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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Nagarjuna and Emptiness

"Clinging", says Nagarjuna, "is to insist on being someone…."

"To be empty is no longer to be full of Oneself.The Buddha encourages abiding in emptiness as a way to realize liberation of the mind. Lao Tzu advises a daily process of subtraction in order that one’s life can be filled. Nagarjuna declares that emptiness is the middle way itself. For Hui-neng, emptiness “includes the sun, moon, stars and planets,” while for Dogen “forgetting oneself is to be awakened by all things.” For Shantideva, emptiness entails letting go of preoccupation with “self” to find oneself extended into a network of endless relationships with others. Shabkar understands how the mind’s emptiness is integral to its radiant, unimpeded responsiveness."....from Stephen Batchelor's Verses from the Center, pg. 43

Nagarjuna (ce 150 to 250) “Nagarjuna kick started Mahajana Buddhism and called into question assumptions so easily resorted to in our attempt to understand the world. Among these assumptions were the existence of stable substances, the linear and one-directional movement of causation, the atomic individuality of persons, the belief in a fixed identity or selfhood, and the strict separations between good and bad conduct and the blessed and fettered life.” …

What follows is one of Nagarjuna’s poems.


The dharma taught by buddhas
Hinges on two truths:
Partial truths of the world
And truths which are sublime.
Without knowing how they differ,
You cannot know the deep;
Without relying on conventions,
You cannot disclose the sublime;
Without intuiting the sublime;
You cannot experience freedom.

Misperceiving emptiness
Injures the unintelligent
Like mishandling a snake
Or miscasting a spell.

The Buddha despaired
Of teaching the dharma,
Knowing it hard
To intuit its depths.

Your muddled conclusions
Do not affect emptiness;
Your denial of emptiness
Does not affect me.

When emptiness is possible,
Everything is possible;
Were emptiness impossible,
Nothing would be possible.

In projecting your faults onto me,
You forget the horse you are riding.

To see things existing by nature,
Is to see them without
Causes or conditions,
Thus subverting causality,
Agents, tools and acts,
Starting, stopping and ripening.

Contingency is emptiness
Which, contingently configured,
Is the middle way.
Everything is contingent;
Everything is empty.

Were everything not empty,
There would be no rising and passing.
Ennobling truths would not exist.
Without contingency
How could I suffer pain?

This shifting anguish
Has no nature of its own;
If it did, how could it have a cause?
Deny emptiness and you deny
The origins of suffering.

If anguish existed by nature,
How would it ever cease?
Absolute misery could never stop.
How could you cultivate a path
That exists by nature?
How could it lead to the end of pain?
A path on which you tread
Can have no essence of its own.

If confusion existed by nature,
I would always be confused.
How could I know anything?
Letting go and realizing,
Cultivation and fruition
Could never happen.

Who can attain absolute goals
That by nature are unattainable?
Since no one could reach them,
There would be no community;
With no truths, no dharma either.
With no community or dharma
How could I awaken?
I would not depend on awakening
Nor awakening on me.

A naturally unawakened person
Would never awaken
No matter how hard
He practiced for its sake.
He would never do good or evil;
An unempty person would do nothing.
He’d experience fruits of good and evil
Without having done good or evil deeds.
How can fruits of good and evil not be empty
If they are experienced?

To subvert emptiness and contingency
Is to subvert conventions of the world,
It engenders passivity:
Acts without an author,
Authors who do not act.
Beings would not be born or die;
They would be frozen in time,
Alien to variety

If things were unempty,
You could attain nothing.
Anguish would never end.
You would never let go of compulsive acts.

To see contingency is to see
Anguish, its origins, cessation and the path.

from Stephen Batchelor, Verses from the Center, pg. 126

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

One day retreat Sunday the 26 Sept in Courtenay


Let go. Let go. Relax the body. Relax the mind.

Eyes Open or Closed? William said one could practice with eyes closed, eyes ¼ open or fully open (always in each position fully relaxed). William suggested to practice with eyes open, that we would eventually be doing that anyways, so why not start now. (What’s the difference? Why not try a week of one way, then switch and switch. Find out yourself the differences; they are definitive.)

What is diligent practice? Sit at home; sit weekly with others to receive the benefits from group mind; do retreats 1 day, 3, 5, 7, ….49 days;

When not sitting, practice throughout the day/evening using mindfulness, non self-centered deluded thinking and non-attachment; walking meditation, direct contemplation, and most importantly, help others, including helping others not to be self centered.

Two main techniques: Silent Illumination (develops great resting) and Huatuo (develops questioning sensation) Either technique: not too tight, not too loose, but relax, relax, relax, let go of mental/physical tensions.

Main Principle: pure awareness, non-discrimination and no deluded thinking

Three Guiding Principles: great confidence, great vow and great determination

Three Supportive Methods: no seeking, no attainment and effort of

Auxiliary Practices: Repeat each morning...

1. Your great vow: “I vow to (make up your own obligation).”
2. Renewal: “I realize that because of my self-centered attachment I have hurt sentient beings, those I know and those I don’t know. I have decided not to do this again.”
3. Transfer Merit: “I transfer all the merit I have accumulated thus far to all sentient beings (and /or to a specific individual in need.”)

Challenges when meditating: low energy produces drowsiness. Remedy? Open eyes wide until tears come; kneel on bare floor (pain wakes you up) and do your meditation; ask for incense stick (Timekeeper will use it to tap your shoulders.); Wash your face in cold water; Do mindful exercise such as walking or bowing (Requires permission from the Timekeeper.)

High energy: Wandering monkey mind….use one of your Methods (Silent Illumination or Huatuo)

Huge Mental Obstruction: When the Method is not working:
1. Repeat your great vow (said everyday: limits the obstructive quality of thoughts);
2. Label your Obstructive thought: it is either classified as Greed, Anger or Delusion (all other types of thoughts); one to ten and start labeling over again;
3. Return to one of the two primary methods when you no longer compulsively attach to the Obstructive thought.


Are you attending Thursdays? On wet evenings, ensure you take off your shoes at the front entrance of the school and carry them upstairs to room 208. The janitor will have already cleaned the stairs. If you can, bring a small lamp so we don't have to turn on the very noisy florescants.


Really famous Zen Masters, or "Watch it, whether you answer correctly or incorrectly to Zen master's question, you still get 30 whacks from the incense stick. Ouch!!!"

Linji Yixuan is an eleventh generation teacher (d. 866) who was a disciple of Huangbo Xiyun. He is a preeminent figure in the history of Zen. As the founder of the Linji school of Zen (in Japanese, Rinzai), his tradition remains, along with the Caodong (Soto) school, as one of the two lineages that survive to the present day. (William Tsao received accreditation to teach both methods from Master Sheng Yen in 2004.)

Linji said, "There's a type of student who goes to Mt. Wutai to seek out Manjushri. That student has already made a mistake! There's no Manjushri at Mt. Wutai. Do you want to know Manjushri? It's just what is in front of your eyes! From first to last it's not anything else. Don't doubt it anywhere you go! It's the living Manjushri!"....from from Zen’s Chinese Heritage by Andy Ferguson


There will be a silent one day retreat this Sunday from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. R.S.V.P/ please to Adrian.

Also check out
Master Cheng Yen in Facebook;
and the Western Chan Fellowship at
Call Adrian at 250 898 8201, email
Do you wish to remove your email address from the Courtenay Chan list? Please inform me.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Guiding Principle!!!

Practice with pure awareness. No discrimination. No delusion.


"By sound and form, Huang-po was referring to the sense objects (dusts) of the six sense organs and their respective consciousnesses. The six sense organs and consciousnesses are the eyes and seeing, the ears and hearing, the nose and smelling, the tongue and tasting, the body and feeling, and the mind and thinking. The six dusts are forms, sounds, odors, flavors, objects, and symbols. Since humans rely mostly on their ears and eyes to interact with others and the environment, many methods of concentration make use of these two senses, and their accompanying objects - sound and form - to train the mind.

Nothing is intrinsically wrong with the methods of practice, but problems can arise in the minds of practitioners. In the course of meditation, one will undoubtedly hear sounds and see things. Some of these phenomena will be external, and some will come from within, but all should be regarded as illusion. As the mind begins to move from scatteredness to clarity, it will often reach out to grasp things: the hum of the refrigerator may sound like beautiful music. The rule of practice is not to attach to phenomena, even if the sights and sounds of paradise fill your eyes and ears.

As the mind quiets, the senses become more acute and the mind becomes more expansive. The sound of an ant moving across the floor may sound like a stampeding buffalo. You may become so immersed in a particular sound that everything else around you fades away. The sound may grow, like ripples expanding outward when a stone is thrown into a pond, until you yourself become the sound, and the sound becomes one with the entire universe. Likewise, you may see flashes and circles of light in your visual field. One retreatant saw his fellow practitioners surrounded by golden halos. You may sense light emanating from your chest, and if your mind is stable and clear, the light might expand, like sound, until you, the light and the universe are one.

What I have described may happen to you on the path of practice. They are good experiences and signposts of progress, but they are not the final destination. If you become attached to these phenomena, they become serious obstructions. Even if you experience oneness with the entire universe, it is not liberation. It is attachment to sound and form. Huang-po said that attaching to sound and form, no matter how beautiful or expansive it may seem, is not in accordance with enlightenment, and has nothing to do with liberation. Better it would be for the mind to be like a withered trunk or cold ash. These analogies describe a mind that is settled and undisturbed by sound and form. Such a mind, though not enlightened, is close to Ch'an.

The mind of Ch'an is one that is boundless, illuminating, and free from entanglements, like a sun hanging in empty space. One should strive in practice to be like this sun, empty of all attachments. One does this by letting go of the previous thought - the past - and the next thought - the future. When this happens, the present thought will naturally fall away as well, leaving one unattached to existence and emptiness. This is true Ch'an practice."

Excerpts from The Principles of Transmitting the Mind
Commentary by Master Sheng-yen


Really famous Zen Masters, or "Watch it, whether you answer correctly or incorrectly to Zen master's question, you still get 30 whacks from the incense stick. Ouch!!!"

Huang-po (d.850) was the disciple of Baizhand and the teacher of Linji Yixuan. Here is an account of Huang-po had with one of his monks.

"One day Huang-po made his hand into a fist and said, "All the teachers under heaven are right here now. If I let out a string of words about it, it will just confuse you. If I don't say a single phrase, you'll never get rid of it."

A monk asked, "What happens if you let out a string of words?"

Huang-po said, "Confusion."

The monk said, "If you don't let out a single phrase and it can't be gotten rid of, then what?"

Huang-po said, "Everywhere." ...from Zen's Chinese Heritage by Andy Ferguson, pg. 120


Please note: we have a new meeting place at Courtenay Elementary School. 7 to 9 p.m, thursday evenings, by donation.


For more information on Chan, Google Master Cheng Yen in Facebook; Google
and the Western Chan Fellowship at

Call Adrian at 250 898 8201, email

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Judgements are thoughts

"We have to start to be able to separate what is occurring from the one who is aware of what is occurring. In order to do that we have to develop a focused concentration or mindfulness so that our attention doesn't flutter and flow into the constant stream of arisings. If you are a beginner in meditation and you find that your mind is wandering a great deal, it is necessary to practice with a simple focus in order to develop the capacity to stay calm." from James Low in Being Right Here, A Dzogchen Treasure Text of Nuden Dorje, Pg 68

Using the same principle as James Low describes in Dzogchen, the beginning method for Chan students is breath counting. Count the out breaths one to ten and start over. If the attention wanders and you forget which number you are at between one and ten, start over at one and count the breaths until you arrive at ten, and start over at one. Repeat this method until you are not losing count, or the breath counting seems to occur by itself. Then move on to either the Silent Illumination or the Huatuo method.

There are three types of distractions:

1. The physical senses process (hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, smelling) activities in the external environment such as fire engines, cars, peoples voices. If you are usually meditate in a room, most likely the sensory activities/distractions will be sound distractions. All these activities prompt the mind to name the sound, analyze the smell, etc; then a second thought attaches itself to the 1st thought, and then a 3rd to the 2nd, and a fourth to the 3rd...and on and on. (Not quite what we would define as being present!)

2. Sensations in the body: "My knee hurts...I must straighten my leg; my eyebrow is itchy...I must scratch it; my back hurts ...I must change my posture; it's hot in here...I need to take off a sweater; it's cold in here...I need a sweater."

3. Thoughts (include emotions with thoughts, as one exacerbates the other). Travelling elsewhere in your mind; be it blissful or decidedly not a nice place, the attention wanders to a new local. Emotions/sensations such as the desire to laugh, cry...emotional pain. Also include judgements in the realm of thoughts. "This is a disgusting thought to could I ever imagine such a thing? Wow this meditation is great! My God. What a terrible meditation! I might as well quit right now." Or maybe, "I must be close to enlightenment. Wait 'til I tell everyone." Judgements are thoughts. Judgements are distractions.


Really famous Zen Masters, or "Watch it, whether you answer correctly or incorrectly to Zen master's question, you still get 30 whacks from the incense stick. Ouch!!!"

"Here's more info on Mazu, the eighth generation teacher (709-88), who emphasized the teaching that 'mind is Buddha' and 'This place is itself true thusness'. Mazu's 'sudden' approach moved the Chinese spiritual scales back toward 'pointing at mind', the essential teaching of Bodhidharma's Zen."

"A monk asked, "How can one gain accordance with the Way?"
Master Mazu said, "So, you don't want to become a buddha?"
The monk asked, "What is the essential meaning of Zen?"
Mazu struck him and said, "If I didn't hit you, I'd be laughed at from every direction."
from Andy Ferguson, Zen's Chinese Heritage, pg. 68


Also check out
Master Cheng Yen in Facebook; classes in Vancouver/White Rock with Master William Tsao at
and the Western Chan Fellowship at

The Chan retreat is full. There are 18 people booked! Call Adrian at 250 898 8201 or email for information on Chan classes in Courtenay.