“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are some one else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.: Oscar Wilde. “
Rinzai says: “Followers of the Way, if you want insight into the dharma as it is, just don’t be taken in by the deluded views of others.”
Throughout our whole life we have been subjected to the deluded views of others. When we say deluded views, we mean views that are essentially biased. For example, we put great emphasis on competition in our society. Right from the beginning we are encouraged to strive to be the first and the best. In my elementary school we were arranged in the class according to who was top of the class and who was bottom of the class. And so it went throughout the whole of our school career.
In the business world one scrambles across the backs of others, undercutting, cheating, lying, betraying, always with the view that it is important for us to get ahead. I do not know if they still exist, but managers used to have what were called “career paths.” We were persuaded to set up our career path: where we wanted to be when we were thirty, where we wanted to be when we were forty, and so on. And some people became frantic because they were not living up to their career path.
Fashion after fashion comes into being on how to live our lives, supported by all kinds of hype and propaganda, and like sheep we follow. Any number of examples could be given of our willingness to be taken in by the deluded views of others: wearing the hat back to front, ‘selfies,’ carrying a back-pack, jogging, eating gluten free food and drinking eight bottles of water a day. However, by far the craziest example of being led by the nose is the baby stroller.
First let me quote from Richard Coss, professor of psychology at California university:
At the fourth week of age, many full-term infants will vigorously attempt to establish eye contact by visually searching for the eyes of another person.· The duration of eye contact between mother and infant has been observed to last for several minutes if the mother deliberately sustains eye contact.
Now, the stroller is designed in such a way that that not only is there no eye contact possible between the mother and baby, but the mother cannot even see the baby unless she stops and peers around the obstructions of the stroller. The baby could be choking to death yet the mother would not be able to see this happening. The design of the stroller is the very opposite of a well designed stroller and blocks a basic relation that mother and baby crave. Yet, mother after mother buys and uses these monstrosities. Why? Because they are the fashion. Because the mothers are taken in by the deluded views of others
All of our competitiveness, as well as our willingness to behave like sheep, is based on the firm conviction that we are something. Moreover, that we must be the best something is driven into us and, of course, we want it driven into us. We want to join in this competition, we want to be top of the class, get ahead. A whole mythology supports this deluded view. No wonder it takes so much effort to swim against this tide. No wonder we feel dry when we work on Zen, which has nothing to do with getting ahead, with being first, the best. Nor has it anything to do with gaining respect and admiration from others.
When we are sitting facing the wall, we are on our own. It is not surprising that people feel sometimes that they are not getting anywhere in their practice. Possibly, this society we are living in at the moment is the least conducive, least supportive of spiritual endeavour. From the point of view of spirituality, it is a wasteland. One would have difficulty talking about what we do to almost anybody outside Zen circles without being laughed at. But somehow or other we must have the strength to stand against this. One of the few symbols that one finds in Zen practice is the symbol of the carp that swims upstream. And it is swimming upstream of our own inclinations and upstream of the propaganda of society that supports those inclinations, upstream of the deluded views of others. And it is hard work.
Rinzai says, “Whatever you encounter either within or without, slay it at once. On meeting a Buddha, slay the Buddha. On meeting a Patriarch, slay the Patriarch. On meeting an Arhat, slay the Arhat. On meeting your parents, slay your parents. On meeting your kinsmen, slay your kinsmen that you may attain emancipation. By not cleaving to things you gain emancipation”.
This is one of the most celebrated of all Rinzai’s sayings and one of the sayings that is most misunderstood. Because of it Zen is sometimes said to be violent. However, we must remember that Christ said, “I do not bring peace, I bring a sword.”
We can interpret what Rinzai says, “If you meet the Buddha, slay the Buddha,” in several ways. On the one hand he means that when you are practicing, you should not let Buddha, parents, teachers, friends get in the way. You must be ruthless in this. If we cling to the notion of some superior being, then we are a slave to that superior being. If we cling to our family, then we are a slave to our family.
What we are looking for is certainly not dependence; it is certainly not what so often passes for religion, which insists that we have to have something on which we can depend. We can depend on nothing. But at the same time, we are not looking for independence, we are not seeking to separate ourselves from, to be aloof from, or to be above, everyone else. What we are looking for is non-dependence. We can be in situations, but not dependent on them for our well-being. It is what we are attached to that we must somehow find a way to cut ourselves free from.
Someone might say, “Oh no, this is not right; we are all dependent on one another; without the help of one another we just cannot live.” And of course, this is true. But the emphasis should be on giving help. People say, “But love is very important in life”. Of course it is. But we should be the ones that are loving. When we cling to other people, when we say that these people are the most important thing in our lives, that we need them, are dependent upon them, we become a burden to them. We act as a kind of jailer as far as they are concerned. Even when we try to do good for them, our doing good is still a form of interference. But if we are free, then we can give or take as the situation demands. We can help or be helped as necessary.
We can understand the statement, “If you meet the Buddha kill the Buddha!” in another way. During prolonged zazen we can sometime encounter strange and very striking experiences. We call them “spiritual experiences” and tend to look upon them as being very special and so cling to them. However, an experience is just an experience, spiritual or otherwise. To cling to any experience is to set up a road block on the Way. This why Rinzai tells us to cut away all experience, even the experience of meeting Buddha or Christ.
“Followers of the way, in the Buddha dharma, no effort is necessary. Just be your ordinary selves: relieving yourselves, putting on clothes, eating food, lying down to sleep when tired.”
Again he emphasizes the truth that no effort is necessary; nothing needs to be done. Some people still misunderstand what he is saying, because they feel that this means that we do not have to do anything. But that is far from what is being said. In order to see that there is nothing that needs to be done, we have to struggle and strive. We have to put out effort. We have to do things, we have to try things. But we must always do them with the recognition that we are going in the direction of finding a way to see that fundamentally everything is O.K. just as it is.
This is an entirely different kind of effort to the effort of ambition that wants to add something or get something or get rid of something. The effort that one is making towards seeing that there is nothing that needs to be done is an effort of de-contraction. It is not an effort of focusing and contraction. It is an effort to open. It’s not an effort to close. And there is an effort to open. We often quote this, “She goes into the forest without disturbing a blade of grass. She goes into the lake without making a ripple.” To reach such a point requires enormous discipline. It means that we have let drop body and mind. And our question then is how can we make this kind of no effort; what is called in Chinese “wu wei,” the effortless effort, or the effort of no effort?
“Just be your ordinary selves”.
This, of course, is the problem: we just cannot be our ordinary selves. It is this ordinary self that we are rebelling against. To avoid being our ordinary self we have agreed to be conditioned and brain washed, subjected to the propaganda of superiority. We have gone along with this propaganda, we have agreed to it. How can we possibly just be our ordinary selves? When we look at this and start working towards just being our ordinary selves, we sometimes get the feeling that we are committing a kind of spiritual suicide.
It takes your breath away sometimes when you really start to look into this notion of just being ordinary. It seems to be a betrayal of oneself. One feels one is letting the side down; one is letting oneself down. Facing up to the pain that this brings, the humiliation, the disappointment, a sense of losing something which is valuable – takes a certain kind of effort, a certain kind of application, a certain kind of commitment.
“Just make yourself master of every situation and wherever you stand is the true place.”
Now, if you think about that at all, you will realize that there seems to be a contradiction. On the one hand, he is saying just be ordinary, be yourself as you are, and then he is saying be master of every situation. One gets the feeling that he wants us to be a kind of busy body. The kind of person that has to dominate everything; what we used to call “the head cook and bottle washer.” But interestingly enough, this is not the case. It is like a master said, “I do nothing all day, but nothing is left undone”. It means that when you are master of the situation, you are at one with it. You are not opposed to it and it is not opposed to you. To be one with a situation means that you can be ordinary in that situation, that you are not trying to do something special.
For example, if you are going to write, then you are open and free. You are not writing a masterpiece You let come into the mind whatever wants to come in, however ordinary it may seem. What is important is to be immersed in the process of writing, to be one with what you are doing at the moment. If you are fixated on the result you will freeze up and words will fail you. What seems ordinary can very often be interesting.
It is the same if one wants to organize something. What is essential is to look at what needs to be done in the situation, not what you would like to do to the situation. This is being master of the situation. But at the same time it is being ordinary. A monk in Japan is called “unsui,” meaning clouds and water. And a monk is called a cloud because a cloud drifts. Nowadays, when we talk about a person who is a drifter, we mean a person who doesn’t take hold of a situation. But another way of looking at drifting is possible, and that is being so totally at one with the situation that one moves entirely in tune with it.
It is the same with water. Water flows. It is pliant, it moves. It finds its way. It always goes forward. It is this which is meant by being master of every situation. And this is what is meant by being the master of your practice. To master your practice is to move along with what is at the moment in front of you. It is not dictating to the situation what you think you would like it to be, or what it ought to be, or what you have read or heard that it could be. It is being so totally one with whatever comes that it is almost as though you are floating in the practice. When pain comes, one moves along with the pain; when dryness comes, one moves along with the dryness; when one is totally and utterly thwarted and frustrated, one moves along with the frustration and the feeling of being thwarted. And one can do this to the extent that one is not trying to be something because of the practice, to attain something for oneself as an ego entity.
We keep saying there is nothing to attain. But this nothing to attain is not a negative statement. In attaining nothing you let emerge the full richness of what you already are. In trying to attain something, you never know what richness there is.
Someone said, “Life is what happens when I am otherwise engaged.” We are so busy imagining what could be, or what should be, or what should not be that the beauty and the richness of what is completely eludes us. And then we say, my life is flat and uninteresting. And because we are trying to push the practice in a certain direction and it cannot go in that direction, we say, I am not getting anywhere in my practice.
When one has let go of this need to get somewhere then one flows, the practice moves, things change and develop. Again, when we say there is nothing to attain, do understand we mean that in true practice there is nothing for that sense of “I am something” to attain.
One does attain richness of life, a sense of fulfillment, a sense of being at ease, a sense of the rightness of one’s life and one’s position in life. The feeling of the rightness of life itself. But we think, well, anyone can get that.
He says, “Make yourself master in every situation. Wherever you are, wherever you stand is the true place. You can no longer be driven around by circumstances. Even if in your former unregenerate days you had committed the five heinous crimes, they’d turn into oceans of deliverance”. (The five heinous crimes are patricide, matricide, killing an Arhat, shedding the blood of a Buddha and destroying the harmony of the Sangha.)
Even if we have not committed the five heinous crimes, most of us have memories that cause us to be inwardly whipped. T.S. Eliot talks about “When fool’s approval stings”, and probably you know very well what he means, having practiced zazen for so long. Things that at one time you felt were so good you now see against the background of the egoism involved, as well as the need to push oneself forward and be something special. These may not be heinous crimes, but they can be extremely painful memories.
As he says, if you are masters of the situation, if you are able to move and flow with the situation, then these karmic debts gradually get paid off. At some stage in your practice you will find that the things that at the moment are so difficult to work with, so painful, will turn around and become the most marvellous energy to push you forward. No doubt many of you have already experienced this turn around to some extent. It is as though you have been fighting uphill and, all of a sudden, you are able to freewheel and everything is working in your favour.
“Students nowadays know nothing of the dharma. They are just like sheep nuzzling and guzzling whatever their noses strike against. Neither discriminate between master and slave nor guest and host.”
People pick up odds and ends about Zen and so called ‘spirituality’ as they go along and the odds and ends become part of their store of ‘wisdom,’ often to be used in argument with others; they feel that they are enhancing their spiritual standing. Moreover, every now and again someone comes to me and says, “Why don’t you go and see such and such a visiting lama, why don’t you go and listen to such and such a swami speak?” Or, “here is a good book that you should read written by a Zen teacher.” One doesn’t need this kind of thing, this isn’t necessary. We all know what to do. The question is how can we get the time, energy and effort to do what we know needs to be done?
Someone asked Rinzai. “What about the state where Mind and minds do not differ?” Rinzai replied, “The moment you try to question me your mind has already differed; your nature and form have separated from each other.” On another occasion, before the monk could even open his mouth to ask a question, Rinzai hit him. When the monk protested that he had not even opened his mouth, Rinzai asked, “What is the use of waiting until you have opened your mouth?”
The monk is asking, “What about the state where we are just one? The condition in which the totality is not separated out as a separated individual?”
To separate nature (Buddha Nature) and form. People set the world up in the very way that makes it delusory. The moment they ask the question, they have already set it up in such a way that they are unable to see what is being pointed out. They say, “I” can see “it!” and so set up an “I” (nature) in contrast to seing an “It” (form) and when they argue in this way they have already separated mind from Mind. Unity has already been broken up; the indivisible has been divided.
And you make this separation at one level or another when you are working on Who and Mu.
People ask, “What does it mean, Mu is everything?” And once they have asked that question in that way, there is already a division; they are already working within the divided state. Mu is already out there, problematic. “What does it mean,” they ask, “the no self?” What does no self mean? And there it is. It is implied that I am a self, so why are we talking about a no-self? They are falling right down into the abyss. It is the wording of the question as much as anything that creates this crevasse; that splits open this schism: ‘mu’ and ‘me,’ ‘no self’ and ‘me.’ We must break, discard this kind of questioning. It is not the kind of questioning that will lead to any depth of awareness. You must start with what is, not with what you can name as being. If there is a tendency to name, that is what we must work with. If you find yourself asking this kind of abstract, verbal, question then this is what you have to work with. What is it that is asking this kind of verbal question? But again, one must get beyond the words. What are you trying to do with this kind of question? Are you trying to protect something, avoid hard work? win some points? When you first start working on Who or Mu, it is necessary to work with words. One does this for quite a while. But eventually one gets way beyond the need to be reinforcing the question with words.
When practicing, flow with what is. This is the difficulty. This is the effort that is required. But it is quite evident that this is a new kind of effort. It is an effort which is based on faith, on the affirmation of the fact that nothing needs to be done. This is why Rinzai emphasizes it so constantly. It is the same with Dogen. Dogen was constantly coming back to this emphasis, “Nothing needs to be done.”
Start with that and then the question is, how can you infiltrate rather than how can you oppose? How can you become one with rather than how can you control?
“Followers of the Way, make no mistake; in this world and in the next there is not a thing that has a self nature nor a nature that is productive of a self.”
And you think, well, I’ve heard that before, but what does it mean? “In this world and the next there is not a thing that has a self nature.” It’s like being able to merge with a sea of serenity. Once you enter into this, it is the end of opposition.
Buddha said that his teaching was like a raft, and that when you have crossed the ocean of birth and death, you would leave the raft behind. This means that all the teaching of Buddhism is provisional. When I speak about practice and about that which surrounds practice I am not saying the truth, I am not giving the truth. What I am doing is giving a scaffolding which must later on be taken down. It’s like the expression “empty:” the whole world is empty. What we must immediately do is to see that that word itself is empty. In other words, we must not make emptiness into ‘something.’
When he says, “in this world and the next there is not a thing that has a self nature,” we must not then fixate on that.. The words of Buddha are ways of being. The Prajna Paramita is not a statement of fact. It’s a way of being.
He says, “In this world and the next, there is not a thing that has a self nature. There are just empty names, and the letters of these names are also empty.”
Just empty names. All words that we use are empty. We cannot speak the truth because the truth can’t be spoken. Zen has the saying “Don’t confuse the finger with the moon.” There are no true words; all words are empty. And so, therefore, they are provisional; they are for the time being. A master once said, “Once you have the meaning, you can throw away the word.” And in one of the sutras, Buddha says words to the effect that, “An apple is not an apple, that is why it’s called an apple”.
Rinzai says, “All that you are doing is taking these worthless names to be real. If you do this, you are making a big mistake. For though they exist, they belong in the realm of dependency and change and are like robes to be put on and taken off. There is the robe of awakening, of self, of no self. There’s the robe of knowing, the robe of Buddha, of God,” and so on. (Actually, he used other words, but we substituted them for words that are more familiar for you.)
When we talk about awakening, we are not talking about a truth. The word awakening is empty. It is provisional. If you fix on it, and make it into something, then you are a slave to it.
This is why he says, “If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha.”
Once it has become fixed, you must unfix it. We’ve got words like ‘me’ and ‘I’ and ‘you’ and ‘it’. Heavy words, but they are empty. They are what a master called “flowers of the air”.
Rinzai says, “The three vehicles and the twelve divisions of the teaching are so much old toilet paper.”
We would better understand what he is saying if we substituted the word bible for Buddha’s teaching. The Bible is so much toilet paper. Because the teaching that the Bible contains, or the Scriptures or the Tripitaka or whatever contains, is far more valuable than what it is written on. And the teaching that the Tripitaka and the Bible contain you already know. You are already it’s full expression. And if this is not the case then throw away that teaching. It’s simply an accretion; it’s simply something that you’re adding to yourself. You are whole and complete. Why add something? Why try to add a barnacle?
He says, “Buddha is an illusory phantom.”
Awakening is an illusory phantom. Spirituality is an illusion. Zen is an empty word as are the words ‘knowing’ and ‘being.’
He says, “The Patriarchs are all old monks.”
And that’s right, that’s what they were. The Zen paintings of the Patriarchs by Hakuin, for example, his painting of Bodhidharma, shows a scruffy old man with broken teeth, baggy eyes and a big nose. How different this is to the famous picture of Jesus with long flowing golden locks, a neatly trimmed beard, blues eyes gazing up to heaven. Hakuin’s painting makes us look through the form. And this is our practice. It’s as though we are surrounded by a lattice work of words and concepts. This lattice is so tightly woven that only very little light can come through. And somehow we have to melt it down. We don’t solve our problems, we melt them down. We dissolve them. It’s like the conjurer’s knot, you take the two ends and give the rope a hard tug and the knot vanishes.
He says, “Were you not born of parents? If you seek Buddha, you will be held in the grip of Buddha Mara. If you seek the Patriarchs, you will be bound by the ropes of the Patriarch Mara. If you seek awakening, you’ll be bound by the ropes of the awakening Mara.
Anything that you seek is going to bind you. This is why we say that when you are practicing the question is, how can you become one with whatever there is in front of you. Whatever is in front of you is already Mu. There it is! Why look for Mu? It is there. It is the same with Who. You are looking for Who am I? What am I? “Like one in water crying I thirst”! And it takes work. It takes hard struggle in order to enter into what I’m saying. It’s not something you can fall off the chair and do.
It’s like Rinzai says, “It is not that I understood from the moment I was born, but that after exhaustive investigation and grinding discipline in an instant I knew myself.”
“Exhaustive investigation and grinding discipline” Rinzai was like you and me. Just like you and me. No difference at all. He too went through sesshin after sesshin. Before he became a Zen Buddhist he was working with a Vinaya sect. It’s a sect that relies simply on discipline and moral precepts as the Way. And then he worked under Huang-Po as we know, for three years. “Exhaustive investigation and grinding discipline.” And this is the teacher that says, “There is nothing that needs to be done.” Can you understand now that it is not a question of sitting back and doing nothing. But it is to have these two perspectives, great faith and great doubt. Great faith on its own would lead eventually just to inertness. Great doubt would just lead to a frantic kind of agitation. Bring the two together, accompany it with great perseverance and you have genuine practice.
Why don’t you make up your mind, now once and for all, that no matter what comes, you will not stop this work until you reach full awakening. Why not make up your mind so that you can then get rid forever of these questions about whether the practice is, is not, cannot or whatever. When you make your vow: “The Great Way of Buddha I vow to attain”, then make it as a vow. And then at some level, whatever level, see that everything is O.K., that there is truly nothing that needs to be done, that from the beginning all beings are Buddha, from the beginning all beings are fully awake. And then make up your mind to investigate this to really know for yourself, through every pore of your being, what that means.
If you do this, then every situation that ever can arise in your life again will be your friend.
 Coss, Richard Reflections on the Evil Eye published in Dundes, Alan editor (1992) The Evil Eye (the University of Wisconsin Press: Wisconsin) p. 82.
The internet will give many other examples of the importance of eye contact between mother and baby.