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February 28, 2007


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for investigating the huatou, there really is no need to understand the etymology of the word, "huatou." the point is to generate what is known as the "doubt sensation."

this doubt is not suspicion but a sense of wonderment and not knowing... like an unresolved problem that's always there in the back of one's mind. in retreat setting, one can get deep into this doubt sensation until one is completely absorbed into the question, reaching a state called the "great mass of doubt."

working on the huatou is not about focusing the mind, like a concentration exercise. it is not about analyzing the huatou or critical phrase one is working on. it is not about being one with the huatou (e.g., the "wu" huatou). it is earnestly questioning, for example, "what is wu?" yet not knowing what it is. being utterly impenetrable, one must persist to ask... until all conceptualization ceases. still one ask until there is just this sense of not knowing yet wanting to know. at this time there is no more words like "what is wu." but just this sense of questioning, wonderment, and wanting to know. this is the doubt sensation. this method is only safe in a retreat setting or living a simple life. otherwise if one gets into the great mass of doubt, one can loose the awareness of the environment, and that potentially can be dangerous.

the shattering of this great doubt has the potential to drop away the ever-present self-attachment. of course this self does not refer to one's personality or character. it refers to the fundamental way how we perceive and experience the world through our own preferences--we operate on the premise that we are at the center of the world. everything we like or dislike is based on this sense of self which we deeply believe is permanent.

after the self is dropped, self-referentiality is dropped. everything is till there; there is still problems and suffering of people, but from the person's own perspective s/he is at peace. so one help others in peace, eats in peace, sleeps in peace, works in peace. there is noneed to argue with others or criticize others. one does what is necessary and what is of benefit for others. precepts and vows are essential to sustain one's practice.

after sometime, self-attachment re-emerges. but having had the self drop away once, one's attachment will be less and one knows now what are vexations and what is the absence of vexations. one must continue to practice. again and again one will drop self-attachment at different occasions.

there is also a false sense of dropping away the self, where one feels as if one is "one with the whole environment." this is the state of great self. the self is still there. it's just that one has moved from the individual sense of small self to the universal sense of great self.

sometimes one also suddenly experience a relief of burden. this is also not awakening.

there are many false states, so one needs to find a good experienced teacher.

Yet these notions were conceived long after Ta-Hui. Hori writes on this subject:

In the Sung period (960–1279), Ch’an meditation practice changed. The Chinese Ch’an master Ta-hui Tsung-kao (1089–1163) abandoned meditation based on šamatha and vipašyana practices to create a distinctively Ch’an-style meditation practice called k’an-hua, contemplation of the “critical phrase.” In addition to using the koan as a teaching and testing device, Ta-hui saw that the koan could be used as a focal point in meditation. To use the entire story of an encounter dialogue would encourage discursive thinking. Therefore, Ta-hui isolated the critical phrase (hua-t’ou) in the dialogue, forcing the meditator to penetrate the kõan by a completely different route.

In Lu K'uan Yu's book, "Ch'an and Zen Teaching", he renders hua-t'ou as "ante-word or ante-thought". Used in the context of Zen, this term doesn't refer to a "word head" or some kind of critical phase. That rubs against the very notion of translation. Lu K'uan Yu says of the hua-t'ou that it is "the mind before it is stirred by a thought." I think that fits with 'pure Mind'. Also, in the book, "Analysis of Chinese Characters", 't'ou' can mean "beginning". According to Plato, the beginning is unbegotten. So the words and phrases which appear are begotten of the beginning. The beginning which is unbegotten is pure Mind.

Hua-t'ou (話頭) does not mean "word's source", but "First Word" or “Critical Word”. The significant compound of 頭 means "head" (頁), implying "first". It is a term that refers to the Ch’an practice Ta-Hui introduced, called k’an-hua “contemplation on the critical word”.

As to “The pure mind before it gets stirred up”:
The past, present and future mind is ungraspable. How could it be stirred up?

As to “When one can turn to the light of Mind one understands”:
Gutei’s One Finger cannot not point to itself.

As to “The Dark Secret of Zen”:
You do not approve of Tokusan, nor do you approve of Ganto. Seppo received “the last word of Zen” when he sent the old monk back to his room without food. Tenzo! You promise us a banquet, yet your shelves carry not even a single grain of rice!

I've been "doing Zen" for years and never really got anywhere until I started accessing awareness before thought. I'm still not anywhere but I can see it from here.

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