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Dharma Talks : The Kwan Um School of Zen and Providence Zen Center

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Teaching Words  

When he was young the great Zen Master Ma-tzu was known for his hard practicing. One day the Seventh Patriarch, Huai-jang, came upon Ma-tzu meditating in his hut. Having heard of his reputation, Huai-jang decided to test him. He entered the hut and questioned Ma-tzu as to the purpose of meditation practice. Ma-tzu replied that he was practicing to become an enlightened being, a Buddha.

Saying nothing, Huai-jang picked up a discarded brick and started rubbing it with a rock. After a while, Ma-tzu's curiosity got the best of him. "Why are you grinding on that brick?" he asked.

Huai-jang replied, "I'm polishing it into a mirror."

Somewhat perturbed, Ma-tzu blurted: "How can you possibly make a mirror by polishing a brick?"

Huai-jang's reply was immediate: "How can you become a Buddha by practicing meditation?" Hearing these words, Ma-tzu had an opening.

Zen means. "I don't want anything". Another name for this is "enough mind," which means completely attain this moment. But we often hear Zen Master Seung Sahn say that his only teaching is "don't know." This is interesting. We hear many times that Zen is very simple. And it is, but we are human beings so we sometimes have a lot of thinking; then things get complicated. Because we have thinking, we have many teaching words. But all these teaching words mean only one thing: "don't know." So, "just do it" is "don't know," "only go straight" is "don't know," "put down (i.e. let it rest) your opinion, condition and situation" is "don't know," "enough mind" is "don't know." Even "the Buddha Way is inconceivable, I vow to attain it" is "don't know." But "don't know" is not "don't know."

Sengtsan, the Third Patriarch, left us with -this poem:

To live in the Great Way
is neither easy nor difficult,
but those with limited views
are fearful and irresolute:
the faster they hurry, the slower they go,
and clinging (attachment) cannot be limited;
even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment is to go astray.
Just let things be in their own way,
and there will be neither coming nor going.

So, it is very important not to be attached to teaching words, no matter how wonderful or how great the mouth from which they emerged. Forget the net; catch the fish.

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