Friday, November 29, 2013

The Intimacy of Zazen

Hello All, Winter Bones sesshin starts tomorrow so I will not comment on a case next week but will rejoin you on 12/14. Today we will be looking at Case 42: Liang-shan.

 Liang-shan studied with T'ung-an the Latter and served him as attendant for many years. Once T'ung-an entered the hall without his robe. Liang-shan went out, recovered the robe and brought it to his teacher. As T'ung-an put on the robe, he asked, "What is it beneath the patched robe?" Liang-shan did not respond. T'ung-an said, "It is most painful when one who studies Buddhism has not yet reached that stage. Now you ask me and I will tell you."  Liang-shan said, "What is it beneath the patched robe?"
T'ung-an said, "Intimacy." Liang-shan had realization. That is the presented koan but the dialog continued. Liang-shan, on having realization, made full bows and his tears of gratitude wet his robe. T'ung-an said, "Now that you have had a taste of realization, can you express it?" Liang-shan said that he could so T'ung-an asked, "What is that beneath the patched robe?" Liang-shan said, "Intimacy." T'ung-an acknowledged him saying, "Intimacy. Intimacy."

Aitken Roshi and Francis Cook have, with very small details, similar translations. Let me read you another translation, however, which obscures and almost makes meaningless, this beautiful exchange. As T'ung-an put on the robe, he asked, "What is it beneath the patched robe?" Liang-shan did not respond. T'ung-an said, "It is most painful when one who studies Buddhism has not yet reached that stage. Now you ask me and I will tell you."  Liang-shan said, "What is it beneath the patched robe?" T'ung-an said, "It is within." With this Liang-shan was greatly awakened. T'ung-an said, "Now can you say something" and Liang-shan responded affirmatively and T'ung-an asked, "What is under the robe?" Liang-shan said, "It is within." T'ung-an said, "Inner being--it exists within." 

According to my dictionary, 'intimate' means belonging to or characterizing one's deepest nature. It also relates to an inner or inmost nature; an inward quality or feature. With these definitions, we can see why the third translator used the words he did--"it is within; inner being". Yet the fact of zazen is that when we look within, when we search--we find that there really isn't a within. When we look closely, we find no walls creating an inside and outside. The other way to say this might be that when we look we find only boundlessness and a space which is so vast that heaven and earth are narrow in comparison. No walls in the mind, or boundlessness, are just different words for true intimacy. The intimacy which contains an inner and outer is relative. The intimacy of zazen allows what is right before us to fill the mind--which is mindfulness. When what is right before us fills us, there isn't room for conceptions or abstractions. Intimacy, again returning to the dictionary, is the state of being close or familiar--so familiar that we are all known as kin, as family. 

When we say, "inner being--it exists within," we simply create confusion. When we posit inner and outer, we begin to search and we immediately go past the very fact of reality. When we assert an inner and outer, we simultaneously create an object which separates us...and from this simple misdirection arises loneliness, sadness, alienation and a weighted feeling of inadequacy, of insufficiency, of lack. By creating the thought of inside and outside, we make objects and we instantly begin to long for what we have put outside ourselves. In a sense, we miss ourselves and so we begin to search here and there. Intimacy means that no search is necessary. Intimacy means things, animate or inanimate, are already closer to you than your own skin. 

We do not only hear sounds because we have ears; or smell fragrance because we have nostrils; or see red, yellow and green because we have eyes. We hear because we are sound. We are fragrance. We are colors, shapes and forms. One with no eyes still sees; one with no nose still smells and the one with no ears, hears. We experience...we experience things because we are things.

So please trust your practice. It has brought you to this moment...a wonderful and beautiful moment. It has brought you to this place--filled with raven calls, with cascading rain and wind, with magnificent colors of grey and black, of steel-blue and hemlock green. Allow your practice to be what it is at the very bottom whether you are aware of it or not...intimate...with no inside or outside; with no buddhas or beings, with no us or them.




  1. PZC Reading Group, Nov. 30; Liangshan (pp.212-216):

    Is our practice limiting us to being caught in hell? We’re trying to do what monks do without leaving home; reading their texts. Different teachers and different ways of expressing; getting oneself in the best situation. In the course of answering that, we admire the paragraph at the top of page 213. Thieves and dragons. What’s the “business”? Different readings of the images unrolled during this exchange between student and teacher. How to be wide open and defenseless. “Land of no birth” = no suffering (no rebirth). “Pools are emptied” = quietude? Letting it be. Why does the monk cry at that image? Perhaps the student’s questions are driving him crazy. Jack “don’t look for it without, but don’t look for it within” keeps coming up; what does “within” mean, and how does it relate to the koan, “the business beneath the patch robe”? It doesn’t matter what your situation is, what color your robe it or what condition it is in, you need intimacy. You need will. “Stagnant water does not harbor dragons”: discuss. Questions arise from questions. Peace vs./as stagnant water. The robe doesn’t make the monk. “It’s a difficult place to be”: once you start this practice, you can’t back out. We look at an image of Liangshan: big earlobes, bushy eyebrows. Cultivating that. “If you still not have reached this realm…”; what is this realm? Student & teacher: switching roles as questioner and questioned as a kind of intimacy, empathy. So when the teacher answers the student’s question instead of posing it to the student, that is intimacy, and it is paired with the word “intimacy.” One and the same. The questions lead to the imperial walls of the emperor and the frontier of the general – this example is how he “exemplified intimacy to others”. In each case one is in charge; in the center of everything, which is how we experience it: where is the intimacy here – with the expanding of “everything” as where we are? That’s not possible, is it? Mind activities: knowledge & experience; memories, plans, & judgments. To be fair to ourselves, a lot of this is biochemical, goings on in the cognitive realm. Sounds draw you out & your awareness expands, whereas anger draws you in. Oscillating brainwaves of self-centeredness (small) and open awareness (big). Science is our teacher, brainwaves are our new metaphors (those things we can’t see, but that we think with, like thieve and dragons) for mindfulness. If zazen encourages big brainwaves, the practice is itself a kind of intimacy.

  2. Can a so called left brained person clarify the great matter? Or is this open to only right brained people?

  3. Intimacy is becoming immersed in not-knowing, ...the comfort in self, a self who seeks because of some innate discomfort is based on a need to know, so we choose to remain in self, in the comfort that never is truly comfortable. Our self cannot find intimacy as much as we seek for it...because intimacy only arises when separation is released. Self is separation. We cannot possibly bring self/separation into intimacy because intimacy is in fact just allowing separation to dissolve. Yet it seems impossible to relinquish self, so dependent on it are we and so we twist and turn and agonize trying to find a way to bring self/separation towards troubling! Finding intimacy is simple when you realize you cannot find a self here wherever you look for it. What a great practice to look for the self. Where is this self when you stop for a moment in stillness, eyes, ears, mind, wide open, looking. It's disappeared! How could that be? In it's place is quiet, simple...intimacy.


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