Thursday, September 10, 2015

“If the mind does not rest on anything”

by Elihu Genmyo Smith
“If the mind does not rest on anything, there is no clouding.
Talk of polishing is but a fancy.”

This verse is by Kakusan Shido, founder of Tokei-ji in 1285. She was the wife of the shogun regent Hojo Tokimune, and after his death, founded the temple. The previous regent Tokiyori, Tokimune’s father, had studied with Eihei Dogen and received precepts from him. Tokei-ji was a sanctuary for women who were widowed by Japanese wars or abused by husbands until the late 19th and early 20th century. This verse is the first of a series of Mirror Zen verses expressing the awakened life, used by this Rinzai order of nuns (founded by Kakusan) as koan practice curriculum.

The mirror is an image in Zen and in East Asian Buddhism expressing our nature, our life. We see it in verses related to the Sixth Ancestor, and the verses of Baojing Sanmei (Hokyo Zanmei in Japanese; Jeweled Mirror Samadhi), which clarifies the mutual interpenetration of absolute and relative, self as all phenomenal existence and all phenomenal existence as self.

Hokyo Zanmei is attributed to Dongshan (Tozan Jp), considered the founder of the Caodong or Sōtō lineage. Hokyo Zanmei developed from teachings by Shitou (Sekito Kisen Jp) which were passed down through the lineage of Yaoshan (Yakusan Igen Jp), Yunyan (Ungan Donjo Jp) and Dongshan. The verse text Sandokai/Cāntóngqì (Identity of Relative and Absolute) is also by Shitou. Dongshan is well known for his verses on the Five Ranks, mutual interpenetration of absolute and relative (Li and Ji).

Commenting on Jeweled Mirror Samadhi, the 17th century reviver of Japanese Rinzai Zen Hakuin Ekaku states, actualized awakening “is like two mirrors reflecting one another without even the shadow of an image between them.” Interbeing/interdependent with everything we encounter, every condition we encounter nothing but our life. This may be easy to say but is hard to see, harder to live and manifest – even though this is exactly our life as is. Do you see this? What is not clear for you? Where do you bump against “things” in your life? It may be difficult to see how self-beliefs, this resting on, clinging, thirsting and attaching to, blinds us and drives us in reactive fear, reactive anger about conditions and circumstances of “self” or “other.” What is your skillful effort when noticing clinging, especially when clinging includes reactive fear, reactive anger? Though not-so, yet this clinging attaching is exactly our practice realm life, nowhere else.

Many people assume that this bag of skin-and-bones is who we are; maybe a mind or thoughts and feelings inside it, maybe the whole of it. These assumptions make self-centeredness seem “natural.” The following are two alternative scientific perspectives. First is the human microbiome or microbiota – a microbiological perspective focusing on the body as a vehicle for many forms of flora and fauna that live “in us”, and that, in one sense, “we” serve by offering “them” food and living conditions. And they may offer us health in different ways, nurturing a symbiotic relationship. Microbiome cells outnumber “human cells” in our body by about ten-to-one; on our tongue, on our skin, in your gut. The organisms in the body communicate with each other. The organisms in “our” gut communicate with the organisms in “our” nervous system, and so on. From one perspective, we are serving them - as a home, food provider, etc. I say “we” and “them” in order to emphasize the perspective of the human body as a vehicle to enable these “other” beings to live, function. Of course, this dualistic perspective is looking at this life as either/or, self/other. What notion of “self” is truly appropriate?

I mention these alternative perspectives so that we can see that a perspective of me living “separate from” the world “outside,”(or in this case from the world “inside”),a traditional notion of human self-centeredness, is a construct, even though it is a construct that may be useful at times. To deepen our practice, being who we are, acting skillfully, we must be able to put down that construct when it is not skillful and appropriate.

The anthropogenic biome perspective views humans as a part of this whole planet (just as there are micro-organisms in our gut) which enable other beings on this planet, and the whole planet organisms, to function and interact. From this perspective, we can see a process of various species of plants and animals “using” (or cooperating with) humans to spread themselves over the Earth by, for instance, producing fruits that humans and others like; therefore humans (and other animals) take the fruit, seeds, plants, and move them from one part of the Earth to the other, accomplishing the plant’s “purpose” of spreading and growing. Potatoes and apples accomplish this by producing “fruits” that humans and others use.

I had a raised-bed garden, “growing” tomatoes and other plants. In fall and winter I enriched the beds, filling them with leaves, compost and food scraps, especially egg shells and banana peels. “My” tomato plants were eight feet tall, produced fruit early and in great quantities throughout the season. You could say, “Well, you worked because you wanted tomatoes.” Yes; and in another sense, I was serving the tomatoes - rather than “using” them, they were “using” me. Or the tomato plants and I functioned together. Working on the beds, creating supports so the plants could grow tall, watering, the tomato plants and I were not-two. Sunlight, insects, rain, earth minerals and root fungi are all this not-two.

Are we wedded to and trapped by self-centered dreams? Seeing this and the resulting unsatisfactoriness and stress can be an incentive for practice. It is not a problem with “self,” it is the caught-ness, believing and the holding to it. “Caught in self-centered dream…Holding to self-centered thought.” The Buddha’s awakening is expressed in the teaching of non-self (anatam), one of three aspects (trilaksana) of reality.

I write with my right hand. Imagine if the right hand insists it is the good one and that the left hand is deficient, is… “not me.” If the left hand got a splinter and the right said, “Tough! I am not going to help you. It is not my problem,” you might say, “What nonsense? These two hands are one body.” My right hand doesn’t think about removing the splinter, it is the natural functioning of one body. And I do not write with my left hand unless I have to.

Practice is the natural functioning of One Body Three Treasures. And we must make our practice effort. “To study the self is forgetting self, forgetting self is being awakened by the myriad dharmas.” The myriad dharmas in all directions, nothing but self. This is what Dogen is talking about.“To be attested by the myriad dharmas is dropping off one’s own body-mind and the body-mind of others as well. All traces of awakening are put to rest, and this traceless awakening continues endlessly.”This isn’t magical, floating off, but “dropping-off” attachment and self-centeredness. Living cast-off body-mind of self and others, myriad dharmas advancing, manifesting, attesting. What is interbeing of all existence, all dharmas and self? What is interpenetration? Please remember the Heart Sutra, “form is exactly empty, empty exactly form.” Thus the bodhisattva we are lives prajna paramita; fear non-arising- not clinging to, holding to; arising-passing as is.

The above is an introduction.

“If the mind does not rest on anything, there is no clouding, talk of polishing is but a fancy.” Please see this from an intrinsic perspective and from an experiential one. Translating the Japanese word as “As” rather than “If” may help us see these perspectives more clearly. The Japanese word translated as mind can also be translated as heart-mind. This verse koan is our practice to chew, to sit, to clarify and resolve, to present in face-to-face dokusan. There are testing questions to further clarify this matter;“If the mind does not rest on anything, how will anything be seen, heard, known or understood?” You are expected to present this to your teacher. There are capping phrases (jakugo): “Rising and sinking according to the current / going and coming / no footprint remains.”

The second testing question is, “A mirror which does not cloud and needs no polishing: set it before the teacher now!”– manifest understanding/actualization. Capping phrase: “The things are hidden in no secret treasure house / the heart-mind is eternally clear to see.” Listen to that. Things are not hidden in any secret treasure house. In fact, Buddha Teachings are never hidden. Because this is who you are, nothing extra or special is needed. Nothing is hidden - except we don’t hear, see, because we filter through self-centeredness -“caught in self-centered dream,” as if we are wearing blinders. No secret treasure house; because we thirst-attach-cling, practice effort is needed. The heart-mind is eternally clear to see - our encounters from morning to night.

Tokei-ji’s second ancestor is the nun Runkai. Her verse is, “Various the reflections, yet its surface is unscarred. From the very beginning, unclouded the pure mirror.” From the very beginning, unclouded - this is our life. Your life, everyone of us. And yet, how do we clarify and express this ourself? We have to do it for ourself. Even though it is so, unless we manifest it we do not live it - because, as a result of our narrow vision, it is just a theory for us.

The testing questions; “When it reflects variously, how is it then?” The comment: “The heart-mind turns in accordance with the ten thousand things. The pivot on which it turns is verily in the depths.”

The second testing question: “If from the beginning, the mirror is unclouded, how is it that there are reflections of karmic obstacles in our life.” If it is so, how come all these difficulties, suffering, attachments, reactive habits occur? Capping phrases are ways of expressing it a little differently after one has clarified the testing question. “Within the pure mirror /Never clashing with each other /The reflections of pine and bamboo are in harmony.” These capping phrases are, in a free-form, a hint of manifesting this in our life -if we can hear them.

The third testing question: “Show the pure mirror right before the teacher’s face!” Right now. Comment: “Heaven and Earth, one clear mirror / Now, as of old / Luminous and majestic.”

As I said, testing and capping helps us. Some of you have worked with koans, so you have a little appreciation of that. And even for those who haven’t, I hope you can appreciate it. Shenhui writes, “To make the mind go is illness. To make it come back into concentration is also illness.” Both making it go, making it come back, is illness. The sutra says, “Dharma are without coming and going.” Dharma is our whole life - Dharma nature pervades all locations. Everywhere, this non-abiding mind, our fundamental basis. Everywhere is your life. Everywhere is myriad dharmas, encountering and attesting self.

© 2015 Elihu Genmyo Smith