Mar 26, 2023
Michael Haggiag

Nothing Further to Seek

Sentient beings are already endowed with the Buddha nature, so why aren’t we all Buddhas?



Followers of the Way, as I see it, you are not different from Shaka (the Buddha). Today in your manifold activities, what is it that you lack? The flow of the Six Senses never ceases. Who can see it like that is all his life a man who has nothing further to seek.

                                           From the Zen Teaching of Rinzai (Shambala)

Rinzai Gigen (Linji Yixuan) was the Chinese monk who founded the Rinzai Zen Buddhist lineage during the Tang dynasty. It’s one of only two surviving Zen lines from that period still practised in Japan and the West today.

In the passage above, Master Rinzai is speaking to his monks, who have already given up the worldly life to become his disciples.  They are, by definition, devoting their life to seeking the dharma. Yet, time and again, in his dharma talks Master Rinzai insists that there is nothing further to seek.

Those who have practised Zen for a long time may already understand. Meditation and daily life practice can become all too familiar. The formal meditation posture we assume in the zendo is no longer a constraint. Rinzai’s monks learned to take the rules of the monastery in their stride. Their rigorous discipline would have given them a great deal of inner strength and perhaps even become a source of pride. It would be to no avail, however, if it became just another attempt to attain something from the outside, to satisfy a desire. The means then becomes the end, so it too needs to be let go. The answer is to have nothing further to seek: “If you find the Buddha, kill the Buddha”, or “Do not put on airs; just be your ordinary self” or “Look where you own feet stand.” All these Zen sayings point to the same thing.

Rinzai saw a lack of self-reliance as the main obstacle for his followers, causing them to seek here and there for something outside themselves. That is why it’s also said, “The jewels of the house do not come in through the front door.” But what is this further thing we’re always seeking? It’s whatever we desire to have, whether physical or mental. Often it comes to us in the form of an idea. This idea may be a lofty one in which case we might describe it as an ideal.

Spiritual seekers have the loftiest of ideals: satori, enlightenment, liberation from suffering.

Inevitably, images form in the mind of that one thing we most desire. It can seem hauntingly real, almost tangible, something for which we may be willing to make great sacrifices.

Bodhidharma’s successor Dazu Huike, known in Japan as Taiso Eka, was the second Zen patriarch. He’s said to have stood in the snow until it reached his waist and to have cut off

his left arm to prove the extent of his devotion to the dharma. When Bodhidharma finally came out of his cave and asked Eka what he was seeking, he was pointing directly at Eka’s problem: seeking. Eka was already a seasoned monk with formidable strength, as he had just proven to Bodhidharma, but he was still holding onto an ideal of liberation. He asked for his heart to be set at rest. Having nothing further to seek would presumably put his heart at rest, but if Bodhidharma had pointed this out it would have just added another idea into the mix.

So Bodhidharma asked Eka to show him his heart. What could Eka do? At that moment his “heart” was only an idea.

An idea is a thought that comes and goes, bringing in its train a host of other ideas with their attendant emotions. Perhaps Eka’s pain was related to his notion that if he didn’t achieve enlightenment his life would be a failure, his dream of liberation unfulfilled. Yet this too was

an idea, an illusion, an inconsequential mirage. By demanding that Eka present his heart, Bodhidharma exposed the will-o’-the-wisp nature of Eka’s unsettled state of mind. And Eka responded honestly by saying that he couldn’t find his heart. He couldn’t grasp anything more solid than the memory of these transient emotions. Bodhidharma had accomplished his purpose. “There,” he said. “I have settled your heart.”

As Eka’s story shows, having nothing further to seek is not something to be taken lightly. It’s the beginning and end of our Zen practice. Venerable Myokyo-ni often warned against our propensity to say to ourselves: “If only I could have this one thing, everything would be alright.” What is this “one thing”? It’s the object of our desire and it changes as often and quickly as we do: a pet, a car, a house, a job, a raise, a friend, a spouse, children, success in some individual endeavor or even some lofty ideal to which I’m prepared to give my life. It doesn’t matter how small or large the “if only” thought is. “If only I had a good cup of coffee right now, I could finish this task”, or “If only the world weren’t coming to an end because of climate change, rising Fascism, war with nuclear-armed countries, I could relax, raise my children and grandchildren and die peacefully in my bed.”  But our problem doesn’t lie out there where the thoughts point. It lies in the seeking or hidden desire behind the thought process itself. Thought seeks problems to solve. It doesn’t care whether they’re too small to worry about or too large to ever get resolved. Curiously, thought has no sense of scale. Like a computer it responds to the data that is input into it. This is where meditation comes into its own and why it plays such a central role in Zen Buddhism. 

Citta is an ancient Sanskrit term for heart or mind. Today we prefer to use the word “heart” because it includes the emotions, but Citta traditionally refers to a mind constantly flowing with both thoughts and emotions, in other words a fully alive consciousness: perceptive, incredibly clever, exuberant, foolish, fearful, irrational and at times crazy. Citta is all this and more. It responds to its environment in the blink of an eye, even before a thought can be formed. Citta continues to react to thoughts that have already arisen, so the flow continues.

As Master Rinzai says, “The flow of the Six Senses never ceases.” This flow is the life force itself, and it continually fires up the senses. In the Buddhist world view, thinking is regarded as the sixth sense. It’s so powerful and all-encompassing that we tend to believe it’s the core of ourself, the seat of our identity, the “I” of me. What meditation allows us to experience is something else, which is called the “not-I”, and this happens whenever a small space opens up between the thought process and our awareness of the thought process. This space gives the lie to the conviction that we are our thoughts.

Cita, with its great emotional drive and quicksilver reactions, gives rise to our thoughts. It inputs the data that thinking uses to solve problems. It also causes problems for the intellect

if the data is so tainted by emotion or prejudice that the thinking it provokes has little relationship to the environment it is trying to respond to. This isn’t to say that there’s something intrinsically wrong with emotion. It too is a vital and perfectly valid way of responding to life and the new situations that continually present themselves. But what meditation reveals is that neither emotion nor thought – both fueled by Citta - are completely reliable witnesses. For this reason, we need to look first at the data itself.

“Before thinking of good and bad, what is the True Face?” This koan is often the first one to be given to an aspiring Zen student. If we can find that space before thinking of good and bad, it will also be a place that exists before thoughts and emotions are fired up, and we’ll be able to see things just as they are. We’ll find ourselves in the same place as Sakya and the patriarchs, and our responses, although calibrated to our own present circumstances, will have the same clarity, wisdom and compassion. We will no longer be seeking answers from the outside because we’ll be operating from the place of “not-I”. A clear channel of consciousness will be open and living through us. We will have nothing further to seek and we won’t be running here and there looking for answers to our problems because – as Master Rinzai repeatedly states – we won’t any longer lack self-reliance. We will be “independent men and women of the Way.”

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