What is Zen? A clean plate

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A monk told Joshu, “I have just entered this monastery. I beg you to teach me.”

Joshu asked, “Have you eaten your rice porridge?”

The monk replied, “I have.”

“Then,” said Joshu, “Go and wash your bowl.”

At that moment the monk was enlightened.

AP: Nothing except this is needed. Go and clean your plate, go and wash your utensils. Go and clean the dishes, that’s all is needed. What else is Zen? A clean slate. What else is Zen? A clean plate. You must be totally done with it. If you are done with eating, why is your plate still carrying food? Even if it is traces of food. You must be totally done with it. That complete closure is Zen.

We live lives of continuity where the past keeps carrying itself forward. Zen, is a total dissociation, every moment. Every moment is complete in itself, leaves no residue behind. I have no obsession with the past because the past is, complete and closed. I have nothing to give to the future because right now, I have no fear. I am not living in incompleteness. There is nothing that would get rolled over to the future.

A dirty plate is a dirty mind. It is carrying traces. It is carrying stuff from somewhere else. Go clean the plate. And since this happens to be the one and only thing, hence it is more surprise that the monk gets instantly enlightened. After all, what remains after this? If your plate is clean, if your mind is clean, what is left to be done? What is left to be done?

But this is one thing that is so straight-forward and yet does not happen. Filling up the plate is so easy, emptying the plate is so difficult. Fifteen readings, wonderful! I’ll have a good time. My already overloaded mind would get further overloaded! So I feel attracted, enthused, fifteen readings, nice! But the moment, the teacher strikes, and content in your mind starts getting off-loaded, you shiver and try to run away. Gathering knowledge is so pleasant, right? It makes the ego feel bloated, inflated and bigger. But cleaning the mind, making it lighter, unburdening it, unloading it comes like a threat. “Oh something in me is getting reduced. I am under attack! My notions are getting shaken up!” That’s what Zen is all about, a total shake up! Such a shakeup that clears away all the rubbish. Have you had your dinner?

Listener 1: Yes.

AP: (Smilingly) are the plates clean?

Listener 2: How to complete the stuff?

AP: How does stuff remain incomplete? We said there are these three ways in which stuff remains incomplete. What are these three ways? Planning, effort, expectations.

Listener 2: Basically fear?

AP: (Nods in consent)

Listener 2: And satisfaction also deals with this?

AP: (Nods in consent) Contentment is the word.

Listener 2: If these three words are there…

AP: Even now you are saying that if these three are there then contentment is there. That’s not the way. When contentment is there then these three are not there! When contentment is there, what is the point in expecting? When contentment is there, what is the point in planning? Contentment comes first. Contentment is Buddha nature, contentment is Atman.

Listener 2: Like you said just now. So what should be the quality of this moment? When we go to bed then memories of this moment doesn’t flash or the images of this must not be there…?

AP: No great quality is needed here. All that is needed is that you do not come here carrying a dirty plate. Do not bring the remnants of your dinner to this room. If you’ve had your dinner then everything about the dinner should be left clean and outside. But what do we do? The dinner carries forward to this room. And then you feel sleepy! Do you get it? No special quality is needed. All that is needed that you come here clean, come clean!

Listener 3: Sir, one thing that is coming in mind is that in these eleven-twelve stories, each one of them, people were like they got enlightened from such a short story. But I am reading so many stories and practically that part is not coming in me. So what is it that is being left in me?

AP: First of all these are not history. These are not historical stories. When it is said that someone got instantly enlightened, at just a small gesture of the Guru. What is meant is that potentially every word of the monk, the teacher, the Guru, is potent enough to tell you everything, provided you are ready to listen. If you are ready to listen then any single word is enough to give you everything. That is what is meant by saying that in this small way, he got enlightened! In this ordinary symbol, he got?

Listeners: (In unison) Enlightened.

AP: In saying this, what is being said is, do not expect great things. Pay attention to the small things that are happening right now. To every small indication of the teacher. To every ordinary word that is coming to you. And if you can give yourself totally to it, then you are home. No great words, no greater words are going to ever come to you. What is coming to you is the final thing. Nothing higher than this can be said or has ever been said. Still, if it doesn’t bring you there, the reason is just that you keep on expecting something even grander, even more miraculous.

Zen is not about giving you grandeur on miracles. In Zen, things like these happen. Somebody asks, “What is the Buddha nature?” Somebody says, “Oh! Look at that tree.” And the fellow gets enlightened. No great answers! Somebody asks, “Which of these is the best piece in your shop?” and the shopkeeper replies, “All the pieces in my shop are best pieces.” And the fellow gets enlightened. So in the ordinary events of life, and in the ordinary replies of the teacher, lies the potential to give you the highest that you have ever demanded, provided you do not keep on dreaming that something bigger than this can still happen. Nothing bigger than this will ever happen! This is That! The ultimate! What more can be said? And if this does not suffice, nothing else would ever do. If this does not bring you there then nothing else ever would.

Kyogen said, “Zen is like a monk

Hanging by his teeth in a tree over a precipice.

His hands grasp no branch, his feet rest on no limb,

And under the tree another man asks him,

“Why did Bodhidharma come to China from India?”

If the man in the tree does not answer, he misses the question

And if he answers, he falls and loses his life,

Now what shall he do?”

AP: For us, there is either an action or the opposite of that action, right? For us, whenever we are faced with choices, it is always about either doing this or doing that. Either yes or no, either right or left. A pair of opposites. But whether we do this or whether we do that, one thing is certain that we, do! That we remain the doer. Kyogen says, “Please understand Zen. Zen is not about doing ‘this’ and Zen is neither about doing the opposite of ‘this’.” Because whether you do this or whether you do that, whether you say yes or whether you say no, in either case, you miss, you lose.

Zen is about forsaking both, yes and no, together. And that is forsaken when you are not the doer at all. Zen is about letting the happening happen. Zen is about not bringing your own personal self in between. Action that is not preceded by planning, not involved with effort, and not followed by expectations. That is Zen.

In our case, all three are present. Before the action, there is plan. During the action there is effort. And after the action there is expectation. Zen is about not having any of these. No planning before action, no effort during action and no expectation after action. Which essentially means that there is no role left for the actor.  What would he do? These are the three things that the actor could have done, and if all three are struck out, what would he do? So, Zen gives us beautiful, energetic action, sans the actor.



-Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity

Watch the session: Acharya Prashant on Zen: What is Zen? A clean plate

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While talking of the Buddha, keep eating your sandwich

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Acharya Prashant: Mind of the so called ordinary Sansari (worldly man), is full of thoughts about obtaining power, prestige, comforts, money and such things. And often the mind of the so called spiritual seeker is filled with thoughts of obtaining liberation.

Right?

The concept of liberation is such that it stands with the concept of addition and subtraction, which is the law of mind, and stands against certain other concepts. For example it says that if you have to obtain enlightenment then you have to drop certain things.

Gaining enlightenment, dropping certain things, are said to go together. Gaining enlightenment and dropping certain things have one thing in common: gaining and dropping. What is often ignored is that gaining and dropping are very well within the purview of mind. The mind  actually loses nothing, by adding another concept or by declaring another concept to be false. Continue reading

Acharya Prashant on Ashtavakra: What is stillness of mind?

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सुखे दुःखे नरे नायाॆं संपत्सु विपत्सुच ।

 विशेषो नैव धीरस्य सर्वत्र  समदर्शिनः।।

अष्टावक्र गीता ।।१७-१५।।

For the one of still mind, for the one of equanimous vision, there is no difference between pleasure and pain, Man and woman, good luck and bad luck, circumstantial happiness and circumstantial sadness.

Ashtavakra Gita, Chapter 17 and Verse 15

Acharya Prashant: For the one of still mind (Sthitpragya), for the one of equanimous vision (Samdarshi), there is no difference between pleasure and pain, man and woman,  good luck and bad luck, circumstantial happiness and circumstantial sadness.

What is meant by one of still mind? What is equanimity? The mind is movement. The mind is detected only through change, only in diversity and differences, only in space and time. Hither and thither the mind wanders, object upon object keep appearing in it. There is something that it is searching for in all its wanderings. That which it is searching for, it tries to find it in the entire world around itself and it has numerous options. The world means an infinite variety of objects to be hopeful of, to choose from, to depend upon. Continue reading

On Anger, observation, middle path, and right action

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Question: It is said that the sage doesn’t get angry for long time. Can you talk about this?

Speaker: Do you bother about how other people love? If you have a real relationship with anybody; with a child, with a dog, with a woman, do you bother about how other people love? Why must you bother so much about how that particular sage was behaving or acting or performing miracles? You have your own heart, and your own God, your own lover. Why don’t you look directly at Him? And if you are really a lover, would you look directly at your beloved or would you look around?

There is a beloved and you are experiencing a distance between you and Him, and that distance is your only desire. You want to get rid of the distance. Your eyes are set on your beloved. Now would you talk about this and that? Would you talk about what is happening in the neighbour’s house? Would you talk about how they behave and perform and talk? Tell me. Would all of that be of any importance to you?

Continue reading

Krishna, Shiva, words, and Silence

 

Listener 1: Sir how can words have such a cleansing effect, don’t you think Silence speaks louder?

AP: Is there a contradiction between silence and words? Is there really? We have been silent since the last one hour. It’s such an eloquent Silence.

Listener 1: It’s still secondary.

AP: No, what do you think Silence is? If you think Silence is wordlessness then it is a very noisy silence.

Listener 1: How do you know that?

AP: Because you have taken silence to be something.

Listener 1: Then we are doing the same thing here.

AP: No, not really. We are not even talking of Silence. We are busy in what we are and this is Silence.

To not to think of Silence is Silence.

And,

To have an image of Silence as wordlessness or anything is noise.

Continue reading

Only a Buddha can really belong to the world

Listener 1: I read a version of the story of Buddha in which after he suffered a lot, the human Mara finally came before him and all Mara wanted was Buddha’s soul. So he finally said that, “Yes you want to take my soul, fine you will take it.” So what he did was, he surrendered his soul and then the demon disappeared.

So, when these people come to know all the fears are baseless and they don’t need to fear anything, so after they have realized that the universe that they fear is everything within themselves only. So why do they turn to world life? Why do they start turning towards people? Why do they help people? Why do people follow them? Why do they want to spread this message?

Acharya Prashant: Two questions, One what is the significance of Buddha allowing Mara, Mara you can take as some kind of close relative of Maya, what is the significance of Buddha allowing the Mara to take away his soul? And second, why does a Buddha come back again to the world?

The Buddha is saying, “Take away whatever can be taken away. Take away whatever can be dissociated from me. Take away all that which is not me. And after that I will be left with a certain ‘nothingness’ and that’s what ‘I am’ – a great, silent, pure and beautiful nothingness, so you take away everything. In fact, unless you take it away these things will  keep bothering me – my name, memories, my possessions, my knowledge; you must take all of these away.  This is what you are after, I welcome you to loot me.”

Continue reading

A Krishna is not shy of declaring his divinity

“While doing your duty, let me tell you, never bring in any of the attitudes of the outer self.

Anger, hate, jealousy, attachment, all pertain to the outer self.”

Lord Krishna (Bhagavad Gita)
Question: Above mentioned lines that Lord Krishna said to Arjuna were meant to motivate him to fight his own elders/relatives. To me, it seems as if Lord Krishna was asking him to be a cold-blooded murderer probably like a lot of criminals these days. Can someone please explain to me the correct meaning and its application in current age?

Acharya Prashant: A similar verse from Gita was raised this Wednesday as well. Krishna, the renegade, seems to be junking all traditional values. Non-violence, democracy, individuality, family, lawfulness- he would have none of these.

What he is teaching Arjuna is scary. Our society is surviving precisely because we (gladly) donot have teachers like Krishna today. A Krishna is extremely dangerous. He will demolish our minds, relationships, families, individualities, just everything.
What is worse, a Krishna will not say that his Father sent him (Jesus), or that his mother speaks through him (Ramakrishna). A Krishna is so arrogant that he says I AM IT, and this is it. No humility this fellow has.
Krishna does not comfort us like the Buddha. Krishna does not say ‘Be your own light’. He does not give us the slightest respect 🙂
Krishna will not go down well with Krishnamurti people as well. Krishna has no problem with authority. Unabashedly, he declares himself to be the absolute authority.
Krishna is not the one for liberals and democrats who sing of equality. He will not debate with us. He will not pretend ‘Sir, we are discussing as friends, equals’. Instead, he says ‘Come, and surrender to Me’.
The climax is when Krishna tells Arjun to leave all religions and be devoted just to him. It is impossible for us to tolerate such certainty, such totality (such dictatorship!)
Here is something: Give up your values!
(Dated: 11/22/2013)