Tag Archives: Uchiyama

Is “Buddha’s Life” the same as Buddha-nature?


Is “Buddha’s Life” the same as Buddha-nature?

If we think of Buddha-nature as a certain part of our life, not our entire life or not the entire network, but something that is fixed and stored and hidden in our individual life, then that is different from Buddha’s Life. What Dogen is discussing in Shobogenzo Buddha-nature is the same thing as Buddha’s Life in the following passage from Shobogenzo Shoji:

This present life-and-death is the Life of Buddha. If we dislike it and try to get rid of it, we would lose the Life of Buddha. If we desire to remain [in life-and-death] and attach ourselves to it, we would also lose the Life of Buddha. What would be retained is simply the appearance of Buddha. Only when we don’t dislike life-and-death and don’t desire life-and-death do we first enter the mind of Buddha.

The first sentence of this paragraph is a well-known saying of Dogen. I think Dogen was the first Buddhist master who said such a thing so clearly: “This present life-and-death is the Life of Buddha.” Of course, within Mahayana Buddhism that teaching and its meaning was already there, but I think Dogen was the first who clearly mentions that this life-and-death is Buddha’s Life.

Usually “life” in Japanese is seimei, which is a scientific or medical word. The Japanese word Dōgen used is on-inochi (御いのち). Inochi is life and on makes the word polite, using the word in a respectful way. In Japanese we sometimes put “o” or “on” or “go” before nouns or verbs for that reason. For example, mizu is water, but we call it o-mizu to show our respect for this thing. We call this robe I am wearing o-kesa. Rice is kome but we call it o-kome, we almost never say kome. We say o-kome or o-misu to express our respect to each and every being, because all beings are Buddha-dharma. In this passage, I translate this on by making the ‘L’ (of life) a capital letter.

This life is Buddha’s Life. Our life and death is Buddha’s Life. We need to appreciate and venerate our life and everything which keeps our life continuing. That means everything. Without water or air or food and other people’s and other beings’ support, we cannot keep this life. So, we venerate our life and all beings as a part of our life, as Buddha’s Life, not as my personal life as an individual. Of course, this personal life as an individual is also part of Buddha’s Life.

As Uchiyama Roshi said, “We bow to all beings.” When I receive water before I give a lecture, I bow and receive it. When the Jisha brings these texts, I bow and receive it. When we receive food during meals, we bow each time we receive. This bow is an expression of our appreciation and gratitude— not just to the person who is serving, but also to the tenzo for preparing the food and to all the farmers who worked to produce the food and to all the support from nature such as sunlight, and water. Within this bow, our gratitude toward all beings is included. Often, we just bow without thinking, or without thinking what this means, but this has a very important meaning, if we are aware, if we have the eye and ear to appreciate it. Our life and death is Buddha’s Life, this is the basis of Dogen’s teaching and our practice.

So even though the Buddha taught that life is marked by suffering, he also prohibited killing, in the Vinaya precepts. To monks, killing other beings is like killing ourselves. We always have to say “yes” to life, and appreciate life. That is the Precept of “Not Killing.” When people sometimes think that Buddhism is a kind of negative religion which does not appreciate life, that is not true. The Buddha taught that we need to appreciate life, and that we can transform our life from samsara to nirvana, from suffering to the cessation of suffering. The Buddha taught that this is possible, and yet, we should not cling to life, because when we cling to life, then we create samsara. If we dislike or hate or negate this life, then we negate Buddha’s Life.

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Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute hopes to offer an occasional series of questions from students with responses from Okumura Roshi  about practice and study. These questions and responses are from Okumura Roshi’s recorded lectures, and are lightly edited.

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For further study:

    • For another article on Shobogenzo Shoji, 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.

> Other Questions and responses

Copyright 2019 Sanshin Zen Community

In Buddhism, do we need faith?

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I’ve always rejected dogma – is “awakening to the reality of interdependent origination” dogma? Do we just have to have faith in it, like in Christianity?

If we don’t practice and awaken to the reality of interdependent origination by ourselves, as our own experience, that is dogma. If you memorize everything Dogen wrote or what Uchiyama Roshi or I have said, that is dogma. But by practicing it, it becomes reality. I don’t know about Christianity, but in the case of Buddhism I think we can each have the same experience of awakening.

Usually in our tradition, our process of studying and practicing is to hear or read some teaching, think about what we heard, and if we think that it is reasonable or doable, we put the teaching into practice. Through the practice we find the teaching is really true.

From hearing or studying the teaching to putting that teaching into practice there is a jump we need. This jump means to have a kind of determination, because when we hear and think, our thinking is not reality yet. It may sound okay but we are not sure. So we start to practice and it is at this point we need faith; even in Buddhism we need faith. Faith or trust is really important in this jumping.

In my case, I didn’t know about Buddhist teaching or theory when I started to practice. I read Uchiyama Roshi’s book, I didn’t understand it at all, but it sounded okay and was attractive to me. I trusted how Uchiyama Roshi lived, and I wanted to live like him. I didn’t start practicing because I believed Buddhist theory or Dogen’s teaching. Actually, I didn’t understand Dogen at all, one hundred percent. I trusted Uchiyama Roshi’s way of life; he had the same question when he was a teenager as I had. He spent his entire life finding the answer and after he found it, he continued to practice and share the teaching with younger people. So, my belief or faith was not really in Buddhist philosophy or in Dogen’s writing but in this person’s way of life. Without that trust I could not jump into this very strange practice that is good for nothing. We say it publicly – it is good for nothing. So I think we need some faith or trust, whether it is toward Buddhist teaching or philosophy, or toward someone’s writing, or toward some kind of living example. To me, the living example was most important.

So you don’t need to believe what I’m saying. If you just memorize and believe this is true then it becomes dogma, even what Dogen wrote or what Buddha said. If it becomes dogma then it has nothing to do with our own life, I think. So don’t believe what I’m saying.

— • —

Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute hopes to offer an occasional series of questions from students with responses from Okumura Roshi  about practice and study. These questions and responses are from Okumura Roshi’s recorded lectures, and are lightly edited.

— • —

For further study:

  • See Shohaku Okumura Roshi’s commentary on his teacher’s modern classic Opening The Hand of Thought, in which he discusses self-power (jiriki) and other-power (tariki). Pure Land Buddhists sometimes say there are two gates in Buddhism: the gate of sacred path, practice with self-power; and the gate of easy practice, based on other-power.

> Other Questions and responses

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

New books from the Dōgen Institute

We are proud to announce the availability of two new books published by the Dōgen Institute:

Boundless Vows, Endless Practice

In honor of Sanshin Zen Community’s 15th anniversary, Shohaku Okumura and ten of his dharma descendants from around the world present a series of writings on making and carrying out bodhisattva vows in the 21st century. The book includes new translations by Okumura Roshi of material never before published in English.

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Life-and-Death: Selected Dharma Poems from Kosho Uchiyama

A translation of selected Dharma poems by Okumura Roshi’s teacher Uchiyama Roshi, with notes.

Accompanied by beautiful photographs from Jisho Takahashi.

“As human beings who cannot avoid physical life and death, all of us wish to see clearly exactly what life-and-death is, and to settle on our attitude toward it. Even though there may be no way to avoid the physical pain, we would all at least like to face death without the mental torment as though having fallen into hell. What is important here is how to live having settled on our attitude towards life-and-death. These poems are on life-and-death.” — Kosho Uchiyama

“After giving his last teachings to his disciples and talking about impermanence, the Buddha said, ‘From now on all of my disciples must continuously practice. Then the Thus Come One’s dharma body will always be present and indestructible.’ This ‘indestructible dharma body’ is the Buddha’s eternal life in the Lotus Sutra. I think the interpenetration of impermanence and the eternal life of Buddha is what Uchiyama Roshi is teaching us about in this collection of his poems. ” — Shohaku Okumura

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See our publications page for a complete listing.

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

“I” effort: self-power and other-power

The English expression “‘I’ effort” is a translation of the Japanese ji riki, “self-power.” This expression, “self-power,” is used as opposition of ta riki, “other-power.” This is a way to categorize Buddhist traditions that was done in Pure Land Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhists said there are two gates in Buddhism: the gate of sacred path, practice with self-power and the gate of easy practice based on other-power. Pure land Buddhists thought their teaching was the gate of easy practice and all other Buddhist was the gate of sacred path, where people practice with self-power……canstockphoto0105855

But here, Uchiyama Roshi is saying something different from this common understanding. He said our zazen is not a self-power practice, but what we experience during sesshin is reality before self-power. Our practice is not self-power practice to make us an enlightened person. Within this practice, enlightenment is already there……

I think it is important to understand what is “other-power” and what is “self-power” from the point of Pure Land Buddhism. Then we can understand why Uchiyama Roshi said our practice is before separation between self and other-powers. There is only one power.

If your device does not display the embedded player, or if buffering takes too long, please visit: http://sanshin.podomatic.com/entry/2014-11-21T04_00_00-08_00

This talk continues Shohaku Okumura Roshi’s commentary on the modern classic Opening The Hand of Thought written by his teacher Kosho Uchiyama Roshi. (Section 4, p.66)

It was originally given at Sanshinji in Bloomington, IN on November 14, 2010.

Copyright 2014 Sanshin Zen Community