Hui Neng and the Poetry Contest

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Aspects of Practice


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Good morning. I guess that sometimes I can actually empathize with this machine and I'd like to turn myself off also. But maybe not right now. It's nice to see you all. We're having a one-day sitting that opens our four-week practice period, which we call Aspects of Practice. We've been having this every fall for long time now, and it's a way to kind of recommit ourselves to practice and to create a space where some newer people can get acquainted with the ins and outs of what we do and what we study and what we celebrate from the past. and also to refresh those of us who have been here for a long time.


So our subject matter, this practice period is led by myself and the senior students and so we'll have lectures on Saturdays and and talks on Mondays and a class on Thursdays. And we do this to some extent collaboratively. And you're welcome to participate. There's a sign-up sheet on the bulletin board. And if you are so inspired here this morning, you're welcome to come to the brief opening ceremony. this afternoon, which is, Gary, what time is it? 4.40. 4.40 this afternoon for about 20 minutes. And what we're going to study or investigate, talk about for the next four weeks are basically our Chinese ancestors.


Most of them from the Tang Dynasty, which was from the early 600s to about 907, and then some moving into the Song Dynasty, which was a little after that, going from 960 to the late 13th century. And a lot of what was established in Chinese Zen that was then carried over into Japanese Zen and brought to us was really set in motion during that time. How many of you were here last Saturday? So a lot of you got to hear a kind of overview and storytelling that Sojin Roshi did on this scene. I have one central story I'd like to tell you today, but I also want to elaborate on a few of the ways that we might think about what it is that we're doing.


I was speaking with Sojiroshi this week and I actually had a chance to listen to his talk because I wanted to know what it was that he had laid out and that all seemed to give a really good introduction. But we were talking and he was saying, you know, we should continue this after Aspects. And so we'll see, maybe we will. It's been a while, I think, since we looked at these ancestors in a kind of extended fashion. We will study and look at particular stories from one ancestor or another, but to see this whole family and to understand how that family is relevant to our views and how we practice, it can be really important and really inspiring.


It was inspiring to me when I was at Tassajara In the 80s, both with Sojan and with Rev. Anderson, we were studying these ancestors. And also, as you're here for service, we chant the lineage, but we don't tell the stories so much. And telling the stories made me really feel like, oh, this is a family I would like to be in. And so it was, I found it kind of part of the inspiration that made me want to ordain. So, Sochin Roshi read, he read this case from Master Uman. And the case he read was where Master Uman says,


Each of you has your own light. So this is true for each of us as practitioners, as human beings. Each of us has our own particular light, our own particular style, our own particular qualities. lack of qualities, shortcomings. He says if you try to see it, everything is darkness. When you try to see, look directly at what your nature is, you can't quite make it out, but it's easy for us to see it in each other. We recognize each other And so we see it in a sense in reflection from each other.


But there's another verse that frames this that I want to read you. This is from Master Dogen from 13th century. And Dogen was, That's Dogen. Dogen was very steeped in the Chinese ancestry. And in his great vow, which we sometimes chant, basically his vow of practice, he quotes one of the earlier ancestors. And he says, those who in past lives were not enlightened will be enlightened. Those who in past lives were not enlightened will be enlightened in this life. Save the body, which is the fruit of many lives. And then this really powerful line.


Before Buddhas were enlightened, they were the same as we. Enlightened people today are exactly as those of old. So this is the continuity of awakening that's what's been given to us. We may not see it. We try to look for it and it's dark. It's very difficult for us to see ourselves as enlightened beings. but we're given this assurance that enlightened people of today are exactly as those of old. So the school of Zen that we practice, there's another way of framing it.


One of the, in this, I'm talking today about Ui Ne, the sixth ancestor. And from the sixth ancestor, all of our Zen lines kind of flow forth. So from his two disciples, you have what became the Soto lineage and what became the Renzai lineage. Rinzai lineage flows through Nanyue, his disciple, or Nangaku, to Matsu, and then on to today's lineage. And the Soto flows through Chinyuan, or Seigen Gyoshi, as we chant in our lineage, to Sekito Kisen. and then down to a Sekitoki Zen is the author of the Sandokai, which we chant.


And so what we have in one of the ways that Japanese Buddhists framed the lineage, we have what they called Ancestral Zen and Tathagata Zen. And it's just one of those dualities. I had a teacher in college who said, there's two kinds of people in the world, those who divide things in two and those who don't. If you think about that a lot, it destroys your mind. So this ancestral Zen is nominally what the Zen school is. Ancestral Zen is in line with this famous teaching that's ascribed to Bodhidharma, a special transmission outside the scriptures, not founded upon words and letters,


by pointing directly to one's mind, it lets one see into one's nature and attain Buddhahood. So this is a pose, this is ancestral Zen, which doesn't depend on particular sets of practices or doctrines or systems of teaching. It just, it's basically what we might describe as warm hand to warm hand. or mind-to-mind transmission. And then Tathagata Zen, which of course is getting the bum rap here, is scriptural Zen. It's Zen that follows the sutras and these systems of teaching, the Eightfold Path, and the factors of enlightenment and the foundations of mindfulness, all these systems of dharma that are being explained as if they actually progressed step by step, or steps and stages.


So this is a kind of a characterization, a false characterization, I think, of the other school of Zen. And if we look at it really, if we look at what we do and if we look at what we learn, you know, on the one hand we have a kind of formless practice where we are encouraged to sit with whatever arises and to recognize our enlightened nature And on the other hand, you may have noticed there's stuff we have to work with that keeps arising, and we use Buddhist tools and other tools to work on them. So you have this tension. and I think a false tension that's been set up between Ancestral Zen and Tathagata Zen. And it's also in what I'm going to read you, sometimes this is characterized as Ancestral Zen as the sudden school and Tathagata


takes a lot longer than the gradual school. If you ask me personally, I can attest to that. As a practitioner of the sudden school, it ain't so sudden. And sometimes it's also characterized in the history of Chinese Zen as the southern school, the southern school is the sudden school, is the ancestral school, And the northern school is the gradual school, is the Tathagata Zen school. Southern school, good. Northern school, bad. Okay? Got that kind of carved in your mind? Now, throw it away. That's all the polemics of any religious system. You know, my system is better than your system.


Whereas really, if you think about, by the time the tradition had got to Sekito, he said, the teachers of the North and South are but different expressions of the same reality. streams flow on in the darkness. So we're beginning to understand that this kind of factionalism really was not about different perspectives of Buddhism. In many ways it was about different manifestations of ego. Okay, so I want to talk about we-name. ancestral tradition begins, goes from Bodhidharma through four other ancestors, some of whom we know almost nothing about.


And we get to winning, and we think we know something about winning, although But Winen was the person who purportedly spoke or wrote the Platform Sutra, which is one of our key typical texts in the Zen tradition. And the Platform Sutra begins with a biography, or an autobiography, and at the heart of that, there's a poetry contest. relate to you today. So, the story of Huining is that his father was a low-level official who died and left Huining and his mother in very poor circumstances in Canton, in southern China.


he made his living by cutting firewood, cutting and selling firewood. And one day, when he was in the market selling firewood, a customer came to his shop, and when he was carrying the firewood out of the shop, he heard someone in the street reciting a sutra. He said, as soon as I heard this text, my mind became enlightened. and I asked what he was reciting. He's about 15 and purportedly illiterate. But he had sort of an instant awakening to this text and the man explains, well, this is the Diamond Sutra. The Diamond Sutra is one of the Prajaparamita Sutras of which the Heart Sutra that we chant is a part. So, and this person who's reciting it says, well, there's a master in the Wang Mei district, the fifth ancestor who teaches this.


And so this man encouraged we named to go and study this and quite conveniently also gave him a packet of coins so that his mother would be able to support herself in his absence. And thereby his mother leaves the story. We never hear about her again. At any rate, He goes to, he said, I went to pay homage to the ancestor and was asked where I came from and what I expected from him. So he makes his way, you know, over the mountains to, to Dung Can Monastery. And Rinpoche says, I am a commoner from Kwantung. I've traveled far to pay you respect. And I ask for nothing but Buddhahood. said, you are a native of Kuangtung, a barbarian, a hillbilly, basically.


How can you expect to be a Buddha? I replied, although there are northern men and southern men, north and south makes no difference to Buddha nature. A barbarian is different from your holiness physically, but there's no difference in our Buddha nature. and knows what he knows. So, there's no difference in our buddhahood. So, the fifth ancestor, he was about to speak further to me, but the presence of other disciples made him stop short. So he stopped and said, okay, go to work. Sends him off to the workhouse, the temple. And of course, Winang says, may I tell your holiness that prajna often arises in my mind. When one does not stray from one's essence of mind, one may be called a fielder of merit.


What work would Your Holiness have me do?" And Winnick says, this barbarian is too bright I then withdrew to the backyard and was told by a lay brother to split firewood and to pound rice. So he does this work for the significant interval of nine months. Just enough time to give birth to a Buddha. And one day the ancestor assembled his disciples and said, The question of rebirth is momentous. Day after day, instead of trying to free yourself from this sea of life and death, you reach for tainted merits which will only cause rebirth. Merits will be no help to you.


So go and seek for your wisdom and write me a verse about it. the one who understands their essence of mind will be given the robe and the dharma and I shall make him the sixth ancestor. So it's like he's setting the rules for a contest. Delay not in writing as deliberation is quite unnecessary. The disciples get this, they get his instruction and they're a bunch of what is commonly called rice bags. Do you know what rice bags are? They're like, we're rice bags. We fill ourselves with rice and we shit out the remainder and then the next day we fill ourselves with rice again. And these monks, they didn't do anything, they're just rice bags, with leaking rice bags.


So the disciples go stand aside and they say, it's no use for us to concentrate our mind to write a verse and submit it to the ancestor, since the winner is bound to be our teacher, Shenshu. He's like the head monk. If we bother to write, it's only a waste of our energy. Pathetic, really. Why should we take the trouble? Hereafter, we'll just let Shenshu write the verse and we'll follow his example. And wherever he goes, we'll look to him for guidance. Meanwhile, Shenshu, who was one of the protagonists in this, is thinking, I wonder whether I should write a verse and submit it to his holiness. If I don't, how can the ancestor know how deep or shallow my knowledge is?" And he thinks about this a while.


He thinks maybe he's going to paint a verse in secret at night on the wall. He made several attempts to submit this verse But as soon as he went near the hall, his mind was so perturbed that he broke out into sweat all over. He could not screw up his courage to do it, although he made 13 attempts. And finally, he says, OK, I've got to do this. It's better to write it on the wall and let the ancestors see it. And if he approves it, then I shall come." He's going to write it in secret. If he approves it, then I shall come and pay homage and tell him that it was done by me. He said, but if he disapproves it, then I shall have wasted years in this monastery receiving praise from others, which I don't deserve.


So he writes it. And this is the verse which you may have heard. Our body is the bony tree and our mind is a mirror bright. Carefully we wipe them hour by hour and let no dust alight. Our body is the bony tree and our mind a mirror bright. Carefully we wipe them hour by hour both rhymes and scans. So he writes this in and he goes to his room fall into a fit of anxiety about it. Is it good? Is it not good?


What are we doing? In this vein, he kept on thinking until dawn, as he could neither sleep nor sit at ease. So the ancestor comes the next morning to the hall, where he was going to have some murals painted. And he sees the verse, and he said, It will be good to leave this stanza here so people may study and recite it. If they put his teaching into actual practice, they will be saved from the misery of being born in evil realms of existence. The merit gained by one who practices will be great indeed." So he's praising it. meaning of this is a little subtle. He's not saying they will be free from rebirth. He just said this verse is good enough so that they'll be free from evil rebirth if you practice it.


You won't be born as a hungry ghost or a demon if you practice this verse, but you will still continue to be reborn. He ordered incense to be burned and all of his disciples to pay homage and recite it. And after they recited it, all of them exclaimed, well done. At midnight, the ancestors sent for Shenshu to come to the hall and ask him, did you write this or not? Shenshu said, yes, it was me. I dare not be so vain as to get the rope and bowl, but I wish your holiness would tell me whether my stanza shows the least grain of wisdom. The answer says, so far you have reached the threshold of the door of enlightenment, but you've not yet entered it. He says, to attain supreme enlightenment, one must be able to know spontaneously one's own nature or essence of mind, which is neither created nor can it be annihilated.


So he says, you better go back and think it over for a couple of days, and then write another verse. If your stanza shows you have entered the door of enlightenment, I will transmit to you the robe and dharma. Shenshu made obeisance and left. For several days he tried in vain to write another stanza. This upset him so much that it was So a couple days later, one of the young monks is walking by the workroom where Huining is, and he's reciting this verse out loud. And Huining says, what stanza is this? And the boy says, you barbarian, you don't know about it? The ancestor told the disciple that the question of incessant rebirth


was a momentous one, and so on and so forth. So Shenshu wrote this formless stanza on the wall of the South Corridor, and the ancestor told us to recite it. Wineng asks the boy to show him where the stanza was so that he could bow to it. The boy took me there. A petty officer of the Changzhou district named Chong Tee Yung, who also happened to be there, read me the verse. When he had finished reading, I told him, I also had composed a verse, and asked him to write it on the wall for me. Extraordinary indeed, he exclaimed, that you, you can also compose a stanza. don't despise a beginner," said I. If you are a seeker of enlightenment, you should know that the lowest class may have the sharpest wit, while the highest may want an intelligence.


If you slight others, you commit a very great sin. I will take it down for you, but don't forget to deliver me should you succeed in getting the Dharma." So he makes this promise, which he also has never heard from again in this text. So he did forget about it. So here's the verse. So remember the first one. Let me just read the first one again. Our body is the bony tree, and our mind a mirror bright. Carefully we wipe them hour by hour, and let no dust alight." And his verse is, There is no bony tree, nor stand of a mirror bright.


Since all is empty, where can dust alight? When he had written this, all the disciples and others who were present were greatly surprised. How can it be that for so long we have made a bodhisattva incarnate work for us? Seeing that the crowd was overcome with amazement, the ancestor took off his shoe and rubbed off my verse. One thing I really like about this story is it's quite visual. You could see this as a movie. It would be fun to do. So the fifth ancestor expressed the opinion that the author of this stanza had not yet realized the essence of mind.


Next day, the ancestor came secretly to the room where the rice was bounded. He said to me, A seeker of the path risks his life for the Dharma. Should he not do so? Then he asked, Is the rice ready? Ready long ago, I replied, only waiting for the sieve. He knocked the ancestor, knocked with his stick three times, and Knowing what the message meant, in the third watch of the night, I went to his room. Using his robe as a screen so that none could see us, he expounded the Diamond Sutra. When he came to the sentence, one should use one's mind in such a way that will be free from any attachment.


I at once became thoroughly enlightened and realized that all things in the universe are essence of mind. Thus, to the knowledge of no one, the Dharma was transmitted to me at midnight, and consequently I became the inheritor of the teaching of the sudden school as well as the robe and the begging bowl." So that's the story and then it unfolds from there. Some years ago, I was working on a piece of writing, which remains in my desk, in which I retold this story. And I think that this, and I also did a lot of research. Suzuki Roshi, I was talking with Sojin, Suzuki Roshi, he was a little chagrined, Suzuki Roshi had expressed


He kind of doubted the veracity of this story. And he said this to Sojin once, but Sojin never asked him why. He said, you know, I should have asked him. But I also found a poem, which I'll read you here. This is, here's my take on it. told in Winning's voice. I do not doubt the ancestors' opinion that I was the vessel best qualified to carry the Dharma, but neither did I fully accept the idea that the Dharma resides with any single person. Whatever doubts Hsuan-Chu, the other disciple, may have had at the time he wrote his verse, the seed of enlightenment was clear to me in his words.


My verse was not truly in contradiction to his, but in extension, bringing forth the empty nature of mind that Hsuan-Chu implied. In later years, the foolish descendants, when foolish descendants fell into the sorry human habit of squabbling, northern and southern schools of Zen arose, supposedly aligned with Shenshu and myself. Nothing could have been further from my thoughts. The poet, Zhaoran, Precisely speaks my mind on this matter. Here's a poem by Xiaoran. The minds of these two men were like moon and sun. With no cloud in the four directions, they appear in space.


The three vehicles share the same path. The myriad teachings are one. The division into northern and southern speech. So the question which I would like to conclude with as we look at this story is, what does this mean to us? What does it mean to me? And then he turned it around and said, how can we be useful to our practice? How does this help us be useful to the practice itself, rather than how does this help us make use of the practice?


We have this emptiness side, which is sometimes framed as the absolute. And the Heart Sutra is an exemplar of that. No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind. The negation of everything, and also of all these systems of dharma, of everything that we think we want to rely and stand on, take that away. At the same time, we have practices, we have precepts, we have values, we have the teachings of our body, we have things that we have to rely on. These systems are interacting. If you didn't have, you know, they're put forth as contradicting, contradictory, but I see them as complementary.


If you see them together, you really see, to me, I see the interpenetration of the so-called relative and the so-called absolute. And even though we don't practice, we say we don't practice in steps and stages, we still come to this endo, we sit down, we maintain a form. There are disciplines that we lean on that are manifestations of our mind. They're traditions, we'd keep showing up here. And so I like to imagine when I continued in this writing that I was doing, the next section of it was, you know, Winning runs off to the forest and lives in the forest for several years.


And after he's there for a couple of months, Shenshu tracks him down and they spent a year living together, practicing side by side, just doing the practice that they had been taught by the Fifth Ancestor, and manifesting that practice in harmony rather than in the tension of differences that were created later. So I think that's where I'm going to end for today, and I think you'll see some of these as we continue through some of the ancestors, which we're not going to do in such a systematic way, but I think you'll hear echoes of these perspectives in much of the teachings from the enlightened women and men that we


So, a little time, a few minutes for questions, comments. I was wondering, time period, when did Wen Ying live? Wen Ying lived in the early 8th century. Or actually, late 7th, early 8th. I think he died in 716. Where did he live in China? In southern China, I believe, in the Canton area, I think it was the Cantonese area of China now, on a mountain. But that's one of the things I think Sojin talked about. there were these mountains and these teachers and students went from one to another to, you know, not looking at what school is this one, what school is this one, but where is there, you know, where is there good teaching?


And where might I learn something? Did he know that he was part of the lineage? We don't know what he knew. That's the thing, it's really hard to tell because all of this happened as, so one of the things, I'm not sure if this is something to talk about, what you have is the imposition of a kind of Confucian worldview that's being imposed on Buddhism. And so all of this was happening, So whether he knew that he was part of it or not, I would hesitate to say. We don't know what's factual there.


It feels like what you're talking about is skillful means. So that there's the practice of just showing up with nothing to attain as we chant. And at the same time, skillful means arise. And sometimes we're taught what they are, certain sutras, you know, like the Metta Sutra, Metta practice, and so on. And some of them arise spontaneously in that showing up. And so in terms of practicing in Sangha, practicing supposedly with the other, the enemy, how do you see this integrating? I'm not quite sure I'm understanding the question. Well, imagine Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the house and how to be intimate with that without either, you know, just getting carried away with making fun of one or the other of them or demonizing one or the other of them.


Seeing, you know, you could call it empty or you could say common humanity or something like that. How do you actually engage with that difference? Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in my house? No, no, that's actually a serious question. Is that what you mean? Well, that would be a wonder. I would want to see who each of them... to try as best I can to see who each of them is, because they're caricatures to me, the way they're portrayed. And I know that they're not caricatures. They are foolish humans in various ways, as I am. But they're also, I have no doubt they love their family and love You know, they have human qualities and I'd like to know what those are before I started, before I sort of reconsigned them to the box, particularly if what we're looking at is them being guests in my home.


You know, so you have to remember if you're, if you have guests, you have responsibility as a host. And that's one of the great dynamics of Zen, guest and host. So that doesn't mean I have to agree with what one or another thinks politically. But somebody said to me, this really resonated with me. They were upset. There had been a family dinner, this really happened, and they got into arguing about politics, and one person just got up and walked out, and his wife got up and walked out with him. And my friend was upset.


because they were being argued with. They hadn't actually even started the argument. But my friend said, you know, when we're breaking bread together and eating a meal together, we want to manifest harmony. And I think that's, you know, I think that's really important. If you're doing that together, at least for that moment, you don't antagonize or intimidate or inflame the other person. It's like we're doing something that involves sharing right now. Maybe after dinner we can have the argument. Anyway, that's the response right now. Maybe one more, Linda? Do you think the Heart Sutra is mainly teaching emptiness or does it give a kind of equality to form and emptiness?


I think it gives, well, it's putting forth a position in which form and emptiness interpenetrate each other. But it's also, you know, it's seen as a, we have to see through these negations. It's doing that by way of negations, which of course imply the affirmations as well. No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue. Yes, of course I have eyes, ears, nose, tongue. But you have to see through and past the negation. So it's putting forth that side of things as, it's like all these teachings are medicine. It's medicine for the side that says dharmas are real and substantial and it's saying in a way, well it's not that they're unreal but they're constructed and so that's the emptiness school, if you will, but the emptiness school doesn't mean that nothing is real.


That's my understanding. I feel it really puts forth emptiness, but for me its power has always been that it makes form and emptiness unable to escape each other. Yes, depends on what you mean by emptiness. We won't start that at this time. Well, I'll just say very simply, my understanding of emptiness is really, I think it's like fullness, that everything is the is the interrelationship of causes conditions and forms uh so it's not like uh there's nothing there and this is what And one of the other things about the, if we're studying the Platform Sutra, which we're not, one of the other aspects of the Platform Sutra is it's a kind of argument for, it's an embodied expression of the Diamond Sutra in many ways.


It's like Diamond Sutra can be pretty heady and abstract and the Platform Sutra says, Well, here's how it works in the world and in your body. And I think that this is a good place to end as we get to talking about the ancestors. They're all doing that. Their ancestral sin is about taking these teachings and doctrines that can be abstruse or obscure or heady and filtering them through one's own body so that you see this is real and this is a way to live. One's own light. What? Go back to your man, one's own light. Right, yeah. And it, yeah, it reveals itself as one's light. So that's a really good place to end. And I look forward, we're gonna have a month of continuing discussion and teachings and please do join us.