Zen and the Eastern Spirit

Koan practice in Rinzai Zen

The Rinzai sect of Zen tries to exhaustively inquire into the "selfless self" using koans (Zen cases), but the present situation of the Rinzai sect has become a corrupt ritual devoid of substance.It is only concerned with counting the number of passed koans. To save Koan Zen from this predicament, so that we may again obtain the joy of the dharma, we must return to the original principle of "illuminating the fundamental single mind".

1, Zen as the Great and Fundamental Way

As has already been stated, Confucianism, Shinto and Buddhism have attempted to attain and maintain the fundamental state of selflessness. However, unfortunately, the method has not been clearly established in Confucianism. Because of this, even though there are scholars still engaged in interpreting and commenting on Confucian texts, persons who have truly embodied the teachings of Confucianism have not existed in Japan since the end of the Edo era (i.e., for more than 130 years).

"However, in our Zen school, the true tradition, concerning how to attain enlightenment and clarify the great Way within our own minds, has been handed down through generations of patriarchs from Mahakashapa until today."

Master Kosen wrote this more than 140 years ago. But since then, it is obvious to everyone that not just the Soto sect but also the Rinzai sect is gradually declining in Japan. Today, the true Way of genuine supiritual experience is gradually disappearing, and is almost lost.

Therefore, by creating this website, we wanted to do what we could to let you know the simple and direct Way of Zen, which leads to a recognition of the true state of selflessness and sincerity.

Let us put aside Soto Zen, and talk about Rinzai Zen. In this sect, the so-called "koan" (Zen cases) is given by the Zen master (Roshi). The Zen practitioners concentrate on their koans with the desire to discover their own nature and become Buddhas . The koan they concentrate on is a sort of distillation of the experience through which the successive patriarchs achieved enlightenment.

Entering the master's room (sanzen), the Zen practitioner must come to realize himself as the answer of the koan. Because the koan can never be answered by means of knowledge or thinking, sanzen makes demands on him which are difficult in the extreme.

Concerning the right way of concentrating on a koan, the Chinese Zen master, Wumen Huikai (Mumon Ekai, 1183-1260), explains in detail from his own experience in his book, The Gateless Barrier (in Japanese, Mumonkan).

He remarks:
"In brief, the important thing is not to think about the koan with one's mind, but to become it by unreservedly devoting one's whole body and mind to it."

Concerning the Mu-koan, not only during zazen sitting, but all the time we should become Mu itself by repeating and concentrating "Mu Mu Mu!"

Of course, zazen sitting is central in practicing this concentration. One should do zazen sitting as if he had lost his mind, with his whole body becoming like a fire-ball throughout the sitting.

However, if the individual clings to zazen sitting and rejects all physical movement, the true state of samadhi (concentration) will not come upon him. People avoiding physical movement usually do not achieve the emergence of samadhi. A person who seriously concentrates with his whole body and mind on one koan does not need to think about the difference between sitting and moving around. If one does zazen sitting with the energy of samadhi gained from movement, and concentrates on movement with the energy of samadhi gained from zazen sitting, then all breaks in the practice will disappear and the effects of concentration will multiply.

Nevertheless, maintaining concentration all the time, without any breaks, is obviously not so easy. But heading to a place that appears impossible, sincerely devoting our whole body and mind to it without looking aside, we must strive forward.

The reason why most of Zen practitioners give up at this point is that, in their rush to harvest the fruits of their labor, they become painfully aware of the difficulty of entering the state of mind of samadhi. The most important thing in this case is not to seek to harvest, not to reflect upon one's own state of mind. Rather, the individual must seek to become Mu! (NO!) itself and concentrate on repeating, Mu! Mu! Mu! This is why the need for single-minded concentration, the "practice of becoming simple" , has long been emphasized.

As one concentrates to the point of forgetting time and experiences samadhi, the ego unconsciously and unexpectedly vanishes. When concentrating our mind on one point, on one koan (for example, the Mu koan), with the help of samadhi, our whole organism will naturally stop reacting to the outside world.

Even when walking − sometimes even unconsciously passing by our destination − and even forgetting zazen sitting while we are doing zazen sitting, the state of mind of forgetting to sleep and eat will finally arrive.

But this is something that cannot be done just by trying.

The following account from Master Kosen Imakita, by whom D.T. Suzuki was initially guided, will be helpful in our desire to understand this.
"One of my disciples asked, ‘How genuine and simple the Way of Zen practice of ancient people was, even sleeping and eating was forgotten! I would like to attain that state of mind too, but it is impossible for me.' And then I (Master Kosen) responded to him by saying that this was because he is not sufficiently serious about Buddhist Way. The ancients didn't consciously mean to forget eating and sleeping. When Zen practitioners are concentrating and devoting their minds and bodies on one serious problem, they will forget about sleeping and eating without recognizing and remembering the fact. If one comes to that state of mind, one will indeed forget to eat and sleep."

This is really an incredible state of mind. Even going without sleep for a long time, not only will one not feel any exhaustion, but also one's whole body will be filled with energy and the surrounding world will become transparent. Seen from the outside such a person might look extremely tired; but he himself is at the summit of fulfillment.

If one single-mindedly concentrates on ones koan and forgets both the passing of time and the outside world, one will unexpectedly encounter the opportunity to awaken to ones formless self. This experience is called "satori" (enlightenment).

There are many instances of enlightenment experiences described in the Zen literature. It is said that the Tang dynasty Zen master Reiun reached enlightenment while looking at peach blossoms. The Japanese Zen master Dogen sang of this episode "through the spring wind, the peach flowers blossomed, and there was no doubt remaining on the branches". Through the opportunity of looking at the peach blossoms, Reiun's discriminating mind and mixture of delusion and enlightenment was entirely uprooted.

2, The Problem of Koan Zen

Unfortunately, in Rinzai Zen, there are many koans that must be solved, and it looks like the Zen monks are allowed to advance past the first gate relatively quickly. It took such eminent Zen masters as Mumon Ekai and Mugaku Sogen of the Song dynasty six years to pass through the first gate of the koan, training so why can the present Rinzai monks proceed so quickly?

In spite of the fact that the most important thing is to discover one's own true mind using a koan, passing through koans and counting the number of koans quickly passed is viewed as essential by present Rinzai Zen masters.

However, doesn't this mean that they are completely neglecting the most important matter ? Advancing in this way through koans, there is no experience of the joy of the dharma. As a result, Zen practitioner's interest in Zen training and fulfillment declines, and they stray away onto other paths.

That which is brought about by only counting the number of koans passed without experencing selflessness through annihilation of the self, is none other than the increase of the self. This means that zen masters who try to lead their practicioners in this way eventually have less kindness towards their disciples. Thus, these disciples most certainly feel dissatisfied with the method.

In the Japanese world of Zen, the Obaku sect Zen master Cho'on Dokai (1628-1695), wrote of his regret concerning the situation back in his day in the followings way :

"These two hundred years, the Zen masters in Japan gathered the comments of their predecessors on individual koans, denoted counting all of these rules as perfect enlightenment, put them in boxes, and took special care of them. To them, taking care of these comments was the most important thing in the world so that all sentient beings might obtain salvation. However, if these comments were to catch fire, then that kind of "enlightenment" would completely turn into ash."

"Among the elder monks who taught this method of counting koans, there were many knowledgable people, but they were hampered by their pride and honor, and there was no one great enough to realize that this path was a mistake. This situation is like that of a kite and a crow taking and cherishing a dead mouse."

"I am not saying this to slander them. In the Buddhist sutras and records of patriarchs, there are places where virtuous people are admonished. Presently, the Zen practitioners are taught by the Zen masters to just answer in this way temporarily without understanding the meaning of the comments."

"They memorized the comments the same way a child would solve a puzzle, but without awakening to their own mind. There is no reason to expect an elder monk who has finished counting koans in this way to have an attitude different from that of an ordinary man."

"On top of this, because of his pride in dharma, he looks down upon other sects, and slanders genuine Buddhist dharma. Because of this, for the past two hundred years, the light of Zen has dimmed, and enlightened individuals are few and far between."

"The present so-called eminent monks and elder monks who teach the method of counting koans, also don't know when this way began and who came up with this method. They only think that, without finishing counting koans, it will be difficult to complete their training, renounce the world, and become an honorable monk, and they don't even know what the training really means."

"I came into contact with the teaching of these kinds of false monks, and later I met a genuine Zen master and recognized the mistakes of the previous monks. I speak in this way because I am worried, that future Zen practitioners will be misled in the same way.
"Should we call people who put up signs for monasteries, assemble large crowds of practitioners, teach this method of counting koans, and waste time without meaning, genuine masters or false masters?"

3, Necessity of Returning to the Starting Point

Master Cho'on Dokai was speaking frankly in this way, but, as he said , this wasn't slander, but, rather, the appearance of the earnest, great merciful heart of that teacher who deplored the corruption of great Buddhist dharma. In the present, no matter what practice, the same situation exists, and also Buddhism, Zen, and in particular the Rinzai sect which uses koans, the transmission of true life is in an extremely precarious situation, much like a candle in the wind.

To save Koan Zen from this predicament, so that we may obtain the joy of dharma, we must return to the original principle of "illuminating the fundamental single mind".

Concerning this, as the eminent Japanese Zen master Bassui Tokusho (1327-1387) said, the best way is the method of thorough inquiry of one's true figure through seeing, hearing, and remembering with the question "What is watching and what is listening right now?" Concentrating on koans should be done after resolving this basic question.

4, The Practitioners of Hakuin's Monastery

There is no doubt that the aim of the Rinzai sect as put forth by the Japanese Zen master, Hakuin, is not consistent with the traditional answers that use koans. Instead Hakuin's aim is the thorough seeing into the fundamental truth of selflessness by annihilating the self.

I would like to introduce the concrete example of one of Hakuin's disciples who risked his life in the practice of Zen. This person, Master Reigen Eto (1721-1785), made his disciples reflect on the following account of his own personal experience.

"A long time ago, when I was in the middle of training at the Shoin Temple in the Suruga district, under the supervision of Master Hakuin, I began concentrating on a difficult koan on New Year's Day in 1740. In the Fall, four years later, was able to pass through it for the first time."  

"In those four years, I did not have one word of useless conversation with other people, and as there were no funny or interesting things, I didn't smile at all. When I saw other people laughing, I didn't understand. Once I entered a twilight period, with only tears, I fasted both summer and winter, ate soybean powder, drank water, and every five to seven days hid myself from people and went on retreat in places like Shinto shrines in the mountains."

"In winter of that year, I was given another difficult koan by Master Hakuin. Because my doubts had not cleared up, from the beginning of December I locked myself in an inn. I cured my empty stomach by asking for food from a neighboring house once every three days, and by the end of February the following year, I still had not left the inn. I didn't go to the Master's temple for the New Year's celebration or the autumn Festival of the Dead."

"So at the end of February that year, I experienced the great joy of passing through that difficult koan. This was so wonderful that it is impossible to describe. In the beginning of March, when I humbly went to the Master's temple, he was extremely happy for me."

Master Reigen again in another letter explains that he encountered the abnormally strict torture of Master Hakuin and another advanced monk and suffered, trying to hang or drown himself five or six times. We should understand that koan training is so dangerous that it endangers one's life.

In Shoin Temple, from where Mt. Fuji can be seen, the graves of sixty-four monks who unfortunately died in the middle of training surround the graves of Master Hakuin and his dharma successor Master Suio. How much these monks risked their own lives training! We must take strict care not to think, that Zen and koan concentration are easy.

5, Conclusion: Never forget that everyone has a wonderful brightness inside of them

Up until now, we have begun with the question "How can we live a joyful life?" We have referred to the wisdom of the Eastern saints and patriarchs, and, in particular, we have introduced the way of training found in the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism.

We are afraid that many Westerners can't perform the intensive training of the monks in Master Hakuin's monastery, and so some people may be disappointed that because of this, many Westerners can't obtain the the heart's true peace.

  But, this is most certainly not true. The experience of the East's spiritual guides shows that in every person's nature the ability to release the shining brilliance inside of them can be found. Thus, we want to reiterate the "secret of living a joyful, fulfilled life."

People encounter setbacks and frustrations and lose confidence, and they feel a vague uncertainty about their own future. Even if this is not the case, many people take for granted that they are unhappy with themselves and are unable to break through this unhappiness.

One of Confucius's disciples said to him "My own strength isn't enough, so I can't follow your lofty path", and Confucius admonished him "Those who don't have enough strength give up on themselves halfway, but aren't you disappointing yourself?"

In many cases, we unconsciously decide from the outset to judge ourselves negatively, and unable to move, we run into a no-win situation. However, in reality, breaking through this situation is simple and straightforward.

Since ancient times, people on this Eastern path, whether they were Buddhist or not, and, if Buddhists, no matter what sect of Buddhism they belonged to, have emptied themselves and entered the state of samadhi (intense concentration) via this method of meditation through which they give their whole being. These people have become free from the captivity of their egoistic selves, and are living daily lives having attained the state of playful samadhi. When we read carefully the records of people like this, they reveal their secrets to us.

As an example, we cite Master Hakuin, the restorer of Rinzai sect of Zen, and his spiritual grandfather, Master Shido Bunan (1603-1675).

In the brilliant writings of Master Bunan, he tells us, "In Zen, if you put enlightenment first and train according to where enlightenment leads you, then your days and nights are peaceful. You can't doubt this. Trying to obtain enlightenment by first exhausting one's attachments sounds natural, but in reality obtaining enlightenment this way is difficult. Exhausting one's karma by putting enlightenment first is a simple and straightforward thing."

Master Honen, the founder of the Pure Land sect of Buddhism in Japan, who obtained a true state of samadhi by chanting the name of the Amida Buddha 60,000 times per day, explains as follows, in his "Ordinary Sayings."

"Chanting the name of the Amida Buddha is simple. If you just say the name, then you will know that you will be born in Paradise, and if you say it will all of your heart then you will go to Paradise."

"When you try to get something from someone's hand, which is superior, already having it or not having it yet? I chant the name of the Amida Buddha as if I had already received it."

"If you believe that it has been promised that you will go to Paraside, then it becomes certain. If you don't believe in it, then it's not certain."

These three sayings of Master Honen represent the complete opposite of the usual Pure Land Sect understanding that "you chant the name of Amida and and, the first time you do so, you immediately go to Paradise".

We combine the two ways of these eminent masters, "Place enlightenment first and exhaust your karma" and "Chant the name of the Amida Buddh in the certainty that you will go to Paradise." When we do so, we find the common idea of abandoning one's base attitudes and desires for things and "the self full of confusion and attachment training focusing on the goal in the far distance." With just this mental preparation, an exquisite concentration becomes possible that surpasses the trivial one like the unseen evaporation of dew by the morning sun.

In the method of obtaining enlightenment by doing something, it's hard to avoid the situation of "washing blood with blood", i.e. the method itself becoming intertwined with the consciousness of our intension. Even I, when look back on my own period of training, see how difficult it was to grow out of the feeling at the beginning that I had to obtain enlightenment. But gradually my samadhi grew and, after I came to be able to spend my days in the joy of dharma, my joy and state of mind suddenly and unexpectededly soared, and my tension went away.

The expression in the title "Never forget that everyone has a wonderful brightness inside of them" means that you must not try to extinguish this brightness―because you cannot.

On December 8, as he looked at the light of Venus and achieved enlightenment, Buddha declared without thinking "It is amazing, amazing! All of the Buddha's wisdom and virtue are offered to each and every living thing. But because of their illusions and attachments, it is hard to convince them of this." For us sentient beings there is no greater evidence of his gracious strength than this.

However, it is likely that many people can hardly believe this. For these people there is a secret plan. And it is merely that these people should believe entirely that "I am satisfied and happy. I have no nothing to ask for, and I have released the brilliance from my being." This secret plan itself is the "innermost secret" pointed to by Master Bunan and Master Honen which was explained above.

Simply, believing entirely, even if it's difficult to believe, is the secret. If you believe entirely, then it will come true. People who always think "I am unhappy" have closed their own path to becoming happy. If you can change your thinking to "I myself am happy" no matter how deep the unhappiness is, then you can immediately enter Paradise. Zen Master Linchi said that "Not believing in yourself is the source of the problem."

I read once where an eminent Qi master explained the secret of the unique method of releasing the Qi energy from your entire body, and there is no other way. I notice that he insisted that "It's just that you have to convince yourself to release the Qi from your body", and I thought, "That's exactly what I want to say."

In reality, I have a lot of experience easily curing many people who visit me with many worries and problems. The important thing is to distance oneself from the delusion of the "ego" and live based on "selflessness.

If you do this, then you will become unselfish, you will put others above yourself, and conflict with others will go away. You will be able to always wish for other people's happiness, and your own heart will always be at peace. Thus, an inexhaustible sincerity will gush from the truth of this "selflessness". Let each of us truly reflect on the stupidity and misery of people who fight with others because they put themselves first.

You can live a fulfilling life using this simple and evident method, and I hope that everyone in the world releases their own brilliance with self-confidence by believing in his or her own magnificence.

Peace and prayers,
Kanju Tanaka

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