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The Bliss Bestowing Hands of the True Individual

by Padmavajra

The Bliss Bestowing Hands of the True Individual

By Padmavajra

Audio available at: http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/audio/details?num=OM705
Talk given at Padmaloka Retreat Centre, 2004

01 On retreat - Ju Ching and the monks; 'The Four Ch’an Shouts’

Thank you very much Padmadaka. Thank you for a magnificent bonfire, Padmadaka
and friends. I’m sure you’re all fresh after so little sleep [Laughter]. I was thinking
that we’re really a bit namby-pamby compared with the great Ch’an masters. Dogen
had a teacher named Ju-ching who, when they were doing intensive sesshin, would go
out at 2:00 and ring the bell – you know the monks had all gone to sleep at midnight –
and they’d all have to get into the shrine room, because he thought they needed extra
meditation, and they’d been doing it all day. And he was bemoaning the fact that Zen
practitioners weren’t what they were compared to the old days [Laughter] because
Zen masters like him were getting old and couldn’t hit them as hard. And the last line
of that passage is, “We must begin again to hit them harder.” [Laughter] So,
everybody be pleased to hear that we don’t do that in our community. It’s very gentle
and nice.

So, as Padmadaka said, it’s the last day, so really make the most of this day. It’s rare
to have the opportunity to be on retreat, so really make the most of it. It’s a beautiful
day, lots happening, and there’ll be the usual daily program with a final puja tonight.
Fairly simple. I just want to point out, though, at 10:00 I want the shrine room
vacated because at ten there’s going to be a special extra-curricular item, which
you’re invited to attend if you want to. This is the band – the Buddha band – The
Four Ch’an Shouts. [Laughter] They want to make their musical offering to the
retreat. Their musical realization of the Ch’an shouts. And you’re invited to attend
There probably will be a point where you can join in with mantra chanting, but it’s
mainly their thing. But, that’s at ten, so you’re invited to that. If you want to come,
come. If you don’t want to come, that’s fine too. So, it’s an extra-curricular item.

02 Chao Chu's Verses on the Great Awakening - broken-ness; Yuan Wu's
commentary; little deaths and rebirths; the 8th Oxherding Picture - Bull and
Man Both Forgotten

Okay, so we come to the final talk.

So, the day before yesterday, as Padmadaka told us, we heard about Chao Chu and the
koan “No,” “Mu,” “Wu.” And we heard how Hakuin employed it. Heard as well
about practicing in the alaya, about the turning about in the deepest seat of
consciousness, about the revolution in the basis. About the experience of what they
call in Korean Sun Zen Buddhism, “brokenness.” We heard about Great Death.
Death of all notions of a fixed and separate selfhood. And one of my favorite verses
in the Blue Cliff Record, one of my favorite Dharma verses, describes the effect of
this realization by Chao Chu himself. Verses describing a great awakening. It goes
like this:

The cock crows in the early morning
Sadly I see as I rise how worn out I am;
I haven’t a gown or a shirt.
Just the semblance of a robe.
My loincloth has no seat, my trousers no opening –
On my head are three or five pecks of ash-gray hair.
Originally I intended to practice to help save others;
Who would have suspected that instead I would have become an idiot!

Now, it might surprise you that a verse like this is an awakening verse. But, what I
think Chao Chu is trying to describe is that state of brokenness. Don’t take his
sadness or his “idiot” in a conventional way. He’s talking from the stripping back, the
stripping away, of everything conditioned. He is talking from a profound spiritual
poverty. A plain sense of things, a profound un-knowing. Knowing implies self and
other. Attainment implies self and other. Chao Chu has a profound non-attainment.
So, he’s an idiot.

Lin-chi – Chao Chu comes from his line - says that he wanted his disciples to be like
blind donkeys. A wonderful expression. A wonderful image of un-knowing, which is
a real knowing, of course.

Chao Chu once described his great spiritual awakening, and in fact, his great spiritual
death, with the words, “Suddenly I was ruined and houseless. Suddenly thrown into
great emptiness.”

It could sound bleak but Yuan Wu says in his commentary on the verse:

If one can truly reach this realm, whose eyes would not open? Though you go
through upsets and spills, all places are this realm, all places are this time and
season. The ten directions are without walls. And the four quarters are without

What opens up then is a vast open space, boundless space. Then you’re free to follow
the fragrant grasses and pursue the falling flowers. We are now in the midst of
winter. There is darkness and cold and utterly bare trees. It could be a bleak time,
standing in the marshes amid the dung-colored reeds. There is such an openness, a
plainness when everything is stripped away, when everything is plain, everything
dying back.

A year or two ago somebody asked me in a question and answer session to tell of my
(haha) spiritual experiences and insights. You know, my profound insights and
meditation experiences. Which is always a bit of a laugh, isn’t it? I thought about it
and I thought, well, let’s take it seriously, people want to know. The nearest I could
get to it was those times when I was brought back to a plain sense of things. That was
usually associated with times of humiliation, even shame, when I realised that I had
been a complete fool, a complete idiot. And I don’t mean an idiot in Chao Chu’s
sense. I mean an idiot in the sense that you and I understand. Times when I saw that
even after years of practice, I was still basically egotistical, basically self-centred,
basically conceited, and that I had been unkind and insensitive to people. Seeing it
plainly - without dressing it up, without finding excuses, without giving reasons, but
just seeing it plainly – was deeply humiliating, deeply shameful. But always, those
times, even though I didn’t know it at the time, have always been entries into a new
life, a new possibility. The little death before the little rebirth. And I think that’s
important. We talk about the Great Death as something cataclysmic and final, but
actually, it’s about having little deaths and little rebirths. That’s what our life should
be like - realizations of our meanness and that kind of thing before moving on.

Chao Chu’s verse, of course, is right out there. It reminds me in fact of the 8th of the
Zen Ox-herding or Bull-herding pictures. This is a delightful set of ten paintings and
verses describing the Zen way, Zen practice. Originally these were Chinese, but it’s
used a lot in Zen teaching, and you could do a probably very good retreat on those ten
ox-herding paintings and poems. So, it describes the Way in terms of finding and
training a bull. The bull is the mind, us. So, it has this picture of a man – a herdsman
- finding the bull and then taming it and bringing it home.

Picture eight is called “bull and man both forgotten,” and the picture for this is of a
perfect circle. Just filling the white sheet. A perfect empty circle, round and full.
And one of the verses that illustrates this goes:

Space shattered at one blow and holy and worldly both vanished.
In the Untreadable, the path has come to an end.
The bright moon over the temple and the sound of wind in the tree.
All rivers, returning their waters, flow back again to the sea.

03 Entering the Marketplace with Bliss Bestowing Hands

But that’s not the end. You don’t end with the Great Death. There are two more
pictures to go in the bull-herding series, and I want to jump to the tenth, and last,
which is called “Entering the Marketplace with Bliss Bestowing Hands.” Beautiful
image. So, there’s no bull in this picture. Instead there is a stout, grizzled man,
balding, with a beard, with a big belly – well-developed and sticking out of his robes.
He has a staff, and tied onto it is a full sack. There’s lots of goodies, maybe, in that
sack. He is walking under a tree and meeting a short young man who looks
remarkably like the young herdsman in the earlier paintings.

And it’s a really beautiful image, and actually, it’s the image of the one who comes
from the Great Death. It’s the image of the seasoned, the mature, Ch’an traveller. His
stoutness, his fatness, in East Asian tradition would symbolise immense spiritual
wealth and richness - the wealth of awakening, the wealth of enlightenment. That
great sack is all the riches of all the qualities of enlightenment. And he’s showing his
bare chest and stomach, which is not the ...

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