This Present World of Experience

Whatever there is in the world and beyond
It occurs as seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched or thought
These six types of experience encompass everything
Investigate them right where you are now

Past or future experiences cannot be perceived at all
So look closely at this present moment

The bodily impressions cannot tell what they are
It is only thinking that names and explains
Meaning, importance, truth and falsity are all thoughts
Therefore mind is what should be first clarified

Thoughts pop up and dissolve all day long
When you don't attach any significance to one
It won't give birth to another hundred
Just see it as a mere thought and it disappears

As you understand that only concepts can define experience
And concepts themselves are without substance
Resting in open awareness comes naturally
Where all clinging and identification is impossible

Within this realm of pristine experience
Everything is seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched and thought
Just as an ordinary human being free from distress
Interacting with all beings out of peaceful compassion


Instant Mindfulness

You cannot practise mindfulness. The mind is already mindful. You cannot practise letting go. Appearances appear and disappear on their own.


The mind is already mindful,
It cannot be increased or decreased.
Whatever occurs
It is naturally aware of it.
The mind is not born out of conditions,
So it is free and independent,
Unaffected by appearances.
That is, experience is
Known and inconceivable at the same time.
Experience cannot be unknown,
Otherwise it would not be experienced.
Experience cannot be conceived,
Otherwise it would stay for ever.
Mind and experience are one and the same.
As mind is necessarily mindful,
So is experience necessarily known.
As mind is necessarily nothing concrete,
So is experience necessarily inconceivable.
See the experiencing mind for what it is
And mindfulness is perfected immediately.


Seeing the ultimate is seeing the conventional, seeing the conventional is seeing the ultimate. That is, if appearances are seen as appearances, instead of solid entities, then that is seeing the ultimate. In experience that means the end of the three poisons, the lack of greed, hatred and ignorance in one's activities. Seeing things without being moved by them, free from emotional and conceptual entanglements. Understanding that all the six senses are illusory experiences - that is, not something real out there or inside - helps one to let go of whatever pops up in one's sphere of perception without trying to hold on to them or push them away. That is in the end the practice of just sitting about, an open mind where all things freely come and go. A closed mind would be trying to escape from some experience. Grasping at things would be trying to keep some experience. On the one hand, all appearances are impermanent, it is impossible to escape from or keep them. On the other hand, the mind is naturally open and aware, boundless and luminous, so it doesn't need to be corrected, fixed, or improved. From familiarising oneself with that understanding, that view, then using it during a calm session of sitting, helps to get the hang of it and use it outside of a pleasant and peaceful environment within one's everyday life.


This world is an illusion. This body and mind are an illusion. There is no other world, body or mind beyond to look for.


Buddhist Magic

It is useful first to make a distinction between beseeching a deity for services and someone personally working with supernatural powers. The first one is prayer, the second one is magic.

Since the beginning Buddhism has the path of magic as a way to liberation. These are the four bases of power (i/rddhipada), and the resultant six superknowledges (abhinna/abhijna).

The way to attain the superknowledges through concentration (AN 5.28). The four bases of power are factors to be aware of in meditation as they help one's concentration to be stable (SN 51.20). There is a five-factored concentration - four absorptions and reflection of the body and mind - used first, then a mind-made body created, after which one performs miraculous feats (DN 2, 11, 12).

There is another teaching, specifically about using supernatural or psychic power to manipulate physical objects by using the four elements inherent in them (AN 6.41). Once a junior monk has shown his powers to a layman by conjuring a storm and later setting on fire a pile of grass without burning his robes, saying that even a novice can do these things in the Buddha's community (SN 41.4).

While there are several stories that show the magical abilities of the Buddha and the disciples, when the actual method is described it becomes clear that what is meant is a meditation technique to attain liberation. So the stories should not be considered as reports of real events, but either as a way of expressing events from the perspective of those who experienced it, or it is an educational story with colourful elements. Some modern Zen teachers also mention the point where a practitioner attains magical powers (Seung Sahn: The Compass of Zen p. 294-298. Daehaeng Sunim: No River To Cross, p. 62-63) on the path of practice, as it is the realisation of the freedom of mind. On the other hand, Zen has also been critical of believing that supernormal powers are the real thing to be a buddha. Linji says,

"You say, ‘A buddha has six supernatural powers. This is miraculous!’ All the gods, immortals, asuras, and mighty pretas also have supernatural powers—must they be considered buddhas? Followers of the Way, make no mistake! For instance, when Asura fought against Indra and was routed in battle he led his entire throng, to the number of eighty-four thousand, into the tube in a fiber of a lotus root to hide. Wasn’t he then a sage? Such supernatural powers as these I have just mentioned are all reward powers or dependent powers.
Those are not the six supernatural powers of a buddha, which are entering the world of color yet not being deluded by color; entering the world of sound yet not being deluded by sound; entering the world of odor yet not being deluded by odor; entering the world of taste yet not being deluded by taste; entering the world of touch yet not being deluded by touch; entering the world of dharmas yet not being deluded by dharmas. Therefore, when it is realized that these six—color, sound, odor, taste, touch, and dharmas— are all empty forms, they cannot bind the man of the Way, dependent upon nothing. Constituted though he is of the seepage of the five skandhas, he has the supernatural power of walking upon the earth."

(Record of Linji, XVIII, p. 19-20, tr. Sasaki)

Also, Zhiyan, the second patriarch of the Huayan school, writes in his Ten Mysterious Gates (Entry into the Inconceivable, p. 136) that while the miraculous elements in the Avatamsaka Sutra are believed by the followers of the Great Vehicle to by displays of psychic powers, according to his Unitary Vehicle it is the representation of dependent origination, the interpenetration and interdependence of phenomena.

So it seems that magic in Buddhism is about internal qualities, about taming and mastering the mind, and not shows of illusionists. But when it is misunderstood as worldly power or entertainment, one is reminded not to follow that path and to reconsider his understanding.


Pop Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the most popular idea in all Buddhist traditions among Westerners. It is what (almost) everybody teaches, to be aware and mindful. This is also popular among non-Buddhists. Just be in the present, they say. And yes, mindfulness is a central Buddhist teaching, we find it in the noble eightfold path and of the 37 factors of enlightenment mindfulness is 8 of those. But we shouldn't forget the other parts of the path. Mindfulness in itself is quite useless if our purpose is to be free from suffering since one can just go on with one's life as before including all the habits and attachments. There is also the view that mindfulness means a peaceful mind without thoughts, to just be (in the present) without doing anything. That kind of mindless mindfulness separates one from everyday life and it can be like a happy vacation. Unfortunately, that state is just as impermanent as any other, so grasping it is another source of pain and trouble.

If we look at the classical mindfulness practice in Buddhism it isn't just about being in the present but being mindful of body, feelings, thoughts and mind. It is also more than just recognising them but seeing how all of them are impermanent, suffering and selfless. What makes a bodhisattva is not simply mindfulness but being aware of emptiness and the suffering of beings. The true meaning of Zen is not "be in the present" but seeing directly that the mind is originally empty and aware, pure and functioning.

Within the Buddhist context then mindfulness is not really about being in the present rather than seeing how past, present and future relate to each other and not being attached to them, seeing how time itself and all appearances are nothing more than names and ideas. Because there are only names and ideas it becomes evident how even mindfulness is another concept we are trying to pursue and conceive a personality within that frame. Letting go of our thoughts and emotions is where we can use mindfulness efficiently to attain liberation.


Lost in Details

The Lotus Sutra has a vital message to all Buddhists that nobody should ever forget. All the teachings are expedient means to bring everyone to liberation. When this cardinal doctrine is forgotten there is sectarianism (this is the best teaching), traditionalism (this is how it has been for 1000s of years), restorationism (returning to the Original Teachings), modernisationism (new age, new people, new teaching), etc. The important thing about the teaching of expedient means that one doesn't take a single position regarding what teaching is the only true. In fact, it shouldn't even be called "teaching" but rather method. Any method is good if it helps in developing wisdom-compassion (bodhicitta).

Let me rephrase it. When people argue for how something must be done and what attainments are the real ones as it is defined by their books/teachers they are not mindful of the meaning of the four noble truths. These four truths simply and directly explain the problem, its cause, the solution and the path. It is gradually eliminating suffering. It is like eating. The obvious point of eating is to end hunger. A slice of bread or a bowl of rice is OK just like exquisite gourmet meals are good too. One may study for years about a single cuisine and become a master chef, or learn enough to bake bread, it is meaningless to compete over what is the best food. That's because it is a personal thing to decide what one likes to eat. It is also a personal thing to reduce pain and sorrow. Judging others how peaceful and happy they are is very much like pursuing them to eat your food instead of somebody else's. However, we many not just judge others but even tell them that they actually need the right judge to tell them if they are fine or not.

In Zen they like to say that enlightenment is like drinking water when one instantly knows if it is cold or not. In Tibetan Buddhism they use the example of tasting sugar. At the same time they keep telling you that you must have somebody to confirm if it is indeed cold/sweet. The Buddha had a clear answer for this problem (SN 35.152) that one can personally tell if there are still the three poisons present or not. Mahayana sutras are also clear about bodhisattvas attaining insight into no birth. But then because of explanations originally made to assist understanding many get lost it details and fail to keep in mind the purpose of the teachings. On the other hand, if they are told not to rely on the teachings they immediately get attached to their own concepts or to teachers. That's why the four reliances were taught and it covers all the common misunderstandings.
Because their capacities, natures, and desires are immeasurable, Bodhisattvas pronounce immeasurable Dharmas. As the Dharmas pronounced are immeasurable, their meanings are also immeasurable. The immeasurable meanings are born from one dharma. This one dharma is no appearance, which is not apart from appearance. The truth that appearance and no appearance are not apart from each other is called true reality. As Bodhisattva-Mahāsattvas abide in this true reality, the lovingkindness and compassion they exude are genuine, not false. They can truly end sentient beings’ suffering. Having rescued them from suffering, Bodhisattvas pronounce the Dharma to them, enabling them to experience happiness.
(Sutra of Immeasurable Meanings)


Undisputed Lineages

I've been intrigued for a while now how Zibo Zhenke, a famous master of the Ming era also known for distancing himself from affiliating with any Chan lineage, ended up in Xuyun's Linji line. But then it was just now something even stranger appeared to me. According to the official lineage Puming Deyong (or Miaoyong, whose legitimacy was denied by the immediate ancestor of the founder of the Japanese Obaku school; see in the below mentioned book's page 213), who is three generations before Zibo, was only 16 (or 17) years old when Zibo died in 1603. Strange, isn't it?

But it's really nothing compared to Xuyun's Weiyang lineage what is a clear case of remote succession (yaosi 遙嗣) as we can see here.

However, it all becomes ironic when we read from Ven. Shengyan,
What is important to highlight here is that among all the expressions of Chinese Buddhism, Chan is the only tradition with an uninterrupted lineage, and a formal institutional foundation.
Let's just say that these fun facts were an appetiser for Jiang Wu's "Enlightenment in Dispute: the reinvention of Chan Buddhism in seventeenth-century China". It is worth reading, at least the conclusions at the end of each chapter and part 4.

And one more informative work I found today is Dr. Jimmy Yu's "A Tentative Exploration into the Development of Master Sheng Yen’s Chan Teachings" (PDF)


Outer Buddha, Inner Buddha

Does this dog have a buddha-nature? No.

Doctrinally Pure Land Buddhism teaches an outer buddha, Zen an inner buddha. Practically both teaches to rely completely on buddha. Complete reliance on buddha means not relying on my concepts, my views. That is because believing that I can solve it is wrong. People tend to mistake this for giving in to one's impulses, however, that is pretty much the opposite of not giving in to my ideas. That's why with such faith one also has to understand that this samsara is the place of suffering. This samsara is nothing but my hanging on to looking for happiness in impermanent things. The buddha, being inconceivable, is eternal. Relying on what is inconceivable is indeed non-reliance. Not trusting anything is neither opposing nor embracing but letting go without the intention of letting go. So it is also called the self-liberating of defilements. This no effort is definitely the greatest effort, because there's always the view one has to do something.

Somebody asked, "All buddhas have a teacher, don't they?"
The teacher said, "They have."
"Who is their teacher?"
"Amita Buddha! Amita Buddha!"
(Recorded Sayings of Zhaozhou, 269)