Tag Archives: Lotus Sutra

Is there a universal consciousness?

Is there a universal consciousness from which we are separated by delusion? Or when we let go of delusion, do we simply manifest something? Is there a thing separated from us only by delusion which we can join, or are we each unique examples of perfection?

In Dogen’s writings, this is not really clear; I think he takes both sides. My understanding from my own practice, and from studying Dogen, and from my teacher’s teaching, is that there’s not a certain fixed, universal reality, from which we are separate only because of our thinking. If we are living within the realm of thinking, how can we know such a reality? How do we know that it exists even though we don’t see it? It’s not really clear to me. I don’t believe there is that kind of a foundation, which is sometimes called buddha-nature, or the true reality of all beings.

The Lotus Sutra says:

“Only a buddha together with a buddha can fathom the Reality of All Existence, that is to say, all existence [has] such a form, such a nature, such an embodiment, such a potency, such a function, such a primary cause, such as secondary cause, such an effect, such a recompense, and such a complete fundamental whole.”[1]

That reality is the reality we are living in— and yet we cannot see it. That’s what I’m referring to when I talk about the network of interdependent origination. Whether this reality is the same or not is a really important, really subtle point. There is a solid foundation as a reality, and we are a part of it, and yet we are separate from it because we are full of deluded thinking. To return to that reality by letting go of thought is one way to understand our practice. But I don’t think this is the case. When we let go, we are not sure whether there is such a foundation or not. This is a kind of belief. In the Lotus Sutra, it says that only a buddha together with a buddha can see this. I cannot speak on behalf of Dogen or Uchiyama Roshi, but within my practice, my own personal practice, I am not sure if there’s such a solid foundation from which we deviate. Whether such a thing exists or not, our practice is we just let go.

When I discuss the network of interdependent origination as a circle with crisscrossed lines as a net within that circle, I often say that the circle is extra. That means, I’m sure we’re connected with all beings, and yet there’s no such boundary as that circle. When we let go, we are released from self-clinging, released from our artificial man-made picture of the world. That’s all. We are not sure whether we return to this foundation or not. There’s no way to figure it out. “Now I have returned” or “Now I’m there”— there’s no way to make sure or verify that I’m there. But what we can do is just to let go and be released from our clinging. To open our hand is it. But if we say that when we open our hand, we return to this, then it is the same as the teaching of original enlightenment— that we are separate from original enlightenment because of our delusion, and our practice is to return to that reality. That is one of the ideas of Buddhist philosophy based on the theory of tathagata-garbha, or buddha-nature.

This question also has something to do with Dogen’s style of teaching or writing. I have been reading his writings for many years, but from studying his writings I don’t find such a solid “foundation” within his teaching, or something built up from that foundation. I see the same thing when I read Nagarjuna. What they are doing is almost deconstructing or destroying that foundation. That means that even this foundation is our idea. Letting go means we also have to let go of that type of idea. In the answer to question four in Bendowa, Dōgen said,

 “…when we truly do zazen thoroughly, relying on the Buddha mudra and letting go of all affairs, we transcend the limits of sentimental judgments about delusion and enlightenment…”[2]

“Sentimental judgment” is what we think. What we do is just let go of our clinging, and grasping, and deconstruct the building we have been building using the bricks of concepts, and knowledge, and thinking, like a system of thinking or thought. When we finish building this system of thought, it becomes a prison. We can’t get out. Our practice is to make a hole into these walls by letting go of whatever we have been thinking, whatever we have been achieving, whatever we have been grasping. In my understanding, Dogen did not build a building on the basis of a solid foundation— he tried to deconstruct this idea. Still, he is trying to show us a way of life, what we should do, how we should live. He describes what we should do, how we should practice in the zendo or for the rest of the day within the monastery. He teaches us how to live. But I think his teaching is how to live based not upon a certain kind of truth or reality, but by the way we become free from our clinging to any theory, even this kind of theory. That is my personal understanding. On this point I sometimes feel different from my teacher’s teaching. I think Uchiyama Roshi’s teaching is based on the idea or theory of buddha-nature, and to return to that reality, although he also negated that there is any such fixed thing. I think it’s really difficult to judge, in Dogen’s teaching, or Uchiyama Roshi’s teaching, or even in what I’m saying, whether that teacher is thinking of that kind of solid, fixed reality or truth to which we return. We are always in the process of letting go. There’s no end.

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[1] Bunnō Katō and William Edward Soothill, The Threefold Lotus Sutra (Tokyo; New York: Kosei Pub. Co.; Weatherhill, 1987). p. 52

[2] Kōshō Uchiyama et al., The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dōgen’s Bendōwa with Commentary (Boston, Mass: Tuttle Publishing, 1997). p. 28

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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.

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For further study:

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Being one with chocolate, how does that work?

image © 2019 David S. Thompson

I’m confused about name and form, and the idea that if you end the subject-object relationship, and see what was formerly an object as part of yourself, you drop the attachment to it— practically speaking, how does that work? If I have a piece of chocolate, and try to end the subject-object relationship with that piece of chocolate, it’s a part of me, but I still want to eat it.

 

According to Buddha when we sit letting go of thought, or keep our karmic consciousness idling, then name and form (namarupa) disappears, ceases to exist. Do you believe this? I really believe this. This [holds marker] ceases to be a brown marker to me, this is just as it is. We let go of the name and evaluation, and try not to do anything with this. It’s there, but this is not a brown marker, we don’t make a judgment whether this is useful or not useful. It’s still here but it ceases to be namarupa. At that time, as in Dogen Zenji’s expression, it starts to be the Buddha Dharma, or to reveal itself just as it is. This is not namarupa or the object of my perception, but this is just as it is. That is just what Dogen Zenji says at the very beginning of Genjokoan, “When all dharmas are Buddha Dharma, there is delusion and realization, practice, life and death, buddhas and living beings.” When we let go of all of our different thoughts in zazen, all things cease to be namarupa and start to be Buddha Dharma. That is the time we can practice with all different dharmas. But still this is it. It doesn’t change, but the relationship between this person and this thing has changed. We encounter this not as a namarupa or object of my judgment or evaluation, but this is just as it is. It has its own form, nature, body, energy, and function. That is when I can practice with this [holds marker], when this starts to show the reality of all beings, impermanence, egolessness, and interdependent origination. As far as I perceive this as a brown marker, I have some connection or relationship. I’m hooked within this connection of a person who has a desire and the object of my desire to write or do something meaningful or valuable for this person. If we stop all those hooks, this thing starts to reveal the reality of all beings. It becomes a buddha that teaches us and shows us the reality of all beings. So it becomes a teacher. The relationship and meaning of this being becomes different. It’s still here but it ceases to be namarupa and starts to be Buddha Dharma.

In our zazen we can really completely let go of all perceptions or thinking or evaluation or anything. But when we get out of the zendo this starts to be namarupa again and we have of deal with namarupa. Practice within our daily lives is more complicated. What Buddha taught in the Sutta Nipata is not the end of the teaching. There is the Mahayana teaching and also what Dogen teaches: how we can live based on this teaching of Buddha. As a Mahayana Buddhist or bodhisattva we have to work within the society with all beings. We cannot sit twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. Somehow, we have to work or interact with other people with different ideas, opinions or views. We have to deal with namarupa. How can we deal with namarupa if we cannot avoid contact with namarupa?

I think what Dogen is saying, and what Mahayana Buddhism is teaching, is that there is another way to avoid contact even though we are working together with things, and that is to become one with this. As Dogen Zenji said in Tenzo Kyokun, when you work in the kitchen you should be one with the rice, water, or fire. That is another way this ceases to be namarupa, and yet remain a part of my life. One way of “avoiding” contact is to really let go of everything and sit facing the wall. Another way is to encounter this as one thing. That is the question Dogen is answering in Bendowa: whether this can be applied only during zazen or if this can also be applied in our daily lives. This is a kind of difficult point, a delicate point. We have to really think deeply.

As far as the chocolate— I think you can eat it; but it depends on your physical condition. Sugar can be a poison depending upon your condition. You have to consider the relationship between the chocolate and you. A baby doesn’t have a concept of the mother’s milk. Cats and dogs also don’t have names or concepts, still they know what they can eat, or what they need to keep them alive. Probably there is no “perception” in Buddhist terms, but they have five skandhas and food is probably something to them. Maybe cats and dogs don’t eat what they need out of desire but out of necessity. Cats don’t eat more than they need, but we humans eat even when we know it’s a poison. To eat too much delicious food harms our bodies, but still I want to eat it. That is because we think this is important, this is expensive, or this is delicious, or I cannot eat if I don’t eat right now. I think this is a problem caused by our mind or thinking, and I think that is desire. But the appetite of babies or cats and dogs is not desire. It’s a necessity, they only eat as much as they need. They are more enlightened than us.

But if I want the chocolate, then the chocolate is namarupa, an object of my desire. If I just eat it without thinking or considering my healthy condition, we are in need of wisdom. Even if this brown marker ceases to exist as namarupa, still this can be used as a marker. But this cannot be a piece of chocolate, we cannot eat this. When we start to think whether to eat this piece of chocolate or not, a kind of wisdom arises to see what happens when I eat this. That is what we do in our daily lives— we have to deal with this. When we start to question our relationship with this chocolate, then the chocolate becomes Buddha Dharma. Chocolate is teaching us to consider whether we are being led by our desire or wisdom. I think that is our practice in our daily lives. We have to deal with this. If we eat it without thinking, just because we want to eat it, just because I like it, then this is really namarupa. But when we stop one moment and think whether this is a good thing or not or what the action of eating this causes to these five skandhas, then we start to learn about this thing and that thing.

Even from one piece of chocolate we can see the entire universe, because everything is connected with this one piece of chocolate. The chocolate is in front of me because of the farmers who grow the cocoa plants and the people who worked making chocolate at a factory, and people who transported it from where it was made to in front of me. When we see this chocolate, we can see the entire net of interdependent origination. After that we have to make a decision to eat it or not. Then the chocolate really becomes a teacher of dharma. It’s not a mystical thing, this is really a day-to-day ordinary thing. But if we are careful, we can study dharma even from one piece of chocolate. I think that is what Dogen is saying. Does it make sense?

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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.

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For further study:

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Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

Buddha’s view

image by: James Spurrier CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Are a human being and a buddha different?

A common idea in Buddhism is that we are deluded human beings, buddhas are enlightened, and it takes more than forever to become a Buddha. In early Buddhism people thought that no one can become a buddha, but in Mahayana Buddhism we are Buddha’s children – bodhisattvas are Buddha’s children – and if we continue to practice, even though it takes more than forever, we can become a buddha. So there is a connection. In a sense, living beings are a cause – now we start to study this Dharma as a cause and when we become really mature then we can become a buddha. So it’s not completely separated. Buddhas and living beings have a connection. Actually, when we read Dogen’s writings, different people or figures are teaching in different buddha-lands. That is because especially in Mahayana Buddhism, there isn’t just one Buddha.

In early Buddhism people thought Buddha was the only one; there was Shakyamuni, and no other Buddha. But I think Shakyamuni himself said that he didn’t create anything new, but that he was a person who discovered an old castle hidden in the forest. This analogy means there must have been someone else who found or discovered the same thing. I think that in the next stages of Buddhist history people started to think there were other buddhas. They thought there were seven buddhas in the past, that Shakyamuni was the seventh in a series of Buddhas, and yet he was one Buddha at one time, and in one world. So in this world, after Sakyamuni died and until Maitreya Buddha appears after fifty-seven billion years or so, we have no buddha. Subsequently, Mahayana Buddhists began to think that this universe is not the only universe. There must be many other universes and worlds. So in this world until Maitreya appears there is no Buddha, but there must be many other buddha-lands, and at this present moment other buddhas are teaching in different buddha-lands. They created many buddhas, numberless buddhas such as Amithaba Buddha in the western world.

Yet Buddha also said that each and every thing, all beings are a buddha, including ourselves, because each and every thing is empty. Emptiness is the reality to which the Buddha awakened. This reality and a buddha who awakens to that reality is the same thing. The Lotus Sutra says that only a buddha together with a buddha can see that reality. We cannot see it, we cannot talk about it, we cannot express it using words or language. What we have to remember is there are two layers of reality. One is the way we view things using our thinking mind. Another is going beyond this discriminating mind, that is what buddha means. We are bodhisattvas, Buddha’s children. If we want to become a buddha and if we vow to practice and follow that way, we have to follow Buddha’s darshana, Buddha’s way of viewing things. So as a bodhisattva somehow we need both. This is the point – we need both. If Buddha’s darshana or Buddha’s insight is really beyond our reach then Buddhism and buddhas have nothing to do with us. We are living beings within muddy water and still we want to bloom the flower of dharma. So our life has a contradiction or paradox. Even though we are independent individuals, limited and conditioned, still we want to study and practice and manifest this infinite, boundless reality that can be seen only by buddhas together with buddhas. How can we share Buddha’s way of viewing things within this life? That is a very essential point of bodhisattva practice. According to Dogen Zenji the pivotal point or joint of these two is our zazen.

In common buddhist terms living beings and buddhas are different. But when we discuss about our zazen, or Dogen’s teaching, and also Mahayana teachings, buddhas and living beings are just one reality. Buddhist teaching is really strange. We have to understand it in many different layers or profundities. When we see the reality from the deepest point of view (Buddha’s view) there is no such distinction between Buddha and a living being. But from a human perspective we aren’t Buddha. We are so different from Buddha. Even though we aspire to study the dharma, still this aspiration is self-centered. “I want to find the truth.” “I want to live in a better way then I live now.” So it’s still ego-centered. Even our motivation to study dharma is still self-centered. If I think living beings and Buddha is one and the same, if so, why do I have to practice? Why do I have to study? In fact, that was the original question Dogen had when he was fifteen years old. So please keep that question in your mind. I think it is important.

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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

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