Birth and Death, by Shen Hui

Saidai-ji's (西大寺) green KannonMaster Kien asked Master Shen Hui: ‘However hard I practise seeing my true nature, I am always brought back into birth and death. What method must be practised in order to obtain the birthless and the deathless?’

Shen Hui replied:   ‘”Seeing” — that means the absence of birth and death. “Birth and death” — that means seeing people subject to birth and death. If there is absence of all birth and death as well as absence of birthlessness and deathlessness, then that is obtaining the birthless and the deathless.’

But for Shen-Hui Zen, as we know it today, would probably be quite different. He was one of the main students of the famous sixth patriarch Hui-neng. However, what is not very well known is that after Hui-neng’s death, the Zen patriarchship first pasted to the leader of the ‘gradual’ school of Zen Shen-hsiu. Shen-Hui went to the Chinese court and made the case for Hui-neng and the teaching of sudden awakening, and after many years had Hui-neng recognised as the sixth patriarch.

First published in the April 1989 Buddhism Now

Zazenshin: Acupuncture Needle of Zazen, by Shohaku Okumura

Zazen is the centre of our practice and also the centre of Dogen’s teaching. The Shobogenzo Zazenshin is one of Dogen’s writings in which he discussed the essential nature of his sitting practice. He wrote this text in 1242.

‘Za’ means ‘sitting’, and ‘zen’ is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word ‘chan’ which is the transliteration of the Sanskrit word ‘dhyana’, meaning ‘meditation’. A literal translation of ‘zazen’ is ‘seated meditation’. ‘Shin’ means ‘acupuncture needle’. Today’s acupuncture needle is made of some kind of metal, but in ancient times it was made from bamboo. An acupuncture needle is a kind of instrument to heal sickness. My translation of this title, Zazenshin, is ‘Acupuncture Needle of Zazen’. Zazen is an acupuncture needle to heal our sickness.

Human Sickness

Buddhism Now cover Oct 1990. Art © Marcelle Hanselaar What is our sickness? I think it is very clear. Shakyamuni Buddha said that we have been shot with an arrow tainted by the three poisonous states of mind. These three states are greed, anger/hatred and ignorance of the reality of our life, that is: impermanence, egolessness and interdependent origination. Because of this ignorance, we think that we are independent and separate from all other beings. We grasp this as ‘I’ and think this is most important. To make this person powerful, important, famous, wealthy and healthy, these become the purpose of our life. If we are successful, then we are happy like heavenly beings. If not, we are miserable and it feels like being in hell. Because no condition stays forever, we transmigrate from one condition to another. This is the way our lives become transmigration within samsara [the cycle of existences]. According to the Buddha’s teachings, this is how our lives become suffering. This transmigration is actually happening moment by moment in our daily lives in this lifetime. Continue reading

The Last Buddhas of Bamiyan, by John Aske

Smaller Bamyan Buddha from base, Afghanistan 1977 Photo: Phecda109 wikipedia.orgTwo hours north of Ghazni, on the road to Kabul, in an arid place, a dusty track leads westward. If you follow it, you enter a half-forgotten kingdom, and a legendary highway that traversed the known world. Beyond this, hidden in the mountains, are green valleys and rivers bordered with willows and hayfields. Even before Ashoka began spreading his empire through the western passes and into Bactria and Ghandara, traders had moved eastward and westward with caravans of silk and other precious goods bound for Balkh and distant Rome.

But at the beginning of the first millennium of our era, a new power arose in Asia. Its people had been driven westward by the consolidation of the Han empire. They settled in what is now known as Afghanistan, ending the rule of the Graeco-Buddhist kingdoms that had ruled there since Alexander’s conquest of Asia three hundred years before. Their empire flourished for about three centuries before they were overtaken by the expansion of the Sassanian kingdom in Iran, but their continuing influence was immense, and spread far beyond their borders across the whole of Asia. This influence strongly shaped eastern culture as we know it, and most particularly the development of Buddhism. This empire—the Kushan—seems to have been of people of largely Iranian stock, whose language had distinct affinities with the ancient Celtic tongues. Continue reading

The Record of Tung-Shan

Record of Tung-Shan

There really are some very interesting translations coming out nowadays [late 80s]. The Record of Tung-shan contains the teachings of Tung-shan Liang-chieh (807-869) who is regarded as the founder of the Ts’ao-tung (Jap. Soto) school.

The Master [Tung-Shan], whose personal name was Liang-chieh, was a member of the Yu family of Kuei-chi. Once, as a child, when reading the Heart Sutra with his tutor, he came to the line, ‘There is no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind.’ He immediately felt his face with his hand, then said to his tutor, ‘I have eyes, ears, a nose, a tongue, and so on; why does the sutra say they don’t exist?’

This took the tutor by surprise, and, recognizing Tung-shan’s uniqueness, he said, ‘I am not capable of being your teacher.’

From there the Master went to Wu-hsieh Mountain, where, after making obeisance to Ch’an Master Mo, he took the robe and shaved his head. When he was twenty-one he went to Sung Mountain and took the complete precepts.

Continue reading

Prajnaparamita Bodhisattva

All I do is refrain from grasping after what is not real.
The Buddha, Prajnaparamita

The word Prajñāpāramitā combines the Sanskrit words prajñā (wisdom) with pāramitā (perfection)

The mind does not reside in the mind — its nature is pure light.
Perfect Wisdom, Prajnaparamita

I see in such a way that I see no ordinary people, no learners, and no adepts.
Manjushri, Prajnaparamita 700 lines

The Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom) texts, are said to be closest Buddhists got to putting truth (impossible task) into words.


13th century Singhasari East Javanese art. The statue was discovered in Cungkup Putri ruins near Singhasari temple, Singhasari, East Java. Today the statue is displayed in the second floor of National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta.

Click here for more on Prajnaparamita

A Good Dose of Dhamma: For meditators when they are ill, by Upasika Kee Nanayon

Jizo Bosatsu in Welcoming Descent Normally, illness is something we all have, but the type of illness where you can still do your work isn’t recognised as illness. It’s called the normal human condition all over the world. Yet really, when the body is in its normal state, it’s still ill. But people generally are unaware of this illness: the deterioration of physical and mental phenomena, continually, from moment to moment.

The way people get carried away with their thoughts and preoccupations while they’re still strong enough to work — that’s real complacency. They’re no match for people lying in bed ill. People lying in bed ill are lucky because they have the opportunity to do nothing but contemplate stress and pain. Their minds don’t take up anything else, don’t go anywhere else. They can contemplate pain at all times — and let go of pain at all times, too.

Don’t you see the difference? The `emptiness’ of the mind when you’re involved in activities is `play’ emptiness, imitation emptiness. It’s not the real thing. But to contemplate inconstancy, stress, and not-selfness as it appears right inside you while you’re lying right here is very beneficial for you. Just don’t think that you’re what’s hurting. Simply see the natural phenomena of physical and mental events as they arise and pass away, arise and pass away. They’re not you. They’re not really yours. You don’t have any real control over them. Continue reading


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