1.1. When Bodhidharma (470 -543 AD) arrived in China, say in 520 or 526 AD, he setout to help people attain awakening through self-enquiry. The process of that self discovery later transformed into Zen which typically explained its attitude as “when I pass over the bridge, the bridge, but not the water flows” or “It is not the flag that moves. It is not the wind that moves. It is your mind that moves.” These ideas were crystallized by Hui-Neng (638-713 AD) the sixth patriarch of the Cha’n school after Bodhidharma. Following him, Tsung-Kao (1089-1163) brought clarity to the issue and contributed to the development of Zen practice.
1.2. Tsung-Kao in his discourse addressed to his disciple Yung-Mao-Shih, explained how to go about the task of attaining enlightenment. He said, what matters is not hard work but the ability to let go and allow things to happen. Do not hurry; do not be lax lest you become lazy; but do as a musician does as he tunes the strings of a harp – neither too tight nor too loose.
1.3. He remarked that conceptualization or aimless wandering of mind in prejudices and favors is unsuitable for practice of Zen. The grasping mind, he said, is the one that thinks, plans, calculates and decides. How can that mind grasp the no-mind?
2.1. He explained: when I speak of no-mind, I do not mean a lump of clay or a dead wood or a block of stone. It is not lifeless; nor is it devoid of consciousness. It does not also mean that mind will be paralyzed; no, it cannot be so because the mind by its nature is active and responsive. When I speak of no-mind, I refer to that which is natural and spontaneous at all times and in all circumstances.
2.2. This is analogues to what the Indian texts call unmaana, a clear mind. Bhagavad–Gita too asks na kimchid api chintaye stop aimless thinking, drifting; be awake. Awareness perhaps is the word. Tsung-Kao was instructing development of awareness.
2.3. He said, thoughts are like murals on a wall. There can be no painting without the wall; but, they cover and hide the wall. The wall in this context is awareness (prajna), free from thoughts; it is the no-mind. The wall here is analogues to the Vedanta’s imagery of the cloudless -clear –sky .This is also what Bodhidharma taught. He said the thoughts are devoid of substance; they are only shadow-like and have no independent existence. This was also the consistent theme of Sri Ramana Maharishi’s teachings.
But in absolute reality,
there is no mind.
2.4. Tsung-Kao did not advocate any special effort. He said one must be ordinary, natural and unaffected. He asked his disciples to be spontaneous and natural.
Sitting quietly, doing nothing;
Spring comes and the grass grows by itself.
He also said do not strain or work too hard to be natural, then that begs the question.
Without making an effort
But remaining loose and natural
One can break the yoke
Thus gaining liberation.
3.1. According to Tsung-Kao, there are two aspects to Zen .One, is to develop the right view; and the other is to adopt the right practices. The right view (chien or samkhya) is compared to climbing up to the top of a hill and looking from there at the village below; it is comprehensive and uninvolved. The right practice (hsing or yoga) is compared to getting down to the bottom of the sea and walking along its floor. It is getting to the very root of the reality and working one’s way up from that level. Of the two aspects of Zen, the right “view” is considered more important and direct. Tsung-Kao emphasized that koan is the expedient method which combines the virtues of both the aspects.
3.2. Tsung-Kao was an influential figure in the development of Cha’n School. His importance lies mainly in his successful creation of a teaching method called Koan (Kung-an in Chinese, also called “public cases”) in Cha’ n meditation. The Koan gained an important position in later Zen. Koan originated in the ninth century and evolved into a dialogue or event that takes place between a Zen teacher and his student. It is in the nature of a problem, a Zen problem. It is not meant to be “understood “ or “solved”. A koan has no right or wrong answer. In fact, the problem here has neither a solution nor an answer. It is said, it cannot be solved; but it has to be dissolved. In most cases it is contextual; and is in the way the student reacts and resolves the dilemma. It is said , he who knows will know how to answer. The answers could come in a wide variety of manners, ranging from simple verbal responses to acrobatics.
It is the teacher who decides the level of understanding the student has attained, depending on the context and the way the student finds the way out of the dilemma.
3.3. [The use of absurdity for conveying a serious idea is not an exclusive preserve of Zen, many others have done it. But, using it for enlightenment is a Zen specialty. The koan is, however, just one of the many tools employed in Zen.
Almost every activity performed during the course of the day in the Japan of old was elevated to ‘the path of Zen’, whether it be drinking tea, ink-painting, pottery or archery and swordsmanship. Elaborate rules governed these, the trick was to bypass them and unite with the action. For instance, the Zen archer unlearns his training even as he stands poised with the bow drawn taut in his hands, aiming at the target. Just before he lets the arrow fly, he becomes one with the target. The subsequent release of the arrow has been equated with the resolution of a koan, both occurring without deliberation.]
4.1. The Koans used in Zen are of two kinds; one , the natural problems chosen from details of daily life and the other, mere verbal formations. It appears there are nearly two thousand koans in circulation.
The following, for instance, are some of the well-known koans.
*.What is the sound of one hand clapping?
*. Has a dog the Buddha- nature?
*.Who is repeating the Buddha’s name?
*.What was your real face before you were born?
*.All things return to the One.
4.2. Some Koans take the form of questions, like the one that asks, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear, does it make a sound?” There is no “right” answer to this question. It can be argued for years from either perspective, yes or no. there could be at least one other answer. It matters not at all whether the tree makes a sound or not. What is important is that it has fallen.
Has a dog the Buddha- nature?
Has a dog Buddha-nature?
This is the most serious question of all.
If you say yes or no,
You lose your own Buddha-nature.
The “trick” appears to be, to “read between the lines” but also “within the words”. There is always more than that meets the eye.
Truly, words have no power.
Even though the mountain becomes the sea,
Words cannot open another’s mind.
To tread the sharp edge of a sword
To run on smooth-frozen ice,
One needs no footsteps to follow.
Walk over the cliffs with hands free.
[Please click here for a collection of about one hundred koan parables, written late in the thirteenth century by the Japanese Zen teacher Muju (the “non-dweller“). Please also see the gateless gate.]
4.3. The teacher introduces certain keywords such as: What; Who: No; and One. The student has to contemplate on those keywords. Koan is described as a complete mind; for when the mind is complete no koan presents a problem. Koan is compared to the use of a fish-hook; when the fish is full it does not bite the hook. It is also compared to a stone used to knock at the door; when the door is opened the stone is of no use. The purpose of koan is to open the door of awakening.
5.1. A typical koan is meant to generate the sensation of doubt-mass. The student is thrown into a vortex of doubt. But there is no intellectual solution to the doubt; it is a mere doubt without content .For instance, no one can really know the answer to a problem, such as:”Where did I come from before my birth; and where am I going after my death?” The purpose of that koan is to create an intense sensation, a strong feeling and a load on one’s mind. One should stick to this doubt-mass, as they say, on one’s forehead, day and night; keep it there until one can neither drive it away nor put it down, even if one wants to.
5.2. Po-shan, a follower of Tsung-Kao, describes the state of a student thrown in the vortex of doubt: the whole world is turned to muddy vortex; without and within the body and mind; nothing seems to exist but this burden of doubt sensation; when he looks up, he does not see the sky and when he looks down he does not see the earth; walking or sitting, he is not aware of doing so. Mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers and the thought is pushed to the dead end.
As the Zen master said: When working at Zen one should not just wait. That is like a traveler who sits idly by the roadside and expects his home to reach him. No, he will have to reach home himself, walking all the way.
6. How does this happen?
6.1. It is explained, there are two aspects to a word or a thought; one is its head (hua tou) and the other its tail (hua wei). The head of a word or thought is the state of mind before a thought arises or a word is uttered. It represents the reality, devoid of forms. (It corresponds to para vak, of the Indian tradition) And, the tail of the word or thought is the state of mind after the thought has arisen and the word has been articulated. It is the world of common experience; seemingly real but lacking in substance. (This corresponds to vaikhari vak)
6.2. The Zen teacher asks the student to look inward and watch the state of mind before the thought arises. That is meant to “dissolve the mind’ (mano nasha) , break the thought-barrier to get out of the world of illusions. The mind then becomes void; and, the doubt-mass drops away leading to awakening. This surely is not easy; it takes years and years of practice. The student then returns to the normal world of transactions, but without clinging to it. For him, the mountains are again mountains and the rivers are again the rivers.
Whoever understands the first truth
should understand the ultimate truth.
The last and first,
Are they not the same?
6.2. To explain it from an Indian perspective, the Zen student, just as the follower of Sri Ramana, watches out objectively and identifies the birth of a thought. As he does that, the thought vanishes at once (like a thief sensing trouble, as Sri Ramana explained). The practitioner holds on to that interval of infinitesimal duration between death of a thought and the birth of another. He seizes that silence, that minute fraction in space and time and lets the mind stay open. It is then, the self-mind or no-mind flashes forth like a clear, limpid pond as the mists hiding it melt away. If one could do that, one is said to be awake, at last. The Zen practitioner comes back, again and again, to that silence.
In one blink of your eyes
You have missed seeing
7.1. The teacher cautions the student: do not be deceived, the mist might envelop you again. Keep practising. Keep coming back to that no-mind. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa also said, it was like cleaning and polishing a brass vessel day after day, lest it get dull and tainted.
7.2. The Zen as well as the Indian teachers stress repeatedly, that the process is not an intellectual exercise. It is to discover reality as it really is. It is ones own experience of freedom from clinging, even while one is alive. That is also the jivanmukthi of Vedanta. The mind merges with all conditions of life.
It is better to realize mind than body.
When the mind is realized one need not worry about body.
When mind and body become one
The man is free. Then he desires no praising.
In spring, hundreds of flowers; in autumn, a harvest moon;
In the summer, a refreshing breeze;
in winter snow will accompany your.
If useless things do not hang in your mind,
Any season is a good season for you.
Under blue sky, in bright sunlight,
One need not search around.
Asking what Buddha is
Is like hiding loot in one’s pocket and declaring oneself innocent
Sources and References
Dhyana and Zen by Prof.SKR Rao