Zen: Practice of the Cultivated & the Corruptible by Yao Xiang Shakya

Posted by on April 17, 2017


In order to be perfect in any practice, seemingly useless experience must be undergone. Any disciple who has entered any kind of practice must begin (and continue) with seemingly unnecessary, futile things. But of course these things are a part of the discipline. Without such seemingly trifling things there can be no perfecting of the practice. -Kaneko


Since the death of my teacher I find my practice is both more devotional and full of what looks like seemingly useless activities. The devotional takes the shape of investigation and study of many different ways of liberation; the seemingly useless activities are tending to and looking after all the things that are cultivated and corruptible. This includes the body and the mind. In order to be able to do this without ambition, I require discipline and an awareness that although the cultivated and corruptible is delusion it is in the water in which the body and mind swims.

Knowing this is the flowering of knowing that…. all things are buddha-dharma, and since all things includes the cultivated and corruptible there is delusion and realization, practice, and birth and death, and there are buddhas and sentient beings. (Dogen)

Practice includes all things, the seemingly useless and the seemingly useful and all things are Buddha-dharma.

The word seemingly is an important distinction suggesting there is delusion and realization. But….what makes the distinction? The ego. IT….this fiend of fiends, continues to measure and divide and conclude practice is this and not that, practice is a good feeling and not a bad feeling, practice is sweet and not bitter.

To carry yourself (the fiend of fiends) forward and experience myriad things is delusion. How do we do this….how do we see that we are carrying our self forward? When we notice that we look in and at just one-side.  And what does this one-sided way look like….it looks like judgment. It looks at life with a peeler; we peel away what we like and value it and toss away what we don’t like and value it as useless. When we split the cultivated and corruptible things into two piles, one being useless and the other being useful the self is carried forward. It’s the Way of delusion.

Realization meets what comes into life, what is in life which includes the myriad things and sees them as awakening. WOW! That is a miraculous claim. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening. It suggests everything is awakening….and everything is delusion all at once….the weeds and the flowers….the ugly and the beautiful….the light and the dark….the useless and the useful. Nothing is peeled away and divided into two piles.

Those who have great realization of delusion are buddhas; those who are greatly deluded about realization are sentient beings.

When we realize delusion, we awaken, when we think realization is something, say becoming a Buddha, we are sentient beings trying to become something. This is being a sentient being and not a realized awakened being.

This understanding leaves very little work to be done on one hand and much work on the other.  When anyone focuses on the body and mind, on the ego-me-identities they enter the swamp of delusion. It is in this carrying-forward-the-self-swamp where there is much work to be done. When anyone focuses on the deep ocean of water and not on the body and mind of cultivated and corruptible things there is little to be done.

When we are attached or averse to any ego-me-identity we head for the swamp, when we see all things as manifestations of the deep water, when we see the deep water we are in realization. Nothing is divided, measured or left out; birth, old age, sickness and death.

Early on in my work with Venerable Ming Zhen Shakya (Homage to her name) I was fraught with some thing or another and decided to do a seven day retreat….lots of sitting, silence, eating meals in a formal way, chanting, and so forth. I told Venerable Ming I was on retreat and at the end of the retreat I told her I finished it.  She said to me. “Good! You’re done with that Nonsense!”

Why did she say that to me? Aren’t we supposed to meditate, chant, be silent and such? Yes, but….it is not leaping clear. Meditation, silence, retreats, and eating carefully are all fine but they are what they are….as my example suggests. They are a plank up, a hand up if you will. Whatever thing I was fraught over no longer bugged me, but had I leaped clear? No.

I had fallen backwards into a swampy place with a me-identity and the retreat was a plank I walked on to get back into the deep end of the water. It wasn’t leaping clear. I needed a different way which I must say is far steeper, includes mountains and requires much more than sitting and silence. It is interior work, more of a killing….as in if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. When you meet the ego, kill it….or if you prefer let it go. The ego does not attain the heights of spiritual practice.

What is left….no thing to attach to….no thing to detach from. This is Zen, the practice of leaping clear of the cultivated and corruptible while tending to it all.

Art credit:  Zen Beauty by Jiaoyuan Qian Yue


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