Case 28 Ryûtan Blows Out the Candle
Tokusan asked Ryûtan about Zen far into the night.
At last Ryûtan said, "The night is late.
Why don't you retire?"
Tokusan made his bows and lifted the blinds to withdraw, but he was met by darkness. Turning back to Ryûtan, he said, "It is dark outside."
Ryûtan lit a paper candle and handed it to him.
Tokusan was about to take it when Ryûtan blew it out.
At this, all of a sudden, Tokusan went through a deep experience and made bows.
Ryûtan said, "What sort of realization do you have?"
"From now on," said Tokusan, "I will not doubt the words of an old oshõ who is renowned everywhere under the sun."
The next day Ryûtan ascended the rostrum and said, "I see a fellow among you. His fangs are like the sword tree. His mouth is like a blood bowl.
Strike him with a stick, and he won't turn his head to look at you.
Someday or other, he will climb the highest of the peaks and establish our Way there."
Tokusan brought his notes on the Diamond Sutra to the front of the hall, pointed to them with a torch, and said, "Even though you have exhausted the abtruse doctrines, it is like placing a hair in a vast space. Even though you have learned all the secrets of the world, it is like a drop of water dripped on the great ocean."
And he burned all his notes.
Then, making bows, he took his leave of his teacher.
Before Tokusan crossed the barrier from his native place, his mind burned and his mouth uttered bitterness. He went southward, intending to stamp out the doctrines of special transmission outside the sutras.
When he reached the road to Reishû, he asked an old woman to let him have lunch to "refresh the mind."
"Your worship, what sort of literature do you carry in your pack?" the old woman asked.
"Commentaries on the Diamond Sutra," replied Tokusan.
The woman replies, In the Diamond Sutra it says,
"'The past mind cannot be held, the present mind cannot be held, the future mind cannot be held. What mind are you trying to refresh.?"
At this question Tokusan was dumbfounded.
However, he did not remain inert under her words but asked, "Do you know of any good teacher around here?"
The old woman said, "Five miles from here you will find Ryûtan Oshõ."
Coming to Ryûtan, Tokusan got the worst of it.
His former words were inconsistent with his later ones.
As for Ryûtan, he seemed to have lost all sense of shame in his compassion toward his son.
Finding a bit of live coal in the other, enough to start a fire, he hurriedly poured on muddy water to annihilate everything at once.
A little cool reflection tells us it was all a farce.
Hearing the name cannot surpass seeing the face;
Seeing the face cannot surpass hearing the name.
He may have saved his nose,
But alas! he lost his eyes.
This is a very interesting and complex story for a Koan, and Mumon give us important background information in his comments. We learn that Tokusan was an intellectual who studied the Diamond Sutra and was sure in an intellectual battle he could destroy any defender of the Zen sect. But then he encounter a woman of obvious intellectual acuity and sophistication in Zen who very quickly destroys Tokusan. He is helpless when the woman asks "The past mind cannot be held, the present mind cannot be held, the future mind cannot be held. What mind do you need to refresh?" This reminds me of the story of the Sixth Patriarch who might of heard this same section of the Diamond Sutra and had a spontaneous enlightenment experience. We normal humans tend to think that our mind is this constant flow of internal thoughts, dialogue, images, sounds, memories emotions etc. It is like a river that flows though our heads and we identify with that river and might even say that is who we are in our essence. But the Diamond Sutra tells us again and again that all that stuff is empty. It has no real substance, it is just fluff, passing energy and yet we try to grab hold of it spin it in our heads which only increases the volume of the river. This is how our thoughts become obsessive and delusive and filled with suffering. We try to fix the idea of our selves in these thoughts but this is just delusion. The river keeps on flowing, always changing, and everything around us is also continuously changing. There is nothing fixed, not our thoughts and not the mountain across the valley.
What is our mind? Is it that stream of thought or something else? Most of us would say it is various things, our awareness but certainly also that river of thought. It is what goes on internally in our head. But if you are a deeply experienced meditator you might think of it as something else. I heard an interesting story the other day. My teacher Harada Roshi went to see a member of the sangha who is quite sick and was suffering from severe delusions. The Roshi simply told this fellow that what he was experiencing was not his mind. Something happened, all that experience in meditation kicked in and this fellow was able to return to his clear rational mind. I also had a similar experience many many years ago when I was experimenting a bit with LSD. I wanted to see the effects of meditation on the LSD experience. I could quickly turn off the hallucinatory effects of LSD through meditation but then when I stopped meditating about 5 min. later the hallucinations started up again.
In the Diamond Sutra there is mention of the "non-abiding mind." (Trust me though I am not going to look up any quotes this is probably from the same part of the Sutra that the woman of our story quotes.) In one sense the non-abiding mind is what we are trying to cultivate as Buddhist practitioners. It is the mind that is unattached, not attached to the past, not to the future, not even to the present. We Buddhists practice non-attachment because we are told that attachment causes suffering. It is something we have to practice because our minds seem to be naturally sticky. We try to be conscious of both our deep seated attachments and moment to moment attachments and consciously let them go. This is an ongoing process that we never seem to completely conclude because on some level we are attached to non-attachment. We are attached to the Buddhist teachings. We are attached to our practice. We are attached to our understanding. We are attached in all sorts of ways that we are not conscious of or just don't think of as a problem.
When we sit in meditation we get down to the nitty-gritty of non-attachment. Many people are taught to practice meditation by cultivating an inner mindfulness and watch the river of thought pass by without becoming attached to any one thought as it passes by. This is not very easy because quickly our thoughts become so dense there is no room for mindfulness and we quickly loose consciousness of our thinking. Then in a moment we become conscious again but now those thoughts are just a memory. By becoming conscious that we were just lost in thought we can chose to keep thinking about whatever we were thinking about or try to let the thoughts and the subject of the thoughts go. Our practice tells us that we should let the thoughts go but sometimes the power of the attachment to the subject of the thoughts is just too powerful and no matter what we try we still return to the same subject and loose consciousness in our thought. This is attachment. When I had lots of responsibilities at work for most of the first 1/2 hour of my morning practice I could not get thoughts of my responsibilities out of my head. It is really difficult to just let these thoughts go, by just being conscious of them so usually we have some thing to focus our attention on when we become conscious that our attention has strayed. Commonly this focus is the breath. Maybe even the breath is counted. This is where concentration becomes important. And the breath is not the only thing used for an object of concentration, sound, sight, the bodily sensations of our skin, and even posture. The Tibetans really focus on concentration through the practice of complex visualization.
Normally we think of attachment as being attached to the people we have feelings for or some object or idea for which we also have feelings. Attachment seems to be something emotional, and not rational. In the complexity of the human mind generally all our thoughts are accompanied by some level of emotion. In fact emotion is often invoked even before thought. We can see that attachment and aversion sort of rule our lives and seems unavoidable, and aversion is a sort of attachment in reverse resulting from some attachment to how we want things to be. It seems that emotion rules our attachments, and it is emotion that keeps us attached. Breaking attachments often involves emotional pain. We have a whole web of thoughts that are all based around an idea of a self that are held together by emotional attachment. This is only the beginning of our understanding of attachment.
In meditation we can see the many ways we attach. Sitting in meditation we can watch thoughts arise and see them as a string of attachments. We can also see that each thought is usually accompanied by some emotion. Sometime this emotion is only a slight bodily feeling that might not be thought of as emotion but then as meditation deepens it is possible to experience a state of complete bodily equanimity in which there is no emotional attachment to thought and then we will understand emotional attachment. We will then see emotional attachment is the movement of body energy (chi) and see how body and our intellectual mind work together creating a larger intelligence. In long periods of sitting deep unconscious emotions and thoughts with a long history arise. Sometimes these deep attachments are stored in some way in our body and if we can let go of a deep attachment then it will actually transform how our body feels.
When we sit in meditation we try to let go of any thoughts that arise. In some sense each thought is an attachment We do not dwell on thoughts that arise and attach more thoughts to the original thought but again and again return to whatever object of attention we have chosen. At first, just a few moments later another string of thoughts will arise. They might be on another subject or they might be on the same subject. We can see that we have recurring themes to our thoughts. Eventually as we continue our sitting practice we find more and more space between our thoughts. We will experience deepening concentration. We will uncover that there is a more subtle layer of thought that is not very energetic, like a whisper, but still functioning between our more energetic thoughts. Eventually with lots of practice we can cut through even this layer and experience moments of complete silence. This is where concentration is very important. I understand attachment now as on the most subtle level as the attachment of thought to thought, thought to emotion, emotion to thought, thought to sensation and emotion to sensation, and all this attachment is just habit.
One time when I was sitting quite deeply but still just starting to break through into periods of real quiet I could see how the subtle noises in the space would turn into words in my head. A sound would transform into a word seamlessly. And then that word could easily become a sentence and so on. This was not the result of some deep emotional attachment but a habit of attachment. And because it is a habit and all attachment/thought is in some way a habit we can break the habit by finding a way to cut off thinking for longer and longer spans of time. We do this by again and again cutting our thoughts with concentrated attention and not give our habit of thinking any energy.
One might respond that this cutting off of our thoughts is also an attachment. It is just our attachment to non-attachment. This is true and it is the last attachment that must be let go of and this part to some extent happens spontaneously. It often does not happen on the cushion because that is a place of effort but might happen if the teacher shouts at you or you bump your toe, in the case of this koan the teacher blows out a candle, in the case of the Sixth Patriarch he heard a portion of the Diamond Sutra. And then we enter a place where there truly is no attachment. We in Zen call this Original Mind.
From the place of this Original Mind everything is different. Not that things look different, though they do look and sound and feel and taste and smell a little different. The sensations are intensified/energized. Colors are brighter sounds are clearer and there may be even an intense experience of beauty. But more important than this intensification of experience is that there is an inherent understanding from the perspective of the Original Mind. There is no ego in the Original Mind. There is no division in the Original Mind, and because of this there is no separation between self and others. There is the recognition that the True Self is without boundaries. There is insight into non-duality. From the perspective of the Original Mind the Original Mind is not an attribute of an individual being but because, it does not separate itself from it's content, which is what we hear and see and taste and feel and smell, it is the whole Universe.
This insight into non-duality changes everything. We practice hard, purify our thoughts, quiet our mind, so that we might have an experience and insight into non-duality, to only discover that it is not our experience or our insight but the experience and insight of the Non-Dual Universe. And at the same time all our previous confusion and even suffering is also the confusion and suffering of the Universe. But to call it confusion and suffering is to come from the individual perspective. Once there has been a deep insight into the Non-Dual true Zen practice is not to leave this understanding on the cushion but to bring this understanding into our daily lives. This is to see thinking as no-thinking, attachment as no-attachment, even life as no-life. We do this by again and again returning to the Original Mind of no thinking.
In the last commentary I wrote a lot about chi energy and how important it is in meditation so the question naturally arises how does the experience of chi relate to what I have just written? The accumulation of chi is natural with the deepening of meditation and from my experience a strong chi experience invariably accompanies any experience of the deep quiet of the Original Mind. Experience has shown me that it is not only passively accompanying breakthrough experiences but can be causative. This is exactly why a hit with a stick or a shout may precipitate the sudden quieting of the mind or a deep insight. Often during sesshin when my mind is noisy and I am unsuccessful in quieting it through my normal meditation techniques I ask for the kiosaku stick, and often with a hit from the stick I find the chi energy rises right to the top of the skull and I find myself (no-self) totally awake with a totally quiet mind.
This is how we can understand the story in this koan but it is only a true understanding if we have this same experience.