White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Water Burns the Stone

by Yasuda Joshu Dainen roshi

Hakukaze-ji, 1979

[originally printed in “Zanmai” Issue 1, Winter 1989]

Effort, effort, effort. Your shoulders are stiff, your foreheads are tight, your knuckles are white and your underpants smell. What’s wrong with you? We are only three days into this sesshin. Where do you think you’re going?

“One moment of just sitting is one moment of enlightenment.” These are the words of the Buddhas and Dharma Ancestors. These are words of a dead bald man, Dogen Kigen zenji. One instant of true practice is one instant of enlightenment. True practice is true effort. True effort is true non-effort. True non-effort is without mind so it is Mu-shin (no-mind). Mu-shin is right this moment now. This is instantaneous enlightenment: enlightenment occurs in each instant. Without past, without future, without even “now”, seeing clearly is practice. Anzan sensei has a phrase which I like: “It does not matter what is seen, it is the seeing that matters.”

Now what do I see? I see you. Peek-a-boo. I see a bunch of ragged monks trying to struggle to get into the next moment; away from fear and pain or into bliss or Mu or something. But this moment holds your quivering bodies and minds firmly, hai? Now, this moment is not a thought you can hold to. It is just now. Practice in this way.

Shugyosha! (Practitioners!) Where are you going in such a hurry there in your lotus postures? To the washroom? To the kitchen? To dokusan? If you come to dokusan, I won’t be able to get you out of this. Dokusan is still this moment. The Sensei won’t be able to get you out. You’re here, in this moment. Dokusan is face to face meeting with the Teacher’s mind. Zazen is dokusan, is face to face, with this moment. This moment, any moment is true dokusan with all the Buddhas and Ancestors because the mind of all Buddhas is this moment.

Your smelly bodies and smelly minds are this moment. Smelly Buddha! (laughs) this moment is your body and your mind. All of your karma of past minds, past actions, has unfolded into this moment and is this moment. Hai, you don’t have karma, whether good, whether bad; this body, this mind is your karma. So here it all is! Here it all is! These thoughts, these struggles, these joys. All of you is here, right now.

Breathe in, breathe out, okay? If you try to make some “nirvana” your home, you only hide forever in your own in-turned minds, your personal safety. Nirvana has no place, no time. You cannot get to it. It is always HERE (shouts and bangs teisho table with staff). Breathe in, breathe out. If you make struggle your way, you lose your way in a dark forest of tense muscles, tense thoughts. Relax.

Oh, but wait! (BANG!) If you relax too much, you are lost in a pile of loose, slack thoughts and flabby posture.

So what is the right way? Well, that’s up to you. This body and mind of yours is the Way, the Way of all Buddhas. You have to find out by experience the sharpest mind, vastest mind. Vastest, Vast-est. My pronunciation, please excuse. Vast-est MIND, vast-est BODY is this body-mind. You have to find this. But of course I have something to say on this matter.

First I must say something about matter of Teacher and student. You have to find your own Way. You are your own Way. However, delusion is from no-beginning, is beginningless. No matter how much you sweep the room of your mind, the dust of continual birth and Death, of concept after concept, image after image, continues to fall all over the floor, the furniture, covers up the windows. So it is easy for you to deceive yourselves. Student’s mind and Teacher’s mind are same Buddha’s mind so Teacher must show student it is only this mind, must exert himself from bones and belly until there is nothing left of him for the sake of his students. Students must exert themselves to understand Teacher’s mind through understanding their own minds. This is zazen! This is dokusan! My Way is not your Way. You cannot copy, cannot dress up in Teacher’s mind. Enter this moment, have true entry into this moment of zazen, teisho, dokusan, work, sleep, eating and it is this Way, beyond mine, beyond yours.

I’ll tell you a little story. But it’s not a bedtime story so pay attention, sit straight. Now, once upon a time….was a master named Gutei, Gutei daiosho. Gutei was master and was called Teacher of one finger Zen. When asked a true question, Gutei always answered truly by holding up his finger like this. Ya, this is how Gutei would seize the moment and seize the student in the midst of the student’s circumstances. No matter what question, Gutei would just do this one finger answer.  “What is Buddha?” One finger. “My knees hurt, what should I do?” One finger. What is Gutei Saying? Hold up finger, hold up finger, always, hai? Why? What is Gutei’s mind? So students would wake up like this. Really. (laughs)

Now Gutei had a jisha (attendant) who had taken to answering questions about his master’s Teachings by imitating his master, holding up his finger. I think you all remember this koan. Gutei grabbed hold of this student one day, grabbed his jisha when he was doing this, and brutally hacked off his finger. OUCH! Don’t worry, it’s only a teaching story, okay (laughter, Roshi laughs). As the jisha ran away crying, sobbing, Gutei called out his name. The jisha stopped and turned. Gutei held up his one finger. The attendant Woke Up. Hai. Nice story. But, in the same way, if you try to use my way for your way, I will brutally hack it away because your Zen cannot be fake Zen, pretend Zen.

To understand Teacher’s mind is to understand the mind of the Buddhas. This means to understand your mind. Have dokusan with yourself! Have dokusan with your breath. Have dokusan with your koan, with your zafu! It is no distant thing. It is right here. Right here is Gutei’s finger Zen. Raise the mind of the Way like Gutei held up his finger, raising his finger just like this. Sit just like this.

How should we practice? Too much effort is delusion, struggle. Too little is delusion. You can’t struggle into enlightenment and you can’t just listen to me say that this moment is it and pretend that you are living it. You have to practice fully, with pure samadhi, pure awareness. Seeing, seeing.

And in each instant is instantaneous enlightenment. In the Soto Way cause and effect is simultaneous. In Rinzai, cause is one thing, effect another. Now, naturally, both of these views are bullshit and gospel truth. What we have to do is practice without end, without goal, without strategy. Strat-e-gy. Each moment of true effort is both enlightenment and the Path to enlightenment. True effort is like water. It flows and fills the hollows, it goes where it needs to. Subtle. Subt-le. You can’t hold water back with your bare hands and can’t push it forward. It moves freely, clearly. Slowly, water will burn away the rocks of your delusions. Always water is fresh. Quickly, water flows.

Okay! Enough. If you remember any of this, remember that water burns the stone.”