Sunday, December 30, 2007

Don't care too much about sitting Zen.

It's easy to be caught by ideas of how special or important sitting is, of how beneficial it might be to 'all beings.'

All beings are not served by the self-serving sitter with such ideas in mind.
To do this is to believe that one's knowledge of a thing is as valuable as the thing itself.

Apprehending a butterfly, we have created an illusory butterfly of conception, we do not experience a real insect. It's only when pre-conceptions are dropped-off, of butterflies, of seeing, seer and seen that something real can flutter away unimpeded.

Sitting Zen has a beneficial effect throughout the universe, I know this so I will do it, simply do it, without thinking.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sometimes we say 'I've got nothing to lose.' It seems to free us to make a decision to do something.

If we feel we have something to lose, we often don't do whatever we are considering for fear of being diminished in some way. The more we feel we have to lose the less we do that might put it at risk. We become paralysed by our ideas.

But it's the unknown and unexpected that moves the world forward. Spinning the wheel of chance is in every instant, it's the joy of life, the blossoming in each moment of billions of causes, billions of effects in an unknoweably brilliant pageant.

When we act with nothing to lose we have cast off impeding ideas. We may have our lives to lose but what is it, our life? What is it, losing? This doesn't mean acting stupidly or without sensitivity to what we experience, it means not to be afraid, we only had an illusion of control after all.

Is it possible that in this instant, what I am experiencing may cease? Of course but not now, perhaps in the future but not now.

As life ends, what will happen? It is ceasing, it is ceasing....

Monday, December 10, 2007

The target has already struck the archer.

The spirals of samsara are an arrow in flight

but what from and what to?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Consciousness of a seperate self doesn't really exist, its illusory, like cats, roads and clowns. You can touch something, smell something, watch something but what is it really, beyond our massively limiting conception? Can we free experience from our self-imposed perceptual limitations?

To notice that the 'self' is constructed is just like this. To experience a non-dual state forces the question of what our constructed life is and we discover that 'everything that we see or seem' to coin a phrase is constructed. That what remains is shunyata / emptiness or Dogen's 'One Bright Pearl.'

There is a clear undivided state which we are not really aware of, which excludes too much of the kind of 'thinking' that constructs an imaginary agent of the self and keeps us close to the middle where opposites disappear. This is a state maintained by zazen and the middle way between extremes. But the truth is we wobble between states all the time. Just as in zazen we are dynamic and 'consciousness' shifts between dual and non dual states. We wiggle along and that wiggling maintains the state of balance. But do we maintain it or not?

The analogy of the bell with zazen is good. We strike the bell in the morning and the sound is loud then diminishes slowly until the evening when we strike it again then it dimishes again overnight then bong! But taken over a lifetime this striking and diminishing doesn't sound like notes struck then their diminuendo, it sounds like one continuous note.

The only moment in which we can actualise the teaching of Buddhism is in this moment. A lifetime of moments in which Buddhism has been actualised is a Buddhist life.

Not doing wrong, right is allowed to do itself.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Fukan-Zazengi (Rufu-Bon - The Popular Edition - Trans. Mike Chodo Cross)

Now, when we research it, the truth originally is all around: why rely upon practice and experience? The vehicle for the fundamental exists naturally: where is the need to expend effort? Furthermore, the whole body far transcends dust and dirt: who could believe in the means of sweeping and polishing? In general, we never depart from the place where we should be: of what use, then, are the tiptoes of training?

However, if there is a thousandth or a hundredth of a gap, heaven and earth are far apart, and if a trace of disagreement arises, we lose the mind in confusion. Even if, proud of our understanding and richly endowed with enlightenment, we obtain special states of insight, attain the truth, clarify the mind, manifest a zeal that pierces the sky, and ramble through those remote spheres that are entered with the head; we have almost completely lost the vigorous path of getting the body out.

Moreover, remembering the natural sage of Jetavana park, we can [still] see the traces of his six years of upright sitting. We can still hear rumours of the transmitter of the mind-seal at Shaolin, spending nine years facing the wall. The ancient saints were like that already: how could people today fail to practice wholeheartedly?

So cease the intellectual work of studying sayings and chasing words. Learn the backward step of turning and reflecting light. Body and mind naturally drop off, and the original face appears. If we want to attain the matter of the ineffable, we should urgently practice the matter of the ineffable.

In general, a quiet room is good for Zen practice, and food and drink are taken in moderation. Abandon all involvements. Give the myriad things a rest. Do not think of good and bad. Do not care about right and wrong. Stop the driving movement of mind, will, consciousness. Cease intellectual consideration through images, thoughts, and reflections. Do not aim to become a buddha. How could it be connected with sitting or lying down?

Usually on the place where we sit we spread a thick mat, on top of which we use a round cushion. Either sit in the full lotus posture or sit in the half lotus posture. To sit in the full lotus posture, first put the right foot on the left thigh, then put the left foot on the right thigh. To sit in the half lotus posture, just press the left foot onto the right thigh. Let clothing hang loosely and make it neat. Then place the right hand over the left foot, and place the left hand on the right palm. The thumbs meet and support each other.

Just sit upright, not leaning to the left, inclining to the right, slouching forward, or arching backward. It is vital that the ears vis-à-vis the shoulders, and the nose vis-à-vis the navel, are caused to oppose each other. Let the tongue spread against the roof of the mouth. Let the lips and teeth come together. The eyes should be kept open. Let the breath pass imperceptibly through the nose.

Having regulated the physical posture, breathe out once, and sway left and right. Sit still, "Thinking that state beyond thinking." "How can the state beyond thinking be thought?" "Non-thinking." This is the vital art of sitting-zen.

What is called sitting-zen, sitting-meditation, is not meditation that is learned. It is the Dharma-gate of effortless ease. It is the practice and experience that gets to the bottom of the Buddha's enlightenment. The laws of the Universe are realized, around which there are no nets or cages. To grasp this meaning is to be like a dragon that has found water, or like a tiger before a mountain stronghold. Remember, true reality spontaneously emerges, and darkness and dissipation vanish at a stroke.

If we rise from sitting, we should move the body slowly. Rise with calm confidence. We should not be hurried or violent.

We see in the past that those who transcended the profane and transcended the sacred, and those who died while sitting or died while standing, relied totally on this power. Moreover, changing of the moment through the action of a finger, a pole, a needle, or a wooden clapper; and exact experience of the state through the manifestation of a whisk, a fist, a staff, or a shout, can never be understood by thinking and discrimination. How could they be known through mystical powers or practice and experience? They may be dignified behaviour beyond sound and form. How could they be anything other than a criterion that precedes knowing and seeing?

Therefore, we do not discuss intelligence as superior and stupidity as inferior. Let us not choose between clever persons and dimwits. If we make effort devotedly, that is just wholehearted pursuit of the truth. Practice-and-experience is naturally untainted. The direction of effort becomes more balanced and constant.

In general, in this world and in other worlds, in India and in China, all equally maintained the Buddha-seal, and solely indulged in the fundamental custom: they simply devoted themselves to sitting, and were caught by the still state.

Although there are myriad distinctions and thousands of differences, we should devote ourselves solely to Zen practice in pursuit of the truth. Why should we abandon our own sitting platform, to come and go without purpose through the dusty borders of foreign lands?

If we misplace one step we pass over the moment of the present. We have already received the essential pivot which is the human body: let us not pass time in vain. We are maintaining and relying upon the pivotal essence which is the Buddha's truth: who could wish idly to enjoy sparks from flint? What is more, the body is like a dewdrop on a blade of grass. Life passes like a flash of lightning. Suddenly it is gone. In an instant it is lost.

I beseech you, noble friends in learning through experience, do not grow used to images and doubt the real dragon. Apply yourself to the path which is directly indicated and straightforward. Revere a person who is beyond study and spontaneous. Accord with the enlightened state of the buddhas. Authentically succeed to the samadhi of the ancestors. If you practice the ineffable for a long time, you will be ineffable. The treasure-house will naturally open, for you to receive and use as you like.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Master Yakusan Igan was asked by a layperson: "Tell me, what is the essence of Buddhism?"
Master Yakusan replied: "Don't do wrong, do right."
The layperson said "That's stupid. A child of two could understand that."
Master Yakusan replied: "A child of two could understand it but this man of 80 years cannot practise it."

When Master Yakusan speaks about right and wrong he doesn't mean anything that we might infer from our Greek Classical/Judaeo-Christian moral notions. There is some element of faith when we begin practising zazen and learning what our life is that if we practise zazen we do not do wrong but very soon we start to realise that it's true. Avoiding the many kinds of wrong we find that right does itself.

Practising zazen, the whole of experience practises zazen, everything manifests the state of zazen. We can chant the sutra, make our vows but they are already true - we are in the real act of making it true, reciting our verse, after practising zazen.

Zazen as the pure lack of trying to gain, practising without an improving idea, whether it be 'to act right' around people or whatever, is a practise of shedding, endlessly shedding, beliefs, words, ideas, loves and hates.


A zero sum equation cancels itself out. The point of balance on a weighing scale is a point in which opposites, becoming equal, are cancelled. The emptiness from which mathematics springs, the zero point on the abacus is 'shunya' in Sanskrit. Shunyata, emptiness, the state of the middle way, the state of balance.

We don't know something or what to do. We are free to do without knowing.

That state can only be expressed now. The now of a person wanting to get enlightenment is the same now as the now of a Buddha. The state of zazen is the state of Buddha.

Buddhism is a vital tradition of reflecting what is true in all kinds of ways, a whisk, a staff, a road, a car.... These expressions point to the truth of reality which is here, undeniable.

The state expresses a question, an opening that pronounces a wordless, unformed question.

The Buddha said 'like a mouth hanging open in space.'

Theoretical or abstract thinking creates a gap between what we are and what we think we are. What we think we are is not real. What we think is not real, it's thinking. Our life is not what we think it is, it is what it is.

The past has gone, the future has not happened yet, all that we can verify is this moment of consciousness. This is not the kind of moment we can imagine which is static, it is dynamic, kinetic. Like walking next to a river, we're out of step with the flow. Practising sitting-zen, the river buoys us up and carries us along, we don't have to worry.

One can imagine the qualities of a good Buddhist but a Buddhist has no qualities. The moment has no qualities, it is. Fear is like this, we can only be afraid of something we think exists, not of something that really exists. A shark for instance is frightening in imagination, in the real world it is something completely different, a real shark. Paralysed by our imagination, we fail to simply swim away and get consumed by what is real.

Whether we live for a day like a Mayfly or ten thousand years like the eternal Buddha of imagination, reality remains indivisible in this instant - 'One Bright Pearl' as Master Dogen puts it. Both life and death have the capability to frighten us but like the shark of imagination, real life and real death exist in a different dimension to that of thought.

Our true existence is so rich that nihilism has no place in it. Emptiness, the world without qualities is immense, boundless. We have the tools to inherit it but our precious little minds would keep us in fear. In sitting, discard all tethers and allow yourself the freedom that is the natural state of existence.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Revealing the universe to be originally one piece, separateness has already vanished as nothing more than an idea we've been holding onto.

But what comes with all this light, colour and noise? What shall we call it before it has a name?

The world sitting as one piece expresses itself through the eyes and ears, the nose, the skin, bones and flesh of this monk.

There it is, birds, trees, flowers, roads, myself and others.....

Monday, April 30, 2007

It is a common misconception (derived from practitioner's of zazen's best attempts to explain their practise) that there is a state of perfection attainable through the practise of zazen and the study of Buddhism. Notionally, the Buddha was a perfected being who had awoken to the state of reality and thus transcended the afflictions and suffering of the rest of humanity. It's difficult to shake this very attractive idea as an idea, it's propagated all over the world as 'Buddhism' after all. However the problem here is in the subtle interpretation and understanding in experience of this concept of transcendence.

Afflictions and suffering are an intrinsic part of the real state of humanity thus the Buddha had awoken also to these. His transcendence was not deliverance, much less spiritual and much more real.

Because we are averse to experiences we regard as unpleasant and gravitate towards experiences we regard as pleasant, the fact that the Buddha was not delivered from the painful, dirty and shameful aspects of life seems disappointing.

In the West we want our 'spiritual' icons to be like Christ, that particular icon so firmly welded into our hearts and imagination. The Buddha's deliverance however wasn't hard won through crucifixion and his reward not delivered in heaven but was revealed in meditation, his deliverance an earthly one. This is like catnip to the me generation - no suffering, deliverance and reward on earth! Indeed many newcomers to Buddhism sense a positive change in their mentality, stress levels, relationships and physical wellbeing and some stop there, practising Buddhism as little more than a kind of take-it or leave-it self-help.

But Buddhists believe that the Buddha awoke to the real state of experience, beyond it's names and description, beyond our unreliable feelings and concepts about it. He experienced this unnameable reality, all that we experience as human beings including all the unpleasantness but he was aware-to, intrinsically connected with all that he experienced. Perceiving that the notional world he'd generated was different from reality, fully experiencing that reality and understanding in experience that this clear state could be maintained by the middle way, he practised and taught this. Some choose to call this big consciousness or something like that, a boundless, expansive awareness that includes everything in experience as itself or 'thus-self' if that's not confusing.

With this awareness of real experience he could not but practise for all of experience, it is impossible to practise for the betterment of a self that becomes difficult to identify as seperate in this context. This does not mean that the self 'vanishes' but merely that it is understood that the self as we conceive it, is a collection of concepts and unreliable reactions, instinct and feeling, artificially divided from experience, it's still us though, we still experience it and ourselves through the prism of all that unreliability.

Reality however is us, it is always in motion at macro and microcosmic levels - balance in that activity allows us to wobble along the tightrope of existence as best we can, not with a notion of compassion and wisdom but actually as the substance of such terms itself which is quite simply not what we think it is. Maintaining and practising this state, there is no space for a conceptual self to march around doing 'good' or being 'mindful' but the very actual activity of wobbling along as best we can maintaining that bigger consciousness is what is meant by those words in the real world.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

There are some problems in the apparently simple practise of finding the posture.

The way we do it is using the same ability of proprioception and feeling that we use to walk upright, to swim and run. But if those qualities were reliable, none of us would walk with stoops or hunch over our computers, none of us would be depressed or unnecessarily angry. We'd find ourselves straight and simple in all our activities. So how can we find the posture? How can we find it not merely on the cushion but everywhere in our experience?

Our practise is not a physical one. It is not a mental one. It is a practise based on real activity in the real world. The agent for this is a psychophysical unity which cannot be separated from its environment, from its experience. What that unity actually does, affects everything in it's experience, it fundamentally changes the nature of existence. In this instant, we are completely free to act and if we choose to accept the truth, there is a great responsibility in that action.

Our answer to this, as sitters or Buddhists or whatever you want to call it, is to accept the real nature of our existence as we experience it. In order to do this we have to stop doing things that prevent us from accepting the real nature of existence. We find a point of balance, not aggressive not passive, not overfed not underfed, not optimistic not pessimistic - we find the middle way that corresponds to the real state of our experience. It is a point where all attributes, all opinions vanish and there is only real experience that we can respond to as the circumstances require without bringing something complicated and constructed called our 'selves' to act for us.

But, if we accept zazen as the standard for our experience then our human problems of unreliable proprioception and feeling are crucial. They are the biggest problems in practise. How can we find the posture in experience? Continual practise? Working with a good teacher? Both those things certainly but ultimately, this is the question we are always asking. Perhaps the value is in simply continuing to ask the question that cannot be answered.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Is zazen a process of undoing and to what extent can that process be a conscious one?

We describe our practise as 'just sitting' but how accurate a description is that of a human being on a cushion?

I can't answer these questions entirely here but this is the first salvo.

When I sit in the morning or in the evening, sometimes my head feels as if it is spinning with rationalisation of the day's events, with anticipation of events to come, with dreams of the future, regrets and so on. There is a direct correlation between these states and physical being whether that is a slumped lower spine, tension around the neck and shoulders, hunching. Perhaps all of these physical and mental, or rather psychophysical states are positions of rigidity, habitual positions we take in order to attempt to grasp something of our lives...perhaps.

We are directed in zazen to sit upright, our spines supported by a cushion that also tilts our pelvis forward. We create a stable triangular base with our legs, full or half lotus or the Burmese position. With our hands we form the mudra just below our navel. Personally I then sense the crown of my head as the top of my spine and adjust my posture so that I find balance with spine aligned vertically in space, not pressing or pushing, just gently sensing it this way (this is not always reliable which is why a teacher can help us to lose bad habits and find that ordinary aligned position.)

Then we sit, comfortably, allowing the posture of zazen to educate us physically, mentally and finally to free us of both of those bindings. The key aspect of practising zazen is to notice what it is that is preventing you from practising zazen which sounds like a contradiction but when we sit we notice that we are holding tension in areas of our body, that we are continually returning to a familiar pattern of thought. Noticing these aspects has the effect of freeing us from them. But actively trying to diminish tension or avoid thinking has the opposite effect of compounding these areas of rigidity into an immoveable object. The key is to permit the state of 'just sitting' to manifest itself without interfering.

Sometimes, when we've ceased to hold these perceived mental and physical states captive, we can become completely free in this instant of the present. Edges vanish, the whole being sits calmly in the same state of experience or reality as the entire universe. A very plain, very ordinary state of existence with nothing added to it, nothing preventing it from being.

It is a subtle practise, a lifetime's work but it is also immediately available to anyone who wishes to sit on a cushion and practise it.

Monday, February 12, 2007

What is the nature of consciousness? What is true in our experience?

We derive great meaning from the world we have constructed for ourselves but what is it, actually? What is 'being'?

Do the levels of meaning we ascribe to our experience have any reality at all?

We are human beings, we live in a world of symbols that we interpret constantly to exist in a civilised state. The symbols we've created divide us from reality, the language we've created to express these symbols and their interpretation to one another divides us further from reality. Our relationship with this world of symbols has a powerful effect on our psychophysical state.

When we say 'It is a dark and rainy morning - it makes me feel depressed' we are expressing a reaction to environment in words that convey something but nothing even approaching the reality of the situation. Indeed our very framing of the concept is based on so many conventions that it has ceased to mean very much at all. Our very experience is altered by our concepts such that experience in this context ceases to have the flavour of reality. However without our commonly agreed conventions of language and thought we cannot communicate. To be human is in part to be communicators. Our communication seems to be reductive and inaccurate to the point of nonsense. True experience is incommunicable in this way - true experience is a transmission, an exchange in reality with language and symbols merely a crude and superficial backdrop.

Even the most primitive of responses - to pain, to fear, to lust and so on are to a certain extent conditioned. We imagine them, as primordial instinct to be somehow pure and devoid of interpretation but this is not true. In this case we would have no irrational fears. even what we might call real fears like that of death is predicated on invention. We cannot know what death is but we associate it with pain and fear and the end of something. But, like life itself we cannot know death until we die but will we know it even then? We cannot penetrate the truth of experience with what we call and cherish as our human 'mind' we can only do it with our whole being. We can express our intention to experience reality by permitting the frenetic, driven movement of thought and will to become still, to fall away and in this to notice the nature which is essential.

At the heart of pain, of lust, of fear is something which does not feel pain, lust or fear, something still at the heart of movement, cool in the midst of heat, calm in the midst of fury, undying perhaps at the heart of dying. Beyond contradictions of this nature is something true that cannot be expressed, it may be the only truth. Peering over this parapet of conceptual safety is vertiginous but ultimately shatters preconceptions to reveal something quite different from concepts, shining in this moment of the present.

Un-processed experience is what a human being is before it begins to frame concepts about that experience and forever divide itself from an undivided consciousness which originally identifies it.

What is it, in itself, without anything else? Who can answer this?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What is called 'entering the stream' is passing away with all things. The state in which all things exist is passing away in each moment - coming into existence and passing away instantly.

To exist in our original state, that of the instantaneous universe from which we are not separate, coming into existence and passing away in each instant, is the practise of Buddhas. Buddhas are nothing but existence passing away in each instant. Each instant of existence is nothing but Buddha passing away.

An experiential name for this could be unhindered awareness where no perspectives are held, nothing is held. The proprietary 'self' and the universe of meaning it inhabits that we artificially create has completely vanished into experience.

Passing away is also a description of activity in zazen, sensations arise and we let them go, thoughts arise and, if we allow them to, also pass away.

If we practise passing away, we become passing away.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The practise of zazen cannot make human beings hard as iron against the vicissitudes of life. It cannot arm them to fight battles or make them impervious to the inevitable pain of life. It does not make benign, world honoured beings who have transcended suffering.

Zazen lets the light of existence seep into shrouded skulls, flesh and bones. It allows experience to permeate so that artificially created edges become difficult to define, become permeable and eventually vanish. They were never really there.

Ceasing to define things and self in opposition to them, ceasing to make distinctions and artificial divisions of self from experience of which we were ever a part and unfold into the truth that, in its eternal benevolence, was always waiting for us, always was us, always is us.