Wat is Boeddha? | What is Buddha?

Posted on 7 mei 2017

Praatje in de ochtend van de intensieve 24-uurszit, 29 – 30 april 2017. In het Engels omdat er ook mensen uit Duitsland waren.

Talk in the morning of the intensive 24-hour sit, 29 – 30 April 2017. In English because there were people from Germany as well.



It is with great reluctance, even resistance, that I came here yesterday. There are 10.000 things I could have done. Spend time with my kids, go for a walk in the forest, which I love so much, and the weather is great.

Maybe you have it too. Of course, you’re here, because some time in the past you decided you wanted to do this and you registered and so you came. But maybe right before coming, it’s not a really attractive perspective to go do this.

Whenever I go to an intensive training, it feels like going into an hourglass, going through the narrow opening. It’s mostly OK once I’m there, but before, I really don’t want to come.

Also, I don’t like preparing a talk. Or giving a talk. It is with great reluctance I say something about that which is completely obvious always. There’s no place to find it but here, no time to find it but now. Not even ‘finding it’ is a right way to say it. Being it would be better. Or even without ‘it’: just ‘be’.

And even ‘be’ is too much, like you’re not and you have to be, like an imperative. But already always you are. We will come back to this.


Why should I meditate?

Recently I read an article that was titled ‘Why Should I Meditate?’

The author writes:

Take an honest look at yourself. Where are you in your life? What have your priorities been up till now and what do you intend to do with the time you have left? […] Are we really the best we can be? Must we remain as we are now? If not, what can we do to improve ourselves?


And then he starts to promote meditation:

Meditation is a practice that makes it possible to cultivate and develop certain basic positive human qualities […] Working toward this kind of fulfillment is an adventure worth embarking on.


This is of course nice PR. But in a more fundamental sense, it’s off the mark.

There are other people advertising zen that are much more commercial. So this may not be so bad. It’s subtle, but still it remains in the realm of self-improvement. Zen is not about that.

‘Why should I meditate?’ Is that the right question? Is it not simply a different way of asking: ‘What can I get out of this?’ Why would you want ‘something out of it’? Do you need a reason to sit?

Some time ago, someone wrote to me in an e-mail: ‘Every retreat is worth wile.’  But ‘worth wile’ in zen is just collateral damage. ‘Every time I learn something.’ That is fine, but again, ultimately it’s not what zen is about. In sitting, lose yourself completely. Throw yourself off the edge of the precipice. Fall without any hesitation.

Why should you meditate?

If you wonder, don’t even do it.


‘You are E-cho’

I started out saying that already always you are.

Recently, a good friend gave me a great book. It’s been published for quite some time already, but I didn’t know it was there. It’s so great! It has the comments on the Blue Cliff Record by Hakuin, my favorite zen master, and also those of a soto zen master. Both have their own approach. It’s wonderful to see their comments. Sometimes, they clarify something of the very difficult texts.

For today, I would like to pick up case 7, ‘Asking about Buddha’. The koan goes like this:

E-cho asked Hogen: “E-cho asks the teacher, ‘What is Buddha?’” Hogen said, “You are E-cho.”


I always thought he was asking about the Buddha, and then the zenmaster says, ‘You are, E-cho’. Like, ‘you yourself are the Buddha, E-cho’. It is already very wonderful and to the point.

And in the Chinese, probably there’s no way to see the difference. But here in the English, see, there’s no comma there. And that is so much more radical even. He totally takes away everything! You are E-cho. Not even you are the Buddha. No room for Buddha at all, no mention of Buddha at all. Nowhere to be seen. Totally independent. A wonderful expression in just these three words.

‘What is Buddha?’ – ‘You are E-cho.’

Boom! Someone just dropped the Mother Of All Bombs. It devastates everything, takes away everything. Hakuin comments: ‘Views of Buddha and views of Dharma have been atomized.’ Reduced to the smallest particles, smashed, destroyed.

But also, at the same time, it gives life. You are you! Totally, fully, completely, already as you are. When you can realize this fully, then right there, the search is over.

The bomb exploded. But when they go look, no damage! Nothing has changed. As if nothing at all happened.

You are you.


Sorry to say even the underground tunnels are still there and all the fighters that inhabit them – your own blind spots and your individual patterns. All still there. You will still have to take care of them. That ‘training’ continues, and goes on forever. Even the Buddha still practices, as they say. We shouldn’t take it lightly.

But first, here now, let’s put ourselves to Hakuin’s:

turn about
and bear witness to self-nature,
self-nature that is no-nature.


You are you. You are here. Do it now. Be it completely.


Click here for the short introductory talk of this 24-hour zen retreat



  1. Had to miss the intensive retreat, Ron, now feeling even more sorry after reading your talk.

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    • Dankjewel Peter. Hopelijk een volgende keer weer samen zitten. Zou mooi zijn.

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  2. Mooi stuk Ron, en inspirerend.

    Wat je hier schrijft is ook een mooi stukje PR trouwens:
    “But also, at the same time, it gives life. You are you! Totally, fully, completely, already as you are. When you can realize this fully, then right there, the search is over.”

    Ik denk dat dat de reden is dat ik nog steeds zen beoefen, ook al weet ik dat dat eigenlijk ook al weer teveel reden is.

    Doet me ook denken aan Huang Po:
    “Words used to attract the dull of wit are not to be relied on”

    Jammer dat ik niet kan komen 24 juni in Zutphen, woon te ver weg. Had jouw en Lathouwers graag eens willen ontmoeten en een zen weekend met jullie mee willen maken.

    Bedankt voor je vriendelijke ondersteuning voor onze zen beoefening.


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    • Dankjewel Fred, goed te horen. Al lukt ‘t de 24e dan niet, mocht je ooit in de buurt zijn, altijd welkom om een keer mee te zitten!

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