The hotel bodhisattva

Photographer: User:Justinc {{cc-by-sa-2.0}} This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.


The entire world is completely free of all objective dust; right here and now there is no second person![1]

When something wrong happens in my life, instead of looking at it negatively, which I normally would like to do, is a there way of seeing it in which it is really assisting me?

Okumura Roshi:
In this line from Shōbōgenzō Busshō, “objective dust” is a translation of the expression kyakujin or kakujin (客塵). Kaku means visiting or visitor; jin is dust. Dōgen is referring to the traditional idea of Buddha nature: precious Buddha nature is covered with dust, like a jewel or diamond covered with dust, but this dust is a visitor. There is another analogy of Buddha nature – that we are like a hotel, Buddha nature is like the owner of that hotel, and delusions are like visitors – they come and stay one night, and leave. So all that delusive thinking is like kyakujin. They are like visitors; they stay here for a while but sooner or later leave, and Buddha nature is like a host or owner of the hotel where they stay. One of the ideas of Buddhist practice based on the Buddha nature theory is conveyed by the analogy of a diamond covered with rock and dust or dirt. We need to discover that there is a diamond in the dirt, and then we take the diamond out. These expressions imply that it is possible for us to take these delusions out, because these are visitors, not the owner. When those visitors all leave, then the owner can remain.

But without visitors, the owner of a hotel has no business, so to me, this doesn’t work so well. It implies that there is kind of a duality within our self or our life. It implies that essentially, we are Buddha nature, which doesn’t change and stays, but accidental, dirty things – delusive thinking – come toward us. The idea is that when delusive thinking is taken away, then Buddha nature reveals its beauty.

In this line of logic, there is a separation within our skandhas; one separate thing is Buddha nature – that is the essence. But all other things coming afterward can be taken away, so this Buddha nature can exist. This idea is basically: our life is buddha nature plus this visiting dust, so when we wipe away all visiting dust, then Buddha nature stays. This is a very simple calculation: our life is A + B, so if A is positive, a precious thing, and B is negative, delusion – then when we take this B out, only Buddha nature remains.

According to Dōgen’s view, this analogy doesn’t work. According to Dōgen’s view, without these visitors Buddha nature cannot work. He is saying that these are not really visitors. Even the negative part or karmic consciousness is not really a visitor. Buddha nature and karmic consciousness are one thing, so we sometimes make mistakes, but mistakes are not a waste. A mistake can be a really good – and strict – teacher. We can study more from mistakes than successful things. When we are successful, we don’t learn, we just enjoy it, we just remain happy. But when we make a mistake, and have some sadness and pain, then we have to think and try to find the cause of this mistake, this pain. Then we learn about our life. When we find how we can exit from this problem, then because of that experience we can teach or help others who are in the same trouble. I think this is why Uchiyama Rōshi said that our mistakes are a kind of capital fund to start business as a bodhisattva.

If we have no experience of mistakes and pain and suffering or sadness, we cannot be sympathetic with other people. If we go through our painful and sad experiences with a certain wisdom and practice, then we can share our experience with others. That is how we can work on bodhisattva practice. If we have no painful experience and mistakes, and we are always happy, we cannot help people with troubles, so we are lucky we have some painful experiences. But we need wisdom to use the negative experience as prajñā.

That is what this expression kyakujin means. What Dōgen is saying here is that the entire world is completely free of all objective dust, it is free from this visiting dust. That means there is no such duality within our life. And when Dōgen says, “…right here and now there is no second person!” he means there is no duality, no first and second. It’s not that our life is this first person, and our deluded mind is a visitor, or a second person. If we think in that way then we miss Dōgen’s point. There’s no such duality in our life – it is all-inclusive. Our life is exactly one thing.

— • —

[1] Norman Waddell and Masao Abe, trans., The Heart of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), p. 62.


— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Rōshi

The Dōgen Institute offers an occasional series of questions from students with responses from Okumura Roshi  about practice and study. These questions and responses are from Okumura Roshi’s recorded lectures, and are lightly edited.

— • —

For further study:


> Other Questions and responses

Copyright 2020 Sanshin Zen Community

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.