Essence and Function of the Zen Mind

Zen deals with the mind, and the mind is often described with two concepts: essence and function. In essence the mind is empty and pure. In function it is whatever occurs, all phenomena. Essence and function are not two different things, not two separate minds, but simply one common way to describe the mind. There is no essence without function, and there is no function without essence. But one can make the mistake of grasping only one of them, or dividing them.

Delusion is being fooled by function, where one is attached to one's thoughts, feelings, and sensory impressions.
Beginning practitioners are often fooled by essence, where they want only peace, motionlessness, transcendence, the absolute.
After some experience one recognises that dealing with function is inevitable, so there is a process of harmonisation, of balancing, of integration of the two sides.
Further on one can arrive at the point where essence and function are inseparable, where non-thought is in the midst of thought, and it becomes possible to cultivate genuine Zen.
The final stage is simply that there is no more cultivation done, no more effort needed, as essence has never been apart from function, nor function from the essence.


Keep Calm and Enjoy

Keep your eyes open and the back straight. These help to keep one grounded in the body. The breath should serve as an anchor to one's attention, what one is focused on, instead of getting lost in ideas, images, feelings, and other mental content, or sensory impressions. When the breath is not perceived, just go back to it, that's why mindfulness is important. The first goal of breath awareness is calm, stable, clear, and aware mind. The two main hindrances of torpor and agitation should not be allowed to take over. The feeling that can be relied upon is the serenity of joyful peace resulting from the relaxation of body and mind.


Direct Cut at the Root

The basis of attachment is the mistaken belief in the reality of thoughts, particularly regarding the existence of a person and an object. Thoughts are not grasped when they are seen to be unestablished, without thought there is no view or interpretation, and without view there is no emotional disturbance. Hence the direct and sudden way is recognising thoughts for what they are, how they conjure a world, and thus there is no identification with them. The gradual way leads to the same, but it is about calming the mind enough to be able to recognise how the process of thought-view-emotion-action-etc. happens.

So, when it comes to Zen, as a sudden teaching, it is simply about no-thought (or no-mind, etc.), that is cutting the root of delusion directly, i.e. seeing the nature of mind. Everything else apart from that are gradual skilful means.


Nothing Moves

(inspired by Sengzhao)

Senses are never defiled,
Since things don't ever abide,
Nor is there anywhere a place
Where anything comes, goes, or stays.
The one speck of dust in the eye,
This singular thought of an I,
Is an unestablished concept,
So just don't reject or accept.
Give or take, hold fast or release,
Searching in stillness for some peace
Is a futile self-amusement,
As there is nothing but movement.
Every moment ungraspable,
Run to or from, so laughable.
Look at this thought and see right there:
It's already gone who knows where.


Short Words on Chan Teachings

Everything Has Buddha-nature

Emptiness means no doer, no perceiver, there are only the mere appearance of conditioned phenomena. In other words: everything is absolutely determined by mechanical causality and we are all just robots.

Genuine Arising In Pure Mind

When it is directly perceived that appearances do not appear from anywhere, do not stay anywhere, and do not go anywhere, then there is nowhere to abide, hence the mind is realised as always ordinary.

Genuine Significance of Emptiness

Impermanence is a perfect entry. That there has never an experience arisen or disappeared, that is when the lack of an exit is seen.

Essentials of Sudden Enlightenment

Keeping an eye on something is only tiresome. Forcing a thought to stay is an impossible task. Eat, drink, sleep - the real duties of life. Asking for more or hoping for less is truly foolish.

No Mind, No Things, No Action, No Effort

There are already minds conceiving things, hence acting with effort. The peace and rest of the Buddha lies only within this endless struggle of life. Effortlessness is not the cessation of effort, only the immediate realisation that actions never had any value, as meanings are arbitrary concepts without basis. That is why Zhaozhou never wanted to hear the word "Buddha", and Yunmen had rather murdered Shakyamuni at his infancy than let him trouble beings with lies.

Dry Wood Putting Forth Blossoms

Chasing the sweet, running from the bitter, taste buds cannot be killed, food cannot be avoided. Neither eternal enjoyment nor permanent apathy can be forced on oneself. The mind never stays, feelings are always untamed. The wild flowers are blown by the winds until they wither, still you don't hear them cursing heaven and earth. It is not a matter of forbearance or inner strength, only knowing that honey and beer are both yellow.

Patient-Rest in True Suchness  

Look at sights, sounds, feelings, and thoughts:
There is none that stays even for a moment.
One may look for that patient rest for ten kalpas,
But there will be no solid point found anywhere. 

Deliverance by Chan Dharma Which Is Like a Flower in the Sky

Deluded thoughts let go of themselves, that is the mind's original purity. Attachment is the deluded attempt at repeating the past, so just consider where last night's dream is now. Do not try to be free, liberty is the natural state. It is not that you can do what you want, it is that desire itself is conditioned. Automatically this body is the emanation of primordial compassion the moment one recognises there is nothing to turn around to.


The Written Word

"Those who grasp at emptiness slander the Sutras by maintaining that written words have no use. Since they maintain they have no need of written words, they should not speak either, because written words are merely the marks of spoken language. They also maintain that the direct way cannot be established by written words, and yet these two words, ‘not established’ are themselves written."
(Platform Sutra, ch 10,, p 383-384, tr BTTS)

"Wherever this sutra is taught, read, recited, copied, or wherever it is to be found, one should build a seven-jeweled stupa of great height and width and richly ornamented. There is no need to put a relic inside. Why is this? Because the Tathāgata is already in it."
"The bodhisattvas are exactly like this. If they have not yet heard, understood, or been able to practice this Lotus Sutra, they should be known as people who are still far away from highest, complete enlightenment. If they hear, understand, contemplate, and are able to practice it, they realize that they are certainly nearing highest, complete enlightenment. Why is this? Because the highest, complete enlightenment of all the bodhisattvas is within this sutra. This sutra opens the gate of skillful means and reveals the marks of the truth."
(Lotus Sutra, ch 10, BDK ed, p 161, 162)

Mañjuśrī said: “In the ocean I always expounded only the Lotus Sutra.”
Then Prajñākūṭa questioned Mañjuśrī, saying: “This sutra is profound and subtle. It is a jewel among sutras and rare in the world. If sentient beings diligently strive to practice this sutra, will they immediately become buddhas or not?”
Mañjuśrī answered: “Yes, they will.”
(ch 12, p 183)

"if there are sentient beings who hear this sutra and who devoutly understand, accept and maintain, and read and recite it, they will definitely attain this Dharma, and will not doubt it. How much more so if they cultivate according to its explanation!"
"This sutra extensively explains the inconceivable anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi of the buddhas of the past, present, and future. Therefore, heavenly emperor, if good men and women accept and maintain, read and recite, and make offerings to this sutra, that is tantamount to making offerings to the buddhas of the past, present, and future."
(Vimalakirti Sutra, ch 13, BDK ed, p 171-172)

"Sutras of this type should, during the final period after my nirvana, be circulated extensively throughout Jambudvīpa by you and others with your numinous power, so [the Dharma] is not cut off."
“If in the future there are good men and women who seek the Mahayana, I will make certain that they get hold of such sutras. Using their power of mindfulness, I will cause them to receive and maintain, read and recite, and extensively explain them for others.
“World-honored One, if in the latter age there are those able to receive, maintain, read, recite, and explain them for others, one should understand that these will all be established by Maitreya’s numinous power.”
(ch 14, p 177, 178)

"Those who study this scripture will gain an opening into the true dharma, becoming excellent physicians themselves. You should understand, however, that those who never study it will be blind, lacking eyes of wisdom, their sight clouded by ignorance."
(Nirvana Sutra, ch 3, BDK ed, p 105)

"To his disciples the Tathagata teaches in succession the ninefold canon of scriptures so that they may become thoroughly familiar with that dharma. It is only after this that he teaches the hidden treasury that is the tathiigatagarbha. expounding the Tathagata' s permanence for his disciples. The Tathagata expounds the Mahayana scripture, the Great Nirvana Sutra in this way for those who have already made their resolution for awakening as well as for those who have not, thereby creating a karmic cause for bodhi in both, with exception of the icchantikas. Thus, good man, this Mahayana scripture, the Great Nirvana Sutra. is immeasurably, innumerably, and inconceivably rare. You should understand it to be the most skilled of all skilled physicians, foremost and superior, the king among sutras."
(p 294)

"If one hears this sutra or retains even one four-line verse of it, that person will then access the stage of the Buddha’s knowledge; one will be able to proselyte sentient beings with appropriate expedients and become the great spiritual mentor (kalyanamitra) of all living things."
(Vajrasamadhi Sutra, ch 1, p 58, tr Buswell)

"If there is a sentient being who keeps this sutra, then in all other sutras he will have nothing more to seek. The dharma of this scripture encodes all dharmas and includes the essentials of all sutras. It is the unifying thread of the dharmas of all these sutras."
(p 302)

Teacher Needed?

You need a teacher for what? If it is information, they are all found in books. If realisation, how can anyone make you realise anything?

As far as the Nikayas go, it is not a teacher (acariya) one needs, but good friendship (kalyanamittata).

"And what is good friendship? Here, in whatever village or town a clansman lives, he associates with householders or their sons—whether young but of mature virtue, or old and of mature virtue—who are accomplished in faith, virtuous behavior, generosity, and wisdom; he converses with them and engages in discussions with them. Insofar as they are accomplished in faith, he emulates them with respect to their accomplishment in faith; insofar as they are accomplished in virtuous behavior, he emulates them with respect to their accomplishment in virtuous behavior; insofar as they are accomplished in generosity, he emulates them with respect to their accomplishment in generosity; insofar as they are accomplished in wisdom, he emulates them with respect to their accomplishment in wisdom. This is called good friendship."
(AN 8.54, tr Bhikkhu Bodhi, tr Narada Thera; see also: Association with the Wise)

As for the Mahayana:

"Bodhisattvas on the beginning level, intent on practising prajna
To seek unsurpassed bodhi, get close to good and wise friends.
How to obtain great wisdom and merit? Should be from prajnaparamita.
That is how all buddhadharma and merit are attained from good friends."
(Ratnagunasamcayagatha 15.1-2, tr from T229p680a28-b2)

"The mind not being intimidated and such,
Those who teach the lack of nature and so on,
And abandoning the antagonistic factors of these
Means being mentored in every way."
(Abhisamayalamkara 1.36, tr Brunnhölzl)

Both the Astasahasrika (PP8K) and the AA commentaries explain that the good friend is the one who teaches prajnaparamita, in particular that all appearances are empty, while the bad friends are those who teach hinayana. See: PP8K 1.2, 15.1, 22.1, 30.1; and Gone Beyond, vol 1, p 282-283;  Groundless Paths, p 123-124, 422.

The Diamond Sutra gives the following summary of who teaches what:

"The dharmas spoken by the Tathagata cannot be grasped and cannot be spoken. They are neither dharmas nor no dharmas. And why? Unconditioned dharmas distinguish worthy sages."
"all Buddhas and all Buddhas’ Dharma of Anuttarasamyaksambodhi come forth from this Sutra. Subhuti, the Buddhadharmas spoken are no Buddhadharmas."
(ch 7 and 8, in Diamond Sutra, p 102, 106)

Huineng explains that like this:

"Good friends, if you wish to enter into the profound dharmadhatu and the samadhi of prajna, you must cultivate the practice of prajna and recite the Diamond Sutra. Thus will you attain seeing the nature. You should realize that the merits of this sutra are immeasurable and unlimited. They are clearly praised within the sutra; I cannot explain them fully here. This teaching is the Supreme Vehicle: it is preached for those of great wisdom, it is preached for those of superior capacities. Those of small capacities and small wisdom who hear it will generate doubt."
(Platform Sutra, ch 2, BDK ed, p 31)

He also says,

"You should each contemplate your minds and each see the fundamental nature. If you do not become enlightened by yourself, then you must seek a great spiritual compatriot, someone who understands the Dharma of the Supreme Vehicle, to indicate directly the correct path for you. This spiritual compatriot will have a great background and will, so to speak, lead you to the attainment of seeing the nature. This is because the spiritual compatriot is able to manifest the causes of all the good dharmas. All the buddhas of the three periods of time and the twelve divisions of the canon are fundamentally and naturally immanent within the natures of people, but if you cannot become enlightened yourself, you must seek a spiritual compatriot’s instructions in order to see [the nature].
If you can become enlightened yourself, don’t rely on external seeking — don’t think I’m saying you can only attain emancipation through [the help of] a spiritual compatriot other than yourself. This is not the case! Why? Within your own minds there is a spiritual compatriot [who will help you] become enlightened by yourself! If you activate the false and deluded, you will become all mixed up with false thoughts. Although some external spiritual compatriots may be teachers, they cannot save you. If you activate the correct and true and contemplate with prajna, in a single instant [all your] false thoughts will be completely eradicated. If you recognize the self-nature, with a single [experience of] enlightenment you will attain the stage of buddhahood."
(Platform Sutra, ch 2, BDK ed, p 33)

There are people who believe that a teacher is needed to point to the nature of mind and transmit the Dharma. However, the nature of mind cannot be shown, nor is there a Dharma that could be transmitted.

"In my view there is no Buddha, no sentient beings, no past, no present. Anything attained was already attained—no time is needed. There is nothing to practice, nothing to realize, nothing to gain, nothing to lose. Throughout all time there is no other dharma than this. ‘If one claims there’s a dharma surpassing this, I say that it’s like a dream, like a phantasm.’ This is all I have to teach."
(Record of Linji, p 12-13, tr Sasaki)

What do teachers give then?

Yaoshan hadn't been to the lecture hall for a long time. 
The temple supervisor said, "We've all been looking forward to your giving us a lecture." 
Yasohan said, "Ring the bell." 
As soon as the monks had gathered for the lecture, Yaoshan got up from his seat and went back to the abbot's quarters. The supervisor followed and asked why he didn't say anything, since he had agreed to speak to the monks. 
Yaoshan said, "They have teachers to teach them sutras and they have teachers to teach Abidhamma, so what is there left for me to do?"
(Record of Yaoshan, in Soto Zen Ancestors in China, p 63)

So Yunmen made it clear:

Having entered the Dharma Hall for a formal instruction, the Master said:
“All of you who come and go for no reason: What are you looking for in [this monastery] here? I only know h ow to eat and drink and shit. What else would I be good for?
“You’re making pilgrimages all over the place, studying Chan and asking about the Dao. Let me ask you: What have you managed to learn in all those places? Try presenting that!”
Again, he said: “In the meantime, you cheat the Master in your own house. Is that all right? When you manage to find a little slime on my ass, you lick it off, take it to be your own self, and say: ‘I understand Chan, I understand the Dao!’ Even if you manage to read the whole Buddhist canon— so what?!”
(Record of Yunmen, p 154, tr App)

And Huanglong explained further:

Huanglong addressed the monks, saying, “Before I came up here to speak there was nothing in my mind. But now that I’ve come up here there are a lot of questions. I dare to ask you whether the great vehicle of our school is found in such questions and answers. If it were to be found in such speech, then doesn’t the scriptural canon have questions and answers? Yet it is said that [the way of Zen] is transmitted outside of the scriptural teachings. It is transmitted to individuals who are great Dharma vessels. If it can’t be found in words, then even if you ask all sorts of excellent questions, what, after all, is the point of doing so? ... If you want to talk about it, then you can say that it can’t be realized through mystical perception or self-perfection. Nor may it be said to be a result of some all-encompassing understanding. The buddhas of the three worlds have only said you must know yourself. In the entire canon of scripture this can’t be explained. ... Those who leave home must have heroic resolve, cut off the two heads, and practice in seclusion in the house of the self. Afterward they must throw open the door, get rid of the possessions of that self, and then receive and meet whatever comes, giving aid to any in need. In this way the deep compassion of Buddha can be in some small measure repaid. Aside from acting in this manner, there is nothing else.”
Huanglong then struck the meditation platform with his whisk and left the hall.
(Zen's Chinese Heritage, p 403-404)

The story of Dongshan is a good example:

Once, when Yün-yen was making some straw sandals,  Tung-shan approached him and said, "I would like to have the Master's eyes."
Yün-yen said, "Where have yours gone?"
"Liang-chieh has never had them," replied Tung-shan.
Yün-yen said, "Supposing you did have them, where would you put them?"
Tung-shan said nothing. Yün-yen said, "Isn't it the eye that desires eyes?"
"It is not my eye," replied Tung-shan.
"Get out!" thundered Yün-yen.
(Record of Dongshan, p 26-27, tr Powell)

And later when asked about Yunyan:

Because the Master was conducting a memorial feast for Yün-yen, a monk asked, "What teaching did you receive while you were at Yün-yen's place?"
The Master said, "Although I was there, I didn't receive any teaching."
"Since you didn't actually receive any teaching, why are you conducting this memorial?" asked the monk.
"Why should I turn my back on him?" replied the Master.
"If you began by meeting Nan-ch'üan, why do you now conduct a memorial feast for Yün-yen?" asked the monk.
"It is not my former master's virtue or Buddha Dharma that I esteem, only that he did not make exhaustive explanations for me," replied the Master.
(p 28)