A Mirror Mind

One moon shows in every pool, in every pool one moon. – Zen Proverb

Your mind should be like a mirror, reflecting everything but holding on to nothing. – Unknown

Mindfulness is mirror thought. It reflects only what is presently happening and in exactly the way it is happening. There are no biases. – Bhante Gunaratara

My mind is like a clear mirror reflecting everything just as it is. Red comes and the mirror becomes red, white comes and the mirror becomes white. This is how a Bodhisattva lives. I have no desires for myself. My actions are only for all beings. This is a complete life. – Seung Sahn

When Mind Appears

From Seung Sahn’s The Compass of Zen

According to the Avatamsaka-sutra, your mind makes everything. It is very simple. We already talked about how our mind makes time and space. We talked about how your mind makes the same length of time either longer or shorter. Your thinking makes here and there, up and down, good and bad. Originally these things do not exist. They come from thinking. When mind appears, everything appears. When mind disappears, everything disappears. Our mind makes this whole universe. There is a famous story that explains this point.

A long time ago in Korea, there was a great Zen master named Won Hyo. When he was a young man, he had to fight in a terrible civil war. He saw many, many men killed. He watched helplessly while innocent women and children were also ruthlessly slain in the pointless give and take of battle. Lands were overrun and livestock slaughtered. This hit his mind. “Human beings have no meaning in this life,” he thought. “Why must we make so much suffering for ourselves and all beings?” so he decided that society was no good. In disgust, and yearning to find some answer to his deep question about the nature of existence, he shaved his head, became a monk, and headed for the mountains, vowing never to return until he had understood the absolute truth about the nature of existence. In a very short time, he fathomed the teachings of the great sutras. But this did not satisfy him. Even the Buddha’s own speech could not lift the heavy burden that lay on his heart like a boulder as he looked at the misery of everyday life. Seeing his condition, several of his friends told Won Hyo about a great Zen master in China who, it was reputed, had been completely enlightened as to the matter of life and death. Perhaps this master could help him. Together with another monk, Won Hyo packed away his sutras and, with backpack and straw hat, headed north across the mountains for China.

Won Hyo traveled on foot for many, many months. Although he was very tired and weak, his determination to find a teacher was unbending. One day, he ran out of water, and as night came he collapsed on the ground, very exhausted. He awoke in the middle of the night, gripped with thirst. As he groped around for something to drink, his fingers felt the edge of a cup, filled to the brim with water. Taking it with both hands, he gratefully drank the water, which Buddha himself must have sent to help him! The water felt cool and refreshing as it ran down his throat. Because he was so thirsty, it seemed like the most delicious water he ever tasted. Happy with his great fortune, Won Hyo settled back into sleep.

In the morning, Won Hyo woke and found beside him what he had taken for a cup the night before. It was a human skullcap in which some rainwater had collected. There were maggots and larvae moving around the sides. The skull wasn’t so old, too, so there were still bits of flesh clinging here and there. When he saw that, his stomach convulsed in nausea. Falling on all fours, Won Hyo’s mouth opened wide, and as the vomit poured out, his mind suddenly opened and he attained enlightenment. In that moment, he completely attained the true nature of his mind: Last night, since he hadn’t seen or thought anything of the water, it was delicious. But now, seeing the skull and thinking about it, the water suddenly became very bad and made him sick to his stomach. “Ah ha,” he realized. “Everything is created by mind alone!”  

Won Hyo realized that his thinking made the water good or bad, delicious or disgusting. Thinking makes things pleasant or unpleasant. Thinking makes the whole universe! Won Hyo attained this point and realized that finding a teacher in China was no longer necessary. He returned to Korea and eventually became the National Teacher. He is known as one of the greatest Zen masters in the history of Korean Buddhism.

Empty Your Mind

In the early 20th century, Zen master Nan-in received a university professor who came to ask about Zen. But instead he only talked on and on about his own ideas. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then, while the man continued to speak, Nan-in kept on pouring the tea. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “You fool! It is overfull. No more will go in!” Nan-in replied, “Like this cup, you are also too full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your mind?”

Carrying Extra Weight

Two Zen monks, Tanzan and Ekido, traveling on pilgrimage, came to a muddy river crossing. There they saw a lovely young woman dressed in her kimono and finery, obviously not knowing how to cross the river without ruining her clothes.

Without further ado, Tanzan graciously picked her up, held her close to him, and carried her across the muddy river, placing her onto the dry ground. Then he and Ekido continued on their way. Hours later they found themselves at a lodging temple. And here Ekido could no longer restrain himself and gushed forth his complaints: “Surely, it is against the rules what you did back there…. Touching a woman is simply not allowed…. How could you have done that? … And to have such close contact with her! … This is a violation of all monastic protocol…” Thus he went on with his verbiage.

Tanzan listened patiently to the accusations. Finally, during a pause, he said, “Look, I set that girl down back at the crossing. Are you still carrying her?”

(Based on an autobiographical story by Japanese master Tanzan, 1819-1892)

Some Great Koans

(Koan)

Two monks were arguing about the temple flag waving in the wind.
One said, “The flag moves.”
The other said, “The wind moves.”
They argued back and forth but could not agree.
Hui-neng, the sixth patriarch, said: “Gentlemen! It is not the flag that moves. It is not the wind that moves. It is your mind that moves.”
The two monks were struck with awe.

(Koan) 

A monk asked Kegon, “How does an enlightened one return to the ordinary world?”
Kegon replied, “A broken mirror never reflects again; fallen flowers never go back to the old branches.”

(Koan) 

What is your original face before you were born?

(Koan) 

Shuzan held out his short staff and said, “If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact. Now what do you wish to call this?”

(Koan) 

When you can do nothing, what can you do?

(Koan) 

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

(Koan) 

Zen Master Unmon said: “The world is vast and wide. Why do you put on your robes at the sound of a bell?”

(Koan) 

Elder Ting asked Lin-chi,
“Master, what is the great meaning of Buddha’s teachings?”
Lin-chi came down from his seat, slapped Ting and pushed him away.
Ting was stunned and stood motionless.
A monk nearby said, “Ting, why do you not bow?”
At that moment Ting attained great enlightenment.

(Koan) 

When the many are reduced to one, to what is the one reduced?

(Koan) 

One day Banzan was walking through a market. He overheard a customer say to the butcher, “Give me the best piece of meat you have.”
“Everything in my shop is the best,” replied the butcher. “You can not find any piece of meat that is not the best.”
At these words, Banzan was enlightened.

(Koan) 

A monk asked Master Haryo, “What is the way?”
Haryo said, “An open-eyed man falling into the well.”

(Koan) 

One day as Manjusri stood outside the gate, the Buddha called to him, “Manjusri, Manjusri, why do you not enter?”
Manjusri replied, “I do not see myself as outside. Why enter?”

(Koan) 

A monk saw a turtle in the garden of Daizui’s monastery and asked the teacher, “All beings cover their bones with flesh and skin.

Why does this being cover its flesh and skin with bones?” Master Daizui took off one of his sandals and covered the turtle with it.

(Koan) 

After taking the high seat to preach to the assembly, Fa-yen raised his hand and pointed to the bamboo blinds. Two monks went over and rolled them up in the same way. Fa-yen said, “One gains, one loses.”

(Koan) 

Once Ma-tsu and Pai-chang were walking along and they saw some wild ducks fly by.
“What is that?” the Master asked.
“Wild ducks,” Pai-chang replied.
“Where have they gone?”
“They’ve flown away,” Pai-chang said.
The Master then twisted Pai-chang’s nose, and when Pai-chang cried out in pain, Ma-tsu said, “When have they ever flown away?”

(Koan) 

As the roof was leaking, a zen Master told two monks to bring something to catch the water. One brought a tub, the other a basket. The first was severely reprimanded, the second highly praised.

(Koan) 

One day Chao-chou fell down in the snow, and called out, “Help me up! Help me up!” A monk came and lay down beside him. Chao-chou got up and went away.

(Koan) 

Te-shan was sitting outside doing zazen. Lung-t’an asked him why he didn’t go back home. Te-shan answered, “Because it’s dark.”

Lung-t’an then lit a candle and handed it to him. As Te-shan was about to take it, Lung-t’an blew it out. Te-shan had a sudden realisation, and bowed.

(Koan) 

What is the colour of wind?

(Koan) 

A monk asked Zhao Zhou to teach him.
Zhao Zhou asked, “Have you eaten your meal?”
The monk replied, “Yes, I have.”
“Then go wash your bowl,” said Zhao Zhou.
At that moment, the monk was enlightened.

(Koan) 

If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha.

(Koan) 

A monk asked Tozan when he was weighing some flax, “What is Buddha?”
Tozan said: “This flax weighs three pounds.”

The Zen Master, The Boy, & The Horse

In this village, a little boy is given a gift of a horse. The villagers all say, “Isn’t that fabulous? Isn’t that wonderful? What a wonderful gift.”

The Zen master says, “We’ll see.”

A couple years later the boy falls off the horse and breaks his leg. The villagers all say, “Isn’t that terrible? The horse is cursed! That’s horrible!”

The Zen master says, “We’ll see.”

A few years later the country goes to war and the government conscripts all the males into the army, but the boy’s leg is so screwed up, he doesn’t have to go. The villagers all say, “Isn’t that fabulous? Isn’t that wonderful?”

The Zen master says, “We’ll see.”