Saturday, February 27, 2010

Zen Samadhi

Two lines from Hakuin Ekaku Zenji's "Ode to Sitting Meditation" (J. Zazen Wasan) read,
As to the zen-samadhi of the Mahayana,
There is just too much to praise.

What is Zen-samadhi?

In the Mahayana, meditation practice is technically called zen-samadhi (in Sanskrit, dhyana-samadhi), or the samadhi of meditation. In practical language it is simply called sitting zen (J. zazen) or sitting meditation. Zen-samadhi is the primary solution to the Buddhist question of the spiritual search. The historical Buddha realized enlightenment by sitting zen-samadhi, and as taught in the Parable of the Wayward Son in the True Dharma of the White Lotus Sutra, though Buddha preached and taught many truths, principles, and doctrines they all amounted to the skillful means of a wealthy father (Buddha) who wanted to return his lost and poor son (all beings) to his true inheritance to be gained by zen-samadhi. Thus all the words of Buddhism amount only to various means of convincing us to sit and meditate like Buddha did to realize enlightenment for oneself.

The difficulty of translating the Sanskrit term samadhi adequately into English is one reason the word has been used without translation and incorporated into English dictionaries. It is commonly, though erroneously, translated as “concentration”. Among the problems with the term “concentration” is that it is weighted too much on the “one pointedness” aspect of attention training which is only the beginning step of initial samadhi practice, and it creates the false impression that the whole of samadhi is the act of concentrating on a single object. A better translation would be “focus” in the sense that when awareness is concentrated on the focal point of awareness itself, rather than on a single object, then everything else (i.e., all things or ''dharmas'') comes into focus.

In the way that a camera or one’s eye does not reach out to things to bring them into focus and clarity but makes an inner adjustment of the focal point, so too, does the practice of zen-samadhi make an inner adjustment of the focal point of awareness. This inner adjustment is sometimes called “turning the light around” to draw attention to the fact that zen-samadhi does not reach out to focus on objects but turns inward to be aware of themeless or objectless awareness itself. Whether one is practicing zazen as “only minding doing sitting” (J. shikantaza) or as inquiry into “the source of speech” (Ch. huatou) with koans, the common denominator that makes them both zazen is that the zen-samadhi in the practice is not a concentration on an object but a themeless or formless focus on the focal point of awareness itself without the externalization of an object of form or thought used to act as a mediated object of awareness. Though “just sitting” zazen may start with concentration techniques such as focused breath counting or breath awareness and “koan inquiry” zazen may start with focused awareness of the focal point of the koan (e.g., a huatou such as “What is it?” or “Who hears?” or “Mu”) neither method of zazen becomes real zen-samadhi until the awareness is “turned around” from reaching out to objects to “focus” on the true suchness of awareness itself.

Another acceptable translation is “contemplation” in the sense of considering, observing, or noticing with steady attention. In Christian terminology contemplation can mean the state of mystical awareness of God’s being or the Godhead, which in Buddhist terminology would mean the direct awareness of the ground of being, that is, the Dharmakaya of the Tathagata.

From the etymological root of samadhi meaning “putting together,” “to join,” and “to combine,” other valid translations of samadhi are “union”, “unification”, and “absorbtion” in which all discriminations are joined or combined into a realization of the great non-dual harmony of true suchness.

Essentially, samadhi is the inherent state of steady or unperturbed awareness of one’s true nature. In the Platform Sutra Huineng describes zen-samadhi (i.e., the samadhi of meditation) in this way:

Learned and virtuous ones, what is called zen-samadhi (dhyana-samadhi)? Outwardly, to be free from characteristics is doing zen. Inwardly, to not be perturbed is doing samadhi. Outwardly, if one attaches to characteristics, inwardly, the heart-mind is immediately perturbed. Outwardly, if one is free from characteristics, the heart-mind is immediately not perturbed. The root nature by itself is pure, by itself is samadhi. Only by seeing conditions and thinking about conditions is one immediately perturbed. If someone sees various conditions and the heart-mind is not perturbed, this is real samadhi. Learned and virtuous ones, outwardly, to be free from characteristics is immediately zen. Inwardly, to not be perturbed is immediately samadhi. Outwardly, zen, inwardly, samadhi, this is doing zen-samadhi.

The Parable of the Lamp

In the Zen lineage of the Mahayana, the Three Trainings (or Threefold Learning, i.e., sila, samadhi, and prajna) are presented in the Parable of the Lamp using the ancient form of a lamp made up of a dish of oil with a lighted wick resting at the edge. The resting place of the table (or floor) is the body, the dish is the conscious mind, the oil is sila (moral conduct), the wick is samadhi (unperturbed contemplation), and the flame is prajna (intuitive wisdom). That which is called a "lamp" does not exist without all of the parts present and functioning. If there is no oil, then the wick is dry and the flame won't stay lit. If there is no wick, then there is nothing for the flame to be centered upon and anchored to. If there is no flame, then it is not actually a lamp but just a bowl of oil with a piece of string in it. The wick of samadhi does not become a true wick until it is lit with the flame of prajna, and the flame has no ability to combust until it has a wick through which to draw oil.

Of course metaphors can only be taken so far, but in line with this mutual identity of wick and flame, that is, the physical lamp and it's light, Huineng taught in Chapter 4 of the Platform Sutra that samadhi and prajna are essentially not different:

"Learned and virtuous ones, In this Dharma door of ours samadhi and prajna are considered to be the root. Great assembly, do not be confused. The words “samadhi” and “prajna” are different, but samadhi and prajna are one substance and are not two. Samadhi is the substance of prajna; prajna is the function of samadhi. Immediately at the time of prajna, samadhi is in prajna. Immediately at the time of samadhi, prajna is in samadhi. If one knows this meaning, then samadhi and prajna are equally learned. You various people who study the Way, do not say, 'First samadhi, then comes prajna,' or 'First prajna, then comes samadhi,' to separate them. Those with this view make the Dharma have the characteristic of duality."

3/11/10 ADDENDUM:

Having begun with Hakuin's mention of zen-samadhi and then gone back to Huineng speaking about zen-samadhi, let us go further back to Bodhidharma, the man who brought the Ekayana Zen lineage to China. In the treatise titled "Great Master Dharma's Discourse on the Nature of Awakening" (達磨大師悟性論) Bodhidharma discusses zazen and zen-samadhi in what appears to be a direct foundation for Huineng's teaching. Here's the passage:
If a person knows that the six roots (i.e., 6 sense organs) are not real and the five accumulations (skandhas) are provisional names and that always to go seeking it in the body is necessarily to dwell without samadhi, then one should know that such a person expounds the words of the Buddha. A sutra says, "A home in the cave of the five accumulations is called the courtyard of zen. When the inner illumination is opened and unbound, then the gate of the Great Vehicle could not be brighter!"
` Not recollecting all things (sarvadharma), therefore, is called doing zen-samadhi. If someone understands these words, then walking, standing, sitting, and lying down are all zen-samadhi. Knowing the mind is empty is called the act of seeing Buddha. What is considered the reason? For all Buddhas in the 10 directions, in every consideration there is no mind. Not seeing in the mind, is called the act of seeing Buddha.
To unstingily renounce the body is called Great Charity (Skt. mahadana). The samadhi of detaching from the various activities is called Great Sitting Meditation (J. dai zazen). Because why? Worldly people are singly directed toward activities, and the Small Vehicle is singly directed toward samadhi. Namely, to pass beyond the worldly people and the sitting meditation (zazen) of the Small Vehicle is called the Great Sitting Meditation. If those who act with this realization, in all the various appearances, do not seek to release themselves and, in all the various illnesses, do not cure their own errors, then this is entirely the power of Great Zen-Samadhi.

So, as taught by Bodhidharma, Huineng, and Hakuin, the realization of zen is zen-samadhi. Everything that zen teachers have to say is nothing more than the great tapestry of brocade used to guide students to the realization of zen-samadhi.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Case 95 Baofu Drinks Tea

Here's my most recent translation.

95 Baofu Drinks Tea

[Yuanwu’s] Appended pointer says:

Where there is a Buddha do not get there and stop; to stop manifests a life of horns on the head. Where there is no Buddha, quickly run by; if you do not run by, the grass is ten feet deep. If you are abundantly upright, clear and all naked, red and all washed, with external affairs being without machinations, and the external being without affairs, you do not escape sticking by the stump waiting for a rabbit.
Just say, altogether, is treading the living walk not like this or is it like this? A test is raised for examination:


There was a time Changqing said, “I would rather there be talk about arhats having the three poisons; don’t talk about the Tathagata having two kinds of language. I don’t say the Tathagata is without language, only is without two types of language.”
Baofu said, “How do you make it alive to be the Tathagata’s language?”
Qing said “A deaf person struggles to be able to hear it.”
Baofu said, “I know for sure you are facing towards the way of the secondary head.”
Qing said, “How do you make it alive to be the Tathagata’s language?”
Baofu said, “Go drink tea.”

[Xuedou's] Ode says:

Oh, the head! Primary. Secondary.
A resting dragon does not reflect on the still water.
Having the moon without a place, the waves settle.
Having a place, the billows rise up without a wind.
Zen traveler Leng, Zen traveler Leng!
In the third month at the Dragon Gate of Yu, he incurred a spot on the forehead.

[My Comments:
Changqing Huileng (854-932) and Baofu Congzhan (d. 928) were both disciples of Xuefeng Yicun. It is said in the Zen records that “Baofu often inquired of his Dharma brother, Changqing Huileng, concerning ancient and current expedient methods of teaching.”

As Yuanwu’s pointer implies this koan is about the three levels of teaching in Zen. Yuanwu designates the three levels as (1) where there is a Buddha, (2) where there is no Buddha, and (3) the pure naked state without any outside entanglements.
Baizhang Huaihai (Pai-chang Huai-hai, Hyakujo Ekai) (720-814) taught the three steps of the teaching this way:
The words of the teachings all have three successive steps: the elementary, the intermediate, and the final good. At first it is just necessary to teach them to create a good state of mind. In the intermediate stage, they break through the good mind. The last is finally called really good—‘A bodhisattva is not a bodhisattva; this is called a bodhisattva. the truth is not a truth, yet is not other than truth.’ Everything is like this. Yet if you teach only one stage, you will cause sentient beings to go to hell; if all three stages are taught at once, they will enter hell by themselves. This is not the business of a teacher. (Thomas Clearly translation)

The first step then is the teaching “there is a Buddha”. This is the elementary step of dwelling in the good that affirms and teaches using positive metaphors, but staying in this stage is still living under the duality of good and bad and is thus a life with horns on the head. The intermediate step of not dwelling in the good is taught by negative metaphor such as the teaching of “there is no Buddha” to lead the student to transcend the former duality. However, to dwell in this stage is to allow the grasses of confusion caused by attachment to emptiness to grow. In the third stage, the transcendent unified synthesis of the first two stages is without even the conception “not dwelling.” Having no conceptions about Buddha or no Buddha, it is called being pure, naked, and completely washed. Though this third stage can be said to be the first stage of Zen, having a conception of being naked and clear is still a last attachment. The fruition of Zen is to go beyond the three stages, and this realization is the meaning of this koan.

“the Tathagata having two kinds of language” In most Mahayana Buddhism other than Zen, such as Tiantai (Tendai) and Pure Land, it is said that Buddha speaks two types of truths: the relative and the absolute, or the conventional and the genuine. Another way of saying this is that Buddha speaks in the two languages of affirmation or positive metaphor and negation or prohibitive words of negative metaphor. The relative or conventional language of positive metaphors affirms the Dharma as a good: that there is practice, that there is realization, that the mind itself is Buddha. The absolute truth uses the language of negative metaphor: there is no practice, no realization, no mind, and no Buddha.

“The Tatahagata is without two types of language”. From the Zen point of view, the two types of language correspond to the elementary and intermediate steps of the teaching and do not reach the third step that simultaneously synthesizes and goes beyond these two steps to speak the bare naked language of the nondual, beyond assertion and denial. Tathagata Zen speaks the nondual language of the Tathataga.

“How do you make it alive?” This is a Zen idiom that refers to using language in an alive manner and not in a dead manner. Baizhang Huaihai instructed, “In reading sutras and studying the teachings, if you do not understand their living words and dead words, you will certainly not penetrate the meanings and expressions therein." Asking “How do you make it alive?” is synonymous with asking for “turning words” that turn the mind around from externality and dualism to realize the nondual.

“A deaf person struggles to be able to hear.” This is a double entendre pun as the term “deaf” (聾) is also used in Mahayana (Great Vehicle) jargon as a depreciative term for a sravaka, a disciple of the Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle). In the frame of reference of the three vehicles of Buddhism, the people of the three vehicles are termed 聾, 緣, and 菩, that is, śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas. So, when asked about the language of the Tathagata, Changqing's comment is also saying the disciples (sravakas) of the lesser vehicle struggle to be able to hear it, meaning they only hear the spoken words and are deaf to the meaning. He is thus pointing to one of the primary foundational issues of the Mahayana that says all beings are Buddha by nature and all things (dharmas) preach the Dharma, so there is no need to struggle or strive to hear the language of Suchness because whatever we hear is that language once we know the true Tathagata.
Changqing is being slippery and cutesy. When asked to make the nondual language ot the Tatagata come alive, he avoids both the affirmative statement about what it is and the negative statement about what it is not. In the context of Zen's three levels of teaching, Changqing is attempting to speak from the position of the third stage of being "naked and bare” by not asserting or denying any conception about it, while at the same time pointing to it by saying those who are not of the Mahayana struggle to hear it.

“facing towards the way of the secondary head.” Baofu is correcting Changqing because Changqing’s response still has the odor of attachment to the conception of not having a conception of not dwelling. “The Way of the secondary head” is the language still within the first or second stages and has not yet realized the nondual, that is, not reached the primary principle of the One Vehicle (Ekayana) as taught by Bodhidharma. By saying a deaf person "struggles," Changqing is implying that he and others in the know do not struggle because they hear the Tathagata’s language everywhere from everything. But the dualities of struggling and not struggling, hearing and not hearing, are still lingering conceptions clinging to Changqing’s words. He’s bragging that he doesn’t objectify the Tathagata’s language, but he is bragging based on pointing to others who do objectify the Tathagata’s language, and so he still has the whiff of “self and other” in his words and has not reached the nondual language of the Tathagata.

“Go drink tea.” Baofu is echoing Chang of Baizhang (not to be confused with Baizhang Huihai his teacher) who had a favorite saying when teaching the assembly,
“Baizhang has three tricks of the trade: ‘to drink tea’, ‘to cherish it’, and ‘to take a rest.’ By intending to discuss it further and to use comparative reasoning one knows you still have not penetrated.”
“To drink tea” is to hear and speak the Tathagata's language in the deepest sense. This tea is never exhausted. Baofu is telling Changqing he doesn't need to stir up waves with his comments about the deaf struggling to hear; it is enough to drink tea with the Tathagata, to cherish the drinking and the tea, and to let the waves rest on their own.

"Zen traveler Leng" This is an informal and comradely way of addressing Changqing Huileng using only his shortened personal name "Leng."

”In the third month at the Dragon Gate of Yu, he incurred a spot on the forehead.” This line uses a pun to eulogize Baofu’s words that Chingqing remained in “the secondary head”, by saying that “Zen traveler Leng”, i.e, Changqing, is bumping his head against the barrier of the nondual Tathagata’s language. The Dragon Gate of Yu is a legendary gate created in the mountains by Emperor Yu over 5,000 years ago for the Yellow River to pass through. The Gate is a narrow passage through the mountains where the river rushes through exceptionally fast. The third month is the month when the river is highest and the water is most turbulent as it passes through the gate, and it is said that if a lowly carp is able to swim upstream and pass through the gate on the third day of the third month it is transformed into a dragon, hence it is called the Dragon Gate. Xuedou is saying “Changqing, you wanted to be a dragon but you just bumped your head and remained a carp.” He is confirming that Baofu was the dragon in the interchange of that koan.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Case 87 Yunmen’s Medicine and Disease

Case 87 Yunmen’s Medicine and Disease

Raised: Yunmen said in teaching the assembly, “’Medicine and disease cure each other.’ The entire great earth is medicine. What particularly is oneself?

Xuedou's Verse:

“The entire great Earth is Medicine.”
From ancient times to the present, how extremely wrong!
Don’t make the cart behind closed doors.
The path through is naturally desolate and empty.
Wrong. Wrong.
Yet, nostrils as far as heaven are also pierced.

Though Yunmen is considered a Dharma heir of Xuefeng, he first studied and came to awakening with Muzhou who (along with Linji) was a student of Huangbo. So Yunmen must have been well acquainted with the teaching of Huangbo’s teacher Baizhang. When Yunmen said to the assembly "Medicine and disease cure each other", he was quoting from The Extensive Record of Baizhang 《百丈廣録》. “Medicine” and “disease” were among the favorite teaching images used by Baizhang; for instance, he said, “Form and emptiness are also examples of medicine and disease curing each other.” Baizhang also said, “Ignorance is father, greed is mother. Self is the disease, yet self is the medicine too.”

Baizhang instructed,
“You must discern the words of the complete teaching and the incomplete teaching; you must discern prohibitive words and nonprohibitive words; you must discern living and dead words; you must discern medicine and disease words; you must discern words of negative and positive metaphor; you must iscern generalizing and particularizing words.”

And Baizhang also said,
“Yet all verbal teachings just cure disease; because the diseases are not the same, the medicines are also not the same. That is why sometimes it is said there is Buddha, and sometimes it is said there is no Buddha. True words cure disease; if the cure manages to heal, then all are true words--if they can’t effectively cure disease, all are false words. True words are false words insofar as they give rise to views; false words are true words insofar as they cut off the delusions of the many beings. Because disease is unreal, there is only unreal medicine to cure it. The words ‘the Buddha appears in the world to carry across the multitude of beings’ are of the nine-part teaching. They are words of the incomplete teaching. Anger and joy, medicine and disease, are all oneself; there is no one else.”

So, Yunmen was teaching the assembly from the true words of Baizhang and then to drive home the point, he distilled Baizhang’s teaching into the turning words of his koan: “What particularly is oneself?”

Yunmen was famous for his one word responses and in Case 87 of the Blue Cliff Record he gave such a response to his own question saying, “Cure” This could also be read as “The Cure” or “A Cure” if inserting an article. Unfortunately, for some inexplicable reason, the Clearys left this out of their translation. In the Blue Cliff Record, Yuanwu’s comment on this one word of Yunmen’s is, “Cutting up clarity; attacking principle too! The noise is maintained.” ]

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Past Life and What the Hell is Heaven?

Okay this is a two-topic post

Topic one: Past Life

Wow! I was watching a new TV show called “Past Life”. Given the measure of programs that are allowed on corporate controlled TV it is a great program. And on Fox of all places.
Replays are available on line for a short while at
Past Life Episode 2

In episode two, “Dead Man Talking”, a woman is distressed by visions of herself dying in strange circumstances and she begins taking drugs to try to stop the pain of her visions. Her younger sister takes her to a past life therapist and she discovers information that relates to the innocence of a man wrongly convicted of murder and on death row facing his impending execution.

"Free at last! Free at last! “

I admit I teared up at the end of both episodes. I'm a sucker for these types of dramatic themes where the person is liberated or finds their true home at the end.

Topic Two: What the Hell is Heaven?

At the climax of episode two of Past Life a song plays that I think expresses a great ecumenical spirit, equally Christ and Buddha. Many of you will have already heard of Brett Dennen, but I had never heard of him until hearing his song in this program.

He seems like such a youngster, but in a YouTugbe interview he says quite maturely that the song is not about a heaven somewhere else but asking why, if we believe in an afterlife like heaven, arn't we trying to create that afterlife here on earth?

I especially like the line “where fact and fiction meet” as a reference to the zero point where the opposites connect in unification.

What a wonderful song!

Listen at Heaven featuring Natalie Merchant



"Heaven" by Brett Dennen

Beyond the rules of religion
The cloth of conviction
Above all the competition
Where fact and fiction meet

There's no color lines, caste, or classes
There's no fooling the masses
Whatever faith you practice
Whatever you believe

Oh, Heaven, Heaven
What the hell is Heaven?
Is there a home for the homeless?
Is there hope for the hopeless?

Throw away your misconceptions
There's no walls around Heaven
There's no codes you gotta know to get in
No minutemen border patrol

You must lose your earthly possession
Leave behind your weapons
You can't buy your salvation
And there is no pot of gold

Mmm Heaven, Heaven
What the hell is Heaven?
Is there a home for the homeless?
Is there hope for the hopeless?

Heaven aint got no prisons
No government, no business
No banks or politicians
No armies and no police

Castles and cathedrals crumble
Pyramids and pipelines tumble
The failure keeps you humble
And leads us closer to peace

Oh, Heaven, Heaven
What the hell is Heaven?
Is there a home for the homeless?
Is there hope for the hopeless?

Is there a home for the homeless?
Is there hope for the hopeless?