I have just been reading that first posting I did, January 2016. And all the laughter bubbled up again. Ask a question without worrying about an answer? Do we ever ask a question without trying to get an answer? I had certainly spent all my time trying to get answers. Just stay with the question? How can you stay with a question if you have the answer to it? And he said it casually, with a straight face, as if it was possible to do. The only response was laughter, laughter and more laughter. The laughter of release.
That posting may have left you with the impression that we sat of an evening with Albert giving me a sort of informal dokusan. But it was a rare occasion. Normally we just sat together, him with a glass of port and me with a glass of sherry, if it wasn’t a dokusan evening. A little light music, and just enjoying each other’s company. It was an unusual evening when he said that to me. And just in time. Shortly after he went into the hospital and did not come home again.
But in those few moments, he left me with the essence of it all. What is your face before your parents were born? For the first time, I asked a question and stayed with the question, not rushing on to look for an answer. This is the essence of our practice: staying with the question. After all, we are the answer, we do not have to look for it.
teisho 912 2004
Much of the Zen tradition is attributed to Hui Neng. The spirit that he embodied was remarkable, a spirit that flared up over a period of about 300 years, it was called the golden age of Zen.
Hui Neng’s “From the beginning, not a thing is” is the ultimate challenge. It is such a radical statement that we shudder away from it.
He had his original awakening when he heard a monk reciting: “arouse the mind without resting it on anything.” Before this, he had had no Zen training. The 5th Patriarch made him the 6th Patriarch, but told him not to start teaching for another fifteen years – this was to give his awakening time to maturate as he had done no work previously. Most people do this work, as you are doing, previous to awakening. After this maturing process, Hui Neng came back to the monastery and started teaching. He himself did not hand on the robe and bowl.
Hui Neng said, “Nowhere is there anything true.” One does not look into the world for truth. “Do not try to see the truth in any way.” Hunting after the true word, the secret word, the last word is pointless. Everyone has the truth. He says “If you try to see the truth, your seeing will in no way be true.” There is nowhere to go, there is nothing to get – the recognition of this is the beginning of practice.
One sees the pain, the arrogance, the shame – all that goes on in the mind – and one allows it to be. One does not judge it or disturb it, one does not try to change it or get rid of it. One sees that this too is life, this too is it. By being one with whatever is, one separates from it, one discerns one is not it. Whatever it is, loses its acrid poison.
“Distinguishing well the forms of the various dharmas” – in other words, being well established in the world, in everyday mind – “remain firm within the first principle.” It is possible to remain firm because one is the first principle. But if we vacillate, there is no possibility for us to establish any kind of reality for ourselves. We must recognize our own worth before we can find anything of value. Yasutani used to say that the only sin in Buddhism is to hate oneself. Forgive yourself, and then be yourself. Become aware of the worth of being, this is the function of true reality.
“Don’t cling to the belief in birth and death.” In other words, do not cling to the conviction I am something, something that was born, something that will die. “Don’t think this is good, this is bad. Now, where is the original self?”
You describe it in vein;
You picture it to no avail.
Praising it is useless;
Stop trying to grasp it.
There is nowhere to hide your true self;
When the universe is destroyed
It is not destroyed.
What is your face before your parents were born?