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Kusen

About Kusen

We collect kusen from our teacher John Fraser. Kusen 口宣 means a teaching spoken from the mouth, some kusen are Koan commentary, or about Poetry or Sitting Instructions, the rest are numbered as general Kusen. This page is for all of these types of kusen. These are spoken towards the end of a zazen sitting. Several kusen have references and further information, as well as related videos, on the Latest page.

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Kusen

413. All These Lifetimes

Before becoming the Buddha, the Buddha is said to have lived 500 lives as a Bodhisattva. That is, as a compassionate, loving, and wise being who seeks the liberation from suffering of all other beings.

In the Lotus Sutra, [probably the most influential of all of the sutras for Chinese Buddhism, and hence Zen] it is said [by implication] that all beings will become Buddhas. It might be at an inconceivably distant time in the future, but all beings, without exception, even the least promising ones, will become Buddhas.

If you, albeit in the very, very far future, are going to become a Buddha, that’s the most important thing that could ever possibly happen to you. In a sense everything prior to that, including your life now, pales into insignificance. 

So in a sense, if you’re going to become a Buddha at some point in the future, you’re already a Buddha now. Thus we have the Chinese doctrine of the Universality of Buddha Nature which became an established feature of Chinese Buddhism prior to the formation of the Zen School in the 8th century.

Furthermore, if every being without exception is going to become a Buddha, then every being without exception is a bodhisattva now. That doesn’t mean you’re a bodhisattva,  it means that all beings you encounter are bodhisattvas.

All beings are teaching you.

This is the opposite of the spiritual inflation which is implied by thinking of practice as being a means by which you advance towards Enlightenment: you gradually elevating yourself out of the grime of the world and the unwelcome company of ‘unevolved’ beings.  It’s the opposite. All  beings, all the time, are teaching you, are moving you further towards your eventual Buddhahood. The world is not mud, but light.

They may be teaching from their wisdom; they may be teaching from their stupidity; they may be teaching from their love; they may be teaching from their hate; they may be teaching from their ignorance; they may be teaching from their antagonism towards you. It doesn’t matter: it’s all teaching.

It’s all compassion.

Contemporary Zen people are often quite embarrassed by apparently archaic talk of Buddha Nature. So we just get a lot of chuntering on about being ‘present’ and ‘grateful’ and ‘here and now’.  It’s Hallmark Zen. But the fact is, whether it seems ludicrous or not, if you can accept, even for a moment, that this is true—Everything Changes.

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412. The Tathagatagarbha Sutra

One of the distinctive features of Chinese Buddhism by the time the  Zen schools start to form, around the time of Mazu in the 8th century, is the universality of Buddha Nature.  One source of that is the Tathagatagarbha Sutra.

It was originally written in Sanskrit, but that version has been lost. We can only read it in translation back from the Chinese version. Tathagata is “ thus come”, a reference to Buddha. Garbha  has a wide range of meanings. 

We’ve come to think of the title as meaning that we’re figuratively carrying a Buddha in embryo inside us which is covered over by  our passions, our afflictions and so on. In due course, once we attend to these defilements, we can, as it were, give birth, manifest our Buddha. 

The Tathagatagarbha Sutra is 10 metaphors about Buddha Nature The one which gives us this idea about this Buddhist embryonic potentiality is the eighth example,  a vile and poor woman pregnant with a future World King.

This idea of something immensely valuable  covered over by something inherently unpleasant or nondescript  is the theme which dominates the metaphors. The metaphors exploit the surprising range of meanings of the word “Garbha”

Its dominant meaning, according to the English Sanskrit dictionaries, seems to be something like “interior or womb or embryo”. 

Then there are meanings derived from this, like “seed “.

But there are other meanings too. “Garbha” also means the “outer rim of a flower”, specifically the lotus flower. And that’s  the first and most revealing metaphor which is used in the Sutra. 

In this initial metaphor, the Buddha conjures up  Buddhas in the sky,  all of whom are seated  on lotus flowers. It’s a beautiful and magnificent sight. However, the Buddha then causes those Lotus flowers to become rotten and disgusting and to simultaneously conceal the Buddha inside.  The Buddha can still see the Buddhas inside these now rotting malodorous flowers, but ordinary people can’t. In the same way, a Buddha [ or ourselves through faith] can accept that within every person, no matter how ‘rotten’ is a Buddha. That’s not a developmental model; it’s not a future oriented model;  it’s a Here and Now model.

Most of the other metaphors which are used are like that. There’s a number of metaphors which are to do with something hidden. There’s valuable treasure hidden under a poor person’s house. There’s a gold statue of the Buddha wrapped up in shitty rags. There is another gold statue of Buddha hidden within its foundry blackness. There’s honey which is protected by an angry swarm of bees.  

The majority of metaphors are present focused. The only two which apparently aren’t are the eighth one, which we latch onto, as we think it matches the title, and another one which has to do with the mango seed, which has within it the capacity to give birth to a magnificent mango tree. I think that metaphor of the mango seed isn’t really future directed because, reading the text, the emphasis is on the indestructibility of the mango seed, not its potentiality.

I don’t think that these metaphors are pointing towards a future Buddha that we attain through faith or through effort but to a present Buddha, that somehow is hidden from us.

A number of things follow. On the face of it, it looks like the thing which is concealing the precious thing is either useless or disgusting.  

But it’s not useless. Without the shitty robes around the precious statue,  without the ground concealing the jewels and so on, in other words without the passions, the kleshas apparently obscuring Buddha Nature,  the thing that’s precious wouldn’t be there. So I think the Sutra is pointing to a more complex relationship between the kleshas and Buddha Nature.

Certainly from the point of view of an observer, the shitty robes are just disgusting and that’s that. We’re better off free of them.

But from the perspective of the robes it’s different. It seems to me one of the messages which is hidden within the sutra is that to become intimate with our Buddha Nature we require to become intimate with our kleshas. In other words we no longer regard our kleshas as something that we require to discard, get rid of, or transform.  

Rather we require to abandon our hate towards them. Abandoning that hate enables us to move from a vision of something which we find distasteful to becoming really acquainted with the kleshas in an intimate way.

What we understand then is that the kleshas do not have a fixed identity, and removed from the fixity of the self they aren’t what we think.  I think that that’s one of the themes buried within the Sutra.

Another interesting thing for us as practitioners is to reflect on the relationship between  the eighth metaphor, the  world King that is being carried within the body of a vile woman, and zazen.

If you look at our mudra during zazen, we’re holding our little fingers near the foot of our belly.  This  mudra  is representing the belief that we have this womb-like buddha space that the mudra manifests. At the mudra’s centre is this dynamic emptiness or potentiality of Buddha Nature. The hands are, as it were, the pelvic bowl and the thumbs are completing the shape.  The mudra is a statement of faith, a symbolic statement of faith about  Buddha Nature.

Yet we need to be careful what we mean by symbol. It’s not simply an encoded meaning: the mudra itself changes our state.  

If I am holding this mudra with an open heart in a position of faith towards the idea of the universality of Buddha Nature, then in a sense the mudra is within me now and manifesting this space of Buddha —this potentiality;  this ease and so on.

Right in my pelvic bowl. You can feel it.

There’s a temptation for us to think of metaphors as simply being encoded meaning rather than something broader, a way of seeing.  Those symbolic ways of seeing have inexhaustible meaning within them. Symbols are inherently both open in meaning and endlessly capable of new meaning.

But also, in themselves transformative, embodying and manifesting. We’ve lost our understanding of what a symbol is. But we can recover it. Not as a signifier, nor as a spell

as a door

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Kusen

411. The Blue Mountains Walking

Master Dogen’s Dharma Hall Discourse, number 23:

Deeply see the Blue Mountains constantly walking. By yourself know that the white stone woman gives birth to a child at night

Dogen then descended from his seat.

That is almost a word for word replication of a teaching by Zen master Daokai, who was active in the 11th and very early 12th century in China and who revitalised the Soto lineage. The only alterations which Dogen makes are adding ‘Deeply see’ and ‘By yourself’, and adding ‘white’ to  ‘stone woman’, to remove any ambiguity that the phrase might refer to an infertile woman. 

..

Dogen’s replication of Daokai goes further than the repetition of his words because he also duplicates his actions.

The original record is that after Daokai said these words he just stepped down from the Dharma seat, and Dogen does the same.  So we have in this quote an enormous thing, the mountains [‘Thusness’],  and a smaller, specific thing, the stone woman [‘Thisness’].

For these Masters, the mountains are representative of the whole of interdependence. We can’t see the mountains walking because we’re within the mountains. Just in the same way as, although we might be sitting still, we can’t see that we’re hurtling through space.

‘The mountains walking’ is a way of talking about the interconnected life of all being through time. 

Yet it seems to me that one unseen thing for them, but not for us, is that in comparison to their world, in our world there has been an incredible speeding up of time.  It now seems that everything, not just the mountains, comes and goes in a blur. Your life comes and goes in a blur, and then it’s over.

So it’s important to emphasise the other aspect of the dynamic impermanence and interdependence represented by the Blue Mountains, and that is stillness. We experience both when we’re sitting Zazen. We experience the thought laden wind of interdependence, taking place within a larger container of Stillness.

When we’re sitting we become intimate with both impermanence but also with something different. We could variously call that the Eternal or the continuous present or Stillness or  Thusness. 

These two aspects mean that there’s  not simply one moment, then another moment, then another moment, then another moment.  Each moment is like a magnificent tree whose roots extend throughout the Earth and connect intimately with all other moments. We could call these two aspects the forward axis and the sideways axis.

So the mountains, our lives, the whole shebang aren’t simply coming and going in a blur, as if we’re in a bullet train speeding past them. 

There’s something else which is particularly relevant to us in this era of the dramatic speeding up of time.  It’s almost as if our feet don’t touch the ground. Not just literally: they don’t touch the ground of being. But when we sit, they do. Even if this speeded up time is pushing and pulling us, it is doing so within this stillness.

What of the stone woman? Obviously it’s absurd that a stone woman could give birth to anything. Yet we can understand that the reference to ‘night’ is a reference to non-duality. So the suggestion is that everything is alive and everything is giving birth. We’re giving birth to our children all the time. The children are known by various names: Beauty, Pain, Confusion, Clarity, Love, Rage. 

Which of them will outlast us?

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410. Indra’s Net

We can think of interdependence in terms of time, and we can think of it in terms of being. 

The Zen approach primarily takes the latter position.Very often we talk about zenki, full dynamic functioning.

In other words we are part of this Network of all beings, functioning together, like a body would. The Chinese tradition talks about the Buddha’s Dharma body.  Another frequent metaphor is Indra’s Net— the image of a network of infinitely faceted jewels of infinite number, all reflecting all.

In our experience of meditation it’s often possible for us to see this interconnection. There’s thought, and we can feel the emotion underneath that thought, and the body sensation prior to the emotion (obviously all happening very, very quickly) and the connection between the body and the surrounding world. Sometimes that’s sufficient for us to break the mirror of the self, the belief that we’re separate. 

That focus on interdependence as the interdependence of being is sometimes helpful for us to understand mental phenomena. It’s helpful for us to understand the often constant chatter of the self, like a fictional character constantly trying to talk itself into existence. 

It helps with the kind of everyday noise and nonsense that we seem to get in meditation,  which are like the echoes and shadows of experience. 

But where the emphasis on the interconnectedness of being isn’t so helpful is when practitioners feel oppressed by other things—classically those persistent negative emotions like anxiety, dread, depression, that kind of thing.

For that, an emphasis on the other way of looking at interdependence, focusing on time, is often helpful.  In other Buddhist traditions there’s much more of an emphasis on Karma. What we’re experiencing now is the product of past actions. This is helpful in giving us a broader and more spacious understanding of what we’re experiencing now, but the problem with it  (and you get this problem very frequently in the casual and careless way that non Buddhists talk about karma), is that we are liable to think of karma as being something which happens to a persisting self over time.  The problem with that is that it reimposes the familiar problem which Buddhism tries to overcome — this dichotomy of self and world (or of mind and body, as a subsidiary dichotomy).

But we can get over that if we think of time, not as a medium within which people and objects persist and change, but rather of time in the sense of a series of moments. Each moment contains all of existence and all moments are interconnected—Dogen’s perspective of time. 

If we think then of interdependence as being both interdependence in terms of being and interdependence in terms of moments I think that is a helpful way for us to proceed.  

The origin  – we imagine – of Indra’s Net is people in classical times looking up at the night sky and seeing this extraordinary network of stars. It’s not much of an imaginative leap to think of all these stars as being a network of jewels. What we now know, which people then didn’t, is that when we’re looking at the stars we’re also looking at time. Because light takes so long to travel to us when we’re looking up at the sky we’re sometimes seeing light from stars which no longer exist and we’re not seeing light from stars that do exist but whose light hasn’t yet reached us

All the light we do not see

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409. Satori

The Japanese word satori is variously translated as realisation, verification, awakening and enlightenment, amongst others. The reason for this breadth is that it encompasses three distinct Chinese Expressions. 

The first is ‘practice realisation/verification: one hears the Buddhist teachings on impermanence, interdependence and so on. One then  practices and the practice verifies the teaching— you realise it’s true.

The second is something like asleep/awakening. We  awaken from the dream of the self or we awaken within the dream of the self. 

The third is delusion/enlightenment. The ideogram for it is quite interesting. The top part is something like ‘mind’ and the bottom part of it has these little legs.  The suggestion is that in a state of delusion these little legs, prompted by thoughts, carry us to this place, that place, and this other place, all without ceasing. By implication Enlightenment is the stopping of this -not  of the thought but being carried hither and thither without cease. And thus, by necessary  implication,  our aim as practitioners is not to void the mind, but it is to understand our egoic latching on to thoughts and those thoughts then taking us everywhere in the kind of habitual distracted agitated way that many of us experience.

What we need to understand is that these little legs of delusion can only take us somewhere when we’re on the ground of the self. Otherwise, the little legs don’t work. When we’re ‘standing’ on emptiness, they don’t work. 

This, all our mental activity, all our thinking doesn’t remain the distraction that (from a self-centred point of view) we think it is,  but rather becomes a manifestation of the interdependence of everything. So we don’t need to go looking for somewhere outside of ourselves to find the truth of what the Buddha was talking about. The very mundane activity of banal thought which, when we start meditation we think we need to get away from, is that very thing which, when seen from other than a self-centred perspective is, in itself, interdependence.  

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408. Dogen’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness

Master Dogen’s Dharma Hall discourse number 310:  

Our Buddha Shakyamuni said to his disciples there are four foundations of mindfulness on which people should depend.These four foundations of mindfulness refer to contemplating the body as impure; contemplating sensation as  suffering; contemplating mind as impermanent; and contemplating phenomena as non-substantial.

I also have four foundations of mindfulness: contemplating the body as a skin bag; contemplating sensation as eating bowls; contemplating mind as fences, walls, tiles, and pebbles; and contemplating phenomena as old man Zhang drinking wine, old man Li getting drunk.

Great assembly, are my four foundations of mindfulness the same or different from the ancient Buddha’s four foundations of mindfulness? If you say they are the same your eyebrows will fall out [from lying];  if you say they are different you lose your body and life.

Are they the same or are they different?  If different, what are the differences? 

For starters, there’s a difference in tone.

In the Buddha’s formulation, the four foundations appear to be quite doctrinal. In Dogen’s formulation they  appear colloquial,  everyday and realistic. The Buddha’s formulation mentions the body as  impure. It also mentions suffering. Dogen mentions neither.

It seems to me that in the Buddha’s formulation the ghost of the self is still hovering, whereas in Dogen’s the nonduality of all beings is much more apparent. 

The Buddha’s formulation  in emotional tone is renunciatory. Dogen’s  tone is quite different. It evokes Wonder,  Joy, Acceptance and  Surprise. It’s very human.

Rather than saying  that everything is impermanent and impermanence is the cause of suffering. Dogen’s  formulation really starts from  thenassumption of nonduality, the aliveness and wholeness of everything. So impermanence isn’t the indicator of suffering,  it is a characteristic of  interdependent  wholeness.

Contemplating the body as a skin bag  is different from contemplating the body as impure. It’s much more realistic. We are this skin bag of blood and shit and bone and pain and beauty and memory and longing and love.  A bag that can tear at any moment, and in that moment we are gone. 

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407. The Frame of The Mirror

We’re often drawn back to the same stories. One of mine is the “Polishing a tile” story, where Nangaku asks Baso what his intention is in practising zazen.  Baso replies, “My intention is to make a Buddha.”  

Nangaku  picks up a tile and starts polishing it with a stone.   

Baso says, “What are you doing?”

Nangaku says “I’m polishing a tile to make a mirror.”

Baso says, “How can you do that?”

( The story goes on. A full version is in the Zazenshin chapter of the Shobogenzo)

It’s a very rich story. A dominant contemporary way of looking at it is that we should be satisfied with our life. Our life with all its imperfections, with all our limitations and Imperfections,  we should accept it completely. We should not want our ‘tile’ to transform into a ‘mirror’, because we’re not wanting to be something else. We’re not wanting to become an enlightened being, because that’s just a more subtle form of craving. 

That’s a very legitimate way of looking at the story. Barry Majid, a very good American  teacher, takes that position.

But it seems to me that there’s another way of looking at this story. Obviously you can’t make a tile into a mirror. And likewise, you can’t make a limited karmic being into a Buddha. 

Nonetheless, a mirror is manifested—a Buddha is manifested. Our initial, and correct, understanding is that practice means that we can’t  change one thing, a tile, into another—a mirror. Alongside the mirror the tile remains. Alongside the Buddha space which is actualized in zazen our karmic self is still there. 

Yet it changes: it’s still there, but it changes. How does it change? 

The practitioner isn’t the mirror. The practitioner is the framework of the mirror. Something is manifested when we sit but we can’t see it, because our seeing is from our limited karmic perspective.  Likewise we can’t understand it. That’s why the Dharma is called wondrous.  But just like the frame of a mirror, although we can’t see the mirror, we can be intimate with it— that’s practice.

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406. What is ‘Mind’?

What is ‘Mind’?

Dogen says in various places that Mind is walls, fences, tiles, etc. 

That’s quite typical in Zen literature, where ‘Mind is World’ propositions are common.

At first blush, this looks like a state very different from our ordinary state. They seem to be statements of radical non-duality, primarily between Mind and World, and derivatively, between Mind and Body.

Although these statements seem to give a perspective dramatically different from what we now understand as original Indian Buddhism, I’m not sure that’s so. And though they also appear radically different from ways in which we talk and think about the Mind, again I’m not sure that’s true.

One of the earliest Buddhist texts is the Dhammapada, which is a collection of sayings in verse attributed to the Buddha.  At the very start there’s a statement: Mind precedes all mental states. Not ‘Mind precedes all disturbed mental states’ or ‘Mind precedes all conditional mental states’. All mental states.

I think that immediately gives us pause, because whilst a lot of meditation seems to be about calming the mind, I don’t think we’re necessarily justified in interpreting ‘Mind’ purely psychologically; as being the functionality of the brain, or similar.

Indeed, verse 37 of the Dhammapada says that the home of the mind is in the cave of the heart.  (Indians, like the Greeks, believed the mind is in the heart, not the head; I think it’s naive for us to simply take this literally, as anatomical ignorance)

Verse 37 also says the mind is without specific location. It wanders here and there. It’s using the metaphor of a person whose true home is in the cave of the heart but who wanders hither and thither throughout the world.

So for the Dhammapada, ‘Mind’ has a much broader range of meanings than  the psychological functions of self consciousness, or subjective experience.

If ( as is always useful) in examining the meaning of terms we start with our experience in meditation, it’s clear that  there isn’t the sharp distinction between mind and world that conceptual thinking conjures up. 

Our experience in meditation is both personal and universal. Obviously, it’s this person practising at this moment. Yet we can’t say that this sense of spacious awareness in meditation  belongs to me, that somehow is internal to me.

The whole phenomenology of meditative awareness is, to a greater or lesser extent, non-dual.

People experience that right from the get-go. It’s not something which only Enlightened people (whoever they may be) experience.

Additionally, common usages of mind which we have in the West are often different from what we imagine. For example Carol Gilligan, in her fieldwork on how patriarchy suppresses the voices of teenage girls observed that often they would make a distinction between ‘my brain’ and ‘my mind’.

And if we look around, we often get distinctions like that operating in the language, in different ways.

My personal favourite is Iain McGilchrist’s distinction between left and right brain hemispheres, but it’s widespread.  People will often make a distinction between ‘my mind’ and ‘my heart’ or ‘my mind’ and ‘my soul’. We don’t need to imprison experience within the categories of an imaginary observer in a white coat.

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405. Wall Gazing

Why do we sit facing the wall?

The familiar explanation is that we’re following the practice of Master Bodhidharma.  

In Zen legend, Bodhidharma arrived at a southern Chinese port from India  sometime in the middle of the 6th Century, then had a famous encounter with the Emperor. Following this, he went to Shaolin Temple, where he sat facing a wall for 9 years. Zen Legend also says that prior to Bodhidharma arriving in China, Chinese Buddhism had been purely scholastic. 

The legend is completely false.  Buddhism had been practised in China for over 400 years prior to Bodhidharma arriving. There were meditation manuals,  practice instructions, and communities of monks.

However, the expression which is translated as Bodhidharma “facing a wall” originates with him. According to John McRae, the phrase , ‘pi kuan’ literally means ‘wall gazing’, sometimes rendered as ‘ wall contemplation.’

A tragedy for our culture is that our capacity for symbolic and metaphoric thinking and expression has become terribly impoverished. We expect our learning to be explicit. So when we come across cultures where learning works differently, where it’s encoded within apparently simple practices and rituals, it’s quite hard for us to see. We just picture a man facing a wall.

But thinking about ‘wall gazing’ for a moment, the issue of whether or not Bodhidharma did physically meditate facing a wall hardly exhausts what the phrase has to tell us. 

Plainly, Bodhidharma wasn’t taking the wall as being the object of meditation because that would be a dualistic practice, quite different from zazen.

Classical Chinese is very terse. It doesn’t tell us who is doing the gazing, the practitioner or the wall. As the wall plainly isn’t a person, we think it’s obvious that who’s  doing the gazing is the practitioner. But if we leave it open, we can unpack the learning implicit in the phrase. 

If we say that it’s actually the wall that’s ‘gazing’, that opens everything up. The practitioner, in facing the wall, is facing away from the world. But the wall is facing the world. So it’s like a pair. And the wall is facing the world in a particular way: like a mirror, not like a person. With equanimity, accepting everything, not discriminating, rooted in the ground of all being. 

Just as all the apparently separate images in a mirror are part of the one reflective whole, then likewise, to the wall, everything facing it, including the practitioner, is part of this wholeness.

If we see things in that way we can see why Bodhidharma’s practice may have been new. Not because of his physical orientation (towards a wall, or anything else), but because of his meditative orientation. His practice was not simply the practice of the self, nor the cultivation of Consciousness or Wisdom or particular mental states;  it was – and is –  a wholehearted non dualistic engagement with everything, within everything.

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Dogen’s 2 ‘Zazen’ poems

Master Dogen wrote two virtually identical poems about zazen.

The earlier version [which is taken from Steven Heine’s translation] reads as follows:

The moon mirrored
By a mind free
Of all distractions, 
Even the waves breaking
Are reflecting its light.

The later version [again Heine’s translation] reads:

The moon reflected
In a mind clear
As still water
Even the waves breaking
Are reflecting its light.

In these translations, the two poems are remarkably similar. There’s two sections, and the second section, about the waves breaking, the last two lines of the poem, are identical in both.

The third line, which in Heine’s versions are different, are identical in the original Japanese, albeit with one important difference. The word ‘sumu’ in the earlier poem means ‘residing’, and goes with ‘uchi’, which means ‘within’ or ‘inside’, but in the later poem ‘sumu’ means ‘becoming clear’ so there is an association with ‘mizu’ [water].

As a translation choice, Heine renders the first lines of both poems very similarly, but in the earlier poem the Japanese gives a sense of being quietened, whereas in the later version the emphasis is more on clarity, in the sense ‘cloudedness disappears’, which matches up with the changed meaning of sumu.

Apart from that, what’s the difference?

I think the material difference is the second line and specifically the change in one word. The  second line in Japanese in the early version reads ‘kokoro no uchi ni’ and in the later version reads ‘kokoro no mizu ni’.There’s a change of one word: from free to clear.

Why did Dogen feel the necessity to change it? The purpose of the two poems is the same,  a description of zazen practice as wholehearted activity and not the cultivation of tranquillity understood as calmness, the absence of thought, the absence of emotions and so on. The two poems are identical in their description of meditation, not in terms of quietude or tranquillity but as fully engaged non-dualistic practice.

I think the reason for the change is that what the second version makes clear is that the essence of mind in zazen, the ‘water’ in the poem, isn’t to be still, it is to be clear. And if the mind is clear then it makes no difference if there’s a lot of activity [waves] or very little activity.

And if the essence of  the mind is to be clear, we can see in practical terms how the water metaphor might play out. In the first version, at least in Heine’s translation, the word distractions is mentioned explicitly and it’s not mentioned in the second. It’s not mentioned in the second because the distractions are mentioned implicitly, by their absence. Often distractions are thought of in terms of dust, that’s often a metaphor that’s used like ‘mind dust’. We can see that water which is clear, whether enlivened or whether tranquil, will reflect moonlight. We can also see that dirty water – water which isn’t clear, water covered over with  the mind dust of picking and choosing, liking and hating whatever’s arising within experience  isn’t going to reflect the moon. The essence of the mind is clearness.

The essence of mind in Zazen is to be spacious: not  excluding anything, not  restricting attention to objects of love and hate but holding everything in equanimity, like space. That’s how we should practise.