Recently I wrote about how always trying to improve yourself is foolish. Since this makes a lot of sense to me, I'm attracted to Zen Buddhism because it shares that perspective, by and large.
This attraction is long-standing.
One of my favorite Zen books, The Supreme Doctrine, has been in my hands since 1969, when I couldn't bear to return it to the San Jose Public Library while I was going to San Jose State College.
Another favorite is Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. I have the 1973 first paperback edition. A few days ago I started re-reading it after a long absence.
Shunryu Suzuki's words (the book is based on his recorded talks) always refresh and center me.
These days I have minimal tolerance for spiritual books that aren't grounded in here-and-now physical reality. I've had my fill of supernatural bullshit.
Zen is notorious for cutting through the crap. I like all of the many Zen books that grace the Buddhist section of my bookshelf.
But there's something about Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind that really appeals to me. Here's some quotations from the initial chapters that I've read the past few days. Zazen means meditation.
For Zen students the most important thing is not to be dualistic. Our "original mind" includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self-sufficient state of mind.
This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few.
In the beginner's mind there is no thought, "I have attained something." All self-centered thoughts limit our vast mind.
This is the most important teaching: not two, and not one. Our body and mind are not two and not one. If you think your body and mind are two, that is wrong. If you think that they are one, that is also wrong. Our body and mind are both two and one.
That is why Buddha could not accept the religions existing at his time. He studied many religions, but he was not satisfied with their practices. He could not find the answer in asceticism or in philosophies. He was not interested in some metaphysical existence, but in his own body and mind, here and now.
And when he found himself, he found that everything that exists has Buddha nature. That was his enlightenment. Enlightenment is not some good feeling or some particular state of mind. The state of mind that exists when you sit in the right posture is, itself, enlightenment.
When we practice zazen our mind always follows our breathing. When we inhale, the air comes into the inner world. When we exhale, the air goes out to the outer world. The inner world is limitless, and the outer world is also limitless.
We say "inner world" or "outer world," but actually there is just one whole world. In this limitless world, our throat is like a swinging door. The air comes and goes out like someone passing through a swinging door.
If you think, "I breathe," the "I" is extra. There is no you to say "I." What we call "I" is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale. It just moves; that is all. When your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this movement, there is nothing: no "I," no world, no mind nor body; just a swinging door.
So when we practice zazen, all that exists is the movement of the breathing, but we are aware of this movement.
If you want to obtain perfect calmness in your zazen, you should not be bothered by the various images you find in your mind. Let them come, and let them go. Then they will be under control. But this policy is not so easy. It sounds easy, but it requires some special effort. How to make this effort is the secret of practice.
The only effort that will help you is to count your breathing, or to concentrate on your inhaling and exhaling. We say concentration, but to concentrate your mind on something is not the true purpose of Zen.
The true purpose is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes.
The true understanding is that the mind includes everything; when you think something comes from outside it means only that something appears in your mind. Nothing outside yourself can cause any trouble.
You yourself make the waves in your mind. If you leave your mind as it is, it will become calm. This mind is called big mind.
Strictly speaking, any effort we make is not good for our practice because it creates waves in our mind. It is impossible, however, to attain absolute calmness of our mind without any effort. We must make some effort, but we must forget ourselves in the effort we make.
In this realm there is no subjectivity or objectivity. Our mind is just calm, without even any awareness. In this unawareness, every effort and every idea and thought will vanish.
So it is necessary for us to encourage ourselves and to make an effort up to the last moment, when all effort disappears. You should keep your mind on your breathing until you are not aware of your breathing.
We say, "A good father is not a good father." Do you understand? One who thinks he is a good father is not a good father; one who thinks he is a good husband is not a good husband.
But so long as you think, "I am doing this," or "I have to do this," or "I must attain something special." you are actually not doing anything. When you give up, when you no longer want something, or when you do not try to do anything special, then you do something When there is no gaining idea in what you do, than you do something.
If you continue this simple practice every day you will obtain a wonderful power. Before you attain it, it is something wonderful, but after you obtain it, it is nothing special. It is just you yourself, nothing special.
As a Chinese poem says, "I went and I returned. It was nothing special. Rozan famous for its misty mountains; Sekko for its water."
People think it must be wonderful to see the famous range of mountains covered by mists, and the water said to cover all the earth. But if you go there you will just see water and mountains. Nothing special.
"In the beginner's mind there is no thought, "I have attained something." All self-centered thoughts limit our vast mind."
And in the practitioners mind there is no thought," I have attained nothing," for the same reason : all self - centered thoughts limit our tiny snd non - existant mind.
Take" I" and "me" out of it.
There is no room for "me" there or here. It's just an illusion. As is here and there.
And great joy in that.
And in the words of my wise nephew, "comparisons are odious".
Posted by: Spence Tepper | October 18, 2021 at 10:55 PM
All these books om meditation, books to be found in spiritual book shops, discourses to be listened to on Youtube, they all talk about what the reader / listener should do in order .....
The readers talk about the content of books, the persons that wrote the book, what others have to say about it and tell others their verdict as it is worthwhile to read it or not.
The readers seldom practice what they read, seldom look into the mirror and ...read their own books, comment on them.
People can talk for hours about this or that mystic, this or that teaching, but asked to talk about themselves as student, seeker, disciple ... most fall silent and are not able or willing to answer the most simple questions about themselves and their motives.related to mysticism.
The secret of any success and/or failure on any form of meditation is to be found THERE inside the consumer of spirituality.
It is to be compared with people that talk and write about the owner of a restaurant, the staf serving people, the chefs cooking the meals, the other guests and what is written about it in opiniated media, by columnists and interested book writers ...... there is hardly a book to be found that discusses the EATER, the GUEST and his capacities to taste, appreciate, digest and enjoy food.
There has been an study by the WFO of UNESCO about the possible best dieet to feed humanity. At the end of there conclusion that the Mediterranean diet was the best the sum up all the qualities of that diet ... but ....in the very last sentence they make a remarkable twist in suggesting that ... the way the food was grown, prepared and above all consumed in pleasure, would be the key to health
Posted by: um | October 19, 2021 at 01:16 AM
Interesting that you appreciate the zen approach. I also find that zen reflects much of what science - particulary the science of the brain/mind/self findings most compatible with zen psychology.
The piece you quote on 'seeing things as they are being the true purpose of zen', is very relative to serious enquireres - though easily passed over in the labrinth of our busy and often confused minds.
I have read several books on zen and find the message of understanding the mind underlies them all. I think it was Dogen who said, "To study Buddhism is to study the self". Zen is l think, a worthwhile study.
Posted by: Ron E. | October 19, 2021 at 03:27 AM
Ron E. writes: "I have read several books on zen and find the message of understanding the mind underlies them all. I think it was Dogen who said, "To study Buddhism is to study the self". Zen is l think, a worthwhile study."
It is incredibly easy to misread the writings of past mystics, explorers of consciousness, deep meditators etc.
For example, one could easily conflate Brian's message of "Always trying to improve yourself is foolish" with the Zen teachings, despite, imo, their being so many, many miles apart in truth. Buddha repeatedly warned that he was NOT teaching the form of materialistic nihilism that Brian advocates, despite even in his own lifetime people coming to this "wrong view" of his teachings. Neither does Zen, but one needs a deeper familiarity with the teachings AND their socio-cultural-linguistic context to fully understand this.
"The way is originally perfect and all-pervading. How could it be contingent on practice and realization? The true vehicle is self-sufficient. What need is there for special effort? Indeed, the whole body is free from dust. Who could believe in a means to brush it clean? It is never apart from this very place; what is the use of traveling around to practice? And yet, if there is a hairsbreadth deviation, it is like the gap between heaven and earth. If the least like or dislike arises, the mind is lost in confusion. Suppose you are confident in your understanding and rich in enlightenment, gaining the wisdom that knows at a glance, attaining the Way and clarifying the mind, arousing an aspiration to reach for the heavens. You are playing in the entranceway, but you are still short of the vital path of emancipation.
Consider the Buddha: although he was wise at birth, the traces of his six years of upright sitting can yet be seen. As for Bodhidharma, although he had received the mind-seal, his nine years of facing a wall is celebrated still. If even the ancient sages were like this, how can we today dispense with wholehearted practice?
Therefore, put aside the intellectual practice of investigating words and chasing phrases, and learn to take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will manifest. If you want to realize such, get to work on such right now."
Dōgen - Fukan Zazengi
9 years facing a wall AFTER initial enlightenment?
Clearly Dōgen was foolish.
The truth is, none of us know what we don't know. But to talk about what we don't know as if we do know, THAT is foolish.
Posted by: manjit | October 19, 2021 at 12:15 PM
>> People think it must be wonderful to see the famous range of mountains covered by mists, and the water said to cover all the earth. But if you go there you will just see water and mountains. Nothing special<<
In the parable of Lila an Jamun.
The friends of Jamun, did not see anything special.
Jamun did not see something else but in the light of his love, she look so adorable.
No thing, no person, in this world has something of value of its own,.
Value, meaning etc etc are all ATTRIBUTE TO these things an persons.
Some have more to give than others,.
Some are able to give it to many things and persons.
Some can only give it to a small selection of things and persons.
Some have nothing to give.
Some miss that capcity to give.
Science is built upon the work of those that had something to give and so it is with all things human did building culture.
It all starts and ends with the human and not with what is outside ... he is the giver ...
he is the one that focuses his attention. Without that attention, no culture would exist.
Posted by: um | October 19, 2021 at 03:03 PM
I also appreciate the Zen or Chan practice of setting the student a loan, a practice designed to throw the student into the reality of 'just this' as it is - rather than how or what they think it is
Similar to the realization that the self is not real - in the sense of being a mental construct - the koan and the 'self' illusion needs to be realized rather than intellectually assumed through books - but reading is a good start toward knowing.
Posted by: Ron E. | October 19, 2021 at 03:14 PM
Correction! for loan read koan -of course!
Posted by: Ron E. | October 19, 2021 at 03:24 PM
When the child is young, the parents think for him .... being in that state so much praised by mystics .. become ye as little children.
The child has to learn to use his mind, that is to say attributing meaning, to what is experienced through his senses. Obeying that inbuilt command of self sustaining.
So whatever an individual has in mind, is closely related to the self preservation of him self and his species.
It is not made to be bypassed and bypassing it is threatening as his existence is at stake .... only by re-creation the safety situation of being with his mother, can make him lower his defense
So the question in all and every practice is, how to create that atmosphere.
The same holds for psychotherapy,. There are many different schools but if there is no therapeutic atmosphere between the participants, no therapy will work.
Unfortunately, although the developers of these techniques are aware of that "sine qua non" they never speak about HOW to establish that mutual trust etc.
The same hold for any meditation practice. .. if one cannot by pass that existential fear nothing will work .....hahaha ....safety first
It is a pleasure at this moment of the day listening to Raag Kirwani while typing.
Posted by: um | October 19, 2021 at 03:44 PM
Long ago l queried the question of enlightenment. People made it out to be such a special wonderous state. Then l came across 'This is it' by Alan Watts who talked about just 'being with' the everyday. It was not what l wanted to hear. Much later l spent some time with the Sufis. When they disbanded l took an interest in Chan (Zen).
Reading some of the work of several modern Zen teachers (Joko Beck, Steve Hagen, Tony Packer etc). they generally spoke of enlightenment or realization as being nothing special. This l later found to be so - but it is so ordinary the mind almost automatically dismisses it being too busy searching for truth or reality.
To some extent the search is about maintaining the mind based ego/self structure. To see the processes that produce these mental structures is what meditation means for me . The ego/self though will always be there to disrupt the simplicity of being just this - now.
Posted by: Ron E. | October 20, 2021 at 03:28 AM
Ron, The Inuit know many words for snow, where we have just one. They are able to see differences we do not see as we are not trained to see and to label them; we just miss the concepts.
What, if your parents and later your teachers at school had not confronted you with the concepts, of self, ego, mind, god and so many other abstract concepts.?!
What, if later on reading books on spirituality etc the concept of ego had not been put before you with an "negative" connotation?
Using labels is like, putting 4 poles in the ground connecting each pole with a wire and calling it an meadow ...and ... then believing meadows have an existence of their own and are part of nature.
They are not
Posted by: um | October 20, 2021 at 08:59 AM
Zen meditation is the most practical mind training I've ever found. Retreats of sitting for 25 minutes followed by 5 minutes of kinhin taught me how to focus and greatly increased my desperately lagging capacity for self-discipline and order in one's mind and surroundings. If Zen meditation were taught in our schools it would change our society, as it's a far healthier solution for the ADD.
Suzuki Roshi was one of the good gurus, and his book is something of a masterpiece.
Posted by: Tendzin | October 20, 2021 at 10:47 AM
I:m sure you mean well um but you are so far out with your assessment of how one learns the basics of the minds mental structures
and somewhat confused with your analogies.
Read Brian's blog again and check out Tendzin''s comments re meditation.
Posted by: Ron E. | October 20, 2021 at 12:14 PM
Thank you reminding me ... it is time to take my pills ......hahahaha
Posted by: um | October 20, 2021 at 12:19 PM
Thanks Brian! Zen was my first practice.
Posted by: Todd Chambers | October 21, 2021 at 12:18 PM
"Therefore, put aside the intellectual practice of investigating words and chasing phrases, and learn to take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will manifest. If you want to realize such, get to work on such right now."
Dōgen - Fukan Zazengi
"Learn to take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward"
In modern culture, the deep connection between Zen and tantric practices is very often lost in the mists of time. The connection is deep and inextricable.
This sentence by Dōgen contains so much linguistic information that it is surely lost on those who are only aware of modern, western Zen teachings (which, of course, can be amazing and profound within themselves; but it is not the Zen of Dōgen).
Thomas Cleary (who also translated the essential, huge 8 volume "Classics of Buddhism and Zen", essential reading for anyone with a deep interest in Zen......yes, I have performed this penance and have this unwieldy collection in my library: https://www.shambhala.com/classics-of-buddhism-and-zen-cleary.html ) has translated a Daoist esoteric text, which could be considered "tantric", which expounds on precisely what this "turns the light and shines it backwards" actually means, The Secret of the Golden Flower. It is a fairly short text, available freely, and is worth a read for those with an interest in these things:
IIRC (it would be 15+ years since I read it, though I did read multiple translations), it is specifically a text about "turning the light and shining it backwards".
PS - Dear Ron E. - you may or may not have read Zen and the Brain by James H Austin? Anyway, a great book, though probably outdated in some way now:
Posted by: manjit | October 23, 2021 at 03:53 AM
I can't seem to find Rozan and Sekko on a map. Unless it's the town in Poland and the beach in Japan, but somehow I think I might be on the wrong one. If anyone can help, I would appreciate it.
Posted by: Jose | May 14, 2022 at 10:55 AM
Rozan (Ch. Lushan) mountain 廬山
In google : "mountain rozan" gives several sites.
Posted by: um | May 14, 2022 at 11:21 AM
Sekko is lake seiko
Posted by: um | May 14, 2022 at 12:48 PM