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As I am reading this beautiful section of the Zen Letters I am amazed that my little dog
Annie Nov. 27.15 (2)Annie decides to ask to be picked up to lay in my lap and listen to me read aloud.   I guess that is why “dog” is “god” spelled backward!  She knows the hidden treasure when she hears it.  But me, sometimes I must hear it and read it and see it many times over before I catch the drift of its meaning and move with it as I walk through my daily life.  Oh, if I was just as cleaver as Annie!

Yuanwu writes: . . .in olden times the people of great enlightenment did not pay attention to trivial matters and did not aspire to the shallow and easily accessible.  They aroused their determination to transcend the buddhas and patriarchs.  They wanted to bear the heavy responsibility that no one can fully take, to rescue all living beings, to remove suffering and bring peace, to smash the ignorance and blindness that obstructs the Way (page 30).[1]

A job not for the faint-hearted!  And yet many took on the job. Why? They understood that they would have achieved their goal if just one person was relieved of a heavy responsibility through their actions or words. If just one person was rescued from danger or suffering in mind, body, or spirit—they would have achieved their goal. And they understood to remove suffering and bring peace and transcend the buddhas, although a heavy responsibility, when taken on one step, one action, one word at a time it’s not so hard after all.

Once the ignorance and blindness is penetrated and their eyes were opened to the truth of their being their determination to rescue all living beings grew. When was the last time you took on even a silly millimeter of that vow?  Or are your vows to grow your bank account, your leverage in your company, your job, school, or city at any cost even if it affects others in a negative way?

All too often people’s lives are ruined by someone who cannot see beyond their own needs wants and desires and he or she uses all the false reasoning in the world as to why they should live the way they want to even if those actions harm those around them.  That is not the Buddha’s way! That is not an enlightened path to life.

Yuanwu goes on to write: All those who are truly great must strive to overcome the obstacles of delusion and ignorance. They must strive to jolt the multitudes out of their complacency and to fulfill their own fundamental intent and vows.  Only if you do this are you a true person of the Path, without contrived activity and without concerns, a genuine Wayfarer of great mind and great vision and great liberation (page 31-32).

Thus, is the Hidden Treasure. Not just for you but for all who cross your path! That is the Buddha’s way.  I hope you are on the grassy walk through life!

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

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basket of fresh fruit

Yuanwu writes, “You must not cling to wrong knowledge and wrong views. You must not mix poison into your food. You must be uniformly pure and true and clean and wondrously illuminated to step directly into the scenery of the fundamental ground and reach the peaceful and secure stage of great liberation (page 24).[1]

From the day we were born we began learning.  We learned good and bad things, right and wrong things, true and false things. We began adding poison into our lives, thoughts, and relationships when we followed the path of fear, anger, lack, and limitation. Food is angulose to our thoughts and actions here. This is true in your life and mine.

How are those thoughts and actions affecting your life? Is your life filled with wonder, peace, security, and liberation?  Or is it filled with old habits, fears, anger, and pain?  Are you poisoning your mind, body, and spirt or filling it with goodness?  Remember it is all up to you.

I would equate “wrong knowledge and wrong view” to anything that is hurting and/or hindering me.  Or negatively affecting the lives of those around me from family, friends, strangers on the street, and co-workers.  When the expression on a person’s face is wide eyed and filled with fear, or tears are welling up in them (and not from laughter), or their eyes are focused on the ground—that is because the words you were “feeding them” were poisonous.  Each time you feed them this poison you damage your relationship with them and you damage their level of self-worth and self-esteem. Thus, they end up believing those things and begin to poison themselves and others even after you are long gone.

That is why Yuanwu says, “You must not cling to wrong knowledge and wrong views.” That may seem hard if you were brought up with the “wrong knowledge” and you should not punish yourself for the “sins of others.”  There is a recipe for curing this circle of pain and suffering.  Simply do not mix poison into your food [thoughts/words/deeds].  When you catch yourself doing it immediately adjust your thoughts and actions.  Remove the poison and replace it with love, compassion, and peace for yourself and others.

It may not be easy at first to undo the pains that you have been feeling for years, but all things are possible for those who wish to live a different life–who wish to live a life filled with loving friends, peace, and happiness.

If you saw someone picking up a can of lye you would run toward them screaming NO- NO-NO don’t drink that! How about for us NO-NO-NO don’t THINK that!  Changing your thoughts will change your actions which will change your life for the good and the food you will be eating will be filled with love, peace, and compassion and your life will be transformed.

Great liberation is yours for the asking! Let me know how that goes!

In gassho

Shokai

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

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pic Zen letters Teaching of Yuanwu book

In Zen we go with the flow. Yuanwu writes, “You do not establish any views or keep to any mental states; you move with a mighty flow, so that ‘when the wind moves, the grasses bend down (page 20-21).’”[1]  But for most of us in this culture we resist the flow, we over think the flow, we question the flow, and sometimes we even fear the flow. Then sometime down the road we get that great AH HA!  Maybe I should have listened to myself last week?  Maybe I should have trusted my intuition?  Why am I always second guessing myself?

 

Yuanwu goes on to say, “When you enter into enlightenment right where you are, you penetrate to the profoundest source.  You cultivate this realization till you attain freedom of mind, harboring nothing in your heart. Here there is no “understanding” to be found, much less “not understanding (page 21).”[2]

This he says allows you to “go on like this twenty-four hours a day, unfettered, free from all bonds…This is the realm of no mind, no contrived activity, and no concerns.”  It is up to us to look for our “true nature” the one that we all “inherently possess.”  Our true nature when touched helps us to allow ourselves to release ourselves from our “orbit of delusion” and not feel “stained or defiled” from its “erroneous knowledge and consciousness and false thoughts and judgments (page 21).”[3]

As a college professor, I often run into students that have “erroneous” thoughts about themselves, their intelligence, their creativity and even their own worthiness.  If I could just share with them the directions from Yuanwu when he said, “Once you merge your tracks into the stream of Zen, you spend your days silencing your mind and studying with your whole being.  You realize that this Great Cause is not obtained from anyone else but is just a matter of taking up the task boldly and strongly, and making constant progress. Day by day you shed your delusion, and day by day you enhance your clarity of mind (page 22).”[4]

And so…let’s experiment “silencing our minds” each day this week as often as possible to quiet that “monkey mind” as we say in Buddhism.  Begin by being “unfettered” for 24 seconds then 24 minutes and someday maybe even 24 hours! When you do let me know what happened!

In gassho

Shokai

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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Yuanwu praises the Zen master Linji for “employing expedient means” or skillful means with each of his students. (page 9).[1]  There are no standard movements, words, or tests to give every student.  Why? Because each is unique and individual in their knowledge, desires, and talents.  It is your job as a student to find a teacher that will work with you as an individual, to find the right and perfect practices to help you on your way to enlightenment or truth or peace.

As a teacher or a student, we want to use a variety of expedient means to help ease the suffering of self and others. It is important that these things be guided by wisdom and compassion. Yuanwu goes on to describe Linji’s school by saying:

It is absolutely transcendent and does not value any particular strategy.  The correctness of one’s eye for the Truth is the only thing it considers important.  …you must be completely liberated from head to foot, with a liberation that penetrates the bone and penetrates the marrow and is not entangled with anything whatsoever (page 11).[2]

Yuanwu goes on to speak of the teacher Yantou who said, “An enlightened teacher is like a gourd on the water, floating free and at ease, who cannot be reined in or tied down (page 14)” Be a teacher or a student who floats on the current of truth and wisdom that comes through you not “from” you.  Find a teacher who speaks the words that are meaningful to you for your particular situation at that moment without hesitation or pause.  Someone who looks in your eyes with love and compassion and with an open heart.  Someone who provides a safe space where you can grow and flourish, and blossom.  A place where secrets are kept and tears and laughter are shared and no words are spared or need to be spoken.

For me this describes my teacher, Mitsunen Roku Nordstrom, who writes in his book, Essays in Zen Daoism, these words:

One simple way of putting what I’ve been saying is that the use of skillful means is applied, not pure Zen. As long as this is made clear, I have no problem with skillful means or applied Zen. And it is clear that compassion requires that we not one-sidedly insist on no meaning as liberation when human beings—lay people, that is, not monks—so desperately crave meaning and purpose in their lives (pages 63-64).[3]

Let’s keep it simple! Please get a GREAT teacher and use the GREAT teacher you have within yourself—and when you do you’ll experience real teaching and real learning and your life will be changed for the better!

Let me know how it goes…

Shokai

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Nordstrom, M.R. (2010) Essays in Zen Daoism.  Hokori-ji: Lakeland, FL

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Yuanwu wrote, “If where you stand is reality, then your actions have power (page 1).[1]

Yuanwu Chinese Master2. BWjpg

Chinese Master Yuanwu

The Chinese poet Chiao Jan (730-799) wrote this poem.

If you want to be a mountain-dweller. . .
No need to trek to India to find one.
I have a thousand peaks
To pick from right here on the lake.
Fragrant grasses and white clouds
Hold me here.
What holds you there,
World-dweller (page 57)?[2]

 

When you find yourself searching for peace, love, and compassion in your life and you don’t seem to be attaining it ask yourself Chiao Jan’s question, “What is holding me here?” And my questions: What got me here? What would happen if I took a different path or thought different thoughts or acted in a different way? What if I took a different action in this situation next time? How would that look and feel? Would it help or hinder?  What if I simply let go of those thoughts and feelings and stopped the actions that are hindering me right now?

These two men were students of Buddhism and of life who understood that our reality is powerful and holds us in or allows us to expand and grow in a positive way.  Chiao Jan was held in by his beautiful mountains and the lake and the fragrant grasses and white clouds.  What holds you?  What has a grip on you?  What does “reality” mean to you anyway?  Are your day dreams real, are your night dreams causing sleeplessness?  Where did your “reality” take you today?

As you can see we create our own reality with our thoughts, behaviors, feelings, desires and more—right where we are. If our actions have power imagine what we could do with the power of “sitting.”  Simply taking time out of each day to quiet our minds and bodies. To release ourselves from the plans, goals, and pressures of life.  To be that “mountain-dweller” amongst the fragrant grasses and white clouds and allow life to “simply be.” Then watch our “reality” move into the power of peace, love, and compassion for all people, places, and things.

Imagine what your life would be like if all your actions and words made a positive difference in everyone you encountered.  What a wonderful world this would be. And you didn’t even have to be a “mountain dweller” to attain it! Try it and let me know how it goes!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

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

[2] S. Hamill and J.P. Seaton (2007) The Poetry of Zen.  Boston & London:Shambhala

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Today I scoured my bookshelves for something to use as a catalyst for my next Zen workbook to share with our members “behind the fence.”  Yuanwu jumped out at me and said, how about my teachings?  Some of my favorite translators of Zen Buddhism, Thomas Cleary and J.C. Cleary, created a wonderful book entitled Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu.

Yuanwu Chinese MasterYuanwu’s teachings are filled with words of wisdom and actions for the everyday person to incorporate into his or her life. Although he may have lived from 1063-1135 his words are still pertinent to how we can live our lives each day with optimism. He is also known by Buddhists as the author of the Blue Cliff Record a compilation of 100 koans and his commentaries.

The authors write in their introduction: The Zen tradition, like all of Mahayana Buddhism, is invincibly optimistic about human possibilities—our true identity, our inherent buddha nature, can never be destroyed.  It is our basic essence, and it is with us always, waiting to be activated and brought to life (page vi-vii).[1]

The authors go on to write: These teachers meant to enable us to become aware of our buddha nature and to gain the use of it in everyday life.  Zen Buddhism, like all other branches of Mahayana Buddhism, maintains that it is the true destiny of every person to become enlightened (page v-vi).[2]

For people in other religious beliefs you may interchange the Buddha nature with Christ nature or for indigenous people your ideas and teachings.  But all spiritual and/or religious beliefs have this basic essence described throughout their doctrines, writings, music, and art. As we follow in the footsteps of the masters we begin to realize that we too can be enlightened. Even though we sit with “no” conscious intention of it—if we practice the principles and sit and live the tenants all things are possible to those who believe.  Believe it not—and it will not be!  That is the truth of all of life.

Thus, I hope this blog and eventual workbook will be of interest to all people of all faiths and beliefs, and to those who hold no particular faith belief whatsoever.  Everyone is welcome on this adventure with Yuanwu the Chinese Master. I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

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

[2] Ibid.

 

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the 10 oxherding pictures Sakura Sakuragi

The way of Zen is a process—one that can take a life time.  It is not a quick fix for your relationships, jobs, or health.  It is a way of life.  It is providing the opportunity for you to have a meditation practice that moves through you throughout the day not just when you are sitting on the cushion.  It gives you the opportunity to live a life of peace, love, and compassion even in the most trying of situations knowing that this to shall pass. The ox herder learned this very well on his journey.

Francis Dojun Cook in his book How to Raise An Ox writes:

In Buddhism there is a vast difference between believing that all things are impermanent and realizing that they are; but before that belief becomes true knowledge, one must practice in the faith that it is so, and will eventually be proven to be so by one’s own experience (page 17).

Thus, sitting and reading and practicing the principles of Buddhism will give you the opportunity and the “true knowledge” you need to bolster your faith in all things being impermanent.  That impermanence makes life easier to deal with, that impermanence is why we have a saying “and this to shall pass.”  Every life is filled with things that come and go: a headache, a bad grade on a project at school, a failed job or relationship, a burnt dinner, or a cold.  They came and they went, they were impermanent.  They were not here to stay!

As students of Buddhism we work to realize that everyone and everything is the Buddha. We take the bodhisattva vow which consists “of selfless service on behalf of others [which] gradually diminishes self-serving, self-interested action (page 23).” [1]

Thus, the ox herder practiced and studied and believed and eventually realized his oneness with all things and no longer needed the ox. There was no quick fix, no magic pill or potion. Dojun continues with these words, “And this begins to happen when we completely abandon our own efforts and trust completely in our true nature, which is the Buddha.  Again, this is Buddhist faith (page 24).”

“To have faith in the Buddha is the same as forgetting the self (page 26)” –And remembering impermanence! To forget the self is to find the true self. Good luck with that!

[1] Cook, F. D. (2002) How to Raise an Ox Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Boston: Wisdom Publications

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