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Kannon (Guan Yin)

Right Mindfulness

Cultivating the Chan Attitude: The Seventh Step on the Path

    "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clangin cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

    "Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

          - St. Paul First Letter to the Corinthians, 13:1-7.
            (New American Standard Bible)
    "Men of Dao! The Way of Buddhism is never phony or pretentious. It consists in doing ordinary things in a simple, natural way: shitting, pissing, dressing, eating, sleeping when you're tired. Fools laugh at me for saying this. The wise understand."

          - Lin Ji (Rinzai)

On the surface, the assertions of St. Paul and Chan master Lin Ji would seem to reflect widely different attitudes; but closer inspection will reveal that while they are different stylistically, they are additudinally identical.

The simple, natural way of Lin Ji is the unconditional love which St. Paul describes. Hypocrisy and egotism are clearly abhorrent to both men.

But of course, as if to illustrate the kind of artificiality that Lin Ji was decrying when he offered his famous description of the Way, the words shitting and pissing are frequently sanitized in translation and appear as "going to the stool," "making water," and so on. Lin Ji wouldn't have appreciated it.

And St. Paul's love is translated in the old King James version of the Bible as charity. Charity also means love, but to us it more commonly refers to alms giving and, this being the planet earth, Paul's beautiful words are often exploited by fund raisers whenever they try to squeeze money out of people. "'Faith, hope, charity;'" they quote the chapter's final line, "'but the greatest of these is charity.' How much may we expect from you?" St. Paul wouldn't have appreciated it.

While no one has ever accused the Apostle Paul of being sentimental, his eloquence does occasionally arouse the kind of easy inspiration that Lin Ji feared and detested. Lin Ji knew that cheaply purchased goodness is goodness cheaply sold. His jolting language was designed precisely to obviate sentimentality.

When love and goodness are the subject of a religious utterance, we can expect the spirit to be moved. Seldom, however, is it moved profoundly; and superficial movement is usually worse than no movement at all. Too often the reader responds to an uplifting passage with an easy rush of ardor, a warm glow; and, like heated air in a balloon, the rising expectation of pious change carries him aloft. Yes, he will work to correct each and every one of his 108 faults! Yes, he will dedicate his life to saving the world's 4 billion sentient beings! Then, within a matter of hours, the flames of universal love and self-reform die out. He plummets back into his old ruts. Now, however, he can identify himself as one of religion's aviators. He can daydream about his moment of glory for months.

A Chan man is a veteran of change and has the scars to prove it. He knows that religiosity is not a substitute for combat. Folks who drip with sentimental fervor because they have survived the reading of a poem are not in anybody's army.

The proper Chan attitude, then, might be said to consist in 'cutting the crap,' of making no public display of piety, of saving our devotion for those times when we are alone and can properly express it; in not going out of our way to be vulgar on one hand but, on the other, in not trying to affect those refined sensibilities which suggest that we believe shitting and pissing to be quaint customs of the proletariat we once read about in Daddy's library. Chan is an extremely tough discipline. We have to turn ourselves inside-out and lay bare to a dissecting scalpel our most private thoughts and acts. People who are too squeamish or too elegant to use the language of the common man really don't have the guts for Chan. Lin Ji would have made short work of them.

And if we cease trying to impress others with our lofty status, we might cease acting like godlike puppeteers, looking down at people and manipulating them. If we join humanity instead of holding ourselves above it, we can touch the universal current. Paul's unconditional love can flow through us as Lin Ji's Dao.

The Chan attitude requires that we abandon our prideful agendas, that we work for the sake of the work and not for the sense of accomplishment. Where there is pride there can be no loving, natural attitude. Let no one believe that just because he can't do anything worth being proud of he will easily succeed in being humble. Humility ought to be - but isn't - easy to achieve. Consider the following Chan parable:

Two monks met by the river's edge. As they looked at the view of the other side, one said, "My master can send his mind wherever he wants it to go. Though he is a hundred miles from here, he could meditate, find me, and paint this view exactly as I'm seeing it now. Can your master do anything so great?" he asked. The other monk nodded. "Greater," he said. "My master can eat when he is hungry and sleep when he is tired."

Another attitudinal problem we encounter is the studied irreverence of persons who reject Judaism, Christianity, Islam or Hinduism and think that because Buddhists do not (or at least should not) worry about creation gods, they have no God at all to consider.

For some strange reason atheists are attracted to Buddhism. Not inclined to reach enlightenment in foxholes, they gravitate to Buddhism, assume our patented Tranquil Pose, and sneer nonviolently at all the non-atheists in all those other non-atheistic religions. Such persons are usually appalled when they discover Buddhists bowing before statues or, worse, kneeling in prayer before them. There is no way to reassure them that the Buddha who is being bowed to is the Buddha within the one who bows. According to their rules, all evidence of supplication, reverence, and worship of the divine must be excised from the liturgical body.

Likewise, they refuse to allow the word God ever to apply to the Buddha Nature and can grow visibly pale when watching the word extrude itself from a Buddhist's mouth. Westerners, however, grow up using the term and unless we can comfortably say when witnessing a sneeze, "Original Face bless you," or when striking a thumb with a hammer, "Buddha Nature damn it!" we ought not to strike the word God from our lexicons. And if we can comfortably bless or curse using the name of God, we certainly ought to be able to use the term for academic or religious purposes. In fact, most of what Christians mean when they say God is meant by Buddhists when they say Buddha Nature or by Daoists when they say Dao.

The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism
Chapter 15: Right Mindfulness: Page 1 of 2