2.B.4 Entering the Spiritual Life: the Spiritual Path of Zen, presented by Ruben Habito

I . a) What is Zen?

— “beginner’s mind”
— “paying attention”
— “awakening to the dynamic reality of each present moment”

b) Looking at the ideogram: =holy, numinous, + simple

c)  Four Marks: “special transmission outside of Scriptures, not relying on words or letters, transmitted directly from teacher to disciple, seeing into one’s true nature and becoming Buddha (awakened)”

d) Taking the path of Zen: posture, breathing, calming the mind

— basic posture: seated meditation (zazen)

e) Three Fruits of Zen

—“samādhi”=finding one’s center and reconnecting, learning to live at the core of one’s being

— “seeing into one’s true nature”==illumination into the nature of reality as interconnected with all beings= the wisdom of the Buddha (awakened One)

— “embodying the peerless way”==living one’s day to day life in the light of this interconnectedness== life poured out into compassion, in service of others

f)  The above fruits, as corresponding with the three “stages” (or intertwining aspects) of the spiritual path:

—purification, or purgation – filtered, attentive life; less driven by impulses

—illumination – the glimpse into the holy mystery – seeing into one’s true nature – the infinite

—union – embodying the awakening in daily life, seeing the presence of the holy in everything – compassion

Spirituality = The core of the human being, where one encounters the transcendent – the holy mystery, vertically; the connectedness to one another, horizontally.

II. Textual Study

a) The Koan “Mu” (No. 1 in the collection,  Mumonkan (Wumenguan) (Gateless Gate)

b) Hakuin’s Song of Zazen

Ruben L.F. Habito
Maria Kannon Zen Center
Dallas, Texas

Texts for Study: Zen Buddhism

  1. The Koan ( a public case) on “Mu”

Case: A monk asked Joshu(Zen master) in all earnestness, “Does a dog have Buddha Nature or not?”

Joshu said, “Mu.” (can be read as ‘no way’ but the master is neither denying or affirming)

Verse on the case:

Dog, Buddha Nature – all beings have the Buddha nature – the ‘true self’

Perfect Manifestation, Absolute Command

A little “has” or “has not,” and life is lost, body is lost.

(The Gateless Gate, by Koun Yamada, Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2004.)

Nyojo (Ch. Rujing, 12-13th century China, Teacher of Zen Master Dogen, thirteenth century Japan) on how to apply this kōan in practice:

“When thoughts are flying around your mind in confusion, what do you do? ‘A dog’s Buddha-nature? No (Mu).’ This one word No (Mu) is an iron broom: Where you sweep there is a lot of flying around, and where there is a lot of flying around, you sweep. The more you sweep, the more there is. At this point where it is impossible to sweep, you throw your whole life into sweeping. Keep your spine straight day and night, and do not let your courage flag. All of a sudden you sweep away the totality of space, and all differentiations are clearly penetrated, so the source and its meanings become evident.” (No Barrier: Unlocking the Zen Koan, by Thomas Cleary, New York: Bantam, 1993)

Master Torei (eighteenth century Japan, Hakuin’s Primary heir) on how to approach the “mu” koan:

If thoughts are flying around, consider this story: “Does a dog have buddha-nature? No.” Bring it to mind directly, and don’t interpret it logically. Don’t interpret it as flavorless, don’t interpret it as nothing. If you conceive any logical understanding, you’ll never complete the work. But don’t develop an illogical mind either. Logic and no logic are after all random ideas. Just bring it up and look at it. It has nothing to do with interpretations; it is the real way of practice of the Buddhas. Continue moment to moment, whether speaking or silent, active or quiet, walking, standing, sitting, and lying down—do not forget it! Or if you occasionally forget, don’t lose power..

This is like learning archery—it takes a long, long time to hit the bull’s-eye. Just develop the will to persevere; be careful not to flag and slack. If you give up this teaching, by what teaching will you attain liberation? (The Undying Lamp of Zen, The Testament of Zen Master Torei, tr. Thomas Cleary, New York: Random House, 2010)

Here is Mumon (Wumen, Compiler of the Zen classic Mumonkan, Ch. Wumenguan. Or Gateless Gate)’s commentary on this koan:

“In order to master Zen, you must pass the barrier of the patriarchs. To attain this subtle realization, you must completely cut off the way of thinking. If you do not pass the barrier, and do not cut off the way of thinking, then you will be like a ghost clinging to the bushes and weeds..

Now, I want to ask you, what is the barrier of the patriarchs? Why, it is this single word ‘Mu.’ That is the front gate to Zen. Therefore it is called the ‘Mumonkan of Zen.’ If you pass through it, you will not only see Joshu face to face, but you will also go hand in hand with the successive patriarchs, entangling your eyebrows with theirs, seeing with the same eyes, hearing with the same ears. Isn’t that a delightful prospect? Wouldn’t you like to pass this barrier?.

Arouse your entire body with its three hundred and sixty bones and joints and its eighty-four thousand pores of the skin; summon up a spirit of great doubt and concentrate on this word ‘Mu.’ Carry it continuously day and night. Do not form a nihilistic conception of vacancy, or a relative conception of ‘has’ or ‘has not.’ It will be just as if you swallow a red-hot iron ball, which you cannot spit out even if you try. All the illusory ideas and delusive thoughts accumulated up to the present will be exterminated, and when the time comes, internal and external will be spontaneously united. You will know this, but for yourself only, like a dumb man who has had a dream..

Then all of a sudden an explosive conversion will occur, and you will astonish the heavens and shake the earth. It will be as if you snatch away the great sword of the valiant general Kan’u and hold it in your hand. When you meet the Buddha, you kill him; when you meet the patriarchs, you kill them. On the brink of life and death, you command perfect freedom; among the sixfold worlds and four modes of existence, you enjoy a merry and playful samadhi..

Now, I want to ask you again, ‘How will you carry it out?’ Employ every ounce of your energy to work on this ‘Mu.’ If you hold on without interruption, behold: a single spark, and the holy candle is lit!'(Two Zen Classics, Katsuki Sekida, Boston, Ma: Shambala, 2005.)

  1. Hakuin’s Song of Zazen

(Hakuin Ekaku, 17th-18th century Japan)
Produced by the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun
From the beginning all beings are Buddha.
Like water and ice, without water no ice, outside us no Buddhas.
How near the truth, yet how far we seek.
Like one in water crying, “I thirst!”
Like the son of a rich man wand’ring poor on this earth we endlessly circle the six worlds.
The cause of our sorrow is ego delusion.
From dark path to dark path we’ve wandered in darkness,
how can we be freed from the wheel of samsara?
The gateway to freedom is zazen Samadhi.
Beyond exaltation, beyond all our praises the pure Mahayana.
Observing the Precepts, Repentance and Giving,
the countless good deeds and the Way of Right Living, all come from zazen.
Thus one true Samadhi extinguishes evils. It purifies karma, dissolving obstructions.
Then where are the dark paths to lead us astray?
The Pure Lotus Land is not far away.
Hearing this truth, heart humble and grateful.
To praise and embrace it, to practice its Wisdom,
brings unending blessings. bring mountains of merit.
And if we turn inward and prove our True Nature, that
True Self is no-self, our own self is no-self, we go beyond ego and past clever words.
Then the gate to the oneness of cause-and-effect is thrown open.
Not two and not three, straight ahead runs the Way.
Our form now being no-form, in going and returning we never leave home.
Our thought now being no-thought, our dancing and songs are the Voice of the Dharma.
How vast is the heaven of boundless Samadhi!
How bright and transparent the moonlight of wisdom!
What is there outside us? What is there we lack?
Nirvana is openly shown to our eyes.
This earth where we stand is the pure lotus land!
And this very body, the body of Buddha.

Presented by Ruben L.F. Habito