“To study the Path and seek the Mystery, requires faith that it does not lie in words or experiential states. In fact, it is right where you stand.” – Yuanwu

I am continuing to spend time with Yuanwu, getting a better sense of the style of his practice as we approach our summer retreat in which we will focus on Yuanwu’s collection of koans, The Blue Cliff Record. As in our previous gathering, in which we spent time with Yuanwu’s characterization of awakening as being like pouring water into water, here again I get the sense of Yuanwu’s commitment to wherever we are being a place of awakening, even if that place is unstable ground.

This quote from Yuanwu reminds me of a quote from his heir, Dahui, which also mentions the importance of faith. Dahui’s take on faith was “100% faith leads to 100% doubt, which leads to 100% awakening.” Faith is not something often associated with Zen. “Make an experiment” I was told by my first meditation teacher, he encouraged us to not believe what he was saying, but rather to believe what our experience was, echoing the words of the Buddha on his deathbed, “Be lamps for yourselves.” Encouraging his disciples to “make an experiment” for themselves, to know for themselves, based on their experience, not someone else’s words.

Yuanwu is also encouraging us to trust, have faith, in what our experience is as he directs our attention to what is right under our feet. Zen is said to be so difficult because it is so simple, and so close, as simple and close as looking at what is under our feet. Often we consider what is under our feet, our usual way of doing things, which causes us difficulty, as something we want to change. We assume that if we change what is right under our feet that will do the trick. It is the equivalent of what is called in some psychotherapy circles as ‘doing a geographic’, which is when things are not going well, moving to another location in hope that they will go better. It is our inability to stay right where we are, appreciating what is right under our feet that causes the problems.

The French philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal said all of our difficulties are caused by our inability to sit alone, quietly in a room. In a retreat like the one we have coming up soon, we have the opportunity to practice sitting alone, quietly, together with others, which amplifies the benefit.


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