Don’t just sit there – do something!
Don’t just do something – sit there!
Buddhism is better understood as a skill or an art to be practiced and perfected, rather than as information and knowledge to be learned and amassed.
This is a unique ten step course in the practice of Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Zen. The ten ox-herding pictures provide the ten step framework. Huang Po, the Tang dynasty Ch’an/Zen master, would remark that any gradual path merely leads to the City of Delusion. After we have mastered the first practice, he would remind us that we are not ten percent enlightened, we are still sitting on zero. After we have mastered the second practice, he would remind us that we are not twenty percent enlightened, we are still sitting on zero. And so on through the entire course.
If one of the greatest teachers had such a low opinion of praticing the Way, why should we nonetheless practice the Way? Why bother with such a course?
There are two reasons, one obvious, one subtle. The obvious answer is that the purpose of life is to wake up. We are not born to learn how to play keyboards or a guitar. Nor to become a great legend of sports, politics, literature, science or whatever. Our purpose is not to have babies, to accumulate money and properties and goods. Those who say they want nothing but to live a quiet and peaceful life are also missing the boat…or as the Buddha would say, the raft that carries us to the other shore.
The second, more subtle reason for practicing is that it is possible to do so with drawing the contempt of Huang Po. He was referring to people who practice in order to improve themselves, as if Buddhism is a self-help program. Such a practice deepens ignorance because it increases the sense of an independent self. Buddhist practice helps us see the absence of an independent self.
As we will see in Advanced Zen, Step Eight of the course, Buddhism began as a reaction against the fundamental teachings of the religion of the Brahmans (modern day Hinduism). They taught that sustained worship of Brahma through various rites and rituals would lead to merger with Brahma over a period of many lifetimes. Thus, an ordinary person would become perfect and the name for that perfect person was “atman” in Sanskrit and “atta” in Pali.
The Buddha carefully studied the Rg Veda, where such teachings were written, and concluded that a self having a desire for a perfect eternal life was the source of all the suffering experienced by that self, i.e., that religion itself was the source of all unhappiness.
We know the Buddha studied the Rg Veda because the first five Nikayas of the Twelve Nikayas (more commonly known as the Doctrine of Dependent Origination or the Doctrine of Dependent Arising) correspond to the first five steps of creation as recited in the Rg Veda. And he proved, by logic, that there could be no “atman,” no “atta,” no eternal, unchanging self. The Pali word for “no atta” is “anatta.”
Learning how to practice Zen is the most important thing that anyone can do and there is nothing religious about it. Those who never make the attempt to wake up never wake up. What a stupid world we would live in if it were true that going into a building on a regular basis, singing songs of praise to a First Cause in that building, putting money into collection trays in that building, and believing that such activities would result in a self having a permanent life in a blissful place. And if it were true that those who did not engage in such mundane activities would also have a self with an eternal life, but one filled with the worst possible torture forever, lovingly applied by that First Cause, then the world would be even more stupid.
The Buddha’s doctrine of dependent arising demonstrates that there can be no First Cause, no creator/god who stand outside the universe, independent of it and not subject to its laws. Everything depends on everything else. Even an imaginary First Cause is an effect dependent upon a preceding cause. The First Cause, like everything else, is a dependent arising.
Waking up requires active work, not belief in a bronze age tale designed by psychological terrorists to control the weak.
In this course, we show what that active work is. The good news is that we can do the work in manageable bites. We all know what a stalk of bamboo looks like. It extends a few inches and comes to a joint. It then extends another few more inches and comes to another joint and so on. We can keep that picture in mind as we do our Zen practices. We can do the first step of Beginning Zen, treat that as reaching a joint in the bamboo stalk of practice, and then go straight to the last practice. Or we can do the first two steps of Beginning Zen and then go to the last one. Over time, we might even do all three steps of Beginning Zen, all four steps of Intermediate Zen, and the first step of Advanced Zen before going to the second step of Advanced Zen which is the ninth and last step. There is a tenth step which is a collection of practices that helps maintain our enthusiasm for the nine central steps of the course but we add those practices at our leisure at any point of the course.
There are nine basic practices because there are ten dharma realms in the Buddhist way of looking at the entire spectrum of life. The animal dharma realm is the eighth dharma realm, for example, the human dharma realm is the sixth, and the Buddha dharma realm, Nirvana, is the first.
Each of these dharma realms is a state of mind. Think like a dog, become a dog. Think like a Buddha, become a Buddha. Our first practice is designed to lift us from the bottom dharma realm, the tenth one. The second practice lifts us from the ninth dharma realm, and so on. Thus, the ninth practice lifts us from the second dharma realm to the first and there are no higher dharma realms than the first so there is no tenth practice to lift us any further.
With each practice, we make progress. Master Huang Po would say we move closer to the City of Delusion if we believe we are an indepedent self making progress, trying to become an “atman.” Upon completion of all nine steps, we will have attained at least an idea of what it takes to wake up. Those who can practice regularly while upholding the precepts which form a part of the fifth practice can experience full and complete enlightenment because they will have practiced as instructed by the Buddha.
A person filled with sense desire, ill will, greed, and the like does not have a pure, passionless, selfless mind of which Huang Po speaks. So this course follows the Buddha’s instructions on how to practice so that our mind can at least have less sense desire, less ill will, less greed.
We cannot follow a gradual path to attain enlightenment, just as Huang Po says. Enlightenment, as the Master says, comes in a flash, a moment of deep penetration when all thought objects disappear and the thinking subject drops away. But that flash will never come to those who do not practice. By practicing, we are plowing the field and planting seeds.
But the most amazing result of sustained daily practice is that we begin to see what “anatta” really means, i.e., that our desire for an independent self that will experience a perfect, never-ending existence is the cause of all misery. Religions deliver the opposite of what they promise. Nirvana is not a heaven experienced by a blissful, everlasting and unchanging self. Nirvana is the extinction of the desire for an indepenent self that has a blissful, everlasting and permanent existence. Nirvana is freedom from the chains, the delusions of an independent self.
We cannot begin our school years with a Ph.D. in hand. A child learning that twelve divided by six is two is not ready to determine the area under the curve of a function. And a first year calculus student is not yet ready for string theory. So we offer a course, a gradual path, even if it draws the scorn of Master Po. He insisted that practice was a waste of time, that all we have to do is just wake up and see what is in front of us. Of course he is right, but most of us are too dim to follow his injunction. So we practice until a light begins to shine, and then we, too, can scorn practice and wake up in a blinding flash of enlightenment.
Those who wake up have not acquired something new, something they lacked before they practiced. All of us are whole and complete, just as we are. We are already wealthy, with diamonds sewn into our garments, but we just don’t know it. Practice opens up what we already have. And the absence of practice closes us up, more and more, and we never learn who we are.
The first three steps are easy Beginning Zen practices. The Buddha said he trained himself in a sixteen step meditation that led to his enlightenment, but a preliminary step, not counted as one of the sixteen, was to establish mindfulness. Without the preliminary step, the sixteen steps have no value.
In the first step of the course we establish mindfulness by practicing:
Present Moment Awareness
We show how this is done. It is an interesting, fun exercise that anyone can do and we will greatly enjoy it and benefit from it. Meditation is not a chore; it is an enjoyable practice. The Buddha said those who practice meditation are the happy ones.
But as we will see later in the course, we must become aware of the sense of self that says: “I enjoy this. I am making progress.” That sense of self is the greatest impediment to Zen practice. We have to get out of the way and let the practice be the practice. It is not something we do, like learning a new skill, for self-improvement. When we realize, through sustained daily practice, that our self is a dependent self that dependently arises, we understand how limited, weak, and doomed an independent self would be if there were such a thing.
A person who practices to become a better person is moving closer and closer to the City of Delusion, just as Huang Po says. If we practice with a sense of self, with a view toward perfecting that self, we are going in the wrong direction, the direction taught by the Brahmans of the Buddha’s day.
The Brahman religion became a vegetarian religion under the influence of the Buddha and evolved over the centuries into the collection of religious practices that the British in modern times called “Hinduism.” Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are of course known as theistic religions. Only Buddhism says that religion teaches the independent self/independent god delusion, creating the very misery they claim to overcome.
In the second step, we practice:
Loving Kindness meditation (metta)
This, like the preliminary step of establishing mindfulness, is not mentioned by the Buddhas as one of the sixteen steps. But he emphasized the importance of Loving Kindness meditation in numerous talks and simply assumed that those who embarked upon the sixteen steps were practitioners of metta (just as he rightly assumed that his students were familiar with the Rg Veda when he taught the Doctrine of Dependent Arising; the Rg Veda was as well-known in India then as the most famous Bible stories are known in the West today).
We provide detailed instructions on how to practice Loving Kindness meditation. It is also very enjoyable and provides enormous benefits. Again, we must not fall into the delusion that “we” are making progress and becoming a better person, on our way to becoming an “atman.”
In the third step, we practice:
Silent Present Moment Awareness.
This is an advanced state of mindfulness. We show the rather startling way that the absence of an independent self is first experienced. As beginners, we may lose a little mindfulness during our metta/Loving Kindness practice. Silent Present Moment Awareness brings us back into mindfulness with sharp clarity so that we will have placed mindfulness in front of us before beginning the sixteen steps.
The universe surrenders to the mind that is still.
Lao Tzu was a humble guy- his name means “old man,” or “old sage,” i.e., he never used his real name. His thoughts are important because Zen is a blend of classic Buddhism, i.e., the teachings of the Buddha, and the teachings of Lao Tzu, the founder of the Daoist path (Old spelling: Taoist).
The sixteen steps that follow the preliminary step of establishing mindfulness are found in the four steps of Intermediate Zen. They are explained in the same order they were taught by the Buddha in The Anapanasati Sutta, sutta 118 of the Majjhima Nikaya.
The Anapanasati Sutta was spoken by the Buddha more than 2500 years ago. After generations of oral transmission by monks and nuns, it was finally written down several hundred years after his passing.
Due to its antiquity, it is largely unknown in the West and is quite obscure in the East as well.
Now, thanks to the Internet, the most important talk the Buddha ever gave – describing the steps he followed to enlightenment – are no longer hidden in obscure texts known only to Theravada Buddhist renunciates and a handful of scholars. Venerable U. Vimalaramsi has sold or distributed over 600,000 copies of his explanation of that talk and Venerable Ajahn Brahm’s book on that talk has probably sold even more. The Anapanasati Sutta will someday enter into the mainstream, thanks to such books.
Intermediate Zen begins with step four that provides the Buddha’s instructions – not philosophical pronouncements but four concrete steps that we can actually practice – on developing mindfulness by practicing mindfulness of the body.
Step five provides the Buddha’s four instructions on developing mindfulness of feelings.
Step six provides the Buddha’s four instructions on developing mindfulness of the mind itself.
Step seven concludes Intermediate Zen and provides the Buddha’s four instructions on developing mindfulness of mind objects.
Advanced Zen begins with step eight where we apply the super power mindfulness developed in Intermediate Zen to the Doctrine of Dependent Arising.
We apply the super power mindfulness developed in Intermediate Zen to koans in step nine.
The tenth and final step includes non-meditation practices and unlike the first nine steps, does not lift us to a higher dharma realm because, as already noted, the ninth step lifts us to the first dharma realm.
This is a rather lengthy website and it continues to grow so we may want to bookmark it for future reference. There is too much content here to absorb in one visit.
It includes Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced practices that are good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end.
Although the Hsi Lai temple complex in LA may be the most spectacular (but not the largest) of all Buddhist temple complexes in the continental U.S., it is merely one of thousands of Buddhist temples in the western hemisphere.
The temple’s name announces that Buddhism has come to the West. (“Hsi Lai” means “Come to the West.”)
We use the term “Zen” in its broad meaning of meditation. The course is not limited to the practices of the Zen sect of Buddhism. We include all (I think) of the Zen practices, but we also include practices from other Buddhist schools, including the Theravada school, the Mahayana school, and the Pure Land sect (Zen and Pure Land are sects of the Mahayana school).
In this course, we use the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures as our guide and relate each picture to one of the Ten Dharma Realms. With each step of the course, we theoretically rise from a lower dharma realm and enter into the next higher dharma realm. At the ninth step, we arrive at the first dharma realm, the realm of Buddhahood.
We tie the Ox Herding pictures to the dharma realms as a teaching tool to help us understand the benefits produced by each practice.
Zen practice can be hard. It isn’t easy to be a full-time practitioner, a monk or nun who has left home to dedicate all waking hours to waking up.
However, this program is for lay people, people who spend most of their waking hours attending to school or work and family matters.
If we are lucky enough to live near a Zen (Japanese influenced) or Ch’an (Chinese influenced) center having a sanctioned teacher, or at least a senior student of a sanctioned teacher, we should at least visit, participate in the scheduled events, and perhaps become a member. A good list of Zen Centers in the U.S. is published by the American Zen Teachers Association. Further lists, including centers all over the world, are maintained at BuddhaNet (not restricted to Zen centers) and Zenguide.
When we finish this course, we will know what goes on in Zen centers and we won’t feel intimidated by them. Zen centers are welcoming and the people there will help our practice grow.
Most of us believe that Zen is impenetrable and mysterious. “What is the deepest wisdom of Buddhism?” Answer: “The cypress tree in the courtyard!”
Or sometimes the answer is: Three pounds of flax!
Here we will learn why such answers are given.
Just remember it’s a grand illusion
And deep inside we’re all the same.
Getting started as a beginner is easy. An hour from now, we’ll be a Beginning Zen practitioner!
But ten years from now, thirty years from now, we’ll still be practicing Zen. It’s not a hobby, it’s not something we try awhile and then walk away from.
We have no affiliation with the Zen River or the Vista Zen groups; we use these photos just to depict typical Zen practice groups. Note that some people are sitting on cushions and some are in conventional or ergonomic chairs and they are not monks or nuns.
Zen practice in the West is primarily a lay practice by people who lead money-driven lives. As such, it is much more relaxed than the classic Zen or Ch’an practiced in Asian monasteries where the discipline is strict, money is not touched, heads are shaved, and no chairs are to be found.
We will learn what is meant by Stream Entry, the Once Returner, the Non-Returner, and Nirvana.
More importantly, if we persist, we will experience Stream Entry.
Here we will learn (and experience) why the Buddha said: “We are the happy ones!”
Buddhism is not involved in a rivalry with any religion. It is a religion, as Roshi Philip Kapleau explained, only to the extent that we have to have faith that the practices lead to increasing wholesomeness.
That’s almost like saying doing push-ups is a religion. We have to have faith that our muscles will develop if we do the work. But no increased wholesomeness awaits those who persist in their push-up practice.
The Buddha also said that speculation was a waste of time.
Buddhism is a practice that develops mindfulness and results in liberation from the wheel of birth, death, and rebirth. Heavy stuff, but we really can’t ignore that aspect of Buddhism.
Some entrepreneurs travel the world, promoting Buddhism as a means for stress reduction, anger management, and other cool results. They make money holding seminars, selling a product.
But the Buddhism they preach is far from authentic Buddhism. People can practice yoga for stress reduction and anger management; they can take long walks in the sun to treat depression or excessive worry. They can become patients of psychotherapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists if those activities don’t work for them.
The practice of Buddhism reaches places untouched by the mundane world. To demote it to just another stress or anger management program is a ludicrous waste of its teachings and indicates a profound ignorance of what the Buddha taught.
Buddhism is practiced by ordinary people of all religions and all cultures. People who lack faith in their religion or philosophy may fear it, but those who don’t do not.
Buddhism has no supreme god that sits in judgment on human beings.
Therefore, Buddhism has no sacred texts that are the word of a supreme God.
Buddhism recognizes that the Great Chain of Being does not end with us humans, i.e., the human dharma realm is not the highest dharma realm. It’s the sixth of ten, according to the Mahayana school.
If we subscribe to the Theravada school’s system of dharma realms, which includes a more detailed parsing of the heavenly realms, then the human dharma realm seems even more pathetic – it’s the fourth (from the bottom) of thirty one!
However, Buddhism also recognizes that there is no great god/First Cause at the top end of the great chain…just as there is no beginnng to practice, there is no end to enlightenment.
Nirvana is not a retirement home in the sky with pearly gates at the entrance and where the streets are paved with gold and the Buddha sits on a throne, accepting praise.
We learn in our study of Buddhism that everything depends on everything else, and no god stands outside of everything. The Buddha accepted, with one modification, the Hindu concept of Indra’s net, the idea that everything is interconnected and nothing, not even a god, can stand separate and apart from anything else.
The modification was that the Hindu Indra’s net included Brahma, the Supreme Being. The Buddha said there are no independent beings and therefore there could be no independent supreme being.
Buddhism has no gurus, no one to worship, no quarrel with science and nothing to fear from past or future scientific developments.
Buddhism respects the great teacher who was known as The Buddha, The Enlightened One, but does not worship him. Full time practitioners are called monks and nuns by Westerners, but that is misleading because those practitioners are not worshiping anyone.
As we progress through this course, we’ll understand what happened when Moses went up to the top of Mt. Sinai and conversed with a bush that was burning but not consumed by fire.
Every visitor to this website who practices the ten steps of this course with diligence will climb that same mountain and have the same conversation with the same burning bush.
Those who just read through this website out of casual curiosity won’t experience what Moses experienced, but even they will find out what happened because we reveal it near the end of the course.
But those who want to become Zen practitioners will not have to wait for the end. As the steps are practiced, we discover what the burning bush is and we know why it said: “I am the great I am.”
We will realize that Moses was a dependent arising, as was the burning bush, and as we are as well.
As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says: “Inter-being is.”
Or more precisely, everyone depends on everyone else. No one, not even a god, is independent of everyone else.
Or, as the Buddha put it, there is no independent self. In all the eons of time, he said, (in the Diamond Sutra), no self has ever entered into existence and no self has ever exited existence.
A year from now, we won’t be the same person we are now. Of course, that will happen whether we take this course or not! But the change will be for the better even if we just practice the first three steps of Beginning Zen and never get to koan practice.
If we resolve to master this course at all three levels, a year from now we’ll be glad we did. Please Contact Us when you “complete” all three levels.
But feel free to Contact Us at anytime.
We put “complete” in quotes because, as we said earlier, practice has no beginning and enlightenment has no end…Dogen Zenji.
This site will seem quite strange at times to those who are unfamiliar with Buddhism. However, truth be told, it is the conventional, mundane, and utterly deluded world that is really the strange one…
Some people tell me they don’t want to become enlightened because it is the end of all being. The Buddha said, however, that the views of eternal life promoted by theistic religions or eternal annihilation promoted by the non-religious were both wrong views.
Both views are wrong because they presuppose an independent self that can go to a retirement home in the sky or that can be snuffed out like a candle flame.
“What arises is only suffering arising, what ceases is only suffering ceasing.”
– The Buddha, the Kaccanagotta Sutta
When asked to summarize his teachings in a pithy statement, the Buddha said he taught only the arising of suffering and the cessation of suffering.
Suffering arises when a sense of an independent self arises, an independent self that seeks protection from a world it perceives to be outside itself, an independent self that dreams of a happy eternal existence promised to it by religion.
Suffering ceases when the dependent arising of self is seen. Liberation occurs when we discover that no independent self has ever existed. We can’t nail Jello-O to a tree and we can’t identify an independent self because self changes with each moment, has no abiding core, and depends upon everything else. It comes and goes, is re-born and re-dies, dependent upon causes and conditions, and it has no underlying eternal soul.
The ten dharma realms of the Mahayana or northern school and the thirty one dhamma realms of the Theravada or southern school are just planes of existence, planes created by ignorance, i.e., planes that don’t exist at anuttara samyak sambodhi – full and complete, perfect enlightenment.
The dharma/dhamma realms exist only in the illusion caused by human ignorance.
Our animal minds, awash in sense desire, create dreams and fantasies and that’s what we are – ignorance-born minds filled with stupidity, unaware that nothing has ever happened, i.e., that everything is mind alone, and suffering as a result thereof.
That’s why the Buddha told us to wake up and taught us how to wake up.
Through daily practice that is “diligent, ardent, and resolute” (words of the Buddha) we gradually realize that the mundane world is just a mirage, a fantasy, a dream without substance, nonsense created by a deluded mind.
As a poet translated the closing lines of The Diamond Sutra:
“So I say to you –
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:
Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A star at dawn,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.
So is all conditioned existence to be seen.”
— The Buddha
As the mirage fades with daily cultivation, we discover that Nirvana/Nibbana is all there is and there never was anything else.
Builders used to put up large billboards by busy highways to advertise their developments to commuters stuck in traffic, saying:
If you lived here, you’d be home now!
A Buddhist-inspired New Yorker cartoon provided the perfect retort:
If you lived now, you’d be home here!
Thanks to the Buddha’s ancient teachings, as interpreted for modern readers by the down-to-earth, easy-to-follow instructions provided by the Venerables Ajahn Brahm and U. Vimalaramsi, whom we are about to meet, we can guarantee that at this website we will learn how to live now, and to be home where ever we are.
When we experience the beautiful breath for the first time, we’ll be happy that we stumbled here. We just follow the practices, every day, until they become second nature. According to Ajahn Brahm, we will eventually see the nimitta, the sign of Nirvana, during the ninth of the sixteen stages of the Tranquil Wisdom meditation taught by the Buddha. According to U. Vimalaramsi, no such nimitta will appear. That’s just a quibble. Both agree that Tranquil Wisdom meditation is the meditation that woke up the Buddha.
If we follow the concrete, step-by-step instructions disclosed by the Buddha, we too will wake up.
For advanced Zen/Ch’an practitioners who are working on koans, here will be found the Buddha’s instructions on how to develop the mindfulness required to penetrate koans.
There were no koans in the Buddha’s day, but the instructions he left us in the Pali Canon can be applied to Zen koan practice.
Those instructions are ignored by modern day Zen teachers, just as koans are ignored by modern day Theravada teachers.
Like two ships passing in the night, each with a cargo the other could use, the Zen and Theravada schools ignore one another. They have been doing so since the advent of the koan (gong-an) in China about a thousand years ago, fifteen hundred years after the Buddha’s lifetime.
The advantageous union of these two strong but independent traditions is made possible by the insight (found only at this website, as far as I know), that the super power mindfulness taught by the Buddha in The Anapanasati Sutta can be harnessed by Rinzai Zen practitioners.
Super power mindfulness can also be harnessed by anyone for any wholesome purpose. Artists, roofers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, students, carpenters, writers, police, preachers, athletes, electricians, Walmart employees…anyone who wants to can harness the super power mindfulness taught by the Buddha and bring that super power mindfulness to bear on any problem or interest.
If you’re a Hindu, a Jain, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Catholic, a Protestant, a Muslim, a Mormon, a Hare Krishna, a Margii, a Scientologist, an atheist, an agnostic, a contrarian, a hater of all religions, an ignorer of all religions, or none of the above, we invite you to take this course and develop the super power mindfulness taught by the Buddha.
But phooey on using Buddhism to become a better artist, a better athlete, or whatever.
To those who tour the world, selling mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) seminars, reducing Buddhism to just another self-help program, we offer three cheers, in Chinese:
Phooey! Phooey! Phooey!
OK, so phooey is not really a Chinese word, but it ought to be. And I like the joke.
Actually, I have met only one teacher of MBSR in person and he is a great guy who is very sincere and doing a lot of good work (far more work in the field of Buddhism and general goodness than I have ever done). So I hereby acknowledge that the above Chinese version of the hip-hip-hooray cheer doesn’t apply to all MBSR teachers.
And in penance I offer this link to his website.
But we practice Buddhism for one reason only: To wake up for the benefit of all sentient beings, not to attain the side effects of lower blood pressure and all that stuff the MBSR programs offer.
Why do you suppose Zen students and their teachers roar with laughter when a koan is penetrated?
Because everything is mind alone. And that means that this very moment, with our eyes on this computer screen, is nothing but mind alone.
This introduction is entitled Zen Overview but here we are at the end and the promised overview hasn’t shown up yet. So here it is:
Buddhism teaches that there are three worlds: The world of sense desire (the crude one we’re in now; it has six realms and is often referred to as the six worlds), the world of form (a much more subtle world where sense desires have ended but the desire for bodily existence has not), and the world of formlessness (a still more subtle world where the desire for existence has ended but where ignorance has not).
We graduate from the world of sense desire to the world of form when we visit the four jhanas (which we encounter in step six, Taming the Ox) and we leave behind the world of form and enter the world of formlessness when we visit the four immaterial attainments (which we encounter in step seven, Self Alone, Ox Forgotten).
But we don’t awaken fully until our outflows have ceased. In the words of Ch’an Master Hsuan Hua:
People who have become enlightened are free of outflows: The outflows of desire, the outflows of existence, and the outflows of ignorance. Because they are free of outflows, they do not fall into the realm of desire, the realm of forms, and the realm beyond form. We people now dwell in the realm of desire…it is called the realm of desire because the people in it have desires for material things and for sex, desires which they cannot put a stop to…The outflows of existence are suffered by beings who are beyond these desires and who dwell in the heavens of the world of forms…These beings cannot control their desire for bodily existence…Beyond these two outflows, and the greatest of the three, is the outflow of ignorance, which is the source of all afflictions. When this outflow has ended, the other two are ended also. Commentary, The Surangama Sutra.
As we progress through the ten steps of this programmed course in Zen practice, we will experience for ourselves the truth of the great master’s words. Blind belief and accumulated knowledge will get us nowhere. We have to actually perform the steps as taught by the Buddha; it is not enough just to read the steps. Just reading about the practices is the same as not reading about them.
But if we throw ourselves into the practice with beginner’s mind, we will experience the moment we leave the world of desire, the world of form, and the world beyond form. Nirvana is not the fourth world; it is ineffable. But when we practice every day, our doubts lessen and our commitment to practice grows. Nirvana is not unreachable. With practice, we learn that nothing is outside us. There is no reason to flow outward because the kingdom is already within us – how stupid to look elsewhere, to flow out!
So whenever we notice we are fascinated by the outside world, where desire and ignorance roam freely, we turn on our powers of mindfulness and shine the light inward, stopping the outflow of sense desire. We never left the Garden of Eden. It’s still right here for those who are awake.
Amazon Instant Video (streaming online video and digital download)