First Zen Reader Introduction

The Zen sect of Buddhism claims to transmit the special realization attained by Shakyamuni Buddha in the meditation posture under the bodhi tree at Gaya, after six years of austere spiritual practices and at the end of a long meditation (six days and nights, in one tradition). This realization freed him from all sufferings and limitations for ever. It was handed on by him to his disciple Kashyapa, and thereafter in unbroken lines through patriarchs and teachers in India, China, Korea, and Japan, transmitted “from heart to heart” as might be passed on a bowl of water without a drop being spilled. In China the sect split into a number of different lines. After dominating Buddhism for centuries it is now in decay in China but still influential in Japan. The two main surviving transmissions there are the Rinzai, which is divided into a number of subsects, and the Soto, …

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A Sermon by Daito Kokushi

“THE ORIGINAL FACE” is a sermon delivered to the Empress Hanazono by Zen master Myocho, who is best known under the name bestowed upon him by the emperor: Daito Koku- shi. Kokushi means literally “teacher of the nation ” Daito (1281-1337) was one of the great lights of the Rinzai sect in Japan. He hid himself for some time, disguised as a beggar, to evade fame. A SERMON BY DAITO KOKUSHI ALL ZEN students should devote themselves at the beginning to zazen (sitting in meditation). Sitting in either the fully locked position or the half-locked position, with the eyes half-shut, see the original face which was before father or mother was born. This means to see the state before the parents were born, before heaven and earth were parted, before you received human form. What is called the original face will appear. That original face is something without colour or …

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Zetto Zemmi

Zetto Zemmi or A Tongue-tip Taste of Zen is a collection of his discourses on Zen, and can be taken as an authoritative exposition by a very eminent contemporary Zen master. DISCOURSES BY PRIMATE TAKASHINA ROSEN CHAPTER ONE WHAT I AM going to say about Zen is not an adaptation of formal lectures, but intended as a talk to people who wish to have a correct knowledge of Zen and to understand it. The influence exerted on Japanese life by Zen doctrines and spirit is very great. The miso soup, takuan pickled radish, tofu beancurd, and other things which are the mainstay of our people’s daily diet have almost all come from Zen. The rule of washing the face and rinsing the mouth every morning without fail was laid down by Zen master Dogen in the 13 th century. The arts of the tea ceremony and flower arrangement have the …

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Zazen

CHAPTER TWO For the serious student, posture is the first step in zazen or sitting in meditation. It is a peculiar fact that for spiritual practice, first of all the posture of the body must be made just right, whereas in physical training we always have to make sure that it is approached in the proper “sporting” spirit, getting that right first. In zazen, then, we have to see that the body is in the posture laid down as correct. Zen master Dogen, in the Fukan Zazen-gi classic on meditation, gives full details. As to place, a thick mat is spread, the small round meditation cushion put on it, and the seat taken on that. If there is no meditation cushion, an ordinary cushion doubled over may be used. The rear half of the buttocks is placed on the cushion, and the seat made firm. There are two main postures, …

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What is meant by absence of thoughts

CHAPTER THREE What was it that Buddha wished to teach? Was it sagacity? Was it brilliant academic understanding? Was his aim to encourage the reading of the sutras, or asceticism or austerities? In reality it was none of these. He simply wished to show all living beings how to set in right order the body and mind. The method of doing this is given in the classic on meditation called Zazen-gi: “Think the unthinkable. How to think the unthinkable? Be without thoughts—this is the secret of meditation.” Being without thoughts is the object of Zen meditation; the control of body and mind is only a method of reaching it. When body and mind are controlled, from the ensuing absence of thoughts are born spontaneously brilliant understanding, perfect Buddha- wisdom, reading of the sutras and devotion, asceticism, and austerities. There are some who have too hastily assumed that holy reading, devotion, …

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The real religious quest is never on the plane of fulfilling empirical desires

What is the aim of religion, and what is its raison d’etre? People with a modern education clearly seem to be in doubt as to the answers. The trend of religion most obvious in society (particularly that of the so-called Revivalist sects) is chiefly towards healing, fortune-telling, and rituals. These are made out to be the very essence of religion. Such things are, it is true, phenomena associated with religion, but they are not its essence. Mere alleviation of sickness and misfortune, absurd dreams of wealth and success—if to realize these is true religion, then it is indeed opium. The real religious quest is never on the plane of fulfilling such empirical desires. It is to penetrate deeply into daily life, into the world before us, and to seek practical experience of the life of Reality. This we call the heart of religion. When we think over everyday life, we …

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The Buddha is everywhere

In Western philosophy and theology there are various theories about the existence of God, and attempts are made to prove His existence. Leaving aside the rightness or wrongness of the arguments and the whole question of whether there is a God-in-heaven, what is certain is that He has not been seen with any physical eyes. In Buddhism, when the eye of the heart is opened and the universe viewed, the Buddha is everywhere. To Shakyamuni at the moment of enlightenment, things animate and inanimate, all together became the Truth: grass, trees, and earth—all, all, became Buddhas. In all the phenomena of the world the Buddha spirit is active. The courses of the sun, the moon, and the other heavenly bodies, the cycle of the seasons, in the spring the willows and flowers and in the autumn the red maple leaves and the clear moon—every year it is so and will …

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To forget shame is to forget one’s own true heart

CHAPTER SIX Since the war the state of the Japanese people has changed. Under the new Constitution, the attitude to the family, which before was the centre of Japanese life, has been altered, and the Emperor, previously regarded as supremely sacred, has become a symbol. It is easy to see that politically this democratization, by transferring to the people the sovereignty hitherto vested in the Emperor, has made the responsibilities of the people much greater. In brief it means that rights and duties must be properly observed, and the individual’s position vis-a-vis his township or village, and also vis-a-vis the country, must be rightly understood and accepted. It is a mistake to think of democracy as a sort of present from America; it means an awakening of the people to themselves. In such an awakened community each exerts himself for the good of all. The Eodhisattva path, where the individual …

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Zen has a totally unrestricted and universal outlook

CHAPTER SEVEN As Zen has a totally unrestricted and universal outlook, among the “ cases” or koan, reputedly seventeen hundred in number, there are stories about kittens and dogs, about turtles, and about water buffaloes. The fifty-sixth case of the Chinese anthology of Abbot Wanshi, the Shoyoroku, is the story called “The White Hare of Master Misshi.” In such stories everything in the world—sim, moon, and stars, the voice of the valley stream and the colours of the mountain, the wind in the pines and the rain on the bamboos— is pressed into service to teach. The great truth of Zen manifests itself, filling the earth and filling the heaven. The ancients could pick up anything at all and say: “This is It.” They made their Zen koan out of anything that came to hand. The inmost spirit of Zen is that everything is treasure in our own home. Among …

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One object of Zen is to see one’s nature and be enlightened

CHAPTER EIGHT One object of Zen is of course to see one’s nature and be enlightened, but that is not the final resting-place. Zen embraces Buddhism and it is the practice of the Buddha way. What is Buddhism then, and what is the Buddha way? Many people have an idea that Buddhism is just tales about heaven and hell, and how to lay out the body for a funeral, or maybe some little old man talking about resignation. So young people especially tend to turn away as from something that has not any value for them. They do not understand what real Buddhism is. It is the truth of the universe; it is grasping the absolute; it is the great enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha. That truth is universal—so fine it can be contained on the tip of a cormorant’s feather, so vast that it transcends space into infinity. Truth absolute …

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The Song of Meditation

A COMMENTARY BY AMAKUKI SESSAN ABBOT AMAKUKI delivered these lectures over the Kyoto Radio early in the 1930’s, and soon afterwards revised them for publication. There are certain peculiarities of style for which the reader should be prepared. To illustrate the Zen principle that sacred and everyday are not distinct, he sets the sonorous Chinese monosyllables of the sutras against light Japanese colloquialisms; compassion and irony, sublimity and familiarity, are deliberately juxtaposed. He has a special technique of repetition of a key phrase in different contexts; this is a hint for working on the koan. Another well-known feature of Zen style is to punctuate a narrative with short comments, sometimes no more than ejaculations, to point the incidents of the story. Readers will notice the fondness for a concrete illustration rather than a universal principle, and for action rather than abstraction; these are characteristic of Japanese Zen, particularly in its …

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Hakuin’s Song of Meditation contains his profoundest and most mystical doctrine

CHAPTER ONE All beings are from the very beginning Buddhas. It is like water and ice: Apart from water, no ice, Outside living beings, no Buddhas. THE SONG OF MEDITATION IN THE original the Song of Meditation is in very easy language. Before Hakuin (1685-1768), Zen in Japan had not quite given up its Chinese flavour, but with him it became completely Japanese. Previously too it had a somewhat aristocratic outlook, but he popularized it and made it universal. If Muso Kokushi (1275-13 51) of Tenryuji temple, the teacher of emperors, represents aristocratic Zen, we may see Hakuin as the representative of the people’s Zen. His Zen is austere and yet universal, like towering Mount Fuji, to which everyone can look up from wherever he is. Hakuin’s Zen is an eternal luminary in the spiritual firmament and a supreme contribution to Japanese culture. ZEN MASTER HAKUIN. This self-portrait, painted in …

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The relation between Buddha and ordinary man is so close

CHAPTER TWO Not knowing it is near, they seek it afar. What a pity! It is like one in the water who cries out for thirst; It is like the child of a rich house who has strayed away among the poor. THE SONG OF MEDITATION These three lines explain further the great declaration that all living beings are from the very beginning Buddhas. The relation between Buddha and ordinary man is so close, so intimate, that it is not noticed, as the eyebrow, being so close to the eye, is not visible. The sage Confucius has remarked how pitiable are those who seek afar the Way which is near. The Christian Bible too has “Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and similar phrases. The Amitayur Dhyana Sutra, describing paradise, says clearly it is no long journey. A man came to see Muso Kokushi, the Zen …

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The necessity of thinking of liberation

CHAPTER THREE The cause of our circling through the six worlds Is that we are on the dark paths of ignorance. Dark path upon dark path treading, When shall we escape from birth-and-death? THE SONG OF MEDITATION THESE lines urge the necessity of thinking of liberation. We must not be satisfied with the present condition, living and dying, rising and falling. The path of liberation, of ascension, must be sought. In the Buddhist cosmology there are ten worlds, and the six worlds referred to in the text are the middle and lower ones, namely the worlds of hell, of hungry ghosts, of animals, of demons, of men, and of heaven. The demon world is well known in our folk tales as a place of endless fighting. The four upper worlds are those of Shravakas, Pratyeka Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas. The Buddha world is the peak of enlightenment, and our ideal …

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Buddhism of the Great Vehicle

CHAPTER FOUR The Zen meditation of the Mahayana Is beyond all our praise. THE SONG OF MEDITATION These two lines are the central pivot of the Song of Meditation. Mahayana is a Sanskrit word meaning “great vehicle” Hakuin here refers to meditation, which is the peak of the Mahayana, or Buddhism of the Great Vehicle. When it is experienced, the darkness of ignorance clears up of itself, the spiritual light of realization of truth appears, and endless blessings are manifested. There are four famous phrases attributed to Bodhidharma: Direct pointing to the human heart; Seeing the nature and becoming Buddha; Not standing on letters; A separate transmission outside the scriptures. The direct pointing to the heart of man leads to seeing the nature and becoming Buddha. It cannot be written in letters or taught in scriptures; transmission from heart to heart is the basis of Bodhidharma’s Zen. An important point …

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The Zen meditation of the Mahayana is the highest of them

CHAPTER FIVE Giving and morality and the other perfections, Taking of the Name, repentance, discipline, And the many other right actions, All come back to the practice of meditation. THE SONG OF MEDITATION In these lines the right actions are reviewed, and it is taught that the Zen meditation of the Mahayana is the highest of them. It is the peak of the Mahayana, so great, so profound, that all merit comes back to it. The master of the Zuiganji temple at Matsushima, famous for its scenery, wrote a poem which became well-known: Beneath the skies there are mountains and streams; Each has one kind of beauty for its own. But those beauties all come back to the beauty of Matsushima— Beneath the skies there are no other mountains and streams. It is like this with the Mahayana Zen meditation. To say that all other right actions come back to …

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Repentance and the destruction of sins

CHAPTER SIX By the merit of a single sitting He destroys innumerable accumulated sins. How should there be wrong paths for him? The Pure Land paradise is not far, THE SONG OF MEDITATION These lines speak of the virtue of sitting-in-meditation, and especially in regard to repentance and the destruction of sins. The Sixth Patriarch, explaining the word zazen or sitting-in-meditation, says: “In the outer world of good and evil, when not a thought arises in the mind, that is called za (sitting); inwardly, to see one’s own nature and not be moved, that is called Zen (meditation) / ’ The ‘ ‘wrong paths’ ’ of the verse are those which lead ultimately to reincarnation as a dweller in hell, as a ghost, or as an animal. If the meditation practice is really done, then the merits are as great as declared in the Song. The important thing in practising …

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The merit of Hearing the Law

CHAPTER SEVEN When in reverence this truth is heard even once, He who praises it and gladly embraces it has merit without end. THE SONG OF MEDITATION These lines are still concerned with the virtue of the practice of zazen, but here, in particular, the merit of Hearing the Law. In the writings of Zen master Sho-ichi it is said: “This truth is the path to supreme liberation, and when once it has entered a man’s ear, he is a candidate for Bodhisattvahood.” The Mahayana is being spoken of, but the merit of Hearing the Law may be taken to apply to all the Law of the Buddha. In general, hearing the preaching of the Law is a most noble thing, and from ancient times it has been laid down that to acquire peace one must first hear the Law. There is a poem by one of exalted rank: We …

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Turn Within

CHAPTER EIGHT How much more he who turns within And confirms directly his own nature, That his own nature is no-nature— Such has transcended vain words. THE SONG OF MEDITATION These four phrases make clear the confirmatory experience of one’s own nature, which is the aim of Zen meditation. The phrase “turn within” means turning the light so that it shines back. If the fight of self-consciousness is turned and shone back onto the nature of one’s own mind, then can be perceived one’s absolute nature; the self-nature suddenly becomes something absolute—it is in fact nonature. Even the word “no-nature” is not really right. The distinction of nature and no-nature is at an end; discussion of self-nature and other-nature is extinguished. This is the stage of actual experience, truth transcending the stage of discussion and absolutely beyond vain words. All words have become mere prattling and nonsense talk. Hearing about …

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A direct expression of Zen enlightenment

CHAPTER NINE The gate opens, and cause and effect are one; Straight runs the way—not two, not three. THE SONG OF MEDITATION These two lines are a direct expression of Zen enlightenment, the peace that comes from realization that cause and effect are one. The ancients spoke of a universal net from which nothing escapes, and indeed there is nothing in the world s*o rigid as the law of cause and effect, or karma. If there is a cause, an effect is inevitable; where there is an effect, there must also be a cause. The proverb says that seeds which are not sown don’t sprout, and you don’t get eggplant from a melon vine. The Buddha teaches in the sutra: “If you wish to know the past, then look at the present which is the result of it. If you wish to know the future, then look at the present …

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The state of realization

CHAPTER TEN Taking as form the form of no-form, Going or returning, he is ever at home. Taking as thought the thought of no-thought, Singing and dancing, all is the voice of truth. THE SONG OF MEDITATION Like the previous lines, these describe the state of realization. It is perhaps comparatively easy to reach the state where cause and effect are one; the realization of the universe as Sameness comes from that knowledge which is fundamental to man from the beginning. But the important thing is to go on from there, and through the other knowledge, which manifests after satori, we are to see the differences of form once more, and undertake the salvation of all. It is not simply a question of having satori and waking up from a dream. The aim is to wake up and then be active. This is a specially important point which is frequently …

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Enlightenment and the perfection of the fourfold wisdom

CHAPTER ELEVEN Wide is the heaven of boundless Samadhi, Radiant the full moon of the fourfold wisdom. THE SONG OF MEDITATION These two lines express enlightenment and the perfection of the fourfold wisdom. There is the phrase “boundless Samadhi/’ The word Samadhi is Sanskrit, and can be translated as “right thought“ and sometimes as “evenness,” the meaning being a state where the mind is one and undisturbed, with no distracting thought. Boundless (muge) means without restraint, unobstructed by anything, absolute freedom. These lines read on from the previous lines ; bo Jt the form of no-form and the thought of no-thought. On the surface of a mirror, good and bad, right and wrong, for and against, absolutely all worlds are seen as the same. So it is said that all objects are reflected in the self and the self again is reflected in all objects, like two mirrors facing each …

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The great freedom of limitless Samadhi and the wisdom of Buddhahood

CHAPTER TWELVE What remains to be sought? Nirvana is clear before him, This very place the Lotus paradise, this very body the Buddha. THE SONG OF MEDITATION THESE lines expressing the peak of realization conclude the Song of Meditation. After attaining the great freedom of limitless Samadhi and the wisdom of Buddhahood, there is nothing more to seek. Before Nirvana was revealed, while the view of illusory distinctions was not abandoned, there was the Buddha to seek and the passions to be repulsed. But after realization, there is no bodhi to be sought and no passions to be cut off. The three thousand universes become his own; he need not get out of Sansara; he need not pray for bodhi. Rinzai in a sermon says: “So long as the man intent on doing the practices still has any aims at all, he becomes bound again by those aims, and in …

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Vastness, No Holiness

EARLY in the sixth century A.D., Bodhidharma carried Zen to China, where he became the First Patriarch. His successors handed it on to chosen disciples. There is a tradition, not found before the time of Shumitsu, that the Fifth Patriarch invited his hundreds of disciples to submit poems from which he could judge their attainment. The head monk Jinshu wrote a verse expressing the view of gradual progress and gradual realization. Against this Eno, an obscure servant in the monastery, composed a poem on sudden realization without stages. The Fifth Patriarch approved the first poem but gave the succession to Eno, who became the Sixth Patriarch. Jinshu’s school continued in the North for many years. Eno (637-713) moved to the South. The Northern school was not attacked by any of Eno*s disciples except Kataku Jinne, whose own line stressed sudden realization almost to the exclusion of the traditional zazen meditation …

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A note on the Ways

A NOTE ON THE WAYS During the first six hundred years of Zen in China, the pupils pursued their inquiry under the teacher and meditated without being given any formal koan. Their problem would finally crystallize of itself round a phrase from a text, a spontaneous saying or gesture of the teacher, or some incident of every-day life. Later, stories of the masters of this golden age of Zen were used, especially in the Rinzai sect, to provide an artificial centre round which the pupil’s energies could be concentrated almost from the beginning. When such koan become the centre of Zen practice, it is called “Kanna Zen,” which means literally the Zen of seeing (into) words. The Kanna Zen masters were famous for their inspiration and joy of life; but without an expert teacher this kind of Zen can easily become an affair merely of ideas. It is not difficult …

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