39. When studying Sutras, if you don’t reflect on your true nature at the same time, it will do no good.
This isn’t about just learning the words. It’s about putting the Dharma into practice.
40. The Buddha said, “Everything is on fire, burning with the fire of impermanence.” And at another time, “We are all burning in the flames of suffering.” Anyone who studies the Dharma should listen to these words. We are on fire, so we must practice with a sense of urgency.
This is to just remind us that practicing is important. We need the Dharma because we are all suffering in life. We must keep that in mind so that we’re diligent and we take our practice seriously.
41. Chasing recognition, approval, or other empty labels is useless. Chasing after material gain makes life worse.
We are often immensely motivated by greed and attachment. The happiness that we get from material possessions is fleeting. So is the happiness we get from recognition and approval. These are just labels and they don’t carry real significance.
42. Repent of your wrongs immediately. Don’t be ashamed to admit mistakes. This is the character of a great person. When you correct your failings you are renewing yourself.
It’s easy for us to be ashamed and hide from our mistakes. This path is about being fully open, about facing our mistakes with honesty. Often we lie to ourselves about the mistakes we’ve made and I think that is the most poisonous. Above all, at least be honest with yourself.
43. Still the mind. Live in simplicity and honesty. Be humble and you won’t be hindered anywhere.
Confucius said, “Life is very simple. We insist on making it complicated.” I’m also reminded of that Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Simple Man”:
“Forget your lust for the rich man’s gold
All that you need is in your soul
And you can do this, oh baby, if you try
All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied”
That’s how I see this section. We suffer because we make things more complicated than they really are. Just be simple, honest, and humble. That can help in almost any situation.
44. Unhappy people run here and there, always chasing after different circumstances. Students of the dharma seek their own minds.
This is the way we fool ourselves. We think “If this or that was right, then I could be happy.” It’s a problem because even people who have everything realize that they still suffer. In clinging to worldly things there is no end to our suffering. Worldly things can’t bring us lasting satisfaction because everything is impermanent. Letting go is the only answer that makes any sense.
45. The wise person beholds the Buddhas and masters without becoming attached to them. If you’re attached, you’re hindered. When you seek outside of yourself, everything is suffering. Doing nothing would be better.
A Chan Master named Lin Chi said, “If you find the Buddha by the side of the road, kill him.”This sounds terrible to us at first, of course. Why would we kill the Buddha? But Lin Chi is trying to make an important point. Lin Chi is giving us a metaphorical argument for the rejection of dogmatism. That’s what we’re talking about here. It can be easy for us to accidentally put our teachers on a pedestal.
Far from being hateful, it’s because Lin Chi loved the Buddha that he wanted to remind us not to turn him into an object of worship. The Buddha didn’t want people to look at him as a god; he was simply a teacher who provided instructions for a way of life. This kind of iconoclasm isn’t rare in Buddhism.
It reminds me of a poem by the Japanese Zen Monk Ikkyu. He said,
“Without a bridge
Clouds climb effortlessly
No need to rely on
anything the Buddha taught.”
Ikkyu is reminding us that it’s the path that matters. The Buddha provides a good example and it is important, but we can’t make it our whole practice. Devotionalism is fine to a point, but we have to engage in the practice too.
The real Buddha is within ourselves, it’s our Buddha nature.
Teachers only point the way—we have to walk the path ourselves.
46. The brightness of our true nature never fades. Do you want to enter gate? Just don’t give rise to conceptual thought.
This is a reference to the beginning, when So Sahn said, “There is only one thing from the beginning, bright and mysterious.”
So Sahn is really saying that all we have to do is still our minds. Then we can see our true nature. This is the message of “Mirror of Zen”. Thank you for going through it with me.
Daniel Scharpenburg is a meditation instructor and dharma teacher in Kansas City. He regularly gives teachings through the Open Heart Project, the largest virtual mindfulness community in the world.
Dharma Talk: Confidence in Mind, Daily Dharma Gathering, online 7-7:30pm