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May 10, 2023


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Brian’s quote from Shunryu Suzuki: - “But when we just are -- each just existing in his own way -- we are expressing Buddha himself.” He continues: - “In other words, when we practice something such as zazen, then there is Buddha's way or Buddha nature. When we ask what Buddha nature is, it vanishes; but when we just practice zazen, we have full understanding of it.”

I have read that there are many concepts of Buddha Nature and perhaps no definition can explain it. Shunryu Suzuki and many other Soto teachers merely instruct students to sit zazen – not to chase some sort of prize but just to relax into just sitting.

I once had this Koan on this matter: - Joshu asked Nansen, “What is the Way?” Nansen replied, “Ordinary mind is the Way.” Joshu asked, “How should I seek for the Way?” Nansen said, “If you seek for it, you will only go in the wrong direction.” At that point Joshu asked, “But if I don’t seek for it, how
what the Way is?” Nansen said, “The Way is neither knowing nor not knowing. Knowing is
delusion, not knowing is indifference. When you have truly reached the Way that is beyond
doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How can it be talked about in
terms of right and wrong.

The basic point here is that there's a distinction between the habitual mind, which is plagued by reactivity and fettered by negative learnt patterns of behaviour, and the natural mind, aka the normal or ordinary mind, which has let go of that reactivity and conditioning, and can in-stead respond freely and spontaneously to whatever arises,

And: - Sekito Kisen approaches his student Yakusan. Sekito and asked, “What are you doing?” Yakusan replies, “I am not doing anything.” “Then you are just sitting idly” said Sekito. “If I were just sitting idly”, Said Yakusan “I’d be doing something.” “You say you are not doing anything, what is it that you are not doing?” asked Sekito “Even the Buddhas do not know,” said Yakusan.

And that’s about it!

It's not too difficult to understand either Suzuki from the context of a perspective. Without that context, of course, it can be confusing. Within a context of a life of meditation practice, it makes sense, or from a scientist's perspective, there is at least internal validity and resonance.

"Without trying to be Buddha you are Buddha. This is how we attain enlightenment. To attain enlightenment is to be always with Buddha. By repeating the same thing over and over, we will acquire this kind of understanding. "

Whatever Buddha represents, as an ideal awakened state of mind and being, a place of balance and understanding, is already inside of you. IF we are out of balance, balance is already a possibility. It is one point of the journey. Balance is built into us. How will things look from a place of balance? Different.

Enlightenment is to realize that, connect with that. It can happen in a moment of Satori, awakening, all at once, or gradually light seeps through and one experiences Aha moments of connection. Can happen anywhere and at anytime, it's not under your control. Meditation and the lifestyle that supports it are like a farmer watering and feeding the soil. The growth of the plant is all from its own life, but we can do things to help encourage that awakening, that maturity. Or we can be distracted from our own progress, and we can fall also. Less balance, or more?

It is inside you. Every great performance comes from within. Therefore that is where progress takes place and where the work takes place. That can happen either directly, through meditation, or indirectly, through outward action. Both condition the mind in one way or another, both can help still the mind so what is under the surface can be seen.

"But if you lose this point and take pride in your attainment or become discouraged because of your idealistic effort, your practice will confine you by a thick wall. We should not confine ourselves by a self-built wall."

The surface of the lake of our conscious awareness can be disturbed by all kinds of thinking and attachments, pleasant and unpleasant. The most unpleasant is the awareness of the damage we have caused ourselves and others. No one to blame, and no excuses can comfort us. But this is often the best kind of temporary distraction. That is where submission begins. That is where surrender to our own higher self begins, the self that doesn't need to think about things, that understands them from a place of balance.

When things are going very well, we tend to take pride, and that builds a wall also. Anything that ties us to thinking "This is mine, me...Here is who I am." We are really nothing. We are particles in a large biological field of life. Anything that brings us to understand how small we are, and how great the total in which we exist, which helps us focus outside ourselves on that greater good, that helps free us of the barriers to Satori. And lacking barriers, it is our natural state to rise beyond these things into that Oneness and joy.

"So when zazen time comes, just to get up, to go and sit with your teacher, and to talk to him and listen to him, and then go home again -- all these procedures are our practice. In this way, without any idea of attainment, you are always Buddha."

We are just part of that existence. It helps to have an environment that reminds us and encourages us to think beyond. It helps to have a practice to achieve that mental balance where thoughts become still. Sometimes that is done by understanding that nothing is really here of importance at all, focusing on the empty space, that our thinking is all a waste of time. Sometimes that is done by focusing on something higher, that also takes us from conventional thinking.

So, when D.T. Suzuki says that the empty space isn't nothing, but in fact the vessel for the infinite, we understand that appreciating that nothing is there is actually just a step to realizing that something far greater than any thing is there.

So, contemplation or worship are both much the same. Taking our thinking out of the stream of daily reactivity, so that thoughts can calm down, and the real light and music can arise from within.

But it is the same thing, taking away distraction and even thinking. All that is left is the joy and light and sound from beyond which arises of its own. The only thing in the way is "us" in the sense of our identity, our thinking, our reactivity.

What emerges when we help the surface of the pond to settle down, is in all things and our direct connection to everything and everyone. That's what we really are. There is no work to build or design. It's already made. Our journey is to go there, to create the conditions where we can let go of this rung of the ladder and grasp the next. But the entire ladder is within you.

For some that transcendence into true balance and Satori happens through letting go, through focus on breathing or something that has no attachment for us, and sometimes that same experience is brought about by worship of some idea, some perfect teacher, etc. These are just mechanisms to reach an end, but a mechanism very natural and part of the human construction. When we experience transcendence, then we see reality holographically. The perfection is in everything, the ripples are just on the surface. Our personal is just a ripple, and we are the lake, the ocean. Death means nothing at that point.

"This is true practice of zazen. Then you may understand the true meaning of Buddha's first statement, "See Buddha nature in various beings, and in every one of us."

In that higher state, that is just life as it is, and we have the ability to see things from that place, because it is within each of us. That is a place of its own joy, happiness, nothing can compare to it, once you have tasted it. But no one is drawn to practice unless they have already tasted it, whether they are consciously aware of it or not, whether they remember or not. The unconscious conditioning of that experience drives us forward, to practice, to try, to seek, and to practice again.

The Rinzai approach is quite intriguing (as depicted in such books as The 3 Pillars of Zen), but to me Soto isn't really different from Rinzai. It also seems that there's been quite as much controversy in the Zen world about what's "authentic and proper Zen as there is in the Sant Mat world about guru lineage.

One thing about Suzuki Roshi to consider -- his apparent softness of teaching likely has much to do with being planted in 1950s/60s America. It's unimaginable that Suzuki could have taught any differently, that is, taught Zen in the traditional Japanese manner.

What is the traditional Japanese manner of teaching Zen? Read the book Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple by Kaoru Nonomura.

What was this temple? Eiheiji, the temple where Suzuki spent his youth. Nonomuru was there in the 90s, and the course of insanely harsh training has to be read to be believed.

Neither Suzuki could hardly have taught THAT Zen to Americans.

@ SantMat 64

Hahaha .... In the Chinese and Indian restaurants they also do not serve the food that is eaten at home ...far to spice for the untrained and soft western palate.

They have also created here well known dishes, that are unheard of in their homelands

The eastern spiritual tradition in the west are "western" ... like way people are satsangi's ... bears the stamp of the religion they were born in and how the were trained to see it ...there are RC Satsangi's, Protestant Satsangi's, both from the more strict denominations and others from the more easy going side.

Conditioning goes a long way

Enjoyed this post. It’s been a while, but I do remember having read of this: the spontaneous enlightenment thing, vis-à-vis the gradual enlightenment business. Looking forward to seeing how this might play out.

“If you're unsure what Buddha nature consists of, join the club, because I feel the same way. But I have some ideas gained from re-reading Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. I'll share them in an upcoming post.”

…Yep, “unsure” is right, very very unsure. All agog, to see how that turns out.

In fact, I guess I’m skeptical that there actually is such a thing at all. But I’m open to finding out more.

I suppose it will have something to do with stepping outside of one’s thoughts, or something like that. If so, I guess I’ll stay skeptical about whether that is at all possible; and also if, even if it were possible, why that’s such a big deal.

Still, as long as they spell out clearly what they mean, one can think about it, and talk about it, and weigh it all up.

Otherwise, in the wise words of the Master Sensei Lewis Carroll, that holy Prophet of the Holy Cheshire Cat: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there!”


>> I suppose it will have something to do with stepping outside of one’s thoughts, or something like that. If so, I guess I’ll stay skeptical about whether that is at all possible; and also if, even if it were possible, why that’s such a big deal.<<

The proof [the possibility] but also the taste of the coffee is in the drinking.

Otherwise I do agree .. why should one long for a thing one doesn't know?!
Just curiosity probably doesn't work

An what the Buddha nature concerns. From the inscription of these exalted states I have got the impression that we all have them spontaneous during our life time as small, mostly unnoticed, experiences. To notice them for what they are and to remain in that state seems to be the "problem".

And a strange though passes by;

Maybe, those that are able and willing to accept misery of live just for what it is, are not or less interested, in going that length to get rid of it.

"The proof [the possibility] but also the taste of the coffee is in the drinking.

Otherwise I do agree .. why should one long for a thing one doesn't know?!"

..........Not quite what I meant, though, um.

With coffee it is quite straightforward. We know the exact mechanism by which coffee acts on us; and what exactly that action amounts to; and what are the immediate pluses to it; also what the long-term benefits are; as well as the difficulties (in terms of the [mild, easily weathered, but nevertheless real] addiction to it, and in case of over-consumption (beyond 4 to 6 a day).

Agreed, merely knowing this won't help, you'll need to actually drink the stuff to attain to all of this. But knowing all of the details of it can inform your choice about whether you'd want to do it at all --- and also, at a more basic level, whether it (the coffee experience) is even a thing. (It most assuredly is, as the science of it informs us, complete with details of the exact mechanism of how exactly caffeine produces the effects that it does.)

Should this be the real deal, this enlightenment business, then they should be able to tell us --- approximately, if not exactly --- all of the following:
(a) What exactly it is they're talking about.
(b) The mechanism of it.
(c) The mechanism of arriving at it.
(d) Why it matters, why it is a good thing, why it is such a big deal.

It's fine if they're hazy about some of the details, after all this is long-ago, pre-scientific-era praxis. But they should at least be able to offer approximate insights into all of the above, given that that's what they spend their whole lives studying and practicing.

Otherwise, if they don't do that, and instead persist with their verbal onanism, well then I call BS. ("My wisdom is far too wise for me to put in words, you'll just have to take my word for it that it's the wisest thing ever, and meanwhile here's a mysterious-sounding riddle about how passionately I make love, or some equivalent nonsense" --- that I most certainly amn't buying into.)

Let's see, in Brian's subsequent posts, how that turns out.


"And a strange though passes by;

Maybe, those that are able and willing to accept misery of live just for what it is, are not or less interested, in going that length to get rid of it."

..........What was that, um? Didn't quite follow.

Or again, on re-reading both our comments: Not 100% clear, but perhaps that is exactly what you did mean, um? The first part I mean to say? In which case we agree, obviously!

My favorite Suzuki Roshi saying:

"The world's way is to try to kill 2 birds with one stone. But our way is to kill one bird with one stone."

That is Zen, and it's extremely practical.

SM64: Do you mean no-mind, as in complete focus, being in the zone, expertise to the point of complete effortlessness in execution?

If so, then agreed, that is indeed Zen, the Zen-in-action thing, the archery thing, the kendo thing. Agreed, that's certainly practical.

And it would then amount to a kind of pared-down Buddhism, a subset of Buddhism, one single aspect of Buddhism. (Which is limited in scope, but not limited in reach, in the sense that it can indeed take you all the way. IMV, at any rate.)

That's mindfulness, essentially. That Sutra, where the Buddha tells the old lady who'd complained of having no time to meditate, and asked how someone like her might attain to freedom from suffering: "When drawing water from the well, draw water from the well.". (Paraphrased, from imperfect memory.)

But while that is part of Zen, but would you say that that actually is Zen, that is to say, that is what all of Zen basically amounts to?

If yes, then cool. That's simple enough -- while at the same time profound, as well as practical, and really a thing, agreed. I guess it answers to all of those criteria I asked for.

If no, then we're back to asking about what Zen is about, what Zen-ic enlightenment is, and what the Buddha nature might be.


I guess the whole problem with meditation etc, is probably that it has come to us in a very archaic language..

Next it is my understanding that there are two things to be set appart, those that have spontaneous so called inner experiences and the later, based upon these experience, effort to recreate them artificially.
Because, and that is again my understanding, all these spiritual spontaneous experiences, if expressed and shared with others, were of "problem solving content"
To use the example that I did before ... before the Hebrews became to be labeled as such they were a wandering tribe, seeking "a land of milk and honey". One of there tribe elders, had and inner experience, where somebody with great power, as experienced by that person, told him where to go and what to do to get that land.
Naturaly, those who do not have such an experience would like to have them in order to solve other problems.

Only later, is suppose it all has become more theoretical, more abstract and was and is used to solve less tangible problems related to the meaning of life etc.

But AR if somebody thinks that I have a kind of coffee drunk .. he might be right ... hahaha... these are just mu thoughts

All of that makes sense, um.

One makes assumptions and allowances when discussing these things --- like when I spoke, in my previous comment, of "going all the say" --- but one can't really engage with this coherently without examining the nature of these experiences.

On the face of it it makes sense, what you say about Moses. And yet it takes so many things for granted. For actual coherence, one cannot not examine the experience Moses had, roughly following those criteria I raised. Some scenarios:

1) If the Moses story is fictive, there is nothing at all to examine, really, other than as literature.

2) If the story is real, but if Moses was a liar, a con man, making all of that out of whole cloth -- either for his own selfish ends, to gain power and importance within his community, or else as a means of helping his community to escape slavery -- then too there's nothing to examine, other than the nature of his con.

3) If that was simply hallucination, then a doctor might be interested. Was Moses a madman? Was he sane, but given to severe epilectic seizures? Did he ingest some kind of psychotropic substance? Was that some kind wild delusion, wrought by the extreme stress experienced by him, at a personal level, as well as representative of his unfortunate longsuffering community?

4) Finally, if he did experience something more than just a made-up story, or madness, or a psychotic episode, or wish fulfillment delusion, or the effect of psychotropic drugs, well then one has to then ask all of those questions I'd asked.

While we may be interested in all of this, but there is absolutely no reason to even want to have that experience ourselves, or to even give any credence to Moses's experience, without first examining all of these aspects, as well as the criteria I'd (tentatively) laid out earlier.

It all comes back to a detailed understanding of both sides of the issue: the subjective, and the objective.

Thus with Moses. And thus, also, with Zen, and with Zen-ic enlightenment and the buddha nature.

And thus, more broadly, with Buddhistic enlightenment and practice, because Zen is after all only a small arc within the larger repertoire of Buddhistic systems and practices and techniques and approaches.

Shunryu Suzuki says at one point that he is not against the notion of instant enlightenment, and not against the Rinzai tradition. In a way that's how it has got to happens. The important lesson is to resist what he calls "step ladder enlightenment" where one thinks they need to get to stage X and then Y, etc. This way. enlightenment is something one achieves in the future, which contradicts the very essence of enlightenment that is realized in all that comprises the present in the present. Get it? It can't be in the present if you are seeking it in the future. Thus, an effortless effort is required to realize the selfless self.

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