28. Thursday, August 30, 1973
Hindrance, Concentration, Meditation, Mindfulness

STUDENT: Every morning when we chant the Heart Sutra, there's the part toward the end that says, “his mind is no hindrance.” In Conze's translation from the Sanskrit, it is “thought coverings,”. I often feel that my mind is a big hindrance. I wonder if you'd speak a little bit about the derivation of that word, and it's meaning in the sutra, and how it relates to our zazen.

KOBUN: “... koshin mu ke ge ...” “Thought-coverings” is his translation?

STUDENT: He gives the Sanskrit, cittavaranah. He translates that, “thought coverings.” We say “hindrance.”

KOBUN: Avaranah is like dust on the mirror, dust on the glass... shin mu ke ... citta ... best word is “mind,” but no ordinary use of our mind activity. When you say bodhicitta it is “way mind, awakening mind.”

When you take a photograph, your film is ready for accepting light or shadow. After you open the shutter, the stage, or film, is quite the same by our eyes, but there is something on the film. Next, you make the negative and print. Cittavaranah is clinging to the past experience. Avaranah is the past experience.

STUDENT: That's what “hindrance” is, then? This clinging?

KOBUN: Clinging, itself, is not hindrance. Your mind is always like the film before the shutter closes, and you carry the past impressions toward this present moment. Like very often you misunderstand. You bring the negative and double your present mind. For instance, you think, “I am a man,” or, “I am 28 years old,” or, “I am a good man.” In that way you bring your ideas and analysis of your past experience to the present moment. But to say that our mind is like film before the shutter is a metaphor. We cannot actually say that mind is always like that, prepared for the new moment, coming moment.

When you perceive ourselves and all circumstances in a materialistic way, there is no such spiritual or mind world. Mind, itself, is classified as a material structure. But when you go to idealism, there is no separate world of material from idea. Everything is seen as ideal. Our physical body, all cultures, nature, earth, everything, is constructed in a spiritual sense. But you cannot put a line. Idealism and materialism stand as dualistic. Like light and darkness, you cannot say which part is dark, which is light. When you look at darkness from the light, it is seen as, maybe, depths of light. When you look at light from the darkness, the brightest is part of darkness.

STUDENT: What is a hindrance?

KOBUN: The characteristic of a hindrance is mistake, misunderstanding. Like when I argue with somebody, the next day I still carry the impression of that argument and put it on another person the next day. When you act with such a preconception, that is a way of karma. If you go beyond the preconception, without ignoring it, without sticking to it, you can go over from karmic life.

STUDENT: Sensei? Is it that the emotion goes out from that experience because you don't forget that you had an argument with somebody?

KOBUN: Yeah. You do not forget, but you forgot already. Forgetting it, you don't forget. That is what is happening. If you do not forget yesterday, you slip into yesterday all the time, you step back into yesterday. You may say, “You did this and this and this.” Or, “These few days you were very good to me.” Or, “These few days you act very funny to me.”

You said “emotion.” This is a very unclear word. It has a feeling of habit, habitual reaction. Sometimes this “emotion” and “my mind” are used as the same thing, nowadays.

STUDENT: It seems like you get caught by the past and your memories as long as you still have feelings about whatever it was that happened. When those feelings are not there any more then it's easy to just have it be there and not have to be clinging to it. But I wonder why all that storage of memory is not a hindrance. In Suzuki Roshi's book, he says something about “no trace,” that there ought to be no trace but you don't forget all the past. He says that if you understand this you understand all the dualistic thinking in the world. Now I remember when you talked about when you were a little boy, and I remember thinking, “Well, he still remembers all those things.” However, you're not caught by all the memories that you have.

KOBUN: Yes. They were caught by me. My past is something inside.... There are clear memories, like the marks on the inside of a tree, which, even if you usually do not remember them, they can always be remembered.

I can express this with a Buddhist yogin's way of perceiving: Alaya vijnana . Alaya vijnana is stored consciousness. Like when you see a man, you see alaya vijnana. Existence, itself, is alaya vijnana. When you see the people of the world as stored consciousness, it is like seeing things from the shadowy side, like the negative of a picture – and to see things as they are is to see both from light and from shadow. You cannot see shadow only or light only. We are talking about mind avaranah . Our knowing activity is to lower the dimension. Like reducing a picture from three dimension to two dimension, from fourth dimension to third dimension. Seeing things as stopped, like the cut face of a living thing – that is how our perception works. By seeing a very flat and well-outlined picture, I imagine the next stage this man is knowing. So when we are caught by our perception, when you believe you are in the third dimension, this makes a problem because you are in the fourth dimension.

So what makes avaranah is this misunderstanding or misplacing of yourself. Like sitting in the train in the terminal when everyone else has left. You must go out from this station... “mind is no hindrance.” Maybe a visual expression is like running water, the current is running. Our mind is like that. If the mind sticks to something, it's like water becoming very sticky so it cannot move. It sticks to the river bed and it sticks to everything. To speak of it, to understand it intellectually, is not so difficult. To really practice it is very hard. Like talking of freedom, or peace. They are ideals.

But to practice them every day, every moment, is very difficult. Unconsciously we are caught in a stage, knowing what to do, how to do it. But our experiences, strong impression, and strong wish toward the ideal, make us move slowly, in a very attached state.... But reality, real reality, is always compassionate. Even when we are attached to things, there is always a new condition, always we get full possibilities. With a little attachment we jump into a new world, new moment. “Mind is no hindrance... bodhisattva... dwells in nirvana.”

STUDENT: Just before that, “...depends on prajnaparamita and his mind is no hindrance.”

KOBUN: That mantra, “Gone, gone.... “ That character tells what nirvana is. Nirvana in reality. “ Gate, gate, para gate” is like standing on this side of the shore. You see that other shore in this side. That is what “gate, gate, paragate,” is. And when you go over to the other shore of the river, that other side becomes this side for you. Prajna paramita is to make the other shore this shore. Realizing it you utter the word of joy. that is what “gate, gate, para gate” is. It is not someone else's. It is the mantram of this moment. Our actual life, not 19 th Century or 1 st Century. It is this very moment. The mantram appears as a living word. So to recite this mantrum, to chant this mantrum many times becomes the protection of your life. That means you cut off all hindrances, inside of you, outside of you, by this mantrum.

It sounds like a very classic, very early, part of Zen. In China the Third Patriarch, author of Shin Jin Mei , got leprosy, not because of his fault. His was a very religious life, and he always went to people and wanted to practice with them but because of his physical handicap people, even though they were of very kind mind, hesitated to come close to him. Finally, in a low state, he came to the Second Patriarch, disciple of Bodhidharma, First Patriarch of China, and as soon as he met with this Shin Ko Eka he showed his deep mind. “You confess, please, you confess yourself for me!” He jumped into the Second Patriarch's world, yelling at him. In other words, “Please save me,” not the physical body, but he meant to ask him to save this life, including everyone. The Second Patriarch said, “I will confess myself for you. Bring me your reasons. You have carried something. You have something in your mind.

Give it to me and I will confess for you.” The Third Patriarch understood there is no such thing to show as the reason for confession. You could see that one hand was gone from the sickness and, with that hand, they still met in the true world. The best way we can feel that we have not been caught is our feeling of our body. Not heavy and not light. If you concentrate on the heaviness of your physical existence, spiritually your existance becomes very, very heavy. You cannot move at all. If you concentrate on the lightness of your body, your lightness is like a feather in the air, or a blowing leaf in the wind. Very light. But actually we are in between, not heavy and not light, just right. In this “just right” condition we are every moment living.

This Heart Sutra, when we read it, will appear, first of all, as very strange and very cool. But the wisdom this sutra is showing us is release from suffering, freeing us from misunderstanding, so in this way this sutra is a very religious text. “Avalokiteshvara, Avalokiteshvara,” if you can realize this wisdom, you, yourself, become Avalokiteshvara. But the essence of Avalokiteshvara is compassion, like a plate of food for a very hungry person, or a glass of water for a very thirsty person. But Avalokiteshvara is the pure function of wisdom. When you become Avalokiteshvara you see everyone is Avalokiteshvara. There is no high and low. It's like the meeting of people in the mountains. Physically, there is a high place and a low place.

When you come down from this side, you come as the one who went to the peak of the mountain and come down like this. And the one who is going up meets you and you converse. “How was the way you came?” And you express, “There was a big deer. You must be careful, it might rain.” This is a signal to help each other. Through conversation you appreciate meeting with people. There is no high and low. To go to a lower place is to go deeper. To go to a higher place is to go to a deeper place, too.

STUDENT: Thank you very much.

STUDENT: Sensei, would you say something about concentration and mindfulness?

KOBUN: Oh, that's a big, big matter.... I feel concentration is like breathing. I'm not talking about concentration on breathing. Concentration is like breathing, itself. Inhalation is concentration of energy towards yourself. Exhalation is concentration of your energy to the outside. In inhalation and exhalation the movement is towards the center, like this (demonstrates). And the result of this concentration is a basic thing surrounding your existence. It is totally giving your energy away to the close circumstance. So mindfulness is the exact thing to do. By doing it your energy gets the right scattering. Concentration is not just mental activity or some psychological process, or situation of mind. When you are reading some novel, your whole body is reading the book. Even when you are drinking a cup of tea, the cup of tea is involved in reading. Everything is in one direction. What is actually happening is in your world of the novel. You are one of the participants of the novel.

But when you stop reading, you find yourself in reality. If you go back and forth quickly, you cannot be in the novel, you cannot be in reality. This kind of very interesting thing happens when you watch your way of concentrating. How you choose the things to do, and how you do them, becomes very important. When you do too many things a day, everything you do will be done with very little concentration. When you choose very few things and for a short time concentrate very deeply, even when you spend only one hour, you can satisfy.... Concentration relates with intuition, insight, and polishing abilities and skills. The feeling of concentration is very harmonized energy, a harmonious, pleasant feeling. Artists, including sewing, ironing, the narrower meaning of artist, includes this very good custom of concentration. And you see the result of your concentration producing something and benefiting people. It not only satisfies you, but many people have a very good feeling about what you are doing.

STUDENT: Is there a problem in that when we concentrate on one thing that we are not so aware of other things?

KOBUN: Yeh, that is how different concentration is from meditation. Meditation is million billion concentrations gathered in one point, so that we have to keep very straight body and very strong body to accept all concentrations. Concentration cannot work on five senses all at once. Always one sense is emphasized and other senses support and follow it. Like when you are drawing a picture your very deep concentration is supported with very deep meditation. Like cooking. When you cook something your attention is not on something particular. Concentration is more like blindness, but clear blindness. In it you are acting. When your work is done, food is there. If you think, “I'll cut this squash real nice way,” you cannot move your knife so well. If you forget the idea, “I'll do a good job,” and just let it go.... The blindness is blindness of surface consciousness, but a very intuitive, very clear order of sense is always working.

So you know when you start and when you stop the fire, when you stop cooking you naturally know. Practice and repetition of training are always needed for concentration. Meditation is very different. Many times people mix up meditation and concentration. You cannot control yourself to do meditation. If you try to control yourself, you never get into meditation. So you have to ask your meditation, “Please, please come to me,” otherwise you chase it to get it, but it never comes to you. You don't get it if you think you can do meditation every time, everywhere. So it is very, very serious whether we can meditate or not. My feeling is whether I can be accepted by it or not. When my mind attitude is wrong, I cannot be accepted by meditation. If I have so many worries, so many things to do, even though meditation is always covering me, accepting me, whatever I'm doing, I don't feel it. Recognition of feeling of meditation is like feeling of inhalation and exhalation. Air is everywhere and you just breathe a very little amount of it. But when you inhale, your whole life is exhaled by the air. If you exhale, you are inhaled by the whole air. It is this kind of relation.

So there is no conception of small and big, as in, “I am small and meditation is big,” or, “Meditation is small and I am big.” And there is no inside and outside, no sense that meditation is inside of me or outside of me. Many times I have experienced when I meditate inside my body, “Where is the inside of my body?” The feeling is that the inside of me is not meditating but the whole outside of me is meditating, and helping the inside of me to meditate. That is my feeling. The whole world is meditating, moving and meditating, and its reflection is within me. Every moment is just a reflection of it. Twenty-four hours a day the whole world is in meditation and when I sit regularly that is a great opportunity to really reflect and feel it.

Concentration is when two or three elements are communicating within the big world of meditation. When you meditate the elements become the whole, the unity within you, without you. Even though it is very chaotic, very complicated, sometimes the form is confused. Even if you don't feel the right feeling, the peaceful feeling, of meditation, even though from beginning to end you suffer, you do meditate within. Even in a time when you feel pain for forty minutes, that can be called meditation, real meditation.

Mindfulness is a very sincere concern, maybe dropping of selfish desire from within you, dropping of selfish idea from object, and trying to communicate in a real way. That is mindfulness. Sometimes it appears as a job, sometimes it appears as the relationship of people, sometimes as little jobs for the whole society. Sometimes it is just listening to people and society. Sincerity, mindfulness, and real honesty, these attitudes of mind are always working together. The action of mindfulness always calls feelings of gratitude from both sides, from your side and from the other side. This is how you know whether this action was real mindfulness or not. Real honesty reaches to correct understanding. When something appears, you express how it appeared and what it is, and people will see that it is right. Honesty needs a very strict attitude toward yourself... because misunderstanding and misspeach becomes honesty, too. There are stages and degrees of honesty. Like there are various colors of red: strong color, very faint color, dark kind of red, light kind of red, there are various degrees of honesty.

Right understanding causes a feeling of stability, a very certain feeling about yourself, your existence. Right understanding becomes courage when you decide what to do. You don't hesitate or ask, “Is this right or wrong?” You just go on and do it, and doing so, a feeling of certainty and right feeling follows. Mindfulness is a very important attitude to develop, especially when we live with other people.

I feel that all beings touch my being: Air, water, warmth or coldness, darkness or light, all touch, taste of food, feelings and impulses of people. Mindfulness is like the border of concentration in meditation. It is total awareness of what you are doing and where you are doing it. If you concentrate on every direction, that will be described as meditation. You do not do it, but it happens when you are ready to accept it, or when you are ready to be accepted by it, it happens.

Over and over I say meditation, concentration, are matters of our living life, itself. It is not just brain activity, it's whole body and mind. When you think, “What is Twentieth Century, 1973, August 30?” recognition of this date is maybe like concentration. But what it is, is in the great one time. There is no such length of time. This is, right now, the beginning of the Twentieth Century. The Twentieth Century is the whole phenomenal condition and the whole nomenal condition which accepted this whole phenomenal condition. And let it move, let it maintain, let this whole thing maintain. That is the, so-called it, present moment.

So in the present moment, actually, the ancient time is contained, and the endless future is contained. And the sense of the present, when you really recognize that the present exists, it is very pleasurable. There is grateful recognition, “Oh, this exists. Not only I, but everything exists in this way.” Various one-sided views and beliefs, and few-sided views and beliefs, make people's idea of life. There are many, many different appearances of people. To listen to everyone and to make an effort to accept them, and try to feel whether you are accepted by them or not, this is a very important point.

Last night our conversation was about ego. It's a very big topic. “Ego” is a very practical and very present term. It has strong independence, individuality. In an ethical sense it has a very negative feeling and a very positive feeling. When people lose their ego it's like a melting, ice melting and becoming water, becoming warmer and evaporating. Ego can be seen as self-insistence, insisting on our being as an individual one. There is a process of formalization, actualization, of individuality. If everyone becomes independent, it must be a fantastic world. It's like a forest of trees, very straight trees. A little tree appears and grows straight.

But when I speak of a little negative side of this egoistic life ... this aloneness goes to loneliness, like warmth goes toward cold, like the process of water becoming very, very cold, and freezing. Unfortunately, in the present time, egoism and nihilism are in a very chaotic state – a state of many ideas. Once everyone's mind becomes very egoistic, very nihilistic, many people are recognizing it's impossible to continue to live in an egoistical way, always insisting on one's opinion, comparing and competing which is the better way. It's like racing. There is a very positive way and a very negative way to race. Competition is making our gap of generations. When you compete, ancestors forget you. The energy of competition relates with age.

In the competing world, a high school boy and an old woman don't compete. Competition involves same, similar generation. Depths of age and experience make very strong, nice competition. Naturally these sliced gaps of generation appear, and it's very hard to have empathy between one generation and another generation. Understanding of generations doesn't help to solve emotional relationships. It's hard to find a feeling of unity.

Fortunately, zazen is a process which opens both ways. If you are too cold, you open yourself up to melt. If you are too hot, your meditation opens up the possibility to get cooler. Meditation is such a set-up, such an opportunity.

Thank you.

« back to preview