Friday, December 14, 2012


Sections 20-21

Hello All, We had the exact Winter Bones sesshin that was expected--wild wind, fierce rain, cold and dark, dark. On the 7th full day, fueled by double strength green tea and a 10 minute rousing, ruckus Kanzeon, we sat with one lighted candle and then none, until midnight. The timekeeper (jiki-jitsu), dokusan attendant (jisha) and chant leader (ino) led us in a lovely bell-han-inkin ceremony as we re-lighted 20 candles and continued cultivating the deep, black field of practice that we had been tending all week. We were met the next morning at 5:00 am by a dusting of snow but the Venus star remained hidden, lost in the gleam of the bone white moon.

Hui-neng invites us to take refuge in the three-fold body of the buddha. This is taking refuge in the dharmakaya, the samboghakaya and the nirmanakaya. These are not three different buddha bodies but three different aspects of your own buddha nature. These bodies are talked about in various ways but in our tradition, we speak of the dharmakaya as the body of vast and boundless space, the great mind with no walls, the realmless realm of emptiness. The samboghakaya is the bliss body of mutual interdependence. This is the buddha aspect of inter-being or inter-connectedness. The nirmanakaya is the side of uniqueness and variety. So...emptiness, inter-connectedness and uniqueness. Hui-neng speaks about these bodies in a different way but the point he is making is that we should locate these bodies right here (as I smack my thighs). This is where we take refuge. This is where we manifest the buddha-body. The buddha body isn't on the altar, it isn't in the teacher or in a great ancestor or in Shakyamuni. It is right here where we touch what is unborn. It is right here where we touch what is undying. It is here that we realize we are more deeply related than we ever imagined. It is here where we touch our own unique talents and sense of expression. Yet, it is in touching the buddha body of the material body that opens up these possibilities and it is in the buddha body of our body that we take refuge.

Hui-neng next guides the initiates (us) in taking the 4 Boundless Vows, or Great Vows. I favor our translation to Red Pine's. Our translation seems less ephemeral and more practice and life oriented but both contain the impossibility of success when measured with a literal mind or concretized vision.
A vow means to dedicate one's self to or to bind one's self to. It also means to engage. A vow has a very physical quality. We might make a vow in our thoughts or with words but it also, almost simultaneously, excites or activates the body. The body becomes engaged and binds itself to the vow which, in turn, illicits a response from the heart--and that heart-felt response is a passion; a passion to fulfill our vow. This arousal of passion is so very important because we will often fail mightily in the face of fulfilling these great vows. When there are 'numberless', 'endless' and 'countless', it is easy to be swept away or feel overwhelmed. Who could succeed at such seemingly Herculean tasks, we wonder? But passion, which means ardor, fervor, zeal, at its root, is also related to patience. Passion gives us zeal and fervor but tempers it with patience and endurance. And so we return to Mu, to Who Hears, to breath...again and again, lifetime after lifetime.

The beauty of 'numberless', 'countless'  and 'endless' is that when our normal ways of perception are overwhelmed or our brains overloaded, yet we are still bound in mind and body and heart to the vow--& we can be patient--inevitably something that is present, but until now unknown, arises. In that arising, we realize that "something unknowable is always present". Where initially this not-knowing might have felt like a hindrance or caused anxiety, now it offers (or holds) relief and release. We can breath into, or lean into what is unknowable or impossible and we can actually find comfort or refuge. Previously, we have taken refuge in the 3 bodies of the buddha. When we relax into what is unknowable or seemingly impossible, when we take refuge, the eyes of the triple-bodied buddha begin to open, ever so slightly. We begin to see with the eyes of emptiness, with the eyes of inter-being and with the eyes of uniqueness. This is the beginning of Right View, the first and last step on the 8-fold path. Now just being with 'numberless', 'endless', 'countless', opens us to ourselves and to each other. This being-with allows us to love ourselves and each other a little more because we realize we are all bound, all entwined in this vast mystery that can never be fully known. None of us can see the sun at midnight or the stars at noon even though they are present. We begin to touch our humanness in not-knowing, in the 'countless'-'endless'- 'numberless'. We then find kin in all manner of things, where before, none were evident.

Hope all goes well tomorrow
take care


  1. PZC Scribe’s Report, Saturday Dec. 15, Platform Sutra, Sects. 20-21

    Where do we seek/find/locate refuge? The three bodies of the Buddha. The Buddha, the dharma, the sangha. What makes us happy? That’s not what Buddhism’s about. What we’re doing here: learning ways we can recognize those moments of obstruction and clarity. What we learn/absorb: interconnectedness, emptiness, obstructions.

    Discussion of refuge freighted with/put into context by recent massacre of small children in Connecticut. The senselessness. Isolation vs. loneliness. Suffering. Awful shit will always happen. Finding connections between this and the reading: the vows. Sangha, interconnectedness. The paradox of the vows, of saving the “numberless.” What can’t be attained or even measured. Helps one see it differently: not “numberless beings” but numberless moments.

    Hui Neng: “Your material body is but an inn and not a fit place of refuge” (section 20).
    Seeking refuge “through” the physical body vs. “in” the physical body. Jack slaps his thighs to recall us to the moment. He notes, in his dharma-blogpost, where he slaps his thighs. To recall us to the body that is/in the moment.

    The sun and the moon and the fog and the clouds: “The wind of wisdom comes along…” (Hui Neng, section 20)

    What is wisdom? Knowing facts or knowing in the moment? This seems to rhyme with “being right” (about something) and doing the right thing. As Hui Neng says in section 20: “If we think about doing something bad, we commit bad deeds. And if we think about doing something good, we perform good deeds.” Is this a Sunday School call to “be good” or is there more to read into it? It seems to be about time, about potentiality, about actualizing, about becoming. What we can’t escape from anyway. Knowing vs. doing-being.

    We somehow return to a question that came up last week: are ideas good for anything? Again we are confronted with our own vocabulary’s inadequacy to differentiate between thought and experience. What are “thoughts”? A list of contrasts looks like this: thought vs. idea // experience vs. knowledge-fact // sensation vs. observation.

    Cessation practices – what they are, how they work.

    Hui Neng: “Those of you who take refuge in yourselves, if you get rid of bad thoughts and bad practices, this is called taking refuge” (section 20).

    Not knowing *as* refuge.

  2. In response to the Nov. 16 posting I mused on the "three pillars of Zen":

    The image of three pillars seems strange for an image of stability. If they were the three feet of a milking stool or an orchard ladder it might imply stability more readily. But our buildings tend to be based on fours... Why three? maybe it's not a structural metaphor.

    The cover of Kapleau Roshi's book bears the image I always associate with this phrase. For years I thought it was the Japanese character for "mountain." Zen tradition was passed through generations of teachers who took the names of mountains where the monasteries were built, so that made sense. The three vertical brushstrokes might refer to the supports of the tradition passed from dharma heir to dharma heir.

    But someone who knows about calligraphy showed me how "mountain" (yama) is really written and the cover art is distinctly NOT that character. The credits in the book identify it as the "kao," identity-seal or distinctive sign of Butcho-kokushi, a 17th-century Zen master.

    So, not architecture or furniture--not structure and not mountains, just a Zen-related threeness. And Red Pine calls them skandhas (aggregates) rather than pillars. So much for the image. As to whether the names would be zazen, wisdom and compassion; or buddha, dharma, sangha; teisho, dokusan, zazen; meditation, morality, wisdom; zazen, skillful means, and wisdom-compassion-- or even teaching, practice and enlightenment; faith, doubt and determination -- it's just overwhelming. It is curious to note that all of these 3's sort out into Oneness, Twoness, Manyness, fundamental aspects of our experience. I'd rather not elaborate on that here.

    I found Red Pine's comment on verse 13 (p. 130) re: meditation and wisdom a little odd. That is, he rejected the Tunhuang Museum version as "clearly wrong" where it says "meditation and wisdom have neither one essence nor two." It may be wrong in the sense that none of the other early versions puts it that way, but I rather thought it the neatest way to touch Hui--neng's insistence that meditation and wisdom are inseparable and "the same."


  3. One time, shortly after taking my first position at a hospital, I was asked to see a middle-aged patient with advanced Alzheimer's dementia. He'd lost control of basic reflexes, such as bowel control and swallowing, and was unable recognize his loved ones. When he spoke, his words tumbled out in random, often obscene, fragments: the final, dying impulses of decayed synapses. The results of my assessment were patent to everyone present; there were no rehabilitation options for this man. Before I could say as much, his wife looked right through me with eyes hollowed by desperate, ragged grief, and said, "this is the end, isn't it?" I can't remember my response, or if I even had one. If I did, I'm sure I just mumbled the usual heartless medical platitudes. I do remember stumbling into the hall to get documents from the social worker that would authorize the wife to make medical decisions for her husband, including the decision to palliate until his imminent death. When I returned, I found the curtains drawn around the patient's bed and I had to knock on the wall to announce my presence. The wife's voice asked me to come in, and I pulled aside the curtain to discover the wife lying next to her husband in his hospital bed, her head buried in his chest, weeping openly from a depth of pain and love that I had not known existed.

    I'm afraid I can't speak intelligently about what constitutes the three pillars of Zen, but I like many of us, I've seen lives touched by unimaginable suffering. Our deaths will, indeed, meet us, but so will those of others, and it is often these deaths that cause more pain to us than our own. I suspect that Zazen doesn't happen without radical compassion, and that the heart of compassion, Zen or otherwise, is the willingness to co-suffer with the hurting. To become a real human, I wonder if we must, to some extent, allow the pain and terror of the desperate to find harbour in our hearts, acknowledging suffering as willingly as we do joy and hope. If this is true, then, perhaps, true Zazen is achieved or relinquished in the moment at which the heart must break or harden, the moment at which we choose to accept suffering as our own, or ignore it's presence in our fellow beings.


  4. The vows of numberless, countless, their impossibility a door is opened to a simple truth, that this little person cannot ever fathom this practice, it cannot practice it, it cannot approach it...what an impossibility! Yet here facing this impossibility something is already complete...the numberless, the countless, the endless...fully complete! No little person ever stepped foot here.
    Robert R.

  5. "Something unknowable is always present." Rarely have a read a line that has stopped my mind so completely!

    The world is so tiring lately and I am so tired of trying to "know it".
    Perhaps that is truly good news!

    However I got on this list, please keep me there.....

    David S.

    “No part of the human race is separate either from
    other human beings or from the global ecosystem.”
    -- Donella Meadows, Systems Thinker


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