Determination and the Sense Doors



The meaning is not in the words,

yet it responds to the inquiring impulse.

Song of the Precious Jewel Mirror Samadhi


What on earth does this mean?

It means that action is what overrides the meaning of the words. Simple. Clear. But often overlooked. Action, not formulas or words, illuminates the teachings and cannot be duplicated or mimicked.

This means that a Master illuminates meaning in the moment with the student. Let me clarify.

To merely quote a teaching is not much in terms of illumination. Words help, but frozen formulaic words are not much help. Since no moment is the same a Master responds to the inquiring impulse in the moment with an act – without the inquiring impulse the student risks being overly excited, mentally confused, and limits realization by relying on words. Words alone are not enough. Action in response to inquiry is necessary.

The mirror in which we must look to see ourselves is like a mass of fire. Hot, blazing fire that removes our attachments to the false self. It requires determination to stay the course.

To study the false self is where we begin.  To see the relative every-day-ness as it is, impermanent – that nothing is permanent in the relative world even though we may wish it to be otherwise. In this recognition of the relative in the absolute is the place where we are OK as long as things go well – but we lose our footing when the ever-changing seas change.

Seeing this inability to remain stable is a realization. It is a time to inquire and to inquire and to inquire into the mind and harness what is already there – tranquility – and ­­restraint of the sense doors.


To study the false self takes time, a willingness to look into this blaze of light and a determination to tame the sense doors in order to purify the mind.

The essence of karma is the tell – a tell is any change in behavior during a poker game that indicates what kind of hand the player has. In Zen Buddhism, the tell is any act which indicates what kind of attachment there is to the false self.

The revelations that follow the tell either lead to over excitement which is deadly or a strong hesitation to keep practicing. Both extreme may lead to giving up – which is wrong-headed. The telling acts are guidelines showing us where we are and what work we need to do. It is NOT a time to give up – it is a time to face the blaze again and again in the continuous work of purifying the mind.

The mouth, the nose, the ears, the flesh, and the eyes all need to be tamed by the mind not the will. The will is to help steady the mind to keep facing the blaze and keep going no matter how much we stumble.

Get UP! That’s where the will is useful. Get UP! Face what is there – and keep going. Ask yourself – what do you do when you see the false self and all the barnacles of attachment you continuously, habitually cling to?

The blaze of light shows us, moment by moment by our actions, where we are – and we are either turning to the world for all its false comforts or taking the backward step towards shama – tranquility and calmness where we learn to restrain the sense doors from popping open.

This practice is moment by moment – in response to what we meet moment by moment the light shines and illuminates the false identities until we let them go.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2019

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at:

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Keep IT Well


Now you have it, so keep it well. Jewel Mirror Samadhi


The quote above is a line from a Zen Buddhist Poem, titled, The Song of the Precious Jeweled Mirror Samadhi. It comes at the beginning of the poem right after the resounding affirmation by one of Buddha Shakyamuni’s disciples, Mahakashapa – the fellow who smiled a smile of recognition when Buddha Shakyamuni lifted a flower after giving a teaching. The poem is directed to those who have some understanding of what was/is intimately communicated.

If we follow this line of reasoning, we are to understand the Buddha’s teaching, that which is intimately communicated, is something we need to take care of – as it is the precious jeweled mirror Samadhi of the title of the poem. In common language, it is a glimpse at the Divine, our true nature.

Before we look at some practical and everyday practices we need to remember nothing is actually transmitted except for the acknowledgement of awakening with another being. Nothing is transmitted because the divine is within each one of us – IT – that which you keep well is there whether we realize IT or not.  Once we see IT, we need to look after IT.

One way to think about transmission is the Teacher/Master helps you turn your index finger around (represents the mind, intellect, ego and sense doors) inward like placing the finger upon your chest denoting the direction is inward, not outward. The Work is within.

In my basement I have a series of glass block windows with wide brick window sills. The basement is a quiet place; not much activity but every so often the window sills must be cleaned. No one has gone down there and made a mess but nevertheless, the dirt collects on the sills. Dirt is falling in a continuous stream whether I see it or not – in no time at all, the sills are covered with dust. I clean them and the dirt returns.

This cycle of brushing away the dirt is similar to what we must do – and the practices below will help to keep the precious mirror clean. This practice is considered essential and is the practice of a spiritual adept not yet stable. Stability comes when there is no mirror to clean. It is when we unite with our true nature. Until then, we practice ways in which to clear away the dirt; the results of karma (action) of our lives.

Sudden enlightenment comes as it did for Hui Neng; the lineage of A Single Thread and ZATMA. Hui Neng, a poor, uneducated, awakened man composed this poem:

“There is no mind and there is no mirror.

So where can the dust gather?

One who knows this is enlightened.”

Much of his monastic life was spent in the kitchen washing rice. He never meditated on a cushion, never read spiritual books and never needed instruction from his Master. He was an obedient monk who exemplified liberation. Never seeking the bowl and robe, symbols of a priest, he was given the title of Master. He represents the union with the Divine True Self.

Until we reach such freedom, we practice cleaning off the dust willingly and in the discipline of obedient humility as Hui Neng and others who have awakened have done. So, let us turn to one practice to begin to clear away the vexations of the mind and body.

Before you practice this particular practice, it is important to recognize that the no mind and no mirror is true – but it is not useful to analyze or use the intellect in an attempt to get it. You are already IT, but the dust (grime of karma) conceals IT.

The First Practice of Rich Ability

Shama. To withdraw the mind and the other five senses (close the doors of the senses) in order to let go of the external situation and focus on the internal reflection of the Divine in the precious mirror samadhi.

The first action is to know that shama is already available to you. When you get tired and fatigued, that is the action of shama. You begin to shut down and pull away from the external world to go to rest. Ah! Yes? Perhaps you have seen a new infant shut down in the middle of being cuddled or cooed over. Boom. Asleep.

Withdrawing the mind and sense doors is already part of our being. We need to harness this innate ability. When we practice, we actualize the glimpse of the Divine and keep IT well. We prevent more muck to cover IT.

Where and when do you practice shama? Everywhere, all the time. Withdraw the mind and senses and put your mind’s eye upon the internal reflection of the Divine. Waiting at the doctor’s office. In the turmoil of news. Waiting in line. Waiting in traffic. Washing dishes. Shopping. Making the bed.

Anytime when you are not required to engage the mind, the intellect and the ego, withdraw and close the sense doors then turn within and look at the Divine reflection inside.

Final encouragement: Practice, practice, practice this rich ability.

Good luck.


Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2019

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at:


Ulterior Defenses by Ming Zhen Shakya


Janus, the Roman God


FOREWARD by Fashi Lao Yue

When I would grumble about something to Ming Zhen, she would inevitably get to the point where she reminded me “everyone has sinned, and has been sinned against.” It was her way of telling me to be quiet – to stop complaining or thinking I am better than or less than any other being. This knowledge, although simple to read and even memorize, is not easy to practice. In this essay, Ming Zhen asks us to study the ego-self before the ego-self grabs hold with either attraction or aversion. A hard task indeed! For a very long time, we spiritual seekers find ourselves in a mess after we have grabbed something with the energy of attraction or aversion. These two energies are the harbingers of the three poisons of the soul – namely, greed, hate and delusion and all the various concomitants; the endless array of associated collateral. (i.e., worry, resentment, pride, envy, jealousy…)

Ming Zhen calls it being buried in our egos. I understand her to say as she says in Beckett’s quote, a dead mind. Dead in the sense its shape has taken on a name and form of becoming a such and such which we all know is deadly for any spiritual adept. To continue to see the sins of others is a fool’s view – and to worry about the other’s view of you is equally foolish. I can hear Ming Zhen laugh as she once again reminds us, “everyone has sinned, and has been sinned against.” Amen.

I have taken the liberty as editor for ZATMA to edit this essay towards a focus of helping us all to look at our ulterior defenses and to remember her way of telling us to be quiet.


Everyone has sinned, and has been sinned against.”




Say what you will, you can’t keep a dead mind down.”
Samuel Beckett, More Pricks Than Kicks

People buried in their egos – victims of their own poisonous anger, lust, or ignorance – find release only when they can spew that venom onto others. It’s the only catharsis they get. We hear them on moonless nights, stalking the land, targeting anyone within spitting range.

We need to remember this is us each and every time we find ourselves spewing venom.

To avoid the mess during these Nights of the Living Dead, the rest of us have to find a Refuge – and wait for sunrise. We are able to avoid the mess when we stop ourselves from discharging our own poisons. Then, if we are disciplined, we are able to seek Refuge. The Big Spiritual refuge of turning towards the Precious Buddha Mirror of our true image.


It helps to understand – if not the source of others venom – at least the display of it. Sometimes we encounter it “in kind” and sometimes “in degree.”


The “degree” is easier to see. We all feel that we’ve imposed ethical limits upon our behavior, limits that constitute a boundary between acceptable and unacceptable actions. “He is a terrible man. He beats his wife for no reason at all. (Pause) I beat my wife, too, but I make sure she deserves it before I strike her.”

In prison ministries we often see a rationalized hierarchy of crime. “I may be guilty of armed robbery, but I’ve never raped anybody!” Sometimes the hierarchy stumps us. A man who is serving three life sentences for multiple murders can say, with perfect equanimity, “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a thief.”


Often, we find ourselves declaring such nonsense, as “I’d never do such a thing.”

No, it is difference in “kind” that gives us trouble. It is a matter of identity. Identification with a false self; a made-up identity. A change in kind is an apparent change in genus and species. We think we’re seeing one kind of animal, but in reality, we’re seeing its natural enemy. This is not quite the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” motif. The wolf knows he’s a wolf and the woolly garments are a conscious disguise. If caught with his toes or his tail showing, he knows he’s been busted. The wolf is not deluded enough to growl and bare his fangs and insist that his accuser is a vicious sheep hater – the only reason he could possibly have for calling him a wolf. This kind of response is a purely human one.

In such a self-absolving defense tactic, the person unconsciously assumes an identity opposite to that of his true victim, i.e., the person he can righteously accuse of having the very same faults as those that got him buried in the first place. If he is a fearful coward – one that would betray his country at the slightest inconvenience, he may emerge from his interment as a martinet, swaggering with stick and sneer, exhorting his subordinates to commit acts of cruelty upon some ‘cowardly’ enemy, deriding his men as wimps and unpatriotic pansies, and punishing them harshly if they are in any way reluctant to inflict such injuries. If there’s one thing he hates, it’s a coward.

Have any of us ever made such statements – in a ridiculous piety. Or perhaps its opposite?

Again, it is in the exaggerated response that we find a clue to the nature of this inversion.

It is when we do take time to reflect upon moral issues that we need to consider the motivation of those who so vehemently question other people’s morality – and this includes our own outcries as well.

Buddhists who’ve been buried in their own egos often get their disinterment passes by shouting that somebody in the vicinity is violating a Precept. It never occurs to them that they are shifting a burden of guilt onto someone else. Whether the transfer is hissed or shouted, the theme is always the same: the assumed superior stance of one person over another.


Everyone has sinned, and has been sinned against.”

Pointing accusingly at other people’s offenses requires scrupulously clean hands. This is a universal principle in law except, perhaps, in the judicial proceedings of the Cosa Nostra. When two men rob a bank, intending to split the loot, and one of them runs off with all the money, the victimized robber cannot charge him with theft or seek redress of his grievance in the civil courts.

Seeing that our hands are dirty requires a degree of self-awareness that we usually don’t possess.


As the Buddha said,

The faults of others are easily seen, but one’s own faults are seen with difficulty. One winnows the faults of others like chaff, but conceals his own faults as a fowler covers his body with twigs and leaves.”` (The Buddha, Dhammapada, XVIII, 252.)


Reminds us of Adam and Eve who made a poor effort to cover their shame with a leaf.

Ordinary flaws, those convenient hypocrisies we devise to get out of uncomfortable positions or to gain personal advantages, are far easier to recognize than the ones that are not just covered by twigs and leaves but are buried beneath them.

If we haven’t yet used a defense mechanism to dig ourselves into a pathologic hole, we can try routine Buddhist self-help techniques. Success depends on luck and on having attained a certain proficiency in meditation. There is a line that is crossed when fascination becomes emotional involvement. Whenever we notice that we are aroused – by either attraction or aversion – we can try to analyze our response. Unfortunately, by the time we are emotionally “hooked” we have passed the point of disinterested observation and our conclusions are likely to be prejudiced.


Hsu Yun noted that the best time to become aware of our connection to a person or object is at the very beginning, when fascination has not yet progressed to emotional involvement. Initial actions and reactions are rather like the experience of seeing a dog pass a narrow window. By the time we’re aware that a dog is passing, we note only the dog’s body and then its tail. In order to identify the dog, we have to put a head on it… to go into our subliminal data banks and retrieve information of which we originally were not quite conscious. This task is referred to in the mondo concerning the master and the novice who asks when he will achieve enlightenment.


When you came here tonight,” the master asks, “on which side of the door did you leave your slippers?”


Naturally, the novice does not have the meditative proficiency necessary to recall details that his brain recorded, but which he made no conscious attempt to remember. Just as a journalist learns to ask the relevant questions, “Who?”; “When?”; “Where?”; “Why?”; “How?” and so on, we have to try to connect various stimuli, to establish a causal link, and try to determine the critical point – the point at which our interest was aroused. We often find that we make the same kind of mistake over and over. We can never “catch” ourselves before we fall into the trap. We need to be able to reconstruct the chain of impulses, the actions and reactions, the events that led us into the troublesome situations.

It’s only when anger, lust, and ignorance progress, unimpeded by constructive and corrective review, that we find that the defensive foxhole becomes a trench, and the trench a spiritual grave.



The Take-Away by Fashi Lao Yue

In order to clarify the teaching, we need to call upon the Roman god, Janus. As many remember, Janus is the god of many things: beginnings and gates, transitions, time, duality and endings symbolized by having two faces.

When conflicts arise, Janus is the god involved; when conflicts end, he is the god involved. Making him the god of war and peace. It is safe to say that he represents the god of all duality which is the heart of this teaching. We have a tendency to split things along the classification of good and bad.

When we set ourselves in a position for one-side, we have lost half our face.  We act out one side of Janus’s faces, forgetting the other side is true as well.

Most of the time we do not want to be reminded that we are dualistic; we hide one side of the face in favor of the other rather than recognize we have two faces. We dislike this so much we find it a real insult to be called ‘two-faced.’

We want to be single-faced – pure. Not knowing that purity is our real nature, we wish for it and pretend we are it. But time and time again we split towards a preferred tendency.  Some of us prefer, for example, to begin something rather than end something or the other-way-round. There is an endless slough of how this plays out in our daily life.

In order for us to realize our real nature, we must recognize our tendency to split and make efforts to integrate our awareness. When we are far enough along on the spiritual path, we see the oneness in such a way that everything is our real nature and we surrender our human tendency in humility.

Humming Bird
Author: Ming Zhen Shakya

If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact the editor at: