The Absolute and the Relative
By Rev. Yin Zhi Shakya,
Translated from the Spanish by Zhèng chún (Fernando Valencia) from Bogotá, Colombia
I was working on my word processor finishing up an essay when I heard the bip of an incoming e-mail message; I saved what I had written, closed the program and opened the new message. It contained a lovely letter from one of my students. Someone who had already entered the way and that was observing closely the movements of his mind, in order to be capable of properly handling the orders of his ego and the fossilized archetypes that kept him coming in and out of the same suffering.
In the following paragraphs you will find excerpts of the message I am talking you about, with the answers to some of his questions.
Letter No. 11 - from a student - John Doe
Viernes, 25 de enero de 2002
Rev. Yin Zhi Shakya:
I am hereby sending you some of the questions that have aroused during my practice. I look forward to your answers and advice:
I've been observing myself. I want to free myself of all the constant judging and classifying people (the worst of it is that I don't even know most of these persons and I have already condemned them). I am doing a conscious effort to improve myself but, for certain, I have to do much better.
Question # 1
What must I do? Concentrate on repeating the name of the Buddha Amithaba? I want to be able to look without my prejudices. I am beginning to understand the beauty in a name like ""Empty Cloud"". I want to achieve that state of emptiness in which I can live free of this burden I've been carrying with me.
Answer # 1
You are, in fact, answering your own question, but you are not aware of it. You keep on repeating: I want to ... I want to ... So, why don't you do what you want to do! Just make up your mind and do it.
There are many ways to practice Buddhism; each different from the other, however, it doesn't mean that one is better than the other. After all, they all lead us towards the same goal: enlightenment, to the correct thoughts, to the correct points of view and to mental purity. If you want to repeat the name of the Buddha "Amithaba", that's all right. Repeating the name "Amithaba", meditating in him and putting into practice his teachings will lead you to enlightenment, to the correct thoughts, to the correct points of view and to mental purity. On the other hand, it is totally wrong to keep on repeating and chanting the name of the Buddha "Amithaba" hoping to obtain a promotion or material gain. This is superstition and goes against his teachings. Whatever method you decide to practice it has to be done with the heart.
The most important part is the "Right Here - Right Now". The Chan attitude requires that we live in the present. Don't allow your mind to wander around, coming and going from here to there, like a chimpanzee/monkey gone nut.
What we should be concerned about is our criticism. Just stand back without hurting anyone and do something else. As a matter of fact, "Empty Cloud", which you say to admire, was empty of the relative, of the illusion, of the created, of the ego; but he was not empty of the truth, of the absolute. If you look at everyone as a potential Buddha and someone is speaking to you, the lotus flower in him will blossom in its entire splendor. If you practice tolerance in each and every moment of your life, with everyone and everything, if you recognize the truth everywhere, starting with yourself, if you pray and chant and concentrate yourself repeating the name of Buddha Amithaba with solely intention of reflecting your Buddha-nature to all and everyone, then, you will live in the world of permanent reality and without ego, what in Buddhism we call Nirvana, a secure and reliable world and you'll be able to leave behind the mental chaos in which you are living.
Question # 2
On the other hand, I've been working in my Chan practice. Christmas and New Years Day celebrations I spent without drinking alcohol, relaxed, pleasantly participating in family events. I kept a quiet and simple conversation, and I tried my best not to be vain. I had nothing to demonstrate to no one. Today, after those agitated days have gone by, I feel happy.
Answer # 2
That's wonderful! It's a great improvement. Congratulations! Excellent!
Question # 3
Questions keep up arising: There are people I love, family and friends, with whom I enjoy sharing some time together. As I read in the Seventh Word of Chan Buddhism or on Empty Cloud, I'm not sure which one; I am dedicating part of my weekends to these people. Weekdays I dedicate to my practice and to my wife and daughter. (Telephone is, indeed, a torture!).
The question is: what do I talk them about? Lots of conversations with these people consist of judging other people, personalities and politics, and so on. I don't want to be part of this "endless opinion machinegun".
Answer # 3
Don't talk. They are not interested in what you have to say, anyway... They are only interested in what they have to say. Judge for yourself. It's better to use this time to learn how to listen to others and you'll be the dearest of all. Furthermore, listening is a way of meditating. But don't tell anyone what you are doing, that would be pride on yourself and anyhow, they won't appreciate it. We must not humiliate anyone.
Question # 4
All of my life I've been a music lover. My music preferences have been the result of a truly personal search (obviously, frequently going through my bluff periods, showing off what an expert I am; or the usual, that's great, that's crap, and so on ... the know-it-all). Nowadays, I feel like I've listening to certain type of music to nourish my ego, maybe that's the reason why I even got into Wagner. I wish I could listen to music without knowing whom the composer is, or which band is playing; I would like to listen to music without prejudice of any kind, without mental relations to nourish my ego.
How do I get rid of all this structure? Presently I hardly listen to music anymore, but I feel music is vital to my existence.
Answer # 4
In Chan there is nothing that keeps us from listening to music. Music is the language of the soul. Listen to music without prejudice. It's only your mind that keeps on hopping from one thought to another and doesn't allow you to listen to the music as it is. You keep on thinking, what is this, what is that. Who is the composer, what's the name of the song, and so on.
The solution is to allow thoughts to go by and keep on listening to the music. It will take some time for your mind to leave you in peace. Afterwards, take care that your mind doesn't capture you again. That awareness, in case you don't know, is also part of the meditation process. Why not listen to music if it makes you happy? Hui Neng said that the purpose of life is 'to see' and I would add, 'see' to find happiness, which is, in fact, what everyone is looking for.
As I've told you before, due to the fact that we are all Buddha's, in Chan you can do whatever you like, as long as you do it without attachment, without egoism, without fixation, without pride and with the proper respect to every living being.
Allow me, please, to quote the Zazen hymn where it says: "All sentient beings are essentially Buddhas. As with water and ice, there is no ice without water; apart from sentient beings, there are no Buddhas. Not knowing how close the truth is. We seek it far away. What a pity!"
Question # 5
In Chan, is it possible something like a "gourmet student"? Can you prepare exquisite recipes and yet keep on with the practice?
Answer # 5
Exquisite recipes? When the word "exquisite" is involved in something, it seems like fixation, desire, and that is not Chan. Recipes? Why not? Serve your food to everyone and serve it with love. Do the best you can and nothing more. Don't pride yourself in being the best cook. Is it clear to you? No pride, no desire, no fixation, no attachment. That is the real recipe.
As I've told you before in my previous message and it is stated on the Chapter 17 of the Seventh World of the Chan Buddhism:
"A Chan man is a veteran of change and has the scars to prove it. He knows that religiosity is not a substitute for combat. Folks who drip with sentimental fervor because they have survived the reading of a poem are not in anybody's army."
"The proper Chan attitude, then, might be said to consist in 'cutting the crap,' of making no public display of piety, of saving our devotion for those times when we are alone and can properly express it; in not going out of our way to be vulgar on one hand but, on the other, in not trying to affect those refined sensibilities which suggest that we believe shitting and pissing to be quaint customs of the proletariat we once read about in Daddy's library. Chan is an extremely tough discipline. We have to turn ourselves inside out and lay bare to a dissecting scalpel our most private thoughts and acts. People who are too squeamish or too elegant to use the language of the common man really don't have the guts for Chan. Lin Ji would have made short work of them."
"The Chan attitude requires that we abandon our prideful agendas, that we work for the sake of the work and not for the sense of accomplishment. Where there is pride there can be no loving, natural attitude. Let no one believe that just because he can't do anything worth being proud of he will easily succeed in being humble. Humility ought to be - but isn't - easy to achieve."
"The Chan attitude also requires us to live in the present, to accept what we have with good grace without always scheming to alter events in order to provide for a more profitable or enjoyable future."
Finally, and to conclude my answers to your questions let me quote chapter 2 of "Empty Cloud - The Teachings of Hsu Yun" entitled "Chan Training", where it says:
"Many people begin Chan training by thinking, "Well, since all is Maya or Samsaric illusion, it doesn't matter what I do or how I do it. The only thing that's important is gaining Nirvana. So, since there's no such thing as good or evil, I'll do what I want." It does matter what we do. Chan is a branch of the Buddhist religion and as Buddhists we must adhere to ethical precepts. Samsara or no Samsara, we obey the Precepts. And in addition to this, we also follow the strict rules of discipline, which govern our training. Let's start with the training rules:
While there are many different methods that may be followed, before beginning any of them, a practitioner must meet four basic requirements:
He or she must: 1. Understand the Law of Causality. 2. Accept the rules of discipline. 3. Maintain an unshakable faith in the existence of the Buddha Self. 4. Be determined to succeed in whichever method he chooses."
If you have further questions, you can always count on me. One last advice, read again The Seventh World of the Chan Buddhism", "The Sutra of Hui Neng" and the "Empty Cloud - The Teachings of Hsu Yun" and we'll go over your readings later on; don't forget, samsara is mental chaos, and you can easily recognize it when you are fortified, strengthen, and prepared with the proper tools, in this case, the readings that I am recommending you.
Wishing you always the Divine Peace,
Rev. Yin Zhi Shakya