CityZen is a meditation and koan practice center in Santa Rosa CA, led by Rachel Mansfield-Howlett Roshi, a lineage holder in the Pacific Zen School. We're meeting via Zoom every Monday evening for meditation, dharma talk, and discussion. Please contact Zenappt@gmail.com to receive the link to these interactive evenings.
Baling was a student of Yunmen Wenyan who established the Yunmen school of Zen that flourished for about 300 years before being absorbed into the Rinzai school. When Baling took up residence as a teacher, he did not create a document of succession for his students. He only used three turning phrases as the way to attain the essence of the Yunmen school.
A person of the way asked, "What is the Tao?"
Baling responded, "A clear-eyed person falls into a well."
A person of the way asked, "What is the blown-feather sword that cuts away delusion?"
Baling responded, "Each Coral branch of coral holds up the moon."
A person of the way asked, "What is old-lady Zen?"
Baling responded, "Fresh snow in a silver bowl."
Yunmen said, "In future, on my remembrance day, just restate these three turning phrases, then you will have repaid my benevolence."
Followers of the Way, as I look at it, we’re no different from Shakyamuni. In all our various activities each day, is there anything we lack? The wonderful light of the six senses has never for a moment ceased to shine. If you could just look at it this way, then you’d be the kind of person who has nothing to do for the rest of your life.
If you don’t have faith in yourself, then you’ll be forever in a hurry trying to keep up with everything around you, you’ll be twisted and turned by whatever environment you’re in and you can never move freely. But if you can just stop this mind that goes rushing around moment by moment looking for something, then you’ll be no different from the ancestors and buddhas. Do you want to get to know the ancestors and buddhas? They’re none other than you, the people standing in front of me listening to this Dharma talk!
If you want to be no different from the ancestors and buddhas, then never look for something outside yourselves. A moment of pure light in your mind —that is the Dharmakaya, the Essence-body of the Buddha lodged in you. A moment of undifferentiated light in your mind —that is the Samboghakaya, the Bliss-body of the Buddha lodged in you. A moment of nondiscriminating light in your mind—that is the Nirmanakaya, the Transformation-body of the Buddha lodged in you. These three types of bodies are you, the person who stands before me now!
What is it, then, that knows how to preach or listen to the Dharma? It is you who are right here before my eyes, this lone brightness without fixed shape or form —this is what knows how to preach the Dharma and listen to the Dharma. If you can see it this way, then you’ll be no different from the ancestors and buddhas. As I see it, there are none of you incapable of profound understanding, none of you incapable of emancipation.
Followers of the Way, this thing called mind has no fixed form; it penetrates all the ten directions. In the eye we call it sight, in the ear we call it hearing; in the nose it detects odors, in the mouth it speaks words; in the hand it grasps, in the feet it runs along. Basically it is a single bright essence, but it divides itself into these six functions. And because this single mind has no fixed form, it is everywhere in a state of emancipation.
Just get so you can follow along with circumstances and use up your old karma. When the time comes to do so, put on your clothes. If you want to walk, walk. If you want to sit, sit. But never for a moment set your mind on seeking buddhahood. Why? A person of old said, “If you try to create good karma and seek to be a buddha, then Buddha will become a sure sign you will remain in the realm of birth and death.”
Followers of the Way, the Dharma of the buddhas calls for no special undertakings. Just act ordinary, without trying to do anything particular. If, wherever you are, you take the role of host, then whatever spot you stand in will be a true one. Then whatever circumstances surround you, they can never pull you awry. You don’t have to strive for benefits, benefits will come of themselves. Even if you’re faced with bad karma left over from the past, or the five crimes that bring on the hell of incessant suffering, these will of themselves become the great sea of emancipation.
As I see it, there’s no Buddha, no living beings, no long ago, no now. If you want to get it, you’ve already got it —it’s not something that requires time. There’s no religious practice, no enlightenment, no getting anything, no missing out on anything. At no time is there any other Dharma than this.
Followers of the Way, this lone brightness before my eyes now, this person plainly listening to me—this person is unimpeded at any point but penetrates the ten directions, free to do as you please in the threefold world. No matter what environment you may encounter, with its peculiarities and differences, you cannot be swayed or pulled awry. In the space of an instant you make your way into the Dharma-realm. If you meet a buddha you preach to the buddha, if you meet an ancestor you preach to the ancestor, if you meet a hungry ghost you preach to the hungry ghost. You go everywhere, wandering through many lands, yet never become separated from your single thought. Every place is clean and pure to you, your light pierces the ten directions, the ten thousand phenomena are a single thusness.
If you want to be free to be born or die, to go or stay as one would put on or take off a garment, then you must understand right now that the person here listening to the Dharma has no form, no characteristics, no root, no beginning, no place you abide, yet you are vibrantly alive. All the ten thousand kinds of contrived happenings operate in a place that is in fact no place. Therefore the more you search the farther away you get, the harder you hunt the wider astray you go. This is what I call the secret of the matter.
The way I see it, one shouldn’t be averse to anything. Suppose you yearn to be a sage. Sage is just a word, sage. There are some types of students who go off to Mount Wu-t’ai looking for Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom. They’re wrong from the very start! Would you like to get to know Manjushri? You here in front of my eyes, carrying out your activities, from first to last never changing, wherever you go never doubting —this is the living Manjushri!
Your mind that each moment shines with the light of nondiscrimination —wherever it may be, this is the true Samantabhadra, the bodhisattva of action. Your mind that each moment is capable of freeing itself from its shackles, everywhere emancipated—this is the method of meditating on Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion. These three act as host and companion to one another, all three appearing at the same time when they appear, one in three, three in one.
Followers of the Way, here and there you hear it said that there is a Way to be practiced, a Dharma to become enlightened to. Will you tell me then just what Dharma there is to become enlightened to, what Way there is to practice? In your present activities, what is it you lack, what is it that practice must mend?
What are you looking for? This person of the Way who depends on nothing, here before my eyes now listening to the Dharma—your brightness shines clearly, you have never lacked anything.
Adapted from Burton Watson, The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi Among the most important texts of Zen literature is The Lin-chi Lu, which details the insights and exploits of the great ninth-century Chinese Zen master Lin-chi, one of the most highly regarded of the T'ang period masters.
One day the poet Shangu was visiting Huitang Zuxin. Huitang said, “You know the passage in which Confucius says, ‘My friends, do you think I’m hiding things from you? In fact, I am hiding nothing from you.’ It’s just the same with the Great Matter of Zen. Do you understand this?”
“I don’t understand,” Shangu replied
Later, Huitang and Shangu were walking in the mountains where the air was filled
with the scent of the sweet-olive* blossoms. Huitang asked, “Do you smell the fragrance of the blossoms?”
Shangu said, “I do.”
Huitang said, “You see, I’m hiding nothing from you.”
At that moment Shangu was enlightened. Two months later he visited Sixin Wuxin. Sixin greeted him and said, “I’ll die and you’ll die and we’ll end up burnt into two heaps of ashes. At that time, where will we meet?”
Shangu, uncertain, could not respond. Later, while on the road to Qiannan, he awoke from a nap and suddenly understood what Sixin meant. Thereafter he attained the Samadhi of perfect freedom.
*The Sweet-Olive of the koan appears to be Osmanthus fragrans a native of Asia and one of the olive family also commonly known as Tea-Olive, Fragrant-Olive or Sweet Osmanthus.
Bring spring flowers for the altar, pour sweet tea over the baby Buddha's head, have cake, celebrate life and springtime!
“In the scenery of spring, nothing is better, nothing worse; the flowering branches are of themselves, some short, some long.” – Ryokan
Most of the time we live on top of our life – going and doing, getting and having, taking stances and issuing judgments and opinions.
In Zen, we’re not very interested in supporting the rightness of our view, but in opening the door to what our life can be like when we’re not operating from within our usual stances. We find our refuge in what’s underneath life, what’s always resting just beneath the surface.
In the spring, life bursts forth once again. From what appears to be dry lifeless branches come plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, western red bud, and horse chestnut! Each time we encounter it, it’s a surprise. I think it’s true that if we can just do one thing truly, whether it’s washing a dish or really listening to the bell, we can be free, we can discover the springtime of our own life.
We come not to escape from the world but from the weight of our judgments and opinions about it, to experience again what it is to be human.
In these two spring poems by Onitsura we can experience this simply as things being right just as they are.
In honor of the last week of winter we're considering the following koan.
An old teacher once said, "Good Snowflake!" "It doesn't fall in any other place."
Please sit with the koan, let it follow you about during your usual activities this week, and see what it has to offer. We'll discuss following this week's meditation on Thursday night. Like a warm blanket on a cold day, this old teacher reminds me that, in all our comings and goings, we are always in the right place.