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”.
“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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