Posted in zen

Teachers and Monks

These days I tend to downplay the fact that I went through monk training.

I lead a Zen meditation group now and I certainly don’t want to use the fact that I went through monk training to promote that in any way. That would be inappropriate.

I was a monk school dropout. These days I’m just a lay teacher at my local non-sectarian Buddhist temple. And that’s just fine with me.

I went through monk training with an organization that doesn’t have a good reputation. I don’t talk about it much because I don’t want to be perceived as talking bad about someone. I don’t know if there’s anything *wrong* with that organization really. They didn’t try to take money from me or anything like that. I just really didn’t connect with their lineage at all and there were a few weird things going on that I felt I couldn’t ignore. I don’t want to go into details about that here, but I will answer any questions privately on the subject.

I’m careful to not mention the name of that organization. I just don’t connect with the teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn and it seems like people in his lineage are often just repeating things in his teaching style. Which is fine. A lot of Buddhist teachers just repeat things from their teacher or just quote their teacher all the time. It’s not at all unusual. But it just wasn’t for me.

In early Buddhism things were probably different than they are now.

One would take the vows of a Novice, expressing the intent to walk the path of the Dharma, and then look for a teacher, probably studying with several different teachers to find the right one. That’s what Dogen did. That’s what Ikkyu did too.

I took these novice vows a few years ago. But, I did leave that organization. It wasn’t a good fit for me, especially at that time in my life.

These are the ten novice vows that I took:

The First Precept: I vow to support all living creatures, and refrain from killing.
The Second Precept: I vow to respect the property of others, and refrain from stealing.
The Third Precept: I vow to regard all beings with respect and dignity, and refrain from objectifying others.
The Fourth Precept: I vow to be truthful, and refrain from lying.
The Fifth Precept: I vow to maintain a clear mind and refrain from harming myself or others with intoxication.

The Sixth Precept: I vow to be kind and to encourage others, and to refrain from discouraging others including myself.
The Seventh Precept: I vow to be kind to others and refrain from being boastful and self-centered.
The Eighth Precept: I vow to be generous, to be grateful for what I have, and refrain from yearning for things that do not belong to me.
The Ninth Precept: I vow to promote harmony and refrain from acting in anger or hatred.
The Tenth Precept: I vow to affirm and uphold the three jewels (the Buddha, the Sangha and the Dharma).

Now, I think people are largely expected to stay in an organization or stay with a teacher. But I’d like to suggest that that wasn’t always the case. This is speculation on my part, but I don’t think things used to be as rigid as they are now. Because students should have time to have the right teacher, if we’re going to have teachers at all. And having trouble finding the right teacher is, of course, no barrier to serious commitment to the path.

This is generally how I think of myself. As a Novice Monk, as a wanderer, as a cloud. Some say that if you don’t keep going, if you don’t take more vows etc., then you have to give those vows back or something. I respectfully disagree. Vows are a lifetime commitment, and they’re something you take for yourself. They aren’t something you take for an organization.

I’ve connected with a lot of teachers. I’ve studied with teachers on the internet and I’ve spent a little time on retreat with other teachers.

I read Dogen and Ikkyu all the time, but I can’t really call them my teachers (they’re dead).

There is a sad truth about Buddhism in the west that we don’t talk about much.

That truth is ambition.

One can very easily fall into a trap of ambition. “I want to wear cool robes.” “I want to join this or that awesome lineage.” or “I want to be a great Buddhist Master.”

And if you want a teacher to feed your ambition and tell you that you’ll become something great, you can find one. They are out there.

From what I’ve seen a really good teacher doesn’t promise you anything.

For the longest time I thought I should become a ‘GREAT Zen Master’. I read stories from Zen history about Bodhidharma, Huineng, Dogen, Huang Po, Xu Yun, Ikkyu, Basho, and many others. They are inspiring.

One of the teachers I’ve spent time with, Maezen, once told me, “Drop your attachment to outcome and let the Dharma unfold in your life by itself.”

Now I take that message to heart.

Maezen is my favorite Zen teacher that I’ve met. I’ve talked to other Zen teachers on the internet over the years, and I really think that’s no substitute for real life practice. She’s a traveling Zen teacher. I can’t really have a formal relationship with her unless I become a traveling Zen student. But, I can tell you this: I served as her Jisha (attendant) on a weekend Zen retreat here in Kansas City and I think I learned more about the path in those three days than I ever thought possible.

Now I lead a Zen meditation group, but I don’t think of myself as a teacher. I’m even teaching a class on the Diamond Sutra at the Rime Center and I’ll be teaching other classes in the future, but I’m still not sure I can think of myself as a teacher.

Now after all this time, I really wonder why I wanted so badly to be a teacher in the first place. I read about Buddhism every day. I don’t read much else, really. I spend more time in Buddhist temples than a lot of people. And I love to write about Buddhism. I really really enjoy it.

Maybe those are reasons why. Is getting credentials necessary in order to be able to write about Buddhism? I don’t think so. Jack Kerouac wrote about Buddhism. Alan Watts wrote about Buddhism too. Hell, even noted scholar D.T. Suzuki was not a Zen Master.

People sometimes expect me to be an authority figure because I write about Buddhism. I’m about as out as you can be. No one that knows me wonders what my spiritual beliefs are. I’m always carrying Buddhist books. I’m talking about the Dharma to anyone who is interested. Oh, and I have some Buddhist symbols permanently on my body. On my right arm I have a blue lotus, an OM, a Bodhisattva, and an endless knot. So, anyone that wants to talk about Buddhism knows that I’m someone who they can talk to about it before they even know my name. Is that why I got these tattoos or is it because tattoos are cool? Who knows.

I’m not an authority figure, not really. I’m as mired in suffering as everyone else. I’m confused and I make plenty of mistakes, probably more than my fair share.

I’m not a role model. I am full of flaws.
As Kerouac said, “I had nothing to offer anyone except my own confusion.”

The only thing I can really do when people ask me for advice is point to the mistakes I made. I can definitely tell you what I did that didn’t work out well. My regrets are numerous.

I’ve studied with several different organizations that give teachings online. We don’t have a Soto Zen community here in Kansas City and Soto Zen is what really speaks to me the most. It actually kind of bothers me. Wichita, KS has a Soto Zen temple. Cedar Rapids, IA has a Soto Zen Temple. Omaha, NE has a Soto Zen temple. But we don’t have one in Kansas City. We have a growing city, an amazing city, that’s becoming increasingly diverse. We’re a bigger city than Wichita. We should have a Soto Zen temple.

I haven’t had great results, but that’s okay. I’ve learned a lot. You can learn about Zen online, but I don’t think you can really learn to walk the path.

Sangha is important. Being with actual other Buddhists in real life is important.

I was practicing with the Rime Sangha here the whole time, but I wanted a Zen Sangha. Being able to go to the Rime Center has been a great benefit to me. I can’t express how much being part of that community has meant to me. It’s a wonderful community, but a lot of that Tibetan stuff doesn’t hold much meaning for me.

The Zen tradition is the one that really speaks to me.

I’ve learned a lot in studying by myself and in studying with teachers on the internet. I can’t say that I’ve had a bad experience. I’ve been pretty thoroughly educated in Zen Buddhist history and theory. I actually learned a whole lot in studying with one of my teachers, Shi Da Dao on the internet. He gave me the Buddhist name that I use and gave me permission to teach in his lineage, the Empty Cloud Lineage of Xu Yun. He did this even though we never met in real life. I have trouble taking that seriously. Something about it definitely doesn’t feel real.

I have to acknowledge that education and practice aren’t the same thing. There are Buddhist colleges that train ministers, plenty of them. But that’s not the way we become Buddhist clergy (whatever that means). All training is on the job. I think we do a disservice to the Dharma if we make it about training to be a minister. It should be about awakening.

I’ve taken Bodhisattva Vows and done all sorts of other things.

I’ve written about Bodhisattva Vows before and Dharma Transmission as well. I gave certificates. I am a ‘certified Dharma teacher’. I’m a teacher in the Tibetan tradition as well. I was given the title ‘Gegan’ (teacher) by Urgyen Palden Gocha.

But, and this is important, Buddhism isn’t really something you learn. It’s something you do. My hero Ikkyu tore up his certifications when he got them because he didn’t take them seriously.

I think Vows are something you take for yourself and not for some other person or organization. I believe those have meaning no matter what.

Three things have traditionally been fundamental to Buddhist practice. One is practicing by yourself at home. The second is practicing with a community once in a while. The third is following an example, spending time with a teacher who has more experience than you.

I’m no one’s master. That is clear. I’m just a wandering cloud. A student on the path, just like all of the other Buddhists. Although I’m like the kind of student who’s studying all the time.

I won’t be your master.

But I’d love to be your spiritual friend.

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Posted in iconoclasm, zen

Ikkyu: Crazy Cloud

“The autumn breeze of a single night of love is better than a hundred thousand years of sitting meditation.” ~Ikkyu

Ikkyu was an eccentric iconoclastic Zen monk and poet in the 1400s. He’s viewed equally as a heretic and a saint. Sometimes in Zen teachings these things aren’t quite as widely separated as one would think.

Buddhism sometimes has a reputation as being free and individualistic. At least, that’s how many of us wish it was. Often, this is not the case. The truth is Buddhism can sometimes be as rigid as other spiritual paths.

Ikkyu Sojun was the embodiment of iconoclastic Buddhism. He was wild and free.

Raised in a Rinzai Zen monastery, he was an illegitimate son of the emperor of Japan—so his mother put him in the monastery to make sure his life was spared.

The Buddhism he learned was strict and had a rigid hierarchy. He learned a lot about how to do rituals in exactly a certain way, but he didn’t feel like he was learning about awakening.

So when he reached adulthood and they offered him the certificate of enlightenment that would allow him to become a fully ordained Zen Monk, he refused. He left the monastery instead.

He hadn’t given up on the Dharma. He thought that the monks he met were just acting spiritual and focusing on the hierarchy instead of the Dharma. Some believed that enlightenment could only be found by breathing in incense and sitting in silent meditation for hours at a time. Ikkyu disagreed. He believed enlightenment was with us already and we could realize it just as easily by spending our time with poor people and prostitutes as we could with monks. So that’s what he decided to do.

He rebelled against many of the monks and Zen teachers of his time who had become corrupted by politics are greed. He called out the practice of selling Enlightenment certificates.

His Zen wasn’t held down by needless structure and tradition.

It was about just this moment, real ultimate reality. Mystical truth, not religion.

That’s what he’s known for. But he did something else as well. He took Zen teaching to places that had no experience of it. Most of his contemporaries gave teachings only to monks. Ikkyu wasn’t like that. Not content to live in a monastery, he took Zen into the world.

His temple was the street.

And he taught people that monks would never teach. He taught Zen practice to prostitutes, artists, homeless people and alcoholics. He brought the Dharma to the misfits and radicals, those who were looked down on by society.

He became a wandering monk and was given the nickname ‘Crazy Cloud’.

The point of Ikkyu’s life story is that the ‘sacred’ is nothing more than ordinary life experienced with mindfulness. His view was non-dualistic. He traveled the country doing things that we don’t associate with monks. There are a lot of stories about him traveling the country, drinking sake, and sleeping with women. He was freedom-loving and he didn’t really care what the religious authorities of the time thought.

Instead of staying in monasteries like most monks, Ikkyu gave teachings in places monks didn’t usually go. He taught in the streets and in brothels. His students were hobos, criminals and prostitutes. A lot more of his students were laypeople than monks because he thought the Dharma was for everyone, so he wanted to make sure that it was completely available.

But, at the same time, he expected a lot from his students. His ways taught that having a regular meditation practice was important.

 His students were dedicated to Buddhist practice, but in the real world instead of in monasteries.

His teaching  was radical in its non-dualism. This version of Buddhism includes the entire world in its teaching, rather than being confined to sacred spaces. If all beings have Buddha nature, then enlightenment isn’t a matter of lifestyle, it’s a living experience. When his teachers tried to get him to stay in a monastery, he wouldn’t do it. He wanted to be in the world, working for the Dharma.

Is this bad? I think his story is a lesson. We shouldn’t be attached to what we think a good Buddhist should do and we certainly shouldn’t be attached to systems of authority. Good and bad are just labels. More than that, challenges to authority are important, especially religious forms of authority. Even if you think Ikkyu was wrong in his iconoclasm, it’s important that he was there to make the challenges.

Near the end of his life, a civil war caused many Zen temples to be destroyed. Ikkyu was a big advocate for rebuilding them. In old age his life’s mission was making sure that the religious structure that he had rebelled against would not be lost forever. In the end, Zen in Japan owes him a debt. He was an outsider who saved the teachings from destruction.

Ikkyu is a very important inspiration to me. It can be easy, on this path, to get caught up in dogma and ritual and really lose sight of what we’re trying to do. This path is about Enlightenment.

Nothing more or less than that.

Posted in ch'an, zen

Hsu Yun: Empty Cloud

 

“Set the time of sitting! Make it just as long as it takes one fragrant incense stick to burn down.

In that time we can thread the basic principles of Buddhism into a lovely string of pearls.”

~ Hsu Yun

Ch’an Master Hsu Yun lived to be 120. He lived from the mid 1800s until the mid 1900s and never traveled to the West—but many westerners traveled to the East to learn from him and his influence is felt here.

As a child, he saw monks performing a funeral service for his grandmother. Seeing these monks gave him inspiration; he started tracking down and reading sutras and he fell in love with the Dharma.

At the age of 19, he ran away from home to become a monk. This means he spent 100 years studying and practicing the Dharma full time—that’s longer than any teacher I can think of.

His teachings helped Ch’an Buddhism survive into the modern age. He is given credit for keeping Ch’an alive in a time when it could have easily fallen apart.

Hsu Yun’s philosophy is heavily characterized by three things.

One, he was a strong proponent of the Hua tou, or what’s this, method of meditation.

Two, he was known for giving the same amount of respect to layman as to monks. He said that laymen were as capable of attaining Enlightenment as monks. In some lineages of Buddhism, there are those that disagree, that think that monks are the only ones capable.

Three, he talked about Enlightenment. In many Buddhist traditions, discussing the actual experience of Enlightenment is frowned upon. Master Hsu Yun wanted to guide people to awakening to their Buddha Nature and he didn’t think there was a problem with talking about it in simple and direct ways.

He actually described his own experience of Enlightenment with two gathas:

“1 – A cup fell to the ground
With a sound clearly heard.
As space was pulverised,
The mad mind came to a stop.

2 – When the hand released its hold, the cup fell and was shattered,
‘Tis hard to talk when the family breaks up or someone dies.
Spring comes with fragrant flowers exuberating everywhere;
Mountains, rivers and the great earth are only the Tathagata.”

He didn’t talk about Enlightenment as something we have to achieve, however. Rather, he said that Enlightenment was something that was with us already, we just have to realize it.

From his Enlightenment at the age of 54 until his death, Xu Yun traveled around the countryside teaching sutras, transmitting the precepts, building temples, and starting seminaries for novices, Buddhist associations for laymen and free Buddhist schools for children.

In the 1930s, when he was in his 90s, Hsu Yun decided that spreading Ch’an to the West was a good idea. So, he asked his lay student Charles Luk, to translate as many Ch’an teachings into English as possible. (Charles Luk was very prolific in these translations and many of them are available online.)

A lot of the Japanese style, Zen, has come to the West. Quite a bit of the Korean style, Son, has come to the West as well, but very little of the original Ch’an Buddhism has come.

As a result of his long life and lack of scandals, Hsu Yun is revered in China and is slowly becoming known in the West.

He spent his life rebuilding temples across China and visiting other Buddhist teachers; it is thought that Chinese Buddhism might have died out without his century of work preserving it.

Thanks to Master Hsu Yun, a transmission of Chinese Buddhist teaching has spread from China out into the rest of the world.

Thanks to Master Hsu Yun, there are authentic Ch’an lineages that are growing and spreading.

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Posted in tattooed buddha

Bodhidharma: Barbarian Master

Huike said to Bodhidharma, “My mind is anxious. Please pacify it.”
Bodhidharma replied, “Bring me your mind, and I will pacify it.”
Huike said, “Although I’ve sought it, I cannot find it.”
“There,” Bodhidharma replied, “I have pacified your mind.”

Bodhidharma appeared in China in the 5th century.

It’s unclear where he came from, but it was probably India. He has been described as having blue eyes and a beard.

He has also been described as a barbarian. His Buddhist name is Bodhidharma and he is credited with bringing Ch’an Buddhism to China. He is also credited with creating the martial art that would come to be known as Kung Fu.

People told a lot of stories about him and was already famous when he arrived in China. It’s said that he spent nine years in a cave meditating and that he invented tea to help him stay awake during long meditations.

This is the story of Bodhidharma meeting the Emperor. Emperor Wu was a big supporter of Buddhism.

Emperor Wu: “How much merit have I gained for ordaining Buddhist monks, building monasteries, having sutras copied, and commissioning Buddha images?”
Bodhidharma: “None. Good deeds done with worldly intent bring good karma, but no merit.”
Emperor Wu: “So what is the highest meaning of noble truth?”
Bodhidharma: “There is no noble truth, there is only void.”
Emperor Wu: “Then, who is standing before me?”
Bodhidharma: “I know not, Your Majesty.”

This is how Bodhidharma taught. He challenged ideas and preconceptions.

His teaching was simple. He said we should focus on practice, rather than spending too much time giving faith and devotion to religious texts. The idea that Enlightenment is with us already comes from Bodhidharma.

He described Ch’an Buddhism as:

“A special transmission outside the scriptures,
Not founded upon words and letters;
By pointing directly to mind
It lets one see into [one’s own true] nature and attain Buddhahood.”

The practice he spread was simple sitting meditation. He said we should sit facing a wall, with our eyes open, and just follow the breath.

That’s it, straightforward and simple. Direct and right to the point.

Our true nature is always with us.

All that we need to do so find it is settle our minds.

 

 

Posted in altar sutra

Altar Sutra: The Story of Hui-neng

This story was told by the Patriarch at Pao Lin Monastery and was transcribed by his students.
This teaching was attended by government officials, Confucian scholars, monks and nun, laymen and laywomen, and Taoist Philosophers.

The congregation asked him to give the most complete teaching he could and he told the story of how he came to be the sixth Patriarch.

“Our true nature is the seed of Enlightenment. It is pure and by making use of it we can Awaken.
Let me tell you about my life and how I came to be in possession of the Mystical teachings of the Ch’an School.
My father died when I was very young and my mother was poor.
We lived in Canton in bad circumstances.
I was selling firewood in the market one day when, outside a shop I heard a man reciting a Sutra.

So, Hui-neng’s mother didn’t have anyone to help her raise him after his father died. They were so poor that he had to go sell wood at the market to help support them. This was not an unusual condition for a poor family in this context.

As soon as I heard this text, I had an experience of Awakening. I asked the man what the name of the book was that he was reciting and he told me that it was the Diamond Sutra.

The Diamond Sutra is one of the most revered texts in all of Mahayana Buddhism. It is a classic of the world’s spiritual literature. It is a short text, around 6,000 words, but it has been interpreted in many different ways. The title in Sanskrit is Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra, which translates to ‘the diamond cutting perfection of wisdom Sutra. It’s been said that just hearing one line of the text can bring one to Enlightenment and that is the assertion Hui-neng is claiming.

I asked the man why he was reciting this Sutra and he said that he came from Tung Ch’an Monastery and he was being given lectures on the Sutra by the Abbot of the temple, Hung Yen, the Fifth Patriarch.
He told me that the Patriarch encouraged laity as well as monks to recite this Sutra, as by doing so they might become Enlightened.

I think it was because of good karma from past lives that I came upon this man. He gave me money to leave for my mother so I could go to the monastery and meet the Fifth Patriarch myself.
The journey to the Monastery took me thirty days.

I went to meet the Patriarch.

When I met him he asked where I had come from and what I expected to gain.

I replied, “I am a peasant from Kwangtung. I have travelled to pay you respect and I ask for nothing but Awakening.”

“You are a native of Kwangtung? A barbarian? How can you become Awakened?” asked the Patriarch.

I replied, “Although there are northern and southern men, north and south make no difference to their Buddha nature. A barbarian is different from you physically, but there is no difference in Buddha nature.”
I was given a job pounding rice in the monastery.

Eight months later the Patriarch assembled his students.

He said, “Whatever merits you gain in life are of no help if your Buddha nature remains obscured. Go look for Prajna within your own minds and write a gatha about it.”

Gatha is a Sanskrit word that means song. Students often write gathas when they gain Dharma Transmission.

“Whoever composes a gatha that demonstrates an understanding of their Buddha nature will be given Dharma Transmission and will become the Sixth Patriarch. Go.”

Dharma transmission is a custom in which a person is established as a successor in a spiritual bloodline, an unbroken lineage of teachers and students that is theoretically traced back to the Buddha himself. This system may have been created to reflect the importance of family structures in ancient China to form a symbolic ritual for the establishment of the spiritual family. Bodhidharma brought this lineage to China. He passed it on to Huike. Huike passed it on to Sengcan. Sengcan passed it on to Daoxin. Daoxin passed it on to Hung Yen, the Fifth Patriarch in this story.

The students left. They all thought that it would be Shen Hsiu, the Patriarch’s best student that would write the best gatha. They all believed in him. They decided it was not worth their time to even make an effort when they thought they knew what the outcome would be.

Shen Hsiu took notice. He saw that none of the other students were trying to compete. He was actually not as confident in himself as all of the other students were, but he decided to go ahead and compose a gatha.

He was nervous. He did not believe he was worthy of Dharma Transmission. But, at the same time, he couldn’t possibly pass up the opportunity to try.

In front of the Patriarch’s hall there were pictures from the Lankavatara Sutra as well as pictures of the Five Patriarchs. Across from these there was a blank wall.

The Lankavatara Sutra is another beloved Mahayana text. It takes places in Sri Lanka and involves a deep discussion between the Buddha and a Bodhisattva named Mahamati.

Shen Hsiu couldn’t summon the courage to submit his gatha, so he wrote on the blank wall instead. He thought that if the Patriarch read it and declared it was good, he could reveal that he had written it. And if the Patriarch said it was bad, he did not have to come forward.
At midnight he went with a lamp and wrote his gatha on the wall.
he course of four days he made altogether thirteen attempts to do so. 

The gatha read:
Our body is the Bodhi-tree,
And our mind a mirror bright. 
Carefully we wipe them hour by hour,
And let no dust alight.

The Patriarch saw the gatha and said that it was good. He had all of his students recite it.
Later, he asked Shen Hsiu in private if he had written it.

“I did,” replied Shen Hsiu, “I do not know if I deserve to be the Patriarch. Can you tell me if my gatha shows any sign of wisdom?”

“Your gatha shows that you have not yet unleashed your Buddha nature. So far you have reached the doorway to Enlightenment, but you have not entered.

To become Enlightened, one must know one’s own true nature. Once your true nature is known you will be free from delusion and will dwell in harmony.

Such a state of mind is the Truth. If you see things in such a state of mind, you will be Enlightened.
Go write another gatha and if it shows you have entered the door of Enlightenment, then I will transmit the Dharma to you.”

Shen Hsiu bowed and left.

For a few days he tried to write another gatha, but he could not.

Two days later a boy read the gatha and came to recite it for me.

As soon as I heard it, I knew that he hadn’t realized his true nature.

The boy told me about the Patriarch’s instruction to his students to write a gatha.
I composed a gatha of my own and asked him to write it next to the first one for me.

Hui-neng was raised in poverty. In that era, literacy was not the norm. Because he was raised in poverty he did not know how to read or write. This story gives us the important lesson that anyone can attain Enlightenment, regardless of education or social standing. Because Hui-neng could not read or write, he had to ask for help.

My gatha read:
There is no Bodhi-tree,
Nor stand of a mirror bright.
Since all is Void,
Where can the dust alight?

Shen Hsiu’s gatha was wise, but he was still thinking in duality. Hui-neng’s gatha tears through that duality to try to get to the truth.

Everyone that saw this was surprised. They wondered how such a wise and Enlightened individual was working for the monastery. Seeing that the crowd was overwhelmed, the Patriarch declared that I had not yet Awakened.
The next night the Patriarch summoned me to his room.

In his room, he gave teachings from the Diamond Sutra to me. When it came to the line, “One should use one’s mind in such a way that it will be free from any attachment,” I immediately became Enlightened and I realized that the whole universe is one, that when we realize our Buddha nature, we understand that we are one with everything.

“Our true nature is inherently pure. Free from the beginning, perfect. Everything is a manifestation of Buddha nature,” I said.
Knowing that I had Awakened, the Patriarch said, “For one who does not know his own mind, there is no use in learning Buddhism.
One the other hand, if one knows his own mind and intuitively sees their own nature, they are a hero, a teacher, a Buddha.”

So, he transmitted the Dharma to me and I inherited the lineage of the Patriarchs as well as his robe and begging bowl.

“You are now the Sixth Patriarch,” he said, “Take care of yourself and bring as many beings as you can to Enlightenment. Spread and preserve the teaching and don’t let it come to an end. Take note f my gatha:
Those who sow the seeds of Enlightenment will reap the fruit of Buddhahood.
Objects neither sow nor reap.

When the Patriarch Bodhidharma first came to China, most people had no confidence in him and his robe was handed down as testimony from one Patriarch to the next.
The Dharma is transmitted from one mind to another and the recipient must realize it by their own efforts. It has always been the practice for one Awakened being to pass on the teachings and the Dharma to a successor. And for one Patriarch to transmit to another a mystical teaching from one mind to another. This is the teaching of the Ch’an Patriarchs and Masters, which I have transmitted to you.

As there may be dispute among those who are jealous of you, you should leave immediately and preserve and protect this sacred Dharma. Go seclude yourself. You will know when the time is right to give teachings.”
Many jealous students of the Patriarch did pursue me. I went to a remote place to live.
A monk named Hui Ming found me. I thought he was coming to attack, but when he saw me he asked for teachings.
He said, “I haven’t come to take the robe and bowl from you. I have come to receive teachings.”
I replied, “Since you have come here for the Dharma, I will teach you. Clear your mind. When you are thinking of neither good nor evil, in that moment you are dwelling in your true nature, beyond duality.”
As soon as he heard this he became Enlightened. But he asked, “Apart from those mystical teachings and ideas handed down by the Patriarch from generation to generation are the any other secret teachings?”

“What I can tell you is not a secret,” I replied, “If you turn your light inward, you will find the secrets are within you.”
“In all of my time at the monastery I did not Awaken. Now, thanks to your teachings, I have. You are now my teacher.”
As I was not yet ready to teach, I sent him away.

I stayed in hiding for fifteen years, although occasionally I gave teachings to those I found in the wilderness.

One day, I knew it was the right time. I went to the Fa Hsin Temple in Canton.
When I approached two monks were looking at a flag that was blowing in the wind. One said it was the flag that was moving and the other said that it was the wind that was moving.
I declared that they were both wrong and the real motion was in their minds.
They were impressed by this and took me inside to meet Dharma Master Yin Tsung.
He questioned me about the Buddha’s teachings. Seeing that my answers were correct, he said,
“I was told long ago that the successor to the Fifth Patriarch would come here. Is this you?”
I nodded. He immediately bowed and asked me to show the assembled monks my robe and begging bowl.

He further asked what instructions I had when the Fifth Patriarch transmitted the Dharma to me.

“He told me that Buddha nature is all that there is, that duality is an illusion. Buddhism doesn’t really have two ways. From the perspective of the unawakened the component parts of an individual and factors of consciousness are separate, but Enlightened ones understand that they are not really separate. Buddha nature is non-duality.”

Yin Tsung was pleased with my answer.
“Your teachings are more valuable than mine.”

He ordained me as a monk and asked me to accept him as my student.

At this point Hui-neng reminds us that he was not a monk when he received Dharma Transmission. Enlightenment is available to everyone because at our core we all have Buddha nature.

Since then, I gave teachings.
We are fortunate to be here and able to lay the foundation for the successful propagation of the Dharma.
This teaching has been handed down from Patriarchs throughout history and is not my creation. Those who wish to hear it should first purify their minds. After hearing it they should each clear up their doubts in the same way that sages did in the past.”

The assembled students bowed and thanked me for my teaching.

Posted in altar sutra

The Altar Sutra: Temperament and Circumstances

A monk named Fa Hai in his first interview with the Patriarch asked him to explain the meaning of the proverb: “What mind is, Buddha is’.

The Patriarch replied, “Prajna is mind. Samadhi is Buddha. In practicing Prajna and Samadhi, let them be equal. Then our thoughts will be pure. This can only be understood if we practice.
Samadhi functions, but does not become. The teaching is to practice Prajna as well as Samadhi.”

After hearing this Fa Hai was Enlightened.

He said, “Now I know the causes of Prajna and Samadhi, both of which I wll practice to free myself from attachment.”

One day Chih Ch’ang asked the Patriarch, “The Buddha taught about the ‘Three Vehicles’ and also the ‘Supreme Vehicles’. Can you explain this?”

The Patriarch replied, “Look within yourself. The differences between these four vehicles don’t exist in the Dharma, but only in our minds.”

“To see, hear, and recite the sutra is the small vehicle.”
“To know the Dharma and understand it’s meaning is the middle vehicle.”
“To put the Dharma into practice is the great vehicle. To understand thoroughly all Dharmas, to absorb them completely, to be free of attachments, to be above phenomena is the Supreme Vehicle.”

“All depends on practicing things yourself, so you do not need to ask more. But I will remind you at all time that your true nature is Awakened.”

Chih Ch’ang bowed and thanked the Patriarch. He acted as the Patriarch’s assistant until his death.

Things could get confusing here. Branches of Buddhism are divided into ‘yanas’ or vehicles. In the modern world the most common division is Hinayana, Mahayana (of which Hui-neng is a member), and Vajrayana. But, that’s not the division Hui-neng is talking about. The three yanas he is referring to are these:
Sravakayana: For those who attain Enlightenment by listening to or reading the teachings of the Buddha.
Pratyekabuddhayana: Those who achieve liberation by practicing the Dharma but do not teach others. They are said to remain silent and solitary.
Bodhisattvayana: Those who attain Enlightenment in order to help awaken others and lead as many to Enlightenment as possible.

One day the Patriarch was looking for a place to wash the robe he had inherited. He found a stream to wash it behind the monastery and when he was washing it a monk appeared.

“My name is Fang Pien. When I was in South India I met the Patriarch Bodhidharma and he told me to return to China.”

Bodhidharma is the first Chinese Patriarch, the man who brought Dhyana teachings to China. He is the first in the lineage which claims Hui-neng as the sixth. Because he couldn’t still be alive in Hui-neng’s time, it seems that Fang Pien is telling a story about meeting Bodhidharma’s ghost.

“Bodhidharma told me that the lineage had been transmitted to you, so I came to find you. Can you show me the robe and bowl that you have inherited?” Fang Pien said.

“After a long voyage, I have arrived.  May I see the robe and begging bowl you inherited? ”

The Patriarch showed him the robe and bowl.

Fang Pien showed the Patriarch a life-like sculpture he had made of Bodhidharma.

The Patriarch gave Fang Pien a special blessing.

A monk quoted the following stanzed by Dhyana Master Wo Lun: “There are ways and means to protect the mind from all thoughts. When circumstances do not react on the mind, the Tree of Enlightenment will grow steadily.”

Hearing this the Patriarch said, “The writer of this stanza has not realized Awakening. To put it’s teaching into practice would not Awaken you.”

The Patriarch recited his own stanza:
“Hui-neng has no ways and means to protect the mind from all thoughts. Circumstances often react on the mind. How can the Tree of Enlightenment grow?”

 

Posted in tattooed buddha

Ikkyu: A Renegade Zen Master

buddha

(a version of this article appeared on The Tattooed Buddha)

In the late 1300s in Japan a court noblewoman became pregnant.

The rumor is that she was pregnant with the illegitimate child of Emperor Go Komatsu. It’s unknown if this is really true, but what is known is this: she ran away from her home, raised him until he was five, and then placed him in a Rinzai Zen temple called Ankoku-Ji, where he was raised by monks and trained in that path.

This was how the renegade Zen Master and poet Ikkyu came into the world. His birth was marked by forbidden passion and love. And it affected him his whole life.

Ikkyu is my personal hero. Telling his story will explain why.

(Note: I am going to call him Ikkyu throughout this story to avoid confusion. Be aware that his name was Shuken until he studied under Zen Master Kaso and was given the name Ikkyu, which means ‘One Pause’)

At Ankoku-Ji, he received a detailed education in Chinese language, culture, art and poetry, in addition to deep studies in Buddhist practice and history.

It’s said that as a child he met many famous political and spiritual leaders of the day and in many debates and situations he outsmarted them. This is almost certainly a myth, but is the subject of many stories that are still told (and broadcast as cartoons for children) in Japan to this day. It reminds me of the story of Jesus talking to the temple priests as a child.

At the age of 13 he took residence at a temple called Kennin-Ji in Kyoto where he studied with a well known poet and monk named Botetsu. He practiced writing poetry and found that he was skilled at it.

But, he didn’t like Kennin-Ji. What he encountered there was a political atmosphere. These Zen monks were competing with each other for positions in the hierarchy. He saw monks being promoted for political and social reasons rather than because of deep realization. This made him feel discouraged.

This is something that happens in institutional Zen, even still today.

He stayed at Kennin-Ji for three years, but when he couldn’t take the political atmosphere anymore, he left.

He moved into a small temple at a place called Lake Biwa, and studied with another monk named Keno. He was Keno’s only student there. This one on one study probably profoundly affected Ikkyu’s future. Keno was a strong believer that the most important part of Zen practice is seated meditation, which was really not emphasized that much in the temples that Ikkyu had studied in previously.

After five years together, (Ikkyu is 21 at this point) Keno died. Ikkyu fell into a great sadness.

One night, he looked at Lake Biwa and seriously considered drowning himself. Instead, he went and found another teacher.

Ikkyu studied under a teacher named Kaso at a temple called Zenko-an. Kaso was a renegade Zen teacher himself, who preferred rigorous practice and koan study to the political nature of institutional Zen practice.

Ikkyu studied koans deeply under his teacher. In 1420, at the age of 26, while meditating in a boat on the lake, Ikkyu heard the sound of a crow cawing and he attained Enlightenment. All at once he was one with the crow, the lake, and everything else.

Kaso confirmed Ikkyu’s realization and made him a lineage holder, but it’s said that Ikkyu burned his certificate of Enlightenment because he believed such things were unnecessary.

When Kaso died, Ikkyu didn’t take over his temple. He left and became a wanderer instead. He wasn’t happy with living in a temple and simply giving Zen to other monks. He wanted to spread the Dharma—to take Zen out to places where people really needed it. It’s said that he gave teachings in places that other teachers would never go, like bars and whorehouses.

He was given the nickname Crazy Cloud. This was because his passion (for the Dharma and for life in general) was considered unusual and because he wandered from place to place like a cloud.

He spent his time in places around Kyoto and Osaka, making friends with people from all walks of life. Many Zen teachers spent a lot of time with nobility and kept away from the lowest members of society. Ikkyu befriended everyone.

He attracted many followers, including a lot of poets and artists. He also took many lovers and was not interested in celibacy. He believed Zen shouldn’t be separate from the passion of life. So, he enjoyed music, art, poetry and sexuality. He believed things like passion, free love and joy were virtues, not vices.

And he was excited about the Dharma, wanting to spread it far and wide. He wanted to make Buddhism available to everyone, not just to the wealthy or polite members of society.

In this way, he was more like some of the early Zen teachers in China. Originally the Dharma was open and wild and free. Ikkyu tried to take things back to that.

In his old age he had an open and passionate relationship with a blind singer named Lady Mori. He wrote numerous love poems for her.

After a civil war in the 1460s, Ikkyu was part of a campaign to rebuild Zen temples that were destroyed. In this way, he supported the institutions that he had rebelled against.

He reluctantly became abbot of a temple called Daitoku-Ji, which still exists today.

He lived to be 87 years old.

He didn’t give Dharma Transmission to anyone, so there is no Ikkyu lineage. He had concerns that if he created a lineage it would become corrupt soon after he was gone. He decided his teachings could live on without that potential for corruption.

So, I can’t be part of Ikkyu’s lineage, but he’s touched me more than any other Zen teacher. I like to think that across all this time and distance, I am connected to him.

He called his teaching Far Out Zen.

And that’s what I call mine.

 

 

Posted in diamond sutra

Diamond Sutra: chapter 2

After a while a respected monk named Subhuti, who was sitting with the other followers, rose from his seat.
He bowed and then addressed the Buddha:
“Most Honored One, It is wonderful that you given so much knowledge and wisdom to your followers. It is remarkable that you look after our welfare so well.”
“I have a question to ask you. If sons and daughters of good families want to develop the highest, most fulfilled and awakened mind, if they wish to attain the Highest Perfect Wisdom, what should they do to help quiet their minds and subdue their cravings?”
The Buddha replied:
“I am mindful of the welfare of my followers. Listen carefully with your full attention, and I will sanswer your question.”
“If sons and daughters of good families want to develop the highest, most fulfilled and awakened mind, if they wish to attain the Highest Perfect Wisdom and quiet their minds while subduing their cravings, then they should follow what I am about to say to you. They will then be able to subdue their discriminative thoughts and craving desires. It is possible to attain perfect tranquility and clarity of mind by absorbing and dwelling on the teachings I am about to give.”
Then the Buddha addressed the assembly.

This is more introductory material. Subhuti has asked the Buddha to describe the essence of his teaching. These people have been following the Buddha’s example for a while and Subhuti is asking him to explain in a clear way what they should do, how they can quiet their minds and control their desires.

I have ceased my formal monastic training with

I have ceased my formal monastic training with the Five Mountain Zen Order. I have decided against becoming ordained.

I hold Lay Ordination Vows in a Rinzai Zen lineage and Bodhisattva Vows in the Vajrayana path. That will be enough for now.

This wasn’t too difficult of a decision for me given that my favorite historical Zen teachers are rebellious figures like Pang-yun and Ikkyu Sojun, who refused to be ordained as monks. There is a proud and great history of lay teachers and writers in Zen.

Buddhism is not and should not be limited to monks. Enlightenment is available to everyone because we are all enlightened already anyway.

I’m not a fan of structure and hierarchy anyway.

Posted in Uncategorized

Layman P’ang: Reluctant Monk

“My daily activities are not unusual,

I’m just naturally in harmony with them.

Grasping nothing, discarding nothing.

In every place there’s no hindrance, no conflict.

My supernatural power and marvelous activity:

Drawing water and chopping wood.”

 

Layman P’ang is considered a model for the potential for non-monastic Buddhists to reach their full potential. He lived in the 700s. He was a bureaucrat, working for the Chinese government. He got married and had two children, a daughter and then a son. One day, he just grew to become interested in spiritual matters. He built a little hermitage on his property and started spending time retreating there with his kids and meditating. His daughter Ling-chao was especially interested in the Dharma and studied it with him throughout his life.

 

P’ang studied with a Zen teacher named Sekito in a monastery called Nan-yueh for a year. Sekito put him through monk training, but ultimately P’ang refused to become a monk. He left the monastery.

There is a famous dialogue between P’ang and Sekito.

Sekito asked, “How have you practiced Zen since coming here?”

 

and P’ang replied, “My daily activities.”

 

P’ang traveled to a place called Kiangsi and studied with an even more famous Zen teacher named Baso. Once again, after studying for a year, Baso offered to make P’ang a monk. Again, P’ang refused. He didn’t want to be part of a hierarchy. He was a lot happier practicing Buddhism with his family and challenging the norm.

 

Becoming a monk was considered normal. He was unwilling to allow joining a Zen hierarchy to restrict his options. He wanted to live in a way that was open and free, not bound by the constraints of the system. He spent his time wandering from place to place, discussing spirituality with any who would listen. He spent as much time talking about the Dharma with the homeless and the working class as he did with monks and scholars.. Free of monastic rules and hierarchical duties, we was able to challenge the best and brightest minds of his day.

 

He also wrote a great deal of poetry. Here’s a poem he wrote:

 

“Well versed in the Buddha way, I go the non-Way.

Without abandoning my ordinary man’s affairs,

The conditioned name-and-form are all flowers in the sky.

Nameless and formless, I leave birth and death.”

 

 

Layman P’ang is one of my favorite Zen teachers. He is the original Reluctant Monk. He was nervous about following authority figures so he made his own way. The Dharma doesn’t have to adhere to a strict hierarchy. Sometimes people become far too attached to tradition and customs and forget to focus on the Dharma at all. The Dharma is beyond such things. P’ang rebelled against the notion that he had to become a monk in order to spread the Dharma. In spite of being such a radical figure, and he really was quite radical in his day, he is beloved and revered today.

 

 

Also, he practiced Buddhism with his children. I really connect with that. Like him, I have a son and a daughter. They are very interested in being involved in my practice with me as well. So, Layman P’ang is one of my heroes. Maybe I just love anyone who is willing to challenge authority.  

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