“Any device is good which works, and a thousand more have yet to be found and used as people have need of them. All, however, will have in common the emptying of the self, that into the space so made the light of life, the eternal More, may flow. Everything must be emptied out, the toys that we love, each cherished, loved ideal as well as each “fond offence”, all purpose and desire. The self, with its pride and regret of the past, its fears and boasts and desires of the moment, its hopes and ambitions for the days unborn, must be transcended.”
Indeed the preparations include the acceptance of all limitations of karma, for to refuse to accept them, or anything whatsoever, is to perpetuate the division between this and that of which satori is the end. Yet even the attempt to acquire satori must at the final moment be cast away. “The Tao,” says Alan Watts, “is not brought to birth by deep philosophical understanding or by any effort of action or emotion, although it is necessary and inevitable that one of these attempts should precede the birth. The birth itself, however, only takes place when the futility of the attempt has been fully realised, and that realisation can only come through making the attempt”. But this is only another of the countless paradoxes which, like a hedgehog’s prickles, stand erect at the entrance to satori. Another is that with the approach to satori the mind is enormously expanded and contracted at the same time. “Each single fact of experience is to be related to the totality of things, for thereby it gains for the first time its meaning.” The part is the whole, and the whole of it, and if that is not difficult enough to understand, be pleased to notice that the part is greater than the whole. For the whole is complete, which is finite; the part is unfinished, and that is infinite. . .”
I wish to emphasise this idea of ‘seeing’. It is not enough to ‘know’ as the term is ordinarily understood. Knowledge unless it is accompanied by a personal experience is superficial and no kind of philosophy can be built upon such a shaky foundation. There are, however, I suppose many systems of thought not backed by real experiences, but such are never inspiring. They may be fine to look at but their power to move the readers is nil. Whatever knowledge the philosopher may have, it must come out of his experience, and this experience is seeing. Buddha has always emphasised this. He couples knowing (ñana, jñana) with seeing (passa, pasya), for without seeing, knowing has no depths, cannot understand the realities of life. Therefore, the first item of the Eightfold Noble Path is sammadassana, right seeing, and sammasankappa, right knowing, comes next. Seeing is experiencing, seeing things in their state of suchness (tathata) or is-ness. Buddha’s whole philosophy comes from this ‘seeing’, this experiencing.
The one thing I wish to call to the readers’ attention is the term ‘wisdom’, pañña, or prajña in Sanskrit. This is a very important term throughout Buddhist philosophy. There is no English equivalent for it. ‘Transcendental wisdom’ is too heavy, besides it does not exactly hit the mark. But temporarily let ‘wisdom’ do. We know that seeing is very much emphasised in Buddhism, but we must not fail also to notice that seeing is not just an ordinary seeing by means of relative knowledge; it is the seeing by means of a prajña-eye which is a special kind of intuition enabling us to penetrate right into the bedrock of Reality itself.
[…] Have you ever felt that kind of pushing behind your back? Even if there was no one behind you, you have felt that you were being pushed and pushed to do things you don’t like to do, and to say the things you don’t like to say, and in doing that you created a lot of suffering for yourself and the people around you. Maybe there is something behind us that is pushing and pushing. Sometimes we say horrible things, and do horrible things, that we did not want to say or do, yet we were pushed by something from behind. So we said it, and we did it, even if we didn’t want to do it.
Buddhist meditation offers the practice of stopping. Stopping is very important, because we have been running all our lives, and also in all our previous lives. Our ancestors, our grandfather, our grandmother, had been running, and now they continue to run in us. If we don’t practice, then our children will carry us and continue to run in the future.
So we have to learn the art of stopping, L’arret. The Chinese word for stopping is zhi (sounds of writing), and if you go to China you’ll see a lot of these signs on the street. It means “Stop.” If you are a driver, you have to understand that. That is exactly the word used in the scriptures: stopping. Stop running, stop being pushed by that habit energy. But first of all you have to recognize that there is such an energy in yourself, that is always pushing. Even if you want to stop, it doesn’t allow you to stop. At breakfast time, a number of us are capable of enjoying our breakfast, a number of us are capable of being together in the here and the now. Just yesterday I had breakfast with two novice monks. We did not have fancy things, but I looked at the two novices and I said, “It’s wonderful that we are having breakfast together. It’s a most wonderful thing, a most joyful thing. Do you think that there is something more wonderful than just sitting together and having our breakfast together, one teacher and two novices?” One novice offered me a broad smile. He understood. Not only did he understand my statement, but he understood the reality that happiness was real, because we were capable of being together, recognizing the true presence of each other. In that moment life was real. But many of us, while having our breakfast are not really there. We continue to run. We have a lot of projects, we have a lot of worries, we have a lot of anxieties, and we cannot sit like a Buddha.
The Buddha is always sitting on a lotus flower, very fresh, very stable. If we are capable of sitting in the here and the now, anywhere we sit becomes a lotus flower—whether that is the root of a tree, the grass, a stone bench—any of these things becomes a lotus flower for you to sit on, because you are really sitting, you are really there. Your body and your mind together, you are free from all worries, from all regrets, from all anger. Though each of us during sitting meditation has a cushion, the cushion can be Hell, the cushion can be Heaven, the cushion can be a lotus flower, the cushion can be thorns. Many of us sit on the cushion, but it’s like sitting on thorns. We don’t know how to enjoy the lotus flower.
Sitting is not like hard labor, sitting is the enjoyment of stability, of peace, of dwelling in the present moment. We have to recognize the habit energy every time it manifests. It always dictates our behavior, pushing us to do and say things, so we have to practice mindfulness, in order to recognize it every time it is manifested.
So that negative habit energy that pushes us may have been cultivated by us during the past many years, but it may also have been transmitted to us by our mother, or our father, or our ancestors. And that is our heritage.
Our joy, our peace, our happiness depend very much on our practice of recognizing and transforming our habit energies. There are positive habit energies that we have to cultivate, there are negative habit energies that we have to recognize, embrace and transform. The energy with which we do these things is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a kind of energy that helps us to be aware of what is going on. Therefore, when the habit energy shows itself, we know right away. “Hello, my little habit energy, I know you are there. I will take good care of you.” In recognizing it as it is, you are in control of the situation. You don’t have to fight it; in fact the Buddha does not recommend that you fight it, because that habit energy is you, and you should not fight against yourself. You have to generate the energy of mindfulness, which is also you, and that positive energy will do the work of recognizing and embracing. Every time you embrace your habit energy, you can help it to transform a little bit. The habit energy is a kind of seed within your consciousness, and when it becomes a source of energy, you have to recognize it. You have to bring your mindfulness into the present moment, and you just embrace that negative energy: “Hello, my negative habit energy. I know you are there. I am here for you.” After maybe one or two or three minutes, that energy will go back into the form of a seed, in order to re-manifest itself later on. You have to be very alert.
Every time a negative energy is embraced by the energy of mindfulness, it will lose a little bit of its strength as it returns as a seed to the lower level of consciousness. The same thing is true for all other mental formations: your fear, your anguish, your anxiety, and your despair. They exist in us in the form of seeds, and every time one of the seeds is watered, it becomes a zone of energy on the upper level of our consciousness. If you don’t know how to take care of it, it will cause damage, it will push us to do or to say things that will damage us and damage the people we love. Therefore, generating the energy of mindfulness, to recognize it, to embrace it, to take care of it, is the practice. And the practice should be done in a very tender, non-violent way. There should be no fighting, because when you fight, you create damage within yourself. The Buddhist practice is based on the insight of non-duality: you are love, you are mindfulness, but you are also that habit energy within you. To meditate does not mean to transform yourself into a battlefield, the right fighting the wrong, the positive fighting the negative. That’s not Buddhist. That is why, based on the insight of non-duality, the practice should be non-violent. Mindfulness embracing anger is like a mother embracing her child, big sister embracing younger sister. The embrace always brings a positive effect. You can bring relief, and you can cause the negative energy to lose some of its strength, just by embracing it.
Therefore, we have to do something, to call on the positive things within our bodies and our consciousness, to take care of our situations. It’s okay to suffer, it’s okay to be angry, but it’s not okay to allow yourself to be flooded with suffering. We know that in our bodies and our consciousness there are positive elements that we can call on for help. We have to mobilize these positive elements to protect ourselves and to take good care of the negative things that are manifesting in us.
The root word “budh” means to wake up, to know, to understand. A person who wakes up and understands is called a Buddha. It is as simple as that. The capacity to wake up, to understand, and to love is called Buddha nature. When Buddhists say, “I take refuge in the Buddha,” they are expressing trust in their own capacity of understanding, of becoming awake. The Chinese and the Vietnamese say, “I go back and rely on the Buddha in me.” Adding “in me” makes it very clear that you yourself are the Buddha.
If you practice awareness, you suddenly become very rich, very happy. Practicing Buddhism is a clever way to enjoy life. Happiness is available. Please help yourself to it. All of us have the capacity of transforming neutral feelings into pleasant feelings, very pleasant feelings that can last a long time. This is what we practice during sitting and walking meditation. If you are happy, all of us will profit from it. Society will profit from it. All living beings will profit from it.
the Buddha said, “Sometime, somewhere you take something to be the truth. If you cling to it so much, when the truth comes in person and knocks at your door, you will not open it.” Guarding knowledge is not a good way to understand. Understanding means to throw away your knowledge. You have to be able to transcend your knowledge the way people climb a ladder. If you are on the fifth step of a ladder and think that you are very high, there is no hope for you to climb to the sixth. The technique is to release. The Buddhist way of understanding is always letting go of our views and knowledge in order to transcend. This is the most important teaching. That is why I use the image of water to talk about understanding. Knowledge is solid; it blocks the way of understanding. Water can flow, it can penetrate any thing..
Ummon asked: “The world is such a wide world, why do you answer a bell and don ceremonial robes?”
Mumon’s comment: When one studies Zen one need not follow sound or color or form. Even though some have attained insight when hearing a voice or seeing a color or a form, this is a very common way. It is not true Zen. The real Zen student controls sound, color, form, and actualizes the truth in his everyday life.
Sound comes to the ear, the ear goes to sound. When you blot out sound and sense, what do you understand? While listening with ears one never can understand. To understand intimately one should see sound.
When you understand, you belong to the family;
When you do not understand, you are a stranger.
Those who do not understand belong to the family,
And when they understand they are strangers.
“Many people suffer deeply and they try to cover up the suffering by being busy. The practice of mindfulness helps us to touch Mother Earth inside of the body and this practice can help heal people. The healing of the people should go together with the healing of the Earth … In Buddhism we talk of meditation as an act of awakening, to be awake to the fact that the Earth is in danger and living species are in danger.”