Fire and flowers

Photo © David S. Thompson

Practicing with the ugliness of the mountains

Today we feature the second of three excerpts from Okumura Roshi’s new book, The Mountains and Waters Sutra: A Practitioner’s Guide to Dogen’s Sansuikyo, edited by Shodo Spring (Wisdom Publications).

As the person who is living in this body and mind, I experience a great difference between following my personal desire and following my vow as a bodhisattva. The quality of my life is very different. From outside, my life and everyone else’s are the same: we are born, eat some food, spend a certain period of time, and die. We are sometimes happy, sometimes unhappy. That’s all.

But as a person who is living with this particular body and mind, within this particular society, there are differences. Each one of us has to choose which way to go. The four bodhisattva vows are our compass for our journey on the path of practice. We take a vow and practice toward infinity; vow gives us this direction. We have to directly go into the mountains and see the mountain peaks from inside.

Practicing in the mountains, if we see only the beauty of the mountains we are not bodhisattvas. We need to see the ugly part of the mountains too. And somehow we need to take care of that ugly and painful part. Mountains are not only beautiful and virtuous, they can be sometimes, violent and merciless. Each one of us has different tendencies, capabilities, vows, desires, and hopes. The way each of us works for the sake of this mountain can be different. In my case I think the best contribution I can make to human society is to practice as a Soto Zen Buddhist, and try to transmit what I studied and practiced in Japan to this country. This is my activity as a person of limited capability.

We are all limited and shaped by our karma. How can this particular person make this mountain better for all beings? This question is the meaning of the bodhisattva vow, for every Dharma practitioner. Everybody likes beautiful expressions or poems. It is careless to think our practice is just to appreciate the beautiful scenery in the mountain. Instead, we have to discover how to practice with the ugliness within ourselves and this mountain, and work to make the world even a little better. In this way we can find the beauty of the mountain even within its ugliness.

Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc.,

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Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community


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