19 Leaving No Trace Nothing lingers behind, Nothing can be remembered. Bright and empty, f
Leaving No Trace
Nothing lingers behind,
Nothing can be remembered.
Bright and empty, functioning naturally,
The mind does not exert itself.
After a bird has flown from one tree to another, what trace did it
leave in the air? Again, when you stand in front of a mirror,you see
your image reflected in it. But after you have gone, what is left in
the mirror? Your mind should be like this; any event that occurs
should leave no trace in your mind.We cannot deny that the bird has
actually flown a certain distance, or that the mirror has reflected
you. But it is precisely because the bird did not leave a trace that
other birds are free to fly over the same route, and it is precisely
because the mirror does not retain your image that other people can
also see their images. If traces were left in the sky, would it look as
spacious as it does to us now? If the mirror retained images, would it
still be able to reflect?
Likewise, the accumulation of knowledge and experiences only adds
obstructions. For instance, whatever you have learned previously from
other teachers is like the trace of a bird, or the image left behind on
a mirror. If these things stay in your mind on retreat, you will not be
able to absorb my teachings because there will be an overlap of images.
On the first evening I told you to forget everything that happened in
the past; do not attempt to compare what happens on this retreat with
your former experiences.
Not remembering anything does not mean that you are like a stone or a
piece of wood. Your mind is still clearly aware of knowing certain
things but does not try to bring up these memories as criteria for
comparing and judging. The bird did fly from tree to tree, and the
mirror did reflect people, but they have nothing to do with you.
Phenomena may change, but your mind is not moved by them.
Today someone found the Ch'an hall too hot, and so kept taking off
layers of clothing; but when he looked around, it seemed that everyone
else did not mind the heat. Finally he could bear it no longer and came
to talk to me. I told him that he felt so hot because he was thinking
that it was hot. If his mind was on practice he would not be aware of
the heat. He took my advice and it worked. It is the mind that
generates these vexations. The environment may contribute, but if your
mind does not cooperate, it will not pose a problem for you.
It is not a place of thinking,
Difficult for reason and emotion to fathom.
It is impossible to explain the state when there is nothing left in the
mind. For the past few evenings, I have been talking about no mind. A
few people have asked me, "What is this no mind you are talking about?"
I said, "No mind is just no mind. Even if I were to tell you, you still
would not know. You cannot use your reasoning or knowledge to imagine
it. You can only know by personal experience."
When I was in my teens someone told me he had a ringing in his ears. I
asked him to describe it, and he explained it was like the humming of
bees. I still did not understand what it felt like. Later when I was
forty, I experienced it myself. If physiological experiences are
difficult to imagine, all the more so with Ch'an, which is beyond all
In the Dharma Realm of true suchness,
There is no other, no self.
True suchness refers to things as they really are, without eternal
existence. Some think that true suchness is something eternal that can
be held on to, but actually there is no such thing. Neither is there
any Dharma Realm. True suchness is neither self nor other. Many
practitioners seek to discover their self-nature, which they identify
with Buddha nature, or true suchness. But this implies a certain
existence. True suchness is neither yourself nor another.
Someone said to me, "I know that the self I am familiar with is an
illusion. I want to find the true one." I replied, "The self you have
now is illusory. But even the true self is illusory. Nevertheless, you
must try to find it. If you don't find it, you won't know it is an
To accord with it is vitally important;
Only refer to "not-two."
In not-two all things are in unity;
Nothing is excluded.
To be in accord with true suchness, two things cannot be different;
they are "not-two" in the sense of not being more than one. However, it
would not be meaningful to speak of something according with itself.
Thus, we cannot speak of one or two. We can only say "not-two." In true
suchness, there is accordance with all sentient beings. The Buddha is
in accord with sentient beings, and sentient beings can be in accord
with each other. Accordance is a communication, or connection, between
two things, such that they form a unity. For example, in marriage, two
people come together without losing their own individuality.
In not-two everything is included. In fact, "not-two" refers to no
mind, the mind of bodhi. If you say something is there, you would be
wrong. If you say nothing is there, you would also be wrong. Therefore,
existence and non-existence are not-two. If this is the case,
everything is included. The Platform Sutra states that vexation is the
same as bodhi. Those who do not practice Ch'an are not aware of their
deepest vexations. When you discover the extent of your vexations and
think that you are not making any progress, then you are really
practicing. Only when you realize your problems is it possible to
* * *
 bodhi: (Sanskrit, "awakened"). State of enlightened mind,
characterized by having experienced one's own Buddha nature.
* * * * * * * *
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank