DEAR READER: I am sorry to announce that personal issues of time and energy require me to slow down the publication of new posts from weekly to biweekly. I hope that those intrepid readers who have stuck with me thus far will understand.
The Great Way Is Not Difficult, Part 1
This week’s koan was intentionally chosen to follow the last series on “Ordinary Mind Is The Way”. In our new koan, the mature Zhaozhou, without ever referring to “ordinary mind”, remains consistent with Nanchuan’s position in that earlier exchange from his youth, but also provides a revealing emotional context for what Shibayama called “true ordinary mind” in our discussion of “Ordinary Mind Is The Way”.
Various English translations of our new koan differ significantly in rendering certain pivotal phrases. Here, I follow the terse translation of Andy Ferguson, but add some paraphrases in brackets to expand on selected phrases by incorporating elements from other translations 
Zhaozhou told his assembly, “Attaining the Way is not difficult. Just disdain choosing [just avoid preferring one thing over another, (i.e. thinking one thing is better than another)]. As soon as words are present there is choosing – there is understanding [this understanding can take the delusive form of attraction and aversion, or can manifest in one’s clarity about our true nature]. It [the Way] is not to be found in understanding. Is understanding the thing you uphold and sustain? [Do you make understanding your highest value? If so, know that this old monk does not remain in clarity. Now, what do make of what I have said?]
A monk asked, “Since it is not to be found in understanding, what is to be upheld and sustained […what do you think should have the highest value]?
Zhaozhou said, “I don’t know”.
The monk said, “Since the master doesn’t know what it [the Way] is, how can you say that it isn’t within understanding [since you don’t “remain in clarity”, how can you be sure that The Way can’t be understood]?
Zhaozhou said, “Ask and you have [received] an answer. Then bow and withdraw [“It was fine to ask that first question. I answered that, and now you should return to your seat”].
Now, the first two sentences above come from the poem Trust In Mind, attributed to Sengcan, the Third Chan Patriarch after Huike, who was featured in the post on “Bring Me Your Mind”.
That poem, consisting of 146 four-word lines, says everything that Zen has to say about “mind” (or “heart”, remembering that the same Chinese character stands for both). Accordingly, Zhaozhou’s own added words in this koan merely show rather than say what he learned from that poem!
So, what are we to learn from Zhaozhou quoting the lines: “Attaining the Way is not difficult. Just disdain choosing”?
These two quoted sentences say in effect, “Enlightenment is not difficult, it just requires showing no preferences among the things we encounter in life”. Of course, the irony here is that “having no preferences” might strike us as even more difficult to achieve then enlightenment! .
Who can deny that people express their preferences all day, every day? The idea that we could just stop having preferences seems to put enlightenment out of reach for everyone but people without normal human sentiments – a kind of person none of us would ever want to be.
But do these lines really mean that we must become robots that lack all human feeling to be enlightened? No. To find a way out of this apparent trap means finding a way to keep our full inventory of moral sentiments and yet somehow “have no preferences”.
Recall I said that Zen resulted from the influence of Chinese Daoism on the Indian Buddhism of Bodhidharma. And this is where the Daoist notion of Wei wu wei comes to our rescue. Wu wei literally means, “no action”, “no doing”, or “without effort". Wei wu wei means “acting without acting”, “doing without doing”, or “acting without effort”.
But how are we to understand this paradoxical “doing without doing”? This is where the Buddhist part of Zen comes to our rescue. Recall our previous discussions of selfish vs. selfless actions. Next, recall that I coined the neologism “self-ish” in order to include, not only “selfish” (morally unacceptable) actions, but any action that issued from a conscious or unconscious belief in a personal “self”.
As we said in those discussions, any action that is selfless is not self-ish because it comes from a source larger than the “self” of common sense. In fact, that source is as large as the universe because everything in the universe is interrelated and has an influence on what we do, however small.
Once we take the view that the only “self” is the whole universe, we see there is no self at all, since there is nothing left to be opposed to or distinguished from that universe-encompassing “self”. After all, the only use of the concept of a personal self is to distinguish it (and separate it) from the rest of the universe. As soon as “self” is understood as the universe (referred to in some texts as "Self"), the idea of a personal self loses its function, and is seen to be “empty" from a Zen point of view. This is why Zen Masters insist that what we call “self” is identical with what they call “not-self”.
In other words, because the one that is acting is the entire universe, the “you” of common sense is not acting. Again, this is because the conventional sense of “you” loses its function or "use" and becomes “empty” in the Zen sense. "You", of course has a function in daily speech by distinguishing between you and me. But if you are really the whole universe and I am really the whole universe, then there is no longer any need to distinguish between us from the absolute perspective of Zen that we take in koan work. Thus, that supposed “you” is actually just the "flow” of the universe. This is precisely the kind of harmonization with the universe that is praised in the Daodejing. Consider this description of from Chapter 48:
In pursuit of knowledge, every day some knowledge is gained
In pursuit of Dao, every day some knowledge is lost
The Sage does less and less
Until non-action is mastered
When nothing is done, nothing is left undone
The world is ruled by letting it take its course
It cannot be ruled by interfering
Understanding wei wu wei requires accepting the idea that belonging to the universe means that there is no personal “self” in the conventional sense. Only then can we see that our actions are not our actions but the labor of the entire universe. When we accept this, perhaps we can then accept that our actions are non-actions made with only imagined (albeit vividly felt) effort on our part.
All of this is likely to leave newcomers and non-meditators unconvinced. If so, they might want to read Endnote 6. It will not convince them either, but might help clear some underbrush and persuade them to keep an open mind on this topic.
In Part 2 of our discussion of “The Great Way Is Not Difficult”, we will turn to the meaning(s) of the line, “Your old teacher does not remain in a state of clarity".
 Warnings and Reminders: My choice of koans and their ordering in this series are influenced by my declared interest in how understanding koan training can suggest how to reform Western philosophy of mind to accommodate the disruptive onset of neuroscience. Also remember that each post is dependent on earlier posts that introduce Buddhist concepts to newcomers as needed to understand the posts that follow. Later posts refer to points made in earlier ones, and may be unintelligible without reading all the others in order.
 Other translations include (in my preferred order) those of Katsuki Sekida, in Two Zen Classics, James Green in The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu, and Thomas Cleary in The Blue Cliff Record.
 Others translate this line as, “I don’t know that, either! This is an interesting echo of an earlier dialogue between the great early master, Shih-tou and a student, who asked about the meaning of Buddhism, to which Shih-tou replied, “Ask the wooden post over there.” The student replied, “I do not understand”. Shih-tou said, “neither do I!” Both masters are saying that the Great Dao can’t be captured in words and phrases, but is to be found by each of us from an unknowable source we all possess. D.T. Suzuki, writing at the height of interest in Freudian psychodynamics, simply called this source “the Unconscious” to give Westerners an alternative sense of an unconscious that is active, ever-changing, and unanalyzable.
 Many modern scholars believe the poem was written well after the death of Sengcan (pron. “Seng-Tsan). Little is known of Sengcan, who lived in hiding during a period of persecution by an anti-Buddhist emperor. In fact, some argue that the entire list of Chinese Chan patriarchs is itself a later selection of notable teachers from each generation succeeding Bodhidharma, and that Sengcan may be a later “fill-in” for that purpose.
 Because of this equivalence, titles of the poem in English translation vary, including “Faith in Mind”, “Trust in Mind”, “On Trust in the Heart”, “Inscribed on the Believing Heart”, and “Have Faith in Your Heart”.
 Whoever wrote the line, “Attaining the Way is not difficult”, could assume their reader’s familiarity with Chapter 2 of the Daodejing: “Hard and easy produce each other” (trans. Red Pine). Such adjectives are illusory, or, in Zen terms, “empty”, because they are relative and depend on first answering the question, “Compared to what?”
 See “Ordinary Mind Is The Way, Part 2”. There I took the paradigm of the selfless subway rescuer and extended it to cover any ordinary act in which self-regard plays no part. See also the discussion of Yogacarin views of how both selfless and selfish actions are produced by the “Storehouse Consciousness”.
 First, note that the “loss of knowledge” in pursuit of the Dao should be understood in the sense we learned in our discussions of “Not Knowing Is Most Intimate”. Second, Buddhist social justice activists like myself refuse to interpret the description of wei wu wei in Chapter 48 as saying that the struggle against injustice must be abandoned. On the contrary, what the Daodejing says is that we must be completely clear and without illusions about what is happening and not make matters worse by taking a self-ish attitude of anger or moral superiority towards other people. It is the entire universe that is acting, and this is what allows Thich Nhat Hanh to say that “there are no enemies”, fundamentally speaking. Indeed, precisely because the entire universe is responsible, any efforts to make changes are themselves a completely natural, organic function of the Dao. Therefore, we are not “interfering” with the course of the world. Our actions for social justice are the course of the world at that moment and those actions thereby qualify as “non-actions” and as being made “without effort”.
Ordinary Mind Is The Way, Part 3
There is one more section of the koan that deserves special attention. It is: ““Dao does not belong to knowing or not-knowing. Knowing is delusion; not-knowing is confusion and indecision.”
You should know that Shibayama, whom I regard as the gold standard, translates this line as, “Dao does not belong to knowing or not-knowing. Knowing is delusion; not-knowing is blankness” (emphasis added).
Let’s parse this section carefully, since it launches the part of the koan that led to the youthful Zhaozhou’s first enlightenment experience under Nanchuan.
“Dao does not belong to knowing or not-knowing” is a validation by the great teacher Nanchuan of a point that I have been trying to make in every post before this one. That is, that Zen views words as inadequate to express the whole of our human experience, which includes feelings and intuitions that are subjectively “real” to us but cannot be fully expressed in words.
For that reason, I have argued that such “states of mind” are most fully expressed by the actions we perform when we are experiencing a specific feeling in that very moment. I have also argued that our response to a given koan must therefore be conveyed in a “bodily” fashion including movements, gestures and utterances of the kind philosophers call “speech acts”
In the case of koans, I have said that any verbal utterance is not important for its semantic content but only for what it directly conveys about your view of reality.
Now, why is it that this kind of “embodied” communication does not belong to knowing or not-knowing?
It is because knowledge is conventionally regarded as being expressible in words in the form of “facts”, such as “Charlemagne was King of the Franks”. Facts are typically in the form of propositions that, if fully expanded, would say, “x is true”, where x is the fact being stated.
In recent Western philosophy such statements are called “knowing that x”, and are to be distinguished from “knowing how knowledge”. The latter concerns how we do something – what we commonly call “know-how”. Riding a bicycle, for instance, requires knowing how to keep your balance, something that cannot be described in words, but must be learned in the body. This relatively recent distinction shows that Western philosophy is now edging toward a conclusion that Chinese Zen Masters made more than a thousand years ago: that a verb is more revelatory than a noun, and that a verb’s fuller content cannot be captured in a series of nouns or categories.
As I have said many times, Dao does not belong to knowing and not-knowing because it shows itself via actions, rather than says what it is via words. How our united body-mind acts moment to moment cannot be represented in words, which only speak indirectly about this living flow of action. As Dizang told Fayan, “from the point of view of Buddhism, everything directly presents itself”. This means that the only way you can present the “how” (or Dao) of action is to re-enact that action whole-heartedly with your own body-mind right now.
The mature Zhaozhou, when asked to say something about Dao, simply said, “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Such skillful means (upaya)! This says everything that has been said in this blog about our Way not being a “thing”, but rather a dynamic “working” or flow of action that cannot be exhaustively explained in words.
That is enough of our review. We must now to return to parsing the next challenging sentence, “Knowing is delusion; not-knowing is blankness.”
First, why is knowing “delusion”? We have just said that knowledge consists of “facts” stated in words (or in the mathematics of physics). Aren’t facts valid knowledge proven by the scientific method? Are we saying that even these proven scientific truths are delusions?
In the first centuries of “our common era” (i.e. the years A.D) Buddhism rendered this apparent denial of our common sense benign by declaring that there are two kinds of truth, each valid in its sphere: conventional truth and ultimate truth.
“Conventional truth” is the truth of “objective reality” as required by our linguistic and mathematical conventions. Such conventions are needed for human survival, human communication and society itself. This “two-truth theory” says that we may rely on conventional truth for all of our social objectives, including science and technology.
On the other hand, “ultimate truth” goes beyond objective reality to cover the reality of our subjective lives, including our feelings, desires, hopes, and fears. The ultimate truth of Zen is that all these subjective states are figments of our imagination insofar as they are based on belief in a “self”. Thus, the idea of an independent self that needs hypervigilance to protect itself from the rest of the universe is a delusion because it springs from ignorance of our true nature.
Realizing that our common sense view of self is an empty construct (a delusion) devoid of any real substance, is a seismic event that ultimately sweeps like a tsunami through our common sense views of objective reality as well. We see that all of our concepts of “things” are limited by the self-ish  purposes for which we want to use them. As such, they are suspect of being incomplete at best, and deceptive at worst.
This brings us to the second clause, “not-knowing is blankness.” Here you may have detected a dissonance between Shibayama’s “not-knowing is blankness” and the preceding three-part blog on “Not knowing is most intimate”. In those posts, not-knowing was described as a positive step on the path to enlightenment by leading to a nondual union of subject and object. Here in contrast, the word “blankness” seems to hint at a paralyzing inability to unite with anything whatsoever. Thus, both knowing and not knowing are incapable of leading us to enlightenment.
Is there a way to reconcile the “intimacy of not-knowing” with the “blankness of not-knowing” so that we can affirm them both? Yes, I see two ways, one obvious and one subtle.
The obvious way to reconcile intimacy and blankness is to assign them to two different states of mind. The intimacy of not-knowing, as we said in those earlier posts, consists of absolute acceptance of, and union with, what is before us, leading to a spontaneous and appropriate response.
On the other hand, the blankness of not-knowing is what happens when we have absolutely no idea of what to do in response to a question. It is the same as being “flummoxed”, “baffled” or “bewildered”. I believe this is why Sekida chooses to translate “blankness” as “confusion”.
This kind of blankness or confusion is familiar to koan students, who often don’t know what to say or do to answer the teacher’s questions during interviews. The student’s glum silence can be quite embarrassing to the student, but not to the teacher. The teacher responds by calmly ringing for the next student, but may also exhort the student to try harder, or briefly suggest a new way of looking at the problem. In any case, the student becomes increasingly motivated to say or do something – anything – in the next interview. This is as it should be.
Thus, the not-knowing that is intimate and the not-knowing that is blankness each have their own proper sphere. These two spheres can be described quite simply: “blankness” applies to people who have not yet had an insight into their true nature (kensho), while “intimacy” applies to people who have had at least an initial insight into that nature.
In Case 19, the youthful Zhaozhou still believes it is possible to “know” Dao. It is only when he is told that Dao is like an immaculate void, in which right and wrong serve no purpose and drop away, that he had an insight. Before those turning words, he was in a state of blankness as shown by his need to ask, “What is Dao?”
At that point, Zhoazhou’s blankness is that of someone who doesn’t have the insight needed to answer his own question. He is still confused and poses question after question based on that lack of insight until Nanchuan “shuts his yap for him”, as Zhaozhou himself said much later about his own technique with students.
In contrast, Fayan achieved an initial insight into, and intimacy with, his own true nature when he heard Dizang say, “Not knowing is most intimate”. As an expert in Buddhist philosophy, he was in a perfect position to suddenly see that his many writings could never fully exhaust human reality, and that the reality of being human could only be fully experienced by a person who puts no preconceptions in the way of that experience.
So what kind of presentation should a koan student make to demonstrate their understanding of “Ordinary Mind Is The Way”? I will only say that almost anything that shows you living your daily life will do. There is no need to for that demonstration to show that you have attained “true ordinary mind”; your presentation of your daily machinations will show the teacher that you understand that your true ordinary mind shines through everything you do.
Finally, I will add an extended comment that Buddhists with an interest in Buddhist thought might want to consider. This is the second, “subtle” way to reconcile opposites that I mentioned earlier.
In researching the two Chinese characters that were translated either as “blankness” or “confusion”, I found that they are a rare combination that was used to translate a Sanskrit epistemological term inherited from early Indian Buddhism. That term means “indeterminate”, or “unascertainable”, and it was applied to the series of thorny metaphysical questions that an Indian philosopher asked the Buddha and that he chose to answer by remaining silent.
Clearly, the Buddha’s silence was “thundering”, as they say of Vimalakirti’s silence in answer to similar questions. Their silence meant that there was no need to ask such questions, and that they have already automatically "dropped away" because they never actually arise in our true nature. After all, once we understand the emptiness of our true nature, such questions will be seen as delusions resulting from our ignorance that should be cast away before they become impediments to our Buddhist Way.
For me, this stance indicates that we should see that any polarity, such as between blankness and intimacy or knowing and not knowing, is a form of dualism that must ultimately be cast away, no matter how helpful it is for pointing a student in the right direction (upaya).
Even more significantly, it means that all polarities of opposites and all resulting dualisms are already eliminated, even for those without insight! For Buddhists, it is settled that we are already enlightened, even when we don’t realize it. As I said above, your true ordinary mind underlies everything you do and shines through those actions even if you don’t notice it!
But how is that possible? It is possible in the same way that “form is already emptiness and emptiness is already form” is possible. It is possible in the same way as “samsara is already nirvana and nirvana is already samsara” is possible. Fundamentally, every polarity vaporizes because the two poles regarded as “opposites” by common sense are ultimately seen as being totally interdependent and interpenetrating. This applies to our notions of good and bad as well, meaning that our true ordinary mind spans both like a bridge.
This may strike the reader as “a bridge too far” to cross. Don’t worry about this addendum; just keep an open mind about its possible implications. Does this addendum mean that you must alter your presentation of “Ordinary Mind Is The Way”? No. If you have understood these added comments at all, you will see that no change is needed. The same true ordinary mind will shine through your actions.
 Many translators use the words, “the Dao”, in contexts like this. I follow Shibayama who I believe drops the “the” because it encourages the unschooled reader to think Dao is a “thing” or some separate realm.
 As I admitted in the endnotes to Part 1, this was my own preferred reading for pedagogical reasons. I took the word “confusion” from the translation of Katsuki Sekida. I then added the word “indecision” to describe the effect confusion has on someone facing a tough question.
 Throughout this Part 3, I have used Shibayama’s hyphenated version of “not knowing”. I believe he intended thereby to put our conventional term “not knowing” into the same category as “not-self” and “not-mind”, Zen terms that connote that, for those who have directly seen their true nature, self and mind are identical with the “not-self” and “not-mind”. This may be significant for reasons set out at the very end of this post. There, I believe that Shibayama would agree that all dualisms are already eliminated as implied by the identity of mind and not-mind.
 They are considered “acts” because they produce an intended effect on all listeners rather than conveying information. The classic example of a speech act is the utterance “I do” in a marriage ceremony; this utterance has major social effects beyond letting others know that the bride and groom are glad.
 This is why some koans consist of Masters answering a student’s question about Dharma by quoting from an ancient poem describing the flora of a beautiful locale that seemingly has nothing to do with the subject of the student’s question. The poem is the Master’s effort to get the student to drop their logic-chopping question and directly experience the sublime wholeness of reality.
 Readers with some knowledge of twentieth-century philosophy will be reminded of the show vs. say distinction made by the early Wittgenstein, who said that the words of a sentence are a “picture” of a logical reality. But he allowed for “mystical” statements that attempt to show rather than say the reality of the unsayable. The later Wittgenstein changed his view of linguistic meaning from one of “logical pictures” corresponding to “states of affairs” in the world, to a view in which meanings were the manifold human uses that human beings put to combinations of words. Thus in both the early and the late Wittgenstein, he gestured toward the unsayability of human actions that can only be shown in human actions. This similarity to Buddhism and Zen has been noted by several Western philosophers.
 The word “selfish” will not do here because it means being greedy or covetous to a morally unacceptable degree. I use the word “self-ish”, not to make any moral judgment, but to describe any action that springs from our egocentric belief in a self, whether or not it is selfish in the moral sense.
 Surprisingly (or not!), those questions were the same as Kant’s “antinomies” about whether space, time, and the universe, were finite or infinite or had a beginning or end. In Kant’s view, we need to postulate answers based on an intrinsic religious faith. In contrast, the Buddha’s silence covered all four possible answers to any question as recognized in Indian logic. These were: the answer is “yes”, the answer is “no”, the answer is “both”, the answer is “neither”. A seasoned Buddhist might be tempted to answer, “both” or “neither” – or even, “all of the above”! Buddha’s silence denies us such philosophical satisfaction, and forces us to discover our unsayable true nature.
 In the first century A.D. Vimalakirti Sutra, a prosperous and virtuous Buddhist layman is asked by the primordial Bodhisattva of Wisdom (Manjushri) to give his views on dualism and nondualism after first giving Vimalakirti his own view, which was that we fall immediately into dualism when we try to explain something in words. When it came time for Vimalakirti to give his view, he remained silent with a fierce expression. Manjushri conceded this was the better answer. Like the Buddha’s silence, even if we can argue that Manjushri’s view was true in some sense, it is still not as complete as Vimalakirti’s action.
 Zhaozhou took his name from his temple’s location in a town with a famous bridge. He was once asked by a monk, “What is the bridge of Zhaozhou?” This was a clever way of asking, “What is the mind of Zhaozhou?” or, “What is enlightenment?” He replied, “Horses and donkeys cross over it”. He meant that better and worse qualities cross though our minds freely. This was a consummately skillful metaphor for our true ordinary mind.
Ordinary Mind Is The Way, Part 2
After our brief attempt to sound the depth of the word “Dao”, let’s turn our attention to another key term of this koan: “Ordinary Mind”. In Part 1, I called this a “seemingly ambiguous phrase”. By this, I meant that this term might strike the reader as having two potential meanings.
The first refers to the common sense mind we employ in our daily affairs, including our ego-driven calculations of our own personal advantage. This meaning seems to violate our sense of what is proper for a Buddhist. This is why Zenkei Shibayama comments, “But who can simply and immediately accept this instruction (i.e. that using your common sense is Dao)?”
For that very reason, we might be tempted to take “Ordinary Mind” to refer to a mind that is somehow purged of the “three poisons” of greed, hatred, and ignorance. And so it seems we can only choose between these two possible meanings. But are these the only two meanings “ordinary mind” can have?
Zenkei Shibayama seems to invoke this “purified” sense of ordinary mind by expanding the term to mean, “Everyday mind as it is without any discrimination is Dao”. He says that if ordinary mind were “just our common sense mind which discriminates, no one would need meditation or koan training”. He adds that this koan “means we have to transcend our ordinary mind to attain our true ordinary mind, and in order actually to transcend our dualistic ordinary mind, sincere searching and hard discipline are required.”
But we must ask what he means by “transcend our dualistic ordinary mind to attain our true ordinary mind”? Is he saying we must purge all discriminating thoughts from our minds?
No, he is not saying that. Instead, we must study what Shibayama meant by “transcending” our dualistic mind. To a newcomer, “transcend” might seem to say we must “rise above” and “leave behind” all “bad” thoughts.
But can we live without discriminating thoughts? As I hope to show, the answer is both no and yes. First I will argue that the answer is no, and only afterward argue that there is also an exquisite sense in which we must answer yes. The latter argument is lengthy, but bear with me. For me, the everlasting beauty of Zen lies precisely in understanding how Zen allows us to transcend our discriminating mind.
The case for “no” is simple: we must all obtain the necessities of life, where considerations of self, family, community, country, and planet trigger the use of discriminating mind. Certainly, every decision involving the future or the past brings these factors into play. Even while shopping for food, we discriminate between good, better, and best, according to our tastes. And we are happy to justify our choices in words to anyone who questions them. I hope you will agree that the thought of forcefully banning any such thoughts from our minds is simply not something humans can do and still live our everyday lives. (You might be surprised to learn that Zen Masters cannot ban such thoughts either! Instead, they learn to ignore them in a way described in the last parts of this post.)
On the other hand, we all seem to recognize that human beings sometimes perform selfless acts for the sake of others without any moral deliberation. Such are the acts of those who leap to rescue a person on the subway tracks and later say they never even paused to consider the wisdom of doing so. Of course these are the most dramatic examples of selflessness, but their purpose here is to prove that this capacity is hard-wired into our brains; selfless actions are possible, so we must possess a selfless mind, along with our selfish mind.
What we fail to notice is that there are countless times in our daily lives when we “flow” through choices without conscious deliberation, without caring how they make us look, and without a single word passing through our heads. For Zen, this way of picking and choosing is selfless because concern about one’s “self” never rears its ugly head in the process.
In short, it seems that being fully human requires having two minds, one selfish and one selfless.
A philosophical question might occur to the reader at this point: “Does Buddhism have a “theory of mind” that allows both selfish and selfless minds to coexist in such a way that we can use one or the other as appropriate? The answer is yes.
What is this mind that allows us to switch from selfish to selfless as needed? I will spare you the details of the Yogacara Buddhist theory of mind, which was the last philosophical view to be incorporated into the emerging Daoist-oriented Chinese Zen of the fifth or sixth century.
For our purposes, it suffices to say that the Yogacarins posited a selfish mind that was ego-driven, but also a mind that incorporated that mind into a selfless mind. You could imagine this “overall” mind as “underlying” our selfish mind as its fundamental “basis”, or “above” it as the final arbiter of our actions. For our purposes, declaring it “above” or “below” simply doesn’t matter.
What matters is that this all-inclusive mind accepts all thoughts, whether we might later judge them as good or bad, positive or negative. Because it accepts all thoughts without discrimination as to good or bad, this is the mind Shibayama Roshi was referring to when he said, “Everyday mind as it is without any discrimination is Tao”.
Instead, Shibayama was pointing us to a mind that includes both selfish and selfless aspects of mind without discriminating between them. Now how does such a mind allow us to “transcend our dualistic ordinary mind to attain our true ordinary mind”?
Now we come face to face with the “everlasting beauty” I referred to earlier.
First, consider whether you can agree with the following. One essential characteristic of human beings is that we often feel obligated to make moral judgments (that is, unless we are narcissists or sociopaths). And it seems we spend a great deal of our mental lives vacillating between the selfish devil on one shoulder and the selfless angel on the other. To make matters worse, we often complicate things by asking how our choice will make us appear to others! The constant self-judgment required by moral deliberation can be a form of suffering, yet we regard it as a noble aspect of being human that (I hope) we would never choose to eliminate.
I think you will agree that all these complications amount to what Dogen called “just a mess of tangled vines”. The question is therefore, “How does Zen allow us to cut through these tangled vines and clear our path forward?”
Zen does this by simply asking us to proceed to the next thing that we feel is appropriate according to our mind at that very moment. It may be selfish or selfless, just as long as we do not stop the process to make judgments of ourselves as good or bad persons. In slang terms, we “transcend our dualistic ordinary mind to attain our true ordinary mind” by “following our gut” in the moment as much as possible.
It remains true, however, that making decisions about the future inevitably involves discriminating mind because you have to predict future conditions in order to achieve what you desire. Even here, though, there is a weighting of factors that is largely subjective, and ultimately decided by intuitions and instincts that don’t come from any book. Even here, then, there is a way of judging things that minimizes our vacillation and mental suffering by trusting our intuitions and making our best guess. This, too, is “true ordinary mind” in Shibayama’s sense.
In either case, any idea of “self” is minimized in the process. Meditation and Samadhi work naturally over time to take "self" out of even our most difficult deliberations. This is because meditation makes us aware of our stream of consciousness by watching thoughts come and go. We see just how wild and variable our thoughts are. With time, we realize that our thoughts are “just thoughts”, i.e. are just flashes from our subconscious that run the full range of human thoughts from beautiful to ugly. We see that they don’t pin down our character, but just reveal our full human potential for both good and for evil
It’s at this point that even the most selfish predatory thought loses its sting. It is just part of being human and we can let it pass through to oblivion. We then realize that we don’t have to constantly label our choices as good or bad in a neurotic way that only triggers redundant pain. Nor need we constantly judge ourselves as good or bad persons, something even more crippling.
It is the dropping out of this layer of redundant self-judgment that constitutes the “beauty” I referred to. This is what allows all of us, including Zen Masters, to be “human, all too human” at times. If you have studied with Zen Masters for any length of time, you will discover that they are fallible. As another koan asks, “Why does the perfectly enlightened person fall into the well?” Well, this is why, and it liberates you to understand this.
Thus a special alchemy occurs when you don’t judge your own thoughts as good or bad, but simply accept them as your reality of the moment. This may seem an anticlimax if you were hoping that enlightenment guaranteed ideal Buddhist behavior ever after. Still, this view of ordinary mind has invaluable rewards. For instance, this view implies we can do something completely opposite in the future. That is the freedom promised by Zen.
Western philosophers who have written about “free will” often question whether our feeling that we were free to choose differently than we did is just an illusion. It is not; it is true. Once we realize the truth that the self is an empty construct of our common sense minds, we realize that our true ordinary mind is completely open at all times to doing things differently. This is the deepest possible version of free will. It is absolute. We are not condemned to be trapped in a character we loathe. Addictions and compulsive behaviors are finally seen as habits that we can train ourselves to eliminate over time. In this way, we are free to overwrite any past decision, and any past characterization of ourselves.
 Zenkei Shibayama, Zen Comments on the Mumonkan (1974), a book I have praised before. Zen practitioners closely following this blog should own this book in order to get the best translations and comments regarding the koans I discuss.
 In this paragraph, I italicize seems because I will later argue that Shibayama means something quite different from a “purified mind”. Stay tuned.
 For instance, Fayan Wenyi, who was featured in the posts on “Not Knowing Is Most Intimate”, was influenced by the Yogacara (pron. yoga-chara) philosophy.
 The Yogacarins actually proposed a model with eight (!) “minds”, including the five senses, bare consciousness, an ego-driven mind to filter bare consciousness, and finally, a mind called “Storehouse Consciousness” that contains all the karma of humanity, both good and bad. It is from this mind, containing all human potentials, both good and bad, that all our actions flow.
 And this is why, when I first quoted this line, I said that it might seem that Shibayama was pointing us toward a mind that was “somehow purged of the ‘three poisons’” We now see that it includes them.
Ordinary Mind Is The Way Part 1
Case 19 of the Gateless Barrier (Jap. Mumonkan) is a treasure trove. Given the many connotations of its key words, the commentary on it by various Masters reveals a dazzling array of implications.
Here is a version of Case 19 that blends the translations of the original Chinese by Masters that I respect most.
Because the koan relies heavily on the word Dao, it assumes a familiarity with Chinese Daoism that most Americans lack. For our purposes it is adequate to translate Dao as, “The Way”, or “The Path”, taken in the sense of, “The way we should live”. It is equivalent, in this sense, to “The Zen Way”.
A young Zhaozhou crossed China on foot from north to south to study under Nanchuan. One day, he rolled all his questions into one ball and asked, “What is Dao?” Nanchuan replied “Ordinary Mind is Dao”. Zhaozhou asked, “Do I then need to search for this ‘ordinary’ mind?” Nanchuan replied, “The more you try to pin it down, the more you will veer away from its true nature.” Zhaozhou responded, “How can I ever know the Dao if I can’t pin it down?” Nanchuan answered, “Dao does not belong to knowing or not-knowing. Knowing is delusion; not-knowing is confusion and indecision. If you truly break through to the Dao of no-doubt, it is like a great void; it is so vast and boundless. How can it be talked about in terms of right and wrong?” With these turning words, Zhaozhou had a sudden insight.
There is a reason I chose this koan to directly follow the three-part series on “Not knowing is most intimate”. I chose it because I believe this koan can deepen our insight into the role of not-knowing in our mental and physical lives.
How so? For one thing, using the word Dao brings into play a large repertoire of notions with deep roots in ancient Chinese culture. An early Indian Buddhist translator chose to translate the ubiquitous Buddhist terms Bodhi (enlightenment), Prajna (wisdom), and Dharma (truth), with the Chinese word Dao that had the depth needed to carry the freight of these loaded Sanskrit terms. That is why, when Zhaozhou asked, “What is Dao?” I commented, “ he rolled all his questions into one”. In other words, answering that question is answering all other questions about the Zen Way at one time.
So what is Dao?“ In mercifully brief summary, “The Way” means living in harmony with the powers of the universe. How are we to learn about what the universe wants from us? It is definitely not through words, as is made clear by the Daode Jing (The Book of the Way and its Power) by the legendary Laozi (pron. “Lao-dzeh”). Its first verse declares that names and words can never reveal our true nature:
The tao that can be told
Is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal Name
The unnamable is the eternally real
Naming is the origin of all particular things.
The method and fruits of learning the Way are described in Verse 16:
Empty your mind of all thoughts
Let your heart be at peace
Watch the turmoil of beings but contemplate their return
Each separate being in the universe returns to the common source
Returning to the source is serenity
If you don’t realize the source
You stumble in confusion and sorrow
When you realize where you come from
You naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused
Kindhearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao
You can deal with whatever life brings you,
And when death comes, you are ready.
I hope the discerning reader will see that everything that we have discussed in this blog is completely consistent with these two verses. That is no accident. Aitken Roshi quotes his mentor Nyogen Senzaki as saying, “Taoism is the mother of Zen, and Dhyana Buddhism is the father”. Dhyana Buddhism is the Indian meditation school that Bodhidharma brought to China. As I have said, we can regard the conversion of this Indian Buddhism into Chan as having been completed by the Sixth Patriarch.
This incorporation of Daoism into Chan is what makes Zen different from other forms of Buddhism. The power of pre-Buddhist Daoism is manifested by many cultural forms in China, such as Tai-chi and Feng Shui. It manifests as well in the many “Do’s”(“Do” is the Japanese transliteration of Dao) of Japanese culture. These include Chado (the way of tea), Kendo (the way of the sword) and Kado (the way of flowers).
What all these cultural manifestations share with Daoism is the requirement that learning a “Way” involves learning by doing, not by naming or telling. It involves proceeding by intuition rather than by following rules. It means, “feeling your way along the wall” as described in our treatment of “Not knowing is most intimate.
In other words, the true nature of life (Dharma or Dao) cannot be captured in words, but must be learned in an embodied form. This is realizing the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom can and must be extracted from life without being “essentialized” in words or theories.
In Part 2, we will continue to parse the meanings of other key terms in this koan, including the seemingly ambiguous phrase, “Ordinary Mind”.
For the record, these are Masters associated with my own lineage such as Nyogen Senzaki, Katsuki Sekida, Koun Yamada, and Robert Aitken. The first two are from Rinzai lineages, while the last two are from the hybrid Harada-Yasutani Soto lineage in which I was trained. The list also includes Zenkei Shibayama, who had no association with my lineage, but whom both Yamada and Aitken regarded as (in the latter’s words), “the real deal”.
 For the most part, translators now follow the Chinese Government’s pinyin romanization of Chinese characters, so that Dao (pronounced “Dow”) has now replaced the older Wade-Giles system’s “Tao”.
 Readers familiar with the standard sources I’ve used will see that my version has my thumbprints all over it. I have put things in a way that I think will be most helpful to newcomers to Zen. I’ll attempt to justify these editorial interventions as we examine the key terms of the koan more closely.
 Kumarajiva (344-413 AD). His father was from Kashmir, his mother was from Kucha on the Silk Road.
I take the following verses from the translation by Stephen Mitchell in Tao Te Ching, A New English Version.
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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