Tag Archives: reality

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.

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For further study:

 


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A butterfly dreams of Zhuangzi

“I think you know this story.

“Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.”[1]

Things are transforming, changing. Not only in this kind of story, but when we see the emptiness of our lives, when I think of what I did when I was young— it was like a dream. I could do much hard work. I could sit much more than I can sit now. Now, I can’t sit on the floor. I have to sit on a chair. I started to sit when I was nineteen, and until I became sixty, I could sit without much pain. Sitting was most comfortable posture and I could sit sesshin (retreat) without much pain. But after I became sixty, the pain in my knees became a problem. When I became sixty-three, I decided to sit on a chair because sitting on the floor with knee pain was like torture. When I think of that forty years, when I could sit without pain— that was like a dream. Now I think I have to sit on the chair, and I think this is like a dream. Which is reality? It’s really difficult to tell.

It depends on my self-image, I think. If I think I am a zazen practitioner and sitting is the most important thing, then Shohaku is a person who sits in a proper posture, a certain posture described in our case by Dōgen in Fukanzazengi. That is the real thing. When I cannot sit in that way, that is not the real thing. That is one of the ways in which I think. Or I can think in the opposite way: this five skandhas which cannot sit in the cross-legged psoture is the real thing, and the person whose name was Shohaku who sits on the floor is already gone. That was like a dream. This is reality.

Which is the real, correct way of thinking?

When we think in this way, the boundary between dreaming and reality is not so clear.[2]

Listen to the full track:

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

Notes:
[1] translation by Burton Watson from Zhuangzi: Basic Writings (3rd ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. (2003).

[2] This is an edited extract from the new recording, “Expounding a Dream within a Dream,” available for sale on the Dōgen Institute’s bandcamp site. Please note that other free tracks from this album will automatically play after this lecture.

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Expounding a Dream within a Dream

Nine lectures on Shobogenzo Muchu-setsumu

 

“When Dogen uses the word “dream,” I think he is talking about this reality as neither being (u, 有) nor non-being (mu, 無). Whatever way we may say something, we always make a mistake, and yet we have to use words or language in order to express this reality. When we are completely free from the limitations of ‘words’ and ‘concepts’ and ‘logic,’ we’re able to use ‘words’ and ‘concepts’ and ‘logic’ very freely.

Shakyamuni didn’t negate the fact that we have views of being and non-being, but by seeing things clearly we become free from those views instead of clinging to them; that is the difference. I think Dogen is talking about this reality, neither being nor non-being, as ‘like a dream.’ Whatever we say may be a mistake, nevertheless we have to say something. If we understand whatever is said as a mistake, then whatever is said can be the expression of this ‘dream.’

Does that make sense? … Maybe not?

This is my current understanding of Dogen’s ‘dream.’”

Listen to the full track:

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Translation and commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

Notes:
This is an edited extract from the new recording, “Expounding a Dream within a Dream,” available for sale on the Dōgen Institute’s bandcamp site.

> Other Audio


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The Tail of the Elephant

Dogen’s Waka 47

Tail of the elephant

(c) Can Stock Photo / frenta; (c) Can Stock Photo / MattiaATH

世の中は Yo no naka wa [People in] this world are like
まどより出づる Mado yori izuru the elephant going out the window.
きさの尾の Kisa no o no Only its tail remains
ひかぬにとまる Hikanu ni tomaru without being pulled [from inside].
さはり斗りぞ Sawari bakari zo [Such a tiny thing becomes] the obstacle
[to renouncing the mundane world].

“An elephant going out a window” is an unusual image.

Menzan changed kisa 象, elephant, to ushi 牛, water buffalo and added the title “A Water Buffalo Passes Through a Window” to this waka, as if Dogen Zenji wrote this poem as a comment on the 38th case of the Mumonkan (Gateless Barrier). The Mumonkan was compiled in 1228, the year before Dogen left China to return to Japan.

Shinchi Kakushin (1207 – 1298) is a Rinzai Zen master who received the Bodhisattva Precepts from Dogen and later went to China — received inka from Wumen Huikai (Mumon Ekai, 1183 – 1260), the compiler of the Mumonkan — and returned to Japan in 1254.

Dogen had passed away in the previous year and probably did not have a chance to read the Mumonkan. According to it, this koan was the saying of Song Dynasty Rinzai Zen master Wuzu Fayuan (Goso Hoen, ? – 1104), and therefore Dogen might have known it. And yet, Dogen never mentions it in his writings nor includes it in the collection of 300 koans in the Shinji Shobogenzo.

In most of the older versions of the collection of Dogen’s waka before Menzan, the animal mentioned in this waka is kisa (elephant) and not ushi (water buffalo). Menzan also changed sawari (obstacle) to kokoro (the mind).

I suppose that these changes were Menzan’s mistakes. The meaning of this poem as a whole became completely different from Dogen’s original.

The eminent modern Rinzai Zen Master Zenkei Shibayama Roshi said in his comments on the case, “This tail is nothing else than the formless form of Reality.”1 Shibayama Roshi also quotes this waka by Dogen Zenji. The translation of this waka in his teisho is as follows:

This world is but the tail of a buffalo passing through a window.
The tail is the mind,
Which knows neither passing nor not-passing.

The last line is Shibayama Roshi’s addition to make the meaning of ‘the mind’ clear. This translation is based on Menzan’s version. It seems to me that Menzan revised Dogen Zenji’s waka in the way that made it compatible with the interpretation of case 38 of the Mumonkan in Rinzai tradition. Traditional commentaries in the Soto Zen tradition have also been based on Menzan’s revised version of this waka. Until the second half of the 20th century, Dogen Zenji had been understood based on the interpretations by Tokugawa period Soto Zen masters.

The story of an elephant going out of a window appears in a sutra entitled The Story of Anathapindada’s Daughter Receiving Ordination (Taishō Tripiṭaka: T0130_.02.0845c09).

Anathapindada was a millionaire who donated the land of Jetavana Vihara to Shakyamuni. In the story, when Kasyapa Buddha, the sixth of the seven buddhas in the past, was alive, there was a king. The king had ten unusual dreams and asked Kasyapa Buddha what the dreams meant. In the king’s first dream, an elephant tried to get out of a room through a window; although rest of its body got out, only its tail remained without being pulled through. Kasyapa Buddha said that this dream was about a situation in the future after Shakyamuni Buddha had passed away. There will be some people, either men or women, who will have left home to become monks, but even though they have done this their minds will still be influenced by greedy attachments to fame and profit regarding mundane things and they will not be able to attain deliverance.

In this waka, Dogen wants to say that there are many people in his time who have left home to become Buddhist monks, but many of them still have some attachment to fame and profit and therefore they are not able to be released from the triple-world of samsara.

In Shobogenzo Keiseisanshoku (Sounds of Valley Streams and Colors of Mountains) Dogen says:

Moreover, we should not forget the aspiration we aroused when we first sought the Buddha Way. What I want to say is that when we first aroused bodhi-mind, we didn’t seek the Dharma for the sake of others and we abandoned fame and profit. Without seeking fame and profit, we simply aspired to attain the Way. We never expected to be venerated and receive offerings from the king and ministers. However, such causes and conditions for [the desire for fame and profit] are present now. [Fame and profit] are not what we expected originally or what we sought after. We did not expect [to be] involved in entanglements with human and heavenly affairs. And yet foolish people, even if they have aroused bodhi-mind, soon forget their original aspiration and mistakenly expect offerings from human and heavenly beings. And when they receive them, they are delighted, thinking that the virtue of the Buddha-dharma has been realized. When kings and ministers come frequently to take refuge, [such people] think this is the manifestation of their Way. This is one of the demons afflicting the practice of the Way. Even though we should not forget the compassionate mind [toward such people], we should not be delighted [when such people venerate us]. 1

In this waka, Dogen uses the story of the elephant’s tail from the Agama to criticize many of the Japanese Buddhist monks of his time. In Shobogenzo Zuimonki he said the same thing as in Keiseisanshoku, for example in section 6-21 of the Choenji version (5-20 of Menzan’s version):

Nowadays, some people seem to have renounced the world and left their families. Nevertheless, when examining their conduct, there are those who are not yet true home-leavers. As a home-leaver, first of all, we must depart from our [ego-centered] self as well as from [desire for] fame and profit. Unless we become free from these, even if we urgently practice the Way as if extinguishing a fire enveloping our head, or devote ourselves to diligent practice as hard as [people who] cut off their hands or legs, it will only be a meaningless trouble that has nothing to do with renunciation. 2

This is not a problem only about Indian monks after Shakyamuni’s death and Japanese monks at the time of Dogen. In the United States today, Buddhist institutes are not as large as in India or medieval Japan, so I don’t think people become Buddhists monks/priests for the sake of fame and profit. Still, we may make the same kind of mistakes on much smaller scale in our practice.

When we compete with other people and want to consider we are better than others, or we want other people to consider us as superior practitioners to them, or if we study Buddhist teachings to show others that we have better knowledge, our motivation is not genuine bodhi-mind. We are moved by our ego-centered desire to be winners in the competition. This is the way we ourselves create samsara within our own Buddhist practice. That is the tiny tail of the elephant that binds us to samsara.

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1 This is Okumura’s unpublished translation. Another translation is in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Book 1 (Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross) p.92
2 This is Okumura’s unpublished translation of the Choenji version. Another translation is in Shobogenzo-zuimonki: Sayings of Eihei Dogen Zenji recorded by Koun Ejo (Shohaku Okumura, Sotoshu Shumucho) p.191

> Other Waka by Dōgen


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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


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Only a Buddha and a Buddha

The second video in a series on Dōgen’s
five waka inspired by The Lotus Sutra

onlybuddha-400x267-16527718

© Can Stock Photo / Konstanttin

Previously, Okumura-roshi elaborated on Dōgen Zenji’s teaching that everything we encounter is Dharma. However, even though we may have aroused the aspiration to study and practice, our conditioning prevents most of us from seeing reality as it truly is. He explains it’s we who create Samsara by viewing ourselves as “subjects” and all else as “objects” we want to possess or avoid.

Now, we turn directly to the Lotus Sutra. Not only is it the subject of Dōgen’s first five waka poems, it’s the key to understanding them. Roshi points to two chapters that stand out — Chapter Two, Skillful Means, and Chapter 16, The Lifespan of the Tathagata.

Drilling down further, Hōjō-san tells us the most important teaching in Chapter Two is Shōhō Jissō, The True Reality of All Things. This permeates the five waka we’re studying. He adds it’s the most important teaching in the Lotus Sutra when studying Dōgen. In this video, it’s apparent we only have access to it because Shakyamuni’s key disciple, Shariputra, wouldn’t take no for an answer.

This great Mahayana teaching of interconnectedness gives us an invaluable understanding of our lives. And with that foundation, we’ll return to the waka poems inspired by Dōgen Zenji’s experience of this true reality.

Part One of this series is here and Part Three 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


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The Pure Land Itself Is Near

The first video in a series on Dōgen’s
five waka inspired by The Lotus Sutra

Shōhaku Okumura speaking

Shōhaku Okumura provides fresh insights into Dōgen’s Lotus Sutra waka.

For anyone seeking a better understanding of Master Dōgen’s work, The Lotus Sutra may provide an opening. It’s revered as one of the most important Mahayana sutras. But it’s also the most important sutra of the Tendai school where Dōgen was originally ordained.

Even after he became a Zen master, Dōgen continued the study he began as a young monk, investigating its meanings as a scripture. He also drew upon it for his own writing as he matured. And most significantly, he directly experienced how The Lotus Sutra reveals itself throughout existence. As Okumura-roshi has already explained, it’s so much more than a fundamental Buddhist text.

So it should come as little surprise that in his first four waka poems, Dōgen Zenji would illustrate the essence and vitality of the Lotus Sutra in the world. Understanding its scope, we come to understand how, in his fifth waka, he might lament that so few people realize what they’re a part of.

In this nearly eight minute video, Shōhaku Okumura reads the first five of Dogen’s collected waka poems in their original Japanese and with his English translation. Then he places them in the context of our lives here and now.

In future video posts, Roshi will guide us through the Lotus Sutra to a better understanding of Dōgen’s waka and their link to the suchness of reality.

Part Two of this series is here and Part Three 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


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