Friday, January 11, 2013

Memorizing Your Heart

Sections 28-29 #11

Hello Palouse Zen folks,

 I find myself being skeptical when I am told or read that memorizing a text or slogan will allow me to see my nature and enter the prajna samadhi. In the past I have said that when you come to a disbelief-skepticism-cynicism when reading a text known and revered for its insight and wisdom, it might behoove you to 'bracket' your misgivings and 1. borrow a dictionary; 2.  lean into or sit with your un-understanding and 3. if you still do not feel any movement, come back to the text at a later time.  The archaic meaning of memorize is to be mindful or recollect and immediately, we have entered the 8-fold path...right or correct mindfulness or recollection. The dictionary also says we can memorize something by writing it down which I find to be a helpful hint since I am 60+ years old and my slopes have recently become rather slippery. If nothing else writing a long text by hand is soothing and no telling where that written text will reside in your body after you have put the pen down. I have no doubt that it will resonate somewhere within you and will have an effect.  The dictionary, too, says memorizing can be done by (the) heart or maybe we can say with heart.

Although many of our ancestors in the dharma have memorized the Diamond Sutra and it is today, probably right this moment, being recited in Chinese prisons in Tibet and in China as well as other harsh, violent and punishing places, I still do not find myself being drawn into such a practice. Yet, I do have many sutras, commentaries and dialogs memorized and I am quite aware of how they influence me throughout my week. Before continuing with Hui-neng, I'd like to turn for a moment to the Enmei Jikku Kannon Gyo which we recite daily during sesshin and zazenkai. The later part of the dharani is translated so: "Mornings my thought is Kanzeon, Evenings my thought is Kanzeon, rapidly thoughts arise in the mind, thought after thought is not separate from mind." We all know after just 25 minutes of zazen that thoughts do arise rapidly in the mind but if thought after thought is not separate from mind, something that Hui-neng has been telling us throughout the text, then if that thought is KANZEON, we do not have room for greed, hatred or ignorance. It is not that we are thinking good thoughts--Kanzeon after all is the goddess of compassion--but our minds are fully occupied which allows our walls of greed, hatred and ignorance to dissipate. If Kanzeon seems to foreign a word to call forward, please insert Mu or Who Hears, for those thoughts will work on us as well. When the mind is occupied like this in the present, that mind has a very different inclination towards the future. Its 'normal' foundation of "I am here & you are over there" is weakened and a new footing is established. We begin to see through, we begin to see to...what is always right before us which has little to do with inside or outside. In this way the sutra or word is known as no other than yourself and memorizing becomes just another way to explore who and what you actually are. When we memorize (with) our hearts, we naturally become more compassionate, more heart-felt. There is, of course, a great freedom in this because you loosen the bindings of words, ideas and other mental formations and habits. And there is a great freedom in this because you are simply depending on your own mind which gives rise to the right view (Hui-neng).

Fortunately, it does not matter if you are of small, medium or large capacity. What matters is that you are willing to know yourself as you are--one who possesses the wisdom of prajna paramita. Remember, whether free-flowing or dammed, narrow or broad, deep or shallow, all water returns to the great ocean of mind.  Hui-neng writes, "Our original nature already possesses the wisdom of prajna." This is the great truth and the great optimism of our practice and it is something you can have faith in. And though your faith may be weak or unstable, it doesn't matter. Simply memorize one heart-filled word and allow it to guide you through the days and nights even when it is cloudy, even when the moon hasn't yet risen and all seems dark.

Enjoy your dharma inquiry




  1. This reminds me of Daikaku.
    In The Roaring Stream they offer this from Daikaku:

    The Sutra of One Word

    A man came to Daikaku who was a believer in repetition of mantras like the Lotus mantra and the mantra of Amida, and said, "The Heart Sutra which is read in the Zen tradition is long and difficult to read, whereas Nichiren teaches the mantra of the Lotus, which is only seven syllables, and Ippen teaches the mantra of Amida which is only six. But the Zen Sutra is much longer and it's difficult to recite."
    The teacher listened to this and said, "What would a follower of Zen want with a long text? If you want to recite the Zen scripture, do it with one word. It is the six and seven word ones that are too long."

  2. Our PZC sangha meeting began with a discussion of Platform Sutra #28--29. Someone mention Hui Neng's non-Western way of setting up comparisons (backwards from what we're used to); several people felt that it was difficult to comment individually on so challenging a text. One sangah member had read Rilke's 8th Duino elegy last week, and quoted
    Despite our aspirations, we wave
    as though departing,
    Like one lingering to look,
    from a high final hill,
    out over the valley he
    intends to leave forever.
    We spend our lives saying
    goodbye. (Thanks Luke).

    For a while we discussed what spending our lives saying good-by meant. The discussion then morphed into an examination of how aspects of our situation (pressures of a young family, relationships, jobs) appeared on the cushion. Someone recalled a sangha member saying long ago that, when we are preoccupied, `it's going back that's the practice.' We shouldn't judge our success or failure in doing this. Every meditation done with the right intention is a good one. After the meeting, the members went out into the snow together in cheerful good fellowship.


  3. Our sangha meeting at PZC began with a review of Platform Sutra 28-29. Some people balked at Hui-neng's use of metaphor, but other people felt the figurative language pointed to realities that cannot be fully articulated. The non Western set-up of Hui-neng's comparison (backwards to our eyes) was noted. Several people felt that direct individual comment on so challenging a text was extremely difficult.
    Last week one sangha member read Rilke's 8th Duino Elegy. He quoted the words, `we spend our lives saying goodbye' and we explored what these words meant to us. The discussion morphed into a consideration of how our circumstances--jobs, marriage, relationships, aging--affect us on the cushion. Someone remembered something one of our members said long ago, that, whatever our circumstances, when they come up on the cushion `the practice is when you go back.' And we shouldn't judge our success or failure in doing this. Every well-intentioned meditation is a good meditation.
    When the meeting ended, the sangha member went out with good fellowship into the cold and snow together.

  4. Hi Jack,
    I find your teishos on various sections very useful in bringing alive their essence and seeing through the limitations and/or differences in regard to choice of words in various translations. My tendency from time to time regarding how much time I spend with them is highly variable. It seems to me sometimes that all converge on one thing--for me words that point there right now include vastness, timelessness, stillness, and clarity--all that's left when all the stuff that distracts us from living life is placed in proper perspective. I sometimes tell my students that if you catch yourself making the same interpretation twice in the exact same words and manner, you are probably off center, have lost immediacy, spontaneity. Like that. I don't want to read about it, I want to be right here. On the other hand, nothing has ever made as much sense to me as these ancient teachings, and I am grateful for your help in experiencing them more deeply. I liked what you said about memorizing the sutra.. I had an English professor in college (I was briefly an English major) and he required every student in this first mandatory class for all English majors to memorize 100 lines of poetry and every student had to recite whatever 100 lines they had chosen in person to him or they did not pass the course. I have used him over the years as my all time prototype for the perfect pedant--someone who substitutes empty forms for meaningful essence. But I memorized Prufrock (I thought it was an act of rebellion since he'd forced us to read a bunch of classical poetry that completely turned me off). But I've never regretted memorizing it. Big chunks of it are still alive in me more than fifty years later. So I like the way you approach such things and it helps bring these texts more meaningfully alive for me. Last night I was sitting, eyelids at half mast, simultaneously seeking mu in my soft spot and at a point somewhere on the other side of my eyelids and for a moments I realized what I wanted was "not here, not there" and somehow also mind but not mind, and I thought "no taste" ie an example of the emptiness of sense perception. Just a flash, a momentary thing, then I went right back to mu.

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