March 31, 2017

Living at Bright Forest Temple

I am pleased to announce that we have released preliminary information regarding opportunities to reside and practice at Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery. Our new residence is on track for completion in time for the first ango (period of intensive monastic practice), beginning in March 2018. We are therefore now beginning to take applications from interested persons.

The Korinji website now offers information on the following:

1. RESIDENTIAL ZEN TRAINING: general information for persons wishing to reside at, or visit, Korinji for any length of time.

2. ORDINATION INFORMATION, for persons interested in the training for Rinzai Zen ordination at Korinji.

Information regarding these things may be found here:
https://www.korinji.org/residence-ordination 

Additionally, we have released information regarding

3. FOCUSED INTERNSHIPS IN BUDO OR THE ARTS: these are opportunities to reside at the monastery and do Zen practice, while also devoting time to the mastery of a specific art or discipline. There are three internship tracks, including self-created programs focused on one's existing art or discipline, a traditional martial arts apprenticeship (uchideshi training) under my guidance, and training in forging/metalwork, also under my guidance.

Internship information may be found here:
https://www.korinji.org/zen-budo-arts 

A final note: recommended donations for stay at Korinji are specified in the information. These are necessary so that we may fund our monastery. However, sincere practitioners will not be turned away, and scholarships are possible in cases of need or for those who commit to longer periods of residence.

Please contact me with any questions via the Korinji site (serious inquiries only please, and do read the information on the site first since almost everything you need to know is there).

March 25, 2017

Regarding joriki (samadhi power)

From An Introduction to Zen Training [Sanzen Nyumon] by Omori Sogen Roshi, translated by Dogen Hosokawa Roshi. Calligraphy: "Zen joriki" by Tenzan Toyoda Rokoji (with thanks to Jim Mills).

If we treat things as they should be without being upset by our surroundings and without letting our minds be dispersed by them under any circumstances, we may be called masters wherever we may be. This operating power of our minds is called joriki. It is, in short, the operation of no-self. Master Sogaku writes about it as follows, "The right mind operates at each time and in each place to make you take the right attitude and act properly without deviating from the Way."

Master Yamada Mumon, in his lecture on Zazen-gi, explained the operation of the power of samadhi by telling the following anecdote about Master Toko Shin'etsu (Tung-kao Hsin-yueh), who came to Japan from China in the Ming dynasty.
There was a Lord [daimyo] who learned Zen from Toko Shin'etsu. One New Year's Day, when the Master visited [this] Lord Mitsukuni to exchange New Year's greetings with him, Lord Mitsukuni said, "It is New Year's Day today. Please let me present you with a cup of sake (rice wine)." So saying, Lord Mitsukuni took out a large cup and had one of his servants fill it with sake to the brim [and handed it to the Master]. Just then, "Bang!" rang out from the adjoining room. A gun had been purposely loaded beforehand with a blank cartridge and then fired. The Zen Master, without showing the slightest dismay, drank up the sake from the cup in calm silence. Lord Mitsukuni acted embarrassed and apologized, "It is customary to fire a gun in a warrior's house. Please excuse me." 
The Master returned the cup to Lord Mitsukuni in silent acknowledgement of his apology. When the servant filled Lord Mitsukuni's cup with sake, the Zen Master suddenly gave one loud shout, "Katz!" Taken by surprise, Lord Mitsukuni spilled his sake in spite of himself. The Zen Master said in apparent seriousness, "It is customary for Zen men to give a single shout of 'Katz!' Please excuse me."
After relating the preceding anecdote, Master Mumon said, "The power of such a Zen master is called joriki." It was this power that Master Toko Shin'etsu displayed automatically and without any preparation beforehand. It was the same as the spontaneous action of his selfless self. In other words, it must have been the very power of the one who was the master of everything wherever he might be.

This joriki which anchors itself in samadhi and which thoroughly identifies itself with all matters of daily living, is, needless to say, a precious thing that comes from sitting hard in the midst of quiet. Once that state is achieved, it is protected like carrying a baby. One must not forget that its working is the result of hard training in everything one does. Therefore, the attitude that one takes when standing up after sitting in meditation is very important - one must maintain the intensity of concentration that was achieved during meditation.

March 21, 2017

Forward in the wild fields

Words of Engo (Yuanwu, 1063-1135), compiler of the Hekiganroku

When Bodhidharma came from the West bringing the Zen transmission to China, he didn't set up written or spoken formulations - he only pointed directly to the human mind.

If we speak of direct pointing, this just refers to what is inherent in everyone: the whole essence appears responsively from within the shell of ignorance. This is no different in ordinary people than in all the sages since time immemorial. It is what we call the natural, real, inherent nature; fundamentally pure, luminous and sublime. It swallows up and spits out all of space. It is a single solid realm that stands out alone, free of the senses and their objects.

Just detach from thoughts and cut off sentiments and transcend the ordinary conventions. Use your own inherent power and take up its great capacity and great wisdom right where you are. It is like letting go when you are hanging from a mile-high cliff, releasing your body and not relying on anything anymore.

Totally shed the obstructions of views and understanding, so that you are like a person who has died the great death. Your breath is cut off, and you arrive at great cessation and great rest on the fundamental ground. Your sense faculties have no inkling of this, and your consciousness and perceptions and sentiments and thoughts do not reach this far.

After that, in the cold ashes of the dead fire, it is clear everywhere, and among the stumps of the dead trees everything is illuminated. Then you merge with solitary transcendence and reach unapproachable heights. You don't have to seek mind or seek buddha anymore: you bump into them wherever you go, and they do not come from outside. The hundreds and thousands of aspects and facets of enlightenment since time immemorial are just this. This is mind: there is no need to go on seeking mind. This is buddha: why keep struggling to seek buddha?

If you make slogans based on words and sprout interpretations based on objects, then you fall into the bag of antique curios, and you will never be able to find this true realm of absolute awareness beyond sentiments.

At this stage you are free to go forward in the wild fields without choosing, picking up whatever comes to hand: the meaning of the ancestral teachers is clear in all that grows there. What's more, the thickets of green bamboo and the masses of yellow flowers and the fences and walls and tiles and pebbles are inanimate things teaching the Dharma. The water birds and the groves of trees expound the truths of suffering, emptiness, and selflessness. Based on one true reality, they extend objectless compassion, and from the great jewel light of nirvana they reveal uncontrived, surpassingly wondrous powers.

Changqing said, "When you meet a companion on the Path, stand shoulder to shoulder and go on: then your lifetime task of learning will be completed."

[Excerpted from Zen Letters - Teachings of Yuanwu; translated by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary]

March 20, 2017

Muso Soseki's direct pointing

Sermon of Muso Kokushi Upon the Dedication of Tenryu-ji Monastery in Kyoto, 1339 
From the Taisho Daizokyo, Vol 80, pp. 460c-61a

In the tenth month of the second year of the Ryakuo period (1339), an imperial decree ordered the conversion of the detached palace of the ex-emperor Kameyama into a monastery dedicated to the memory of the ex-emperor Go-Daigo, and also nominated the Master [Muso] to be its founding abbot. In the fourth year of Koei (1345), 4th month, 8th day, the meditation hall was opened for the first time [with their lordships Ashikaga Takauji and Ashikaga Tadayoshi in attendance]. At the hall the Master first performed the ceremony in commemoration of the Buddha’s birth and then proceeded to say: 

The appearance in this world of all Buddhas, past, present, and future, is solely for the purpose of preaching the Dharma and helping all creatures cross over to the shore of liberation. The arts of oratory and types of intonation employed by Shakya were all meant to serve as a guide to the preaching of the Dharma, while the Deer Park and Vulture Peak served as places of spiritual instruction. The school of Patriarch Bodhidharma stressed the method of individual instruction directed toward the essential nature, thus setting themselves off from the schools which stressed the teaching of doctrine. But closer examination of their aims reveals that Bodhidharma’s followers likewise sought to transmit the Dharma and rescue men from the confusions of this world. Thus, all of the patriarchs, forty-seven in India and twenty-three in China, each signalized his succession to the patriarchate by making a statement on the transmission of the Dharma. The great patriarch Bodhidharma said, “I came here primarily to transmit the Dharma and save men from their blinding passions.” So it is clear that Hui-k’o’s cutting off his arm in the snow and the conferring of the robe at midnight upon Hui-neng were both meant to signify transmission of the true Dharma from one patriarch to another. In all circumstances, whether under a tree, upon a rock, in the darkness of a cave or deep in a glen, the Dharma has been set forth and transmitted by such signs to whoever possessed the right qualifications...

What is that which we call the “Dharma”? It is the truth inherent in all its perfection in every living creature. The sage possesses it in no greater amount than does the ordinary man. Enlarge it and it will fill the universe; restrict it and it can be contained in a fraction of an inch. Yesterday or today, it undergoes no change or variation. All that the Buddhas have taught, whether as the Mahayana, the Hinayana, the pseudo or the authentic, the partial or the complete – all are embraced in it. This is the meaning of the “Dharma”.

Everything the world contains – grass and trees, bricks and tile, all creatures, all actions and activities – are nothing but manifestations of this Dharma. Therefore, it is said that all phenomena in the universe bear the mark of this Dharma. If the significance of this were only grasped, then even without the appearance in this world of a Tathagata, the enlightenment of man would be complete, and even without the construction of this hall the propagation of the Dharma would have achieved realization.

As for myself, appearing before you today on this platform, I have nothing special to offer as my own interpretation of the Dharma. I merely join myself with all others – from the founder Shakya Tathagata, the other Buddhas, bodhisattvas, saints and arhants, to all those here present, including patrons and officials, the very eaves and columns of this hall, lanterns and posts, as well as all the men, animals, plants and seeds in the boundless ocean of existence – to keep the wheel of the Dharma in motion.

On such an occasion as this, you may say, “What can we do?” [Holding out his staff, the Master exclaimed:] Look here, Look here! Don’t you see Shakyamuni right here walking around on the top of my staff? He points to heaven and then to earth, announcing to the entire audience, “Today I am born again here with the completion of this new hall. All saints and sages are assembling here to bring man and heaven together. Every single person here is precious in himself, and everything here – plaques, paintings, square eaves and round pillars – every single thing is preaching the Dharma. Wonderful, wonderful it is, that the true Dharma lives on and never dies. At Vulture Peak, indeed, this Dharma was passed on to the right man!”

It is thus that Shakya, the most venerable, instructs us here. It is the teaching which comes down to men in response to the needs of their situation. But perhaps, gentlemen, you wish to know the state of things before Shakya ever appeared in his mother’s womb?

[The Master tapped his staff on the floor:] Listen, Listen!

March 19, 2017

Zen, Ken, Sho: Part II

In a recent post, I briefly touched upon an approach to Zen training that our lineage carries called Zen, Ken, Sho. Summing it up in a general way, I wrote:
Literally this translates as "Zen, Sword, Brush." More broadly, it means that the unity of Zen practice, physical culture, and artistic endeavor is a truly well-rounded training for human beings.
Since that post, however, I have received requests from a number of students for more information. In particular, questions have often centered on whether such-and-such activity can fit into the Zen, Ken, Sho model. A number of questions also have come from students who have no interest in something like martial art training, and perhaps worry that the approach of Zen, Ken, Sho means they cannot practice with us. So I would like to unpack the origin and meaning of all this a bit more.

Regarding the origin of this training model in our lineage, it essentially comes to us from Omori Roshi. It is true, of course, that Rinzai Zen has long had an association with cultural arts and physical culture, and that there were many persons in Zen history who cultivated and manifested the embodiment of Zen insight through activities like calligraphy, painting, tea, martial arts, and so on according to their interests. Omori Roshi, however, appreciated the example of one person in particular who was famous for his mastery of Zen, Ken, Sho: Yamaoka Tesshu.

Tesshu was a deeply realized Zen layman of the late Edo and early Meiji period. Training under Tekisui Giboku of Tenryu-ji, he was able to manifest the fruition of Zen. However, he was someone who arrived at this fruition through a unified training of Zen, calligraphy and swordsmanship. From youth Tesshu trained in the Jubokudo school of calligraphy, as well as the Jikishinkage and Itto schools of fencing. It was his encounter with the Nakanishi Itto Ryu teacher Asari Gimei at age 28, though, that threw Tesshu into the great crisis eventually leading to a decisive awakening experience.

In fencing matches with this teacher, Tesshu found that, though he was by far larger and more physically powerful, he could not defeat Asari nor match his inner state. It is said that Asari would repeatedly force Tesshu back across the dojo, causing him to stumble out the door and into the street, whereupon Asari would shut the door behind him. Redoubling his training with ferocity and focusing on swordsmanship at all hours of day and night, Tesshu sought a solution to this impasse.

Finally, at age 45, Tesshu experienced a breakthrough while sitting in zazen. He rushed to the dojo to confront Asari. The teacher, however, declined to fence with him, remarking simply, "You have arrived." After this, Tesshu founded his own school of swordsmanship, the Muto Ryu.

Omori Roshi, taking Tesshu as an example, was someone who did calligraphy and swordsmanship in a similar way; he even served as head of the Tesshu-kai and lived at Koho-in, a temple that had been built on land previously owned by Tesshu. Because he, like Tesshu, manifested the unified training of Zen, Ken, Sho in his body, Omori Roshi stressed it in his own teaching. His students would not only do traditional Zen practice, but also calligraphy and traditional martial arts (Budo). Because of his own background as a teacher of Jikishinkage Ryu swordsmanship, he was also able to take the four initial forms of that system, the Hojo kata, and use them specifically as a tool to train modern Zen students in the fundamentals of posture, breath, and energy which they lacked. All of this reflected, and was made possible by, his own training experience. It seems clear also that Omori Roshi was something of a genius when it came to training others, able to adapt various disciplines to address whatever strengths or lacks each student displayed.

At Chozen-ji, the temple Omori Roshi founded in Hawaii, this approach to practice was further informed by the background and training experience of Omori Roshi's students, Tanouye Roshi and Hosokawa Roshi, who served as the first two abbots. Tanouye Roshi was an advanced practitioner of Kendo and Judo as well as a music teacher. The Zen, Ken, Sho training program he developed for Chozen-ji included Zen training (zazen and sanzen/koan practice), Budo (traditional martial arts), the Hojo kata, and fine arts like calligraphy, ceramics and music. Hosokawa Roshi, though not a martial artist, was one of Omori Roshi's dharma heirs who refined his calligraphy to an extremely high degree; he also brought to Chozen-ji his experience of traditional monastic practice, and knowledge of the full koan shitsunai inherited from Omori Roshi. Between these two teachers, then, there was a tremendous depth of practice experience.

Toyoda Rokoji, Tanouye Roshi's Dharma heir and through whose work our lineage took root on the mainland, was another exceptional individual. He was, of course, a master of Aikido as well as a Zen practitioner, and had a background of intensive residential practice at Ichikukai dojo, the famous training hall in Tokyo founded by one of Tesshu's students. Because of his experiences, the training system he instituted for his inner students consisted of severe training in Budo as well as Zen practice. He encouraged training in fine arts, though did not himself have much background in them, and valued the Hojo kata, though he did not personally practice them. Above all, we can say that he considered himself a martial artist, and was specifically interested to express Zen through his Aikido teaching. In fact, upon his own breakthrough, he had been told by Tanouye Roshi that he was then qualified to start his own style of martial arts...much in the model of Tesshu.

As for myself, I was primarily Toyoda Rokoji's student for many years, while simultaneously doing sanzen with Hosokawa Roshi. For this reason my training was almost solely in Zen and Budo following Toyoda Rokoji's direction, and I did not train according to Tanouye Roshi's full model of Zen, Budo, Hojo and fine arts. In recent years, however, I have been studying to fill in the gap of artistic training in various ways. I did not ever practice Hojo much. So'zan Roshi, however, is one of the few western Dharma heirs who has practiced sufficiently in all four aspects of the Chozen-ji training model, and experienced training under Tanouye Roshi, Hosokawa Roshi (whose Dharma heir he is) and Toyoda Rokoji. I know he would like me to learn it.

So that is a bit of background. Turning now to some of the questions I have recently received, I would like to stress something that should be obvious when reading all of this: there is no one set model of training. Zen, Ken, Sho is a guiding principle, a way to express that training can, and should, be varied to suit the individual. It affirms that our practice should be of sufficient breadth to not only arrive at Zen insight, but to embody it energetically and with great refinement. The teachers mentioned above all had their own expressions of this approach according to the disciplines they undertook: Omori Roshi practicing Jikishinkage Ryu kenjutsu and calligraphy; Tanouye Roshi practicing Kendo and Judo and further informed by his background in music; Hosokawa Roshi mastering calligraphy and doing Hojo; Toyoda Rokoji training as a Budo master.

So this means that all of you, also, must express Zen, Ken, Sho in some manner that fits your abilities, backgrounds, limitations, and needs. Arriving at the initial awakening which is the entrance gate of Zen practice, we must all then use whatever tools we can to further deepen and clarify our recognition of wisdom, to cause it to penetrate our bodies with great energy, and to refine it again and again such that it functions freely in a seamless samadhi, illuminating all phenomenon and shining forth from our every action. However, it is this general principle of Zen, Ken, Sho - of awakening, embodiment, and refinement -  that we should preserve, not any person's particular expression of it. It may be that martial arts, for example, don't fit a particular student's condition. But in such a case, we could still ask: what other ways are there to cultivate the intense energy (kiai) necessary for the path, and to express it bodily even in situations of duress and crisis? Martial arts are valuable precisely because they have proven useful for accomplishing this. But what other activities might also be used in such a way?

I think, actually, that there could be many such ways to train, and we should not conceive of any limitations whatsoever to activities that might be integrated within our practice. To say that all persons should do a particular practice activity would, in fact, be ridiculous, and would offend against Zen as an expression of the endlessly creative and harmonizing One Vehicle. I thus do not ever describe Ken as solely martial training, but rather more broadly as "physical culture". It is likewise with fine arts: Sho means "brush", but we do not ever say that only calligraphy is useful to impart refinement and master the use of time, space and energy to express Zen realization through a medium. There are actually many possibilities, such as music, ceramics, painting, writing, photography, various crafts, and so on.

In short, I would like my own students to grasp how important it is that our Zen realization be not solely a conceptual thing, but something arrived at - and expressed through - the body. Only that is the genuine Zen realization. It is in order to more quickly manifest such realization, and to do so in ways marked by great creativity and adaptability, that the principle of Zen, Ken, Sho has been set up. What Zen, Ken, Sho therefore truly means is that we must become people who can manifest our Zen awakening in any activity, and who can freely use many such tools to help other beings. We must become practitioners for whom the line between "practice" and "non-practice" disappears.

So, in the future I may suggest to some of my students that they consider taking up various activities. Those who are naturally introverted and nervous, like myself, might indeed benefit from martial arts or other physical culture. Those who have great energy but are, shall we say, a little rough around the edges, might truly benefit from an artistic practice of refinement. And of course, a person without such lacks might not need to do these things at all. In the end, regardless, the choice to pursue anything is up to each of us; all teachers can do in this regard is make suggestions.

As for the future at Korinji, we will certainly offer training reflecting this model of Zen, Ken, Sho for those persons so suited. Unavoidably, the exact forms this training takes will initially reflect my own character and background. Future abbots will develop things in accord with theirs. But for now I can say that I plan to do metalworking there, since I have trained as a bladesmith. I would like also to see ink painting done there, and perhaps ceramics: our locale may in fact be ideal for a traditional step kiln. Finally, in terms of Budo, Korinji will have its own curriculum. I do not wish to reveal too much regarding this yet. However, following Hosokawa Roshi's advice, I believe it needs to contain forms suited to the modern world yet maintaining insights from the past situations. It needs to also include spontaneous, non-kata practice facing an opponent, since this is the way to more truly test non-abiding samadhi in movement and to realize the instant, free manifestation of kiai.

Thus, in the future there will be many interesting practice opportunities in our community, and events featuring teachers of different disciplines. Basically, when it comes to Zen practice we have a versatile and expansive toolbox. You are all very welcome to pursue whatever interests you.

Everyone, however, has to do Zen practice...no exceptions!

March 16, 2017

30 minutes for 30 days

Talk given on March 15, 2017 in Madison, WI.

This lecture is primarily for those who participated in our recent “30 minutes for 30 days” zazen challenge. I deeply appreciated the effort you all made.

To begin - and without taking away from what everyone accomplished - we should recognize that 30 minutes is not really a long time. It’s certainly wonderful if we can sit for 30 minutes or more at least once a day. Even better is twice a day. Omori Roshi said that if we don’t sit for two hours a day, we’re not serious! However, it’s true that most of us cannot do that in the beginning. It’s something we have to build up to gradually. So, this 30-day challenge has been very useful, I think. It’s provided a structure, a ladder, to help everyone begin cultivating their practice.

Of course, the important thing isn’t that we sit for a particular amount of time each day; it’s that we can start to integrate practice with the rest of our daily activity. The line between sitting and not-sitting has to eventually disappear. That’s the real Zen practice. Unless we do formal sitting practice – and a great deal of it – we’ll never integrate in that way. That is the crucial point.

One interesting thing I observed, after speaking with many of the people who participated in this 30-day challenge, is that some of them had difficulty with feeling that 30 days is such a long time. There were also some people who did not take up the challenge, saying “Ah, well, 30 days is too long! I can’t predict that I’ll be able to do that, to not fail.”

But, the thing is, there’s no such thing as “30 days.” You’re only sitting for one day. You’re only ever sitting on one day. “30 days” is just something in our heads, something we project; we don’t actually live 30 days as a block. We only live one day…then one day, then one day. So really, it’s only a One-Day zazen challenge! Each day you sit, you don’t fail. If there is a day on which you don’t sit, it’s also alright: another day comes, and you can succeed again.

This way of seeing is very important. Some of you know that I have a background in martial arts training, so I’ll give another example using that. One year my students and I decided that for our New Year’s day training we were going to do 10,000 suburi: cuts with a wooden sword. There were samurai in the feudal period in Japan who did that kind of practice daily, so we said, “OK, we’re going to do that, let’s bring in the new year with energy!”

Well, it took us all day. If you don’t do that kind of training every day, it’s a hard thing! At the end of that day my hands and arms wouldn’t function. I suppose I had some kind of nerve damage; for a week after I couldn’t type or use a computer mouse. But in any case, I decided that I would brush a calligraphy for each of the participants, even though I’m not a calligrapher. It was very shaky calligraphy since I could barely hold the brush. But the characters I chose read “One cut.” I chose this phrase because, actually, none of us had experienced something called “10,000 cuts.” We don’t live that way. We lived and experienced just one cut, fully, in each moment.

It’s very important to approach practice this way. We don’t have to look at how long our sitting is. We don’t have to judge our sitting, saying, “Oh, today is a good sit, I feel very clear!” or, “Today is not so good, I’m not doing very well today compared to yesterday.” We just completely become one with each breath, using the count, using the koan, moment by moment. Our practice, in fact, can completely change within the space of one breath. It is completely fresh, completely new, with each breath, with each day. All we have to do, moment by moment, is unify body, breath and the method we’re using. If we get distracted or lose the method, there’s nothing to worry about: that moment is already gone, completely gone. A fresh moment is here now, the next breath is already here.

This isn’t anything profound; it’s really just a realistic way to practice. Past and future don’t exist except in our minds. Our actual existence is not past, or future. We exist only here, in this strange, miraculous unfolding, moment by moment. Our practice is also only here…it’s constantly changing. In the space of one moment, we can completely transform. This is the freedom of our existence. It’s not fixed or bound at all. If we can practice in this way, then our practice is always fresh, always new, never stuck. You don’t have to worry about or judge anything. The transformation of the quality of your existence will manifest naturally, with the unfolding of each moment.

Does this mean that we are practicing to “stay in the present?” Well, I guess many people often use words like that. I often say we should “remain present.” But actually, there’s no need to make an effort to “be in” in the present. You already are. There’s no need to cling to each moment as it unfolds. Don’t make “the present” another object of fixation either; the most we can say about the present, actually, is that it’s also just an idea we have, something we’ve created to describe this seeming odd point at which our imagined future becomes our remembered past.

The truth is that we are the present. We are the passing of time. There aren’t 30 minutes, or 30 days, or 70 years. There’s just one moment. Our practice is right here. Where else could you be, or try to remain? Resting into our practice in this manner is the easy, straightforward way to practice.

So, those are my general comments on the 30 minutes for 30 days.

Now, for those of you who participated, it may well be that you began to experience some transformation or fruition in your practice. So I’d like to talk briefly tonight about some things it is important for us to recognize in our practice.

You may already know that there are various things we should understand which can help our Zen training. For example, we should grasp the meaning of Bodhidharma’s famous four lines about Zen, which reveal the intent and general method of our path. We should understand the general stages of Zen practice…not that these are fixed, but it is sometimes useful to discuss “stages” as an aid to seeing whether or not our path has come to fruition. We should also understand the three general purposes of all Zen practice methods.

What I want to discuss now, however, are three things that we should clearly recognize and differentiate within our practice experience. If we do not differentiate these, and particularly if we conflate or confuse them, it is possible for our practice to go in a mistaken direction. These three things are, first, the mind’s capacity for clarity, second, samadhi or meditative absorption, and third, awakening, or what we call kensho: seeing your nature.

Clarity first. If you sat for 30 days, it may well be that you experienced moments in which the mind’s natural clarity manifested. As you practiced breathing the count with your whole body, for example, you may have started to experience times when the mind seemed clear and awake, yet without fixation on thoughts. You might especially notice this at the end of each exhalation: breathing the count “one” then “two” and so on, there is a moment at the end of the exhalation, before it has turned to become inhalation, in which the mind is completely settled and still. That is a moment in which we can recognize that the mind does have a natural clarity, a spacious awareness, within which thoughts, emotions and other movements seem to arise.

Now, this clarity or spaciousness is not a Zen thing, or a Buddhist thing. It’s just a human thing. You can experience it easily at any time, if you know how. For example, in zazen we have a particular way of using the eyes. Try this now: look straight ahead. When I say “go”, just spread your vision out – activating your peripheral field and permeating the entire room with your awareness – as fiercely as you can. Ready? Go. [a few seconds pass] Alright, stop. During those moments, what were you thinking? [students reply: “nothing”, “my mind was clear”, “I was just aware”, etc.]

So, that shows you your natural capacity for clarity. You can use this method any time you need to. If there is a time when you feel awash in spinning thought, emotion, depression, and so on, go down by the lake, look out over the water, spread out your vision, and remember this. It means that you can regain objectivity in a way; you will see that all those things arising and spinning in your mind don’t actually touch or affect this basic, expansive clarity.

There are many other ways to do this. Anything which causes the mind to become still or momentarily stop will work. For example - and I’m sorry to speak now about bodily functions - there is a moment right after sneezing in which we can experience this. Also, right as we begin to urinate…perhaps especially if you really have to go! When you release those muscles and pee, for some reason – just for a moment – the mind stops. The moment of sexual climax is also like this. Any kind of fear or shock can cause it too, for example if I come up behind you and shout “Boo!” Being suddenly frightened like that, we usually fall immediately into annoyance toward the person who did it, but actually before that annoyance arises there is a moment of complete clarity.

Another time you can experience this is at the border between wakefulness and sleep. There is a place, after our minds have stilled but before we slip into unconscious sleep, in which the mind is completely clear and calm. If you practice to recognize that moment, you can learn to sustain it and use it. There are many methods like this which we transmit, but I believe for now you get the general idea. Using the body and mind as a laboratory in this way is actually very interesting!

Now, is this experience of clarity what we call awakening or wisdom? What do you think?

Actually, it isn’t. I won’t say it’s not good, or not true. It teaches us something about ourselves, but it’s not enough. It is common for people who don’t practice correctly to think that this experience of basic clarity and stillness is equivalent to recognizing one’s true nature, the nature of mind, awakening, and so on. By itself, however, for most people that is not sufficient at all. So let’s not be confused about that.

The second thing we should recognize, now, is samadhi. We can say that this condition of meditative absorption arises when we are able to seamlessly sustain the basic clarity we discussed, by unifying body, breath and mind. Another way we describe samadhi is that it’s a state simultaneously manifesting complete relaxation, and complete focus. It is not a trance at all, in other words. It is a condition that is fully aware and functioning freely, stable and uncompromisingly present, and finally with greatly lessened habit of fixation on anything. The central fixation, the great delusion of our existence, also can be greatly lessened in samadhi: that is, the self-referential fixation of seeing from the standpoint of “I” and “me” becomes less rigid.

Samadhi can be of varying depth, and like our basic clarity it is just a human experience, not a specifically Zen one. All of you have already experienced it at some time in your life. Especially when we are young, we may find that we enter such states spontaneously. I expect everyone here has a memory of such moments in childhood, perhaps looking out at a beautiful scene and somehow becoming one with it such that the world seemed magically alive, vivid and timeless.

Those of you who do activities like athletics or art may also know such states; some people call it being “in the zone.” You may sometimes so throw yourself into an activity that the sense of separateness from the activity, and of the passage of time, lessens or even seems to drop away. You may feel that you become the painting, or become your surroundings as you run. You might experience the world becoming completely white and still, or sometimes that colors are very vivid…as if a red flower is somehow revealing the original, archetypical red. These kinds of things are experienced when samadhi arises.

Many of you are using the breath-counting method. It is, in fact, one of the best, most rapid techniques for cultivating samadhi. So there is no need to get excited, or be surprised, if you start to experience such things as I have described. It’s just a sign that your practice is deepening.

Is samadhi awakening, then? No, not yet. Again, I won’t say it’s not nice, or not true. It is. But it’s not yet good enough. Well, I suppose it’s true that no matter what you experience, I’ll probably tell you just that: “not good enough.” So you can get used to that! The thing is, even if samadhi manifests so deeply that we feel we have become completely one with everything…even if I feel “I AM the universe”, there is still an “I” there, isn’t there? In that case, it could be a very big “I”...universe-sized, in fact. It may seem to be something transpersonal, as if this “I” has melted into the expanse of reality, but in fact even in that kind of universal samadhi the sense of separate self is still subtly there. We may have gone from the experience of small self, shoga, to big self, taiga. But there is still one more step, one more turning around that must occur, for it to be true wisdom.

Passing beyond even this experience of “I am the universe”, we must enter a truly all-encompassing samadhi in which even the last subtle grip on “I” is let go, and we “die the Great Death” as it is traditionally said. When that samadhi then shatters, and we emerge from it back into the world, we could then recognize that our true nature is no-self, muga.

That is awakening. Awakening or kensho is not something we come to understand. It is the experience of returning to the world after letting go and plunging completely into the void. Coming back to life, we suddenly recognize that our true nature is in fact no-nature. To use positive language, we can say it is utterly boundless.

I have said too much tonight, so let me sum up now. These are three things we should clearly be able to differentiate in our practice: first is the fundamental clarity of mind that manifests in practice and which we can recognize using various means; second is the condition called samadhi which starts to arise in practice, and by which many of our obstructions – including the core obstruction of self-fixation – can start to dissolve; and third is the actual experience of awakening, by which we gain great faith and confidence to continue our practice, and upon which that practice will be based.

After awakening, actually, clarity and samadhi also are different. Using the various methods to return to basic clarity, we come to see that we are in fact returning to the recognition of awakening again and again. Using various practices to cultivate samadhi, we find that samadhi in fact manifests inseparably from the wisdom of awakening, and so its cultivation then becomes the vehicle by which we can seamlessly manifest awakening in all activities.

Finally, regarding these things and especially awakening, you could perhaps understand now that part of the Zen teacher’s job is to help us differentiate, confirm and clarify them when they arise in our experience.

So I’ll stop there. Thank you all again for coming tonight, especially those of you who participated in the “30 minutes for 30 days” zazen challenge. Quite a few people in the USA, and also in our community in Europe, took part. I’m very happy. To be honest, when Myoan came up with the idea for this challenge, I wasn’t so excited. My old-style attitude was something like this: “If they want to sit, they’ll sit. If they don’t, they won’t. It’s up to them!” But she said, “No, you have to give people some encouragement and structure.” I guess that’s right, so I’ll try to be more open to such ideas in the future.

But now, you might want to know, what’s next? So let's say: 45 minutes a day for the next 30 days!

March 6, 2017

Zen, Ken, Sho

Our particular branch of the Rinzai lineage expresses an approach to Zen practice called Zen, Ken, Sho. Literally this translates as "Zen, Sword, Brush." More broadly, it means that the unity of Zen practice, physical culture, and artistic endeavor is a truly well-rounded training for human beings.

Culturally, there are antecedents for this in Confucian notions regarding the ideal education, and later in the samurai ideal of the literary warrior, expressed through the saying Bun bu ryodo (the cultural and the martial are one Way). Naturally similar notions existed in ancient European civilizations, carried forward in the ideals of chivalry and right down to the ideal of the "gentleman" that we still carry.

Of course, whenever bodily or artistic disciplines are chosen to supplement the usual Zen training, they must fit the individual's needs, abilities, physical condition, and so on. This is especially so with physical culture, and certainly no one unable to engage in rigorous physical activity is excluded from Zen practice. There is no one "style" of Zen practice, in other words; to set up such a thing would be ludicrous.

That being said, one traditional expression of physical culture that can still be useful for some folks is bujutsu (martial arts). When used in this context of Zen, Ken, Sho, martial arts become a study not of how to harm others, but rather to realize and and bodily manifest the truth of muteki ("no-enemy"): that is, the non-differentiation of self and other. Martial arts also are tremendously useful for the cultivation of posture, breath and energetic vitality (kiai), as well as for a direct facing not only with conflict, but with the truth of mortality.

For these reasons (and because of my personal background) I am spending a great deal of time recently working on the bujutsu curriculum for Korinji, which may in the future be taken up by some students for whom such training is suited.

Today, laying out some of the tools used in practice, I was struck by the fact that not a single one was purchased: they were all hand-made, and in fact all the steel implements were hand-forged at Korinji. In this way, training in one aspect of Zen-Ken-Sho is being used in service of the others. This is how it should be...