Friday, April 02, 2010



Attaining the "Right View" in Zen and Spiritual Cultivation *

Meditation Expert Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 4:07 PM
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There is a famous story in the annals of Zen regarding the Zen
student Yang-Shan Hui-chi and his master Kuei-shan Ling-yu. Yang-
Shan had attained the Tao, and asked his master the following
question: "I know the things of one period, so where should I

In the vernacular of the time, Yang-shan had said that he had gained
the initials stage of self-realization. He had verified the truth
of enlightenment teachings due to personal experiences from his
meditation work, and now he wanted to know how he should continue
practicing … how he should handle his mental states, conduct himself
in the world, perform his religious duties, and how he should
continue to cultivate realization now that he had seen the Tao. Due
to his cultivation he had attained an experience of emptiness and
non-ego, so he had achieved the spiritual attainment of "direct
vision" or awakening and verified teachings on the Tao. Now he
wanted to know what to do to progress further.

Master Kuei-shan replied, "All that's important is that your eye is
correct. I won't talk about your practice."

Naturally these only were the words for a highly gifted student, as
Kuei-shan was known as the "little Shakyamuni." But they tell us
that the most important thing in spiritual practice is arriving at
the point where you experientially realize the Tao to see that
everything is empty of reality and thereby attain the right view
and correct understanding of the ultimate spiritual path. Once you
attain the right view, with wisdom you will be able to guide
yourself correctly on the rest of the cultivation road as long as
you stick to the proper principles. Once your perception of Truth is
correct -- once you have the correct understanding of enlightenment
teachings because you've experienced it due to your spiritual
efforts -- your other cultivation work will tend to stay on track
because you will keep them in line with the proper understanding.

However, if you do not achieve the right view because you have not
attained a direct perception of the Truth, your spiritual practice
will tend to go wrong no matter how hard you work. Even if you study
hard, which you must do in order to help break through to
realization, study is not enough without direct experience because
that's the only thing that engenders the correct view. A Buddhist
scripture says, "If the orientation of mind is not correct, all
practices are in vain." The Fifth Patriarch of Zen said to the
Sixth Patriarch upon his awakening, "If you do not see fundamental
true nature, cultivating the Dharma will not benefit you."

Only after seeing the Tao are you said to be capable of truly
cultivating the spiritual path. Until you actually understand the
meaning of the spiritual path through a transcendental experience of
emptiness and non-ego, all your cultivation work is just a
preparation. After such a realization, however, you will really know
how to properly practice.

Even Tibetan esoteric masters say, "Only after recognizing [your]
intrinsic 'awareness-without-content' can the disciple practice
Mahamudra correctly. Until he has done so, he will find it difficult
to escape from the subject-object entanglement and to elevate his
mind to the state of non-distinction and non-attachment. To deepen
this illuminating-void Awareness, he should practice often the
essential instructions."

The right view, the result of spiritual awakening into the meaning
of empty awareness, non-ego and the ungraspable impermanence of
phenomena and mental states, is what will enable you to attain
enlightenment. It means understanding that there is no such thing
as an ego, that the phenomenal world is undependable, ungraspable
and incessantly changing like a dream, but that there is one
original nature that is the source of the awareness that shines
through all sentient beings (like one moon in the sky that is
reflected in a thousand puddles below).

This original nature is the absolute, fundamental, "one without a
second" ultimate source of both matter and mind, and the purpose of
spiritual cultivation is to experience obstruction-free, ignorance-
free, stainless union without affliction of that one true changeless
original nature that always was, is and will be.

What we call the conventional world is a series of endless energy
transformations that appear to the mind: lights, shapes, sounds,
tastes, texture, odors and thoughts. In terms of existence or
beingness, you are always and everywhere only ever experiencing your
own mind and its images. That's all you ever experience and that's
all you ever can experience. All these things happen within the
original nature; the original nature is at its root. That's your
true being and true life, not the limited tableau of consciousness
you take for self-experience and self-being.

Spiritual cultivation, or religious practice, is the process of
training to let go of any attachments to thoughts, mental
scenarios and the mental continuum of consciousness itself that you
take for experience while letting everything function freely. Along
this route of detachment from clinging to the images that arise in
the mind, which is one with the original nature, you can eventually
arrive at the one empty, pure original nature that shines through
consciousness or awareness to make all perception happen.

The body is not your true self. Your mind of thoughts, or
consciousness, is not your true self either because it also
constantly changes whereas the real self is permanent. What you
mistake as you are just images, consciousness, thoughts that flick
across the screen of awareness or empty consciousness, a primordial
property of the Self The world we experience is a dreamscape of
impermanent events and suffering where no one thing is defined by
itself. Rather, everything together defines everything else in one
giant web of interdependence. And yet since that too is known by the
mind, it IS the mind or original nature even though the panaroma
comes and goes and does not stay. Nirvana, the original nature, and
samaras - the dream world of conventional reality images, are one
and the same thing. Emptiness and interdependence are a unified
whole of One Taste.

Spiritual practice always begins with cultivating the right view of
what the ultimate objective is, and how to arrive there. One must
know the target or objective, and the errors of practice or
understanding that might stand in the way of its realization. When
you attain that direct union with the Supreme, we call it 'self-
realization" because it is realization of your true Self, which is
the one and same true Self for all sentient beings with

If you don't know the correct target and objectives of spiritual
practice - which are non-denominational principles common to all
true religions -- your spiritual practice is bound to be
ineffective. Lacking the right view (as well as correct practice or
sufficient practice), this is why most people never attain the Tao.
They want spiritual enlightenment but lacking the right view they
practice incorrectly and never reach attainment.

Only after we obtain the right view - from study combined with
spiritual practice to unveil the experience -- is it then safe to
cultivate the physical body to be more in tune with the original
state. The big danger in most spiritual traditions that focus on
cultivating the body and transforming its five elements - such as in
Taoism, yoga, esoteric Buddhism, tantra, paganism, western alchemy,
kaballah and others -- is that people attempt to cultivate the body
without having the right view. Lacking the right view, they never
succeed in the physical transformations they desire and never
attain enlightenment. They never detach from the concept of being a
body, so if the results are even moderately successful, they only
purify the physical body somewhat or produce a heavenly deity body
that is doomed to perish in time as well.

The big catastrophe of Vajrayana in Tibetan Buddhism, for instance,
is that most practitioners cultivate by playing with their chi
energies and attempt to bring consciousness into the body when it
is everywhere (after all, you are only ever experiencing your mind,
so everything you see is mind, or consciousness). Consequently they
emphasize the exact opposite of the Truth that the physical body
or any energetic or chi body is unreal and that the ultimate
original nature is empty of bodies, forms or attributes. It is all
only That. Only after seeing the Tao and attaining the right view
can one cultivate the sambhogakaya safely. The Zen school is perhaps
the most successful of all schools in existence because masters
ignore the body and gong-fu states entirely until they realize the
original nature, or "dharmakaya."


That aside, a related but unrelated issue. One of my Stages students
called me and said he was reading one of Master Nan's books where he
wrote, "Why is it, if you've been following discipline and putting
in meditation practice time, that you still don't have samadhi? Why
is that? It's because you haven't been working on your vows."

The path is all about behavior in the end, and the Zen school calls
that "carrying out vows." The three stages of the path in terms of
the Zen road are seeing the Tao (getting the right view),
cultivating realization and carrying out vows. We just talked about
seeing the Tao or getting the right view, and one reason people
don't succeed in that despite thei extensive study, desire and
committment to practice is that they haven't been making vows or
working on their vows. The Tao is everyone and you're only
interested in yourself ... so you think you can succeed? You need
merit to succeed on the spiritual road, plain and simple, and it
comes from compassionate acts to help others. Your vows are those
things regarding how you want to help the world ... what you say to
yourself you want to be able to do, sponsor, etc. when you get rich,
become a Buddha etc.

Well guess what? In terms of vows, you have to start NOW and not
wait until you are rich or a Buddha or Bodhisattva. That's how you
become a Buddha or Bodhisattva in the first place, because your past
deeds show it instead of good thoughts and mouthy intentions. If
you know you get angry easily, you try to cut off that habit now. If
you want to help orphans you donate now. If you, well, you get the

If you want to help people in a certain way "when you get rich" in
the future, well guess what -- riches almost never materialize for
folks. You're dreaming, so you're cheating yourself. You only get
rich from making merit, from making offerings, and you want to make
offerings AFTER you get rich. Sorry. That's why many Zen masters
would collect money for their temples fromt he poor -- because they
wanted them to have the chance to make merit, even if just a few

So you must start giving NOW and then build. There is no perfect
time when you can give, there is only the present time to do your
part and from that small part, merit builds and you can finally
accomplish your vows or wishes ebcause of the merit you accumulated.
That's how it works. You don't wait for some perfect future but
start now from small beginnings. I wish it was some other way that
all those people with great intentions would get rich to be able to
do good things in the world but I've never seen it. It's always
those who act, even with small participation, who change things.

This brings up the concept of merit again, and once again one of my
favorite charities because it's one of the biggest Bangs for the
Buck I can find. I like the Red Cross, Heifer International, Accion,
Doctors Without Borders, Interplast and several other charities, but
especially I'm greedy for merit so I look for th
biggest helpful BANG for my small dollar, hence I especially refer
people to as a great charity that helps literally
thousands of people for a hundred bucks (recently the numbers were
75,000 people per $100) and they just joined Global Challenge to
make it easier for you to help people in Haiti get access to clean
water after the devastating earthquake. Bill CLinton liked them so
much he mentioned them on stage at a Global Meeting in New York, and
that was before the earthquake. They are poised to be able to do
something no one else can -- make clean water available to people.
If you've ever been without water for a day, you know how important
this is. In this case, crucial since it's saving lives.

That's making BIG merit. The Tao school says you need 3,000 big
deeds of merit (such as saving one life) to be able to gain the
Tao. I don't believe in those exact numbers, but I do believe in
helping which my teacher stressed time and again, but only when it
was legitimate and especially when it solved a problem with a long
term solution, as done here. Right now these folks asked me to send
people to this site so the rest is up to you:

Talk to you soon,


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