Session Start: Friday, 30 April, 2010

(9:38 AM) Thusness: The tata is very good. The Stainless is also good but just to be picky... the 'it' must be eliminated...stainlessness is the ungraspable of the arising and passing phenomena. Without essence
and locality of any arising...nothing 'within or without it'.
(9:38 AM) Thusness: all the expressions in what u quoted are excellent.
(9:38 AM) Thusness: and all those phases of insight is to get u to what's being expressed. 🙂
(9:38 AM) Thusness: and all those phases of insights are to get u to what that is being expressed in the tata and stainless articles. It is the place where anatta and emptiness become obsolete. 🙂
(9:38 AM) Thusness: put this in the blog...great expression

John Tan also told me before my anatta realisation:

(11:20 PM) Thusness:    u never experience anything unchanging
(11:21 PM) Thusness:    in later phase, when u experience non-dual, there is still this tendency to focus on a background... and that will prevent ur progress into the direct insight into the TATA as described in the tata article.
(11:22 PM) Thusness:    and there are still different degree of intensity even u realized to that level.
(11:23 PM) AEN:    non dual?
(11:23 PM) Thusness:    tada (an article) is more than is phase 5-7
(11:24 PM) AEN:    oic..
(11:24 PM) Thusness:    it is all about the integration of the insight of anatta and emptiness
(11:25 PM) Thusness:    vividness into transience, feeling what i called 'the texture and fabric' of Awareness as forms is very important
then come emptiness
(11:26 PM) Thusness:    the integration of luminosity and emptiness

Also see: Stainless

Dharma Assembly: "Tada!"

Dharma Talk Presented by Ven. Jinmyo Renge osho
Dainen-ji, October 24th, 2009

People have all kinds of expectations, not only about how their lives will be, but how today will be, or how this moment will be. But reality is not an idea. It is what it is. Tada.
In the colder autumn air, the trees are changing colour and fallen leaves line the gutters of the streets. And seeing this, we know winter is coming. But although most of us sitting here today have seen this happen again and and again, year after year after year, we don't really know what the cold of winter will actually be like. We have memories of cold fingers, the sound of snow crunching underfoot, memories of having to put on many layers to protect ourselves from an icy wind. But memories of cold are not the reality of cold. It is what it is and we will know cold when it is...cold. Tada. And now, before the snow comes, we see the colour fading from our immediate world as the trees lose their leaves and bare branches stand out black against a graying sky. And mixed into, and swirling along with the leaves in the street, are discarded paper cups, gum wrappers, used Kleenex and the odd sandwich wrapper. All swirling in the wind. Is it beautiful? Is it ugly? Neither. Is it good or bad? Neither. It is Tada.
"Tada" is a Japanese word that means "Just, exactly, of course, just as it is." It is sometimes, as in the Teachings of Eihei Dogen zenji and Anzan Hoshin roshi, used as a synonym for the more techincal term "immo" or "tathata" in Sanskrit, which means Suchness. Suchness is the reality of all dharmas, all things or experiences. The "actual nature" is another technical term for this. It means that each thing is sunya or empty of all of our ideas about and knowledge of anything, that it is impermanent, that it is the radiance of the Luminosity of experience.
Impermanence is so blatantly obvious. We see our grandparents die, and as we ourselves age,we see our parents die. We see other people around us die. We know that all around the world countless people die every day. But when someone close to us dies, we are so surprised. We are surprised when our relationships change, when the economy changes, when our environment changes and we are surprised that we have to change and that what we do has to change because of these changes. We are surprised when we become sick, surprised when we let things slide and difficulty ensues. And most of this surprise is due to a conflict that comes about when our ideas about reality do not match up with what reality actually is. Reality is Tada: Things as they actually are. Suchness. Tada.
That itch behind your ear? Tada. That's it. The sensation of your hands resting in the mudra? That's it. The moisture you feel on your tongue? That's it. The movement of the breath? Just as it is. The form of the person sitting next to you? That's it. The release in your neck and spine when you straighten your posture? That's it. The sound of my voice and the quiet pauses between words? Exactly so. In the moment of Waking up from a thought, the recognition that streaming thoughts that can never settle on any one definitive "truth" because all that they can ever be is a continuously changing streaming? That's it. Tada.
The details of each thing stand out clearly and distinctly just as they are and experiencing is new and fresh, moment-to- moment. There is no need to embellish, to ponder, to strategize or hold on to anything whatsoever because each thing that is known is simply being known as detail arising within the Knowing of it. Tada. So simple.
But, of course, if you let attention narrow and focus, the distortion that focusing will produce is far from simple. We make such a big deal out of our stuff....
We can make a big deal out of a yawn: "Y-AAAAAAAAAAAAA-W-N".
Out of a sneeze "Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-Choo!"
Out of a sensation "I have a....headache"; "I'm tired", "My knee hurts".
Out of a feeling tone (whiny, plaintive voice) "Oh but I thought I was supposed to....". "But you told me..."
Out of a stance "I'm right and I know I'm right and that's all there is to it".
Out of a petty memory: "I remember when you did that thing and how it made me feel and I will never, ever forgive you".
We can make a huge deal out of having to get up in the morning.
Out of having to go to bed at night.
Out of having to eat when it is time to eat.
Out of having to go to work.
Out of having to wait for a bus,
Out of which seat we get on the bus,
Out of simply having to sit down or stand up.
We make a big deal over the simplest of tasks.
Before we do them: "Ugh I have to do yada".
While we are doing them: "Ugh, when is this going to be finished?"
And even after we've done them "I did SUCH a good job of that. Never has such a good job been done of that thing by anyone, anywhere, and everyone else should acknowledge that."
We make a big deal of how we look at other people and how they look at us because we think it all "MEANS" something. It "MEANS" something about "ME".
"I am so sad. Look at my mournful eyes, so deep and full of feeling".
"I am so angry, look how I GLARE at you". (that one can be pretty funny).
"I am sick, look how haggard I am, how near death I am".
Just stop with the "yada yada yada." Just tada. Just practise.
But we can make a big deal out of anything and everything, including our practice. We can make such a big bloody deal out of being mindful that instead of just practising it's ME practising. Tadaaaaaaaa!
But that's the wrong kind of tada. The richness, the dignity, the intimacy of our experience just as it is, without all of our fabrications and contractions and manipulations is inconceivable. It is literally and completely beyond concepts and ideas and stories. In order to realize this, we need to just let go of our habits of attention in all of the ways they are manifested by body and mind.
The Roshi has pointed out that a sense of a "me" is more directly and basically a "sense of locatedness" and that along with it there is a directionality, as it can seem to us that attention moves from a central point, a "me", out and towards experiences. When this sense of locatedness first begins to form, it is the wordless presumption that knowing moves from "here" to "there" in order to know. And yet, this sense of locatedness as a self can itself be known and so obviously cannot be a "knower" or a "self". It is a freezing or crystallization of attention which is much like a frame and from this frame, attention seems to move out and towards what is known. This is why instead of just practising, it can seem to us that there is a "ME" that is practising.
In Rhythm and Song, a series of teisho on Dongshan Liangjie daiosho's text the Hokyo Zanmai, Anzan roshi recounts many mondo-kien or encounter dialogues between Great Master Dongshan and his students. One student was Xuefeng, who much later became a great Teacher after receiving Transmission from Deshan who unlike Dongshan did not mind beating students with his staff. But while he was studying with Dongshan, Xuefeng was still full of himself and full of ideas about Suchness and emptiness. Here is one story:
Once Xuefeng was carrying a bundle of firewood. When he arrived in front of the Master, he threw the bundle down.
The Master asked, "How heavy is it?"
Xuefeng said, "No one in the world can lift it!"
Dongshan asked, "Then how did it get here?"
Xuefeng didn't know what to say.
Poor Xuefeng. What a tool. He was a tool because he was trying to use everything around him as equipment to aggrandize himself. Even a bundle of firewood. Even the simple act of carrying it. For him even samu, caretaking practice, was about the profundity of his idea of his understanding of emptiness. What a tool.
In Rhythm and Song, Anzan Hoshin roshi calls out to us from what all of the Buddhas and Awakened Ancestors of our Lineage have realized and practised,
Intimacy is revealed when we release. We release when we realize that there is nowhere apart from us that we can drop away all of the things about ourselves that we wish were not the case; all of the thoughts and feelings and strategies that at times we are so tired of, and at others, so convinced of.
It is not as simple as that.
It is much, much, easier than that.
It is the simplest thing.
Nothing is true about us. Our nice thoughts do not make us nice. Our devious thoughts do not make us devious. Our bad thoughts do not make us bad.
A thought cannot make anything.
There is nowhere to hide because there is no need to hide.
There is nothing that is true 'about' us because we are that which is true. We are that which presents itself everywhere as everything and yet is itself nowhere at all, no thing at all.
You are this deep intimacy.
Where have you been?
So please join me in not just saying, but in actually being: Tada.
Session Start: Friday, 30 April, 2010

(9:38 AM) Thusness: The tata is very good. The Stainless is also good but just to be picky... the 'it' must be eliminated...stainlessness is the ungraspable of the arising and passing phenomena. Without essence
and locality of any arising...nothing 'within or without it'.
(9:38 AM) Thusness: all the expressions in what u quoted are excellent.
(9:38 AM) Thusness: and all those phases of insight is to get u to what's being expressed. 🙂
(9:38 AM) Thusness: and all those phases of insights are to get u to what that is being expressed in the tata and stainless articles. It is the place where anatta and emptiness become obsolete. 🙂
(9:38 AM) Thusness: put this in the blog...great expression

John Tan also told me before my anatta realisation:

(11:20 PM) Thusness:    u never experience anything unchanging
(11:21 PM) Thusness:    in later phase, when u experience non-dual, there is still this tendency to focus on a background... and that will prevent ur progress into the direct insight into the TATA as described in the tata article.
(11:22 PM) Thusness:    and there are still different degree of intensity even u realized to that level.
(11:23 PM) AEN:    non dual?
(11:23 PM) Thusness:    tada (an article) is more than is phase 5-7
(11:24 PM) AEN:    oic..
(11:24 PM) Thusness:    it is all about the integration of the insight of anatta and emptiness
(11:25 PM) Thusness:    vividness into transience, feeling what i called 'the texture and fabric' of Awareness as forms is very important
then come emptiness
(11:26 PM) Thusness:    the integration of luminosity and emptiness

Also see: Tada!

Dharma Assembly: Stainless
Dharma Talk by
Ven. Jinmyo Renge osho
Dainen-ji, June 9th, 2007

Everything is already open. The characteristic of each moment of experience or “dharma” is that it is annica or impermanent and sunya or empty, transparent and open. Another way of saying this is that everything is “stainless”.
The stainlessness of this moment is not only the fact that colours and forms are as they are or that sensations are as they are; the fact is that this moment cannot be grasped. There is no particular angle that you can take upon this moment because it is too vast and it is constantly changing. You arise within it, I arise within it, we all arise within it. When we realize this through our practice then we realize that we too are stainless.
Sitting in the posture of zazen, there is nothing to hold on to. Even if you were to grab onto your zafu to try to hold it firm or hold yourself firmly to it, there is still the zabuton underneath it and the floor beneath that, room all around you and the air and the light and the sounds drifting through the open windows. The moment is stainless, unconditioned, empty of boundary and this is where you can release whatever you are holding. There is no one who can possibly hold, nothing to be held.
The Buddha's Teaching of impermanence is not a feeling about things and it is not theoretical. It is not something that happens to things, let alone something that might or might not happen to things. It is how things always are. Stainlessness is not a mystical shining void, a special place, a special experience. It is what each and every moment already is.
How the bodymind experiences experience occurs as mind-moments. How many details are presenting themselves as you sit here facing the wall? Your noticing of them, when you notice them, even if you are noticing very few of them, is very, very fast. Faster than you can think about them.
As Anzan Hoshin roshi says in the text “The Heart of This Moment”,
In this open space, there is little for us to be deluded about; we are not acting out our fabrications and self-deceptions and so we can see them very clearly. Since there is little for them to fix themselves on, they don't have much weight and so we find that they can shift very quickly. Seeing this shifting is an essential part of Investigation. Seeing how attention alights upon one object, and then upon another and another and another. Seeing how these are not one thing and, although attention is continually being disposed through habit and impulse toward localizing, there is also a quality of shifting present. Despite the fact that attention is continually pulling and pushing, there is no continuity to what is being held, to what is being pushed. There is only this shifting, this changing. The impermanence of dharmas displays itself openly. In each moment of mind, in the arising of whatever presents itself, radical impermanence is revealed.
When we are practicing we can see the movements of attention towards habitual thoughts and feelings and when we choose to open attention through mindfulness practice, when we align with Reality, our actions are more and more guided by Openness itself. But when we stop practising, the space of open experiencing becomes cluttered with storylines and feeling tones; snippets of past experiencing; bits and pieces of current storylines; lumps and chunks of disjointed thoughts and feelings. Contraction leads to further contraction. Sometimes you get angry. You feel misunderstood. You think you know what everything is, what's going on, what will happen. One storyline leads into another and another. It looks like “this” and “this”. But you're not seeing anything. It sounds like “this and “this”. But you're not hearing anything. It feels like “this” and “this”. But you're not feeling anything. Except the state.
Out of all of details - the infinite range of details you could be noticing - why is this thought so important? Why this feeling? Why this state?
It’s rather like this: Let’s say you are looking out the window on a beautiful spring day, and you are seeing the leaves and branches of trees, sunlight and billowing clouds and birds. And then you notice a fly on the window screen. You begin to focus on it and the more you focus it, the bigger it seems to you. You can narrow attention so much that it can seem to you that only the fly exists and the world behind it and around it which you were seeing previously seems to disappear completely. But if you release the focusing, the fly doesn’t disappear; instead you see the fly together with the window, the trees and sky and birds – you see the fly in context.
Similarly, if you focus on a storyline, the world can seem to disappear. If you release the focusing, the world seems to come back into view. But of course, the world doesn’t really “come back into view”. It was and is there all along. And when you Wake Up from a thought, “you” don’t make the world reappear. You simply stop focusing and seeing sees.
But whether you choose to sit there focusing on a fly or a thought, or whether you choose to open around it to see that the fly is arising together with the whole world, no matter how your attention is in that moment, the world, the fly, you, the room you are sitting in and a vast range of other details are all already present, already occurring simultaneously. Even if you choose to fold attention down and make yourself stupid, the moment is still stainless. All you need do is let go of the focusing and openness is simply how things are.
In reality, you can never be separate from Openness. But you can't make things open. What you can do is simply release yourself, whole-bodily into the stainlessness of this moment. You can't release yourself into stainlessness by thinking about stainlessness. If you are sitting around thinking about impermanence, this is gufu-shogyo-zen or “fool's zen”. Emptiness or stainlessness cannot be contained in a thought because not only is the thought empty, stainlessness itself is empty. It's not a some “thing” or a something “else”. It is how everything is and all that you can do is shut up, get out of the way, and open to it. How do you open to reality? By practising reality with, as and through the bodymind. Open to the reality of the sensations of the breath, the seeing and hearing. Open to what you are experiencing in this moment. Release attention by opening to whole-bodily mindfulness and by opening to the details of the physical space around the bodymind. Align with reality.
In the “Development of Buddhist Psychology” series of classes, the Roshi says,
The run on from mind moment to mind moment is so rapid and the interaction between these in terms of content (for example smelling something, disliking it, blaming someone for leaving the washroom in such a state, thinking about the person's other faults and then stubbing one's toes, feeling annoyed about that and so on) is so rapid that the actual sequence of the shift from state to state is usually not recognized, let alone the shift from mind moment to mind moment.
Through attending directly to how we experience what we experience, it becomes clear that the conventional understanding of experience is simplistic and primitive because it takes what is really a process of moments of knowing and constructs these into monolithic lumps of content. We then begin to stumble over our own trips about these blocks and structures and feel that the situation has a permanence about it that makes real change impossible.
No matter how we might hide in it, no matter how convinced we might be of this stance, this feeling, this state, they arise and fall leaving us exposed again and again to impermanence, to anicca.
When we wallow about in the muck and mire of self-image and act from the three kleshas of passion, aggression and stupidity, our perception of ourselves and the world around us becomes entangled and obstructed. Experiencing becomes piled up and bundled together in tight, brittle formations of distorted thoughts and feeling tones. Like Jigsaw pieces of that don't fit together, but are forced into shapes to form bleak pictures. And when this happens, we talk endlessly to ourselves about who we are: seeking out blackness, calculating, mapping, propagating a sense of problem and separation. But as it says in a chant written by Joshu Dainen zenji,
Attention, attention.
All is always stainless,
each form is always formless.
Aligning ourselves with the Way,
each dharma is always Buddha Dharma.
The stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves and the world around us form as the congealing of attention into “views” of this and that, but all around these “views”, the world extends in all directions. It is only through focusing and narrowing attention and choosing to ignore the context in which a thought is taking place that we can convince ourselves that any view is true, is final, is justified.
If you saw someone sitting in the middle of the road, talking to themselves, hitting themselves with a rock, you might say “Stop talking to yourself. Look where you are.” You would recognize very clearly that such behavior is completely insane. But when you are sitting on your zafu, you are doing much the same thing if you are not opening to reality and are instead talking to yourself, torturing yourself with your storylines.
Not long after I began practicing as a student of the Roshi near 17 years ago, I saw someone on a crowded street who made quite a strong impression. It was summer so he was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. But in addition he was wearing an assortment of bags, many, many bags with many many straps crisscrossing his body. And from these bags protruded an assortment of gadgets and wires. He had such things as phones, transistor radios, and many other small items I couldn't identify – dozens of them. From these ran many cables and wires which were also looped around his body. He really was quite an alarming sight and people on the street gave him a wide berth as he looked like a walking bomb, armed and ready to go off at any moment. Except that the majority of his electronic devices were obviously so dinged up that they couldn't possibly work. Completely oblivious to the reactions of those around him, he stopped at a bench and sat down. As I was waiting for a store to open I stood not far away observing him for ten or fifteen minutes as he disconnected and re-connected wires, but it was apparent that nothing would or could work.
I remember being very struck by this man and had various thoughts about how he could have come to be in such a such a sorry state. I was looking at him, and then looking at me, and then looking at everyone else as it dawned on me that through focusing attention, he had become someone obsessed with fixing his own wiring. And that anyone, anywhere, can be equally disconnected from reality through focusing attention. And then I flashed on the range of thoughts, feelings, storylines that I had seen come up for me even while sitting on the zafu and realized that these – these thoughts and feelings and storylines, propagating them, rehearsing them, going over them again and again and again was what caused “me” to crystallize into what I think of as “me” and that all of this stuff must be questioned and released. What seems “normal” is simply what becomes habitual.
As it says in the Jijiyu Zanmai Doka, “Don't follow and become the forms of attention.”
We begin practising because we recognize that something about us should change, though we're not necessarily all that clear about what that is. Regardless of what we want to change or how we want it to change or the fact that what we want to change keeps changing, one thing is clear: we want change. We might start off practicing thinking that we want to change one or two details, a couple of things we don't like about ourselves, but we'll keep the rest. So we try to practice on our own terms, try to bend the practice into a shape that is acceptable to us. We focus on what we like or don't like, but as we continue to practise, what we begin to discover is that it isn't just what we perceive to be the ugly, gristly, uncomfortable bits that need change, everything needs to change. And as it changes, what it changes into also needs to be released to allow a space for further change The stuff we are “comfortable” with is just as bizarre as the stuff we are “uncomfortable” with.
Much of what we do when we first start practising is basically swapping one state for another. A state comes up that we don't like and then we pump up a feeling of openness to counter it. We get lost in thought and noticing that, don't like what we see so we attempt to pump up a state of silence (a jhana state) to counter that. But once in a while we actually remember to practise the instructions to actually feel the breath, the body, open to seeing and hearing. At first, we keep checking to see what the practice is doing for us, wondering how we are “progressing”, but eventually we realize that all of this self-considering must also be released. Trying to measure one's practice is a bit like running around the back yard with a wooden ruler trying to measure the sun or the moon. If you notice you are doing this, stop talking to yourself about yourself and practise. Why? Because the moment is measureless but fleeting and you are wasting time.
When the Roshi says “If it is closed, open around it; if it seems open, open further”, he is instructing us to open to the stainlessness of this moment in this moment. This is real change. What does he mean by “open around it”? He means that you should use the noticing of any detail of experiencing as a reminder to release the tendency to focus on that detail and open to the context in which that detail is taking place. If you are focusing on a thought, a feeling, one sound amidst countless sounds you are hearing, one aspect of the visual field amidst the countless details you could be seeing, open attention around that one thing by coming back to the practise of whole-bodily mindfulness, open seeing, open hearing. What the Roshi is talking about is releasing habitual thoughts and feelings and the movements of attention associated with them into stainlessness, opening and opening further, not stopping anywhere, not settling, not making yourself comfortable.
The truly odd thing is that when we become contracted, we really think no one else can see how we are; that no one else can see or feel how we distort and crunch our attention, that no one else can see or feel the circle of sharp knives we slash ourselves and others with. But the truth of the matter is that we are broadcasting how we are all of the time and if we settle into and propagate a state, it will make itself known. Nothing is separate from anything else. Everything arises together, at the same time, and each thing interpenetrates every other thing in the stainlessness of this moment. All around the states you experience, the world extends in all directions, but when you bask in a state all that you will let yourself see is the state. Don't be stupid. Open around it. Stop talking to yourself about what you think and feel about everything. If you were as interesting as you think you are, you wouldn't bore yourself so much when you sit.
Each day the sun rises and sets; the moon appears and vanishes as the sun rises again. The sky is blue and bright and then clouds gather and shower the earth with rain or snow or hail. The earth shifts, mountain ranges grow and recede, shorelines change. Beings are born and die, wave after wave after wave of beings coming and going. What could be solid in any of this? How could you be solid when your experience shows you the obvious impermanence of all things? How could it be possible that any state you experience could be solid in the midst of all of this impermanence?
I was once speaking with the Roshi about my father, now long dead, about his life, the things he thought important and commented on how strange it is that we struggle and endure and hope and fear and in the end nothing remains. The Roshi said , “Like an equation written on water, vanishing even as it's being written”.
Zazen is not just a matter of changing this or that about ourselves. It exposes us to and reveals the fact that change is what we always already are.
I speak and my words are already gone. You don't need to chase after them because you've already understood what you understood in the moment they were spoken. You see the wall, but there is no need for attention to move out and towards the wall, no need for you to try to “organize” the seeing. Just see. You don't need to look further into that moment of seeing because that moment is already gone and you've already seen. You don't need to find “meaning” in what was seen because meaning was already apparent and now there is THIS moment of seeing. It is what it is. It IS the wall. Open to peripheral vision. Just see. You feel sensations, but attention does not need to follow them. Just feel. You notice a thought and you don't need to look further into it. Just open to the experience of whole bodymind sitting on the cushion. Now. And now. Pleasant sensations, unpleasant sensations are felt, bright, distinct, gone. And now? What does it actually feel like to sit here in this moment of stainlessness?
All experiences are stainless when attention is not distorted. All dharmas arise, dwell and decay as one's world. Penetrate each moment of experiencing. Penetrate this moment of breathing; penetrate this wall, this floor, this mind, this world. When you get up from the zafu and walk, you are still walking in this world. All beings are met, all events are rising and falling and this penetration into one's world is the essence of our practice. Our practice is not separate from the world. Our practice is the practise of mind stainlessly arising as world and world stainlessly arising as mind.
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Here are some excerpts from the book 'Buddhism Is Not What You Think' by Zen teacher Steve Hagen. Thusness and I think the book is very well written and very complete. Highly recommended. Thusness noted that many practitioners stop at the phase of non-dual, few penetrates in-depth and see clearly the meaning of Anatta and Dependent Origination.

However Steve Hagen is able to cover all the insights that Thusness wrote, and be able to link One Mind to Emptiness. Not many people know how to link One Mind to Emptiness. That is, All is Mind due to its empty and luminous essence. All is talking about this moment of manifestation, yet many cling to Oneness and cannot see the D.O. nature. As Thusness wrote to Longchen previously, This is also the understanding of why Everything is the One Reality incorporating causes, conditions and luminosity of our Empty nature as One and inseparable. Everything as the One Reality should never be understood from a dualistic/inherent standpoint.

Steve Hagen is one of the few who are able to capture the essence of Buddhism and explain it eloquently to his readers, urging them to SEE (and not believe or conceptualize) the truth in direct perception.

I have collected three of his books which are all very good, Buddhism Is Not What You Think: Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs; Meditation Now or Never; Buddhism Plain & Simple. Buddhism Plain & Simple is a more simplified version which is more suitable for beginners as an introduction, Meditation Now or Never is more on meditation practice, while Buddhism Is Not What You Think is a deeper, more in-depth exploration of the teaching.

Amazon link to Steve Hagen's books:

Here's a review by Joan Tollifson:

STEVE HAGEN: Buddhism Is Not What You Think: Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs; Meditation Now or Never; Buddhism Plain & Simple; and How the World Can Be the Way It Is: An Inquiry for the New Millennium into Science, Philosophy, and Perception. These are all outstanding and very highly recommended books, especially Buddhism Is Not What You Think. Steve is one of the clearest and most articulate living Zen teachers I've come across. I recommend him for his subtle understanding of emptiness, impermanence, and true nonduality, and also for his intelligent approach to meditation and "practice." Steve is excellent at clarifying the distinction between conceptual thought and direct perception or awareness. He is excellent at exposing conceptual reifications, especially the most subtle and ubiquitous ones, which are so easily mistaken for reality. He sheds light on the thinking mind's habitual tendency to try to grasp reality conceptually, and then to mistake the map for the territory. I especially appreciate how Steve talks about emptiness, not as a formless, nihilistic void or a big empty space, but rather, as thorough-going flux, the impermanence that "is so complete, so thorough, that nothing is formed in the first place to be impermanent." This is the Zen understanding of emptiness or no-self. Emptiness is everything, as it is -- the seamless wholeness in which there really are no separate, substantial, persisting, independent "things" to be found, except as ideas in conceptual thought. Steve teaches formal Zen practice in a pretty bare, plain, stripped-down way, but it is still rigorous and ritualized. I'm not drawn anymore to this kind of strict, formal Zen practice, so some aspects of Steve's approach don't resonate here, but the essential core of what he says is outstanding. His book on meditation, Meditation Now or Never, has some chapters in it that are absolutely superb, and it's not just about meditation, it's about life. (Again, I don't resonate with the insistence on formal practice or with the necessity of certain forms, postures and hand positions, but if you can take that part lightly as simply suggestions and possibilities, then the essence of what he's saying about meditation and living life is right on the mark -- see especially chapters 17, 28, 33, 34, 10 and 2 in this book -- beautiful!). Steve is truly humble, down to earth, articulate, bright and very awake. A Zen priest in the lineage of Dainin Katagiri and a former science researcher, Steve heads the Dharma Field Meditation and Learning Center in Minneapolis, and if you're looking for a Zen center, this is a truly wonderful place. Norm Randolph, who also teaches there, is also wonderful. Books, tapes, excellent classes on CD, a newsletter that frequently includes articles by Steve and Norm, talks on-line and more information here. Very highly recommended.


Quotations from 'Buddhism Is Not What You Think':

...All things are like this. Indeed, it's impossible for any conceived object not to be like this. Nothing stands on its own. Nothing has its own being. Each thing is inseparable from, and inter-identical with, all that it's not.

Thus perception is an objectless Awareness since, when we just see, what is truly seen involves not objects but the Whole. Nothing actually forms as an object; nothing stands apart. No matter where we look, there's just this.

Here's another example of a foolish-sounding Zen question that is actually an expression of just seeing: What is the sound of one hand clapping? When we conceive of a hand, it's just a single, isolated hand, and we're puzzled at the question. To clap, we need two hands. But this is approaching the question in our ordinary way - that is, conceptually.

With naked perception however, we see that a hand is not a separate and distinct hand. Everything is included with it. One hand clapping is the sound of two hands clapping is the sound of ten hands clapping. It's the sound before and after two hands clap. It's also the sound before and after one hand claps.

Conceptually, we think that sound is sound and silence is silence. The two seem neatly separated and distinct - in fact, opposite of each other. But this is only how we think, how we conceptualize. This is not how Reality is perceived, before we put everything into neat, nicely labelled (but deceptive) little packages.

We think there only has to be sound for there to be sound. We overlook that there must also be silence for there to be sound. And because of sound, there is silence. Were there no sound, how could there be silence?

Before you strike a bell, a sound is already here. After you strike the bell, the sound is here. When the sound fades and dies away, the sound is still here. The sound is not just the sound but the silence, too, And the silence is the sound. This is what is actually perceived before we parse everything out into this and that, into "myself" and "what I hear."

The sound of the bell is inseparable from everything that came before and that will come after as well as from everything that appears now. This includes your eardrum, which vibrates in response to it. It includes the air, which pulses with varying waves of pressure in response to it.

It includes the stick that strikes the bell. It includes the metallurgists, past and present, and those who learned to extract metal from ore and those who fashioned the bell. And it includes that ancient furnace, that supernova obliterated long ago in which this metal formed.

Remove any of these - indeed, remove anything at all - and there can be no sound of the bell. The sound of the bell is thus not "the sound of the bell." It is the entire Universe...


.....What Nagarjuna is pointing to is that believing things are impermanent involves a contradiction. First we posit separate, persisting things (in effect, absolute objects); and then we refer to them as impermanent (that is relative). What we fail to see is that we are still holding to a view of substance. We don't really appreciate the thoroughgoing nature of change, the thorough-going nature of selflessness.

We don't really appreciate the thoroughgoing nature of change, the thorough-going nature of selflessness. Nagarjuna makes it abundantly clear that impermanence (the relative) is total, complete, thoroughgoing, Absolute. It's not that the universe is made up of innumerable objects in flux. There's Only flux. Nothing is (or can be) riding along in the flux, like a cork in a stream; nothing actually arises or passes away. There's only stream.

..... That forms appear to come and go cannot be denied. But to assume the existence of imaginary persisting entities and attach them to these apparent comings and goings is delusion....


"The Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness," a poem by the great Chinese Zen teacher Tung-shan, speaks of the very same Awareness that the Buddha pointed to. This image of a jewel mirror was used as a way to express the source from which all things issue. All the myriad things, thoughts, and feelings we experience appear like images in a mirror: vivid yet insubstantial. The ungraspable mirror is what's Real, while the seemingly isolated things that appear in it are not.

Consider for example, the simple act of smelling a rose. We see the rose, feel the rose, bring it close, breathe in through our nose. We "smell the rose," as we say, though this refers more to how we conceptualize our experience than it does to what is actually experienced. To say we smell a fragrance would be closer to the actual experience.

But where does the act of smelling a fragrance takes place? If we attend carefully, we can see that all of our usual accounts of the experience start to break down.

Is the fragrance in the rose? If it was, how could you smell it? You're here while the rose is "out there" somewhere. On the other hand, if the rose were removed, you surely wouldn't smell the fragrance. But if you were removed - or if the air in between you and the rose were removed - you also wouldn't smell it.

So is the fragrance in the rose? Is it in your nose? Is it in the air in between? Is it in the air if no one is around to smell it? If so, how could we tell? Is the fragrance in your brain, then? And if it's in your brain, then why is the rose necessary at all?

Ultimately, the simple act of "smelling a rose" - or any other act involving a subject and object - becomes impossible to pin down and utterly insubstantial.

Gradually, however, we can begin to appreciate what the experience of smelling a rose actually entails. It's of the nature of the mirror itself - that is, that the source of all experience is Mind. As such, the act of smelling - or seeing or hearing or touching or thinking - literally has no location. This non-locality is the very essence of Mind.


From his other earlier book, 'Buddhism Plain and Simple'

Buddhism Plain and Simple page 115, by Zen Teacher Steve Hagen:

With the two types of views there are two kinds of minds. As human beings, we all have what we could call ordinary minds - the mind that you've always assumed you've had. It's a calculating mind, a discriminating mind, a fragmented mind. It's the mind of ordinary consciousness, the mind of self and other. We generally think of it as "my mind."

But there's another mind that is unborn, ungrown, and unconditioned. Unlike "your mind," it is unbound, for there is nothing beyond it. To this Mind, there is no "other mind."

This Mind is nothing other than the Whole. It's simply thus, the fabric of the world itself - the ongoing arising and falling away that are matter, energy and events.

Speaking of this Mind, the great Chinese Zen master Huang Po said,

All buddhas and ordinary people are just One Mind... This Mind is beyond all measurements, names, oppositions: this very being is It; as soon as you stir your mind you turn away from It.

This Mind is self-evident - it's always switched on, so to speak. We can - and, in fact, we do - see It in every moment. If we would refrain from stirring our minds (rest our frontal lobes, as my Zen teacher used to say) and let our conceptualising die down, like the ripples on a pond after the stirring wind has ceased, we would realise - we would know Mind directly.
(Steve Hagen)
Ultimate Truth, on the other hand, is direct perception. And what is directly perceived (as opposed to conceive) is that no separate, individualised things exist as such. There's nothing to be experienced but this seamless, thoroughgoing relativity and flux.

In other words, there are no particulars, but only thus.


When the Buddha spoke of individuals, he often used a different term: "stream." Imagine a stream flowing-eonstantly moving and changing, always different from one moment to the next. Most of us see ourselves as corks floating in a stream, persisting things moving along in the stream of time. But this is yet another frozen view.

According to this view, everything in the stream changes except the cork. While we generally admit to changes in our body, our mind, our thoughts, our feelings, our understandings, and our beliefs, we still believe, "I myself don't change. I'm still me. I'm an unchanging cork in an ever-changing stream." This is precisely what we believe the self to be-something that doesn't change.

The fact is, however, that there are no corks in the stream. There is only stream. What we conceptualize as "cork" is also stream. We are like music. Music, after all, is a type of stream. Music exists only in constant flow and flux and change. Once the movement stops, the music is no more. It exists not as a particular thing, but as pure coming and going with no thing that comes or goes.

Look at this carefully. If this is true-how a stream exists, how music exists, and how we exist-see how it is that when we insert the notion of "I" we've posited some little, solid entity that floats along, not as stream, but like a cork in a stream. We see ourselves as solid corks, not as the actual stream we are.

If we are the stream, what is it that experiences the flux, the flow, the change? The Buddha saw that there is no particular thing that is having an experience. There is experience, but no experiencer. There is perception, but no perceiver. There is consciousness, but no self that can be located or identified.