Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Stateless State

Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Chan ZenSomeone asked me about the state of Chan (Zen), to which I replied, “There is no state in Chan.” I was then asked, “How does Chan appear?” I replied, “There is no way in which it appears.” Again, I was asked, “Which book should I read on Chan?” I replied, “Chan cannot be described by written words.” And again, “Is Chan the ultimate way to liberation?” I replied, “There is no ultimate, and no liberation in Chan.”

One day, Buddha Shakyamuni was about to speak to the assembly gathered at Mount Grdhrakuta when the King of Mahabrahman (a heavenly realm) respectfully made an offering of a golden utpala flower to the Buddha. Holding the flower, the Buddha paused without saying a word, which was quite unusual. A period of time passed and the tens of thousands of people and heavenly beings assembled there looked at each other, stumped in completely silence. Then, Mahākāśyapa (a.k.a. the Golden Dhuta) smiled in complete understanding and that was when the Buddha started speaking, “I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle Dharma Gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.”

This was the very origin and beginning of Chan. After the Buddha had passed into parinirvana, Mahākāśyapa became the first patriarch of Chan. He passed the lineage to Ananda, and it continued to be transmitted uninterrupted down generations of masters until the Indian Bodhidharma who is also identified as the 28th Patriarch. Bodhidharma journeyed east to China and passed the lineage to Huike, who became the second patriarch of Chinese Chan. The reason the teachings “did not stand upon words” was for fear that people would become too attached to the doctrines, causing even more delusive thoughts. It’s not that words are rejected altogether; for instance, when Bodhidharma verified that Huike’s realization of suchness (the Buddha-nature within), he also mentioned to Huike to rely on Lankavatara Sutra to practice (as it contains the basic and important element of the teachings). The sixth patriarch Huineng also relied on the Diamond Sutra to enter into prajna wisdom; the later master Yongming Yanshou compiled the famed treatise Zongjing Lu mainly to demonstrate the many skillful means available for practice but in the end there is only one path to Buddhahood.

The Tathagata (or patriarch) Chan is the most important amongst the different schools of Chan, which involves a mind-to-mind transmission from teacher to disciple. The uninitiated would not be able to grasp the teachings as they fall outside of the scriptures but are instead instructed directly by an accomplished teacher. For those who have read “Pointing at the Moon”, it is evident that each of the more than one thousand koans it contains is like a word game, an incomprehensible enigma. This is why Chan is commonly said to be the study for those with the highest capacities, because it does not follow any stages as found in other Buddhist paths. Instead, it directly points at the nature of mind in an extraordinary way, which is why it’s also called a “sudden approach”. After Bodhidharma, there were five Chinese patriarchs and after Huineng, the sixth, Chan split into the five sub-schools called Linji (Rinzai), Caodong (Soto), Guiyang, Fayan and Yunmen, which have subsequently proliferated throughout China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.

As time went on, due to the decreasing capacities and dispositions of practitioners, convenient practice methods were interjected into the Chan school e.g. the Tiantai Buddhist school’s 25 skillful means. In contrast, patriarch Chan is set apart by its natural and uninhibited ways, not requiring that one locks oneself away in retreat leaving the world behind, not needing to withdraw from noisy places. Instead, everything the practitioner does is with diligent wisdom, be it eating, sleeping, walking, conversing or being silent. Worldly activities are no different from spiritual pursuits, afflictions are one and the same as wisdom; from the moment one opens one’s eyes to closing them, all the senses are open and receptive, not trying to avoid the world, and whatever one perceives does not have any impact on their mind as in the saying, “Regardless of the myriad phenomena arising and passing, the mind remains completely unaffected.” There are neither obstructions nor restrictions, no difference between open or closed eyes, day or night; the world of five turbidities is the perfect path of practice; self and others, right and wrong, success and failure, victory and defeat - these are all sources of blessings. There is not one pore of the body that isn’t a sacred temple. The only thing one needs to guard is the seat of the mind. “A place of lush grass, but not a single familiar face” rightly demonstrates the state of freedom and liberation as taught by patriarch Chan. If we are sometimes compelled by conditions and at other times our mind can remain unmoved amidst action or stillness, there is some way to go in our practice to really master our own mind so that when it comes to facing death, we will be able to naturally go along with whatever arising conditions with our mind being completely unaffected. It is most important that we pay attention to our every single movement, thought and subconscious activities, avoiding dualistic delusive thoughts at all costs. Persevering in this way, one will eventually see one’s true mind and break through our root ignorance.

Most Buddhist Chan practitioners today depend upon external appearances in their practice. Yet, Chan practitioners cannot be attached to appearances. The entire Dharma Realm is the Pure Land of the Buddha. But what is called “Buddha” is classified as manifestation (nirmana) and as such is unreal. It arises and is extinguished according to the connections. And so from whence comes the true Buddha? The true Buddha has only a single Pure Land in a single place. That is indubitably one’s own mind. Just as master Huangbo Xiyun had said, “If only we see that our mind is the Buddha, there is nothing to be attained and no action to be performed, Such is the state of Buddhahood, the essential nature of all Buddhas.” As such, if we can be certain that our mind is Buddha, from then on diligence becomes easy.

So contemplate on the following questions, "Where do your thoughts come from? How long do they stay? How do they vanish?” The last question is the key. When you investigate to the point where you cannot go any further in tracing where the thought has gone, then you’ll have reached the beginnings of Chan. From then on, you will observe that everything you hear and see all vanish eventually, therefore there is no point in holding on to them. If you can work hard on perfecting this understanding, you’ll eventually realize the empty nature of all phenomena. But be aware that you don’t land yourself in the false understanding of emptiness. While practicing this skill, beginners should take special measures to ensure that they keep a close eye on their self-nature lest it go astray. You can first make a clear distinction between self and others. For instance, forms, sounds, smell and tastes should be regarded as external conditions. This is to say that your mind is akin to the leash and owner of a running dog, you are clearly aware of where your pet is and what’s up their sleeves. This is the first stage of governing your mind. The next step, after you become familiar with the first stage, as soon as you perceive any situation, you immediately use it as to reflect on your self nature. This is the stage where you closely guard your mind and not be influenced by external conditions but instead they become tools for training the mind. Keep practicing this till the moment of your death. Practice it when you are experiencing both happiness and sorrow, favorable circumstances and adversities. Best even, if you can guard your mind the way you protect your eyes and heart, naturally all delusive thoughts would dissolve much like ice dissolving in blazing flames.

When it comes to investigating Chan, the state of “no-mind” is of utmost importance. Because truth lies in “no-mind”. It also provides the foundation for all meditative stillness. Therefore, there is only one thing that you should dedicate to practicing, and that is, letting go. Let go of everything, even the idea of letting go. Allow your mind to stay in an effortless state. In the end, even the very notion of practicing (correcting) the mind is unattainable. That’s when the true mind appears. Numerous thoughts come and go during the course of your practice, however, do not fall prey to their temptation and be led astray. While encountering these obstacles, or so-called demonic conditions, all you need is to apply the technique expressed in the phrase, “So long as my mind is free from the myriad things, it will not be harmed by the myriad things.” Guard your mind without coveting or rejecting. While observing thoughts, the mind remains unaffected by all of the myriad phenomena that you witnesses. Demonic obstructions will deal with themselves. Perceiving all external circumstances as if they are illusions or dreams, you are not bewitched by or attached to them. Ultimately, you will enter the state expressed by the sixth patriarch in this poem, “This self-nature is originally unmovable; This self-nature is originally non-arising and non-ceasing; This self nature is originally self-sufficient; This self nature is the origin of all phenomena.” When arriving at this state, you can catch a glimpse of the true nature of all phenomena. 

This is what I, Shang Longrik Gyatso, said to a group of passionate Chan students who had happily traveled a great distance for my humble advice. If I have made any mistakes, I beg you, virtuous readers, for forgiveness.

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