Aug 13, 2022
Martin Goodson

Extract | The Wisdom of the Zen Masters by Irmgard Schloegl

Book Extracts

If there is still an  ‘I’ (or ego) then there is no point in trying to deny it. What then, is the correct approach to empty the heart of ‘me’?

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 (from the introduction… )

A further and eminently practical point is that as long as I feel strongly ‘I’, it is no good denying this ‘I’. Calling it an abstract proposition does not diminish it in me, it merely makes me a hypocrite. And since ‘I’ is nourished by the Three Fires, by our passions or emotions, it is not the cutting off of emotions, for that is impossible, but the valid transformation of the emotional household that extinguishes the Three Fires and so weans the ‘I’ from their influence. 

We have thus approached the basis of Eastern religions, which take divinity as immanent in creation. Buddhism being a non-theist religion, does not call this immanence a divinity, but refers to it as the Buddha Nature, the Heart Ground, or just the Heart. This Heart is, of course, not to be taken as the ‘red lump of flesh’, the physical organ in our physical bodies, but in the sense of the ‘heart of the matter’.

To become aware of the Heart, clear seeing is needed. But it is not a state to be attained, made, or fashioned for we have our being in it anyway. It is rather a sloughing off or wearing away of the obstacles in us which are preventing us from being aware of the Heart.

These are basic Buddhist principles. What then distinguishes the Zen school? It is a school of Northern Buddhism or Mahayana, which developed what are perhaps the deepest philosophical and psychological systems ever known. But inherent in them is also the danger that one can easily become stuck at the intellectual or word level. It seems that the Zen school is a reaction against just that , a kind of unspoken return to the basic principles of Buddhism. It insists on personal experience and insight. Being aware of the glibness of words, it stresses the showing of insight-understanding, the clear seeing and actual expression of it.

… A knight in medieval Japan deserted his liege lord after long inner struggles, for such an action was inconceivable according to the code of knighthood. He did it because he felt an overwhelming vocation for the Zen life. Having spent some twelve years in one of the mountain monasteries he set out on pilgrimage. Before long he encountered a knight on horseback who recognized him and made to strike him down but then decided against it as he was unwilling to sully his sword. So he just spat in the monk’s face as he rode by. In the act of wiping away the spittle, the monk realized in a flash what in former days his reaction would have been to such an insult. Deeply moved, he turned round towards the mountain area where he had done his training, bowed and composed a poem:

The mountain is the mountain,

And the Way is the same as of old.

Verily what has changed

Is my own heart.

(The Wisdom of the Zen Masters by Irmgard Schloegl, pub. New Directions 1975)

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