A donkey carrying a pile of holy books is still a donkey.

— Zen Proverb

Lotus 288.

The True Dragon
by Shunryu Suzuki

Dogen Zenji says, “Don’t practice your way like a blind man trying to find out what is an elephant.” A blind man touching an elephant may think an elephant is like a wall or a robe or a plank. But the real elephant is not any of those. And he says, “Don’t be suspicious of the true dragon, like Seiko.”

In China there was a man named Seiko; he loved dragons. All his scrolls were of dragons. He designed his house like a dragon-house and he had many figures of dragons. So a real dragon thought, “If I appear in his house he will be very pleased.” So one day the dragon appeared in his room, and he was very scared of him, and almost drew his sword to cut him. The real dragon said, “Oh, my!” and he hurriedly escaped from the room. “Don’t be like Seiko!” Dogen Zenji says.

Most of us are practising our way like a blind man or like Seiko. That is why we have to start our practice over and over. You think you are practising real zazen, but it may not be so. So if you notice that you haven’t been practising true zazen, you have to start the practice of true zazen again. Over and over we have to start our zazen, because we are always apt to practice zazen like a blind man, or like Seiko.

Here is another story which was told by Master Nangaku. When Baso was practising zazen, Nangaku, who passed by, asked him, “What are you doing?” “As you see, I am practising zazen.” “Why do you practice zazen?” “I want to attain Buddhahood.” And Nangaku didn’t say anything but he picked up a tile and started polishing it. At this, Baso started wondering what Nangaku was doing and asked him, “What are you doing?” “I am making a jewel.” Baso asked, “How is it possible to make a tile into a jewel?” Nangaku replied, “How is it possible to attain Buddhahood by practising zazen?” After this story, Nangaku asked Baso, “When the cart does not go, which do you whip, the cart or the horse?”

Dogen Zenji says usually there is no person who hits the cart to make it go. Usually, people hit the horse instead of the cart. But there should be a way to whip the cart. When you practice zazen almost all of you know you should whip the horse. And to whip the horse you practice zazen. You’re giving the whip pretty hard to your practice, without knowing how to whip the cart. But we should know there is another way to practice: to whip the cart instead of the horse.

Horse is a symbol of mind; the cart means body. It also means zazen form — formal practice of zazen. Horse means attainment, spiritual attainment, and cart means physical practice. Usually, you know, we understand zazen practice as formal practice. Our shikantaza is formal practice and koan practice is more mental practice. But this kind of understanding is not complete. This kind of understanding is the understanding of blind men like Seiko. True practice is not formal practice or so-called shikantaza or koan practice. None of those. These practices are just the practice to whip the horse.

This is like, Seiko loves the dragon, carved dragon, not real one. So, each one of us must think on this point. Each one of us practices zazen in his own way, with his own understanding. And he continues that kind of practice, thinking, “This is right practice.” So, even though he is sitting here in the zendo he is involved in his own practice. In other words, he is carving, carefully carving his own dragon, which is not real. That is what most of the people are doing. Some people may explain what zazen is in a philosophical way, or some people try to express our zazen in literature, or painting, or in a scientific way, without knowing that that is their own dragon, not real one.

That is not wrong. That is all right, but we should know that there must be the way to whip the cart. We should know that there is a true dragon which has no form or colour, which is called nothingness or emptiness, and which includes koan practice and so-called shikantaza, and various Hinayana ways of practice or pre-Buddhistic practice. This is the practice transmitted from Buddha to us. But at least when we do something there must be that which is supposed to be the true dragon, real dragon. In this way, we practise zazen.

You come and practice zazen in this zendo where there should be the true dragon. But the instant you think, “This is the true dragon,” that is a mistake. But knowing that, if you come to this zendo, you should practice zazen with people forgetting all about your carving or your painting. You should practice zazen with the people in this zendo, with your friends, completely involved in the atmosphere we have here. Sometimes I allow people who are sticking to an old way to do that, but strictly speaking, those who practice zazen here should be completely involved in the feeling we have in this zendo, and practice our way with people according to my instruction. That is what you should do.

But people who do not know what real emptiness is, or true dragon, may think they are being forced in this way: “Sokoji is a Soto Zen temple. I have been practising Rinzai way.” But that is not true. We are practising the way transmitted from Buddha to us. We are Buddha’s disciples. And we practice zazen with Buddha, with patriarchs.

For some people that which does not have some particular form is not true being. So they may say that it is an imaginary dragon. But for a Buddhist, there is a way to understand reality in two ways: with form and colour or without form and colour. That is, to whip the cart instead of the horse. If someone whips a cart, people may say he is crazy. But there is actually a transmitted way to whip the cart. To practice the formal way is to whip the cart.

But for an ordinary person, to see the carved dragon is to not see the true dragon. That is so-called one pure practice — ichigyo zammai. Usually, ichigyo zammai is understood to mean being completely involved in some kind of practice. It is so, but at the same time, even though we are deeply involved in a kind of practice, at the same time we should have complete freedom from it. Do you understand?

Usually, when you become very much attached to something, you have no freedom from it. But for us, because of complete freedom, it is possible to be involved in or to be attached to something completely. That is shikantaza, true shikantaza. So shikantaza is not even a matter of whether you practice zazen or not. Even though you do not practice our way in the cross-legged position, if you have this point you are always practising zazen. Usually, when you become very much attached to something, you have no freedom from it.

Dogen Zenji said: “Sickness does not destroy a person, but if you do not practice zazen, that no-practice will destroy a person.” Do you understand? Sickness does not destroy a person. You may say: “Today I cannot practice zazen because I have a headache. If I practice zazen I shall die, so I cannot practice zazen.” But Dogen Zenji says, “Sickness does not destroy a person, but no practice will destroy you.”

It is not so easy to talk about what real practice is. If we want to figure out what Dogen Zenji meant, without having this kind of experience, to talk about this point may be completely wrong. But we can figure out what he meant through our practice. His practice is something beyond formal practice or spiritual practice, or even beyond enlightenment. The more you try to figure it out, the more you feel distance from your practice and from his practice.

And yet this is a practice which we cannot escape. Actually we are practising his way day by day, but for us there is no time to figure out what he meant completely. And even though we human beings continue his way forever, we will not be able to say: this is his way. The only thing we can say is, this is the way which has no end and no beginning, and from this way, we cannot escape.

Because of this practice, various beings survive in the world, and everything is going in this way, including we human beings. So there actually is no problem for us. But as a human being who lives the Way in this world, the constant effort to keep up with the way the whole universe is going, and to practice our way is necessary, as long as this universe exists. With this feeling, with this complete calmness of mind, we should practice our way.

After sitting one year, most students will actually have this quality of practice, but when you try to figure out what your practice is, there you have a problem, or you create a problem which does not belong to your practice. If you just sit, there is no problem for most of our students. But sometimes you create problems, that’s all. And you fight with the problems, that’s all. You are creating it, actually. In your zazen there is no problem.

When you practice your own personal practice, you have a problem. When you just sit, being absorbed in the feeling we have in our zendo, there is no problem at all.

We should make our effort on this point more, instead of carving our own dragon. In this way, you have complete freedom from everything, including yourself. To talk about freedom is quite easy. But actually to have it is not so easy at all. Unless you are able to have freedom from yourself, you will never have freedom from anything. Or, if you only have freedom from yourself, you will have freedom from everything. How we attain this freedom is our practice. You should not listen to the various instructions as something is forced on you. The instructions will help you only when you are ready to practice zazen according to the place where you practice, forgetting all about the old way of practice you have been making.

I am not emphasising Soto way instead of Rinzai way, but as long as you practice zazen in Zen Centre, you should practice Zen Centre’s way, or else you will just be involved in personal practice. You will be carving your own dragon, always, thinking: this the true dragon. That is a silly mistake. You shouldn’t create this kind of problem for your practice.

As some Zen masters say, “Our way is like taking a walk, step by step.” This is our practice. When you stand on one leg, you know, you should forget the other leg. This is step by step. This is true practice. You know that if you stick to right leg or left leg, right foot or left foot, you cannot walk. This is how we practice our way. This is complete freedom.

Shunryu Suzuki 7..jpg

Your True Self
by Zen Master Seung Sahn

Thank you very much for coming today. But what is it that brought your body here? Is it your mind? What is mind? Where is it? What is its shape? Mind is no mind. A mountain does not proclaim, “I am a mountain!” A river does not say, “I am a river!” All names and all forms are made by thinking. Thus, mind is no mind. All things have names and forms. Names and forms come from emptiness. Thus, form is emptiness, emptiness is form.

When you are thinking, your mind, my mind, and all people’s minds are different. If you cut through all thinking, your mind, my mind, and all people’s minds are the same. The mind that cuts through all thinking is the true empty mind. The true empty mind is before thinking. Your substance is before thinking. Your substance is universal substance. Before thinking, there is no speech and no language. There is no God, no Buddha, no mountain, no river, nothing at all. Thus, no form, no emptiness.

But, before thinking is truly just like this. No form, no emptiness is itself a clinging to emptiness. Put it down! Then you will have no inside and no outside; you will attain the Absolute. Everything that you see, hear, taste, and smell is the truth. God is God, Buddha is Buddha, mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers. The truth is like this. Form is form, emptiness is emptiness.

If you cut through all thinking, your mind will become clear. Just that is your true self. Thinking is desire, desire is suffering. When the mind remains clear, there is no life and no death. You will find true freedom that has no hindrance.

Your body has life and death, but your true self transcends both life and death. What, then, is one’s true self? Does it exist or not? If you say that it exists, where is it? If you say that it does not, what is hearing this speech? Both these answers are not complete. Why? (striking the table) KATZ! Put it down, put it all down! The Great Way is in front of the door.

Zen Master Seung Sahn 4.

The Truth is realised in an instant; the Act is practised step by step.

— Zen Master Seung Sahn

Zen Master Seung Sahn 8.

When an ordinary man attains knowledge,
he is a sage;
when a sage attains understanding,
he is an ordinary man.

–Zen Proverb

Lotus 283.

Correct Meditation
by Zen Master Seung Sahn

When I was in the hospital, the doctors checked my heart. The first time they checked, there were 23-25 mistakes (premature ventricular contractions) in one minute, out of about 80 beats.

Many people have read about research by a Harvard professor who checked people with bad hearts, diabetes, etc. He checked people who did meditation and people who didn’t. People who didn’t do meditation were O.K. with medicine, but not O.K. without their medicine. But people who tried concentration meditation got better more quickly and were O.K. without their medicine. The Transcendental Meditation people advertised this: “Meditation can fix many sicknesses.” So now many doctors like meditation. So my doctors said, “Soen Sa Nim, you are a Zen Master, so you try!” So I said, “O.K., I will try.” So I tried this fix-your-body meditation. In three days my heart was making only five mistakes — usually, it takes about one month to recover like this, so my doctors understood this meditation was helping my body, so they were very happy.

After one week, my heart was only making one or two mistakes, and my doctors said, “This is wonderful! Most people take two or three months to come down to only one or two mistakes each minute!” So I said, “Thank you very much, you have helped me, so I can get better quickly. But this is only fix-your-body meditation. This is not correct meditation.”

“Why isn’t this correct meditation?” they asked.

“You can fix your body, your heart, your diabetes. In Korea, China, and India there are people who do yoga. They go to the mountains and do breath-in, breath-out meditation. They can live 500 years and not get sick. Keeping their bodies for a long time is possible; even flying in the sky is possible. Trying this style body meditation, anything is possible. A body is like a car. Use the car a lot, and in three years, it is broken. Only keep the car in the garage, then keeping it for a long time is possible. But finally after 500 years, then these yoga people die. Then what? Live a long time, then die; live a short time, then die — it is the same! Dying is the same.” The doctors understood. “What is correct meditation then?”

I told them, “I always try meditation. Meditation means always keeping one mind, not-moving mind.” They thought meditation meant only concentration and keeping your body still. So I said, “Meditation means keeping one mind. You must understand — what is life? What is death? If you keep one mind, there is no life, no death. Then if you die tomorrow, no problem; if you die in five minutes, no problem.”

“What do you mean, ‘no problem?'” they asked.

“Maybe you do fix-your-heart meditation. Then, ‘My heart is good, my body is good.’ It is very easy to become attached to this meditation. But when you get old, and your heart is not so good, then you try this meditation. Maybe it is still not so good. Then, ‘Why doesn’t my meditation work?’ Then your body, your meditation, become hindrances. If your meditation cannot help your body, then you don’t believe in your meditation. Then what? So this style of meditation is no good.”

“Correct meditation means correctly understanding your situation moment by moment — what are you doing now? Only do it! Then each action is complete each action is enough. Then no thinking, so each moment I can perceive everything just like this. Just like this is truth. Sick-time, only be sick. Driving-time, only drive. Only go straight — then any situation is no problem.

The doctors liked this; they wanted to hear more about Zen. So six doctors came to my room and I talked to them for two hours. One doctor asked me, “I am very busy, at the hospital, then going home to my family — how can I keep a clear mind?”

“”Clear mind,” I told them, “means moment to moment, what are you doing now? When you are with your patients, only 100% keep the doctor’s mind. When you leave the hospital and you are driving home, 100% keep the driver’s mind. When you meet your wife, 100% keep the husband’s mind. This means each moment only go straight; don’t make ‘I, my, me.’ If you make ‘I, my, me,’ then your opinion, your condition, your situation appear; then you have a problem.”

“‘If, when you are with your patients, you think, ‘Where is my wife? Is she spending a lot of money?’ Then this patient is talking to you and you only say, ‘Uhm, yeah, mmm-hmm.’ So the patient is thinking, ‘What does the doctor think?’ They don’t believe you. If you are talking to your wife, and she is telling you something important, and you are thinking about the hospital, this is just your opinion, this is just thinking; it is not your just-now situation. So put it all down, only go straight.”

“We say jeon il, completely become one. When you are doing an operation, you and this knife completely become one. When you are driving in your car, you and your car only become one. If you drive on a road with pebbles and you are not thinking, only driving, then you can feel these pebbles under your tires. Only become one means, you and your action completely become one, then you and the universe only become one — completely no-thinking mind. Inside and outside become one. The name for this is, ‘only go straight,’ or ‘put it all down,’ or ‘don’t make anything,’ or ‘keep a clear mind.'”

“If you are only in the present, how can you plan for the future or choose a direction? I have to plan for my patients, and for myself, my family,” one doctor said.

So I said, “What is the purpose of life? I asked many old people in the hospital this question, or ‘What did you get out of life?’ and many said, ‘Nothing.’ Maybe they have a good job, good family, good wife or husband, but these things cannot help them now. They want something they cannot have, and they understand this, so they say, ‘Nothing.’ This is understanding nothing. But understanding cannot help them, so they are suffering. Zen means to attain this nothing mind. The Buddha said, ‘If you keep clear mind moment by moment, then you will get happiness everywhere.’

“Zen is attaining this nothing mind and using this nothing mind. How can you use it? Zen means making this nothing mind into big-love mind. Nothing mind means no ‘I, my, me,’ no hindrance. So this mind can change to Great Compassion mind, action-for-all-people mind. This is possible. Nothing mind does not appear, does not disappear. So moment by moment, it is possible to keep your correct situation. Then your mind is like a mirror — when you are with your patients, only become one. Then helping them is possible. When you are with your family, only become one; then understanding what is best for them is clear. Just like this. The blue mountain does not move. The white clouds float back and forth.”

Zen Master Seung Sahn 3.

The world is won by those who let it go.

— Zen Proverb

Lotus 287.

Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment,
at this place,
The world of the flower,
the whole of
the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower,
the truth of the blossom;
The glory of eternal life is fully
shining here.

— Zenkei Shibayama

Zenkei Shibayama 1.

Freedom isn’t a destination: it’s a state of mind.

— Zen Proverb

Lotus 285.

自悟自心 ·不须外求

禅宗自创立以来,一直主张“不立文字,直指人心,见性成佛。” 这种主张要求学徒在修行悟道的过程中,要抛弃语言文字等外物对人修道的障碍,从而自悟自心,心不外求,最终达到明心见性的目的。为了扫除弟子的各种影响修道的妄见情思,有修证的禅师在面对弟子怀有妄见的询问时,常常以答非所问的语句来引导弟子,或者是一个令人捉不透的动作,让他们从心外求法的邪见妄想中解脱出来,令他们得到合适的悟道机缘而见自本性。下面几则公案中的禅师就是这样教化弟子的。




禅宗的各派禅师在教化弟子时,往往告诉他们要着眼于自身,从确立人人本有的信心必能成佛入手,然后自修自悟。为了破除弟子的妄想执着。他们对弟子的问法往往并不从正面回答,为了截断弟子对某一问题的执着或迷悟,打断他们的世俗思维,可以所答非所问,也可以不回答,甚至示以某种动作,乃至语默并用,棒喝交加。曾有一僧人问建旺禅师:“什么是祖师西来意?”建旺禅师说:“就像走在市场上的乌龟。”僧人听不懂,便追问道:“这是什么意思呢?”师曰:“ 该缩头的时候就要缩头。”弟子在追问建旺禅师如何是祖师西来意。其实祖师西来意是不能用语言文字来进行解说的。一旦执着于语言文字便与明心见性的本意背道而驰。旺禅师知道弟子陷入了语言文字的陷阱,所以,他为了解除弟子的执着妄见,便以答非所问的答案来回答他。而僧人仍没有明白禅师的意思,所以禅师就以“该缩头时就缩头”来告诉禅僧,提示他已经陷入了对语言名相的执着,应该及时回头来自证自悟,才能明白祖师西来的本意。有位古德禅师根据这则公案做了一首偈颂,对此公案进行评唱: