The aim of the practice of Buddhism is to make us discover true reality. It immediately awakens a pressing need to know what it’s like. Now, the true character of reality has but one characteristic: an absence of character. It’s neither this nor that. All existence in the universe, all phenomena without exception are the true nature of reality. It is said in the Hannya Shingyō: “All dharmas are marked by emptiness, they do not appear nor disappear, are not tainted nor pure.” Such is the true nature of reality: without beauty, without filth, without birth, without death.
We can’t see this reality from our human point of view. The men of our time are pushing their pens hard to describe it, especially the intellectuals, those people who make it a habit to pass exams and fill a copy book no matter what the subject. But the more they seek it, the more it hides, and whatever their papers produce resembles a tiny little turd. Due to the very fact that we are human beings, it’s impossible for us to see the true nature of reality. We men can see only our world of men. A fish sees only his world of fish. A thief sees only thieves. Someone told me that a judge remarked, “I see a criminal in every man,” no doubt a true statement. As he was an expert in lies, it’s normal that he should think in terms of guilt.
If you are an antique dealer and revere a Buddha, you begin by estimating its value: “How many yen is it worth?” As soon as you see a Buddha, you put a price tag on it. This is the reason all the Buddhas have disappeared.
Regarding the world with the eye of Buddha, everything is buddha. Demons no longer exist. All beings, sentient and insentient, are the Way: grass, trees, land, planet, all is buddha. Our body, just as it is, is buddha.
An ordinary man of this world will say that I am not a Buddha, just a man like any other, because he sees me through ordinary-man-colored glasses. When he wears blue glasses, he sees the world in blue. If they have the color of desire, in this world he sees only objects of desire.
We must then comprehend true reality. Still, it is not an easy task, since the human condition is opposed to it. Here, all is illusion. In everything in the world, nothing exists besides illusions. Everything without exception is illusion. Let’s just say that it’s all karma. A man has stolen something, is afraid, and runs away. A policeman pursues and stares at each passerby, wondering if the guy in front of him might be the thief. In consequence, the pursued and the pursuer each go along in completely different worlds. This is why it’s so difficult for us to understand. To discover the true nature of reality is to embrace the panorama of the universe in a single glance. When we have vision like this, we have comprehended the teaching of the Buddha.
It’s not necessary to use a telescope or bend over a microscope to contemplate the spectacle of the universe. There’s no need to take so much trouble. It’s sufficient to refuse to perceive as true all the illusions that blind us. We must say to ourselves:
“My ideas are false: this one, that one, all is false. I reject them.” If we chase them all away, nothing exists in us any longer. It is written: “In cutting the bonds of karma, one finds calm in all things. One no longer thinks in terms of good or evil, one no longer distinguishes the true from the false.” In short, one has a total and immediate vision of the real. Thus it best serves our purpose to look over our glasses or, better yet, to take them off.
Seizing the universe at a glance is a problem of quality, not quantity. Even when the distance to the limits of the universe is measured in thousands of light years, beyond that remains the unknown. In the Lotus Sutra the duration of the universe is estimated as five hundred cosmic cycles. Whether infinitely large or infinitely small, the world is unlimited. The true problem is neither time nor space, but the essence of the universe.
We do not embrace the universe with a single glance and so we weep and we laugh. When our vision is total there’s neither attraction nor repulsion: things are simply what they are, that’s all. This is only this; that is only that. Yet we can’t comprehend that social work, whose purpose is to do good, may not make the beneficiary happy. As a matter of fact, by giving charity to the man who suffers from being poor we thus augment his humiliation and leave him more unsatisfied than before. I always say that one ought to beg from the poor. The indigent person thus thinks: “They can still ask something of me,” and he instantly rediscovers his dignity as a man. This is why Shākyamuni sought alms of the most miserable of the miserable. When one gives, one is not poor. The proof is that a rich man abhors being given alms, for it devalues his most important attribute, money, without which he no longer exists. He loathes receiving as a gift his most valued possession, money. In this example we’ve seized at a glance the essence of the universe. So lucid a gaze is not explicable: it’s to have the eye.
In the old days, there were no glasses for regarding the sky, nor x-rays, nor microscopes. None of these existed, so you had to equip yourself by yourself with eyes capable of seeing well without instruments to assist you. Then one day an eye perceived reality in its totality. This extraordinarily piercing eye saw itself, as well as others. It penetrated happiness and unhappiness. Regarding all things with his prodigious eye, for the first time a world appeared to him where absolutely nothing existed.
One day in the outhouse a worm fell on a sheet of ice. A compassionate soul saw this pitiable worm in great danger and deposited it in a place where it could be warm all night. The next morning it was dead. What the man thought of as good luck was not good luck for the worm. We’re wrong to think that what makes for the happiness or unhappiness of some does so for others as well.
We must develop the power of our eye to see with a single glance rich and poor, man and woman. If we consider only the happiness of one or the other, we see nothing at all. When we embrace all things at a single glance, we have mastery over the universe. However, we can’t do things by half or stop along the way. We can’t remain suspended in confusion. We must go to the end to the point where we awaken to true reality.
Commentary on The Song of Awakening by Yōka Daishi
French translation of Japanese original by Janine Coursin
English translation from the French by Tonen O’Connor
Copyright 2014 Tonen O’Connor