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March 05, 2021


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For beginners in Zen Buddhism I recommend the way of Vietnamese Zen that harboured many profound Mind Masters steeped in a light taking the student far beyond the superficial teachings of Dogen and his popular Soto-lineage.

One of them was the Venerable Vietnamese Zen Master Vo Ngon Thong who once said; "My name Vo Ngon Thong means 'understanding without a word'. You should try Zen that way. Listen to your mind. Listen gently to your mind right now. You would hear some voices, some sounds, some noises.

When you hear something, you know you are hearing the manifestation of the mind. All the sounds from the birds, the cars, the winds, and so on are all your mind.

Also, all the sounds from your memories, your imaginations, your dreams, and so on are all your mind. Listen. Breathe in and out gently, and listen to the mind.

You might remember the koan that asks about your face before you were born. You can try another version: listen to where before a sound arises; listen to your mind before it manifests.

Try that. Don’t say that it ever has a sound or a word."


Another Master, Man Giac (1052 – 1096) spoke thus;

"While the mind stream manifests as endless waves rising and falling, the nature of water stays unmoved, uncreated.

Look at your mind, and see thoughts coming and going, arising and vanishing. The mind is just like a mirror that shows you the images of all things reflected.

All images come and go, but the reflectivity is still there, unmoving, undying. Now, listen to the sound of two hands clapping, then listen to the sound of one hand clapping. Do you hear the soundless?

The sound comes and goes, but the ability to hear is still there even in your sleep, unchanging, unmoving, undying."


My final example of Vietnamese Zen is Venerable Master King Tran Thai Tong (1218--1277), who gave his students a koan as below.

A monk asked Zhao Zhou, "Does a dog have Buddha Nature?"
Zhao Zhou replied, "No."
The Monk asked again.
Zhao Zhou said, "Yes."

King Tran Thai Tong then composed a poem, saying that it would be wrong if anybody took the answer as yes or no. It would be wrong also if anybody took the answer as anything related to yes or no.

The Buddha said in the SA-28 Sutra that a monk attains Nirvaṇa, here and now, when this monk turns away from, and has no desire for form, feeling, perception, formations, consciousness, thus proceeding towards cessation [of his skandas], and clings thus to nothing.

Thus, you could be in samsara this moment, and in Nirvana the next moment. Any answer as yes or no would be wrong for the koan. Anytime you attain Nirvaṇa, here and now, your mind becomes serene, blissful and luminous. How could words say anything about the wordless [imageless] Nirvana?

For most, though, this here and now, found perfectly liberated beyond the illusory body and constraining force of the skandhas, the imageless nature of the absolute reality [Dharmakaya] remains a great mystery.

In Zen, failure to smash the precious vessel of illusions is always an option. The price for the said option is - rebirth.

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