Mental Training

The First Step in the Mental Training.

Some of the old Zen masters are said to have attained to supreme Enlightenment after the practice of Meditation for one week, some for one day, some for a score of years, and some for a few months.  The practice of Meditation, however, is not simply a means for Enlightenment, as is usually supposed, but also it is the enjoyment of Nirvana, or the beatitude of Zen.  It is a matter, of course, that we have fully to understand the doctrine of Zen, and that we have to go through the mental training peculiar to Zen in order to be Enlightened.

The first step in the mental training is to become the master of external things.  He who is addicted to worldly pleasures, however learned or ignorant he may be, however high or low his social position may be, is a servant to mere things.  He cannot adapt the external world to his own end, but he adapts himself to it.  He is constantly employed, ordered, driven by sensual objects.  Instead of taking possession of wealth, he is possessed by wealth.  Instead of drinking liquors, he is swallowed up by his liquors.  Balls and music bid him to run mad.  Games and shows order him not to stay at home. Houses, furniture, pictures, watches, chains, hats, bonnets, rings, bracelets, shoes--in short, everything has a word to command him. How can such a person be the master of things?  To Ju (Na-ae) says: "There is a great jail, not a jail for criminals, that contains the world in it.  Fame, gain, pride, and bigotry form its four walls. Those who are confined in it fall a prey to sorrow and sigh for ever."

To be the ruler of things we have first to shut up all our senses, and turn the currents of thoughts inward, and see ourselves as the centre of the world, and meditate that we are the beings of highest intelligence; that Buddha never puts us at the mercy of natural forces; that the earth is in our possession; that everything on earth is to be made use of for our noble ends; that fire, water, air, grass, trees, rivers, hills, thunder, cloud, stars, the moon, the sun, are at our command; that we are the law-givers of the natural phenomena; that we are the makers of the phenomenal world; that it is we that appoint a mission through life, and determine the fate of man.

The Next Step in the Mental Training.

In the next place we have to strive to be the master of our bodies. With most of the unenlightened, body holds absolute control over Self.  Every order of the former has to be faithfully obeyed by the latter.  Even if Self revolts against the tyranny of body, it is easily trampled down under the brutal hoofs of bodily passion.  For example, Self wants to be temperate for the sake of health, and would fain pass by the resort for drinking, but body would force Self into it.  Self at times lays down a strict dietetic rule for himself, but body would threaten Self to act against both the letter and spirit of the rule.  Now Self aspires to get on a higher place among sages, but body pulls Self down to the pavement of masses.  Now Self proposes to give some money to the poor, but body closes the purse tightly.  Now Self admires divine beauty, but body compels him to prefer sensuality.  Again, Self likes spiritual liberty, but body confines him in its dungeons.

Therefore, to got Enlightened, we must establish the authority of Self over the whole body.  We must use our bodies as we use our clothes in order to accomplish our noble purposes.  Let us command body not to shudder under a cold shower-bath in inclement weather, not to be nervous from sleepless nights, not to be sick with any sort of food, not to groan under a surgeon's knife, not to succumb even if we stand a whole day in the midsummer sun, not to break down under any form of disease, not to be excited in the thick of battlefield--in brief, we have to control our body as we will.

Sit in a quiet place and meditate in imagination that body is no more bondage to you, that it is your machine for your work of life, that you are not flesh, that you are the governor of it, that you can use it at pleasure, and that it always obeys your order faithfully. Imagine body as separated from you.  When it cries out, stop it instantly, as a mother does her baby.  When it disobeys you, correct it by discipline, as a master does his pupil.  When it is wanton, tame it down, as a horse- trainer does his wild horse.  When it is sick, prescribe to it, as a doctor does to his patient.  Imagine that you are not a bit injured, even if it streams blood; that you are entirely safe, even if it is drowned in water or burned by fire.

E-Shun, a pupil and sister of Ryo-an, a famous Japanese master, burned herself calmly sitting cross-legged on a pile of firewood which consumed her.  She attained to the complete mastery of her body.  Socrates' self was never poisoned, even if his person was destroyed by the venom he took.  Abraham Lincoln himself stood unharmed, even if his body was laid low by the assassin.  Masa-shige was quite safe, even if his body was hewed by the traitors' swords. Those martyrs that sang at the stake to the praise of God could never be burned, even if their bodies were reduced to ashes, nor those seekers after truth who were killed by ignorance and superstition. Is it not a great pity to see a man endowed with divine spirit and power easily upset by a bit of headache, or crying as a child under a surgeon's knife, or apt to give up the ghost at the coming of little danger, or trembling through a little cold, or easily laid low by a bit of indisposition, or yielding to trivial temptation?

It is no easy matter to be the dictator of body.  It is not a matter of theory, but of practice.  You must train your body that you may enable it to bear any sort of suffering, and to stand unflinched in the face of hardship.  It is for this that So-rai (Ogiu) laid himself on a sheet of straw-mat spread on the ground in the coldest nights of winter, or was used to go up and down the roof of his house, having himself clad in heavy armor.  It is for this that ancient Japanese soldiers led extremely simple lives, and that they often held the meeting-of-perseverance, in which they exposed themselves to the coldest weather in winter or to the hottest weather in summer.  It is for this that Katsu Awa practiced fencing in the middle of night in a deep forest.

Ki-saburo, although he was a mere outlaw, having his left arm half cut at the elbow in a quarrel, ordered his servant to cut it off with a saw, and during the operation he could calmly sit talking and laughing with his friends. Hiko-kuro (Takayama), a Japanese loyalist of note, one evening happened to come to a bridge where two robbers were lying in wait for him.  They lay fully stretching themselves, each with his head in the middle of the bridge, that he might not pass across it without touching them.  Hiko-kuro was not excited nor disheartened, but calmly approached the vagabonds and passed the bridge, treading upon their heads, which act so frightened them that they took to their heels without doing any harm to him.

The history of Zen is full of the anecdotes that show Zen priests were the lords of their bodies.  Here we quote a single example by way of illustration: Ta Hwui (Dai-ye), once having had a boil on his hip, sent for a doctor, who told him that it was fatal, that he must not sit in Meditation as usual.  Then Ta Hwui said to the physician: "I must sit in Meditation with all my might during my remaining days, for if your diagnosis be not mistaken, I shall die before long."  He sat day and night in constant Meditation, quite forgetful of his boil, which was broken and gone by itself.

The Third Step in the Mental Training.

To be the lord of mind is more essential to Enlightenment, which, in a sense, is the clearing away of illusions, the putting out of mean desires and passions, and the awakening of the innermost wisdom.  He alone can attain to real happiness who has perfect control over his passions tending to disturb the equilibrium of his mind.  Such passions as anger, hatred, jealousy, sorrow, worry, grudge, and fear always interfere with one's mood and break the harmony of one's mind.  They poison one's body, not in a figurative, but in a literal sense of the word.  Obnoxious passions once aroused never fail to bring about the physiological change in the nerves, in the organs, and eventually in the whole constitution, and leave those injurious impressions that make one more liable to passions of similar nature.

We do not mean, however, that we ought to be cold and passionless, as the most ancient Hinayanists were used to be.  Such an attitude has been blamed by Zen masters.  "What is the best way of living for us monks?" asked a monk to Yun Ku (Un-go), who replied: "You had better live among mountains."  Then the monk bowed politely to the teacher, who questioned: "How did you understand me?"  "Monks, as I understood," answered the man, "ought to keep their hearts as immovable as mountains, not being moved either by good or by evil, either by birth or by death, either by prosperity or by adversity." Hereupon Yun Ku struck the monk with his stick and said: "You forsake the Way of the old sages, and will bring my followers to perdition!" Then, turning to another monk, inquired: "How did you understand me?"  "Monks, as I understand," replied the man, "ought to shut their eyes to attractive sights and close their ears to musical notes."  "You, too," exclaimed Yun Ka, "forsake the Way of the old sages, and will bring my followers to perdition!"  An old woman, to quote another example repeatedly told by Zen masters, used to give food and clothing to a monk for a score of years.  One day she instructed a young girl to embrace and ask him: "How do you feel now?"  "A lifeless tree," replied the monk coolly, "stands on cold rock. There is no warmth, as if in the coldest season of the year."  The matron, being told of this, observed: "Oh that I have made offerings to such a vulgar fellow for twenty years!"  She forced the monk to leave the temple and reduced it to ashes.

If you want to secure Dhyana, let go of your anxieties and failures in the past; let bygones be bygones; cast aside enmity, shame, and trouble, never admit them into your brain; let pass the imagination and anticipation of future hardships and sufferings; let go of all your annoyances, vexations, doubts, melancholies, that impede your speed in the race of the struggle for existence.  As the miser sets his heart on worthless dross and accumulates it, so an unenlightened person clings to worthless mental dross and spiritual rubbish, and makes his mind a dust-heap.  Some people constantly dwell on the minute details of their unfortunate circumstances, to make themselves more unfortunate than they really are; some go over and over again the symptoms of their disease to think themselves into serious illness; and some actually bring evils on them by having them constantly in view and waiting for them.  A man asked Poh Chang (Hyaku-jo): "How shall I learn the Law?"  "Eat when you are hungry," replied the teacher; " sleep when you are tired.  People do not simply eat at table, but think of hundreds of things; they do not simply sleep in bed, but think of thousands of things."

A ridiculous thing it is, in fact, that man or woman, endowed with the same nature as Buddha's, born the lord of all material objects, is ever upset by petty cares, haunted by the fearful phantoms of his or her own creation, and burning up his or her energy in a fit of passion, wasting his or her vitality for the sake of foolish or insignificant things.

It is a man who can keep the balance of his mind under any circumstances, who can be calm and serene in the hottest strife of life, that is worthy of success, reward, respect, and reputation, for he is the master of men.  It was at the age of forty-seven that Wang Yang Ming (O-yo-mei) won a splendid victory over the rebel army which threatened the throne of the Ming dynasty.  During that warfare Wang was giving a course of lectures to a number of students at the headquarters of the army, of which he was the Commander-in-chief.  At the very outset of the battle a messenger brought him the news of defeat of the foremost ranks.  All the students were terror-stricken and grew pale at the unfortunate tidings, but the teacher was not a whit disturbed by it.  Some time after another messenger brought in the news of complete rout of the enemy.  All the students, enraptured, stood up and cheered, but he was as cool as before, and did not break off lecturing.  Thus the practitioner of Zen has so perfect control over his heart that he can keep presence of mind under an impending danger, even in the presence of death itself.

It was at the age of twenty-three that Haku-in got on board a boat bound for the Eastern Provinces, which met with a tempest and was almost wrecked.  All the passengers were laid low with fear and fatigue, but Haku-in enjoyed a quiet sleep during the storm, as if he were lying on a comfortable bed.  It was in the fifth of Mei-ji era that Doku-on lived for some time in the city of Tokyo, whom some Christian zealots attempted to murder.  One day he met with a few young men equipped with swords at the gate of his temple.  "We want to see Doku-on; go and tell him," said they to the priest.  "I am Doku-on," replied he calmly, "whom you want to see, gentlemen. What can I do for you?"  "We have come to ask you a favor; we are Christians; we want your hoary head."  So saying they were ready to attack him, who, smiling, replied: "All right, gentlemen.  Behead me forthwith, if you please."  Surprised by this unexpected boldness on the part of the priest, they turned back without harming even a hair of the old Buddhist.

These teachers could through long practice constantly keep their minds buoyant, casting aside useless encumbrances of idle thoughts; bright, driving off the dark cloud of melancholy; tranquil, putting down turbulent waves of passion; pure, cleaning away the dust and ashes of illusion; and serene, brushing off the cobwebs of doubt and fear.  The only means of securing all this is to realize the conscious union with the Universal Life through the Enlightened Consciousness, which can be awakened by dint of Dhyana.


Original text by Kaiten Nukariya, edited and revised by William Mackis © 2005.





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