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155. Avoid picking and choosing

The verses of faith mind starts:

The Great Way is not difficult

Only avoid picking and choosing.

When love and hate do not arise,

Things cease to exist, in the old way.

It is not that things cease to exist, but that they cease to exist ‘in the old way’, that is, dualistically. Me here. The world way out there. Each of us, looking for ropes, looking for snares.

When we sit we relax our gaze; the world isn’t ‘out there’ any longer. It is not sliced up into this and that. Any longer

If our gaze is relaxed, then our gaze includes our eyes, and the whole head and the whole body. The gaze encompasses everything

Is this not ceasing to exist in the old way?

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137. The metaphor of the mirror in zen

In Chinese Buddhism the image of a mirror is very frequent, both to describe practice and to describe enlightenment.

It is quite difficult for us to understand, because when we think of a mirror we think of two: the image in the mirror and the owner of that image.

The whole point of the metaphor however is that there is not two: there is just the mirror.

In the mirror, what appears to be separate is really just part of the whole image.

So each individual thing is there and not there.

Similarly, and perhaps unlike the thing itself, we can look on the image with equanimity.

Understanding all this, we are inclined to see the mirror as being a description of how the universe is. But actually, it’s a description of how the practitioner is. It’s a description of practice.

The reflection is the whole body: the masks of the present moment reconnected with the faces of the past, the tendrils of thought dipping deep into bodily sensation. The mirror is infinitely angled: from the past to the present, from the mind to the body, from this body to all bodies, from the storm to the lingering debris; all directions.

We can’t see it with the eyes.

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114. Shiho

Zen is transmitted I Shin Den Shin. ‘Shin’ is mind, or heart. So, from one real person to another. But how many is the real person? One, or many, or both?

‘Mind’ doesn’t mean the personal, karmic mind, obviously. And, likewise, heart.

In the Shiho, the document of transmission, the whole lineage is written out, one name after the other. And all the names are connected by a single red thread. A heart thread. So all the names are an expression of that heart.

This heart.

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108. The Ghost Cave

In Zen, the fixed self is sometimes referred to as the Ghost Cave.

We can see our practice as a kind of dynamic coming and going. From this place out into the illuminated universal and back again into the apparent personal, and so on, endlessly. The metaphor of cave, an opening in the mountain, is worth paying attention to.

The self is not characterized as a prison, something we are trapped within. Or something to be annihilated. Rather, it is to be understood. It is a Ghost Cave because we do not understand it. The ghosts are restless because they do not understand themselves.

This cave is part of the Great Mountain of all things. It is our only way inside this mountain. Dynamic, compassionate awareness pacifies the mind. Pacifies the whole mountain.

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96. Who’s What?

When I was little, I would point at things and ask my mother, “What’s that?”

And my mother would patiently reply “that’s a tree”, “that’s a car”, and so on.

As I kept asking the question, other voices would say, “That’s how things are.””This is life and this is death.” And so on.

So when I am looking at the world, looking at myself, it is always as if I am looking through the eyes of someone else.

And the mind’s eye, likewise. That’s why, when we practice, it’s very important that we soften our gaze. The world comes to us, not in the familiar way, but an intimate way.   Seeing this way becomes an aspect of a broader felt sense. The breath moving inside us. Our weight. The birdsong touching our ears.

Self or no-self? Isn’t the answer obvious?

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38. Compassionate Mind

Compassionate Mind is essential for practice.

The noise in our head is like a small child. If we follow the noise, it will never grow up. If we hate or ignore the noise, we cut out our own heart. We need to hold the noise in vast, compassionate space; vast compassionate awareness.

It is this space which allows it, and all beings, to live.

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22. Zazen Mountain

Zen is sometimes described as “the mountain still state”, and we are often admonished to sit like a mountain. Monasteries were frequently named after mountains; Teachers too.

At the most obvious level, the mountain can be seen as representative of equanimity, imperturbability. Whatever storm is raging, the mountain is undisturbed.

We can also see the mountain as the expression of something eternal. So, when we enter the mountain still state, we enter the same state as the ancestors and patriarchs.

But fundamentally, the mountain is the ground made visible, unavoidable. Whilst the ground beneath the feet of our thoughts is overlooked, the mountain is the ground thrown upwards. And the ground is being.