Tag Archives: Buddhism

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

New article by Okumura Roshi in Dharma Eye

— • —

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 article on Shobogenzo Kannon, which we have just posted, please see our DI page dedicated to these articles.

— • —


Copyright 2022 Sanshin Zen Community

Okumura Rōshi on the Self, and Squabbling Squashes

squabbling squashes

“It’s true that we are all different squashes . . .  some are bigger and some are smaller . . .  some are rounder and some are longer. But even if we are different, we are all connected. We are all growing together. We don’t have to be such squabbling squashes.”

The following is excerpted from a talk given at Zen Mountain Monastery, courtesy of Dharma Communications. See below for a recording of the full talk.

I’d like to introduce a new book published just last month from Wisdom Publications. It is a children’s book entitled Squabbling Squashes. It is not a difficult story. The monks grow squashes in the garden at their temple, and those squashes start to squabble. They argue and fight with each other about who is the best squash. Then a monk comes and asks them to sit quietly, and he teaches them how to do zazen, and they calm down. The monk asks them to put their hands on their heads. The squashes find something strange on their heads. It is a vine, and they see that they are all connected. They are living as part of the entire plant of squashes. And so, they calm down and become harmonious again.

If you have read Opening the Hand of Thought by my teacher, Kōshō Uchiyama Rōshi, you may remember that this story came from that book. When Uchiyama Rōshi introduces this story, he is talking about what is the self when we practice zazen. In Chapter five of Opening the Hand of Thought, “Zazen and the True Self,” Uchiyama Rōshi talks about what is the actual self that we are. He said there are two layers of one self. One layer is the self that is defined in comparison with others.

But Uchiyama Rōshi says this is not the only way we understand who we are and he introduces this story. The story means we are connected with all other beings and living the same life. That second layer of self is called universal self in this translation, or all-pervading self, or in more traditional Zen terms, something like “original face of the self.” In Dōgen’s unique expression, it is called jin issai jiko. Jin is all or whole, issai is everything, and jiko is the self. We are the self together with all beings without any exceptions. We are living together with all beings and are part of this interconnectedness.

Usually, we think we are independent and we compete with others and we argue. There are so many squabbling squashes in this world. Even though we are fruits of this huge tree of life, yet we think you are not them, they are not me, and I am not them. That is a correct way of thinking, but we are “1” as one of them and yet this “1” has no substance, as Buddha said. It is simply the collection of five aggregates within causes and conditions throughout space and time. This “1” individual person doesn’t really exist as a permanent independent being that can exist without relation with others.

When we study Buddhist teachings, we understand that even though we think we are one individual person (“1”), yet we are actually “0.” “0” is shunyata. When we see we are not an independent being that can exist without relation with others and therefore we are “0,” then we start to find relation with others. We are all connected because we are “0,” we are empty, we are shunyata. We find this entirety of interconnectedness is “me,” is the self.

Uchiyama Rōshi talks about only two sides: the individual being as “1,” and infinity or all-pervading self. But between “1” and infinity (∞) I think it is helpful to understand we are “0.” So when I give a talk about zazen, I almost always draw this diagram and say “1=0=∞.”

In the process of studying what he wrote in this book, I found that knowing this zero-ness or emptiness is important. When we only see the individual conditioned self or the all-pervading universal self, we often think, “This is bad; this is good.” and we think we have to transform our self from our conditioned self to the universal self. We think that to live the universal self is a good thing, an enlightened way of life. But I found that this is not what Uchiyama Rōshi said. To understand his point, it is important to see this zero-ness or emptiness of the self. It also means this individual conditioned self is not something we need to negate, but is very important. This individual self, being free from clinging, is the only thing I can use to express zero-ness and infinity.

SqSq2So, it is important to awaken to the reality of emptiness and all interconnectedness through our particular body and mind, our particular collection of five aggregates. This conditioned self is the only tool I can use to practice and share with others. In order to share Buddhist teaching and practice, I have to share this conditioned karmic self. Otherwise, there is nothing I can do.

To me, within those three aspects of our self, there is no good or bad, superior or inferior, something to negate or to cling to. But the three aspects are three aspects of this being. At the same time there is no way we can negate any of those three aspects.

It is a really important point that when we practice zazen to see the three aspects of our self. We have so many squabbling squashes in this world today—so this teaching of finding something strange that connects ourselves with others, and finding that we are living together with all beings, is really a meaningful teaching. Even though Uchiyama Rōshi’s book, Opening the Hand of Thought, was written fifty years ago, what he wrote is still valid in this world today.

Listen to the whole talk:

The Interdependence of Squabbling Squashes

Squabbling Squashes are available here from Wisdom Publications.

— • —

See our publications page for a complete listing.


Copyright 2021 Sanshin Zen Community