PZI Zen Online- ‘Zen has no insiders, no outsiders’. A true person has no rank, no color, no designations. John reads from Garrett Cadogan’s – ‘Walking While Black’. Koans and vows as observations on reality. Letting go of the Me project. The space and light of the universe is already in everything, everyone. As recorded June 7th, 2020.
John opens the evening with the koan “The True Person of No Rank.” It goes something like this: “There is a true person of no rank who is always coming and going from the portals of your face.” Who is that person of no rank? Linji was a great teacher and the ancestor of most of the koan lines of Zen and this is a koan of his. It has been used since ancient times as a meditation both for beginners and advanced students. Probably the best way to work with it is to play with it. Don’t rank how you are doing. Just let it keep you company, like an animal would. You forget about it, but every time you look, there it is! And after a while it doesn’t go away. October 17, 2013.
The Heart Sutra in the context of its relationship to koans and what koans are. I want to pursue that line a little bit. And the first thing to say about – probably the first attitude people have to koans is that they are a sort of tool, a gadget of some kind, and you use them and you concentrate on them, and you use them – a can opener for the mind
Joy and peace don’t stop the mosquitoes from biting. All these things have their source in meditation. So you want to open your heart. You want to –whatever it is – during meditation. That’s what he’s saying. Right. It comes from within.
I think this is a time when things are kind of changing and incredibly uncertain, and that fidelity to what’s really true to us is important and valuable. And we don’t have to pretend that when difficulties are here, they’re not here. But also, we don’t have to pretend that they cancel the illumination, because nothing does, really. Even if we’re dying, the brightness of life is still there. And after we’re dead, we’ll worry about that later, [laughs] when the time comes in the bardos.
There was a teacher called Luopu, a Chinese teacher, and he said this interesting thing. He said, “You have to directly realize the source outside of the teachings.” That’s the whole thing about it. That’s Bodhidharma’s thing, the direct realization outside of scriptures. The scriptures are nice and the teachings are nice, but really, the direct understanding—the direct meeting with life—the direct meeting with awakening is the thing.
Rilke said, “Life is always right.” Whatever I think about that saying, this is the life I have, and I can’t have another life. And really, fundamentally I don’t want another one, because this one is so rich and compelling, no matter what’s going down right now.
You can trust that the thing that you are doing is going to work. It’s underground. There’s a growth happening in the dark. You don’t even have to see it. But, after a while, you start to notice it. It’s kind of a cool thing, actually. You think, “God, even me! Even I have some part in this.”
So, rather than thinking a predicament is something we’ve got to get rid of, it’s just life—and it has its own dynamism. Maybe we have to walk through it, not run the other way. It’s all right to weep about it, or be frustrated and angry. You can’t be someone else, you are who you are. The gateway is yours, not someone else’s.
So, value the sort of play, and as I said, see if you can break the koan—the koan will be amused. And see it, and let it—let it into your heart. And see what comes, or follow it around, or have it follow you. And finally you’ll find, you’ll realize, “Oh, I’m here. I’m free.”
So, whatever your condition is, you can see the “I have joy.” Out of that emptiness, out of what seems unpromising—the dark material, the valley spirit, the enigma, out of the mystery, out of what I don’t understand—it just appears. The joy just appears.
We stop relying on the worry—on knowing who we are, on sorrow, on anxiety, on “if only I could get something.” Or get through this time. We stop relying on those things, and start relying on being here. A koan is something to put in your mind so that you have that there. So instead of Fox News or “Oh my god I’m afraid,” or “I’m sick of being confined”—gradually freedom starts to appear by itself.
Transcript: So. The storehouse of treasures opens by itself. You can take them and use them any way you wish. And there’s a certain kind of, I don’t know, as if we get ashamed for existing, ashamed for being ourselves, ashamed for feeling what we feel, ashamed for thinking what we think, and a lot of what meditation does is it allows us to look, well is that really right, is that what I want.
The Heart Sutra, like any koan, contains the universe, and so you have to go in somewhere. I want to go in through the “Mantra of Great Magic.” Even the word “mantra” is, in a certain way, a reference to magic, a sort of portable access to reality that you can carry around with you. And the word “magic” is also used for the word “mantra,” so where we use “mantra” to produce magic, there’s a transformative quality about the mantra so that, when you repeat it, when you keep company with it, you end up in its world.
In the evening dharma talk John introduces us to an ancestor in the koan tradition, Dahui Zonggao 大慧宗杲 (Ta-hui Tsung-kao, Daie Soko), 1089-1163 and his disciple Wuzhuo Miaozong (無著妙宗; 1096–1170 CE), Miaozong lived during the Song dynasty and was one of the first nuns to be included in an imperially sanctioned Zen lineage history. The conversation between Dahui and Miaozong is instructive of his early method of using only the head of the koan and become one with it. His method was formulated for his culture like we are for ours.
Two swords are crossed (like in the movies, which actually I don’t think happens in real life, but it’s very popular in the movies. It was popular in the movies like 1200 years ago.) Two swords are crossed. There’s no way to retreat. You’re a lotus in the fire. You can’t help it. You’re determined to go higher. Farther, higher, up , further, more. So two swords are crossed. There’s no way to retreat. You’re a lotus in the fire. You can’t help it. You’re determined to go higher.
So we’ve been talking about old poems that are also a map of the path, but they’re a map of the kind where you have to see what rises in your meditation to meet them to find out how useful they are to you. Today we’re on the fifth of the ranks, the fifth poem. Five ranks by an old Zen teacher, and this is the final one, so you now know conclusively that there are only five stages to the path. And it goes:
When something confronts you, don’t believe it. Whatever appears, shine your light on it. Have confidence in the light that’s always working inside you. When the heart rises, the 10,000 things arise too. When the heart is still, the many things cease. They come to rest. When the heart does not rise… when the heart is not anxious, as John put it last night… when the heart does not rise, the 10,000 things are without blame. So when something confronts you don’t believe it. Don’t believe it. That’s been such a kick to sit with. I just noticed that I start suffering, and when suffering comes it, it doesn’t even name itself. I’m not even aware of what I’m wrong for doing or not doing.
Tonight I want to talk about another aspect of the koan about who’s hearing, who am I, what am I. There’s a spectrum I’ve been talking about so far for all of one previous talk. And I wanted to get at it slightly at an angle by going in through dreams, and the idea of is there a difference between what we’re doing and dreams anyway, which is certainly relevant to who we think we are.
Hakuin would paint that as a demon. This is demon number three. Which number demon is that? And the other things is that thing about how the thing we thought was the problem can transform, there is that real sense of what’s wrong with being a demon? If I think there’s a demon obviously I’m it.
So there’s something about where we’re located, which is in the middle of nothing, good to know, and then how do you manage there? And also something about expression being eloquent. So what is eloquence when you’re in the middle of nothing? And also something about not reaching for approval, categories, emperors, sages, psychologies, ideas, history, anything that’s not nothing. Okay, so here we are.
A koan is a piece of old wisdom in a very concise form. I think of it as a vial of ancient light that has been passed down to us. It’s the same light that was in the heart of the teacher who invented the koan. So, if you can get the vial open, what will pour out is your inheritance. It won’t be the usual kind of inheritance with bank accounts, real estate, debts and family feuds. This inheritance will be a perspective—the way an old master saw and experienced the world.
This is from an old Chinese poet, and koans and poems were always, poems, koans, koans, poems, they’re always somewhat intertwined in their history. And so often poems were used as koans and vice versa. This is a series of five poems by an old Chinese teacher called Dongshan, who kind of did a map of the Way in five stages, because everybody knows there are five stages for the Way [laughter].
And so the certain categories of koans are designed to help us see the implications. We’ve been playing with a few this week, and the one I’d like to do today is “Stop the war.” It’s kind of succinct. Cut it out! Stop the war, or can you stop the war?
Everybody probably has a road that would come to mind. I remember getting a bus in Tasmania and driving through the west coast mountains to a mining town where I was going to work, get a job, and how the snow was coming down and the bus would just go around this really narrow road like that, and there are certain parts of the world that have truly alarming narrow mountain roads with truly alarming drivers and very ancient buses.
This is one of those “in the old days, once upon a time” stories. There are a couple of interesting things about this. The first thing is about the idea of just getting in the bath, that maybe one of the metaphors for spiritual tradition is you get in a bath, and not only that, you do it together. We do it with each other. You could say we do it with the crows who call, we do it with the frogs, with the trees, with the birds. And then something happens in the bath. What happens in the bath, I suppose, is really most of what happens on the spiritual journey.
..a practice is different from a plan. You know what a plan is; you’ve probably made a few of them. A practice has more love in it, because a practice is something you’re doing without being sure of the outcome..
..one of the things we can be skeptical about is that division. This is meditation, this is not meditation, and the question is always, how do you know it’s not meditation? How do you know what’s happening now isn’t it?