The Golden Age of Zen

I’ve been reading from ‘The Golden Age of Zen’ by John C. H. Wu

At first I was disappointed in this book as it seemed like an attempt to reconcile Christianity and Buddhism. But as I read on I found it to be a great source of information about Chinese Zen (Chan) during the Tang dynasty. I knew that Chan was greatly influenced by Taoism but I wasn’t aware that Chuang Tzu and Confucius taught some of the basic teachings of Chan before Buddhism came to China.  At least this is how legend tells it.

I think that this is a good time to point out that an important teaching in Zen is citta-matra (mind only).  some times Vijñapti-mātra is used interchangably with citta-matra though there are differences.  Anyway I want to point out that some people refer to the world of form as reality while others refer to it as non-real.  They claim reality is a world beyond form, perhaps a metaphysical realm or even a world beyond the metaphysical.   But perhaps the  world of our mind and the world of form are so intertwined that we cannot differentiate them.  Or at least it is not accurate to claim that they are not part of the same reality or non-reality.

The chinese phrase “tso-wang” is mentioned, translated by Legge as “I sit and forget everything.”  This is taught as silent illumination by some Zen masters.  Hongzhi’s book “Cultivating the Empty Field” teaches the method as does Master Sheng yen’s “The Method of No-Method”.

There is a very helpful part of the book that talks about becoming detached from the world, then becoming detached from things sensual and material and finally becoming detached from clinging to this life.

I am still reading and studying the book so I let it up to you to read it for yourself.

Loving Kindness to ALL bings.

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Desire – The cause of suffering.

I recently was reading about Christopher Columbus and all of the atrocities that he committed. The article ( mentions that the first thing that caught his eye was the gold jewelry of the natives when he landed in the Bahamas. The article goes on to compare him to another Spanish explorer, Bartolomé de las Casas who at first supported the enslavement of natives. He then renounced such ideas but still supported the slavery of African Blacks. Eventually he renounced this too and advocated the equality of all people. The article says that Bartolomé is considered to be one of the first advocates of universal human rights. This may be true in the Western World. But in China Mozi (ca. 470 BC – ca. 391 BC), was advocating giving up attachment to family, village and local groups and practice universal love for all people.

This was doing the time of the Buddha, who we are told gave us the Four Noble Truths.  The second of which is Samudaya, translated as desire, thirst or craving.  This is the origin of Dukkha which is most commonly translated as suffering but has a much broader meaning.  Some use the term unsatisfactoryness.  Things are not quite perfect.  We are not at total peace with the way things are.

It really is desire that causes people to be less than loving and in extreme cases to commit hideous atrocities.  That’s why all of us should have a daily practice to see into our selfish desires and let go of them so that our lives our directed by compassion and loving kindness.  May we all have determination to follow the path to liberation and free all beings from suffering.

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Thoughts on the three doors of Liberation

Years ago I took a few lessons on the classical guitar but I became frustrated and quit because I’m what one writer refers to  as musically hopeless.   Although earlier in life I did play the Sax fairly well.  I just never had an ear to recognize sounds.  Anyway having meditated for many years I am a different person.  I contemplated the three doors of liberation before and while playing.  What a difference when you practice aimlessness while practicing music.  You just enjoy the practice,  enjoy each note or each measure.  No anxiety about getting it right or making progress.   This applies to most anything you do.  Practice the Three Doors of Liberation:  Emptiness,  aimlessness and signlessness and there is no ego to be annoyed.  If you aren’t at this stage in your practice I hope you will work on it.  Loving Kindness to All beings.  Robert

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The mind of this moment

The mind of this moment should be the pure mind of meditation.

If the mind of desire and attachment arises it’s too late.

It’s very difficult to escape the mind of desire and attachment.

Look deeply into what it is that you crave.  Look into the roots.

Look at how the temporary pleasure turns to suffering and torment.

Look at how peaceful the pure mind of meditation,  the mind free from bondage.

Be grateful that you have been taught the mind of Wu.

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Changing our core energy

Wishing happiness, joy, freedom from suffering is an energy that is part of our true nature. It is not just repeating the words during our practice. It is transforming who we are at our very core. When we are able to grow in this direction we are no longer able to look at any being that is suffering without feeling that suffering ourselves. We truly understand oneness and totality. We no longer look at those who commit hideous acts of violence with anger and hatred wishing terrible things for them. Instead we are able to feel the suffering that causes them to act in such an erroneous manor. When we are able to do this we have become truly selfless and our entire life is dedicated to helping all beings find liberation and joy.

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The wonderful experience of Zen

Zen is slippery, beyond the logic of the intellect. The sixth patriarch in the platform sutra says if we are not attached to anything externally then our minds are not confused internally. This he says is Zen Meditation. When we reach the stage where we can be completely aware of things without being attached to concepts then we can experience the great bliss. There is just this beautiful awareness that there is no separation between observer and observed. Often those teaching the Avatamsaka speak of this as the totallity where realms inter-penetrate without obstruction. I and men far wiser than me can speak thousands of words about it but you must experience it yourself.  Yesterday I stepped out my front door and listened. Geese were flying, honking, teaching the Dharma for those who could understand.

When I was a teenager I lived by a small river. I liked to sit at my favorite spot by a rapids and just listen. I used to wish that I could somehow communicate the feeling that I experienced.  I didn’t know anything about Buddhism or Zen yet I had this wonderful experience of joy. I often think about it. For me it’s a conformation of everything those Chinese hermit poets were trying to say in their poetry.

I find this experience many places now. There’s a lake I like to visit. On a windy day I listen to the water lapping against the shore speaking it’s wisdom. On a still day there are birds that visit a feeding station maintained by the Audobon society. They give their Dharma talks in song and I experience the great joy.

Oh look how many times I’ve used “I”. It’s so difficult to make it all the way to the other shore. The Diamond Sutra tells us we should let go of all perceptions of a being, a self, a lifespan or a soul. I still have work to do.

Loving Kindness to All.

R C Hess

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Notes on the Platform Sutra

The Platform Sutra has been a great help to me. It’s not filled with impossible riddles and flowery symbolism. It’s direct and easy to understand. However understanding the concepts is one thing; Putting it into practice in daily meditation and life is quite different. I’m still working on that and I suppose will be for what ever time I have left. The core teaching is: “let go of attachment to external things and see your pure Buddha nature, mind-essence.  Sounds easy but it may take life times of determination and practice.

But this post is not about the practice itself but some notes on what we know about how we have come to have the versions that are available to us today.
For many years the English versions that were available were based on a Chinese edition that was edited by the monk Tsung-pao in 1291.  As far as I know the first english translation of this edition was produced by Wong Mou-lam in 1930.

The Buddhist Translation Society produced an English version from this Tsungpao version titled The Sixth Patriarch’s Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra.  The first edition was published in Hong Kong in 1971.  A second edition was published in the USA in 1977.

In 1932 Dwight Goddard published a version based on Wong Mou-lam’s translation in The Buddhist Bible.

Upasake Lu K’uan Yu (Charles Luk) produced a series of three books titled Ch’an and Zen Teaching.  His translation of the of the Platform Sutra is found in Series three published in 1962 and is titled The Dharma Treasure of the Alter Sutra. 

In 1923 a shorter and older version of the Platform Sutra was found in the  British Museum.  This document was one of many brought back from the Tunhuang/Dunhuang caves.  This version was arranged differently and was shorter than the Tsungpao  version.  It was believed to have been written sometime around 850 and was based on an earlier version dating back possibly as far as 780.  According to history the Platform Sutra was originally written down by a disciple of Hui-neng,  Fa-hai.  This Tunhuang version was found by a Japanese scholar, Yabuki Keiki.   Keiki produced an edited version that was included in Volume 48 of Taisho edition of the Buddhist Canon published in Japan.  In 1934 Daisetz Suzuki produced an improved edition and in 1963 Wing-tsit Chan gave us an English translation of Suzuki’s edition.   Philip Yampolsky again translated Suzuki’s work into English in 1967 with the title The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch.

Red Pine’s translation was published 2006 and was based on a Tunhuang copy found in the Chienfotung Caves in 1935.  This copy was more legible and had fewer mistakes than the copy found in the British Museum.  Red Pine’s notes and commentaries are extensive and thorough.  One can spend a lifetime absorbing the wisdom he has brought together in this book.  I am no scholar and I only pass along the work of other brilliant men in hopes that you will look into their work yourself and experience your own Buddha Nature.

All of these teachers from the historical buddha up to the present day masters are trying to convey their experience of reality in order to help us find liberation from suffering.  There is no short cut to understanding the emptiness (shunyata) of all dharmas including our own bodies.  We must study and meditate and we must live moral lives with loving kindness and compassion for all beings.   Red Pine tells us that Hui-neng did not teach concepts but only sought to free those in his audience from concepts that blocked them from seeing their Buddha Nature.  We too must be determined to find this freedom.

Loving Kindness to All.

R C Hess






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