A complete teaching: Relax. Listen to the beat of the drum.



Listen to the beat of the drum.

There’s no-one here!

Tom Das

This pithy statement actually encapsulates the entire teaching. How? Let me explain:


This refers to generating peace, and relaxation primarily of the mind. Like a dense fog clearing in the heat of the morning sun, allowing the mind to calm and thoughts to lessen gives rise to the conditions in which clarity of seeing-understanding can arise.

As we practice being peaceful, we naturally become happier: a warmth in our heart naturally blossoms as our addictive pleasure-seeking desires weaken and fade. We learn to be happy where we are, and then we pass beyond the need for the body-mind to even be happy or at peace. Gradually compusive desires fall away and we no longer suffer if we do not receive what we want. Our compulsive desires fade, and only preferences remain.


This refers to the insight part of the teaching, the essence of the teaching. It is clear seeing-understanding. As the morning fog clears, things can be seen for what they are, as they are, brightly illuminated by the sun of knowledge/insight/understanding.

…to the beat of the drum.

What do we listen to? What are we looking at? The drum can represent the body-mind entity, an object in the world, or just a simple drum. The point is to see things as they are. As the drum beats, we can watch it, hear it, follow its mechanism.

We can see how there is nobody inside the drum making a noise. We can see how the sound is an automatic  reflexive response when the skin is struck with the striking implement. We can see how the drum is empty, and the resonance within the empty space (full of air) creates the reverberating sound.

We can see how this is true of all things, how all things act and function without there being a separate doer-entity that initiates and creates its actions. Rather there is a natural spontaneously self-expressing interdependence and non-separation.

There’s no-one here!

Like the drum, we are essentially empty, meaning there is no trace whatsoever of a separate individual doer/self. This is the essential realisation of freedom.

It is not that the appearance of the body-mind goes or changes, or that you lose the experiential perspective of being a particular body-mind. No. Perception from the apparent perspective of the body-mind remains.

The term ‘no-one’ refers specifically to no-doer. It is the seeing that there never was a separate doer-entity. It is seeing that this doer was created by thought, it was imagined by thought and believed to exist by thought.

A summary

Through generating peace (Relax…) the grip of thought was loosened, through observing (Listen…) things were examined with the intention of seeing things (…the drum…) as they are. Comparing what is seen against the content of our thoughts, it is revealed that the concept of doership does not accurately reflect the reality of what is perceived: there is no doer.

The concept of doership has been operating for so long within most of us. It is this concept that causes our suffering. The understanding that there is no-doer can then act to root out the concept of doership and remove suffering.

What we are left with is what was always here: this. It doesn’t have to be named, you don’t have to put it in words, you don’t have to carve it up using the knife of concepts (although you can if yo want). It’s just whatever’s happening, spontaneously arising, however it arises.



Poetry: no way to talk about this

crescent moon.jpg

When this is seen,
It is seen there are so many ways to talk about this,
So many ways to guide others to this,
So many helpful ways,
– yet all of them false.

All ways are false,
All descriptions are false.
The Truth cannot be contained in words:
The best teaching is whatever works.

No self, True self, or just Self?
Freedom, Enlightenment or Bliss?
Emptiness, Fullness, or Infinite?
Personal, impersonal, or no story at all?
Duality, non-duality? Both, neither?

All can be helpful concepts pointing the way,

The proverbial finger points at the moon,
Don’t cling to the finger!


Zen Master Huang Po: how to remove our illusions

Q: Illusion can hide from us our own mind, but up to now you have not taught us how to get rid of illusion.

zen circle

A: The arising and the elimination of illusion are both illusory. Illusion is not something rooted in Reality; it exists because of your dualistic thinking.

If you will only cease to indulge in opposed concepts such as ‘ordinary’ and ‘Enlightened’, illusion will cease of itself. And then if you still want to destroy it wherever it may be, you will find that there is not a hairsbreadth left of anything on which to lay hold.

This is the meaning of: ‘I will let go with both hands, for then I shall certainly discover the Buddha in my mind’.

The arising and the elimination of illusion are both illusory…If you will only cease to indulge in opposed concepts such as “ordinary” and “Enlightened,” illusion will cease of itself.

Q: If there is nothing on which to lay hold, how is the Dharma [The Teaching, Enlightenment] to be transmitted?

A: It is a transmission of Mind with Mind.

Huang Po Zen Teachings

Q: If Mind is used for transmission, why do you say that Mind too does not exist?

A: Obtaining no Dharma whatever is called Mind transmission. The understanding of this implies no Mind and no Dharma.

Q: If there is no Mind and no Dharma, what is meant by transmission?

A: You hear people speak of Mind transmission and then you talk of something to be received. So Bodhidharma [the first Zen patriarch, the ‘founder of zen’] said:

The nature of the Mind when understood,
No human speech can compass or disclose.
Enlightenment is naught to be attained,
And he that gains it does not say he knows.

If I were to make this clear to you, I doubt if you could stand up to it.

Taken from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (Chun Chou record no. 32)

Zen Master Huang Po: stuffing yourself with knowledge

zen mountains

If you now set about using your minds to seek Mind, listening to the teaching of others, and hoping to reach the goal through mere learning, when will you ever succeed? Some of the ancients had sharp minds; they no sooner heard the Doctrine proclaimed than they hastened to discard all learning. So they were called, ‘Sages who, abandoning learning, have come to rest in spontaneity’.

In these days people only seek to stuff themselves with knowledge and deductions, seeking everywhere for book-knowledge and calling this ‘Dharma-practice’ [true practice of The Way]. They do not know that so much knowledge and deduction have just the contrary effect of piling up obstacles. Merely acquiring a lot of knowledge makes you like a child who gives himself indigestion by gobbling too many curds.

Merely acquiring a lot of knowledge makes you like a child who gives himself indigestion by gobbling too many curds.

Huang Po Zen Teachings

Those who study the Way according to the Three Vehicles [the 3 main Buddhist schools of Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism] are all like this. All you can call them is people who suffer from indigestion. When so-called knowledge and deductions are not digested, they become poisons, for they belong only to the plane of samsara [the plane of suffering, the unenlightened state]. In the Absolute, there is nothing at all of this kind.

So it is said: ‘In the armoury of my sovereign, there is no Sword of Thusness’. All the concepts you have formed in the past must be discarded and replaced by void…The canonical teachings of the Three Vehicles are just remedies for temporary needs. They were taught to meet such needs and so are of temporary value and differ one from another. If only this could be understood, there would be no more doubts about it.

Above all it is essential not to select some particular teaching suited to a certain occasion, and, being impressed by its forming part of the written canon, regard it as an immutable concept. Why so? Because in truth there is no unalterable Dharma [Teaching, Teaching method] which the Tathagata [The Buddha; a term the Buddha often referred to himself by] could have preached. People of our sect would never argue that there could be such a thing. We just know how to put all mental activity to rest and thus achieve tranquillity. We certainly do not begin by thinking things out and end up in perplexity.

Because in truth there is no unalterable Dharma…We certainly do not begin by thinking things out and end up in perplexity. 

Taken from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (Chun Chou record no. 30)

Zen Master Huang Po: Studying the Way

Huang Po Zen Teachings

Regarding this Zen Doctrine of ours, since it was first transmitted, it has never been taught that men should seek for learning or form concepts. ‘Studying the Way’ is just a figure of speech. It is a method of arousing people’s interest in the early stages of their development

In fact, the Way is not something which can be studied. Study leads to the retention of concepts and so the Way is entirely misunderstood. Moreover, the Way is not something specially existing; it is something called Mahayana Mind – Mind which is not to be found inside, outside, or in the middle. Truly it is not located anywhere.

‘Studying the Way’ is just a figure of speech…In fact, the Way is not something which can be studied.

The first step is to refrain from knowledge-based concepts. This implies that if you were to follow the empirical method to the utmost limit, on reaching that limit you would still be unable to locate Mind.

The way is spiritual Truth and was originally without name or title. It was only because people ignorantly sought for it empirically that the Buddhas appeared and taught them to eradicate this method of approach.

The first step is to refrain from knowledge-based concepts.

Fearing that no one would understand, they selected the name ‘Way.’ You must not allow this name to lead you into a mental concept of a road. So it is said, ‘When the fish is caught we pay no more attention to the trap.’

When body and mind achieve spontaneity, the Way is reached and Mind is understood.

A shramana [seeker, monk] is so called because he has penetrated to the original source of all things. The fruit of attaining the shramana stage is gained by putting an end to all anxiety; it does not come from book-learning.

Taken from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (Chun Chou record no. 29)

Livestream interview with Tom Das at Buddha at the Gas Pump 23rd July 2016

In case anyone wants to hear me talking about this stuff…I’m going to be interviewed LIVE on Buddha at the Gas Pump.

It will take place and be livestreamed on Sat 23rd July 11.30am US central time (5.30pm UK time). Click below for how to watch the livestream

Upcoming Interviews

Zen Master Huang Po: the true teaching

Huang Po Zen Teachings.jpg

Q: Up to now, you have refuted everything which has been said. You have done nothing to point out the true Dharma [the true teaching, the true way] to us.

Huang Po: In the true Dharma there is no confusion, but you produce confusion by such questions. What sort of ‘true Dharma’ can you go seeking for?

Q: Since the confusion arises from my questions, what – will Your Reverence’s answer be?

Huang Po: Observe things as they are and don’t pay attention to other people. There are some people just like mad dogs barking at everything that moves, even barking when the wind stirs among the grass and leaves.’

Taken from The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (Chun Chou record no. 28)

Tom’s comments:

The questioner appears frustrated at not being able to obtain anything tangible from Huang Po. ‘What is the true teaching? What is The Way?’, he asks.

The master replies: you yourself create the confusion, the questions being evidence of this. Is there even a ‘true Dharma’ to be sought?

The answer? Just be with what is, see things as they are, don’t worry about the words and ideas of others caught up in their own illusions and fears.