Zen Proustian Cake by Rev. Yao Xin Shakya


No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory as this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me.

Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?…

And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Leonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea. -Proust


Proust in his ambitious novel, Remembrance of Things Past may, at least in this famous passage about eating a cake, resemble the curious activity of Siddhartha Gautama at the Plowing Festival. In biting into the sweet madeleine he bites into a morsel so familiar he enters a delicate ecstasy from a remembrance of the past. He suggests that all of us have, at some basic level, the intuition to transcend the material world. Proust’s recollection of eating a piece of madeleine cake points to an undeveloped insight and skill that reaches out across time and space through ordinary crumbs.

Siddhartha Gautama, when near death from six years of austere asceticism recalls a thing from the past perhaps his first bit of this greater nature. It was a remembrance of a time where he sat under a tree in his youth and looked within himself. This memory, this remembering seems to be a turning point, a point where a simple, spontaneous energy, though dormant, became active.


Siddartha’s Story

The story goes that when Buddha was a child, he attended an annual celebration called the Plowing Festival. As often happens to children, he was very bored with it all, and so went and sat under a tree. There, he spontaneously entered into profound meditation through observing his breath. At the end of the festival his parents discovered him beneath the tree, roused him from his inner absorption, and took him home. He never repeated what he had done that day beneath the tree, but he never forgot it.

After years of practicing incredible austerities and yoga, Siddhartha found himself without true realization. At this point he vows to sit beneath a tree and to remain there until he attained enlightenment. But how would he do that? What should be his practice, since everything he had learned in so many years had proven useless?

Under the tree he recalled his childhood meditation at the Plowing Festival. “Might that be the way to enlightenment?” he wondered. It seemed unthinkable that the simple, spontaneous practice of his long-ago childhood could be a small bite into Nirvana. But something from deep within him spoke, saying: “That is the only way to enlightenment.”

The only way to enlightenment is what the old patriarchs call, “turning the light within.” It is there where we find the way; it was the way Siddhartha found. The future Buddha facing his own suffering remembered that simple, very simple thing he did so naturally as a young boy.

He knew the extremes of luxury and austere ascetics had failed to awaken him. Near the end of his six years of austere and arduous ascetics, nearing physical collapse, he heard a group of girls pass by playing a lute. He thought,

“When the strings of the lute are loose, its sound won’t carry. When the strings are too tight, it breaks. When the strings are neither too loose nor too tight, the music is beautiful. I’m pulling my strings too tightly. I cannot find the Way to Truth living a life of luxury or with my body so weak.” -Buddhist Studies

A young girl, Sujata, seeing him fall and faint from weakness presented him with a bowl of some milky rice. There was no more struggle in the two extremes and he was open to just accepting what was given. And at that moment he entered the beginning of what might be called his authentic spiritual path.

That is Gautama’s story and it is a wonderful story. It is a marvelous story. It helps us to remember the requirements of the Zen path; honesty with the self and the world. Gautama’s recollection is a Proustian cake available to each one of us. He recalled what he knew and cultivated it on the path to enlightenment. His realization shows the importance of cause and effect, the deepness of our relative being, and our changing nature. He was willing to change and let go which requires humility and confidence.

When we remember how fragile and impermanent everything is we have a possibility for faith in the “Real Nature;” what the old patriarchs call “Buddha Nature” or more simply, “True Mind”. We also have the possibility to change and be humbled by change as Siddhartha was.

These two realizations, the relative, impermanent nature of all things are two wings of the same “iron bird.” This relative, impermanent being is included in “Buddha Nature;” we don’t need to look for any “Nirvanic realization” outside this “Samsaric world.” Siddhartha heard a lute under a tree and awakened.

Proust’s character, who recalls in a fragmentary moment the seed of transcendent intuition, much like Siddhartha, encourages us that realization is in the here and now. In Chinese Buddhism, we talk about having faith in the Buddha Amitabha and the Pure Land. The All Enlightened Amitabha, is no other than our “Buddha Nature;” his Pure Land is no other than our Mind when it is pure, when it doesn’t dwell in separation with the world. There is nothing magical yet, it is a mystical path.

As we shine the light sincerely on our human condition and develop a strong faith in Buddha Nature, we realize the importance of accord with all Dharmas, with the world. It is like the Buddha Shakyamuni agreed to accept a simple bowl of milky rice from a young girl. All moments of life can be a moment of harmony, a moment of expression of what the middle path is when the mind is pure.

Harmony with the expressions of the moment is, like the young Siddhartha, to simply sit and turn our energies within. These energies, which are usually externalized to the world in distraction after distraction, are nothing fancy. They are thoughts, desires and images that we firmly but kindly harmonize naturally with our Body-Breath-Mind. It is like the following experience of a Zen priest who goes to visit his seriously ill mother in hospital.


Yao Xin Shakya’s Story

I was alone looking at the pained face of my mother. She gave so much of her life energy for me, for my life. Although she was asleep I saw the agony she suffers. It was hard to see, hard to know.

Suddenly, she woke up.

I remember her eyes looked directly at me, as though she looked through me. I couldn’t look her in the eyes, so I began talking to hide my discomfort. At one point, she smiled and looked outside. I did the same. We sat together watching a magpie play with the wind. It lasted at least five minutes; five minutes of total silence, of total presence.

Looking together in the same direction I had the most authentic moment I ever had with my mother. At one point, she looked at me and smiled a big, wondrous smile. I didn’t say anything, but I knew I just had a wonderful moment of truthfulness, a simple and deep moment far from any of my preconceived habits or desires.

I never before felt so close to my mom. I felt as though I met her under the Bodhi tree in the hospital. This moment with my mother was my Zen Proustian cake, my bite of enlightenment.


Our Bodhi Tree

No matter what Buddhist technique we use, our point is to be one-pointed and to realize our True Mind. Just like the ascetic Gautama, we are able to find a Bodhi Tree. We decide to sit under it and never get up until we find enlightenment within. We allow impermanence to penetrate to the point we are humbled by it, we live by the precepts, and firmly trust our Buddha Nature.

Our Bodhi Tree every day is in every moment, but our ideas and wishes and desires may block the true mind. We return to one-pointed, single-mindedness, one breath at a time to enter the Pure Land. It’s available to those who attend to it, one moment at a time.


Humming Bird


Author: FaShi Yao Xin Shakya

Image credits: Madeleine Cakes

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com




Saying Goodbye to 2019



As 2019 comes to an end, let’s take some time to consider all the

attachments we have nourished, all the ego-masks we have been



For many of us, this year has been a year of fighting against

certitude and division, sometimes against our own friends or



Political, economic and social challenges are ahead of

our societies forcing us to accept impermanence and embracing the changes.

It implies more than ever Buddhist practitioners need to practice.


So, let’s hope that next year, 2020, will be the year of harmony. The year

of taking the battle inward, fighting our own certitude and



Our Old Sun, Ming Zhen Shakya, used to say that her Zen was very

simple and could be summarized as the Way of Action (Karma Yoga). When

we take action, for the sake of all beings, there is no I-me-mine, no

Ego, not even an inch of something special called Zen. Beyond our

own egos, through action, we can manifest our True Nature.

But True Action takes true honesty…. the kind of honesty needed to

face what is in front of us and accept the reality of change and



Our lives are always changing, yet they are always starting right here

and now. In every situation, go forward and take action.


Let’s vow to talk less and act more in this coming year!


Humming Bird
Author: Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya

If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact the editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


DaShi ChuanSheng Entered Emptiness by Fashi Yao Xin Shakya

We are very interested in the Chan:

Da Shi ChuanSheng, Steven Baugh, was a wonderful master with several lives: kung-fu master, a teacher, a family man, a … friend, and an example for all of us.



He was my main transmission master (Senior Dharma Teacher) in the Linji Lineage, along with Master Chuan Yuan and Master YinDin. And he was a close disciple of our two founders, master JyDin Shakya and Ming Zhen Shakya.

Deep bows DaShi!

Please recite hundreds of mantras of OM MANI PADME HUNG for Dashi; show him your love and compassion


Image Credit: Flowers

Holiday Message

Holiday Message 

The Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun is happy to announce that on this month of November 2018, our Chan/Zen Order, the Zen Buddhist Order of HsuYun (ZBOHY), founded on November 8 1997 by Master WeiMiao JyDin of the Linji school of Chan/Zen (One of Master HsuYun’s direct disciples), by Dharma Teacher Ming Zhen Shakya of the Linji and Yunmen school of Chan/Zen celebrate its 20th anniversary!


This 20th anniversary, like all anniversaries, means a lot and not much at the same time. It is a time to celebrate our roots and to look ahead at the same time. A time to value our heritage, to thank our founders and to celebrate the spirit that unites us and allows everyone to express his most profound nature in his own local community and ways.

The path the new generation of priests of the order is taking is a more horizontal way to look at a sangha. A way that consists of simplified forms with the aim to keep the heart of our Chinese Chan by means of sincere practice.


I am writing these lines just after I learned about the awful terrorist attack that happened in Strasbourg last night. I have in mind all the other attacks and their lot of victims. No need to take sides. Misunderstanding and possible violence exists at every level in our world, our societies, even our families and Buddhist sanghas. We all can be divided by illusion, greed and hatred.

So, beyond the separations between each sangha, priory, even between the two parts of our original Chan order, may we all celebrate our founders, their lineage, and all the abbots who followed them. May we honor the Chan teachings they gave us as a treasure, and share it openly. May we fight illusions, greed and hatred and rejoice between all heirs of JyDin and Ming Zhen Shakya.


May we keep the spirit of humble daily practice. That is the spirit symbolized by the typical robe of lay Chan Buddhists, that monks use also in their day to day practice, the ManYi Kasaya (One Panel Kesa). A plain fabric with the simplest borders and four squares. The spirit of keeping one mind even when being in the world, surrounded by suffering, because we live by the four pillars, the four Noble Truths. In a nutshell, the spirit of ‘zen householders’ as our Old Sun liked to say.

Credit: Fa Ming Shakya



We hope that this new year for our order will be a year of Simplicity, Sincerity and Humility! I bow in gratitude for those who came before us and for those who will continue to pass on the flame of ZBOHY Dharma after us. I bow especially in gratitude to Our Old Sun, Venerable Dharma Teacher Ming Zhen Shakya!

May our own houses be the monasteries of daily life,
And our hearts be the temples of the Buddha of Light.
May we all manifest KuanYin hands and eyes in this world!

May we all dedicate ourselves in the coming year to know ourselves and act for union in this world!




Humming Bird

If you’d like to comment or ask a question to Master Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya you may contact him by email:  yaoxinshakya.zbohy@gmail.com

The Costume of the Actor by Soren Kierkegaard

What does it mean to love one’s neighbor?



To love one’s neighbor means, while remaining within the earthly distinctions allotted to one, essentially to will to exist equally for every human being without exception…



Consider for a moment the world which lies before you in all its variegated multiplicity; it is like looking at a play, only the plot is vastly more complicated. Every individual in this innumerable throng is by his differences a particular something; he exhibits a definiteness but essentially he is something other than this – but this we do not get to see here in life.

Here we see only what role the individual plays and how he does it. It is like a play. But when the curtain falls, the one who played the king, and the one who played the beggar, and all the others – they are all quite alike, all one and the same: actors.

And when in death the curtain falls on the stage of actuality (for it is a confused use of language if one speaks about the curtain being rolled up on the stage of the eternal at the time of death, because the eternal is no stage – it is truth), then they also are all one; they are human beings.

All are that which they essentially were, something we did not see because of the difference we see; they are human beings.

The stage of art is like an enchanted world. But just suppose that some evening a common absent-mindedness confused all the actors so they thought they really were what they were representing. Would this not be, in contrast to the enchantment of art, what one might call the enchantment of an evil spirit, a bewitchment? And likewise suppose that in the enchantment of actuality (for we are, indeed, all enchanted, each one bewitched by his own distinctions) our fundamental ideas became confused so that we thought ourselves essentially to be the roles we play.

Alas, but is this not the case? It seems to be forgotten that the distinctions of earthly existence are only like an actor’s costume or like a travelling cloak and that every individual should watchfully and carefully keep the fastening cords of this outer garment loosely tied, never in obstinate knots, so that in the moment of transformation the garment can easily be cast off, and yet we all have enough knowledge of art to be offended if an actor, when he is supposed to cast off his disguise in the moment of transformation, runs out on the stage before getting the cords loose.

But, alas, in actual life one laces the outer garment of distinction so tightly that it completely conceals the external character of this garment of distinction, and the inner glory of equality never, or very rarely, shines through, something it should do and ought to do constantly.

Humming Bird
from The Parables of Kierkegaard
by Soren Kierkegaard, edited by Thomas Oden.
FRONT IMAGE: Unfinished sketch of Kierkegaard by his
cousin Niels Christian Kierkegaardc. 1840
ZATMA is not a blog. If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact the editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


Ask a Master: What is a Zen Retreat?

In a traditional Chinese monastery, a ChanQi (retreat) is a very big event that is known long in advance and may attract many practitioners from all over, relative to the reputation of the monastery and its leading master. The rules may vary and adapt to a special practice or another.


You see, a week of Chan practice isn’t exactly prepared as a week of Buddha Name chanting or Sutra Recitation. But what the priest or master leading the retreat is waiting from every single participant is

a total dedication to the practice for the time of the practice. A Retreat is not something you do to attend as social meeting or like we would do at a nice workshop… a retreat is a personal vow. A vow of utmost sincerity and dedication.


We are a reformed Chan/Zen Order, a sino-american Chan/Zen Order founded by Chan Master JydIn Shakya and Zen Teacher MingZhen Shakya. We adapt our practice to our own contexts. But at the root of our practice lies that same spirit of utmost sincerity and dedication to the practice. At the center of the practice is a vow.


A retreat is meeting a personal vow. it is a time for strong dedication to unveil our True Nature. A time to only cultivate a Chan/Zen Mind and act with utmost sincerity… a totality. A time of no separation.


Traditionally, a ChanQi is lead by three priests at least: a teaching priest, a JiaoYuan/Shusso (responsible for the monks attending the retreat) and a ritual/ceremony priest. Needless to say that in most of our Western retreats these roles are reduced to what is most needed functions. it is also done for seven days in a row. Nowadays, the name ChanQi or Sesshin or retreat is given at all most any length of intensive practice even half days of practice.


What is important is just that ‘intensive’ side of the practice. Make the vow to give your total body and Mind to the practice and to unveil your Buddha Nature. It is the place and time for it. It is a time and place to be intense.


You see, the base of our practice is the daily practice of establishing a solid foundation through daily liturgy and meditation, through discipline and studying. It could be called the Calm side of the practice. A practice of harmonising with our reality of householders.


But we also may need at certain times in our spiritual life, a chance to experience a time and place to develop more intensity, more dedication. That is what a retreat is good for. Again, it is something you vow to give yourself to, because you need it in your spiritual journey. A good thing would be to ask your Zen teacher or Zen Priest before thinking about engaging in one.


Bear also in mind that this intense practice can be practiced anywhere, in a formal Buddhist setting or in Nature, alone or in a large group. What allows you to accomplish the great vow is what is needed. This is also an essential part of our Linji/Rinzai Zen Heritage: recognizing what is need and then working towards it with utmost dedication and humility! Then, just do it!


See the time of the retreat, in a big Zen monastery, a room in your family summer house, a shed or a tent in any nearby forest park, as the time of the great fire. The time of the great burning of all the small impurities that resist to the daily practice you established. It is the great burning of the self. The Great Burning of the Huatou (jp.Wato). Huatou/Wato means before the word, before even thinking, before form… before difference… it is our True Root, our True Nature.


It is the existential question: Who? In every act, Who? Such a true question doesn’t need our small answers full of words. Our Zen Path is a Path of True Questions… not a Path of giving answers. A single question, taken seriously, intimately could change our entire life and turn our world view upside down. Who?


Some words of general advice for the time of Intensive practice

  1. Be simple, harmonise with what is
  2. Be Humble, know your limits and those of others
  3. Be Sincere, only use what is needed.
  4. Every act is the Way! From the first bell to the last of the day vow to realise your True Nature
  5. Give equal importance to Zen sitting and walking meditation.
  6. Balance indoor and outdoor practice.
  7. Eat little, sleep little.
  8. Allow Yezuo/Yazo (night sitting meditation outdoor or indoor) at will.
  9. Listen/see the teacher once a day ( or read the Master’s teachings).
  10. Constantly, give your Body and Mind to KuanYin (jp.Kannon) Bodhisattva and receive her grace.


A retreat is a time for attention. Sometimes the Linji/Rinzai masters are caricaturized with their sticks, shouting Katsu and give stick blows to their students. The roots of these practices was a calling for attention, here and now, Who? Who is reading this paper?


The Katsu shouting still exists in China today, our late Ming Zhen Shakya used to talk about the few time where she saw and heard master WeiYin Shakya shout a loud KAT! As she used to say, the literal sense of ‘kat’ was ‘attention’ in English. But the master seemed to use it in a way she understood as ‘cut all things’. That is what she heard when the master shouted: CUT!


So, remember that the retreat is precisely this, a time and place to manifest Who?

A time and place to manifest, in our actions, our existential VOW to CUT all roots of suffering!


Images: The Desert Stag by Jiaoyuan Qian Yue

NOTE: If you’d like to comment or ask a question to Master Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya you may contact him by email:  yaoxinshakya.zbohy@gmail.com

Humming Bird

Ask a Master? What is Chan Liturgy — The Simple Way is Our Way


Most members of our Hsu Yun Order practice in a private setting, a small local sangha around an ordained priest. That is our Way. It means that we root our daily liturgy and practice in our own local context.

Our Zen groups/hermitages aren’t temples and that means that it is only a place where a priest shares his or her humble daily practice.

On most occasions our chanting practice consists of the same daily liturgy. We might adapt it to special times of the year….adding a hymn to a bodhisattva, a passage of a sutra or a Zen master chant when needed which means that our humble liturgy comes from the common core of Zen liturgy.

It is important to note that our liturgy adapts and functions according to the practice needs.

There are elaborate liturgies for special ceremonies and rituals in our tradition, but I’ve seen priests try to perform a special ceremony when they were not comfortable with it or didn’t know enough. When this happens the original intent and function of the specific liturgy is hollow and full of the priest’s ego resulting in awkward worship.

Embracing our simple daily liturgy helps us keep their original intent of forgetting and transcending the ‘I, me, or mine’ in the process.

If something fancier, bigger, is wanted it may be better to attend a local temple. Traditional Chinese liturgy is wonderful but the daily version is may be too esoteric in nature for the daily liturgy. They are wonderful practices which I love to study with my students using the excellenttranslation of Ryugen Fischer (Shi Shen Long) a dharma grand, grandfather of mine in my Soto Zen Lineage.  But our founders advised us to use simple liturgies helping us to stay close to the basics of Mahayana Zen Buddhism. And staying close to simple things such as taking refuge, confession, taking vows, and the chanting the heart sutra is certainly something that most of us need more than the esoteric mantras as a daily practice.

A good example of such a simple and direct liturgy can be found in D.T. Suzuki’s widely known and freely available “Manual of Zen Buddhism.”

Our dear MingZhen Shakya liked that version, and it is one of the first books she pointed to me (with the basic book of our tradition “Empty Cloud”and her wonderful intermediate level Zen manual “The Seventh world of Chan”).

One has to understand that our Order is composed of Zen groups/hermitages centered on the shared daily practice of liturgy and meditation. It’s the shared daily practice of a Zen priest, nothing more, nothing less. That is what we practice, share and transmit. Nothing fancy, but complete in its own way but it helps the practitioner cultivate simplicity, humility and sincerity.

We make an effort to stay rooted in the common heart of our Sino-american Zen tradition which comes from our Zen Order’s unique history and legacy that allows us to embrace with a more open and warm regard other Zen traditions and their own unique history and legacy.


That being said, keep in mind that common rituals and ways are essential to every Zen group but don’t be afraid to adapt and simplify them to your own setting and life. Adaptability is part of the job of a Zen priest.

Chants, instruments and all the rest are wonderful tools, so use them with simplicity and sincerity. In this spirit, we use whatever is needed for the Dharma to be alive and nothing more!

Some good advice from an old zen teacher of mine is that what monks need for their practice should fit in a monk’s bag. Whats in there you might ask? Some sort of buddhist robe (kasa, rakasa, wakasa), a liturgy or Zen book of some sort, clappers and a hand bell, incense and maybe a wooden fish drum for the more elaborate practice. This is certainly all that is necessary. If you practice alone, do some sort of pilgrimage or lead a small Zen group/hermitage this is really the essential toolbox you should use and master.

About the use of instruments, i would recommend to keep things simple, be sincere and master the little things you do and share. Use mostly

wood instruments when chanting or calling to chant or meditation practice, don’t turn it into a music concert. Use the bell mostly as a call to true inner attention (beginnings of sitting or walking periods is a good example). When using the bell, forget about “you” and remember that the sound of the bell is the true sound of KuanYin/Kannon’s voice manifesting here and now! There is no place for “you” in Pure Attention!

Priests are not actors or performers doing a show. When a priest chants it is another way of giving all our selves to action, pure and free action.

So please remember, as our dear MingZhen Shakya used to say, Zen is Action! Liturgy!

The simple way is our Way.

May every being humbly realize his true nature!


NOTE: If you’d like to comment or ask a question to Master Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya you may contact him by email:  yaoxinshakya.zbohy@gmail.com

Humming Bird


Ask a Master: What is the Most Important Daily Practice for a Zen Monk?



Daily Practice is the Core”

Earlier this week, a student asked me “What is the most important
thing in the daily formal Zen practice for a Zen monk?”

I answered, laughing: “To keep cultivating one!”.


Many people are driven on the romantic image of Zen, imagining the spiritual practice of Zen as something for costumed monks living in far away monasteries. They believe only those people apart from the world and its noise could of course practice truly enough to solve the question of life and death….or so they think.

The truth is formal practice is a balance between liturgy and meditation practices rooted in sitting and walking. But it, even for monks in a monastery, is balanced between many household tasks to keep the monastery running.

“A day without work is a day without food.”

This is a known Zen saying which all Zen monasteries put it into practice.

Fundamentally, Western Zen practitioners and in particular the members of our Zen Order should get used to the fact that our Zen Way is the householder Zen way. We are householders who have taken vows as priests and contemplative monks (yunsui contemplative priests).

Our main practice doesn’t take place behind walls, but in the midst of this moving and challenging world of householders. Our dear Ming Zhen Shakya often said,


it is the most arduous path of practice, especially
for a Westerner.


We have to work to accept that our formal practice is an essnetial part of the householder life. Meditation practice and the liturgy varies, but meditation and liturgy are the common ground of every practitioner on the Zen Way. But it is not the whole enchilada.

The formal practice is best a few hours per day right where you are. What the Zen priest and yunsui monk need to understand, is that one’s whole life is the monastery. It is there, in the midst of living, one takes action. We are encouraged to act upon it!

Ming Zhen Shakya used to say “Zen is Action!” and action is not limited to some holy place or situation. It is everything you do.

Of course, from time to time a more intensive retreat may be needed. We may dedicate ourselves to it and do the personal vow to totally
engage our Body and Mind in a retreat (ChanQi, Sesshin). This comes out of a personal vow, and not out of a need for a social club or social meeting. In our tradition going to a retreat is both very serious and intimate.

Furthermore, having an external eye on our practice is always a good thing. Meeting from time to time with a senior Zen priest or
master is a good habit to cultivate even for the most solitary practitioners. Most Zen practitioners need and benefit from the external eye of another who is a little further on the path. It is a wonderful help, especially when one is close to having an ego-trip or over thinking, over idealizing, or close to the becoming nihilistic.

Zen is a path for dedicated and serious practitioners.

One has to understand that Great Confidence in the path, its techniques, its masters is only but a necessary preliminary.  Zen is the direct path of the Chinese Mahayana school of Buddhism. And those essential preliminaries won’t be of any help if you try to walk the arduous path of practicing Zen as a lay adept (or priest, no fundamental difference here with layman) without a Great Faith in your very own Buddha

And Faith doesn’t exempt one from great doubt. Our Linji/Rinzai school includes everything  in our Zen practice, nothing is left out. Our practice is not limited to form of any specific posture or pretty costume. As the saying goes, “Great Doubt, Great Enlightenment. Small doubt, small enlightenment. No Doubt, no enlightenment”. So please doubt, ponderthings, take the existential paradox of Zen seriously and practice it to the limits of your ego.

But remember that our practice is very simple and on that common ground everyone manifests his own karmic seeds.

As a layman, a priest, a monk or a beginner on the Zen way is to be sincere practitioners….to practice fully and with utmost sincerity at the heart of our life, the heart of our homes, our communities. We share the common ground of liturgy and meditation the small liturgy and Zen meditation and use our daily life as an opportunity to let go of ourselves and manifest and be manifested by all things in every place and time.

May every being humbly realize his true nature!


NOTE: If you’d like to comment or ask a question to Master Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya you may contact him by email:  yaoxinshakya.zbohy@gmail.com

Humming Bird

Ask a Master: What are the Most Important Sutras in Chan?



Photo Credit: Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya

Ask the Master

What are the most important sutras?


We are sometimes asked what are the most important sutras of our tradition? I often answer, which ones are not important? Everything teaches us.

Our roots come from Chinese Buddhism and our Chan tradition embraces all the sutras of the Mahayana, all the 84,000 practices of the Awakening Shakyamuni. All are the doors of the Dharma.

However, our Chan / Zen tradition, besides the essential Sutras, the Lotus Sutra, the Amitabhas Sutras, Nirvana, Avatamsaka and the wonderful  Shurangama, we study what I like to call the Three Sutras of the Heart.

What are these three Sutras so often united in Chinese Buddhism? These are of course the triptic so dear to all our practitioners: the Sutra of the Heart, the Sutra of the Diamond and the Sutra of the Platform of the Sixth Patriarch.

Our Order is very proud to celebrate the anniversary of the ordination of the Sixth Patriarch, the book of the founders of our Order (Master WeiMiao JyDin Shakya and MingZhen Shakya) which can be found here: Empty Cloud: The Teachings of Master XuYun  which was published in a special edition with the “Three Sutras.” It is a reference book for all our practitioners.

It was an honor that we had made the successor of the very Venerable WeiYin, abbot of NanHua Si at the time, and our first Chan master of Ming Zhen Shakya.

May the “Three Sutras” be three wonderful mirrors of our practice.


YaoXin Shi

NOTE: If you’d like to comment or ask a question to Master Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya you may contact him by email:  yaoxinshakya.zbohy@gmail.com

Humming Bird

On Being a Master: Sinking into the Mud

Photo Credit: Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya



When discussing what a “master” is or can be in our tradition with Yao Xiang Shakya, in preparation before her Master Transmission, she said “I feel being a master is sinking further into the mud so the lotus may rise higher”.

And indeed, knowing we sink into the mud so the lotus may rise is the essence of practice. It is essential to have some basic self honesty to see how shitty and humanly dark we can be. How our tendency to be self-involved is a threat to the rising lotus.

We need to be able to admit our mistakes and our self-centered tendencies.

Yes, my basic thoughts, habits or desires are a mess leading nowhere at all. By directly seeing the mess, knowing it, chewing it in my daily life, I can point to it without shame, pride or fear. With this in mind, especially to those who want to share and teach the Dharma, the question is, do you see how shitty you are? Are you able to be honest about it without being defensive? Are you still hiding out in the walls of your defensive cover-up?

In order to be matter-of-fact and honest, one must know the darkness and light that arises in the mind without shame, pride or fear. Much of the work is busting up these tendencies so one is illumined by our true nature.

A master transmission is not much different from a new ordination; masters don’t forget that the taking of the precepts is a transmission in itself. The main similarity may be symbolized in the fact that when receiving master transmission, we take precepts facing the same altar, the same goal, with the same mindless mind of satisfaction as our own master! In addition, Masters vow to teach our own students and also instruct them to teach. To do this we remain open and focused on the Sincere Center (our awakened Self). Being a master comes with humility from an inner illumination that is bright enough to know darkness and light without seeing it as such. It is a non-dual awareness.

Masters are just very respectful and grateful for the attention and training we received and we try to manifest our Old Teacher’s Dharma (Ming Zhen Shakya), in our own flesh, life, and heart. Much of the work is done in our homes with those we live day to day, and in our communities.

Masters don’t spend time thinking about establishing a big center or figuring out what Buddhist ministry will arise. Our Zen groups/hermitages are close to house churches. They are the nests of our practice in this world, in the middle of all the joys and difficulties, in the middle of all the things we do.

Masters recognize each student who enters the door to be ordained as a lay, novice or full priest has his or her own story, interests, and capacities. Each one could become a teacher and it is a matter of what type of teacher will they become. We have no interest in turning them into clones, like blind and soulless parrots. But whatever their particular Dharma is, we help them grow in it where we both learn and are taught along the Way.

Their interest may change, their lives may take another turn but, like us, they keep mirroring their lives in the tradition our teacher has left us. Everyone has his own relation to that lived tradition. But what binds us is that we keep mirroring our life and spiritual practice in the same mirror.

So despite our differences or personal affinities, may we all sink further into the mud so that, under our Old Sun’s teachings, the lotus may rise higher.

Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya

When We First Begin

When We First Begin by Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya


When we first begin our path of self-inquiry, we have often been driven to it by a profound notion that there is something missing in our life. We begin to realize that life can’t be just endless burdens we face day after day. Something else exists….but it is hidden from our every day consciousness.

This is how we think when we first begin to examine our daily life. We begin to look beyond the burdens.

These feelings of constant dissatisfaction fuel our problems as well as spur us on to find a spiritual path. We, however, sometimes end up putting our faith, our confidence, in this false reality. We think we need the dissatisfaction as a prod to keep us going. We are like Sisyphus….we believe we are cursed to push the boulder up the mountain until the end of time. But as we will see, all we need to do is step aside and let the boulder barrel down without us holding on.

There is no doubt suffering exists. It does poke and push us to find a way to liberation. To see and recognize suffering is a grace. It is a small touch of grace but it is nonetheless grace. But we need to develop our inner urge for freedom from suffering. For a long time we may believe we need the suffering to practice, thinking if we lose this constant prod we’ll give up. But to rely on the prod solely is not enough, we may begin a spiritual endeavor but we won’t continue. We need more than the prod to fulfill the two laws of Zen, begin and continue.

With time, if we are lucky, we learn to put our faith in our Buddha Nature; we switch our object of confidence to an inner reality we call Buddha Nature. An inner illumined awareness. This change often feels like an awkward beginning, a new step of faith. When we recognize we need confidence (faith) in the practices we gain a little more grace. It is true we do need confidence (faith) to begin to turn within to realize there is something more than our everyday burdens.

We need to put confidence in living out our Buddha Nature, (our divinity).

This living out divinity requires a lifelong, daily commitment of dropping the complaints of the hungry ego and accepting our divine, Buddha nature. More grace is needed to rely on the practices of discovering and relying on our inner true Self. Our hungry ego and our over thinking intellect challenges us. The ego wants something else, something more and the intellect thinks it knows better.

Another taste of grace is to know no matter what the ego gets up to, no matter what the intellect figures out our Buddha nature is untouched. It is immeasurable and ineffable and remains steadfast and unchanging.

As we begin to we know this Truth our confidence strengthens and broadens and words and ego desires diminish.

Our focus changes from finding our true self to living out the climb on the mountain of our true self in everyday life. This takes time. Patience, Effort. Endurance.

Our obstacles are in our distorted mind, a mind absorbed and identified with whatever arises; we go around the mountain instead of up it. We believe in our own myths much like Sisyphus. We don’t see that there is a possible path out of this endless inner cycle around our misery. In the cycle of misery we tend to rely on our wrong nature (our hungry ego and our know-it-all intellect) and not on our True steadfast one.

When inner faith/confidence is developed we see the path heading upward, we choose to go upward and know the difficulties and joys of going on this upward, unknown track. Discovering things at every turn of the tradition we sometimes think that there is some kind of secret teaching around this so-called Buddha Nature. And so we go on the arduous upward track for years and years, testing our selves. Instead we need faith in the simplicity, and humility of meeting what shows up in our day to day life of a practitioner.

We learn not to give up. Even a glimpse of our True nature helps us not to give up. We meet what shows up as the myriad forms of the undying and unborn nature. In all circumstances we are able to see through our Buddha eyes and hear with our Buddha ears. We realize everything is Buddha.

Everyday life is the path up to the summit.

Our intention encompasses bringing to mind the three pure precepts in every circumstance: we do no harm, cultivate goodness and purify our mind.


Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya

Photo Credit: Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya

Dharma Up Close: An Approach to Study

Dharma Up Close


On Being in Prison

As I read and reread Ming Zhen’s article on Expectations I thought I’d share both my approach to her work and my great finds in it. My approach is simple….rather than explain the approach I thought I’d show what I do.

The work starts out comparing religious backsliding to prison recidivism. What, you may ask, does this have to do with me?

The first thing to note is to check with yourself if you are skilled at self inquiry. Or do you meet what comes into your life, in this case this article, as something to judge as mere balderdash or brilliant writing. Do you begin to judge it rather than ask how might this apply to me? You might argue that you are not a criminal nor a backslider and dismiss the work altogether. But hold on….why would Ming Zhen write such a piece? Just for your editorial review? Never. Let me tell you she did not care what others thought of her work….she cared about the Dharma and offering the Dharma. Everything comes into your life to awaken….everything.

When I read the first paragraph I took note to realize we are all, each one of us dealing with backsliding and recidivism in our lives, not just one part of our life but all parts of our life.

Let’s see.

The word regression is both a statistical and psychological term which explains the falling back towards the mean, commonly known as the average in mathematics; Freud used the term to describe a return to an earlier stage of development as a defense against something we dislike. Ming Zhen would have been aware of both. The word recidivism in this context refers to a habitual relapse of some criminal behavior. In this first paragraph Ming Zhen shakes us up….if we are willing to study and to take to heart what she says.

We all regress and relapse….we have a tendency to do so. We fall back to some familiar average….some ordinary garden-variety approach to our life and we defend it with regressive behaviors of an earlier psychological stage. In more common terms, we conform to get along and we revert to some juvenile, latent or infantile impulse, e.g., storm out, clam up or kick and scream.

Are you aware of this in your self? That’s the first step. To be aware of you and what you tend to do. If you are not aware of what you do….you need to ask what inhibits your self inquiry? Maybe you think you are set….that your character is fixed and unchangeable.

Let’s go on….

As mentioned, we all regress and relapse….we have a tendency to do so. In Zen Master Hongzhi’s 12th century work, Cultivating the Empty Field we read the injunction to ….purify, cure, grind down, or brush away all the tendencies (we) have fabricated into apparent habits.

Master Hongzhi admonishes us to stop backsliding and regressing by purifying, curing, grinding down or brushing away the tendency to do so. Huh?

Are you using everything that comes into your life as a way to practice this admonition? To stop going back to old, familiar patterns and to stop defending them. Are you aware how and when you do this backsliding and relapsing?

The consequences of going along as usual is twofold: you remain in prison and give way to some immature defense of not wanting to do the work to get out.

So this is just a little taste of one approach.

May the merit benefit all beings in the ten directions.