Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Paranoia and preoccupation

Sometimes you find yourself in a paranoid condition or a self-preoccupied condition in your zazen. It can last for an entire sesshin, or persist over several sesshins. But if you persevere, it will fade at last and you can get back to your zazen. I had a severe misunderstand with my mother just before I did my first sesshins, more than 60 years ago. For throse first three sesshins I couldn’t do zazen. My relentless theme was MY DAMN MOTHER. I persevered, and I finally count my breaths. Please persevere!


  1. Thank you Roshi for these encouraging words on perseverance. They remind me of Hakuin’s encouraging words in his wonderful essay on The Four Wisdoms of Buddhahood.

    "When you see something, shine through it. When you hear, shine through what you hear. Shine through your own body, sensation, perception, action, and consciousness. Shine through the six fields of sense data.

    In front and in back, to the left and to the right, through every sort of upset and all kinds of downfall, enter absorption in radiant vision of the whole, seeing through all things internal and external, shining through them...

    ...in the midst of afflictions you shine through afflictions, in the midst of enlightenment you shine through enlightenment, in pleasant situations you shine through pleasant situations, and in unpleasant circumstances you shine through unpleasant circumstances.

    When desire arises, you shine through desire. When anger arises, you shine through anger. When folly arises, you shine through folly.

    When the poisons of desire, anger, and folly cease to infect your mind, so that it is purified, then you shine through that pure mind.

    At all times, in all places, shine through all things, be they desires or sensations, gain or loss, right or wrong, even views of Buddha and views of truth, shine through them all with your whole body. If your mind does not backslide, the nature created by your habits and actions naturally dissolves, and inconceivable liberation is realized..."
    ~Hakuin, The Four Cognitions, Thomas Cleary

    Of course Hakuin’s teachings, as well as the example he set with his own life, constantly remind us that no matter how far down the path we have gone, there is no end to the Zen path of practice-and-enlightenment. His teachings on this aspect of the path are certainly in accord with those of Master Dogen here:

    "Students of the Way, even if you attain enlightenment, do not think that this is now the ultimate and thus abandon your practice of the Way. The Way is endless. Even if you are enlightened, you should still practice the Way. Consider the ancient story of the lecturer Liang Sui calling upon Ma Yu."
    ~Dogen, Record of Things Heard, Thomas Cleary, Col. Trans. Vol.4 p.840

    Indeed, Hakuin did not hesitate to cross the false lines of sectarian invention to quote from the Japanese Soto founder on this:

    "Seeing everything in this way, over months and years all things become your own precious mirror, and you are their precious mirror. Dogen said, "Experiencing myriad things with the burden of the self is delusion, experiencing oneself in the manifestation of myriad things is enlightenment." That is what this means."
    Hakuin, Five Ranks, Thomas Cleary, Col. Trans. Vol. 3 p.301

    The great Zen masters, it seems, often sound similar. These words on perseverance by the Chinese master, Yuanwu (editor of the Blue Cliff Record) could easily be read as either of the two Japanese masters:

    "Once you merge your tracks into the stream of Zen, you spend your days silencing your mind and studying with your whole being. You realize that this Great Cause is not obtained from anyone else but is just a matter of taking up the task boldly and strongly and making constant progress. Day by day you shed your delusions, and day by day you enhance your clarity of mind."
    ~Yuanwu, Zen Letters, J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary p.22

    Nor was the Zen teaching to persevere with continuously ongoing practice-and-enlightenment new in Yuanwu’s time. The Fourth ancestor of Zen in China sounds a remarkably similar tune:

    "In the solitary purity, the ultimate locus, mind of itself is illuminated and pure… Mind is like a clear mirror. If we can observe it truly for a year, it will be even more clear and pure; if for three years of five years, even more clear and pure."
    Daoxin, Zen Dawn, J.C. Cleary p.52

    Yes! Thank you, Roshi, for your many years of perseverance in observing it truly...

    Nine full bows.

    Ted Biringer

  2. Thank you Roshi and thank you Ted!


  3. Roshi,

    I remember reading your quote on the back matter of Uchiyama Roshi's "Opening The Hand of Thought."
    In that book Uchiyama seems to be opposed to breath counting or any other form of zazen that emphasizes joriki. Your teaching on the other hand seems to emphasize breath counting and focusing on Koans. Are you opposed to strarting off zen practice using Shikantaza? Is it necessary for a newbie to do breath counting?

    This is an honest inquiry, not an attack.



  4. Thank you Roshi,
    This proves to be timely and sage advice.
    Take good care,

  5. dear Roshi- deep bows and much appreciation!
    Michel engu Dobbs (Peter Matthiessen's deshi).... and greetings from Peter as well.

  6. I enjoy your teachings greatly, and have played the BPF radio mp3 teaching several times. It has helped me with my struggles. Thank you!!

    Kevin Fitts
    Portland, Oregon

  7. "Please persevere"

    Beautiful - the essence of our practice in some ways :-)


    Thanks, Roshi.

  8. The question here seems to be the quality of "persevere"...as per..."severe"...one wonders. If it means to push forward and strive I'm conflicted! "Recognition" is a better word for me...the resolution comes not from striving but from stopping to look around and wonder...what is truely here! Thanks.