Category Archives: Questions and responses

Can you acquire the dharma?

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

In acquiring the dharma, all acquire the dharma equally.
All should pay homage to and hold in esteem one who has acquired the dharma.
Do not make an issue of whether it is a man or a woman.
This is the most wondrous law of the Buddhadharma.[1]

得道はいづれも得道す。
ただし、いづれも得法を敬重すべし。
男女を論ずることなかれ。
これ仏道極妙の法則なり。

—From Shōbōgenzō Raihai Tokuzui

Student:
What does “acquiring the dharma” mean? It sounds like the dharma is something concrete that you can attain.

Okumura Roshi:
This word “attain” is a problem. Toku (得) means to “attain.” Conventionally, this means we get something we don’t have or didn’t have before. So this is something new that is attained. But actually, nothing is attained. That is what the Heart Sutra says:

With nothing to attain, a bodhisattva relies on prajñā pāramitā, and thus the mind is without hindrance.

The first phrase of this sentence reads mu chi yaku mu toku. Mu chi means “nothing who (as a subject) attains,” and mu toku is “nothing that is attained.” Because there’s no such attainment. If we think there’s something called “dharma” that can be attained, then that is a mistake. We usually say, “I attained enlightenment.” Even Dōgen sometimes used the words, “attain the Dharma.” That is a mistake, I think.

When we use the word “attain the dharma” it means we awake to the reality that there is nothing to gain and nothing to lose. But this word “attain” itself is contradictory. When we read the story of someone who attained so-called enlightenment, that process of attaining enlightenment is a process of losing.

There is a famous kōan story about someone whose name was Kyōgen Chikan. He was very eminent, a very bright person. He knew everything about Buddhist teachings. One time his teacher asked him, “Say something about the dharma without using what you have studied” from the scriptures. That means, don’t use any word you studied from somewhere else. Kyōgen tried to say something about the dharma. But everything he could think of was something he had studied, either from the texts or from the teachers. He tried very hard and finally he said, “I can’t say anything without using something I learned from others.”

He said to his teacher, “I can’t say anything without using something I studied. So please say something for me.” Now the student asks the teacher to say something. But the teacher rejected his request. So Kyōgen lost his pride about his knowledge. He was rejected by the teacher. He said he gave up hoping to become an enlightened person in this lifetime. He made a determination to become a working-class monk, to serve people instead of trying to become enlightened. He spent some time in that way. Then, sometime later, he left the monastery and lived in a hermitage near a certain Zen master’s grave. So he lost the monastery also. And he had lost his teacher.

When he was cleaning the road to that Zen master’s grave, he swept a stone and the stone hit a stalk of bamboo. He heard the sound of the stone hitting bamboo. At that time, the story says that he “attained” enlightenment. But what had he attained? He had lost everything. And when he heard the sound of the stone hitting the bamboo, he lost even himself. He swept the stone, and hitting the bamboo it made a sound. This sound is made by everything, this entire universe. So what he understood is… well, we have to say what he “understood” or what he “awakened to” or what he “attained,” but actually there’s no such thing called “he” or “me.” We are simply a part of this network of interdependent origination. “We” are not “living,” but we are… how can I say? All beings allow me to live, to exist. There’s nothing called me. So, that is called attaining enlightenment. What did Kyōgen attain actually? He lost everything, even himself. So the process of attaining enlightenment, so-called enlightenment, is a process of losing everything.

What kind of word can we use about this? Somehow, we have to say “he attained.” But actually, he lost. He attained awakening? He awakened to wisdom? You know, somehow, we have to use a positive expression or word when we talk about it. If we always use negative expressions, then our mind somehow doesn’t work. So even in the case of Shakyamuni, when he attained awakening and became Buddha, we have to say he attained buddhahood. But what did he really attain? He didn’t attain anything. But somehow, we have to say “he became Buddha” or “attained buddhahood.” I think this is a problem of language. We need to be careful not to be deceived by the language we use to express the real things that happen. What do you say? Attain? Do we attain or do we not-attain? If we say I attain that is a mistake. But if we say I don’t attain anything, then how can we express this transformation?

—•—

[1] Okumura’s translation.

— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Rōshi

The Dōgen Institute offers an occasional series of questions from students with responses from Okumura Rōshi about practice and study. These questions and responses are taken from Okumura Rōshi’s recorded lectures, and are edited to provide continuity and context.

— • —

For further study:

  •  

> Other Questions and responses


Copyright 2022 Sanshin Zen Community

Raihai – prostration

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

Student:
The title of Raihai Tokuzui, an early fascicle in Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō, has been translated as “receiving the marrow by bowing.” Raihai by itself, you’ve explained, means to pay homage or to bow or to make prostration or to do obeisance. Are these the same? I still don’t think I understand.

Okumura Rōshi:
Raihai (礼拝) is an important practice even from the time of Shakyamuni, not only in Buddhism but in Indian culture. There are various forms of raihai; two of them are commonly practiced in America. One is doing gassho, and lowering your head. Another is making prostration as we did before this lecture: we put five parts of our body, that means both knees and both elbows and head on the ground.

I think the original meaning of doing gassho is that in this posture, bringing our hands together palm to palm, we cannot hide a weapon, we cannot grasp anything, and from this posture we cannot attack. So taking the posture of gassho is an expression of our intention to have no desire to attack. And lowering our head means I respect you. This form, doing gassho and lowering our head is an expression that we are a friend. In this case we both stand and bow to show our friendship and our respect. This is the meaning of this physical posture.

Prostration is a more thorough expression of the same thing. This posture of prostration in India was originally the form that slaves took to the lord or ministers to the king or emperor. This is a most vulnerable posture. When we put both knees and elbows and head on the ground and hold our hands like this, above our head, we cannot hide anything. We have no weapons. And the person standing in front of the prostrating person can do anything. That means this posture expresses complete obeisance. There’s no argument. “I accept everything and the person can do anything to me.” When we do this prostration to the Buddha, it does not mean obeisance to political power. We make obeisance or give up ourselves completely to Buddha’s teaching: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. That is the meaning.

Our head is the highest point of our body, and in Buddhism when we make this posture, we are taught we receive Buddha’s feet on our hand. That means we put the lowest part of Buddha’s body above the highest point of our body. That means I completely give up and surrender to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. That is the meaning of this raihai. That is the meaning of this practice in Buddhism. From the time of Shakyamuni, all Buddhists practice this raihai.

Dōgen, however, reveals another expression of raihai, “making prostration,” in his waka poem called “Raihai.”

Even lying-down grasses
cannot be seen
in the snowy field—
a white heron is hiding itself
within its own form.[1]

In this poem, the grasses are making a prostration which cannot be seen, since they are under the snow. It means first there is oneness. Everything is the same, all white, no distinction, but when we carefully look, all things are there, not only the white heron. To me this is important.

Our practice of prostration means we are living together with all beings. We are part of this net. We think, “I’m different from all other things” because the thread is not seen—but there is no such thing as a fixed “me.” Without the thread there is no such thing as a knot, e.g., an independent fixed entity. Raihai is something happening, not a fixed thing. We are the same.

When we make prostration, the knot disappears within the net. This is the meaning of making prostration in Dōgen’s teaching. And this disappearing is exactly the same as zazen, e.g., letting go of grasping to me as a fixed entity. Instead, we open our hand. There is no separation between our five skandhas and the rest of the whole world. Like the heron, we simply become one with the snowy field. Within prostration and zazen there is no border between self and universe. When we make buddha mudra, the whole dharma world becomes its own reality.

—•—

[1] Okumura’s translation.

— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Rōshi

The Dōgen Institute offers an occasional series of questions from students with responses from Okumura Rōshi about practice and study. These questions and responses are taken from Okumura Rōshi’s recorded lectures, and are edited to provide continuity and context.

— • —

For further study:

  •  

> Other Questions and responses


Copyright 2022 Sanshin Zen Community

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]

Student:
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

The incompleteness of our practice

By Pau GinerOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

All the karma ever created by me since of old
Through greed, anger, and self-delusion
Which has no beginning, born of my body, speech, and thought
I now make full repentance of it[1]

Student:
Could you say something about repentance?

Okumura Roshi:
Repentance is a translation of the Buddhist term sange. The origin of sange in Buddhism is as old as the history of the Buddhist sangha. Because of certain Christian connotations, I know many American people don’t like the word “repentance.” Some people use another word such as atonement, or try to avoid the word repentance altogether. I use this word repentance because when the Bible was translated into Japanese, Japanese Christians translated the English word repentance with the Buddhist word sange. So when I use the English word repentance, in my mind this is simply the Japanese word sange in a Buddhist context. I am not referring to the meaning of this word as it is used in Christianity.

As far as repentance in Buddhism, historically, Buddhist sanghas in India had gatherings twice a month, on the evenings of the new moon day and the full moon day. In the lunar calendar the new moon day is the first day of each month, and full moon day is the middle, the fifteenth of each month. On these evenings all sangha members gathered together and the leader of the sangha recited the precepts. When any member of the sangha thought they did something against the precepts they made a kind of confession. I did such and such things and this is against the precept and I will try not to do such a thing again. That is the original practice of repentance.

When we receive the precepts, especially the Mahayana precepts, they are really difficult to completely, perfectly keep. It’s almost impossible to live completely keeping the precepts. Take the example of the precept of not killing. Even if we don’t kill animals and we kill vegetables to eat, vegetables are living beings, so we need to make repentance. Or take the example of not telling a lie. You know, if we say “sunrise” and “sunset,” it’s not true. The sun doesn’t actually move to create day and night. We use such an expression in our common usage, but it is not true. Well, my example is a kind of joke, but when we try to live following the precepts we receive, often we see we are not completely following those precepts. So we need to see, or be aware of the incompleteness of our practice. I think that is sange, or the English word I use, repentance. As far as we take our vow and practice trying to fulfill that vow we have to see the incompleteness of our practice. This awakening is repentance to me, and repentance allow us to return to the original direction in which we are going. So repentance is kind of encouragement to me, an encouragement to keep practicing.

Dōgen emphasizes that whatever the condition or situation or state of our mind, we just whole-heartedly practice. That’s it, only the reality of right now right here. But we need to practice, based on our bodhisattva vow to free all beings, to be free from our delusions, to study dharma, and to attain buddha’s way.

Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them.
Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to put an end to them.
The dharmas are boundless; I vow to master them.
The Buddha’s Way is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it.[2]

That is our vow. Usually or almost always our practice is incomplete. We cannot really fulfill those four bodhisattva vows so we need to awaken, we need to be aware of that incompleteness of our practice. Incompleteness is not a bad thing, and to awaken to that incompleteness of our practice is important. That awakening allows us to practice repentance. So as far as we practice based on following our bodhisattva vows, we need to awake to the incompleteness of our practice and practice repentance. Vow and repentance allow us to return to the track we follow to go in that direction, that is, towards buddhahood or nirvana. And when we practice with that attitude, we can find nirvana in each step, each moment.

— • —

[1] See Shohaku Okumura, Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2012), chapter 2 for an in-depth discussion of this verse.
[2] See Shohaku Okumura, Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2012), chapter 1 for an in-depth discussion of this verse.

— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

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