261.


In Memoriam

1. During a Mondo, someone asked my late first teacher Nancy about Master Tozan.

Nancy said to this person 'Is Tozan here, or not?'

The person said -  'He's not here'. Nancy struck him, playfully.

Then she asked again: 'Is Master Tozen here?'

The person said 'He is here'. Nancy struck him again.


Alive or dead? Nancy? Tozan? You and me?


2. The ignorant person thinks that this person, whom they call their self, is their possession; and where this person appears in the heart or eye or mind of someone else, then this simply is echo, or shadow

But this person is not a half finished fortification.

This person is multitudes. Being is numberless.

 

 

 
Practice Instruction

 

When we talk about zazen, we need to be careful that our instructions do not casually reinforce the habitual dualities of body/mind and self/world. Yet, the most common instruction that newcomers are given does exactly this, the injunction to allow thoughts to come and go freely.

Perhaps we give this instruction because newcomers are always surprised and distressed at the unrelenting cascade of drivel that appears to be surging through them the moment they start sitting. But zazen is the practice of all of us, not just the mind.

After a while, what becomes more apparent is the persistent colouring of experience in a way that is often very disagreeable: agitation, fear, torpor, boredom, despair. How do we advise the student then? If we call these emotions, we somehow allocate them to the mind. If we call them disturbances of the nervous system, we somehow allocate them to the body. Either way, the duality is enforced.

We need to find a way to talk about practice which doesn’t take these familiar dualities for granted, only to try to dissolve them later.

One way is through the actual experience of breathing. If we pay careful attention, it is not that our breath is the movement of air in and out of our lungs, in and out of our mouth and nose. Our actual experience is that our breath goes everywhere. It goes up, into our head, it goes down, into our pelvis. It extends everywhere.

And, experiencing the breath in this way, it is possible to see a different duality: the dynamic movement of this spacious breath, like an expanding and contracting pillar of emptiness at our core. And around this pillar, likewise alive, likewise moving, the fabric of form; a fabric which is sometimes the body, sometimes the mind, sometimes the heart, sometimes the world.

 

 

 
260.


If you were to ask someone to give an example of Buddhist doctrine, the example given may well be ‘the Buddhist doctrine of no-self’.

But actually that isn't true, in two senses.

Firstly, at no point in the sutras or anywhere else did the Buddha either deny the self or affirm the self.

He just pointed out that our ideas of what the self is are incoherent and contradictory, and whether or not the self existed, we couldn’t find it in any of the familiar places.

And he did this because thinking in terms of self and world is obviously dualistic; but likewise thinking in terms of no self and world is dualistic too.

It is as if one sketched out an outline of a person, filled it up with imaginary karma, and called the whole thing ‘self’. And you then took that content away, simply leaving the outline again, and this time filled up the space with imaginary enlightenment. What is the difference, really?

And this is the second sense. There isn’t ‘Buddhist doctrine’ in the normal sense, because the heart of Buddhism isn’t within the conceptual realm.

If our understanding is theoretical then our liberation will also be theoretical.

 

 

 
259.


"The Buddha's true dharma body is just like space.
Manifesting its form according to circumstances,
It is like the moon in water."

This  passage from the Nirvana Sutra talks about the relation between the particular and the universal, the concrete and the spiritual. And, by necessary implication, how we should practice.

"The Buddha's true body is just like space": space is boundless. It extends everywhere. It is not the air. It is not like water. When objects appear, when people appear, they don't displace space; because there is nowhere that space doesn't reach, there is nowhere extra for it to go to.

So the person, from this perspective, is both person and space. John, Michael, Anne, Rachel, Buddha.

We do not require to exclude the personal, the particular, the phenomenal to attain the universal, that is delusion. The particular is the universal. And vice versa.

"It is like the moon in water" : the moon is a common metaphor for enlightenment, Buddha. And water is a common metaphor for the mind.

Moonlight and water completely interpenetrate each other. It is not that there is a moon, standing somewhere apart, casting its secondhand light upon the water. No. The moon is in the water.

That being so, do not hate or love the thoughts, emotions, sensations and reactivity which arise from moment to moment. They are not clouds obscuring the sky, they are the sky.

Because just this is everything.

 

 

 
258.


In our practice, the breath is absolutely essential.

We are scrupulous about posture because when we sit upright and balanced, the breath is liberated.

The breath is central not because it relaxes and settles us; although it does, obviously.

It is essential because it clarifies our nature.

If we pay attention to the actual experience of breathing - not a conceptual one - we realise there is nowhere that our breath doesn't reach.

It's as if our breath is this dynamic vast moving space at our centre.

And the body is draped around it. 

We are not this body in space. We are space.

There is no clear divide between the space inside and the space outside.

So to actualise this space inside us is to actualise all space; not as something abstract but as

the space between us.

 

 

 
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