The Room, the Seat, and the Robe 

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Transcribed by Karen Mueller 

Quotation from: Book of Serenity, Trans Thomas Cleary, Lindsfarne Press, 1988  (BS)

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tThis morning I told you a story about Yangshan teaching a monk who came to visit. He allowed the monk to come into the room of great compassion. Yangshan himself had entered the room of great compassion and there he welcomed the monk.  He asked the monk where he was from. The monk told him. He asked the monk if he thinks about where he comes from and the monk honestly said, ‘I always think about where I come from.  Whenever I see anything (if I may rhapsodize), basically I’m looking at where I come from.  I can’t see anything new. All I see is where I come from. I look in your face and I see my history, my old stories about you.’ The monk confessed, ‘I don’t see anything new. I just see my mind. I just see my stories about you which are where I come from’. 

Yangshan then said, ‘Turn your mind around and look back’. Oh no. He said, ‘That which thinks is the mind; that which is thought of is the environment.’ Or you could say, that which thinks is mind; that which is thought of is objects of mind. But he didn’t say that the objects of mind are also mind. That which thinks is mind and that which is thought of is mind.  But when you look at that which is thought of it doesn’t look like mind. It looks like people, or trees. It’s actually mind. You’re looking at your mind. I mean the mind is looking at itself.   The mind is looking at the objective version of itself, but the objective version of itself, the mind says, ‘I’m not you.  The mind is deceptive. It misrepresents itself. It says. The mind says, ‘I’m not the mind. I’m an object that is not the mind.’ So Yangshan, seeing that this person kind of gets that a little bit, says, ‘Look at the part of the mind that you usually think is the mind.’ The monk does it and when it gets to that place, he doesn’t see any objects. He doesn’t see anything existing. He followed the instruction. He realized that there is nothing existing outside of mind. Therefore he can’t see anything existing outside mind. 

And Yangshan says this is a good insight. ‘You understand you have insight that there’s nothing outside of mind for you.  You understand that. Very good! But telling me that you don’t see any existence at all is not complete’.  

Then there’s a poem which somebody said in response to this story. It’s written by a National Teacher, a Zen teacher who is a teacher of the Emperor, National Teacher, Deshao. 

He said, 

“Crossing the summit of the mystic peak, 

It’s not the human world, 
Outside of mind there are no things---

Filling the eyes are blue mountains”   

(BS p 144).


“Crossing the summit of the mystic peak, it’s not the human world”.  What’s the mystic peak?  Well, in this story the mystic peak is, ‘Reverse your thinking and think of the mind that thinks’.  Thinking of the mind that thinks is not the human world. It is a mystic summit. From that place, you will be able to see the next line of the poem, which is, “Outside the mind, there are no things”.  Here we are standing in the world with objects. The teacher says, ‘Turn your mind around and look back at the seeing’.  Here we are thinking of objects.  Turn the mind around and look back  at the thinking of the objects. This is not the human world. This is crossing  the mystic summit. What’s the mystic summit?  Crossing the mystic summit is to turn the mind around and look back at the mind. This is the mystic mountain peak.  There you will see something that is not the human world. The human world is to think that objects are out there separate from you. Now you are crossing the peak and you have entered the world of wisdom where you see that outside the mind there are no objects. And then the last line of the poem. “Filling the eyes”…  Or filling the eyes, or filling the eyes, or filing the mind or filling the ears.  But anyway, “Filling the eyes there are blue mountains”. This last line the monk did not get to. He crossed the mystic peak. He followed the instruction. He left the human world and entered the world, which is the reality that there are no objects outside mind, that all objects are just mind-as-objects. He crossed the barrier and entered the room where there’s nothing outside mind. Very good! But to really enter that realm completely, Blue Mountains fill the eyes.  Green pine and silver eucalyptus bark fill the eyes. All sentient beings fill the eyes, fill the ears, fill the body and mind. Then the room is there too; not just the seat.  


This poem is in the commentary on Case 32.  Case 32 and Case 37. Case 32 has Yangshan as the teacher. Case 37, Yangshan is with his teacher Guishan. And both Case 32 and Case 37 are discussion of mind-only or thought-construction-only teaching.  And the teachers are playing with students and with each other. So you can look at those two cases for the rest of your life, please. I will too. 


This morning I gave a talk. Were some of you here?  No, I know you weren’t here. But I gave a talk to the people who were here and they have sponsored us being here now.  And later, after that talk was over, someone came and talked to me who wasn’t at the talk but is sponsored by somebody who was at the talk and the person at the talk was thinking, ‘I wonder who this talk was for? Who was that talk for? I wonder if it was for people like me? Or is it for people who are more advanced?  Is the talk about entering the room, putting on the robe and sitting on the seat, is that for advanced bodhisattvas?’  Well, yes it is. Is it for people who have not entered the room?… who can’t believe they’ve entered the room?  Yes it is. Is it for people who feel they have entered the room but have not yet put the robe on? Is it for those people? Yes it is.  Is it for people who have not yet sat in the seat but want to?  Yes it is. Is it for people who aspire to enter the room, wear the robe and sit in the seat?  Yes it is.  Is if for people who aspire to that but haven’t yet entered? Yes it is.

This teaching is for everybody who wants to teach the Lotus Flower of the Subtle Dharma.  It’s for people who want to teach the Dharma for the welfare of all beings. It’s not for those who are already teaching it.  Excuse me, it’s notjust for those who are already teaching it.  For those who are already teaching it, it is supremely delightful to hear. For those who not entered it may be irritating. I don’t know! For some who have not entered it may also be extremely pleasurable to hear this Dharma Flower of Lotus Wonderland. 


The question is, do you wish to benefit beings and do you wish to receive the teaching, which will help you benefit all beings. If you wish to, this teaching is for you. If you have entered, this teaching is for you. If you have put the robe on, it’s for you. If you’re sitting in the seat, it’s for you and if you’re sitting in the seat, it’s for you to tell you to put the robe on again and open the door of the room. It’s for the whole process from the beginning wish to benefit beings, to entering in and accepting Buddha’s compassion, and doing Buddha’s practice, and realizing Buddha’s truth. Then, teaching from there. Once you get on the seat, teaching from there. And this monk did teach from there but he only taught as far as the seat and the robe. He couldn’t take the next step. He couldn’t let the Blue Mountains fill his eyes and heart. But the teacher says, ‘See on your own’. In other words, after you leave me, this monk knew how to walk on a mystic peak. The teacher knew he would eventually let the Green Mountains into his eyes, let all sentient beings into his heart and then we have the room. 


So, we’re not in a fixed position but some of us may feel sometimes like, ‘Well I aspire to be a bodhisattva but I’m really not much of a bodhisattva at all. I aspire but I don’t do any of the bodhisattva practices. I just want to do them. I almost never do though. Is this teaching for me?’ The answer is yes. It’s for beginning bodhisattvas, intermediate and advanced bodhisattvas. Don’t worry about where you are. Just be compassionate to your opinion about where you are. If you’re compassionate to your opinion you will be on the path.


(15 min) 


Also I just want to mention, I just want to say this again.  Bodhisattvas do not necessarily like everybody, and bodhisattvas do not necessarily hate everybody. However it is possible that some bodhisattvas hate… I shouldn’t say ‘hate’; dislike. It is possible that some bodhisattvas like everybody. If there’s such bodhisattva, they are welcome in the room.  There are creatures like that that like almost everybody. It’s amazing but there could be. There are some people who dislike almost everybody, who find everybody extremely irritating… at least all humans. Some people find all mosquitoes irritating.  Maybe that’s more familiar to you. But some people like all mosquitoes. But you don’t have to like all mosquitoes to be a bodhisattva! And you don’t have to hate all mosquitoes to be bodhisattvas. 


To be a bodhisattva, what you need is you need to aspire to be compassionate to all mosquitoes and all humans and all dogs and all cats. You need to aspire to that. You need to aspire to enter the room.  But you don’t have to like the beings that you’re practicing compassion towards. If people are being cruel to themselves or others, you don’t have to like it. Some people do but  you don’t have to like it. You don’t have to like foul smells. You don’t have to like extreme pain. And you don’t have to dislike it to be a bodhisattva. You don’t have to. But you have to love all that. In order to love it all, you’re going to have to aspire to it, because most people do not naturally love, do not naturally have compassion for all varieties of irritation and discomfort  and stress.  Most people do not have compassion for all that. You have to train at it. You have to aspire to it in order to train at it.  And if you aspire to it and train at it, you will be able to enter the room and let everybody in there, including all the people you don’t like and all the people you do like.  So, I’d like to make clear that’s my view is that bodhisattvas don’t have to like everybody and lotta people who want to be bodhisattvas thought they were supposed to like everybody but fortunately you don’t have to. Fortunately, what you do have to do is something much more effective. You have to be compassionate to everybody. But you haven’t yet got there. We haven’t yet got there. We’re not compassionate to everybody all the time but bodhisattvas aspire to that.  Because that’s the kind of compassion that let’s you sit on the seat and from the seat to teach the Dharma. To be compassionate to a few people is GREAT!  


What time is Central Standard Time? Oh yeah. Central Pacific Time I mean, is 5:41.  I’ve been corrected. I stand,.. I sit corrected. What time did I say it was? Nobody remembers. 5:41?  Well it’s good news that I was wrong,… for me. We have ten more minutes to live, twenty more minutes to live than I thought we had.   Back to the future. No back to the past. Here we are back 20 minutes earlier. Hi guys.


Ok? Get the picture now? Is it clear? Is it difficult? Thank you for ringing the bell. May I have the striker please. Thank you for organizing the day, Ilene. Have you seen any signs of mice around here lately? I have. I saw some mice turds in the dokusan room. The mice are coming to dokusan. They heard I was welcoming everybody and they are coming and leaving little presents for me. Thank you for being jisha. Thank you for all your organizing of your many crews, Elenya. Thank you for setting up and caring for the situation Karen. Thank you all for taking care of this… What is this? This is a shrine to the true Dharma. A shrine of No Abode. 


The Lotus Sutra says if you want to practice the Buddha way and realize the path of supreme enlightenment, respect the people who read the Lotus Sutra. And if you read the Lotus Sutra, then you should respect and venerate the practice that you’re doing and the person that’s practicing. So read this Sutra and venerate the person who’s reading it and that will be the Buddha way. Read this Sutra and you won’t be lazy anymore. Or at least you won’t be lazy at the moment when you read this Sutra. Just say “Lotus Sutra”.  (Response: Lotus Sutra). At that moment you were not lazy.  Now you know what it feels like. Or maybe you don’t know what it feels like. Now you’ve done it, whether you feel it or not. The Wondrous Lotus Sutra of the Zen School. The Zen school of the wonderful Lotus Sutra. The Sutra that teaches us that all words and all language are empty and from that emptiness we write the story of the Buddha.  


Any comments you’d like to make in the remaining eon? 


Q.   The heart that has everyone and everything in it, in that place there is nothing to say.


There is nothing to say and say it. Say there’s nothing to say. But also say that other thing that you said. What did you say?


Q. May we all be happy.


A. Yeah. Say “May we all be happy”. That’s one of the things you might say when there’s nothing to say. Since there’s nothing to say, may we all be happy.  Since there’s nothing to say, may you all be at peace and at ease. Since there’s nothing to say, I can say all kinds of good things to you because I have nothing to say. If there is something to say, I should probably say that rather than may you be happy and peaceful and great compassionate beings. So having nothing to say is really helpful. It makes a lot of room for saying good stuff.

Anything else you’d like to say? Anybody? 


Q. I have nothing to say.


A. You have nothing to say. Thank you for saying that. 


Q. It’s the same as having no object of the mind and yet there is blue. 


A. Yeah, no object of mind.  BLUE!  Green!  Sadness. 


Do you have anything you’d like to say, R?


Q. I have nothing to say.


A. You have nothing to say.


Would you tell me your name once more?  Do you have anthing to say?


Q.   (can’t hear).


And way in the back? Lady in the chair?


Q.   (can’t hear)  


Would everybody say that (her name)?  Do you have anything to say?


Q. Nothing at all. 


A. Ok. Well I asked the.. Oh, A. is this your first time here?  Do you have anything to say?


Q.  Thank you.


A.  Well I welcome the new people. I’m happy that you got through the whole day. That’s wonderful. And thank you to the old-timers who also came and sat through the day. So thank you everybody for taking care of this house of the Lotus Sutra. 


I’ve told you this before. I’ll say it one more time. When our great ancestor Dogen was dying, he named the room he was in Lotus Sutra Hermitage. When he could still walk, he walked around the room reciting the part of the Lotus Sutra where it says whenever anybody says the Lotus Sutra, that is the place where that Buddha is being born. That is the place the Buddha leaves home. That is the place the Buddha attains the way. That is the place where the Buddha teaches. That is the place where the Buddha enters parinirvana. He said that while he was walking around. And saying that, he made the place he was like that. This is what our great ancestor did when he was dying.  He did it before he died to but that was one of his last practices. So our ancestor was one of those people we should honor because he was one of these people who recited the Lotus Sutra.  


Q.   When he was doing that practice did he have something to say or not?


Pardon? Did he have something to say? What do you think? Yeah, somehow the wonderful thing about the Lotus Sutra is that when you recite it you don’t have to have anything to say.


People who have nothing to say can recite the Lotus Sutra because there’s no conflict of interest. I have something besides saying the Lotus Sutra that I’d like to say. Just a second. I have to say that before saying the Lotus Sutra. No­. I have nothing else to say so I’m just saying the Lotus Sutra.