Ven. Hyunoong Sunim, Abbot
Master Sunim was born in South Korea and entered Songkwang-sa Buddhist Monastery at the age of twenty, where he became a disciple of Zen Master Ku San Sunim. After ten years of training in Zen Meditation halls, he spent six more years in rigorous practice alone in hermitages in remote mountain areas. There he followed a raw food diet, eating what the mountains made available. One early spring day while sitting in the Zen hall suddenly all his doubts were resolved and he wrote the following song of enlightenment:
Even existing dharmas must be discarded,
So how can we cling to Dharmas which don’t exist!
Ah ha! Futilely the Ancients busily pursued
enlightenment, then departed.
The countenance, existing of its own accord
I wonder who named it buddha or sentient being?
Even one true Dharma cannot survive.
Outside the window, the cherry tree
is singing this news.
While Sunim’s primary teaching focus is Zen, he also stresses the importance of protecting and balancing one’s physical health and energy through Taoist practices. He teaches that through consistent training in Zen and Sun-do, one can personally experience results, and emphasizes that one should practice for oneself and obtain this personal experience. Only then can one directly understand this path to awakening.
During his years in the hermitage Sunim met and trained for ten years under Taoist Master Chong San. In 1982 Sunim was given sanction as a Taoist master. He later taught in Switzerland and throughout North America. Acknowledged as one of the great zen masters of his generation, he is the Abbot of the Sixth Patriarch Temple in Seoul, Korea, and the Sixth Patriarch Zen Center in Berkeley, CA. He is the author of “The Unasked Question,” which was published in Korea in 2003, and is currently being translated into English.
Silence Mind and Disturbance Mind
Because when we do Zen we sit quietly, some imagine we are supposed to be silent inside too. For most people, because they begin their Zen practice with this misunderstanding, they find the practice difficult. But for someone who understands the practice correctly, they don’t get caught in silence or disturbance; they just go directly to their awakened nature.
Venerable Hyunoong Sunim
Sixth Patriarch Zen Center, Berkeley
“Silence mind” is not Zen. If we abide in silence mind, it soon breaks. Trying to stay in this mind of silence can be a source of confusion or disturbance. When we do Zen, the appearance is that we are supposed to be silent. Zen is the mind where both silence and disturbance is cut off. So from the outside it might look like silence but on the inside of someone doing Zen, its not silence either. We have to know this in order to practice correctly.
Because when we do Zen we sit quietly, some imagine we are supposed to be silent inside too. For most people, because they begin their Zen practice with this misunderstanding, they find the practice difficult. But for someone who understands the practice correctly, they don’t get caught in silence or disturbance; so they just go directly to their awakened nature. This Zen nature is referred to as “miraculous awareness”.
This awareness exists in each one of us. But because we are attached to ideas of silence and disturbance, our mind goes back and forth between being silent, being complex, being silent, being disturbed.
The existence of silence means there can also be existence of disturbance. Disturbance has the characteristic by which it can become silent. In both of these, there is no awakening. Awakening can be within silence or disturbance but it is not in one or the other. Without even realizing it, we have this idea we have to achieve silence or get rid of this complexity in our mind. This process that we go through of trying to bring our mind from complexities into silence may seem to us as though that is what we are supposed to be doing to do Zen, but this is like trying to walk the path with only one foot. This approach is unstable and unsettled.
We have to have a kind of faith. If we have this faith, then even if our meditation doesn’t go well now, it can still be the seed for it to go well in the future. Before we awaken, until we awaken, we need to be careful about incorrect assumptions. All of us in our ordinary life are always having realizations. Because these realizations come up very momentarily and disappear again, we don’t notice and make use of the window they give us. These opportunities flash by in one hundred thousandth of a second. Because of our habits of making judgments or forming opinions, these opportunities flash by, unused. For example we can know that we’re hungry or tired and when we hurt somewhere, we know that we hurt. We can know things without any time involved. This is called the seed of our awakened nature. There isn’t anyone alive who doesn’t have this.
We obscure our self and then go searching for our self. When we are searching, the arrow has already left the bow. If we want to do Zen, thinking and knowledge needs to be cut off. To think a mind of silence will be helpful to awakening is mistaken.
We do need the environment of silence, because the ordinary mind is confusing. Its very difficult for us to make the distinction between what is correct and incorrect thinking. In the midst of silence we can become aware of when our thoughts arise. Then we can see that the silence itself is not actually our Zen nature.
If we have incorrect beliefs about our practice, we will constantly feel a sense of thirst. If we can realize this correctly, right underneath that is this mind of miraculous awareness. So even though that miraculous awareness is there, if we try to grasp it, its ungraspable. If we try to see it, we obscure it. We can’t figure it out through our human thinking because when we try to grasp or see it, the person trying to grasp or see it is the one we are trying to see. So we tend to make the same mistake.
These words are very simple but only when we can really understand this can we become more distant from the complexities of our mind. If we can experience this, we’ll find that whether things outside us are noisy or quiet, it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if we are sitting or standing, because truth is there either way. Its there when we talk, its here, there, everywhere. When we feel it is nowhere, its because our own mind is obscured and that makes us feel as though that awakening is somewhere else.
If we can realize its simply being obscured by extraneous things, these obscurations are automatically released, they disappear. When your light functions without hindrance you can see everyday truth, everyday Zen, see everywhere, into silence, into disturbance. The only reason we can’t see is the conceptual or “utility” mind obscures our true mind.
The mysterious nature that is functioning endlessly is within us. So we can’t talk about HOW it is, whether its like this or that. If we talk about how large it is, it is very large. If we talk about how small it is, its extremely small. According to the person who’s experienced it they might describe it one way or the other, but it can’t be realized through these descriptions. It can never be described through words or in books. You will not continue suffering by holding onto things you experienced long ago. You have to experience it for yourself. When you experience it, you will understand these words and you will no longer hold conceptions about it or want to know something about it.
You’ll see that it is endlessly mysterious. Truth is not something you can run away from. Even if you try to run away from it, its still truth. So, searching for it is a very foolish thing. What this is, is something to which we can awaken. To awaken to it we must first look back at ourselves and see what within us is obscuring it. We come to not take those things which are obscuring it to be who we are.
Even if you don’t have a direct experience of this, how you live your life is still a part of your practice. In any one moment, your body is alive, your energy is moving, your blood circulates; these things happen without any effort on your part. Look there, who is it who is doing that? Its not a question we can answer by thinking. Both our body and mind are mysterious. But we cling to useless, extraneous things these create complexities and confusion for our body. We keep creating worlds and realities that don’t really exist but we continue to insist they do exist and then they shatter. When we create them it makes suffering and when they shatter its also suffering.
When we’re young it takes little to make us feel happy and hopeful but as we get older, that energy becomes diminished, it starts to fade. When that hope we believed in starts to fade, this is when we start to have that feeling of wandering about our life.
In the Heart Sutra, it says there is no old age and the Teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha are precisely that of truth. Its not a matter of just looking at what was within the Buddha himself.
Individually, within each one of us we have this nature. If we come to awaken to this, we see the words of the Buddha were very true.
This is something which has great possibility. If it was something we didn’t actually have our self and had to try to borrow from someplace else, then it would be difficult. Sometimes we just take a wrong step and all we have to do is realize that. As we continually realize these mistakes, one by one, our karma becomes lighter and our practice becomes easier.
The method for this practice is not thinking, neither is it holding onto silence. We need to realize that this is not the way to truth. Then we will find real freedom. It won’t matter what comes along from outside us to obscure it. We will see that past, present and future are all connected with each other and I and others are one.
There is nothing there causing any obstruction. Because there is no obstruction, we are released and our limits disappear. Because our limitations have disappeared, our body and mind are very comfortable. When you are silent, don’t look at it with your eyes and get stuck in silence. You have to look back at yourself and awaken. Then, everything is there, Buddha, God.
The ancient teachers used to say “if you see the Buddha, kill the Buddha” or “if you see the Patriarchs, kill the Patriarchs”. These are frightening words but the words are said in order to help you experience the nature within yourself.
If you awaken to that you will have tremendous respect for the Buddha and Patriarchs and realize how fortunate it is that we have their teachings and you will start to feel that you also have to convey their teachings.
This is the tradition of passing the lamp, the transmission of the teachings from one to another. This is so precious and mysterious. The average person has no interest in it, but from my own life, view and experience, if we don’t connect with this, then we have no direction. What we can obtain from the world is very temporary and not secure.
If we can have the mind of mind where we can write some poetry at old age or death, how much better that would be. This is the path of someone who practices Zen.
We have to really look to see if spiritual teachers have the real truth; if its their own truth, that’s a cult. Its very easy for this to happen in America, it creates confusion for individuals and the society.
When you cannot save yourself, you cannot save others. So, its important to awaken while we are still alive. If we listen to these words and practice according to them, then we will see it is exactly as the Buddha laid it out. He spoke about reality exactly as it really is.
When we can realize that, that’s when we have such respect for the Buddha and we practice even more diligently. Because of the thankfulness for this practice, I want to spread this enlightenment around to suffering people, this kind of thought just comes up. And this is also the teaching of the Buddha. Buddha was not just talking about his own awakening, but that this awakening is endless, that we have to continually pass it on. Buddhist monks do this.
Even though we are beginning in a small place, as my own practice gets deeper and more diligent, I believe we can transmit to America the deep and pure teachings of the Buddha. If a few Americans come forth with this pure awakening, then American culture will change so that Americans’ eyes will turn to this; then more people can go beyond their own suffering. Americans will come to stop those habits which create suffering, and I feel that the time is coming for that to happen.
Incidentally, you must not be in a hurry to do this practice, because the sooner you can put to rest that mind that wants to hurry, the sooner you can awaken. If your mind is in a hurry, then it delays your practice even more. When you are feeling that you are in a hurry to awaken, just watch that and be aware of it. When you’re aware of it, you can correct it; but this also means don’t be lazy. Don’t be lazy and don’t be in a hurry.
Young & Old, Truth & Death
In the Heart Sutra, it says there is no old age and the Teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha are precisely that of truth. Each one of us has this nature. If we come to awaken to this, we see the words of the Buddha were very true. This sense of time about ancient times or modern times disappears. Even though many awakened people have come and gone in this world, it will feel as though those ancient teachers are alive today. It will feel as though you are living with them within that truth. As a result, your faith continually grows.
A Lecture by Venerable Hyunoong Sunim
Sixth Patriarch Zen Center, Berkeley
When people are young they have strong energy and they feel as though they can accomplish anything. Its a fine attitude but its simply an expression of a certain part of life. Its not truth and its not something permanent but we hold to youth or strength and we believe in that instead of truth. This is how we become attached.
When we’re young it takes little to make us feel happy and hopeful but as we get older, its like the sun going down; that energy becomes diminished, it starts to fade. When that hope we believed in starts to fade, this is when we start to have that feeling of wandering about our life. People who aren’t even that old start to have thoughts about wanting to die. So there’s a constant direction towards decline.
This is typical of most people, but if we can awaken to the truth within us, it won’t matter if we are young or old. In our true mind there is no attachment to youth or old age and this is why we won’t have expectations; we just express ourselves when we are young according to that youth and as we get older, we can see things more at a distance. As we grow older we can become wiser. So getting old isn’t something bad. But, if we misunderstand our life or approach it in the wrong way, when we get older and our energy declines if we still don’t have an understanding, then we will begin to feel unsettled, uncomfortable and we will start to fear death.
From the point of view of truth, because it functions without any of those things, as we get older we simply accept what old age means, when we’re young we accept our youth.
In the Heart Sutra, it says there is no old age and the Teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha are precisely that of truth. Its not a matter of just looking at what was within the Buddha himself. Individually, within each one of us we have this nature. If we come to awaken to this, we see the words of the Buddha were very true. This sense of time about ancient times or modern times disappears. Even though many awakened people have come and gone in this world, it will feel as though those ancient teachers are alive today. It will feel as though you are living with them within that truth. As a result your faith continually grows. The way you see the present time becomes broader. This is real religion.
The teachings can be correct teachings but people believe them in their own way; people hear the teachings and believe them through their own delusion. So when we try to awaken we try to do so through those same habits. Reading books is not bad but we need to understand that our mind can be deluded and if we observe our mind as we read, then that’s okay. If we’re not observing our self as we read the books then as we read the teachings we just try to understand them as mental concepts or in our own way and we nod our heads saying “yes I understand this”. At the time we’re reading it our head can understand but this has absolutely no effect over our own delusion. If our knowledge just keeps growing through those kind of habits, then our mind of faith will not appear.
All that has increased is our knowledge and as our knowledge increases, without even realizing it, it starts to produce arrogance and our mind of faith decreases.
If our arrogance grows and our faith declines, we come to make a lot of judgments, unnecessary, useless judgments. This is how we start to make another world of illusion. This is how karma arises. Through this karma, our emotions, energy and consciousness come together and start to harden. They function out of harmony with each other. We can become physically ill, for example, a “wind illness” in Oriental medicine can come to cause someone to lose control over their arm or hand. Even though its their body, they can’t do what they want with it. In the same way, when we become deluded our consciousness and our mind become separated.
If we want the candlelight to be bright, there has to be wax, but in this case the wax and wick have become separated so there is no brightness in our consciousness. We can have a lot of thinking but because there is no light there, we cannot see and it becomes useless thinking. Its with this that we live in the world and make judgments of the world and we don’t understand how to see correctly. In many different ways our paths in the world become blocked.
So even though we live in this great natural universe, we’ve made it into a very small world. We feel very uncomfortable because we don’t know what will happen next. In this condition we cannot help but experience suffering and there is not anyone who enjoys suffering.
People want to be happy but they’ve taken all the necessary conditions for happiness and shattered them and then they live in confusion. Even though we all have this wisdom which is the same wisdom of the Buddha, we still live in confusion.
Its very fortunate that we have this nature of awakening. We don’t make distinctions between different kinds of karma that we have but because this Buddha nature is the light of wisdom, when you’ve seen it once, even extremely heavy karma will be shattered and everything will become very bright. We need to see it as very fortunate that we are able to know the teachings of the Buddha and to study and practice the Buddha Dharma.
From moment to moment you have the opportunity to awaken but you just have to ask yourself whether your approach is incorrect. You don’t need to think about this, just observe these things and moment to moment it is there. Our thinking, developed from habits over time, frequently arises and snatches it away from you and you forget it again. Its not that you’ve lost it, its just that your thinking habits have enticed you back into those thinking habits. So don’t take it hook, line and sinker when those thoughts come up, because even then, this nature I’m talking about is there. You can remind yourself: “this is just because I wasn’t realizing my attachment, its not that truth isn’t here”.
This is something which has great possibility. If it was something we didn’t actually have our self and had to try to borrow from someplace else, then it would be difficult.
Sometimes we just take a wrong step and all we have to do is realize that. As we continually realize these mistakes, one by one, our karma becomes lighter and our practice becomes easier.
Then we will find real freedom. It won’t matter what comes along from outside us to obscure it. We will see that past, present and future are all connected with each other and I and others are one.
The method for this practice is not thinking.
What we can obtain from the world is very temporary and not secure. Because we have to live in the world, we need a certain amount of money, food and clothing. But those kind of things cannot give us eternal comfort and they cannot prevent you from having fear of old age and death. You can never know what kind of illness or death you may have. At death, there is no medicine.
Death is something we can do absolutely nothing about. If you awaken to the truth that is within you, then you no longer believe that this body is who you are and you will realize that your real self is that truth. That is why Christ said I am the way and I am the truth. This body is a kind of house, it’s a house of truth, this body is something we use for awhile and then it disappears.
So, its not that we make efforts to try not to be attached to our body. Rather, when we experience this truth, then that kind of attachment just automatically disappears and we realize that old age is just a very natural thing and that death is just a very natural thing. In the same way as autumn, when the leaves fall from the tree, can produce poetry in our heart, old age and death, can also produce poetry in our heart. This is not true for most people, they can’t even THINK of writing poetry at those times.
Some take a path where they constantly worry. Usually we are worried or startled by the slightest little thing. When we get older, out teeth start to get loose or we get arthritis, our head is not clear anymore, our body feels heavy we have a lot of useless thinking in our head. As a result, our body and mind head in a dark direction. Its like the earth opens up and we fall into a big crack and the earth closes up again. This is called hell. Its not a place we go after we die, its right here with us while we’re alive. So according to how we live and the purity of our life, we can be in a good place; but if live incorrectly in our life, then, of course, even after we die, we will not be going in a good direction. Most people have all kinds of worries: worried about coming down with dementia, worried about not having moneyâ€¦ we keep doing this, when we add on top of it all these worries and negative thoughts; its not helpful.
If we can have the kind of mind where we can write some poetry at old age or death, how much better that would be. This is the path of someone who practices Zen. We are all the same kind of people who are traveling through life. Since we’re all traveling anyway, lets all get on the Zen train. I hope whenever you can, you will come here and sit and lets continue to work on going in this direction. I invite any of you to get on this train; I will drive!
Understanding the teachings and sitting has been very good for my life. The more time goes on, the more experiences I have. I realize the teachings of the ancient masters and the Buddha are, without a doubt, complete and correct. It becomes proof when we’ve experienced it, we continually change and there is always a feeling of gratitude coming from within. A lot of happiness arises, so the light keeps getting brighter. So there’s a path we can take like this. In Buddhism we call this the path of extreme joy.
Cause and Effect
When we turn our back on our own nature… we dream dreams that can never be real and we keep making judgments that can never be true and we create values that we can never meet.
A Lecture By The Venerable Hyunoong Sunim
Of The Sixth Patriarch Zen Center, Berkeley
If we give up on our self, there isn’t anyone who can do it for us. Usually people live their lives giving up on themselves or they believe incorrectly in themselves. We take what is not correct and believe it to be correct so our thinking becomes upside-down.
In that condition, we live our lives INSISTING on what is right and wrong. This is the condition of delusion. This is why we do spiritual practice, because we need to go beyond living in this delusion, this condition. When we look individually at each person, each of us has a problem with something we are holding onto.
We live comparing ourselves to other people. Because each of us is different, there’s no need to make comparisons. We create our own world, looking from the outside it may seem that we are all the same, but what is covering up our inner wisdom is different for each person. Our personalities, habits and our karma is different and because we look out at the world from this state of being obscured, even though it’s the same world, the way each of us see it is different. The kind of suffering we experience is different; the kind of wandering that we are caught in is different. This is why we cannot compare ourselves to other people.
Being different from each other is normal. The more we compare ourselves to others, the more this will cause us suffering. But the thing that is the same among us is our “essence nature”. Our forms are different but that invisible essence nature is the same. When we look from the point of view of that essence, there are no differences. When we come to question why are we different from other people, this can cause us unnecessary suffering.
We all have the habit of making comparisons among ourselves, between our world and the rest of the world, comparing ourselves to society. This causes us to have feelings of inferiority. With the exception of very special awakened people, all human beings live this way. According to how much heavy karma we have obscuring us, our suffering can be greater or less. If our suffering is at the point where even breathing is difficult, then that is great suffering.
If we look at the fundamental reason for this, its because we live turning our back on our own fundamental nature. When we turn our back on our own nature, what is it that we do that with? This is different for each person. We dream dreams that can never be real and we keep making judgments that can never be true and we create values that we can never meet. We keep making judgments of right and wrong that can never be achieved. If we look honestly at ourselves we can see that we live like this. If we awaken and can see that our thinking is upside down we can realize how foolish and dangerous our judgments have been.
Its making these judgments that cause us give up on ourselves.
“This is what kind of person I am”, “This is what I think”, “This is the best I can do” and so onâ€¦ Even though we live in a vast world, we create a very narrow world for our self and we obscure, cover up our own nature but we don’t know with what we do that.
It can start from a simple place of making a wrong judgment and if we are unable to free ourselves from it, then we give up on our self. Then only the outside looks like a human being, on the inside, there really might not be much difference from an animal. In fact, there are some human beings that live on a level of karma which is on a lower level than some animals. Animals instinctively live in a pure way but when human beings give up on themselves, they live in confusion and their thinking is upside down. Then they create a “ghost world”, a world that doesn’t really exist. They make a world based on their illusions then try to live in it. As a result they have unnecessary arguments, abuse themselves and they suffer. This is something we have completely created our self.
Of course there are those who suffer from living in prisons or jails but if those people looked honestly at themselves, they would see that they obscured their own essence and as a result committed crimes that got them there. When we live in society among other people and do things that cause people suffering, fear or hurt, then we are committing sins. So, since society has to be organized, we create laws and people have to live by those laws; if they break them then they go to jail.
But even if we’re not in jail, we can look at ourselves — are we really free? Are we free from our karma, suffering and delusion? We have delusions within us that could cause us to end up in jail at anytime. Even if we’re not in a physical jail, we are living in our self-made jail. We come to live feeling extremely frustrated, we can even feel claustrophobic. We need to look honestly at our self, we have to ask ourselves: “who created that? Who is experiencing the results of what we created?”
When I talk like this, some people might think “I’m free, I’m happy” but from the point of view of a great Buddha or eternal freedom, from this moment or as this moment passes, we can be in a different world. We never know what is going to happen next or tomorrow; we just HOPE that good things will happen, but nothing is certain.
In this way, our life as a sentient being, being happy today, we cannot trust that to be there tomorrow. We want to be happy today, tomorrow and forever, but we cannot trust that. We rely on our expectations, hopes and maybe even just luck. Our present is the result of our past; our future is the result of the present.
Our birth appears from the principles of cause and effect. If the cause is good, the effect is good, if the cause is bad, the result is bad. That is why right now is very important, but if we are wandering right now, then we’ll be wandering in the future. On occasion we might enjoy some good fortune, but its not assured and if the wind blows, it could all blow away. This makes us realize how vulnerable we are. If we rely on fortune, that makes us a weak person. We need to believe in cause and effect. If I live incorrectly now, my future will be incorrect. If I commit crimes now, without a doubt, the police will be coming.
Cause and effect cannot be avoided by anyone; no one has immunity from it. But, we can free ourselves from our conditions. Buddha, Christ and the Saints taught us the path. You can live without religion but you can not live apart from the principles of cause and effect. The principles of cause and effect apply to everyone. Even if you are not religious, it’s necessary to understand cause and effect.
Of course everyone wants the future to be good, so then we should live in a good way today. What creates cause and effect? The upside down thinking of our own mind, our deluded thoughts create things for no reason and then we suffer for no reason. Then illness arises, poverty, our relationships become narrow, we become very sensitive, very delicate; the slightest thing upsets us, we get into arguments easilyâ€¦ because we get used to living like that, then as we live in this moment, we always feel unstable. Our upside down thinking has not become clear.
Some people think they are unhappy or unstable because they lack money. Of course there are those situations where people don’t have money, but there are plenty of situations where people wander in suffering and delusion even though they have money. In some ways, money or no money may seem like it will make us happy or unhappy, but this has more to do with how people are with it. To think that people are happy or unhappy based on money is a mistake.
So if we want to practice Zen, we want our life to be better, then we need to see into cause and effect. Religion is nothing specialâ€¦ all principles come from the fundamental principle of cause and effect. In the Bible it says if we don’t plant seeds, there will be nothing to harvest. In Zen they directly teach us the principles of cause and effect. Even those who don’t believe in religion can be very sensitive to the principles of cause and effect. If they make one mistake now, without doubt, they will experience its result. If you eat spoiled food, then you will have an upset stomach. If you become angry or upset frequently, your friends will distance themselves from you. If you mind wanders with complicated, useless thinking, your wisdom will disappear. This is how it is.
In America, people think of this as a free country but people misunderstand or misconceive freedom. Freedom is the greatest thing but if we look at it incorrectly, it can become poison. Having freedom means there is some goal we hope to achieve. If we are to achieve correct freedom, then we need to live a correct life.
According to cause and effect, we have to refrain from creating cause. If we create a cause, the effect comes, at that point, if we hope for freedom, the universal principle will not allow that to happen. No one can help at that point. When we live in America, we think we can do whatever we want — that is incorrect; people become reckless and do whatever pops into their head. At that moment, things seem to be okay but the result can be very bad. Our body and mind are relying on principles of cause and effect. If we can’t breathe, we will die. It is very straightforward. Our body and mind are living within this truth. We are always within the principles of nature.
I like to work in a way that I give freedom to people, so I don’t like to make strict rules. But don’t be sillyâ€¦ when people ignore cause and effect, do you really think that just sitting on a cushion, still wandering will fix your life? We justify why our Zen practice doesn’t go well, we say “oh its because I have so much thinking, I have so much desire, I’m not in good conditionâ€¦” it gets to where whatever we see in front of us obstructs our practice.
Its because we are experiencing the results of past causes even though we try to forget our past. Someone in jail wants to forget about the crime they committed and they complain. They’re there because the committed a crime, that’s cause and effect. There’s no where we can ignore the principles of cause and effect.
When we can awaken to the emptiness of the principle of cause and effect then it will no longer bother us. It’s like clouds which appear and disappear. The cause is the arising, the result is the disappearing. Then we simply do not become attached to the arising or the disappearance. If we are to be unattached to this, then we must have wisdom. Because that wisdom allows us to distinguish what is the arising and what is the disappearance. Our essence-nature is empty and vast like the blue sky, no matter how many clouds appear in that sky, the clouds cannot stay there forever.
So its just the clouds that are passing by but the blue sky is always the blue sky, no matter how many clouds appear, they will not cause that sky to change. If you awaken to your own essence, your own blue sky, you will see your own essence is that blue sky and what arises, your thinking, is just clouds. When the wind blows, it causes something to arise and disappear.
You live in reality and someone comes along and aggravates you, your mind arises and then disappears. Someone who has awoken to experience that blue sky, whenever the mind arises and disappears, they can just let go of it, knowing its just a natural thing; they’ve seen that blue sky and know that blue sky. If the clouds come, that’s fine, if they go, that’s fine. So awakened people have clouds that arise and disappear but they don’t mind them, its normal.
Ordinary people get upset when clouds arise, they think, “where did that one come from? Where did this one come from?” They get upset, their mind gets excited and it goes back and forth.
This is why they are deluded, they went inside the clouds. Even though their eyes are open, they don’t see, they wander around inside the clouds, and collide with others in clouds then start deciding what’s right and what’s wrong. This is the beginning, but the clouds become so thick, the roots of the problem become so deep, its not that they just meet and separate instantly, the roots get deeper and thicker and stronger.
Next thing you know, lawyers are involved, and no one even knows they’re in the clouds of delusion. Lightening, thunder!!! So you forget all about the blue sky, and this is hell.
If we can awaken to our own blue sky, even if someone comes along and aggravates us, it’s like an ant on your hand, you just leave it alone. In reality if someone annoys you if you can be quiet and have no mind, the other person will feel embarrassed, because everyone has wisdom, everyone has a blue sky. It’s only from clinging to the clouds without realizing it that you suffer. If you awaken and you’re not crashing with others if you stop and look for a moment, you can realize it’s your own mistake. If you aggravate someone else and they don’t respond, you can know its you that is being foolish.
There’s a saying in the Orient that if you’re smiling, no one is going to spit in your face. For someone who has an empty mind, if someone becomes angry or upset the poison of that anger goes back to them and they go into turmoil. It’s like in boxing if one throws a punch and the other evades it, it throws the first boxer off.
So to live “smart” you must really know and understand cause and effect. When we come into the sitting hall, some people leave their shoes in disorder. Some people think to live like that is freedom. People do that unwittingly. Outside on the ground is dust and dirt and there are some who take their shoes off but walk on the dirt with their socks then drag the dirt into the Zen hall, defeating the purpose. Very strange, I don’t know. This is also not freedom. When I point this out, they immediately make excuses. People like this, even if they sit on their cushion, their Zen practice will not go well.
Our mind can come to have no burdens and then naturally we feel grateful even for the smallest thing. If you do Zen and your burdens disappear, then in the midst of our ordinary life, all things start connecting with our own essence. What obscures you starts to disappear and you begin to see things very clearly.
And, of course, you stop creating wrong causes; rather than creating wrong causes, you create positive causes. Through that you come to cultivate virtue and you are kind and respectful towards others and a good light starts to arise. If others have difficulties, you help them, if you are too selfish you think only of yourself. In this culture, people are protective and isolate themselves in the competitive world. If this becomes too extreme, this will also obstruct your true nature. We need to live with the attitude that we will lose a little to other people.
If other people perceive you to be a little bit dull, maybe a little bit of a fool, that’s good. You have to be comfortable. People have to feel comfortable with youâ€¦ If you’re too intelligent, too bright, people will move away from you and people’s minds will not connect with each other. So to be simple and not to be attached one way or the other, is fine. Then you can do Zen and your wit and humor will come forth because you can relax. Living that way is very good for your own environment and those around you. Human beings need to reduce their own burdens; it’s why we have religion. Your spiritual path and the rest of your life is not separate. Then mentally, physically and spiritually we can become healthy and spontaneously we will be happy.
I am also a human being and have had many problems but fortunately I trusted the teaching of the Buddha and observed the principles of cause and effect. I worked on not creating wrong causes, but good ones and continually did Zen. One’s karma changes. What is obscuring you disappears and this world and this society, just as it is, becomes paradise. Then the whole world feels like it belongs to you and happiness continuously bubbles up and your karma will continue to melt. When the clouds disappear and the brightness appears, you don’t create new negative causes. Every human being can live like this, in fact its this that makes us a human being.
So will you follow this path? It’s up to you. Don’t take the wrong step; if you do, things will be in continuous turmoil. The correct step may be difficult but it will continually bring you good things. You will meet good friends and good teachers.
Don’t count your money, it can disappear. You might think just hold on to it as hard as you can and hope for the best. But money you have to spend, you can’t hold onto it. It has no taste, no fragrance, no flavor, its just paper. When human beings use money correctly, it can bring wonderful things. Who has the money? How will you use it? If the person grasping money doesn’t change, it’s no fun.
Lets try taking correct steps, little by little. Don’t try to correct yourself completely all at once. Begin with small things. Let’s begin by taking our shoes off and putting them down mindfully. Enter the Zen hall properly.
Its very strange when I look at people, there are things that are hard to understand. They have all kinds of time and clouds in their head, what they are thinking I don’t know. But it’s not all good causes. So do good work, do the cleaning, live a diligent life, that’s where you have to begin. Otherwise, if you just say you’re going to do Zen and you just sit on your cushion, nothing will happen.
You may think “oh all this is just some Oriental cultural thing” but when I see Americans who are healthy, they are not like that. Those who have a good life, successful, healthy, they are following the principles of cause and effect. When I first arrived in America and I observed people’s habits, I wondered “wow can you really get away with doing that?” Even Americans are not free from the principle of cause and effect; this is what creates mental and physical illness. They are suffering and they don’t know from where it came. The Bible emphasized cause and effect, so we have to move into this to get back into our life. Make the corrections that will restore a healthy life and free us from illness.
Also, there is no need for you to be upset with yourself. Because the things you’re doing are not going well, or you’re not that fast at fixing your bad habits, there’s no need to get upset with yourself. There is also no need to feel regret. Feeling regret is not good for you mentally. You just resolve to take the right step as best you can. Regret will just confuse you more; just forgive yourself. Don’t try to accomplish too much at once. Just realize your mistakes, that’s the beginning, and gradually things will release. If you get upset and feel regret, that is a kind of greed. It may appear like a spiritual attitude but it’s not good. So just say, “lets begin again”. You will become humble. Try it little by little. If you do that, you will become happy. Your mind will be more relaxed and then doing Zen will be easy; as you sit on your cushion, happiness will arise on its own. You will see what has to be done and you will want to do it.
When you have nothing to do, you can write nice letters to your friends; when you’re in good condition you can write a poetic letter — better than useless thinking. In Zen, poetic things keep arising in you, you could become a poet; your surroundings will seem very rich and you can gaze inward. But being attached to being a poet will cramp you. You could be grateful that you speak English very well.
Thinking Mind and Correct View
There is no way we can make right and wrong and make them stay fixed in one place… If we become too attached to right and wrong, then this is the type of person we become.
A Lecture By The Venerable Hyunoon Sunim
of the Sixth Patriarch Zen Center, Berkeley
To try to get rid of our thoughts in the midst of our thoughts is a very foolish thing. Usually when we do meditation we find ourselves in the midst of a lot of thoughts and there we attempt to get rid of our thoughts. And because we try to do that, we are unable to come out of that darkness.
When we are in the midst of a lot of thinking, trying to get rid of our thoughts, we have to look at that person who is trying to get rid of the thoughts. If we do that, then our thoughts will disappear automatically. This is the first gate. If we can’t do this much then when we try to make our mind pure and or quiet, it just makes us more confused. This sitting posture is something very helpful in terms of making our minds simpler. Energetically as well as emotionally, we become simpler on all levels but the sitting posture itself is not doing Zen.
Even if our mind is pure and quiet according to the conditions or environment, more thoughts can start to arise. When the mind is silent and pure we can start thinking, “ah, the meditation is going well!!”. But usually when we are sitting in the middle of a lot of thinking, then our goal is to get rid of those thoughts and that means we have a certain limitation. If we can turn and look back at that person who is having all that thinking, then our thinking is cut off and when thinking is cut off the desire to get rid of the thoughts also disappears.
So there is no longer the thought of wanting to get rid of the thoughts. In the same way, if you cut a tree at its roots, this kills the whole tree, including the branches. If you only trim the branches the tree will just grow new branches. So you can end up just fighting with your thinking. It’s cutting off the fundamental root. In other words we look at that place from which thoughts arise. This is why we do koan practice, contemplating the koan. We can understand this intellectually but when you try to do it and look back at your own mind, you’re doing it without being aware of what you’re doing right now. So there is a big difference between doing it and understanding. Understanding it means it is just a part of our intellect. We are not aware of what is arising in our mind in our ordinary daily life.
If we try to relate to this with the thinking that we know, every time we encounter circumstances they make us confused and busier. Knowing something intellectually, it becomes something that we always have to know. It causes us tension and confusion. So this practice is different from what we can know, but if your thinking is cut off then our mind becomes no mind. In other words, the mind is pure. Because the mind is pure, there is no thinking. And when we say the mind disappears, this does not mean that you become an idiot. You have thinking but you are no longer attached to those thoughts so you don’t pay attention to them. So you are no longer bothered by those thoughts.
If you are in a state of no mind, even though something new might come up, you are not bothered by it. So there is no problem when it comes to adapting to conditions. Most people in those conditions become stressed by trying to remember, “When its like this I have to be like this and when it’s like that, I have to be like that.” When something unexpected comes along, we don’t know what to do, but this is life.
Zen has nothing to do with that. In Zen all things just pass by. In Zen it is simply observing what arises and disappears in the mind. All things in this world disappear. The mind arises and disappears, the body arises and disappears and all thinking arises and disappears. And this is what we come to see. If we are to see this correctly, we need to be in the state of no mind. If you do not have the state of no mind and someone is doing the looking, when something arises we become attached and when something disappears we become attached. And when something arises we start thinking “why did this arise” and when something disappears you feel sad it is gone, it feels like you’ve lost something. Because of these conditions, our sentient being mind is always unstable.
If you are always then searching for something under these conditions then your sense of wandering will be endless. And this is why they say “to seek is to suffer”. It’s important to understand this before doing meditation. As you live in the conditioned world things arise and disappear, if you then search for comfort and peace, then your struggles can never disappear. In Buddhism it is taught that all things are impermanent, but to say things are impermanent is not talking about annihilation.
Its when you want to achieve something and you are unsuccessful in achieving it then you give upâ€¦ that is annihilation. This is different from impermanence. With Zen, when something arises you are uninvolved with it and when it disappears, you are still uninvolved with it. So in those situations it doesn’t matter to you.
If we can correctly realize these principles, then we will engage in less unnecessary suffering. So this is a way of the Tao. The best method of doing this is contemplating the koan. The koan is directly looking at the place where the mind is cut off. If you practice the koan directly, when the mind arises, the Buddha nature is there. When the mind disappears the koan is there. Buddha nature is everywhere. The Buddha nature is there where thoughts arise, the Buddha nature is there when we experience suffering. It’s there when we laugh and speak and where we hear the sound of birds. Buddha nature is there when we hear cars going back and forth on the street.
But if our mind becomes obscured by one thought then this is where we become deluded. When we are deluded, then we become confused when things appear and disappear. Like a spider web, if we pull on one string, the whole spider web moves. So when society moves, we move. When something says something that upsets us, we will become angry immediately so we can’t avoid suffering. In that condition we might think our thinking is correct but its actually upside down. In upside down thinking it’s very difficult to find what’s correct and incorrect. There is no way we can make right and wrong and make them stay fixed in one place. So we’re always searching to make the distinction between right and wrong. And this just develops the mind that makes distinctions and choices. Then we hold onto what looks good and discard what looks bad. This is the kind of habits that sentient beings have developed.
As long as we are in that condition we cannot avoid tension; tension causes our emotions to become stuck, our energy flow becomes stuck and our blood will not circulate efficiently. Then we are not helping, physically or mentally. So we have to quickly let go of these things. If we become too attached to right and wrong, then this is the type of person we become.
In reality because all things are like that, we cannot avoid those things. If we can awaken to this principle, we’ll see that what we thought was correct, after we consider it with experience and hindsight, we’ll realize we were not correct. There are times that what was not correct before is now appropriate or correct. Usually with human problems this is where mistakes are made.
Because we’re deluded, without wisdom, we make incorrect distinctions. So as a result we can have arguments with our friends, we can miss the correct path, miss the opportunity to awaken. In a marriage, people can end up divorcing, caught up in legal problems and we can also become very involved in society’s problems. If we look at the source of the problems, we can see that they began with very small insignificant things. Because they begin with small things, it’s much easier to correct them when they are small. If we don’t correct the small things, they become big problems. When they become big problems we fall into very difficult situations and become covered up and tied up in a big net of confusion, suffering. Most people live in this kind of condition. When we live in this condition, we have no idea where it all began.
There is a method of resolving it but we have to awaken to our mind.
If we look at the teachings of the ancient masters, there’s a story of a fish in a bowl with a very small opening. The fish gets into the bowl when it was small. But while the fish lived in the bowl it got bigger and is now to big to get out of the small opening. How can we get the fish out without breaking the bowl and without hurting the fish? What I’ve been talking about this morning is precisely explaining this situation, reality of this koan.
From the point of view of someone who has experienced Zen, this is the life of ordinary people. Without discarding all of the complex arcane habits we have created ourselves, we try to see how we can extract that Buddha nature from within us. This is the koan. Our thinking will not disappear by using our thinking. We look at the place where the thought arises. We are looking back at ourself. That is where the Buddha nature is. When we awaken to our Buddha nature, we awaken to Zen. Zen is something that is not stained by anything. Its not stained even by complex thinking. It is always free from the spider’s web. Because you’ve experienced this world of freedom, when it comes to spider webs within you, even if you search for them, they are not there. Because they’re not there, when you look at reality, you see it as the world of the Buddha.
At that level, the Tathagata is everywhere, in the sound of traffic Zen is there, in the bird’s singing Zen is there. Buddhism is very simple when you look at it from the perspective of having awoken. But if you are trying to get rid of your thoughts while in the midst of your thinking, then Buddhism is the most difficult thing in the world.
So we need to trust these basic principles and refrain from making useless effort. As we live in the world and our body we meet other people living in the midst of their problems, then actually having this human body itself is a problem. Anyone who is alive can’t avoid having problems. Because it is people with problems all living together, we can’t avoid problems.
What can we do to live in the midst of problems but not be caught by them? If we look at the koan correctly, we see that we live obscuring ourselves. When conditions are good and you become a little more tolerant but when conditions are not good, you become frozen. When we are in that frozen condition we are not very tolerant and we complain. When we’re in good conditions we become more tolerant and broad minded. This is the character of human beings. If we can understand this fundamentally we will be less involved when compulsions appear.
Because this is the condition in which most people live, you must not make judgments of how people live. Just when you encounter these conditions you just say, “oh, this is the world of sentient beings”, and you remind your self that “it’s because of this that I have to practice”. When this is the condition of sentient beings, how can we not practice? So we have to continue inspiring ourselves. If we don’t do that and we just complain and say, “why is the world like this?” physically and mentally we just become more frozen and then you end up entering even darker delusion.
When we observe human beings we see that today they are like this, tomorrow they are like that and you wonder why are they change so. This affects your nerves and you end up suffering. These kinds of situations usually arise between people who are quite close to each other, like as a couple or a lawyer and a client. They don’t happen with people to whom you have a more distant relationship; they arise between people who are closest to each other.
When we read the scriptures we see there is a wise path and you trust that more. In turn this makes you more comfortable. You’ll arrive at that path of the mind. The fastest path to the mind is the Zen koan. In the koan, there is no thought of the past present and future, it is simply relating to the thought that is arising in this moment. You do not think if you have suffering or not. If you are alive and breathing right now, then it is possible for you to do this practice. This moment is important. If you practice this koan correctly in this moment, then the solution becomes clear. Because our Buddha nature has not left us in this moment, the Truth has not left us in this moment.
If we don’t know the method of approaching it, then we feel as though we are very distant from each other. If we don’t look at the truth, then we end up seeing more delusion. And it looks as though that world actually exists.
If you awaken you will see, honestly, that that illusion does not exist and that the world is NOT a complex place. When you change, then the world changes. So you need to absolutely believe in this Buddha nature and you have to throw away your common sense. You’ll have to discard your stubbornness when you insist on what you think is right or wrong. You need to begin by realizing that maybe your judgments or opinions are wrong. That is how you need to begin looking at yourself. Your biases need to be released, surrendered. Only when opinions and judgments are released can greater things inside start to come forth.
Don’t try to awaken to your Buddha nature in some contrived artificial way. If you decide that Zen is the best way, the fastest way, and just try to slowly do Zen, there’s only one path but if you try to get there all at once, you’ll get caught up in the traffic and confusion and your practice won’t go as well. You may think, “well, I need to relieve my suffering as quickly as possible so what’s wrong with practicing as quickly as possible?” That mind that wants to do it quickly becomes a hindrance so you need to look back at yourself and realize that you’re doing nothing. Then in one moment, that mind will be clear.
Because you get caught in the mind that you’re clinging to, then that mind that you’re clinging to is demolished. And as that mind is demolished then your energy will settle down and you become more grounded, as you become more grounded, your mind will become silent. When you become silent, then wisdom comes.
This is why human beings are simple even though they seem complex. Human beings are simple but when they take a wrong step, then they become complex. So no matter what kind of difficulty comes up, there’s no reason to worry about it. According to your thinking, it can get worse or better. So don’t allow your mind to move following those kinds of ideas. Things become better or worse according to your thinking. When you’re wrong habits become stuck then you don’t believe this kind of talk and you become confused, entangled.
Then even though you haven’t found the correct path yourself, you go off searching in the direction of darker places. Through that, your mind eventually becomes worn out and you become ill physically and mentally. This is the condition of sentient beings, which the Buddha saw very clearly. Usually people who see this clearly for themselves become Buddhist monks.
Some say, “well there is a lot of happiness in the world, why look at all this suffering?” Well, of course that’s true, but happiness comes along less often than suffering. The conditions which cause happiness can change very quickly. It comes and goes like night becomes day. When something bad comes along, it can become worse and that can lead to worse things, even disaster. Heaven is very small. The entranceway to it is also very small. Once you enter it, it’s very vast, but the entrance is small. So there aren’t many who get through.
So we need to make ourselves simple and let go of our thinking and make up our mind to begin. Once we get past a certain level, we come to learn every day in reality. In the beginning we learn from the teacher but eventually we hear and see the teachings from everywhere.
Learning from the Buddha is exactly learning from sentient beings. In the beginning we think of learning from the Buddha, but that is actually illusion. Someone who does not know how to learn from sentient beings does not know how to learn from the Buddha. Through our parents we grew up and since this is not something we can do alone, we need a teacher. Gradually as we practice we learn to hear the teachings everywhere. When that happens, we can know we are on the correct path.
People, even Zen monks can spend 30 years or 50 years practicing, but they’re only practice separating themselves from their own mind. As a child I had a close friend who was a monk. He told me that since he was an abbot he would have to go off to a hermitage and practice alone. I said “when you go, where would you go??” When you talk about going, where are you going. Right now you can practice where do you want to go?
We’re always avoiding our own Buddha within us. With our own thinking we create a very comfortable world. Then we think, “if I can only be there, then my practice would go well. Most people think that way. Even if you could go there and achieve something, then another mind would still come up because that is the sentient mind. We need to stop that habit. The Buddha is here. Where are you going to run away to the Buddha? The Buddha is here in this moment so its right there where you look. When you do that your mind changes and right here becomes your hermitage, your Zen home. That’s what you have to do but people want to go somewhere else and keep making excuses. We need to look at that and see how very foolish it is. When I talk on the telephone to distant students about their practice this is usually what they complain about. They have a house and they practice and yet they complain. It’s so clear that people live in illusion. Is it illusion who is living here or is it you who is living here?
We need to become aware in a simple way that even if your Zen practice doesn’t go well even if you can just have this awareness you can be more comfortable.
Because we exist in the world, that is why the world is existing. So who is existing in the world? If you contemplate this way you can know your mind and when you see your own mind you can see when and where your mind is stuck. When you see where your mind is stuck, mind arises. When you see there you see your miraculous awareness. Miraculous awareness means Zen mind, Buddha mind, and its empty. Space. When we look at it this way then the attachment disappears. In other words, I’m saying don’t fight with reality and don’t fight with your own mind. These are things that will change. Its because we think that they won’t change that we fight with them. But they are all things that will change. Birds come and sit in the tree and soon they will leave, so why do you try to grasp them? Our mind is like that too. It comes from somewhere and goes off to somewhere. The Buddha and other masters have taught this from awakened view. Anyone who can see will confirm it. The Buddha’s teaching is not just the private teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha. The correct view of human beings is just like that. This has nothing to do with religion, this is correct for anyone.
This is referred to as correct view in the Eight-Fold Path. Anyone who awakens sees the same thing. Anyone who sees this becomes the correct disciple of the Buddha. Zen brings this awakening.
Your problem is that right now there is that emotional consciousness; you’re not able to see right now. But it’s that that you become aware of; look at it. If you look at it and follow it down there is an ocean of truth. No matter what kind of thinking you have, that thinking has never left truth. But since your way of approaching it is incorrect, then its like turning your back on that truth.
Now look at your own question and follow it downward, because that thinking has come from you, so that is what you look at. This is becoming aware, awareness. When you look at this there is the ocean of truth and the Zen mind. And that is precisely the koan, the miraculous awareness. It’s mysterious. Here there is no individual view, it’s an ocean. The five senses have become empty.
The five senses are empty but there is a hole. So you are using your five senses you are using them and yet not using them. It’s like doing without doing. You do it but you’re not attached to it. We can’t just use theories. You actually have to see your original nature. So when you ask your question, look to see who is asking, from where are you asking? That’s why old Zen masters were always asking: “who is asking?” The world is simple but we don’t recognize it. The root of the fellow who’s asking the question is the Buddha. But most people, when they ask, they take this narrow mind that asks the question and through that try to OBTAIN something. Then through what they obtain they try to build something. That’s precisely knowledge but it becomes a burden and it actually even closes more the entrance to the Buddha. This is why we say when you enter the Zen hall don’t bring anything with you. Don’t bring any knowledge. One includes everything.
It’s because of this problem that we do contemplation. This sitting posture is the best. As we sit here there are many different obstacles. We have many opinions, heavy ideas, customs, morals, questions, conceptions, misconceptions, ideas, a lot of confusion, but while we are sitting like this, one. Mind and body is one. This helps this body that’s part of why we sit. Become one. If we have too many questions we can’t contemplate any one of them. Trust the Buddha mind. If we ask only “who is asking” then that is one.” Your ordinary mind disappears. Gradually as it becomes deeper you come to Buddha mind. Once you have experienced this, you realize all the things you are clinging to have been completely foolish. That is when you can let go. This is why we do Zen to be able to see and let go. This practice is possible for everyone at any time.
We have not let go of our complicated habits and haven’t even realized what they are. We also don’t yet have enough faith. We sit by ourselves and research this way and that way, and if we’re next to someone else, they can tell what we are doing, so then we hide under some blanket. Your mind gets lazy. At that time we need to be well hit to wake you up!!!
This path is very possible for everyone to follow but I think it’s just a lack of faith which prevents people from doing so.
In Zen when we talk about questions and answers, we are not talking about ordinary questions and answers because originally the answer is within you. In some ways, asking questions is rather stupid from the point of view of high-level Zen. But because we don’t yet know what the path is, then there has to be questions and a learning process, but the answer is actually within you.
In ancient times, when someone asked the master a question, he would only reply by hitting them. So in order to do that, continually work at the contemplation. If you become good at contemplation, the teacher can know immediately whether the student is doing Zen correctly. He can know without any words being exchanged. The way you walk, the way you sit, the teacher can know. To know about Zen through asking and answering is a low-level Zen, and dangerous, because its very easy to misunderstand that way.
The Miraculous Awakening of Zen
You observe many thoughts arising in your mind, but you mustnâ€™t search for which of these thoughts is the real you. Searching is avoidance. To seek is to suffer. You need to understand this carefully.
By Venerable Hyunoong Sunim with translator Ja Gwang.
Excerpted from a Saturday morning Hartford Street Zen Center (San Francisco) Dharma talk
Hyunoong Sunim is a Korean Zen teacher, a Taoist master and a herbalist. He established the Sixth Patriarch Zen Center in Berkeley and is the resident teacher.Â
The word Zen means the mind of awakening or miraculous awareness. It has no form. It is also not silent. It doesnâ€™t stay fixed in any one place. It is something one has to experience. If you bring any understanding with you into this practice you will obstruct the pathâ€¦ Zen is the Buddha mind. And Buddha mind is in each individual person. Itâ€™s here in this moment as we sit. Itâ€™s absolutely not separate from us. Thatâ€™s all we need to trust.
The name is Zen, but according to the person practicing this, some think Zen is sitting quietly while others say Zen is having a clear mind. Some say Zen is forgetting all the complexities of life, while others say Zen is guarding nothingnessâ€¦ There are many kinds of Zen Buddhists in the world but if we forget the correct path, then even if we do Zen practice all we are doing is wasting time.
When you first begin Zen practice you observe many thoughts arising in your mind, but you mustnâ€™t search for which of these thoughts is the real you. Searching is avoidance. To seek is to suffer. You need to understand this carefully. This is our fundamental delusion. Someone doing Soto Zen just has silence–but that is not practice–when you reenter reality that silence will shatter. Our Zen nature doesnâ€™t abide in any one place, it functions from moment to moment, so we mustnâ€™t hold onto anything. When we stay in one place this creates a view and we make distinctions–Soto Zen/Rinzai Zen, awakening/delusion. If you say you have awakening you are actually very far from awakening.
There is a Zen koan that says, â€œKnowing obstructs Zen, not knowing obstructs Zen.â€ Knowing is delusion because knowing can create tension and obstruct our practice. So we decide â€œOk I donâ€™t know,â€ but that is also relying on delusion. We need to recognize the mind that knows, and let go of that. And because â€œnot knowingâ€ also obstructs our Zen, we need to be aware of this too. Our Buddha nature has nothing to do with knowing or not knowingâ€”it is spontaneous awareness and cannot be touched intellectually. Right here is where our thoughts are completely cut off.
Knowing, not knowing, nothing can cling to this awareness. The sentient being mind will attach itself anywhere–over here over there, Hell or Heaven, awakening/delusion. It creates duality everywhere.
We have this miraculous awareness that cannot be expressed in words; and we have to simply experience it. Then automatically the things that we cling to are released. At that point we are no longer attached– not because we are trying to be unattached but because our nature no longer clings to anything. At this point religion disappears. There isnâ€™t anything we are carrying around with us. This is something that cannot be understood. It simply requires faith. It can only be experienced through awareness. Through this, wisdom and power grow. If you constantly practice, at one point that empty mind within you is suddenly revealed. Then there is only realization, and you can enter a correct path. Only with such realization can true practice begin.
If one practices Soto Zen correctly, oneâ€™s practice becomes the same as koan practice, and the conflicts within you will disappear. If you meet Dogen you come to the world of Rinzai, and if you meet Rinzai you meet the world of Dogen. You will see the Zen of the ancient masters and American Zen too. We can all become one Dharma family and benefit each other. Through this, societies become purified. Otherwise we will cling to a small mind and this is sufferingâ€¦
In our Rinzai Zen, even though we are sitting, we donâ€™t pay a lot of attention to our posture. We totally focus on mind and the koan, and in doing that both body and mind become quiet. You utilize the sitting posture because of itâ€™s convenience. We can be active in reality and when we come to sit we let go of body and mind. We only focus on the koan. As our active energy settles down into our lower body we may sometimes feel a little itchy spot and spontaneously our hand goes to scratch it. But your practice continues.
Letâ€™s open our narrow minds. We mustnâ€™t compete with others. It would be nice if we could come together into one Dharma. It doesnâ€™t matter whether one is practicing Soto or Rinzai Zen, whether Christian or whatever. Someone following the path of awakening can understand it as soon as they see it. Letâ€™s reveal the ancient path of Zen â€¦ and that would be one goal if Buddhism can be reborn in the United States, if someone awakens to correct traditional Zen here. I believe great Zen power can arise in America.