Layman Pang's Sudden Enlightenment

"Layman Pang" was originally from Hengyang in the southern Chinese province of Hunan. He was a successful merchant with a wife, son, and daughter. His wealth allowed him to devote much time to meditation and the study of Buddhist sutras, in which the entire family became well-versed.

Pang built himself a small hut to do sitting meditation for hours every day when he wasn't reading the sutras. One day, reading a sutra with his family, he cried out: "Difficult! Difficult! Like trying to scatter ten measures of sesame seed all over a tree."

"Easy, easy," Mrs. Pang said; "like touching your feet to the ground when you get out of bed."

"Neither difficult nor easy," their daughter Ling Zhao said. "On the hundred grass tips, the great Masters' meaning."

Shortly after this, the Pang family loaded all of their possessions in a boat which they sank in a river.

Then the family began travelling around China to various Buddhist masters, while earning their living by making and selling bamboo utensils.

About this time Pang went to see Shitou Xiqian, at Nányuè Mountain. Upon arrival, he went directly to Shitou's room and asked, "Who is the one who is not a companion to the ten thousand dharmas?"

Shitou placed his hand over Pang's mouth.

At this, Pang experienced a deep realization of the meaning of Zen.

One day Shitou asked Pang what he had been doing lately, and Pang responded:

So miraculous, such spiritual wonders!
Hauling water, chopping firewood!

He eventually moved on to Jiangxi province to study with Master Ma-Tzu. He approached Ma-Tzu with the same question that he had initially asked Shitou: "Who is the one who is not a companion to the ten thousand dharmas?"

Ma-Tzu said: "I'll tell you after you've swallowed up the West River in one gulp."

Hearing these words, Pang experienced great enlightenment.

Sitting Meditation

Q: I've been visiting some Zen forums on the Web, and I keep hearing that Zen rejects sitting meditation, along with the sutras. Is that so?

A: Absolutely not! Sitting meditation is discussed in the earliest Zen texts. What's more, the "form" of the sitting in Zen is always the old Buddhist style of lotus or half-lotus. This Buddhist sitting meditation form shows firm determination, thereby embodying Shakyamuni Buddha's resolve to gain enlightenment and liberation no matter what, just as described in the sutras. This is what Bodhidharma did in the cave at Shaolin and why he was considered so unique and strange by the Chinese monks, who were being schooled in reading sutras and bowing before altars but not in the "wall-gazing" dhyana.

The Chinese already had Taoist sitting meditation but it was much more relaxed. It's called "sitting in forgetting" or even "sitting in oblivion." You could do it in a chair, for example, or even lying down in a dark room. Huangbo Xiyun praised Bodhidharma's sitting meditation, saying that it was a way of teaching people how to "cut off thinking" and "forget all views."

When Zen reached Japan it was also identified with sitting meditation. You have to understand what the Japanese were facing in their everyday lives at this time. It can best be described by the words "hell-universe." The sudden eruption of a "hell-universe" is the basic setting of Japanese Zen -- a keen awareness that, although right now you are drinking sake and viewing the cherry blossoms or trimming your bonsai, tomorrow you may well be facing a wall of flaming arrows or getting shaken to death in an earthquake or drowned in a tsunami. So what will you do to transcend any anxiety about the inevitability of suffering and death? Many Japanese took up Zen to do just that, because Zen was understood as embodying the "immovable mind" and also as transmitting the brilliance of Shakyamuni's enlightenment upon seeing the morning star. (For the Japanese, as probably for some Chinese, Zen is a "yes" to life and not a "No.")

There is a mysterious power to taking a resolute sitting position and abandoning all sounds, forms, thoughts &c. The energetic state that rises directly out of such resolute stillness is nothing less than amazing.

A Short Sketch of Zen History

Q: I've heard you talk about Zen's "soteriology." I had to look up the word in a dictionary! It means a system or a set of methods leading to "salvation." Can you explain this?

A: All the classic Zen texts are soteriological. This means that they speak of a before and an after. They speak of going from delusion to enlightenment, even though ultimately there may be no such "things."

How to attain enlightenment is the basic question of Zen (or of any real yoga, for that matter.) The problem to consider is one of yogic method.

To put it another way, it is a question of whether some kind of intervention is possible. The student is as helpless as a worm in his ignorance & anguish. The Master must intervene to wake him up, somehow! But how?

So, by intervention I mean a technique, a teaching, a procedure capable of stopping the endless production of delusions -- or, in Huangbo Xiyun's words, of "cutting off thinking" and "forgetting views."

In the history of Zen we see clearly that the oldest soteriological technique is dhyana. A text found in the Tun-Huang caves says, "Sit silently in empty fusion."

Other, later Zen figures felt that his technique of "empty fusion" was not good enough, so they added question-and-answer sessions which were conducted in the Buddha Hall after the daily meditation period.

Starting in the late T'ang Dynasty, certain Masters felt that the verbal, expository nature of the question-and-answer sessions was inadequate to stop the deluded minds of students, so they began refusing to answer certain questions, sometimes just getting down off the dais and walking out of the Hall, or answering with a seemingly irrational word or phrase such as "dried shit stick" or "sesame flatcake!"

Yet even this was not always effective, so some of the Masters began coming down from the dais and slapping students -- or even, like Yunmen, chasing them outside with a stick.

Later, in the Song Dynasty, the records of these strange encounters were turned into objects for meditative contemplation -- public cases, kung-ans, which were given to students one by one to focus on in an energetic, single minded way not only while doing sitting meditation but all day and all night, until breakthrough (kensho, satori).

Still later, the kung-ans were reduced to a single "head word" or hua t'ou to try to prevent students from trying to understand them logically.

All this creative effort and energy in Zen was devoted to answering a single soteriological question:

How does one stop thought discriminations from arising so that one actually experiences reality as it is?

Huangbo says that "stopping thinking" is more than enough. "The Patriarchal Gate of Zen is calming mental functions and forgetting all views." What are all the poisonous attachments of samsara, after all, but mental functions arising from holding onto views?

The salvation offered by Zen is that of being undisturbed in the Way. The soteriological question is whether or not there is a particular method for realizing this wonderful state of being undisturbed in the Way.

Clearly, when you are disturbed you feel it. So how do you drop the disturbed feeling? By looking at its cause. This is not a matter of "fixing" the mind but of abandoning the mind. So how do you abandon the mind? Such is the persistent "how to" question of Zen.

The Chinese were pragmatic people. They wanted to know how to become Buddha, not just how to worship Buddha.

Q: How do you know I'm not a Buddha already?

I don't know. That's for you to decide. Do you feel completely at ease all the time, at one with life, playful and strong?

When you take a drink of water, you know for yourself whether it's hot or cold. So if I say to you, "The water is cold," if you wanted to be skeptical you could certainly just say, "That's only words."
However, it's not only words. I'm drinking the water and I actually do know that it is cold. For you it's just words. For me it is the reality.

Q: Sounds far too subjective.

A: Certainly everyone's way is subjective. Everything is subjective in that sense. So why then did the Zen Masters "go into the weeds" to try to awaken their students?

Zen Practice: What Works And What Doesn't

Q.: If I cut off thinking, according to you, I will experience satori and become a Buddha. Is that right?

A.: It comes down to this: you must be able to resolutely cut off all thinking in full alertness & awareness for just long enough that the user-illusion of a "thinker" vanishes & you experience satori.
Maybe ten seconds will be enough. Maybe it won't! Keep on trying. "Put strength into it; abandon conceit."

There is additional Zen training after satori, but this additional training is relatively easy and delightful, while the first part is extremely hard. As Master Yuanwu said:

"If your mind exists, you are stuck in the mundane for eternity; if your mind does not exist, you experience wondrous enlightenment instantly."

Or, as Mumon Ekai said:

"To attain this subtle realization you must completely cut off the way of thinking. If you do not cut off the way of thinking you will become like a ghost clinging to the grasses and weeds."

Do you want to be like a ghost clinging to the grasses & weeds, or do you want to experience the Mysterious Realization of Zen & live out your life in a "merry & playful samadhi"? Your choice. It is entirely up to you.

Here is what does not work: sitting in an anxious or vacant state on a zafu like a skeletal Zen zombie. Even though it may seem that at moments your mind does not exist during this kind of non-directed sitting meditation, chances are that you are just in a trance, which does not help you attain the goal. To attain the goal of Zen, you need for your mind to not exist while you are operating in a fully alert, energetic state.

Here is another thing that does not work: endlessly reading books and listening to Zen talks and so forth. This also leads to a depression of your innate energy, which becomes stagnated in the head as thinking. Then you become irresolute and cannot actually put any impulse into action.

Keep strong. Do hard physical things. Keep your spirit up. Then, when you are feeling strong, try to cut off all thinking and enter clear mindlessness. I have no doubt you will succeed.

Q: How do I cut off thinking?

A: Start by getting a grip on how it feels to be thinking. What is the emotional signature?

Q: What do you mean by the emotional signature of thinking?

A: Simple. Vacillation, anxiety, depression, helplessness, the tension of hope, desire, fear.

Note how few positive emotions arise during the thinking process, as opposed to instants of no-thought.

All emotions have a physical effect.

Let's say I get on Twitter and I see pictures of cops beating up protesters. My blood rises. I get angry. But there is no outlet.

To get angry often with no physical outlet, such as while viewing pictures of cops beating up protesters, will actually shorten your life.

Q: What about the actual method?

A: Focus on a sound, or a sensation. Your mind will try to keep wrenching you away into a remembered past or the imaginary future. Keep your concentration strong instead. Make this sound or sensation your gateway to the wondrous realm of No-Thought!

This Universe is Like An Optical Illusion

At first there was a Dharma to transmit,
Transmitted it became No-Dharma.
Each man should realize the nature of his self,
And then there is not (even) a No-Dharma.

Q.: Where does ignorance come from? What causes the illusory universe? How does Zen conquer ignorance & make all delusions vanish?

A.: The Shurangama Sutra uses the analogy of an optical illusion (say, a halo around a lamp) that "arises" caused by a sudden inflammation of the eyes. In reality, it hasn't "arisen" anywhere. Since the halo is caused by an inflammation, this false perception doesn't belong to the lamp or to the eyes or to the intrinsic nature of seeing, and once the inflammation ceases there's no more trouble.

Yet the habit of conceptual thinking may lead a person who is ignorant of the fact that the halo is only the result of an inflammation to believe that the halo actually exists, or that everyone else must see it, or that it is the natural and inevitable result of using one's eyes or intrinsic to the nature of seeing, and this idea is what causes "confusion" about what is really going on. In reality, it's just like a dream or a brief episode of madness. One's momentary confusion is extended and deepened by reliance on false thinking. So in Zen we get rid of our false thinking. As a matter of fact, we get rid of thinking entirely, at least until kensho occurs.

According to this sutra I've mentioned, the Mind-Essence has the nature of openness and brilliance, and so can create endless transient appearances, but it is when "thinking consciousness" comes into the picture that the real confusion happens and suffering begins.

Some esoteric Tibetan texts use the same analogy, but rather than eye-inflammation they talk about an "imbalance of energy" and note that if you shut one eye and put your finger on the eyelid and push gently you will see a burst of light that is caused by pressing down on the eyeball. Take the pressure off and the appearance of light vanishes.


Zuowang is allowing everything to slip from the mind, not dwelling on thoughts, allowing them to come and go, simply being at rest. It is important to take a good posture to still the body and calm the mind. Otherwise qi disperses, attention wanders, and the natural process is disturbed. Just remain empty and there is no separation from Dao. Then wisdom will arise and bring forth light, with is the clear qi of the person. Do not think too much about the theory of this, otherwise you are sure to disturb the mind. It is like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. To think about stopping it halfway is a futile exercise. Just trust the inherent natural process.  -Liu Xingdi 

Chao-chou Measures the Water (Iron Flute 47.)

One day Chao-chou visited his brother monk’s lecture hall. He stepped up to the platform, still carrying his walking stick, and looked from east to west and from west to east. “What are you doing there?” asked the brother monk. “I am measuring the water,” answered Chao-chou. “There is no water. Not even a drop of it. How can you measure it?” questioned the monk. Chao-chou leaned his stick against the wall and went away.

A cold morning, the clear air & floating white clouds.
A man walks down the street leaning on a stick. 
Later on, horses plunged into the river to drink water in thirsty snorts.
A warrior sat on his folding stool & tapped his thigh with an iron fan. 

Two Forms of Sitting Meditation for Zen Students

Seiza Sitting Meditation (Mokuso)

Just sit comfortably in Seiza and still your mind. Raise some energy before you begin. As you sit your energy will rise even more, but be alert and relaxed so it rises in a non-abrupt way. Breathe in through your nostrils, out through your mouth. Let the in-breathing sink down to the very bottom, like a broken tile tossed into a deep pond, before it rises. Gaze with eyes unfocused at the expanse before you without fixing on any single point, or shut your eyes if you prefer. But if you do shut your eyes, be careful not to focus on any mental images or thoughts that might appear. Regard them as like soap bubbles or flashes of lightning. Do not chase any thoughts and do not develop one thought from out of another. Cast away the bitter dregs of the past and all hopes or longings for the future. Abide in the natural brightness & clarity before there is any constructed thinking or particular intention. Forget everything but This, which is the simple, profound, inconceivable state of all the sages and  Buddhas.

Tibetan Zen Sitting (Lotus or Half-Lotus)

"Cross your hands and feet. Straighten your back. Don’t move your body. Don’t say anything. Turn away without engaging the delusory six gates of the mind with their objects, and then look at your own mind. When you do, there is no substantiality to mind at all. So do not think of anything. Without engaging in the various emotional states, do not conceptualize anything. Once you have completely purified the mental sphere in this way, do not abide anywhere. Once you have sat for a long time, the mind will stabilize." -from Tibetan Zen

You Must See for Yourself!

When you set your body on the meditation bench, it is no more than silencing and emptying your mind and investigating with your whole being. Just make your mind and thought clarify and become still.

A fine place to do active meditation work is amid confusion and disturbances. When you do active meditation, you must penetrate through the heights and the depths, without omitting anything. The whole essential being appears ready-made before you, and it no longer arises from anywhere else. It is just this one Great Potential, turning smoothly, and steadily. Why talk any more about "worldly phenomena" and "enlightened truth"?

If you maintain a uniform equilibrium over months and years, naturally your stance will be true and solid. You will experience realization, like water being poured into water, like gold being traded for gold. Everything will be equalized in One Suchness, profoundly real, and pure. This is knowing how to live.

Just do not give birth to a single thought: let go and become crystal clear. As soon as any notion of right and wrong and self and others and gain and loss are present, do not follow them. Then you will be personally studying with your own enlightened teacher.

If you do that, what worry is there that this work will not be accomplished? You must see for yourself!

-Ch'an Master Yuanwu, Zen Letters

Lin-chi's Titleless Man (Iron Flute 57.)

Lin-chi once said to his monks, “A titleless man lives upon flesh and blood, going out or coming in through the gateways of your face. Those who have not witnessed this fact, discover it this minute!”

A monk stood up and asked. “Who is a titleless man?”

Lin-chi suddenly came down from his chair, seized the monk by the collar of his robe, and exclaimed, “Speak! Speak!”

The monk was dumbfounded for a moment, so Lin-chi slapped him and said: “This titleless man is good for nothing!”

The titleless man is at peace with all happenings, free of labels, goes & comes as he pleases like a flash of autumn lightning. He is good because he is nothing. Speak or get slapped. Master Lin-chi knew the essence of the tea ceremony. "Cool in summer, warm in winter; flowers from the field; prepare for rain; enjoy a sip of tea together."

I-chung Preaches Dharma (Iron Flute 50.)

When master I-chung had taken his seat to preach Dharma, a layman stepped from the audience and walked from east to west in front of the rostrum. A monk then demonstrated his Zen by walking from west to east. “The layman understands Zen,” said I-chung, “but the monk does not.” The layman approached I-chung saying, “I thank you for your approval,” but before the words were ended, he was struck with the master’s stick. The monk approached and said, “I implore your instruction,” and was also struck with the stick. I-chung then said, “Who is going to conclude this koan?” No one answered. The question was repeated twice, but there was still no answer from the audience. “Then,” said the master, “I will conclude it.” He threw his stick to the floor and returned to his room.

The mountains, the rivers, the forests & the great oceans, not to mention the chiliocosms in the tip of a tiger's whisker, all emerge from I-chung's stick. Throw it away before you cause any more harm! "And so drunk to bed." In the deep night, snow fell. Master I-chung's snoring shook the monastery. 

Guide to Sudden Enlightenment (excerpts)

Purification, Commitment, & Altruistic Intention

This work requires that you purify yourself, commit to breaking through all obstacles, & develop the sincere altruistic intention to help others also attain enlightenment & liberation in this life.

Purification means that before doing the exercises you should forget about all ill-feelings & throw away any grudges you might be holding. One easy way to do this is to visualize the person who you feel has harmed you the most in life & sincerely wish that person great happiness & freedom from all problems. It may also be helpful to go to a secluded forest (preferably one with streams & waterfalls) or to the sea shore & spend some time breathing in the clear, fresh air in a relaxed way, while "breathing out" the various harsh feelings you may have about events in the past, until you feel  lightness in your body & vivid clarity of mind.

Commitment means that you will give to this goal of attaining sudden enlightenment your utmost energy & will. You won't give up just because you run into difficulty or become anxious or distracted. Keep at it for as long as it takes, a little every single day -- but always with strength. "Put strength into it, abandon conceit." Some attain It all at once, others a little at a time. No matter how long it takes you, it is still "sudden enlightenment." One big satori, or a string of smaller ones are equally precious.

Altruistic Intention means that you will not hold your enlightenment selfishly but will find ways to share the delight & joy of it with others. This is of course not the same as forcing it on others or becoming a boring "spiritual person" who constantly talks about his or her own perfection.

(NOTE: The following direct inquiry & energetic exercises are based on the presumption that you have already managed to stabilize yourself in simple calm meditation, are capable of raising inner energy at any time day or night to attain heightened states of awareness at will, & can direct your attention forcefully at one point or hold it in a state of "great doubt" for a period of time equal to the burning of an incense stick [roughly 45 minutes]. Consult a classic manual such as Charles Luk's The Secrets of Chinese Meditation if you need special prompting on any of these points.)

Pointing to Objects and To Awareness of Objects

Point to an object. Now move your finger slowly back in an arc toward your eyes. At what point does the object stop and your seeing of it begin?

Reverse it. Point to your awareness and now move your finger slowly out until it points at an object of which you are aware. When did your awareness stop, and the object begin?

At your eyeballs? One inch inside them?

Where in all this are "you"?

Is the object really anything more than the instantaneous experience of seeing it (aka the awareness of it)?

And is that instantaneous experience of seeing it anything more than the brilliant appearing of the object in and AS your awareness?

Contemplate this profound mystery.


Look at Your Index Finger for 30 Seconds Straight Without Giving Rise To Any Thinking

Look at your index finger. Give rise to no thoughts at all for 30 seconds. Can you do it?

If you can manage it for just one or two seconds, you will see it with an almost magical clarity, there before you in space. Then the thinking will wash over you again & though you are still seeing the finger, your whole being is not awake to it.

If giving rise to thoughts can blind you to your own index finger, how much more so to the mountains, the rivers, the trees, the sun and moon and the starry sky?


Leaping Over: The 360 Degree Panorama

Here you are looking at my words and having various half-baked barely conscious reactions to them based on your habitual idea that you are a person with a mind somewhere in your body looking out of your eyes at "things" endowed with inherent existence.

But if you now shift your attention in a subtle way to focus on the glowing colors of your computer screen or the black on white of your book & then expand that to a clear sudden awareness of the 360 panorama of the room you're in, also the sounds & all other sensations, free of any thinking, what happens to "mind" or to "inherent existence" or to being a "person" then? Ah!

Leap in this way over all of your doubts to a 360 degree panoramic space that wipes out even the notion of time. The person who can achieve this gains startling new abilities effortlessly.

Such a sudden leap into "existential space" of pure awareness (as opposed to conceptualized, thinking-bounded space of ordinary dull ignorance) is equivalent to Dzogchen's "Leap-Over" (Thodgal) & it is pervaded by the energy (rtsal) of Clear-Light.

Attain this and then stabilize this in your everyday life!


Just Stilling Thoughts

"Just still the thoughts in your mind. It is good to do this right in the midst of disturbance. When you are working on this, penetrate the heights & the depths." -Yuanwu.

Can you find a way to practice this today? The second sentence makes it even more interesting.

Try starting up an intense series of thoughts about something emotional for you and then "still" them all at once, just like pouring cold water into boiling water.


Dropping Thought as You Grip a Sword

As soon as you grip your sword all thinking should vanish instantly like a snowflake on a blazing hot stove. This is a forceful yet subtle technique.

"The pine and bamboo draw a fresh breeze."

Every step is joyous, is it not?

In this state, what could possibly harm or offend You?


Investigating the Source of Names & Forms

Look deeply into the matter of whether or not there is any "thing" that is partless (not composed out of relations between other "things" & finally resolving into total inconceivability).

Clap your hands! Now try clapping with one hand! Everything is just like this.

If the evening wind doesn't blow, the pine tree doesn't make a booming sound at dusk. If wild geese don't fly over the lake, the lake doesn't reflect any wild geese on its surface. The same principle applies to everything.

Reality is instantaneous. It doesn't remain still for even one second. All appearances change more quickly than images in a dream.

Emptiness gives with one hand & takes with the other. Go ahead and try to snatch the pebble of clear Reality from either hand!


Cutting Through Solidity, As with a Sharp Cleaver

Sudden entry with a sharp cleaver is the same as Chod. Here one instantly enters the inconceivable state of the primordial Buddhas. In this there is no karma or rebirth, just pure & startling realization in a state of empty bliss.

What could ever concern you now? You have become an unconcerned person.

You walk swinging your arms into the dust of the marketplace. You sit in taverns drinking with the drunks. You watch puppet shows & laugh uproariously, clapping your hands along with the rest of the audience.

But none of the dust clings to you, any more than the shadows of trees cling to a stone wall, or the reflections of green willows cling to the brightness of the temple pond!


Counting Down from 108

Use one pointed meditation such as counting down from 108 to rid yourself of all thinking.
Then make consciousness finer & finer through sharp clear attention.
When you reach the finest pure & bright consciousness, shatter it with a sharp out breath.
This is the natural state of perpetual joyful amazement.


Change Your Life by Purifying Your Ki

Change your life by purifying your Ki.
Purify your Ki at the center of your body, in the Hara.
Make the Ki there empty clear immovable & dimly bright like space.
Make it like the kamiza, the divine area where gods appear & from which they radiate bliss, calm & spirited good-will.
This Ki has no precedents, no history, no past, no enmity, no worries -- it is just the Eternal Now.
This purified Ki or mind of pure awareness will then extend outward by itself & effortlessly transform all externals.
Such is how to become a person of Shibumi.


Calm Abiding in the Insubstantial

With the right training, resolve & perseverance at any time you can practice calm abiding in the insubstantial. This is also "the inconceivable state of the Buddhas." It resolves all problems instantly. Appearances are seen as empty & magical. There are no arguments, no designs, no desires and no worries. Everything is "just like this." What was all the sound & fury for? Other people strut a mental stage all day & night discoursing like idiots. You are simply here beyond all words & all thoughts, the pure straight body of reality.

Bathhouse Enlightenment

Bhadrapala, and sixteen awakened lords who were his companions, arose from their seats and bowed at the Buddha’s feet. He said to the Buddha:

”We first heard the dharma and left the home-life under King of Awesome Sound Buddha. Once, when it was time for the Sangha to bathe, I followed the custom and entered the bathhouse. Suddenly I awakened to the fact that water does not wash away the dust, nor does it cleanse the body. At that point, between the two, I became peaceful, and I attained the state of there being nothing at all.

To this day, I have never forgotten that past experience. Having left home with the Buddha, I have gone beyond learning. That Buddha named me Bhadrapala. Wonderful touch was revealed, and I accomplished the position of the Buddha’s disciple. "

-The Surangama Sutra

Pushing Open a Door

Huguo Jingyuan came from ancient Yongjia. After entering monastic life as a young man he first studied with a teacher named Xigong on Mt. Ling. After receiving the precepts, he studied Tiantai doctrines for three years, but gave up this pursuit to study under Zen Master Yuanwu Keqin.

Jingyuan overheard a monk reading a teaching by Zen Master Sixin that said, "Because enlightenment is realized in delusion, in enlightenment one recognizes the delusion within enlightenment and the enlightenment within delusion. When enlightenment and delusion are both forgotten, then one may establish all dharmas from this place that is without enlightenment or delusion."

When Jingyuan heard this he experienced doubt. But later, when he was hurrying to the Buddha Hall, just as he pushed open the door he suddenly experienced vast enlightenment.

Seeing Me Right Now

When Wuxue was abbot of a temple, Touzi Yiqing said to him, “I’m not clear about what resulted when the Second Ancestor first saw Bodhidharma.”

Zen master Wuxue said, “Right now you can see me. What is the result?”

At that moment Touzi suddenly awakened to the profound mystery.

A Mute Eating a Bitter Melon

There are 84,000 Dharma gates in Buddhism. Each gate leads to sudden enlightenment. But one who has experienced this is said to be "like a mute eating a bitter melon." The lightning like experience of wu (Japanese: satori) -- also called "sudden entry as if with a sharp cleaver" -- cannot be verbalized.

Also, it is well known that any student who attempts to enter into the depths of Zen without having first developed some meditative stability is liable to go insane. The use of sexual expedients in particular is not recommended for the shallow or the weak-minded.

"Cut off thinking; keep unmoving mind." This takes power and fanatical dedication! As the Chinese Masters used to say at the end of every Dharma talk: "Please take care of yourselves."

Struck In the Mouth with a Whisk


Soon after he began studying with Zhimen, Xuedou boldly stepped up and asked, “Before a single thought arises, can what is said be wrong?”

Zhimen summoned Xuedou to step forward.

Xuedou did so.

Zhimen then hit Xuedou in the mouth with his fly whisk.

Xuedou opened his mouth to speak but Zhimen hit him again.

Xuedou now suddenly experienced enlightenment.

He first assumed the abbacy at Cuiyan. He later moved to Xuedou.

Old Thief


When Fayan first came to Wuzu Temple, Yuanwu was working there as temple manager.

At that time a new kitchen was slated to be built around where a beautiful old tree stood.

Fayan said, “Even though the tree is in the way, please don’t cut it down.”

Yuanwu cut down the tree.

When Fayan heard this, he picked up his staff and chased after Yuanwu.

Yuanwu, dodging to avoid flashing blows from the staff, suddenly experienced great enlightenment.

He cried out, “This is the way of Old Linji!”

Fayan stopped short. Yuanwu grabbed his staff and threw it onto the ground, shouting, “Oh yes, I recognize you now, you old thief!”

Fayan laughed and walked away.

After this, Fayan gave his permission for Yuanwu to give Dharma talks to the other monks.

Zen Is Just Suddenly Perceiving Your Own Mind

A monk asked: "How can we know when every sort of karmic hindrance has been wiped out?"

Master Hui-Hai answered:

When you suddenly perceive your own Mind, you will at that moment understand the affairs of the past and those of the future as if they were right before your very eyes. All past and future, as well as present, dharmas will be perceived simultaneously. The Sutra says, "All the dharmas known by your purified mind constitute the Bodhimandala, which is the totality of all Wisdom."

Hui-Hai also commented: "[In reality] there is only no mind whatsoever dwelling nowhere at all. When this stage is reached, one is, quite naturally, liberated." -Hui-Hai

Is the Normal Mind the Way?

In Case 19 of the Mumonkan, one reads: "The normal (or ordinary) mind is the Way."

This pithy statement by Master Nanquan is often misunderstood. Such a misunderstanding can have devastating effects on true Zen practice, cutting off entry into the Great Way. 

The Chinese actually says:
平 = calm, level, peaceful 常 = general, common as dust 心 = mind-heart 是 = right, correct 道 = Dao, Way (path, road, head).

"Normal" is an unfortunate mis-translation, since normally people do not behave in an uncontrived, calm, level, peaceful way. Nobody in our world wants to be 常, "general, common as dust." Do they?

So, as you can see, Nanquan really meant something less like the English term "normal" and more like "straight," "direct," or "uncontrived" like the Taoist "uncarved block," or the Indian Mahasiddhas' "Sahaja Samadhi."

Recall Lao-Tzu's remark that the great sage looks to "normal" people like an idiot or simpleton.

Note also that even after experiencing an enlightenment at hearing Master Nanquan's words, Master Joshu still had to study for thirty years in order to realize the Way. Why? Because ordinary human life is precisely not "direct" and "uncontrived."

To attain the direct mind of a Taoist or Zen sage is the rarest possible attainment, one sometimes requiring great commitment and costing much difficulty.

Just look at what Master Nanquan says just a few sentences later in the same dialogue:


When you have really reached the true Way beyond doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space.


How can it be talked about on the level of right and wrong?

See also Master Mumon's verse on this Case:

春有百花秋有月 The spring flowers, the autumn moon;
夏有涼風冬有雪 Summer breezes, winter snow.
若無閑事挂心頭 If useless things do not clutter your mind,
更是人間好時節 You have the best days of your life.

How will you get rid of the useless things that clutter your mind, such as endless petty considerations of right and wrong? Truly, the English words "normal" and "ordinary" are not adequate translations of Nanquan's remark, given that the Way is found by the sage to be as vast as boundless space.

I see no reason to translate 平 = calm, level, peaceful + 常 = general, common as dust, as "normal" or even as "ordinary." "Natural" strikes me as a better translation. One might even be bolder and, drawing on Chuang-Tzu's image of the Tao as being present in ants, broken tiles, grass and dung, say, "despised," "rejected," or "lowly." Maybe "The base mind is the Way" would be even better!

One might also say,

"The unadulterated First Person Realization is the Way."

White clouds billowing up into the blue of space;
The pure straight body of a bristling pine.
A thrush sings out into the clear afternoon.
How will you get such a tranquil, responsive & empty mind?


After Xuansha became the abbot at Mt. Xuan Sha, he entered the hall and addressed the monks, saying, 

“Buddha’s way is vast and serene. There is no path on which to travel there. There is no gate of liberation. There are no thoughts about a ‘person of the Way.’ There are no ‘three worlds.’ Therefore one cannot ‘transcend’ or ‘fall into.’ Setting something up runs counter to the truth. Negation is a formation. Movement gives rise to the root of birth and death. Stillness is the province of falling into delusion. When movement and stillness are extinguished, one falls into empty negation. When movement and stillness are both accepted, Buddha nature is concealed. With respect to worldly affairs or states of mind, you should be like a cold dead tree. Then you will realize the great function and not forfeit its grace. All forms will be illuminated as if in a mirror. Brightness or obscurity will not confuse you. The bird will fly into emptiness, it will not be apart from empty form. Then in the ten directions there will be no form and in the three worlds there will be no traces.”

"Kindred Spirits and Demons": Master Wumen's Sudden Awakening

Wumen Huikai paid respects to Monk Kung of T'ien-lung, and accepted Monk Kung as his teacher. He practiced with Yüeh-lin at Wan-shou Temple in Su-chou. Yüeh-lin had him read the account of Chao-chou's "Wu." But even after six years, Wumen was far from penetrating its meaning.

So he summoned his will and resolved to cut off his doubts by resolving the Great Matter, saying to himself, "I will sit up contemplating this koan all night every night, even if I die trying." This he did night after night. Whenever he started to doze off or lose concentration on "Wu," he got up and walked down the corridor and banged his head against a big smooth pillar.

One day, while standing near the lecturer's seat in the Dharma Hall, he suddenly awakened when he heard the sound of the drum calling the monks for the recitation of the monastic rules. BOOM BOOM BOOM! He instantly composed this gatha:
A burst of thunder from the cloudless blue sky 
peels open the eyeballs of all living beings.
All between heaven and earth bow down! 
Mount Sumeru leaps to its feet and does a monkey dance.
The next day, he entered the master's room seeking confirmation. Yueh-lin said in an off-hand way, "Whenever I look at kindred spirits (shen), I see nothing but demons (kuei)." Wumen shouted a hair raising demonic YAI! Yueh-lin also shouted YAI! Wumen shouted YAI! again and the master bowed to him. And so his great awakening was confirmed.

No Bones to the Dharma Body

The Dharma Body has no bones --
it's as big as the sky.
No flesh, no spirit in it either,
just a burst of crazy laughing.

Shatter it all, go beyond!
Utterly beyond!
Thinking is Craving,
Craving turns into thoughts.
It's all a Grand Delusion,
a bowl of coals for a demon's breakfast,
a shit banquet for the hungry ghosts.

At the Zen summit it's raining ice.
All the jizo buddhas do somersaults,
the scarves covering their weeping faces.
Crows CAW CAW CAW their heads off
as the raw wind moans in ten directions,
and you dance like an iron-faced cloud demon.


Treasure This Gem! Huang-Po's Great Way of Zen

I am sometimes asked what I mean by "ancient Zen." Maybe the best way to understand it is to read the remarks attributed to Master Huang-Po, of the T'ang Dynasty days. The following is a brief summary of Huang-Po's teachings, with embedded quotes from Blofeld's monumental translation. May it steer your course in the study and practice of true Zen!

To the extent Huang-Po taught a doctrine, it is identical to Yogacara or Mind-Only Buddhism. Everything is Mind; the whole universe is just a fleeting appearance of Mind itself.

"All the Buddhas and all sentient beings are nothing but the One Mind, beside which nothing exists." 
"But these mountains, these rivers, the whole world itself, together with the sun, moon and stars -- not one of them exists outside your minds! The vast chiliocosm exists only within you, so where else can the various categories of phenomena possibly be found? Outside Mind, there is nothing." 
"The essential Buddha-Substance is a perfect whole, without superfluity or lack. It permeates the six states of existence and yet is everywhere perfectly whole. Thus, every single one of the myriads of phenomena in the universe is the Buddha (Absolute). This substance may be likened to a quantity of quicksilver which, being scattered in all directions, everywhere reforms into perfect wholes. When undispersed, it is of one piece, the one comprising the whole and the whole comprising the one. The various forms and appearances, on the other hand, may be likened to dwellings. Just as one abandons a stable in favor of a house, so one exchanges a physical body for a heavenly body, and so on up to the planes of the Pratyeka-Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas. But all alike are things sought by you or abandoned by you; hence the differences between them." 
"The Royal Treasury [of the Buddhas] is the nature of the Void. Though all the vast-world systems of the universe are contained therein, none of them have existence outside your Mind. Another name for it is the Bodhisattva Treasury of the Great Void."

Huang-Po said that this is the Highest Truth taught by the Buddha. It is this Wordless Doctrine that Bodhidharma brought to China. But it is not enough to intellectually accept or believe in this Wordless Doctrine; one must intuitively realize it for oneself.

"From Gautama Buddha down through the whole line of patriarchs to Bodhidharma, none preached aught beside the One Mind, otherwise known as the Sole Vehicle of Liberation . . . Nowhere has this teaching leaves or branches; its one quality is eternal truth. Hence it is a teaching hard to accept. When Bodhidharma came to China and reached the Kingdoms of Liang and Wei, only the Venerable Master Ko gained a silent insight into our own Mind; as soon as it was explained to him, he understood that Mind is the Buddha, and that individual mind and body are nothing. This teaching is called the Great Way." 
"Since the Tathagata entrusted Kasyapa with the Dharma until now, Mind has been transmitted with Mind, and these Minds have been identical." 
"Therefore the Tathagata called Kasyapa to come and sit with him on the Seat of Proclaiming the Law, seperately entrusting to him the Wordless Dharma of the One Mind. This branchless Dharma was to be separately practiced; and those who should be tacitly Enlightened would arrive at the state of Buddhahood."

To the extent Huang-Po taught a practice, it is stopping the arising of thoughts, cessating all mental activity, discarding opinions & ideas. Most people do not have the strength to leap over conceptual thinking all at once, so they should work at it singlemindedly & to the best of their abilities.

"Spend twenty years sweeping the dung out of your mind." 
"The Master said: Only when your minds cease dwelling on anything whatsoever will you come to an understanding of the true Way of Zen. The Way of the Buddhas flourishes in a mind utterly free of conceptual thought processes, which discrimination between this and that gives birth to a legion of demons!"

Huang-Po warned that of the "three or four thousand students of the Ch'an sect" in his time, "only three or four individuals" would ever "attain the goal" (Lin-Chi was one, his enlightenment joyfully recognized by Huang-Po, -- which leaves at the most three more enlightened Ch'an people in Huang-Po's generation). So:

"Strive on! Strive on! You must liberate yourselves! Buddhas cannot do it for you!"

The goal of Ch'an according to Huang-Po is sudden awakening followed by complete liberation and the cessation of rebirth.

"Kasyapa obtained a direct self-realization of original Mind, so he is not one of those with horns. Whosoever obtains this direct realization of the Tathagata Mind, thereby understanding the true identity of the Tathagata and perceiving his real appearance and real form, can speak to others with the authority of the Buddha's true spiritual son." 
"If an ordinary man . . . could only see the five elements of his consciousness as void; the four physical elements as not constituting an 'I'; the real Mind as formless and neither coming nor going; his nature as something neither commencing at his birth nor perishing at his death, but as whole and motionless in its very depths; his Mind and environmental objects as one – if he could really accomplish this, he would receive Enlightenment in a flash. He would no longer be entangled by the Triple World; he would be a World-Transcendor. He would be without even the faintest tendency toward rebirth."

According to Huang-Po, Ch'an cannot be learned from books and all discussions, arguments and debates about Ch'an are not only pointless, but harmful.

"As soon as the mouth is opened, evils spring forth. Indeed, there is NEVER any profit in discussion."

When asked what he recommends for Ch'an students, Huang-Po says to spend all your time learning to cut off thinking, so that you can sit rapt in meditation before a wall, like Bodhidharma himself.

"Yes, my advice is to give up all indulgence in conceptual thought and intellectual processes. When such things no longer trouble you, you will unfailingly reach Supreme Enlightenment." 
"When you practice mind-control (zazen or dhyana), sit in the proper position, stay perfectly tranquil, and do not permit the least movement of your minds to disturb you. This alone is what is called liberation." 
"If you would spend all your time – walking, standing, sitting or lying down – learning to halt the concept-forming activities of your own mind, you could be sure of ultimately attaining the goal. Since your strength is insufficient, you might not be able to transcend samsara with a single leap; but, after five or ten years, you would surely have made a good beginning and be able to make further progress spontaneously." 
"From the earliest times the Sages have taught that a minimum of activity is the gateway of their Dharma; so let NO activity be the gateway of my Dharma! Such is the Gateway of the One Mind, but all who reach this gate fear to enter! I do NOT teach a doctrine of extinction! Few understand this, but those who do understand are the only ones to become Buddhas. Treasure this gem!"

The anecdotes about Huang-Po tell us that he was a very tall man with a pearl-shaped protrusion on his forehead that was said to be from his innumerable prostrations to the Buddha. He was already enlightened when he came to study with Pai-chang, who was one of Master Ma-Tzu's disciples. "Majestic and imposing, I've come from the mountains." He experienced his sudden awakening in a dialogue with an old woman who called him a "Greedy monk" when he was begging for rice one day. It seems the feeling of intense shame and bewilderment opened the Gate for him. In his later years he abandoned verbal teaching and would just shout and hit students with his staff.

Bussho, the True Self

What is the true-self? This is the self which has existed since before the time of the division of Heaven and Earth, and from before the birth of parents. This is the self which exists before everything is born and which does not die. It is the self of eternity and immortality. Man, the birds, beasts and plants all possess this self within them. The universe is filled with this permanent self; in other words it is Bussho (Buddha-nature). This self has no shadow, no form, no life, and no death. It is not the mortal self which we can see with the naked eye. It is only seen by the Buddha-eye and the Dharma-eye. We, as ordinary people, cannot see the true self. Only one who awakens to Buddha-nature and realizes the true-self can see it, and he is a person of kensho-jobutsu (one who sees into his Buddha-nature and reaches Nirvana.)

-Master Takuan Soho

To Make a Small Zen Temple of Wherever You Are

Attaining no-thought and no-mind in a single instant is the true ancient way of Zen.

Sometimes I take people hiking up into the mountains after enjoining them not to talk or to think, just to empty themselves to receive the direct Zen transmission from bird-loud forests and freezing waterfalls.

It is difficult for some to attain, but when it does occur the energetic switch to no-thought and no-mind is, just as soon as it happens, at once obvious to everyone else nearby  -- an immersion in the sheer vigor and enjoyment of the splendors of nature, unbelievable bliss!

A smile rises through the whole body and shines out of every gesture, pervading infinite space. Who knew that simple silence could hold such charm?

Then I go around in the city and see people frowning with thought. They are distorted by the seeming necessity to form ideas and judgments about all experiences, and so exude a sad and nervous tension. They perpetually hold onto a past that contains humiliations and anguish, and they yearn for a future that may never come.

As Master Rujing said, "Zen study is the shedding of body and mind!" You must make a small Zen temple of wherever you are, so that you can revel silently in the sheer radiance of life.

Ch'an, the Ancient Way

Early Ch'an teachers, including Bodhidharma, were called Dhyana masters. (Ch'an is the Chinese pronunciation of the Sanskrit word for concentration-absorption meditation, Dhyana.)

Though their philosophy came from the Mind-Only Sutras of Mahayana Buddhism, especially the Lankavatara, the Ch'an emphasis was not on philosophy or on sutras.

Ch'an teachers all taught direct entry into the state of clear enlightenment via concentration and absorption.

Usually this was done in the sitting posture, but the sitting posture itself was not fetishized, and Bodhidharma warned against trying to attain Buddhahood by sitting for long periods.

The basic idea of ancient Ch'an was that your Xin, your Mind-Heart, is already the radiant original Buddha. But you've become confused by your six senses.

By closing the five senses, silencing the sixth, and gazing inward you awaken to your True Self. Once you are awake to this, you develop ways to merge that awareness with all of your activities.

Early Ch'an teachers told their students to forget all externals and cease all thinking until they directly perceived their self-nature, the Buddha within.

At that time -- roughly between Bodhidharma and Hui-Neng -- there were no books of koans, no "Zen" poetry to learn, also no ritualized verbal challenges or hitting with sticks.

Nobody went around cleverly quoting Masters. Imagine that!

The early Ch'an teachers did not say much but just instructed people to refrain from excessive activity, be quiet and look into their own minds.

The one goal of Ch'an was understood to be just the direct experience of inner illumination via Dhyana.

The Last Word on Self-Arising Primordial Awareness

Within the essence of ultimate truth, [yang dag don gyi ngo bo la]
there is no buddha or ordinary being. [sangs rgyas dang ni sems can med]
Since awareness cannot be objectified, it is empty. [rig pa 'dzin pa med pas stong]
Given that it does not dwell in emptiness, [stong pa nyid la me gnas na]
it abides in its own state of supreme bliss. [rang gi bde chen sa la gnas]
The majestic ruler of all buddhas [sangs rgyas kun gyi rje btsan pa]
is understood to be one's own awareness. [rang gi rig pa shes par bya]
This monarch, naturally manifest awareness, [rang snang rig pa'i rgyal po nyid]
is present in everyone, but no one realizes it. [kun la yod de kun gyis rtog pa med]

Dark Luminosity

Student: Roshi, sometimes when I read your words, I experience something indefinable, an odd state, or even a pervasive yet indescribable taste, something like the experience having a word or a name "on the tip of the tongue," almost fully formed and strangely definite but still not quite yet "there." Maybe this is a word or a name that can't be spoken, and because of that, it has the character of fullness and depth and mysteriousness that actually causes my hair to stand up. That's the odd, complex sensation I get from your words, too, that the words you speak in reference to Zen are just elements of an unspoken word, a nameless name, so dark and deep it can't possibly ever be articulated, yet in no way is it "nothingness" or "non-existence" or even "Emptiness." So when I read your blog I am suddenly thrown into a confusion that is delightful. It isn't enlightenment itself, though it feels fresh and enlightening like dark sky slowly filling up with pellucid light that still remains unseen, but only intuited, or the rarefied sunlight that filters down to the bottom of a fast flowing stream and re-appears, dim but strangely brilliant, on the brown pebbles under the flitting shadows of trout and swimming frogs. It's an experience beyond all ideas and defined concepts or thoughts. Yet it is strangely open, still, numinous, stirring, and clear. Anything and everything can happen in it, yet there it is, unmoved and immovable. I wonder if this is what Shunryu Suzuki meant by "Beginner's Mind." I wonder if it isn't also what Takuan Soho called "the Immovable Mind" of the sages. Or what Seung-Sahn called "Don't Know Mind." Or maybe these more recent Zen ideas are just distant echoes of what the great Zen people of the past like Ma-Tsu and Layman Pang and Huang-Po knew in their everyday lives, once their everyday lives had merged with their deepest meditation.

Roshi: Maybe all this is just an echo of the Dark Luminosity spoken of by the Taoist sages. Special boxes have been designed for experiments in physics, into which light is shone, but although the boxes are filled with blazing light, since there is nothing in the box to reflect or obstruct the light when human beings look into these boxes they see only the deepest and blackest darkness. I know the state you describe very well, and I find it to be one of brimming-up and overflowing delight and elegance, though when I first became aware of it, to be quite honest with you, I was totally terrified. Why not just be open to the Nameless, play in it, relax into it, rest your mind from thinking, do not try to find any spurious answers or still less to turn it into a spiritual technique, but let it constantly refresh and invigorate you from its great dark depths?

Shibumi-Ki-Do Zen

if you are standing
rest your mind
not on the thought
I am standing
but on the standing itself
inconceivable bliss

if you are walking
rest your mind wholly
in the subtle movements
of your field of vision
& the quick changes of pressure
inside your ears
until you wake up with a start
& laughter flows out

if you are thinking too hard
& so can't sleep
deep in the night
count down slowly
from 108
putting all attention & intent
on the numbers singly one by one
& soon all thinking will go
& your breathing will deepen & relax
& you will experience a quiet simplicity
an indescribable elegance

if you are sitting
let your breathing go
& rest your mind entirely
in your whole body
without trying to hold it
in one place or another
& your innate being
will awaken in a throb of clear bliss

if you are practicing
with the sword
rest your mind
exactly as in sitting upright
& your whole body
will fill with springing energy

in breathing yoga
breathe in lightly but deeply
as if to take in the whole universe
& breathe out with quiet force
as if to impress your will on God

or just put your attention in front of you
& simply rest it there
extending inconceivably before your brows
& also on all sides, & up & down, 360 degrees
& you will suddenly taste
the bliss of the ever-rising Innate
a pure display of color, sound & form
untouched by thought

putting oil in your lamp
day & night like this
will make the wick burn bright & pure
your whole universe
revealed as the boundless circle
of inconceivable radiance

The True Meaning of Emptiness

Roshi: All the Buddhas have taught Liberation, attained just by way recognizing and abiding in the natural state.

Student: Liberation from what?

R: From obsessive habitual thinking. There is nothing else that cages up the bird of your spirit.

S: I've heard that all the Buddhas taught "emptiness"!

R: Emptiness is taught to shatter the chain of thinking and dispel all views. This teaching of Emptiness is merely therapeutic. Sunyata is medicine for the poison of words and concepts, names and forms. Voidness isn't a thing. Once you're cured, stop taking the medicine.

S: That's all?

R: That's it! By contemplating the Prajnaparamita teachings you will be delivered suddenly from your ingrained thinking and deranged inherited views, and will thereby attain an "Emptiness" in which there is no trace of the concept "Emptiness." Your mind will just be natural and straightforward as a wheelwright's putting a wheel on a cart, or a potter shaping a bowl. "When mind and body attain spontaneity, the Way is realized." (Huang-Po). This is the true meaning of Emptiness.

The Huang-Po Zen Challenge: Put a Stop to Thinking

Grand Zen Master Huang-Po says you must do just one thing to become Enlightened. Just the one thing. What is it? "Cut off thinking." Also, "Forget all views." "Keep your mind motionless." "Put a complete stop to the arising of conceptual thought." Enter "the Gateway of Stillness Beyond All Activity." He says that if you can succeed in this simple but difficult task, "the Buddha will appear before you." You will experience a "deeply mysterious wordless understanding." You will reach "a state of BEING brilliant as the sun" in which "all forms are Buddha forms, all sounds are Buddha sounds."

Sound good? Are you there yet? Wouldn't you like to be? Or, in the words of Mumon Ekai,"Isn't this a delightful prospect?"

Master Mumon Ekai agreed with Huang-Po: "To attain this subtle realization, you must completely cut off the way of thinking. If you do not, you will become like a ghost clinging to the grasses and weeds." So did Joshu: "When the mind does not arise, everything is flawless." Also Yuanwu: "If your mind exists, you are stuck in the mundane for eternity; if your mind does not exist, you experience wondrous enlightenment instantly." And Bankei:"Because the Buddha Mind is unborn, it has no thoughts at all. Thoughts are the source of delusion. When thoughts are gone, delusion vanishes too."

So why not take the Huang-Po Challenge, to see if you've got the stones to be a Huang-Po style Zennist? Set an alarm to go off in ten minutes, or have a friend time you. Stop all your thinking right now, right this instant, and remain without any thinking whatsoever until the timer buzzes.

If you can't do it, why can't you? And if you won't try, why not?

Huang-Po's discourse remains at the conceptual level until you try it for yourself. "I am already a Buddha" -- maybe you are, but that's still just words, speech, concepts, and thinking.

Isn't it mysterious that if I tell you not to make a fist for the next ten minutes, you can easily do it; yet if I tell you not to think for the next ten minutes, you can't? Isn't "thinking" -- like speaking or writing -- supposed to be a voluntary action, completely under the command of "the Master within"?

I say throw away the dregs of Buji ("do-nothing") Zen and do some authentic ancient Zen training using this simple (but extremely difficult) method prescribed by Great Zen Master Huang-Po! If you put some energy into it and succeed where so many others have flailed and failed, you will be like a dragon entering the water, a tiger on its mountain.

The truth is that if you can put a stop to all conceptual thinking for even ten seconds in full and energetically relaxed awareness, you will attain satori. It is of the utmost importance that you attain satori quickly, while your eyes still see and ears still hear. Do not just parrot the words of the Masters without applying yourself to their meanings.

For to quote the words that Huang-Po spoke outside the experience to which those words applied is as stupid as to toil at the oars when the ship is on sand.

The True Ancient Way of Zen

Q. What is the true ancient way of Zen?

A. Bodhidharma said that it is nothing more than "seeing the self nature," chien hsing (kensho, in Japanese).

Q. That doesn't dispel the mystery for me. What is this self-nature Bodhidharma spoke of, and how do you see it?

A. When you see with your eyes, you are enlightened as to forms. When you see with your Buddha eye, you are enlightened as to the baseless and shining nature of all your experiencing. Many sutras have made statements about what this "baseless and shining nature" is or isn't, and Bodhidharma quoted some of these sutras, which say that it is the original Mind in all sentient beings. Where he departed from the sutras was in his insistence that you have to experience and realize it for yourself. That is, you have to wake up just as Shakyamuni woke up when he saw the morning star.

Q. How do I do this?

A. According to Bodhidharma, you've got to cut off thinking and abandon all fixation on forms. This brings the illusory world of samsara to a full stop. Your Mind wakes up and knows itself instantly as soon as you have accomplished this. After that you can't be imprisoned by karma anymore. Cause and effect can't touch you. You are like a dreamer who has woken up from a dream. This is the "entry by Dharma principle," which is sudden -- as opposed to the "entry by practices," which is gradual.

Q. But how? I mean, what's the method? Am I supposed to meditate with my legs crossed?

A. Bodhidharma taught "wall-gazing." You use the wall to cut off all your fixations on illusory phenomena. Other Zen Patriarchs like Daoxin taught a sitting meditation in which you turn your gaze inward onto itself and try to find the source of your awareness. Hui-Neng said that the best way to see the self-nature is to contemplate the Diamond Sutra. He said that if you hold the Diamond Sutra with all your energy, there will come a moment when thinking stops and the Dharma body becomes clear. After that, even if thoughts resume it is not a problem, because the thoughts will be pervaded by formless Prajna-wisdom.

Later Zen Masters like Pai-Chang and Huang-Po taught just stopping the arising of thoughts in all situations until you penetrate through to reality and your true mind, featureless like space, is wholly realized in all of your life and its tasks. During the subsequent Golden Age of Chan in the T'ang Dynasty, the Masters invented many energetic ways to try to stop their students' stupid, lazy compulsive thinking, including silence, shouting, hitting with a stick, uttering a meaningless phrase like "Sesame cake!" in response to questions about the Dharma, &c. Still later, the stories of the Masters' encounters with clueless students were collected into books that circulated throughout China. Some of these anecdotes, called "public cases," were collected into special handbooks that were used in training monks. Mumon Ekai and Dahui both insisted that the key to koan practice is focusing all of your Qi (bodily energy) on the koan, to hold it steadily in absolute concentration without trying to think or form any views about it.

So, if you happen to have weak, listless Qi and are incapable of sustaining one-pointed concentration for any length of time, then you had better find ways to strengthen your Qi and firm up your ability to focus your mind or you are out of luck with Zen. This perhaps explains why Masters in the Linji (Japanese, Rinzai) school mined Taoism for its wonderful store of Qi-strengthening techniques. In some places Zen students are still trained using koans, but koan training has become mechanical and nobody really believes it leads to "seeing the self-nature" anymore.

Zen is not a matter of sitting with your legs crossed, but nor is it a matter of furrowing your brow over koans from old Chinese books. The true ancient way of Zen is to wake up right now. Of course, it's always "right now" so you always have the opportunity to wake up, so long as you're alive.

Q. What's the best way to wake up right now?

A. That's what you've got to find out! Why not start here?

Zen Mind Seeing Mind

Q. What is Zen? Is it the nihilistic idea that there is nothing? Is that the"emptiness" I hear so much about?

A. The Nirvana Sutra says:
Emptiness means perceiving neither ‘empty’ nor ‘non-empty’. The natural radiance of emptiness can appear as anything at all. Since it is empty as it appears, appearance and emptiness are a unity. This can only be known by looking inwards. It is within the domain of your own self-knowing awareness-wisdom.
Zen is Bodhidharma's transmission of the Highest Truth (Tattva) outside teachings. Bodhidharma just pointed "inwards" to the treasure storehouse of bright, pure, stainless, timeless original self-knowing awareness-wisdom, aka your Mind. As Huang-Po said:
When all the Buddhas manifest themselves in the world, they proclaim nothing but the One Mind. Thus, Gautama Buddha silently transmitted to Mahakasyapa the doctrine that the One Mind, which is the substance of all things, is co-extensive with the Void and fills the entire world of phenomena. This is called the Law of All the Buddhas. Discuss it as you may, how can you even hope to approach the truth through words? Nor can it be perceived either subjectively or objectively. So full understanding can come to you only through an inexpressible mystery. The approach to it is called the Gateway of the Stillness beyond all Activity. If you wish to understand, know that a sudden comprehension comes when the mind has been purged of all the clutter of conceptual and discriminatory thought-activity. Those who seek the truth by means of intellect and learning only get further and further away from it.
There is no lineage outside of this Mind. There is no teaching or listening to teaching outside Mind either. What is Mind? It's the Buddha nature. Self-originating, self-enlightening, ultimately true and real. You can't grasp or conceptualize it; it can't be held, restrained, or put into a box. Even the Great Wall of China can't obstruct it. This Mind is not to be confused with the senses or with ideas. Yet it acts and perceives through the senses, and it is certainly the source of all ideas. "Outside of Mind there are no dharmas." Do not confuse this Mind with what it uses. Undoubtedly all that it ever uses is itself, but as soon as you conceptualize this or that function and reduce Mind to THAT, you are mistaken. Anything of which you can say "it is" is just Mind in its majestic, instantaneous functioning.

So how is it that this all-powerful Mind falls into ignorance and petty delusion, and comes to mistake itself for physical stuff? Mind itself never does; "ignorance and delusion" are names for a disease caused by enslavement to thinking, to conceptualizations that obscure it. Mind is just bright and knowing, and spontaneously acting out of its own infinite store of wisdom, in every situation.

The Sutra Requested by Kashyapa says:
Mind is not to be found within. Nor does it exist outside. And it can not be observed anywhere else.
The Sutra Requested by Maitreya says:
Mind has no shape, no color and no location. It is like space.
There is no need to train or do anything to this original Mind. What could you do to it? Only Mind is. All being is just this mind. As for physical stuff, it isn't apart from Mind, insofar it only appears in and to Mind; yet Mind is, in one sense, apart from it, transcendent to it, beyond it. Mind is "not this, not that," but rather the Way both this and that appear. As soon as you isolate some "thing" out of Mind's shockingly direct and original being, you are setting Mind against itself and getting confused. Such name-and-form thinking is the source of ignorant delusion. "All appearance is but a delusory image. Do not try to grasp or to follow such images. Try instead to see with the Buddha eye."

Q. What is Bodhidharma's "wall-gazing"?

A. It is just the direct experience of this mind. It is Mind seeing Mind without any conceptual problem. You can actually experience that your being is this mind, that all being is this Mind. It's bright and boundless. It's the blissful true reality that has never come or gone. You don't have to gaze at a wall. You can be aware of your pure awareness-wisdom in all situations, all the time.

Why Bodhidharma Came from the West

According to all the Zen Masters, only thinking obstructs the natural enlightened state (Bodhi) and the instantaneous functioning of transcendental wisdom (Prajna). Therefore, if you can cut off your thinking at will, you experience satori, sudden awakening to your true self, the brilliantly clear and pervasive Buddha nature, the "inconceivable state of the Tathagatas."

This is called "attaining the mysterious principle," and "passing the barrier of the Patriarchs." It happens like a flash of lightning, a horse galloping past an open window, the blow of a sharp cleaver.

Eventually, by making this "suchness" your normal state of being, you arrive at Daigo-Tettei, Great Enlightenment. In this condition, your mind remains empty and quiescent, no matter what sensation or image appears in and by it, like a still pond that can vividly reflect the images of flying geese. You are free of the bondage of compulsive thinking; which does not mean that thoughts do not sometimes occur, only that you do not identify with them, so they die out one after another like rootless grasses.

Whereas other people go around with furrowed brows and an absent look studying their "internal maps," or arguing about what is or is not Zen, you are perpetually alert to reality without grasping at it or trying to fix it into a defined form. You are always absorbed merely in what you are doing and what is in front of you, no concern for past or future, living playfully in a perpetual childlike state of joy and amazement. Even when you "teach" or "write" or speak to others you are just being playful, direct, forceful and serene.

At this stage there is no effort, no need to choose this over that. Everything that happens is fine. You know exactly why Bodhidharma came from the West. Your eyebrows are entangled with Lin Chi's. "The blue mountain does not obstruct the white cloud." "Bamboo of the South, wood of the North." "A blind girl on a bench in the sauna, rocking back and forth." "The red blossoms of the wild quince, the sharp trills of an oriole in the big pine."

Yunmen's eyebrows bristle on my forehead.
Ten thousand nights asleep, ten thousand dawns awake.
A bush warbler's sharp note from the peony hedge,
A lion's roar melting the hoarfrost in all eighty-eight directions.

Passing the Barrier of Zen: Mumon Ekai Explains How to Use 氣 To Attain Satori

[Once upon a time in China -- more precisely, in the autumn of 1228 -- Master Mumon Ekai compiles a book of Zen "public cases" or koans to help the monks under his direction attain satori. He places Joshu's "Mu" at the head of this collection, calling it "the front gate to Zen." He then goes on to describe precisely how to arouse and use  氣, a Chinese word meaning "energy," "spirit," "vitality," &c. in order to "pass the Zen barrier" so that you can "stride through the universe." Short of arousing the energy and vitality of your whole body and pouring it into motionless contemplation of the koan given to you by your Master, you cannot hope to cut off thinking and attain satori, and if you do not cut off thinking and attain satori you will become "a ghost clinging to the bushes and weeds." Hear it now! Put it into practice immediately! Your own realization is paramount. Nobody else can experience this satori and attain decisive liberation for you!]


If you do not pass the barrier, and do not cut off the way of thinking, then you will be like a ghost clinging to the bushes and weeds.


Now, I want to ask you, what is the barrier of the patriarchs?


Why, it is this single word "Mu." That is the front gate to Zen.


Therefore it is called the "Mumonkan of Zen."


If you pass through it, you will not only see Jõshû face to face, but you will also go hand in hand with the successive patriarchs, entangling your eyebrows with theirs, seeing with the same eyes, hearing with the same ears.


Isn't that a delightful prospect?


Wouldn't you like to pass this barrier?


Arouse your entire body with its three hundred and sixty bones and joints and its eighty-four thousand pores of the skin; summon up a spirit of great doubt and concentrate on this word "Mu."


Carry it continuously day and night. Do not form a nihilistic conception of vacancy, or a relative conception of "has" or "has not."


It will be just as if you swallow a red-hot iron ball, which you cannot spit out even if you try.

蕩盡從 前惡知惡覚、久久純熟自然内外打成—片、如唖子得夢、只許自知。

All the illusory ideas and delusive thoughts accumulated up to the present will be exterminated, and when the time comes, internal and external will be spontaneously united. You will know this, but for yourself only, like a dumb man who has had a dream.

驀然打發、驚天 動地。

Then all of a sudden an explosive conversion will occur, and you will astonish the heavens and shake the earth.


It will be as if you snatch away the great sword of the valiant general Kan'u and hold it in your hand. When you meet the Buddha, you kill him; when you meet the patriarchs, you kill them. On the brink of life and death, you command perfect freedom; among the sixfold worlds and four modes of existence, you enjoy a merry and playful samadhi.


Now, I want to ask you again, "How will you carry it out?"


Employ every ounce of your energy to work on this "Mu."


If you hold on without interruption, behold: a single spark, and the holy candle is lit!

Tracing Back the Radiance

("To Live Is To Extend Ki" by Shinichi Tohei)

Student: What is the mind of void and calm, luminous awareness?

Chinul: What has just asked me this question is precisely your mind of void and calm, luminous awareness. Why not trace back its radiance rather than search for it outside? For your benefit I will now point straight to your original mind so that you can awaken to it. Clear your minds and listen to my words.

From morning until evening, all during the 12 periods of the day, during all your actions and activities -- whether seeing, hearing, laughing, talking, whether angry of happy, whether doing evil or good -- ultimately who is it that is able to perform all these actions? Speak! If you say that it is the physical body which is acting, then at the moment when a man's life comes to an end, even though the body has not yet decayed, how is it that the eyes cannot see, the ears cannot hear, the nose cannot smell, the tongue cannot talk, the hands cannot grasp, the feet cannot run?

You should know that what is capable of seeing, hearing, moving and acting has to be your original mind; it is not your physical body. Furthermore, the four elements which make up the physical body are by nature void; they are like images in a mirror of the moon's reflection in water. How can they be clear and constantly aware, always bright and never obscured -- and, upon activation, be able to put into operation sublime functions as numerous as the sands of the Ganges? For this reason it is said: "Drawing water and carrying firewood are spiritual powers and sublime functions."

There are many points at which to enter the noumenon. I will indicate one approach which will allow you to return to the source. 
Do you hear the sound of that crow cawing and that magpie calling?

Student: Yes.

Chinul: Trace them back and listen to your hearing-nature. Do you hear any sounds?

Student: At that place, sound and discrimination do not obtain.

Chinul: Marvelous! Marvelous! This is Avalokitesvara's method for entering the noumenon [exactly as explained in the Shurangama Sutra]. Let me ask you again. You said that sounds and discrimination do not obtain at that place. But since they do not obtain, isn't the hearing-nature just empty space at such a time?

Student: Originally it is not empty. It is always bright and never obscured.

Chinul: What is this essence which is not empty?

Student: Words cannot describe it. 

See Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul's Korean Way of Zen

Master Hua: Four Stages of Practice

Silencing the Mind Reveals Wisdom

Investigating Chan requires non-movement of the mind and thoughts and this means silence. The Chan method works like the thrust of a knife, cutting right through. Because Chan investigation is apart from the mind-consciousness, it is known as putting an end to the mind. Ending the mind means ending all mental activities of the mind-consciousness. Only when all the activities of the false mind are stopped will thoughts be silenced. When that happens, we gain the power of knowing and seeing that comes with suddenly enlightening to the nonarising of all things. We then have patience with the nonarising of people and dharmas. And we certify to four stages of practice, which are heat, summit, patience, and first in the world.

1. Heat. This warm energy comes as we sit in meditation.

2. Summit. That energy rises to the crown of our head as we continue to practice.

3. Patience. It becomes very difficult to be patient, but we must still be patient.

4. First in the World. We become a world-transcending great hero.

If we want to attain these four stages, we must first learn to silence the mind. Our mind-consciousness must remain unmoving.

Our thoughts are like waves that cannot be calmed. Sitting in meditation aims at stopping the mind-consciousness from moving. Eventually, it stops naturally. Once stopped, the mind is silent. When it is completely silent, wisdom comes forth. When wisdom arises, we become self-illuminating.

When silence reaches an ultimate point,
the light penetrates everywhere.

That is the power of knowing and seeing that comes with sudden enlightenment to the non-arising of all things.

Like Flowers Planted on Rock

You must let go of both sides and cast down the middle, being in the midst of sound and form like flowers planted on rock, seeing profit and fame as dust in the eye.  If you don't stop now, when are you waiting for? 

This is why ancient sages taught people to be complete in the present; if you can get to have nothing on your mind, even Buddhas and enlightened ancestors are enemies -- all mundane things will naturally be cool and simple. 

-Zen Master Furong