The Supreme Vehicle

If one points at the moon, one has to look at the moon; why look at the finger tips?

The supreme vehicle’s starting point is the faith and belief that one is already a Buddha.

That the fundamental nature of mind is utterly free, clear and pure.

The supreme vehicle approach points directly to this mind.

Not the fleeting thoughts or incessant wants and don’t wants that rise and fall like clouds in the sky.

It points to the sky like nature of mind that is spacious and aware.

Just look back to the essence of mind that is reading these words right now.

Do you see the light of awareness that is illuminating this moment allowing you to “know” that “you’re” reading?

Do you see how that space is free of thought?

Do you see how thoughts, perceptions, emotions, sensations, even this body appear in this aware space?

Do you see how all “arises” in that space?

Do you see how all these appearance instantly are there like reflections in a mirror?

Do you see how that mirror like awareness is unaffected by these images?

Do you see how that aware space is free of a you?

Do you see that aware space is free of any ideas of a you or what you consider to be a you?

Do you see that it is completely clear?

Do you see that it is vast emptiness?

Do you see that it is groundless?

Do you see that it is boundless – words like infinite can’t quite hit the mark?

Do you see how even though it’s present right now categories of time do not apply?

Do you see that even though we can use the word space to describe it – that doesn’t quite get to it because there is still a knowingness?

Do you see that knowingness is free of a knower or even a known?

Do you see how it’s like an everfresh ever-present knowingness?

Do you see how the one word awareness points directly to the mark?


Rest in that Radiance.

This is the practice and teaching of the supreme vehicle.

You’re very mind is the Buddha-mind.

Becoming familiar with it is the practice.

Like an icecube melting into a glass of clear water.

Nothing to be done but everything is accomplished.

From that place emerges all enlightened activity – naturally and spontaneously.

As the Buddha said in the Perfect Enlightenment Sutra,

“The Supreme Dharma King possesses the method which reveals the essence of Perfect Complete Enlightenment, out of which emanates and spontaneously manifests as purity, suchness, bodhi, nirvana and the paramitas which guide bodhisattvas.

The fundamental, original, pure casual ground of Perfect Enlightenment is the illuminating awareness that this original purity, suchness, bodhi, nirvana and even the paramitas are already possessed by you.

This illuminating awareness is pure in essence and free from ignorance.

Once this is realized you immediately sever ignorance and accomplish the path of the Buddha’s.”

Zen Master Zongmi said that,

The teaching which reveals the Nature, is geared to advanced students and those of superior ability, “Because it causes them to forget words and apprehend the essence, a single word directly reveals [the essence].”

This teaching propounds that all sentient beings without exception have the empty, tranquil True Mind.

From time without beginning it is the intrinsically pure, effulgent, unobscured, clear and bright ever-present Awareness.

It will abide forever and never perish on into the infinite future.

It is named Buddhanature; it is also named Tathagatagarbha and Mind-Ground.

All dharmas are like a dream, as the various sages alike have explained.

Thus deluded thoughts are intrinsically tranquil (chi) and sense objects are intrinsically empty (k’ung).

The Mind which is empty and tranquil is numinously aware (lingchih) and unobscured (pu-mei).

This very Awareness which is empty and tranquil is the empty tranquil Mind transmitted previously by Bodhidharma.

Whether deluded or enlightened, the Mind is intrinsically aware in and of itself.

It does not come into existence dependent upon conditions nor does it arise because of sense objects.

When it is deluded, it is subject to defilements, but Awareness is not [these] defilements.

When it is enlightened, it displays supernormal powers, but Awareness is not [these] supernormal powers.

The single word “Awareness” is the source (yuan) of all mysteries.

Zen Master Yefu said,

“Oh the imposing Great Way!
It is bright and clear.
Every person is originally furnished with it,
each and every one has accomplished it.” 
(Hymns by Yefu, in Geumganggyeong ogahae (Five Seon Explanations of the Platform Sutra))

Zen Master Chinul said,

Sentient beings of great aspiration* who rely on the supreme-vehicle approach to dharma have firm faith and understanding that:

the four great elements (mahābhūta) are like a bubble or a mirage,
that the six sense-objects are like flowers in the sky,
that their own minds are the buddha-mind,
and that their own natures are the dharma-nature. 

Since time immemorial,
they have themselves left behind the nature of the afflictions.
Their alertness is instantly alert;
their clarity is instantly clear.

Although people who cultivate while relying on this understanding
may still have beginningless proclivities of habit (vāsanā),
if they control them with the unabiding wisdom,
they instead become the foundational wisdom
and need neither be suppressed nor removed.

Although they know how to use expedients and samādhi
to expel the influences of torpor and distraction,
since they recognize
that conditioned thoughts and discrimination
originate according to conditions from the true nature,
while drawing on the purity of that nature,
they remain free
from any form of clinging or attachment.

Although they are immersed in external conditioning and sensory objects
that are both adverse and favorable,
they comprehend that these are only the mind
and that there is no self or others,
no subject and object.

Thus naturally in all situations,
they feel no liking or disliking,
no anger or joy.

In this wise,
those who avail themselves of the dharma to tame and subdue the proclivities,
who accord with the ideal wisdom and increase its clarity,
who adapt themselves to conditions in order to benefit sentient beings,
and who tread the bodhisattva path —
even though they dwell within the three realms of existence,
for them, there is no place that is not the Pure Land of the dharma-nature.

Although months and years may pass,
their essence never leaves the present moment.
They avail themselves of great compassion and wisdom and,
through the dharma, are able to adapt to conditions.

Although such persons are not the same as those remarkable ancients who in a single leap transcended all the stages of the bodhisattva path and who came to be endowed with all the superpowers, still, because early on they planted the wholesome roots (kuśalamūla), their spiritual lineage is resolute and keen.

They have deep faith
that their own minds are originally self-reliant
in employing both calmness and functioning,
for their nature is immutable.

Hence, despite all the hardships of this world,
what danger is there that they will backslide?

As it is said in the Exposition of the Avatamsaka Sūtra,

“Since ordinary persons of great aspiration
can generate faith
and gain access to realization,
they are born into the family of the tathāgatas.

Hence, it is not the case
that the message [of the Avatamsaka Sūtra
is directed exclusively to] all the great bodhisattvas
who have already been born into the buddhas’ family.”

Nowadays, those who cultivate the mind in this manner possess superior faculties.

In the Pure Name Sūtra,  Vimalakīrtinirdeśa says, “One who wants to purify the buddha-land should purify one’s mind. The more one’s mind is purified, the more the buddha-land is purified.”

It says “the more one’s mind is purified, the more the buddha-land is purified.” Further more, when people hear the explanation that “the mindground that is cultivated is empty, bright, and free from material things,” they assume that they will have no physical body to experience pleasures and become afraid of falling into emptiness.

They do not know that emptiness is fundamentally form.

There is only the tathāgata’s bright, clear mind of complete enlightenment, which is boundless with all of space and pervades the dharmadhātu; it subsumes, without exception, the minds of all sentient beings.

There, the ignorant, discriminative minds of all sentient beings are empty and bright and have the same ocean of wisdom and the same dharmanature as all the buddhas of the ten directions.

Although sentient beings may act within this [buddha-mind] all day long, they turn their backs on its beneficence.

Those who do not understand the import of this are seeking the sphere of buddhahood with a mind immersed in avarice and greed: this is like trying to insert a square peg into a round hole.

Zen Master Mazu (709-788) said,

There is no need to practice the Way.
Just do not be polluted.

What is pollution?
Inventing, aiming for and going towards (something)
with the mind of birth and death,
all of this is pollution.

What about if one wants to know the Way?
The everyday mind is the Way.

Why do you say the everyday mind is the Way?
It is because there is no creation,
no right or wrong,
no choosing,
no discontinuity/annihilation or eternity,
and no commoner or saint. (Jingde chuandeng lu)

Mazu replied to the question,

“How must one practice the Way so that one can be enlightened?”


“One’s own nature is originally pristine.
And so one must not be stuck
in the realm of discrimination
in which something is good or evil.

Such people are the persons
who practice the Way.”

Zen Master Dàhuì Zōnggăo said,

“To attain enlightenment,
it is not necessary to abandon family life,
quit your job,
become a vegetarian,
practice asceticism,
flee to a quiet mountain top,
or enter a ghost cave of dead Zen
to entertain your subjective imaginings.

If you have been practicing quiet meditation
but your mind is still not calm and free
when in the midst of activity,
this means your haven’t been empowered
by your quiet meditation.

Furthermore, if you have been practicing quietude
just to get rid of agitation,
then when your are practicing quietude
just to get rid of agitation,
then when you are in the midst of agitation,
the agitation will disturb your mind
just as if you had never done any quiet meditation.

When you are studying Zen,
as you meet with people and deal with situations,
never allow erroneous thoughts to continue.
If an erroneous thought arises,
immediately focus your attention
and root the thought out.

If, however,
you just follow the thought unhindered,
this will not only make it impossible to have any insight into your own true nature
it will also make you a fool.

Good and bad come from you own mind.
However, what do you call your own mind,
apart from your actions and thoughts?
Where does your mind come from?

If you really know where your own mind comes from,
boundless obstacles caused by your own actions will be cleared all at once.

After seeing that,
all sorts of extraordinary possibilities
will come to you
without your seeking them.”

Theravadin master, Ajahn Chan wrote:

“So the purpose of practice is to seek inwardly, investigating until you reach the original mind. Original mind is also known as pure mind. It is the mind without attachment. It isn’t affected by mental objects and doesn’t chase after pleasant and unpleasant phenomena. Rather, it is in a state of continuous wakefulness, thoroughly aware of all it experiences. When the mind is like this, it does not become anything, and nothing can shake it. Why? Because there is awareness. The mind knows itself as pure. It has reached its original state of independence. This has come about through the faculty of mindfulness together with wise reflection, seeing that all things are merely conditions arising out of the confluence of the elements, without any individual controlling them.”

Zen Master Bankei said,

Not a single one of you people at this meeting is unenlightened.
Right now, you’re all sitting before me as Buddhas.
Each of you received the Buddha-mind from your mothers when you were born, and nothing else.

This inherited Buddha-mind is beyond any doubt unborn,
with a marvelously bright illuminative wisdom.

In the Unborn, all things are perfectly resolved.

The Buddha-mind is unborn and wonderfully illuminating.

When people are firmly convinced that the Buddha-mind is unborn and wonderfully illuminating and live in it, they’re living Buddhas and living Tathagatas from then on.

“Buddha,” too, is just a name, arising after the fact.
It’s only the skin and shell.

When you say “Buddha,” you’re already two or more removes from the place of the Unborn.

A man of the Unborn is one who dwells at the source of all the Buddhas.

The Unborn is the origin of all and the beginning of all.
There is no source apart from the Unborn and no beginning that is before the Unborn.
So being unborn means dwelling at the very source of all Buddhas.

If you live in the Unborn, then, there’s no longer any need to speak about “nonextinction,” or “undying.” It would be a waste of time.
So I always talk about the “Unborn,” never about the “Undying.”
There can be no death for what was never born, so if it is unborn, it is obviously undying.
There’s no need to say it, is there?

When you are unborn, you’re at the source of all things.
The unborn Buddha-mind is where the Buddhas of the past all attained their realization and where future Buddhas will all attain theirs.
Although we’re now in the Dharma’s latter days,
if a single person lives in the Unborn,
the right Dharma flourishes in the world.
There’s no doubt about it.

Upon confirming yourself in the Unborn,
you acquire the ability to see from the place of that confirmation
straight into the hearts of others.

The name the Zen school is sometimes given,
the “Clear-eyed” sect, stems from this.

There, at that place of confirmation,
the Buddha’s Dharma is fully achieved.

Once the eye that can see others as they are opens in you,
you can regard yourself as having fully achieved the Dharma,
because wherever you are becomes a place of total realization.
When you reach that place, no matter who you are,
you are the true successor to my Dharma.

A certain priest has said, ‘All you do is repeat the same things day after day. You ought to give your listeners a change. Their minds will be more receptive if you throw in some stories about the Zen masters of the past.”

Dull-witted as I am, I think if I put my mind to it,
I could probably remember a couple of anecdotes to tell people.
But that would be like feeding them poison.
I don’t want to do that.

I never cite the Buddha’s words or the words of Zen patriarchs when I teach.
All I do is comment directly on people themselves.
That takes care of everything.
I don’t have to quote other people.
So you won’t find me saying anything about either the “Buddha Dharma” or the “Zen Dharma.”
I don’t have to, when I can clear everything up for you by commenting directly on you and your personal concerns right here and now.?
I’ve no reason to preach about “Buddhism” or “Zen.”

Despite the fact that you arrived in this world with nothing but an unborn Buddha-mind,
your partiality for yourselves now makes you want to have things move in your own way.
You lose your temper, become contentious, and then you think, “I haven’t lost my temper. That fellow won’t listen to me. By being so unreasonable he has made me lose it.”
And so you fix belligerently on his words and end up transforming the valuable Buddha-mind into a fighting spirit.
By stewing over this unimportant matter, making the thoughts churn over and over in your mind, you may finally get your way, but then you fail in your ignorance to realize that it was meaningless for you to concern yourself over such a matter.
As ignorance causes you to become an animal, what you’ve done is to leave the vitally important Buddha-mind and make yourself inwardly a first-class animal.

You’re all intelligent people here.
It’s only your ignorance of the Buddha-mind that makes you go on transforming it
into a hungry ghost, fighting spirit, or animal.
You turn it into this and into that, into all manner of things, and then you become those things.

Once you have, once you’ve become an animal, for example, then even when the truth is spoken to you, it doesn’t get through to you.
Or, supposing it does; since you didn’t retain it even when you were a human being, you certainly won’t have the intelligence as an animal to keep it in your mind.

So you go from one hell or animal existence to the next
or spend countless lifetimes as a hungry ghost.

You pass through lives and existences one after another in this way
in constant darkness,
transmigrating endlessly and suffering untold torment,
for thousands of lives and through endless kalpas of time,
and during it all, you have no opportunity whatever
to rid yourself of the burden of your evil karma.

This happens to everyone when,
through a single thought,
they let the Buddha-mind slip away from them.

So you can see that it’s a very serious matter indeed.

Therefore, you must thoroughly understand about
not transforming the Buddha-mind into other things.

As I told you before, not a single one of you in attendance here today is an unenlightened person.
You’re a gathering of unborn Buddha-minds.
If anyone thinks, “No, I’m not. I’m not enlightened,” I want him to step forward.
Tell me: What is it that makes a person unenlightened?

In fact, there are no unenlightened people here.

Nonetheless, when you get up and begin to file out of the hall,
you might bump into someone in front of you as you cross over the threshold.
Or someone behind you might run into you and knock you down.
When you go home, your husband, son, daughter-in-law, or someone else may say or do something that displeases you.
If something like that happens, and you grasp on to it and begin to fret over it, sending the blood to your head, raising up your horns, and falling into illusion because of your self-partiality,
the Buddha-mind turns willy-nilly into a fighting spirit.

Until you transform it,
you live just as you are in the unborn Buddha-mind;
you aren’t deluded or unenlightened.

The moment you do turn it into something else,
you become an ignorant, deluded person.

All illusions work the same way.

By getting upset and favoring yourself,
you turn your Buddha-mind into a fighting spirit—
and fall into a deluded existence of your own making.

So whatever anyone else may do or say,
whatever happens,
leave things as they are.
Don’t worry yourself over them
and don’t side with yourself.

Just stay as you are,
right in the Buddha-mind,
and don’t change it into anything else.

If you do that,
illusions don’t occur
and you live constantly
in the unborn mind.

You’re a living,
firmly established Buddha.
Don’t you see?

You have an incalculable treasure right at hand.

You must understand about the marvelous illumination of the unborn mind.

Once you have been to a certain place, you don’t forget it, even after years have passed.
It’s easy for you to remember it.
You don’t always have to be keeping it consciously in mind.
If someone else goes to that same place, the two of you will be able to talk about it, though you may be miles distant from it at the time.
No matter where you are when you talk about it, it makes no difference; your accounts will still be in agreement.

Practices Do Not Generate the Awakened Mind

You know, that fundamental presence that you may have experienced at the start of this article?

That’s your fundamental natural state – available to you at all times.

It’s there if you’re running, sleeping, having sex – in every moment.

It’s always there, permeates and penetrates everything.

when it’s not recognized we call that a sentient being.

When it is recognized we call it a wise one.

In both cases it’s always present.

We believe that it’s not.

These practices do not generate awakening, enlightenment, whatever you want to call it. Actualize Buddha.


They remove all the obscurations, so that you can see what’s naturally present.

In the Pali Anguttara Nikaya (A.I.8-10) the Buddha says,

“Luminous is the mind.
And it is freed from incoming defilements.

The well-instructed disciple
of the noble ones
discerns that
as it actually is present,

Which is why I tell you that  —
for the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones —
there is development of the mind.”

So that natural presence is your natural state,

Always available to you.

The development of mind is to see it as it actually is and it actually is present right now.

Right now it’s listening.

It’s seeing.

When Bahiya sensing that his death was near and hearing that there was finally an awakened one near by desperately sought out the Buddha and begged him for teachings. The Buddha said to him,

“Bāhiya, you should train yourself thus:

In reference to the seen,
there will be only the seen.

In reference to the heard,
only the heard.

In reference to the sensed,
only the sensed.

In reference to the cognized,
only the cognized.

That is how you should train yourself.

When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen,
only the heard in reference to the heard,
only the sensed in reference to the sensed,
only the cognized in reference to the cognized,
then, Bāhiya, there is no you in connection with that.

When there is no you in connection with that,
there is no you there.

When there is no you there,
you are neither here
nor yonder
nor between the two.

This, just this, is the end of stress.”

The perfectly clear Buddha-Mind is everpresent. It’s just clouded over with “You” or “I-Me-My”.

It’s always there.

We believe that it’s not.

These practices DO NOT generate awakening, enlightenment, whatever you want to call it – actualized Buddha.


They remove all the obscurations so you can see what’s naturally present.

So that natural presence is your natural state.

Always available to us.

Now it’s listening to me. It’s seeing me.

You don’t have to do anything right now for all of this to arise for you.

In moments throughout the day – we call it snap back.

Notice it aright?

And it’s good, when you’re having an emotional charge, the moment that you notice that you’re off your throne, getting whipped around by karma, by emotions, whatever it is, that noticing, who is it that’s noticing?

Who’s that?


So cool, just snap back into that presence, into that spaciousness.

The energy and the patterns and whatever is still going to be rolling through the body – but boom there it is.

Want to Melt the Ice Quicker?

Always do everything for the benefit of all beings.

Any of the upaya’s will help to remove the obscurations.

The fastest after directly revealing the nature and becoming familiar with your own Buddha-Mind is a practice that you can take with you anywhere and can be done by anyone – it is chewing on your mind-meal – your koan.

In his “Letters” (Shuzhuang), Zen Master Dahui wrote,

“Even though one studies for a long time,
if one cannot gain the strength,
then one must seek a method
that concisely gains one power,”

This is why he emphasized the importance of the short-cut gate.

Chewing on your mind-meal is the short-cut gate to help you melt the ice of the small mind more quickly.

Here are some of the Mind-Meals (Koans) I’ve given my students lately:

  • Atha (it’s Sanskrit and means “Now” and is the primary koan of our school)
  • Maranatha (this is a Christian one and can either mean “Come Lord” or “the Lord has come.”)
  • What am I?
  • What is this?
  • Who knows?
  • Who am I?
  • Mu
  • Sat Nam
  • Om
  • Ah
  • Hum
  • Om Mani Padme Hum
  • So Ham
  • Ham Sah

How do you “do” Koan practice? How do you “chew” on your Mind-Meal?

You keep repeating your mind-meal over and over and over and over and over.

You’re Koan needs to take over your mind becoming a magnificent obsession.

In all that you do your mind must be fastened to your Koan – magnetized to your mind meal.

Your Koan becomes the single pointed target that you bring the whole weight of your mind down upon.

Thoughts arise and get sucked into the spinning vortex of your Koan.

Doubts arise and they are burned away by your Koan.

It becomes a fiery ball blazing in your mind consuming all your wayward thoughts, concerns and questions.

My Master Venerable Hwasun Yangil Sunim said that,

“You should watch the “What am I?” koan with your eyes, listen to the sound of the “What am I?” koan with your ears. You have to touch the “What am I?” koan with your hands. When you walk, each step must be on “What am I?” The nose should breathe the “What am I?” koan. You have to chew the “What am I?” koan with your mouth. You always have to be clothed in the “What am I?” koan.”

Throw away all your thoughts and ideas.

Burn your books.

None of that will do you any good where you’re going.