Delusion and Enlightenment is the usual pairing in Zen, and in Buddhism generally, it's often Samsara and Nirvana.
Enlightenment/ Nirvana seem distinctly other, and difficult to reach, like trying to jump over a high barrier with your feet stuck in mud.

It's difficult to relate them to actual practice, and I wonder if a better pairing might be Samskara/ Nirvana.

Samskara appears everywhere, but due, possibly, to accidents of translation, it's often ignored. It's one of the five skandas for instance, variously - and unhelpfully - rendered as 'volition' 'willing' 'mental formation', among others.

But it's fundamental. It is our endless tendency to do something with our raw experience. Constructing desire, memory, a mind, a self, a world, endlessly.

Nirvana is just simply not doing that.  Just letting everything be. It's not a state, or a place, it's a non doing. It's here and now, not some place else, some other time.

Our practice is a wobbling between these two, and an illumination of that.


The Gateless Gate, Case 24

The case: a monk asked Feng- hsueh: "Speech and silence are concerned with equality and differentiation, how can I transcend equality and differentiation?"

Feng- hsueh replied: "I always think of Chiang-nan in March, Partridges chirping among the many fragrant flowers."


In this koan story, the monk is asking a clear question about Buddhist Doctrine. The master replies with what appears to be a complete non-sequitur, quoting a poem, which isn’t even his own poem. So one might imagine that the monk is asking an intellectual question and the master is trying to defeat it. But perhaps we are better seeing the monk's question as exemplifying him having a particular, heroic idea of practice. Smashing through barriers. The master is balancing - not correcting- that understanding by simply expressing his present feeling state.

If as practitioners our attention is always on progress, like a fly trying to find where there is no glass, we pay no attention to the ground,  the ground of our feeling being. Which is not heroic, but real. Not somewhere in the future, but now.

The thinking mind freezes all things, and itself. Everything can be seen yet nothing can be felt. Our practice is a kind of thawing out, a softening, despite ourself.


The Gateless Gate, Case 41

The Case:

Eko approached Bodhidharma and said 'my mind is not at peace, please pacify it'.

Bodhidharma said 'bring me your mind and I will pacify it'. 

After a while Eko said 'I've looked everywhere for my mind and I can't find it'.

Bodhidharma said 'There, I have pacified it'. 


People, looking at us, might imagine that we are trying to remove something, like a person, inside a house, might want to clear the dirt from the window to enable him to see the world clearly. But there isn't a person, and there isn't a house either. The self is the dust cloud, innocently wishing the window clear; the wound, thinking some more picking will heal it.


The Gateless Gate, Case 7

The case:
A monk said to Joshu, "I've just arrived at the monastery, please teach me".

Joshu said, "have you eaten your rice?" The monk said 'yes I have'.  Joshu said 'then wash your bowl'.


In the Chinese monasteries the monks would eat a kind of rice gruel, vegetables would be cut very small and the gruel - the rice and vegetables - would be cooked and cooked until everything interpenetrated each other. So, the gruel was a symbol for dependent origination, the whole cosmos.

And before the monks could eat, they would chant, and that chant would express gratitude for the rice and an acknowledgement of where the food came from; an acknowledgement that the whole universe was feeding them. So the gruel was also the reality of dependent origination.

Likewise, in the bowl of this bodymind, our experience, all of it, is like this rice gruel.  Our experience now, all of it, is given to us by this entire universe. If we reject it, it will putrefy. If we cling to it, it will never be digested.  To wish it different is a wrong view, because it is an expression of the whole universe, this miracle of something rather than nothing.


When we start sitting, what usually shocks is gaining an unwelcome familiarity with the mind: the inane repetition, the vacuity, the constant chatter. It's only natural if we think the aim of practice is to change this mind. To think in that way is a trap.

If we just allow all the mental activity to come and go, we realise that what we usually term 'thought' isn't free floating. It's as if it's the visible tip of a long thread, which connects to our heart and to our body. And through them, to the heart and to the body of everything. The shimmering aliveness of everything, the isness we are part of.

Our little karmic mind exists within bigger mind, the mind of practice, which is not personal to you or me, the mind shared by all practitioners; the past, now, to come.  Which holds everything


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