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.