhappiness is there and one allows it to be there. Then what is underlying this will come up to the surface.  Of course, this will be painful.   It is this pain that is the source of the unhappiness.  This was the pain that induced Buddha to say life is suffering.

Nisargadatta: “Find out why you are unhappy;  because you are unhappy,  you seek happiness in pleasure.   One gets true happiness in the quiet use of the body and mind.”  A walk, a cycle ride, a swim, or just being with another person.

Nobody is going to call sitting on a seven-day sesshin pleasant, but there is something beyond the pleasure and pain which is its own worth.  It is unnamable, but without doubt, sitting in zazen in this way has a reward which is intangible but real, because it is an invocation of yourself. You are bringing yourself into focus.

Pleasure eventually turns to pain and then you long for some other pleasure without pain. True happiness is freedom.  It is not freedom from pain, or freedom to act as you wish, but it is freedom in its essence.  Longing for happiness is a longing for freedom, a longing for oneself.

Nisargadatta: “Make no distinction, don’t separate the inseparable and don’t alienate yourself from it.” You are intrinsically happy. Everything is fundamentally OK. But very often you grasp at it, to make sure it is real, that it will persist.  You are trying to turn it into an experience. But happiness is not an experience, it is freedom from experience.   Freedom from the sense of self.  In happiness, one is just one with the world, with all that is.   “No one walks upon the path this Autumn evening” is a haiku of happiness.

You are Buddha, you are whole, you are freedom, you are peace in itself.  Right now, not tomorrow but right now.   But in addition to this, there are certain conditions you make, there are certain requisites that you have:  In order to really be happy the following must be fulfilled:  then you have your shopping list and you look and you see you can’t check anything off.  Then you become depressed. It takes a certain kind of courage, a willingness to sacrifice. You must give up your pain, your suffering.   If you have the attitude that suffering is how it has always been, that it is the true state,  then that is how it always will be.

But if you see your true state is happiness, freedom, now you can look at all this unhappiness in a new way. Hakuin says there are certain requisites for practice:   faith – you lend yourself constantly to the openness, the freedom that you are instead of offering yourself to the darkness, to the pain and turmoil that you feel.  You let go of the self-pity, the self-indulgence, and see rather that, as you are right now you are peace, you are happiness itself, you are openness, you are unobstructed freedom, and that is what is called faith.

Hakuin says you also need great doubt.  Now you see suffering in a new way,  as a challenge, a possibility, as a resource. When you have this attitude the whole quality of suffering changes because it then becomes a yearning, like unrequited love.  You can only experience this because your true nature is love and wholeness.   You are no longer working from darkness to light, but are now working from light with darkness. It is a different attitude. A different way of working.

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Allowing (teisho 1275 – 2012)

Have you met one
Seasoned in the way of allowing?
One with nothing to do
And nothing to master.
Who neither rejects thought,
Nor seeks truth.

This is how we start with our practice and it is the way we end. In other words, there are no beginners, no veterans, and there are no realised ones.  But one can only see this from the perspective of one seasoned in the way of allowing. The direction in which the practice is leading is beyond the dualistic separated world, where everything is in opposition, this being good whereas that is bad, this being right whereas that is wrong.

Who is the one who feels s/he has so much to do, so much to master, who is constantly trying to do the right thing? Constantly wanting the approval of others, who is always stressed out and anxious?  We all long to be seasoned in the way of allowing, who is the one who stands in our way, what is this obstruction?

The obstruction is the sense of self; this feeling comes from awareness reflected back on to itself, knowing reflected back onto itself, the knowing of knowing.  It is so habitual, so constant, it has been with us from the early years of our life. The one seasoned in the way of allowing knows directly. This is why it is said that an awakened person does not know they are awakened; there is no checking back on oneself.  It is this constant checking back that is the problem.  How can we let go of this reflex that is so automatic? We feel this is how it is, this is natural, this is reality.

The verse goes on to say that the real nature of ignorance is Buddha nature itself.  All our anxiety, worry, panic, stress is our true nature. And our true nature is unimpeded knowing,  which has no subject, no object, which simply shines by itself. This light that shines by itself reflects back on itself, and this reflected light is ignorance.  The one seasoned in the way of allowing does not try to find Buddha-nature, does not try to get rid of the obstructions, because s/he knows it is all the unimpeded light of knowing. Everything is already IT. This earth where we stand is the pure lotus land, and this very body the body of Buddha.

When you ask ‘Who am I?’ you are asking in the anticipation that you will find yourself, that you will know yourself, that you will have an experience which is yourself. There is no special experience, and this does not mean that you have to search for something other than an experience. All experience is the appearance of your true nature. You cannot get away from experience.  People feel that the way is to stop feeling, to stop thinking, to stop worrying, judging. But all of this is your true nature.

The verse goes on:

When the dharma body is realized
Things are no more.
The originator of all things
Is innately Buddha.

Things which until now seemed to have their own existence, separate, isolated, are seen to be the pure knowing that you are.  To say that the five skandas are empty is the same as saying they are the appearance of the pure unadulterated light that you are. All dharmas, all things are empty, things come into existence when this light reflects back on to itself.  The desire to exist, the desire to know ourselves, the desire to be something in the world, recognised by others as unique, this is the birth of ignorance, the birth of existence, and it is the birth of suffering.

To believe that one can live without suffering is the primary delusion.  Our practice is not to get rid of suffering, to get away from suffering, it is to go beyond suffering: to see that suffering is also the appearance of the pure light that we are. When you reach the heart of reality, you find neither self nor other. One moon shines in the water everywhere, and all the reflected moons are just that one moon.

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Let go

teisho 1309 – 2013,  based on a talk given by Rinzai to his monks.

You are not here to practice Zen.  Once you feel there is a way you have to follow, things you have to do, then you are living outside your life. The whole secret of real practice is to let go of this outside view.  In this world, there is not a thing that has self-nature, nor a nature that is productive of a self.  We hear these words, but they mean nothing to us – they are Zen words.  From the beginning not a thing is. The sheer wonder and mystery that those words contain pass us by. But it is these words that you take for granted that you have to penetrate.  When you get to the meaning, you can let go of the words.  It is essential for you to get to the meaning of ‘not a thing has self-nature.’ There is not a nature that is productive of a self – everything is going on, it is one continuous fountain of being.  You are taking worthless words to be real, you set them up as idols: awakening, sartori, kensho.  They all have a meaning that you have given to them, rather than one found beyond them. Constantly teachers are trying to make us realise the trap of words; words to which we cling, that give us the sense of something secure, certain and worthwhile. Ideas, thoughts, that we carry constantly in our mind, ideas that we have never examined, ideas that we take completely for granted.  They are like robes to be put on and taken off; there is the robe of awakening, the robe of self, of no self, of knowing, of Buddha. These are all words we idolize, that we make beyond the ordinary, special.  These are the props that hold up the emptiness we call the personality.

I am – don’t look for anything beyond that. Not words, not ideas, not even knowing, – go beyond it all.  It is not something new you are going to add to your life, it is the stripping away of all that you think you are, all the unnecessary ideas that you are carrying around like so many precious gems. Anything you grasp after, anything you feel is necessary to your life, this is what is binding you.

We tend to think that people like Rinzai and Joshu were different, or that they were fortunate to live in spiritual times.  But where you are, what you are, what you have achieved, what you have failed to achieve, have nothing to do with reality.  They are dreams that you have, that you are still having.  True sincerity is extremely difficult to find.  True sincerity is working for no reason, with no expectation of some reward for the work you do.  The work is done in response to a call.  It is striving to hear, striving to be responsive to that call that is the practice.

Because your faith in yourself is insufficient, you turn to words and phrases. The ability to be without any support, without any reason, without any destination, is faith, faith in yourself.   Awakening is sometimes called opening the faith mind. To be open, unprotected, without defenses is faith.   Faith is not belief in something or someone; as long as you believe in this or that you are separated from it and so it is no longer faith. To be totally at one, to allow everything to be included, good and bad, right and wrong, here and there, this is faith. The openness of the unconditioned.   Let go of your hold on the cliff.  It is only opening up to the being which you are that is real practice.

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Teisho

teisho 1161 – 2009.

I heard about the great bridge of Joshu.  But now I come here and find it is just a set of stepping stones.  Joshu said, ‘It lets asses cross, it lets horses cross.’

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You must come to a teisho completely fresh, you must hear what is said as though for the first time. It is taking things for granted, seeing them through the eyes of yesterday, that brings about the sense of life losing its luster.  The practice encourages us to free our awareness, free our perception, from the trammels of experience.  We believe that we are victims of the past, but we are victims of our addiction to the past.  We want something that is stable, that is fixed, something we can rely on, something secure. But practice is to melt down this fixed something, to open up to vulnerability, to uncertainty, because we are thus opening ourselves to the possibility of recognising that what we see as stepping stones is, in fact, a glorious bridge.

How the teaching is received depends on the person, on their willingness to listen. There are few people who really are willing to listen, to put aside their own prejudices and beliefs and allow something new to come in. There is a difference between just hearing and listening.  With hearing one registers the sound, one may even register the words, but to listen, means to give one’s complete attention.

When we ask “Who am I?” we are challenging that which we take for granted, that which gives us security and comfort.

Each one of us is a realised person.  ‘I am’ is the being of the whole world.  Hearing, seeing, tasting, touching are all evidence of the truth ‘I am’.  All the koans are responding to the question, “what is a realised person?”  ‘Everyday mind is the way’ is another way of saying everything is the manifestation of ‘I am’.   There are no distinctive marks for a realised person.  And yet we are always looking for distinctive marks, in our self or in others.  It is because of the illusion that I am something special, something different, that the idea of self and not-self can arise.  When we let go of the need for something special, something unique, then there is nothing that is not the self.

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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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