Category Archives: Questions and responses

Waterfall life

waterfallPhoto copyright © 2019 by David S Thompson

Can we change our habitual actions?

According to the Yogacara teachers, our life itself is really a neutral and peaceful thing, and yet it develops like the currents in a stream. Here is a quote from the Thirty Verses, a work by the famous Yogacara teacher Vasubandhu, in which he is describing the store-consciousness, also known as the alaya consciousness:

Among these, “maturation” is that called “the store-consciousness” which has all the seeds.
Its appropriations, states, and perceptions are not fully conscious, yet it is always endowed with contacts, mental attentions, feelings, cognitions, and volitions.
Its feelings are equaniminous: it is unobstructed and indeterminate.
The same for its contacts, etc. It develops like the currents in a stream.

In his Chinese translation of this verse, Xuanzang (Jp. Genjō c. 602 – 664) uses an expression meaning “violent stream.” This means the water flows quickly, even violently – without stopping, always going, like a huge waterfall. In this analogy of a waterfall, “violent stream” or “currents in a stream” means that there is no substance. There is no such thing called “waterfall” because it always changing, it’s always different water. Each time it’s new – so we cannot say this is the Niagara Falls, but it’s there, but it’s always changing, always moving. And the water carries things from different places or different times to this place, to the present. So alaya consciousness is flowing like a waterfall and it transports all things which are stored in this consciousness and these seeds perish each moment and arise each moment. In a sense, this consciousness dies each moment and is born each moment, yet it’s continuous. Each moment it’s new and yet each moment has some continuation. This analogy of a violent stream is a really clear image of what our life is like. When I was born, I was little small living being, and my mind didn’t work so well, or so much, and yet after that my body is always changing, always new, and my mind is always changing. Everything is always new. Our life is like a waterfall or a river.

In Japanese, we have proverb:

三つ子の魂百まで
mitsugo no tamashii hyaku made

Roughly, it means that the mind or spirit of three year-old child or baby persists until they are one hundred years old. Actually, I believe that three years old is around the time children start to think using words. The seeds in this alaya consciousness are not just what is newly created after our birth, but when we are born, we already have some seeds from the past. We inherit from our parents, or as a member of human society we inherit something already. So when we are born we are not completely new, we already have some seeds. And yet we are completely neutral. I think this is really important point. Whatever kind of seeds we have we are always neutral, and that means we can change. Our life is a result of past karma or past causes. We have a connection with the past and still this is a cause towards the future, so in the future who we are depends upon what we do right now. That is the way we can transform ourselves into something new, something better.

We can transform our actions and our way of thinking. That is what Thirty Verses describes in the last part of the work. Roughly speaking there are five steps, and through this practice, our “goal” in Yogacara or Mahayana Buddhism is to become Buddha. From the moment we first arouse bodhi mind, there are five major steps toward becoming Buddha. Yogacarans described what we should do in each of those steps. It’s really detailed – there are actually fifty-two stages within those five steps, and it literally takes more than forever. They believed that when we practice till a certain stage in this lifetime, we can continue to practice from that stage onward during the next lifetime. Indian people of the time believed in reincarnation. We don’t need to believe that – at least, I don’t believe it. Of course, we cannot negate that because we don’t know, so there is no basis either to believe it or to negate it. But either way, the important point is what we do right now. Even if we don’t reincarnate, as an individual person my actions still influence the future even after I die. Since Shakyamuni Buddha practiced and taught in his way, his influence is still there after twenty-five hundred years. Since I studied with my teacher, I practice in this way. In that sense my practice or what I am doing is a kind of reincarnation of my teacher. That is the way one person’s actions or karma influences the future. There is cause and effect, or influence, or seeds. Even if we don’t believe in reincarnation or the transmigration of life after life as an individual, the principal of causation remains true.

The most important thing is what we do right now at this present moment which creates the future. In order to put this into practice, we should really learn our past, not only the past of this individual person from birth, but what human beings have been doing since the beginning of history, or even from the big bang. Everything influences this person and this moment, and each one of us has influence towards the future. We should understand that even though this is a small person, and our action is really small, our action is really universal. Our being, what I am doing, influences and is influenced or created by the whole universe, by the entirety of time. From the beginning of the universe this influence continues to the endless end of the universe.

— • —

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 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Do you believe that everyone has Buddha-nature?

Photo copyright © 2019 by David S Thompson

Do you believe that everyone has Buddha-nature?

For people in the Yogacara school of Buddhism, this is a really important point. Yogacara teachers thought there are two kind of Buddha-nature. One is Buddha-nature as a principal or idea, another is Buddha-nature as practice or actual life. As a principal, everything is Buddha-nature – all people have Buddha-nature, but as an actuality, there are some people who hear about dharma or Buddha’s teaching and it’s not attractive to those people. “Buddha’s teaching” means the teaching of emptiness, beyond any kind of self-and-other dichotomy. This doesn’t mean those people are evil or bad, but those people cannot see the emptiness of beings; so they can be a very moral person, or a very nice person, but their understanding or way of viewing things is dualistic – “I want to be a good person so I try to be generous or do something for other people.” This kind of attitude is not bad. Yet this is blind to the reality of emptiness, of no beings, no one who is doing good things, and no person who can be helped.

When we really look deeply into ourselves, we find this person, and we cannot believe this person has Buddha-nature. It’s really important to know that. It’s easy to just think or believe that all human beings have Buddha-nature, it’s a really nice thought. Yet if we honestly reflect on ourselves, even though we hear Buddha’s teaching, still we attach, and cling to this person. Still we think, “Me first.” Even though we understand Buddha’s teaching, and even though we practice zazen or Buddha’s teaching, still we try to protect this person before other people. If we really deeply see this selfishness or egocentricity, it’s more honest to say, “I don’t have Buddha-nature.“ There is no possibility for me to become Buddha. For the followers of Yogacara, it is more important to see this incompleteness or egocentricity and deep selfishness than to simply believe all beings have Buddha-nature.

That is the difference between Yogacara philosophy and tathagatagharba theory. In tathagatagharba theory, our life is Buddha-nature itself, and yet somehow it has been covered with dirt, or delusion/selfishness. Essentially our life is good, and yet our selfishness or delusion is like a guest. Somehow it comes from outside and clings to this, covers this Buddha-nature. Therefore, what we should do is see the Buddha-nature and take this dirt away from it and polish it. Then original Buddha-nature starts to be revealed. That is the basic idea of tathagatagharba theory. Yogacara is different. According to those teachers, our alaya consciousness is not Buddha-nature, it’s always neutral. So it can be good or bad depending upon our action. In that sense, this practice or teaching is more actual, it’s not an abstract thing. I think from this point of view, the theory of Buddha-nature or tathagatagarba is kind of abstract. Therefore, it’s an important point when we study Yogacara, to see things from this point of view. When we study tathagatagarba theory, we should see things from that point of view. Those two points can be contradictory. And yet another viewpoint, the Madhyamnika, is also different. Seeing our life from different perspectives, the important point is what this means for this person.

Of course we can say this is true, this is my way; we can take one of these points of view as my point of view. “This is most familiar to me, I think this is the best way.” And yet my attitude, or the so called zen attitude is that we don’t stand on either point of view, but see them as perspectives on this life, this person. We don’t stand upon, or take any view or any point of view. That is the basic attitude of “zen people,” zen practitioners. They study and yet they try to forget; they try not to use those theoretical or philosophical terms. Instead, zen people try to show the reality within reality without using those logical frameworks, or theory. That’s why zen stories, zen questions and answers, or zen expressions are really concrete. They don’t discuss what is Buddha-nature – they just show it. They don’t discuss whether we have Buddha-nature or not but just try to show it by direct action. So as a zen practitioner, it is important to study the systems of philosophy or theory in any of the schools in Buddhism; they can be the ground or soil of our practice. And yet we have to put any philosophical theory into our own lives at this moment, right now right here. Then – what do you do, how do we live based on any theory or philosophy? That is a characteristic point in zen.

— • —

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 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

A river in the ocean


By Greg Shirah (lead animator)
NASA Scientific Visualization Studio: Gulf Stream Sea Surface Currents and Temperatures,
Public Domain, Link

How was Dōgen’s practice of zazen inspired by the Lotus Sutra?

Actually, this is not an easy answer – at genzo-e retreats, I often talk for five days about this!

In the Lotus Sutra, I think there there are two chapters which were very important for Dōgen. One is the second chapter, called “Skillful Means.” This chapter talks about the interdependence of each being and their interconnectedness within time and space. I think this was the source of Dōgen’s insight about time and space. Each and every thing exists only within a relationship throughout space and time.

Another important chapter is Chapter 16, “Life Span of the Tathagata.”  Our life is to be born, stay for awhile, and disappear or die. In the case of Shakyamuni, he was born at a certain time in India and lived for eighty years. This life of the Buddha as nirmanakaya is the result of his long practice for more than five hundred lifetimes. Shakyamuni became Buddha in that final lifetime, as Buddha; this is samboghakaya. Both Buddha’s life as an actual person, (as nirmanakaya), and Shakyamuni Buddha as a result of many lifetimes of practice (as samboghakaya) are taking place within Buddha’s eternal life, (the dharmakaya). The important point in the Lotus Sutra is that those three bodies of Buddha – the nirmanakaya as an actual human being, resulting from long practice as the samboghakaya, and the dharmakaya – are really one. These are not three different things. Our life, not only Buddha’s, but life, and not only that of human beings, but each and every existence is within Buddha’s eternal life. That’s why our practice is to encounter the dharma and start to study and practice and continue and mature little by little. That process of our practice is taking place within Buddha’s eternal life.

Essentially, Dōgen is saying that even before we start practice, when we know nothing about Buddhism, we are already within the Way, within Buddha’s eternal life. And within the Way we practice the Way. We study and practice toward the Way. Our process of studying and growth is taking place within Buddha’s dharmakaya. From the very beginning, we are already at the goal and yet we have to make an effort to get closer to the goal, the Way, though we are already there. I think this kind of paradoxical idea came from the Lotus Sutra. This is the main point of Dōgen’s expression that practice and enlightenment (or verification) are one. When we practice we are already there, within the Way, within Buddha’s eternal life. So this is not something we need to go and get, because we are already there, and yet in our practice of each moment we need to go toward the Way. Our practice resembles a river that flows toward the ocean. The river has direction, toward the ocean – and yet this entire process of flowing toward the ocean is happening within the ocean. A modern Japanese poet expressed this as “a river flowing in the ocean.” A river flowing in the ocean is my image of Dōgen Zenji’s practice inspired by the Lotus Sutra.

— • —

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:

    • For a translation of the Lotus Sutra sometimes used by Okumura Roshi, see this book.

> Other Questions and responses


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

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?

Public Domain, Link

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.

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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.

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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


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