Enter Zen From There


A Zen master was undertaking a journey along with one of his disciples.  They walked for several hours before stopping for lunch and a rest.  They sat in silence under a tree as they ate their simple meal of rice and vegetables.  When they had finished eating the disciple said to the master, “can you tell me how I can find Zen?”  “I want to learn so that I can be like you.”  The master replied, “can you hear that?”  “Can you hear the sound of the water from the stream running down the mountain?”  The disciple could hear nothing, but he continued to listen until eventually he could just about make out the faintest sound of running water in the distance.

“Yes, yes, I can hear it master”, said the disciple.  “Enter Zen from there”, replied the master.

They sat in silence for a while as the disciple focused his attention on the sound of the mountain stream.  Eventually, he experienced a state of bliss, which remained with him as they resumed their journey.  After walking for several miles, the blissful state wore off and the disciple was back to his normal unrealised self. They carried on walking in silence until, out of curiosity, the disciple asked, “master, what would you have said if I’d been unable to hear the sound of the stream?”  “Enter Zen from there”, replied the master.

We can only awaken where we are, with the surroundings we have, in the present moment.  We can go on pilgrimages, we can undertake all kinds of spiritual practise and we can read spiritual texts.  But all of these are only relevant when we do not have the understanding to see beyond them.  Ultimately, they are all only stepping-stones along the pathless path that leads nowhere.  Nowhere = Now Here.

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I Don’t Know


The emperor, who was a devout Buddhist, invited a great Zen master to the Palace in order to ask him questions about Buddhism. “What is the highest truth of the holy Buddhist doctrine?” the emperor inquired.  “Vast emptiness… and not a trace of holiness,” the master replied.  “If there is no holiness,” the emperor said, “then who or what are you?”  “I do not know,” the master replied.

Here we have a devout Buddhist emperor inviting a Zen master to his palace in order quiz him about Buddhism.  It’s quite a common mistake for people to think that Zen and Buddhism are one and the same.  The truth is that they are poles apart.  Buddhism is an organised religion, although also a way of life, non-dogmatic and closer to the truth than most of the world’s major religions.  Zen, in my humble opinion, is something that happens to you; it is an awakening.  Most people experience their spiritual awakening in subtle stages that just happen without any prior warning.  There is no such thing as Zen philosophy either, so the emperor was on a hiding to nothing in asking the master, “what is the highest truth of the holy Buddhist doctrine?”

The answer came, “vast emptiness… and not a trace of holiness.”  This is very profound and clearly not understood by the emperor.  Vast emptiness refers to the inner reality; infinite consciousness, which is One.  The Indian yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, would on occasion refer to this as , “the uncreated wilderness of bliss”, which is the same as vast emptiness.  What the master is saying is that the “highest truth” is to return to the state of “nothingness” from which we came.  This is the non-dual state, therefore “and not a trace of holiness” means that in consciousness there is only consciousness and nothing else.  In the dualistic world, if something is deemed holy, it implies that it will have a relative opposite somewhere that is deemed unholy.  This is duality and ultimately an illusion, so in the vast emptiness there will be no trace of holiness.

The emperor then came back with, “If there is no holiness then who or what are you?”

“I do not know,” the master replied.

The master answered the emperor’s question in the most perfect way possible; “I do not know.”  Enlightenment is the shedding of all knowledge.  All knowledge relates to the past and is of the mind-created world.  In “vast emptiness” there is no knowledge; only pure knowing.

 

Heaven And Hell


A soldier went to a Zen master and asked, “tell me, is there really a Heaven and Hell?”  The master looked at him and exclaimed, “who are you?”  “I’m a Samurai warrior”, came the reply.  “A warrior!”  Mocked the master, “what kind of king would have you for a guard?”  Look at you, you look like a beggar!”  The warrior became very angry and made to draw his sword.  “So, you have a sword do you”?  The master continued to mock.  “That sword is probably so blunt it wouldn’t even be able to sever my head from my body”.  The warrior flew into a rage, drew his sword and raised it above his head.  “Now enter the gates of Hell”, said the master.  The warrior, realising what was happening returned his sword to its scabbard and bowed his head in humble apology.  “Now enter the gates of Heaven”, said the master.

This informs us that Heaven and Hell are not places that we go to; they are states of mind that we create for ourselves.  It also illustrates how Zen is about direct experience and not the expounding of philosophy.  The soldier came to the master with a very relevant question, but rather than become the orator, the master allowed him to experience directly how he could create his own Heaven or Hell.  When the soldier understood what was going on he dropped his ego, thus closing the “gates of Hell”, which were opening up before him; in doing so he unlocked the “gates of Heaven”.

Is That So?


The Zen master, Hakuin, lived in a village next door to a family.  The young, rather attractive girl of the house became pregnant, and her furious parents demanded to know who the father was.  The girl said it was Hakuin.  Her father went next door in a rage and confronted the master, saying, “you have made my daughter pregnant and you will be held accountable for your actions”.  “Is that so?”, replied Hakuin.  The master’s reputation in the village was in tatters, and when the child was born, the girl’s parents took it to him and said, “this is your doing, therefore you will have to be responsible for the child’s upbringing”.  “Is that so?”, replied Hakuin.

Months passed and the master looked after the child with all the tender care of a loving parent.  Eventually, wracked with guilt, the girl confessed that the real father of the child was the young man who worked in the village grocery store.  The horrified and embarrassed parents went back to the master and apologised profusely for what had happened.  “Is that so?”, said Hakuin as he handed over the child.

This little story tells us two things; firstly that reputation is of the ego, it represents the views and opinions that others hold about us.  We can choose to believe those views, but if we do, we run the risk of developing a mind-set about ourselves that is not true and not representative of the light that we really are.  It also illustrates the importance of accepting “what is”.  In life we have a tendency to try to filter out anything that comes along that the mind tells us is not agreeable.  But Zen is about the acceptance of what is, in the knowledge that the world is constantly in motion, that “this too will pass” and “what we resist will persist”.  Hakuin was a Zen master; a realised soul, and he was completely unmoved by the whole sorry business.  He transcended the ego, therefore he was fully functioning in the world without being a part of the world; he remained “the eternal witness” as the drama played itself out.

 

The Flag


Two friends were watching on as a flag flapped around in the wind.  “It’s the flag that’s moving”, said one of them.  “No, it’s the wind that’s moving”, said the other.  They could not decide amongst themselves who was right, so they decided to consult a Zen master who lived in their region.  They went to the master and explained the story, saying, “please tell us, is it the flag or the wind that moves”?  “It is neither the wind nor the flag that moves”, said the master, “it is the mind.”

Ramana Maharshi refers to the mind (ego) as a “phantom” that rises up from the Self during waking state, and disappears back into the Self during deep, dreamless sleep.  It is also that which is completely obliterated on the attainment of Self-realisation.  In consciousness (Self) there is no form; just pure being.  All objectification is a product of mind, and all movement takes place in mind, which is a projection of the Self.  Consciousness is constantly in motion, therefore objects rise up and fall away again.  Like the millions of waves that take form and then become immersed once again in the oceans.  When you gaze upon the beauty of a landscape, all you are actually looking at is consciousness (energy) existing at various levels of vibration.  It is the mind that  interprets and objectifies these vibrations, and projects the form perceived as landscape, which is seen by the eyes.

 

The Windy Day


Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

A group of monks were walking through the forest with their master on a windy, Autumn day.  Fallen leaves were strewn all over the ground, and leaves falling in the moment performed a frenzied mid-air dance as the gusting currents stamped their assertiveness. All in all, it was a real hive of activity as Mother Nature’s breath breathed life into the natural surroundings of the forest.

There came a point where one particular monk found himself to be the only one walking near to the master; one group bringing up the rear and another group walking at a brisk pace in front.  The monk was desperate to ask the master a question, and wishing to take advantage of the opportunity said, “master I have been meaning to ask you something, have you revealed everything or are you still hiding something from us?”

The master replied, “look at my hand, it is wide open like this forest.  People who hide things are like fists”, and he reached down and picked up a handful of leaves.  Standing there with the leaves clenched in his fist he said, “see, now you can’t see the leaves, they are hidden”.  As he opened his hand, letting the leaves flutter away, he said, “I have revealed everything, if you think that something is still hidden, it is because of you, not me.”

This parable explains how we always try to project our own insecurities and issues onto other people.  It is another example of how our conditioning in early life causes us to develop traits and mindsets that become ingrained.in our psyche.  These traits are fear-based and have their roots in our inability to love ourselves.  The monk was insecure; he didn’t trust, so he tried to put the ball in the master’s court.

The truth, like the master’s open hand, is always there in nature; almost slapping us around the face; willing us to open our eyes.  But, it is like Edison and his lightbulb, it took him over a thousand attempts to eventually create his wonderful invention.  People laughed at him, but in the end he simply said that there were over a thousand steps in the process.  So it is with human beings; Mother Nature has to keep metaphorically bashing us on the head until the penny finally drops and we recognise the beauty of our own spirit, and shine our light into the world.

The Flooded Road


Photo by Wouter de Jong from Pexels

Two monks were on their way to a temple in a distant town.  They came to a road that was flooded quite badly, and as they were about to cross, one of the monks noticed a young girl who also wanted to get across.  Seeing that her clothing would have ended up saturated, he picked her up and carried her across.  The monks continued their long journey and walked for several hours in complete silence.  Eventually, the other monk could hold his silence no longer and said, “back there, that girl”  “You know that us monks are not even meant to look at females, but you carried her across the road”.  “Yes”, the other monk replied, “but I put her down hours ago.”  “You, on the other hand, appear to be still carrying her.”

This parable demonstrates the effect that old, stale mindsets and ideas can have on us.  One monk simply saw another human being that was in need of a little help and acted accordingly.  Whereas the other monk walked for hours in agitated silence, when he could have chosen instead to enjoy the journey.

This is the same as holding grudges; it does nothing but poison the spirit.  It is a human trait, to cling on grimly for dear life to old ideas that no longer serve us.  One monk is centred in the “now” and enjoys the peace and tranquillity of the journey.  The other monk has his “now” invaded by agitation, which is the result of fear.  The fear of going against something steeped in tradition.  The stupidity of it all is that it was not even his action that went against convention, but he took it upon himself to become agitated by the action of his companion.

Everything serves its purpose in its time, but the spirit is free and not meant to be tied by convention and tradition.  In observing what we believe to be old sacred traditions, we quite often only succeed in tightening the veil of ignorance that keeps us in bondage.  This also applies to views that we hold about ourselves and others, which are the result of years of conditioning.  It is the inability to let go of “that which no longer serves us” that is very often at the root of our pain and suffering.