Three Pillars of Zen

13 April 2012

A Collection of Talks, Letters and Advice from Yasutani-Roshi, Bassui and Harada-Roshi

the Three Pillars of Zen by Roshi Philip Kapleau

Part One – Theory and Practice

p31 “…on the morning of the eighth of December, at the very instant when [O-Shaka-sama aka buddha Shakyamuni] glanced at the planet Venus gleaming in the eastern sky, he attained perfect enlightenment.”

p32 “Most people place a high value on abstract thought, but Buddhism has clearly demonstrated that discriminative thinking lies at the root of delusion.”

“To be sure, abstract thinking is useful when wisely employed – which is to say, when its nature and limitations are properly understood – but as long as human beings remain slaves to their intellect, fettered and controlled by it, they can well be called sick.”

p41 “Makyo are the phenomena – visions, hallucinations, fantasies, revelations, illusory sensations – which one practicing zazen is apt to experience at a particular stage in his sitting. Ma means “devil” and kyo “the objective world.” Hence makyo are the disturbing or “diabolical” phenomena which appear to one during zazen.”

p42 “Broadly speaking, the entire life of the ordinary man is nothing but a makyo.”

p45-6 “Through the practice of bompu [ordinary] Zen, you learn to concentrate and control your mind. It never occurs to most people to try to control their minds, and unfortunately this basic training is left out of contemporary education, not being part of what is called the acquisition of knowledge. Yet without it what we learn is difficult to retain because we learn it improperly, wasting much energy in the process. Indeed, we are virtually crippled unless we know how to restrain our thoughts and concentrate our minds. Furthermore, by practicing this very excellent mode of mind training you will find yourself increasingly able to resist temptations to which you had previously succumbed, and to sever attachments which had long held you in bondage. An enrichment of personality and a strengthening of character inevitably follow since the three basic elements of the mind – that is, intellect, feeling, and will – develop harmoniously.”

p49 “The aims of zazen are three: 1) development of the power of concentration (joriki), 2) satori-awakening (kensho-godo), and 3) actualization of the Supreme Way in our daily lives (mujodo no taigen).”

p60 “Strictly speaking, you ought not to think of zazen in terms of time.”

p79 “What is the substance of this Buddha- or Dharma-nature? In Buddhism it is called ku [shunyata]. Now, ku is not mere emptiness. it is that which is living, dynamic, devoid of mass, unfixed, beyond individuality or personality – the matrix of all phenomena. Here we have the fundamental principle or doctrine or philosophy of Buddhism.”

p80 “We die because we are alive. Living means birth and death. Creation and destruction signify life.”

p113 “Student C: I feel Mu is everything and nothing. I feel it is like a reflection of the moon on a lake, with no moon and no lake, only reflection.
Roshi: You have a keen theoretical grasp of Mu, a clear picture of it in your mind; now you need to take hold of it directly.”

p115 “It is simply a matter of engrossing yourself in Mu so totally that there is no room for thoughts of any kind, including Mu itself.”

p118 “There are those who do zazen for years, with strong joriki, yet never awaken. Why not? Because in their deepest unconscious they can’t disabuse themselves of the idea that the world is external to them, that they are a sovereign individuality independent of and opposed by other individualities. To renounce such conceptions is to stand in “darkness.” Now, satori comes out of this “darkness,” not out of the “light” of reason and worldly knowledge.”

“In Zen it is said that ‘the grand round mirror of wisdom is as black as pitch.'”

p120 “Deep in our subconsciousness the conception of ‘me’ and ‘other’ is strong. We think ‘I am here, what is not me is out there.’ This is an illusion; inherently there is not such dichotomy… but this ‘I’ is so powerfully imbedded that it can’t be uprooted by reasoning. In single-minded concentration on Mu you are not aware of ‘I’ standing against what is ‘not-I.’ If the absorption in Mu continues without interruption, the ‘I-ness’ dies out in the subconscious mind. Suddenly ”Plap!’ – there is no more duality. To experience this directly is kensho.”

p124 “Your mind, like a mirror, reflects everything – this table, this mat – whatever you see. If you don’t perceive anything, the mirror reflects itself. Now, everybody’s mind is different. How my mind reflects objects differs from the way yours does. Whatever is in your mind is the reflection of your mind, therefore it is you. So when you perceive this mat or this table, you are perceiving yourself. Again, when your mind is devoid of all conceptions – opinions, ideas, points of view, values, notions, assumptions – your mind is reflecting itself. This is the condition of undifferentiated Mu.”

Enlightenment and practice are one. — Dogen

p136 “Your mind is at the spot where you put your attention. if you concentrate on your finger your mind is at your finger; if on your leg, at that place. With your mind concentrated below the navel your vital energy gradually becomes stabilized in that region.”

The truly virtuous is not conscious of his virtue. The man of inferior virtue, however, is ever consciously concerned with his virtue and therefore he is without true virtue. True virtue is spontaneous and lays no claim to virtue —Lao-tzu Tao Teh Ching

p156 “…man is forever seeking and grasping. Why? he grasps for the world because intuitively he longs to be rejoined with that from which he has been estranged through delusion. It is in consequence of this alienation that we find the strong overcoming the weak and the weak accepting enslavement as an alternative to death. Yet when undeluded, human beings naturally gravitate toward one another. Those with strong natures want to cherish and protect the weak, while the latter long to be cherished by them. So we have the Buddha, who is spiritually powerful, embracing us who are weak, and we bow down before him in grateful acceptance of his overwhelming compassion. Like a mother caressing her infant, here there is no separateness, only harmony and oneness. Everything in nature seeks this unity. If you carefully observe the pod of a lotus, you will see that when drops of rain or dew overflow the little combs, they merge.”

p157 “…because [man] falsely sees himself as no more than his puny body, just a speck in the universe, he is constantly endeavouring to enlarge himself through possessions and power. But when he awakens to the fact that he embraces the whole universe, he ceases his grasping, for he no longer feels a lack within himself.”

p178-9 “…’Arouse the Mind without its abiding anywhere.’ Thousands of words spoken directly by Buddhas and patriarchs add up to this one phrase. Mind is the True-nature of things, transcending all forms. The True-nature is the Way. The Way is Buddha. Buddha is Mind. Mind is not within or without or in between. It is not being or nothingness or non-being or non-nothingness or Buddha or mind or matter. So it is called the abodeless Mind. The Mind sees colors with the eyes, hears sounds with the ears. Look for this master directly!”

Dogen on “Being-Time”

p309-311 “An ancient Zen master said: ‘Being-time stands on the topmost peak and in the utmost depths of the sea, being-time is three heads and eight elbows, being-time is a height of sixteen or eighteen feet, being-time is a monk’s staff, being time is a hossu, being-time is a stone lantern, being-time is Taro, being-time is Jiro, being-time is earth, being-time is sky.’

“‘Being-time’ means that time is being. Every existent thing is time. The sixteen-foot golden figure is time. As it is time it has the grandeur of time. You must learn that it is twelve hours of ‘nowness.’ Three heads and eight elbows is time. Since it is time it cannot but be identical with these twelve hours this every moment. Though we do not measure twelve hours as a long or a short time, still we [arbitrarily] call them twelve hours. The traces of the ebb and flow of time are so evident that we do not doubt them; yet, though we do not doubt them, we ought not to conclude that we understand them. Human beings are changeable, at one time questioning what they do not understand and at another time no longer questioning the same thing, so their former questionings do not always coincide with their present ones. The questioning alone, for its duration, is time.

“Man disposes himself and construes this disposition as the world. You must recognize that every thing, every being in this entire world is time. No object obstructs another, just as no time obstructs another. Thus the initial orientation of each different mind toward the truth exists within the same time, and for each mind there is as well a moment of commencement in its orientation toward truth. It is no different with practice-enlightenment.

“Man disposes himself and looks upon this disposition [as the world]. That man is time is undeniably accept that in this world there are millions of objects and that each one is, respectively, the entire world  – this is where the study of buddhism commences. When one comes to realize this fact, [one perceives that] every object, every living thing is the whole, even though it itself does not realize it. As there is no other time than this, every being-time is the whole of time: one blade of grass, every single object is time. Each point of time includes every being and every world.

“Just consider whether or not there are any conceivable beings or any conceivable worlds which are not included in this present time. If you are the ordinary person, unlearned in Buddhism, upon hearing the words aru toki you will doubtlessly understand [that they mean ‘at one time,’ that is] that at one time Being appeared as three heads and eight elbows, that at one time Being was a height of sixteen or eighteen feet, or that at one time I waded through the river and at one time crossed the mountain. You may think that that mountain and that river are things of the past, that I have left them behind and am now living in this palatial building – they are as separate from me as heaven is from earth.

“However, the truth has another side. When I climbed the mountain and crossed the river, I was [time]. Time must needs be with me. I have always been’ time cannot leave me. When time is not regarded as a phenomenon which ebbs and flows, the time I climbed the mountain is the present moment of being-time.. When time is not thought of as coming and going, this moment is absolute time for me. At the time I climbed the mountain and crossed the river, did I not experience the tie I am in this building? Three heads and eight elbows is yesterday’ time, a height of eighteen or sixteen feet is today’s; but ‘yesterday’ or ‘today’ means the time when one goes straight into the mountains and sees ten thousand peaks. It has never passed. Three heads and eight elbows is my being-time. It seems to be of the past, but it is of the present. A height of sixteen or eighteen feet is my being-time. It appears to be passing, but it is now. Thus the pine is time, as is the bamboo.

“Do not regard time as merely flying away; do not think that flying away is its sole function. For time to fly away there would have to be a separation [between it and things]. Because you imagine that time only passes, you do not learn the truth of being-time. In a word, every being in the entire world is a separate time in one continuum. And since being is time, I am my being-time. Time has the quality of passing, so to speak, from today to tomorrow, from today to yesterday, from yesterday to today, from today to today, from tomorrow to tomorrow. because this passing is a characteristic of time, present time and past time do not overlap or impinge upon one another. But the master Esigen is time, Obaku is time, Kosei is time, Sekito is time. Since you and I are time, practice-enlightenment is time.”

252 Days to Dec 21st 2012


the Abysmal Centre

4 April 2012

Something to consider every now and zen.

I’m becoming increasingly interested in Zen. It’s something that’s been drifting around the periphery of my attention for some time, but lately, I’ve decided to pay a little more attention. Brad Warner was brought to my attention as an ordained Zen practitioner (if that’s the right term for him) who has retained a good amount of his punkish attitude. I’ve only found one of his books at the library, Sex, Sin and Zen, which was interesting enough, but his sense of humour sometimes rubs me the wrong way. I appreciate that his criticism is consistent in that it seeks to cut the extraneous nonsense out of practice. Do zazen, and forget all the mindfulness, enlightenment talk.

Having gotten a taste for it (and doing zazen as much as my still old legs will allow), I signed up for an introduction at the White Wind Zen Community. In the meantime, I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, which at its heart repeats the same ideas as Warner supports. I’d subscribed to Suzuki’s facebook feed (he died in 1971), and have been receiving occasional quotes from the man, not really knowing much about him. This is often how my life seems to work out. Serendipity is a very real force, and the key to it (and to Zen practice) is paying attention.

Next, I picked up the Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau. I read it over a decade ago, and figure I’d see what new perspective would add to the reading. So far, it’s similar stuff to what Suzuki & Warner have written, which is encouraging. There doesn’t seem to be huge discrepancies at the heart of it, although different “schools” practice in different ways. I imagine that these differences are more in the details. Every time I sit down to read, within a few pages, I’m eager to sit in zazen some more. It’s getting easier, but I still can’t get my legs into the preferred position. It seems like it’s attainable given patience and time. We’ll see.

Zen and theAbysmal

Having just dipped a toe in the ocean of Zen practice, I’m hardly qualified to draw any conclusions and make any statements about it, or, I am already, and should just sit down and shut up.

My recent foray into Zen keeps bringing up the idea of theAbysmal Centre, which I’ve been playing with for years now. There is a commonality of theme, in that it represents both one and zero, the centre and the perimeter, everything and nothing, being and non-being, etc, along those lines. It is the realization of self at its most fundamental as perfect in its current incarnation – one just needs to take down all the window dressing to see it.

I’ve had such positive experiences with meditation of late that I’m seeking a regular place for practice. It’s much easier sitting in a room full of other people than to do it by oneself (provided the others aren’t playing Call of Duty  – that’s a more advanced exercise).

Also, this: How to draw a Zen circle (Enso)

261 Days to Dec 21st 2012


Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

3 April 2012

Entering into the centre of Zen, which is mind-bending, or unbending, or both, and neither.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

Right Practice

p23 “Zazen practice is the direct expression of our true nature. Strictly speaking, for a human being, there is no other practice than this practice; there is no other way of life than this way of life.”

p25 “These forms are not the means of obtaining the right state of mind. To take this posture is itself to have the right state of mind. There is no need to obtain some special state of mind.”

p29 “What we call ‘I’ is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale.”

p31 ‘To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him.”

p34 “Because we all enjoy all aspects of life as an unfolding of big mind, we do not care for any excessive joy. So we have imperturbable composure.”

p36 “You should rather be grateful for weeds you have in your mind, because eventually they will enrich your practice.”

p38 “In the zazen posture, your mind and body have great power to accept things as they are, whether agreeable or disagreeable.”

p41 “To stop your mind does not mean to stop the activities of mind. It means your mind pervades your whole body. With your full mind you form the mudra in your hands.”

p43 “Bowing is very serious practice. You should be prepared to bow, even in your last moment. Even though it is impossible to get rid of our self-centered desires, we have to do it. Our true nature wants us to.”

p46 “If you continue this simple practice every day, you will obtain some wonderful power. Before you attain it, it is something wonderful, but after you attain it, it is nothing special.”

Right Attitude

p51 “The point we emphasize is strong confidence in our original nature.”

p53 “Even if the sun were to rise from the west, the Bodhisattva has only one way.”

p55 “If you lose the spirit of repetition, your practice will become quite difficult.”

p57 “Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine.”

p59 “If your practice is good, you may become proud of it. What you do is good, but something more is added to it. Pride is extra. Right effort is to get rid of something extra.”

p62 “When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.”

p65 “‘To give is non-attachment,’ that is, just not to attach anything is to give.”

p71 “It is when your practice is rather greedy that you become discouraged with it. So you should be grateful that you have a sign or warning signal to who you the weak point in your practice.”

p75 “Usually when someone believes in a particular religion, his attitude becomes more and more a sharp angle pointing away from himself. In our way the point of the angle is always towards ourselves.”

p76 “To have some deep feeling about Buddhism is not the point; we just do what we should do, like eating supper and going to bed. This is Buddhism.”

p80 “When you become you, Zen becomes Zen. When you are you, you see things as they are, and you become one with your surroundings.”

p83 “People who know the state of emptiness will always be able to dissolve their problems by constancy.”

p86 “Without any intentional, fancy way of adjusting yourself, to express yourself as you are is the most important thing.”

p90 “Big mind is something to express, not something to figure out. Big mind is something you have, not something you seek for.”

p92 “Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact, we have no fear of death anymore, nor actual difficulty in our life.”

Right Understanding

p97 “Our understanding of Buddhism is not ust an intellectual understanding. True understanding is actual practice itself.”

p99 “If you are trying to attain enlightenment, you are creating and being driven by karma, and you are wating your time on your black cushion.”

p102 “We should find perfect existence through imperfect existence.”

p104 “When you do something, if you fix your mind on the activity with some confidence, the quality of your state of mind is the activity itself. When you are concentrated on the quality of your being, you are prepared for the activity.”

p107 “Moment after moment, everyone comes out from nothingness. This is the true joy of life.”

p110 “When you study Buddhism you should have a general house cleaning of your mind.”

p113 “It is the readiness of the mind that is wisdom.”

p116 “In our everyday life our thinking is ninety-nine percent self-centered. ‘Why do I have suffering? Why do I have trouble?'”

p118 “That we are attached to some beauty is also Buddha’s activity.”

p121 “for Zen students a weed is a treasure.”

p123 “There is something blasphemous in talking about how Buddhism is perfect as a philosophy or teaching without knowing what it actually is.”

p125 “Actually, we are not the Soto school at all. We are just Buddhists We are not even Zen Buddhists. If we understand this point, we are truly Buddhists.”

p127 “To realize pure mind in your delusion is practice. If you try to expel the delusion it will only persist the more. Just say ‘Oh, this is just delusion,’ and do not be bothered with it.”

p131 “If you take pride in your attainment or become discouraged because of your idealistic effort, your practice will confine you by a thick wall.”

p133 “Before the rain stops we can hear a bird Even under the heavy snow we see snowdrops and some new growth.”

262 Days to Dec 21st 2012