After the seven day intensive Ch'an retreat in New York in May 1993 Master Sheng Yen held a brief ceremony in which he transmitted the Dharma to John Crook making him a holder of the lineage in the Chinese Lin Chi sect of Ch'an Buddhism with the name Ch'uan-Teng Chien-Ti, meaning "Transmitting the Lamp - Seeing the Truth". To some, such an honour may seem strange. To pass the Dharma to a European Westerner, a layman without the training of a monk, a man without rank in the Dharma, living far from either of the Ch'an centres in New York or Taiwan may appear premature, if not unwise. None the less during the ceremony Shi-fu gave a very clear account of his reasons for his radical action and dwelt at some length on the meaning and responsibilities of transmission.
The event was tape recorded and the account we publish here is directly based on this tape. Shi-fu spoke in Mandarin and was interpreted on the spot by Ming Yee Wang. Our text is a slightly edited version of Ming Yee's translation.
John Crook has studied with me in Ch'an retreat some five times in New York and twice in Britain but prior to that he studied and cultivated his understanding in many traditions for over twenty years. Today l am giving him recognition as my Dharma descendant. This is only the second time that I have recognised a descendant. l am very happy to be passing this Dharma lineage downwards.
So far as John Crook is concerned this is a great honour and also a great responsibility. It is something very important to him, the great responsibility of carrying the task of the Tathagata. So from now on, based in the merit of the lineage of Lin Chi, he is empowered to spread the Buddhadharma, spread the Ch'an teaching, engage in personal practise himself and, to the best of his ability, have concern for others and help them spread the Dharma.
In the past history of the Ch'an sect there were masters and patriarchs who, when they had established a single Dharma descendent, were ready to die. Their task had been done. I have not died yet, but at least I can feel a sense of lessened responsibility, particularly with regard to the West and especially in Europe. There is now somebody else who can take on and relieve me of that part of my responsibility. In this sense John Crook will be representing me while I will continue to represent Sakyamuni Buddha in the teaching.
Years ago when I myself received the lineage of Lin Chi from my own master, only a few people were present; my Shi-fu, his attendant and a friend who had accompanied me to meet this elderly master. What I felt at that time was both joy and happiness. Joy in that my Shi-fu now recognised that I had the ability to teach the Dharma, the Ch'an Dharma, and happiness because the burden of Shakyamuni Buddha was now on my own shoulders. I felt happiness also because now that the burden of Shakyamuni Buddha was on my own shoulders, if I did not do a good job, it would be my own responsibility and I would not be able to face the Buddha nor the historical patriarchs. Today, therefore, I am sharing my own feelings of that time with John.
(Turning to John) Congratulations to you!
John. May I say something?
Shi-fu. Yes, say some words now. Please.
John. I am deeply touched and honoured by what Shi-fu hi has said this morning. My heart is almost too full to express what this event means to me. I always knew that Shi-fu was going to give me a lot of trouble! Certainly this morning he is giving me both trouble and joy. Trouble because, as he has said, this is a great responsibility and one which I do and will take very seriously. Yet it is also a matter of great joy because I find it remarkable that such faith should be placed in myself. I am only too aware of my defects and the negative qualities in my nature. There is plenty of work to be done on my vexations and this I shall continue.
I'm very grateful to Shi-fu for having helped me establish a small group of Ch'an practitioners in England. Indeed I send thanks to that group because without them of course there would be no work. I have a small house in the countryside in Wales where we do regular retreats. Some of these are Ch'an retreats and some are retreats that can be preparatory to undertaking the full Ch'an seven days. When Shi-fu came to this little house he likened it to the pin head upon which the Buddhas dance. In England we often say "Small is beautiful" and in this little centre I hope to work in a small way but with a quality that is very high. We may create a tiny Bodhimandala from which the influence of the Dharma can spread.
Thank you very much, Shi-fu, from the bottom of my heart.
I also thank all you people here who have been with me and helped in the last week, putting up with my streaming cold and cough all through this valuable and important time. Thank you all.
Shih-fu. We should all be very joyful that this morning we had the opportunity to share in the giving of the Dharma lineage to John Crook. We should also be joyful because we can witness that Buddhadharma is something alive. Despite these changing times it is not something that has died, but continues and with vigour. When such Dharma lineage might be passed to any one of us - that nobody knows. As practitioners we do not seek to attain or gain anything. We do not seek to get the affirmation of others.
As for myself, receiving the Dharma lineage took a very long time. When I was 28 years old through the help of my Shih-fu, Master Ling Yuen, I had an experience which he affirmed as "seeing the nature" Yet receiving such affirmation of experience and receiving the Dharma lineage are really two separate things Even if someone has received the affirmation that he or she has "seen the nature" whether or not he or she will receive the Dharma lineage is something completely different.
A lot of conditions are necessary. Firstly, you must have the correct understanding of the principles of the Dharma. Secondly, you must have your own experience of practice. Thirdly, the right conditions must exist in space and time. That is to say that the circumstances must be appropriate. Fourthly, help must be given to all people wishing to learn. Without all of these conditions being fulfilled, then even if the lineage were to be passed on to you, the transmission would not be fruitful.
In the case of John Crook the transmission is not something accidental. I have been to England twice and have seen and worked with groups in the farmhouse he has provided for retreats. I have also experienced his personal abilities; firstly, in terms of Dharma understanding and his own development and, secondly, in the helping of others. Because he meets all the conditions that I outlined earlier, I decided to pass the lineage down to him.
Indeed, John has helped many people. Some of the people in his group are practitioners of high quality. When I was last in Wales I was happy to give one of them the affirmation of his experience. Could he also receive the Dharma lineage? No, not yet, but at the very least he should be well able to assist John in his retreat activities.
And so we now reach the end of the retreat. Some of us may be tired and need rest. After you have completed your morning tasks you are welcome to depart. If you are planning to stay a little while longer, you are most welcome to do so. If you wish to stay to lunch, until the evening, overnight, for a few days or intend to live here for the rest of your days - please let the Centre know!
An Editorial from the Chan Hall
In this edition I share with you my joy and trepidation at receiving from Shih-fu the authority of becoming one of his Dharma heirs. This is indeed a great honour and a major responsibility. Part of me wants to disappear into the mountains and keep quiet, taking stock of what has happened. We know from the story of Hui-neng, who was a layman at the time of receiving the robe, that such a compassionate gift is commonly seen by others with jealous or even scornful eyes. What's this? A layman, a European, an Englishman, a Westerner, of dubious morality and uncertain practice! Can't even speak Chinese! What's he got that I haven't? What nonsense! Shih-fu must be out of his mind!
Yet it is also necessary to rejoice in the sheer radicality of Shi-Fu's action, the adventurousness, the probing into cultures not his own, the awareness of the needs of the West, the compassionate acceptance of inadequacies balanced against hope and faith, the risk taking, the courage, and the challenge. My gratitude to Shi-fu is far-reaching for his faith in me can bring out what maybe has been hidden even from myself. Let us see what can be done and honour the gift he has given us.
I say us deliberately because in his speech to the assembly in New York, Shih fu said clearly that without the Bristol Ch'an group, without a body of people working in the Dharma and without a place of retreat the conditions for transmission would not have been fulfilled. His action is therefore one of trust in our work, our practice, our group and by no means just me and mine. This is not said to inflate our group egoism but to give us confidence and joy in where we stand.
Two years ago, when Shi-fu acknowledged my account of certain experiences as "seeing the nature" and allowed me to run orthodox Ch'an retreats, I had some correspondence with him. He told me then that there is nothing to be proud about in such things. There are always great inadequacies and vexations and any pride would constitute a downfall. Furthermore, at any previous period in the history of Ch'an when there were great teachers around and profound practitioners, I would not have received any recognition at all. Only in the present era, when in spite of superficial brilliance, the darkness of mind is so thick, is it possible for those with attainments as thin as my own to be considered valuable and essential as teachers. So we must all see clearly where we stand! Nothing here to shout about and a great deal of work to be done.
But I do thank the Ch'an group for their support. encouragement and patient forbearance of my enthusiasms. Let us all proceed together helping one another.
I have recently completed a short solitary retreat at the Maenllwyd. I learnt much and will repeat the process. While there, I wrote the following which I now offer to you for your reflection.
In the practice of the Dharma it becomes essential to understand that within the everyday lies the Great Joy. It is not that Joy is elsewhere nor that it has to be laboriously worked for. It is not that one is worthless, undeserving, wicked and hence unable to discover it Dharma Joy itself lies within the everyday.
Why then are we so normally cast down, anxious, restless or depressed, entertaining the notion that the practice of Buddhism is either out of reach, requires more than one has to offer or downright incomprehensible?
The answer lies in the fact that we have to wake up to that which underlies our negative preoccupations, doubts and failures. We see the state of the world and want to help, to bring about some positive change. Yet, in these days when there is no prevailing idealism except material advancement on offer, when Marxism and Socialism, the great creeds, have failed, when all external paths are seen as fraudulent, we often do not know in what direction to turn. The multiple alternatives of this age of post-modern relativism all seem relatively cheap, sentimental or superstitious, lacking anchorage in a firm sea-bed.
Abandoning all we might rush off to Somalia, Angola, Sarajevo Calcutta or even Belfast, filled with a zeal for do-gooding. And indeed those who rescue the afflicted in Bosnia or prevent the slaughter of a whale do achieve something. Activism is truly important. Yet afterwards nothing pivotal has changed. It all goes on again. Where next? Are politicians really as powerless and as characterless as they seem? And the junkmail of endless appeals from charities lacking the aid of any official compassion continue to pour through our letter boxes as if we personally were responsible. And indeed, collectively, perhaps we are - because who else can be?
No wonder we are cast down. The problem lies in the fact that all of us are sleepwalking within the materialist ethos and individual isolationism of our time. There are precious few alert enough to awaken us. We have to do it for ourselves.
For the moment then leave the world as it is; its cares as they are. When you are awake you will find out what to do. Only wake up. First things first. The actions of a sleepwalker rarely achieve anything.
What then is this awakening? Words will not do it for you. Direct investigation can.
Dharma Joy lies within our own mind's heart in the extent to which we can set aside wanting something else, something other. We want something else out of a feeling that we are incomplete; like a shadow seeking its substance or a lonely ghost in quest of a companion on an uninhabited planet. In our ghost towns there is nobody there. There is the endless ache for a love that will fill the hole in the centre of being. Yet those who themselves lack the surety of inner love cannot fill the holes in others. Illusory romance only discloses the unsatisfactoriness of a companion which equals one’s own for him or her. There is no inner completion, there is the ache after it.
Are you a ghost or a vibrant embodied being, a sentience? Do you feel your presence in the world now, here from moment to moment, a validated reality, a presence - or an absence? Presence in the world is not knowing about the world, having one's mind in the office already as one drives to work, absenting oneself from the Now. Presence in the world begins with presence in the body.
The Buddha himself had to make this discovery and he put it forward as a prime method. Mindfulness of the body as the body, in the direct apprehension of embodiedness as being the body is the start. Mindfulness means investigation not passivity: asking what is my experience of this body now and taking time to go into it, to bring it into a moment by moment continuing presence.
The method of watching the breath takes one into the body and in this practice you go on to investigate the arising of sensations, perceptions, cognitions and the prejudiced attitudes of the mind in just the same way. In the end you investigate consciousness itself and find it tainted by all that has gone before, the sensations, cognitions, prejudices. Consciousness is coloured by what goes on in these processes for we identify it as the basis that sustains them in awareness.
The practise of mindfulness acts by focusing attention on these realms, shifting it away from the anxious split between what you are and what you might be, where you are in life and where you might be, whether you are good or bad, beautiful or ugly, the endless dualities, and brings you to where you quite undeniably are. In the body there is no duality but rather the immediacy of actual unsplit being.
And strangely where you find yourself to be lies within an experiential continuum that has no boundaries because there are no horizons to the space within which the body, the sensations, the cognitions become objects of awareness. The bare consciousness within which you are aware, indeed which is itself awareness, contains all that which is present yet is in itself boundless and untrapped. As you relax your hold on the body, the sensation, or a thought, and slip into this experiential space you find a felt vastness which like a mirror contains all and yet stands itself in a different dimension. Indeed this awareness remains an inference for the mirror cannot know itself except within the conscious act of reflection - for this is indeed all that it is. Yet the basis of mind, this Rigpa of the Tibetans is more than a mirror. This awareness is a dynamic vastness, a depth and not a mere surface. As Hui-neng said, "There is no mirror bright / Upon what can the dust alight?"
Indeed the dust of our thoughts and preoccupations simply float in this inner vastness like clouds in the sky. The essential thing is to place one's sentience in the sky itself and experience the clouds from there -and not the other way about. Being sky-borne the view is vast and clouds evaporate and reform as situations change. The vastness goes on for ever. If you look at a thought from within this vastness the thought evaporates - its apparent thing-ness just disappears, it self-liberates into inner space. As they say in Dzogchen; a thought is like writing on water - as soon as the sign is made it spreads out into nothing. This is self-liberation like evaporating clouds or melting snowmen.
If you let the meditative attention widen to include the presence of the room, the town, the countryside, the sounds of everyday, these too are at first reflected and then self-liberate into vastness. Here then is freedom. The prison cell becomes the liberating cell of the hermit. And because there is freedom from any wanting, all being complete, a joy arises, an untrammelled joyousness which shines like a lamp in one’s being.
After meditation you return to the tasks of everyday life, willingly operating dualistically as you and yours in the world of them and theirs. This is the natural mode of samsara, of becoming, the mode whereby needs are met, needs for warmth, food, adequacies of comfort and relationship. It is the mode of activism.
The Ch'an practitioner who trains with persistence can find within this everyday dualism the inner freedom that meditation discloses. It remains then as a basis, a unity, that divides only functionally not essentially. To get things done there is l and mine and you and yours. Outside and inside of that there is the experiential continuum, the vastness, the matrix of self-liberation.
Our pain stems mightily from the illusion that the split mind is natural, that it has no other depth, that it is an inevitable condition of being bound by time and impermanence. This is not so. A mind lost in duality is drugged, ignorant, asleep, unaware of its basic continuum. The task is to awaken again and again to the joyous spaciousness that lies within.
In the habitual dualism of the illusory everyday you may well feel scepticism and doubt. The Buddha understood that and did not make an assertion precluding your consent. Try it for yourself was always his message. And this must be ours too whenever we are quizzed about these goings-on. The uncovering of vastness is in itself enlightening for this is the light of the mind. Do not waste time for the world is waiting.
John Crook Ch'uan-Teng Chien-Ti 2 November 1993
Poem in two voices
James Crowden, John Crook
In the summer of 1993 John Crook with James Crowden led a tour party on trek in the Indian Himalayas, the most recent of several such guided journeys to Ladakh arranged in collaboration with The Open Gate. The purpose of these journeys is to allow participants to share an inner experience of journeying to remote third world locations of spiritual importance. The 1993 journey was especially difficult in that airline strikes forced repeated changes in the itinerary and there was a lot of illness in the party. None the less we won through and trust the experience has proved beneficial. James and John wrote these verses in Kargil on the afternoon of the return from Zangskar and the piece was read to the group that evening. It was also presented at the meeting of the international Association for Ladakh Studies in Leh later that summer.
Early morning beneath Nun Kim
The sound of boys driving sheep and cattle,
The first light hits the mountain.
Acres of flowers,
The stream, the rocks,
Old carvings of ibex
Willow trees beneath steep snow.
The double rainbow
A corona, circling the peaks.
At Rangdom, old dogs,
Prayers for the monks
Chanting above the water's shingle.
The sound of a horsebell.
The glacier gaping wide and beckoning
A slow liturgy of ice
Moving forward, downward
Till the sound of water
Careers through the mind.
The smell of yak dung burning in the dusk
Frozen peaks, sharp and hanging
Above the echo of silence.
The shade of poplar trees
The holy monastery at Sani
The blue poppy beside the stream
Blue flowers at the window
Our bus careers into Zangskar
The would-be inner travellers.
Village grove, slight breeze-
How silently the sunlight
Makes the sparrows chirp.
At Rangdom Gompa
l am glad to see
The monks still sustain
The revolutions of the Universe.
Since I was here
Yeshe Monlam, fine monk. has died.
For me, remembering him, they chant
The aspirations of the blessed
Dust keeps falling from the Buddha's nose.
Tea with an old friend
Sonam Wangchuk, the Karsha Lhonpo
Surrounded by memories
Old paintings, the moon rising
The valley spreads out below
Our path steep and narrow.
And in this foreign monastery
hoping to bribe the villagers
They think naive,
Invading Christian zealots handout
The powerful drugs
Of Western decadence.
Without thanks the pills
Are grabbed and stowed away.
Later, some of them sewn into hats.
The yogins’ turn.
How hot the valley
Heat pounding in the head,
Road blasting in front of Bardan monastery.
Old chortens and dog roses
Mani walls and fresh streams,
Our path forever hanging
Just there - above the river.
Mahakala puja, old masks in the gonkhang1
The smell of rancid butter.
Over the valley
Black mountain peers
Am I menaced or protected?
I am not sure.
Oh do not say this name
Something like darkness
Touches my mind.
Khataqs and incense
Offerings to the lha-
What precautions we took.
Do not ask the Gods
For favours here
Evoking our own powers
Alone we tread this precipice.
With no intentions
The river merely waits.
Have you got what it takes?
Water swirling, churning, twisting
Gliding, pummelling its way down,
Carving the rock, dividing the mountain,
The valley's pulse, the "Black Breath"
Lungnag, a thin ribbon of silted water
Linking village with village,
The glacier's melt sharpening its wits
On the water's edge, each bridge
Crossing the eye of the water,
The turbulent pull
Shifting this way and that.
The cloud of dust, as horses
Are gathered in the first light
Driven down the mountain
Ready for the day's work.
Again the smell of dung fires
Creeps along the valley
Slowly mingles from both shores
Drifts and hangs
In the mountain's shadow.
Water swirling, churning , twisting
Gliding, pummelling its way down.
Silently communing with the Gods
Roar of water, clarity of space
Air cooled by tumbling rivers
Blesses the desert with emeralds.
Fire dances in a blinding sun
Space cuts out my mind
Only these feet move
The sick and weary rest.
Outside, the spirits of the mountain
Above my steeping bag
The slowly churning stars.
Where the planet's rim turns down
Powered by farts
My morning stroll
In my guts
At Purne two rivers join
In spate, two colours merge
The Lingti and the Tsarap Chu.
One from the south and one from the north
One way to India, the other to Rupchu and Changtang.
Choughs at Phugtal
Gliding, twisting and turning
Jive and plummet between prayer flags
And lamas' incantations,
The cave hollowed out with emptiness.
A glance from Drepung
The old geshe2 in his cell
Prayer wheel surrounded
By texts and photographs
His flight from Tibet with His Holiness
Engraved on his memory.
The smile of offering
A deep resonance.
Beneath the juniper tree
The spring of cold dear water.
Water seeps from the cavern's floor
Refreshment for tired travellers
No witchcraft here.
Sky drunk monks hide
In the deep recesses of the hills.
Old geshe with fading mind
Probably no longer
Beyond his window
Choughs whirl and stall
In distant cells his brother monks
Intone their liturgies.
With lowered eyelids
Over shining eyes
For seventy six years
He's seen it move.
And in the evening down the valley
The songs and laughter, horsemen
From Kuru, Tablay and Kargiakh.
At Purne the wedding house
Waiting on the hill
The warm night crowded with faces
The valley full of chang
Acres of women crammed tightly together
Leaning in their shawls half drunk
Swaying this way and that.
In the half darkness raucous laughter
Keeps pace with the drumming.
From sperm to tsa-tsa3
Let’s hope they enjoyed it
Holds his hand to an ear
What does he hear?
What does he hear?
Great guru with blazing eyes
What does he see?
What does he see?
Sombre scholar with learned gaze
What does he know?
What does he know?
Touching the earth
The Buddha's hand
E-he - Whose fingers?
And then the reluctant return
Each caravan steady in its pace
Like a ship gliding and surging
Through the mountains.
Horses and mules follow one another
Sacks of atta4 lashed down on wooden saddles
Sullen muleteers thinking of Manali.
And then the festival at Sani
The dance with monastic music
Echoing through the courtyard
Monks clad in silk and black hats
Veiled beneath the snow-laden mountains
Stepping this way and that
Backing and advancing
Twisting and gyrating
The spirit's pulse transferred
The tantric colours circling
In a vortex
Hypnotic and shamanic
The exorcism, the handling of dark forces
The triangle of unwanted energy
Thrown out, thrown out
And the year's evil
Assuaged before the harvest.
Crackling figures circle
Surge like flames
Cymbals crash, drums boom
Black hat wizardry
Kills the dark and evil thing
Pinioned beneath the tall flag.
Bright night of the long knives.
Before harvest, hearts are cleansed.
The blue glitter of perags
And white khatags5
The sense of giving
Reaching far into the mountains
The flat pasture laden with horses
The freedom of the steppe.
High above the swirling river
What do they see
And two eagles?
Dry, dusty dry, fierce Central Asian dry
The wind pummels the valley.
Pulling out, the old bus
Lumbers over ruts and rivulets.
Wave to smiling villagers.
"One pen- one pen - kaka -Julay!"
What have they learned
These slumped and jerking figures
Dozing on the long way?
Arid the desert's pulse, the raven's beak.
Think of the ibex and the wolf trap
The sound of the conch shell.
1. The shrine room of the protective deities of the monastery.
2. Doctor of Buddhist philosophy.
3. Moulded figures prepared from the ashes of corpses.
4. Wheat flour.
5. Woman's head-dress and offering scarf.
One day this summer, standing in one of the temples of Phugtal Gompa hidden deep in the Zangskar mountains of the Himalaya, I asked my companion, Nathaniel Tarn, American poet and participant on my cultural tour to Ladakh, whether he was a Buddhist. Nathaniel was inspecting the extraordinary 12th century paintings on the walls, paintings he had laboured hard and with difficulties over the hills to see, and said ,"It’s the nearest to what I believe to be true. For me it's just a matter of living out the life".
And so I was made to recall this subtle Zen phrase which then hung around, haunting my imagination, for the rest of the summer.
We had major problems on trek this year: many participants were sick, some had come without adequate physical or mental preparation and airline strikes forced us into repeated changes of itinerary. James Crowden and I felt much relieved after we said goodbye to them and then spent two days with the yogins on a short retreat. Our troubles were not over however. It took us three days of early morning journeys to the airport and many attempts at bribery and corruption to get on the plane from Leh to Delhi. In Delhi too more airline trouble meant we had to change flights and do a slow return via Karachi, Cairo, and Paris, missing one more connection and losing our luggage temporarily on the way. What should have taken two days took seven.
Had I been alone, such a journey would have been very testing. I would have felt alone, morose, claustrophobic, neglected and anxious, fussing about details and challenging myself every inch of the way. Having the staunch companionship of James made it almost pleasurable and we saw some interesting things at Karachi, at the worst moments doing a silly Doug and Pete act to maintain our morale. But the point of all this is that the phrase "living out the life" came back to me as a repeated meditative refrain.
Wasting time in offices, having our wait-listed tickets rejected, enduring the total chaos of the Air India reservation system, waiting for our luggage to fail to arrive in Paris; every time I thought "Hey - this is just living out the life. Let it pass." It became a valuable refrain, a mantra refocusing experience into the exact moment, people’s faces, the turmoil of ad hoc travelling, the explosive little rows that came and went in office corners. It all passed by, living out the life. Time passed, mini-event followed mini-event, plane trip after plane trip, Homage to Allah on Air Pakistan, hindi music in India, the clipped tones of the BA captain nonchalantly cruising the businessmen into Heathrow on our last leg. I am the same somehow. The same taste, as the yogins say. Just life passing. One thing after another, nothing to get up-tight about, different companions, attitudes, air hostesses, ways of serving soup, no alcohol on Islamic flights, holier than thou, and the lovely French lass who gave us Air France bus tickets to get from Orly to Charles de Gaulle - when she shouldn't have. Un peu mechant, n'est-ce pas?
All the same; the practice of not good, not bad, evenness. Shih fu watching the train move with his luggage still on the platform. It all works through. Life passes, time passes, day follows day. Sometime it will all stop.
There's a melancholy here perhaps. What of the splendours of passionate commitment? The urge to succeed? The vital elan that wins a race? Well, that's part of it too. No one said that living out the life should be done without commitment and passion. Mother Theresa picking up the dying in Calcutta's streets, night after night, living out the life.
There's a secret here. To use Shih-fu's phrase, the mind "goes down" when it becomes self-centered. Sometimes as I watch the days or hours passing I am filled with a sense of fear, life's sands are not unlimited like those of the Ganges. They are few and flowing down the hourglass rapidly. I get a sense of panic, of things not achieved, of nostalgia for past faces, past times. But this is all a referral to self, to my mortality, a self-pity before the face of oncoming death.
Put that aside - instant sunshine, wherever, whenever. The dullest moment becomes alive in its own actuality. Driving back to the Karachi hotel fatigued by traffic noise and fumes, how wonderfully the painted buses glow. At Cairo airport a passenger slept through the stop instead of disembarking. What a joke. What does a two hour additional delay matter? Another opportunity for contemplation.
And it works. You can meditate in a seat on a plane. Just let the mind go. Things go on around one, nothing to do. The breath settles, tranquillity comes. Why worry - you get there sometime, this year, next year, sometime, never. And why not? Is it OK to end it now? In the silence of the mind, why not? Everything's the same, just living out the life.
How does a Zen master live out his life? In the clarity of sameness he goes his way with helping hands, offering all he has for the well-being of others. In this there need be no time, no nostalgia, no worry about the future. He or she does what must be done in the moment of its arising. The action, coming from the empty heart of clarity and relying totally on a natural insight, just comes into being, goes its course and travels on.
The master is beyond premeditation. His or her mind is attuned to a silent readiness which becomes possible only when it is unclogged by predispositions, prejudice, defences, biases. That is why such action is an expression of the human truth that the root of the mind is undramatic love. Outward looking, seeing the needs in the face before one, living out the life. Nothing special.
When we reflect on such matters we perceive our need for training because the need for it has become clear. Far from the idealisations and false comfort of New Age spirituality we attempt to stand clear of the ego and see the sameness, the unmoving similarity of every moment. From here we can see the pain of others and compassion arises in our offering. Where there are blocks, there must the work be done.
25 September 1993 In Memoriam GMC