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Dharma Talk

Karma: Hot & Cold

A Monk asked Dongshan:

“When cold or heat come, how are we to avoid them?”

The master says, “Why do you not go to the place without cold and heat?”

The monk says, “What is the place without cold and heat?”

The master says, “When it is cold, kill the ācārya with cold.

When it is hot, kill the ācārya with heat.”

Karma simply means ”action” or “activity.” Karma is a fact of human life. In this regard Zen deals directly and intimately with human life. That is, Zen deals with karma as it actualizes in human life and the results of karma in relationship with self, other and environment.

For instance, the intention to raise Bodhicitta, that is, to maintain a neutral, non—attached awareness of the rising and falling of all experience is important because karma and intention are directly related. What is the intention that we bring to practice, or to any situation for that matter? Acting on the commitment to the intention to raise bodhicitta neutralizes karma and softens or wears away the actualized influence of previous karma. How is this possible? Yogacharya, an early Buddhist psychology describes the storehouse consciousness as an accumulation of all impressions created by the actions of our life. For example, the impressions left by the activity of watching a Halloween horror movie can evoke nightmares or bad dreams. So you see that the fruition of karma created by our past actions manifest internally as well as externally. Zen considers thoughts as actions too. Sooner or later, all activity engenders results, which can then become the seeds for future actualization. For example, a seed can sprout into a beautiful flower or into troublesome weeds that choke out the flowers. What will proliferate? Intention plays an important part. In fact, Frances Cook points out that karma are actions or “doings” preceded by will or intention. However, we need to keep in mind that in the human realm all actions have some intention behind them. So, as you can see, intention plays an important role because we can choose to act selfishly out of greed, anger or ignorance – the three poisons at the hub of the Wheel of Life and Death – or compassionately out of the vow to “save numberless beings.”

Bodhidharma points out in his famous dialog with Emperor Wu that even the most noble act can have a selfish intention behind it. The emperor asked Bodhi about the merit he would obtain by building temples and giving alms to the poor. Bodhi answered: “Vast emptiness, No merit!”

This is the basic reality of life regardless of our beliefs. Reality has no stake in how we understand it; believe about it or how we label it. The central reality that we work with from the Buddhist perspective is our fundamental impermanence. We are born, grow, age, get ill and eventually die. This was the great awareness of Gautama Buddha that motivated him to seek a remedy for suffering beings. This reality doesn’t change. What can change is our relationship to the reality of this experienced life. But it’s not so easy.

Dongshan says: “Kill yourself with cold, kill yourself with heat.” Embrace heat and cold.

Embrace reality, work with reality. Where is the place of no heat and cold? No merit, vast emptiness! Where is the place of no heat and cold? Here, now! “Being-as-it is!” . . . to quote Suzuki, Roshi.

In another koan Dongshan says: “Go to the place where there is no grass for 10,000 miles, but where is such a place?” There is grass everywhere. There is heat and cold everywhere inside, outside, in-between, over under sideways, down. Just step outside for a moment and you’ll see. I was at the barbershop one day. It was raining outside. The previous customer almost forgot his umbrella. The barber said: “You would have remembered the minute you stepped outside!”

In Shunju, Dogen talks about this koan. I like the title: “Spring and Fall.” It’s about change, which is most obvious in spring and in fall. We see the cycle of life and death in spring and fall. We realize that we don’t live in “Endless Summer.” You remember that movie? About surfers traveling around the world seeking the perfect wave? Well, even surfers get old. Dongshan and Dogen are both telling us to “get real!” the Three Gems, Buddha, dharma, sangha help us to get real, helps to keep us out of the seduction of the God realm, which to me is a metaphor for complacency, for “I got it made mind.” When sitting in zazen, no matter how far we wander off into daydreams, fantasies, mindlessness, sooner or later, we find ourselves being the basic fact of sitting, being the expression of Buddha nature that we are right where we are. The wandering off is not the issue. The return to the basic fact of sitting is what is crucial. We return repeatedly. This return is what Okumura, Roshi describes as “repentance,” vow and repentance, two wings of the one bird.

This is why shikantaza is a totally human process, a reality process, a make it real process. We return to the reality of being and all it entails; the reality that is always present whether we want to believe it or not, no matter how one chooses to define it.

No distraction, no mantra, no visualization, no counting, no technique. Just sitting, just being real, sharing in sangha being real together, being hot, being cold, being spring, being summer, being with flowers, being with weeds. No future pure land, heaven, hell, no right hand of God, no self-deception. There is enough self-deception without all of these add-ons. As the koan says; “No flowers added to brocade.” This is it! . . . a come as you are party. This is the Harry Truman koan: “The buck stops here!” What can we do about it? Keep sitting. Who was it that said: “Don’t just do something, Sit there!”

“Go to the place where there is no heat or cold!”

Where is that place?

Where is this place?

What is this place?

Thank you

Seiso Paul Cooper, Sensei    [Bendowaji, Honesdale, P.A. 11/2/14]

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