Nine Pieces of Zen

This book is about Zen before it became Zen. It explores the original “no-mind” teachings of early Zen Buddhism as they evolved in T’ang Dynasty China during the 8th and 9th centuries. It also looks at the philosophical origins of Zen and its foundations in the Mahayana Buddha-nature teachings, the emptiness teachings of the Prajnaparamita and the Madhyamaka and the Yogacara of Vasubandhu. In the final sections there is an exploration of the Hua-yen teachings of interpenetration and the totality.

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Excerpts from the book

From Chapter 7:

Tao-hsin, the Fourth Zen Patriarch explains:

Don’t imagine that there is anything that you lack. Just recognize that your mind is already complete in itself. There is no special enlightened mind state to be attained that is other than your own mind which is relieved of the conceptual burdens that you carry. All you need to do is to relax your constricted mind and allow it to find its own natural ease. To contemplate your mind is of no use. It will only cause your mind to become divided. To try to purify your mind is equally useless. How can you purify empty space? All you need to do is let go of those kinds of thoughts and emotions which are based on grasping and rejecting, which cause your body and mind to become contracted with anxiety and dislike. If you follow what I say you will see that your mind and body will be spacious and at ease.

I’m not advising you to do this or that. You are free to pursue whatever you wish to. Don’t deliberately think of doing good things. Equally, avoid doing things that are obviously going to be harmful to others. Just observe that whatever you experience around you is all the miraculous functioning of the Buddha-nature itself. Joyful and free from anxiety – this is called Buddha just exactly as it is.

Circumstances that you encounter are intrinsically neither good nor bad. Good and bad only arise in your mind. If your mind is free from conceptions, how can agitation bother you? When illusions do not arise in your mind, the real mind will be free to be aware of everything just as it is. Just allow the mind to be as it is. Don’t try to manipulate your own mind or manufacture any special nirvanic states of mind. The no-mind I am talking about is just your natural and spontaneously arisen open awareness. There is nothing else to be had!

From Chapter 8:

Vairocana as life shines out of every particle in the universe as infinite light; as the expression of absolute intelligence radiating as pure bliss and unconditional love. The universe is Vairocana’s body. The sky above and the earth below are Vairocana. The mountains, rivers and streams, the flowers and the trees and the sunshine and the rain; all these are none other than the indescribable beauty of Vairocana as life itself. Vairocana reveals itself as the immeasurable bliss of beingness and ineffable love. This bliss is not something that can be forced or manufactured through deliberate practices aimed at the acquisition of something. It is that which may be revealed when there’s no one there.

In the Hua-yen wu chiao shih kuan, Tu-shun, (557-640 CE) the First Patriarch of the Hua-yen school, describes Vairocana as follows:

In the realm of true inconceivability,
All is one indivisibility;
It is the unimaginable, the unthinkable,
Vairocana manifesting as all.

Appearing in myriad forms,
Vairocana is simultaneously everywhere;
The radiance of infinite intelligence,
The great body of Vairocana.

Hua-yen is the philosophy of the all-embracing indivisible totality as complete integration and wholeness. In esoteric Hua-yen the cosmic Buddha Vairocana represents the totality of the phenomena of experience and is therefore the body of the universe or the dharmadhatu as the unlimited field of phenomena. It is a kaleidoscopic view of the fabric of reality, a cosmic vision of the world as a luminous ground of interconnectedness. This is Vairocana as the inconceivably vibrant tapestry of ever-alive, unlimited intelligence. It is a glorious vision of a vast, opulent and magnificent banquet served up by Vairocana.

From Chapter 9:

Indivisibility is the unconstricted. Nothing can be said about it because it is simply the absence of the movement of consciousness, in which all things in the realm of phenomena appear or don’t appear. As the eighth century CE Korean tantric master Myong-hyo says:

Samsara and nirvana are not different.
Whether you see it or don’t see it,
That doesn’t change it at all.
Yet even though reality is in front of you,
It’s so obvious that you don’t see it.

Things neither come into existence,
Nor do they go out of existence;
The same is true for all things.
Unborn and non-originated.
This is the body of Vairocana.

All things are indivisible,
And indivisibility is the nature of all things.
The ten thousand things are one,
And the one is the ten thousand things.

The universe extends in every direction,
Yet this universe is without dimension.
This universe contains endless universes,
Yet it doesn’t grow because of it.

Time and space are infinite,
They are contained in indivisibility.
Yet the indivisible need not be expanded,
To accommodate the infinite;
Nor need the infinite be shrunk,
To fit within the indivisible.

Looking for reality where it’s not,
You miss what’s right in front of you;
And so you fail to see the truth,
That samsara and nirvana are not two.