Even though one lives on a lonely mountain peak, eats a single meal a day in the morning, meditates without lying down for twenty-four hours a day, he is only a Karma-producing man. Even though one gives away as alms all that he has: his head, eyes, marrow, brain; his home, wife and children; elephants and horses — the seven precious things, all such actions cause only suffering to body and heart, and contrary to expectation bring about troublesome causation again. Far better it is to have nothing further to seek, to be simple and plain.
The core of Zen meditation, or enlightenment is to cease being attached to things by seeing everything as empty. No matter how hard you may practise, it is empty in essence. Practising whilst being attached to the image and idea of practising hard is not so much practising as making karma. In the same way, whatever precious things you may offer as alms, they are not true alms that help to release you from the yoke of karma but just a cause of new karma if you cling to the image and idea of the alms you offered. Trying to attain enlightenment by accumulating things such as good practice and alms is heading for the west with a mind to go to the east. It is not different from trying to build a castle by piling up shadows. That’s why ancient masters would say that doing a good thing is not as good as doing nothing.
Student: “It is said that enlightenment is attained as the result of having accumulated a lot of practice and alms in previous lives. You also advise us to practise hard. Why does Rinzai say that this is not as good as doing nothing?”
Master: “Because that is the right way to accumulate practice and alms.”
All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway
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