While the Great Master Yakusan is sitting, a monk asks him: "What, in the stillness, are you thinking?" The Master says, "I am thinking into the no thinking zone." The monk says, "How can the no thinking zone be entered by thinking?" The Master says: "Non-thinking."
Bearing witness to the fact that the words of the Great Master are like this, we should learn what it is to sit still, and should truly communicate what it is to sit still. It is investigation that has been transmitted via the way of buddha, as sitting still itself. There is more than one way of thinking in stillness, but Yakusan's way is one. It is, namely, "Thinking into the no thinking zone" -- which contains thinking as skin, flesh, bones, and marrow and contains no thinking as skin, flesh, bones, and marrow. The monk says, "How can the no thinking zone be entered by thinking?" Even though the no thinking zone is truly an ancient site, here we have the question afresh: "How can thinking enter?" How, in the stillness, could thinking be ruled out? And why should reaching up to the level of stillness be beyond communication? Those who were not the despicable dimwits of a degenerate age might have the energy, and might have the thinking power, to ask what stillness is. The Great Master says, "Non-thinking." This use of the phrase "non-thinking" is particularly brilliant; at the same time, any instance of thinking into the no thinking zone invariably makes use of non-thinking. In non-thinking, whoever it is exists; and whoever that is, is letting me be me. Stillness, while it is a function of me, is not only a function of thinking: stillness takes by the head stillness itself. How could it be necessary, when stillness is stillness, for stillness to think itself into stillness? Stillness, then, is not what buddha can fathom, is not what Sitting can fathom, is not what enlightenment can fathom, and is not what understanding can fathom. Yakusan's one-to-one transmission like this is the thirty-sixth in a line of direct descent from Sakyamuni Buddha. When we look the other way, going up from Yakusan, there is after thirty-six generations the Buddha Sakyamuni. And, having been truly communicated like this, there is actual practice of thinking into the no thinking zone. The stupid and the slipshod of recent years, however, say, "Through the effort of seated meditation, we are able to experience nothing going on within, which is just peace itself." This opinion is beneath even scholars of the small vehicle. It is inferior even to the vehicles of men and gods. How can those with views like that be called students of the Buddha's Method of Sitting? In Sung China today people of such effort are many. It is lamentable that the way of the ancestors has gone to ruin. There is another group who see pursuing the truth through sitting-zen as essential for beginners and late-learners, but as not necessarily a practice for those in the groove of the buddha-ancestors -- whereby "walking also is Zen, and sitting also is Zen, so that in talking and in silence, in movement and in stillness, the body is at ease." Many who call themselves followers of Rinzai are of this opinion, cautioning against getting stuck in only one practice. It is because the true life of the Buddha's Sitting-Method has been communicated to them only sparsely that they speak like this. When they talk of beginner's mind, what do they mean? What kind of mind is other than beginner's mind? Beginner's mind should be ranked where? Remember, the established method of investigation, for learning the way, is to pursue the way through sitting-zen. The fundamental point, to spell it out, is that there is such a thing as buddha getting in the groove -- just acting, without expectation of becoming buddha. Because acting buddha is utterly beyond becoming buddha, the universal law is realized. The bodily awakening of buddha is utterly beyond becoming buddha, so that, when nets and cages are broken, Sitting buddha imposes no restrictions on becoming buddha. In that very moment, we possess the original power -- a thousand ages or ten thousand ages old -- to get into buddha or to get into a demon. We possess the capacity to fill up ditches or to fill up valleys, with a forward step, or with a backward step.
Zen Master Baso Do-itsu, after secretly receiving the mind-seal while learning in practice under Zen Master Nangaku Ejo, is forever practising sitting-zen. One day Nangaku goes to Baso's place and asks him: "Great do-gooder! What is the aim of your sitting-zen?" We should work on and work out this question, quietly investigating it. That is, we should work out in detail whether Nangaku is asking: In reaching up beyond sitting-zen, is there, on that level, an aim that might be found? Outside of the framework of sitting-zen, has there never been any kind of awakening worth aiming at? Should we not aim at anything at all? In the very moment of sitting-zen, what kind of aim is being realized just then? More than we love a carved dragon, we should love the real dragon. We should learn that the carved dragon and the real dragon both possess the potency of clouds and rain. Neither put on a pedestal nor despise what is not close to home. Get used to it, as what is not close to home. Neither despise nor prize what is under your nose. Get used to it, as what is under your nose. Neither make light of the eyes nor make a big deal of the eyes. Neither make a big deal of the ears nor make light of the ears. Let the ears and the eyes be open and clear.
Baso says: "Aiming at becoming buddha." We should clarify this utterance and learn it inside out. When he speaks of becoming buddha, where on earth is he coming from? When he speaks of becoming buddha, does he mean becoming buddha being done by buddha? Does he mean becoming buddha being done to buddha? When he speaks of becoming buddha, is he describing buddha showing its face, for a moment or two? Is it that aiming at becoming buddha, as practice of dropping off, is aiming in a spirit of dropping off at becoming buddha? When he speaks of aiming at becoming buddha, is he describing the becoming of buddha, multifarious though it is, getting deeper and deeper entangled in this aiming? Remember, what Baso is saying is that sitting-zen, in every instance, is aiming at becoming buddha. Sitting-zen, in every instance, is aiming -- it is the aiming of a becoming buddha. The aiming may be before the becoming buddha, may be after the becoming buddha, and may be just the very moment of the becoming buddha. Let us ask: How uncountably many instances of the becoming of buddha are entangled in this integral act of aiming? This entanglement is further entwining with entanglement. At this time, entanglements as fragmented bits of the whole of becoming buddha, or entanglement as the pure honest-to-goodness wholeness of becoming buddha, are all individual instances of aiming at the aim. We cannot get away from aiming at the one aim. When we flee from aiming at the one aim, we lose body and life. But even when we lose body and life, that is just getting tangled up in aiming at the one aim.
Nangaku then takes a tile and polishes it on a stone. Baso eventually asks: "Master, what are you doing?" Truly, who could fail to see that he is polishing a tile? But who is ready to see it as polishing a tile? Rather, polishing a tile has always been questioned like this: "What are you doing!" The doing of what is always the polishing of a tile. In this land and in other worlds, different though they are, there may be real meaning that has never died in the polishing of a tile. Not fixedly deciding that our own view is our own view: this alone is not it. Rather, we fixate totally on the fact that there is real meaning, which we should learn in practice, in the doing of all kinds of work. Remember, we witness buddha without knowing or understanding buddha just as we see waters without knowing them and see mountains without knowing them. If we jump to the conclusion that there is no way for the Sitting-Method before our very eyes to be communicated, what buddha studies is not that.
Nangaku says: "Polishing to make a mirror." We must clarify this assertion. Polishing makes a mirror. The principle of enlightenment is definitely here. The universal law, made real, is here. This can never be empty wiseacring. Though a tile is a tile, and a mirror is a mirror, we should remember that when all our energy is given over to the truth of polishing, limitlessly many angles of attack come into play. It may be that even Seppo's ancient mirror and Gensa's clear mirror were able to become mirrors through the means of polishing a tile. If we do not know that all mirrors have come about through the means of polishing a tile, then there is nothing in us that speaks the truth of a buddha-ancestor. Opening the mouth of a buddha-ancestor is absent from us. We have neither come across nor even heard about a buddha-ancestor's out-breaths.
Baso says: "How can polishing a tile turn it into a mirror?" Truly, a bloke of iron polishing a tile is not one who sponges off others. Even so, that his polishing a tile is turning it into a mirror, is not it. Turning into a mirror -- notwithstanding the fact that it is what it is -- might be called quick.
Nangaku says: "How can sitting-zen make you into buddha?" Clearly, that sitting-zen is waiting to become buddha, is not it -- enlightened reasoning is present here. The fundamental point is not hidden: becoming buddha does not intrude on sitting-zen.
Baso says: "What is it, this just being?" This utterance looks like a question only about this place here, but it is also asking about just being at that place there. Remember, for example, what happens when a close friend meets a close friend: his being my close friend is my being his close friend. What it is, this just being, is the real manifestation of all at once.
Nangaku says, "If, when somebody is riding a cart, the cart is not moving, is thumping the cart just it, or is thumping the ox just it?" Now, as to the meaning of "the cart is not moving," what is a cart moving, and what is a cart not moving? For example, is water flowing a cart moving? Is water not flowing a cart moving? We might say that flowing is water not moving. It may also be that water moving is beyond flowing. So, when we go deeply into the words "the cart is not moving," we may find that not moving is present, and also that not moving is absent -- the basis of this being time. Nangaku's words have not expressed only the one side of not moving. He speaks of thumping the cart being just it, and of thumping the ox being just it: can there be both thumping the cart and thumping the ox? Can thumping the cart and thumping the ox be identified, or must they be opposed? Men of the world do not have the Sitting-Method by which we thump the cart. Though the common man has no method for thumping the cart, we have seen that on the way of Buddha we have the Sitting-Method by which we thump the cart: it is the very eyes of learning in practice. We should work out in detail why, although we learn that we have a Sitting-Method by which we thump the cart, thumping the cart can never be the same thing as thumping the ox. Methods for thumping oxen exist in the ordinary world, but we should investigate further and learn in practice how an ox is thumped on the way of Buddha. Is it to thump a castrated water buffalo? Is it to thump an iron ox? Is it to thump a muddy bull? Should it be a whipping? Should the whole Universe do the whipping? Should it be a beating with the whole heart-and-mind? Should the marrow be beaten flat? Should it be a thumping with a fist? What there should be is a fist thumping a fist. What there should be is an ox thumping an ox.
Baso has no comeback -- a bit of nothing that we should not idly pass over. It has the detachment by which we chuck away a tile and get back a jewel. It has the freedom to turn the head and change expression. Nothing at all can rob us of the emptiness of having no comeback.
Nangaku continues: "When you learn sitting-zen, you learn sitting buddha." Getting to the bottom of this assertion, we should pick out the vital pivot of the ancestors. If we were not aware before of exactly what was meant by the practice of sitting-zen, now we know already: it is study of sitting buddha. How could anybody other than the child and grandchild of true successors assert that learning sitting-zen is learning sitting buddha? Remember: the sitting-zen of a beginner with beginner's mind is the first sitting-zen, and the first sitting-zen is the first sitting buddha.
Voicing what sitting-zen is, Nangaku says: "When you learn sitting-zen, Zen is not sitting and lying down." What he is saying now is that sitting-zen is sitting-zen, not sitting down or lying down. After it has been communicated to us, in the one-to-one transmission, that sitting down and lying down are not it, then unlimited instances of sitting and lying down are our own self. Why should we delve into the fullness or otherwise of the lifeblood? Why should we get drawn into discussing delusion and enlightenment? Who could want an intellectual conclusion?
Nangaku says, "When you learn sitting buddha, buddha is not a posture." When we want to state what this statement states, it is like this. Sitting buddha appears in the form of one individual buddha or two individual buddhas, because it is adorned by the negation of posture. To express now that buddha is negation of posture, is to express the very form of buddha; and because negation of posture is buddha, it cannot help but be sitting buddha. In sum, because buddha is made beautiful by the negation of posture it is, when it learns sitting-zen, just sitting buddha.
Who, when the Sitting-Method itself is without permanence, would pick and choose about who is not buddha and who is buddha? By the time of picking and choosing, sitting buddha has already given up caring, and that is why she is sitting buddha.
Nangaku says, "When you are sitting buddha, that is just killing buddha." In other words, when we look deeper into sitting buddha, it includes the good work of killing buddha. To be just in the moment of sitting buddha, is to kill buddha. If we want to inspect the good looks and golden lustre of killing buddha, they are all to be found in sitting buddha. The word "killing" is as used by the common man, but we should not naively equate its usage here with that of the common man. Rather, we should investigate the process by which sitting buddha brings about killing buddha, asking what shape it takes and what levels there are. Among the assets of buddha there is killing buddha, taking account of which we should study our own balance of killing a person versus not yet killing a person.
"To attach to the sitting form is not to get the point." This attaching to the sitting form is to ditch the sitting form, is to make a mess of the sitting form. The enlightened reasoning here is that when sitting buddha is already happening, it is impossible for sitting buddha to be anything other than attached to its sitting form. Because sitting buddha cannot be anything other than attached to its sitting form, this attachment to the sitting form, while its affirmation rings out like golden bells, might also be negation of getting the point. Effort like this is called dropping off body and mind. In those who have never sat, no such awakening exists. It exists in the moment of Sitting; it exists in the person who is Sitting; it exists in buddha, which is Sitting itself; and it is exists in the buddha who is learning Sitting. The sitting that a person does in sitting down and lying down, is not this Sitting buddha. A person sitting down may happen to have the semblance of a sitting buddha, or a buddha sitting, but there is buddha that is manufactured by men, just as there are craftsmen who manufacture buddhas. Although there are people who do become buddha, that all people are becoming buddha is not it. That buddha is all people, is not it. The simple proposition that all buddhas are all humanity, is not it. Therefore, that a person is necessarily buddha, is not it; and that buddha is necessarily a person, is not it. As it is with becoming buddha, so it is also with sitting buddha. So it is with Nangaku and Baso, excellent master and stout disciple. Sitting buddha verifies the meaning of becoming buddha: this is Baso's case. For the sake of becoming buddha, the meaning of sitting buddha is spelled out: this is Nangaku's case. In Nangaku's order there is effort like this. In Yakusan's order there are the assertions quoted previously. Remember, what has been called "the vital pivot of the buddhas and the ancestors," is just sitting buddha. Those who are already the buddhas and the ancestors made use of this vital pivot. Those who have never used it have simply never seen it, even in a dream.
In general, in the western heavens of India and in the eastern lands, that the Buddha-Dharma has been transmitted has meant, in every instance, that sitting buddha has been transmitted. That is because sitting buddha is the vital pivot upon which all else hinges. When the Buddha-Dharma has failed to be communicated, sitting-zen has failed to be communicated. What has been transmitted and received from legitimate successor to legitimate successor, is nothing but the real meaning of this sitting-zen.
-- to be continued