Free Online Course: Classic Teachings of Zen Buddhism – Lesson 3, Zen Meditation

Zen Practice Zen Enlightenment: A free course on the essential doctrines and methods of Zen Buddhism.

Lesson 3  Zen Meditation Part 3

[Link to Lesson 1] [Link to Lesson 2] [Link to Lesson 3] [Link to Lesson 4] [Link to Lesson 5] [Link to Lesson 6] [Link to Lesson 7] [Link to Lesson 8] [Lesson 9] [Lesson 10] [Lesson 11] [Lesson 12] [Lesson 13] [Lesson 14]

Zen Practice Zen Enlightenment: A free course on the essential doctrines and methods of Zen Buddhism.

The goal of this course is to provide a comprehensive presentation of the essential doctrines and methods of Zen Buddhism. To provide the most reliable account possible this course appeals to the greatest authority available; the genuine teachings of the classic Zen masters.

In the interest of maintaing a logical structure and systematic advance, each lesson introduces a specific topic by opening with a brief excerpt from The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing: The Second Ancestor of Zen in the West. This is followed with a selection of related passages from the classic literature of Zen Buddhism.

The passages of each lesson offer an array of perspectives from a variety of classic Zen records. This provides a well rounded presentation of the specific subject and introduces the diverse teaching styles of the Zen records that serve as the foundation of Zen Buddhism. The selected passages also present various levels of difficulty. The easier, more accessible passages serve to illumine and bring into relief the significance of the more difficult expressions, while the latter serve to suggest the more subtle implications of the former.

Each lesson is designed to furnish two primary approaches of study; one basic, the other more involved. The basic approach can be followed by applying oneself to the lesson for about 20 minutes or less. The more involved approach will include additional material and references to both online and traditional resources allowing for expanded study suited to individual interests.

While some comment may be offered were clarification seems in order, in attempting to let the Zen masters “speak for themselves” every effort to refrain from “interpretative” commentary will be made. Any interpretive commentary that does seem appropriate will, as far as possible be confined to the “comment” field following each lesson. Please use this “comment” field to offer comments, questions, or suggestions.

Any and all constructive feedback is greatly encouraged and appreciated. If you have a comment, question, or suggestion you want to keep private, please email me at:

Lesson 3

Zen Meditation Part 3

Introduction from The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing: The Second Ancestor of Zen in the West

In regard to observation, The Awakening of Faith treatise states:

He who practices ‘clear observation’ should observe that all conditioned phenomena in the world are unstationary and are subject to instantaneous transformation and destruction… After reflecting in this way, he should pluck up his courage and make a great vow to this effect: may my mind be free from discriminations so that I may practice all of the various meritorious acts everywhere in the ten directions; may I, to the end of the future, by applying limitless expedient means, help all suffering sentient beings so that they may obtain the bliss of nirvana, the ultimate goal…

The Awakening of Faith (Translations from the Asian Classics)
Hakeda, Yoshito, S, The Awakening of Faith, Attributed to Asvaghosha

Learned audience, you should know that it is of the utmost importance to balance these two modes of meditation. The importance of balancing them, as well as specific instruction on how to do so, constitutes a generous amount of Zen and Buddhist literature. The Awakening of Faith affirms the necessity of this, and sums up the reason that balance is essential thus:

Whether walking, standing, sitting, lying, or rising, he should practice both ‘cessation’ and ‘clear observation’ side by side. That is to say, he is to meditate upon the fact that things are unborn in their essential nature; but at the same time he is to meditate upon the fact that good and evil karma. . .are neither lost nor destroyed… The practice of ‘cessation’ will enable ordinary men to cure themselves of their attachments to the world… The practice of ‘clear observation’ will cure . . . the fault of having narrow and inferior minds, which bring forth no great compassion, and will free ordinary men from their failure to cultivate the capacity for goodness. For these reasons, both ‘cessation’ and ‘clear observation’ are complementary and inseparable.

The Awakening of Faith (Translations from the Asian Classics)
Hakeda, Yoshito, S, The Awakening of Faith, Attributed to Asvaghosha

The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing: The Second Ancestor of Zen in the West
Ted Biringer, p.25


Turning Words from the Classic Records of Zen


The Master addressed all those present: “It is difficult to meet with the Buddha, and to hear the true Dharma. All of you, listen to the truth! In listening there is no listening; it is not concerned with the nature of listening. The dharma is originally unborn, so how can it ever die? When there is voice, the vibration of voice is created by itself. When there is no voice, the vibration or voice is extinguished by itself. Yet the nature of listening does not depend on the voice that is created, not does it depend on that which is extinguished. This nature of listening is not under the control of the vibration of the voice. We must realize that listening is free from birth and extinction; listening is free from going and coming.

The Transmission of the Lamp: Early Masters Sohaku Ogata


The Master asked Hsi-t’ang, “Do you know how to grasp empty space?”

Hsi-t’ang said, “Yes, I know.”

The Master asked, “How can you grasp it?”

Hsi-t’ang made a gesture as if trying to grasp the space with his hand.  The said, “How can you grasp empty space in that way?”

Hsi-t’ang asked, “How is my elder Dharma-brother going to grasp it?”

The Master grabbed Hsi-t’ang’s nostril and pulled it.  Hsi-t’ang cried with pain, and said, “You are pulling my nostril to death.  Stop it immediately!”

The Master said, “This is the way to grasp empty space.”

Sun-Face Buddha: The Teachings of Ma-Tsu and the Hung-Chou School of Ch’an


Someone asked, “What is the Buddha devil?”

The Master said, “If you have doubts in your mind for an instant, that’s the Buddha devil. But if you can understand that the ten thousand phenomena were never born, that the mind is like a conjurer’s trick, then not one speck of dust, not one phenomenon will exist. Everywhere will be clean and pure, and this will be Buddha. Buddha and devil just refer to two states, one stained, one pure.

“As I see it, there’s no Buddha, no living beings, no long ago, no now. If you want to get it, you’ve already got it—it’s not something that requires time. There’s no religious practice, no enlightenment, no getting anything, no missing out on anything. At no time is there any other Dharma than this. If anyone claims there is a Dharma superior to this, I say it must be a dream, a phantom. All I have to say to you is simply this.

Lin-chi, The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi Burton Watson


Q: If ‘there’s never been a single thing’, can we speak of phenomena as non-existence?

A: ‘Non-existence’ is just as wrong as its opposite. Bodhi means having no concept of existence or non-existence.

Huang Po, The Zen Teaching of Huang-Po: On the Transmission of Mind John Blofeld


Q: Are we to make this effort only when we are sitting in meditation, or also when we are walking about?

A: When I spoke just now of making an effort, I did not mean only when you are sitting in meditation; for, whether you are walking, standing, sitting, lying, or whatever you are doing, you must uninterruptedly exert your-selves all the time. This is what we call ‘constantly abiding’ (in that state).

Hui Hai Zen Teaching of Instantaneous Awakening John Blofeld


Right in the midst of the hubbub, you mustn’t forget the business of the bamboo chair and reed cushion (meditation). Usually (to meditate) you set your mind on a still concentration point, but you must be able to use it right in the midst of the hubbub. If you have no strength amidst commotion, after all it’s as if you never made any effort in stillness.

Swampland Flowers: The Letters and Lectures of Zen Master Ta Hui  JC Cleary

As an ancient said, if people today were as eager for enlightenment as they are to embrace their lovers, then no matter how busy their professional lives might be, and no matter how luxurious their dwellings, they would not fail to attain continuous concentration leading to appearance of the Great Wonder.

Many people of both ancient and modern times have awakened to the Way and seen essential nature in the midst of activity. All beings in all times and places are manifestations of one mind. When the mind is aroused, all sorts of things arise; when the mind is quiet, all things are quiet. When the one mind is unborn, all things are blameless. For this reason, even if you stay in quiet and serene places deep in the mountains and sit silently in quiet contemplation, as long as the road of the mind-monkey’s horse of conceptualization is not cut off, you will only be wasting your time.

The Third Patriarch of Zen said, ‘if you try to stop movement and resort to stillness, that stopping will cause even more movement.’ If you try to seek true suchness by erasing random thoughts, you will belabor your vital spirit, diminish your mental energy, and make yourself sick. Not only that, you will become oblivious or distracted and fall into a pit of bewilderment.

Zen Antics Thomas Cleary


People meditating on the fundamental carry out their ordinary tasks and activities in the midst of meditation and carry out meditation in the midst of ordinary tasks and activities. There is no disparity between meditation and activity.

It is for those as yet incapable of this, those weak in focusing their intent on the Way, that special meditation periods were set up. The practice of meditating four times a day in Zen communities began in this manner during the twelfth century.

In ancient times, Zen mendicants meditated twenty-four hours a day. In later times, however, there were those who became monks to avoid the trouble of making a living in the ordinary world. Their appetites distracted them from Buddhism, and when they participated in rituals their attention was taken away from the fundamental. Since these and other things inhibited them from work on the fundamental, they would have wasted their lives had not some other expedient been devised. This expedient was the rule of four daily periods of sitting meditation.

People who really have their minds on the Way, in contrast, do not forget work on the fundamental no matter what they are doing. Yet if they still distinguish this work from ordinary activities even as they do them together, they will naturally be concerned about being distracted by activities and forgetting the meditation work. This is because of viewing things as outside the mind.

An ancient master said, “The mountains, the rivers, the whole earth, the entire array of phenomena are all oneself.” If you can absorb the essence of this message, there are no activities outside of meditation: you dress in meditation and eat in meditation; you walk, stand, sit, and lie down in meditation; you perceive and cognize in meditation; you experience joy, anger, sadness, and happiness in meditation.

Yet even this is still in the sphere of accomplishment and is not true merging with the source of Zen.

The Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader (Ecco Companions)  Nelson Foster


We learn the Way by now stepping forward, now stepping back.

Dogen, The Shobogenzo or The Treasure House of the Eye of the True Treachings Hubert Nearman


Supplemental Instructions For Advanced Study


The patriarch said to the assembly, “All of you should believe that your mind is buddha, that this mind is identical with buddha. The great master Bodhidharma came from India to China, and transmitted the one mind teaching of Mahayana so that it can lead you all to awakening. Fearing that you will be too confused and will not believe that this one mind is inherent to all of you, he used Lankavatara sutra to seal the sentient beings mind ground. Therefore in the Lankavatara sutra, mind is the essence of all the buddha’s teachings, no gate is the dharma gate.

“Those who seek the dharma should not seek for anything. Outside of mind there is no other buddha, outside of buddha there is no other mind. Not attaching to good and not rejecting evil, without reliance on either purity or defilement, one realizes that the nature of offense is empty: it cannot be found in each thought because it is without self nature. Therefore, the three rounds are mind only and all phenomena in the universe are marked by a single dharma. Whenever we see form, it is just seeing the mind. The mind does not exist by itself; its existence is due to form. Whatever you’re saying, it is just the phenomena, which is identical with the principle. They are all without obstruction and the fruit of the way to bodhi is also like that. Whatever arises in the mind is called form; when one knows all forms to be empty, then birth is identical with no birth. If one realizes this mind, then one can always wear one’s robes and eat one’s food. Nourishing the womb of sagehood, one spontaneously passes one’s time: what else is there to do? Having received my teaching, listen to my verse:

The mind-ground is always spoken of,

bodhi is also a just peace.

When phenomena and the principle are all without obstruction,

the very birth is identical with no birth.

Sun-Face Buddha: The Teachings of Ma-Tsu and the Hung-Chou School of Ch’an


Q: ‘What is the meaning of (the T’ien T’ai practice of) simultaneous meditation upon the One Mind’s three aspects?’

M: ‘Besides the past mind which is already gone, the future mind which has yet to come, and the present mind which does not stay, which mind will you use for your meditation?’

A: ‘So the Venerable Ch’an Master does not understand the Chih-Kuan teaching (to which I alluded).’

M: ‘Do you understand it, Venerable Commentator?’

A: ‘I do.’

M: ‘As the great Master Chih Chu said, “Chih (silencing the mind to obtain samadhi) is preached to wipe out (the illusion of) Chih; and Kuan (looking into the mind to cause prajna to appear and function normally) is preached to eradicate the illusion of Kuan. To dwell on Chih is to drown oneself in the ocean of birth and death, to abide in Kuan is to upset the mind.” Will you use the mind to put a stop to mind and stir the mind to meditate on it? Setting the mind on meditation involves attachment to permanence; setting no mind on meditation involves annihilation. Clinging to the concept of “either existence or non-existence” implies (attachment to) a dualism. Then how will the Venerable Commentator expound (the Chih-Kuan practice) correctly for me to see?

A: ‘Since you put it like that, there is really nothing I can say.’

M: ‘If so, have you ever really understood the Chih-Kuan practice?’

Hui Hai Zen Teaching of Instantaneous Awakening John Blofeld



Resources For Advanced Study


Secrets On Cultivating Mind – Chinul

Hakuin’s Song of Zazen 

Zen Master Han Shan

[Link to Lesson 1] [Link to Lesson 2] [Link to Lesson 3] [Link to Lesson 4] [Link to Lesson 5] [Link to Lesson 6] [Link to Lesson 7] [Link to Lesson 8] [Lesson 9] [Lesson 10] [Lesson 11] [Lesson 12] [Lesson 13] [Lesson 14]