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Saturday, 14 March 2020 20:03

Book Of Serenity, Case 36

The case: Master Ma (Baso) was unwell. His attendant asked “Master, how are you?”. Ma replied “sun face Buddha, moon face Buddha”

Commentary: By the time of this exchange, Baso had foretold his own death, and would die shortly afterwards. Sun face Buddha had a lifespan of 1,800 years. Moon face Buddha lived just a single day and night. So, at one level Baso is talking about the dual aspect of our life: the particular and karmic, and the Universal. The same theme appears in Uchiyama’s poem (adapted):

Though poor, never poor

Though sick, never sick

Though aging, never aging

Though dying, never dying

Reality before separation:

Endless depth

but on another level, he is talking about our experience as human beings prior to that separation. In the sunlight, the vast alive body of the world is illuminated yet the light is, in a sense, invisible. In the moonlight, by contrast, everything is absorbed by the moonlight, becoming a part of it, tranquil and beautiful.

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 March 2020 13:06
 
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Wednesday, 05 February 2020 08:15

Master Dogen asked “ If the cart is stuck, do you beat the ox or beat the cart?”

In other words, what is zazen? Is it an effort to purify the mind, or is it the full effort of this body of practice to express itself fully?

And in his greatness, his unique position, he answers “the cart”.

This body of practice is not the pictured lump of flesh, it is our actual experience. Freed from this picture, whether “the mind” is agitated or peaceful is of no consequence; it is like an electron in a cathedral.

 

 
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Wednesday, 05 February 2020 08:10

Our five familiar senses stand, as it were, at the border between our body and the world, gathering information about the world. Except, other than when we are in pain, our body, apart from its surface details, is largely unknown. Not in the abstract, obviously. We have a lot of information about our body. We have a body of knowledge. But we don’t, generally, have a body of feeling.

When we do zazen, the situation changes. Our familiar senses are displaced by ones less culturally familiar. The sense of the breath moving dynamically inside us in a dance with our flesh. The sense of the aliveness of the spine uncompressing itself, like a tree expressing how it is to be upward. And the sense of balance between this body and the great earth.

These senses have nothing to do with information, and everything to do with expression and interconnection: it’s a paradox. We constantly go on about non duality, yet zazen awakens the body from the stupor of the self. And this enlivened body of expression is our bridge, both symbolic and real, to the greater body of all beings.

 

 
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Wednesday, 05 February 2020 08:03

Emptiness isn’t a description of how the world is; it’s a description of a way of seeing and being, paradigmatically when we are meditating.

In the original Pali, it just meant absence. “This place is empty of elephants” just meant that no elephants are here, but the meaning changed with the Mahayana.

In the Heart Sutra, we chant “form is emptiness, emptiness is form”, “form” being the first of the five skandas, but in the earliest of the prajnaparamita sutras, the formulation is different:

“Form is not wisdom (prajna) and wisdom is not form.

Just as with feeling, perception, will and consciousness.

They are not wisdom and wisdom is not in them.

Wisdom is like space....”

This is probably the origin of the widespread use of space/ the sky as a metaphor for emptiness, the dharmakaya, and lots more besides.

Space is “empty” because we can’t say that it either exists or doesn’t exist, and thus it becomes the exemplar of a new definition of emptiness, one where all the familiar dualities, good/bad, samsara/nirvana, delusion/enlightenment are “empty” because everything is “empty”. That is, everything arises within dependent origination.

The translation choice of “emptiness” for sunyata is unfortunate, as it suggests vacuity, nothingness, and ignores the connotations of the space metaphor: openness, freedom, brightness.

How is this relevant to our practice?

It seems to me that  space/emptiness/prajna is a good description of our experience in zazen. When we are sitting, we don’t feel we are something solid, like a block of flesh, we feel spacious. It is as if we are hanging in space. In our breathing, we are, as it were, making this space dynamic: it is moving within us. Except, our actual experience isn’t of an outside and an inside, but an interrelation of the two, our airway the connecting channel between two oceans.

 

 
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Wednesday, 05 February 2020 07:51

There are many visual metaphors in Zen which appear to be about reflection: the moon in water, the moon in a dewdrop, and the mirror. The crucial thing is not to see them dualistically: there isn’t a moon up in the sky; there isn’t a true person whose reflection in the mirror is false.

If we can see in this way, then we can see how the images are illuminating emptiness: it isn’t that a particular feature within the reflection is an illusion. Rather, it’s an illusion to regard that feature as being separate.

It is also helpful to see these metaphors as having a dual function: they both explain and describe zazen.

Sometimes we are like a mountain. Sometimes we are hanging in space. Sometimes we are a small bird, thrown upwards into the bright air.

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 February 2020 08:02
 
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