Tag Archives: Shohaku

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?

— • —

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

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.

— • —

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

Waterfall life

waterfallPhoto copyright © 2019 by David S Thompson

Can we change our habitual actions?

According to the Yogacara teachers, our life itself is really a neutral and peaceful thing, and yet it develops like the currents in a stream. Here is a quote from the Thirty Verses, a work by the famous Yogacara teacher Vasubandhu, in which he is describing the store-consciousness, also known as the alaya consciousness:

Among these, “maturation” is that called “the store-consciousness” which has all the seeds.
Its appropriations, states, and perceptions are not fully conscious, yet it is always endowed with contacts, mental attentions, feelings, cognitions, and volitions.
Its feelings are equaniminous: it is unobstructed and indeterminate.
The same for its contacts, etc. It develops like the currents in a stream.

In his Chinese translation of this verse, Xuanzang (Jp. Genjō c. 602 – 664) uses an expression meaning “violent stream.” This means the water flows quickly, even violently – without stopping, always going, like a huge waterfall. In this analogy of a waterfall, “violent stream” or “currents in a stream” means that there is no substance. There is no such thing called “waterfall” because it always changing, it’s always different water. Each time it’s new – so we cannot say this is the Niagara Falls, but it’s there, but it’s always changing, always moving. And the water carries things from different places or different times to this place, to the present. So alaya consciousness is flowing like a waterfall and it transports all things which are stored in this consciousness and these seeds perish each moment and arise each moment. In a sense, this consciousness dies each moment and is born each moment, yet it’s continuous. Each moment it’s new and yet each moment has some continuation. This analogy of a violent stream is a really clear image of what our life is like. When I was born, I was little small living being, and my mind didn’t work so well, or so much, and yet after that my body is always changing, always new, and my mind is always changing. Everything is always new. Our life is like a waterfall or a river.

In Japanese, we have proverb:

三つ子の魂百まで
mitsugo no tamashii hyaku made

Roughly, it means that the mind or spirit of three year-old child or baby persists until they are one hundred years old. Actually, I believe that three years old is around the time children start to think using words. The seeds in this alaya consciousness are not just what is newly created after our birth, but when we are born, we already have some seeds from the past. We inherit from our parents, or as a member of human society we inherit something already. So when we are born we are not completely new, we already have some seeds. And yet we are completely neutral. I think this is really important point. Whatever kind of seeds we have we are always neutral, and that means we can change. Our life is a result of past karma or past causes. We have a connection with the past and still this is a cause towards the future, so in the future who we are depends upon what we do right now. That is the way we can transform ourselves into something new, something better.

We can transform our actions and our way of thinking. That is what Thirty Verses describes in the last part of the work. Roughly speaking there are five steps, and through this practice, our “goal” in Yogacara or Mahayana Buddhism is to become Buddha. From the moment we first arouse bodhi mind, there are five major steps toward becoming Buddha. Yogacarans described what we should do in each of those steps. It’s really detailed – there are actually fifty-two stages within those five steps, and it literally takes more than forever. They believed that when we practice till a certain stage in this lifetime, we can continue to practice from that stage onward during the next lifetime. Indian people of the time believed in reincarnation. We don’t need to believe that – at least, I don’t believe it. Of course, we cannot negate that because we don’t know, so there is no basis either to believe it or to negate it. But either way, the important point is what we do right now. Even if we don’t reincarnate, as an individual person my actions still influence the future even after I die. Since Shakyamuni Buddha practiced and taught in his way, his influence is still there after twenty-five hundred years. Since I studied with my teacher, I practice in this way. In that sense my practice or what I am doing is a kind of reincarnation of my teacher. That is the way one person’s actions or karma influences the future. There is cause and effect, or influence, or seeds. Even if we don’t believe in reincarnation or the transmigration of life after life as an individual, the principal of causation remains true.

The most important thing is what we do right now at this present moment which creates the future. In order to put this into practice, we should really learn our past, not only the past of this individual person from birth, but what human beings have been doing since the beginning of history, or even from the big bang. Everything influences this person and this moment, and each one of us has influence towards the future. We should understand that even though this is a small person, and our action is really small, our action is really universal. Our being, what I am doing, influences and is influenced or created by the whole universe, by the entirety of time. From the beginning of the universe this influence continues to the endless end of the universe.

— • —

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

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

A river in the ocean


By Greg Shirah (lead animator)
NASA Scientific Visualization Studio: Gulf Stream Sea Surface Currents and Temperatures,
Public Domain, Link

How was Dōgen’s practice of zazen inspired by the Lotus Sutra?

Actually, this is not an easy answer – at genzo-e retreats, I often talk for five days about this!

In the Lotus Sutra, I think there there are two chapters which were very important for Dōgen. One is the second chapter, called “Skillful Means.” This chapter talks about the interdependence of each being and their interconnectedness within time and space. I think this was the source of Dōgen’s insight about time and space. Each and every thing exists only within a relationship throughout space and time.

Another important chapter is Chapter 16, “Life Span of the Tathagata.”  Our life is to be born, stay for awhile, and disappear or die. In the case of Shakyamuni, he was born at a certain time in India and lived for eighty years. This life of the Buddha as nirmanakaya is the result of his long practice for more than five hundred lifetimes. Shakyamuni became Buddha in that final lifetime, as Buddha; this is samboghakaya. Both Buddha’s life as an actual person, (as nirmanakaya), and Shakyamuni Buddha as a result of many lifetimes of practice (as samboghakaya) are taking place within Buddha’s eternal life, (the dharmakaya). The important point in the Lotus Sutra is that those three bodies of Buddha – the nirmanakaya as an actual human being, resulting from long practice as the samboghakaya, and the dharmakaya – are really one. These are not three different things. Our life, not only Buddha’s, but life, and not only that of human beings, but each and every existence is within Buddha’s eternal life. That’s why our practice is to encounter the dharma and start to study and practice and continue and mature little by little. That process of our practice is taking place within Buddha’s eternal life.

Essentially, Dōgen is saying that even before we start practice, when we know nothing about Buddhism, we are already within the Way, within Buddha’s eternal life. And within the Way we practice the Way. We study and practice toward the Way. Our process of studying and growth is taking place within Buddha’s dharmakaya. From the very beginning, we are already at the goal and yet we have to make an effort to get closer to the goal, the Way, though we are already there. I think this kind of paradoxical idea came from the Lotus Sutra. This is the main point of Dōgen’s expression that practice and enlightenment (or verification) are one. When we practice we are already there, within the Way, within Buddha’s eternal life. So this is not something we need to go and get, because we are already there, and yet in our practice of each moment we need to go toward the Way. Our practice resembles a river that flows toward the ocean. The river has direction, toward the ocean – and yet this entire process of flowing toward the ocean is happening within the ocean. A modern Japanese poet expressed this as “a river flowing in the ocean.” A river flowing in the ocean is my image of Dōgen Zenji’s practice inspired by the Lotus Sutra.

— • —

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

A dewdrop splashed.

Okumura Roshi has translated many of Dogen’s poems. This post originally appeared in 2013 and was one of the most-read posts of that year.

canstockphoto10777529

In the year he passed away, in the evening of the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, Dogen composed the following poem.

又見んと   思ひし時の   秋だにも   今夜の月に    ねられやはする
mata min to / omishi toki no / aki da nimo / koyoi no tsuki ni / nerare yawasuru

I [was not sure] if I could expect to see the autumn again,
[Gratefully I can see] the full moon of this night,
How is it possible for me to sleep?

About ten days after arriving in Kyoto, on the night of 15th, he saw the beautiful full moon.

The 15th day of the 8th lunar month is called the mid-autumn, the center of the three months of autumn– that is, around the day of the autumnal equinox. In East Asian countries including China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan, people celebrate the mid-autumn harvest moon festival.

At Eiheiji, Dogen gave formal dharma discourse on this day each year. He also had a gathering with his disciples for composing poems on this day. We can find one Chinese poem included in the Eiheikoroku:

The fifteenth night [full moon] of the eight month, facing the moon each person [in the assembly] composed a verse about the moon. This moon is not the moon of the heart, not the moon in the sky, not yesterday’s moon, not the night moon, not the round moon, and not the crescent moon. I suppose it is the autumn moon. How is it?

Although golden waves are not calm,
[the moon] lodges in the river.
In refreshing air it shines on high, and all the ground is autumn.
Reed flowers on the Wei River, snow on song Peak,
Who would resent the endlessness of the long night? ¹

In this year, he was not sure if he could live until the autumn. Because he could see the full moon in Kyoto where he was born and had grown up, he was very delighted and wanted to see the moon all night.

The moon was one of the important metaphors of the dharma he often used, such as moon in the dewdrop in Genjokoan. In one of his waka poems he wrote that this world is like a dewdrop splashed from a waterfowl’s beak staying in the air only for a few seconds and yet the boundless moonlight is reflected on it and it is shining like the moon itself.

Dogen passed away on 28th of that month in 1253.

¹Dogen’s Extensive Record, vol. 10, p. 629

Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

“My” story

Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

However, do not measure it with your mind or speak about it using words.
Just cast aside and forget your body and mind and throw them into the house of
Buddha; then all is done by Buddha. When we go on following this [practice] we are
released from life-and-death and become buddhas without using our strength or
consuming our mind. Who then continues to stagnate within mind?

– from Shōbōgenzō Shōji

The first thing Dōgen says in this passage is that this life-and-death is not within the realm of thinking, or within the story we create in our mind. Even though it’s necessary to keep creating the story to live, it’s important to know that it is a story, a product of our mind.

Actual life-and-death is happening on the ground of real reality. That real reality is called “zenki” in Dogen’s writings, or here, “the house of Buddha.” Instead of throwing our body and mind into “my” story, we place this entire body and mind on the ground of true reality, by letting go of my story. To me, that is what Dōgen means here. When we do this, Dōgen says, “then all is done by Buddha.”

I don’t think “Buddha” is a person; I don’t think the Buddha referred to is Amitabha Buddha or the other-power. This “all is done by Buddha” means, as Dogen wrote in Zenki, that when we are alive, we are sailing on a boat, and the boat cannot move by itself. The boat needs water, wind, and all the other things. The person sailing on the boat, and the boat, and the ocean, and the other things are working together. I think that is what “all is done by Buddha” means.

My thinking, my expectation, my ability to make stories – where I came from and where I am going – that is what I created in my mind, that is a story. When I was the high-school teenager, I wanted to find the real thing, the thing which was not created by me. I have found that there is no such thing. What I am doing here is based on my story, my vision, or dream. When I went back to Kyoto from Valley Zendo, Uchiyama Roshi encouraged me to create a place where I can study and practice zazen and Dogen’s teachings with people from outside Japan. I started to work on it, and my translation work is part of that plan. The first twelve years, I worked in Japan but somehow it didn’t work, so I came back to this country again. This is all my plan and a dream or vision; that is my story. To me, without this story, made up in my mind, I cannot do anything. So for me, this vision or plan or idea or vow is important. Without the story, we cannot do anything. But at the same time, this is a vision, “my story.”

The story can be interrupted any time, depending on the weather of the ocean. Even if I try to do my best, this boat could be wrecked at any time depending upon the overall conditions of the world, depending upon the condition of this total function. Yet my story is a driving force of my sailing, and it gives me the direction of which way I should go.

It’s important to understand this is a production of my mind. Even though this vow is not for my personal profit, still, this is my personal vow or vision. We need our personal view or creation, or history, and yet this history should not be self-centered, if we are bodhisattvas. So, at any time, I need to be able to give it up. But if I try to do this, and this is meaningful not only for this person but for other people, then I have trust or faith that those people would continue. Even if my boat disappears, some people might continue going in the same direction. I think that is my faith.

— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

— • —

For further study:

    • For another article on Shōbōgenzō Shōji, covering the famous Alive or Dead koan, see this article.
    • You’ll find the entire digital album Life & Death: 9 lectures on Shōbōgenzō Zenki and Shōji for sale here.

Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community