Wednesday, August 11, 2010


If you come to a religion, or if you imbibe some kind of a mind-altering drug, you probably expect to get something in return. Maybe a vision, maybe a hallucination, maybe a revelation. And if you expect something, you will probably get something. That’s because you will have unconsciously or subconsciously manufactured it yourself, and are anticipating it.

The Roman Catholic Church is known for visions of the Virgin Mary, or of Jesus, or of some church-appointed saint.

One might ask why Catholics seem to have the edge on apparitions. Do we ever hear of modern day Lutheran visions? Or Methodist holy sightings?

Some years ago I spent a month in Ecuador with a small group of mountain climbers. We climbed five active volcanoes. The highest was Chimborazo at 21,000 feet.

The extreme altitudes and the accomplishments were heady. Even though none of us saw an abominable snowman, or a holy figure, we felt as high as a kite.

One night before climbing the peak called Tunguahura, we stayed at a hotel in the village of Baños. Over supper the host offered us a tea brewed from cocoa leaves, warning us the drink could be mildly hallucinogenic.

I sipped a cup of the brew, as did a woman from Philadelphia.

She got high, so she claimed. Maybe it was because she expected to get high.

I felt nothing. Maybe it was because at the time I was exuberant over the outdoors. I was in a primitive state, uninfluenced by civilization or artificiality.

It was a wonderful feeling.

And, as Sinatra sang, I did it my way.

Chinese Zen master Ma-tsu (707-783) said the Way is ordinary mind.

What is ordinary mind?

It’s a mind that sees no right, no wrong. It’s a mind that has no preconceived notions. No wants, no desires. No grasping, no rejecting. No beginning, no ending.

Mat-tsu said: Whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, you respond to situations and deal with people as they come. Everything is the Way.

But what is the Way? What else is it called?

To quote Lao-tsu, the Taoist compiler of Tao Te Ching, “The Tao that can be told is not the real Tao. The name that can be named is not the real name.”

Ch’an Master Wu-yeh went to see Ma-tsu, and said he did not understand the teaching that mind is Buddha.

Ma-tsu said, “The mind that does not understand is it.”

What else do you need to know?

If you want to know the Way, to know the Buddha, don’t push. Don’t force. Don’t strain.

Don’t have preconceived notions or expectations.

Let go. Be open. Be receptive. Relax mentally and physically.

If someone were to ask a true Zen master if he—the roshi—were enlightened, an old-school roshi would probably clobber the other person.

These days, whacking someone is out of style. A true master would probably ignore the question because there is no verbal reply possible.

Remember, the Tao that can be told is not the real Tao.

The name that can be named is not the real name.

Don’t look for spooks and specters when there are none.

Ordinary mind is the Way.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


Often I come across a Zen saying, or a Zen-related saying, that is worth noting down. Some are by renowned masters, such as Shunryu Suzuki. Some are by Asian poets, such as Basho. Some are anonymous. All are worth remembering, and even worthy of meditation. As my collection of these expressions grows, I will periodically post a new series.

A student went to see his meditation teacher, and said, “My situation is horrible! I feel distracted most of the time. My legs ache. I keep falling asleep. It’s terrible.”
The teacher said, “It will pass.”
Some time later the student went to his teacher, and said, “I feel wonderful! I think I’m enlightened!”
The teacher said, “It will pass.”

If you understand, things are just as they are.
If you do not understand, things are just as they are.

The Buddha may, or may not, have said:
“When seeing, just see;
“When hearing, just hear;
“When knowing, just know;
“When thinking, just think.”
I would add:
“When not thinking, just not think.”

“If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”
-- Dogen Zenji

“A flower falls, even though we love it, and a weed grows, even though we do not love it.”
-- Dogen Zenji

“I’d like to offer some concepts to help you, but in the Zen school we don’t have such a thing.”
-- Ikkyu

Q. How do you describe a schizophrenic Zen Buddhist?
A. A person who is at two with the universe.

Shunryu Suzuki was asked, “How much ‘ego’ does one need?”
Suzuki answered, “Just enough so you don’t step in front of a bus.”

After a session of zazen, one monk said to another monk, “Were you not thinking what I was not thinking?”

Even a good thing isn’t as good as nothing.

Bodhidharma is attributed with a few sayings:

As long as you look for a Buddha somewhere else, you’ll never see that your own mind is the Buddha.

To find a Buddha, all you have to do is see your nature.

The essence of the Way is detachment.

It is not the sound of a stone hitting bamboo or the color of plum blossoms that makes people enlightened. It is their practice.

-- Shunryu Suzuki