Morning Lecture

Over at Owl’s site, there is some ongoing discussion about practice and its relationship to realization or “awakening.” I read a little this morning and then when I turned to my morning reading, I had to laugh.

Lately I’m reading The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi. Master Lin-Chi — also translated as Linji (Chinese), and Rinzai (Japanese) — was a ninth-century monk. He’s the guy who said “kill the Buddha” and founder of Rinzai zen, which is the school of zen that uses koans. Anyhow, a significant figure in zen history.

After I read over at Owl’s a bit, I turned to my book, and the appropriateness of the passage I read was just too amusing. Don’t forget: this fellow is writing in the 800s. It also strikes me that there is a huge body of writing by zen masters over the centuries, railing at students to not attach to the methods they (teachers and students) use. When you get right down to it, that’s actually pretty much all the zen masters ever write about. And obviously, they were prescient about the need to say the same thing over and over, because here I am in 2007, still getting stuck in their words and my words.

So I’ll put on the voice-to-text headphones and fire up the software and read to you this morning from Master Lin-Chi:

Why all this fluster? Will you put on a lion’s skin and then yap like a jackal? First-rate fellows who don’t draw a first-rate fellow’s breath, you’re unwilling to trust what you have at home and instead go looking for something outside, letting yourselves become taken up with the idle words and phrases of the men of old, clinging to the shade, relying on sunshine, never able to stand on your own. You encounter a certain environment and are swayed by it, you encounter a bit of dust and clutch at it, everywhere stirred and led astray, lacking any fixed standards of your own.

Followers of the Way, don’t be too taken up with my pronouncements either. Why? Because pronouncements are without basis or underpinning, something painted for a time on the empty sky, as in the simile of the painter with his colors.

Followers of the Way, don’t take the Buddha to be some sort of ultimate goal. In my view, he’s more like the hole in a privy. Bodhisattvas and arhats are all so many chains, things for fettering people…

Followers of the Way, there is no Buddha to be gained, and the Three Vehicles, the five natures, the teaching of the perfect and immediate Enlightenment are all simply medicines to cure diseases of the moment. None have any true reality. Even if they had, they would still all be mere shams, placards proclaiming superficial matters, so many words lined up, pronouncements of such kind.

Followers of the Way, there are certain baldheads who turn all their efforts inward, seeking in this way to find some otherworldly truth. But they are completely mistaken! Seek the Buddha and you lose the Buddha. Seek the Way and you’ll lose the Way.

Fellow believers, don’t mistake me! I don’t care whether you understand the sutras and treatises. I don’t care whether you are rulers or great statesmen. I don’t care whether you can pour out torrents of eloquence. I don’t care whether you display brilliant intellects. All I ask is that you have a true and proper understanding.

Followers of the Way, even if you can understand a hundred sutras and treatises, you’re not as good as one plain monk who does nothing. As soon as you acquire a little of such understanding, you start treating others with scorn and contempt, vying and struggling with them like so many demons, blinded by the ignorance of self and others, forever creating karma that will send you to hell. You’re like the monk who understood all the 12 divisions of the teachings but fell into hell alive, the earth unwilling to tolerate him. Better to do nothing, to leave off all that.

Followers of the Way, don’t search for anything in written words. The exertions of your mind will tire it out, you’ll gulp cold air and gain nothing. Better to realize that at every moment all is conditioned and without true birth…

The ultimate principles that make up the Way are not something to be thrashed out in contentious debate, clinging and banging to beat down the unbelievers. This thing handed down from the buddhas and patriarchs has no special meaning.

Fellow believers, do not use your mind in a mistaken manner, but be like the sea that rejects the bodies of the dead. While you continue to carry such dead bodies and go racing around the world with them, you only obstruct your own vision and create obstacles in your mind. When no clouds block the sun, the beautiful light of heaven shines everywhere. When no disease afflicts the eye, it does not see phantom flowers in the empty air.

Followers of the Way, if you wish to be always in accord with the Dharma, never give way to doubt. ‘Spread it out and it fills the whole Dharma-realm, gather it up and it’s tinier than the thread of a hair.’ Its lone brightness gleaming forth, it has never lacked anything. ‘The eye doesn’t see it, the ear doesn’t hear it.’ What shall we call this thing? A man of old said, ‘Say something about a thing and already you’re off the mark.’ You’ll just have to see it for yourselves. What other way is there? But there is no end to this talk. Each of you, do your best!


3 Responses

  1. Thank you.

    This is amazing. Who is this Lin-Chi?

    (I should have read this before I posted this morning and called it sufficient.)

  2. I am speechless. So let me copy/paste the recent words of R:

    “What would you (as a GOD) do to make them conscious of you?”
    A: Absolutely nothing. Nothing.

    What an atrocious idea.

  3. Disease of the moment: phantom flowers in the empty air


    Each of you, do your best!

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