Direct Pointing

Yuanwu (1063-1135)

When Bodhidharma came from the West bringing the Zen transmission to China, he didn’t set up written or spoken formulations – he only pointed directly to the human mind.

If we speak of direct pointing, this just refers to what is inherent in everyone: the whole essence appears responsively from within the shell of ignorance. This is no different in ordinary people than in all the sages since time immemorial. It is what we call the natural, real, inherent nature; fundamentally pure, luminous and sublime. It swallows up and spits out all of space. It is a single solid realm that stands out alone, free of the senses and their objects.

Just detach from thoughts and cut off sentiments and transcend the ordinary conventions. Use your own inherent power and take up its great capacity and great wisdom right where you are. It is like letting go when you are hanging from a mile-high cliff, releasing your body and not relying on anything anymore.

Totally shed the obstructions of views and understanding, so that you are like a person who has died the great death. Your breath is cut off, and you arrive at great cessation and great rest on the fundamental ground. Your sense faculties have no inkling of this, and your consciousness and perceptions and sentiments and thoughts do not reach this far.

After that, in the cold ashes of the dead fire, it is clear everywhere, and among the stumps of the dead trees everything is illuminated. Then you merge with solitary transcendence and reach unapproachable heights. You don’t have to seek mind or seek buddha anymore: you bump into them wherever you go, and they do not come from outside.

The hundreds and thousands of aspects and facets of enlightenment since time immemorial are just this. This is mind: there is no need to go on seeking mind. This is buddha: why keep struggling to seek buddha?

If you make slogans based on words and sprout interpretations based on objects, then you fall into the bag of antique curios, and you will never be able to find this true realm of absolute awareness beyond sentiments.

At this stage you are free to go forward in the wild fields without choosing, picking up whatever comes to hand: the meaning of the ancestral teachers is clear in all that grows there. What’s more, the thickets of green bamboo and the masses of yellow flowers and the fences and walls and tiles and pebbles are inanimate things teaching the Dharma. The water birds and the groves of trees expound the truths of suffering, emptiness, and selflessness. Based on one true reality, they extend objectless compassion, and from the great jewel light of nirvana they reveal uncontrived, surpassingly wondrous powers.

Changqing said, “When you meet a companion on the Path, stand shoulder to shoulder and go on: then your lifetime task of learning will be completed.”

Yuanwu (1063-1135)

Excerpted from Zen Letters – Teachings of Yuanwu; translated by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary

These letters were written by the Zen teacher known as Yuanwu to various friends, disciples, and associates – to women as well as to men, to people with families and worldly careers as well as to monks and nuns, to advanced adepts as well as to beginning seekers.

Yuanwu is best known as the author of the single most famous Zen book, The Blue Cliff Record, a collection of meditation cases with prose and verse comments. Here in the letters, Yuanwu delivers the Zen message in a more accessible form, in direct person-to-person lessons.