Dharma Gates

teisho 643 (1999)

Working with Mu, or Who am I? you come to the point where you feel you have done everything you can do, and that every strategy that you have used is of no use.  That all the intelligence and intuition that have given you confidence and that you have relied upon to help resolve life situations are utterly inadequate to this task.  When you come to this point you must inevitably wonder what is the point of going on. When you reach this point it is, at last, going to be possible for you to undertake spiritual work for the first time.

There is immense pressure from within to realize ourselves and if we do not respond in an authentic way, then we feel guilty, inadequate.  Intellect and intuition cannot deal with the koan.  Who am I? or What is Mu? will not be seduced, browbeaten, or bullied – our cleverness is of no use. Indeed, any movement of the mind is itself an impediment, an obstacle.  Kensho comes out of a moment, or an eternity, of a still mind.  And yet our deepest fear is of a still mind and we do everything we can to keep the mind moving.

You are encouraged to simply become one with the question. When you become one with the question you become one with the mind, and then the movements of the mind are stilled. But this stillness is not absolute, there is no absolute stillness because the mind is dynamic. Which means the mind is alive, vibrant.  It is the opposition, the conflict, and resistance that sets up the sense of movement of the mind.  When we say any movement of the mind is an obstruction, we mean any movement that is in opposition to the inherent dynamism of the mind.  In other words, it is no good trying to pacify or still the mind.  Any techniques to quieten or pacify the mind, if they are successful, simply deaden the mind.

When you are working with this questioning one must go in the direction of letting go rather than overcoming.  One lets go of problems, one does not try to solve them. One lets go of the ideas that hold anger or anxiety in place. Koan practice gives the same in essence as the practice of shikantaza.  Shikantaza  is the faith that nothing needs to be done, it is the faith that fundamentally we are whole and complete.

Whatever is present at the moment is fuel for practice. If you think of some conditions as good for practice and others as not good, you are at war with yourself.  If you can say ‘whatever happens to me in life, good or bad, will be fuel to power the practice which will enable me to come home to myself,’ then it is possible for your whole life to become more and more unified and directed in such a way that in itself will bring about some of the peace one is looking for. If you can say ‘I will not blame others for whatever happens to me’ and no longer look outside yourself for the cause of your suffering, then you will be able to become totally involved in the practice and use every situation as a dharma gate.  When you work authentically and sincerely, you work for the sake of all sentient beings.

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Subsequent koans.

teisho 705, (2000)

Eventually, you are going to have to challenge everything in your mind; every understanding, every thought, every prejudice you have must be brought under the microscope of your awareness.  This is why one practices with subsequent koans after the first breakthrough.

Awakening is not an experience, it is a new way of experiencing. One no longer sees the world in a fractured way. After an awakening, it takes years of intense work to make that awakening active.  It is not the awakening that is at fault, it is the tremendous legacy of habitual reactions, prejudices, opinions. Working with subsequent koans is not the same as working with the original breakthrough koan. These koans deal with the way of seeing that awakening brings into being.

The Four Wisdoms are the four ways of experiencing: there is the initial seeing into the emptiness – dharmas here are empty. But then there is the world of equality, then the world of differentiation. Finally, there is the world of inter-penetration or the world of action.  When working on a koan one has to see what the koan is coming at, one has to look at it from this way of experiencing, that way of experiencing.

Fundamentally nothing needs to be done. The Way does not belong to cultivation. Everything, even Mu, even thinking Mu, is gouging a wound in healthy flesh.  But we need a place to enter, and so we have koans. A koan is a way of entering into the mystery of our being.

We are not seeking to improve ourselves or purify ourselves. We want to wake up. The personality does not have to be reformed.  We need to see into our inherent purity.  A turnabout in our experiencing is needed so that one no longer sees the world in a fractured way.

There is that beyond all that you must open yourself to, it is limited by no fixed rules, it presides over heaven and earth.  If you try to guess at it you will be confused. Don’t guess about the koan, stay with the tension.  The great Way manifests itself naturally. Or we can say the great activity manifests itself naturally. You are not something, activity is truer to your true nature. It is the questioning that is important, arousing the hunger and thirst for wholeness, unity.

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The light of knowing

teisho 1328 (2014)

Although awakening is of utmost importance in the practice, sometimes people put it as the supreme, as the ultimate and this is not the case. The ultimate is to transcend the sense of self, it is this that causes our misery and the misery we cause others, either knowingly or unknowingly. The advantage of awakening is that one can see clearly that this sense of self is a primary obstacle.

The work that needs to be done is not only that which is done sitting on the mat, it is the day to day work, the willingness to face clearly, without any kind of embellishment, everyday life.  It is the willingness to work with others, with their faults and shortcomings and all the difficulties that they create around themselves. It is not that we need to become ‘do-gooders’, but it is necessary for us to see that the sense of self is not only the cause of our own misery, but the universal misery.

It is not a question of inflicting misery upon ourselves, but of facing the misery that is inflicted upon us. This is the ultimate work. It is working with anxiety, indecision and uncertainty, the misery of physical pain and emotional pain. Doing this work with humility, gentleness and openness is what is so necessary. It is dealing with that constant nagging that goes on in the mind, not by suppressing it or fighting it, but by enquiring into it, asking ‘what is it that is so discouraged?’  It is, of course, the sense of self, that is grasping after the absolute, after a unique state of perfection.

“From the beginning, not a thing is.”   Ask yourself, what does it mean ‘not a thing is’?Explore it.  Challenge it. Question in an intelligent and serious manner. “The ten thousand dharmas never came into being.”  i.e. nothing came into being.  Nothing is born, nothing dies.  Don’t just let it slide by.  From the beginning everything is empty.   Empty of what?

“From the beginning all beings are Buddha.” What is Buddha?  What more do you want?You have it all, you lack nothing. It is not a question of trying to understand this, it is not a question of having to practice for another ten years, or of finding a different kind of practice – so what is it? The frustration and torment you feel in response to this question needs to be faced;  the temptation always is to walk away from it. One needs to not walk away.

What you are looking for is it, not it out there, but the looking itself is it.  The monk asked ‘what is my treasure?’ And the master replied, ‘Your question is your treasure.’  What is this treasure?  It is the light of knowing.  The question is a form of knowing, it is knowing directed in a certain way.  The masters are always pointing directly to it:  ‘Do you see that?’  ‘Do you hear that?’  And we look straight past the seeing and hearing and try to discover the significance of ‘that’.

From the beginning, there is nothing that needs to be done. Then why do we have sesshin?  Why then do we work so hard?  Ask yourself this.  Don’t stop working hard, but question why you are doing so. Don’t just do it automatically. Look into this working hard, infiltrate it.  Don’t disturb anything, don’t try to change anything. This infiltration is it, you are allowing awareness to soak into the areas of inadvertence, where there is little awareness. It is a constant refinement of the practice. It is not that the practice becomes easier, on the contrary, it calls for more vigilance, attentiveness and alertness.

“The six rays of divine light never cease to shine.” “Mind is without form and pervades the ten directions. In the eye, it is called seeing. In the ear, it is called hearing.  In the nose, it smells odours. In the mouth, it talks. In the hands, it holds and grasps. In the feet, it walks and carries.”  Fundamentally it is one pure radiance, divided it becomes the six harmoniously united spheres of sense.   Fundamentally you are one pure radiance.  It is the light that lights the world.  “Since mind is nonexistent, wherever you are you are free.”  This is not free from the burden of existence, it is freedom from your attachment, your dependence, your resistance to the burden of existence.

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Buddha just sat

teisho 906 (2004)

Whatever is said about the way to practice is always pointing to or leading to the simplicity that you are. When you ask Who am I? it cuts away all the complications, all the weeds. But you have to let go of everything, and it is this letting go that is the difficulty. We think that our disturbing, our attempts to organize, to understand, to structure, are what the practice is about. We feel we have to do something. You are urged to be present, but if you feel to be present requires doing something, you misunderstand.  When we say ‘be present’ we are saying ‘be now’. Time is not a stream, there is no passage of time. A stream requires a succession, something that moves, changes; but there is no thing that comes and goes.

If you are now, there is no opposition; there ceases to be the sense of me and the world. When there is no conflict, this is love.  Love is to be one with, to be at home with, to be silent with.  When you ask ‘Who or what am I?’ it must include ‘who or what is the other?’ To say there is no separation does not mean everything is reduced to identity, it does not mean all the colours of the world become a monochrome grey. It is not this kind of oneness.  It is rather the oneness of a diamond with an infinite number of facets.

Truth includes all, accepts all, purifies all.  The shame and remorse we feel come from our need to be whole. Just sitting purifies.  But to just sit means one allows shame and remorse. guilt and dissatisfaction, a sense of failure, to wash over one; one accepts all, allows all. You are truth, and purification is seeing that, it is coming home to that.

Of course, whatever is said is misleading, even to say you are truth, or that one must see into this, is misleading.  All ideas, words, are misleading.  How to move out of the idea “I am” or “the world is” – this is the leap one must make. It seems like a leap into death, into annihilation.  But no, it is a leap into love, into truth. It is seeing that the ‘idea of being’ is not ‘being’. That the ‘idea of knowing’ is not ‘knowing.’

To know what it means to be, one has to leap out of the idea of being.  In the Diamond Sutra Buddha says, ‘the world is not a world, that is why it is called a world.’   One could say ‘a cushion is not a cushion, that is why it is called a cushion.’ Nevertheless, there is the question. Don’t give me words, don’t give me silence, what is it?  What are you?  How can you stay at that crumbling edge and not try to retreat into some kind of explanation, some kind of understanding? This is what is required when a question is asked in the dokusan room.

Ignorance is the belief that if you are not something you are nothing.

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Non interfering

teisho 1336 (2014)

When you have not penetrated the great way it is like silver mountains and iron cliffs. There is the feeling that it is absolutely impenetrable, impossible, there is no where to go. It takes such courage to stand in front of this iron cliff and silver mountain, and not just stand there but to walk straight on.  It is only through bearing the unbearable,  doing the undoable, knowing the unknowable that you can break through.   When you have penetrated, then you find you are the silver mountains and iron cliffs.  You are your own obstruction, it is not that there is a force or karma that is holding you back.  The striving, and what you are striving with, what you are striving against, and that which you are striving for is all one.  Once you can see this the impossible is no longer impossible, there is no effort needed then.

From the point of view of the great way, it does not matter whether you come to awakening or not.  The question is, are you prepared to wake up to the dream or do you want to go on dreaming. The way is perfect like vast space, with no lack and no excess. Our ability to choose prevents our seeing this truth. We choose something and we strive for that;  then we choose something else and strive for that instead. But whatever is before you is your practice, you should not give preference to this or that. If there is a feeling of frustration, that is your practice, or a feeling of boredom, that is your practice; or a feeling of worry, or just a blankness, that is it.  What is necessary is great faith, the faith that you are from the beginning whole and complete. There is nothing that needs to be done. But this does not call for passivity, rather for non interfering, which in turn calls for great vigilance.

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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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