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Archive for the ‘self-help’ Category

The next section in the book is entitled “Step Back and Turn to Reality.”  One of Yuanwu’s most successful students Gao (Dahui Zonggao) became a great associate and friend because he was “not content to follow small understanding.” When he decided to leave and go out on his own he asked Yuanwu for some advice.  Here is what he said,

You should work to melt away the obstructions caused by conditioned knowledge and views and interpretive understanding, and penetrate through to a realization of the great causal condition communicated and bequeathed by the buddhas and ancestral teachers. Don’t covet name and fame. Step back and turn to reality, until your practical understanding and virtue are fully actualized (page 26).[1]

Remember your greatest successes became reality because of your perseverance!  Not because you went out seeking fame and/or money.  Because you reached out for practical understanding of your talent, for knowledge through the courses you were studying, or with a mentor or coach you discovered those things deep within yourself!

On YouTube AsapScience has a short video on productivity that I share with my students every term. They talk about “deliberate practice” and ask you to focus on the hardest tasks first. Then they have you divide the time up on the “work” and then on a “break.” They don’t rely on “will power” but on good habits of study—90 minutes of study and then a 15 to 20-minute break.[2]  Remember to give yourself a deadline! All of this requires perseverance and consistency!

Great, if I do all of this how will I know that I have had real attainment?

Yuanwu says,

Wait until you are like a bell sounding when struck or a valley returning an echo. Wait until you are like pure gold coming forth from a forge where it has been smelted and refined ten thousand times. So that it will not change in ten thousand generations, so that it is ten thousand years in a single moment (page 26).[3]

You will hear the “bell” and see the “bell” when you’ve taken the time every day to practice your craft, to hold on to your passion, and consistently raise the bar for yourself.  Whether it is setting aside a certain time each day for meditating, or being involved in a Buddhist or mindfulness group that meets on a regular basis to learn and grow your practice—consistency is imperative.  All great athletes, musicians, artists, singers, teachers, inventors, and scientists attained success through persistence and consistency.

Then one day, without trying, they heard the valley returning the sound of the bell. There practical understanding and virtue was fully actualized.

Good luck with that! Let me know how it goes!

In gassho, Shokai

gassho

[1] Cleary, (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHfjvYzr-3g

[3]Cleary, (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu

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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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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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BOxherding_pictures,_No._10arefooted and naked of breast,
I mingle with the people
of the world.
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden,
and I am ever blissful.
use no magic to extend my life;
Now, before me, the dead trees
become alive.
I have abandoned the whip and ropes

 Finally, the tenth picture shows the enlightened oxherd entering the town marketplace, doing all of the ordinary things that everyone else does. But because of his deep awareness everything he does is quite extraordinary. He does not retreat from the world, but shares his enlightened existence with everyone around him. Not only does he lead fishmongers and innkeepers in the way of the Buddha but, because of his creative energy and the radiance of his life, even withered trees bloom. [1]

I love Suzuki’s title for this picture “entering the city with bliss-bestowing hands.” Every one of us can have hands that help or hinder. We can bless someone with a kind touch on the shoulder, or by the shake of a hand, or a pat on the back in their time of need. Or we can hinder them with a negative hand gesture (I’m sure you can think of some on your own), a shove, or a slap. Your hands can hold a crying newborn to sooth it’s trauma, comfort a patient in a hospice bed, or wash a baby duck covered in oil from an off-shore drilling site disaster.

Hands are powerful tools that we are given and sometimes they can seem as though they are making magic.  I like to watch the talent shows like America’s Got Talent and the most amazing people to me are the magicians.  What they can do with their hands is mind boggling!  Watching someone plant flowers in a garden, or paint a picture, or cut your hair is amazing to me.  The craft, the talent, and the finesse that your hands have to make something out of almost nothing is incredible.

Your creative energy can come out in many ways.  I hope that you are looking for those ways and perfecting them, and sharing them with others.  We don’t have to be a so called “enlightened being” like the oxherder to do great things with our hands.  We simply need to care enough, desire it enough, and be willing enough to put the time and energy in to it to find and develop that creativity, love, and perfection within us.

I love how Koeller talks about the “radiance of his life, even withered trees bloom.”  I don’t expect to make withered flowers bloom today with the touch of my hands that’s for sure. But I can pick the weeds from my garden or comfort a soul in need with them and for me that’s the “radiance of life” –doing the extraordinary in an ordinary way.  What is yours?

[1] http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf

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