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Tuesday August 13, 2002
editor - michael
ah! the mind is buddha
Right There Where You're Standing
A Dharma Talk by
Zenkei Blanche Hartman
Reprinted from the Wind Bell, Volume XXX, No. 2, Summer, 1996
Good morning. I mentioned to you the dream I had just before the Mountain Seat ceremony in
which, just as I was preparing to appear before a large assembly, all the clothing underneath my
robe began to disappear so that when it was time to appear, I was wearing nothing but the
robe. One interpretation I gave to the dream before the ceremony was about being completely
exposed. Then someone suggested that I was not completely exposed because there was still
the robe and that maybe I was hiding something behind the robe. And someone else had
another interpretation: perhaps I had come to the point in my life where I had no other business
except to wear this robethat all the other layers of clothing or roles or identities had dissolved
and there was only this one. Then talking about the difficulty I have in...how to teach, I thought
of this dream again and saw another possible interpretation. The robe which is given to me in the
ceremony is a nine jo kesaa teaching robe. Giving me this robe and asking me to wear it is
asking me to make more of an attempt to teach. This dream seems to have many possibilities....
I often don't remember my dreams, but today there is a second dream I'd like to recollect for
you. I was at Green Gulch and I was supposed to be giving a lecture. I was going over to the
main house, where the dining room and the kitchen are, looking for someone who was upstairs.
I couldn't find the entrance. I was circling around and it got very convolutedthere were other
houses there and all of the houses were sort of on a cliff by the ocean. I was in a "you can't get
there from here" kind of place. Coming to this impenetrable stone wall, I said, "Oh gee, I better
go back around the other way."Someone at that point came out on their porch and said, "You
can scramble." And I said, "What, up that impenetrable wall?" And she said, "No, right where
you're standing." I looked, and right where I was standing there was a hole in the wall, and on
the other side was the entrance I was looking for.
There's an old story about a sailing vessel off the coast of Brazil. The crew had run out of fresh
water and when they spotted another vessel they signaled to them to please come and meet
them, that they were out of fresh water, which is a very dangerous thing on the ocean. They
were out of sight of land. And so they signaled, "We need water. We'll send some boats over."
And they got back the signal, "Put down your buckets where you are." Although they were out
of sight of land, they were where the Amazon River empties into the ocean. It's such a massive
river that even out of sight of land, there is still fresh water. So, "put down your buckets where
you are." Our practice and our realization is right where we are. There is nothing missing right
here. In one of the enlightenment stories in the Dentoroku (Transmission of Light), the stories
that Keizan Zenji compiled of the enlightenment experiences or koans related to each of the
ancestors of the Soto lineage, there is one I want to share with you from Lex Hixon's translation
in Living Buddha Zen (Transmission #40), Tao Ying to Tao P'i:
The living Buddha Tao Ying enters the Dharma Hall and remarks to the assembled
practitioners: "If you wish to attain a limitless result, you must become a limitless
being. Since you already are such a being, why become anxious to bring about any
This is like Suzuki Roshi's teaching, "You're perfect just as you are" or Matsu's "This very mind
is Buddha." So, "since you already are such a limitless being, why be anxious about such a
result?" So are we practicing just to express this limitless being, or because we think we're not a
limitless being? And once we discover we are a limitless being, will we continue practicing?
Well, of course. That's what limitless beings do. This is Dogen Zenji's practice-enlightenment,
practice-realization. This practice itself expresses the limitlessness which is our essential being.
Another one of the stories in this collection is (Transmission #37) Yao-shan to Yun-yen:
The living Buddha asks a wandering monk who appears at the monastery one day,
"Where have you practiced?" The successor says, "Twenty years under Pai-chang."
"What does he teach?"
"He usually says, My expression contains all hundred flavors."
"What is the total expression neither salty nor bland?" The monk hesitates to make
During this moment, the Awakened One breaks through. "If you remain even slightly
hesitant, what are you going to do about the realm of birth and death that stands
right here before your eyes?"
Becoming more bold, the destined successor replies, "There is no birth and there is
The Master says, "Twenty years with the wonderful Pai-chang has still not freed you
from habitual affirmation and habitual negation. I ask you again plainly, what does
Successor: "He often remarks, Look beyond the three modes of looking. Understand
beyond the six modes of understanding."
Master: "That kind of instruction has no connection whatever to actual awakening.
What does Pai-chang really teach?"
The successor says, "Once Master Pai-chang entered the Dharma Hall to deliver a
discourse. The monks were standing expectantly in straight rows. Suddenly the sage
lunged at us fiercely, swinging his large wooden staff. We scattered in every
direction. In full voice he then called out, Oh monks! Heads turned and eyes looked
and Pai-chang asked gently, What is it? What is it?."
The Master says, "Thanks to your kindness today, I have finally been able to come
face to face with my marvelous brother Pai-chang."
In his commentary, Lex Hixon says,
Yun-yen is not merely repeating his master's words. He has realized the spirit of
Pai-chang's teachings which he reports carefully to the Awakened One. Hesitating at
first to make any statement at all that would limit the richness of what he has
received, only the non-teaching "What is it? What is it?" has Yun-yen overlooked.
Why? Because it is more subtle than the subtle, more essential than the essential.
Under the relentless probing of Buddha Yao-shan, the submerged memory of this
non-teaching arises from early in his discipleship. Remembering the fierce swinging
of the wooden staff, Yun-yen has suddenly become sensitive again to the dangerous
realm of birth and death, which from an absolute point of view, he has mistakenly
dismissed. "What is it? What is it?" Spoken twice, almost in a whisper, clears away
both absolute and relative. This is what our ancient Japanese guide calls "releasing
the handhold on the rockface and leaping from the precipice."
This question comes up again and again throughout Zen history. This is what Seppo
(Hsueh-Feng) asked the monks who came to his gate, "What is it?" And what Yun-men said,
"What's the matter with you?" What is the business that brings us here? Please investigate this:
"What is it?" "What is it you're doing here?" I don't ask you to look for the words for it. Words
are secondary. I want you to find the feel of it. I want you to find the fire of it. I want you to
touch the source of your life force, to feel the joy and the love that can come from living from
the source of your being. This is taking refuge: to throw yourself completely into the aliveness of
your life. It's pretty risky. You could lose yourself. There's nothing to hold onto.
In the onrushing, kaleidoscopic chaos of our life there is nothing substantial to hold onto. Arising
moment after moment after moment, we can't identify with any of it. It arises and passes away.
In the midst of the openness of this question, "What?...What?...What?..." When you touch that
really open place, let it enlarge, let it expand, let it explode your limited view of a substantial
separate self and allow you to experience the boundlessness of your being. Seeing yourself in
everything. This is Tung-shan's "It's like facing the jewel mirror...form and image behold each
other. You are not it. It actually is you." This doesn't mean that when he saw his reflection in the
stream, that he saw that his reflection was him. It meant that the water was him, the rocks were
him, everything...the onrushing stream was not separate from himself. Wherever he looked was
a jeweled mirror. Whatever he saw was not separate. This is awakening to the totality of who
you are and what you are. It's not that you disappear. You are you and you are everything,
simultaneously. The relative and absolute intermingle and interpenetrate, as we chanted this
morning in "Merging of Difference and Unity." You are you and you are not separate from
anything. It begins with breath. Just breathing in and breathing out. What is inside, what is
outside? Following your breath in your hara, deep at the bottom of your belly, let it out all the
way...let it go completely. Just exhale and don't worry about the inhale. The exhale will become
an inhale, of its own. Trust it. There, at the bottom of your breath, between exhale and inhale, is
a very quiet moment. Stay right there. Be with whatever arises, right there.
So returning to Tung-shan and his realization, Living Buddha Zen mentions:
When Tung-shan was leaving Yun-yen he said, "In the future, when you are gone
and people ask me about your teachings, what shall I say?" Yun-yen pauses
imperceptibly and then softly says, "Just this. Just this." At this moment, the successor
hesitates. The old sage perceives it and warmly encourages Tung-shan. "You must be
extremely careful and thorough in realizing just this."
Traveling on foot through green mountains, pondering just this, Buddha Tung-shan,
while wading across a stream, suddenly perceives the reflection of his own face in
the swiftly flowing water. His subtle hesitation evaporates and he is now prepared to
accomplish the transmission of light. He sings in quiet ecstasy, "Why seek mind
somewhere else? Wandering freely, I meet my own true nature everywhere, through
all phenomena. I cannot become it for it is already me."
This affirmation that we're already complete pervades the teaching of our school. It is the
fundamental teaching of our school. Yet each one of us must investigate it for ourselves. Each
one of us must explore, "What? What can it mean?" Buddha from the beginning. Dogen Zenji's
question was, "If we're Buddha from the beginning, why do we need to practice?" It was a
consuming question for him. He pursued it through practice. Through zazen. Through sitting and
attending to breath. Through becoming completely intimate with his innermost request. Someone
brought up Case 42 from the Dentoroku, Kuan-chih to Yuan-kuan (Doan Kanshi to Ryozan
The destined successor, background unknown, is functioning as attendant to the
living Buddha, carrying his ceremonial robe. As they stand together in the Dharma
Hall, the attendant opens for the Master this venerable patchwork robe. The old sage
turns and whispers, "What is really going on beneath this robe?"
The successor, deeply prepared for the transmission of light, remains poised in
silence. Intensely, the master continues to whisper, "To study and practice the
Buddha way without reaching what is beneath the robe creates the greatest pain.
Please ask me the question."
The successor repeats the sage's words, "What is really going on beneath this robe?"
With almost no sound, the Zen Master responds, "Deep intimacy." Immediately the
successor awakens, places the ceremonial robe over the shoulders of his master, and
performs three prostrations of gratitude, abundant tears soaking his own upper
Master: "You have now greatly awakened, but can you express it?"
Master: "What is going on beneath this robe of transmission?"
Successor: "Deep intimacy."
Master: "And even deeper intimacy."
What is this intimacy? It begins with yourself...becoming completely intimate with yourself.
Through this intimacy with yourself, the possibility of being intimate with another arises. Because
he was so intimate with himself, Suzuki Roshi could meet me completely when I bowed to him,
and jump up and bow back to me, before I even knew it. When I was remembering that
moment, I had this deep pain, wondering, will I ever be able to meet anyone as completely as
he met me?
Wearing this robe without settling the great matter is indeed the most painful thing. Yet the
Hshin Hshin Ming says, "One in all, all in one. If only this is realized, no more worry about not
Please stay close to your breath; stay close to just this one, as it is. You will find everything you
need right here in this moment.
© Zenkei Blanche Hartman, 1997
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