Tag Archives: Shohaku

The pure water of faith

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If people genuinely practice with right faith, they all attain the Way equally. – Dōgen[1]

Student:
Could you talk a little bit about the phrase “right faith?”

Okumura Roshi:
“Right faith” is a translation of shōshin (正信); shō is “true” or “right” and shin is “faith” or “belief.” This Chinese character basically means “trust.” One part of the character for shin means “people” and the other part means “words,” so to believe means to believe people’s words – when someone is saying something, to accept it and trust that this person’s sayings are truth. As a Buddhist term, it’s said there are two kinds of shin or faith. One is called shinge, another is called gyoshin. Ge is understanding, so shinge is a combination of faith and understanding. Gyo means to respect, literally, to look up; so gyoshin is a combination of respect and trust.

Shinge, the first kind of faith, is explained using the example of someone who is digging a well. At the beginning, they can’t see the water, but as they keep digging, they start to see the soil getting wet. When they see that the soil is getting wet, even though they don’t have water yet, they have a belief that, “If we keep digging, then we will surely get water.” We don’t have the water yet, but we trust that if we keep this practice, we will get it. This is faith based on some understanding.

The second kind of faith comes out of our respect for the person who is speaking, such as a teacher; because of respect we trust the person, therefore, we trust his teaching, even though we don’t have any understanding. A typical example of this is faith in the pure land, as Shinran taught. Shinran said that he didn’t know whether chanting nembutsu is really a cause of being born in the pure land or not. He said that because he had nothing to do beside this practice, believing what his teacher Honen was teaching, and believing in the age of last dharma, self-power practice worked. Therefore, this practice of chanting nembutsu is the only possibility. So, even if he was deceived by his teacher and went to hell instead of the pure land, he said, that’s ok. He trusted his teacher’s teaching, because that’s the only hope he had. That kind of faith is called gyoshin— because of our trust in our teacher, we trust the teaching.

The title of Shinran’s major writing is Kyogyoshinsho; kyo is “teaching,” gyo is “practice,” shin is “faith,” and sho is “verification.” Those were all important elements for him, but in his case shin is really the basis of his teaching. In the case of Dōgen, gyo (practice) is the basis, but in this quotation he’s saying that shin is also important. Without shin or faith, we cannot keep this kind of nonsense practice, just to sit without expecting anything. This is a really difficult thing if we don’t have trust or belief or faith. Dōgen’s teaching is really difficult. As I often say, many of his teachings didn’t make sense to me at all. But somehow, I couldn’t stop, or I could continue (either expression is fine) because of my trust in my teacher’s way of life. It was not because of my understanding of Dōgen’s teaching, but because I wanted to live like my teacher, and follow my teacher’s practice based on zazen following Dōgen’s teaching. Whether I understand Dōgen or not is not so essential. But after I started to understand what he was saying, I was very happy, and my practice became more meaningful, and I had more gratitude for his teaching. I feel very fortunate; even though I didn’t understand his teaching I could continue to practice, and finally I started to understand.

So, in our practice also, I think faith is really important. Faith is the energy that allows us to continue with the many questions and doubts we have during the process of practicing for many years. Sometimes I had so many good reasons or excuses to stop, but somehow I couldn’t, because of my trust in my teacher’s way of life. My teacher and my teacher’s teacher had been practicing this zazen so many years, and they never stopped. Their life is already over. I can’t doubt their practice. They completely devoted their entire lives to this practice. So even though I didn’t understand the teaching or dharma taught by Dōgen, still I could continue. So, I think faith is really important.

One of the definitions of faith in Buddhism which appeared in the Abhidharmakośa is, in Chinese, shin chojo; cho and jo both mean to “be clear,” and shin is mind/heart. That means the mind/heart being pure or clear. According to that text, shin is like a jewel. It’s said that in India when monks travelled and had to drink water from rivers or ponds— I don’t know if this is true or not— there were certain jewels which when put in the muddy water, settled the mud down and then the surface of the water became pure. This mud is our doubt or delusions. If there is shin or faith, our delusions or our doubts go down and our life becomes clear and pure, and we can drink. Shin is not a belief in some kind of a system of belief or a doctrine we have to accept, like in many religions. Faith is something which makes our minds pure and clear.

— • —

[1] From the answer to question 18 in Bendōwa. See Kōshō Uchiyama et al., The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dōgen’s Bendōwa with Commentary (Boston, Mass: Tuttle Publishing, 1997). page 40.

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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:

> Other Questions and responses


Copyright 2020 Sanshin Zen Community

Is practice practicing itself?

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Question Fifteen:
Even in this corrupt declining age of the world, is it possible to attain enlightenment through this practice?

Reply:
In the Teaching Schools they focus on various classification systems, yet in the true teaching of Mahayana there is no distinction of True, Semblance, and Final Dharma, and it is said that all who practice will attain the Way. Especially in this simply transmitted true dharma, both in entering dharma and in embodying it freely, we receive and use our own family treasure. Only those who practice know on their own whether they attain enlightenment or not, just as those who use water notice on their own if it is cold or warm.

Student:
Is practice practicing itself?

Okumura Roshi:
This question and answer is from Dogen’s work Bendowa. In Dogen’s answer, the sentence “Especially in this simply transmitted true dharma, both in entering dharma and in embodying it freely, we receive and use our own family treasure” is about Dogen’s own practice, the practice he teaches. “Our own family” is a translation of ji ke; ji is self, ke is house, home or family, and this “treasure” is the same “treasure-store” Dogen refers to in the last sentence of Fukanzazengi, his writing about zazen. The treasure doesn’t come from outside, the treasure-house is within our own house, it is our family treasure. It’s not a treasure we have to go out to find. We receive and use our own family treasure, it’s not dependent upon the conditions of the society. We use our own life-force to practice, so it’s not up to the condition of the world or the conditions of the age in which we live. That’s what “self” (ji) means in this passage.

This ji has the same meaning as in the phrase jijuyu zanmai. In order to practice jijuyu zanmai, Dogen described it in the early part of this writing, Bendowa. He called our zazen jijuyu zanmai. This term means we receive (ju) and use (yu) our own family treasure, so we don’t rely on others, we don’t rely on the conditions of society. We can practice using our own family treasure, our own body and mind. That’s all we need. These five skandhas are the family treasure. In order to practice this zazen as a jijuyu zanmai, what we need is only this body and mind. Nothing else. Even in a degenerate or evil world, if we practice, enlightenment is there.

There is another important teaching of Dogen, shu and sho are one. Shusho ichinyo is his expression— practice and verification (enlightenment) are one. This means if we use our family treasure, that is the five skandhas, body and mind, and practice this zazen as jijuyu zanmai, within this practice, verification is already there. Practice and verification / enlightenment / realization is not something we may attain at some time in the future, as a reward for this long and hard practice. Of course, our practice may be hard or difficult for many different reasons; still, if we practice wholeheartedly, verification is there. For Dogen, it only depends upon whether we arouse bodhicitta (aspiration) and practice, or not.

So this sentence in the answer to Question Fifteen is very important in understanding the overall point Dogen wants to teach us. Our practice is not dependent upon the condition of the world, but in our practice we use our own family treasure, and our practice can influence the world. It’s not that we cannot practice or we cannot attain enlightenment because this is a degenerate, evil world, but rather that if we really practice within these five skandhas, we can change the world. That’s another meaning of this sentence, I think. Here, Dogen is kind of very optimistic or positive.

In Genjokoan, Dogen said to study the buddha-way is to study the self, and to study the self is to forget the self, and to forget the self is to be verified by all myriad dharmas. The important point is that within all those myriad dharmas (bunpo), the self or this person is included. That means all myriad dharmas verify all myriad dharmas. So this self disappears; within our practice this self should be forgotten. That is what Dogen meant when he used the expression zenki, total function, or “total dynamic work” in Katagiri Roshi’s translation. That means ji is a part of this network of interdependent origination, one knot of this network of interconnectedness, not only within space but also within time. Everything is connected with everything within the three times and the ten-direction world.

In Shobogenzo Inmo, Dogen quotes a koan about a person named Sogyanandai. After this person became a master he once had a conversation with a student, Kayashata. They saw a wind-bell hanging at the temple building. The wind blew the wind-bell and made a sound, and the master said, “Is the wind ringing or is the bell ringing?” Kayashata answered, “Neither wind nor bell, but my mind (shin) is ringing.” In Inmo, Dogen discusses what this shin is. This is an interesting question. Commonly we say the bell is ringing, but does the sound of the bell really function outside of our hearing, outside the function of our sense-organs? If no one hears it, is sound still there, objectively? In this story, Kayashata said our mind is ringing. That means the sound is here, in our head. Before reaching our ear, the sound is just a vibration of the air, it has no sound. Sound is happening here, and within our mind we perceive or receive that sensation of the vibration of the air, and we think there is a sound. So sound is actually made after the wave of the air reaches our ear, and happens within our perception and formation. Finally, we think that it is the sound made by the bell and wind. So a common understanding of Kayashata’s answer is that sound is not out there but in here.

Dogen also quotes a similar koan involving the Sixth Ancestor Huineng and two monks. The two monks are arguing. When they see a banner moving one says, “The wind is moving” and the other says, “The banner is moving” but Hui-neng said, “Neither wind nor banner is moving, but your mind is moving.” What is this shin, or kokoro, or mind which both Kayashata and Huineng cite?

Dogen strongly states that this shin is not a function of our psychology. It is not something happening within our five skandhas, when we receive this stimulation of the vibration of the air. Shin, in the answers of both Kayashata and Huineng, is not a function of our mind. Shin includes the wind, the banner, and the person seeing it. Or the wind, the wind-bell, and the person hearing it. All three are included within shin. The function of our mind or psychology is only a part of it. Dogen said that if we think this shin is a part of our psychology, then we completely miss the point of this story. Shin is the sound of the entire network of interdependent origination. Everything is working. And as a part of this entire movement, the wind moves and blows the bell and makes the vibration of the air that reaches our ear. We think this is a sound made by the bell, caused by the wind, but these are elements of this entire movement. What Dogen says is that when this mind is this mind, this is the mind that includes both subject and object.

As I said before, shin is not a part of our psychology. Uchiyama Roshi said this term should be considered as “life”— life can include all of these, but the English word “mind” cannot include all of them. Mind is a part of shin, of course it’s not excluded. It’s a part of it, but in Zen literature this shin is not part of our psychology. The function or work of this shin, including all those elements, is called zenki. It’s not that our mind is ringing. It’s not simply that the bell is ringing. It’s not a matter of the wind ringing. This sound is caused by the entire network of interdependent origination. Shin is actually “the family treasure.” So this family treasure is not our personal thing. These five skandhas are not our personal possession. As Dogen said, these five skandhas, this body and mind, is something that is public. It is not a private individual thing, it is actually a public treasure. Dogen is saying that “self” is not the small individual person, but is a part of this public thing. So, whether the world or society is difficult or not, chaotic or completely peaceful, the family treasure is never lost. When we awaken to this total function and practice, then buddha-dharma or true dharma appears or manifests right within this practice. That’s my understanding of what Dogen wanted to say.

— • —

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

— • —

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

What does transmission mean?

 

What does transmission mean? Is it a “thing” that is transmitted?

 

The World-honored One, before an assembly of millions on Vulture Peak, picks up an uḍumbara flower and winks. The assembly is totally silent. Only the face of Venerable Mahākāśyapa breaks into a smile. The World-honored One says, “I have the right Dharma-eye treasury and the fine mind of nirvana; along with the saṃghāṭī robe, I transmit them to Mahākāśyapa. The World-honored One’s transmission to Mahākāśyapa is “I have the right Dharma-eye treasury and the fine mind of nirvana.”[1]

 

In this translation of a passage from Shobogenzo Butsudo, “right Dharma-eye treasury” in Japanese is shobogenzo, and “the fine mind of nirvana” is a translation of nehan myoshin; another translation might be “wondrous mind of nirvana.” “The saṃghāṭī robe” is the okesa.

This is the famous story of the first dharma-transmission, from Shakyamuni to Mahakasyapa, without using any words or concepts. This is called the transmission from mind to mind, or in Japanese isshin and denshin, mind is transmitted with mind. The Dharma, without any words or concepts or verbal teaching at was transmitted. People in so-called Zen school thought this was the origin of their tradition.

The word in “transmission” in Japanese is fuzoku; another possible translation is “entrust.” The idea of transmission came from the Chinese family system. I don’t think this is an Indian idea or concept. Within Chinese family systems, within the family tree, father to son and father to son, the family position or profession and property is transmitted from the father to the oldest son. The oldest son inherits from the father. This is the original idea of dharma-transmission. As when family property is transmitted from father to son, this strange thing called Dharma is transmitted from teacher to disciple.

I think this idea of dharma-transmission was created in China. It’s said that until the separation between Northern and Southern schools, between Eno (Huineng) and Jinshu, there’s no such idea of dharma-transmission or lineage. It’s after the sixth ancestor that this concept of dharma-transmission, that I receive or transmitted this person’s Dharma, became very important. Before that, I think they did have the idea of “I receive the teaching from this person, and I transmit this teaching to the next generation,” but that initially was not so important. Yet after one person created the story of dharma-transmission from the fifth ancestor to the sixth ancestor, the authority and the authenticity of that person (Eno) depended thoroughly on this dharma-transmission.

When Eno received transmission, he was not a monk yet, he was a lay person. How could he become the sixth ancestor, even though he was not even a monk? The basis for Eno as a legitimate successor of the fifth ancestor was only this mind-to-mind transmission. Even though Eno had not even received the Vinaya precepts and become a monk, somehow this was transmitted. After that, lineage and transmission became really important. From that point on, they created a family tree.

Bodhidharma came around the beginning of the sixth century. The beginning of the seventh century is the time of the fourth and fifth ancestors. It seems like it’s historically true that Bodhidharma had a disciple whose name was Huiko or Eka, but the relationship between Eka and the fourth ancestor Dōshin is not clear at all. In order to make this connection someone created an image of the third ancestor, Sosan. The famous poem Shinjinmei was composed after they made this connection. Historically speaking, the connection between these groups is not really clear.

This connection was made after the sixth ancestor, in order to make the family tree authentic or legitimate. Groups started to say “my lineage came from Bodhidharma.” Another point is that the sixth ancestor Huineng, as a historical person, was not so active. Jinshu, the founder of the Northern School was much more active and well known. But Huineng became the sixth ancestor because of the activity of one of his students, Jinne. Jinne was the person who created the story of dharma-transmission from the fifth ancestor to Huineng. The story of two competing dharma poems written by Huineng and Jinshu is fictitious, of course. It’s not a true historical event, because Jinshu practiced with the fifth ancestor in his early career, and he became independent much earlier than the fifth ancestor’s death. So there’s no chance the Jinshu and Huineng competed when the fifth ancestor was dying. If you read John McRae’s book [Seeing through Zen] this is really clear.

After the time of Baso and Sekito, Baso’s school became really popular and big, and Sekito’s school was not so big. The Soto School or Soto-shu, came from Sekito’s, and the Rinzai School is from Baso’s. The relation between Baso’s and Sekito’s schools and Huineng is actually not clear. In the lineages, Nangaku Ejo was placed between Baso and Huineng, and Seigen Gyoshi between Sekito and Huineng. But these two are the most inactive people among Huineng’s disciples. Scholars think they existed historically, but the connection between Baso and Nangaku was not clear. There is the story of polishing a tile, but that is the only connection. So that might be a made-up story by a later person. Sekito’s and Seigen’s connection was also not so clear. Today scholars think this connection was also created at the same time; there are many other examples. In order to make their group kind of a legitimate dharma-descendant of Bodhidharma, groups made a connection. That is the theory of modern skeptical scholars. I think that is possible. I don’t believe the historical lineage, but I don’t necessarily believe those scholars’ theories are true, because I don’t know. But I think that these explanations are possible.

This idea of transmission clearly came from the Chinese idea of the family system. This idea of transmission has something to do with authority and orthodoxy. Dōgen seems to believe the story of Mahākāśyapa’s transmission was true, but I don’t believe this. This is a story created in the tenth century, during the Song dynasty of China. We can’t find this story in any writings before that, so this is a made-up story by people in so-called Zen school. However, Dōgen Zenji thought this is true. That might be another point we have to consider, whether this is true or not. If we don’t think this is true, then what shall we do? Dōgen said that great Buddhas like Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya were not true, but that the historical Buddha is true, and this story of Mahākāśyapa’s transmission is the way Dharma has been transmitted from Shakyamuni to Mahakasyapa and through Tendo Nyojo to Dōgen. But now we can see this is not true either, so we have to do something. Until about fifty years ago, all “Zen Buddhists” believed this is true. Now we are in a time of change or transition, to see whether we want to continue this tradition or if we want to change the tradition. I have no answer yet. But when we study Dōgen, we have to keep this in mind. Since he negated some Mahayana traditions or other Buddhist traditions, what should we do about this tradition?

In Uchiyama Roshi’s teisho on Bendowa, he says there is nothing to transmit and yet something is transmitted. That’s why this is called wondrous dharma. This is not a “thing” but a lifestyle, or life attitude that has been transmitted from teachers to students. If I hadn’t met, practiced, and studied with my teacher, I would have no idea this way of life was possible. This is something transmitted, but this is not a thing. This is not a written teaching. This is an actual way or attitude of life. Perhaps “recognition” might better than “transmission.” We have to think whether this concept of “Zen dharma-transmission” still works or not in modern times— it’s a point we have to consider.

— • —

[1] From Shobogenzo Butsudo. Nishijima & Cross’s translation is in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Book 3, p. 63.

— • —

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

New article by Okumura Roshi in September 2019 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 Ikka Myoju: One Bright Jewel, please see our DI page dedicated to these articles.

— • —


Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

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.

— • —

[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

— • —

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

Why is the mudra so important?

Buddha mudra(c) Can Stock Photo / coffeekai

 

“When one displays the buddha mudra with one’s whole body and mind, sitting upright in this samadhi even for a short time, everything in the entire dharma world becomes buddha mudra, and all space in the universe completely becomes enlightenment.”[1]

 

Why is the mudra so important?

In this passage from Bendowa, Dōgen is describing what happens when we really practice what Buddha taught and what Nyojo Zenji taught – in other words, in dropping off body and mind, how does this world look? Dōgen is describing a paradigm shift, a completely different way of how things look. From one side, all objects are a temptation for a person with six sense-organs. When we encounter any object, we try to get it or we try to escape from it. Buddha and Nyojo taught that we should cut off this linking. In our day-to-day lives, we are hooked. Our perception and namarupa are hooked. In our zazen practice, we unhook this fixed connection between subject and object. It is, as I often say, like putting the gears into neutral. But then, how do these things look? That is the other side of the story. I think that is what Dōgen is describing here.

When I read this for the first time I thought this kind of writing should be thrown away, or accepted. We can do only two things. Just accept it and believe it, trust it and practice it – or just throw it away. There is no way we can make sure if this is really true or not. Later, Dōgen Zenji himself said these things cannot be perceived. My question was, if so, how did Dōgen know those things happen? I still have the same question. But after forty years, now I trust that what Dōgen is writing here is really happening in our zazen.

“When one displays the buddha mudra with one’s whole body and mind…”

This “one” is a translation of hito – it means a person. He didn’t say “if a buddha sits in zazen” or “if an enlightened person sits in zazen,” but any person, and even for a short time. Even if we sit as a very beginner for the first time, the same thing happens in our zazen. Buddha mudra is a translation of butsu in. Earlier, Dōgen used the expression ichi butsu shin in; this is the same thing. This in is mudra, ichi is of course one, so this means, “one buddha mind mudra.”

You may know the word “mudra.” [shows mudra with hands]. When we sit in zazen we hold our hands like this and we make an oval with the thumbs. This is called hokkai gyo in; in English, “cosmic mudra.” This means that two sides or duality becomes one, one form, or one circle. In Buddhism, there are many different mudras or ways to hold the hands depending upon which buddha is being described or depicted. Each mudra has its own meaning. But here, this kanji for mudra means in English a stamp or seal. A seal is when you write a letter, put it in an envelope and seal it with something, or put a stamp on it to show by whom this letter is written. Stamps or seals are very important in Chinese and Japanese culture. On certain paintings or calligraphy, if someone’s seal is there, it is a certification that this painting or calligraphy was done by this person. Even today in Japanese society we have a stamp or a seal, and we use it to make legal interactions. This stamp is like a signature in American society.

This Buddhist mudra, stamp, or seal is a certificate which if we find it, we know this belongs to Buddha. It’s like a logo in American culture. If we find the logo, this belongs to this person or this company. So, this is a logo of Buddha. I translate this as “whole body and mind,” but the original expression Dōgen used is san go san is three and go is actions or karma. San go refers to action done with body, speech, and mind. Using those three – body, speech, and thought/mind – we create karma.

This word san go is often used in Vajrayana Buddhism (Jp. Shingonshu). In Vajrayana practice they sit in a certain posture, this is a karma or action of body. They use mantra in their meditation practice, that is an action of mouth or speech. And of course, they concentrate on certain objects, that is an action of mind. So they use three actions in their meditation practice. But in the case of our sitting practice, we don’t use mantras, so we have no speech karma. That’s why instead of translating it as “three actions,” I translate it as “whole body and mind.” In some commentaries it says that we put our tongue on the roof of our mouth. Someone – perhaps Menzan – said this is an action of mouth or speech. But san go is not an action of the mouth, it is an action of the body. So, I think there’s no action of speech in our zazen practice. That’s why I didn’t use “three actions” but instead used “entire body and mind.” When we sit in this upright posture and breathe through our nose deeply from our abdomen and keep our eyes open and hold our hands showing cosmic mudra and let go of everything coming up in our mind, this is how we show the buddha mudra within our whole body and mind.

When we sit in this posture showing buddha mudra, this mudra means that this action belongs to Buddha, and does not belong to Shohaku. Shohaku gives up as an owner of these five skandhas. Shohaku doesn’t use these five skandhas during sitting. Shohaku offers this body and mind, or five skandhas, to Buddha for the sake of Buddha. So in one way, this is Shohaku’s personal action, for the sake of Shohaku, fulfilling Shohaku’s desire. But Shohaku has surrendered, and this is when buddhadharma appears.

“…sitting upright in this samadhi even for a short time, everything in the entire dharma world becomes buddha mudra, and all space in the universe completely becomes enlightenment.”

When we sit showing buddha mudra, this entire universe becomes buddha mudra. When one person is sitting showing buddha mudra, this entire universe becomes buddha mudra. This means this entire universe belongs to Buddha. Depending upon our attitude toward this body and mind, and also toward this world, this world or universe can be this person’s personal possession, or Buddha’s possession. The meaning of this entire world or universe is completely changed depending upon our attitude. That is the point.

Other Buddhist traditions and lineages use different approaches. Their unique style can be called their mudra. Whether that is a buddha-mudra or not is something we cannot judge for other traditions or judge for other persons in the same tradition. It’s really up to our own attitude. Even when I am sitting with this mudra, it can be my ego-centric activity – to experience stillness in order to enjoy this peacefulness. Even though we sit in this posture using this mudra, if this is my personal, individual action for the sake of this person (me), then this is not a buddha mudra. I also think buddha mudra is not only this mudra. There can be numberless forms of buddha mudra. Even if it’s not a so-called buddha mudra, in other traditions they can call the same thing by a different name. We cannot judge that our mudra is buddha mudra and their mudra is something different. What we can do is to make sure that our practice is to show the buddha mudra. I think that is the only thing we can do.

Buddha mudra is using our limited body and mind in order to express this seamless reality.

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[1] The Wholehearted Way: A Translation of Eihei Dogen’s Bendowa with Commentary by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi (translated by Shohaku Okumura and Taigen Daniel Leighton, Tuttle Publishing, 1997) p.22.

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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

Are “we” destroying the natural world?

Nine Talks on Genjōkōan
photo © Shodo Spring

Is it egocentric to say we’re destroying the natural world, since we are part of nature anyway— even though it is clearly something that is happening through us?

 

In Shobogenzo Butsukojoji (The Matter of Going Beyond Buddha), Dōgen wrote:

“The great sky does not obstruct the drifting of the white clouds” is Shitou’s expression. Nor does the great sky obstruct the great sky. The great sky does not impede the great sky itself from drifting, and also the white clouds do not impede the white clouds themselves. White clouds are drifting without obstruction; furthermore, the drifting of white clouds does not impede the great sky from drifting. Not obstructing others is non-obstruction of the self. [The great sky and the white clouds] do not require each other’s non-obstruction. It is not that there exists some mutual non-obstruction. For this reason, [they] don’t obstruct [each other.] This is how we uphold nature and form of ‘the great sky,’ ‘non-obstruction,’ and ‘the drifting of the white clouds.’”

Here Dōgen is talking about a well-known expression from a story about Shitou Xiqian (Jp. Sekito Kisen 700-790), in which Shitou says, “The great sky does not obstruct the drifting of the white clouds.” This is a source of something I often say— that when we are sitting in zazen, we are like a vast sky, and our thoughts are like clouds coming and going. Sitting like a vast sky doesn’t hinder or stop white clouds freely flying. According to Sekito this is the essential meaning of Buddha Dharma. That means we do nothing. We don’t know anything and we don’t gain anything. We are just sitting. Within this just sitting, clouds are freely coming and going.

In his comment on this koan story, Dogen said a very interesting thing. He said, “The great sky does not impede the great sky itself from drifting, and also the white clouds do not impede the white clouds themselves.” “Great sky” is this entire network of interdependent origination. In this case we are like white clouds within the vast sky. Somehow, we are born, stay for a while, and disappear. Each and every being is like a white cloud in the vast sky, but he also says the great sky doesn’t hinder the great sky— each and every cloud doesn’t hinder each and every cloud flying freely. I think this is a really great comment. Everything is moving and changing, coming and going within this great nature. Within this entire network of interdependent origination, every one of us is like a cloud in the sky. Appear, stay for a while, change, and disappear. In our zazen we really become a part of this movement. White clouds do not hinder the entire network, or vast sky.

But somehow, we human beings destroy nature. We hinder this entire movement because of our desires, because of our delusion that we are the center of the world, and that it is the right thing to fulfill our desires. By trying to fulfill our desires, we disturb this entire network. We are even destroying nature. Even though we are a very tiny part of nature, we think we are the owner of nature. I think that is a very basic delusion we modern human beings have. And so we harm ourselves.

Sometimes I feel like we human beings, and our civilization, are creating a cancer for nature. Cancer is really a part of this body. But somehow a cancer grows in a different way from the order and harmony of this body. I don’t think cancer has an evil intention to destroy nature. But somehow it grows so quickly. Because of that nature, when the cancer grows to a certain extent this entire body dies. And when this entire body dies, the cancer has to die. So cancer is a kind of a paradoxical being. In a sense this process of growth, to live and grow freely, is a process of dying. Our human civilization, what we are doing in this modern time, seems like the same thing. Because we are a very tiny part of nature, we are living together with nature as a part of nature. But somehow we grow too fast, and within this process of growing we destroy nature. When we destroy nature more than a certain extent nature dies. When nature dies we have to die. There’s no way for us to live without nature, without air or water. But even though we know it, we still pollute the water and the air. This is a basic kind of ignorance.

I heard that in a healthy body there is always a cell which could become a cancer, but doesn’t necessarily grow as a cancer. There might be some way to stop from being a cancer, even though we still don’t know what it is. We need to find that way as our wisdom. I think Buddha’s teaching can be one contribution to this modern civilization, to avoid total destruction. What we can do as Buddhists or Dogen Zenji’s disciples is, I think, to present this practice and the view that we are part of an entire network of interdependent origination, that we cannot exist without the support or relationship with all those things. Then our life could be changed. Some people say it’s too late, but I think it’s never too late. If we think it’s too late, that is the end of the story. We need to continue.

— • —

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