LESSONS. Lesson 5. Part A. The End of Suffering

LESSONS. Lesson 5. Part A.

The end of suffering – when things of the world get tough to bear.


Make friends with the problems in your life.    Sarah Young

Everything comes to awaken you – but don’t take any of it personally.

Don’t claim it as yours.


Let’s begin by shouting Hallelujah!  Praise – the Dharma of the True Being. I am, as you truly are, the Dharma as heat and light are the Sun. It is the mysterious Truth of the Tathagata. Whether it is mysterious or not, it is true.


Our common human nature is to think and believe we are somebody other than the true Dharma. Sometimes we think and believe we are a miserable bum or a jealous friend or an envious boor – sometimes we think and believe we are a know-it-all or a better-than-everybody, or  smart-as-a-whip or a hungry ghost. When we look in a mirror, we believe we are that face whether beautiful or ugly, plain or outstanding. We have forgotten who we are – the True Being – conscious and capable of giving, receiving and being a gift. The list of mistaken identity is endless, but forgetting our true nature is our universal condition.

No matter what name we use, we fill in the blank of who we are with some attribute, an identity that teeters up and down in praise, blame, pleasure, pain, fame, obscurity, gain and loss. In this identity ranking, we are caught in the swamp of the ego and not on the ground of being. We all have done it. Those times we feel sorry for ourselves, when we judge and blame, blow up incensed we have not been heard or understood. Those times when we feel righteous in our injury – when we look at our wounds and can’t seem to stop the licking. This swamp is suffering.

And this status is our usual ‘rank’ – what in Zen is called the first rank. Known commonly by many names  ‘instinctual man, ‘ ‘material girl,’ ‘egotist,’ ‘selfie,’ ‘self-centered’ ‘full of pride’ – many names throughout history define this rank. Each depicting the universal nature of being caught in the ego and blown about by the worldly winds of suffering. (Praise/Blame, Pain/Pleasure, Fame/Obscurity, Gain/Loss). When we, for example, are not praised we blame – when we are acknowledged we look down, when we gain, we want to hang on – over and over it goes.

But don’t give up and fall into despair.

The first rank is not without wisdom. There is wisdom that is of the most obvious kind. The man on the street, meaning you and me, knows that everything changes. The fact that everything changes is the first suffering we experience in childhood. We lose a toy. It gets broken, We cry. We lost it. And then we want it back or at the very least a replacement. This is our human nature. It is where we all begin. And for many, it is where we remain.

But for those with dust in their eyes this knowing wisdom remains  a shock throughout life – change surprises us. The knowledge is not used to awaken, instead we use it to complain. Someone leaves us, death comes as a thief in the night – our feeling sorry for ourselves breaks in our consciousness and we are swamped. A sudden tsunami sweeps our family away – we lose our eyesight – an accident leaves us crippled – a stroke cripples. Any number of changes torment us – we see change as unfair, personal and attacking. We react from our grip on what we want. We feel compensation is owed to us. We march in the parade of thinking we deserve “better.” All of these concoctions are attempts to protect the ego from change. Impossible to do. Change is a constant and an inevitable, true principle of this realm. IN knowing this – there is wisdom.

But…because the world follows a replacement system when it comes to change, we fight against the worldly winds with all sorts of schemes and plans and try-agains – because we only know the knowledge of the first rank – everything changes – as a threat to what we want. The ego is center stage.

We need to know this wisdom without making the mistake of schemes and try-agains. All our schemes and try-agains towards the world result in the same lesson being taught – the lesson of knowing everything changes in the material world along with knowing we cannot count on the worldly things for spiritual satisfaction. Impermanence is a mark of being – of existence. When we are unable or unwilling to know this wisdom – we suffer.

This knowledge is wisdom – but alone, it is not enough for us to get out of the swamp. And getting-out-of-the-swamp is how we end suffering. In order to end suffering as Buddha and all great spiritual teachings tell us, we must STOP sinking our claws into the world and the things of the world. We switch from trying to change the worldly things and look inward and pull our claws out. This teaching is a shock.

To study impermanence requires a war house – a meek and disciplined mind that is supple and strong – to see  change as impermanent rather than personal. The wind blows where it will and no one can escape the wind. It is universal in nature – proceeds from the Source and comes to wake us up right where we are. 

There is help. It requires a choice – a decision – a change of mind to receive the changes as the Truth of the Tathagata – the mysterious mystery that it is. It is a practice to receive the changes as they truly are – change comes to mutually assist us to awaken, empty of a personal attack, empty of a personal prize. IT comes and comes and comes giving us all a chance to listen, study and know to get out of the swamp.


Humming Bird
Author: Fashi Lao Yue

If for some reason yon need elucidation on the teaching,

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

Images by FLY

Lesson 2. Aim – Boots and Feet


Lesson 2. Aim – Boots and Feet

Boots and Feet by FLY 2019


It was a hard day – like most. The ground felt as though it was on an uphill incline no matter where he placed his old toes. The leather boots helped steady his frail legs and arthritic bones. Convinced he’d fall on his back without them, he kept the pair close by his bed for his night time trail walk to the cramped but utilitarian bathroom only a few feet away.  E.M. Cairn


We are responsible for the direction we take – even though we may not get there. Our destination, it seems, is done in small steps towards some aim. The old man getting out of bed reminds me of the Zen Master who gathers a crowd around as he is about to display his archery skills. Dressed in his regalia he prepares himself. Marks off the distance and sets a large target at one end of the field. He selects an arrow and checks the wind direction. Right before he releases the arrow there is a silence of expectation – with drawn bow he steadies his gaze, looks upward and lets the arrow fly into the sky. The crowd dumbfounded. He never intended to hit the target down field – his intention was higher. The arrow shot into the sky is to remind us the target of Zen is every-where, all around us – the Master showed us that nothing is to be left out of our aim.

“When we leave nothing out, we insure success at hitting the mark.”


There is an old memory I have of a New Testament passage about being faithful in little things. I looked it up.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much…Luke 16:10

The same message in different words.


Every little thing is the target of our practice, of our aim. Every little thing needs to be included in our intention and attention. But it takes a fair amount of practice to draw back our aim and let the arrow fly upward into everywhere – it is not a capricious exhibition. Years of practicing with a clear intention is required – otherwise we risk injury and failure.

The high aim of the Dharma is right in front of our left eye – a pinpointed direction. Right there. Everywhere. But we often miss it, because we often think it is somewhere else. We have forgotten that …all ingredients are the same….and then our attitude is blown about by the eight worldly winds of selfish interest (pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, and fame and disrepute) and NOT the wind of refined practice (grace).

When the winds blow us around, we act wild and think crazy thoughts that we have found the Truth. If we are lucky, we get hold of our senses and see firsthand we are confused, yet again, by the self-centered winds.  The result being – we overshoot the target or come up short. Our intention did not hold and we squandered our attention. At this point we need to STOP. Examine our intention. Otherwise we remain blind to the path and miss meeting the Buddha on the Road. And meeting God? Let me quote from The Cloud of Unknowing –

How will you get to God? Do not get entangled in things that are temporary and created.


It’s a paradox. But the old man shows us how to look after the visible things of the world.

…the old man beginning his hard day – considered early his situation and took care of what he needed to make the climb – in his case, he kept his boots by his bed.


Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog. If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact editor at : yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


Winter 2018 – Holiday Message from Old Earth Wisdom


Winter 2018 – Holiday Message from Old Earth Wisdom


Duty:  assuming all tasks can betray arrogance.  The idea that we can know

what must be done, and do it properly.  We cannot know the future. It

claims so much to assume we can.  The world is not broken any more than

it always is.


                                                                                                                                         Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay


Several years ago, I read a novel roughly based on the 8th century Tang dynasty in China that speaks to these present times.  It contains a profound gem of insight that takes us beyond world we can see and touch.  The main character, Shen Tai takes on the duty to bury the tens of thousands of bones left from a long-ago battle.  He takes this duty on for one year to mourn the death of his father. I remember when I read this, I was struck that Shen Tai was so clear in doing his duty and doing it in spite of his fear of being with unsettled spirits of the long dead warriors.  During the dark nights with the spirits crying and wailing Shen Tai writes poetry.


Full moon is falling through the sky.

Cranes fly through clouds.

Wolves howl.  I cannot find rest

Because I am powerless

To amend a broken world.

Under Heaven  Guy Gavriel Kay


Broken World. It is not difficult to look around and see that this world is broken.  The question becomes what to do about this broken world. In this brokenness, must I fix it?  I have not gotten Shen Tai’s so clear a message. Going off in solitude to dig graves seems heroic—seems like something I might like to do if I only knew where to go.  Are we, you and I asked to take on such heroic actions to fix our broken world?


In order to perfect any practice, seemingly useless experience must be undergone.  Any disciple who has entered any kind of practice must begin with seemingly unnecessary futile things.  But of course, these things are part of the discipline. Without such seemingly trifling things there can be no perfecting of the practice.

Asian Journal – Thomas Merton


This seems to be more of where my duty rests.  The world is already broken. My task it is not to look only at the brokenness or to flip to see only wonder in nature or the shining of the sun and moon.  It is to turn my attention to God/the vast inconceivable source that can’t be faced or turned away from/existence-consciousness-bliss, to know this deeply within, not to think about it but to know it.


Stages of Life & Duty. A few years ago, I wrote about the four chronological stages of the Hindu view of life:  student, householder, hermit and wanderer. I said that our hermitage was moving out of the householder life and that the arc of our lives was bending toward hermit-ness.  

Here are some of the duties we’ve begun to include in our daily life:

  • Withdrawing from the busy world – as best we can in an urban setting.
  • Living simply – giving away one thing a day every day.
  • Eating good food – shifting our diet to vegetables, nuts, a little meat, an apple every day and lemon water first thing in the morning.
  • Studying – reading spiritual writing from many traditions, Zen Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, the Psalms – listening to teachings from Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Catholicism, Christian Science, Hinduism, Judaism, Shamanism. Listening & hearing the high pitch of Truth that we swim in.
  • Silence. Solitude. Sitting. Every day.
  • Treating gently those who come for help or advice.


Bones to Bury. This hermit life requires patience and slow-going.  And the bones that must be buried come from personal battles with “resentment seeds, back scratching greed, worrying about outcomes, fear of people…” Rumi

It is solitary work; a deep patience.  It is putting one foot in front of the other again and again.

So, duty is to live in this broken world and not be overcome by it.  To know that what comes into my life is my life and that everything, everything comes to awaken.


May the merit of this practice benefit all beings.

Humming Bird

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun


ADVANCED TEACHING: Living Without a Storyline

The field of boundless emptiness (unconditioned love) is what exists from the very beginning. You must purify, cure, grind down, or brush away all the tendencies (to construct a story) you have fabricated into apparent habits (stories). Zen Master Hongzhi

Live Without Desire



Awakening has the quality of surprise, not the type of surprise that excites or frightens but the type of surprise that goes beyond space and time and the stuff imagined in space and time. It requires a leap from ordinary consciousness to awareness of what we fabricate in consciousness. The leap is to purify, cure, grind down or brush away the tendency to make up and believe in our stories.

How about THAT!

What do we fabricate in consciousness? Stories.

Our stories like all stories are fabricated out of images, forms, names, memories, feelings, and desires. All fabricated into “I-ego.”

To look and see into consciousness itself as it rolls along reflecting on space and time requires a leap of transcendence. We leap away from belief in the fabricated story in the mind as true and real.

It makes sense doesn’t it?

In ordinary life, in the daily activity of the consciousness we use, we need to step back or step away from the rolling, moving activity and look into what we are doing.

Stepping back is a small move of purifying the mind awareness. We use awareness to look at the fabrications which is a leap of transcendence that goes beyond space and time. We stop being convinced of our stories as true.

Most of us have had a tiny taste of looking at our activity in this way. It is those times when we exclaim “What am I doing?” It is sudden awareness of seeing into mind. Seeing what script we are following. 

In order for it to be spiritually illuminating we need to recognize that the story line is not real and not true. This vision requires that we have gained some disenchantment with the story and are willing to disentangle from it.

What I mean by entanglement is a reference to thinking and believing that whatever the mind has fabricated is real and true. This shift is a big deal and takes practice. 

You see, we need to know that what our ordinary consciousness displays is a story. We can know this because we tell “our” story to others. It is a common occurrence filled with distorted embellishments that tend towards making things look better than they were or worse.

We put together things we remember in such a way to look and appear in a particular way. Of course all of this is laid out on the Wheel of Life and Death which shows us our story begins in ignorance every time. Now this really isn’t a “bad” or “good” thing, it only becomes a troubling thing when we think and believe the story is real and become identified and attached to the story.

You and I can have stories, but they are not real. They come and they go. They are distorted as well as under the influence of change. Believing and thinking that the stories are true are the fabrications of the mind; part of the illusory world.

These illusions are quite interesting to us. When we get too convinced by them as true and real they hinder the Light of Transcendence. All sorts of difficulties arise from these illusions in the mind.

We tend to take a stand for or against. We tend to think we are right and someone else is wrong. We tend to fixate on these illusions to the point we suffer from them.

Our feelings around these stories glue them together. Our feelings drive the story which of course drives our life to look like the story we tell ourselves.

It is very much like watching a movie. The story line is driven by a pull  or a tug on our feelings. When we realize the story or script in the mind like a movie is not real. Realize it as a story. we have the potential to let them go and not be hindered by them. 

Since most of us are attached to our stories letting go is a struggle. What is helpful here is to recognize the story for what it is – not true, not real. It is important not to get into the content of the story. Getting into the content strengthens our grip around the story and hinders the Light of transcendence. 


Silence and solitude help us see the concoctions we cook up. We have to learn to be quiet and let go of running the stories. When the stories are cleared out the present moment is lived. It makes sense doesn’t it? If you are running a concocted story all the time, everywhere you go, you are not living in the present moment. You are living in the story line in your head. Whatever storyline you got going is what you are making of your life. To study the story line is part of practice, to know that you run storylines is a realization. To let go of the storylines is transcendence; transcending space and time. And it is there you will find out who you are, for real.

How about THAT!




Let’s see if we can run through a simple story; just a one-liner story.


Simple enough, but many, many repercussions can follow this simple story the “I-ego” wants to fabricate.

Immediately add, this story is not true. This story is not real.

Notice what happens. Does an interior battle begin? Do you begin to enumerate evidence for the one-liner to be true. Or do you enumerate against the one-liner? Either way, you are making up more stories and falling into the content.


Drop the one-liner.

Notice how you put the story together? Did you use comparative thoughts? STOP comparing.

Drop the one-liner?

Is there a residue of feeling sad or happy left behind?

Know the one-liner is not real, not true. It is a ghost in the mind.

Step back and watch the fabrications.

You see, you can live without a story. It is an awakened life worth living. You meet what shows up moment in moment meeting, empty of fabrications.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

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


A Deeper Embrace

A Deeper Embrace



Listen child of God…attend to the message you hear and make sure it pierces your heart.

Benedict’s Rule


Here, Benedict asserts the imperative that one go beyond an intellectual understanding of spiritual truths to a deeper embrace, one which emerges from a piercing, personal experience of the teachings.

Recently, I experienced a crisis in my spiritual practice that has moved me to a heartfelt re-dedication to the messages I hear.

The 4 Noble Truths are the core message of Buddhism.  The First Noble Truth: There is suffering.  I know that I have a tendency to put myself above other people.  I know this is one of the ways I suffer.  This tendency was apparent this past week, however, I was blind to it as it unfolded.

My pride is an example of the Second Noble Truth: Suffering is caused by our ego’s craving for life to be more, less, better, happier than it is.  I had become hooked into striving for superiority, and in my disappointment with myself, I plunged into despair and frustration.

Desperate to feel better, I determined to fix myself, once and for all!  Soon I recognized that this too is a pattern.  When I want to be the best and brightest, I suffer.  And, when I want to fix that habit, I suffer.  Eventually, I saw that I was piling craving upon craving.  It led me to this: “Nothing I do works. I DON’T KNOW.”

Although I hold dear the wisdom of the Third Noble Truth, that there is an end to suffering, still I DID NOT KNOW.  Here, my pain met the truth of the teachings and my heart was pierced.  There was a way through my suffering.  I began to see it.

The Fourth Noble Truth tells us to follow the 8-Fold Noble Path to put an end to suffering. The Noble Path teaching which pierced my heart during this recent experience describes Noble Effort.

The efforts of spiritual seekers must be directed toward seeing what we are doing in every moment; as we cross the street, as we talk to a friend, as we make dinner. Unless we are serving the Buddha with consistent attention fixed on what is, the ego slips in, our thinking gears up, and our habits take over.  When we do find ourselves caught in craving, our efforts must orient toward dis-identification with what we want, what we think we know, how we think we can fix.  Though I fully understood these teachings, I was not applying my efforts effectively to my practice.

Egoic thoughts and feelings plant their first seeds of discontent, of the craving described in the Second Noble Truth, in a mind that is unaware.  I had been unaware when pride first crept into my thinking.  A spiritual student, utilizing Noble Effort, resides continually in the gap between her presence and her ego’s desires.  In that gap, she can recognize when suffering’s cause is upon her.  In this full and concentrated presence, being Buddha, she sees that her ego’s drive is a delusion born of false truths.  Her efforts have led her down the path of freedom from the attachments of the ego.  I, in my unaware state, allowed my pride to grab hold and run the show.  I had squandered a precious opportunity to put an end to a bit of suffering.

Such is Noble Effort; the full application of all one’s energy towards the study of the delusions of the mind so that one can let them go.  Noble Effort requires moment-to-moment dedication of a heart that is penetrated by a fervent wish to end suffering.

Humming Bird

Author: Getsu San Ku Shin


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

It’s Broken

Some time ago I heard this story….told by a Buddhist teacher.

She with several others went on a trip to Southeast Asia to work with Theravada Buddhist monks. When they arrived they were shown to small broken down huts where loud music blared from the nearby village all night long. The accommodations were sparse, untamed and relatively wild. They were to meet with a teacher who was as they thought in the process of building a temple. They made the trip to help the teacher build the temple. To their surprise they met him sitting in a construction site….the materials were rotting from the moisture and heat, there was no real semblance of a building at all except for one or two walls held up by leaning 2×4’s. No windows. No doors. The materials were moldy, covered with growth and rancid.

In the midst of these decaying and broken things sat the monk on top of a stack of wood surrounded by torn bags of concrete. The contingent of helpers were dazed at first but soon took to thinking they must help him build the temple. On the very first meeting, in their exasperation of the mess they told him they would help clean up, fix up, build up the temple. The monk looked at them as though he didn’t understand what they were saying and in all great composure turned and said to them, this is the temple. As one might imagine the contingent were dismayed even distressed by his indifference to the broken down building site and to his sincere declaration: This is the Temple.

Desire for something more, better, ordered, organized, proper, perfect….an endless list of something more is a distraction from the truth it is broken. The distraction leads us to feel burdened and stressed by wanting something more, something different, something better in the face of It’s broken. 

The Mountain

The Mountain by Albert Herbert 1991 Private Collection  (Sister Wendy On Prayer, Figure 10)

The image is primitive, childlike and expressive. It is a two-dimensional picture of something big in the physical world. Although it is sharp, angled and appears to be an apparent obstacle it is accessible and invites us to come up. Herbert’s work does not show a clear, well-beaten path; in fact the painting leaves us wondering how did Moses get up as high as he did? How will we make such a climb? Herbert leaves that for us to work out.

What we do see is that mountains are majestic, a royal earth phenomena calling us to look upward, skyward, to come up to the heights of spiritual life. In Herbert’s work there is a clear indication that Moses is accompanied by wildlife, we might even say he enters, no he must enter the wild, untamed world to get nearer to the summit.

In looking at our teaching, It’s broken it is important to keep the mountain in mind otherwise we risk a steep stumble into despair. The world, It’s broken if understood brings peace, if misunderstood brings confusion.

We realize acceptance for what is and continue on towards the sky above the mountain. We begin at the foot and make our way through the wild, untamed world.  We calm down. We stop pushing the river and use our powers to climb upward through the rugged terrain. We use our effort to keep going. We are content right in the middle of It’s broken.


On a retreat recently a student gave me a gift of a stamp with my new Chinese name on it. It came in two sizes. During the retreat I had the opportunity to use the stamps and posted up a little board using one of the stamps. When the student saw the stamp mark, she declared, “It’s not beautiful. I want it to be beautiful.” I remarked, “It is good enough.” (It’s broken)


The Reminder


In the light of It’s broken everything is good enough or just enough or enough as it is. It is suffering to want something else. It is a distraction keeping us from seeing the truth, It’s broken. When we know and see It’s broken, we enter the wild, untamed world of the mountain and use our power and efforts to “…. (make) the solitary ascent….to labor along the way….to strip the heart of all that is distraction….to hold on in confidence to the certainty that God (undying, unborn, our True Self) is there, even if—-(even when) we see nothing.” John of the Cross

It is from this mind we meet what comes and act accordingly.



“Nothing, nothing, nothing on the way….and on the mountain, nothing. Nothing but God alone.” John of the Cross

When we do otherwise we are caught in the world of wanting what shows up in our life to be different than what it is; we forget It’s broken and are caught in striving for something else, something different. This is suffering.

To climb the mountain….we go it alone, labor with what we meet along the way and strip away all distractions….confident in nothing….nothing, nothing, nothing which turns out to be something.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

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




An Old Woman Trains to Be a Monk: Her Journey

I am an old woman and have lived most of my life as a catholic nun.  My core is Jesus Christ and close to him stands his elder brother, the Buddha.  I am training to be a spiritual monk and one of the tasks given is to write my spiritual biography.  A glimpse is what I can give.

It amazes me to say that my parents were born over one hundred years ago.  My father came to America from Sweden at age four. His father was absent and his mother was emotionally distant. His rock was his grandmother, a wise and practical woman who taught him well.  He loved her dearly.  My father had a quiet sense of humor that showed in the twinkle of his eyes.  He was musically gifted and played the trumpet.  There was a deep anger in him that he tried to control but didn’t always succeed.  At forty two he had a heart attack and stroke which cost him his job, his independence and his ability to play his trumpet.  He died when he was fifty eight years old.

My mother was of French descent, a farmer’s daughter and the oldest of eleven living children.  She was educated through grade eight, danced ballet and became a nurse.  She was musical and played the piano, often at night when we children were in bed. She could get lost reading a book. When she was thirty four she discovered she had cancer.  She birthed a son. She died of cancer when she was forty one. My two sisters were eleven and ten.  I was seven and my brother was four.

After mother died her youngest sister stepped in to care for us four children and when I was in fifth grade she and my father married.  She gave birth to a daughter. I was delighted with the marriage.  She had always been in our lives so we kept the same aunts, uncles and cousins we always had and didn’t have to get to know another family. She gave every thing she was capable of giving. It was a long time before I began to really appreciate how much she gave of herself.  I loved my ‘other/mother’ but my intense loyalty to my own mother kept me from letting get too close.  I think that if we had spoken openly of our mother it might have been different but we didn’t speak of her. I sensed this new mother would be hurt if we seemed to put our mother first.

I learned early on to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself.  To hide.  I was not as successful as I thought and to my chagrin my stepmother knew me better than I realized. She told me one day that there was to be a surprise party for my grandmother’s birthday.  “Now don’t say anything.  It’s a surprise”, she told me.  With pride I declared that I could keep a secret!  “I know you can,’ she quietly replied.  “Too well.”   I think also that a part of my staying quiet may have been that I simply did not know how to speak of myself or my feelings.

Because my father was partially paralyzed from a stroke our stepmother had to become the bread winner and it was tough making it financially.  Living on the edge made for stress and anxiety and I carried it in my body and spirit.  I had tension stomachaches that doubled me up in pain but I said nothing. It didn’t occur to me to complain.

I had a temper. One time when I was six my parents were away for a short time in the evening and my older sisters were in charge.  I wouldn’t come in when they called me so they locked the door on me.  I got mad and banged on the front window and smashed it with my fist.  To avoid the consequence an elaborate story was made up to tell our parents about a boy who threw a rock through the window.  Years later the real story came out. I’ve been angry more times than I care to admit, often because of stuffed emotions.  Sometimes a burning anger, sometime cold.  A hell realm of anger.   I’ve hurt those I loved most with my anger. I cannot recall anyone who has turned away from me.

I knew when I was young that I wanted to be a nun.  Whether it was because I loved and admired my two nun aunts or liked my teachers, I don’t know.  But I loved Jesus. I believed he was with me and I wanted to be with him. I grew up with this conviction.

In September of my eighteenth year I entered a religious community.  My family drove me to the novitiate and I exchanged my blue and white flowered dress for a black skirt and blouse and little veil.  I stood behind the window drapes and watched my family drive away without me. I would see them once a month on visiting Sunday and not go home to visit for five years.  I didn’t cry until Christmas.

Novitiate life was full; up at five, meditate at five thirty, mass at six, breakfast and then the rest of the day. Studies and work and play.  We studied logic, scripture, art, calligraphy, theology, learned to sing Gregorian chant, played foot ball and basket ball, cleaned toilets, scrubbed floors, worked in the kitchen and yard, learned to serve table properly, ate enormous amounts of food (speaking for myself) put on plays and some snuck behind the garages to smoke.  I took everything seriously and once when I was reprimanded for something or other I worried for two weeks that I would be sent home.  I carried a lot of anxiety. I kept hidden the itchy rash it caused on the palms of my hands.  Another girl had the same kind of rash and left.  I feared the same would happen to me.  Eventually the spots cleared up.

After novitiate my first ministry was teaching in our schools for twenty years.  Needs kept changing and we went where we were needed.

The frequent changes were unsettling to me and I longed to be in one place permanently.  I didn’t know that impermanence is the name of the game.  I was a creative teacher, worked hard and loved my students but I wasn’t really getting much interior nourishment although we had our daily rituals and prayer.  I felt a yearning for something.  Once I told one of my teachers that I had ‘this kind of yearning inside’.  She said that that was prayer.  It was comforting to believe that prayer was going on inside me even without words.

One thing that did nourish me was art making.  I would clear out a space in an attic or basement or bedroom to paint and draw.  It was through art that I could say what was inside me and work things out.  I was not an activist although I tried to be.  It simply did not fit.  My way of addressing the world’s suffering was through visual art.  An example is when the Twin Towers came down. I was horror struck. The world seemed totally dark until one sister quietly spoke the words ‘a great migration of souls’ referring to all those who were plunged to their death.  She saw them as spirits rising.  Her words had a deep effect on me.  I collected pictures of the burning towers and with those pictures and a figure I had drawn, made a collage showing the spirits of the dead ascending back into the womb of a Divine Mother. I had to believe that there was something more than hate and destruction.

The sixties saw great changes in the church and in community.  Pope John XXlll threw open the windows to let in fresh air and at the same time much went out the window.  There was a new sense of freedom and many of my sister friends left.  It was like a river flowing away. Many changes occurred in community.  One visual change was trading our seventeenth century robes for modern day dress.  I looked forward to this for I wished to be a woman among women, not someone stuck on the hierarchical ladder, a step below clergy and a step above lay people.  Without robes we would be as other woman and not receive preferential treatment.

A lot of stress came with all the changes in church and community as we struggled to find a new footing.  The old dropped away and the new had not yet taken hold.  At that same time I accepted a position in community that simply did not fit.  I did not have the talent for it and it did not use the talents I had.  I said yes to it without discerning well, proud that I was thought to have something to offer.  Working in the core of the community I became aware of the tensions and disagreements I saw and wondered (I don’t know who I thought I was!) how I could remain with such a messed up group of women religious.  I was depressed and totally disillusioned and began to look at other options.  But nothing seemed to fit.  I learned of a day of retreat that was being held somewhere and I went, thinking that I might hear one word that spoke to me.  Just one word was all I asked. There was a healing ceremony that day and though healthy in body I was sick at heart and asked to receive the sacrament of the sick.  After I was anointed and felt the hands of others pressing deep upon my shoulders in prayer, I took my seat.  Something happened; the great depressive weight I carried traveled up through my feet, my legs, my whole body and passed out the top of my head.  It was gone.  The weight and depression did not return.    My vision cleared and I began to see that I am a wounded woman living in a community of wounded women.  I was in the right place.

There have been other moments of consolation when the Divine shown through the thin veil of separation.  One such moment was when my father died when I was twenty five.  I felt an urgent need to pray for him and sat up into the night repeating a psalm we prayed for the dead, ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Hear my voice. ‘ (Psalm 130)  The prayer prayed itself in me for a long time.  Then abruptly I could no longer utter a word on his behalf.  A deep peace filled me and I knew my father’s wandering had ceased and he had entered into his Rest.

My stepmother lived into her nineties.  She wanted to stay in her own home and with help was able to do so until the last short while of her life.  One of my sisters and I were closest in distance so we were the ones to care for her needs.  During the last twelve years we made sure that at least one of us was near to respond to any need or crises.  We became familiar with the inside of hospitals. We cared well for her but sometimes I also resented the frequent demands made on me.  Again and again the memory of my selfishness nudges me toward generosity.

During that time I had a heart episode. The ER doctor asked me if I wanted to be resuscitated.  That caused me to pause.  Death is real. Even though I had written in my living will that I do not wish to be resuscitated I decided I wanted to live.  The doctor also thought that I should.  I felt that I have work to do.  They finally got things working right and I stay quite healthy.  As I lay in the hospital bed I recalled a seventeenth century teaching by Man-An that I had memorized.  One phrase of it is,  ‘Do not say …that the poor and sick do not have the power to work on the Way.’  Those words were my constant companion.  My illness was my practice.

About sixteen years ago a spiritual companion introduced me to Zen.  I read  Zen Mind Beginners Mind, my first book of Buddhist teachings.  I couldn’t stop reading and while I didn’t understand very much I was nourished. I made a Zen retreat in New York and heard a Buddhist priest give a teaching. She touched something in me.  Even though I lived many miles away I asked her if she would be my teacher.  The answer was yes. She is my still my teacher.  I became a member of the sangha and traveled there when I could but distance made it infrequent and irregular. I missed not being consistently present for the teachings and rituals.  My connection with my teacher was uplifting and encouraging and challenging and painful. I have felt disappointed and angry.  It’s been a rocky road I have wanted to quit but I trust her.  Too often I take things personally.  My pride is challenged. My poisons are held up to me again and again. When I write something and send it by email it might come back chopped liver. But then there might come a Yes! when I finally get something!  It’s like the sun coming out.

Now I am in the last phase of my life and am training to be a Spiritual Monk. I wasn’t sure about becoming a monk even though I said yes quite quickly.  Nothing in particular happened to convince me that this is the way for me to go. I had to just wait until it took root and it has quietly grown and feels right. I want to know more deeply the One for whom I have always yearned even when I didn’t know it. May this journey I am on bring me closer to that desire.

It’s never too late!
Humming Bird

Author: Ho Getsu Sen Gen

A Single Thread is not a blog. If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact the editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

















Introduction to Nienfo Chan/Nembutsu Zen and the Traceless Mind by Fashi Yao Xin Shakya

Nienfo Chan/Nembutsu Zen is the most common practice taught in China to enter the gateless gate of Zen. It consists “simply” in the recitation of a sacred or symbolic name, such as the name of a Buddha or a mantra. Such a practice is a popular form of devotion for simple and helpless people in need of refuge, but it is much more. Please don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the practice, it is a wonderful Dharma raft.
This recitation practice fits all situations, and all spiritualities. It is a blessing that matches the Linji/Rinzai mindset of always giving the mind what it needs. My late Dharma teacher MingZhen Shakya used to say:
Always, give the mind what it needs to enter the gateless gate.’
Recitation is a universal Buddhist practice found in Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. The roots of the practice come from BuddhaSmriti (mindful awareness). The practitioner recollects the Buddha’s name. It is as simple and beautiful as that.

There are different intentions the practitioner may have when doing the practice. But the main intention is to harmonize the intention with what the mind needs. If I am standing in the middle of a crowded train, for example, the intention needed may be a peaceful mind. I may need to dispel the irritation of noise or the smell of the underground cars. Recitation is a wonderful practice. I shift away from reacting to the situation to resting on Buddha’s name in mindful awareness.

There are many levels and ways to cultivate the practice of recitation. The old Chinese booklet “48 Doors to Nienfo,” also titled Taming the Monkey Mind is a good resource. This small booklet allows the reader to enter into the realm of the practice of Hua t’ou.

There is no fundamental difference between practices, one practice leads to another. The key is attention. You need to pay attention when you recollect the Buddha’s name. Attention to practice leads to Pure Mind.

The same principle is true for the four main practices we share in our Sangha. To sum it up these are: 1. Recitation, 2. Huatou/Wato, 3. GuanYin Chan/Kannon Zen, 4. MoChao Chan/Mokusho Zen.

Our usual set of mind is a mind of delusion , always trapped in a view, a craving or dissatisfaction. It is like a man walking around a mountain in a fog. He is unable to see the mountain, let alone a path leading up the mountain.

When we see the mountain and the path up the mountain, we have a chance to escape our suffering. With attention we begin to climb the difficult path of concentration. We set our mind on the summit; the Spiritual Everest of most traditions. In our Zen Linji/Rinzai school, we call this Kensho or JianXin, seeing mind. What all zen ancestors urged for.

It has many names: paradise, knowing God, entering the bride’s room, meeting sky father, Oneness, death of the self and the brilliant presence of a true Self. A Buddha Nature of non difference, an emptiness made form or form made emptiness.

In our Chinese tradition, it is Amituofo which means the Buddha of Pure Light beyond Space and Time. It is the summit for a devotee. We call it “Unified/Union Mind” or a a Mind in Samadhi/Zen. This experiences is beautiful and very inspiring, but it is not the end of the path.

To the contrary it is the very beginning of the path! Every practice towards Samadhi’s Egoless state before kensho isn’t called Zen. Before samadhi the work of these practices is to bring you to the door of Zen, our most natural state.

We acknowledge these experiences knowing that the heart of our practice is to give. We don’t dwell in Samadhi, apart from society in a dreamlike state. It’s a trap easy to fall into a path of the Buddhahood for ourselves. Shakyamuni himself doubted his capacities to share what he knew. The story goes that Brahma begged him to teach those with little dust in their eyes.

So, the specificity of Zen is to be a Traceless Path. The fourth Mind is the traceless mind or No mind, Wu/Mu Xin. Big word you might say, what does it mean.

It means a path of traceless manifested of our true self.

Once we understand Union/Samadhi/kensho is not the end of the path we we offer what we have to offer to others. We let the sacred manifest and we let ourselves manifest the Union in our daily lives. If there is kensho wonderful, if it’s a day of no kensho wonderful too. Our way is Farming Chan/Zen as Fo Yuan Shakya, our grandfather in the Yunmen/Ummon lineage used to say.

When we try to force the union with the Godhead through acts such as trying to follow the 3 pure precepts (do no harm, cultivate goodness, purify the mind) we end up manifesting the little self. This deliberate attempt is a mind of manifestation with traces of our little self wanting to do good. It’s not a bad thing per se but it is not the manifestation of union. When we are harmonious and we follow the three pure precepts without effort. It is traceless.

In our Order, Zen priests practice in small households. Our Zen practice is house cleaning and baths for the kids, as well as Zen liturgy, zazen or sewing. Every action can be a field where we manifest the path.

Our Order is a grounded expression of the four noble truths and the Eightfold Path. We summarize it as Right View-Right Action. Ming Zhen, my Old Sun hated spending time on nonsense talk of karma and rebirth. She would be more likely to say,

Zen is Action, Action is Karma! Wake Up!”



Fǎshī yáo xìng Shakya

Humming Bird

The Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun: Zen and The Martial Arts isn’t a blog. A problem that could use some Zen elucidation will get the needed attention. Contact us at yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com.

Remember, the Path’s two important rules: Begin and Continue.
Print This Page

The Basics of the Hua T’ou Method



This is an ancient method used in Chan practice. It is a question asked over and over again and in all circumstances, such as “Who am I?” The question, if done with sincerity, generates doubt and shifts the mind away from selfish mind content. Let us say, as an example, we are in a sticky situation, where the stress is on the rise and confusion is mounting. This type of scenario tends to cultivate self-protective and self-interest strategies making the mind vulnerable to various sorts of harmful errors. To move the mind to the hua t’ou provides a method of letting go of the dusky content in the mind that is gathering (making) the stress and confusion into a storm.

The method takes the mind on the path with words in the form of a question towards the Source of the situation at hand. It is a move backward towards the head of the river (the Source) and inhibits the mind from taking a leap into the rush of defilements and tendencies in the mind. In plain language, it interrupts reactions and habits leaving the mind uncertain.

It is used to generate doubt, an uncertainty of the nature of what is rising. In meditation the mind often travels along a path of self-interest and gathers steam around the particulars of self-interest where the hua t’ou acts as a detour and a return towards the Source. The doubt creates a gap which allows for the possibility of seeing beyond and through the dust of selfishness. The gap allows for a glimpse into what is the true nature of mind by clearing off the clouds of dust allowing a reflection of things as they are to rise even if it is for just a moment. This glimpse is wisdom that runs through all things which lifts up the mind heavenward.

A hua t’ou has the capacity to break up delusive thoughts and ideas about the value and tenacity of selfishness, in whatever form and by whatever name it may appear. It stops the grasping, reaching and clinging of the confusion in the mind as though the confusion is real and inhibits the tendency to make things permanent and fixed.

Humming Bird

The Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun: Zen and The Martial Arts isn’t a blog. A problem that could use some Zen elucidation will get the needed attention. Contact us at yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com.

Remember, the Path’s two important rules: Begin and Continue.
Print This Page