Zen

Q. If there is life after death, then there must have been a life before birth. Why do we not remember our past lives?

A. Do you happen to remember your birth? Can you deny the fact that you were born because you don’t remember it? You should know that the true-Self remembers everything regardless of whether you remember it or not, just as your mother remembers the situation in which you were in her womb and that of your birth although you don’t remember them.

The true-Self remembers all and acts according to its memory, which is referred to as karma.

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Zen

Master Tooja descended from the high seat

When a monastic asked Master Tooja, “What is the true-Self?”, the master descended from the high seat. When another monastic asked the master, “How far is it from a saint to a sentient being?”, he also descended from the high seat.

Student: “Why did the master just descend from the high seat without answering whenever he was asked a question?”

Master: “Don’t mistake his compassion for misbehaviour.”

Student: “What is the distance between a saint and a sentient being?”

Master: “Answering makes it far.”

Student: “Does not answering make it closer?”

Master: “It makes it further.”

Commentary:

The difference between answering and not answering is the distance between a saint and a sentient being.

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Zen

Rinzai 139

Followers of the Way, when I say that there is no Dharma outside, the students do not understand and deduce it is necessary to search within themselves. Then they sit facing a wall, tongue pressed to the upper palate, and remain motionless. That is what they take for the patriarchal gate of the Buddha-Dharma. What a great error! If you take the state of immovable purity for the true-Self, you acknowledge ignorance as your master. An ancient master said, “You should be fearful of getting lost in the depths of the dark cave.”

Commentary:

Rinzai’s comment ‘there is no Dharma outside’ means that there is neither inside nor outside in essence because it is just an illusion, that there is nowhere without Dharma and that we should not be deluded by words. However, there seems to have been many practitioners who, deceived by Rinzai’s words ‘there is no Dharma outside’, tried to reach the silent and immovable state without having any thoughts inside themselves. That is why they practised in the way mentioned above. Ancient masters would compare such a state without any thinking to a dark cave, which Rinzai is cautioning his students not to fall into.

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Zen

Q. If birth is the result of karma, then how did my first birth take place before there was any karma?

A. When we say that birth is the result of karma, what is karma? Karma is cause and effect, which are the products of discrimination, that is, illusions, the result of dividing Oneness into many with labels which are imaginary lines. There cannot be karma when there is no discrimination. It also follows that there is no birth when there is no discrimination.

The Buddha said that there is no past, no present, and no future and that everything comes into being due to our discrimination. This means that, in essence, there is no birth from the beginning and that your birth is just an illusion resulting from your discrimination.

Once you stop discriminating, when you can see things as they are, or when you are not deluded by illusions, you can see that there is no birth and no death and that your death will not happen because you have never been born. This is why ceasing to discriminate is referred to as escaping from birth and death.

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Zen

What is there on the other side of the table?

A master, pointing to the tea table in the room, said to his assistant monk, “Bring the tea table.” The monk brought it to him as he was told to. The master told him to put it back where it had been, and he put it back. Then, the master asked him, “What is there on the other side of the table?” and the monk replied, “Nothing is there.” The master asked again, “What is there on this side of the table?” and the monk answered, “Nothing is there.”

Student: “What is there on either side of the table?”

Master: “Table.”

Commentary:

Seeing the edgeless table is to see the true-Self.

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Zen

Rinzai 138

Followers of the Way, the true-Self is very difficult to realise, and the Buddha-Dharma is profound. But it is easy once you have understood it. Day by day I expound only this, but students do not grasp my meaning while walking on it tens of thousands of times. Students don’t realise this that is formless and shines clearly by itself, but cling to names and phrases and try to find the meaning of them. Until they are over fifty years old, they run about carrying their corpses. How would the day come about when they can get money for their worn-out straw sandals when they wander about carrying their belongings and bundles all around the world?

Commentary:

‘Students do not grasp my meaning while walking on it tens of thousands of times’ means that we don’t recognise the true-Self that is formless and shines clearly before us all the time that Rinzai points to, whilst we tread on, sit on and face it every day, because we cling to the names and words he uses for the purpose of showing us the true-Self. The names and words are to the true-Self as disposable dishes are to food. It is because we pay attention only to the shapes and colours of the disposable dishes without eating the food in them that we don’t get enlightened.

‘They run about carrying their corpses’ means that although the true-Self is always with us and we cannot escape from it even for a moment, we wander about in vain looking for it. ‘Wander about carrying their belongings and bundles all around the world’ means trying to figure out the true-Self through their knowledge. This is to follow the names and words here and there, that is, to be deluded by words. ‘How would the day come when they can get money for their worn-out straw sandals?’ implies that enlightenment, the fruit of effort, try as we may, never comes if we pursue it through knowledge.

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Zen

Q. I have recently undergone what I call a ‘spiritual awakening’ and am aware of my past lives. What will happen to me after I live my last life? Will I reunite with God?

A. Above all, the ‘spiritual awakening’ you say you have experienced is not enlightenment but just a new experience that occasionally happens to practitioners and induces them into mistaking it for enlightenment. You should not cling to the idea that you are aware of your past lives because they are all just illusions.

However nice and wonderful your past lives may be, they cannot be as important as your present life. No matter how much you may be aware of your past lives, it is not as good as seeing your present life as it is. Even the present, the Buddha said, is just an illusion. He advised us not to be deluded by illusions by saying that we can see the true-Self only when we can see our current lives as illusions, as if seeing dreams. When you can see your current life as it is, the questions you have now will work themselves out.

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Zen

Why don’t you know it even though you and I see it together at the same time?

Once a master, pointing to a stone, said to one of his disciples, “Do you see this?” The disciple said, “Yes, I do.” The master asked him the same question three times repeatedly and the disciple made the same answer ‘Yes’. Then the master said, “Why don’t you know it even though you and I see it together at the same time?”

Student: “Why doesn’t the disciple know it even though they see it together?”

Master: “Because he doesn’t see what the master sees.”

Student: “What is it that the master sees?”

Master: “It is before you now as well.”

Commentary:

Why don’t you see the sky while seeing the cloud?

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Zen

Rinzai 137

Again, a student wearing a pillory around his neck and shackles around his ankles presents himself before the teacher. The teacher then puts another set of pillory and shackles on him. The student is overjoyed. Neither the one nor the other are capable of discernment. This is called “a guest sees a guest.” Venerable ones, I have just cited these examples so that you can know the straight from the crooked by discerning Maras and heresy.

Commentary:

This part shows what happens when a master and a student don’t see through each other, that is, when both are unenlightened. ‘Wearing a pillory around his neck and shackles around his ankles’ implies to have a lot of plausible words and knowledge about enlightenment. A master’s role is to remove such illusions from people and set them free from them. However, the teacher, thinking that the more knowledge one has, the closer one comes to enlightenment, makes matters worse by adding more knowledge to the student’s knowledge. This is to add more illusions to already established illusions. The student, unaware that the master’s words are another obstacle that prevents him from realising the true-Self, is as happy with the master’s words as a child would be with a box of sweets and attaches to it.

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Zen

Q. What brings lasting happiness?

A. To realise what happiness is does. Nothing and no one can bring lasting happiness to you because you are in fact happiness itself. The reason why we cannot enjoy lasting happiness is not that it is far out of our reach but that we don’t recognise it although we are happiness itself because we cannot see things as they are.

We should realise that happiness is not what can be brought from outside, but it is just to realise that we are happiness itself. The purpose of Buddhism or Zen meditation is to lead people to realise that they themselves are happiness by helping them to see everything as it is.

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