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Entries in Zen Buddhism (22)


Trust Practice, Practice Trust

The genius of what the Buddha taught is that waking up does not depend upon his or anyone else’s realization. It does not rely upon a belief system, dogma, or doctrine. He encouraged us to find out for ourselves about the true nature of reality, which is dependent upon nothing whatsoever.

Master Rinzai says, “If your faith is insufficient, you will keep on wandering in confusion. No matter what the circumstances, you will be controlled and led around by others. You will not find freedom. ...Because you don’t have enough confidence in yourselves, you search outwardly.”

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In Translation: This Mountain Monk’s View

In Rinzai Roku (The Book of Rinzai), there is a saying that goes, All of them depend on grasses and leaves, like ghosts who cling to bamboo and trees. This refers to evil spirits, but also to those who go through their lives without knowing what to do. It seems to me that modern society is producing such people one after the other, while they themselves are not even aware of it. I suspect that Muishitsu Eido Roshi, the abbot of Dai Bosatsu Zendo in America was motivated by this recent phenomenon to take on the challenge of translating Rinzai Roku into English [The Book of Rinzai: The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Rinzai (Linji), Zen Studies Society, 2005]. While guiding his monks and lay students, after many years of struggle, at last this project is completed.

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What More Need You Seek?

Followers of the Way: People say, “There is a Way to practice, there is a Dharma to realize.” What Dharma would you realize and what Way would you practice? What is lacking in your activity right now? What is there to be fixed? Young, immature practitioners, not knowing this important point, believe in wild fox spirits and listen to all their deceitful teachings. They allow others to be bound by false beliefs, saying, “Principle and practice are in correspondence. The three karmas must be carefully taken care of. Then at last you can attain buddhahood.” Those who preach in this way are as many as the thin drops of spring rain.

A man of old said, “If you meet an outstanding man of the Way on the road, you must not even mention the word ‘Way.’”

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The Zen Priest’s Koan

The occasion of a priest ordination always brings up questions about what it means to be ordained. We can look at this by examining what ordination has meant in Zen tradition, and also by considering our practice in the present day.

When I was about to be ordained in 1969, I asked Suzuki Roshi what it meant to be ordained as a priest and what I should do. He said, “I don't know."

Then I asked Katagiri Sensei, and he said, "Oh, I don't know."

I hadn't asked to be ordained. Suzuki Roshi asked me to, and I was quite surprised when he did. I thought that since he asked me, he would at least tell me what to do. But he didn't tell me much. At that time there were few American priests at the San Francisco Zen Center; I was only the fifth person to be ordained. The first one had left the center, two were in Japan, and the fourth was out of sight. So I didn't have any role models, except for our Japanese priests: Suzuki Roshi, Katagiri Sensei, Chino Sensei, and Yoshimura Sensei.

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Mind Is Buddha

Damei once asked Master Mazu, “What is buddha?” Mazu answered, “Mind is buddha.”

Wumen’s Commentary

If you can at once grasp “it,” you are wearing buddha clothes, eating buddha food, speaking buddha words, and living buddha life; you are a buddha yourself. Though this may be so, Damei has misled a number of people and let them trust a scale with a stuck pointer. Don’t you know that you have to rinse out your mouth for three days if you have uttered the word “buddha”? If you are a real Zen person, you will stop your ears and rush away when you hear, “Mind is buddha.”

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A Zen Demonstration

It is enlightenment nature.

Above is the dwelling place of all buddhas.

Below are the six realms of existence.
One by one, each thing is complete.
One by one, each thing has it.
It and dust interpenetrate.
It is already apparent in all things.
So, without cultivation, you are already complete—
Understand, understand.
Clear, clear.

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Love Letters Sent by the Wind

“A single night of love is better than a hundred thousand years of sterile meditation,” he wrote. The life and poetry of Ikkyu, from Wild Ways: Zen Poems of Ikkyu, translated by John Stevens and published by White Pine Press.

Ikkyu, born as the sun rose on the first day of 1394, was rumored to have been sired by the emperor Gokomatsu. His mother, a member of the influential Fujiwara clan, had been one of Gokomatsu’s attendants at court, but she had been slandered by the empress and subsequently ousted from the palace prior to Ikkyu’s birth.

Being in such difficult circumstances, Ikkyu’s mother was obliged to send him at age five to Ankoku-ji, a Rinzai temple in Kyoto, to be raised by the monks. The precocious little acolyte quickly distinguished himself at the monastery, attaining renown at an early age for both his keen mind and his impish behavior.

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Deep in the Present Moment

Born in 1938 to a well-respected family on the Mekong River Delta, Sister Chan Khong learned at a young age the importance of caring for the sick, the hungry and the powerless. Her grandfather told her, “We have no money to leave you, but we bequeath you the merit we have earned from helping people in need.” She first went to help the poor at age 18.

In 1964 Khong, then a twenty-six-year-old biology teacher, helped Thich Nhat Hanh establish an organization to bring medical facilities, school supplies and other essential equipment to war-ravaged rural Vietnam. A few years later she traveled with him to Paris as part of the Buddhist Peace Delegation, trying to influence the peace talks aimed at ending the Vietnam War. Their desire for sanity and peace in the world led to the founding of Plum Village, a retreat center in France. Their sangha now includes major centers in California and Vermont.

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Eyes Are Horizontal, Nose Is Vertical, Where Is Your Problem?

    A monk asked Yakusan Igen-zenji, “I have a problem. Would you please solve it for me?”
    Yakusan said, “Come in the evening. I will solve your problem.”
    That evening, all the monks gathered in the Dharma Hall. Yakusan addressed them: “Is there anyone here who needs to solve a problem?”
    The monk approached Yakusan. Yakusan descended the platform, seized him and said, “Everybody, look at him! He has a problem!” Yakusan pushed the monk away and returned to his quarters.

    Genro’s comment:
    What Yakusan did seems rough, but if you examine his action carefully, his answer was perfectly matching. Even if all the buddhas of the three worlds came out, not one could change it. Why is this so? This monk has a problem. If he cannot solve it by himself, let him look at the peak of the mountain where clouds are floating. Let him look at the river where the water is rushing quickly.

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In the Natural Readiness of Time

Eido Roshi has been continuously at the center of Buddhism in America—watching it, helping it grow—longer than any other living person. He has taught Zen to Americans for almost half a century, and so it is not surprising he takes a long view of how American Buddhism, to which he has devoted his life, will come to be. Not for him our impatience to “spread the dharma.” For Eido Roshi, the development of a genuine Buddhist tradition in the West must be natural and slow—centuries long, even. But to doubt that it will happen, he says, or to rush or strategize it, is to show a lack of trust in the dharma. I was joined in this discussion by Peter Turner, president of Shambhala Publications, someone who also thinks deeply about Buddhism’s future. Our conversation with Eido Roshi changed my understanding of the task before Buddhists in the West in a way that is both a joy and a relief.

—Melvin McLeod

Buddhadharma: As Buddhism has progressed in the West, it has adopted a diversity of forms, some highly adapted to contemporary life, others quite traditional. From your perspective, what is the relationship between the outward forms of Buddhism and its essence?

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