May 23 1982: The Zen in Life
Huang Yao had a weekly column called Moyuan Suibi in the Nanyang Siang Pao, a newspaper in Malaysia.
There is much talk these days, both in the East and the West, about “Zen”, as if it is some kind of fashionable knowledge. In truth, Zen is about spiritual cultivation, and if you have the opportunity, it could lead you into enlightenment and into a "wonderful" (and not mysterious) state. In Buddhism, “Zen” was originally known as “Concentration”. At a meeting on Ling Shan, as Buddha plucked a flower and held it before him, Kasyapa smiled, heralding the beginning of Zen practice. The "flower" and the "smile" are symbols of enlightenment, indicating the idea of “achieving transcendental understanding without strict adherence to the text”. In the learning of Zen, the reading of too much scripture is not necessary.
We have read books about Zen and have heard many stories about it – whether it is the "gradual enlightenment" of the North or the "sudden enlightenment" of the South – but Zen itself need not be segregated into different sects, as long as one can achieve “enlightenment” with it. In this troubled world that we live in, everyone should be allowed to enjoy this sweet nectar of "enlightenment" and spiritual well-being. It is always good for all of us to achieve “peace”. That is why the practice of Zen has spread to the rest of the world; regardless of whether you are smart or stupid, old or young, rich or poor, strong or weak; regardless of your geography or your skin color, Zen treats everyone equally, and desires for the world to be truly “universal”, awaking “the root of wisdom”, it is a truly wise form of knowledge.
The hippies once caused problems in the West, but now they seem to have faded away. The true hippies are the ones who are on the path towards enlightenment themselves; the true hippies are certainly not crazy. Among them are many well-mannered, highly educated and virtuous people who, tired of the world, have gathered to live an independent life away from the crowd. Others, including some highly educated wise men, have to live unfortunately in this practical world. With souls that yearn for transcendence, unable to escape from this earth, they find life suffering . These have had no choice but to pursue the study of “Zen”. However, this sort of Zen practice finds its roots in “pessimism”, Zen should be based on “optimism” instead.
There are so many schools of Zen that it has almost become as tacky as a religious cult or a political party. Therefore, let us not delve into the various factions of Zen, but to transform it into knowledge that everyone can “naturally” learn, and not something that can be bought by money or possessed by force. The current stereotype education system, merely feeds students with information like fattening ducks, while not actually providing real nutrition.
In AD688, “Shen Hui”, according to the Zen history, was one of the disciples of the reknown Sixth Patriach Huineng. He lived till the age of 75. According to the sixth Patriach Platform Sutra, “A young boy, thirteen years old, named Shen Hui, who was from a Kao family in Xiang Yang, came from Yuquan to pay homage. The Master Huineng said, "The Knowing One's journey must have been difficult. Did you bring the Original with you? If you have the Original, you should know the owner. Try to explain it to me."
Shen Hui said, "I take non-dwelling as the Original and seeing as the owner." The Master said, "This novice monk imitates the talk of others." Shen Hui then asked, "When you sit in meditation, High Master, do you see or not?" The Master hit him three times with his staff and asked, "When I hit you, does it hurt or not?" He replied, "It both hurts and does not hurt." The Master replied, "I both see and do not see."
Shen Hui asked, "How can you both see and not see?" The Master said, "What I see is the transgression and error of my own mind. I do not see the right, wrong, good, or bad of other people. This is my seeing and not seeing. How can you say it both hurts and does not hurt? If it does not hurt you are like a piece of wood or a stone, but if it does hurt you are just like a common person and will give rise to hatred. Your 'seeing and not seeing' are two extremes and your 'hurting and not hurting' has beginning and end. You have not even seen your own nature and yet you dare to ridicule others."
Shen Hui bowed, apologized, and thanked the Master. The Master continued, "If your mind is confused and you do not see, then ask a Good Knowing Advisor to help you find the Way. If your mind is enlightened, then see your own nature and cultivate according to the Dhamma. You yourself are confused and do not see your own mind, and yet you come to ask me whether or not I see. If I see, I know it for myself, but is that of any help to you in your confusion? In the same way your seeing is of no use to me. Why don't you know and see it for yourself, instead of asking me whether or not I see?" Shen Hui bowed again over one hundred times, seeking forgiveness for his error. He served the Master with diligence, never leaving his side.
One day the Master addressed the assembly as follows: "I have a thing. It has no head or tail, no name or label, no back or front. Do you all know what it is?" Shen Hui stepped forward and said, "It is the root source of all Buddhas, Shen Hui's Buddha nature!" The Master said, "I just told you that it had no name or label, and you immediately call it the root-source of all Buddhas. Go and build a thatched hut over your head! You're nothing but a follower who pursues knowledge and interpretation."
After the Master's death, Shen Hui went to Jingle where he propagated the Caoxi Sudden Enlightenment Teaching. He wrote the Xianzongji which circulated widely throughout the land. He is known as Zen Master Heze.”
Be it the “gradual enlightenment” of the Northern school of Zen or the “sudden enlightenment” of the Southern School of Zen, the hope is that everyone gets to achieve enlightenment, and then we will be free of our troubles. This is the psychological benefit Zen can teach you when you “open up” your heart. If you pair it up with Yoga or Taiji, it can be good for your physical well-being, highly beneficial for your holistic health. In life, it is most important to be “healthy and happy”, otherwise, even if you live in a mansion or sit in a luxurious car, you would be miserable and there would be no point to it.
I once did a painting with the inscriptions, "Sitting alone, watching the mountains and the sea; Lying down, listening to the wind and the rain. Everyday the guests come and go; every year the flowers bloom and wilt." This is a poem by Xu Pen. As long as we can face the "flower” and the "smile”, even if we are sitting alone, Zen is all around us!
Buddha said, "All sentient beings can obtain Buddhahood.” We have to understand, “The heart is Buddha, and the Buddha is the heart”. This is not a false statement. "Outside the heart, there is no Buddha" – this is also the truth. Zen is not about “idol worshipping”. From this we can gather that Zen is not a superstitious play-thing. Huike said, “The heart and the Buddha; The heart is the Dhamma; Dhamma and Buddha are one” - this should be a reference for everyone, just as how Huike cut off his arm to express his sincerity to learn from Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen.