Posted by: Soh


The following is a compilation of some recent postings by Richard Herman (kojip), an experienced and insightful Zen practitioner from the Zen Forum International.



I am not a Zen teacher. My name is Richard Herman (Dharma name kojip). I am a painter (visual artist) by profession living in Toronto, and a student of Buddhism.... Theravada since 1990, and Zen since 1997. I have been through enough to speak with confidence about my own practice, and also have my opinions. I am fortunate to have received guidance from good teachers, who have taught me the ABC's of practice, that make life immeasurably better for me and my family. .. and practice goes on.

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Ego is not like a vase. Ego (self image) vanishes when thinking pauses, a vase does not disappear when thinking pauses, though the notion of it does. This has to be sat first hand, not just pondered. There is seeing but no seer therein, hearing but no hearer therein, thinking but no thinker therein... etc. That is a basic insight across Buddhist traditions.

On a social "level" you are you and I am me, and we have separate bank accounts , agency and responsibility. But within you and me, no abiding self is found.

edit. In Zen Buddhism there is a tradition of referring to no abiding self as "true self", but that does not point to an unchanging "I" who sees, hears, tastes, and so forth. So some care is needed approaching that term.

Gassho Richard

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Hi Larrylin.

I am not a Zen teacher trained or untrained, Just someone who has banged his head against the wall long enough to talk about his own practice in a relaxed way.

Both vase and “ Ego” are empty of self-existence, but they have a different immediate nature in the same way that this keyboard and a chimera do. One is a direct sense object not dependent on being imagined, the other is imaginary , existing as a cultural artifact.

In direct practice-realization there is no reaching for, or grasping, at any root essence or ground, subject or object. When mental grasping ceases completely the three part complex of seer-seeing-seen resolves in wordless cessation of dukkha. Seer-seeing-seen, drop away, and this dropping away is forgotten. That is the end of words. So when I said “seeing but no seer therein” this is what I was pointing to.

Hope that is clear.. I'm tired this morning. Gassho Richard

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Anger takes two, so if I am angry with my self, there is a self image that is the object. Some image of what I should or should not be. In the same way anger vanishes when a perceived insult is revealed to be a misunderstanding, examining a self-image reveals its baseless nature and takes away the object. Self images are coming and going all the time, but sometimes a self image gets objectified and seems solid.

Anger never does anything smart. I have never said anything smart from anger. It makes sense that there might be genuine righteous anger and action, if there is an injustice that will only change with force, but I have only experienced anger as a form of stupidity. If it takes over there is also physical discomfort. It is like a loss of space. There is just me and you in a hot little box.

Gassho Richard

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Don't meant to be wise-ass, but “my” experience is a bit different.

The teaching of no-self was given as medicine for self-view. When applied it doesn't leave behind no-self. The teaching of no-self is freeing, but not if it leaves a dwelling on the absence of self. In other words, with “just sitting” both self and absence of self are forgotten. I learned “no-self” as a skillful means and not as a statement about “the true nature of reality”. It was learned as a medicine for letting go.

It is a bit like this. Fifty years ago there was a farmhouse on this spot. For someone who saw that farmhouse before it was torn down, looking at this spot now she would see the absence of a farmhouse. For someone who comes to this spot later , never seeing the farmhouse, looking at this spot she would not see the absence of a farmhouse. Just sitting is like the person who does not see the absence of a farmhouse.

Gassho Richard.

edit. this isn't to knock reflecting on No-self.

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Hi fukasetsu.

The way this brain works, looking at the reference to Anatman as "merely a skillful means to "take away" the false sense of self" is different than I would say/live. What stands out is qualifying "the sense of self" as false, and the implication of a true unknowable self. I was taught that Anatman is no-self, not No-false-self. Such statements as "At your very core you are nothing but "awareness" are also a self-view.

When you say.."Just abide at the root of mind and the rest will happen spontaneously" To this practitioner the "root of mind" is cessation of reaching and grasping, "prior" to "self", "no self", ideation, because mind is ideation and not an unknowable essence behind it.
Dropping self, then dropping the dropping, and in that dropping there is bright, clear, touching of the earth... the plain ground, the clouds in the sky, and no dukkha.

It could just be that these are all just differences of words, but it is also amazing how there is a natural feeling of the right word to express each of our experiences, even if maybe we agree that with any word on "sitting", "a miss is as good as a mile". Gassho richard.

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There is always the opportunity to end or ease suffering in those around me, family friends, strangers, people encountered every day. It is amazing how many people I know, more or less intimately, just in this midtown neighborhood, living and working. There are so many familiar faces and voices, and really, every one of them opens to this heart, when it is open. Reflecting on the Bodhisattva vows, I have often thought it was necessary to generate some special will to help, to ease suffering, but I do not believe that is required. As soon as suffering “here” lifts, as soon as the fear and grasping that comes from being an vulnerable “me” lifts, compassion is here and engagement is automatic. When suffering lifts “here”, action to end suffering “there” is natural. Put in practical terms, when I am walking down the street while swept up in “my life”, the suffering of other people is too much, because “my life" sucks all the energy. Another person's state of being is “none of my business”, not for lack of compassion, but for lack of room and energy. When “my life” falls away the world is never “too much”, there is always open space and energy. Each person encountered is an opportunity to creatively engage on his/her terms, and the spontaneous insight into his/her state-of-being is already here. It is not something that needs to be figured out.

Practicing every day to end suffering “here”, with this body and mind, uncovers natural virtue. There is no need to fabricate a good nature or contrive good life. Every day there is the choice to practice or not. Sitting straight and clear with/as everything as-is, the whole wonderful mess, is the practice of dropping “my life”, and uncovering natural virtue. That is the anchor for each day, and when it is missed, it not only effects “here” it effects “there”. Practice goes on... it stumbles, lapses, ups and downs, but there is always getting back on track. It is for everyone, not just for “me”.

Just sharing a thought this morning. richard /\

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I guess suffering can be defined in different ways. Dukkha was pointed out for me right at the beginning, when first learning to sit. It is “wanting this moment to be/feel other than it is”. Feeling is where the catch is. Wanting this moment to feel other than it is. Any feeling in-and-of-itself is not dukkha, even a very bad feeling. Dukhha is identification with wanting to get rid of a feeling. There is a push/pull always going on, so that is where practice is, at that point of separation and tension around feeling. Sitting with appalling feelings has really been where the rubber meets the road in my experience. It is where there has been the deepest openings. This is in early Buddhist teachings .. awareness of feeling, not in a focused way, but as an aspect of body, mind, environment.

I wouldn't talk about this practice with most people unless it was the right context, otherwise it is just laying Buddhism on people. Easing suffering of all kinds, including common stress and anxiety is more about being open and not showing up with a set idea or agenda. A lot of the time it is just being encouraging.

Like partofit says there is no being "out of the woods"... at least no for me and most people I know. There are some very mature people, and they are an inspiration. I aspire to that but can easily slip into not easing suffering. There is also getting swept up in ignorance and just laying crap on people, so practice goes on. /\
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I think for someone new to practice, who hasn't had a chance to see a teacher yet, some basic practical reading is a good idea. The Satipatthana Sutta..on the four foundations of mindfulness is a good grounding. There is an very accessible translation and commentary by Thich Nhat Hahn. Don't let the word "mindfullness" mislead, it is solid basic Buddhism, early Buddhism, but always relevant.

Richard.

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Hi Linda.

Saying that awareness is conditioned was just a turn of phrase. There is no substrate or essence that is being either conditioned or left unconditioned. There is experiencing as such, of the thief, of the saint, of clinging, of letting go.
Who sees, who experiences? “There is seeing, but no seer therein”. There is letting go the need for a ground, of holding a ground-view.

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When Bob goes to the mailbox there may be letters addressed to Jean, or George, or Bob. The one addressed to Bob is for him. Bob is someone getting his mail. You are Christopher, I am Richard. It is ordinary and has no bearing on Anatman. There is no unchanging self-essence, no core experiencer (big or small). It is all empty of inherent self-existence. Yet today my partner and I are going to enjoy a sunny day, and maybe have an ice cream. She likes vanilla, I like maple walnut. We differ in that way. She's my buddy.

There is no conflict here, no problem. It is ordinary. The problem begins when we sneak in Brahman in one guise or another.."true self" interpreted as eternalism.

Who is writing this? Richard, No problem.

gassho. Richard.

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A spiritual friend is important, and so is learning the ABC's of Buddhism. Investigate dukkha now , the cause of dukkha now, realize the end of dukkha now. It isn't mysterious, it is the Four Noble Truths. It seems to get skipped over, as if it is just beginner stuff... perhaps to get on with "advanced" teachings. In the mean time the point is completely missed.

Gassho Richard

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I am not a teacher, but have practiced for my adult life, have learned from good people, and experienced first hand. So I can speak responsibly about the ABC's of the Buddhadharma. The Four Noble Truths are essential teaching and practice. This is not a point of argument, I'm simply stating it. I hope that new folks on this board will listen this, and will ask a teacher about it.

Gassho Richard

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Hello Meido. I very much appreciate hearing this from the Ordained Sangha. I see the Four Noble Truths as the seed that gave rise to all the various developments and teachings. Even as the crown of the tree spreads far, the seed is there, and it remains sure.

Gassho, Richard

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There is one issue that seems pervasive, both offline and especially online, and I just submitted an "ask the teacher" question about it. Common Zen terms like "seeing your True Nature", "Mind Essence", and so forth, probably have been translated and seen differently in different times and places. I do not know how these positive terms were taken up centuries ago in Asia, but it is possible that in a modern western context, they are adopted as a form of eternalism. In conversation with friends and family I will only talk about the impermanence of Body, Mind and World, and about non-grasping. I have learned to avoid words like "Awareness", "Mind", or especially "Self Nature", because invariably they are taken up as a transcendental self-view.... which is only natural in a very self-centered culture.

It would be interesting to survey the views of people coming to Zen and how they take up such language.

Gassho, Richard.

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Been paying attention to "control" over the last week. Life involves controlling things, for instance driving a car on a busy nine lane freeway, with reckless weaving drivers , requires careful control. Yet in controlling there is no controller. When there is a controller things go very poorly. This body and mind is in control of the vehicle, but within this body and mind there is no controller, and so body, mind, car, and traffic, are a single flow. It is the same with other ways of control or taking charge. If it is just done as needs to be done, there is no problem with problems. As soon as there is someone taking charge, there is a problem with problems. Any time I have tried to do the "right thing", it has been based in generalizations and assumptions, but when circumstances evoke action spontaneously, it is precise because it springs from the unconditioned. The "controller", is a second thought, a second guessing.

Just some thoughts. Richard


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There is no absolute control (no controller), but within a given frame of reference there is relative control and a conventional controller. It is a lived reality connected to social responsibility. When a driver "loses control" of the vehicle, the consequences are real. richard

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The claim that birth and death are "illusion" reifies Emptiness as a transcendent absolute essence that is "real", as opposed to the "unreal" of the relative. That kind of "dwelling in the absolute" and seeing the world as an illusion, is the ultimate narcissism. Seeing the suffering of the world as "illusion" is the ultimate swoon and retreat into selfhood . Birth and death are empty of inherent existence, Dukkha and cessation of Dukkha is empty of inherent existence. But this world, this suffering and cessation of suffering, empty of inherent existence, is the life we have. There is no "other". A freedom from birth and death that does not embrace birth and death as such, is the freedom of withdrawl and sublime ignorance.

Birth and death are empty, but that is not the same as "illusion".

Just saying it.

Gassho, Richard.

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Stephen Levine's "Who dies ?" was a companion book for my partner during her illness. She didn't die at that time, but she/we know we are "circling the drain" :PP: . That was our teaching number one. Old age, disease, and death, impermanence.... "practice like your hair is on fire"... " Don't miss this precious opportunity". I closely experienced death as a child so it was not as abstract as it can be for young people in western culture. We run from it, even hiding out in concepts of "no birth and no death", but It is only when I open to death as death, with all the human qualities of it, that there is a taste of the deathless right in the middle of that. Richard /\

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Forget Mind and Self. Forget weaving Function out of smoke. Forget the whole damn thing. Ideas like "Mind" are skillful means. If that is not understood, they become the bog we live in. There is sitting, and there is dropping "Mind", along with every other set-up. There is no need to hang your hat on something. You won't fall. Just sit.

Sorry to sound grumpy. Richard

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There is no entity called Mind, a visitor. " Mind" is just another thought. That is why I mentioned just sitting, and by that i just mean doing your practice, doing what you have been taught. There is deep urge, a deeply ingrained habit, of trying to know an ultimate principle, some final self-existing truth. An essential Mind behind thinking is one version of that imagined principle. It is very compelling. Yet when grasping eases off right down to the bones, where is Mind? It is only a product of grasping. The Kwan Um folks always say "Don't know" . Just sitting is "Don't know". When the search for an ultimate ground or principle winds down, the ordinary solid earth is bright and clear, just like the earth touching Mudra, where the Buddha touches the ordinary ground. The teachings of Zen Buddhism are about letting go the need for an ultimate truth, answer, principle, or ground. In letting go all questions are resolved before being born. That is where words cannot go. Now look at the urge to grasp that.
I'm a stubborn ass of a student, and it took the better part of twenty years to really just sit, but it doesn't have to take that long.

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Moment to moment practice starts out as an effort, returning to bodily awareness throughout the day, practicing being grounded in immediate sensation. Then, like a puppy who learns to stay, attentions comes to rest there, and effortless awareness opens out from/as that ground. That's my understanding of moment to moment practice. What understanding comes from that shift? When there is letting go as simple open presence, there is no dependence on an understanding . Richard.

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The terms “absolute” and “relative” do not apply, because “the absolute” implies a no-thing that stays, while “the relative” comes and goes. That “host and guest” view seems to be the principle "mistake" I hear over and over. There is no relative without the absolute, no absolute without the relative. There is only absolute/relative, emptiness/form. Alone, no womb, ...and there is practice, ...and there is suffering and cessation of suffering.

There is "real" and "illusory" only within the conventional sense of imagination lived in vs. thought as a facet of simple sense ( fairies under my porch vs. this chair). Not in the sense of the "absolute" being real and the "relative" being unreal.

That is practice now in a nutshell... that is nothing to attain and making progress at once. That is my experience as best as can be conveyed. Gassho. Richard

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One of the main reasons for coming to Buddhist practice from an initial involvement with an Advaita teacher, was over the following view about “illusion”. This is taken from a yoga website and expresses well the teachings I learned at the time.....

Lead me from the unreal to the Real. Lead me from the darkness to the Light. Lead me from the temporary to the Eternal
- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Unreal= untruth; only relatively real; that which is merely manifest out of something else, such as the pot manifesting out of the clay; the aspects of ourselves that are really false identities appearing to be who we are
Real= truth; that unchanging reality, like the clay, out of which everything else manifests; the true Self, the core of our being
Darkness= the darkness of ignorance, of not seeing either the world or ourselves clearly; stemming from the process ofignoring, which is inherent in ignorance
Light= the light of knowledge, of seeing clearly the true spiritual nature of things and ourselves
Temporary= that which is mortal, subject to death, decay, and decomposition; our surface identities
Eternal= that which is not subject to death, decay, or decomposition; the immortal core of our being


I also found that many people i spoke with at that time interpreted Buddhist teachings along theses lines, speaking of “Emptiness” or “The Absolute” as Real , and “Form” or “The relative” as unreal, or illusory. In this view it also follows that the Absolute is primary to and generative of, the relative.

These views did not stand up to direct experience and this was troubling. It was because of this that I sought clarification in Buddhist practice. In Buddhist teachings I learned that there no such thing as the Absolute, or the Relative... there is only Absolute-Relative, they are not two.. There is no such thing as Emptiness or Form, there is only Emptiness-Form, they are not two. Likewise with knowing and unknowing, and so forth. One is not primary to the other, one does not generate the other.

I have little experience with koans but feel this case speaks to this. Maybe someone with good experience in koan practice can clarify?

A monk asked Daizui, "When the great kalpa fire flames up, the Thousand Great
Worlds will be destroyed. I wonder if THAT will also be destroyed or not." Daizui said,
"Destroyed." The monk said, "If so, will THAT be gone with the other?" Daizui said, "Gone
with the other."



So... if what i say above is accepted as fair, my question is: What does it say about this “illusory” world, if it is the only kind of world there is?


Thanks Richard.


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Hi Matt. Can you expand on what that says to you?

Just to be clear I'm not denying that the world is "like an illusion" and baseless, and that "All composed things are like a dream, a phantom, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning". Only asking what it means to you if it is the only kind of world there is?


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hi... A visitor. You are describing a kind of illusion, but it is not the illusion referred to in the OP.

The word “exist” has its root in the Latin “existere” which means “to stand out” or “stand forth”. All existence, according to Brahmanism, is illusion. All existence..all manifestation, whether internal, external, subtle, gross, partial or total. In Buddhist teachings all that exists is impermanent, without an abiding self, and is “like an illusion” . "All composed things are like a dream, a phantom, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning".

Then there is “that” which does not ex-ist, does not stand forth. This is variously called .. the unconditioned, unmanifest, uncompounded, Absolute, Self , Brahman, God unmanifest, and so forth.

The point of the OP is that in Buddhist practice the unconditioned and conditioned are realized as not-two. ..and even though ex-istence, “the world” may be “like an illusion”, it is not other than the unconditioned. It is our life manifest, there is not another one that is more "real" ,and is not "like an illusion". For me this is about the Bodhisattva vows, and embracing the world.

So that is the basic point. This is not to say you are not talking about illusions, it is just not illusion as defined by the OP. Richard/\

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Hi Joe. I am 48 and have practiced with teacher(s) and sangha since age twenty, first in Theravada Buddhism then primarily in Korean Zen, first taking the Mahayana precepts in 97. I don't really need to say all that except to point out that people may post here for different reasons, and asking if someone is “on track to practice with a teacher” may not be appropriate. That is not to say I won't always be a student.

About “That” All I can say is repeat this.

The idea that an unchanging self-essence by any name stands real above an illusory world, does not square with how practice is unfolding. I belong to the world 100%, there is nothing held back, no transcendent "Mind" or God or any other projected unknowable. It is only when nothing is held back, and I realize being only change that there is real stillness. Then stillness and movement are not two. It doesn't matter if this is the experience of other people, that is ok . It is the taste of my experience.


No mixing here. Richard

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Hi Avisitor

I've just been trying to convey things.. maybe badly.

Carefully, the best I can describe where practice is at right now is rephrasing what I earlier said....

There is nothing left behind my changing existence. I belong to the world 100%. There is nothing left to hold back. Because there is nothing left to hold back, I can only realize being change. Being only change is peace, stillness in movement. Like a shimmer or an arc of lightening, it is baseless, yet it is my only life.

Somehow a muscle has suddenly stopped clenching, and it is a good thing. So practice just goes on and things will unfold... Richard

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This is no claim to speak for Zen, or the Buddhadharma in the wider sense. It is fair enough for Ordained Sangha to speak for Zen, since Zen is so entwined with lineage, but for someone like me to claim to speak for True Zen is too big a claim on too big an abstraction. ...and why bother? I can however speak from practice and experience, do so without hesitation. I think it is worthwhile sharing here... and would go so far as saying it might be helpful. Maybe it is like your own experience, maybe not. Either way is fine. So here is my "true face".


Even though there is no core experiencer called “I” , no unchanging essence or agency in this body and mind. There is still a social self . “Richard” is a responsible social agent, defining and defined by relationships, social position, memory, etc. This conventional face, as far as it goes, is my “True Face”. It is an empty, changing, face, ... a mask maybe, but there is no truer one behind it. Such a presumed actor is just this same face stepping back into shadow, and taking on a cosmic pretense. The ordinary “face value” of “me” is the only value there is. A five dollar bill can be seen as inter-being with all things, as a manifestion of everything and nothing, as a symbol of delusion, and so forth. Yet the face value of a five dollar bill is five dollars. The bill and its value are utterly empty, yet its face value is still five dollars. So it is with the emptiness and face value of everything, ...ordinary right and wrong, ordinary responsibilities, ordinary cares, ordinary joys. There is no “Absolute” value to apply. Like the imagined actor “The Absolute” is an ordinary, empty, value, with cosmic pretensions.

My favourite mcguffin in Zen discussions is “non-duality”. Non-duality is one those wonderful absolutes that disappears neatly up its own backside. What does nonduality look like, and feel like? Precisely like ordinary duality in every single aspect, except the back wall is gone. Mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers. An empty five dollar bill is worth five empty dollars.

Thanks Richard.

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Hi goddess. I just mean that seeing , hearing, feeling, ... is simple. There is no self in it,
no need for the addition of “I”. Sitting on the cushion is dropping the addition of “I”, along with any face, because it is simple.
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