Monday, November 27, 2017



          Sutras are collections of the supposed talks and dialogues of Shakyamuni Buddha who lived some 2500 years ago. Most Buddhist schools have adopted certain sutras as their own authority, but not Zen. Zen isn’t associated with any sutra. Zen is a special transmission outside of sutras. It doesn’t depend on words or letters.

In Zen truth is grasped directly or else it isn’t grasped at all.

          The Christian Bible, The Jewish Talmud, and the Muslim Koran are books that gather together what are reputed to be the revelations of God. They’re known as holy books, sacred books associated with divine power. People venerate them and often make solemn declarations on them as confirmation of the honesty or truth of their declarations.

Consider. For the Christian Bible alone there are dozens upon dozens of versions. There are the King James, the Berkely, the English Revised, the New American, the American Standard, the New Revised Standard, and many more.

          Each version has been interpreted and edited at different times by different scholars and translators, which means each version differs in some way, large or small, from all the others. Which means that anything original has been fiddled around with so many times it has lost any meaning of its primary intent.

          Question. Can anyone tell me what a camel is?

Answer. A camel is a horse that was designed by a committee.

Seriously, take with a pound of salt the words or revelations of anyone that have been interpreted time after time and recorded time after time by committee after committee, each member of which has his own selfish reason to make a mark in history. Any originality in the meaning of those word has long since been obscured in time and in the tinkering the words have undergone.

Neither Buddhism nor Zen has a so-called holy book. I do own a small volume I liberated from a nightstand of a hotel in Thailand. It’s somewhat analogous to the Gideon Bible found in most hotels in Christian countries, but it’s not called a bible. It’s titled simply The Teachings of Buddha.

It’s not a considered a sacred book. It isn’t a collection of holy writings. In Buddhist courts no one is required to swear on it to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me Shakyamuni.

The book presents writings on the life of the Buddha such as The Fourfold Noble Truths, The Middle Way, and Human Nature. It makes no promises. It offers no guarantees.

Here are three quotes from The Teaching of Buddha:

1.     “Oh, my mind! If you could only learn that everything is non-substantial and transitory….”

2.     “Rely upon yourself: do not depend upon anyone else.”

3.    “Be the master of your own mind.”

I’m not saying written words are bad. Read sutras, or even the so-called holy books, but don’t take them for a body of rules or principles.

With that rambling introduction in mind, let’s consider one of the most significant personalities in Zen, and some of the concepts from his most momentous piece of teaching. I’m referring to Hui-Neng, the Sixth Chinese Patriarch, and his so-called Platform Sutra.

The word “platform” refers to the raised area where Hui-Neng sat when he delivered his talk to the people surrounding him.

To paraphrase Hui-Neng, if one realizes his or her original mind you have awakened. Awakening is known as no-thought. What is no-thought? It means even though you are totally aware you are not fixed to anything.

This is being free and unattached.

According to Hui-Neng, once you awaken to the notion of no-thought you have reached the status of the Buddha.

Reaching the status of the Buddha doesn’t mean becoming the spitting image of Siddhartha. Remember, there are no cookie cutters in Buddhism.

The Platform Sutra often uses the word “nature.” This isn’t Mother Nature, with its trees and bees but self-nature, original nature, Buddha-nature. Buddha-nature means everyone—and I say every thing—possesses the potential, the intrinsic spark, to be enlightened. Enlightened means realizing one’s own true self.

Zen deals with Buddha-nature.

Buddha-nature is indestructible.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017



Many people assume Zen is like a therapist couch and come to purge their faults. Others want to expose their personal opinions. Still others come to zazen hoping to be given answers to personal problems.

Such motives may be reasonable, but they may indicate a need to control.

        One reason we create problems is because they give us a sense of identity. We replay past mistakes, allowing feelings of regret to shape our actions in the present. We worry about the future, as if the act of fixation somehow gives us power. We hold stress in our minds and bodies and accept tension as the standard.

However, there will never be a time when life is simple.

As Mark Twain said, "I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."

Every moment is a chance to let go. Pausing the mind allows the self to be here and now rather than some other place or time. To be awake is to be aware.

Some Buddhist schools call living in the moment mindfulness. It’s a state of open attention on the present. When you become mindful, you realize you are not your thoughts, but you are aware of them.

The term "mindfulness" is a translation of a Pali term that is utilized to develop self-knowledge and wisdom. Mindfulness is the process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment.

Life goes on in the present. But so often, we let the present slip away because we are busy doing something.

Mindfulness is common to Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, and many Native-American traditions. It's why Thoreau went to Walden Pond; it's what Emerson and Whitman wrote about in their essays and poems.

If we see the world with mindful eyes, we realize almost everything is different each time—the pattern of light on the buildings, the faces of the people, even sensations.

Two monks were meditating side by side. The younger one gave the older one a questioning look.

The older monk said, "Nothing happens next. This is it."

Beside the stairway,

A white chrysanthemum blooms.

There is nothing else.


Monday, November 06, 2017



A paradox is a situation that may be true but seems impossible or difficult to understand because it contains contradictory terms.

To say that another way, a paradox is a self-contradictory proposition that may be well-founded or true. On the other hand it may not be true.

Talk about inconsistency, consider the words of Zen Master Soen Nakakagawa who said, “Plus and minus are one, a world of absolute contradiction.”

        Some scholarly individuals—not Zen practitioners, by the way—spend a great deal of time and effort analyzing and categorizing Zen statements, stories, and especially koans, shoehorning them into systems of symbolic logic using emblems to denote propositions, terms, and relations.

An example of symbolic logic might be, if A is the same as B, then AB is the same as BA.

        Analyzing and categorizing are fine pastimes if you want to prove something or want to establish a belief. And they may work with computer science.

        However, in Zen nothing needs to be verified or supposed.

        In Zen a dialogue or an exchange or a statement is often a source of illogical puzzlement. But such exchanges are intended to do away with logic and encourage awareness.

        As an example:  

        My finger can point to the moon, but my finger is not the moon. You don’t have to become my finger, nor do you have to worship my finger. You have to forget my finger, and look at where it is pointing.”

        Following are a few lines of non-Zen borrowed from a well-intentioned academician who is speaking of paradox in Zen.

“With this we are baffled because apparently bona fide language and discourse are freely used to create a state of mental comprehension and personal transformation which transcend both language and reason.

        For such reasons Zen practice must mislead and mystify those same learned individuals who emphasize such virtues as conceptual clarity, logical consistency, and semantic meaningfulness.”

End of academic discourse. If anyone can say that in plain English, let me know.

Zen language and Zen experience possess a certain ability to trigger insights in a human being. Therefore they can’t be dismissed as nonsense or irrelevant. They have real value.

But the Zen experience continues to puzzle philosophers in general and theorists of religion in particular.

What follows are a few typical Zen statements that might make perfect sense to a Zen person, but might baffle a philosopher or a theologian.

--Show me your original face before you were born.

--What is the clap of one hand?

--Don't call this a stone, but tell me what it is.

--I am him and yet he is not me.

        --Mountains are not mountain, and water is not water.

        --Not one, not two.

        To quote D.T. Suzuki, “There are in Zen no sacred books or dogmatic tenets, nor are there any symbolic formulae through which an access might be gained into the signification of Zen. If I am asked, then, what Zen teaches, I would answer, Zen teaches nothing. Whatever teachings there are in Zen, they come out of one's own mind. We teach ourselves; Zen merely points the way.”

        End quote.

When a student of Zen named Yamaoka Tesshu called on Master Dokuon of Shokoku the novice said,

 “The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received.”

Dokuon said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the novice quite angry.

“If nothing exists,” said Dokuon, “where did your anger come from?”

A student went to his teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel distracted, or my legs ache, or I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s terrible!”

“It will pass,” the teacher said.

A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive!

“It will pass,” the teacher replied.

        To wind up this talk:

n  When you can do nothing, what can you do?

n  What is the color of wind?

n  I have lived with several Zen masters—all of them cats.