Birds suffering in the cold

Ohara Koson [Public domain]

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (13)

「雪」

Snow

How can the three realms and ten directions be all one color?
Who would discuss the difference between human and heavenly beings?
Do not convey talk of birds suffering in the cold.
The lake with no heat of anxiety is on the snowy mountain.[1]

三界十方何一色 (三界十方何ぞ一色なる)
誰論天上及人間 (誰か論ぜん天上及び人間)
莫傳寒苦鳥言語 (傳うることなかれ寒苦鳥の言語)
無熱惱池在雪山 (無熱惱池は雪山に在り)

 

This is verse 13 in Kuchugen and verse 91 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is the last of the four poems about “snow” in Kuchugen. Monkaku’s version and Menzan’s version of this poem are exactly the same.

How can the three realms and ten directions be all one color?
Who would discuss the difference between human and heavenly beings?

“The three realms” is a translation of tri-loka in Sanskrit. The three realms refer to the realm of desire (kama-dhatu), the realm of material (rupa-dhatu), and the realm without material (arupa-dhatu). In the first realm (desire) people are transmigrating within six realms, or divisions (hell, the realms of hungry ghosts, of animals, asura, humans, and the six kinds of heavenly beings) depending on the karma they made in the previous lifetime. Beyond the six realms composing kama-dhatu, there are two more realms— realms of meditation with and without material things. Together, the three realms are samsara, in which living beings are transmigrating. “The three realms” is also used as a common Buddhist term for “everywhere” or “the whole world.”

“The ten directions” is a translation of the Sanskrit word, dasadis, that is, the four cardinal directions (north, east, south, west), the four intermediate directions (northeast, southeast, southwest, northwest), and the zenith and nadir. This also refers to the entire world. However, this expression is often used to refer to all buddhas or all buddha-lands in the entire ten-direction world.

Here, Dogen uses “the three realms” for the entire world in which all living beings are transmigrating in samsara, and “ten directions” for the entire world as buddha-land. In the very beginning of Shobogenzo Hokke-ten-hokke (The Dharma-flower Turns the Dharma-flower), Dogen writes, “‘Within the buddha-lands in the ten-directions’ is ‘only being’ of the Dharma-flower. (十方佛土中者、法華の唯有なり。)” Both “the three realms” (samsara) and “the ten directions” (buddha-lands) are the entire world. It is not a matter of there being two entire, different worlds separate from each other. Yet, samsara and buddha-lands are different depending upon our attitudes toward our lives.

During the winter in Echizen where Dogen lived, the entire world is covered completely with white snow. It becomes a world of “one color,” non-discrimination. There is no distinction between samsara and nirvana. It is without question that there is no separation between the realms of human and heavenly beings. Depending upon how we live, the entire world becomes the world of suffering and transmigration in samsara, or the buddha-land. These are not two separate places and yet they are different.

Do not convey talk of birds suffering in the cold.
The lake with no heat of anxiety is on the snowy mountain.

“Birds suffering in the cold” is a translation of kankucho (寒苦鳥). It is said there is an imaginary bird with such a name in the Himalaya (雪山, Snowy Mountain), although I don’t find any reference to the Sanskrit name of this bird in the scriptures. In Japanese Buddhist texts, this bird is mentioned. There is a pair of these birds living in the high snowy mountains in the Himalaya region. In the night, when it is extremely cold, the female bird repeatedly says, “Cold is killing me. Cold is killing me.” Then the male bird says, “Let’s make a nest tomorrow. Let’s make a next tomorrow.” However, when the sun rises and it becomes warm, they forget the plan of making a nest, and just enjoy the daytime. When night comes again, they complain in the same way. They repeat this every day and every night though their entire lifetime. When they suffer with cold, they complain and make up their minds to make a nest where they can sleep comfortably, but when the sun rises and it becomes warm, they forget about the cold night, and their plan to make a nest is never carried out.

The way these birds live refers to the life of samsara. When we have sad or painful experiences, we make a resolution to study and practice the Dharma to find a path for liberation. But when the difficult time is over, we forget such a resolution. And we repeat this again and again. That is why Dogen says we should not convey the birds’ message; once you arouse bodhi-mind, we should make a determination to study and practice single-mindedly.

“The lake with no heat of anxiety” (無熱惱池) is a translation of Anavatapta, which means “no heat or fever.” In Indian cosmology, there is a huge lake on the northern side of Himalaya mountains named Anavatapta, which is the source of the four great rivers in India: the Ganges, Indus, Oxus, and Sita. It is said that in the lake a dragon king whose name is Anavatapta is living. “No heat of anxiety” means no suffering. What Dogen is saying here is that the place where the birds are suffering in the cold and the lake of no suffering are both in the same place, the Himalaya. Probably this poem has something to do with the koan Dogen discusses in Shobogenzao Shunjuu (Spring and Autumn):

Once, a monk asked Great Master Dongshan Wuben, “When cold or heat comes, how should we avoid it?”
The master said, “Why don’t you go to the place without cold and heat?”
The monk said, “What is the place without cold and heat like?”
The master said, “When it’s cold, kill the acarya with cold. When it’s hot, kill the acarya with heat.”[2]

I suppose Dogen composed this poem to admonish and encourage the monks in his assembly and himself during the cold and gloomy winter in Echizen. Once we begin to complain about the conditions we are practicing in, our life becomes samsara and we want to escape. However, when we settle down right there and find something interesting and meaningful, the same place can be the buddha-land.

I studied this when I lived in Massachusetts. The winter in western Massachusetts is much colder and longer than winter in the Osaka and Kyoto area in Japan, where I grew up and had lived most of my life. In Massachusetts, during the transition between winter and spring, we had some warmer days like a sign of spring but then we had snow and ice on the road, again and again. In the first few years, I felt depressed and had some difficulty enjoying that time of the year. The only thing I could do was keep sitting until the real spring wind began to blow.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-91, p.636) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] Okumura’s unpublished translation.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.


Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

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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

Gautama’s eyes

Photo copyright David S. Thompson

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (12)

「雪」

Snow

The five-petal flower opens; a sixth [snowflake] petal’s added.
Though daytime with blue sky, it’s as if there were no light.
If someone asks what color I see,
These are Gautama’s old eyes.[1]

五葉華開重六葉、 (五葉華開いて六葉を重ぬ、)
青天白日似無明、 (青天白日明無きに似たり、)
若人問我看何色、 (若し人我に何なる色をか看ると問わば、)
此是瞿曇老眼睛 (此れは是れ瞿曇の老眼睛。)

This is verse 12 in Kuchugen and verse 88 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). This is one of the 4 poems about “snow” in Kuchugen. In Manzan’s version, there is a little difference in the first line:

五葉花開重一葉(五葉華開いて一葉を重ぬ、)
The five-petal flower opens; one petal is added.

And the second line is completely different:

風飄六出轉鮮明(風六出を飄えして轉た鮮明、):
Being blown by a clear wind, snowflakes are fluttering

The five-petal flower opens; a sixth [snowflake] petal’s added.
Though daytime with blue sky, it’s as if there were no light.

The five-petal flower (五葉華) refers to a plum blossom, which has five petals. Plum blossoms bloom in mid-winter to early spring, typically around January until late February. It is highly regarded as a symbol of winter and a forerunner of spring. The blossoms are so beloved because they are blooming lively in the winter snow, radiating with a subtle elegance. They are the symbol of perseverance and hope, as well as beauty, purity, and the brevity of life.

This expression “five petals” has also a connection with the transmission verse of Bodhidharma:

吾本來茲土傳法救迷情。
一花開五葉結果自然成。

I originally came to this country
To transmit the Dharma and save deluded beings.
When the single flower opens into five petals
Then the fruit will ripen naturally of itself.

“A sixth [snowflake] petal’s added (重六葉)” can be translated as “six-petal flowers are added.” Because a snow crystal is hexagonal, in Chinese literature snow is sometimes called a six-petal flower. This line describes the scenery of midwinter to early spring. The entire earth is covered in snow, but plum blossoms— the earliest flower— are already blooming on a branch. It is continually snowing on the blossoms.

Even though it was a fine day with blue sky, when it begins to snow, the brightness of the sky disappears. It is still cold and gloomy winter. In the phrase, “It’s as if there were no light,” “no light” (無明) can mean, “lacking wisdom,” or “ignorance.”  Even though the flower of buddha’s awakening is already open through our practice, we still feel we are in the darkness of ignorance.

If someone asks what color I see,
These are Gautama’s old eyes.

In these two lines, “old eyes” and “color” of the blossoms have a relationship with each other. “Color” is the object of “eyes.” However, Dogen says that the plum blossoms he is seeing are Buddha’s eyes. This refers to Tiantong Rujing’s poem on the occasion of Buddha’s Enlightenment Day. In Shobogenzo Baika (Plum Blossom), Dogen Zenji quotes this poem from his teacher Tiantong Rujing’s Dharma Hall discourse:

瞿曇打失眼睛時、
雪裏梅華只一枝。
而今到処成荊棘、
却笑春風繚亂吹。

At that time when Gautama lost his eyeball,
In the snow, there was only single branch of plum blossoms.
Right now, thorns are growing everywhere.
Rather I laugh at the spring wind blowing lively.[2]

Rujing says that when Shakyamuni Buddha attained awakening while sitting under the bodhitree, the Buddha lost his eyes, that is, when he saw the reality of no-self (anatman), the dichotomy between subject (eyes) and object (bright star) is dropped off. He found interdependent origination with all beings. That is the meaning of the famous expression, “I, together with the great earth and sentient beings, simultaneously attain the Way.”

In the same manner, in Dogen’s Chinese poem, the dichotomy of subject (eyes) and object (plum blossoms) is dropped off. Dogen says that the Buddha’s lost eyes appear as the plum blossoms in front of his own eyes. The plum blossoms in the snow are the Buddha’s lost eyes.

Rujing also says that when the Buddha had awakening under the bodhi tree, there was only one awakened person in the world, but later in the history of Buddhism, when the spring wind blew, many branches grew everywhere. Here is Dogen’s comment on Rujing’s poem:

The plum blossom in the snow is the emergence of an udumbara flower. How often do we see our Buddha Tathagata’s eyeball of the true dharma, and yet we miss his blink and we fail to smile? Right now, we have authentically transmitted and accepted that the plum blossom in the snow is truly the Tathagata’s eyeball. We take it up and hold it as the eye at the top of the head, as the pupil within the eye. When we further go into the plum blossom and penetrate into them, there is no reason for doubting it. It is already the eyeball of “above and below the heavens, I alone am the honored one,” and it is “the most honored one within the dharma world.

In this passage, “an udumbara” is a name of a tree that is said to bloom only once every three thousand years. Because it blooms so rarely, this flower is used in similes to indicate something extremely rare and precious, such as the appearance of a buddha in the world or the chance of encountering the buddhadharma during one’s lifetime. Dogen is saying here that each time we see plum blossoms is the only time we can see them. If we miss it now, we cannot see it again. Next year’s plum blossoms are not this year’s blossoms. Even though we encounter such precious Dharma here and now, we almost always fail to smile and accept it as buddhadharma. If we can see the blossoms in the snow as buddha’s eyes, we must be very grateful. This is what Dogen expresses in this Chinese poem.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-87, p.635) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] This poem and the following comment by Dogen are Okumura’s unpublished translation.

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

New article by Okumura Roshi in September 2018 Dharma Eye

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Okumura Roshi is a regular contributor to Dharma Eye, the journal of the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center, providing translation of and commentary on fascicles of Dogen Zenji’s Shobogenzo. Numerous articles are available free online. For a full listing, and the latest latest article on Ikka Myoju: One Bright Jewel, please see our DI page dedicated to these articles.

— • —


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

Practicing determination

Public Domain PD-1923

Dogen’s Chinese Poem (11)

「雪」

Snow

Deepening dusk in early winter, dense snow keeps falling.
On mountains in all directions, [we see] no cypress or pines.
Stop discussing snow depths, and the sinking gloom.
I want this to be like Caoxi Peak on Mount Song.[1]

将暮孟冬降密雪、 (暮れなんと将て孟冬密雪降る、)
四山無柏亦無松、 (四山柏無く亦た松無し、)
休論寸尺将陰気、 (論ずること休みね寸尺と陰気と、)
欲似嵩山少室峰。 (嵩山少室峰に似たらんと欲う。)

This is verse 11 in Kuchugen and verse 87 of volume 10 of Eihei Koroku (Dogen’s Extensive Record). It is one of the four poems about “snow” in Kuchugen. In Manzan’s version, there is a difference in the third line:

將委積論多少 (委積を將て多少を論ずることを休めよ)。
Stop discussing the amount of snow whether it is much or not so much.

There is also a slight difference in the 4th line:

欲似嵩少室峰
I wish [this scenery] is like the Caoxi peak of the high mountain, Song.

Deepening dusk in early winter, dense snow keeps falling.
On mountains in all directions, [we see] no cypress or pines.

Moto (孟冬) refers to the beginning of the winter, that is, 10th month in lunar calendar; November to December in solar calendar. Missetu (密雪) refers to heavy snow falling continuously without making any sound. When winter comes to the Hokuriku district where Dogen lived, the north wind from Siberia brings humid air from Japan sea. The wind hits the high mountains, goes up, freezes, and comes down as snow. Each winter, people in this region have huge amount of snow. Sometimes they have more than ten feet of snow which may cover the entire village unless people continuously remove the snow on the roofs and streets.

In the second line, Dogen describes the mountain scenery completely covered with white snow. The differences among various kinds of trees such as cypress, pine, and many others cannot be seen.

Stop discussing snow depths, and the sinking gloom.
I want this to be like Caoxi Peak on Mount Song.

In the third line, Dogen asks his monks not to discuss and complain about how much snow they have and how cold, humid, and gloomy the world has become. Inki (陰気) is yin-energy (as opposed to yang-energy) which makes the world cold, dark, humid, and living beings inactive, gloomy, and even depressed. Ancient Chinese and Japanese people thought that from autumn to winter, yin-energy becomes stronger, and from spring to the summer yang-energy becomes stronger. In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang (dark-bright, negative-positive) describe how seemingly opposite or contrary energy may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.

In the final line, Dogen asks his monks to remember the incident that happened in the snow when the Second Ancestor, Huike visited the First Ancestor, Bodhidharma. Su-zan Shoshitsu-ho (嵩山少室峰, Caoxi peak on Mt. Song) was where the Shaolin temple was located. The Second Ancestor, Huike (慧可, Eka) visited Bodhidharma wishing to become his disciple. According to the legend, Huike stood in the snow all night while Bodhidharma sat facing the wall. Dogen describes the day of this event in Shobogenzo Gyoji (Continuous Practice, Part Two):

At that time, it was the final month of a year, and a very cold day. It is said that it was the night of the 9th day of the 12th month. Even if it was not heavily snowing, the winter night in the deep mountains is not a place a human being can stand on the outside ground. It was a dreadful time of the year; even a joint of bamboo would be broken [with cold]. Therefore, a huge amount of snow covered the entire earth, both mountains and peaks. He sought the Way in the snow. We cannot imagine how hard it was![2]

Huike was not permitted to enter Bodhidharma’s room (another version says that Bodhidharma was sitting in a cave). Huike kept standing in the snow almost until dawn. During that time, Huike remembered how past bodhisattvas practiced without thinking of their own bodily life, such as the bodhisattva who offered himself to a hungry mother tiger to help her seven cubs, etc. Then Huike thought to himself, “Ancient people with great capability and determination were like that, then who I am?” Huike made his aspiration stronger. Later, when he talked with Bodhidharma, he cut his arm to show his determination.

After introducing this story Dogen writes, “[His descendants] in later times should not forget this saying, ‘Even the ancient people were like that, then who am I?’”

I think this is what Dogen Zenji wants to say in this Chinese poem to his disciples. Even when the entire world is cold, humid, and gloomy, we should think of how ancient bodhisattvas practiced and renew our determination, instead of being overwhelmed and complaining about the weather. Probably Dogen was also encouraging himself.

These days, at some Japanese Soto Zen monasteries, right after Rohatsu sesshin is completed and after performing a ceremony celebrating Buddha’s Enlightenment on December 8th, they hold a Danpi (cutting-arm) sesshin and sit all night until the morning of 9th.

— • —

[1] (Dogen’s Extensive Record 10-87, p.635) © 2010 Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura, Dōgen’s Extensive Record. Reprinted by arrangement with Wisdom Publications, Inc., http://www.wisdompubs.org.

[2] This is Okumura’s unpublished translation

— • —

Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi.


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.

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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.

— • —

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