The straightforward teachings of Shifus (teachers), including their talks, actions, and even facial expressions, have been highly valued throughout the history of Zen. By directly pointing out students’ weaknesses and obstacles by any means necessary, such teachings have led students to break through the dualistic forms that they persist with, deepen their Zen experience, and reveal their true nature. Therefore, Shifus’ straightforward teachings are respectfully regarded as “the finger pointing at the moon.”
However, when the Shifus’ teachings hit at the students’ hearts, it doesn’t feel that good. Most of the time, the students get confused, annoyed, or even infuriated. Some defend themselves persistently, while others get lost in the Shifu’s words and cannot find the clue. Very few get through the forms of their persistence and agitation from the Shifu’s teaching to further their Zen practice.
As students of the None Zen Center, we, fortunately and unfortunately, have straightforward teachings from our Shifus all the time. These teachings are given in the Shifus’ lectures, during dialogues between the Shifus and us, and in emails with the Shifus’ comments on our Zen diaries. We have started to write them down to share them with you. We call these valuable teachings “Zen Talks.” We hope you get hit by the Zen Talks, and soon you will say Zen talks!
17. The Same Way!
A student asked Shifu Linda, “How will I know if I become enlightened?”
Shifu Linda questioned, “Do you know that you are not enlightened yet?”
The student replied, “Yes.”
“HOW do you know you are not enlightened?
” Shifu Linda asked. “The same way! You will know THE SAME WAY!” Shifu Linda yelled, not waiting for the student’s response.
16. Merry Christmas!
A student asked Shifu Linda, “We say ‘happy holidays’ instead of ‘merry Christmas’ because we are Buddhists, yes?”
Shifu Linda answered, “Why not? We even celebrate a dog’s birthday, so why don’t we celebrate a person’s birthday? Not to mention that this person was such a great healer, who comforted billions of people’s minds. So, merry Christmas!”
15. Good or evil, that is nothing to do with me!
After practicing Zen meditation with Shifu Linda for a while, most students find Linda can read their mind. Some students call Linda a “witch” privately. Linda doesn’t mind, and finds it interesting. Sometimes when she points out her students’ thoughts in class, she even makes fun of herself, “Oh yes, now you see, I am a witch,” and laughs out loud.
One day, in response, a student asked, “Then you must be a good witch, right?”
Coldly, Linda answered, “Good or evil, that is nothing to do with me!”
14. Why do you bind yourself so tightly?
Shifu Linda asked a student, “Why do you come to learn Zen meditation in the first place?”
The student answered, “For the great liberation.”
Linda questioned, “Then why do you bind yourself so tightly?”
13. Let all things come to you!
At a Zen retreat, practitioners were struggling hard to rid themselves of their thoughts, emotions, and sensations in order to focus on their meditation. Shifu Jeremy scolded, “Why are you so afraid of your feeling? Your feeling is your manifestation; your thoughts are you. You practice Zen meditation to know your self, so let your feeling come to you. Let all things come to you!”
12. What will you do when you’re really good at reading Zen literature?
After giving a lecture on how to read Zen literature in the Club None Class, a course designed for disciples of None Zen Center, Shifu Linda said, “You’ve learned how to read Zen literature. If you follow my instructions, you will read better and better. Now, I have a question for you: what will you be or what will you do when you’re really good at reading Zen literature?”
One student said, “My Zen practice will get progress, too?” Another, “I would read faster so that I could read more.”
Not waiting for the others to answer the question, Shifu Linda shouted, “You would burn them off!”
Shifu Linda laughed out loud, then sighed, “You all are not Zen-ish at all.”
11. Why bother to know the Zen story now?
In the last session of the Beginner’s Class, after Shifu Linda introduced the Zen technique of doubting meditation (Chn. Huato), one student asked, “How can I know whether this technique is effective? How can I know if doubting meditation will lead me to enlightenment?”
Linda smiled and answered, “Well, I’ll tell you a Zen story about how two Zen masters endorsed the Zen technique of doubting meditation in next week’s class.”
Impatient for the Zen story, the student continued, “Not until next week? Isn’t this the last session of the Beginner’s Class? Aren’t we finished now?”
Shifu Linda answered, “If you really want to know whether this Zen technique works, you will come to next week’s class and hear the Zen story. If whether it works or not doesn’t matter to you, you will not show up next week. So why bother to know the Zen story now?”
The student didn’t come back to class the next week.
10. Eat a meal without the S.O.P.s
As part of Zen training, students in the Training Program of the None Zen Center are required to share the Center’s daily operating works, such as weekly cleaning and event organizing. To create a communal working-practicing environment, students rotate jobs periodically. To reduce the impact of the job-shifting and keep the Center’s operations on track, students are required to follow the S.O.P.s (standard operating procedures) for their jobs.
One day, a student was blamed for not planning a daylong meditation class well. The student apologized in an email, and explained that he could not plan the class well because he had no rules to follow; the S.O.P.s of the daylong class had not been established by another student.
Quickly, Shifu Linda replied, “Yes, you have a point. But the question is, how can you eat a meal without the S.O.P.s (for having meals)?”
9. What is progress?
Whenever talking or being asked about “what is progress?” both Shifu Jeremy and Shifu Linda would say, “Whenever you know you are wrong, you get progress. Yes, when you know you are wrong, you get progress.“
8. What can you do when you fall asleep on the meditation cushion?
On the first day of a five-day Zen retreat in 2015, most students could not focus on their Zen practice, and kept falling asleep while practicing sitting meditation. Shifu Linda raised a question, “What can you do when you fall asleep on the mediation cushion?” and asked students to answer.
No one dared say a word, but all looked at Shifu Linda, waiting for her teaching.
“No, silly. You cannot do anything while you are sleeping, can you?” She laughed loudly, then continued, “When you fall asleep, you just fall asleep; you cannot do anything when you fall asleep. The only thing you can do is focus on your practice when you are awake. You practice Zen with 100% focus when you are awake. This is the only thing you can do when you sit on the meditation cushion.”
Shifu Linda explained further, “You are not practicing Zen to become sleepless; turning yourself into a person who never sleeps is not the goal of Zen practice. You practice Zen to know you, your self, your true nature. So focus 100% on your goal and keep self-inquiring, “What is no self?” until you find the answer. Sleep or not sleep, that is not a question for Zen practice.”
7. Not a Land of No Thoughts
Shifu Linda said, “Zen practice does not promise and is not looking for a land of no thoughts, no emotions, or no sensations. Zen practice is to know the true nature of “this you,” right now and right here. How is it possible that this I who, right now and right here, has so many thoughts, mind movements, and physical sensations, is no self? How is it possible that this “living I” is no self? If I am no self now, what is no self? What is no self?”
6. How can you avoid “you” to know your self?
Shifu Linda said, “Zen practice is about knowing your true nature, through self-inquiring to achieve self-realization. It is all about you, knowing you, and knowing your self. So, how can you avoid ‘you’ to know your self? How can you ignore, deny, or get rid of your anger, your frustration, your stress, your pain, your hate, your love, your lightness, your joy, and your happiness to know your self?”
“The only way to know your self is through you: through your anger, your frustration, your stress, your pain, your hate, your love, your lightness, your joy, and your happiness. You know your self through you, not through avoiding, ignoring, denying, or getting rid of you.“
5. What is the meaning of life?
Shifu Jeremy asked, “What is the meaning of life?”
Student Jeremy Yo pondered for a while, and then answered, “Calmness and peacefulness.”
Shifu Jeremy shouted, “Wrong!”
Jeremy Yo was struck dumb.
4. Not suitable for making tea
Shifu Jeremy said, “When you boil water to make tea, you need to turn on the full fire and boil the water all at once. If you heat up the water a little bit but soon turn off the fire, the water won’t boil. If you keep firing on and firing off before it boils, the water will no longer be fresh and no longer be suitable for making tea.”
“Same with your Zen practice. You need to practice Zen consistently until you know the true nature of your self. If you keep coming to three-day Zen retreats and taking breaks for three months afterward, you will soon become ‘not fresh’ for practicing Zen, like the water not suitable for making tea.”
3. This afternoon has passed.
Shifu Linda teaches students to practice Zen by asking one question, “What is no self?” which leads students through self-inquiring to self-realization. When asking themselves, “what is no self?” students will have the “doubt sensation,” a feeling of not knowing, confusion, or agitation. Students are supposed to continue this doubt by continuing to ask the same question, “What is no self?”
To push themselves to focus on self-inquiring, some students would use their whole body’s strength and even make facial expressions such as frowning or biting their lips while sitting on the meditation cushion.
At a five-day retreat in October 2015, after asking the question, “What is no self?” an entire day and suffering from a daylong frustration, student Karen felt her hard work was all in vain. While she drank water in the dining room, Shifu Linda approached.
Shifu Linda asked, “What was the expression on your face when you were sitting?”
Karen replied, “I needed to do that because I was afraid of losing my doubt.”
Shifu Linda said, “You were just ‘making things.’ Are you really feeling so insecure?”
Karen defended herself, “Yes, I know I was making things, but this was the only way I could focus on my practice. I felt I was hitting a wall all day. Even though I was making things, I found I could keep asking the question. What’s wrong with that? What should I do now? Which part of my practice was incorrect when you poked me with your Zen stick this afternoon?”
Shifu Linda replied coldly, “This afternoon has passed.”
Karen was angry and thought, “Isn’t past experience helpful to future practice sessions? Why can’t students ask questions?” Karen lost her patience and demanded, “You have really confused me. What do you really mean?”
Shifu Linda asked, “What would you be if you failed?”
Stunned, Karen stopped.
2. How is it possible that you can know your self better?
At the None Zen Center, students are taught that the purpose of Zen practice is to know the true nature of “self” is “no self.” After practicing Zen consistently for a period of time, students are supposed to see progress and know themselves better, even though they haven’t discovered what no self is.
One day, Shifu Linda asked her student, Jeremy Yo, “Do you know your self better now?”
Jeremy Yo answered with confidence, “Of course I know my self better.”
Shifu Linda went further, “How is it possible that you can know your self better?”
Stunned, Jeremy Yo was speechless.
1. How long does it take to get enlightened?
Shifu Jeremy asked, “How long do you think it takes a person to get enlightened?”
Student Jeremy Yo was too weak to say anything.
“It is right now, right here!” Shifu Jeremy shouted loudly.
So shocked, Jeremy Yo had almost gone deaf.