If one is attempting to go into Zen deeply, to understand the relationship between one's mind and the universe, then it becomes important to turn over and over again, going backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, many times over, the same refrain, the same theme. Not with the analytical intellect, nor with the mind of one who seeks explanation, but within the context of zazen, wherein intuitive insight can arise.

We begin with the thought that everything is just as it is, and that this in itself is totally remarkable, completely astounding, a condition of extraordinary improbability. Spring is coming, summer follows. Just now, this morning for the first time, everyone is arriving: the black-caps, the chiff-chaffs, the willow-warblers, the cuckoo. Summer follows and the days grow shorter. Autumn comes and then the season of ice and snow. Once more with the warming of the days, everyone returns.

Think how extraordinary this is. How it depends entirely on the way the planet revolves. This spinning globe, this planet in space turning at a certain rate, determines the timing of the day and night. Darkness and light, facing the sun, facing away from the sun. And each respective season, tilting sunwards and then away from the sun, so that the heat of the sun on the surface of the globe swings now north, now south, bringing the seasons. Bringing everyone north and taking everyone south, winging their way across the deserts. An extraordinary precision of spin and oscillation.

Consider how it might be different. A little faster in revolution and days would change their duration. Spring and Summer would flash past with a faster oscillation. We could have five years in one or five hundred days in one year. Who set the pattern spinning? Inappropriate question! How did it get fixed at this rate? Quite arbitrarily, maybe, or according to the laws which govern the speed of spinning globes spun off from a distant far off sun in ages long past. Everything is just as it is and everything is connected. The unfolding of the universe, and the setting of speeds, the law of interdependent origination and the laws of the universe. Emptiness taking form, form congealing out of space. Timed, shaped, processing itself through time. Emerging from being. Returning once more to being. Form to emptiness, emptiness to form. The oscillation, the manifestation of the Law, Tao, the ultimate logos, whatever. Everything is as it is - and how extraordinary! Looking at the hillside as the flowers bloom, know this. There is nothing else. The hillside is It. Standing in the silent church looking at the altar, the altar and the atmosphere of the building, the silence, is It. On top of the cliff watching the swirling sea, is It. Futile to look elsewhere, God is not different from That. Buddha-nature is immediately before your eyes; there is no need to go anywhere. There is no need to go anywhere else. Everything is as it is and that is It. Do not seek elsewhere for that which is right now, before your eyes. Go very deeply into this. Penetrate the obscurities of wanting something else. So much of our dilemma lies in seeking elsewhere that which lies within the palms of our hands. So much dissatisfaction. So much wanting. So much seeking. God is always in somebody else's garden. The Buddha-mind is always in some other state of meditation. Paradise is in the heavens which are not here. Always this quest.

It becomes necessary to STOP. To go into it to recognise everything is as it is. Extraordinary! Everything before one's eyes is It. You are in It. Sometimes when the mind is so busy, so preoccupied, when samsara is spinning with the struggle of life, relationships, fear of death, the multitudinous dissatisfactions of industrial society, it is difficult simply to know that everything is as it is. Very difficult to know, because everything seems to be undesirable. What is wanted is the very opposite condition from that which is right in front of one's eyes. You haven't penetrated to the quality which brings out insight. Instead there is just noise and confusion. What to do?

Begin with gratitude. Notice simple things for which you can be thankful, anything. Each person is different. Notice the small things, the smile on a friend's face, a beautiful person walking in the street, birds overhead, flowers blooming, even the energy of roaring traffic in great cities, the pulsation, the force, the drive. Feel, wherever it may be, the gratitude for being there. After all, there might be nothing at all. Absolutely nothing. You might never have been here to witness it. The uniqueness of this moment is extraordinary. If you are not grateful, the opposites have arisen and you are lost. In the quietness of the mind's eye make gasho. Bow down in gratitude for the universe.

Homage to the Buddhas in all worlds.

Homage to the Bodhisattvas in all worlds.

Homage to the scripture of Great Wisdom.


Master Hsu Yun was perhaps the greatest Ch'an master of this century. He may have lived for one hundred and twenty years, dying in 1959. His great work was the restoration of many Chinese temples and monasteries and the rekindling of the Dharma in China after a period of severe decline. He is the immediate Dharma ancestor of several contemporary Ch'an masters. Master Sheng-yen is a second generation descendant in his tradition.

In 1986 I stayed in Hong Kong with my old friend Yiu Yan-nang. We spent an evening translating some of Hsu Yun's poems. Yan-nang provided the basic English and I did my best to put it in poem form. The verses presented here were written near the end of Hsu Yun's life when he was much persecuted by Communists.

In the spring of 1951 Master Hsu Yun was staying at Yun-Men Monastery. He was holding a ceremony of giving precepts when the monastery was attacked by Communist thugs who believed there were arms stored in the buildings. The master was severely beaten up, a serious matter at his advanced age. Although he continued to sit in meditation he was dragged out and trampled upon with heavy boots. For several days he was believed dead. After a slow recovery, he went to Wu Chang and stayed at the temple of the three Buddhas. It was here that he wrote the first poem. The Government investigated the claims, nothing was found and the provincial officials were told to protect the monastery and the master.

The poem is to be found in Charles Luk's translation of Hsu Yun's autobiography1. The part of it referring to the decapitated general only provides his name and the place of his enlightenment. We chose to modify this part of the text to make it comprehensible. The poem itself was inscribed below a photograph taken at this time; both photo and poem are illustrated on p 130 of Luk's book. I am not sure where the second poem can be found. It must be from about the same period.


1       Luk, Charles. 1988. Empty Cloud: The Autobiography of the Chinese Zen master Xu Yun. Shaftesbury. Element Books, (as revised by Richard Hunn)


An evil wind blows me to Wu Chang,

my presence here has caused disaster.

For three months, at Sung Fat Monastery,

this sick and ageing body has attracted trouble,

shame and fear for everyone.

Once there was a decapitated general

calling aloud for his head;

"How many heads have you cut off?"

they asked him, at once he was enlightened.

Today, I too lament,

defeated, tortured, I recall unnumbered heads

in other lifetimes I cut off.

Vast is time and I am reconciled.

No more desire for eminence,

simply the wish to find the Buddha,

along with other people.


Why should this crazy guy

seek to make a name in Buddhism

when the whole show's on the wane-

indeed at crisis point?

I try to climb the highest peak,

I plumb the depths to catch the fish,

talk a lot-

find no listeners.

Sorry for myself I waste my time.

Unconcerned by dire predicaments

concern for others should be my task.

Moaning without pause;

whatever for - this grumbling?

Why not let everything go-

Life's suffering never ends.

Suddenly, remembering Emptiness, this mind has cleared.

What a laugh it is!


Simply an absence

And suddenly it's all there

Rain on windows -

The wind of time without beginning.


Suddenly an absence

And simply it's all there

The winter cherry

Blooms without leaves.


Simply an absence

And suddenly it's all there

The last rose of Autumn

Looks in through the glass.


Simply an absence

And suddenly it's all there

The winter landscape

Comes in through the walls of my room.