The Jewel Mirror Samadhi (teishos 934 – 2004 & 1200 – 2009)

This is the title of a fairly long poem, which could just as well have been called “Mu”.

Samadhi has two distinct meanings: there is the samadhi that one attains to, in which the sense of self opposed to the world drops away and for a time there is unity. There are many different levels of this kind of samadhi, starting with the ‘jogger’s high,’ in which one is no longer jogging, there is no sense of separation between oneself and the body, no sense of effort, and no distinction between oneself and the world. There are higher levels of this samadhi, for example the artist. If one is really engaged in writing, painting or playing music, it is possible to get into a state which is almost a trance; it isn’t a trance because one is fully aware, but one is not aware of particulars.

There is nevertheless a dualism in the kind of Samadhi which is the result of some kind of activity or process. Buddha studied with the teachers of meditation leading to Samadhi. He then said that this is not the way to resolve the enigma of birth and death and suffering.

Then there is the Samadhi which is being extolled in this verse. You are always in this Mirror Samadhi. Everything that one does is the expression of this Samadhi: walking, talking, eating, sleeping. This Mirror Samadhi is home, it is Mu.

It is only because we perceive things in a dualistic way: me/you, me/it, right/ wrong – which is inevitable once one takes up a fixed view point – that we don’t appreciate the truth that Samadhi is our natural state.

When Buddha said ‘throughout heaven and earth, I alone am the honored one’, this is the expression of the Samadhi state which is our natural state; and each of us with Buddha can affirm that throughout heaven and earth, I alone am the honored one, because each of us is the honored one; each of us is Buddha. Each of us is the light and each of us is nevertheless whole and complete. All sentient beings – people, cats, dogs, birds, bugs, – each is Buddha and yet each is itself.

We are not practicing to come home, but to realize that we are already home.

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Koans (teishos 593-1998 & 1026-2006)

To say it in the abstract is easy, but to explain reality in words is difficult. This is the key to koans. When one is working on a koan, any explanation is an utter waste of time.

When one thinks of what language has made possible, it is awe inspiring. Yet we take it for granted, we do not give it a thought. But despite all of this linguistic magnificence words just cannot touch it, cannot explain the colour red; try to tell a blind man what the colour red is. When one starts looking at what words cannot do one realises that despite all their magnificence, they are very thin things. What am I? Where is a word that can come anywhere near it?

This is the reason we have koans. To try to put up a frame to focus the mind in a way that is not a convergent focus. A focus that is not seizing or grasping. It is a way by which one can set the mind in readiness.

When one is asking What am I? one must go right to the source of that word ‘I’. Cut right through. There is a koan that tells of Layman Pang being asked to give a talk on the Diamond sutra. He comes up to the lectern and “CRACK”, then walks away. In that CRACK are all the sutras.

To see into your true nature you must walk the razor’s edge, you must wake up to this razor’s edge, this subtlety of perception.

Awakening is always a flash. It isn’t a question of time even. It is not that one moment there is the unawakened state and the next moment the awakened state. It is talked about in this way because we have to divide things up to talk about anything. There is no before and after with awakening. It is no moment. One realises one was never unawakened, that one is always in samadhi.

“The bodhisatva, holding to nothing whatever, is freed of delusive hindrance, rid of the fear bred by it.” Everything is just as it is.

What do you want? What are you looking for? It is so easy to be carried along by the stream of events. We think that knowledge is desirable and that there is a self that we can gain knowledge about. Knowledge is over-emphasised in our society. What is it that gives status to knowledge? Why do we want to know? Knowing is our very nature and we believe that in knowledge we can capture that knowing. Nisargadatta: “True knowledge of the self is not knowledge. It is not something you find by searching. “

Dogen said, “You must think the unthinkable” and this is using the mind in an intense way. What is the difference between using the mind and gaining knowledge? Using the mind is awakening the mind, but it can only be awakened if there is some kind of problem, something that doesn’t fit. It is in being presented with a contradiction that the mind becomes active. This is why knowledge is deadening. It says: this is how it is. There is no argument; no room for contradiction or ambiguity. When we use the mind to deal with an ambiguity, something that doesn’t fit, the mind is aroused. So when we say use the mind, we want you to search out that which is contradictory, which doesn’t fit. Search out the absurd, ask questions about that which nobody asks questions about. Look at things differently, turn things on their head. This is koan practice. A koan always has a contradiction. The basis of all koans is: “there is nothing you can do. Now, what are you going to do?”

Use the confusion of your life. Life is constantly throwing up conflicts, ambiguities. Use the tension; the mind is dull and torpid if we leave it alone, we sink easily into inertia, into habit. It is for this reason that we have to take up a koan. One uses the mind, not in the direction of resolving something, but in order to find the problem, to realize the problem, not to get away from it.

Take the koan Mu. Mu means No. Everything has Buddha nature, and yet Joshu says that a dog does not have Buddha nature. Mu. How do you know “No”? How can you enter into No? How can you enter into a negation? You have to ponder this, question it, dig deeply into it. You have to use the mind. It is thinking, but not in the way of closure. You are enlivening the questioning condition. It is because one realises that nothing one can do is of any avail that the question becomes so imperative.

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The Song of Realising the Way. (teisho 1338, 2014)

People think that reading is taboo in Zen. But time and again you get people who read something and it clicks and they come to awakening. Albert comments that there were many books in his life that were strong pointers on the Way.

The verses called “The Song of Realising the Way” are about corroborating the Dharma through one’s own experience. What Zen is against in reading something and feeling that, having read it, one knows it. This is of course quite absurd. It is the personal realisation, the personal awakening, coming home to oneself that is essential.

The verses start with “Haven’t you met the one, mature and at ease?” This could mean: haven’t you met someone who is awakened, who is developed and who has seen into the truth. But at a deeper level, it means your own true nature, which is all knowing, all being, does not need to develop and has no need for further education. The notion that we are on earth in order to pass the exam of existence so that we can get promoted into a higher grade, is not the Zen way. “This earth where we stand is the pure lotus land, and this very body the body of Buddha.” This very body is the body of the one mature and at ease. The essential nature of one’s true self is that it is at ease. Yet one could say that human beings are very rarely at ease. Care, concern, anxiety, and stress is the lot of human beings. It is the day to day sense of futility, the sense that something profound is missing, that somehow one has missed the boat, that is our suffering.

“Haven’t you met the one mature and at ease, the one with nothing to do and nothing to master?” There is no need for development, you are not here to develop yourself, and we emphasise this because so often there is this feeling that one has to do something that is going to make a difference. But there is nothing that is going to make a difference, you are already at one. This is so difficult to accept, that we are at one with the creative power of the universe. That the world in its entirety is our own creation. “It is like one in water crying I thirst.'” The practice is not about getting understanding, it is about coming home to this truth of being, this is the only worthwhile aspect of practice. Coming home to your true nature, the one with nothing to do and nothing to master. The one who neither rejects thought nor seeks truth. People sometimes feel it is necessary to suppress thought or avoid thought; they feel that they have to empty the mind. But thought is not the problem, the problem is that we do not see that thought itself is a manifestation of what we are fundamentally, a manifestation of Knowing.

When you have a bout of anguish, see that in that very misery there is the sense of I, there is an identification that gives reality. We look on this anguish as real, but we give it reality. It is only when you take it over as your own that you can let it go.

“Neither reject thought nor seek truth.” We are not trying to find out who we are, we are not trying to find what is real, what is truth, we are trying to allow it to manifest, to open ourselves so that the light can shine naturally within us or through us. The truth is already present, you are the truth.

Seeing is being, hearing is being. As long as you feel that hearing is a faculty you have, that this faculty hears something that is coming from over there, then you live in a dualistic world. It is because we do not examine what appears to be so obvious, what we take for granted, that we are constantly tormented.

The I that we look upon as the knower is also known, it is also an outcome of knowing. People feel that the body is an impediment, but this very body is the body of Buddha. We do not have to get rid of anything, change anything, we have to awaken our basic knowing.

The sense of things having a self-nature dissolves. It is not that things disappear but that there is a dissolution of the thingness. The true nature of all things is innately Buddha.

“Greed, anger and ignorance appear and disappear like ocean foam.” Very often the basic knowing/being is looked upon as water, and the water becomes disturbed, and then it becomes disturbed because of the disturbance. And then the disturbance creates more disturbance. And so it continues until instead of having a calm, peaceful lake, you have a raging ocean spitting out greed, anger, and ignorance.

People want a purpose for everything. They ask Why? The why of wonder is simply expressing something inexpressible. The other why is asking what is the purpose, everything must have a reason for being. But there is no purpose; everything is meaningful, everything is purposeful; but that does not mean that there is a purpose, that beyond what is happening there is something else that we can call a purpose. Life is meaningful, life is the process, not the result. This is what Zen teaches.

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On Getting Old

It has been a very heavy winter, and we could all do with something to smile about. I found something that made me smile and thought I would share it with you. The lighter side of Albert. This article was written for Zen Gong some time ago, I think when he was in his seventies.


I grow old, I grow old
Shall I wear the bottom of my trousers rolled?

So you want me to write about getting old. I do not know why you ask me to do this kind of thing. After all, I am only a beginner and I don’t know much about the subject. Furthermore, as far as I can remember, this is the first time that I have got old. But the little that I do know about the subject impels me to say that if the alternative were not so dubious I would tell you, “Don’t do it.” For one thing, there is no future in it. For another, it really is not for sissies. I remember once Philip Kapleau, as he lowered himself gingerly into an armchair, – he was over eighty at the time – groaning, “Whoever said, ‘Grow old with me the best is yet to be’ must have been about 21.” Either that or it must have been said by a seventy-year-old guy on ecstasy.

Let me share some of my discoveries about getting old. For one thing getting out of bed in the morning sometimes feels a lot like getting out of a train wreck. They say that if, after the age of fifty you do not ache when you get out of bed then you are dead. Let me tell you, after the age of seventy, sometimes when you get out of bed you wish you were. Another thing is that bits start falling off. I have already lost parts of my eyes to cataract operations, many of my teeth and a hip. It’s true that they gave me replacement parts, but somehow they don’t seem to work quite so well as the originals used to.

Another problem is that no-one does things as well as they used to when I was young. The kids are a lot more unruly, fruit no longer tastes like fruit, you can never find a sales assistant when you want one, and you just try getting someone on the phone; one of my fingers has become arthritic pressing all the buttons. In those days bank managers called you “Sir!” doctors made home calls and the policeman was your friend. There was even a song that said, “If you want to know the time ask a policeman.”

Just think. When I was young we had all the time in the world. We could even read a book from beginning to end. We did not have TV, the Web, cell phones, computer games, or e-mail and yet we remained perfectly sane. An airplane was something you rushed out of doors to see, and it was only the local doctor who could afford a car. No washing machines, refrigerators, microwaves, or telephones, disturbed the peace. No Big Macs, no pizzas, no TV dinners! Central heating was unknown as was air-conditioning. We had no i-pod, i-mac, no DVD, VCR, CD or even Hi-Fi. I remember a teacher telling me that the developing industries to get into were electronics and plastics, and although I nodded wisely it took me quite a while before I knew what the words even meant.

Another thing is that for an old person the world has a lot more living people in it. For a twenty-year-old anyone older than thirty becomes invisible. In fact, I remember a movie that was, I think, playing in the 60’s, in which anyone older than thirty was sent off to a happy farm, where they were fed on happy pills to keep them out of the way.

You know when you are getting old when

  • It seems that every other week you are having another birthday.
  • When the real meaning of “Happy returns of the day” strikes you for the first time.
  • When you find yourself in the middle of a room wondering why and how you got there.
  • When you start talking about one thing and end up talking about something quite different.
  • When an elderly lady gives you her seat on the metro.
  • When you no longer save Xmas wrappings for next Xmas.
  • When your doctor looks like a teenager.
  • When you do not buy green bananas anymore.
  • When doing up your shoelaces is the major accomplishment of the day.

A very well known koan is the one where a monk goes to a master and asks, “How can I get away from the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter?” If he had been an old monk he might well have asked, “How can I get away from the aches in the morning and the pains at night?” As you probably know the maser said, “Go where there is no heat in summer and cold in winter.” ‘Oh!” replied the monk, “Where is that?” “When in summer, sweat; when in winter, shiver.” So where do we go to find where there is no ache in the morning or pain at night?

I remember when, during my last trip to England, I visited my old aunt. She was ninety-three years old at the time, living on her own and fiercely independent and during the past couple of years had kicked out two social workers who had come to help look after her because they got in her way. She had been recently discharged from hospital after suffering a touch of food poisoning. In the latter part of her life, she had been back and forth to the hospital several times for various ailments and certainly knew the aches in the morning and the pains at night. I asked her, “How old are you, aunt?” “Ninety-three,” she said. “How old do you feel?” I continued. Without a pause, she flashed back, “Twenty-one!” and gave me the most beatific smile. I know just what she meant.

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Attention! – teisho 1329 – 2014

A Zen master was writing calligraphy and a visitor asked, ‘Please master, would you write some Zen wisdom.’ The master wrote, “Attention!” And the visitor asked that he write something more elaborate, more detailed. He explained that he wanted to put it on his wall and show people what Zen is all about. The master again wrote “Attention!”

This is what it is all about: attention, awareness. You must struggle constantly to be attentive, to be present, to be aware.

You have your own way of seeing the world, you see it through your own ideas. If you have certain ideas, you will see the world in a certain way; and if you have other ideas, you will see the world quite differently. We are constantly seeing through distorting ideas, that is our world. And this world is supported by expectations, by what we want to happen and what we do not want to happen. It is this constant jockeying of one idea against another that gives the feeling of the turmoil of the world. But it isn’t the turmoil of the world, it is the turmoil of our way of seeing the world.

Nisargadatta says: ‘Break the spell and be free.’ The ideas that we have are solidified and fixed by the words we use to articulate those ideas.

When you ask ‘who am I?’ a spell has already been cast. You have already set up the structure that is going to guide your attention in a certain direction. ‘What am I?’ The what immediately implies ‘some thing’. There must be something that corresponds to the what. You cannot grasp your true nature, you are it. When you lift your hand, the hand raising is you in action. There is no you apart from the hand raising.

The questioner asks, ‘how does one break the spell?’ and N. replies, ‘assert your independence in thought and action.’ Gurdjieff always said, ‘you forget yourself.’ Assert your independence, your autonomy, your ‘youness’. Remember yourself. You feel that ‘it’ is all. This is what sends you to sleep. Sleep is the abdication of you. N. ‘After all, all hangs on your conviction that what you see, hear, think and feel is real.’ You are convinced it is apart from you, that there is you and there is what you are seeing, with a chasm in between.

But if it is not real, then what is it? Again we have words, the word ‘real’ – something has to correspond to it. We feel that there is a condition which brings about reality. When we ask ‘Who am I? What am I?’ we are asking about reality. We want to know what is real that is called ‘me’.

This is the fundamental question, what is real? What is it that grants reality? What does it mean when we say ‘the world is real’? This is what you need to ask; commit the whole of yourself to this question.

There is not you and the world, there is not you and things, there are not things in the world. N. ‘Only your sense “I am”, although in the world, is not of the world. By no logic or imagination can you change “I am” into “I am not.” Then what are you? Probe this question, it should grip you so that you cannot sleep.

You are going to die – what does this mean? What is going to die? What is death? Once you realize that the world is your own projection, you are free of it. You do not need to free yourself from a world that does not exist except in your own imagination. So what is it that causes your suffering? You feel there is a cause and that the cause is independent of you.

N: ‘That which creates and sustains the world, you may call God or providence, but ultimately you are the proof that God exists, not the other way around. Before any question about God can be put, you must be there to put it.’ Before anything is, you are. Before your parents were born, what is your face? Before anything, there is your face: what is your face?

Every mode of perception depends on I am. See this and you are free.

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The cause of our sorrow is ego delusion

teisho 1313 -2013

It is important for us to take stock of what we are doing. We can get into a habitual routine. The sense of self gets into habits, patterns, ruts. How many times have you chanted: ‘the cause of our sorrow is ego delusion’? but how many times have you asked yourself, ‘what does this mean?’ And we also chant, ‘true self is no self.’ what does this mean? Examine this carefully, what does it mean?

If there is any door into the enigma of being, it is through allowing. Non-interference, just total vigilance. Whatever is there, one allows to be there. Anything that you do is going to be an illusion pitting itself against another illusion. There is no reward to practice, there is no winning, no line to step across. But one does not need a reward. How can you give something to someone who has it all already?

‘The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.’ The preferences being referred to here are the preference for comfort over discomfort, for security over insecurity, peace over conflict, certainty over uncertainty. The preference is a continuation of the illusion ‘I can do’, and that is a continuation of the ego delusion that causes all our suffering. This is not to say it all happens mechanically. On the contrary, there is a profound awareness out of which all our actions emerge. And this is made up of all our past experiences; this is why karma is important. What you are is the result of all you have done, all you have thought, all that you have hoped for. When you allow you no longer add to this accumulation. Allowing means you are no longer contributing to the karmic unfolding that you call your life. The belief that ‘I can do’ is the main distorting influence.

Nisargadatta says: ‘Keep very still and be aware of what comes to the surface of the mind’. This does not mean just keep your body still, although that, of course, is necessary. Keep still and be aware, keep still and allow – these two statements are not different. Allowing is pure awareness. Awareness is the basis of all; knowing is the foundation of all that is.

If you sit still and allow, the first thing that comes to the surface is tension, discomfort. We look around for ‘something’ to cling to. This is why vigilance is needed. It is not in experience that we will find what we are looking for. You believe in the illusion of being something and that is all the difference between you and Buddha. Let go, let go of clinging to something. It is because you prefer this rather than that that things come into being that appear to be separate from knowing. ‘Even slight distinctions’ set knowing and being far apart. To know by being is direct knowledge, it is based on the identity of the seer and the seen. As you sit now, there is awareness where there is no differentiation between awareness and the subject of awareness, they are one. The sense of self drops away, and awareness and subject are one.

True happiness is uncaused and does not disappear for lack of stimulation. It is not the opposite of sorrow, it includes sorrow and suffering. Once you see into this you no longer prefer joy to suffering, peace over conflict. When you allow something to happen, it is the allowing that is happiness, it is the letting go.

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The mindless-mindful state

Normally these blogs are based on a teisho, but when I was on my way to looking at the teishos on the website I noticed the blurb about Zen Gong – the magazine that was published in the earlier days of the Centre.   Sometimes Albert wrote an article for this magazine, and I looked through the titles. One caught my eye: “The mind is wonderfully pure and clear.”   I started to read it and immediately sentences caught my … I was going to say ‘attention’, but that does not cover those moments when something penetrates like an arrow. So this time the blog is based on an article from Zen Gong: he is commenting on Ta Hui’s teaching.


Two foreign elements: ‘I am’ and ‘something’, are joined as though it were a whole. Very simply, it is this impurity that is our suffering.

Our practice leads into the world, into the ambiguities and dilemmas of the world. It does not lead into a new world but into the old world made new. Instead of seeing ambiguities and dilemmas in a negative way, we see them as opportunities for creativity, a chance for dancing and songs to be the voice of the dharma. Ambiguity is only a barrier when we see the world in terms of either or, in terms of opposition, in terms of you or me, me or the world, me or God.

We are not trying to get rid of the discriminating, unreal, vain thoughts. Once we try to get rid of them, we make them real. Thoughts are not real but our interest in them and our identification with them, make them real. We must work from the purity of the mind.

When you are working from the purity of the mind these thoughts become more and more transparent. One always has these flitting thoughts going through the mind, they are products of the brain and quite outside our control – we don’t create them, but we do give them credence, attention, reality.

We must liberate ourselves from ourselves, from this knot we call the mind, this twisted tortured knot. And we do this by seeing into mindlessness, by seeing into the inherent purity of the mind.

To be mindful means one is totally present, but one can only be totally present when one is not constantly fidgeting with thoughts, feelings, and anxieties. This is the mindless-mindful state.

When Ta Hui talks about the inherent purity of the mind, he is not talking about an empty mind, a mind with nothing in it. …….. we are not trying to develop a particular state of mind in which to dwell; there is not a fixed state of mind called awakening. Awakening is the absence of all fixed states, of all preferred states of mind.

He says: ‘Get to the root, don’t worry about the branches’. Don’t worry about trying to resolve all the various problems of life – life is trouble, life is a problem. We can see life in the perspective of purity or we can see it in the perspective of duality. Getting to the root is cutting out the belief in something which by its very presence creates other somethings, and these are often in opposition with each other, and so we get conflict, suffering, pain, then anger and greed, and in general, human existence.

To purify the mind one must see into the mind as inherently pure. One must see into ‘from the beginning, not a thing is.’ The impure mind is the mind of things. It is the mind that has thoughts fixed with words so that things then take on an independent existence. One must see into the inherent purity of the mind, which is knowing without the sheath of knowledge.

When one sees that true self is no self, ‘I am’ freed from ‘something’, the sense of being obstructed, the sense of having barriers, drops away. No obstruction is liberation.

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