Now we’re going to address Zen Buddhism, both Chinese and Japanese. You cannot have a logical exposition of Zen because Zen is not logical. What I’m going to try to do (and which I think will be sort of fun) is throw out a lot of snowballs and hope that they hit here and there. There’s a lot of humor in Zen and a lot of insight. It is my hope that it registers to the degree where it will help you in your own spiritual practice.

Zen is down-to-earth and matter-of-fact. You’re going to have to change your whole orientation of thinking from the material on the Indian philosophies. I’m going to give you some examples of Zen’s earthiness to start. First of all, Zen is very definitely life-affirming. Yunmen, a great Chinese Zen Master, said, “Every day is a good day.” Even if you’ve got a bill since your car was banged up. “Every day is a good day.” Zen affirms life. When we get to Indian Buddhism, you’ll find that Indian Buddhism is life negating. Indian Buddhism is really only fit for monks and those willing to give up the world. But Zen, which is part of Buddhism, is a sect of Buddhism (such as Protestants, Catholics, and Baptists in Christianity) and definitely believes life should be affirmed. My Zen Master used to get that across quite a bit. There’s no metaphysical speculation. It must come with your own insight and your own realization. I’m going to illustrate that with several stories.

A Story: Death

The Emperor of Japan said to the national Zen Master, “Where will you go when you die?” The Zen Master replied, “I don’t know.” The Emperor was surprised. He said, “You’re a Master, why don’t you know? And the Zen Master replied: “Because I haven’t died yet!” Pretty down to earth. It’s a good answer and good teaching, too, because it takes away all these preconceptions. If you ask the same question of an Indian teacher, he would probably go on for hours about all the probabilities even though you know he doesn’t really know the answer. As a matter of fact, when a friend of mine from Japan, Genjin Suzaki (who taught Indian Buddhism at Otani University in Kyoto), went to India, he told me he came home one night and there was a group of students and a teacher discussing Indian philosophy downstairs. He said hello to them, went upstairs, had a night’s sleep, got up, took a shower, ate breakfast, and came downstairs. They were still talking philosophy. Lengthy discussions are not unusual with Indian culture. Characteristic of Indian Philosophy, teachers would give a lot of answers.

Now the same question about death was expressed when a student asked, “Where will you go when you die?” The Zen Master said: “Right to Hell.” The student was surprised. “Why would you, a Zen Master, go to Hell?” He answered, “If I don’t go to Hell, who will be there to teach you?”

A Story: Five Fingers

I’ll give you an example from my own Zen Master. This interaction occurred when I brought two people to meet him. The woman asked him a very nice, very logical question: “Roshi, why must there be English, French, German, and Russian? Why must there be wars?” He held up his hand and said, “I have five fingers; why do I have five fingers?” I went over to him. I counted, “One, two, three, four, five. Yes, he has five fingers.” Afterwards when we’d left, this woman, who was from Latvia, said, “Why didn’t he answer my question?” I replied, “He gave you the only possible answer!” If you’re going to get into a discussion of why you have five fingers, you can see how ridiculous it is.

Spring Follows Winter

One time I asked Professor Wen-shan Huang, my great Chinese friend and a noted scholar, “What is a sage?” He said, “A sage is a man who wants springtime to come after winter.” Well, of course springtime does come after winter. A sage doesn’t want autumn to come after winter. It is the nature of things for spring to come after winter. So then I found out what a sage was, someone in accord with the nature of things.

Another example of how down to earth Zen is as follows: There is a sign in the famous rock garden temple, Ryoanji. It says in English, “We can protect you from your enemies, but who can protect you from yourself?” That’s pretty down to earth.

One of the most famous Zen statements was written by an enlightened layman in Zen. He said, “How wondrous, how miraculous, I draw water, I carry fuel.” That is Zen’s attitude. And another one said, “In spring the flowers, in autumn the moon, in summer a refreshing breeze, and in winter the snow. What else do I need? Each hour to me is an hour of joy.” That statement is not life negating.

The purpose of Zen is to realize your own true nature. Not to go to heaven or do something like that. Zen wants you to realize your own true nature. In fact, one Zen master was asked by a student: “If I’m good all my life and help people, what will happen to me?” And the Master said, “Oh, you’ll go to some hovel called heaven.” That’s the attitude!

History & Purpose of Zen

Zen came to China about 480 A.D. It was brought by a man called Bodhidharma. Bodhi of course means “wisdom” or “realization.” Dharma has many meanings. And in this case, he may have come from Persia. Buddhism had reached China around 44 A.D. and Bodhidharma didn’t get there until about 480 A.D. He defined Buddhism. He defined it this way: “A special teaching beyond scripture, beyond words and letters, pointing to the mind essence of man, seeing directly into one’s nature, and attaining enlightenment.” Bodhidharma tells you the purpose of Zen is to see into your own nature and attain enlightenment. It has nothing to do with the hereafter; it has nothing to do with what other religions think.


There are many, many legends about Bodhidharma. There’s no profit in our going over the legends, though they’re very, very interesting. One of the legends is that, soon after he got there, Bodhidharma came to see the Emperor. The Emperor had requested an audience with him. And the Emperor, who had become a Buddhist years before Bodhidharma had arrived there, said to him, “I have built many temples; I support many monks, I’ve done this; I’ve done that; I’ve built stupas to the Buddha. What merit have I acquired?” (You know he was speaking in a pretty satisfied way.) Bodhidharma said: “No merit whatsoever.” Of course he was taking a big chance saying that. Then Bodhidharma explained, “Oh, you may have attained a few blessings that’ll help you go to heaven or something like that.” But the Emperor went on talking and didn’t understand anything the other said. Finally the Emperor asked, “Who is it that says these things? Who are you?” Bodhidharma said, “I know not, your majesty.” Then the Emperor said, “What is the Holy Truth?” Bodhidharma said, “Vast emptiness and nothing Holy about it.” The Emperor was puzzled. So Bodhidharma crossed the river and went into another Chinese kingdom.

§ § § § § § § § §

As Bodhidharma explains, the purpose of Zen is to see into your own nature and attain enlightenment. It has nothing to do with the hereafter; it has nothing to do with what other religions think. Many do not think of Zen as a religion. However, if I had my back to the wall, I’d say for that reason it’s the purest religion. Teillard de Chardin, a great theologian, said that religion is concerned with ultimates. Seeing your own nature is an ultimate. Going to heaven then coming back to earth or coming back a mammal – this is not it. The ideal of Zen is to see your own nature. Now the word Zen, in my estimation comes from the

Pali word jana, which means meditation. Usually books say it comes from dhyana which is Sanskrit and means meditation. Jana is a word the Chinese cannot pronounce – they don’t have that syllable. (This pronunciation issue also occurs in other countries. For example when I’m in Japan and someone is introducing an American to me, “Mr. Smith,” Japanese syllables represent “Smith” as “Mr. Su-mi-San” since there’s no way for the Japanese to say “Smith.” The same way an American going to France has difficulty saying different French words. French pronunciation is different from our pronunciation.)

Bodhidharma points out, and what Zen and Buddhism both point at, is Void or Shunyata in Sanskrit. Void is the basis of the Buddhist personality and it’s called shunyata personality. Shunya, in the Indian language, means “emptiness.” Void in the Buddhist sense doesn’t mean the absence of anything. In the Void of Shunyata there are mountains and rivers, streams and cities. What Void means (and we’ll get into this when we discuss Indian Buddhism) is Void of Self Nature. Nothing stands independently, like the three legs of a tripod. Take one away and they all fall. This arising, that arises. All is due to concurrent causes. When we get to Indian Buddhism, you’ll see exactly what that means. It’s going to be very hard for you to adjust your thinking to it.

Bodhidharma, one of the greatest religious figures in history, had only three disciples. His answer to them before he died, when he answered his own question, “What is your understanding?” was, “You have my flesh; you have my bones; you have my marrow.” (And that’s why Paul Reps called his book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.)

The begging bowl and robe were handed from one patriarch to another (that is, one Zen Master to another) until the Sixth Zen Patriarch, Hui Neng, was told not to pass it along as there might be contention over it. Zen has, as I think, a fictitious history going back into early India and many stories about it. However, Zen is so Chinese and Japanese in character and so out of character with the Indians that I can’t really see it coming from India, hence the sense of fiction around its early Indian history Incidentally, Bodhidharma was buried, I think, with the two slippers he wore. Later, a man who had traveled from China to India, said he had met him on the path walking back to India with one shoe on his head. This story is another example in which we don’t know what to believe.

More Zen Stories

In Zen, “Nowness” is the important thing. I’m going to tell you a couple of stories along those lines. As I said when I began tonight, I’m going to throw out a lot of darts and hope that some of them hit the target. They’re all such great stories. Some of them are in my audiotape Spiritual Stories of the East. At the risk of repeating those and killing sales, I’m going to tell you some. For instance, the Zen Master is always pulling the rug out from under you. Whenever you get set in a nice comfortable concept, he’s going to pull it out from under you. You’re really going to suffer for it. And he’s got to do that – he has to clean your mind of all concepts. For instance, the concept of “What is Zen?” I would never dare talk to a group of Zen people and tell them even the little definition that I just gave to you – Zen: “Nowness.” Please think of the “Nowness” in terms of this story I’m about to tell you, which a couple of you know.

Tokusan & Soso

There was a Chinese Zen Master called Tokusan. Tokusan had a big temple, or, rather a monastery in China. His favorite disciple was called Soso. One night Tokusan was strolling through the various halls: the meditation hall, the Buddha hall, the dining hall. And he came upon Soso, his disciple, sitting zazen, Japanese meditation. You keep your eyes open in Zazen. Tokusan stopped in front of Soso and raised one eyebrow. Soso looked up at him and said, “A dark night and no travelers.” (A pretty good image!)

Then Tokusan raised his other eyebrow and suddenly, after saying it was a dark night, implying the dark night of the soul, Soso blurted out, “Master, I am cold.” Well, anyone who’s been through this type of spiritual malaise is going to feel sympathy with him and understand. What did the Master do? The Master took his hand and cracked him across the face, hard! Soso wasn’t expecting it; it hurt! Then the Master raised his other hand and cracked him again. Next Soso did what you would do and I would do: He ran! He ran down the hall with the Master chasing him. They went out the door, through the Buddha Hall, the dining hall, and came out into a garden. And finally they came to a dead end. Soso huffed and puffed and sweat poured down his face. He turned around to face his pursuer. The Master came up to him and said, “Well, are you warm now?” That’s pretty good teaching.

Drinking Tea

Zen teaching, however, is not always obvious. One time I took two very close friends to meet Roshi Joshu Sazaki in Los Angeles when he was there. He was nice enough to invite us into the kitchen to drink some tea; we had a couple of crackers and talked. At the end of the hour and a half, my friend Dick Bock (who founded the Sai Baba foundation here in this country) was very impressed with Roshi Sasaki. Dick turned to Roshi and said, “Roshi, I want you to teach me.” Roshi, surprised, said, “What do you think I’ve been doing for the past hour and a half?” Zen teaching is very practical. Drinking tea with Roshi is just as practical as when Tokusan chased Soso, sweat pouring down his face, and asked, “Are you warm now?”

Some of the stories I could tell you can seem very cruel that way. But Zen is about matters of life and death. In front of every temple it says: “Only those concerned with life and death should enter here.” It also says alcohol is forbidden, a fact I pointed out to Alan Watts when I came upon him with a flask in his pocket. But people don’t always act the way they’re supposed to act.

Neither / Nor

Now Tokusan, the same Master, illustrated another point. Our world, if it isn’t big, must be small. Either/or, isn’t that the logical way of thinking? Should I go? No. Well then, I don’t go. Yes or no. But that’s the common way of thinking. That’s either/or. Zen has been defined as neither/nor. In that way, wiping away all the negatives, finally you come to the positive. Of course, there are many ways of looking at things, but we always look at just one way. We see it the way we want to see it. As Tokusan walked through a hall, he came upon two monks who were having a bitter quarrel; they were about to fight. Of course fighting is against discipline. Tokusan stopped, crossed his arms, and waited for an explanation. One monk stepped forward and said, “Yesterday you gave a talk to us and you said so-and-so. Isn’t that right?” “Yes,” replied Tokusan. The monk continued, “And you said under no circumstances should we do such-and-such. Isn’t that right?” Tokusan answered, “Yes, you are right.” The other monk was astounded. He said, “That wasn’t the way I heard it. I thought you said so-and-so and we should do such-and-such….” The second monk’s perception was completely the opposite of what the first monk expressed. Tokusan turned to him and said, “I perceive you, too, are right.” Then the young attendant with Tokusan turned to his Master and said, “Well, they can’t both be right.” And Tokusan replied, “Yes, I perceive that you, too, are right.” Different ways of looking at things. That’s good training.

A Samurai & His Sword

These fellows use what is called “expedient means” to teach their students. In India they are very formal, “Yes, my son.” Zen masters are not like that. A Samurai warrior with two swords came to the Zen Master and said, “Master, I have to know. Is there a heaven and hell? I have to know the answer.” The Master ignored the question and said, “Who are you?” “I am a Samurai,” he said. The Master continued, “You, a Samurai, with that face? Who would hire you?” The Samurai started to get angry. The Master provoked further, “Oh, I see you have a sword. Your sword probably isn’t sharp enough to cut my head off!” With that the Samurai reached for his sword and started to pull it out. The Master said, “Now open the gates of hell!” Realizing what the teaching was, the Samurai pushed it back and bowed deeply and the Master said, “Now open the gates of Heaven.” Isn’t that some way to answer a question? Zen is so delightful because there’s so much humor in it.

A Sound or a Personal Disaster?

Zen says, “In what is seen, there should only be the seen; in what is heard, only the heard; in what is sensed, only the sensed; and in what is thought, only the thoughts.” And you say, “Well, isn’t that what we do?” No; it isn’t what we do! I’ll give you an example of how we impose thinking onto the sense perceptions. I was at a party in Westwood, Los Angeles. Everyone was having a good time. It was a very nice party. Suddenly we heard a high piercing sound in the distance, which you translate in your mind as a siren. Actually it’s just a high piercing sound. The sound was coming nearer. There was a man and woman there who had two children. One said, “It seems to be going in the direction of our house. Maybe there’s something wrong. Our children are home with the baby sitter.” The siren went by and pretty soon they had themselves worked into a frenzy. They jumped in the car and took off from the party. They were back twenty minutes later looking very sheepish. Now actually nothing had happened. All they had heard was a high-pitched sound. Zen says what is seen – only the seen. And of course this is not what the couple did.

Reason & Emotion: A Balance

Zen also says (and this is a very important point in the modern world) that reason and emotion must be in balance or there will be suffering. If there’s too much emotion and too little reason, there will be suffering. If there’s too much reason and too little emotion, there will be suffering. Emotion and reason must be in balance. Monk Senzaki put it another way: He said, “It is better to discipline your self than to have life do it for you.” I think that’s a pretty good philosophy, don’t you?

Next, I’m going to give you a statement that two masters made to each other, and this is going to be difficult. Both of them, of course, are correct. The first one said, “When the water is clear, the moon appears.” Now I can understand that: When there are no clouds and the water is clear, the moon appears. The other one said, “No, when the water is clear, the moon disappears.” That’s a koan for you to think about. They’re both right, but they’re right on different levels. In the ordinary world, when the water is clear, the moon appears. But in the absolute world, when the water is clear, the moon disappears.


One of the most famous stories in Zen, which probably had a bigger effect on Zen than any other, has to do with Hui-Neng. He was the sixth Patriarch in Zen. It is usually felt that modern Chinese Zen began with him – that the other Zen before that was Indian, coming with Bodhidharma. Hui-Neng is one of the most interesting men in all history. He never learned to read or write, nor did he have education. He supported his mother by cutting trees in the forest and bringing the firewood to town to sell. One day he brought some firewood to a particular establishment and, as he was making the transaction, he heard someone chanting a sutra, a scripture of Buddhism called the Diamond Sutra. It was saying, in a sense, “That abode which is no where, that is the true abode.” Suddenly something clicked with him. He said, “Who is that who teaches that?” He was told, “Oh, Master Hung Jen who lives 500 miles from here.”

Hui-Neng said, “I have to go see him.” I have a hunch that he was acquainted with the principles of Zen Buddhism before that or the Diamond Sutra wouldn’t have registered. By a happy coincidence (it wasn’t a coincidence), someone made a present of several pieces of gold to him, and he was able to give that to his mother so she could support herself. He took off on foot (500 miles on foot) and he eventually got to the monastery.

The Master made fun of him to test him. The Master said, “Well, you’re from the South? Then you’re a barbarian! ” Hui-Neng said, “Well, as to north and south, yes. But as to the true wisdom, what has that got to do with it?” The Master thought, “This guy is pretty glib.” (Actually he was impressed.) He said, “Take him to the kitchen and have him pound rice.” For about eight months Hui-Neng worked in the kitchen pounding rice. He never went to a lecture; he never went to meditation. He was just an employee in the kitchen pounding rice.

But the Master, realizing he was close to death, said to the monks, “I am going to ask each of you to submit a poem telling me your understanding. The one who hits it on the nose will be my successor.” Well, all the monks said, “Shen-Hsiu, the head monk, was obviously going to be the successor. There’s no reason for us to write a poem.” Shen-Hsiu had been praised many times and he was going to be the successor. Shen-Hsiu wrote one and it was written on the wall. Now listen carefully because you will see the difference between Zen and ordinary thoughts. Shen-Hsiu wrote, “The body is the tree of enlightenment; the mind is the stand of the bright mirror; wipe it constantly and with ever watchful diligence to keep it uncontaminated by the worldly dust.” (It could have been better translated than that.) In other words, wipe the dust from the mirror constantly. This is very common. In Japan they speak of dust, wipe the dust from the mirror, keep it clean; wipe the sins off it. This is very standard religious thinking. The Master praised it, but he called Shen-Hsiu to his room and said, “You haven’t entered yet. Write me another one.” Shen-Hsiu was never able to write another poem. He couldn’t do it.

The monks said, “Isn’t this wonderful what Shen-Hsiu has written.” One of them walked through the kitchen quarters, reciting this poem. The moment Hui-Neng, who was illiterate, heard it, he knew the man who had written it hadn’t seen his own nature. Hui-Neng said, “Will you do me a favor, since I can’t read or write. Take me in so I can pay reverence to it.” So the monk led him in and Hui-Neng said, “Would you kindly write my poem?” The monk scoffed, “You, pounding rice in the kitchen? How could you write a poem?” Hui-Neng said, “Don’t deride others.”

Here was Hui-Neng’s poem. Answering the first one, which was the body is the tree of enlightenment, the mind is the stand of a bright mirror, Hui-Neng wrote, “Enlightenment is no tree nor is the bright mirror a stand. Since it is not a thing at all, where could it be contaminated by dust?”

The moment the Master saw it, he knew this was a man who had realized his true nature. Later Hui-Neng was famous for saying, “From the beginning, not a thing is.” The Master, in one of the most courageous moves in history, came to the kitchen and said, “Is the rice cooked yet?” Hui-Neng said, “The rice has been cooked for a long time.” The Master hit the table three times. Hui-Neng got the message: Come to my room at the third watch at night. On the third watch at night, Hui-Neng, the illiterate rice pounder, went to the Master’s room and the Master spent all night expounding the Diamond Sutra to him. Hui-Neng attained complete wisdom.

The Master said, “You’d better get out of here because you’ll be in a lot of danger from the other monks.” (The Master had given him the begging bowl and the robe of the new patriarch!) Here was a man who had never studied with him, never meditated with him and the master says, “You are the successor.” Incredible decision! So the Master said, “I will row you across the river.” Hui-Neng said, “No, I’ll row you across the river. Before, it was right that you rowed me to the other shore. But it is now up to me to row others to the other shore.” And the Master approved of that very highly. When they got to the other shore, the Master said, “Go to the mountains and lie low for a while and let this develop in you. It’s all there; don’t rush it.”

As Hui-Neng left, the other monks heard about it and they set out, led by a former general, to catch him and take the begging bowl and the robe from him. The general, a big, very brutal looking guy, outdistanced the others and came upon Hui-Neng and caught him.

Hui-Neng said, “There’s the begging bowl; there’s the robe; take them.” The general went over and tried to lift them but he couldn’t do it. Hui-Neng explained why he couldn’t lift them. The general said, “Well, I’m not really after the begging bowl; I’m after Enlightenment. Can you help me?” So Hui- Neng said, “Just control yourself for a minute or two.” There was a silence. Then Hui-Neng said, “Not thinking of good or thinking of bad, what was your original face before your parents were born?” The general said, “May I call you my teacher?” Hui-Neng said, “What have you realized?” The general said, “Only the man drinking the water knows whether it’s hot or cold.” He became enlightened that moment.

Hui-Neng went to the mountains and he lived for a long time with hunters, cooking vegetables in the pot where they cooked meat. And then, one day, he had a feeling, a strong feeling, that it was time for him to go back to civilization. He went down the hill and there was a temple there, so he went into the temple. He didn’t know what he was going to do. And, as he got inside the temple, he noticed two monks arguing. It was a windy day. One monk said, “The wind is moving.” The other monk said, “No, the flag is moving.” Hui-Neng interrupted and said, “It is mind that is moving.”

Zen has often been thought of as mind only. There has been a sect called Yogacara, which in Indian Buddhism is called “the mind only” sect. It is not the flag that’s moving, it is not the wind that’s moving, it’s the mind that’s moving. The head of the temple, hearing this, was struck by it. He said to Hui-Neng, “I have heard that the Sixth Patriarch is in this vicinity, could you be the one?”

Hui-Neng said, “I am not worthy.” That, in Chinese, is the way of accepting things.

He hadn’t even been initiated yet. The head of the temple shaved his head, gave him the precepts, then stepped down and let Hui-Neng become the head. He became Hui-Neng’s disciple.

You see enlightenment is not a thing at all, so where can it be contaminated by dust? You see, he’s seeing it at a different level. Incidentally, Hui-Neng said one time, “All knowledge except Self- knowledge is ignorance.”


All Zen is descended from Hui-Neng, the Chinese sixth Patriarch. In Japan, there were two great Japanese Zen masters descended from him: Hakuin Zenji (that is, “Zen-man Hakuin”) and Dogen (the founder of Soto Zen.) Hakuin had a really strong affiliation with something that was very close to T’ai Chi Chih, which we’re not going to get into now.

Hakuin was really a mystic. Dogen was perhaps the greatest philosopher, one of the greatest scholars that Japan has known. I’ll tell you a little about both but let me first give you a quote by Hui-Neng – the illiterate one who I told you about who became the head. Hui-Neng said, “One who truly practices the Way will not find fault with the world. If one finds fault with the world, he is evidently at fault himself. If only we can do away with the mind to find fault, all afflictions will be shattered to pieces.” Pretty sound advice.

Now I’m going to tell you a little about Hakuin’s enlightenment and then read to you Hakuin’s “Song of Enlightenment.” Hakuin had thought he had had a great enlightenment early in life, but no Zen Master would approve it. Later he wound up with a Zen Master up near Shirakawa. It’s cold up there. “White River Junction” might be a good translation. (Incidentally, my Zen Master was a descendant of Hakuin, a Zen descendant of the same temple of Shirakawa.)

Hakuin studied with a very strict teacher, Shoju Ronin. The way Hakuin put it, his teacher just crushed his shell completely; just crushed Hakuin, who’d thought he’d had the greatest enlightenment in 100 years. Hakuin trained with Shoju Ronin, who one day sent Hakuin to the village to beg for food. Now, a Zen Monk does not beg for food because he wants to get something that’s cheap. And he doesn’t do it to humiliate himself. He does it in order to confirm merit on the one who gives it to him. Quite a difference from ordinary thinking. So, he went down and stopped at a little house and started to recite a Sutra, which is the way they do it: “KAN-JI ZAI BO-SA GYO JIN HAN-NYA HAR-RA MI-TA JI SHO-KEN GO UN KAI KU DO IS-SAI…and it goes on for quite a while. A little old lady came to the door with a broom and said, “Go away; I’m busy!” But he was so deep in his koan, his spiritual practice, he was so focused that he didn’t hear her and he continued, “…KU-YAKU SHAR-RI-SHI ZE SHO-HO KU-SO FU…”

“Go away! I’m busy!”

When he didn’t pay any attention, she took the broom and broke it over his head. And he said at that moment, the bottom dropped out of everything. And later he said, “After this, seeing the things of the world was like seeing the back of my own hand.” Isn’t that some description? “It was like seeing the back of my own hand.” He immediately ran back to the monastery to tell Shoju Ronin what had happened. But before he got there, the Master came running out of the gates towards him. The Master came up and said, “You have broken through.” I always get goose bumps when I tell that story.

Hakuin wrote (we used to recite this in the morning – I think this is one of the most beautiful things ever written…normally I would read it two or three times) the “Song of Enlightenment.” Hakuin said, “Only after this enlightenment did I realize that it is the Buddha ‘I’ which sees the Buddha nature.” This is like saying: don’t play the Tao, let the Tao play you. And we’ve heard that it is God that’s coming toward you; you’re not going towards God. He said:

All beings are primarily Buddhas; it is like water and ice. There is no ice apart from water. There are no Buddhas apart from beings. Not knowing how close truth is, beings seek for it afar. What a pity. They are like those who, being in the midst of water, cry out for water, feeling thirst. Those, who for once, listen to the dharma and, in all humility, praise it, and faithfully follow it, will be endowed with innumerable merits. But, the merits will be all the greater when you turn your eyes within yourself and have a glimpse into your Self-nature. You find that Self-nature is no nature, the truth permitting no idle sophistry. For you, then, opens the gate leading to the oneness of cause and effect. Before you then lies a straight road of non-duality and non-trinity. When you come to understand that form is the form of the formless, your coming and going takes place nowhere else but where you are. When you understand that thought is the thought of the thoughtless, your singing and dancing is no other than the voice of the dharma.

That knocks me out: “How boundless is the sky of samadhi! How refreshingly bright is the moon of the fourfold wisdom. Being so, is there anything you lack? As the absolute presents itself before you, the place where you stand is the land of the lotus, and your person, the body of the Buddha.” That says it pretty well. Had you heard that before?


I’m going to skip from Hakuin (to whom I once felt a very close allegiance) to Dogen. Dogen was one of the first. He went to China under great hardships and brought back the Zen that is now known as Soto Zen in Japan, whereas Hakuin was of Rinzai Zen. Rinzai is the one that uses the koan, which I’ll talk a little about. Dogen wrote masterpieces. They are not logical masterpieces. You have to have the enlightenment that Dogen has to understand. For instance, when Dogen talks about the mountain and the water, and the mountain walking on the water, it’s hard to understand. I’m going to read a few things now (and maybe afterwards) because I think they’re wonderful.

Incidentally, I made a pilgrimage to Eihei-ji, Dogen’s temple in the mountains. I got up at 3:30 in the morning (it’s hardly worth while going to sleep) to meditate with the monks. I was the only one. There were other visitors, but they waited until the afternoon when movies were shown about Zen. I thought Dogen must be turning over in his grave! Movies about Zen! Incidentally, whenever Dogen went to the river to take a drink, he’d put in a ladle or cup, take it out, and then pour half of it back into the river while he drank the other half. Does anyone get the symbolism of that?

There’s another story in which Master Dogen was given the gift of six cookies by a young boy. And he gave back three! The boy couldn’t understand; he’s giving him a gift and the Master is giving half back. Finally, when he asked, the Master said, “What is wrong with returning that to you which was yours originally?” Do you get the symbolism of it? He is returning half the water. (I’m sure the monks didn’t have any idea what he was doing.) “I’m returning to you what is yours originally.”

Dogen said, “Spring draws in the flowers and flowers draw in Spring.” Pretty good. Time does not have a separate existence; it is established by existence. Now if I just told you those two, you’d have enough to go home and think about. Spring draws in flowers and flowers draw in Spring. Time does not have a separate existence; it is established by existence. He also said the life of the Buddha moves through history and advances in time and space. (One day I’m going to have to write a book or pamphlet and get this all down so you can read it at leisure.)

Dogen established five rules for the layman: Not to kill; not to sin sexually; not to steal or rob; not to lie or speak wildly; and not to drink wine. Later I’ll have more of his statements for you.

Zen Buddhism is also Ch’anna. That was the original name and it was shortened to Ch’an, Ch’an Buddhism. Zen is simply the Japanese reading of the word Ch’an or Ch’anna, which the Japanese could not pronounce. Therefore, Zen is simply the Japanese reading of the Chinese character for Ch’an. Ch’an Buddhism says (this is an important statement), “All things share the same root, and consequently, right and wrong are the same. When nothing remains to give up, one has indeed reached the source.” It also says, “Who is capable of embracing this? The four seasons follow each other in succession. The sun and the moon shine constantly. Truth suffers no fundamental alteration. And the Tao is not confined to a single place. Therefore, free yourself to whatever happens to you, rise and fall with it, and you may be simultaneously a common man and a sage.” Very down-to-earth, practical stuff.

Ruth Sasaki

I’m going to tell you a story from my own experience. There was a woman named Ruth Sasaki, who was Alan Watt’s first mother-in-law. She went to Japan and married a Zen Roshi. Well, Zen Roshis don’t usually marry, and he was very old and about to die. He didn’t marry her because he was sexually attracted to her. He wanted her, when he died, to set up a halfway house where foreigners could come and begin their Zen training – which she did and she lived there until she died. She was a very wonderful woman. I met many foreigners there who were learning to read Chinese and Japanese and who were practicing. They would practice there a year before she would send them to a Zen Master. Ruth told me a story about non-attachment.

Buddhism is based on non-attachment. Vairagya is the important word. Vairagya is Sanskrit and means “non-attachment.” (There are many ways you can translate it.) But, in Zen, non-attachment is absolutely necessary. Perhaps, later, I’ll tell you a story, which shows how harsh they are in regard to that. Discard everything. Then you can have everything. Remember the story I told you about pushing away the cake, the sacré tort?” Well, once we’ve pushed it away, we might as well eat it. We’re not attached to it.

Ruth Sasaki told me that a Catholic priest came to see her. He was a very fine young man who appeared very tortured. He said to her, “I must know some answers, I’m not getting any comfort from my own religion. I want to come to you, will you help me?” She said, “Look, go back and be a good Catholic priest. That’s what you’re meant to be.” He said, “No, I mean this seriously, you must help me. I will do anything.” She said, “Well, I’m not sure of that.” He said, “Yes, I will give up anything.” She said, “All right, you know about koan training? Meeting Jesus on a road, knock Jesus down.” The priest gasped and turned around and ran. She never saw him again. He wasn’t willing to give up anything, see. This was a very meaningful story. Of course she wanted him to go back and be a priest. But of course he wasn’t giving up anything. He couldn’t give up that attachment. And nobody would ask him to.

One Zen man said, “Do not listen with the ears but with the mind. Do not listen with the mind but with the spirit. The function of the ear ends with hearing, that of the mind with symbols or ideas. But the spirit is an emptiness ready to receive all things.” This is very much like the fasting mind of Chuang Tzu – to those of you who’ve heard a little Taoism. And it is also like the great Christian mystic, Saint John of the Cross. Saint John said, “In order to arrive at pleasure in everything, desire to have pleasure in nothing. In order to arrive at knowing everything, desire to know nothing.” He must have studied Zen.

Where’s God

One Zen Master said, “Each of us carries a light within him, but when it is looked at, it is turned into darkness.” Now when I was at an ashram, called Yasodhara Ashram, they had signs on the wall saying: “Above all, find God; above all, find God.” When it came time for me to conduct satsang there, I got up and said, “You people are wasting your time; you can’t find God.” They all gasped. Why not? “God isn’t an object!” Who’s doing the looking? It’s exactly the same thing the Zen master is saying. Each of us carries a light within, but when it’s looked at, it is turned into darkness. If you could find God, that wouldn’t be God.

Japanese Zen Gardens

One thing I’m going to get into now has to do with the Japanese Zen garden. I personally think this is the highest art. Remember, I’m a musician, a painter, a writer, and yet I think the highest form of art is the Japanese garden because it is a living art. You see some fellow trimming and so forth. You think, what’s this going to look like? In one famous temple, he finally got through trimming and said to the Master, “My work is finished. The garden won’t be finished for three years, but my work is finished.” He shaped it so it would grow; it’s a living organism. Anybody who will go to the Saihoji (Kokadera) in Kyoto, the so-called moss garden…there’s no gardener, you’ll witness that nobody does anything there. Nature does everything.

Seven Principles of a Zen Garden

Now, what I’m going to get into here is the seven principles of a Zen garden. Obviously it’s referring to a garden, but it is also Zen. I have to explain one term: wabi-sabi. In the West, we sometimes use the term shibui. In art, they use the term shibui a lot. But it is not the same thing as wabi-sabi. Shibui is understated and austere. In the old days a great Samurai would say, “Come visit me at my hut.” He’d own 100,000 acres. He’d have a palace there. Visit him in his hut. Same with his tearoom. (He’d have spent $100,000 making his tea room look impoverished.) It’s a contradiction. Wabi-sabi means old or venerable, weather beaten, lonely…like a bird on a dead branch in winter, austere, simple, natural, not sensuous nor gaudy, but honest, and earthy. Of course, those are the principles of Zen. I’m going to give you the seven principles. (One of which is seijaku.) This loneliness is more aloneness than loneliness because it does not mean “unhappy.”

The seven principles of a Zen garden, freely translated, are as follows:

1.) Fukinsei. I said to my friend, a Zen scholar, Masao Abe, “Does that mean asymmetry?” (Not symmetrical.) He said, “No, not asymmetrical. Beyond symmetry.” Pretty subtle point; suggesting things that are irregular; the opposite of geometric circles and squares. It is the exact opposite of the Taj Mahal. This number of trees, that number of trees. Everything is balanced on the Taj Mahal. Isn’t that beautiful?…No! It’s too artificial. The Japanese picture, the Japanese ideal, is that something should never be finished. One corner may be left unfinished. The Taj Mahal is exactly symmetrical, which is the way the Indian people see things. But that’s different from fukinsei;

2.) Kanso. Simplicity without gaudiness; not heavy or gross; clean, neat, and fresh, yet reserved; frank and truthful, not ornate;

3.) Koko. Austerity, maturity, reduction to essentials. Again, you have Chuang-tzu, the fasting mind, reduction to essentials….How many of us live that way? Lack of sensuousness refers to things that are aged, weathered, venerable;

4.) Shizen. An important word in Japan because it means nature. Shizen-na would be an adjective, “natural.” Shizen means naturalness, artlessness, absence of pretense and artificiality. It does not mean raw nature though. It involves full creative intent but should not be forced; unselfconsciousness. True naturalness that is a negation of the naïve and the accidental. Very surprising, some of these;

5.) Yugen. Subtly profound; suggestion rather than full revelation. That’s very important – suggestion. There’s a great picture (I don’t remember if it’s Japanese or Chinese) in which a man, a fisherman, is out in a little boat, and a big storm is coming and he’s far from land and there are big waves. But that isn’t what the picture is at all. The picture is one line like this and a man in the center. The mind does the rest of it. You feel the threatening waves and the storm coming and everything. That is the suggestion he’s talking about. Subtly profound; suggestion rather than total revelation; things not fully revealed, but partly hidden from view; shadow and darkness. Hence yugen involves the shadow areas of the garden. I used to look out of my little room when I stayed at Tenrikyo and see their beautiful teahouse. Outside was a little path that led to a rock, which was hollowed, where the birds would come and drink when it rained. And then the path ended. The gardener had deliberately designed a little path that didn’t go anywhere. That always delighted me;

6.) Datsuzeku. Unworldliness; freedom from use of compasses and rulers; freedom from worldly attachments and bondages and restrictive laws. It involves transcendence of conventional usage. It is often a surprise element or an astonishing characteristic;

7.) Seijaku. Quietness, calmness, and silence; the opposite of disturbance. In the Orient there is a saying that “Stillness is activity.” Sister Corita did a poster once. She said, “Don’t just do something, stand there!” That is what seijaku means. This characteristic should be strongly felt in a Japanese garden. In other words, stillness in the midst of activity.

I think those principles are very valuable to know. The Japanese garden is well worth seeing. The Japanese garden with a dry waterfall as in Daitokoji or Ryoanji (just gravel, which has been raked, and stones placed seemingly at random) will send you right into meditation. But the subtlety of the one who put it there… In a Kokadera’s moss garden, think of the subtlety of the man who put those big stones there. They didn’t grow there; someone put them there, but you’d swear that someone put them there from the beginning of the world. It was inevitable that they’d be placed in the right spot.

Mount Hiei

I used to sit at Chotoku-in in my two and a half tatami mat room and look out past the cemetery and watch the change of light on the rocks there. It was fascinating – all day long. Those of you who read my book Abandon Hope know that on the other side I could look up and see Mount Hiei. Mount Hiei once had the largest Buddhist establishment made up of thousands and thousands of people and families – very powerful. The Shogun told the monks up there, “You’re getting into politics; you’re not here for politics. You’re up there for a different purpose.” They were so big up there; they had armies of their own and they would march down through Kyoto, terrorizing everybody. The Shogun said, “Look, the next time you come down here is going to be the last time.” Well, they came down and marched through town. The Shogun turned to his troops and said, “Burn it down.” There were over a thousand buildings! He didn’t say, “Burn it down but get the people out first.” He said, “Just burn it down.” There was a conflagration on top of Mount Hiei that you could see practically all over Japan. That was the end of Buddhist political influence in Japan. Whenever I would look out my window in that direction, I would always see it in flames, Mount Hiei. Beyond Mount Hiei is Lake Biwa. It is a very historic spot.

Yunmen or Ummon

One time my Zen Master asked me, “Who was your favorite Zen master of all time? I said, “Yun-men.” He didn’t realize whom I meant. Ummon is the Japanese name for it. Charles Luk, in his book about Zen, says there are those who are nice and even and there are those who are bright, but he said Yun-men was like a rocket going straight up.

Yun-men was brilliant. He constantly spoke against brilliance, spoke against reading and writing (which he did a lot of) and yet he was brilliant. He said that when one sets one’s mind on anything, one produces a sense of separateness, as with Heaven and earth. However, he who is able to realize his Self finds no handicap whatsoever. (I wrote underneath Yun-men’s statement, “This is the attitude of no attitude.”)

Later, when we talk about the koan, Charles Luk has a very good quotation about it. Huang Po, a great Chinese teacher, said, “Adoration and devotion to all the Buddhas in the universe are nothing in comparison to the following of a single mindless man of Tao.” Does this mean a stupid man? No, no. It means the one without concepts, without attachment. Huang Po was a teacher of one of the most influential Zen teachers, Lin Chi, whose name in Japan is Rinzai. (That’s from where we get the Rinzai House of Zen.)

Nothingness, Emptiness, Void, Beingness …

The true goal: Once you have seen into your true nature (that is, through eternity), you’re beyond birth and death. Rinzai training gives you the koan practice in order to attain that, but Dogen and Soto Zen say that you’ve had it from the beginning. You are expressing enlightenment. So when you sit in what’s called Shikan Taza, a type of meditation in Soto Zen, you sit with no object in mind, no koan, no mantra, nothing. We are practicing “manifesting enlightenment,” not practicing “for enlightenment.” Originally, illusion and affliction are non-existent. Dogen also said, “Nothing is not relative emptiness, but absolute emptiness or absolute being.” You’ve never heard a deeper statement than that, I know. If we started to go into the things Dogen said, some of these things knock me out. But I’m not sure they knock everyone out. Try to get the meaning because Zen deals in Void, absence of self nature. Nothingness, which is not nothingness. Nothing is not relative emptiness, in Western philosophical terms “deprivation,” but Absolute emptiness which is Absolute Being. Absolute “no” is absolute “yes.” Nothing is not relative emptiness but absolute emptiness, or absolute being. I look at some of your faces and I know you don’t understand what I’m saying at all. (Roshi Sazaki used to say that all the time.)

Dogen said all things have inherent potentiality. It has nothing to do with whether you’re intelligent or not. Both function and rest reside within. And by rest he meant essence. Both function, activity, and rest (essence) reside within. He also said Sunyata, Emptiness, establishes all things without moving from Suchness. Suchness is that which things are. In Zen, they talk about sunyata personality, a great compliment.

Dogen also said, “Negation of all brings absolute affirmation.” Isn’t that what Saint John of the Cross said? “In order to have everything, want nothing.” Negation of all brings absolute affirmation. There was a very deep Buddhist sect called Hua-Yen in Chinese and Kegon in Japanese. Kegon was so deep that it disappeared, but it left its mark on the other sects. Zen uses it a lot. In Kegon, there are a hundred and seventy odd negations, the last of which is negation of negation. You’ve got to do away with negation, too, so there’s no attachment.

In the Chinese language, there’s an expression Kuichui. The Chinese cuckoo makes this sound. It’s said that in hearing Kuichui, the traveler becomes homesick because it means, “Time to return home.” But in a Zen sense, it’s different from a traveler returning home physically. “Time to return home.” The statement is, “Recollection is the beginning of the interior life.” (I’m discovering something new.) “Recollection is the beginning of the interior life.” When I told Ramurti Mishra, the great Indian teacher, about the ringing in my right ear (anyone who meditates a lot usually develops that), he said, “It means you’ve been chosen for introspection.” I wanted to ask him, “Chosen by Whom?” But you’ve been chosen for introspection. Recollection is the beginning of the interior life.

Japanese Tea Ceremony: Harmony, Respect, Purity, & Serenity

Have any of you done Japanese tea ceremony? Japanese tea ceremony is Zen in origin. The four essentials of the tea ceremony are harmony, respect, purity, and serenity. You have a day in which there’s a light drizzle, and you’re going to go for tea ceremony in this beautiful little teahouse. You sit over on the side on a bench. There’s a water fountain there. You take a drink. You cleanse yourself that way and some people say, “Hey, it’s time for the tea ceremony.” When the smell of incense reaches your nostrils, it is time to go to the tea ceremony. And one by one, you enter a door that is three feet high and very narrow. (Very narrow, so you can’t carry your swords in with you. You’ve got to leave them outside.) And as its only three feet high, so you humble yourself as you go in. You leave all worldliness behind. There are never more than five people present in the tea ceremony. It is very formal. You know exactly what you’re supposed to do. The one who conducts the ceremony is the sixth.

Before you drink this terribly bitter green tea, which will keep you up all night, you put a piece of candy in your mouth and you drink it through the sweet, so that it’s palatable. However, there’s a whole regimen before that. As you listen to the rain on the eaves, you hear the water steaming, and you watch the ceremony being done very formally. I haven’t experienced anything else like it. The whole world disappears for the moment. During the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo (I was in Japan), when the Japanese tried to demonstrate the tea ceremony to the Russians, all they said was, “All that fuss for a cup of tea.” The Japanese were very hurt by that statement.

A Day without Work is a Day without Food

Incidentally, Zen is the only Buddhism (and the only Yoga) that believes monks should work. In India, the monks are not allowed to work, in fact they have to refrain from it. Pai Chang, who was one of the greatest Zen teachers, set up the first purely Zen temple. Before that, Zen monks were mixed with other sects. Pai Chang’s monks worked in the fields, raising their own crops, and Pai Chang set up the slogan, “A day without work is a day without food.” He also insisted that the Zen community be taxed. Unheard of! Zen did not depend on scriptures or anything else. It was all interior. When the great persecution took place, in China during which temples were burned down, the Emperor turned some of the monks into slaves and all the other Buddhist sects suffered. However, Zen was entirely self-supporting. It grew its own food, didn’t read the scriptures, didn’t need anything. It survived better than any of the other sects. And for a while, Zen was the dominant sect in China.

Back to Yun-men (or Ummon in Japanese)

I mentioned Yun-Men, Ummon in Japanese, and his way of talking. He was the one who said, “Every day is a good day.” When someone asked him, “How do you get out of the heat in the summer? And how do you get out of the cold in the winter? He answered, “When it’s hot, step into the burning flames, and when it’s cold, just freeze into an icicle.” Hearing a bell, Yun-men said, “The universe is so extensive, why does the bell range over only seven notes?” Only seven tones. I have heard Japanese pastors talk about it and they don’t understand Yun-men’s statement at all. It’s very difficult. He meant the seven emotions. Why if the world is so vast are there only seven emotions? And the seven emotions are: pleasure, anger, sorrow, joy, love, hate, desire.

The Chinese said, “Abide with the principle and not the dharma.” In this case, dharma means phenomenon. This meaning was expressed similarly in Taoism when it said, “Make your peace with heaven, not with men.” Sometimes when I’m disappointed with what happens, I repeat that to myself: “Make your peace with heaven, not with men.”

Peaceful or Awake

A woman who had been at Tassajara, near Carmel, California, came back and said, “Oh, I feel so peaceful.” I said, “Is that what you got out of Zen?” “Yes,” she replied. “I’m so grateful; I’m so peaceful.” I answered, “You didn’t practice Zen at all. The purpose of Zen practice is not peace. As a matter of fact, Roshi is doing everything to shake you up so you’re not peaceful. The purpose of Zen practice is Satori. The Enlightenment experience. If you’re going to get peaceful, and sit back and relax, you’re going to miss it completely.” That’s hard for most people to understand because they are studying it to look for peace.

Remember that Buddhism basically deals in Void, in emptiness. But the way they describe Void doesn’t sound much different from God, doesn’t sound much different from the absolute. It has no characteristics and yet all things come from it. Well, that could be God, couldn’t it? It could be Tao; it could be anything. The “emptiness” doesn’t really mean what it seems to mean. That’s very important to understand.

Mahayana & Hinayana Buddhism

Zen is part of Mahayana Buddhism. Just as there are Protestants and Catholics as sects of Christianity, there is Mahayana (the great vehicle) and Hinayana (the lesser vehicle.) Mahayana came later than Hinayana. Personally, I think the former is a different religion. The people who are a part of the lesser vehicle don’t call themselves Hinayana, they call themselves Theravada. They don’t think they’re the lesser vehicle because they’re following the original teaching. In 1973, I almost went to a Hinayana monastery near Galle in what used to be Ceylon (now Sri Lanka.) I had intended to go there and had been corresponding with the Master. The great Master there wrote: “I think you’ll find this more to your taste. This is the Buddhism as Buddha taught it. Mahayana has gone away from that and gone into something entirely different.”

In Hinayana, the lesser vehicle, becoming an Arhat was the goal. When the student became enlightened, he had realized and reached arhatship, the Buddha said, “You have done that which must be done.” But that was enlightenment of oneself. Along came Mahayana and set up the Bodhisattva ideal. At the end of every meditation, when we chant: Shu Jo Mu Hen Sei Can Do Bon No Mu Jin… and so forth, these are the four vows of the Bodhisattva. Roughly translated, two of the Four Vows of the Bodhisattva are: “No matter how innumerable the passions, I vow to conquer them all, no matter how innumerable beings there are, I vow to save them all.” That means every blade of grass. Before I will accept enlightenment for myself, I will enlighten every being. It’s hard to imagine that there are such beings as Bodhisattvas.

I’ll tell you a story about the Bodhisattva instinct. It offers enlightenment for oneself and enlightenment for all beings. But when I asked my Master, “In truth, are there other beings to be enlightened?” He laughed and said, “We’ll talk about it sometime.” As I see it, enlightenment of the self is the enlightenment of all beings. So it’s a quarrel over something that is nonexistent.

A Story: A Scorpion, a Monk, & Their Natures

A monk in a Chinese city, a very ordinary man, was walking along the street on a rainy day. There were a lot of big puddles, and he looked down and saw a little scorpion drowning in one of the puddles. Without thinking, he reached down, grabbed him, pulled him out and WUP! The scorpion stung him. (I was stung once in India and reported it after about 45 minutes. “Am I going to die?” I asked. They said, “If you’re still alive, it’s not going to do anything.”) The monk picked the little

scorpion out of the water and it stung him. He hastily put it down and the scorpion promptly walked into another puddle. The monk ran over, picked it out again, and Ohhh! He got stung and put it down once more. A man who was watching this in the crowd said, “You fool, don’t you realize that every time you pick the scorpion out he’ll sting you?” The monk replied, “Yes, I realize that it’s in his nature to sting me, but it’s in my nature to keep picking him out of the water.” That is a bodhisattva.

Ferrying Others

To advance from where you can no longer advance, and to do what can no longer be done, you must make yourself into a raft or ferry boat for others. That is the bodhisattva ideal. Is there anything else like that in the world? When you chant Shu Jo Mu Hen Sei Gan Do… you are saying the bodhisattva vow:

Sentient beings are numberless, I take a vow to save them all;
The deluding passions are inexhaustible, I take a vow to destroy them all;
The gates of Dharma, the law, are manifold, I vow to enter every one;
The Buddha way is supreme, I take the vow to complete it.

When you chant, you repeat the bodhisattva vow three times. I don’t think most of those who say these words even realize what they are saying or what it entails.

This last statement I’m going to talk about concerns Zen Master Hakuin and is very important for T’ai Chi Chih students and teachers. Hakuin says, “The essential of the molding of the outer forms consists mainly in allowing the inward spirit and vital force (chi) to penetrate into the space below the naval. When the inward spirit is concentrated, that is when the elixir of life is made; when this elixir is thus made, the outer form becomes firm, when the outer form becomes firm, the inner spirit becomes perfected. When the inner spirit becomes perfected, long life ensues. This is the secret. It is entirely a matter of the heart fire descending into the space below the naval.” This understanding is completely lost in Japan. None of the Zen people in Japan know it. Yet, Hakuin wrote a book, Yassenkana, about the practice to power the heart fire into the space below the navel, which of course is the practice of T’ai Chi Chih. This is pure Taoism. Yet it’s Zen.

This discussion reminds me of what my friend, Dr. Wu wrote in China. He said, “The Father of Zen is Buddhism, the mother of Zen is Taoism. But it must be said, in truth, that the child resembles the mother much more than the father.” In other words, Zen represents Taoism much more in the affirming of life. I think if everybody of whatever sect, whatever religion, could study some Zen, it would make him better. Roshi Sasaki used to go to Catholic retreats, where novitiates were being trained to become priests, and he would have interviews with them. He wore their habit when he was there. I said, “Roshi, what are you trying to do, convert the priests to Buddhism?” He said, “No, I’m trying to make them better Catholics.” Zen doesn’t care what you call yourself or what the words are. One monk became a Zen Master because his Master asked him, “In the scriptures, how many of the words are angels’ words and how many are demons’ words?” The monk said, “They’re all demons’ words.” The Master smiled; Zen people don’t get hung up on words. (They say they don’t get hung up on words. It’s the same way as Indians and others who say that the best answer is silence. There’ve been hundreds of books written about silence. It’s rather paradoxical.)

Here are two poems that tell about the state of mind of the contented monk:

When the Mind is transparent and pure as if reflected on the mirror-like surface of the water, there is nothing in the world that you would dislike.
When serene as the light breeze in sunshine, there will be no one whom you would like to forget. To a Mind that is still, the Universe surrenders.

And a monk said:

I gather chrysanthemums at the Eastern hedgerow and silently gaze at the southern mountains. The mountain air is beautiful in the sunset. Overhead, a flock of geese, whirling above a frozen pond, silently wends its way homeward. In all this, there is a very real meaning. But when I try to express it, I get lost in no words.

And finally, Father Thomas Merton said, “What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?” That’s pure Zen. He was a Catholic priest but I think he may have wanted to be a Zen monk.

This article is published in Gateway to Eastern Philosophy & Religion.

Published On: June 14th, 2021Categories: Gateway to Eastern Philosophy & Religion

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