Shortcut to Nirvana: nothing to perceive/ your true nature – Chan (Zen) Master Hui Hai

Before Zen spread to Japan and was known as Zen, it was in China and known as Chan. Here 8th Century Chan Master Hui Hai gives us a wonderful short-cut to enlightenment or nirvana:


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Hui Hai: The Shurangama Sutra says: ‘Perceptions employed as a base for building up positive concepts are the origin of all ignorance (avidya); ‘perception that there is nothing to perceive – that is nirvana, also known as deliverance.’

Questioner: What is the meaning of ‘nothing to perceive’?

Hui Hai: Being able to behold men, women and all the various sorts of appearances while remaining as free from love or aversion as if they were actually not seen at all – that is what is meant by ‘nothing to perceive’.

Questioner: That which occurs when we are confronted by all sorts of shapes and forms is called ‘perception’. Can we speak of perception taking place when nothing confronts us?

Hui Hai: Yes.

Questioner: When something confronts us, it follows that we perceive it, but how can there be perception when we are confronted by nothing at all?

Hui Hai: We are now talking of that perception which is independent of there being an object or not. How can that be? The nature of perception being eternal, we go on perceiving whether objects are present or not. Thereby we come to understand that, whereas objects naturally appear and disappear, the nature of perception does neither of those things; and it is the same with all your other senses.

[Tom: what is being signified here by ‘eternal’ perception that is independent of objects? :-)]

Questioner: When we are looking at something, does the thing looked at exist objectively within the sphere of perception or not?

Hui Hai: No, it does not.

Questioner: When we (look around and) do not see anything, is there an absence of something objective within the sphere of perception?

Hui Hai: No, there is not.

Questioner: When there are sounds, hearing occurs. When there are no sounds, does hearing persist or not?

Hui Hai: It does.

Questioner: When there are sounds it follows that we hear them, but how can hearing take place during the absence of sound?

Hui Hai: We are now talking of that hearing which is independent of there being any sound or not. How can that be? The nature of hearing being eternal, we continue to hear whether sounds are present or not.

Questioner: if that is so, who or what is the hearer?

Hui Hai: It is your own nature, which hears, and it is the inner cogniser who knows.

The Gateway to Non-Duality: Essential Chan (Zen) Teachings from Chan Master Hui Hai

Before Zen spread to Japan and was called Zen, it was known as Chan in China. In this dialogue the essential gateway to nirvana and enlightenment is revealed together with several other useful chan/zen teachings from the 8th century Chan Master Hui Hai himself. Bold type has been added by myself for emphasis of certain points I felt to be particularly important:


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Questioner: Is the nature of the Absolute (Chan-ju) a true void, or not really void? To describe it as not void is to imply that it has form [Tom – and how can the formless absolute have form?]. Yet to describe it as void implies mere nothingness, so what would then be left for sentient beings to rely on in their practice for attaining deliverance?

Hui Hai: The nature of the Absolute is void and yet not void. How so? The marvellous ‘substance’ of the Absolute, having neither form nor shape, is therefore undiscoverable; hence it is void. Nevertheless, that immaterial, formless ‘substance’ contains functions as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, functions, which respond unfailingly to circumstances, so it is also described, as not void. A sutra says:

‘Understand the one point and a thousand others will accordingly grow clear; misunderstand that one and ten thousand delusions will encompass you. He who holds to that one has no more problems to solve.’

This is the great marvellous awakening to the Way. As one of the sutras says:

‘The myriad forms, dense and close, bear the imprint of a single dharma.’

How then can so many sorts of views arise from the one Dharma? All these karmic forces are rooted in activity. If, instead of pacifying our minds, we rely on scriptures to achieve enlightenment, we are under-taking the impossible. Ourselves deceived, deceiving others our mutual downfall is assured. Strive on! Strive on! Explore this teaching most thoroughly!

[Tom – here in the above paragraph the emphasis is clearly on stilling the mind as opposed to mere book/scripture reading and theory] 

Just let things happen without making any response and keep your minds from dwelling on anything whatsoever; for they who can do this thereby enter nirvana. Attained, then, is the condition of no rebirth, otherwise called ‘the gate of non-duality, the end of strife, the samadhi of universality’. Why so? Because it is ultimate purity. As it is free from the duality of selfless and otherness, it no longer gives rise to love and hatred. When all relativities are seen as non-existent, naught remains to be perceived. Thus is the undiscoverable Bhutatathata revealed.

This treatise of mine is not for the skeptic, but for those sharing the same view and following the same line of conduct. You ought first to discover whether people are sincere in their faith and qualified to practice it without backsliding before you expound it to them so that they can be awakened to its meaning. I have written this treatise for the sake of those having a karmic affinity with it.

[Tom – traditionally this teaching is advised only to be taught to those who are genuinely seeking nirvana/enlightenment, who are genuinely open to the teachings and who are potentially able to take the teachings on board and see them through]

I seek neither fame nor wealth. I desire only to emulate the Buddhas who preached their thousands of sutras and countless shastras just for the sake of sentient beings lost in delusion. Since their mental activities vary, appropriate teachings are given to suit individual cases of perverse views; hence the great variety of doctrines.

[Tom – Now Hui Hai will unfold the essential teaching:]

You should know that setting forth the principle of deliverance in its entirety amounts only to this – when things happen, make no response: keep your minds from dwelling on anything whatsoever: keep them forever still as the void and utterly pure (without stain): and thereby spontaneously attain deliverance.

Oh do not seek for empty fame, mouthing forth talk of the Absolute with minds like those of apes! When talk contradicts action that is known as self-deception; it will lead to your falling headlong into evil states of rebirth. Seek not fame and happiness in this lifetime at the cost of un-enlightenment and suffering for long aeons to come. Strive on! Strive on!

[Tom – the key advice here is not to stop early but to continue on your path – ‘Strive on! Strive on!’. Specifically the advice is not to start talking about this and turning this into a talking shop about the Absolute for those with busy minds who have no intention of putting the above teachings into practice. The cost of this is to miss the ‘goal of enlightenment’]

Sentient beings must save themselves; the Buddhas cannot do it for them. If they could, since there have already been Buddhas as numerous as grains of dust, every single being must by now have been saved; then how is it that you and I are still being tossed upon the waves of life and death instead of having become Buddhas? Do please realize that sentient beings have to save themselves and that the Buddhas cannot do it for them. Strive on! Strive on! Do it for yourselves. Place no reliance upon the powers of other Buddhas. As the sutra says:

‘Those who seek the Dharma do not find it merely by clinging to the Buddhas.’


Tom’s concluding comments:  ‘Strive on! Strive on!’ and ‘When things happen, make no response: keep your minds from dwelling on anything whatsoever: keep them forever still as the void and utterly pure (without stain): and thereby spontaneously attain deliverance.’

Ramana Maharshi, Vedanta and Zen: Q: ‘What method must we practice in order to attain liberation?’ (Chan Master Hui Hai)

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Let us compare some Zen teachings with that of Advaita Vedanta and Sri Ramana Maharshi.

Hui Hai was one of the great Ch’an (Zen) masters from the 8th Century CE. This excerpt is taken from Hui Hai’s Text on the Importance of Sudden Enlightenment, Dialogue 2.

I have interspersed quotes from Ramana Maharshi and Shankara in red type to compare and contrast the teachings:

Question: what method must we practice in order to attain liberation?

Answer: It can be attained only through the gate of sudden illumination (or sudden enlightenment).

Q: What is a sudden illumination?

A: ‘Sudden’ means instantaneously ridding yourselves of deluded thoughts’. ‘Illumination’ or ‘Enlightenment’ means the realisation that illumination is not something to be attained.

[Tom – This can also be translated as ‘Enlightenment’ means the realisation there is no ‘Enlightenment’ to attain, there is nothing to attain’. Compare this with : ‘The benefit of this Light of Supreme Truth is the understanding that there is not the least thing such as ‘attainment’, since the Supreme Self is the Ever-Attained One Whole.’ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Guru Vachaka Kovai, Verse 8]

Q: From where do we start this practice?

A: You must start from the the beginning, the fundamental root.

Q: And what is that?

A: Mind is the fundamental root.

Q: How can this be known?

A: The Lankavatara Sutra says:

‘When mental processes (hsin) arise, then do all phenomena (dharmas) spring forth; and when mental processes cease, then do all dharmas cease likewise.’

[Tom – compare: ‘If the ego rises, all else will also rise; if it subsides all else will also subside.’ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?]

The Vimalakirti Sutra says:

‘Those desiring to attain the Pure Land’ must first purify their own minds, for the purification of mind is the purity of the Buddha Land.’

The Sutra of the Doctrine Bequeathed by the Buddha says:

‘Just by mind control, all things become possible.’

[Tom – compare: ‘If only the mind is kept under control, what matters it where one may happen to be?’ Sri Ramana Maharshi, Who Am I?‘]

In another sutra it says:

‘Sages seek from [their own] mind, not from the Buddhas; fools seek from the Buddhas instead of seeking from [their own] mind.’

and

‘The Wise regulate their minds rather than their body; fools regulate their body rather than their minds.’

The Sutra of the Names of the Buddha states:

‘Evil/sin springs forth from the mind, and by the mind is evil/sin overcome.’

[Tom – compare ‘…man’s bondage is caused by the mind, and Liberation too is caused by that alone.’ Shankara, Vivekachudamani verse 172]

Thus, we may know that all good and evil proceed from our minds and that mind is therefore the fundamental root. If you desire liberation, you must first know all about the root, mind. Unless you can penetrate to this truth, all your efforts will be vain; for, while you are still seeking something from forms external to yourselves, you will never attain.

The Dhyana Paramita Sutra says:

‘For as long as you direct your search to the forms around you, you will not attain your goal even after aeon upon aeon; whereas, by contemplating your inner awareness, you can achieve Buddhahood in a single flash of thought.’

[Tom – compare: ‘Let people quote the Scriptures and sacrifice to the gods, let them perform rituals and worship the deities, but there is no Liberation without the realisation of one’s identity with the Atman, no, not even in the lifetime of a hundred Brahmas put together.’ Shankara, Vivekachudamani verse 6]

Q: By what means is the root-practice to be performed?

A: Only by sitting in meditation, for it is accomplished by Dhyana (Ch’an) and Samadhi (Ting). The Dhyana-Paramita Sutra says:

‘Dhyana and Samadhi are essential to the search for the sacred knowledge of the Buddhas; for, without these, the deluded thoughts remain in confusion and tumult, and the roots of goodness suffer damage.’

Q: Please describe Dhyana and Samadhi.

A: When wrong thinking does not arise, that is Dhyana.

When you sit and see your original nature, that is Samadhi, for indeed that original nature is your eternal unborn mind. In Samadhi, there is the natural situational response of no-mind, and the ‘eight winds’ do not function.

The ‘eight winds’ are gain and loss, calumny and eulogy, praise and blame, sorrow and joy. By practising in this way, even ordinary people may enter the state of Buddhahood. How can that be so? The Sutra of the Bodhisattva-Precepts says:

‘All beings who observe the Buddha-precept thereby enter Buddhahood.’

There are those who in this way have crossed over to the other shore and attained liberation, transcending the six rafts (the six Paramitas), and freeing themselves from the three worlds (greed, anger and delusion). The great power of the ‘Enlightened Ones’ is the infinite power of the Honoured, the Courageous, the ‘Conqueror’!

Spiritual, Emotional & Non-Dual Guidance & Counselling

Tom is the only one [teacher] I’ve seen who doesn’t come from his point of view, he always comes directly from the silence and meets the seeker exactly where they’re at. If they need a practice, he has it, if they already have one but are stuck he knows how to move them, if they’re just beginning he knows how to guide them…it’s wonderful to see.
Danny, UK

To arrange a 1 to 1 session with me please contact me via the contact page.

I offer 1 to 1 sessions either in person or via zoom. These sessions can be a wonderful way of clearing apparent blocks and confusion and can provide a much needed short-cut on your spiritual journey.

My Approach

I meet you wherever you are in your journey and guide you from there – whether you’re completely new to this or are a seasoned seeker, whether you want to focus purely on non-duality or instead want to heal emotional issues, deal with practical aspects of life or explore relationship issues.

Even if you don’t have a specific question or issue in mind, I often find I can intuitively feel where you are and advise you accordingly.

Guidance

Here are just some of the many things I have helped guide those who have approached me:

  • Total Freedom – right here, right now!
  • Clarity around the teachings with a focus on ending suffering in daily life
  • Awakening & enlightenment experiences: making sense of what may have happened to you and where to go from this
  • Going ‘in and out’ of enlightenment – why this is happening for you and what to do about it
  • Reconciling various traditional approaches such as Buddhism, Christianity, Gnosticism, Zen, Advaita, Vedanta as well as non-traditional approaches such as law of attraction, new-age teachings, direct teachings, neo-advaita, etc.
  • Dealing with practical issues such as various aspects of daily life and earning money
  • Relationship issues eg. with partners, family and children
  • Not really feeling happy, peaceful, whole & complete despite intellectually understanding the teachings
  • Healing emotional trauma and distress
  • Resolving addictive or habitual egoic tendencies (vasanas)
  • Addressing various issues related to being a ‘spiritual seeker’, eg:
    • a sense of isolation or loneliness
    • loss of interest or passion for various pursuits
    • other more specific issues such as psychic and energetic experiences.

Cost

Cost for an online 1 to 1 session: £75 for 1 hour; £50 for 30 minutes
Cost for in-person 1 to 1 meeting (in the London area, UK): £100 for 1 hour

To arrange a 1 to 1 session with me please contact me via the contact page

Disclaimer

Meetings and sessions are not intended as a substitute for professional therapy, medical care, or legal advice. Please consult a licensed professional in these matters.

Testimonials

Tom is the easiest person to talk to and he gave me the support I needed.
Outi, Finland

Tom’s teaching is unique. His guidance is a non-dual lighthouse emitting a bright light-beam across life’s turbulent expanse to steer the seeker from crashing on the rocks of ignorance, misunderstanding and delusion, to reach the shore of Timeless Being.
His gift is discerning where the individual seeker is at and what is required specifically for that ‘individual’ to support them in their thirst for freedom from suffering. His maturity, as a guide, is evident in how he can appreciate the wisdom teachings, the ‘treasure in the field’,  in traditions not generally associated with non-duality.
This breadth of understanding sets him apart from the smorgasbord of spiritual snake-oil merchants, pedlars, ‘evangelical’ non-dual purists and genuine teachers which, in practical terms, allows a welcoming and genuine spirit of inclusivity for anyone attending his satsangs.
Gerry, UK

I find Tom’s teachings clearer, simpler, and less encumbered by BS than just about anyone out there whom I have encountered. I’ve had teachers from Alan Watts to Adi Da, to Andrew Cohen, and others. Tom has the least ‘baggage’ I think…
Your words always affect me like a clear, clean breath of fresh air in the midst of what is often a lot of misconception and gobbledygook about what there is to ‘attain’ and all the rest of it.
Carl, USA

I chanced upon Tom’s website at a very interesting time in my journey. I had studied traditional Vedanta for many years. I had some good understanding about the concepts and was doing some serious self inquiry or Atma Vichara. That’s when I started tying myself into all sorts of knots. I wasted a lot of time confused by concepts and was in a very frustrated place until I spoke to Tom.
I believe things happen for a reason and you meet the right people at the right time in the journey. Within a couple of sessions, Tom was able to help me unravel some of these knots. As the layers started peeling off and more layers and depth opened up the journey started taking a different shape. Throughout this, Tom was able to ask just the right question and clarified many concepts that would have otherwise taken a life of their own.
I found his teaching style refreshingly down to earth and humble and since he was able to speak from his direct experience, it made everything so real and relatable.
Arvind, India

Click here to read more testimonials

Chan (Zen) Master Huang Po: How is it possible to develop the Supreme-Enlightenment Mind?

Huang Po Zen Teachings

Question: How is it possible to develop the Supreme-Enlightenment Mind?

Huang Po: Bodhi [enlightenment or enlightened mind]* means nothing to attain. Even now, just as you allow thought to arise, you get nothing. Thus, realising that there is absolutely nothing to attain is the Bodhi Mind.

The realisation that there is nowhere to abide and nothing to attain is the Bodhi.

Therefore, Shakyamuni Buddha [the original Buddha, also known as Gautama Buddha] said ‘…there was really no Dharma [teaching or method] by means of which the Tathagata [the Buddha] attained Supreme Enlightenment…’

*[Tom – square bracket comments added by me]

Almost got it?

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If you have found a spiritual or non-dual teaching that makes sense for you, or if you think you have ‘almost got it now’, know that it is way off the mark! This doesn’t make sense! 😂 Non-duality or advaita doesn’t make sense! Liberation or enlightenment doesn’t make sense! It cannot be understood!

What’s more – no learning is required. It just is! It is everything. It is ‘what is’. And ‘what is’ works all by itself without need for a ‘me’ or ‘you’. Simply THIS in its totality, beyond all concepts and including all concepts.

But words, even the most precise and wonderfully erudite words, may only give a flavour, an indication of what they are pointing to.

You CAN get quite a good conceptual understanding of liberation- eg. just THIS, as it is, empty of belief in separation/me/subject-object, empty of the personal stories, but allowing everything/all without exclusion (you can substitute in your own personal understanding of non-duality or liberation here if you like).

But the words and concepts are not it – they are never it. They are (initially at least) for the illusory ‘me’ that believes it lives in time and space and has free will. The ‘me’ now thinks it understands, and this conceptual understanding allows the perpetuation of this illusory ‘me’ as well as the concomitant suffering.

…yes, where the ‘me’ is, suffering follows…

There may, however, and apparently, be a ‘transmission’ beyond the words…’one Guru enlightening another Guru’ (not that there are really two)…and the ‘me’ may totally and completely collapse…it is Mystery…it is Grace in Action…what is left cannot be understood at all! It is Self-Celebrating and it doesn’t need to be understood.

…but, paradoxically, there is also no need for any transmission, no need for any collapse, no need for a ‘moment’ – for THIS cannot go anywhere or be lost – it is already whole and unfractured – it is already complete and not lacking a single thing – it has never been lost, and always IS whatever IS.

(How can you lose ‘whatever is’?)

Online Liberation & Non-Duality Meeting this Thursday

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Please join me for an ONLINE MEETING this week.

I’ll be online this Thursday 16th May at 8pm (UK time) to talk about all-things Non-Duality & Liberation. All are welcome to attend and it’s easy to join me if you have not done so before:

To join simply make a payment of £10 beforehand here. Then click here at the meeting time to join and just follow the instructions. If you have never used Zoom before it will prompt you to download the program onto your computer/phone/tablet.

(The full link to the meeting if you need it is here https://zoom.us/j/9409264979)

To find the time of the meeting in your timezone you can do so on this website.

I do not turn anyone away if the cost of the meeting is prohibitive, so please let me know if this is the case with you.

Details of all my events are posted here.

I look forward to meeting you soon.

Tom

The fusion of 2 paths: practice and insight; Dogen; Ramana Maharshi

dogen_scrollsmWhen we engage with egoic thoughts, we suffer. All egoic thought assumes the existence of a separate ‘me’ and aims to deliver pleasure, security or fulfilment to that ‘me’.

By simply seeing that thoughts themselves are empty arisings with no intrinsic self, and that they are non-separate from ordinary awareness which in essence is ever-unchanged, we have spontaneously transcended them. In that moment, suffering is no more. This is the way of INSIGHT.

Alternatively, we can simply ignore the thoughts. Sometimes it can be useful to focus on something else such as the breath, a mantra, the sense of presence, etc, in order to distract us from the thoughts. This is the path of PRACTICE. It is a coarser path, as the notion of ‘me’ as the practitioner is still subtly present, but for most of us PRACTICE is required during much 

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of our spiritual journey as the habitual tendencies are too strong and deeply ingrained to be abated by pure insight practice alone. Once through PRACTICE the thoughts become less strongly ingrained, INSIGHT becomes the more predominant focus of the path, eventually becoming spontaneous.

Often, PRACTICE and INSIGHT will go together, sometimes alternating, depending what is happening and what is required. Ultimately they fuse, as indicated by teachings such as ‘Be still’ or ‘Be as you are’ (Ramana Maharshi) and ‘Just sitting’ (Dogen), in which spontaneous non-egoic non-volitional INSIGHT-PRACTICE is implied.

The paradoxial thing is that throughout all of this, all there is is INSIGHT. There is no ‘me’, and there never was. Everything is LIGHT. Experientially, that is all there is!

Directly pointing out the True Self

Hi everyone

Following lots of positive feedback from both the online and in person meetings over the last 2 weeks, I will continue to go over some essential basic teachings that focus in on directly pointing out one’s True Nature in upcoming meetings, both online and in person.

As always, details of all my events are listed here: https://www.meetup.com/Non-duality-Kingston-London/

While these pointings are simple, there is something about experiencing them in person with a real-time direct interaction that makes these teachings so especially powerful. There are many teachings you can read in books or watch online, but the pointing out the true nature teachings usually have to be done in person to really hit home. This is why with this teaching I often get comments like ‘I’ve heard the same words before but this time it really made sense!’.

For those of you who already have come this far, we will take the teachings deeper still…

So, do come along to the next meeting if you are able to. If you have never been to a meeting before, I highly encourage you to attend this week’s meeting (London) or the week after (Online). We are going to meet at the Druid’s Head this Thursday at 7pm.

Hope to see you then

Tom

False Zen – Zen/Ch’an Master Yuanwu

zen letters yuanwu koan

Yuanwu (1063-1135) was a great Chinese Ch’an (Zen) master, a key figure in Chan teachings who is most famous for writing the Blue Cliff Record. He wrote several letters which are instructive and insightful into early Ch’an/Zen teachings and in the except below he writes about false enlightenment and the perils of instant enlightenment without practice, something that has never ‘been a part of the real practice of Buddhism’:

Some people hear this kind of talk and jump to conclusions claiming:

“I understand! Fundamentally there is nothing to Buddhism – it’s there in everybody. As I spend my days eating food and wearing clothes has there ever been anything lacking?” 

Then they settle down in the realm of unconcerned order ordinariness, far from realising that nothing like this has ever been a part of the real practice of Buddhism.

Later on in the same letter Yuanwu writes:

Nowadays there are many bright Zen monks in various localities who want to pass through directly. Some seek too much and want to understand easily.

As soon as they know a little bit about the aim of the Path and how to proceed, they immediately want to show themselves as adepts.

Yet they have already missed it and gone wrong.

(The above excerpt was taken from ‘Zen Letters: teachings of Yuanwu’ translated by JC and Thomas Cleary, p. 27-29)

For more on Yuanwu’s comments on the zen way to attain enlightenment see here:

Zen (Ch’an) Master Yuanwu: The Sure Way to Enlightenment, The Way of Zen

and

Zen: sudden vs gradual enlightenment