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 – Sri Sathya Sai Baba

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. ”  The warrior flew into a rage, drew his sword and raised it above his head.  “Behold!  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.  “Behold!  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.

The Mustard Seed


The disciples said to the master, “tell us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.”  He said to them, “it is like a mustard seed; smaller than all seeds, but when it falls on the tilled earth, it produces a large tree and becomes shelter for all the birds of Heaven.

This parable demonstrates a great paradox.  The tiny mustard seed contains the mustard tree, which can grow up to about 25′ high.  The shell of the seed represents the line between the unmanifest (consciousness) and the manifest (the world or universe).  If the seed falls onto a concrete path it will simply die away, but in the correct (tilled) ground it will develop and grow into a magnificent tree.  This aptly describes the human journey.  We all start off as seeds in the womb, and as we go through all the stages of life we seek the relevant tilled earth (guru, mentor, teacher etc.) in order that we may grow.

The mother is the first nurturer of the seed; the first bigger tree in which we take shelter.  At this stage the seed disappears and dies and is reborn as a sprouting plant.  Then there are various stages, where as the plant steadily grows, teachers come and go.  These teachers can be in the form of school teachers, peers, partners, friends and even enemies.  Then in the same way that the seed must die in order to know itself as the tree, we ourselves have to die (eradicate the ego) in order to be reborn in all our glory (realise the Self)

At some stage the growing plant might decide that it wants to delve deeper and gain greater meaning to its existence, and it will seek shelter in the form of a guru; a Buddha tree, a Jesus tree, a Lao Tzu tree or a Krishna tree.  The master, in the form of whichever tree the seeker has chosen to take shelter in, will then nurture the growing plant until it becomes a magnificent tree in its own right.

At this point the newly emerged magnificent tree realises that all along it was itself the very Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tzu or Krishna tree in which it sought shelter, that all the time the tiny mustard seed and the magnificent, fully grown tree were One and the same.

This is the great paradox that is the parable of the mustard seed.

The Ten Fools


Well, I’ve started work on my next book; much quicker than I anticipated.  If all goes to plan, it will be a pocket-sized book of 12 Zen parables, set out in my own words and with my own spin.  I wanted to call it, “Zen for Cockneys”, because it is aimed at ordinary salt-of-the-earth people (like me) who are not exactly what you would call intellectual and do not want rambling philosophies, but simple and easy to understand literature that speaks volumes in its simplicity.  Then I thought to myself that a lot of people might take the title literally and think, “I’m not a Cockney, so this book can’t be for me”.  So, as things stand, I’m looking to call it, “Twelve Steps for the Pathless Path”. As with my last offering, I’m going to showcase it here on my blog as I write it and then put it into book form.  So, ladeeeeeez an’ gennelmen… I give to you… The Ten Fools.

Ten fools were on their way to a neighbouring town.  They came to a river, which was quite fast flowing, and had to cross it in order to reach their destination.  When they got to the other side, one of them decided it would be a good idea to do a head-count; just to make sure they were all safe.  He counted, one, two, three etc. and only counted nine; forgetting to count himself in the process.  Alarmed, he shouted, “I can only account for nine of us”.  Another shouted, “let me count, just to make sure”.  He also forgot himself and only counted nine.  They all did the same and became very distressed at having “lost” one.  In their distressed state they tried to work out which one of them had been swept away, As they did so, a sympathetic traveller happened along.  Seeing their distress, he enquired as to what was wrong.

As they blurted out their tale of woe, the traveller immediately saw what the problem was.  He said, “OK, I have an idea.  I want you all to count yourselves individually”, and he got them all to line up in front of him.  He said, “I will go along the line and give each of you a blow on the head”.  “As I do so, I want you each to shout, one, two, three etc as we go; this way we make sure that nobody is counted twice”.  So, the traveller went along the line, delivering a blow to each one as he did so.  When he got to the end the last man shouted “TEN”.  They were all so relieved and couldn’t thank the traveller enough.

The ten fools were the cause of their own grief.  They were always ten, but their ignorance led them to believe that one of them had been swept away and drowned.  This is classic egoic behaviour.  They did not gain anything new when they realised no one was lost.  We are always pure, infinite being and have no reason to suffer.  But we impose imaginary limitations on ourselves by losing sight of our true nature, and then complain when these imaginary limitations cause us pain and suffering.  We then engage in spiritual practise in order to attain something that we already have.  Ironically, the spiritual practises themselves have to affirm the limitations in order to function.  It is a case of the blind leading the blind, with the ego being the only winner.

We are always pure consciousness, existing in a state of infinite bliss.  The letting go of the idea that we are not, is an end to suffering.

A Truly Delightful Soul – Part Two


It never fails to amaze me how things happen in this wonderful adventure we call life.  Within a day of me writing my last blog post, A Truly Delightful Soul, I received an insight; one that I already had but was ignoring.  I was reading (for the third time) an Osho book, entitled “Zen – The Path of Paradox”.  I was on the penultimate chapter when I received the aforementioned insight.  I had to laugh, because not only was this insight unashamedly brutal in its delivery, but it was 100% Zen to the core.  It was immediate, it took no prisoners and I was left in no doubt whatsoever that I was skating on thin ice if I was REALLY serious about this spirituality caper, but equally, and true to the paradoxical nature of Zen, it showed me that my experience had indeed served a relevant purpose.  I shall explain… But first, for the sake of continuity, I will post my previous article again below.

A Truly Delightful Soul

The plot continues to thicken with regard to my astral adventures. I have now had the pleasure of the company of a truly delightful female soul, not once, not twice… but three times! As usual, I have no clue what it is all about or what purpose it serves, but I have had much worse experiences in my life, I can tell you! Being an advocate of the teachings of Ramana Maharshi and Rupert Spira, I know that the development of attachments to relationships such as these will do my long-term spiritual growth no good whatsoever. However, it is also true that Zen teaches the importance of embracing the totality. So, if this experience has come my way in the last few months, I’m going to accept it.

At first, she seemed quite excitable and a bit too playful; to the extent that I was questioning it. But the two subsequent times we have astral travelled together she has been much more disciplined. I’m presuming that we know each other from way back, but I don’t honestly know. What I do know is that she is a really lovely and very affectionate soul. I’m looking forward to sharing more adventures with her, if that is how we are going to roll; in fact, I’m hoping that even as I type, she is perusing the astral travel brochures and planning our next trip!

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So… there I was people, knowing that embracing this kind of experience will do more to hinder me spiritually than to help me, but actually quite enjoying it; when the inevitable happened.  I would like to share here the full transcription of what I read, but if I do that I will be infringing copyright laws, so I’m going to use my own words and give you a condensed version.

It is said that when an individual is very close to enlightenment, that they may have visions pertaining to the particular pathway they have been following.  For example, a Christian may have visions of Christ or a Buddhist may have visions of Buddha.  The passage went on to say that a Hindu may start having visions of Krishna and the Gopis*, will then “fall in love” with the Gopis and forget Krishna.  There was also reference to the Zen master Hui Neng, who apparently said, “If you meet Buddha on the way, kill him immediately.  If you see the patriarch, Bodhidharma, on the way, kill him immediately

The above statements give us warning as to just how cunning the mind (ego) is.  Having such visions does nothing but perpetuate the illusion of duality.  The ego knows it’s on borrowed time and will do absolutely anything to prolong its illusory life; hence the spectacular visions to tempt us away from the inner reality.  Hui Neng’s instructions to, “kill Buddha immediately“, if we see him along the way, is our reminder that as long as we maintain attachments to Gods and gurus we are affirming the existence of the separate self and will remain on the treadmill of birth and rebirth.

But what a beautiful way for the totality to remind me of the importance of understanding this.  “Hmmmm, what shall I do?  I know, I’ll send Richard a delightful soul to remind him of the importance of not developing attachments to delightful souls”.  This is why I absolutely love the “pathless path” of paradox that is Zen.  The delightful soul may not have been in the form of a Buddha or a Krishna, but she was still representative of a separate self.  Also, just because the experience occurred astrally, it was still nothing more than a projection of consciousness.  What rises up out of consciousness must also dissolve into consciousness and is therefore ultimately an illusion.

The essence of Zen is simply letting go.  Our pathless journey is from No-thing-ness to No-thing-ness.  In the middle we pick up mind-constructed “stuff”.  Zen is simply giving up the mind-constructed stuff in order to realise the inner reality; that is in fact neither inner nor outer, but the ONLY reality.

*Gopis = The female cowherders who danced to Krishna’s flute in the Bhagavad Ghita.