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book cover A Flower Does not talkShibayama begins by giving us the literal explanation of the phrase.

“Nature as used here is not something one has acquired after he was born, but it is the ‘true innate Nature with which one was primarily born.’  It is the Absolute Nature at the very foundation of existence (page 27).”[1]

So, when you hear someone say “it’s just my nature” to be like that or do that they are wrong.  It is their education, upbringing, culture, etc. that has made them behave like that.  And that is great!  Why?  Because that means we can change it if we want to.  Just like when growing up I learned to love chopped liver on crackers because my dad was Jewish and his mom always made it for him when he was young and so he made it for us.

Now some of you may be saying YIKES! I’m a vegan or a vegetarian or I never eat that kind of stuff, no kidneys, no brains, and no hearts!  It’s not in my nature…so what is?

Shibayama goes on to say,

Zen does not say to “know” this absolute fundamental Nature, but it says to “see” into the Nature. This religious experience of “seeing into one’s Nature” is called kensho in Japanese. By this one attains his religious personality. In Christian terminology, one is saved by God. In Buddhist terminology, it is “to attain to Buddhahood.” The fourth maxim can therefore be paraphrased: “By the fact of religious experience one attains his Buddhahood (page 27-28).[2]

He goes on to say that “the term Buddha is used in its original Sanskrit meaning, namely, ‘an enlightened one.’ In The Song of Zazen by Hakuin, the term Buddha comes in its first line where he says, ‘All beings are primarily Buddhas (page28).’”[3]  He is asking us to think outside the box.  To go beyond our ordinary consciousness to our “true/innate nature.”

Even when we do something foolish or mean or unjust that does not mean our true/innate nature has been modified or damaged.  So, we are always given a second, third, fourth or hundredth chance to get it right, to do it better, to remember our true nature is Buddha nature—loving kindness, compassion for self and others, for perfect health, happiness, and joy.

Take time out of your busy schedule today to discover your “true nature” through some time in quiet meditation.  Focus on your breath.  Let go of all goals, rules, laws, and past negative thinking and open your mind to the truth of who you are. When you get up from your meditation…act like it!!

[1] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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Diane Ackerman in her book An Alchemy of Mind, The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain writes, “The brain is not the mind, the mind inhabits the brain (page 4).”[1]

Shibayama writes, “The Mind here does not refer to thought or emotion, nor does it refer to human psychology which is an object of scientific research. It is not the consciousness, nor the psyche which is dealt with by psychiatrists, either. When we go beyond all these, wash them off, and transcend their limitations, for the first time we can reach the Mind which is also called the Buddha Mind, the Absolute Mind, the Spirituality, or the truth (page 26).”[2]

And so, when we mediate we give ourselves the opportunity to transcend our human thoughts that we created through study, reading, our culture, and experiences and move into touching the greater Mind.

He shares a story about Zen Master Sekito who was training a monk and while walking through the forest they came across a dense thicket that they could not walk through. The student asked Sekito for the knife. “Sekito unsheathed his big mountain knife, and without a word thrust out the knife with the sharp edge toward him.  The companion was frightened, and withdrew his hand crying, “Stop the nonsense! Let me have the hilt.” Sekito’s reply was sharper than the edge of the knife.  He said, “What is the use of the hilt? The monk could not utter a word in reply (page 26-27).”[3]

Shibayama finishes by writing, “We are apt to stick to the hilt which is of secondary importance, and miss the Truth altogether.  Sekito is urging us to get hold of the fundamental Truth direct.  Here we see the truth of direct pointing (page 27).”  It is the blade that does the work that cuts through our wrong thinking and fears and anxieties.  Remember the axiom, “The truth will set you free.” Where is your freedom?  Hidden in a job, an education, a scripture, a political party, or religion?

Then there is the power of meditation.  Each day as you take the opportunity to sit and calm the “monkey mind” you’ll find that soon you’ll be able to transcend the brain/mind and tap in to the greater mind, the Buddha Mind, the Absolute Mind. And when you do you’ll discover who you really are and you will experience the power and peace that has always been within reach when you make that direct connection.

Which mind are you pointing to?

brain-perception

[1] Ackerman, D. (2004) An Alchemy of Mind The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain. Scribner: NY

[2] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[3] Ibid.

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Shibayama’s first paragraph in this section reads:

The real life and spirit of Zen is an experiential fact.  It does not rely on letters, that is, on written or verbal expressions which function within the dualistic limitations.  From the very beginnings of human self-consciousness, human beings have been making the mistake of confounding the experiential fact and its expressions in letters which are just the conceptual shadows of the fact. We are liable to believe that the experience itself exists in letters and words. Zen, which insists that the direct, genuine experience is basic, regards letters and verbal expressions as of secondary importance (page 23).[1]

Don’t get me wrong in this part or in Part 3 I am not suggesting that you don’t read and study and learn about Buddhism and Zen in particular.  It is good to understand and know the philosophy by which Buddhists live and how they relate to the outer world in a Buddhist way. But the words we read are empty and temporary and do not in and of themselves make this a better place in which to live or make you a better person.  When we demonstrate our knowledge of the teachings by our own “direct actions” and not by reciting a koan or a sutra or something we read in a book we are demonstrating the life and spirit of Zen.

 

Peace Pilgrim

One of my favorite people that ever walked on planet Earth was life’s perfect example of living the spirit of Zen and she was not a Buddhist: The Peace Pilgrim.  From 1953 until 1981 when she died she walked around the world to share her message of peace and to stop the proliferation of nuclear arms. She did not rely on letters!  She believed “when enough of us find inner peace, our institutions will all become more peaceful and there will be no more occasion for war (page xi).”[2]  In those few years she walked 25,000 miles for her vow: “I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until I am given shelter and fasting until I am given food.”  She walked those 25,000 miles without a penny in her pocket.

 

 

She was a great example of Shibayama’s teaching that we demonstrate our knowledge by our own direct actions. Her “real life” was demonstrated in her actions as she walked as a “prayer” and as a chance to inspire others to pray and work with her for peace.  Peace in all ways she suggested: within ourself, as we express it toward others, and how our peaceful actions can encourage our communities, states, and countries to work toward peace.

She was the spirit of Zen that did not rely on letters but her “direct genuine experience” of walking and sharing her peace and love with everyone she met as she walked those 25,000 miles.

Ask yourself today are you simply reading about Zen or are you living Zen and how many miles would you walk expressing your vow?  Do you even have a vow?

 

[1] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[2] Friends of Peace Pilgrim publication, first published in 1982, http://www.peacepilgrim.org

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Shibayama writes next about The Four Maxims:

  1. Transmission outside scriptures
  2. Not relying on letters
  3. Pointing directly to one’s Mind
  4. Attainment of Buddhahood by seeing into one’s Nature (page 19-20)[1]

First, we’ll write about number one: Transmission outside scriptures.  In our previous chapter we talked about the satori experience.  Notice that he uses the word “experience” here not knowledge, not understanding, not wisdom, but the palpable “experience” of the teachings of Zen.  If you’ve never had an actual “satori” experience in this life or if you may have had one or more than one in this life time that’s nice.

What is important as a student of Buddhism is to begin to bring the Zen principles or your “satori” experience into your daily life.  We do this by taking the opportunity to “be” peace, love, and compassion without thinking—simply be it!

He writes:

It is therefore the satori experience that can give life to these scriptures.  It is impossible to attain satori by reading the sutras on the scholastic level.  Once an experience is expressed in a conceptual form, it assumes its own objectivity which can be independently treated.  Thus there is the danger of misunderstanding the concept as the experiential fact itself, and the experience itself will be forgotten and finally be dead.  Zen is flatly against such a tendency and strongly warns us that we should not be attached to any of the scriptures which are likely to be lifeless records (page 21).[2]

Thus, we are put into a conundrum how do we live our principles if he’s telling us there is the “danger of misunderstanding the concept” and confusing it with the experience itself.  As we look back on this idea we see the Buddha simply holding up a lotus flower and his disciple Mahakasyapa was immediately enlightened.

Dew drops on a lotus leaf(1)Our friends from Buddha Groove write beautifully about this:

Historical records show that the flower the Buddha held up at the sermon was a lotus flower, which is associated with Buddhism to this day. The lotus is known for its great beauty, but it is also unique in that it requires thick mud and muck in which to extend its roots so that it can grow and eventually yield flowers. It is because of this thick mud and muck—not in spite of it—that the beautiful lotus blooms.[3]

Thus, it is our experiences in life living the principles of Buddhism in peace, love, and compassion toward all—not just humans—but to all living things on earth including the earth itself that Buddhism is all about! Live it, love it, be it…

Let me know how it goes!

[1] Ibid.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.buddhagroove.com/the-flower-sermon/

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Yuanwu starts out as most good Zen teachers do by saying, “Here at my place there is no Zen to explain and no Path to transmit.”  Then they go about quickly explaining the “nothing.”  In this section of his book he, of course, does exactly that!  How great that the ancestors worked so hard to keep us on our toes about “nothing.”bhante-gunaratana

Within each of us is the “fundamental matter that is inherent in everyone (page 67).”[1]  What we might call in Unity that divine spark or goodness within us, that oneness with all things big and small, animal, mineral, and vegetable!  And when we forget that we are a divine spark of all there is we can easily fall into those traps of greed, anger, jealousy, attachments, contrived actions, confusion, and false sentiments, so Yuanwu says!

Who wants to fall into all of those traps? Not me that’s for sure!  So, what can we do?  What does Yuanwu suggest?  “You do not exert any mental effort: you go along freely with the natural flow, without any grasping or rejecting.  This is the real esoteric seal (page 68).[2]

Finally, he writes, “Bearing this esoteric seal is like carrying a lamp hidden in the darkness as you roam through the world without longing or fear—it is all the realm of your own great liberation, continuing forever without interruption (page 68).”[3]  Just this!  We simply deal with whatever comes our way each and every moment in the most appropriate and helpful way we can. Shine your “light” onto the situation and all darkness must disappear. That’s the law.

You can turn up that light at any time by simply sitting and taking time each day to encounter that quiet place in body, mind, and spirit.  H. Emilie Cady in her Unity book, Lessons in Truth wrote: Every man must take time daily for quiet and meditation. In daily meditation lies the secret of power.  No one can grow in either spiritual knowledge or power without it…  No one would ever dream of becoming a master in music except by spending some time daily alone with music (page 7).[4]

Give yourself the present of being alone in the present moment as long and as often as you can.  The more you do that the brighter the hidden lamp in you will shine for all to see.  Be the light that lights up the room, the road, the town, and the world! Stop trying and simply be it! Simply Shine!

[1] Cleary J.C. and Cleary, T. (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu. Boston & London: Shambhala

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cady, H. E. (1902 1st Printing) Lessons in Truth. Unity Village, MO: Unity House

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Wow, what a wonderful opportunity it has been to be working through this great book by Yuanwu!  The tips and suggestions are practical ones that help us live a life with limited “entanglements.”

He writes, “Cut off the myriad entanglements, and make yourself free and untrammeled, and reach the stage of great peace (page 64).”[1]  What a fantastic idea!  Regardless of where you reside be it in the city, the country, or as we say in our prison ministry “behind the fence” there are just way too many entanglements in our lives.  Most of them are created by ourselves.  Some of them are put upon us by our bosses, rules, laws, and relationships for sure. But wherever they come from we have the ability to decide to focus on them or not.

Out and back he says!  When you feel yourself being drawn out and away from your peace, right thinking, and joy you have the ability to bring yourself back.  Just like the YouTube videos that I show in my classes.  Sometimes I look at them and like them so much I go “back” to them again and again.  I invite my students to keep going back to them until the principles are made part of how they think and behave.

What videos are you playing in your head each day?  When you are sitting do you go back and forth between calmness and fidgeting and mind wandering.  Yuanwu says, “If you are suddenly dragged off by it, you have leaked and tarried.  You must continue to concentrate so that your mind does not wander off.  After a long time, it will fuse into one whole. This at last is where you find rest (page 65).”[2]

So, do not chastise yourself when your mind wanders and draws you away from your peace, contemplation, or mindfulness.  Hold on to his words that you must continue to concentrate, bring yourself “back” from wherever you have gone and simply start again. No judging, name calling, or condemnation. Just out and back, out and back ad infinitum if need be.

ed65327f41c183ef9f685e38097f454dThis brings to mind the last time I was on a swing—out and back I went over and over. Sometimes my feet had to touch the ground so I could give myself a little push which propelled me into the air toward the open sky and clouds.  How free I felt, how filled with glee I felt as I flew through the air, out and back, out and back into the “stage of great peace.”  Free at last from my entanglements! So just keep swinging out and back and watch what happens!

[1]Cleary J.C. and Cleary, T. (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu. Boston & London: Shambhala

[2] Ibid.

Picture from Printrest Etsy Tina Tarnoff

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And thus, we move forward with this great teaching from Yuanwu!  He says, “Among the enlightened adepts, being able to speak the truth has nothing to do with the tongue, and being able to talk about the Dharma is not a matter of words (page 62).[1]

I spent the Sunday afternoon at my prison ministry where 14 men sitting “behind the fence” studied and sat and did kinhin for over three hours.  Their sitting was done wherever they could do it—on the floor with a small yoga mat beneath them, in a wheelchair to which they were confined, or in a chair attached to a desk like you used to use in high school.  But sit they did!

They were not in a beautiful zendo in a forest or in a church where I sit with the Southern Palm Zen Group, or a person’s home filled with love, patience, and compassion—yet their dedication to the principles and practices of Zen were deep and knowing and learning and forgetting.  As Yuanwu said “not a matter of words.”

Yuanwu goes on to write:

Anything the ancients said was intended only so that people would directly experience the fundamental reality.  Thus, the teachings of the sutras are like a finger pointing to the moon, and the sayings of the Zen masters are like a piece of tile used to knock on a door (page 62).

We were studying the story of Huineng and his opportunity to receive dharma Huineng drawing cutting bambootransmission in secret from the fifth ancestor Yuquan Shenxiu. As the story is told the fifth ancestor was getting old and looking for a successor and so a challenge was given to all the students to write a poem to show their understanding of the dharma.  One student wrote a poem which indicated that in order to reach enlightenment or awakening we had to continuously be polishing the mirror because it was always collecting dust.

Huineng on the other hand could neither read nor write so he had a fellow monk help him out and when he heard this idea he said, “. . .that is not deep enough.”  He asked his friend to write his version which ended in “Fundamentally there is not a single thing. Where could dust arise?” In Buddhism we believe that everything is completely empty thus there is no place for the “dust” to be. Shohaku Okumura says, “there is nothing to have to polish and nothing we have to eliminate. That was Huineng’s understanding (page 211).”[2]

Quantum physics agrees with this ancient teaching: “nothing really exists without the apparatus defining it.”[3] Although there is nothing to define (no dust to wipe away) our human curiosity and questioning moves us to do it anyway.  It moves us to find the answers, to investigate, to study, to learn, and to finally practice what we have learned and bring those ideas and principals into our lives. We do this by simply sitting, clearing our minds of all thoughts of “things,” and discovering that secret sacred place within us devoid of words. Truth is simply conveyed through our actions toward others and self. What “no words” have you spoken today?! What “no actions” have you taken?

[1] Cleary J.C. and Cleary, T. (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu. Boston & London: Shambhala

[2] Okumura, S. (2012) Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts Wisdom Publications: Boston

[3] http://www.neurohackers.com/index.php/fr/menu-top-neurotheque/68-cat-nh-spirituality/95-emptiness-relativity-a-quantum-physics-dalai-lama

[4] Picture Hui-neng Cutting Bamboo, by Liang K’ai

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