Dharma Discourses

All the Ancestors Are Like This

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by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Roshi

The True Dharma Eye, Case 101

Nanyue’s “Its Not Like Something”

Main Case

Zen master of Nanyue went to study with the Sixth Ancestor, Huineng. The Sixth Ancestor said: “Where are you from?” Nanyue said, “I came from National Teacher Huian.”

The Sixth Ancestor said, “What is it that has come like this?” Nanyue could not answer.

He attended on the master for eight years and worked on this question. One day he said to the Huineng, “Now I understand it. When I first came to study with you, you asked me, ‘What is it that has come like this?’ The Sixth Ancestor said, “How do you understand it?” Nanyue said, “To say it’s like something misses it.” Huineng said, “Does it depend upon practice and enlightenment?”

Nanyue said, “It’s not that there is no practice and enlightenment. It’s just that we should not be defiled by them.”

The Sixth Ancestor said, “Just this non-defilement is what buddhas have maintained and transmitted. You are like this. I am like this. All the ancestors in India were like this.”

Verse

Blue sky, bright sun

there is no distinguishing east from west.

Yet acting in accord with the imperative

still requires dispensing medicine when the sickness appears.

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The Immoveable Spot

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by Jody Hojin Kimmel
Originally published in Mountain Record journal: Zazen (2013)

Just resting is like the great ocean accepting hundreds of streams all absorbed in one flavor. A practitioner of the way follows movement and responds to changes in total harmony. Moreover, haven’t you yourself established the mind that thinks up all the illusory conditions? This insight must be perfectly incorporated. Discontinue leaks and do not act on them.

— Master Hongzhi

Cultivating the Empty Field

How do we leak the vital energy we need for spiritual awakening? What do we have to do to, “discontinue the leaks and not act on them,” as Master Hongzhi teaches? 

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The Unspoken Thing

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by Bonnie Myotai Treace, Sensei
Originally published in Mountain Record journal: “Practicing the Edge” (2001)

In the space between desire and despair, between holding and letting go; between clinging and release, in this space is the unspoken thing. The thing that lives.

—Lives of the Monster Dogs

I’ve been working over the last few weeks with family members as they make a memorial visit to Ground Zero. The trips begin at the Family Assistance Center on Dock 94, where death certificates are being issued and other support services can be arranged. The Center is very big and very busy. From there we get on a ferry that goes down river to the World Trade Center site. On the water there are gunboats everywhere you look, and on board there is significant security. The wind blows brisk and the river incongruously glistens, and on the way the clergy and mental health workers make what connections they can with the families, offering support or space as needed.

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Photo by Blue Eyes 94

Practice and Resilience

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by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Roshi


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FROM THE RECORD OF MASTER YANGSHAN

Ho-shang Mi of Ching-chao sent a monastic to ask Yangshan: “Right in this very moment are you dependent on enlightenment?”

Yangshan said “There is no absence of enlightenment. Why fall into the secondary?”

Ho-shang Mi was a peer of Master Yangshan, a very important Chinese master in our lineage. Here he asks, right in this moment are you dependent upon enlightenment?

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Photo by Kevin Harber

What Do You Call it?

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by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Roshi


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Book of Serenity Case 74

Fayan’s Non-Abiding

The Pointer

Plenty has myriad virtues; swept clear, there’s not a mote of dust.
Detached from all forms, identical to all things: taking a step atop a hundred foot pole,
the universe in all directions is one’s whole body—but tell me, where does it come from?

Main Case

A monk asked Fayan, “I hear that in the teachings there is a saying‚
‘From a non-abiding basis are established all things.’
What is the non-abiding basis?”
Fayan said, “Form arises before substantiation,
names arise from before naming.”

Verse

Without tracks, No news
The white clouds are rootless—What color is the pure breeze?
Spreading the canopy of the sky, mindless,
Holding the carriage of the earth, powerful;
Illumining the profound source of a thousand ages,
Making patterns for ten thousand forms.
Meetings for enlightenment in the atoms of all lands
in each place is Samantabhadra:
The door of the tower opens
everywhere is Maitreya.

 

The enlightened path is to practice and awaken to the Buddha mind that each and every one of us possesses. Though it is our very nature—it is never apart even for an instant—to directly realize this truth is both subtle and profound. To engage the teachings that point to self-nature is also a challenge. There are teachings that are challenging and so we need to engage them thoughtfully and carefully, and take time trying to understand what they are saying. This means that in the beginning we are using our rational mind to reflect on and understand conceptually what the dharma is pointing to—something that is itself, beyond all concepts and knowing.

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Photo by CBS Fan

Words and Phrases

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by Vanessa Zuisei Goddard Sensei


The poet Wallace Stevens wrote:

After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
No was the night. Yes is this present sun.

The last line of the poem reads, “It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.” Is this true, that the mind can never be satisfied? From a conventional perspective, from the perspective of desire, we would say, “Yes, it’s true.” The mind always wants more and more, and this endless wanting  keeps the sense of self going. As Annie Dillard once said, the mind wants to live forever. But is it possible for the mind to be satisfied—to know itself as complete and without lack?

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photo by Chizen Brown, MRO

With Nothing to Call My Own

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by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Roshi

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Book of Serenity Case 14

Attendant Huo Passes Tea

The Pointer

Probing pole in hand, shadowing grass around him, sometimes he wraps a ball of silk in iron, sometimes he wraps a special stone with silk. To determine the soft by means of the hard is of course right; what about the matter of being weak when meeting strength?

Main Case

Attendant Huo asked Deshan, “Where have all the sages since antiquity gone?”
Deshan said, “What? How’s that?”
Huo said, “The order was for a ‘flying dragon’ horse but a ‘lame tortoise’ shows up.” Deshan let it rest.
The next day when Deshan came out of the bath, Huo passed him some tea.
Deshan patted Huo on the back. Huo said, “This old fellow has finally gotten a glimpse.” Again Deshan let the matter rest

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Photo By Bill Kando Johnston, MRO

Ask the One Who Knows

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by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Roshi

Gateless Gate Case 47

Doushuai’s Three Barriers

Main Case

Master Doushuai made three barriers to test his students.
To inquire after the truth, groping your way through the underbrush, is
  for the purpose of seeing your nature.  Here, now, where is your nature,
  Venerable Monk?
If you realize your own nature, you are certainly free from life and death.
  When your eyes are closed, how can you be free from life and death?
If you are free from life and death, you know where you will go. When the
  four elements are decomposed, where do you go?

Commentary

If you can rightly give the three turning words here, you will be the master wherever you may be, and live up to the Dharma no matter how varied the circumstances. If, however, you are unable to give them, I warn you, you will get tired of the food you have bolted, and well-chewed food keeps hunger away.

Verse

This one instant, as it is, is an infinite number of kalpas
An infinite number of kalpas are at the same time this one instant.
If you see into this fact,
The True Self which is seeing has been seen into.

If you’re free from life and death you know where you will go. When the four elements are decomposed, where do you go? This is the question that human beings have likely been asking since the beginning of our creation. Having a life force, what happens when we die? In death, where do we go?

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Photo by Michael Levine-Clark

Ma-tsu’s White and Black

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by Bonnie Myotai Treace, Sensei

Book of Equanimity, Case 6

Ma-tsu’s White and Black

A Stage Whisper:
Where you can’t open your mouth, a tongueless person can speak; where you lift your feet without rising, a legless person can walk. If you fall within their range and die at the phrase, how can you have any freedom? When the four mountains all oppress you, how can you penetrate to freedom?

Main Case:
A monastic asked Great Master Ma-tsu, “Apart from the four propositions and beyond the hundred negations, please directly point out the meaning of living Buddhism.” Ma-tsu said, “I’m tired today and can’t explain for you. Go ask Zhizhang.”
The monastic asked Zhizhang; Zhizhang said, “Why don’t you ask the teacher?”
>The monastic said, “The teacher told me to come ask you.” Zhizhang said, “I have a headache today and can’t explain for you. Ask Brother Hai.”
The monastic asked Hai, who said, “When I come this far, after all I don’t understand.”
The monastic related all this back to Ma-tsu. Ma-tsu said, “Zang’s head is white, Hai’s head is black.”

Verse:

Medicine working as illness—
It is mirrored in the past sages.
Illness working as medicine—
Sure, but who is it?
White head, black head—capable heirs of the house. Statement or no statement—
the ability to cut off the flow. Clearly sitting,
cutting off the road of speech and explanation.
Laughable is the old ancient awl at Vaisali.

This is one of the “Nanto“ koans, a variety of koan that is traditionally classified as difficult to pass through. Nanto koans demand a raw and wide presentation, and will be alive with a student for a student’s whole life, never settling into the comfort zone. This koan of Ma-tsu deals with the issue of existence itself. It takes up the basic matter of life and death—not just our physical death in the future—but also that undermining and ongoing sense of our present insubstantiality, the sense one can have of not being able to quite grasp a continuous self. It sends us looking for our life, bouncing off our ideas and formulations, right along with this earnest monk.

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Photo by David McNamera, MRO

This is the Way I Express My Gratitude

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by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Roshi

In the Mountains and Rivers Order we have two paths by which a student can practice and realize Buddhadharma—a lay training path and a monastic path. These make up the fourfold sangha as established by the Buddha: female and male monastics, and female and male lay students. The lay and monastic students together create an interdependent and co-dependent body that is sangha. Each path has its own integrity and is mutually dependent upon the other, and the differences between the two paths helps to give each its vitality.

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