May 2014 - The True Eye

May, 2014 (All day)

THE TRUE EYE by Shinge Roshi Roko Sherry Chayat

In Case 19 of The Iron Flute, a koan collection compiled by the 18th-century Soto master Genro Oryu and translated by Nyogen Senzaki, the young monk Joshu Jushin decides to make a pilgrimage to Mount Tai, the sacred mountain where Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, continuously expounds the Dharma. Hearing of Joshu’s plan, an old monk presents him with a poem:

Every mountain has the temple of Manjusri.

Blue ones afar, green ones near,

Each has the Bodhisattva enshrined.

Why take your staff and visit Mount Tai (Ch.:Ts’ing-liang)?

The sutras depict Manjusri riding a golden lion.

You may see such an illusion in the mountain clouds,

But it is not real to the eye of a person of Zen.

It does not bring the happiness that is sought.

The old monk is asking Joshu, What are you seeking out there? What are you hoping for, a vision of Manjusri in the mountain clouds? Illusory! Such is of no use to a person of Zen. No seeking outside can bring true happiness. Wake up to your own inner wisdom. See with your own true Dharma eye. This very place is the Lotus Land of Purity; this very mountain, right where you are, is the mystical abode of Manjusri.

Then Joshu immediately asks the old monk, “What is the true eye?” This question, at once sincere and challenging, foretells the giant of Zen he will become.

We all are familiar with the deluded eye. Seeing through veils of self-preoccupation, old hurts, confusions. The fear of being found wanting, because we feel we are. Comparisons. Evaluations. Old stories.

Years ago Joan Tollifson wrote a book titled Bare Bones Zen: Waking up from the Story of My Life. The stories we tell ourselves are convenient fictions so we don’t have to do the hard work of waking up. Instead, we stay with what’s familiar—our habitual reactions of anger and fear toward anything that threatens our fragile egos. We react as if we know what’s going on, but because everyone and everything is filtered through our own personal agenda, we can’t see or hear anything as it is; we see “through a glass darkly.” Even some spiritual achievement, when we cling to it, becomes an impediment to true vision. As the saying goes, “Although gold dust is precious, in the eyes it causes blindness.”

And lack of compassion. When we feel threatened by someone else’s aggression, we can’t see its source -- pain, covered over so well by layer upon layer of self-protective accretions. Since we’re so skilled at keeping our own pain buried, we don’t know a thing about another’s pain. We feel frustration with ourselves and others; then, when we are buffeted by the outward manifestations, we get angry, rather than seeing their origin in suffering.

We are all students in a course we might call Bodhisattva 101. The syllabus? To know another’s pain -- to respond to the often hidden source, not to the temporary form it takes of greed, anger, or folly -- and to know our own pain well enough to see what arises from it instantaneously, and not let it get to the next stage, which happens so fast: blame, attack, and justification. There is NO justification for harming another. None.

This is why sesshin is so crucial to our practice. Daily zazen is essential; sitting regularly with the Sangha is essential; but sesshin is most essential of all. Day after day, we become more open and awake to the truth of our interconnected existence. We are not deceived; not bound. When we see with the true eye, anything we see is It. Light on a teakettle, shadows moving on the floor, tree branches conversing, buds unfolding, swallows swooping. Mumon’s verse in The Gateless Barrier, Case 19, “Ordinary Mind is the Way,” puts this so beautifully:

The spring flowers, the autumn moon;

Summer breezes, winter snow.

If useless things do not clutter your mind,

Every season is the best season.

After all, what are we doing here? Dropping all useless things. In fact, whatever we hold onto is useless. This is the revolutionary nature of our practice. Dogen wrestled with his burning question, “If we are already Buddha, why do we practice?” He traveled to China and, sitting in the zendo, heard the master say, “Drop away body and mind,” and awakened to the truth that practice IS enlightenment; enlightenment IS practice.

We are here to realize this uncluttered mind. With the true eye of discernment, we clearly see all beings in their original Buddha-nature, right here, right now. Then every day is a good day; every season is the best season.

The more we practice, the more we attend sesshin, something amazing happens: our minds change. Neuroscientists have proven the plasticity of the brain itself. There are actual physiological changes that occur with deep and consistent meditation practice. We are no longer victims of our past conditioning—we can feel at a cellular level how intensive practice has changed our minds.

And when old ways, old ego-habits assert themselves? Immediately ask, who are you? Return to MU, to just this. Exhale beyond your perceived limits; drop away body and mind. Surrender to who you truly are!

When Joshu asked, “What is the true eye?” the old monk didn’t answer. What was his silence? Typically in China “old” means venerable, and implies some degree of insight; his poem must have made a deep impression on Joshu.

There are many kinds of silence. One, the silence of “I don’t know; I can’t say; I can’t respond.” Another: anticipating a response from one’s teacher, respectfully staying quiet. Another: silence as practice. This is shown evocatively in the film about the Carthusian order in France called “Into Great Silence.” Another: “I won’t say,” as in Case 55 of The Blue Cliff Record: Dogo and his disciple Zengen went to visit a family in which a funeral was taking place. Zengen touched the coffin and asked, “Tell me, please, is this life or is it death?” Dogo replied, “I would not tell you.” And perhaps most famously of all, the absolute silence of Vimilakirti when asked by Manjusri, “What is the Gate to the One and Only?”

Many years later, after Joshu had settled in his own temple, he did go to Mount Tai, not seeking anything, but to investigate an old woman who ran a teashop at the bottom of the five peaks. The story is told in The Gateless Barrier, Case 31.

There were always monks wanting to go to the sacred mountain to pay homage to Manjusri, perhaps hoping to see some vision, to have a spiritual experience in the mountain clouds.

At a fork in the road each one would stop at the teashop and ask, “What is the way to Mount Tai?” And the old woman would answer, “Go straight on,” and he would uncomprehendingly walk on, thinking she was responding merely with directions, completely missing her Mind.

Expecting something, we don’t see what is right in front of us.

After the monk would go on a few steps, she would say, “A good, respectable monk, but he too goes that way.”

Evidently the monks at Joshu’s temple who had had encounters with her were quite distressed to be caught up short by this mere tea lady. What did she mean? Why was she disrespecting them?

Later one of them told Joshu about this, and he said, “I will go and investigate the old woman for you.” The next day he went and asked the same question, and the old woman said the same thing. Upon returning, Joshu said to his disciples, “I have investigated the old woman of Mount Tai for you.”

What did Joshu see? Who was the old woman of Mount Tai? She had no name, of course, like most women in Buddhist historical records—now 100 present-day encounters with these women are told in The Hidden Lamp, and although we still don’t know their names, we are inspired by their awakenings. Joshu saw this old woman with his true eye. It is not about names; not about directions! Right here is true north, wherever we may stand.

In his comment to Case 19 of The Iron Flute, Nyogen Senzaki quotes from a koan in The Book of Rinzai, in “Ascending the High Seat,” Chapter Two: “Avalokitesvara has a thousand hands, and on each one of them is an eye. Which is the true eye?”

Which is the true eye of Avalokitesvara, or in Japanese, Kanzeon—the hearer of all cries? To see; to hear; to lend a hand—we need a lot of hands for a lot of beings! Having taken this rare and precious human form, we must see the suffering of all beings, and bring our wisdom eye to it all. We are not chanting to Kanzeon; we are becoming Kanzeon. What is required is to dedicate our lives to this true eye.

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