Tag Archives: interdependent origination

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.

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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.

— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute hopes to offer an occasional series of questions from students with responses from Okumura Roshi  about practice and study. These questions and responses are from Okumura Roshi’s recorded lectures, and are lightly edited.

— • —

For further study:

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

> Other Questions and responses

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

Beginning with this post, the Dōgen Institute hopes to offer an occasional series of questions from students with responses from Okumura Roshi  about practice and study. These questions and responses are from Okumura Roshi’s recorded lectures, and are lightly edited.

— • —

For further study:


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

Bendōwa, Part One

The Interconnectedness of Genzō-e

Bendōwa, Part One

Our practice involves awareness of what arises — on and off the cushion. This is especially so when our teacher speaks. His words bear more than low-hanging fruit. They carry meaning straight from the root.

Consider how Shōhaku Okumura begins his talks on Bendōwa.

We learn that before the Meiji restoration, the shōgun’s government protected and supported Japanese Buddhism. But that all stopped when rule was restored to the emperor. The new government declared Buddhist orders should be independent.

In a movie script, this is called the inciting incident. In Mahayana Buddhism, it’s the cause that spawns a condition.

Buddhist monks discovered they’d have to support themselves. These would include the “lazy, feckless monks” 1 Sawaki-rōshi calls out in The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kōdō.

Okumura-rōshi tells us this new circumstance forced monks and priests to start teaching and sharing practice with common people.

We know from our own experience Dōgen Zenji’s Shōbōgenzō isn’t light reading. So at Eiheiji they started Genzō-e to share Shōbōgenzō with monks or priests and also, lay people.

Click or tap play to get the whole story . . .

Rōshi shared an anecdote that tells us what’s special about these recordings. He revealed the writing in The Wholehearted Way — his book on Bendōwa — is based on his understanding of what Uchiyama-rōshi taught. And so, in speaking to people who may have read the book, he said, “My challenge is to talk about the same thing in a different way.”

The low-hanging fruit here seems about events that took place at a particular time and at a particular place, involving particular people. But from the root level, Hōjō-san illustrates the interdependent origination that unifies our lives through time and space. But he never uses those words.

We and those on retreat at Sanshinji find prajna in the silence between the words. It’s in silence that we engage in our core practice, where we lose the gap between self and other. That’s where those who gather today join those who met for the first Genzō-e. But, perhaps, we leak too much.

If you’ve found this offering rewarding, please consider following this link to Sanshin’s bandcamp page for the entire digital album.

[1] Uchiyama, Kōshō, Okumura, Shōhaku, Molly Delight Whitehead, ed. The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kōdō (pp 44-45). Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2014.

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Recorded translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-rōshi

> Other albums by Shōhaku Okumura

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

Way of Dharma

The last in a series of three videos on
Dōgen’s waka inspired by The Lotus Sutra

Way of Dharma

© Can Stock Photo

Shōkaku Okumura tells us The Lotus Sutra provides an indispensable key to studying Dōgen. He says, “throughout space and time, each and every thing is connected with everything.” With that foundation, we can grasp what Dōgen Zenji expresses in his five waka poems on the Lotus Sutra.

Going a step further, Okumura-roshi believes what’s true for us today has been true since the “big bang.” By just being, each of us participates in the interconnectedness of all beings. But all it takes is to think about interconnectedness to create a separation. That’s why only a buddha together with a buddha can fathom the true reality of all beings.

That might sound to some as a rather hopeless condition. However, in this final video clarifying Dōgen’s waka on the Lotus Sutra, Hojo-san shares the good news that zazen provides a remedy.

A benefit of preparing these materials for posting is the opportunity to “handle the merchandise” more than once. Each new exposure reveals another aspect of the teaching. We’re grateful for the truths each rewind provides.

In that spirit, you’ll find Part One of this series here and Part Two here.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura-roshi
— Video is an excerpt from a September, 2016 talk at Great Tree Zen Temple of Asheville, North Carolina.

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

As Though Hiding One’s Body

Poem on raihai, 礼拝, “making prostration”

ふし草も Fushikusa mo
みえぬ雪のの mienu yukino no Grasses lie unseen
白さぎは sirasagi wa in the field under the snow
おのがすがたに ono ga sugatani the white heron hides itself
身をかくしけり mi wo kakusi keri in its own appearance.

I’d like to introduce this expression by Dōgen on the meaning of making prostration. There is a translation of this poem in Steven Heine’s book entitled Zen Poetry of Dōgen; in that translation the poem is as follows: A white heron / hiding itself / in the snowy field / where even the winter grass / cannot be seen.

White heron in the snow.People can imagine the scenery. In the snowy field in the winter everything is white, and this bird is completely white. So we cannot see the border between the bird and the rest of the world. So this is a description of the scenery of snowy field in the winter. There’s nothing difficult to understand I think. I’m not sure if this is Dōgen’s title or not, but the title of this poem is “making prostration” raihai. In Mr. Heine’s translation, a white heron hides itself in the snowy field where even the winter grass (fuyu “winter” and kusa “grass”) cannot be seen.

But there is another version of the same poem. Only one character is different, fuyu. In this other version the character is fushi, creating the expression fushikusa. Fusu means “to lie down.” So this is same as “lie down,” “face down,” or bend our body — in the winter, withered grass lies down. And on those grasses the snow falls. It’s like the grasses are making prostration. But the snow falls on those grasses, so even the grasses that are making prostration are hidden by the snow. And there is a white heron. So the grass is not seen. That means the prostration is not seen. I like this version better than fuyukusa, winter grass.

This word mi wo kakusu, “hide one’s body” is most important expression in this poem. Kakusu is “to store” or “to hide.” This is really important and meaningful expression. The bird is white and the entire world is white so we cannot see the border between the bird and rest of the world. It seems like the bird hides itself within itself.

In the poem, first Dōgen describes the entire white world, then he zooms in to the bird. First oneness, everything is the same, all white, no discrimination, no distinction. But when we carefully see it, not only the white heron but all things are there. To me this is important.

The reason why this poem can be description of our practice of prostration . . . you know we are living together with all beings. I always draw this network of interdependent origination as the Indra’s net, and we are part of this net. But we think, “I’m different than all other things and I’m independent,” because the thread is not seen. Yet there’s no such thing called “me” as a fixed independent being. This is just a knot. “Knot” means a connection or relation of the thread. Without those threads, if we take those threads out, there’s no such thing called a knot.

When we make prostrations this knot disappears within this network. This is the meaning of making prostration in Dōgen’s teaching. This is Dōgen’s idea or insight.

If we understand raihai in this way, the practice of prostration is exactly the same as zazen. When we sit in this posture and let go, this letting go means letting go of my grasping of me as a fixed entity called Shohaku. We open our hand. Then there’s no separation between this person, this one set of five skandhas and rest of the world. This simply becomes one snowy field. Nothing else.

When Dōgen described his zazen practice he said, when a person sits displaying buddha-mudra, this entire universe becomes enlightenment, and each and every being within this universe reveals its own enlightenment. Well, enlightenment is not the right word. Perhaps, its own reality. So within zazen, or within making prostration, this person and the entire dharma world become really one, there’s no border. That is the meaning of this making prostration. So please keep this in your mind when you read this text.

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

Nine talks on Shōbōgenzō Raihai TokuzuiNotes:
This is an edited extract from the new recording, “The White Heron: nine talks on Shōbōgenzō Raihai Tokuzui,” available for sale on the Dōgen Institute’s audio page. Click on the image to the left to listen to this extract and purchase.

This printed extract also includes Okumura Roshi’s latest version of the poem in the header.

The photograph of the heron is copyright Stuart Price, hakodatebirding.com. We express our appreciation to Mr. Price for his generosity in allowing us to use this photo.

> Other Waka by Dōgen

Copyright 2016 Sanshin Zen Community