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Zen Poetry Excerpts

Excerpted from Just Use This Mind: Follow the Universal Truth to Oneness of Mind, Body and Spirit

Not die to the lifeless self,
then the immortal nature cannot come alive;
Not quite alive to the immortal,
then one has not quite died to the lifeless;
To live with what is alive and to die to what is dead is only half correct,
To die to the living so the dead come to life,
then the world will be at peace.

Move image, image moving,
image after image arising,
Water waves, waves on water,
ripple after ripple born,
Empty the mind,
the mind of emptiness,
Emptiness just is,
I am aware, aware of “I,”
“I” after “I” follows on.

Grievance must have a culprit, debt its creditor,
Name-calling is quite unnecessary,
The green hills already have many corpses,
Beholding grudge in the Light, then came the Dust.
– Shih, Miao Tsan

Who is seeing, who is listening, who is talking,
Spring flower, spring breeze, the Spirit’s beauty;
Not blind, not deaf, nor speechless,
No eye, no ears, yet wondrous in many ways.

Restless and hurried man pursues in suffering,
cold and warm the seasons passed one by one;
from morning to evening the householder makes a living,
deluded and disoriented the hair turned white;
right and wrong, what day will it all end?
Worried and perplexed, when can it cease?
Clearly and obviously there is a path to cultivate;
no matter what, regardless, people are unwilling to practice.


Be Mindful of Attachments

Doubts will exist as long as we live in the world.
Yet, pursuing with joy the road of virtue,
Like the man who observes the rugged path along the precipice, we ought
Gladly and profitably to follow it.
– Siau-chi-kwan
The Essence of Buddhism, Sir Edwin Arnold

“There is no such person as Buddha. Buddha is simply a Sanskrit word meaning “initiate.” The Absolute is immanent in every man’s heart. This “treasure of the heart” is the only Buddha that exists. It is no use seeking Buddha outside your own nature. Prayer, scripture-reading, fasting, the observance of monastic rules—all are useless. Those who seek Buddha do not find him. You may know by heart all the Sūtras of the twelve divisions, and yet be unable to escape from the Wheel of Life and Death. One thing alone avails—to discover the unreality of the World by contemplating the Absolute which is at the root of one’s own nature.

There is no Buddha but your own thoughts. Buddha is the Way. The Way is Zen. This word Zen cannot be understood even of the wise. Zen means ‘for a man to behold his fundamental nature.

The highest truths cannot be written down or taught by speech. A man who cannot write a word, can yet contemplate his own heart and become wise. Knowledge of 1,000 Sūtras and 10,000 Shāstras cannot help him to realise the Absolute within him.”

Zen Buddhism and its Relation to Art by Arthur Waley

Buddhism recognizes four different kinds of attachments:

1). Sensual attachments to “sounds, odours, tastes, tactile objects, or mental images, objects past, present, or future that arise in the mind, and either correspond to material objects in the world outside or within the body, or are just imaginings”.  This is the primary form of attachment because of the appeal of sensual pleasure the world provides.

2). Attachment to opinions which are mainly derived from customs, traditions, ceremonies and religious doctrines.  We hang onto opinions that are desirable and worth clinging to.  We should always be open to modifying our beliefs, or to not holding onto any beliefs.

3). Attachment to rites and rituals which are meaningless practices that people hold sacred.  They have been passed down through generations and are performed without undestanding of their meaning.  They are thoughtless attachments to traditional practices.  Examples are rituals before going to sleep or eating and beliefs in spirits, celestial beings (including angelic) and magical objects.  Understanding why you are doing anything you do is part of understanding your mind.

4). Attachment to the idea of selfhood is the root cause of all suffering.  The idea of ‘self’ embodies the ego.  This idea encompasses the defintion of self, defining who you are, such as, ‘I am a person who does this, is like this, identifies with this…’  Comparing yourself to others, concerning yourself with how your image appears to others, competing with others fall into this category.

Zen Pathways to Enlightenment

 From The Zen Experience by Thomas Hoover

There is a Zen legend that a bearded Indian monk named Bodhidharma (ca. 470-532), son of a South Indian Brahmin king, appeared one day at the southern Chinese port city of Canton, sometime around the year 520. From there he traveled northeast to Nanking, near the mouth of the Yangtze River, to honor an invitation from China’s most devout Buddhist, Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty. After a famous interview in which his irreverence left the emperor dismayed, Bodhidharma pressed onward to the Buddhist centers of the north, finally settling in at the Shao-lin monastery on Mt. Sung for nine years of meditation staring at a wall. He then transmitted his insights and a copy of the Lankavatara sutra to a successor and passed on—either physically, spiritually, or both. His devotion to meditation and to the aforementioned sutra were his legacies to China. He was later honored as father of the Chinese Dhyana, or “Meditation,” school of Buddhism, called Ch’an.

The first patriarch of Zen, Bodhidharma’s pathways to enlightenment:

There are many ways to enter the Path, but briefly speaking, they are two sorts only. The one is “Entrance by Reason” and the other “Entrance by Conduct.”6
The first of these paths, the Entrance by Reason, might more properly be called entrance by pure insight. The path advocated seems a blending of Buddhism and Taoism, by which the sutras are used as a vehicle for leading the seeker first to meditation, and then to a nonliterary state of consciousness in which all dualities, all sense of oneself as apart from the world, are erased. This is an early and eloquent summary of Zen’s objectives.
By “Entrance by Reason” we mean the realization of the spirit of Buddhism by the aid of scriptural teaching. We then come to have a deep faith in the True Nature which is one and the same in all sentient beings. The reason that it does not manifest itself is due to the overwrapping of external objects and false thoughts. When one, abandoning the false and embracing the true, and in simpleness of thought, abides in pi-kuan [pure meditation or “wall-gazing”], one finds that there is neither selfhood nor otherness, that the masses and the worthies are of one essence, and firmly holds on to this belief and never moves away therefrom. He will not then be guided by any literary instructions, for he is in silent communication with the principle itself, free from conceptual discrimination, for he is serene and not-acting.7

Bodhidharma is given credit for inventing the term pi-kuan, whose literal translation is “wall-gazing,” but whose actual meaning is anyone’s guess. Pi-kuan is sometimes called a metaphor for the mind’s confrontation with the barrier of intellect—which must eventually be hurdled if one is to reach enlightenment. In any case, this text is an unmistakable endorsement of meditation as a means for tranquilizing the mind while simultaneously dissolving our impulse to discriminate between ourselves and the world around us. It points out that literary instructions can go only so far, and at last they must be abandoned in favor of reliance on the intuitive mind.8

The other Path (or Tao) he described was called the “Entrance by Conduct” and invokes his Indian Buddhist origins. The description of “conduct” was divided into four sections which, taken together, were intended to subsume or include all the possible types of Buddhist practice.
By “Entrance by Conduct” is meant the Four Acts in which all other acts are included. What are the four? 1. How to requite hatred; 2. To be obedient to karma; 3. Not to seek after anything; and 4. To be in accord with the Dharma.9
The first Act of Conduct counseled the believer to endure all hardships, since they are payment for evil deeds committed in past existences.
What is meant by “How to requite hatred”? Those who discipline themselves in the Path should think thus when they have to struggle with adverse conditions: During the innumerable past ages I have wandered through multiplicity of existences, all the while giving myself to unimportant details of life at the expense of essentials, and thus creating infinite occasions for hate, ill-will, and wrong-doing. While no violations have been committed in this life, the fruits of evil deeds in the past are to be gathered now. Neither gods nor men can foretell what is coming upon me. I will submit myself willingly and patiently to all the ills that befall me, and I will never bemoan or complain. In the Sutra it is said not to worry over ills that may happen to you. Why? Because through intelligence one can survey [the whole chain of causation]. When this thought arises, one is in concord with the principle because he makes the best use of hatred and turns it into the service of his advance towards the Path. This is called the “way to requite hatred.”10

The second Rule of Conduct is to be reconciled to whatever comes, good or evil. It seems to reflect the Taoist attitude that everything is what it is and consequently value judgments are irrelevant. If good comes, it is the result of meritorious deeds in a past existence and will vanish when the store of causative karma is exhausted. The important thing to realize is that none of it matters anyway.
We should know that all sentient beings are produced by the interplay of karmic conditions, and as such there can be no real self in them. The mingled yarns of pleasure and pain are all woven of the threads of conditioning causes. . . . Therefore, let gains and losses run their natural courses according to the ever changing conditions and circumstances of life, for the Mind itself does not increase with the gains nor decrease with the losses. In this way, no gales of self-complacency will arise, and your mind will remain in hidden harmony with the Tao. It is in this sense that we must understand the rule of adaptation to the variable conditions and circumstances of life.11
The third Rule of Conduct was the teaching of the Buddha that a cessation of seeking and a turning toward nonattachment brings peace.
Men of the world remain unawakened for life; everywhere we find them bound by their craving and clinging. This is called “attachment.” The wise, however, understand the truth, and their reason tells them to turn from the worldly ways. They enjoy peace of mind and perfect detachment. They adjust their bodily movements to the vicissitudes of fortune, always aware of the emptiness of the phenomenal world, in which they find nothing to covet, nothing to delight in. . . . Everyone who has a body is an heir to suffering and a stranger to peace. Having comprehended this point, the wise are detached from all things of the phenomenal world, with their minds free of desires and craving. As the scripture has it, “All sufferings spring from attachment; true joy arises from detachment.” To know clearly the bliss of detachment is truly to walk on the path of the Tao.12
The fourth Rule of Conduct was to dissolve our perception of object-subject dualities and view life as a unified whole. This merging of self and exterior world Bodhidharma calls pure mind or pure reason.
The Dharma is nothing else than Reason which is pure in its essence. This pure Reason is the formless Form of all Forms; it is free of all defilements and attachments, and it knows of neither “self” nor “other.”13

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