Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Reflections on Ryokan - The Winds have Died

The winds have died, but flowers go on falling;
birds call, but silence penetrates each song.

The Mystery! Unknowable, unlearnable.
The virtue of Kannon.

Ryokan

These incomparable words express so eloquently the mystery of inseparable emptiness and appearances.

Poignant indeed :-)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Reflections on Seongcheol - Snowflakes melting on Fire

The great achievements of the world are but snowflakes melting on fire,
Accomplishments that move oceans are but dew disappearing in the glare of the sun,
Why live a dream in this ethereal life of dreams,
I forsake all to walk towards the great eternal truth.

Seongcheol
Korean Seon (Zen) Master - on becoming a monk.



I was just laughing to myself whilst meditating. I'd not get too much sleep last night from the pain, so was more 'vegetating' rather than meditating! Nevertheless, whilst working with the drowsiness and general dullness which advanced and retreated like waves, I suddenly remembered Seongcheol, and his example. He was well known for being able to not just keep awareness of minds nature throughout the day, continuously, but also throughout dreaming *and* deep sleep too.

And I can't maintain alertness for more than a few moments even in formal meditation posture!

I'm entirely in awe of this great master :-)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Reflections on Chinul - Pointing to your Original Mind

Some reflections on a dialogue between Chinul (also known as Bojo, and Jinul), a 12th century Korean master and one of his students:


Question: In our case, what is this mind of void and calm, numinous awareness?

Chinul: What has just asked me this question is precisely your mind of void and calm, numinous awareness. Why not trace back its radiance rather than search for it outside? For your benefit I will now point straight to your original mind so that you can awaken to it. Clear your mind and listen to my words.

From morning to evening, throughout the twelve periods of the day, during all your actions and activities ... ultimately who is it that is able to perform all these actions? Speak! ... You should know that what is capable of seeing, hearing, moving and acting has to be your original mind: it is not your physical body. Furthermore, the four elements which make up the physical body are by nature void; they are like images in a mirror, or the moon's reflection in water. How can they be clear and constantly aware, always bright and never obscured - and, upon activation, be able to put into operation sublime functions as numerous as the sands of the Ganges? For this reason it is said, 'Drawing water and carrying firewood are spiritual powers and sublime functions.'

There are many points at which to enter the noumenon. I will indicate one approach which will allow you to return to the source ... Do you hear the sounds of that crow cawing and that magpie calling?

Student: Yes.

Chinul: Trace them back and listen to your hearing-nature. Do you hear any sounds?

Student: At that place, sounds and discriminations do not obtain.

Chinul: Marvellous! Marvellous! This is Avalokiteshvara's method for entering the noumenon. Let me ask you again. You said that sound and discriminations do not obtain at that place. But since they do not obtain, isn't the hearing-nature just empty space at such a time?

Student: Originally it is not empty. It is always bright and never obscured.

Chinul: What is this essence which is not empty?

Student: As it has no form or shape, words cannot describe it.

The Collected Works of Chinul

I thought I'd share some words about the inexpressible ... foolish being that I am ;-)

I was really struck when I read this dialogue yesterday as to how similar the pointing out instructions by the Korean Zen master Chinul were to the pointing out instructions of Mahamudra.

When Chinul asks the student to trace back mind's radiance, rather than search for it outside (in concepts or answers from the Master),he proceeds to give the pointing out instructions in a very clear and precise way. First he asks him to clear his mind and listen. It's so easy for us to jump to conceptual answers when we hear a teaching, or are asked a question. In Mahamudra meditation we can ask a question such as 'who am I?' and then 'listen' for the answer. Before the conceptual mind steps in, there's a spacious opening, as the conceptual mind lets go, and awareness 'holds' the question.

For the beginner, these questions just 'zap' the mind, as we have no idea at all what or who we are. Then there's the rush of thoughts that seek to fill the not knowing.

When we've had more experience with these things .. we don't rush to fill the gap ... we can sit in the unknowing ... sit with the lack of answer .... and sit in the opening.

Depending on our experience, we can sit in that opening for longer, with the mind clearer .. allowing us to see more clearly ..... and actually know what we see ... and not just try to understand it in thoughts and concepts.

"ultimately who is it that is able to perform all these actions?" ... when we look we see no-thing, no-one who is there 'behind' our actions. Even the 'I', the 'self' the sense of being 'someone' arises as an 'object' to awareness. It comes and goes, and is no more real or substantial than any other arising to mind.

"You should know that what is capable of seeing, hearing, moving and acting has to be your original mind: it is not your physical body." The physical body isn't there to us, directly and unmediated. Any experience we have that we ascribe to 'body' is simply arisings of perceptions in the play of mind. We never actually experience body as such ... only our dreamlike experience, some of which we separate out into 'body' and grasp onto it as real.

"Furthermore, the four elements which make up the physical body are by nature void; they are like images in a mirror, or the moon's reflection in water. How can they be clear and constantly aware, always bright and never obscured - and, upon activation, be able to put into operation sublime functions as numerous as the sands of the Ganges? For this reason it is said, 'Drawing water and carrying firewood are spiritual powers and sublime functions." The endlessly fascinating interplay of emptiness and appearances, of the apparent, and the ultimately true. How wondrous indeed that no-thing actually exists, and yet everything seems to arise, and carry out its own function perfectly! Somehow we'd think that for something to function, it must be real. It must truly exist. And yet, these mirages flit and flicker, yet dance their very own dance of the world, painting all colours on our experience and the world. Truly mysterious, ungraspable and wondrous indeed!

"There are many points at which to enter the noumenon. I will indicate one approach which will allow you to return to the source." Chunul gives an approach to working with mind, to allow the student to move away from grasping at appearances as if they were inherently real, and opening instead to how things really are. Chunul asks the student to listen to the birds singing:

"Chinul: Trace them back and listen to your hearing-nature. Do you hear any sounds?

Student: At that place, sounds and discriminations do not obtain."

When we let go of the entrancement of believing in 'objects' and just open to what really is, we don't find the solid separate 'things' which we believe exist. Instead, we find a magical display of fleeting appearances, all without substance. None have names, none have definite characteristics, and none have anything that we can call 'this' or 'that', 'it's here' or 'it's there', or even 'this exists' or 'this doesn't exist'. We have no idea at all what something 'is' in this sense. Just empty arisings.

"Chinul: You said that sound and discriminations do not obtain at that place. But since they do not obtain, isn't the hearing-nature just empty space at such a time?

Student: Originally it is not empty. It is always bright and never obscured."

Chinul asks whether because no-thing can be found, whether there is nothing at all. The abyss of nihilism as I believe Nagarjuna called it. The student clearly sees that this emptiness is full, and describes the luminosity of mind. Though no-thing can be found, experience is vivid and clear, blazing in clarity, full in its magical display. Awareness shines, whether the clouds of our ignorance and thoughts obscure it or not. Wakefulness is always present - how could it be otherwise? How could it be possible for our mind to grow quiet and experience this expansive knowingness were it not eternally awake?

"Chinul: What is this essence which is not empty?

Student: As it has no form or shape, words cannot describe it."

Asked to describe this luminosity, the student refuses to go where words cannot (unlike myself!!!!) and merely states that nothing definite can be said of that which illuminates the void. (the void - horrible term, but fitting here). Though emptiness is not nothingness, that which is other than nothingness is not a thing, nothing that can be pointed to with words.

How clear this experience that is describes from centuries ago, between two beings I've never met!

How crazy these idle ramblings, trying to put the horns on a rabbit, trying to describe the indescribable!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Adding Labels and Tags

How fascinating it has been these last two days to go through this blog adding on labels or tags to each post, giving a signpost to what is contained within. It's been fascinating reading snippets of so many of these postings, seeing what I was doing, and more importantly, seeing how I was experiencing things throughout these years.

And fascinating indeed to see which labels come up most frequently in my posts. That clearly gives some indication of the notions that I am particularly interested in in my life - those things that I care about and wish to express here.

It's almost like a league-table of what my life is about! (the league table is over on the right side, if you wish to see)

As if a mirror has been held up, and suddenly revealed my life, in all its (in)glory!

Funny old thing, blogging ....

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Measure of a Life

Did I love well?

Did I live fully?

Did I learn to let go?

- Jack Kornfield

I've recently been delving back into 'A Path with Heart' by Jack Kornfield after many years, and once again came across this lovely aphorism. He relates how when one is lying on your deathbed you are unlikely to be thinking 'did I stay late enough at work that night', or 'did I earn enough' .. but much more likely these three questions in the quotation.

Many, many times I've reflected on this, and come back to this fundamental point about life. It says so much about what we put our energy into, and whether that's really what we want our life to be about.

And much like Buddha's
"Cease to do evil,

do good,

purify the heart"

this most pithy aphorism contains so much in the way of guidelines to practice, encompassing the whole path.

Well, did I? Do I? Will I?

What a beautiful thing this journey is, bitter or sweet it appears to be .....

Friday, May 09, 2008

More Simplicity

- following on from yesterday's reflection on the simple pleasure of sitting, just sitting - it struck me today how odd it is in a way that I can get so much joy from just looking at trees, the sky and the wind. I'd just finished meditating yesterday, and looked up and out at the trees. I was fascinated by how 'blue' the sky was, how verdant the green of the new leaves on the trees was, how wondrous the shapes that the leaves made against the sky, and how lovely the movement of the leaves and branches against the backdrop of the blue sky.

I had this sense of completeness, of needing nothing, and just content to be where I was, enjoying what was.

How odd? ... why odd? ... well, in a way, wouldn't most people think it really odd that I was sitting there, looking at trees with a funny smile on my face? Where was my cigarette, or chatter, or planning, or entertainment from ipods and other gadgets? What struck me in particular was that at that moment, I didn't need all these technological marvels that we've invented in order to give us pleasure. I didn't need entertainment from things that were complex, that I had to strive to buy, or which took a lot of work or conditions to acquire. All I needed at that moment was? ... well, not a lot really. Simple pleasure in being right where I was, in the present, fully open to what was around me, and within, or wherever any of that actually is.

Like the old adage of the person with the jewel on their person, who'd not known that they have this wealth there all the time, unbeknownst to them .... I felt a recognition today that contentment was right there - simply there all the time, should we want it. We don't actually need all that other stuff to make us feel good. Just open to what is, don't push and pull at it with want and don't want .. just open to the texture of what is there, fully, with an open heart, and right there and then, in whatever it is, anger, happiness, complexity, simplicity .... whatever it seems to be ... open to what is ... and it's all same taste, all one taste, all both wondrously apparent and beguiling, yet utterly empty and ineffable, and extraordinarily mysterious. How beautiful, however it is ....

simple things .... strange 'world' we inhabit .....

Simple Pleasure

I've found myself experiencing some wonderment recently, at how pleasurable simply sitting still is, and doing absolutely nothing, (other than remaining in awareness).

Doing nothing?

How much of my life is caught up in doing? How much of it is to do with getting somewhere, achieving something, or trying to somehow alter what actually is?

Simply sitting, resting the body, resting the mind, and allowing what is to simply be in awareness - what an amazing thing that is. How little there actually is to say about it ... how little can be expressed in words. How do you convey an inner experience, one which is utterly intangible and ineffable, into words that somehow convey something to another being?

I don't know, and guess that's part of why I've not posted here much over the last year. Seems like it goes in cycles, sometimes feeling a great desire to share, to attempt to cross the divide. Other times, the inclination is to remain with what is, and just allow it to be what it is.

The waves and the ocean are what they are. Can we taste them for what they are? Can we see appearances for what they are and follow their luminous flickering path in awareness?

No direction in this blog, just like there is no direction in mind, in experience. Just what is. Suchness.

How beautiful simply sitting can be.