Friday, November 28, 2008

Mirror of Sŏn, Ch 1


Mirror of Sŏn
by Sŏsan Taesa Hyujŏng (淸虛休靜) 1520-1604
The 63rd Acestor in my Korean Zen Lineage
Master Sōsan considered Buddhist texts to be of the paramount importance to his students. Yet he also knew that the vast library of Buddhist sutras and commentarial literature could also become obstacles to an experiential attainment of Buddhism. In his introduction to this text he explained “...the Buddhist sutras are as numerous as the sea is vast and this causes much concern. Buddhists in the future will have to sort through too many leaves and branches in order to discover the essence. Therefore, I have extracted and summarized several hundred passages from various texts and I have written them down in one book.” His valuable words of wisdom have been a constant inspiration to Korean Sŏn monks and continue to be so now.
Chapter One

Right here, right now, from the very beginning, there is only one thing. Constantly clear and unexplained, having never been born and having never died, it cannot be named or described.

Commentary

What is the “one thing?” The ancestors said: “Before the Buddhas of the past were born, there has always been this one thing, simple and ethereal. So how could Mahākāśyapa have transmitted it?” Even Śākyamuni did not understand it.

Consequently, this “one thing” has never been born and has never died. It cannot be named or conceptualized. The Sixth Ancestor said to his assembly, “I have one thing. It has no name and no form. Do any of you recognize it?” Chán Master Shenhuì came forward and said, “It is the source of all Buddhas. It is my Buddha Nature.” This is the reason that Shenhuì was not considered as Huìnéng’s legitimate dharma heir. When Master Nányuè came from Mt. Sung, Ancestor Huìnéng asked him, “What is it that has come here?” Nányuè was confused. After eight years, he finally responded, “To call it ‘one thing is not correct.” This is how he became a Dharma-heir of Huìnéng.

Verse

the masters of the three teachings
all came forth from this phrase.
if you try to demonstrate it,
you must watch your step
otherwise, the hair of your eyebrows
will fall out.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Perfect Enlightenment Sutra


Chapter One,


This is Buddha's verse to Manjusri in answer to his question on the nature of the enlightened mind.


Manjusri, you should know
that all those who have thus come
and thus gone,
from their original–arising causal ground,
use wisdom to enlighten
and penetrate ignorance.
Realizing that ignorance is like
a flower in the sky,
they are thus liberated from the continuing
cycle of birth and death.
Like a person seen in a dream who
cannot be found when the dreamer awakens,
awareness is like empty space.
It is impartial and equal, and ever unmoving.
When enlightenment pervades all ten directions,
the Buddha Path is accomplished.
There is no place where illusions vanish,
and there is no attainment
in accomplishing the Buddha Path,
for the intrinsic nature is already wholly complete.
By this, bodhisattvas
can give rise to the bodhi–mind.
Sentient beings in the Dharma Ending Age
through this practice will avoid erroneous views.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

subtle form



I usually post my poetry on my chan poetry blog, but this one I felt like posting here.


a subtle form which defies explanation.
there is a place that we each can go,
a shelter beyond the mundane existence
that seems to rule our lives.
it is the existence of eternity,
it is the face of infinity
that we fear.
yet this infinite presence
is with us each moment
and with each breath that we take.
I can see it in the shadows
of the large eucalyptus trees,
and I can hear it in the echo
of the albatross' song,
I can feel it in the warmth of the
mid-day sun against my skin,
it is timeless,
it is breathless,
it is beyond thought
and beyond understanding.
and yet you know
of what I speak
is true
and tangible
in this world of great illusion.
it is the name
of the nameless,
and the face
of the faceless.
and yet our lives
spring forth from it
every second that we breathe.
I can't define it,
or you or me
in the quantum physics
of a universe gone mad,
and yet I am simple
and present
and beyond any concept
that I had a moment ago.
but concepts are many
and our ideas become rampant,
it is in the quiet time of this peace
that overcomes me like a wave,
I don't ask for it,
I only know of it
I can't say it
or know it
or hold it in my hands.
but I know full well
with my entire existence,
that what I speak of exists
in a tangible way.
there is doubt
and there is belief
but what I have is faith
beyond measure.
it is borne on the wings
of a truth built on now.
and in this now
lies the entire cosmos
laid bare for all of us to see.
it is here
and not someplace else
that we come to find ourselves.
and in that instant
that we find it
then we know who we are,
and our loved ones
and our cherished ones
are safe
and protected from harm.

photo: Copyright Manisha Sharma Mount Haleakala, Maui, HI

Monday, November 24, 2008

Kōan Practice


One of the core tenants of many Zen Buddhist Sects is Koan practice. The original concept of Koan, although associated with Buddhist practice in the West is not strictly a Buddhist term and translated means “a public case,” “a public exchange,” “a public situation,” or “a public document.” The pronunciation of the Chinese characters for Koan is Gong-àn in Chinese or Koan in Japanese. The common use for this word comes from ancient China, and referred to a situation when copies of a government document were produced, the scribe would use a “chop” or seal on the copy in such a way that half of the seal was on the original document and half was on the copied document. This would allow for future verification of the authenticity of the copy by matching the two halves of the seal.

In the Zen tradition, Koan has come to mean that the aspirant’s understanding of a question put forth in one of the ancient collections of Zen stories such as the Blue Cliff Record, is metaphorically one-half of the collective understanding (the copy’s seal;) and this matches the teacher’s understanding of that same question (the original’s seal), which is the other metaphorical half of the collective understanding. When the aspirant and teacher share the same understanding it is called a mind-to-mind connection.

Then to practice Koans correctly, means to ponder over the ancient Zen exchanges between Zen teachers and their students. By understanding the Koan’s essential point at the moment of attainment, means that the aspirant’s Koan insight has come to fruition. In the ancient days of Zen practice in China there was no actual exchange called Koan practice between teacher and student; but eventually, a future Chán Ancestor named Nanyue Huáiràng, came to visit Dàjing Huìnéng, the sixth Chán Ancestor of Zen Buddhism and their historical conversation became the root of what we now understand as Zen Koan practice. In this conversation Huìnéng asked Huáiràng, “Where do you come from?” Huáiràng replied that he came from Sung Shan (Sung Mountain). Huìnéng asked again, “What is this thing that has come here?” Huáiràng tried but could not answer. This became the first systematic use of a Koan in the Chinese Zen tradition and the seemingly imponderable “what is this?” became the big question for Huáiràng. It took him more than eight years to eventually understand the full meaning of Huìnéng’s question.

Consequently, future generations of Zen teachers began to see the efficacy of asking their student’s such imponderable questions and started to peruse the ancient Buddhist literature for evidence of situations in history which could become the basis of reflection by future Zen students. A few examples that were discovered in Sutras and Shastras are as follows: Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree for seven years entertaining a big question: what is life, and what is death? Also, many years after the last Indian Ancestor of Buddhism named Bodhidharma had arrived in China, Dazu Huìke, who was to become the first Chinese Chán Ancestor, sought to study with the enigmatic teacher. Bodhidharma had settled in a cave on Sung Mountain in central China and had been meditating for nine years by just staring at the wall. At first Bodhidharma refused to even acknowledge Huìke’s presence. But Huìke was earnest and tried many things to get the teachers attention, eventually, out of desperation and to show that he was sincere in his quest, he cut off his arm and presented it to Bodhidharma.

Upon seeing this, Bodhidharma asked him, “What do you want?” Huìke said, “My mind is not at ease. Please pacify my mind.” Bodhidharma said, “Bring me your mind and I will pacify it.” Huìke didn’t understand and so replied: “When I look for my mind I cannot find it.” “There,” said Bodhidharma, “I have pacified it for you.” At this, Huìke attained enlightenment; consequently, this question, “What is mind?,” has become an inspiration for Zen students for more than fifteen hundred years.

Many other questions came out of the ancient stories. Notably some of those questions were, what is this, what is life, what is death, and lastly what is mind. All of these questions eventually became Koans and Zen teachers started to use these questions to tailor their own style of practice.

Koans are not special or magical in and of themselves; they have been developed as a method Zen Teachers use to teach students about the correct situation, the correct function, and the correct relationship of a given situation. Furthermore, they are used to teach students to function correctly in their everyday lives. However, occasionally an ancient Zen Masters’ response to a question was purposefully incorrect, in this case the teacher used the situation to teach correct function and correct direction to the student in the story. An example of this type of Koan would be Zhàozhou’s answer when asked by a monk whether a dog has Buddha-nature or not. His response of (“WU!” or “no”) is not correct, but he used the monk’s question to teach the monk about correct direction. Yet another example occurred while two monks were arguing over their perception as to whether a flag was moving or the breeze was moving. Master Huìnéng, the Sixth Chán Ancestor, who overheard this conversation, said to the two monks, “It is your mind that is moving.” Even though, Chán Master Huìnéng’s response is not precisely correct, he used this statement, "It is neither the wind nor the flag which moves it is your mind that is moving," in an effort to teach these two monks about correctly perceiving things as they are.

Still another example is found in the Lecture at Vulture Peak when Sakyamuni Buddha simply held up a single flower instead of delivering a lecture as he had done in the past. None of the twelve hundred monks gathered at the assembly understood the meaning of this simple action. Eventually, Mahàkàsyapa smiled. Then the Buddha said to Mahàkàsyapa, “I give to you my all–pervading true dharma, incomparable nirvana, exquisite teaching of formless form. Not dependent on words, a transmission outside the sutras, this I give to you.” This response from Buddha was also not correct, yet he said “my dharma I transmit to you” to illuminate the assembly about correct direction and point towards a correct livelihood.

This type of Koan practice is only one technique used to help Zen students to not be attached to correct answers or incorrect answers. Koans are used to perceive directly how to function correctly in everyday life. Furthermore, Koan practicing is only one of the techniques used in Zen. It is much like an analogy about different methods of eating. Americans eat using a knife and fork, Chinese people eat using chopsticks, Koreans like to use chopsticks and a spoon and Indians will use their hands; however, each of these groups end up with a full stomach regardless of which method they use to eat.

If the Zen aspirant is creating something special in his or her life, then that student will also have a problem understanding some aspect of Koan practic; so one use of Koan practice is to take away the student’s opinion. If the student can drop his or her opinion, it is then possible to manifest a mind that is clear like space. Furthermore, correct Zen practice shows up in the student’s ability to respond to each situation correctly and meticulously. It also means that the student must understand his or her correct job in this very moment. This means that moment–to–moment the correct relationship appears of itself. When Koan practice is correct, the moment–to–moment correct situation, correct function, and correct relationship will appear by itself.

If the student holds a Koan too tightly, or is attached to a Koan, or wants something from Koan practice, then he or she will end up with a big problem. Keeping one’s current Koan or “a don’t know mind,” moment after moment after moment without making anything, is by itself correct direction and correct life. The old-style Koans give the student a great gift in the form of a question like: What is life? What is death? What is mind? What is this moment?

Another aspect of Koan practice means keeping a great question along with having great faith and manifesting great courage. A great question means not holding on to intellectual–style thinking. An eminent teacher once said that, “Ten thousand questions are all one question.” This one question is distilled down to only don’t know which is no thinking at all. Each Koan is only a finger pointing to the moon. If the student is focusing on only the finger, then he or she don’t have a chance at perceiving the moon. Just remember that the most important thing is to keep a correct direction which is practicing “only don’t know.”

In Koan practice, there is no American mind, no old Chinese mind, no Korean mind, or not even Japanese mind, because correct Koan practicing keeps a before–thinking mind. Originally in the Golden Age of Zen, students would receive only one Koan from their teacher and practice for many years on this question. This original approach was to isolate yourself in some remote mountainous region, cut off completely from the outside world, and contemplate this one Koan while meditating, working, eating, sleeping, walking, sitting and lying down. Eventually, if the student’s aspiration was complete this question would lead the student to enlightenment.

Koan practice has transformed over the years and to achieve enlightenment or to not achieve enlightenment is no longer the goal. Koan practice is used to clarify the student’s direction, as well as helping in the student’s everyday life. Not attaching to a Koan is of paramount importance. Using Koans to function correctly will allow the student’s moment to moment mind to manifest clearly. It is important to relinquish everything: relinquish your opinion, relinquish your condition, and relinquish your situation by practicing constantly with a don’t know mind. This will allow a correct response to appear by itself. In the interview room hitting the floor or shouting KATZ is only a technique. Using these techniques are sometimes necessary, and sometimes they are not necessary, it is important for the student to perceive the situation correctly and the appropriate response will follow.

It can’t be overstated that approaching a Koan correctly is important and necessary. When a student doesn’t practice correctly, then the “I–my–me” mind appears, bringing with it competition and pride. If the student can correctly approach a Koan, then this kind of (analytical) thinking mind won’t appear. The student is required to throw away attachments to all conditions, opinions, and situations. It seems that most Zen students have a mind that is intellectual and very analytical which makes penetrating a Koan very difficult. Practicing correctly with Koans means to keep a mind that is very simple; and in simple mind, there is no “I–my–me.”

If the student’s everyday life is clear, then Koan practice is not necessary. Then Koan practice is no longer for us, it is then only used to teach students. Sometimes a senior student’s own life can be very clear, but they don’t understand how to teach newer students how to function correctly in their everyday lives. Also, these senior students don’t understand how to teach truth and correct way. But, when a student’s clear life, truth, and correct way come together in a meticulous way, then moment–to–moment, their life is manifest in a Koan. Only having a clear life is not enough to become an effective teacher. For example, eating only one kind of food all the time will result in having many physical and medical problems. The human body uses different kinds of food for a good balance, which results in a correct body.

There are four kinds of Koans which can be explained with a simple statement of “like this”. The first is “without like this.” “Without like this” means: true emptiness, primary point, silence and complete stillness. Examples of “without like this” Koans are: “What is true emptiness?” and “What is complete stillness?” The second type of Koan is “become one like this” which means to either shout KATZ!, or a demonstration of primary point or to hit the floor. An example of a “become one like this Koans” would be: “Buddha picked up a flower and Mahàkàsyapa smiled. What does this mean?” The third type of Koan is “only like this” which means the meaning is truth or the true function of primary point. Examples of this type of Koans are: “spring comes, grass grows by itself,” “3 x 3 = 9,” “what is Buddha,” or “three pounds of flax.” The fourth and last type is called “just like this,” this means just doing is correct life or one–point correct function. Examples of this type of Koans are: “go drink tea,” and “go wash your bowls.”

Understanding these four types of Koans in this way allows you freedom in your practicing. When the student enters the interview room; the teacher places a cup and a pen on the floor and asks if the cup and the pen are the same or different. The four kinds of “like this” answers could be:

· Without like this: maintain complete silence, a don’t know mind.
· Become one like this: hit the floor or shout KATZ!
· Only like this: saying “cup is cup, pen is pen.”
· Just like this: drink from the cup, write with the pen.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha


Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha (Sanskrit)
Dizhang Pusa (Chinese)
Ji-jang Bosal (Korean)

Kshitigarbha literally means "earth store bodhisattva." One of the four Great Bodhisattvas in Asian Buddhism. He is venerated in folk belief as a savior from the torments of hell and helper of the deceased. Sometimes he is also regarded as a protector of travelers. He is the only bodhisattva portrayed as a monk, however also with an urna (one of the thirty-two marks of perfection) on the forehead. His attributes are the wish-fulfilling gem and a monk's staff with six rings, which signifies that Dizhang Pusa stands by all beings in the six realms of existence.

Dizhang Pusa, through his supernatural power, can take on six different forms in order to help the beings of the six modes of existence. In a special ceremony, which is generally held on the 49th day after the death of a sangha member, the sangha member's next of kin invokes Dizhang Pusa in front of an ancestor tablet erected on behalf of the deceased and supplicates him to guide the deceased to the pure land of the Buddha Amitabha. Then follows the recitation of a mantra through which the deceased is summoned back so that he/she can hear the teachings expounded. The ceremony ends with the invocation of Amitabha Buddha and Dizhang Pusa.

Also Dizhang Pusa is well known for his vow: "If all sentient beings in hell are not released from the cycle of existence, I would never attain enlightenment." This is why Bodhisattvas are sometimes refered to as "Enligtening Beings."

According to certain Buddhist lore or myth, when someone dies they go to the place of the Ten Kings, wherever such place may be. Every seven days the Ten Kings serve as judges at a court. Seven times seven, they go to court. The judges ask the newly deceased, “What kind of good action did you do when you were alive and what kind of bad action did you do?” According to your good or bad action, a certain kind of rebirth is attained or you may be sent to a certain realm.

Of course, there is an inner meaning to all of this. At this time after someone dies, during this 49 period, their mind opens up in an unusual way and all of their karma comes before them. So their energies lead them in particular ways and they gravitate according to their energy pull toward those things that they need yet to learn in a rebirth. That is the inner meaning of this ‘judgment’ of the Ten Kings.

The Ten Kings dwell only in one’s own mind. Perhaps they may be viewed as ten levels of awareness. So if someone has made good karma then they go to a place that is good. If someone has made bad karma, they go to a place that is bad. But, if someone has perceived the essential true meaning that there is no birth and not death, then they perceive the Mind of No Hindrance and then coming and going is all just this Bodhisattva path or Bodhicitta “Altruistic Intention.”

So, this 49 day period has several aspects to it. In a sense this is not so much a ceremony or a period for us as it is a time to try to help the person who has died to keep a clear mind during this time before rebirth. We chant certain mantras and names of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to call on the mystic powers of those Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to help the dead person wake up and get enlightenment. There are certain Dharma speeches given during this time to remind the person to keep clear mind and perceive the essential true meaning of no life, no death. Also, besides offering the service to the person who has just died, we also make compassionate offerings toward all suffering beings in tall realms who are still wondering somewhere. We transfer the merit of any good karma that comes from this to our dearly departed love ones.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Transcendental Dependent Arising


The Pratītyasamutpāda is frequently used to explain how disquietude arises depending on codependent conditions, the inference being that if one or more of the conditions are removed (if the “chain” is broken), the disquietude will cease. This theory, which I discussed in my last web log post, is at the core of Mahayana Buddhism, and played a major role in Nāgārjuna’s Madhyamaka theories. Yet, there is a lesser known text in the Pali Cannon that discusses its polar opposite, which is loosely translated at “Transcendental Dependent Arising.” The name of the text is the Upanisa Sutta in the Samyutta Nikaya, in which the discussions of the conditions not for disquietude but for enlightenment are given.

These theories would be considered “dangerous” by the Zen Masters and it is no wonder that they never discussed them. Any set of ideas that can be construed as a formula to enlightenment is really just empty. I include these because they shed some light into a mystery that must be unraveled by each individual. If you attach to this, it will become an enormous hindrance; yet half the Buddhists in the world are following this path. So forgive me, and I couldn’t resist.

1. disquietude (dukkha)
2. faith (saddhā) “disquietude is the supporting condition for faith”
3. joy (pāmojja, pāmujja) “faith is the supporting condition for joy”
4. bliss (pīti) “joy is the supporting condition for bliss”
5. tranquillity (passaddhi) “bliss is the supporting condition for tranquillity”
6. happiness (sukha) “tranquillity is the supporting condition for happiness”
7. concentration (samādhi) “happiness is the supporting condition for concentration”
8. knowledge and vision (yathābhūta-ñāna-dassana) “concentration is the supporting condition for the knowledge and vision of things as they really are”
9. disenchantment (nibbidā) “knowledge and vision of things as they really are is the supporting condition for disenchantment”
10. dispassion (virāga) “disenchantment is the supporting condition for dispassion”
11. emancipation (vimutti) “dispassion is the supporting condition for emancipation”
12. knowledge of destruction (āsava-khaye-ñāna) “emancipation is the supporting condition for the knowledge of destruction”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dependent Origination




Dependent Origination (Dvādaśa-Astanga) 因緣

arising from conditions
從緣生
vanishing from conditions
從緣滅
if I exist, everything exists
我有便有
if I ceases to exist, everything also ceases to exist
我無便無

十二緣起 The Twelve Links In The Chain Of Existence
(Skt: Dvādaśanga Pratītyasamutpāda; the Twelve Nidānas)

While he was gaining freedom from that which gives rise to our own disquietude, Śākyamuni Buddha discovered that the cause of this disquietude was a continuum of twelve phases of conditioning that appear in a regular order. These twelve links in the chain of conditioned existence are.

1. 無明 Ignorance (skt: avidyā) ignorance, or delusion, which is sometimes represented as a blind person. rebirth consciousness: ignorance, as inherited passion from the beginning-less past

2. 行 Mental Formations (skt: samskāra) action-intentions, activity, conception and dispositions, which is sometimes represented as a potter at work, or man gathering fruit. rebirth consciousness: karma, good and evil, of past lives

3. 識 Consciousness (skt: vijñāna) consciousness, which is sometimes represented as a restless monkey. rebirth consciousness: conception as a form of perception

4. 名色 Name and Form (skt: nāmarūpa) name and form, which is sometimes represented as a boat. rebirth consciousness: nāmarūpa, or body and mind evolving (in the womb)

5. 六處 The Six Sense Realms (skt: sadāyatana) the six sense organs; eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind, which is sometimes represented as a house. rebirth consciousness: the six organs on the verge of birth

6. 觸 Touch (skt: sparśa) contact or touch, which is sometimes represented as a man and woman sitting together. rebirth consciousness: childhood whose intelligence is limited to sparśa, contact or touch

7. 受 Sensation (skt: vedanā) sensation and feeling, which is sometimes represented as a man pierced by an arrow. rebirth consciousness: receptivity or budding intelligence and discrimination from 6 or 7 years

8. 愛 Desire (skt: trsnā) thirst, desire and craving, which is sometimes represented as a man drinking wine. Sensual pleasures and the desire for existence or non-existence as in the case of the atman and the anatman. rebirth consciousness: thirst, desire, or love, age of puberty

9. 取 Clinging (skt: upādāna) laying hold of, grasping, which is sometimes represented as a couple in union. The pull of sense objects which contain all meta-narratives such as God, Christ-consciousness, Buddha-nature, ceremony, rituals and permanence. rebirth consciousness: the urge of sensuous existence

10. 有 Existence (skt: bhava) being, existing and becoming, which is sometimes represented as existence through childbirth. rebirth consciousness: existence through childbirth

11. 生 Birth (skt: jāti) birth, which is sometimes represented as a man carrying a corpse. rebirth consciousness: birth, a man carrying a corpse

12. 老死 Old Age, Suffering and Death (skt: jarāmaraõa) old age and death, (impermanence), which is sometimes represented as an old woman leaning on a stick. rebirth consciousness: old age and death

In this order, the prior situation is the condition for the arising of the next situation. Also, in the same order, if the prior condition is extinguished, the next condition is extinguished. These twelve links are also represented in a chart, at the center of which are the serpent (anger), boar (ignorance, or stupidity), and dove (lust) representing the fundamental desires. Each catches the other by the tail, typifying the train of desire and producing the wheel of samsara.

It is important to realize that when one link of the chain appears, all others are there. When one link of the chain disappears, they all disappear. Our human existence in any given moment is dependent on the situation of everything in the cosmos at that moment. Buddha said it this way.

it is enlightenment nature,
above is the dwelling place of the Buddhas
below are the six realms of existence,
one by one, each thing has it.
one by one, each thing is complete,
it and dust interpenetrate.
it has always been apparent, in all things,
without trying, you are already complete

The Five Classifications of Meditation



The major classifications of meditative practices as set forth by Zen Master Kueifeng Zhongmi (780-841). Kueifeng fashi trained in Chán under a disciple of the Sixth Patriarch known as Chán Master Heze Shenhui (686-760). Although Master Kueifeng is known for many of his Chán dissertations, he is most famous for his place, as the Fifth Ancestor, of the Chinese Avatamsaka (Hwayen) School of Buddhism. As a school within the Jögye Order of Korean Buddhism, the Hwaom School still exists today.

1. Outer Path (Exoteric) Meditation These types of practice originally pointed to the Daoist practices of developing supernatural powers and abilities as well as the Yogic practices of the time. These practices are religiously motivated but are grounded in some attainment other than the self, i.e.: attaining God or becoming immortal.

2. Goal Directed (Esoteric) Meditation These types of meditation practice have no religious motivations. The are normally practiced for the improvement of mental states or for bodily health.

3. Insight (Vipassana) Meditation This type of practice leads to a state of deep ‘no-mind’ where all sense perceptions are cut off and consciousness is discontinued. If one remains in this state of ‘no-mind’ until death there is no rebirth and a separation from samsara is attained. However, because this practice is motivated by the attainment of ones own inner peace it is not considered part of the great Bodhisattva way.

4. Great Vehicle (Mahayana) Meditation This type of practice leads to self realization and the actualization of the Great Way within the context of our daily lives. Since this realization is that there is no self or other, one then adopts the Bodhisattva’s vow to save all beings through the natural unfolding of events.

5. Supreme Vehicle Meditation This type of practice results in the path and the way fusing into one. Not so much about ‘attainment’ but realization that it is already apparent that Buddha nature is immanent already in all beings.

Sŏn Master Kyŏnghō's Inspirational Talk


Kyŏnghŏ Sŏnġu (1849–1912) my very old grand teacher

It is no small thing for a person to enter the Sŏn path. A practitioner does not become a Sŏn student to eat and dress well. Rather, they aspire to be free from life and death by attaining Buddhahood. To attain Buddhahood, one has to discover one’s own Mind, which is already within one’s own body.

To discover Mind, one should understand that this body is no more than a dead corpse and this world is, for good or bad, nothing but a dream. Your death is like popping out in the evening of the same day that you have popped in during the morning. After death, sometimes one may be born in one of the hells, sometimes in the realm of animals and sometimes in the realm of ghosts. Then one must endure incalculable pains and sufferings.

Since this is true do not overly concern yourself with the worldly life. Just examine and carefully observe your mind at all times. What does this which is now seeing, hearing and thinking look like? Does this have any form or not? It this big or small? Is this yellow or green? Is this bright or dark?

Examine and observer this matter carefully. Let your examination and observation become like a mouse-catching cat; or like an egg–laying hen; or like a desperately hungry, old, crafty mouse gnawing a hole in a rice bag. Let your examination and observation be focused at one point and do not forget it. Keep it before you by raising doubt and by questioning yourself. Do not let this doubt go away while you are doing chores or the like. Do not let your question (doubt) escape from you even while you are not doing anything special. By eagerly and sincerely practicing in this manner, finally, there will be the moment of awakening to you own Mind.

Study hard by raising your faith. Raising your faith is sincerely re-examining the matter just mentioned. To be born a human being is most difficult. It is even more difficult to be born into favorable circumstances — harder still to become a Sŏn student. It is the most difficult thing of all to find correct and righteous Dharma teaching. We should reflect on this matter deeply.

Sakyamuni Buddha once said, “One who is already a human being is like a speck of dirt clinging to a fingernail, while the one who has become an animal by losing his human form is as common as the dirt of the ground. If one loses the human form this time, then one will have to wait countless kalpas to recover it. When someone is in the one of the many hells, he is unaware of it, as if playing games in a flower garden. Becoming a hungry ghost, asura, or animal, he acts like he is dwelling in his own home.” However, if one is awakened and has accomplished Buddhahood, he does not have to live or die. That is, he does not have to endure any kinds of sufferings again. These words should be carefully considered one by one.

Once, Zen Master Kwon, a Sŏn student, began meditating from morning to night. As soon as the sun would set, he would beat his fists against the ground in frustration and cry out, “I have lost another day without realizing my Mind.” He continued this way every day until he was fully awakened. Since there are many who have exhibited the determination of Master Kwon, it is impossible for me here to cite everyone who has had the determination to meditate until enlightened.

None of them were worried about living or dying, nor about eating, dressing well, nor sleeping. In our study, we should practice the same way. Consider this carefully! Once Chán Master Deshan wrote: “Do not seek noble titles nor wish to have possessions nor ask for prosperity. Wherever you happen to be, just live in accord with your karma here and now in this life. If your clothes wear out, patch them again and again. If there is no food, barely even search for it. When the warm energy under your chin grows cold, suddenly you become a corpse. What remains after death is only a hollow name. after all, how many days will this transient body live? Why work hard only to acquire useless things? That only makes your mind dark and causes you to forget about studying. After awakening one's on mind, one should always preserve its purity and tranquility. Cultivate this mind without allowing it to be tainted by worldly things. Then plenty of good things (that is, pleasure which comes from the Awakening) will happen. Faithfully, trust in this. When you have to die, there will be no more suffering or sickness. You can go freely to Nirvana or anywhere else you chose (i.e., you control your own life as a free man in the world)."

Sakyamuni Buddha said, “If anyone—man or woman, old or young—has faith in these words and studies, each will, as a result, become a Buddha.” Why would Sakyamuni Buddha deceive us? The Fifth Patriarch, Hung-yin, the Zen Master, said, “By examination and observation of mind, one will become enlightened naturally.” Then he further promised us that, “If you don't have faith in what I say, in future lives you will be eaten by tigers over and over again. On the other hand, if I have deceived you, I will fall into the dungeon of exit less hell.”

Since the Ancestors have said these words, should be not take them to heart? Those of you who are in this Study, do not agitate your mind; let it be like a mountain. Let your mind be like a wide and empty space and continue to reflect on enlightening Dharma like the moon reflects the sun. Whether others think that I am right or wrong is not your concern. Do not judge or criticize others. Just be at ease and go on mindlessly like a simpleton or fool. Or, be like one who is struck deaf and dumb. Spend your life like you cannot hear a thing or like an infant. Then, sooner or later, all the delusion will disappear.

If one wishes to accomplish Buddhahood, it is useless to attempt to understand and master the worldly life. It would be like one trying to fix food out of dung, or like trying to cut jade out of mud. It is totally useless for the accomplishing of Buddhahood. There is no reason for occupying oneself completely and thoroughly with worldly affairs.

See your own death in the death of others. Do not put your trust in this body. Rather, remind yourself again and again to not miss a moment to awaken your own mind.
Ask yourself repeatedly, “What does this mind look like?” In your daily rounds, continue to ask yourself, “What does this mind look like?” Reflect upon this question so intensely that you are like a starving man thinking of nothing but good food. Do not loose hold of your questioning at any time.

Buddha has said, “Whatever has a form, that is, everything is all delusory.” He also said, “Everything that the ordinary human being does is subject to life and death. There is only one way for use to be a true man and this is Realization of our own mind.”

It is said, “Do not drink liquor”, since it will intoxicate and make your mind dull. Also, “Do not speak lies”, since it will only accelerate delusive states of mind. Furthermore, “Do not steal”, since it only helps to make your mind jealous and full of desires. You should observe these and all the precepts. Breaking the precepts can be very harmful for your cultivation and for your life itself. You should not cling to or incline yourself towards breaking any of them.

Master Ox-herder, Mokguja (Chinul), once mentioned that, “Indulging in craving and desire for property are as vicious as poisonous snakes. Watch your body and mind carefully when such desires arise and then understand them as they are. Detach yourself from them as much as possible.”

These words are very important and they should be remembered. They will make your study more effective. Buddha said, “Becoming angry even once raises ten million vicious sins.”
A student simply must endure and tolerate the angry mind. Many masters have also said that because of anger, man becomes a tiger, a bee, a snake, or some similar stinging or biting creature. From foolish mindedness, man becomes either a bird or a butterfly. Depending upon his degree of low-mindedness, man becomes an ant, mosquito or the like. From craving things, man becomes a hungry ghost. The type of desire or anger molds the nature of hell into which men will accordingly fall. Each and every state of mind determines the kind of creature man is to become.

However, if one's mind is unattached, one becomes a Buddha. Even a “good” or positive state of mind is useless. Even though such a condition of mind can create a heavenly future life, it is still limited. As soon as one reaches heaven, he immediately begins descending to the hellish or animal realms in successive rebirths. If no intention is held in the mind, then there is no place to be born again. One's mind is so pure and unconfused; it cannot go to the dark places. This pure and quiescent mind is the way of Buddha.

If one questions with the one-pointed concentration, then this mind naturally settles down and become tranquil. By this he automatically realizes his own mind as quiescent and tranquil. This is the same as becoming a Buddha.

This way is very direct and goes right to the point. It is the best way one can practice. Read and examine this talk from time to time and, on the right occasions, even tell other people. This is as good as reading eighty-four thousand volumes of scriptures. Studying in this manner, one will accomplish Buddhahood in this lifetime. Do not understand this talk to be some contrived encouragement or expedient deception. Follow these words with your whole-hearted mind.
In the deep canyon where the clear stream is flowing continuously, all kinds of birds are singing everywhere. No one ever comes to visit this place. It is the so-called Sŏn student’s place (Zen Center) and is quiet and tranquil. Here is where I sit and contemplate and examine what this mind is. Now, if this mind is not what Buddha is, then what else it?

You have just heard a very rare talk. You should continue to study this great matter enthusiastically. Do not hurry, otherwise you might become sick or get a terrible headache. Calm yourself, and then ceaselessly meditate. Most of all be careful not to force yourself. Rather, relax and let your right questioning be within!

Kyŏnghŏ's awakening


my Great Great Great Grand Teacher Kyŏnghŏ Sŏnġu (1849–1912)

Kyŏnghŏ distinguished himself in the depth of his knowledge of Buddhist texts and was appointed as a sūtra–lecturer at the monastery at the age of 23 (1871). His fame as a sūtra–lecturer grew until a dramatic incident led him to fully reject the textual approach to Buddhism. The incident took place in 1879 while Kyŏnghŏ was attempting a trip to Seoul for the purpose of meeting his previous master Kyehŏ. On the way he entered a village looking for a cover to avoid a rainstorm only to find that the entire village was devastated by an epidemic. Staying a night under a tree outside the village in a rainstorm, facing the reality of death, Kyŏnghŏ realized that his knowledge on Buddhist sūtras could not help him in dealing with the issue of life and death. Thereupon, Kyŏnghŏ returned to his monastery, dismissed his students, and entered into a rigorous life of meditation practice. The huatou he worked with was Master Lingyun’s (771–853) “The donkey is not yet done and the horse has already arrived.” A breakthrough in his hwadu practice occurred as he heard the passage, “Even though I should become a cow, there will be no nostrils.” Upon this stimulation, Kyŏnghŏ attained enlightenment (November 15, 1897). In his ‘Odoga’ Song of enlightenment which was composed several months after his awakening, Kyŏnghŏ wrote:

upon hearing that there are no nostrils,
I realized that the entire world is my home;
on the path under the Yŏnam mountain in June,
people in the field enjoy their time,
singing a song of good harvest.

Final Speech By Mańgong Sǔnim


by my Great Great Grand Teacher Mańgong Wŏlmyŏn (1871–1946)

Among all creatures, human beings are the most valuable because they are able to attain their true selves! The way of the Buddha cannot be attained through thinking or theories. Nothingness is the most frightening thing to human beings. Most people think about the universe in only materialistic terms, but the true substance of the universe cannot be found that way. My true Dharma speech cannot be heard –– that is my final Dharma speech.

Meditation is Not Special


By Kobong Gyeŏngk (1890–1961) my Great Grand Teacher

There are three poisons: greed, anger and ignorance. If you put these down then your Buddha nature is like a clear mirror, clear ice, an autumn sky or a very clear lake. The whole universe is in your Danjeon (center). Then your body/mind will calm down and you will be at peace. Your heart will be fresh like an autumn wind – not competitive.

If you attain this level, you are one-half a Zen practitioner. However, if you are merely satisfied with this you are still ignorant of the way of Buddhas and ancestors. This is a big mistake because demons will soon drag you to their lair.

Meditation is originally nothing special. Just keep a strong practice mind. If you want to get rid of distractions and get enlightenment, this too is a mistake. Throw away this kind of thinking; only keep a strong mind and practice. Then you will gradually enter “just do it.”
Everyone wants insight but they think about it in terms of medicine and disease. However, do not be afraid of what you think of as a disease. Only be afraid of going too slow. Some day you will get enlightenment.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Great Vows: Establishing our Direction


If we aspire to set out upon the course of Zen practice we must first make our commitment clear. This is why taking vows are very important; however, don’t delude yourself in thinking that you are making these vows with a Zen Teacher, with a Zen Sangha or even with the Buddha himself. These vows are actually a compact with ourselves. It might clarify this point by saying that religious practices usually have as their focus external issues about proper behavior and rules of worship; consequently, it is easy to confuse why we are behaving a particular way or following certain rules by thinking we are doing it for Buddha or Jesus or even God. This is why spiritual teachers are always very clear about this point; the focus of everything that we do is to clarify our own mistaken views. Zen practice, as with all religious practices, has rules, precepts, rituals and liturgy; it is just that in Zen we are taught not to attach to these rules, precepts, ritual and liturgy. It is our job, if we want to be Zen students, to clarify the reasons why we follow these rules, precepts, rituals and liturgy and once we completely attain them we can instantly become free of them. So, if we want to truly become Zen students we must first make our direction clear by taking great vows.

The Four Great Vows

Sentient beings are numberless;
We vow to save them all.

Delusions are endless;
We vow to cut through them all.

The teachings are infinite;
We vow to learn them all.

The Buddha way is inconceivable;
We vow to attain it.

If you read these vows carefully, you will realize that they are actually impossible or at least unattainable aspirations. So, if all of this is really impossible, what are we to do? My Grand-teacher put it this way, “try, try, try, for ten thousand years non-stop, get enlightenment and save all beings from suffering.”

Ten Great Vows

I will always stay far from the three evil ways.

I will quickly cut off desire, anger and ignorance

I will always listen to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha .

I will diligently cultivate precepts, meditation, and cognition.

I will constantly cultivate Buddha’s teaching.

I will never abandon the Enlightenment–mind.

I will always be reborn under favorable conditions.

I will quickly see Buddha–nature.

I will project myself throughout the universe.

I will freely save all beings.

World after world, life after life, I will follow the Bodhisattva path and finally gain liberation.

photo copyright "Maui Stone Pagoda Series" by Paul Lynch, JDPSN 2007 taken in Maui

Aerials, System of a Down

A few years back I was listening to the radio when this song started playing. These guys are social advocates and play really hard rock. I was blown away by the lyrics, please read them and enjoy the song.
Life is a waterfall
Were one in the river
And one again after the fall
Swimming through the void
We hear the word
We lose ourselves
But we find it all....

Cause we are the ones that want to play
Always want to go
But you never want to stay
And we are the ones that want to choose
Always want to play
But you never want to lose

Aerials, in the sky
When you lose small mind
You free your life
Life is a waterfall
We drink from the river
Then we turn around and put up our walls
Swimming through the void
We hear the word
We lose ourselves
But we find it all...

Cause we are the ones that want to play
Always want to go
But you never want to stay
And we are the ones that want to choose
Always want to play
But you never want to lose
Aerials, in the sky
When you lose small mind
You free your life
Aerials, so up high
When you free your eyes eternal prize
Aerials, in the sky
When you lose small mind
You free your life
Aerials, so up high
When you free your eyes eternal prize
System Of A Down Aerials (C) 2002 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT

Monday, November 10, 2008

Magic Style


Zen Master Jŏngāng Yŏngsin was a famous Korean teacher of the early twentieth century, and he was noted for never distinguishing between monastics and lay-people. He would often pose the following kōan to his students: “In ancient China, a disciple asked Zen Master Zhàozhōu, ‘Why did Bodhidharma come to China?’ Zhàozhōu replied, ‘Hair grows on wide teeth.’ If you attain Zhàozhōu’s meaning then you have seen Bodhidharma’s true face. If you don’t understand this, you don’t understand Zhàozhōu or Bodhidharma.”

Zen Master Jŏngāng often used this kōan while teaching his students. This kōan is a magic or freedom style question. To explain this, my grand teacher Zen Master Sŭngsan, would sometimes use the degrees on a compass to explain Zen. He separated circle into zero degrees, ninety degrees, one hundred eighty degrees, two hundred seventy degrees and three hundred sixty degrees with each of these four points having a specific meaning, zero and three hundred and sixty degrees are at the same point on the circle. The Zen Compass also corresponds to a famous poem by Chán Master Qingyuan Xingsi who was a disciple of Chán Master Huìnéng, the Sixth Ancestor of Chán Buddhism. The poem is as follows:

before I had studied Chán for thirty years,
I saw mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers.
when I arrived at a more intimate awareness,
I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains,
and rivers are not rivers.
now that I have attained Chán’s very substance I am at rest.
for it is just that I see mountains once again as mountains,
and rivers once again as rivers.


From zero to ninety degrees you are attached to name and form. At this point you are attached to your body; you are also attached to I-me-mine, essentially you are attached to the sensory world. If you are attached to some object, then you will eventually become dissatisfied because everything in the cosmos is in constant flux. If you are attached to another person, attached to your possessions, attached to your wealth or attached to your status, then when any of these things change, as they inevitably will, you will enter into the realm of duḥkha. Duḥkha is at the core of the Four Noble Truth’s and its translation roughly corresponds to a number of terms in English which includes suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness, sorrow, affliction, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, and frustration. Although duḥkha is commonly translated in English as suffering, its meaning in Buddhist philosophy is more analogous to disquietude as in the condition of being unsettled.

From ninety to one hundred eighty degrees is a realm of experience that parallels the concept of form being emptiness, and emptiness being form. From Qingyuan’s poem it is mountains are rivers, and rivers are mountains. Śākyamuni Buddha taught that everything in the Cosmos is impermanent; however, in the West we are brought up to believe “I am here and there is something over there. This is, in part, thanks to the Father of Modern Philosophy, who lived in the seventeenth century. His name was René Descartes and he distilled human existence down into the simple statement cogito ergo sum which is Latin for I think, therefore I am. Descartes also played a major influence in modern mathematics by creating the Cartesian coordinate system which allowed geometric shapes, for the first time, to be expressed in algebraic equations. However, there was a major flaw in his Cartesian coordinate system because, as a Jesuit, he did not consider that the number zero existed. This belief originated within the Catholic Church who professed that zero, or the empty void could not exist as it suggested that something existed prior to God. In contrast to this Western shortcoming, in the world that Siddhārtha Gautama inhabited some twenty five centuries before Descartes, the concept of śūnya meaning void or empty was already extant. In fact the oldest known text to use a decimal place-value system that includes a zero is from a Jain Sūtra entitled the Lokavibhâga. Therefore, it is understandable that Descartes wouldn’t have considered asking, if I am not thinking, then what am I? Indirectly, Descartes’ theory proved that our thinking creates the concept of I-ness. What his theory failed to examine was that if I am not thinking, perhaps there is still something. Śūnyatā, or complete unbounded openness, is at the core of Mahayana Buddhism and is the basis of the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra.

So, at one hundred and eighty degrees Śūnyatā appears—and everything disappears, there are no words and no form. If you open your mouth, this is already a mistake; if you take any action, this is also a big mistake. But, what is nothing I? In kōan interviews, Zen Teachers often use this theme by asking, “What is nothingness?” This is one hundred eighty degrees.

The next position on the compass is between one hundred eighty and two hundred seventy degrees; at this point we attain magic or freedom. This means that you can do anything with no hindrances. You can change mountains into squirrels, or oceans into a grain of sand; in this realm any kind of thought is not a problem. So Jŏngāng’s kōan is a two hundred seventy degree style kōan. Hair grows on wide teeth, but what in the world are wide teeth, and can hair actually grow on teeth? If you visit India or China, there are several religious sites that have enshrined some of Śākyamuni Buddha’s teeth; however, when Buddha died he was cremated, so how can they possibly have Buddha’s teeth? Obviously someone has made a mistake. Perhaps Buddha’s teeth are magic. Zen students are not attached to name and form so visiting these sites is OK, but hair growing on teeth is not possible.

Magic style is similar to a child’s mind or a cartoon where anything is possible. Children’s minds are very open and not attached to time and space. However, by the time we grow up, time becomes very important—and space seems to separate us from those things we want. At this point time and space begin to control us. Yet originally, time and space can never control us. Where does the concept of time and space come from? We have created these theories and they have replaced the actual existence that is us. If we attain before thought, then we can attain no time and no space.

It is common to use the word now in our daily lives. The truth is that if you say now, by the time the word comes out now has already passed. Now is a concept that doesn’t exist. In the Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra (Diamond Sūtra) Śākyamuni Buddha says that present mind cannot reach enlightenment, past mind cannot reach enlightenment, and future mind also cannot reach enlightenment. This passage troubled Zen Master Dòngshān, as he was known as the Master of the Diamond Sūtra, but eventually led to his awakening. If past mind, present mind, and future mind cannot attain enlightenment, then our original mind doesn’t have present, past or future. Our thinking creates past, present and future. If we stop thinking, then there is no time and space. We only have this moment. This moment is always manifesting infinite time and infinite space.

So, why did Bodhidharma come to China? Zhàozhōu answered, “hair grows on wide teeth;” yet later when another student asked Zhàozhōu the same question he said, “the cypress tree in the garden.” Why did he answer the same question differently? Zhàozhōu, like any great Zen Master, had many different types of students. Because of this diversity he utilized different teaching techniques for each of his students. It is like comparing the taste of food between different people, some people like mustard and some prefer catsup; while some like sweet and others like salty. Each of us is a little different yet when our thinking appears, then like and dislike are created. If we cease the endless habit of thinking, then everything in life is no problem.

what is zen

Zen practice is about awakening to this very moment. There is no other function of Zen or Chan or Son Practice. We can learn liturgy. We can know how to chant well. We can eat a formal meal perfectly, yet none of this is the Zen that Sakyamuni Buddha taught. Zen is waking up to the present. Just this, just now, only this moment.

How can we express this in the scriptures? Just breathe, just know that we are alive.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

our new president


I have been warned for years by my various teacher's about being 'too' political. I have been told to not state my political views publicly. Part of this warning is based upon the separation of church and state and part of it is about not alienating potential new practitioners who may have opposing views. I have chosen to follow the great American Patriarch of Zen, Robert Aitken Roshi who has been always willing to adhere to his opinions on freedom.
It seems to me that Jesus wasn't shy about challenging the Romans and the Tax Collectors. It seems that Buddha was willing to challenge the Brahmin's on the 'caste' system and accept women, beggars, untouchables, and criminals into his flock. If we aren't willing to expose ourselves, then we aren't willing to be true to the truths that this country was founded upon. So I'd like to say the following:
I have been split on this and finally I decided that enough was enough. I have every right to state my Political Opinion as any other citizen in this country. I would also like to say that I am not officially endorsing anyone from my position as a spiritual guide.
Last night I was moved to tears. Not since John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King has an American Change Agent uttered such eloquent and inspiring words. May God bless us all and realizing that this is only the beginning we must all now apply ourselves and assist in the process. No more pointing outside to an external enemy who actually exists within, we must all change and know that our lives and our children's lives are dependent on what each of us achieve and do over the next four years. Each one of us has to take the lead, also we must follow our Executive Branch and contribute to the success of "our" government.

Buddha said it well, "find it yourself!"

I have always respected Malcolm X for his statements on the Kennedy Assassination, and these words led to his final ousting from the "Nation of Islam." Malcolm X said in a televised interview about the Kennedy Assassination; "this is a clear case of the chickens comin' home to roust."

I feel the the overwhelming support for Barrak O'Bama is that this is a clear case of the chickens comin' home to roust. Start clucking and crowing America, your time for change has come; but know that the change will never happen if we don't begin now to take back a nation that has become lost in greed and power.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dòngshān and Sŭngsan

The five classifications of mind were set forth by Dòngshān Liángjiè [Ch: 洞山良价, Jap: Tōzan Ryōkai], (807-869) who was one of the root teachers attributed with the founding of the Cáodòng House of Chán (Soto school in Japanese Zen). His analysis utilized the relative bifurcation of opposites known in the common consciousness of his students at the time. These collection of opposites are: the absolute / the relative; the fundamental / the phenomenal; form / emptiness; one / many; etc.

Zen Master Sŭngsan Hăngwon [Ch: 崇山行願], (1927-2004) was the founder of the Kwan Um School of Zen and spent much of his life teaching Lay Students throughout the West. He developed a concise method of explaining the perception of reality based upon what he called the Compass of Zen.

Zen Master Dòngshān and Zen Master Sŭngsan were noted for creating easy mnemonics that helped their practitioners "easily" understand the teaching of Śākyamuni Buddha. The Five Levels of Zen Master Dòngshān Liángjiè and Zen Master Sŭngsan's Compass of Zen which are remarkably similar and point to the same insight.

The Five Levels are varying levels of perception and the mind formulated by Zen Master Dòngshān Liángjiè.

“Form in the midst of Emptiness.”
“the Relative in the midst of the Absolute.”

“Emptiness in the midst of Form.”
“the Absolute in the midst of the Relative.”

“the One coming out of the midst of the Absolute.”
“Śūnyatā, Body and Mind drop away.”

“Entering between the Absolute and the Relative”
“Emptiness vanished into Phenomena, Special freedom.”

“Having already arrived in the middle of the Relative and the Absolute.”
“Form and Emptiness interpenetrate.”


Zen Master Sŭngsan used the analogy of degrees on a compass and worded it a bit differently from Dòngshān, yet the fundamental explanation is the same. Explore the teachings, there is never anything new under the sun. The following is a quick comparison of the two explanations.

Sŭngsan's Small "I" @ 0° on the Compass
"attachment to name and form."
Dòngshān's “Form in the midst of Emptiness.”
“the Relative in the midst of the Absolute.”

Sŭngsan's Karma "I" @ 90° on the Compass
"attachment to thinking."
Dòngshān's “Emptiness in the midst of Form.”
“the Absolute in the midst of the Relative.”

Sŭngsan's Nothing "I" @ 180° on the Compass
"attachment to emptiness."
Dòngshān's “the One coming out of the midst of the Absolute.”
“Śūnyatā, Body and Mind drop away.”

Sŭngsan's Freedom "I" @ 270° on the Compass
"attachment to freedom."
Dòngshān's “Entering between the Absolute and the Relative”
“Emptiness vanished into Phenomena, Special freedom.”


Sŭngsan's Big "I" @ 360° on the Compass
"non-attachment thinking."
Dòngshān's “Having already arrived in the middle of the Relative and the Absolute.”
“Form and Emptiness interpenetrate.”



this blog will continue at some point with more detail.

First grapic from the original Compass of Zen Teaching by Zen Master Sungsan
Second graphic of Dongshan's Five Levels of Awareness by Paul Lynch, JDPSN

Remembering Fr. Thomas Hand


Many years ago, a spiritual friend of mine, Dr. Vickie Dendinger recommended that I meet Fr. Tom Hand. I had the great privilege of sitting a few retreats with this great teacher at the Joseph and Mary Retreat Center in Rancho Palos Verdes which was a converted Convent located in the Southern California South Bay.
For those of you unfamiliar with Thomas Hand, S.J., he spent twenty nine years in Japan and was one of the first Western Catholic monks to practice Zen meditation under the direction of Koun Yamada Roshi of the Sanbo Kyodan. His depth of understanding of religious experience was moving and helpful to me in my early days of exploration and unfortunately he passed away in 2005. During one of my precious interviews with him, he gave me a book of letters from a Russian Rabbi and one of his American flock that was written in the early twentieth century.

This is one of the letters and it struck me so deeply, but my comments will remain my own. I would rather hear from all of you, this is a brilliant and concise work of spiritual understanding.

Reb Yerachmiel ben Yisrael
19 Tevet 5636

My Dear Aaron Hershel,

You ask me of God: to define the Nameless to place in your palm the ultimate secret. Do not imagine that this is hidden some­where far from you. The ultimate secret is the most open one. Here it is: God is All.

I am tempted to stop with this-to close this letter, sign my name and leave you with this simple truth. Yet I fear you will not understand. Know from the first that all that follows is but an elaboration on the simple fact that God is All.

What does it mean to be All? God is Reality. God is the Source and Substance of all things and nothing. There is no thing or feel­ing or thought that is not God, even the idea that there is no God! For this is what it is to be All: God must embrace even God's own negation.
Listen again carefully: God is the Source and Substance of everything. There is nothing outside of God. Thus we read: “I am God and there is none else [am od]” (Isaiah 45:5). Read not simply “none else,” but rather “nothing else”-not that there is no other god but God, but that there is nothing else but God.

Let me illustrate. It rained heavily during the night, and the street is thick with mud. I walked to the Bet Midrash (House of Learning) this morning and stopped to watch a group of little children playing with the mud. Oblivious to the damp, they made dozens of mud figures: houses, animals, towers. From their talk, it was clear that they imagined an identity for each. They gave the figures names and told their stories. For a while, the mud figures took on an independent existence. But they were all just mud. Mud was their source and mud was their substance. From the perspective of the children, their mud creations had separate selves. From the mud's point of view, it is clear such independence was an illusion-the creations were all just mud.

It is the same with us and God: “Adonai alone is God in heaven above and on earth below, there is none else” (Deuteronomy 4:39). There is none else, meaning there is nothing else in heaven or on earth but God.

Can this be? When I look at the world, I do not see God. I see trees of various kinds, people of all types, houses, fields, lakes, cows, horses, chickens, and on and on. In this I am like the chil­dren at play, seeing real figures and not simply mud.

Where in all this is God? The question itself is misleading. God is not “in” this; God is this.
Think carefully about what I have said. It is the key to all the secrets of life.

B'Shalom
this could have been written by a Zen Master or a Sufi Master; yet this is a Jewish Master in a small community in Russia who understands the truth.

a finger pointing at the moon


the fourteenth century Kashmiri Poetess named Lala said about enlightenment and her direction;

in this state there is no Shiva,
nor any holy union.
only a somewhat something moving
dreamlike on a fading road.

I can't add one thing to this statement, it is already complete.