Category Archives: Nirvana

Stream Entry Zen Part One

Stream Entry Zen Part One

Ajahn Sumedo

Entering the stream means that we have at least loosened the fetter of belief in an independent self, we no longer have much doubt in the teachings of the Buddha, and we doubt that rites and rituals lead to enlightenment.

The Buddha said that stream enterers have at most seven lifetimes to go before entering into Nirvana. However, such language is meaningless to the extent that no independent self enters Nirvana. Nirvana is the end of belief in an independent self and seeing, instead, that every arising is a dependent arising.

In step ten, we provide a collection of practices that help keep us moving toward stream entry. When the stream is entered, enlightenment in seven lifetimes or less is guaranteed. If we still harbor doubts, that will sound weird to us. So let’s work on this collection of practice-supplementing practices, and watch our doubts lessen…

Step Ten – Returning to the Marketplace

The First Dharma Realm

Barefooted and naked of breast, I mingle with the people of the world. My clothes are ragged and dust-laden, and I am ever blissful. I use no magic to extend my life; Now, before me, the dead trees become alive.


Returning to the Marketplace

The first dharma realm is the dharma realm of the Buddhas. The central practice of this dharma realm is teaching the Buddha Dharma but that practice does not lift us to a higher dharma realm because there is no higher dharma realm.

Here is a recap of the central practices of all ten dharma realms.

Those of us who work on this course every day may not have attained the status of awakened masters, but as the tenth step of our program, we teach by example.

We become awakened masters if we master Tranquil Wisdom meditation and our teacher certifies that we have passed all assigned koans.

images dharma wheel

The Dharmacakra (wheel of dharma)

If we are traditional Rinzai Zen students working on teacher-assigned koans, in step nine we harness the super power mindfulness created by Tranquil Wisdom meditation to penetrate those koans and in step ten we teach other individuals on a one-to-one basis if we become sanctioned teachers.

Until we pass all our koans, we let our daily practices and our daily activities be our teachings.

If a Theravada practitioner masters Tranquil Wisdom meditation, he or she will have no problem with Zen koans.

An awakened master spreads enlightenment by mingling with humankind. Maybe even with animals, insects, and dull rocks as well.

How do dead trees become alive? We are the dead trees of whom the Master speaks. An enlightened Master works to awaken the dead trees – those of us who are asleep.

Many of us will not reach the stages of Reaching the Source and Returning To The Marketplace in this lifetime. But Returning To The Marketplace is the goal we reach without striving to reach it, without leaving home, without embarking on a self-improvement project.

We just practice, because the journey is the destination.

The Buddha maintained his practice for forty five years, i.e., from his enlightenment at age 35 until his parinirvana at age 80.

This is what an awakened Zen Master does: He or she lives in the world, teaching by example.

This is the highest, the first of the ten dharma realms – the realm of the Buddhas. It is “attained” only by the fully awakened.

I practiced with Roshi Aitken and other members of the Honolulu Diamond Sangha at the Palolo Zen Center on the last Sunday of his life, August 1, 2010. He was unable to sit at the mid-week Wednesday sitting and passed away that Thursday the 5th of August. So the Sunday sitting, my first and last with him, was his last group sitting. He was 93.

He practiced every day and inspired thousands of others to practice as well. We too can inspire others.

Robert Aitken Roshi, author of Taking the Path of Zen, was the first American who received full dharma transmission from the lineage of Japanese Zen masters Harada and Yasutani. During his lifetime, he passed that same dharma transmission to a small number of practitioners who are identified in the hyperlink associated with his name.


Robert Aitken, Roshi, Founder of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and the Honolulu Diamond Sangha


Some members of the Diamond Sangha advised me that Philip Kapleau Roshi had completed about one-third to one-half of the koan course provided by masters Harada and Yasutani before he left Japan. However, he received permission to teach in a formal ceremony, a photograph of which appears in The Three Pillars of Zen, so there was no requirement that he demonstrate penetration of all of the Harada-Yasutani koans. He had reached the point where further koan study was worthless.

Teachers in the Soto sect are more numerous than Rinzai sect teachers since authority to teach is given after ten years of sustained practice in a Soto Zen community such as the San Francisco Zen Center. However, there are still very few people who have completed such a rigorous requirement.

In a nation of over three hundred million people, we have less than three hundred certified Zen teachers. That’s less than one per million.

So whether we follow the Rinzai/koan or the Soto/shikantaza route, the tenth practice is to teach upon being given the authority to do so or to encourage others to practice if we are not yet sanctioned teachers. We can become a Zen Practice Foundation Certified Lay Teacher if we meet certain rigorous requirements.

We really shouldn’t say Rinzai or Soto. Rinzai masters assign shikantaza to their students who have passed all koans, and modern day shikantaza masters assign koans to their students just as Master Eihei Dogen did.



(Replica temple in Hawaii; the original is in Japan)

The term “teach” in the Zen sect refers to individual instruction of the type that occurs during dokusan (that’s the Soto Zen term; in Rinzai Zen it’s called daisan). The teacher determines what needs to be done or said at that moment in dokusan or daisan to guide the student toward enlightenment. Sometimes no words are exchanged.

Books or websites about Buddhism are directed to a broad audience for the benefit of all sentient beings and are not the kind of individual, customized teaching that requires formal Dharma Transmission. For example, a koan should be assigned to a student only by a sanctioned teacher and the student and teacher need to work together in person until the koan is “solved.” And that may lead to another koan, or another practice entirely…


The Student Bell

But the rest of us can refer others to this and other Buddhist websites or blogs and we can start sitting groups. We can rent or buy a house and convert it into a zendo, we can start a Buddhadharma talk show on local radio or TV, we can write articles for our local newspaper, write magazine articles or a book, and so on.

We can also enroll in and complete the Dedicated Practitioners Program or the Community Dharma Leaders Program at Spirit Rock, a Theravada practice center about thirty five miles north of San Francisco.


Spirit Rock

(The practitioner on the right is in the Burmese position; note the support under the left knee. It is important that both knees touch the ground or other support such as shown here. The practitioner on the left is in either full or half lotus with hands in the classic Zen position, left hand on top, thumbs touching lightly.)

But the most important teaching we can provide to fulfill this tenth step is to carry our Zen practices into the marketplace every day.

Our classmates, customers, patients, clients, co-workers and everyone else we deal with are our teachers and they are in the dokusan room we enter every day.

The traditional commentary says that this tenth and final stage is the step of attaining full Buddhahood. We may therefore conclude, without speculation, that it corresponds to whatever it is that lies beyond the four jhanas and the four immaterial attainments, i.e., Nirvana.

The Buddha never referred to Nirvana as the ninth jhana or the fifth immaterial attainment. He said there were four jhanas, four immaterial attainments, and Nirvana. And that until we experience dependent origination, both forward and backward, we can’t know Nirvana.

Although memorization is far from realization, memorization has value. For certification as a lay teacher, we recommend memorization of:

The Repentance Gatha

The Three General Resolutions

The Three Refuges

The Four Vows

The Four Brahma Viharas

The Four Noble Truths

The Five Hindrances

The Six Paramitas

The Seven Factors of Enlightenment

The Eight Steps of the Eightfold Path

The Ten Vows of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra;

The Ten Precepts

The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination

The title and verse of each of the ten ox-herding pictures; and

All of the chants.

The concept of ten dharma realms is a Mahayana concept not held by the Theravada school; as mentioned earlier, thirty one dharma realms are described in the Pali canon and Nibbana is not considered one of them. Nor does the Theravada school subscribe to the ten ox-herding pictures – the pictures are from the Zen sect of the Mahayana school.

By the same token, the Mahayana school and the Zen sect ignore the four jhanas and the four immaterial attainments as described by the Buddha so there is no direct correlation between the ten dharma realms and the stages of meditation as taught by the Buddha.

The word jhana is the Pali word for the Sanskrit word dhyana that was transliterated into Chinese as Ch’an and into Japanese as Zen. So it is ironic that the jhana sect ignores the Buddha’s teachings about the jhanas!

(My wife once asked a well-known Zen sensei what he thought of jhana meditation. He had never heard of it).

Nor is it traditional to correlate the ten dharma realms and the ten Ox-herding pictures. We have conflated them merely as a teaching tool; it helps us learn about both when we visualize them in matching pairs, i.e., leaving the tenth dharma realm of the sad but impermanent hell worlds by practicing the cultivation of happiness when we begin our search for the ox, leaving the ninth dharma realm of the hateful hungry ghosts by cultivating Loving Kindness as we find the footprints, and so on.

The jhanas are not indispensable, however. As the Buddha made clear in the Satipatthana Sutta, practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and awareness of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment also provide a “direct path” to Nibbana, without experiencing the jhanas. This is known as “dry insight.” See Breathing Through The Whole Body by Will Johnson.

As Jack Kornfield points out in his introduction to Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond, there are many practices that lead to awakening, not just the tranquil wisdom meditation taught in the Anapanasati Sutta. He mentions the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, Tibetan master the Dalai Lama, Venerable Ajahn Buddhadasa, and Venerable Sunyun Sayadaw who offer “different and equally liberating perspectives.”


Jack Kornfield

Theravada teachers often instruct students to begin a sitting with samatha (calmness) meditation, and when the mind is calm, to begin vipassana (insight) practice. Others argue that a practitioner should do either samatha or vipassana but not both.

Some works on Theravada Buddhism contend that samatha practice cannot lead to Buddhahood and that vipassana is the only practice that is valid.

Other books on the same subject hold that the Buddha himself practiced samatha, not vipassana.

Still other writers argue that the practices of samatha and vippasana are not really different meditations at all, that deep samatha practice naturally leads to vipassana practice. Ajhan Brahm, in Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond, is one of the teachers who argues that the practices are not distinct from one another.

Ajahn Brahm in robes

Venerable Ajahn Brahm

If it is true that the Buddha performed only jhana practice, then it is obvious that those who announce that jhana practice cannot lead to enlightenment must be mistaken.

Koan practice, favored by the Rinzai sect of Zen, is not mentioned in the original Buddhist writings. However, many Zen practitioners have attained enlightenment through koan practice and Zen teachers assure us that koan practice is the most effective meditation technique.

Jhana, vipassana, and koan practices are all authentic; they are just different and none of them should be ignored.

Zen master Robert Zenrin Lewis, of the Jacksonville Zen Sangha, like Jack Kornfield, also agrees that there are many paths to awakening. “Choose one!” he exhorts.

But in this course we have chosen two methods and combined them. We develop “super power” mindfulness by following the Theravada Tranquil Wisdom meditation and we harness that super power mindfulness to enable us to demonstrate to our Sensei or Roshi (a Sensei for many years) that we have penetrated the koans assigned to us.

Practitioners of Zen koans, shikantaza, counting the exhalations meditation, and other forms of meditation may attain enlightenment while ignoring the sixteen steps of Tranquil Wisdom meditation, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and the Seven Factors of Enlightenment.

But most Zen students spend their entire lifetime trying to penetrate a single koan or sitting in shikantaza to little or no effect. With super power mindfulness generated by following the Buddha’s instructions, koan and shikantaza practice will bear more fruit.

I have never heard any Theravada teacher suggest that the super power mindfulness generated by a jhana experience could be harnessed to penetrate a koan.

Nor have I heard of a Zen teacher instructing a student to develop super power mindfulness by following the Buddha’s sixteen step meditation so that a koan could be penetrated.


Kiyomizu (Clear Water) Tera, Kyoto

So it seems that the Theravada school has developed a tool of which Zen teachers are unaware, and the Zen school is unaware that the Theravada has a tool that the Zen school could use.

The Buddha said that true liberation requires experience of dependent origination, both forward and backwards. A practitioner who follows the precepts will see – someday – dependent origination, forward and backward, upon diligent practice of vipassana/insight meditation, samatha/samadhi or calming meditation such as tranquil wisdom meditation, koan practice, counting the breath, loving kindness meditation, or shikantaza.

But by harnessing super power mindfulness and using it for koan practice, that someday becomes now. Working without the proper tool makes the work much harder.

In the first nine steps of this course, each step has a central practice that takes us to the next level. The central practice is an antidote to the causes and conditions that take us to and bind us to that particular dharma realm.

But as mentioned above, there is no central practice to lift us from the first dharma realm because it is the Buddha dharma realm and nothing lies above it.

If Nibbana is outside of all dharma realms as taught by the Theravada school, then reality has a split formed in it, i.e., there is a dichotomy.

If Nirvana is the first dharma realm and the beings who attain it are no longer beings at all and cannot re-enter the evil dharma realms, as taught by the Mahayana school, the dichotomy again appears.

So we can look at the dharma/dhamma realms as not being clearly defined and as extending infinitely in both directions from the crude to the subtle. No hottest hell, no best heaven. No bottom at one end and no top at the other.

Or we can take the position of The Heart Sutra, the ultimate Zen sutra, and see the emptiness of all dharmas, all dharma realms.

Nor is there pain,

Or cause of pain,

Nor noble path to lead from pain,

Not even wisdom to attain.

“Nor is there pain” denies the First Noble Truth, the truth of dukkha.

“Or cause of pain” is a denial of the Second Noble Truth, that dukkha is caused by desire (tanha) conditioned by ignorance (avijja).

“Nor noble path to lead from pain” is denial of the Third Noble Truth that suffering/pain (dukkha) can be brought to cessation (nirodha).

“Not even wisdom to attain” is denial of the Fourth Noble Truth that wisdom is attainable by following the Noble Eightfold Path.

Here we see another difference between classic Buddhism and Zen. The former says we have to do the work, i.e., follow the eightfold path until we attain wisdom/enlightenment, and the latter says: No, our inherent nature is Buddha nature, we already have wisdom, we merely have to uncover it.

But we uncover it by following the eightfold path.

So all we really have is just a play on words, discursive thinking creating a chasm where none exists.

So if we sit in tranquil wisdom and reach the realm of neither perception nor non perception, and then fade away into Nibbana, never to be re-born into “existence” again, what if that final cessation, that liberation from existence is merely entry into the lowest Nibbana…

But the Mahayana teaching is that no independent self exists so there is no one to enter into Nibanna. Anuttara samyak sambodhi is extinction of self as taught by the Theravada, but neither extinction of self nor eternal existence of self as taught by the Mahayana.

The Mahayana explanation is understood if we accept the Mahayana premise that nothing is independent of anything else, that reality is indivisible and empty of individual entities who stand outside of reality.

If reality is indivisible/empty of independent individuals, then no independent individual can enter reality at birth or depart it at death. Nor can an enlightened Buddha leave reality because even Buddhahood is empty of self – nothing stands alone, outside of reality. There are no two things.

That’s why Zen masters tell us we are whole and complete just as we are. From the very beginning, all beings are Buddhas.

But we have to cultivate/practice Zen to realize the truth of that statement. Otherwise, it’s nothing but a belief and our Buddhism has the stench of blind belief religion.

Every time I hear a newborn baby cry, or touch a leaf, or see the sky, then I know why I believe!

–Lyrics written by an incredibly stupid person in a popular song of the 1960s

With practice comes the awareness of Buddhahood but that awareness is not owned or experienced by an independent being.

There are several important Buddhist practices that support our central practices, even though none of the auxiliary practices, standing alone, can lift us from one level of realization to another.

So we reserve discussion of these auxiliary practices for this tenth and final step of the How To Practice Zen program. Buddhists all over the world practice these auxiliary steps. They are non-meditation steps but they support our meditation practice.

Moreover, if performed mindfully, these steps can become meditation steps as well. We begin with chanting.


Chanting is an important part of an authentic Zen practice.

Learning chants takes a lot of time but is well worth the effort. When memorized, the chants become a part of us. A chant or a part thereof can be summoned at any time, any place; we won’t need to carry a chant book with us if we have committed each one to memory.

Roshi Philip Kapleau said:

“Mind is unlimited.

Chanting, when performed egolessly,

has the power to penetrate

visible and invisible worlds.”

Chanting also has the power to lift us from the realm of desire into the heavenly realms.

Roshi Kapleau advised against forced memorization, advising us to chant daily and to let the memorization happen gradually. However, some people who have practiced for more than ten years still reach for a chant book when a chanting service begins. Obviously, gradual memorization doesn’t work for everybody.

Roshi Kapleau further advised us to chant in a voice near the lower end of our range. So we chant with a low pitch but not with a growl. When chanting with a group, we try to harmonize with the group. We chant in a monotone, without emphasizing syllables. This helps keep the mind on an even keel. A sing-songy, emotion-driven rendition of a chant dilutes its power.

I once had to lead a chant at a Vesak ceremony at a Unitarian-Universalist congregaton (held in May at about the time of the first full moon to observe the Buddha’s birth and in some countries his death and enlightenment as well) because no one else in our Zen group would do it. My plan was to open the chanting session by asking the audience – a non-Buddhist crowd – to chant with our chanters – a team assembled from our local Zen center – in a low voice, but not so low as to be a growling voice. However, we were preceded in the program by a Tibetan monk who chanted the Heart Sutra in one long growling growl; it was quite pleasant and well-received but of course I had to change my opening remarks.


Vesak Day at Wat Phra Dhammakaya

To chant, we kneel on a mat, with back straight and knees forward, spread apart at a distance that is comfortable, and sit on our feet. This is the seiza position mentioned in Creating a Practice Space in Beginning Zen. We place our right hand in our lap, palm up, and then place our left hand, palm up, on top of the right hand with the thumbs crossing, not touching at the tips.

Subject to the exception of Master Hakuin’s Chant In Praise Of Zazen, chants are chanted to the beat of a mokugyo (Japanese for wooden fish). You can purchase a small one for home use at The Monastery Store. Most Zen centers also have a large bowl-shaped gong known by its Japanese name, keisu, as well as a small one for use in chants.

The photo on the left shows a mokugyo and a keisu is on the right:


The drumstick of the mokugyo is stored in a slot in the back of the instrument. Only the drumhead is visible in the photo. There is a bit of history behind these pictured items.

All of the chants and more are in bound form and can be purchased for a nominal fee at the marketplace of the Rochester Zen Center.

On the subject of chanting, it is worth noting that many Chinese Ch’an/Zen masters promote both the practice of Zen chanting as well as the practice of Pure Land (Jin Tu) chanting.

We recommend Master Hakuin’s Chant in Praise of Zazen as the first chant to learn.

This very famous chant, written in the 1700s by Japanese Master Hakuin during his work to revitalize Zen practice in Japan, follows a logical flow, beginning with: “From the very beginning…” Therefore, it is not difficult to memorize.

Master Hakuin’s chant is chanted, as aforesaid, without the beat of a mokugyo, the wooden fish drum used in other chants. It is customarily chanted prior to a Teisho at retreats. However, it is so deep and so instructive that daily repetition is invaluable.

If our first thought every morning is to fire up the coffee maker, or to check Facebook, or to turn on the news, we can try chanting In Praise of Zazen instead. The things that concern us gradually fade away as we tune into higher planes of consciousness.

Master Hakuin’s Chant In Praise of Zazen

From the very beginning, all beings are Buddha.

Like water and ice, without water no ice,

outside us, no Buddhas.

How near the truth yet how far we seek,

like one in water crying “I thirst.”

Like a child of rich birth wand’ring poor on this earth,

we endlessly circle the six worlds.

The cause of our sorrow is ego delusion.

From dark path to dark path we’ve wandered in darkness —

how can we be free from birth and death?

The gateway to freedom is zazen samadhi–

beyond exaltation, beyond all our praises,

the pure Mahayana.

Upholding the precepts,

repentance and giving,

the countless good deeds,

and the Way of right-living

all come from zazen.

Thus one true samadhi extinguishes evils;

it purifies karma, dissolving obstructions.

Then where are the dark paths to lead us astray?

The pure lotus land is not far away.

Hearing this truth, heart humble and grateful,

to praise and embrace it, to practice its wisdom,

brings unending blessings,

brings mountains of merit.

And when we turn inward and prove our True-nature —

That True-self is no-self,

our own self is no-self —

we go beyond ego and past clever words.

Then the gate to the oneness

of cause and effect

is thrown open.

Not two and not three,

straight ahead runs the Way.

Our form now being no-form,

in going and returning we never leave home.

Our thought now being no-thought,

our dancing and songs are the

voice of the Dharma.

How vast is the heaven

of boundless samadhi!

How bright and transparent

the moonlight of wisdom!

What is there outside us,

what is there we lack?

Nirvana is openly shown to our eyes.

This earth where we stand

is the pure lotus land,

and this very body the body of Buddha.

(end of chant)

If you want to be a Buddha, you must think like a Buddha – Dharma Master Hsuan Hua.

Daily chanting of Master Hakuin’s Chant will help us think like a Buddha. The day will come when the truth of this chant is realized and we will understand that this earth where we stand is the pure lotus land.

A Teisho is a talk by a sanctioned teacher, usually given during an intensive meditation retreat known by the Japanese term sesshin. The teacher sits on a raised platform and faces the Buddha altar, not the meditators. The teacher thus directs the Teisho to the Buddha, and this helps the teacher raise the Teisho to the highest level.

A Teisho is not a Dharma Talk which is a talk by a senior student who has not received sanction to teach. The speaker faces the sangha during the talk and sits on his or her normal cushions, there being no raised platform in use. Dharma talks are typically given during regular meetings of the meditation group and usually supplant a round of meditation. Master Hakuin’s chant is not recited prior to a Dharma talk.

Although Zen practitioners sit without motion during periods of formal zazen, most Zen centers have a rule that allows the listeners to adjust their posture during a Teisho or a Dharma talk because listening is the paramount activity during either talk.

The “six worlds” refers to the bottom six worlds of the ten dharma realms. This is the desire realm that we find ourselves in. A sentient being in the desire realm is subject to visiting the other five realms in one lifetime and is subject to re-birth in any one of the six realms. Only the sentient beings of the top four realms are immune to falling into the desire realm.

Samadhi is Sanskrit and is usually translated as concentration but it is a high degree of concentration, one-pointedness, that is often experienced as spiritual bliss. Every meditator eventually experiences it except those who meditate while ignoring the precepts and the third, fourth and fifth folds of the eightfold path. Samadhi is called kensho in Japanese.

Having a samadhi experience does not mean that one has attained enlightenment.

There are many different levels of samadhi. The experience may be brief in time or lengthy. It may be deep or shallow.

Master Hsuan Hua was meditating one night in a hut he built by his mother’s grave as an exercise in filial piety. A bright light shot out of the hut and the townspeople grabbed buckets of water and ran to the cemetery to douse what they thought was a fire. The hut was ablaze with light when they arrived. The Master was sitting inside, in samadhi, emitting light. There was no fire.

Sitting in meditation in Taipei, Taiwan in August, 1979, I heard a beautiful flute playing. A window was open and I was certain that a musician was in the street. I got out of my posture and looked out the window, but no flute player was there; just the usual street scene.

I then realized that I had heard the flute of Krishna of which our Hindu friends speak. Still in a meditative mood, I sat back down, certain that the music would return and it did.

I listened to it for awhile, and it was beautiful. I will remember this sublime, unforgettable tune forever, I thought. And I will record it and Paul McCartney, eat your heart out! I’m going to be rich!

Need I add that the music stopped and I can’t recall a single note of it?

Zen masters have a colorful term for a samadhi experienced in the absence of wisdom: they call it Dead Tree Samadhi.

Master Hakuin’s chant also employs that oft-heard word, “karma.”

Karma is a Sanskrit word meaning “action” but it is perhaps better understood as meaning “the law of cause and effect.” Every action produces an effect. Karma, not God, controls the universe. Yes, there are sentient beings in the heavenly worlds but they are not our judges.

The law of cause and effect is like the law of gravity: It extends everywhere, it never stops working, and there is no brain behind it.

No god sits in judgment, deciding to punish us when we are bad and deciding to reward us when we are good.

Thanks to the law of gravity, we trip, we fall. Karma works the same way. Punch other people in the nose and get punched back in return. Help others, receive help.

What is the most obvious observation that anyone could ever make? Here it is, the open secret of the six worlds, the realm of desire:

Everything that (apparently) happens is the result of everything that has been done.

It can’t be otherwise. Effects cannot appear without a cause. And every effect then become the next cause.

Stephen Hawking tells us that in the quantum world, causes may precede effects but such effects disappear in the larger, macro world.

And there is, apparently, no first cause because something earlier would have had to cause that first cause.

But the law of karma does not always operate in an obvious way. Sure, some simple karmic activities like kicking a brick wall while barefooted have immediate karmic consequences but it isn’t always so obvious.

Karma can even carry over from lifetime to lifetime, but that’s another subject.

We are the sum of all our thoughts. Scary as it may seem, all of us have thought ourselves into our respective predicaments. Where we are today is the result of everything we have ever thought from beginningless time and what we do today sets us on a course into the endless future.

But if there is no self, who experiences the results of a thought? Answer: Another thought experiences the result of a preceding thought.

We are simply the thoughts we cling to or identify with. Disengagement from thoughts arises from the practice of zazen and the practices that make effective zazen possible.

Do we perceive the world as one big loving family? Or as a mean place where terrorists lurk? Most of us see the world as a mixture of good and bad.

However, a person with little or no spiritual enlightenment will see the world as an extremely hostile place and a fully enlightened Buddha will see the world as Nirvana.

As one is, so one sees.

Next we encounter the term “Mahayana.” Mahayana is Sanskrit for Great Vehicle or Big Boat. Just as the protestants split from the original Catholic faith, so too did the Buddhist world split into two major schools. And the largest of those two also split many times.

Original Indian Buddhism had multiple schools but the only one that survived into the modern world is known as the Theravada school, the Way of the Elders.

Most of the other schools of Buddhism that survived to the modern world are grouped together under the heading Mahayana. Zen is one of the Mahayana schools. There are two major Zen schools, Soto and Rinzai, and a smaller school found mostly in Japan, Obako.

Tibetan Buddhism has its own category: Vajrayana. Just as Zen is a mixture of Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism (Wade-Giles), the indigenous “religion” of China, Vajrayana is a mixture of Mahayana and Bon, the indigenous religion of Tibet.

Zen is the second largest of the Mahayana schools. The largest Mahayana school is The Pure Land school and its practitioners in China and Japan greatly outnumber Zen practitioners.

Many Chinese Ch’an/Zen masters encourage Pure Land practices.

Zen was created by the merger of Indian Buddhism and Chinese Daoism (pinyin). None of the famous Zen sutras were spoken by the Buddha; they were written by enlightened Chinese masters who understood what the Buddha had said (and more importantly, experienced what the Buddha experienced) and placed the Buddha’s teachings into their own words.

Many of the Chinese sutras begin with: “Thus I have heard…” and what follows is the Chinese Master’s version of what the Buddha said. Scholars strongly suspect this to be the case because the Chinese Ch’an/Zen sutras are drastically different in style from the original Pali texts as preserved through the centuries by the Theravada school. (Pali is a dialect of Sanskrit: Sanskrit “nirvana” is “nibbana” in Pali; Sanskrit “dharma” is “dhamma” in Pali, and so on).

We even find, in one Chinese sutra, that the Buddha said: “How lucky it is to be re-born in human form. Luckier still to be re-born Chinese!”

Since the Buddha most likely never heard of China, and since the Buddha taught non-discrimination, it is a pretty safe bet that those words came from a Chinese master, no doubt giggling as he wrote with tongue-in-cheek.

Or the “Luckier still to be re-born Chinese” was simply a humorous commentary. The Chinese are very fond of commenting on every phrase of a sutra.

As practiced in the modern world, there are few differences between Theravada and the several schools of the Mahayana. Both Theravada and Mahayana schools meditate and Zen simply means “meditation” so what is the difference?

The meditation techniques are different and the two schools follow different rituals, but they both are essentially the same. The Zen sect simply emphasizes meditation more than the other sects. That’s why most Americans are attracted to the Zen sect. We are more interested in meditation than we are in rites and rituals.

I have attended multiple Sunday morning Chinese Buddhist services, and I am no longer amazed that they do everything except meditation.

Some Asian teachers tell the story of two people who come to a wall. They climb atop it, and both shout with joy at the sight they behold. Apparently, they see the land of milk and honey. (Perhaps considered hell by vegans!)

Delighted, the first person leaps from the wall and disappears into the promised land, never to be heard from again. The second person practices restraint and resolves not to pass over the wall until all sentient beings have crossed over. Only then will the selfless one enter into that happy land.

The first person is the Arhat, the selfish Theravadan who only wants to save himself. The second person is the Bodhisattva, the ideal of the Mahayana.

That is a mean-minded, unenlightened story! Sadly, in Asia the Mahayana followers really do look down on the Theravadans, who they dismissively call the Hinayana (Small Vehicle or Little Boat), implying that the Hinayana people are small-minded and somewhat selfish. After all, they do kill animals for food and think nothing of it.

This Asian problem has cultural roots. The Mahayana countries are China (including Tibet), Japan, Korea, and most of Vietnam, i.e., China and the countries that historically find themselves in the cultural orbit of China.

The Theravada countries are Sri Lanka (Holy Island), Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and the Cambodian border area of Vietnam. Malaysia is primarily Muslim with a minority Buddhist population.

The story of a self-centered Arhat is ludicrous because an Arhat has attained perfect enlightenment. That of course cannot happen until the practitioner has developed the Bodhisattva spirit, vowing not to enter Nirvana until all sentient beings have done so.

The Arhat does not pass into Nirvana, never to be heard from again. Both people went back from that wall, compelled by compassion, to help others enter into the promised land. One of them, however, spread a rumor that the other had selfishly disappeared over the wall.

That, in a nutshell, is how Buddhism divided into a Northern or Mahayana school and a Southern or Theravada school.

In the United States, the two schools mix freely, each attending the other’s sittings, chanting services, and retreats. Very little mixing occurs in Asia, primarily due to the geographical distances, cultural differences, historical inertia, and language problems involved, none of which prevails in the States.

Although the Mahayana appears a little haughty if not arrogant in its attitude toward the Hinayana (actually considered to be a dirty word!), scholars say that the Theravada school preserved the Buddha’s original teachings but that Buddhism would not have become a world “religion” if the Mahayana had not transformed it from a “monkish” religion. As the Mahayana spread, Buddhism became a religion for lay people as well as monks and nuns.

Most scholars also agree that the split between Mahayana and Theravada occurred vey early, perhaps as little as one hundred years after the parinirvana of the Buddha.

Master Hsuan Hua, a modern day Ch’an master from China, was well aware of the prejudices held by many Mahayana practitioners against the Theravada practitioners so he worked hard during his lifetime to dispel such prejudices. He befriended Theravada practitioners and even gave them land to build a Theravada monastery near his own property (The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas) in northern California.

So even though we are speaking of starting and maintaining an authentic Zen practice, we mean no prejudice against other forms of practice. If we are lucky enough to live near a Pure Land or a Theravada practice center, by all means we should go there and practice. But we can skip the animal-killing that defiles the Theravada temples.

And when we practice Zen, we include selected Theravada and Pure Land practices.

If we ever make it to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, we can drive another eighteen miles and visit the Abhayagiri monastery, the Thai forest tradition monastery that received the gift of land from Master Hua.

When visiting Abhayagiri, I saw an alabaster Buddha on the hillside, overlooking the monastery, so I climbed a path to get closer to it for a photo. After taking the photo, I saw that the path continued around the side of the mountain so I started following it. After just a few steps, I encountered a sign that said something like:

Do not walk alone.

No jogging, no bike riding.

Beware of mountain lions.

I still regret that I didn’t have the presence of mind to photograph that sign. I just descended from the hillside without delay.

Hakuin also mentions “wisdom,” a word that pops up frequently in Buddhism and during sports casts.”The quarterback hit the tight end instead of the wide receiver, a wise choice. That’s the wisdom that comes with experience, folks.”

We often hear of Wisdom but the word is hard to define. In Buddhism, it simply refers to deep understanding of The Four Noble Truths.

Most writers say that The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering but the Buddha never said that. He said life is out of whack like a wheel mounted on an eccentric axle.

If the axle of a wheel is concentrically mounted, that means it is mounted in the center of the wheel and any vehicle carried by such a wheel will proceed smoothly in a level plane.

Mount the axle away from the center and the vehicle will go up and down as it proceeds. The amplitude of the up and down motion increases as the distance from the center of the wheel to the axle increases.

No doubt the Buddha had seen ox-pulled carts in his day, 2500 years ago, where the axle was eccentrically mounted and the wagon rose and fell with each rotation of such a wheel. He saw that imperfection in his daily life.

After attaining enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, he searched for a way to communicate to others what he had realized and settled upon the Pali word “dukkha” when announcing The First Noble Truth that life is unacceptable, unsatisfactory, out of whack like an eccentrically-mounted wheel, a dukkha wheel.

If we can penetrate The First Noble Truth, we know the other three.

Right Understanding, also known as Right View, is the first fold of the eightfold path.

Right Understanding of what? Of the First Noble Truth. Right Understanding is the cure for ignorance. In Buddhism, an ignorant person is a person who doesn’t know the First Noble Truth. Or someone who intellectually knows it, but does not really know it.

The Second Noble Truth is often stated as “The suffering of The First Noble Truth is caused by desire.”

Desire for what? Desire for a separate, independent self. From ignorance there arises a desire to withdraw, to separate, to know good and evil.

Red Pine tells us that the Sarvastidians, one of the early Buddhist sects who were contemporaries of the Theravadans, realized that the Four Noble Truths applied only to the six worlds. There could be no desire in the four heavenly realms.

The Biblical story of Satan being kicked out of heaven because he wanted to be a king just like God has the ring of truth.

Who is that nasty old Satan who wanted to have a separate self, who wanted a discriminating mind so that he (or it) could pick and choose between things it likes and things it doesn’t?

Do we know anyone who judges, who picks and chooses, who thinks he or she has a self that is independent of everything else?

When we judge, when we weigh, when we choose, when we like, when we dislike…that is the satanic mind.

We practice Zen to awaken to our original Buddha nature, thereby transforming our satanic nature which is so inbred in us that we don’t even realize how far our axle is from its central position. But no god or devil did it to us. We kicked ourselves out of paradise with our desire.

How successful we have been in creating the powerful illusion of a separate self. No one told us to be careful of what we wished, or if they did we ignored the advice. Can we click our heels three times and go home? There is no positive action we can take to propel us back into the Nirvana from which we emerged.

We can only practice Zen, thereby creating the conditions that allow us to return to our natural state.

Deeply understanding The Second Noble Truth is just another way of deeply understanding The First Noble Truth. They really are the same Noble Truth.

The Third Noble Truth is that when the desire for a separate self evaporates, the separate self is extinguished. Nirvana means blown out like a candle, gone. The separate self is gone and our true nature is revealed.

The Buddha simply said the same Noble Truth in three different ways, trying to communicate something that is not easy to communicate to stupid human beings, burning with desire.

So to lay it out in a step-by-step program, because he knew people were too dense to penetrate the Noble Truth expressed in three different ways, the Buddha produced a Fourth Noble Truth and called it the middle way or The Eightfold Path.

People who follow the Buddha’s eight step program will eventually understand the First, Second and Third Noble Truths.

This is another point of departure where Zen departs from classic (Theravada) Buddhism. The early Ch’an masters felt that the eight steps were quite wordy and that some people would be mis-led by the words. “The Indians think too much” is a common comment of Chinese thinkers.

Zen wants to simplify, to cut through words, to get straight to the heart of the matter without thinking too much about following an eight-point plan. The early Zen masters felt that The Eightfold Path was somewhat discursive, too intellectual for their taste. So they stripped The Eightfold Path from classical Buddhism and said: Let’s just meditate like the Buddha did. Let’s not get bogged down in words.

We can listen to podcasts from Zen centers all over the U.S. and we may never hear a discourse on The Fourth Noble Truth. Or the first Three Noble Truths for that matter. Listen to Theravada podcasts and it’s The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path all the time.

This is one way the divide between Mahayana and Theravada manifests itself.

There is value in studying and practicing The Eightfold Path, however. If we practice authentic Zen, we will be following all eight folds of the path automatically.

1. Right Understanding or Right View. This refers to understanding The Four Noble Truths.

2. Right Thought. This refers to not picking and choosing, not running towards things or people we like and away from things or people we don’t like but instead taking the middle way of neither liking nor disliking.

Together, the first two folds of the path form the Wisdom group of The Eightfold Path.

3. Right Speech. Refers to not lying, but includes the concept of maintaining noble silence instead of chatting mindlessly. Buddhism is pragmatic on the subject of lying. It was perfectly OK, of course, for the family hiding Anne Frank to tell the Nazis they had seen no Jews in the neighborhood.

4. Right Action. Self-explanatory. Refrain from doing hurtful things.

5. Right Livelihood. Don’t engage in occupations that hurt others. Don’t sell cigarettes, drugs, booze, or slaughtered animal meat, for example. The Buddha himself admonished a man for being a commercial fisherman. He also spoke out against those who sold weapons.

As a child, I sat through countless Church of Christ sermons where the preacher would rant against the evils of smoking. I was surprised to learn years later that the preacher of the largest Church of Christ congregation in the world, in Nashville, Tennessee, was a tobacco farmer.

In my adult hometown, one of the most prominent Christians, who has now passed away, owned a beer franchise. I often wondered if he ever gave a second thought to all the deaths, divorces, disease and demonic behavior his product facilitated.

6. Right Effort. When a bad or mean-minded thought arises, nip it in the bud. If it has already taken over, and you’re mad as hell about something (like when thinking about nicotine and booze-selling Christians who ooze self-righteousness), drop such thoughts. If the mind is blank, plant a thought of loving kindness. If kind thoughts have arisen spontaneously, nourish them. Note that there are four steps to Right Effort.

Together, steps 4, 5, and 6 make up what is known as the Ethical folds of The Eightfold Path. Step 5 is utterly ignored in Christianity.

7. Right Mindfulness. This one has four basic parts as well: 1) Contemplation of the body; 2) Contemplation of feelings, whether repulsive, attractive, or neutral; 3) contemplation of the state of mind; and 4) contemplation of phenomena/mind objects. Obviously, this is what we do in Tranquil Wisdom meditation.

8. Right Concentration, sometimes called Right Meditation. Self-explanatory.

Steps 6, 7, and 8 are the Concentration or Meditation group.

The Ethical group forms the foundation because practicing the Meditation group requires an ethical foundation. An unethical lifestyle is a roadblock to meditation. And Right Understanding and Right Thought cannot arise if the practices of the Meditation group are not followed.

What The Buddha Taught

Here are the next three chants that we can gradually add to our practice: Affirming Faith In Mind, the Ten Verse Kannnon Sutra, and The Dharani to Allay Disasters.

Written in the sixth century by Chinese Master Jianzhi Seng Tsan, the Third Patriarch of Zen (even though he was a Taoist), scholars have praised Affirming Faith In Mind as “the highest achievement of the human mind.”

“Thought cannot reach this state of truth” but these words come as close as it gets. This awesome work leaves no secret unrevealed. No one told me to memorize this lengthy chant. The first time I read it, I knew I would.

In Chinese it’s called the Hsin Hsin Ming. Like any chant, it can be recited aloud or silently. The Great Way is the Tao (Dao); this is a Taoist (Daoist) chant, adopted by the Zen sect.

The great American Zen master John Daido Loori was given the name Daido by his teacher because he (Loori) was fond of this chant. He is said to have imprinted it on Christmas cards, New Year greetings, and so on. “Daido” is Japanese for “Great Way.”

The author is talking about sakkaya ditthi. Only a self within can like or dislike a world without, only a self can hold opinions. The gap between where we are now and Nirvana is caused by the slightest distinction made between inside and outside; the presence of the slightest distinction is the manifestation of sakkaya ditthi.

Reciting the Hsin Hsin Ming every day provides a foundation for a strong Zen practice because it helps us to empty the cup of our opinions. As Ch’an master Hsu Yun (Empty Cloud) said: “Drop everything, and let no thought arise.” Dropping everything means to drop everything. Even the wrong view, sakkaya ditthi, that we are a self in a world that is outside us.

imagesCAPZ2Y97.jpg John Daido Loori

Roshi John Daido Loori, Founder of the Mountains and Rivers Order


Affirming Faith in Mind

(Hsin Hsin Ming)

The Great Way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose.

When pref’rences are cast aside, the Way stands clear and undisguised.

But even slight distinctions made set earth and heaven far apart.

If you would clearly see the truth, discard opinions pro and con.

To founder in dislike and like is nothing but the mind’s disease

And not to see the Way’s deep truth disturbs the mind’s essential peace.

The Way is perfect like vast space, where there’s no lack and no excess.

Our choice to choose and to reject prevents our see’ng this simple truth.

Both striving for the outer world as well as for the inner void condemn us to entangled lives.

Just calmly see that all is one and by themselves false views will go.

Attempts to stop activity will fill you with activity.

Remaining in duality you’ll never know of unity.

And not to know this unity lets conflict lead you far astray.

When you assert that things are real, you miss their true reality. But to assert that things are void also misses reality.

The more you talk and think on this the further from the truth you’ll be.

Cut off all useless thoughts and words and there’s nowhere you cannot go.

Returning to the root itself, you’ll find the meaning of all things.

If you pursue appearances you overlook the primal source.

Awak’ning is to go beyond both emptiness as well as form.

All changes in this empty world seem real because of ignorance.

Do not go searching for the truth, just let those fond opinions go.

Abide not in duality, refrain from all pursuit of it.

If there’s a trace of right and wrong, True-mind is lost, confused, distraught.

From One-mind comes duality, but cling not even to this One.

When this One-mind rests undisturbed, then nothing in the world offends.

And when no thing can give offense, then all obstructions cease to be.

If all thought-objects disappear, the thinking subject drops away.

For things are things because of mind, as mind is mind because of things.

These two are merely relative and both at source are emptiness.

In emptiness these are not two, yet in each are contained all forms.

Once coarse and fine are seen no more, then how can there be taking sides?

The Great Way is without limit, beyond the easy and the hard.

But those who hold to narrow views are fearful and irresolute;

their frantic haste just slows them down.

If you’re attached to anything, you surely will go far astray.

Just let go now of clinging mind, and all things are just as they are. In essence nothing goes or stays.

See into the true self of things, and you’re in step with the Great Way, thus walking freely, undisturbed.

But live in bondage to your thoughts, and you will be confused, unclear.

This heavy burden weighs you down, so why keep judging good or bad?

If you would walk the highest way, do not reject the sense domain.

For as it is, whole and complete, this sense world is enlightenment.

The wise do not strive after goals, but fools put themselves in bonds.

The One Way knows no diff’rences, the foolish cling to this and that.

To seek Great Mind with thinking mind is certainly a grave mistake.

From small mind comes rest and unrest, but mind awakened transcends both.

Delusion spawns dualities – these dreams are merely flowers of air – why work so hard at grasping them?

Both gain and loss and right and wrong – once and for all get rid of them.

When you no longer are asleep, all dreams will vanish by themselves.

If mind does not discriminate, all things are just as they are, as One.

To go to this mysterious Source frees us from all entanglements.

When all is seen with “equal mind,” to our Self-nature we return.

This single mind goes right beyond all reasons and comparison.

Seek movement and there’s no-movement, seek rest and no-rest comes instead.

When rest and no-rest cease to be, then even oneness disappears.

This ultimate finality’s beyond all laws, can’t be described.

With single mind one with the Way, all ego-centered strivings cease.

Doubts and confusion disappear and so true faith pervades our life.

There is no thing that clings to us and nothing that is left behind.

All’s self-revealing, void and clear, without exerting power of mind.

Thought cannot reach this state of truth, here feelings are of no avail.

In this true world of Emptiness, both self and other are no more.

To enter this true empty world, immediately affirm “not-two.”

In this “not-two” all is the same, with nothing separate or outside.

The wise in all times and places awaken to this primal truth.

The Way’s beyond all space, all time; one instant is ten thousand years.

Not only here, not only there, truth’s right before your very eyes.

Distinctions such as large and small have relevance for you no more.

The largest is the smallest, too – here limitations have no place.

What is is not, what is not is – if this is not yet clear to you, you’re still far from the inner truth.

One thing is all, all things are one – know this and all’s whole and complete.

When faith and Mind are not separate, and not separate are Mind and faith, this is beyond all words, all thought.

For here there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today.

(End of chant)

Kanzeon and Kannon are Japanese for Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of compassion. This short chant is typically repeated a number of times. Concentrate on this chant, especially the last two lines.

Ten Verse Kannon Sutra


Praise to Buddha!

All are one with Buddha,

all awake to Buddha–

Buddha, Dharma, Sangha–

eternal, joyous, selfless, pure.

Through the day Kanzeon,

Through the night Kanzeon.

This moment arises from Mind.

This moment itself is Mind.

The next two chants include Sanskrit words transliterated phonetically into Chinese and transliterated phonetically a second time into Japanese. When chanted for long periods of time in a group, they are powerful chants.

Sho Sai Myo Kichijo Dharani

(Dharani to Allay Disasters)

No Mo Sam Man Da Moto Nan Oha Ra

Chi Koto Sha Sono Nan To Ji To En

Gya Gya Gya Ki Gya Ki

Un Nun Shifu Ra Shifu Ra

Hara Shifu Ra Hara Shifu Ra

Chisu Sa Chisu Sa Chisu Ri Chisu Ri

Soha Ja Soha Ja Sen Chi Gya Shiri Ei

Somo Ko

Dai Hi Shin Dharani

(Dharani of the Great Compassionate One)

Namu Kara Tan No Tora Ya Ya

Namu Ori Ya Boryo Ki Chi Shifu Ra Ya

Fuji Sato Bo Ya

Moko Sato Bo Ya

Mo Ko Kya Runi Kya Ya En Sa

Hara Ha Ei Shu Tan No Ton Sha

Namu Shiki Ri Toi Mo Ori Ya

Boryo Ki Chi Shifu Ra

Rin To Bo Na Mu No Ra Kin Ji

Ki Ri Mo Ko Ho Do

Sha Mi Sa Bo O To Jo Shu Ben

O Shu In Sa Bo Sa To No Mo

Bo Gya Mo Ha Tei Cho

To Ji To En O Boryo Ki

Ru Gya Chi Kya Ra Chi I

Kiri Mo Ko Fuji Sa To Sa Bo Sa Bo

Mo Ra Mo Ra Mo Ki Mo Ki

Ri To In Ku Ryo Ku Ryo

Ke Mo To Ryo To Ryo

Ho Ja Ya Chi Mo Ko Ho Ja Ya Chi

To Ra To Ra Chiri Ni Shifu Ra Ya

Sha Ro Sha Ro Mo Mo Ha Mo Ra

Ho Chi Ri Yu Ki Yu Ki Shi No Shi No

Ora San Fura Sha Ri

Ha Za Ha Za Fura Sha Ya

Ku Ryo Ku Ryo Mo Ra Ku Ryo Ku Ryo

Ki Ri Sha Ro Sha Ro Shi Ri Shi Ri

Su Ryo Su Ryo Fuji Ya Fuji Ya

Fudo Ya Fudo Ya Mi Chiri Ya Nora Kin Ji

Chiri Shuni No Hoya Mono Somo Ko

Shido Ya Somo Ko

Moko Shido Ya Somo Ko

Shidu Yu Ki Shifu Ra Ya Somo Ko

Nora Kin Ji Somo Ko Mo Ra No Ra

Somo Ko Shira Su Omo Gya Ya

Somo Ko Sobo Moko Shido Ya

Somo Ko Shaki Ra Osho Do Ya

Somo Ko Hodo Mogya Shido Ya

Somo Ko Nora Kin Ji Ha Gyara Ya

Somo Ko Mo Hori Shin Gyara Ya

Somo Ko Namu Kara Tan No Tora Ya Ya

Namu Ori Ya Boryo Ki Chi Shifu Ra Ya

Somo Ko Shite Do Modo Ra Hodo Ya

So Mo Ko.

For those who think memorizing the Dai Hi Shin Dharani is too daunting a task, the Shurangama Mantra is many times longer than this relatively short piece. There are native speakers of English and other non-Chinese languages residing at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in northern California who have not only memorized the Shurangama Mantra in Chinese, they have also learned to read and write it in Chinese. Among them is Dharma Master Heng Sure who now resides in Berkeley as the founder of the Berkeley Institute of Religious Studies.

 imagesCALUUWZV.jpg Rev. Heng Sure

Rev. Heng Sure, Ph.D.

It is standard practice to conclude each chanting session with the Return of Merit:

Return of Merit

(Honzon Eko)

Faith in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha

brings true liberation.

We now return the merit of our chanting to:

Shakyamuni Buddha,

Manjusri Bodhisattva,

Avalokita Bodhisattva,

Bhadra Bodhisattva.

We place our faith in the Great Heart of Perfect Wisdom.

May all beings attain Buddhahood!

Ten Directions, Three Worlds,

All Buddhas, Bodhisattva-mahasattvas,

Maha Prajna Paramita.

In a formal setting, the italicized part is chanted by the chant leader only. Everyone joins in on the final three lines. When practicing alone, we chant the leader’s lines as well.

Chiang Mai

British Buddhists in Chiang Mai, Thailand

That concludes the daily chanting practice. However, there is one more chant worth knowing. It’s chanted at Buddhist funerals. However, I silently chanted it at my parents’ funerals, my older brother’s funeral, and I chant it for friends and acquaintances. Maybe someday I’ll chant it for strangers as well.

Memorial Prayer

O Buddhas and Bodhisattvas,

abiding in all directions,

endowed with great compassion,

endowed with love,

affording protection to sentient beings,

consent through the power

of your great compassion to come forth.

O Compassionate Ones,

you who possess

the wisdom of understanding,

the power of protecting

in incomprehensible measure,

[____] is passing from

this world to the next.

The light of this world has faded for her/him.

S/he has entered solitude

with her/his karmic forces.

S/he has gone into a vast Silence.

S/he is borne away

by the Great Ocean of birth and death.

O Compassionate Ones,

protect [_____], who is defenseless.

Be to her/him like a father and a mother.

O Compassionate Ones,

Let not the force of your compassion be weak,

but aid her/him.

Forget not your ancient vows.

We haven’t yet mentioned the most famous, the most-often chanted of all Buddhist chants, the Heart Sutra, also known as the Prajna Paramita Hridaya. We employ it as a part of our daily prostration practice.

And here’s a poem that I’ve never heard chanted but it’s beautiful and well worth committing to memory. It’s so beautifully written that I can’t understand why anyone would not want to memorize it so that it can be called up whenever desired! (Not all desires are bad!)

You may recognize it:

In the pasture of the world, I endlessly push aside the tall grasses in search of the Ox. Following unnamed rivers, lost upon the interpenetrating paths of distant mountains, My strength failing and my vitality exhausted, I cannot find the Ox. I only hear the locusts chirping Through the forest at night.

Along the riverbank under the trees, I discover footprints. Even under the fragrant grass, I see his prints. Deep in remote mountains They are found. These traces can no more be hidden Than one’s nose, looking heavenward.

I hear the song of the nightingale. The sun is warm, the wind is mild, willows are green along the shore – Here no Ox can hide! What artist can draw that massive head, Those majestic horns?

I seize him with a terrific struggle. His great will and power are inexhaustible. He charges to the high plateau far above the cloud-mists, or in an impenetrable ravine he stands.

The whip and rope are necessary, Else he may stray off down some dusty road. Being well-trained, he become naturally gentle, Then, unfettered, he obeys his master.

Mounting the Ox, slowly I return homeward. The voice of my flute intones Through the evening. Measuring with hand-beats the pulsating harmony, I direct the endless rhythm. Whoever hears this melody Will join me.

Astride the Ox, I reach home. I am serene. The Ox too can rest. The dawn has come. In blissful repose, Within my thatched dwelling, I have abandoned the whips and ropes.

Whip, rope, person, and bull – all merge in No Thing. This heaven is so vast no message can stain it. How may a snowflake exist in a raging fire? Here are the footprints of the patriarchs.

Too many steps have been taken Returning to the root and the source. Better to have been blind and deaf from the beginning! Dwelling in one’s true abode, Unconcerned within and without – The river flows tranquilly on And the flowers are red.

Barefooted and naked of breast, I mingle with the people of the world. My clothes are ragged and dust-laden, And I am ever blissful. I use no magic to extend my life; Now, before me, the dead trees Become alive.

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How To Practice Zen