Dear Still Water Friends,
This Thursday evening we will have the opportunity to share our questions and concerns with a group of monastics from the Blue Cliff monastery in Pine Bush, New York. Our initial focus will be on practices we can use to live as free people. In Nothing to Do, No Where to Go Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
"If we’re a free person, we aren’t conditioned by things around us. We just smile to them and we make our path. Our surroundings are like a mirror. If we smile, the mirror smiles. If we cry, the mirror cries. If we’re angry then the situation becomes angry. But even if the situation looks angry, if we’re able to smile, then the surroundings smile with us. So the surroundings are coming from our mind."
The monastics are in town to talk with State Department officials about the forced expulsion of monastic students of Thich Nhat Hanh from the Prajna Monastery in the Lam Dong province of Vietnam. Information about the difficulties facing the young monastics in Vietnam is available on the web site: http://helpbatnha.org/ .
You are invited to be with us for this special event. The best times to join our Thursday evening gatherings are just before the beginning of our 7 p.m. meditation, just before we begin walking meditation (around 7:25), and just after our walking meditation (around 7:35).
A related excerpt from Nothing to Do, Nowhere to Go: Reflections on the Teachings of Zen Master Lin Chi is below.
You may also be interested in reading an article on Mindfulness and Health that I recently wrote for the Takoma Voice.
Truly Alive in the Present Moment
by Thich Nhat Hanh from Nothing to Do, Nowhere to Go: Reflections on the Teachings of Zen Master Lin Chi
According to Master Linji, the businessless person is someone who doesn’t run after enlightenment or grasp at anything, even if that thing is the Buddha. This person has simply stopped. She is no longer caught by anything, even theories or teachings. The businessless person is the true person inside each one of us. This is the essential teaching of Master Linji.
When we learn to stop and be truly alive in the present moment, we are in touch with what’s going on within and around us. We aren’t carried away by the past, the future, our thinking, ideas, emotions, and projects. Often we think that our ideas about things are the reality of that thing. Our notion of the Buddha may just be an idea and may be far from reality. The Buddha outside ourselves was a human being who was born, lived, and died. For us to seek such a Buddha would be to seek a shadow, a ghost Buddha, and at some point our idea of Buddha would become an obstacle for us.
Master Linji said that when we meet the ghost Buddha, we should cut off his head. Whether we’re looking inside or outside ourselves, we need to cut off the head of whatever we meet, and abandon the views and ideas we have about things, including our ideas about Buddhism and Buddhist teachings. Buddhist teachings are not exalted words and scriptures existing outside us, sitting on a high shelf in the temple, but are medicine for our ills. Buddhist teachings are skillful means to cure our ignorance, craving, anger, as well as our habit of seeking things outside and not having confidence in ourselves.
Insight can’t be found in sutras, commentaries, or Dharma talks. Liberation and awakened understanding can’t be found by devoting ourselves to the study of the Buddhist scriptures. This is like hoping to find fresh water in dry bones. Returning to the present moment, using our clear mind which exists right here and now, we can be in touch with liberation and enlightenment, as well as with the Buddha and all his disciples as living realities right in this moment.
The person who has nothing to do is sovereign of herself. She doesn’t need to put on airs or leave any trace behind. The true person is an active participant engaged in her environment while remaining unoppressed by it. Although all phenomena are going through the various appearances of birth, abiding, changing and dying, the true person doesn’t become a victim of sadness, happiness, love, or hate. She lives in awareness as an ordinary person, whether standing, walking, lying down, or sitting. She doesn’t act a part, even the part of a great Zen master. This is what Master Linji means by “be sovereign wherever you are and use that place as your seat of awakening.”