Tag Archives: Shohaku Okumura

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?

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[1] Okumura’s translation.

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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.

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For further study:

  •  

> Other Questions and responses


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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.

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[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

La forma Visible de mi voto / The Visible Form of my Vow

Extracto de Voto ilimitado, práctica sin fin
For the English version of this post, please scroll down.

Portada

En mi caso, mi deseo de asistir al Ango no estaba motivado sólo por el interés en recibir la certificación como enseñante, sino también por mi interés de aprender todo lo que pudiera de la tradición y de los monjes japoneses. Ya había saboreado esta práctica en Shōgōji, y sabía la importancia que el entrenamiento representaba para impregnarse de la esencia del Zen de Dogen. Más aun, estaba motivado por la aspiración de compartir lo que aprendiera con las personas que practicaban conmigo en Colombia. Desde el momento en que asumí la creación de un grupo de práctica en Bogotá, hace años, mi principal motivación ha sido la de despertar en otros la conciencia de que todos formamos parte de una única red llamada vida, y que cualquier cosa que hagamos afecta a los demás. Más aun, estaba convencido de que no importa lo que hagamos, si no incluimos a los demás en nuestra propia práctica, esta carece de sentido. Cuando se me presentó la posibilidad de asistir, sabía que era una oportunidad única, para la misión que junto con mis amigos estábamos tratando de desarrollar en Colombia. Fue muy emocionante regresar a La Gendronnière, el templo donde hacía 21 años había recibido la ordenación por primera vez.

Durante todo este tiempo, el maestro Okumura continuaba concentrado en su labor de traducir con gran cuidado la obra de Dogen y compartirla a través de sus charlas y de sus escritos. A medida que me iba sumergiendo en las enseñanzas del maestro Okumura, cada vez me maravillaba más del profundo conocimiento e intuición que él tenía de la obra de Dogen Zenji y su sorprendente capacidad para compartir y hacer accesible estos difíciles escritos que hasta ahora se me habían presentado insondables. Comprendía paso a paso el privilegio de poder estudiar con alguien que personificaba los dos aspectos de la práctica que para mí eran la esencia: una profunda dedicación al estudio del budismo y el Zen de Dogen, y una práctica ejemplar que continuaba las enseñanzas del maestro Uchiyama.

En marzo de 2009 tuve el enorme privilegio de recibir la transmisión del Dharma del maestro Okumura. Con este ritual privado, cumplía mi voto de años de convertirme en un vehículo de la enseñanza, en puente para que otras personas se puedan beneficiar de este maravilloso camino que guiaba mi vida. Pero en realidad, era el comienzo de una nueva etapa y mi responsabilidad frente al voto que había realizado de compartir mi práctica con los demás. Mi sincera aspiración empezaba a tomar forma gracias al apoyo que había recibido de mi maestro.

Como parte de mi proceso de certificación de la escuela, en agosto de 2009 visité los templos Eiheiji y Sojiji en Japón y realicé la ceremonia Zuise. En esta ceremonia el heredero que acaba de recibir un linaje, oficia como abad honorífico por un día en cada uno de estos dos templos. El primer paso es rendir homenaje a cada uno de los fundadores Eihei Dogen Zenji y Keizan Jokin Zenji, en la sala del fundador. La emoción que sentí en aquel momento fue indescriptible, pues tengo un profundo agradecimiento y admiración por la labor que estos maestros realizaron, y gracias a su dedicación y a que nunca se detuvieron frente a las dificultades, la enseñanza llegó a mí a través de mi maestro. Durante el desayuno de celebración al final de la ceremonia en Eiheiji, pensé en las condiciones auspiciosas que me habían permitido estar ahí. Recordé mis inicios en la práctica, los momentos en los que desde el fondo de mi corazón había pedido poder recorrer el camino, todos los obstáculos que había debido superar, uno a uno, para llegar a este momento. Mi agradecimiento hacia el maestro Okumura y hacia todos los maestros del linaje era inconmensurable. Este momento marcaba el inicio de una nueva etapa en mi camino, un nuevo amanecer para la práctica, un nuevo comienzo.

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Extracto del capítulo 3, “La forma Visible de mi voto” de Densho Quintero
¡Traducción al español recién publicada disponible!

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Extract from Boundless Vows, Endless Practice

As for me, my desire to attend the ango was not motivated solely by interest in acquiring certification as a teacher, but also by my interest in learning everything I could about the tradition and about Japanese monks. I had already tasted this practice at Shōgōji and I knew how important training was for becoming imbued with the essence of Dōgen ‘s Zen. I was driven even more by the aspiration to share what I would learn with the people who were practicing with me in Colombia. From the moment I took on the setting up of a practice group in Bogota years ago, my chief motivation has been to awaken in others awareness that we all form part of one network called life and that whatever we do affects others. I was even more convinced that no matter what we do, if we fail to include others in our own practice, this practice will be meaningless. When the chance to attend the ango came up for me, I knew it was a unique opportunity for the mission that my friends and I together were trying to develop in Colombia. For me it was very thrilling to return to La Gendronniére, the temple where I had taken ordination for the first time 21 years earlier.

All during this period, Okumura Rōshi continued to focus on bis work of carefully translating Dōgen’s teachings and sharing them through his talks and writings. The more I delved into Okumura Rōshi’s teachings, the more wonderstruck I was by the deep knowledge and intuition he had of Dōgen Zenji’s work and by bis surprising ability to share and make accessible these difficult writings that until then had seemed unfathomable to me. Gradually I carne to understand the privilege of being able to study with someone who personified the two aspects of practice that far me constituted the essence: a pro­ found devotion to the study of Buddhism and Dōgen’s Zen, and an exemplary practice that was carrying on Uchiyama Rōshi ‘s teachings.

In March 2009 I had the enormous privilege of receiving dharma transmission from Okumura Rōshi. Through this private ritual I was fulfilling my longtime vow to become a vehicle of the teaching, a bridge for other people to be able to benefit from this wondrous Way that was guiding my life. Actually, however, it was the start of a new phase in my responsibility towards the vow I had made to share my practice with others. My earnest aspiration was beginning to take shape thanks to the backing I had received from my teacher.

As part of my certification process by the Sōtō School, in August 2009 I visited Eiheiji and Sojiji in Japan and completed the zuise ceremony. In this ritual the dharma heir who has just received a lineage officiates as honorary abbot for a day in each of these two temples. The first step is to pay homage to each of the founders, Eihei Dōgen Zenji (at Eiheiji) and Keizan Jōkin Zenji (at Sōjiji) in the Founder’s Halls. The emotion I felt at that moment was indescribable, for 1 have a profound gratitude and admiration for the work that these masters accomplished. Thanks to their dedication and the fact that they were never stymied in the face of difficulties, the teaching reached down in time to me through my teacher. During the celebratory breakfast at the end of the ceremony at Eiheiji, I reflected on the auspicious conditions that had allowed me to find myself there. I recalled my first steps in practice, the times when from the bottom of my heart I had asked to be able to walk the Path, and all the obstacles I had had to surmount, one by one, to reach this moment. My gratitude toward Okumura Rōshi and toward all the masters of the transmission was boundless. This moment marked the beginning of a new stage in my path, a new dawn, a new beginning for practice.

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From Chapter 3, The Visible Form of my Vow by Densho Quintero.

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

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Copyright 2022 Sanshin Zen Community