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112 Meditations
Heart Sutra
On Believing in Mind
Song of Enlightenment
Song of Zazen
Ox-Herding Pictures
Zen Daily Service Sutras
Manual of Zen Buddhism
Awakening of Faith

50 Verses on Consciousness

Teisho Collections

One Bright Pearl

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    Traditionally Zen is a form of Buddhism that strictly emphasises 'sitting meditation' for the realisation of Buddhist truths, particularly for realising the truth of no-self, emptiness, and the uncreated Mind. Zen is also a form of Buddism that emphasises the originally pure nature of the mind, much as other Mahayana schools of Buddhism.  As Bodhidharma, who is thought of as the first Chinese teacher of Ch'an (Jap: Zen), said:

Once mortals see their nature, all attachments end.  Awareness isn't hidden.  But you can only find it right now.  It's only now.  If you really want to find the Way, don't hold on to anything.

Zen Buddhism has gained a lot of popularity in the West partly because of this emphasis on the here and now.  It is very simple and straightforward.

"This mind is the Buddha.  I don't talk about precepts, devotions or ascetic practices such as immersing yourself in water and fire, treading a wheel of knives, eating one meal a day, or never lying down.  These are fanatical, provisional teachings.  Once you recognise your moving, miraculously aware nature, yours is the mind of all buddhas.  Buddhas of the past and future only talk about transmitting the mind. They teach nothing else.  If someone understands this teaching, even if [she's] illiterate [she's] a buddha.  If you don't see our own miraculously aware nature, you'll never find a buddha even if you break your body into atoms."  Bodhidharma (5th cent.)

     Zen teachings are said to be 'non-dual', emphasising that our usual way of being is like living in a trance of dualism.  The philosophy of emptiness -  no subject, no object -  has become the hallmark of Zen teachings.  (It should be said, however, that in calling into question the traditional, egological subject-object split, Zen is no different to other forms of Buddhism). 

     In Zen there is an emphasis on the interdependence of body and mind. 13th cent. Japanese Zen master, Dogen Kigen: 

"You should know that the Buddha Dharma from the first preaches that body and mind are not two, that substance and form are not two." (Bendowa)

     Zen Buddhism affirms the body as the means of our self-realisation.  It is, perhaps, for this reason that so many westerners have found Zen attractive as a philosophy and spiritual practice.   From the Zen point of view, to live the body's life fully is to be self-realised: 

A monk asked Master Tung-shan, “Cold and heat descend upon us. How can we avoid them?”
Dongshan answered, “Why don’t you go to the place where there is no cold or heat?”
The monk continued, “Where is the place where there is no cold or heat?”
Dongshan said, “When it is cold, let it be so cold that it kills you. When hot, let it be so hot that it kills you.”

     In Zen practice freedom comes when identification with the body and body-image is ended; this is to transcend the 'fabricated body' and realise the 'true body' of grass, trees, and wall rubble; wind, rain, water and fire.  "The Buddha-body", says Dogen, "is the manifesting body, and there is always a body manifesting Buddha-nature."

     In the teachings of the Zen masters the Buddhist teaching of 'dependent-origination' takes on a decided ecological flavour:

"What we call the body and mind in the Buddha Way is grass, trees and wall rubble; it is wind, rain, water and fire." (Dogen, Hotsu Mujo Shin)

To be fully present in "the immediate presencing here and now of being-time," Dogen said, is to realise the presence-time of all life, "As self and other are both times, practice and realization are times; entering the mud, entering the water, is equally time." (Dogen, Being Time)

We cannot know the Buddha-nature through the sense-seeking ways of our ordinary individual mind:


When most people hear
That the Buddhas transmit the
Teaching of the One Mind,
They suppose that there
Is something to be attained
Or realized apart from mind,
And they use mind to seek the teaching,
Not realizing that mind and
The object of their search are one.
Mind can’t be used to seek mind;
If it is, even after millions of eons
Have gone by, the search will still not be over.

- Huang-Po

      So the task, as Zen conceives it, is to simply be attentive to our ordinary lives, becoming more and more aware of the delusions that we live by, and hence, while not suppressing the flow of an imaginary film that we mistake for 'self and world' , not depending on it either.  As someone said, "Enlightenment is an accident, and practice makes us accident-prone".  So, practice won't free us -  only realisation can do that -  but without practice one is likely to remain stuck in the cyclic existence of delusory consciousness.

"The great way of the Buddha and the patriarchs involves the highest form of exertion, which goes on unceasingly in cycles from the first dawning of religious truth, through the test of discipline and practice, to awakening and nirvana. It is sustained exertion proceeding without lapse from cycle to cycle. Accordingly, it is exertion that is neither self-imposed nor imposed by others but free and uncoerced. The merit of this exertion upholds me and upholds others."  Dogen

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