The Right Practice

teisho 1041 (2006)

Case 28 in the Hekiganroku:

Hyakujo asked: “Is there any dharma that has not yet been taught?”
Nansen said, “It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not a thing.”

A koan pushes us beyond our normal range of understanding. Some people say they do not know what koans are talking about. You are not supposed to know what they are talking about – something else has to be summoned in order for them to make sense. When that something else is summoned, it makes all the sense in the world. This ‘something else’ is not something out of this world; you do not get an experience of the transcendent. There is a turn-about and one sees the world in a new way.

One hears again and again of someone asking: “What is the Buddha?” or “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?” It is asking in a formalised way, what is the transcendent? The form of the question is not so important, it is the questioning that is important, there is an opening there. If it is a genuine question, the person is asking to be shown what it is. A monk asked, “What is Buddha?” and Hyakujo responded, “Who are you?” There is the only possible response to all your questions: “What are you?” And the monk replied, “I am I.” Hyakujo then asked, “Do you know this I or not?” Why did he ask that question, what is behind that question? Hyakujo then held up his whisk and asked, “Do you see this?” Does the eye see it or do you see it? Is there a difference?

A monk asked, “How can I abide in the right dharma?” In other words, how can I practice correctly? Hyakujo said, “To seek to abide in the right dharma is the wrong dharma. The right dharma is neither right nor wrong.” People ask, what is the right way to practice? And once they have asked that, they are out of the practice, because they think the practice is over there and I am over here. They feel it is something apart from themselves that has to be added to themselves. You are the only right dharma, you are the only right practice. As long as you think there is a practice apart from yourself, then it becomes an exercise or a discipline. Allow the practice to arise. As the practice arises you are automatically one with it. Practice is you in process. Practice is an openness. Whatever is present at the moment – dryness, lots of thoughts – this is what you work with, this is you at the moment, this is the practice.

People want to get outside their personality and Hyakujo is saying that you do not have to do anything about the personality, just refrain from sullying your self nature. How do you sully your self nature? By believing that you are the personality. How do you not sully your self nature?- by seeing that you are the personality. When you believe you are the personality you are identified with it. But the personality is just the way you act in the world, it is not ‘something’, you do not have to change it.

Someone asked, “Can we find deliverance by following your teaching?”
Hyakujo replied, “Since you are not bound, why do you seek deliverance?”

One of the functions of a teacher is to keep finding ways to break up the set views or habit patterns of students. This is why each time we talk we try to say it in another way, try to avoid getting into a rut as far as the teaching is concerned.

The primary thought structure that must be dissolved is: I am something, the world is something else. This is the primary ignorance. It is thoroughly ingrained in us, by our language, culture, by our education, and by our inclination.

How can we see into our true nature? How do we see into I am? That which ‘sees into’ is your true nature.

If you are working on Mu, you are working on Not Mu at the same time. If you are working on Who am I? you are working on no self at the same time. All that you know at the moment are somethings, this is the problem. So one works on ‘there is something’, but you work with the faith that there is no something. It is these two together that will make your practice.

When one is working on a koan one must find something that does not fit, a contradiction. You cannot take what Nansen said and try to understand it. When he said: “It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not things,” he is giving a teaching that the ancients have been unable to preach. Yet he is saying something that has been said over and over again in different ways, so how can it be said that it is something that has not been taught? How do you say something that cannot be put into words?

Just before his death, Buddha said that in all his years, he had not taught a single word.

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