The Song of Realising the Way. (teisho 1338, 2014)

People think that reading is taboo in Zen. But time and again you get people who read something and it clicks and they come to awakening. Albert comments that there were many books in his life that were strong pointers on the Way.

The verses called “The Song of Realising the Way” are about corroborating the Dharma through one’s own experience. What Zen is against in reading something and feeling that, having read it, one knows it. This is of course quite absurd. It is the personal realisation, the personal awakening, coming home to oneself that is essential.

The verses start with “Haven’t you met the one, mature and at ease?” This could mean: haven’t you met someone who is awakened, who is developed and who has seen into the truth. But at a deeper level, it means your own true nature, which is all knowing, all being, does not need to develop and has no need for further education. The notion that we are on earth in order to pass the exam of existence so that we can get promoted into a higher grade, is not the Zen way. “This earth where we stand is the pure lotus land, and this very body the body of Buddha.” This very body is the body of the one mature and at ease. The essential nature of one’s true self is that it is at ease. Yet one could say that human beings are very rarely at ease. Care, concern, anxiety, and stress is the lot of human beings. It is the day to day sense of futility, the sense that something profound is missing, that somehow one has missed the boat, that is our suffering.

“Haven’t you met the one mature and at ease, the one with nothing to do and nothing to master?” There is no need for development, you are not here to develop yourself, and we emphasise this because so often there is this feeling that one has to do something that is going to make a difference. But there is nothing that is going to make a difference, you are already at one. This is so difficult to accept, that we are at one with the creative power of the universe. That the world in its entirety is our own creation. “It is like one in water crying I thirst.'” The practice is not about getting understanding, it is about coming home to this truth of being, this is the only worthwhile aspect of practice. Coming home to your true nature, the one with nothing to do and nothing to master. The one who neither rejects thought nor seeks truth. People sometimes feel it is necessary to suppress thought or avoid thought; they feel that they have to empty the mind. But thought is not the problem, the problem is that we do not see that thought itself is a manifestation of what we are fundamentally, a manifestation of Knowing.

When you have a bout of anguish, see that in that very misery there is the sense of I, there is an identification that gives reality. We look on this anguish as real, but we give it reality. It is only when you take it over as your own that you can let it go.

“Neither reject thought nor seek truth.” We are not trying to find out who we are, we are not trying to find what is real, what is truth, we are trying to allow it to manifest, to open ourselves so that the light can shine naturally within us or through us. The truth is already present, you are the truth.

Seeing is being, hearing is being. As long as you feel that hearing is a faculty you have, that this faculty hears something that is coming from over there, then you live in a dualistic world. It is because we do not examine what appears to be so obvious, what we take for granted, that we are constantly tormented.

The I that we look upon as the knower is also known, it is also an outcome of knowing. People feel that the body is an impediment, but this very body is the body of Buddha. We do not have to get rid of anything, change anything, we have to awaken our basic knowing.

The sense of things having a self-nature dissolves. It is not that things disappear but that there is a dissolution of the thingness. The true nature of all things is innately Buddha.

“Greed, anger and ignorance appear and disappear like ocean foam.” Very often the basic knowing/being is looked upon as water, and the water becomes disturbed, and then it becomes disturbed because of the disturbance. And then the disturbance creates more disturbance. And so it continues until instead of having a calm, peaceful lake, you have a raging ocean spitting out greed, anger, and ignorance.

People want a purpose for everything. They ask Why? The why of wonder is simply expressing something inexpressible. The other why is asking what is the purpose, everything must have a reason for being. But there is no purpose; everything is meaningful, everything is purposeful; but that does not mean that there is a purpose, that beyond what is happening there is something else that we can call a purpose. Life is meaningful, life is the process, not the result. This is what Zen teaches.

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On Getting Old

It has been a very heavy winter, and we could all do with something to smile about. I found something that made me smile and thought I would share it with you. The lighter side of Albert. This article was written for Zen Gong some time ago, I think when he was in his seventies.


I grow old, I grow old
Shall I wear the bottom of my trousers rolled?

So you want me to write about getting old. I do not know why you ask me to do this kind of thing. After all, I am only a beginner and I don’t know much about the subject. Furthermore, as far as I can remember, this is the first time that I have got old. But the little that I do know about the subject impels me to say that if the alternative were not so dubious I would tell you, “Don’t do it.” For one thing, there is no future in it. For another, it really is not for sissies. I remember once Philip Kapleau, as he lowered himself gingerly into an armchair, – he was over eighty at the time – groaning, “Whoever said, ‘Grow old with me the best is yet to be’ must have been about 21.” Either that or it must have been said by a seventy-year-old guy on ecstasy.

Let me share some of my discoveries about getting old. For one thing getting out of bed in the morning sometimes feels a lot like getting out of a train wreck. They say that if, after the age of fifty you do not ache when you get out of bed then you are dead. Let me tell you, after the age of seventy, sometimes when you get out of bed you wish you were. Another thing is that bits start falling off. I have already lost parts of my eyes to cataract operations, many of my teeth and a hip. It’s true that they gave me replacement parts, but somehow they don’t seem to work quite so well as the originals used to.

Another problem is that no-one does things as well as they used to when I was young. The kids are a lot more unruly, fruit no longer tastes like fruit, you can never find a sales assistant when you want one, and you just try getting someone on the phone; one of my fingers has become arthritic pressing all the buttons. In those days bank managers called you “Sir!” doctors made home calls and the policeman was your friend. There was even a song that said, “If you want to know the time ask a policeman.”

Just think. When I was young we had all the time in the world. We could even read a book from beginning to end. We did not have TV, the Web, cell phones, computer games, or e-mail and yet we remained perfectly sane. An airplane was something you rushed out of doors to see, and it was only the local doctor who could afford a car. No washing machines, refrigerators, microwaves, or telephones, disturbed the peace. No Big Macs, no pizzas, no TV dinners! Central heating was unknown as was air-conditioning. We had no i-pod, i-mac, no DVD, VCR, CD or even Hi-Fi. I remember a teacher telling me that the developing industries to get into were electronics and plastics, and although I nodded wisely it took me quite a while before I knew what the words even meant.

Another thing is that for an old person the world has a lot more living people in it. For a twenty-year-old anyone older than thirty becomes invisible. In fact, I remember a movie that was, I think, playing in the 60’s, in which anyone older than thirty was sent off to a happy farm, where they were fed on happy pills to keep them out of the way.

You know when you are getting old when

  • It seems that every other week you are having another birthday.
  • When the real meaning of “Happy returns of the day” strikes you for the first time.
  • When you find yourself in the middle of a room wondering why and how you got there.
  • When you start talking about one thing and end up talking about something quite different.
  • When an elderly lady gives you her seat on the metro.
  • When you no longer save Xmas wrappings for next Xmas.
  • When your doctor looks like a teenager.
  • When you do not buy green bananas anymore.
  • When doing up your shoelaces is the major accomplishment of the day.

A very well known koan is the one where a monk goes to a master and asks, “How can I get away from the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter?” If he had been an old monk he might well have asked, “How can I get away from the aches in the morning and the pains at night?” As you probably know the maser said, “Go where there is no heat in summer and cold in winter.” ‘Oh!” replied the monk, “Where is that?” “When in summer, sweat; when in winter, shiver.” So where do we go to find where there is no ache in the morning or pain at night?

I remember when, during my last trip to England, I visited my old aunt. She was ninety-three years old at the time, living on her own and fiercely independent and during the past couple of years had kicked out two social workers who had come to help look after her because they got in her way. She had been recently discharged from hospital after suffering a touch of food poisoning. In the latter part of her life, she had been back and forth to the hospital several times for various ailments and certainly knew the aches in the morning and the pains at night. I asked her, “How old are you, aunt?” “Ninety-three,” she said. “How old do you feel?” I continued. Without a pause, she flashed back, “Twenty-one!” and gave me the most beatific smile. I know just what she meant.

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Attention! – teisho 1329 – 2014

A Zen master was writing calligraphy and a visitor asked, ‘Please master, would you write some Zen wisdom.’ The master wrote, “Attention!” And the visitor asked that he write something more elaborate, more detailed. He explained that he wanted to put it on his wall and show people what Zen is all about. The master again wrote “Attention!”

This is what it is all about: attention, awareness. You must struggle constantly to be attentive, to be present, to be aware.

You have your own way of seeing the world, you see it through your own ideas. If you have certain ideas, you will see the world in a certain way; and if you have other ideas, you will see the world quite differently. We are constantly seeing through distorting ideas, that is our world. And this world is supported by expectations, by what we want to happen and what we do not want to happen. It is this constant jockeying of one idea against another that gives the feeling of the turmoil of the world. But it isn’t the turmoil of the world, it is the turmoil of our way of seeing the world.

Nisargadatta says: ‘Break the spell and be free.’ The ideas that we have are solidified and fixed by the words we use to articulate those ideas.

When you ask ‘who am I?’ a spell has already been cast. You have already set up the structure that is going to guide your attention in a certain direction. ‘What am I?’ The what immediately implies ‘some thing’. There must be something that corresponds to the what. You cannot grasp your true nature, you are it. When you lift your hand, the hand raising is you in action. There is no you apart from the hand raising.

The questioner asks, ‘how does one break the spell?’ and N. replies, ‘assert your independence in thought and action.’ Gurdjieff always said, ‘you forget yourself.’ Assert your independence, your autonomy, your ‘youness’. Remember yourself. You feel that ‘it’ is all. This is what sends you to sleep. Sleep is the abdication of you. N. ‘After all, all hangs on your conviction that what you see, hear, think and feel is real.’ You are convinced it is apart from you, that there is you and there is what you are seeing, with a chasm in between.

But if it is not real, then what is it? Again we have words, the word ‘real’ – something has to correspond to it. We feel that there is a condition which brings about reality. When we ask ‘Who am I? What am I?’ we are asking about reality. We want to know what is real that is called ‘me’.

This is the fundamental question, what is real? What is it that grants reality? What does it mean when we say ‘the world is real’? This is what you need to ask; commit the whole of yourself to this question.

There is not you and the world, there is not you and things, there are not things in the world. N. ‘Only your sense “I am”, although in the world, is not of the world. By no logic or imagination can you change “I am” into “I am not.” Then what are you? Probe this question, it should grip you so that you cannot sleep.

You are going to die – what does this mean? What is going to die? What is death? Once you realize that the world is your own projection, you are free of it. You do not need to free yourself from a world that does not exist except in your own imagination. So what is it that causes your suffering? You feel there is a cause and that the cause is independent of you.

N: ‘That which creates and sustains the world, you may call God or providence, but ultimately you are the proof that God exists, not the other way around. Before any question about God can be put, you must be there to put it.’ Before anything is, you are. Before your parents were born, what is your face? Before anything, there is your face: what is your face?

Every mode of perception depends on I am. See this and you are free.

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The cause of our sorrow is ego delusion

teisho 1313 -2013

It is important for us to take stock of what we are doing. We can get into a habitual routine. The sense of self gets into habits, patterns, ruts. How many times have you chanted: ‘the cause of our sorrow is ego delusion’? but how many times have you asked yourself, ‘what does this mean?’ And we also chant, ‘true self is no self.’ what does this mean? Examine this carefully, what does it mean?

If there is any door into the enigma of being, it is through allowing. Non-interference, just total vigilance. Whatever is there, one allows to be there. Anything that you do is going to be an illusion pitting itself against another illusion. There is no reward to practice, there is no winning, no line to step across. But one does not need a reward. How can you give something to someone who has it all already?

‘The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.’ The preferences being referred to here are the preference for comfort over discomfort, for security over insecurity, peace over conflict, certainty over uncertainty. The preference is a continuation of the illusion ‘I can do’, and that is a continuation of the ego delusion that causes all our suffering. This is not to say it all happens mechanically. On the contrary, there is a profound awareness out of which all our actions emerge. And this is made up of all our past experiences; this is why karma is important. What you are is the result of all you have done, all you have thought, all that you have hoped for. When you allow you no longer add to this accumulation. Allowing means you are no longer contributing to the karmic unfolding that you call your life. The belief that ‘I can do’ is the main distorting influence.

Nisargadatta says: ‘Keep very still and be aware of what comes to the surface of the mind’. This does not mean just keep your body still, although that, of course, is necessary. Keep still and be aware, keep still and allow – these two statements are not different. Allowing is pure awareness. Awareness is the basis of all; knowing is the foundation of all that is.

If you sit still and allow, the first thing that comes to the surface is tension, discomfort. We look around for ‘something’ to cling to. This is why vigilance is needed. It is not in experience that we will find what we are looking for. You believe in the illusion of being something and that is all the difference between you and Buddha. Let go, let go of clinging to something. It is because you prefer this rather than that that things come into being that appear to be separate from knowing. ‘Even slight distinctions’ set knowing and being far apart. To know by being is direct knowledge, it is based on the identity of the seer and the seen. As you sit now, there is awareness where there is no differentiation between awareness and the subject of awareness, they are one. The sense of self drops away, and awareness and subject are one.

True happiness is uncaused and does not disappear for lack of stimulation. It is not the opposite of sorrow, it includes sorrow and suffering. Once you see into this you no longer prefer joy to suffering, peace over conflict. When you allow something to happen, it is the allowing that is happiness, it is the letting go.

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The mindless-mindful state

Normally these blogs are based on a teisho, but when I was on my way to looking at the teishos on the website I noticed the blurb about Zen Gong – the magazine that was published in the earlier days of the Centre.   Sometimes Albert wrote an article for this magazine, and I looked through the titles. One caught my eye: “The mind is wonderfully pure and clear.”   I started to read it and immediately sentences caught my … I was going to say ‘attention’, but that does not cover those moments when something penetrates like an arrow. So this time the blog is based on an article from Zen Gong: he is commenting on Ta Hui’s teaching.


Two foreign elements: ‘I am’ and ‘something’, are joined as though it were a whole. Very simply, it is this impurity that is our suffering.

Our practice leads into the world, into the ambiguities and dilemmas of the world. It does not lead into a new world but into the old world made new. Instead of seeing ambiguities and dilemmas in a negative way, we see them as opportunities for creativity, a chance for dancing and songs to be the voice of the dharma. Ambiguity is only a barrier when we see the world in terms of either or, in terms of opposition, in terms of you or me, me or the world, me or God.

We are not trying to get rid of the discriminating, unreal, vain thoughts. Once we try to get rid of them, we make them real. Thoughts are not real but our interest in them and our identification with them, make them real. We must work from the purity of the mind.

When you are working from the purity of the mind these thoughts become more and more transparent. One always has these flitting thoughts going through the mind, they are products of the brain and quite outside our control – we don’t create them, but we do give them credence, attention, reality.

We must liberate ourselves from ourselves, from this knot we call the mind, this twisted tortured knot. And we do this by seeing into mindlessness, by seeing into the inherent purity of the mind.

To be mindful means one is totally present, but one can only be totally present when one is not constantly fidgeting with thoughts, feelings, and anxieties. This is the mindless-mindful state.

When Ta Hui talks about the inherent purity of the mind, he is not talking about an empty mind, a mind with nothing in it. …….. we are not trying to develop a particular state of mind in which to dwell; there is not a fixed state of mind called awakening. Awakening is the absence of all fixed states, of all preferred states of mind.

He says: ‘Get to the root, don’t worry about the branches’. Don’t worry about trying to resolve all the various problems of life – life is trouble, life is a problem. We can see life in the perspective of purity or we can see it in the perspective of duality. Getting to the root is cutting out the belief in something which by its very presence creates other somethings, and these are often in opposition with each other, and so we get conflict, suffering, pain, then anger and greed, and in general, human existence.

To purify the mind one must see into the mind as inherently pure. One must see into ‘from the beginning, not a thing is.’ The impure mind is the mind of things. It is the mind that has thoughts fixed with words so that things then take on an independent existence. One must see into the inherent purity of the mind, which is knowing without the sheath of knowledge.

When one sees that true self is no self, ‘I am’ freed from ‘something’, the sense of being obstructed, the sense of having barriers, drops away. No obstruction is liberation.

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Not an ordinary question.

The metaphor that is used for the restless mind is that of the ocean: the bitter ocean of birth and death, which refers to the arising and subsiding of circumstances, wave after wave. We are swept along, from one circumstance to another.” Buddha said that life is suffering. This is what he was talking about. We cannot even register our own suffering.

“From the beginning, you are the goal that you are seeking.” Not the ‘selfie’ you have just taken, not the picture you have just put up on Facebook, not the ‘me’ and ‘I’ you are always referring to. What then? What is this ‘you’ that he refers to?

This ‘you’ is ‘I am’. But one cannot say that ‘I am’ is the goal, the basis of everything, while still identifying oneself as something, while one is constantly presenting oneself in order to be appreciated as something. One has to earn the right to say the basis of all is ‘I am’. This is the work we are undertaking.

teisho 1247 2011.

The state before ‘I am’ arises, being beyond mind and language, is indescribable. This is the key problem in our practice. The practice is centered on ‘what transcends all experience?’ This is what questions like ‘what am I?’ ‘what is it?’ are asking. And as language has been designed to describe experience, how can one even approach ‘I am’?

‘I am’ is the foundation of all experience. Without being, there is nothing. Because you are, everything else is. Once you see that you are the foundation of all, then all that arises loses any power that it presently has over you. You are not an experience, ‘I am’ is not an experience. Anything that can be experienced, however wonderful, is not you, is not ‘I am’.

What does ‘I am’ mean? Nisargadatta says, ‘the words themselves are the bridge.’ We can take the word ‘chair’ and use it as a bridge, by saying ‘please bring me a chair.’ You pick up a chair and bring it to me. But when we come to ‘I am’, there is nothing substantial that it is indicating, there is nothing objective relating to it. But when we use ‘I am’, when we say, for instance, ‘I am going out,’ one is saying something that is very real. So what kind of bridge is ‘I am’? The essence of ‘I’ is knowing, and the essence of ‘am’ is being: knowing/being.

So what you are asking about is what is asking; what is asking is what is being asked about. If I ask about a chair, I am asking; the chair is not asking, it is being asked about. They are separate. But when I ask ‘what am I?’ there is a loop: this is not an ordinary question. You cannot ask ‘what am I?’ in the same way that you ask ‘what is a chair?’ You are asking and you are being asked about, but it is you that is doing the asking. If you really get into this you are locked in the ultimate bind: like a rat in a bamboo tube, one cannot go forward because one can’t answer it, one cannot go back because one has to answer it.

You have to patiently, subtly, penetrate into the kind of question being asked here, recognizing that it is quite unlike other questions. There is not going to be an answer like you get to other questions. You ask the question so that it goes deeper and deeper and deeper, until suddenly it breaks open, falls apart.

Nisargadatta: “Practice is the persistent attempt to cross over from the verbal to the nonverbal.” (Or one could say that practice is the persistent attempt to cross over from experience to what is beyond experience.) “Repeated attempts to go beyond words is called meditation.”

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The Way needs no cultivation

In this teisho one hears Albert struggling with words to express that which is distorted immediately it is put into words. One hears his puffs of exasperation, yet somehow nevertheless the inexpressible comes through.

teisho 1337 year 2014

To say as Ma Tsu did, that the Way needs no cultivation, seems to be saying that there is nothing to do. To appreciate what it really means you have to use your mind, dwell on it for a long time. It is not paradoxical. it is extremely profound. If you start off thinking “I don’t understand, I am confused, ignorant,” with the belief that if you work long enough and hard enough, eventually some revelation will occur, this is looking upon practice as doing things – one is clearing the mind, one is clarifying things, purifying, trying to understand, and so on. But “from the beginning all beings are Buddha.” From the beginning, you are the goal that you are seeking. From the beginning, you need nothing added or taken away.  The Way needs no cultivation.

It is a question of melting, a releasement, it is an undoing. It is not a question of achievement, of getting, of grasping. It is like coming home, there is nothing new, nothing different. If one believes one is going to get something: wisdom, more understanding, then this leads one to believe that our practice requires that we do something.

As long as we are making efforts, we are obscuring, occluding, adding something which is totally unnecessary. Defilement is any movement of the mind: any reaching out, any going towards, any grasping after. But this does not mean that one gives up and hopes for the best, it is not a surrender.  It is an allowing: the Way needs no cultivation, just allow, do not defile.  Allowing requires great vigilance because of the restlessness of the mind. The metaphor that is used for this restless mind is that of the ocean: the bitter ocean of birth and death, which refers to the arising and subsiding of circumstances, wave after wave.

Most of you are working on the question “Who am I?”  As you know, the basis of Buddha’s teaching is “No thing and no self.”  But there is the need to be ‘something’. And with this goes the feeling that this something is under threat one way or another; ultimately this is the threat of death, the horror of nothing, annihilation. One wants to be something and one is constantly presenting oneself in order that one can be appreciated; the ‘selfie’ is the latest outcome of this. While one is looked at, one knows that one is something.

Being something, attaining something, getting something, this is the defilement that Ma Tsu speaks of. “The Way needs no cultivation, just avoid defilement.” When you see into your true nature it is an entirely different dimension to anything that you have heard about it previously.

Investigate this need to be something, really investigate it. Look into it, don’t run away from it. Often when one first sees into this underlying need, not only to be but to be special, unique, it is humiliating. Don’t back off the humiliation. This is the way to work on Who am I?

Ma Tsu says, “Ordinary mind is the way.”  What does this mean? The book “What more do you want?” is pulling back the curtain on “Everyday mind is the way”. Ordinary mind is not out there, but at the same time, it is not in here. It is not ‘my’ mind. What we call the world and ourselves are not different. There is not me and the world, there is not me and you. But it is not all one, some oceanic pudding. Everything is differentiated, everything is what it is, but each is the shining manifestation of one mind.

Words are difficult. There is knowing; you need to know, not change, not even be. Your essential nature is knowing. When you come home to yourself you come home to knowing, (not knowledge, not information, not understanding, not wisdom).  Knowing is like a light, it shines by itself, has no cause or reason, and this knowing is everyday mind. Knowing reveals everything, in the same way as the light of the sun reveals everything.

Everything is the Way. As you are right now, as you sit there, everything is whole and complete.

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