“I am something”

Questioner: It is part of the Indian spiritual tradition that living in the proximity of a sage is conducive to liberation. Why don’t you organise an ashram so that people can live near you?

Nisargadatta: I am available to all.  Common roof and food will not make people more welcome. “Living near” does not mean breathing the same air.  It means trusting and obeying, not letting the good intentions of the teacher go to waste.  Have your teacher always in your heart and remember his instructions – this is real abidance with the true. Physical proximity is least important. Make your entire life an expression of your faith and love for your teacher. That is dwelling with the sage.


teisho 635  – 1998

Nisargadatta asks: If you are still under the influence of the primordial drug, of what use are the superficial cures?

What is this primordial drug?  It is of course “I”,  “I am something.” One could look upon the Zen Centre as a detox Centre. and sesshin as a detox programme.  We have to break this addiction that we have.

During a sesshin the real work is done in the desert. When you have a period when things flow easily it is because of the work you have done earlier.

People feel these times when things flow easily is the real work; but the periods of dryness, when nothing seems to work, when one is so ineffectual,  these are the times when real work is being done.  We use the word desert, but one can also use the word boredom.

A nobel prize winner for literature gave a commencement address at a college and what he said is very pertinent to what we are looking at here:

“A substantial part of what lies ahead of you is going to be claimed by  boredom. The reason I would like to talk to you about it today is that I believe no liberal arts college prepares you for that eventuality. Neither the humanities nor science offers courses in boredom.  You will be bored with you work, your spouses, your friends, your lovers, the view from your window, the furniture in your room, your thoughts, yourself.  Accordingly you will devise ways of escape.  You may  change your job, your residence, company, country; you may take up promiscuity, alcohol, travel, cooking lessons or psychoanalysis.  Boredom is an invasion of time into your set of values. It puts your existence into its proper perspective, the net result of which is humility. The more you learn about your own size, the more humble and compassionate you become. If it takes paralyzing boredom to bring your insignificance home, then welcome the boredom.  What is good about boredom, about anguish and the sense of meaninglessness of your own and everybody else’s existence is that it is not a deception.  Try to embrace, or let yourself be embraced by boredom and anguish.  Try to endure it as long as you can and then some more. Above all, do not think you have goofed, don’t try to retrace your steps to correct the error.  No, believe your pain.  Nothing that disturbs you is ever a mistake.”

Why we say working with boredom is so salutary is because it means all the subterfuges that you have used to date have been brought into question. But  it is not enough to grit your teeth and hope it will not last too long, you must embrace it.  If you are serious with your practice, you must look upon boredom as a kind of medicine you are taking, as an essential and valuable part of the practice.  The fact that your practice is ineffectual is not a failure, on the contrary, it is a success.  It is because of your seriousness that you have got into this desert.  If you were not serious you would not be there.  But on the other hand, don’t prolong the process by rejecting it, or rejecting yourself or punishing yourself and looking upon yourself as an inferior practitioner.

It is the inability we have to tolerate ourselves for two minutes that is the real problem. It is in these times that the creative power is mobilized. It is at these times that the true impetus to freedom has a chance to grow.

During a sesshin we keep the blinds drawn, we cover pictures, we put away books and all the things the restless mind can feed upon.  We make the place as sterile as we can.  You then sit and face the wall. We do our best to keep out sounds and keep any distractions from outside to the absolute minimum. We keep the food as plain as possible.  All of this with a view to helping you to get into a state of austerity.  This is what the heart of the sesshin is about.

When the mind wanders the personality is searching for anything, it doesn’t matter what it is, in order to get distraction.  Each depressing thought that you have, you have given the power to damage you – see it for what it is, a distraction, something taking you away from what you see as barrenness, but which is really the most wonderful opportunity for truth to start emerging.   Recognize what is at issue – the sense “I am something” being eroded;  and in the erosion it is not that nothing is going to be left behind, but that everything is left behind.  It is an illusion that distracted activity gives any kind of pleasure.

One has to examine all the things one takes for granted.  And above all what one must examine again and again is the belief in something.  How do you get beyond something and nothing?

Nisargadatta:  Search, find out, remove and reject every assumption till you reach the living waters and the rock of truth.












Posted in Teisho | 1 Comment

Practice is not magic (from a teisho)

People sometimes tell me, “I’ve tried this and that but nothing has happened!” This no doubt means that that they feel that there is, or should be, some kind of magic that either they or a teacher can call upon to make something happen.  They believe that if they go through the right kind of incantation, do the right things, say the right words, or feel the right things, then, because of the magical power of this teaching or technique, wonderful things should happen to them.  Meditation still has a kind of magical aura that surrounds it.  This is obvious if one picks up a New Age magazine or New Age books that talk about meditation.  It’s all flowers and halos.

There is no magic.  Or rather, the magician is you.  To look outside yourself, to expect someone else or some system to do something for you is really putting yourself in the position of a slave.  If somebody can do something for you that is of vital importance, you are dependent upon that person.   And this dependency is a form of enslavement. The only true value, the only true possibility, comes from your own power, faith and wisdom.  This means that you are already free.  You do not need a teacher or a teaching.  All that a teacher or teaching can do is to allow you to work for yourself.

But you must have a single-minded desire or longing for the truth. Ultimately all our desires are the desire to find ourselves.  Even joining the various isms that we can join in the world is done in the hope that it will lead us home.  People do not use these words “lead us home;” they use instead words like ‘happiness,’ ‘success,’ ‘fulfillment’ or ‘perfection.’  But these are substitute words.  Where is there fulfillment, perfection, happiness, and success outside of yourself?  When are you most happy?  It is when you are most at one with whatever it is that you are doing.  When you can give yourself over to it without reservation.  When you want it and, at that moment, want nothing else.

Our problem is that we cannot seek to know ourselves unconditionally and without reservation, except after much practice and much suffering.  People ask, “Why does it take so long to come to awakening?”  And the answer is, of course, that we want something else.

People feel that it is enough simply to say they want this or that, or even just to think they want it.  Sometimes I ask people, what is it you want from practice?  And they say, “Oh, I’d like to come to awakening.”  And very often they give a little laugh afterwards.  They reply much in the same way they might say, “Oh, I’d like a new hat.” A Hindu story tells of a guru and his student walking along the seashore.  The student told the guru that he would very much like to come to awakening.  The guru seized hold of the student and thrust his head under the water and held it there while the student thrashed around helplessly.  Eventually the guru let go of the student who arose spluttering and coughing, sucking in air as fast as he could. The guru said, “”When you want awakening as much as you want air at this moment, nothing can stop you.” When the pain gets so bad, when you really do feel that you have reached the end of the road and you have exhausted all your strategies to avoid seeing the truth that life is suffering, then it will be possible for you to say truly, “I want nothing else.”

Basically, everyone wants to come home and nothing else. And everyone will eventually come home. If everything comes out of and returns to the One Mind, then such a statement is a truism.

When you are practicing with Mu or Who or when you are following the breath, this practice will enable you, if you are sincere and honest, to come to the point where you will truly want nothing else.  But this means that you must practice without protest.  You must practice without complaint or self-pity.  And also, of course, you must practice without expectation.  Protest and complaint simply undo the work that you have done so far.  Protest and complaint sets up a counter current to the current of the work.  It sets up a conflict and it generates its own kind of pain.  Truly, only by trudging through the desert of the mind will you find the truth.  You do not find the truth in lush meadows.  In the desert, everything is taken away from you.

You have the belief that Zen practice is in addition to the question “Who am I?”  One keeps touching this ‘practice’, stroking it, feeling it for reassurance.  You ‘practice’ just in the same way that some people carry magic pebbles or wear crosses.  In the desert, even this is taken away.  All of your talismans, your magical charms are taken away.  One feels, I have nothing to look forward to.  That’s right!  There is nothing to look forward to.  ‘Looking forward to’ is the lure, the bait that constantly attracts you out of yourself.  You are always looking for the promised land.  But in the desert, the promised land just dries up and shrivels.

You do not even have feelings in the desert; just flat emptiness.  This is again a good thing because so many people feel that to ‘turn inward’ is to turn into their feelings.  In the sixties feelings were themselves a new religion.  In the New Age philosophy, feelings­­–– feeling good about yourself, feeling good about others, feeling good about one’s life, one’s situation­­–– were all that mattered. But in the desert, feelings dry up and all that is left is a naked, bare, austere possibility.

This is the master’s furnace.  It is during these moments, during this time in practice that the real work is done.  The dross is burned off and only what is true remains.  Don’t back off the desert!  It is true that during these times it seems that the practice is so remote, so uninteresting.  You feel so feeble, so futile.  But it is the personality that suffers. You must go on even so, although now it is no longer the personality that goes on.  It is what is true that does so.  Do not force yourself.  Just be there; just stay there, moment by moment. Come back again, and again and again, come back.  Not with force or fury, not with gritted teeth, not with clenched fists.  You just come back and then you come back again.

In this way you are starting to be honest with yourself.  And you are starting to really want nothing else.

The problem is not that we have other desires, but these other desires are so often in conflict one with the other.  How many people are there that have the real need to live a life that gives them the possibility to turn in on themselves fully and completely;  and yet at the same time they have the need to become engaged as fully as possible in the world, to be lost in some profession, undertaking, or project.  It is as though in each of us there are the two: the hermit and the professional.  A monk and a business-man.  The nun and the business-woman.  And they both have their own agendas and these have their own sets of conflicts. Sei and her soul are separated!

These conflicting needs and desires that we have are what Buddhism calls the Wheel of Samsara.  The need to be the business man but then to be the monk, keeps the wheel turning.  The need to lose oneself, to give oneself over to something outside oneself,  yet also to live a meditative life keeps the wheel turning.

Sometimes people phone to ask whether I could recommend a monastery where they could go to live and ‘really practice.’ Unfortunately, there are still Zen Centers that encourage this kind of activity.  I say ‘unfortunately’ because it does give the impression that the real work that one does in the world is not ‘spiritual’ work, and only work that one does in a monastery, center or ashram is real.

These people who phone have the yearning to retire from the world that many of us have.  The nun or the monk part of us longs for this kind of life.  As a consequence, we tend to look slightingly on our day-to-day activities, the work that we have to do, the mundane work that seems to be so boring, tedious and inconsequential. I have heard people who have undergone extensive training in a profession say that they feel their lives and their work are meaningless. It is true that, in terms of the absolute, whatever is relative is inconsequential.  Yet, even so, the only way the absolute can manifest is through the relative, through what we look on as inconsequential and contingent.

A disciple said to his master, “Everything is an illusion.” and the master said, “Don’t insult Brahman.” Layman Pang said, “My magical power and miraculous activity are chopping wood and carrying water.”

When we are told that we must want to see into ourselves and nothing else, this is not an invitation to depreciate what we do on a day-to-day basis.  On the contrary, it means that we must see whatever we do on a day-to-day basis as the fullest manifestation of our true nature.  In that way we will do it with full awareness, full commitment.  Whatever you do, do it!  Don’t judge it.  If it is necessary to change your job, you will change it.  But it is not necessary constantly to spend time wondering whether you ought to do so. Many people keep themselves in a state of suspension in this way.  Their inability to commit themselves, their unwillingness to commit themselves prevents them from finding the fulfillment that they seek. They want to have their cake and eat it. And yet in this suspended state, they lose the cake altogether: they lose the possibility to be at one with what it is they are doing.

So many people spend their time wondering how they can get into more activity, do more things, meet more people.  In the extreme, they are workaholics who are always busy, always on the go.  Never do they have the possibility of just sitting and enjoying just sitting, or of just reading and just enjoying reading, or of just gardening or of just walking.

Christ said, “Seek yea first the kingdom of Heaven and all things will be added unto you.” Find yourself and do as you please, because everything you do then will be fulfilling.  But first you must really find yourself!

Let me repeat: finding yourself is possible in sweeping the floor, in carrying out the garbage, in doing whatever it is that your work calls upon you to do.  It is true that if situations were different you could be employed better.  It is almost certainly true that most people are not fulfilled in their work in a way that might be possible were the society organized in an ideal way.  But it is also true that if pigs had wings they could fly.  It is a waste of effort, time and energy to dwell on what is possible: everything and nothing is possible.  But it is not a waste of time to keep bringing yourself back to the moment, wherever you are, and giving yourself fully to what you are doing.  When you do something, do it simply because it is there to be done, and not because of the rewards that you will get or the results that you will attain.

This does not mean that we are not pleased when others appreciate what we do.  Of course we are.  But this is not why we do it.  We do it because it is there to be done. This, too, is how to practice.  Some people are proud of their practice.  They feel that they are superior to others in some way.  They feel that they are on an inner track.  Others are disappointed and dejected about their practice.  They are not getting anywhere they say. Give yourself over to the practice because that is what is required. When we really give ourselves fully to the practice, we know this is right.  This is it!  This is what I have been looking for.  We have a sense of completeness such as we can get in very few other situations.

Doing something because it is there to be done is particularly important when helping others or ‘doing good.’ There was a master who used to live in a tree.  He would never go into a monastery or a temple.  But he would sometimes sit in a tree outside.  And he did this up to a very advanced age, even when he was about eighty, he still sat up in trees.  And a monk came along on one occasion and said, “What are you doing up there old man, it is dangerous?” The master looked down and said, “It is not as dangerous as what you are doing down there.”  The monk asked, “What do you mean?” “You don’t even know how to live,” replied the master. “All right, how do you live?” responded the monk.  “Avoid evil, do good, save all sentient beings.”  “Oh, a child of eight knows that!” snorted the monk. “Yes, but an old man of eighty can’t do it,” retorted the master.

What is interesting is that the master says first of all “avoid evil.”  So many people want to do good, and yet they do not know how to avoid doing evil.  This need, this wish, this longing to do good is an expression of our true nature.  But once it becomes the desire to be a good person, it becomes a form of sentimentality, and sentimentality is the desire to experience pleasure without having paid the price to do so.

“Avoid evil.”  And how do you avoid evil?  The only way to avoid evil is to know yourself.  It is to see into one’s own conflicts and go beyond them.  Because all evil comes from people acting in dreams.

Posted in Teisho | 1 Comment

Working on Mu: teisho 944-2004

The problem is we feel things are absolute. We believe that there is a world and that we live in this world. It is as though there is water and it freezes and now you have chunks that you can break up into bits. In a way, you could say things are frozen knowing. When we are practicing with Mu, the thing is to melt down this frozen world. As long as it is frozen it gives us a sense of there being absolute right and wrong, yes and no.

When one sees into Mu one sees things are like reflections in a mirror. There isn’t a mirror that one sees that one calls Mu, it is simply seeing everything as a reflection, things lose their selfhood. Mu is not something, it is not a state, it is not an underlying condition. There is no substratum. We have the conviction of things because we have a fixed idea of ourselves. We have a fixed viewpoint and this is what we are questioning when we ask ‘Who am I?’ A world of things comes with this sense of separation, this illusion of separation. It is not the things that are illusory, it is the belief in separation, that I am here and the world is there. This is what you are working with if you are working on Mu or Who. One is working on seeing into the illusory nature of separation. But how can you see into an illusion? How can you see what is not really there?

How can we take hold of the possibility that there is just one world.? This is the question we need to ask.

The thereness of the world makes death terrible. The thereness of the world compared to the no thereness of death. When one sees the illusion of the thereness of the world, that cliff edge, that line that one crosses from life to death, loses its sharp edge. By seeing into this we can see more clearly what we mean by ‘no thingness.’ It shows up in sharper outline the illusory nature of a defined entity called ‘me’.

What is silence? Is there an isness to silence, does it have its own being? If it doesn’t how do sounds that come out of it have any being of their own? Silence stands to sounds as what you know and that you know stand to each other. What you know comes out of knowing and returns to knowing. What sort of being does knowing have? It is not something, but it is not nothing. When you say I know, what is this knowing? You cannot hold it at arms length and examine it, you cannot separate the knowing from knowing in order to know it. It isn’t an absence. When you know I am, upstream of all saying, what is it that is being known? This is not an idle question. It cannot be given a verbal answer because it refers to that which is upstream of verbalization. It is like silence. We ignore the knowing, we are taken up with experience, sensations, emotions, thoughts – they all have their being in knowing. All of them are knowing made manifest. So what is this knowing? ( The ‘is’ is unfortunate – seize the spirit of the question.)

Throughout the whole day, thoughts and feelings are coming out of knowing. We say that this is my life, this is my experience, or this is the world. We say the room is real. But what is real, is it the room or is it knowing the room? Can we make a distinction? Where does the room end and your seeing it begin? Knowing has no past or future. It is what is known that has a past and future. One must be taken up in the wonder of it, letting go of prejudgment, letting go of taking it for granted, unfreezing, allowing what is to be, rather than how we think it ought to be. So what are you, what is the world, what is Mu?

We cannot discover reality, we cannot discover truth, we cannot discover meaning, but we can see into what is not the case, what is not so: see into the notion that thoughts are absolute, see into the claim that I am something, separate, apart, distinct, unique. By seeing into the falseness, the truth shines out by itself.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

No separate entities

We have Yasutani Roshi saying, “the fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.” And Nisargadatta saying: “we think we are an individual, a person, when we are not an individual, we are intrinsically always and only the Absolute.”

The Absolute, the One, Buddha nature, Knowing, Emptiness, Mind – so many different words used in an effort to express the ineffable; to point us in a direction we have never thought of going; you might say, pointing us south when all our lives we have been going north. Turning everything on its head really; no wonder there is anxiety when we start to get a glimmering of what is being said when we allow what is being said to penetrate.

teisho 1155 /2008

It is the direction in which you are looking that is important. Zen is not a collection of techniques to fix things or change things; it is this feeling of control that is the great illusion we have. This does not mean we do not make a contribution, but the major contribution we make is interference.

When we talk about practice we are not suggesting there is something you can apply and thus get beneficial results; it is more pointing in a direction in which to look. By looking we mean turning your whole orientation in that direction. Nisargadatta challenges the orientation we have, the way we look at things, feeling we are a body or a person or a mind, – it is the notion of a separate entity which is at issue here.

With the idea of a distinct entity comes the notion of this entity being in the world, part of the world. The world is regarded as a big box with everything in it, including ourselves. When it is said that the trees and fields are my face, people think there is an entity that has a face, and wonder how fields and trees can be that face.

It is the same with practice: we start with this entity, and feel we have to find out what this entity is, what it consists of, its form, its shape and colour.

When we ask ‘Who am I?’ we cannot start by taking it for granted that we know what the question means. If we think the question is addressing that separate entity, that distinct individual that we feel ourselves to be, and struggle to make sense of the question within that context, then we are bound to be frustrated.

With this question, one is going in a very definite but unknown direction. This means we must question everything, even what seems so obvious. It seems so obvious that I am here and you are there, and yet this is provisional only, ‘as if’ I am here and ‘as if’ you are there. All the words we use should be qualified by ‘as if’ – ‘as if’ I am a man, a woman, ‘as if’ I am a human being, ‘as if’ I am a mind, – otherwise words have the capacity to fix things as real and separate.

When we see that there is a sense of self-will and that which is beyond self will, we can begin to loosen the hold that this idea of a separate self has. When you follow the breath, you are releasing the grip that this sense of self has. But you must be following the breath, not controlling it. Controlling the breath simply reinforces the sense of being a separate individual.

It also applies to working on ‘who am I?’ You are.

From the beginning all beings are Buddha. This is dynamic unity, the wholeness out of which the sense of self comes. It is beyond the conscious mind to conceive of the truth. It can only conceive of shadows, it cannot conceive of light.

Although when you are working with the question ‘Who am I?’ you are working with the unknown, the unknowable, you are not working with the nonexistent. ‘I am’ has its own evidence of being, which is reality. Nothing else has its own evidence of being.

I am is self affirming, self realizing.

Posted in Teisho | Leave a comment

Prajna Paramita Hridaya teisho 1163 year 2009

The Prajna Paramita school was the reawakening of the original teaching of Buddha. When Buddha left home he worked with all the Samadhi traditions and reached a level where he was invited to teach. But he said this was not the way to end the suffering of the world. Buddha opened the world to the truth of awakening. This doesn’t mean to say that before Buddha there was no awakening, but he brought it to the fore, showed its importance. There are many different kinds of spiritual experience. Even awakening itself, as shown by Hakuin’s four ways of knowing, is not homogenous. So it was easy for the one that Buddha highlighted to be lost.

Awakening brings about a different way of seeing the world. It is a fundamental shift. Awakening was the essential element contained in the Prajna Paramita school. But this was again lost. It was resurrected by Bodhidharma and then lost again, until Hui Neng. Again it was lost, until Dogen and then Hakuin revived it. It is much easier to enter into a condition of Samadhi, one can even get a low-level Samadhi jogging. As a consequence, the teaching can be easily polluted.

The Prajna Paramita Hridaya is drawing attention to prajna. Pra means to arouse, jna is knowing, knowing without content. The awakened mind. The Prajna Paramita opens us to the source of life, intelligence, spirituality, and love. But this sutra is also the sutra of death. When one is working on ‘Who am I?’ one is working with the question ‘what is death?’ If one works genuinely with ‘Who am I?’ inevitably a fear of death will arise. Alternatively, when a person has had a loved one die, or themselves have had a serious illness or accident, the question ‘Who am I?’ comes very much to the fore.

In Japanese the question Who am I?’ is framed as ‘what is my face before my parents were born?’ What am I essentially? What is one’s essential aspect? To really ask this question one has to realize that one is going into the domain where all is eradicated, all is wiped out. To dwell in that requires a great deal of courage. ‘What is my face before my parents were born?’ is the same as ‘What is my face after death?’ Everything is wiped clean. So we have the same condition before birth and after death. My face before my parents were born is right now, my face after death is right now. And now is always now. There is no passage, no transition, no change. Now is now. Not that now is static, on the contrary, it is dynamic.

Prajna is aroused mind without content, pure knowing. This is sometimes called Bodhi, the light that shines by itself. Paramita has to do with crossing the ocean of birth and death; crossing to the other shore. But to cross to the other shore is not to go from here to there, but to go from there to here. In other words, one is not going away, not going outside, it is coming home to that which is closest, most intimate.

The sutra starts off referring to the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Bodhi is knowing and sattva is being. There is no entity, Bodhisattva is not a person, an ego or a self. It is the essence of compassion. If it is true that from the beginning all beings are Buddha, it is also true that from the beginning all beings are the Bodhisattva of Compassion. It is what you are essentially.

The sutra is talking about prajna, why does it not rather refer to the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Manjusri? This is very important. We are practicing to awaken to our wisdom, and yet what must underlie that is compassion. We should do this work from compassion, not from self-interest. All beings without number I vow to liberate – this is the Bodhisattva of Compassion speaking. To be open to the fact of others is an essential aspect of practice. It makes it possible for us to work on the poison of separation. By opening ourselves in this way we see the emptiness of all five skandas and sunder the bonds of suffering.

The Sanskrit word for suffering is dukha, twoness. So to sunder the bonds of suffering is to sunder the bonds of dualism, separation. From the very beginning of this sutra, the nature of practice is summed up in a nutshell: arouse the mind without resting it on anything, against a background of compassion. When the mind is thus aroused, it sees into the emptiness of the five skandas.

One could say that the Prajna Paramita Hridaya is an elaboration of the cryptic statement: ‘All beings are Buddha.’ Or that it is an answer to the question, ‘what is your face before your parents were born?’ Or that it is about death. Or that it is about how to work on yourself. All of these are addressed with the same words.

Posted in Teisho | 2 Comments

Ambiguity: teishos 630/1998 1370/2015

Even if blows fall from the stick like raindrops, with all the encouragement talks, all the dokusans, you are still far from the truth of Buddhism. Hyakujo said, “throughout the whole of China, there is not a single teacher of Buddhism.”

We search for the absolute. We want the One, the Whole, the Holy. But the opposite of the absolute, the One, the Holy, is not the devil, it is the ambiguous. And the ambiguous, when we have to act on it, forces us into the dilemma. We have to choose because we want the One, but the problem is not choosing between good and bad. The problem is choosing between the good and the good, it is this that tears us apart. It is like a child who has to choose between security and freedom. If he chooses security, he must pay for that with his freedom. If he chooses freedom he must pay for that with his security. This is the type of choice we have to make all the time in life. We deal with this by saying, once we have made our choice, that the other option is bad.

This is the tragedy, we have to choose because we want the One. How can we live in ambiguity and at the same time be whole, be One? This is the challenge: it is not to attain to the One. This is why Joshu said, “the great Way is not difficult, simply avoid choice and attachment.” But even with a single word, there may be choice and attachment. Resolving ambiguity by choosing one side absolutely is attachment, that is choice. How do you live a life within ambiguity without turning your back on the One?

In the ten Ox-herding pictures, picture number 8 is a circle, this represents clarity, Oneness. But there are two more pictures, the last one, number ten, being a picture of a man with a bottle of wine in the marketplace. A man who has no sign of clarity, no mark of Buddha. How do you live in this world of choices without being attached and rejecting?

People want to retire, withdraw from the world of ambiguity. They dream of monasteries, convents, mountain tops. They dream of a quiet harbour, they dream of death. Ambiguity is suffering and uncertainty, it is having no absolute, nothing to hold on to; it is living according to the moment, but it is living according to harmony and wholeness. How do you do this? How do you live without rules or principles? Rules and principles are sentries with which we barricade ourselves into the good.

The great way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose. When you ask “Who am I?” are you picking and choosing? Are you looking for this rather than that? Have you made up your mind in advance what it is you are seeking? You think you are seeking clarity, and that is the problem. It is only in confusion that you will find yourself. It is only when you let go of the search for the One that the One can manifest. But to let go of the search for the One is to let yourself go into confusion and uncertainty.

The great Way is not difficult until you try to find it here rather than there, up rather than down, in rather than out. The great way is not difficult until you pick and choose. But how are you going to go forward without picking and choosing?

In One there is diversity, in two there is no duality. How can we understand this? One moon shines in every pool: in one there is diversity. You are not part of the One, you are the One. From the beginning all beings are Buddha. It is not that all beings are part of Buddha or the children of Buddha: you are the whole, the One. In One there is diversity, in two there is no duality. How can we see beyond one and two? How can we see that in Oneness there is diversity, but it is still One? How can we see that in two there is no duality, but it is still two? How can there be a world of One and there still be me and you?

When you have not penetrated the great Way it is like a silver mountain and iron fist. When you have penetrated you find you are the silver mountain and the iron fist. When you have not penetrated the great Way, it is impossible. It is like a mosquito trying to penetrate an iron plate with its proboscis. It is this impossibility which is the hallmark of true practice. If you simply stay with what it possible you simply stay with what is remembered. It is always based on the past, and nothing new can come through. It is going beyond the possible and impossible. It is impossible because you are using the wrong kind of mind to penetrate this barrier. Once you move from the discriminating, conceptual mind with which you are trying to solve a problem that is unsolvable in that way, then you are the silver mountain. Before you come to awakening you feel a blockage, but once you come to awakening you are the blockage, you are everything, everything is your experience.

Everything is what it should be, and this itself is worthwhile pondering on. We are always thinking it could, should or might be different and it is this belief that prevents us from entering wholeheartedly into any situation. As long as you feel “well, I will do this for the time being, but I am sure there is another way of practicing that is probably better”, – all of these doubts that accompany your practice keep you from being totally involved. When you are involved the sense of self looses a lot of its power. The sense of self and the situation become more or less one, there is a kind of unity, and in that condition it is possible for something else to transpire.

You are already awakened. You are not going to add anything or take anything away, so it doesn’t matter from the point of view of the great Way whether or not you come to awakening. The pain of life as it is being lived provides the motivation to work to come to awakening.

Why is talking about it a waste of time? Why are explanations and descriptions of how it is not accepted? Why does one have instead to give a demonstration? What can a demonstration give that words cannot? The words, the discriminating mind, is the fundamental problem in Zen and the fundamental problem in life. The reason being because we are substituting a verbal world for the real world. We live ‘as if’; we do not live as the situation is, but ‘as if’ the situation is.

The full moon in the sky, where does it’s light originate? The full moon is a metaphor for the awakened self. Where does it get its light from? It is a light that shines by itself. You do not need anything outside yourself either to know or to be. You are not the effect of any cause. Your body, your personality of course are, but that which you are has no cause, no origin outside.

When you are sitting in zazen you get to the point where your legs ache and you try to find a more comfortable position. And it is impossible, every position has its own difficulties. And this is typical of life itself. Life is both comfortable and uncomfortable, good and bad. This is why in Zen it is said there is no good and bad – what this means is that there is no absolute good, no absolute bad. There is always a wish to find something absolute.

If we do not make preferences what kind of life are we going to live? Naturally for some time it will be a life which is confusing, we will constantly have to slip away from attitudes of mind that lead us to be dogmatic, certain and sure of ourselves – states of mind that most people feel are highly desirable. If we let go of being sure of ourselves, there is a feeling of weakness, of being unable to stand up to things. But this is only a feeling, it is not the truth, it is simply the other side of the feeling of being in control, in command, which is also just a feeling.

Let me repeat, it is just a feeling, it is not how it is. How it is is that you are fundamentally Buddha – that is the only reality, all the rest is dreams and delusions. You are already awakened. All the feelings do not matter, they are simply dreams and delusions. If you can let go of the need to choose, then the truth will shine through.

Posted in Teisho | 3 Comments

An inclusive, dynamic, living One.

teishos 1090 & 1088 – year 2007

Buddha said, “When I came to awakening, the whole world came to awakening.” It is this awakening that is fundamental, it is not the pacifying of the personality. This awakening is prajna, it is what the Prajna Paramita is all about. Manjusri on the alter during sesshin is the bodhisattva of prajna.

When we had the Manjusri on the alter made, we gave certain specifications: one of them was that the sword must be in action, not just held upright; and we asked that the lion be active, the paw upraised. They did a marvelous job of portraying the dynamism and action of prajna.

‘jna’ means primordial knowing. Knowing beyond content. It is the light of the world. It is that primary condition out of which everything arises and to which everything returns.

Why we have to practice so hard and so long is because this primordial knowing, this knowing without content, is ignored. We have turned our backs on this which is the fundamental treasure. Our practice is to turn around, to go beyond, paramita.

In the Prajna Paramita sutra it says ‘emptiness is no other than form, form is no other than emptiness.’ This is the heart of the sutra. The rest of the sutra is an expansion of these two phrases.

At the end of the sutra we have the mantra:
gone, gone,
gone beyond,
gone right beyond,

This is a dynamic expression of paramita.

Then is says ‘bodhi’. Bodhi is the light, the light that shines by itself, it is pure knowing. This knowing is right now, and it is essential to see this. It is right now.

You go into a room and you see the room – in that is the problem. The seeing is already the room. The room is empty of the room, there is no room. There is the seeing. This is paramita, the turn about. It is equally true to say there is no seeing, the room is already the seeing. We insist on the room, we insist on the seeing. But beyond the room and the seeing, what is there?

When you ask ‘who am I?’ you go at it with the same attitude: that you see the room, or you hear the bird, or you feel the cushion. There is no room, there is no bird, there is no cushion. Buddha said that there is no world, that is why we call it a world. When you are working with ‘what is Mu?’ that already is Mu. It is not that if you work on Mu, one day you will discover Mu. Asking ‘Who am I?’ will not eventually lead you to some kind of response. You are always looking for something. There is no Mu; Mu is empty of Mu; that is why it is called Mu. As long as you feel there can be a result and that it is the result that matters, you have set up an impassable barrier.

Praja is already paramita. As you are you are already awakened. True nature is awakened.

The first of the four vows: “all beings without number, I vow to liberate”, lets us out of the prison of ‘I’ into the freedom of One Mind. This vow is a vital part of our practice. It is not a vow to become a person who does ‘good deeds’ for others. On the contrary, it is recognizing that there are no ‘others.’

We are so used to seeing ourselves as an atom in a vast world, a vast universe. We have the feeling we are just an accident, something that might never have been. And yet we are that knowing/being, that light, which not only contains everything but which is everything. What is this light? It is the light beyond all shadows. It is not something you can see. What is your light? There was no time when the light was switched on and there will be no time when the light will be switched off. It is far removed from what you see and know.

We chant ‘all beings are Buddha.’ We do not chant ‘all beings are Buddhas.’ There is only One; not a numerical one, but an inclusive, dynamic, living One. Each of us is that light, that One. You can only see the truth of this when you shed the skin of personality. Let go of all the ways by which we identify ourselves, how we determine what we are, how good we are, how important we are – see beyond all that. These are the chains that bind us.

We are identified with the clash and clang of existence, but we can step outside this. It is not necessary to undo the mess of existence, – with the question ‘what am I?’ we can stop all this activity and come home. To begin to understand you must cut off what you know and what you see. As long as we are identified with what we know and what we see, as we invariably are, the subtle essence will always escape us. Our life is set up as a kind of competition, we are either winning or loosing, we are making the grade or not making the grade. Forget gain and loss. Ummon said, “let that go; life is not a competition. It is not a course to be run, it is not something we can win, loose or fail in. Life is, and that is all.”

What is reality? First there is knowing/being. First there is you. I am is the beginning of it all. Not the words I am, not even the thought, but beyond that, what is there? Fundamental emptiness. Emptiness is real. The terrible scourge of our life is that we take for granted that which cries out for close attention.

The truth is so vast, it is so magnificent that we shy away from it. It is like trying to look at the sun, we are blinded. Everything is contained in It, and this means there is one world, one world of light. Knowing and being are essentially one: knowing is being and being is knowing; but this ‘is’ is not the is of identity but the is of non severability. When it is said that emptiness is form, it does not mean that emptiness is identical to form, but that you cannot separate one from the other. Knowing/being contains it all, and does not only contain it, but is it all.


Posted in Teisho | 3 Comments