PZI Teacher Archives

Joy, Mosquitoes & Zen


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.

Hakuin’s “Praise Song for Meditation”


Hakuin’s – this is how we translate it — “Praise Song for Meditation.” (really  “Song of Zazen” in Japanese). But it’s kind of a praise song, like those Native American things we [:19]caught their way.  It’s sort of – it’s Hakuin’s version of [:22] Rohatsutu? for the streets kind of thing, so I thought I’d talk about it for tonight.  One way to start it is, “I’ll say a line, you say a line,” and also on the next line and so on.  Ready?  [Each line below is first said by John, then repeated by students]

All beings are Buddha by nature

Just as water and ice are the same

Without water there is no ice

Outside of beings, no Buddha


They will miss what’s in front of them

And go searching far from home

It’s [1:16]tired? Like someone standing in water

And crying out in thirst

Or a child from a rich family

Struggling among the poor.


We cycle through heavens and hells

Because we keep setting out

On the dark roads of ignorance 

Dark road after dark road

When will we be free from birth and death?


Meditation can’t be praised enough!

The good effects of generosity and discipline

Prayer, self-reflection and practice

Have their thoughts in meditation

With what gain from just one sitting!

All your crimes are wiped away.


Then where are those heavens and hells?

The Pure Land comes near.


If this way moves you

The first time you hear it

And you simply follow it.

Endless blessings come to you.


Even more if you turn the light inward

And witness your own nature

Your nature which is empty nature

[3:44] You go beyond any doctrine


The gate opens

Cause and effect are one

There’s no two, no three.

The formless form comes into form


Going or returning, we’re in the right place.

Thinking thoughts without thought

Singing and dancing are the voice of the Way.


The vast emptiness of deep meditation

The brightness of the bright moon of wisdom

Is anything missing from this moment?

Nirvana appears before us

This very place is Paradise

This very body, the Buddha


Any questions?  [laughter] That kind of does it,  yeah? Is anything missing from this moment?  Seems almost a pity to talk about it, but … that never stopped me, so….

All beings are Buddha by nature

Just as water and ice are the same

Without water there is no ice

Without beings, no Buddha


You know, Linji says, “There’s a solitary brightness, without fixed shape or form. It knows how to listen to the teachings.  It knows how to understand the teachings.  It knows how to teach.”  “All beings are Buddha by nature.” It’s as if, in everything, there’s life, just as in ice, there’s water.   And in a certain sense, the universe just keeps appearing in this form … in this form, … and in this form.  Look at your hand.  The whole universe, right there.  It’s all Buddha.  What do you revere?  

Look at someone else’s hand; hold up your hand, look at someone else’s hand.  Anything not Buddha about that? It’s kind of easy to see in someone else; you really look at someone’s hand.  Look at someone’s foot, hold up your foot!  Look at your foot.  Look at someone else’s foot.  It’s not too scary to look at feet.  Yeah, Buddha.   A leaf (John turns towards bouquet on table next to him), look at a leaf.  You know, you can see that light that’s in everything.  And like the woman who kept the inn.  And she said, “Everything shines with a great light,” you know.  And so you can see, Hakuin is just trying to describe something that’s here.  And when we can see it, we can see it: it’s obvious.  And if we can’t see it, the idea is just to be encouraged to, you know, it’s all right, just have your practice, you know?  You’ll get there.  It isn’t so hard, as the woman at the inn said.  

And then, you know that thing about, we’re always reaching past what is; we’re reaching past what’s here.   Nothing wrong with “here,” but we start thinking, “I wonder what’s for dinner. I wonder what…”  You know?  I was really noticing this myself when I was meditating and… I kept trying so hard.  I’m not sure you can even really call it meditating, because it was trying, really.  You know, I was super-good at trying. Meditation was more aspirational [Laughter].  Surely there was something on the other side of trying that I hadn’t become acquainted with, very often.  And then, I’d think, “Wow.   I’m trying so hard, and it’s so hard to meditate, here in the meditation hall, with all these people here.  I’m sure, after the meditation, after the retreat, I’ll be able to meditate.”  And so you can see how we just reach past it, you know? 

What about when you’re with somebody?  You notice how we reach past it.  Even, like you go to the park and somebody’s walking the dog, and they’re on the cell phone, and stuff. (Actually, being with a dog would be great!) Or they are pushing kids, and they’re texting.  Just to be with, is not to reach past what’s in front of us.  To be with what’s in front of us, is to be with what’s in us.  To be with you is actually to be with me.

OK?  Any objections so far? So far, so good?  [laughter] How’re we doing?  Everything okay?  Ok, good. 

Voice from the hall: “NO” 

John: That was Hakuin’s ?parrot?. How tall is NO? (from Hakuin’s personal institute of technique questions) You think you understand no?  How tall is it? How old is it?  How much does it weigh?  Does it weigh too much? [laughter] Is it too fat? What color is it?  Could it be the wrong color? 

It’s sad, if we’re missing out on what is in front [of us?], we’re missing out.  There’s that famous story about the ship that’s out in the Atlantic, south of the equator.  It’s running out of water, and it hasn’t rained when it’s supposed to, and it signals another ship, asking for water.  And the other ship signals, “Let down your buckets,” because fresh water from the Amazon is hundreds of miles out to sea, and they are actually sailing in fresh water, but they don’t know it.  And we’re kind of like that, standing in water and crying out for thirst. 

A child from a rich family:  your daddy’s rich and you’re hustling dimes in the streets.  We might say we are willfully homeless in that way.  

And then, we cycle through heaven and hell, did you notice that? How many today, or yesterday?  Did you have more heavens and hells yesterday?  Or today?  And you notice how it’s, you know, it’s great; and you think, oh, it’s none of my business.  I’m just cycling through heavens and hells.   What’s that got to do with me?

True nature is empty nature, as he says, because we keep setting out on the dark roads of ignorance.  He’s got a good, kind of James-Joyce-hellfire kind of thing going here.  “Dark road after dark road; when will we be free from birth and death?” 

And then he jumps into “Well, I have the solution!  Meditation!” [laughter] Call this number! 1-800-zazen! [more laughter] Can’t be praised enough!  The good effects – and then he just goes into practice stuff: generosity, discipline, prayer, faith, even the longing we have – it’s in a certain sense on the outside.  Self-reflection, self-knowledge, …. It’s kind of interesting.[13:04] Hakuin interested or not ?but it’s very helpful.  

I’m doing a consult about a student with a friend and I said, “How can I get help this person to get self-knowledge?” and the friend said, “That’s your goal for him; that’s not his goal.” [laughter] Self-reflection, turning the light backwards.  The good effects of generosity, discipline, prayer, self-reflection, and practice – it’s all really practice, so when you feel like you’re setting out on the dark roads again  — oh my God, you know the dark road. And you actually truly have a practice, then it’s okay to be where you are, just where you are.  Buddha’s got to be here. All beings have Buddha nature; you’re going to be Buddha. And you do this all the time:  Buddha’s got to be this. And it was the twenty-fifth time this morning that you set out on the dark road, so it must be the Buddha path.  And then you start to see, oh, all things have Buddha nature; oh, as you are here, not some other here.  This here, now.  Notice what’s going on in your body right now.  What do you think is going on in Buddha’s body right now?  Great, what?  

S: Same thing.

What’s going on in your body?

[Not all answers are audible; only some are shown]

S: Arthritis in the hip

S: Warm hands

S: Crazy tummy

S: Mosquito bites

S: ?Amateur?

J: Joy and peace?  It’s there, too.  And mosquito bites!  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.

And that famous line, “From what you gain from one sitting, all your crimes are wiped away.” Because you’re just here.  There’s only this moment, so there’s nothing wrong with your whole life.  You didn’t have the wrong childhood.  All the things that you wince at, that you did.  There’s just here, there’s just here.  In a certain sense you have compassion for your own life; everybody that hurt you, everybody you hurt, all your crimes are wiped away.  Then “where are those heavens and hells?”  You can’t tell the difference, really.   “The Pure Land comes near.”

“If this way moves you, the first time you hear it, and you simply follow it, endless blessings come to you.  Even more if you turn the light inward and witness your own nature.  Your nature which is empty nature.”  [17:14] So, he’s starting to get into – oh, inside everything we do there’s a kind of freedom. That light inside – you  know, that “everything shines with a great light” light – it’s also a kind of freedom.  “There are no walls in the mind,” as the Heart Sutra says.  Underneath all your pain, there isn’t anything.  Fortunately, there’s no foundation. And anything you achieve or acquire, fortunately, there’s no foundation under that, either.   That’s just a heaven and pain is just a hell, so, there’s no foundation.  Nothing to rely on. So turn the light inward and witness your own nature.  

The origin myth of koan study is Bodhidharma coming from India and saying a few things — but one of the things he said is directly pointing to the human heart-mind, directly.  Hakuin says, “Turn the light within.”  And in a way, that’s a deep thing, because, if everything has Buddha nature, and you are looking at a tree, you’re looking in a mirror.  Kind of amazing.  If you’re looking at a bird, you’re looking in the mirror.  If you look at a camera, you’re looking in the mirror.   If you look at somebody’s face, you’re looking.… Everyone’s beautiful.  And then you go beyond any doctrine.  Again, that’s Bodhidharma.   In a way, it’s all there at the beginning of Zen.  Bodhidharma, Linji and Hakuin – any doctrine.  The Emperor asks Bodhidharma what’s the first principle of the teaching, and Bodhidharma says there isn’t one.  No explanations, you know?  He says, “Vast emptiness, nothing holy.”   You know…. Explain love to me.  Show love to me.  Different, isn’t it? Be love. 

“The gate opens; cause and effect are one.”  Everything is this endless flowing.  “No two, no three.”  “There’s one solitary brightness.”  That’s why it’s solitary.  It’s not because there’s one; it’s because there isn’t anything else in the world! Yah! Get a clue!  Nothing else in the world, nothing but that brightness.  And you can see that, when you meditate.  Sometimes you forget when you meditate, and it’s wonderful.  You’re free.  Free at last! 

“And the formless form comes into form.”  Whatever he means by that….  [laughter]  “Going or returning, we’re in the right place.” (Lucky I had that available!)  Oh yeah, going out, coming home.  Going to bed, waking up.  Being happy, being sad. Being [21:00] ?beautiful?.  Thinking thoughts without thinking.  You can think, oh, I’m thinking, but I’m not caught by my thoughts.  You can feel the emptiness in it.  Linji says a true woman or true person has no rank, like that.  

“Singing and dancing are the voice of the Way.” The law of the Dharma is singing and dancing.  It’s kind of – it is – it’s  play.  And then you see the universe as play.  “Vast emptiness of deep meditation, the brightness of the bright moon of wisdom.”  Now you can tell that this guy’s actually a meditator,  sitting up at night, the moonlight, yeah, that.   The moonlight moves across the stairs, like that.  Is anything missing from this moment?  Imagine you’re dying.  Nothing’s missing from the moment, right?  Suddenly, fearlessness appears.  The next moment will present the next moment.  But while you’ve got a next moment, you’re probably alive, so … it’s going to be all right.  When you don’t have a next moment, you’ll deal with that. That will be your next moment, right?  

Nirvana is when Enlightenment occurs within the Buddha’s story. Everything falls away. “This very place is paradise, this very body, the Buddha.” So, as the lady says, “This isn’t so hard!”  And it’s amazing how it kind of isn’t, actually.  You’re maybe not doing it wrong.  Yeah. Yeah.

Thank you, Hakuin!  

So Hakuin is a person who made available to everybody – everything really came, you could say, from Linji, really. What we teach you here is Linji, really. What Hakuin taught was Linji too.  We’re in the same boat with Hakuin. Linji was the great Chinese master.  He says things like, “There’s nothing I dislike.” Because there’s this moment.  What – are you going to make this moment wrong and make your life wrong?  If this moment is wrong, every moment is wrong.  And if you make a mistake in your practice, how can that be possible?  If you make a mistake, it’s here.  “Here” seems to be here.  You know that route.  Where’s “here?”  Here!  It’s pretty good — just feel “here” for a moment.  You notice when you’re “here” you’re not grabbing onto anything.  You’re not explaining yourself.  You know how you explain yourself, particularly when you feel bad about yourself? You explain yourself, “Well, I was right to do that, because… you know what she would have done if I hadn’t!” 

And you know, explanations – there are no explanations.  In the great Way, we don’t care!  Ask us if we care about the explanations!  And another thing:  here. and another thing: here.  How does that appear, here?  Feel the time. There’s that great line, the ?dynasty poet during the Chinese Civil War, about feeling the time. Feel the time. Whose moment is it?  Whose moment?  Yeah, yours.  It’s kind of great, isn’t it?  Like all this is for you.  Just feel the time. Feel the moment. You might notice – this is not an explanation – it’s for you, honored one.  Another great master, Zhauzou, said,“It is only for you, honored one.” And it’s easy to see, if all beings have Buddha nature, it’s for everybody; if it’s for you, it’s for me.  And if it’s for me, it’s also for the frogs and the peacocks and the turkeys and the dog and the kid, and the… Everybody has the galaxy in them. They’re [27:00] ?skewered? [Ed: can’t be!]