Linji was a Chan (Zen) Master who lived in 9th Century China. He was known for his iconoclastic ways, “Meet the Buddha, Kill the Buddha!” he would say. His clear presentations of the dharma included shouts and blows, anything to loosen a person’s grip on things, all designed to open the heart to reality as-it-is, right here and now. Of course, he is the founder of one of the great schools of Zen, the Linji School, or in Japanese the Rinzai School, with its emphasis on awakening and use of koans. Here is what might be described as Linji’s root teaching:
Whatever confronts you, don’t believe it. When something appears shine your light on it. Have confidence in the light that is always working inside you.
Whatever Confronts You…
There is a vastness to my life, to your life. This immensity extends beyond my ability to comprehend. It is before good and evil, before birth and death. And it is home. There is consciousness before content, life before the life we hold onto, with which we find our separate identity. We all know this, and we all have caught a glimpse, as the sun sets, the flower opens, we sit beside the bed of a sick friend. Within this vastness thoughts arise, personalities arise, things around us change -- there is no-thing apart from the vast expanse of reality, no change that is not a part of the whole. Yet, when something comes, in an effort to make sense of life, we grab hold, identifying with it -- reify it, literally, “make it into something.” For this reason Linji says…
Don’t Believe It
As thoughts are held they begin, like newly poured concrete, to set and harden. They become belief -- about reality, about ourselves in relationship to the vastness. We set ourselves up, defining ourselves apart from the larger life, a self separate from, far away from home.. Sometimes we dare to cut into the mystery and proclaim to “know who we are.” Enter Linji -- if it pops up, he shouts, if a thought comes, if it confronts you, “Don’t believe it!” Wisely he admonishes us to eschew anything that might cut us off, anything that might shrink our world. This is something we all confront. Human beings, each one of us, develops a personal reality filled with belief, about ourselves, about others, and about the larger life, the reality within which we swim.
Recently, I came face to face with one of my core beliefs:
No-one loves me. I am not sure where this thought first emerged, not sure when I took hold. Perhaps as a child when I was chosen last for kickball. Or perhaps coming when I was being reprimanded by some adult for some action done or left undone. Or maybe, or maybe, or maybe….With this belief, I learned that I could and needed to charm my way through my life, that I could work hard and earn folks love, indeed, work really hard and procure the love of God. As I carried this belief and worked to impress others, to charm Reality itself, I actually cut myself off from others and became less available not more, less vulnerable, unapproachable.
This is how attachment to a core belief works, causing Hakuin to write,
People miss what's in front of them and go searching far from home. It's sad, like someone standing in water and crying out in thirst, or a child from a rich family struggling among the poor.
It is this very sadness, this loneliness that calls me to spiritual practice.
When Something Appears Shine Your Light On It
Here is the heart of spiritual practice. Usually we don’t want to question our beliefs. We take them for reality -- they are set hard in our lives, the concrete upon which we stand. Because of our hard identification of ourselves with the contents of our consciousness, we take these “things” to be our reality. We will fight and die for our perceptions of the world. For this reason we have a big “No Trespassing” sign on our beliefs -- no one need question them, least of all ourselves. We assume that if we question our beliefs the world as we know it might end (it will), and we live in fear of losing our identity. So, the no trespassing! Linji will take it the other way -- “Shine your light on it.”
Linji also gave a koan that points to your light, to my light. He calls it a solitary brightness. Here you go:
There is a solitary brightness without fixed shape or form. It knows how to express the teachings and listen to the teachings. That solitary brightness is you, right here before my eyes (BTW, Jesus expressed the same thing, “You are the light of the world.”)
Before there was belief, before any self-image or identification, there is a solitary brightness. A name for the vast reality of Life as-it-is, is solitary brightness. This is your light, you are that light. This is the light before you even gave a thought to yourself. This is the light that shines in all things -- even your beliefs about things. This light of larger life, is present. In practice, we are present to this light. As things arise in this life, as we are confronted with thoughts, perceptions, etc...they shine with this light. Perceiving this the bottom drops out of our identifications and are apprehended, seized by the light. As Linji says, “That solitary brightness is you.”
For me, this meant holding this big sadness, this no-one-loves-me-I-think-I’ll-eat-worms mind. It meant daring to trespass into the my self-imposed exile from reality and to live into a naked trust. For me this meant sobbing on my cushion, it meant living within energies that seemed at times overwhelming. And yes, the bottom drops out of all that, as the doors never shut, now beckon. Linji’s voice resounds, “That solitary brightness is you.”
And that is the last word, that and “Always have confidence in that light which is working inside you.”
Thanks for reading. We are together in this light and will be on Wednesday, 6:30 pm,