Thursday, September 12, 2013

Zen Quotations

Here are some of my favorite quotations with respect to Zen.


“To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by everything. To be enlightened by everything is to free your own body and mind and the body and mind of others.”

“[When meditating] completely disengage from normal life. Abandon everything you have been engaged with. Abandon thinking about right and wrong, about thinking itself, along with thoughts of enlightenment. Abandon all intentions and thoughts. This is No-Mind.”

“We do not sit in zazen for the purpose of enlightenment. Just sitting in meditation. That itself is enlightenment.”

-- Dogen, Zen (film)


“Meditation has no purpose, no objective, except to be entirely here and now. It isn’t something you do to improve yourself, to get ahead in the world, or to prepare yourself for life.

For the division of time into past, present, and future is a trick of words and numbers. All memories and expectations exist now and now only, because now is what there is and all that there is. We could say that the past flows back from now, like the wake from the prowl of a ship, and then just like the wake, vanishes. As the wake doesn’t drive the ship, the past doesn’t move or propel the present, unless you, here and now, want to insist that it does and so give yourself a perpetual alibi for every kind of irresponsibility.

“But I’m not preaching. That would be a diversion from our feeling centered in this eternal here and now, from feeling it directly as the reality.”

-- Alan Watts, Zen: The Best of Alan Watts (documentary)


“As long as the egoic mind is running your life, you cannot truly be at ease; you cannot be at peace or fulfilled except for brief intervals when you obtained what you wanted, when a craving has just been fulfilled. Since the ego is a derived sense of self, it needs to identify with external things. It needs to be both defended and fed constantly. The most common ego identifications have to do with possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, knowledge and education, physical appearance, special abilities, relationships, personal and family history, belief systems, and often also political, nationalistic, racial, religious, and other collective identifications. None of these is you.

[…] Perhaps you find it as yet hard to believe, and I am certainly not asking you to believe that your identity cannot be found in any of those things. You will know the truth of it for yourself. You will know it at the latest when you feel death approaching. Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to ‘die before you die’—and find that there is no death.”

-- Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now, p. 46


“I went to Yosemite National Park, and I saw some huge waterfalls. The highest one is 1,340 feet high, and from it the water comes down like a curtain thrown from the top of the mountain. It does not seem to come down swiftly, as you might expect it; it seems to come down very slowly because of the distance. And the water does not come down as one stream, but is separated into many tiny streams. From a distance it looks like a curtain. And I thought it must be a very difficult experience for each drop of water to come down from the top of such a high mountain. It takes time, you know, a long time, for the water finally to reach the bottom of the waterfall. And it seems to me that our human life may be like this. We have many difficult experiences in our life. But at the same time, I thought, the water was not originally separated, but was one whole river. Only when it is separated does it have some difficulty in falling. It is as if the water does not have any feeling when it is one whole river. Only when separated into many drops can it begin to have or to express some feeling. When we see one whole river we do not feel the living activity of the water, but when we dip a part of the water into a dipper, we experience some feeling of the water, and we also feel the value of the person who uses the water. Feeling ourselves and the water in this way, we cannot use it in just a material way. It is a living thing.

“Before we were born we had no feeling; we were one with the universe. This is called ‘mind-only,’ or ‘essence of mind,’ or ‘big mind.’ After we are separated by birth from this oneness, as the water falling from the waterfall is separated by the wind and rocks, then we have feeling. You have difficulty because you have feeling. You attach to the feeling you have without knowing just how this kind of feeling is created. When you do not realize that you are one with the river, or one with the universe, you have fear. Whether it is separated into drops or not, water is water. Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact we have no fear of death anymore, and we have no actual difficulty in our life.

“When the water returns to its original oneness with the river, it no longer has any individual feeling to it; it resumes its own nature, and finds composure. How very glad the water must be to come back to the original river! If this is so, what feeling will we have when we die? I think we are like the water in the dipper. We will have composure then, perfect composure. It may be too perfect for us, just now, because we are so much attached to our own feeling, to our individual existence. For us, just now, we have some fear of death, but after we resume our true original nature, there is Nirvana. That is why we say, ‘To attain Nirvana is to pass away.’ ‘To pass away’ is not a very adequate expression. Perhaps ‘to pass on,’ or ‘to go on,’ or ‘to join’ would be better. […]

“We say, ‘Everything comes out of emptiness.’ One whole river or one whole mind is emptiness. When we reach this understanding we find the true meaning of our life. When we reach this understanding we can see the beauty of human life. Before we realize this fact, everything that we see is just delusion. Sometimes we overestimate the beauty; sometimes we underestimate or ignore the beauty because our small mind is not in accord with reality.

“To talk about it this way is quite easy, but to have the actual feeling is not so easy. But by your practice of zazen you can cultivate this feeling. When you can sit with your whole body and mind, and with the oneness of your mind and body under the control of the universal mind, you can easily attain this kind of right understanding. Your everyday life will be renewed without being attached to an old erroneous interpretation of life. When you realize this fact, you will discover how meaningless your old interpretation was, and how much useless effort you had been making. You will find the true meaning of life, and even though you have difficulty falling upright from the top of the waterfall to the bottom of the mountain, you will enjoy your life.”

-- Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, pp. 82-84

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