Category Archives: Questions and responses

Is “Buddha’s Life” the same as Buddha-nature?

 

Is “Buddha’s Life” the same as Buddha-nature?

If we think of Buddha-nature as a certain part of our life, not our entire life or not the entire network, but something that is fixed and stored and hidden in our individual life, then that is different from Buddha’s Life. What Dogen is discussing in Shobogenzo Buddha-nature is the same thing as Buddha’s Life in the following passage from Shobogenzo Shoji:

This present life-and-death is the Life of Buddha. If we dislike it and try to get rid of it, we would lose the Life of Buddha. If we desire to remain [in life-and-death] and attach ourselves to it, we would also lose the Life of Buddha. What would be retained is simply the appearance of Buddha. Only when we don’t dislike life-and-death and don’t desire life-and-death do we first enter the mind of Buddha.

The first sentence of this paragraph is a well-known saying of Dogen. I think Dogen was the first Buddhist master who said such a thing so clearly: “This present life-and-death is the Life of Buddha.” Of course, within Mahayana Buddhism that teaching and its meaning was already there, but I think Dogen was the first who clearly mentions that this life-and-death is Buddha’s Life.

Usually “life” in Japanese is seimei, which is a scientific or medical word. The Japanese word Dōgen used is on-inochi (御いのち). Inochi is life and on makes the word polite, using the word in a respectful way. In Japanese we sometimes put “o” or “on” or “go” before nouns or verbs for that reason. For example, mizu is water, but we call it o-mizu to show our respect for this thing. We call this robe I am wearing o-kesa. Rice is kome but we call it o-kome, we almost never say kome. We say o-kome or o-misu to express our respect to each and every being, because all beings are Buddha-dharma. In this passage, I translate this on by making the ‘L’ (of life) a capital letter.

This life is Buddha’s Life. Our life and death is Buddha’s Life. We need to appreciate and venerate our life and everything which keeps our life continuing. That means everything. Without water or air or food and other people’s and other beings’ support, we cannot keep this life. So, we venerate our life and all beings as a part of our life, as Buddha’s Life, not as my personal life as an individual. Of course, this personal life as an individual is also part of Buddha’s Life.

As Uchiyama Roshi said, “We bow to all beings.” When I receive water before I give a lecture, I bow and receive it. When the Jisha brings these texts, I bow and receive it. When we receive food during meals, we bow each time we receive. This bow is an expression of our appreciation and gratitude— not just to the person who is serving, but also to the tenzo for preparing the food and to all the farmers who worked to produce the food and to all the support from nature such as sunlight, and water. Within this bow, our gratitude toward all beings is included. Often, we just bow without thinking, or without thinking what this means, but this has a very important meaning, if we are aware, if we have the eye and ear to appreciate it. Our life and death is Buddha’s Life, this is the basis of Dogen’s teaching and our practice.

So even though the Buddha taught that life is marked by suffering, he also prohibited killing, in the Vinaya precepts. To monks, killing other beings is like killing ourselves. We always have to say “yes” to life, and appreciate life. That is the Precept of “Not Killing.” When people sometimes think that Buddhism is a kind of negative religion which does not appreciate life, that is not true. The Buddha taught that we need to appreciate life, and that we can transform our life from samsara to nirvana, from suffering to the cessation of suffering. The Buddha taught that this is possible, and yet, we should not cling to life, because when we cling to life, then we create samsara. If we dislike or hate or negate this life, then we negate Buddha’s Life.

— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute hopes to offer 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:

    • For another article on Shobogenzo Shoji, covering the famous Alive or Dead koan, see this article.
    • You’ll find the entire digital album Life & Death: 9 lectures on Shōbōgenzō Zenki and Shōji for sale here.

> Other Questions and responses


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Is everything perfect the way it is?

Photo by James Steakley [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Is everything perfect the way it is?

In Buddhism, we talk about the three treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Traditionally in Mahayana Buddhism it is said that there are three kinds of Three Treasures. In my translation, the first kind of Three Treasures is the Absolute Three Treasures, but I don’t know if “absolute” is the correct English word for this. In Japanese it is ittai sanbo (一體三寶). Ittai literally means “one body,” and sanbo is Three Treasures; so this refers to the Three Treasures as one body, not three separate things as one body. However, ittai refers to more than those three treasures. This “one body” means seamless, no separation: within the network of interdependent origination everything is interconnected. In the analogy of Indra’s net, although we only see the knot, the thread is transparent, so we see each knot as an individual or independent being, yet everything is connected. This is “one body,” not only within space, but within time. Everything is interconnected within the present moment, within space and time; from beginningless beginning until endless end is one seamless moment. We separate time using seconds or hours or days, one week, one year, one century or one light year. This separation is made by us to make it more understandable, graspable, comprehensible, and convenient, but within time itself there is no such division. This seamless reality has three virtues: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. That is what ittai sanbo means. Another way to say it is the body of reality. When we see this one seamless body including space and time, we call these the Three Treasures.

One part of Kyōjukaimon, which reflects Dōgen’s teachings about the precepts, discusses the Three Treasures. In Kyōjukaimon, Dogen first says this about the Absolute Three Treasures: “The unsurpassable true awakening is the Buddha Treasure.” This unsurpassable true awakening is anuttara-samyak-sambodhi— reality itself. There is no such thing that awakened to what is this reality. Within reality there is no observer, no person who sees the truth. Because everything is inside, because everything is a part of the network of interdependent origination, there is no observer, nothing outside of the network. So, there is no one who awakened to reality. When we say unsurpassable true awakening, reality itself is awakening; no one and nothing is deluded, nothing has illusion. One of the knots, one of us, has illusion or delusion or delusive perceptions, and we all have it, but that kind of illusion is part of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Everything is included, nothing is excluded.

We cannot say reality is perfect, because perfect is a relative to imperfect. There is no such comparison we can make. This is just as it is. We cannot say it is perfect or the more perfect thing or not, because reality includes everything and there is nothing to compare with reality itself, and no way to judge it. There is no one who can judge it because everyone who is thinking is inside of reality. In my understanding, that is what “absolute” means. No one can judge reality, no one can praise reality, and everything is included within. That is what “beyond discrimination” means. Beyond discrimination is not a condition of our psychology in which we try not to make discriminations. Reality itself is beyond discrimination, and yet within reality all of us are making discriminations, and yet reality itself cannot be seen, cannot be evaluated. We cannot do anything about this. We cannot say this is a good thing or a bad thing or perfect or imperfect. There is no way to evaluate this reality. That is what ittai or absolute means.

When Dogen Zenji says the “unsurpassable true awakening,” it means reality itself, the one body reality itself, is Buddha Treasure. That is what Dharmakaya means. Buddha and awakening is one thing. We may believe that when Shakyamuni awakened, he started to see reality as an object, but if we think in that way it is not a correct understanding. When Buddha awakened to reality, he and things— reality, awakening, and wisdom— is really one thing. That is what ittai, “One Body, Three Treasures” means.

In Kyōjukaimon, Dōgen next says, “The reality that is pure and free from defilement is Dharma.” Being free from defilement means being free from clinging or delusion or desires. Finally, Dōgen says that “The virtue of peace and harmony is the Sangha treasure.” Each and everything within this one seamless reality is the Sangha treasure. All beings are Sangha treasure as One Body or Absolute Three Treasures. They are within peace and harmony. So, as Absolute-One Body-Three Treasures this seamless reality as one body including entire time and space is Buddha, and is Dharma, and is Sangha. There is no separation.

We must be careful. When I talk in this way, this is not reality itself. This is my understanding or my thought of One Body reality. Don’t think that what I am saying is reality. Reality itself is beyond what I am saying now. None of us can perceive this one seamless reality. If we perceive it, that is an illusion. So we cannot see it, but as Dogen says in Jijuyū Zanmai, somehow it is there.

This reality is what we take refuge in. This is the shelter, this is home. Home means wherever we go, we return to reality. We are born within reality, we are living within reality; we are dying within reality. This is a shelter, this is a home, this where we live, and nothing else. This absolute reality is Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and we take refuge within this absolute reality.

— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute hopes to offer 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:

    • The Three Treasures, and “The Verse of the Three Refuges” are discussed in this book: Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts, by Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications, 2012. Paperback, 220 pages, $19.95.

      This immensely useful book explores Zen’s rich tradition of chanted liturgy and the powerful ways that such chants support meditation, expressing and helping us truly uphold our heartfelt vows to live a life of freedom and compassion. Also in Italian from Ubaldini Editore (Introduzione in Italiano qui), and in German from  Werner Kristkeitz Verlag.

> Other Questions and responses


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

The second vow: how can I free others from delusion?

Photo copyright©David S. Thompson

I have a question about the one of the bodhisattva vows.  As a bodhisattva, how can I free all people if I have only access to my delusions? I have access to my own delusions and I can work with them. But I don’t have access to your delusions. I can stay with people in the suffering and I can have empathy with them. But how can I free them?

This question – how is it possible to free others from their delusion? – concerns the second of the four bodhisattva vows:

Bonnō mujin sei gan dan
Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them.

In an older version, this vow reads, “I vow to enable people to understand the truth of the origin of suffering.”

The first word, bonnō, can be translated as klesha, illusion, or delusion. However, bonno is more than illusion or delusion. Bonnō is more like desire based on illusion or delusion, which is a kind of energy. You might translate this bonnō (煩惱) from Chinese as “something bothers you” or “annoyances.” So, this is not simply illusion or delusion but something that annoys or bothers us and prevents us from being normal, natural, or sober. Bonnō is the origin of our suffering.

In Yogacara, which is considered as a kind of Buddhist psychology, everything is categorized, analyzed, and defined. According to Yogcara teachings, there are four very basic and fundamental bonnō, or four aspects to bonnō. Those four are gachi 我癡, gaken 我見, gaman 我慢, and gaai 我愛. Ga means self; chi is ignorance; ken is view; man is arrogance; and ai is love or attachment. All delusions or bonnō come from this ga or atman which means self.

Gachi is ignorance about the self, which means we don’t understand that there is no fixed thing called a self. We don’t understand anatman. Atman is self, anatman is no-self. In this bonnō, we don’t know the reality that there’s no such fixed permanent self that can exist without relation to others.

Based on that self, we view things and we create a picture of the world and the center of that world is me. That is gaken, the second delusion, our self-centered view. The “I am most important” is this part, ga. And this part – ken – is to make a picture of the world in which I am the center. It is like in a world atlas made in Japan, Japan is always the center of the world and in an atlas made in the United States, the United States is the center of the world. In my world, I am the center; no one can be center of the world beside me. That is gaken.

The third delusion is this self or ga or ego which compares self with others and always thinks “I’m better than them”— or at least I want to be. If I think I’m not better than others we have another problem called “inferiority complex.” Both are considered gaman. The English word arrogance doesn’t quite work because this man includes inferiority complex. “I’m no good” is part of this problem. So, this is like self-importance.

Gaai is negative love or self-attachment.

These four are the basis of all other bonnō. It is said there are 108 bonnō; that is why on New Year’s Eve in Japan we visit a Buddhist temple and ring the huge bell 108 times, to be free from those 108 bonnō.  The number 108 means immeasurable because the Chinese character for 8 is 八 which means open ended or no limitation. It is not a particular number but means immeasurable or numberless bonnō. However, the basis of those numberless bonnō are these four fundamental bonnō about the self.

Of course, we cannot access other peoples’ delusions; however, Buddha accessed the source or foundation of our delusions – which is clinging to the self (ga). Each one of us has different kinds of delusions and different kinds of hindrances or problems, but the basis of all those problems is the same. The basis is self-clinging or ignorance about the self and ignorance about interconnectedness. That is the way Buddha has access to our delusions, and he teaches how to become free from them. So Buddha didn’t know what kind of delusions I have but he gave me the way to practice to become free from these problems. That is what I’m trying to share with people. You have to work for yourself to become free from your personal delusions. We cannot release other people from their delusions, but we can share how Buddha practiced and how practitioners or teachers practice and become released from their own delusions. I received the teaching from my teacher and that is what I’m trying to share with people. I cannot release you from your own delusion, but to me this practice was helpful to be free from my personal delusion. Still, I’m deluded.

— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute hopes to offer 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:

    • The bodhisattva vows are discussed in this book: Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts, by Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications, 2012. Paperback, 220 pages, $19.95.

      This immensely useful book explores Zen’s rich tradition of chanted liturgy and the powerful ways that such chants support meditation, expressing and helping us truly uphold our heartfelt vows to live a life of freedom and compassion. Also in Italy from Ubaldini Editore — Introduzione in Italiano qui.

> Other Questions and responses


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

In Buddhism, do we need faith?

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I’ve always rejected dogma – is “awakening to the reality of interdependent origination” dogma? Do we just have to have faith in it, like in Christianity?

If we don’t practice and awaken to the reality of interdependent origination by ourselves, as our own experience, that is dogma. If you memorize everything Dogen wrote or what Uchiyama Roshi or I have said, that is dogma. But by practicing it, it becomes reality. I don’t know about Christianity, but in the case of Buddhism I think we can each have the same experience of awakening.

Usually in our tradition, our process of studying and practicing is to hear or read some teaching, think about what we heard, and if we think that it is reasonable or doable, we put the teaching into practice. Through the practice we find the teaching is really true.

From hearing or studying the teaching to putting that teaching into practice there is a jump we need. This jump means to have a kind of determination, because when we hear and think, our thinking is not reality yet. It may sound okay but we are not sure. So we start to practice and it is at this point we need faith; even in Buddhism we need faith. Faith or trust is really important in this jumping.

In my case, I didn’t know about Buddhist teaching or theory when I started to practice. I read Uchiyama Roshi’s book, I didn’t understand it at all, but it sounded okay and was attractive to me. I trusted how Uchiyama Roshi lived, and I wanted to live like him. I didn’t start practicing because I believed Buddhist theory or Dogen’s teaching. Actually, I didn’t understand Dogen at all, one hundred percent. I trusted Uchiyama Roshi’s way of life; he had the same question when he was a teenager as I had. He spent his entire life finding the answer and after he found it, he continued to practice and share the teaching with younger people. So, my belief or faith was not really in Buddhist philosophy or in Dogen’s writing but in this person’s way of life. Without that trust I could not jump into this very strange practice that is good for nothing. We say it publicly – it is good for nothing. So I think we need some faith or trust, whether it is toward Buddhist teaching or philosophy, or toward someone’s writing, or toward some kind of living example. To me, the living example was most important.

So you don’t need to believe what I’m saying. If you just memorize and believe this is true then it becomes dogma, even what Dogen wrote or what Buddha said. If it becomes dogma then it has nothing to do with our own life, I think. So don’t believe what I’m saying.

— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute hopes to offer 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:

  • See Shohaku Okumura Roshi’s commentary on his teacher’s modern classic Opening The Hand of Thought, in which he discusses self-power (jiriki) and other-power (tariki). Pure Land Buddhists sometimes say there are two gates in Buddhism: the gate of sacred path, practice with self-power; and the gate of easy practice, based on other-power.

> Other Questions and responses


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

When we bow to the Buddha, what are we bowing to?

 

I am a little confused about when we bow to the Buddha. When we bow to the Buddha, what are we bowing to?

 “Buddha” has many meanings. Here is one way to think about it. There are three bodies of Buddha. The first is called Dharmakaya. Buddha as Dharmakaya means dharma itself is Buddha. The way things are, the network of interdependent origination, the reality of all beings is itself Buddha. In that sense, each and everything within that network is part of Buddha. When we understand Buddha in this way, making prostrations to the Buddha means we venerate and make prostrations to this entire network of interdependent origination, of which we are part. This is one meaning.

The second body of the Buddha is called Samboghakaya. In Mahayana Buddhism, besides the person Shakyamuni who was born in this world in India about twenty-five hundred years ago, there are many other buddhas who practiced life after life – and not only within this world, but in many other worlds within this universe. Buddhas such as Amitabha Buddha or Yakushinyorai (Medicine Master) also accomplished buddhahood. There are numberless buddhas who have accomplished Buddhahood through their practices. Understanding Buddha in this way means that when we make prostrations, we venerate all Buddhas who practiced and studied dharma and accomplished buddhahood and who are teaching in various Buddha lands in this universe, even though we don’t see them.

The third body of the Buddha is called Nirmanakaya. This refers to Shakyamuni, who was born in this world at a certain point in history, and who was the so-called founder of the religion Buddhism. Because we are Buddha’s student we venerate this particular Buddha. We express our gratitude that Shakyamuni awakened to and discovered this dharma and taught about how to live based on that awakening.

So depending upon our understanding of what is Buddha, the meaning of even one act of prostration can be different. We do not need to say which prostration we are doing. Actually, we do prostration to all those buddhas. Not only buddhas but buddhas, dharmas, and sanghas.

— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

Beginning with this post, the Dōgen Institute hopes to offer 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:

 


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community