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原田正道 Harada Shōdō (1940-)
Dharma name: Taigen Shōdō
Sódó Harada: Bódhidharma ösvényén
Taigen Shodo Harada Roshi: A tíz ökörkép
Taigen Shodo Harada Roshi: Hétköznapok és meditáció: kérdések és válaszok
PDF: Shodo Harada Roshi – Előadások
Egy csepp tisztánlátás - Japán a földrengés és a cunami után
PDF: The Path to Bodhidharma
PDF: Ten Oxherding Pictures
PDF: Shodo Harada Roshi: Nuclear Reactor of Zen
Shodo Harada Roshi: A Short Biography
Harada Seicho was born on August 26, 1940 in Nara, Japan, to a temple priest and his wife. He was their third child and second son; three younger children, all girls, completed their warm and loving family. He had a normal childhood, playing with his younger sisters and leading them into the usual mischief children get into, including devising creative ways to get unto the theaters for free to view his passion - adventure films. The temple was poor and times were hard; there was no extra money for such things.
Although his father was an Osho-san and he was raised in a Buddhist temple, young Seicho was not interested in becoming a Buddhist priest. As a child he was fascinated by rockets and wanted to become a pilot. By his teenage years he was thinking of becoming a psychologist, having by then developed a keen interest in the nature of the human mind.
This plan was to change abruptly one day when his father asked him to deliver something to Myoshin-ji, the headquarters temple of his family temple. In his own words:
It was early, so the buses were very crowded. I had to push through his packed crowd of people to board the bus. then move all the way to the back. As I did so, all of a sudden I came up someone who struck me as most unusual. He had a mysterious presence - there was something luminous about him. There he was, an old priest in robes, wearing glasses and reading a book, yet he glowed with a type of light. In comparison, the people around him seemed so weighed down by their thoughts and cares. I stood in the aisle, a youth who didn´t like Buddhism and lived in a temple only because of the circumstances of his birth, and yet I was deeply moved by this intelligent- looking man who seemed so deep and so still and who radiated such brightness of spirit. Why did he seemed so different from everyone else on the bus? I had never met a person like this before, and I couldn´t figure out what was so inspiring about him. There I was, having been brought up in a way I didn´t want to continue, thinking that temples and priests were really not appealing, when all of a sudden this mysterious person appears with all his great depth, who was obviously a priest. Why would he choose this way of expressing himself? I was so intrigued by this man and the question he was presenting to me by his whole presence, that when the priest got off I followed him. It turned out that this person, Yamada Mumon, was on his way to Reiun-in, a small Buddhist temple in Myoshinji. I followed him right to the gate and saw him go in.
Yamada Mumon Roshi was a Zen master in the lineage of Tenryuji, and the abbot of Shofukuji in Kobe. Mumon Roshi was also the abbot of Reiunin, a sub-temple of Myoshinji, and president of Hanazono University, the Rinzai Buddhist university the young Harada would soon attend.
It was this encounter that made me realize how limited my understanding of Buddhism was. I saw there was a whole aspect of the religion that I knew nothing about. Despite growing up in the temple world I had turned my back on its teachings; I doubt I would ever have become a monk if I had not met Mumon Roshi. Because of him I saw for the first time how the inner quality of a person can shine forth from his entire being, and I wished to know more about the teachings that so illuminated Mumon Roshi.
While he was attending Hanazono University his father died, and his older brother took over the family temple in Nara. Upon graduating from university, he headed on foot, over the mountains and through the forests to Shofukuji in Kobe, and became a monk under Mumon Roshi. He was given the name ShoDo (True Way).
He trained hard at Shofukuji, doing many intensive week-long retreats (sesshins). However, after one particular sesshin he felt completely dissatisfied with his mind state; though he had been trying very hard, he still hadn´t realized kensho. After two further years of intense training and still no kensho, he sought out Mumon Roshi to ask his permission to leave the monastery. He wanted to go into the mountains to practice alone until he attained awakening, he said. Mumon Roshi said nothing but looked at him for a few moments, then asked, "What will happen if you don´t realize kensho?" "I won´t come back until I do!" was the determined reply. He was given permission to go.
Camping in the mountains between Hiroshima and Shimane Prefectures, he sat zazen long and hard, determined to somehow breakthrough. How much time passed, he did not know. Then one Sunday afternoon some hikers encountered him and stopped to ask questions: "Are you a Buddhist monk?" Answered in the affirmative, they commented, "How fortunate you are to be able to practice all day, all week like this! We have to work in the world, so we only have this one day in which to come up onto the mountain and chant the Buddha´s name." Suddenly,
it was like all of my burdens had dropped off, as if someone had hit me on the back and everything was awakened within. I realized right then the mistake I´d been making and immediately went back to the monastery. That day on the mountain I realized that there was no self to be bothered! I had been crushing myself and making myself miserable worrying about the problem of realizing enlightenment, when in fact it was found in the living of every single day! Everything would come to me even if I did nothing and ceased worrying about my own little problems. Not to isolate myself up on a mountain, closed off from everyone, turning them all away and worrying about my own small state of mind, but to go and be what every day brought to me-that was my practice and the expression of my enlightenment! Ever since I realized that, my whole life has been completely different. I know there is no problem for myself, because there is no one there to feel that there is a problem. When I came back from the mountain I knew that what I had to do with my life was to live it totally with the purpose of bringing this crystal clear awareness to other people. And that´s all I really wanted to do-that was, in fact, what I´d been doing from the beginning, but I had stifled it in a small, egoistic way. I´d gone to the mountain for only my own enlightenment; it had been an expression of my ego. But because of that I´d been able to awaken to that greater purpose, awaken to that greater Self that had work to do in this world.
Afterwards my zazen was very different. Before when I sat I would do so with a heavy sense of myself. Now I didn´t have that at all, but felt in my sitting as though I was being lived through by another great energy. For the first time my eyes wouldn´t move during zazen, but would be drawn into the floor where I was looking. During kinhin -walking mediation- my eyes would be drawn into the place I was looking, and I wouldn´t feel like looking around. This went on for several days, bringing me to a place where I could answer koans much faster. The things that had been obstructing me weren´t there anymore. I saw how easily I could understand what my teacher was saying. The koans and the words I received when I passed the koans seemed obvious to me, and I could grasp their meaning very quickly. I sat lightly and energetically, and didn´t feel heavy anymore. What had happened to me on the mountain had turned my life around.
Shodo Harada practiced at Shofukuji for twenty years. One day the elderly abbot of Sogenji called on Mumon Roshi and requested a successor for the temple. Mumon Roshi chose Shodo Harada, and in 1983, having received inka -formal transmission, Harada came to Sogenji to teach, welcoming people from all over the world. Some years later he journeyed to the United States to teach, leading his first sesshin there in 1989 for the group that eventually established Tahoma Sogenji Zen Monastery on Whidbey Island, Washington. A few years later he began traveling and offering sesshins in Europe. Eventually a central place was established by ShoE; Hokuozan Sogenji Monastery in Asendorf, Germany. Each year he goes to central India as well, to lead sesshin at the Indozan Monastery established by his Indian student Bodhidharma. Groups of his students have sprung up all over the world since then. Truly living the title Zen Master, he does all of this in addition to keeping an extremely full schedule of teaching and sesshin in Sogenji Monastery in Okayama, Japan. He is utterly dedicated to keeping the Buddha Dharma alive at its most profound level.
A Staff for the Mind (Kokoro no Tsue)
Calligraphy and commentaries collections by Shodo Harada
Sogenji, Japan, 2001-2006. Volumes 1-6.
Staff of Mind 2001 (0.5MB)
Staff of Mind 2002 (1MB)
Staff of Mind 2003 (3MB)
Staff of Mind 2004 (10MB)
Staff of Mind 2005 (3MB)
Staff of Mind 2006 (9MB)
Sixth Patriarch Platform Sutra
Teisho by Shodo Harada
The English translation of the text, beginning with Chapter one, is from The Sutra of Hui-neng, translated by A. F. Price and Wong Mou-lam. The Introduction is translated by Daichi Zenni, as it is not included in the print edition.
PDF: Volume 1 (7MB)
PDF: Volume 2 (13MB)
PDF: Volume 3 (15.5MB)
三祖鑑智 Sanso Kanchi [鑑智僧璨 Kanchi Sōsan]
Shinjin no Mei - On Believing in Mind
PDF: On Believing in Mind Part 1
PDF: On Believing in Mind Part 2
圓相 Ensō (zen circle) by Harada
The Way of Zazen
by Shodo Harada Roshi
Every year when December approaches, monks everywhere tremble in anticipation of the arrival of the rohatsu osesshin. In Zen dojos everywhere people intensify their training energy in preparation for this osesshin, held from the first to the eighth of December. The rohatsu osesshin is the consummation of a year's training, a time when everyone faces the final reckoning of a year of practice.
The Buddha was enlightened on the eighth of December when he looked up at the morning star, the planet we call Venus. The brightness of this planet was seen by Buddha from the depths of one week of samadhi. The Buddha received that brightness with the same eyes of zazen that enable us also to realize perfect enlightenment.
One week straight of this deepest possible samadhi was burst through by the brilliance of that morning star. A whole week's experience of that world of complete spiritual death, the great death, that state of mind of the world beyond death. Into that world burst the brightness of the morning star, plunging into the Buddha's eyes and giving rebirth to the Buddha's consciousness.
That's it! That's it! That's me! That's me that's shining so brilliantly!
How deeply he was moved and what wonder he felt. From this comes all of the Buddha's Dharma. From within this state of mind the Buddha said:
How wondrous, how wondrous! All beings are endowed with this pure nature! What a wondrous, astonishing thing has been realized! All the ten thousand things, all the flowers, all the trees, all the rocks, all things everywhere are shining brilliantly! What an amazing thing! It's the same landscape, but how brilliantly it is illuminated! What freshness in everything!
From within this deep illumination of the mind of Buddha all of the Buddha's wisdom was born. All of Zen is held within the deep impression of the Buddha's mind at that moment.
People vow to experience this very same experience of the Buddha as they approach the rohatsu osesshin. In every single Zen dojo people put their lives on the line to be able to experience the exact same state of mind, on the eighth of December, as that of the Buddha. This is the firm vow with which they come to the rohatsu osesshin.
There is a record of Hakuin Zenji's teachings called the Rohatsu Jisshu. This is a collection of his teachings given on each evening of the rohatsu osesshin week. Hakuin Zenji taught from his own experience to encourage his disciples and to give them energy for their practice. This collection of teachings is the work of Hakuin's disciple, Torei Zenji. It is not published in general and is used only in the zendos for the monks because of its strictness and severity. In the text we find written the way to do zazen, the way of entering samadhi, and the way of breathing (susokkan). They are all taught in great detail.
I would like to comment on Hakuin Zenji's teaching, using the Rohatsu Jisshu text, adding my own experiences in the hope that it will be helpful for each person's practice.
We begin by using the text of Hakuin's teaching from the first night of the rohatsu osesshin. He spoke to the many disciples lined up in front of him in this way:
For those who wish to enter deep samadhi, it is best to put down thick cushions, sit in full lotus and wear loose clothes. Make your spine straight and your posture erect but comfortable. Begin by doing susokkan, the best possible way for entering deep samadhi, focusing your ki in your tanden. Next, concentrate intensely on your koan until you dig out the roots of your self-conscious awareness completely. If you then continue to practice zazen day after day, kensho will be realized as certainly as you hit the ground when you strike at it. Put everything you have into it.
Deep samadhi, deep samadhi. We all speak about kensho, but if we don't develop our samadhi, don't work inventively on developing our deep samadhi, it all becomes something far away up in the sky.
The Sixth Patriarch and Rinzai Zenji both taught that only kensho was of greatest importance and that samadhi and liberation were not to be considered as problems. They said that there is only kensho to be concerned with and that is all that is necessary; that enlightenment is the most important thing and that this is the essential point of Zen.
The experience of the Buddha was deep enlightenment. When he saw the morning star he experienced his true nature clearly. Without such a thing there is no Zen or Buddhadharma. But, just to say kensho doesn't mean that we can realize it.
This is not an era of such spiritual clarity. It's a time when there is a flooding of information into all parts of society, and our daily life is complicated and confusing. Our minds have a very difficult time feeling things deeply. If our minds don't become truly purified and lucid then kensho is impossible. If our antennas are completely coated with rust, no matter what signals may come along they can't be picked up. If our mirror is not clear, no matter how wonderful the scenery, it cannot be reflected. The problem is the degree to which our minds are purified and unattached. Only to the degree to which they are clear and lucid can we receive these signals.
This does not mean that the goal is to develop our own quiet world. The goal is to realize one's true nature. For doing this we need to develop deep samadhi. For this reason people of training constantly need to concentrate on their zazen and employ this mind of practice as the base of their daily life and all activity.
Hakuin began his teaching:
For those who wish to enter deep samadhi.
The Sixth Patriarch gave us a concise definition of teaching that samadhi is:
To detach oneself from all external stimulation and to be undisturbed within.
When we look outside, we see trees, flowers, mountains, and people, and we cannot erase this scenery. We cannot erase the things that appear before us. We can't “close” our ears, and we feel many things—hot, cold, joy, and pain—and smell fragrances. In this way we live totally connected with the environment that surrounds us; we cannot separate ourselves from it.
The most important thing is not to be attached to that environment. This does not mean to cover our eyes, it does not mean to cover our ears, it does not mean to stop smelling, nor does it mean to stop feeling. It means that our minds must become taut and concentrated beyond all of those stimulations. It means not to be distracted, not to use our minds meaninglessly, not to loosen our attention. It means to find our center and with our total concentration to gather our focused energy.
Not to be attached to external form, not to be unsettled within, not to think this and that, not to be cluttered with extraneous things, not to think about gain and loss and whether we are happy or sad. This can be called Zen. We are always thinking something in our minds. If we always leave our minds full of these thoughts our minds will never become clear, but we also cannot instruct our minds to stop thinking. This means that we should always keep our minds taut and perfectly attentive.
Hakuin gave us the instruction for susokkan, which has the truly great function of clearing the mind. He said:
In any case do not be attached to the outside world, and within our minds do not think of this and that. To have our minds precisely concentrated only on what we are doing, this is what is called deep samadhi.
As Hakuin instructed:
For those who wish to enter deep samadhi, it is best to put down thick cushions, sit in full lotus and wear loose clothes.
For those who wish to enter deep samadhi a thicker cushion is best. For someone who is only going to sit for ten to thirty minutes a thick cushion may not be so necessary, but here at Sogenji we may sit for as many as twelve hours, and if we continue this for a week of osesshin, a thin cushion will not be sufficient. Therefore it is best to sit down on a thick cushion.
Put your legs in full lotus. For zazen there is both half and full lotus. If at all possible full lotus is preferable. Putting up both legs carefully and tucking them in deeply is best. It's best because your legs don't move out of position. For those doing half lotus it is easier to injure your legs. If you sit for a long time your legs may hurt and you will want to move them. If you move your legs your body's center line becomes crooked. If you sit in a crooked way for an extended time your balance becomes lost and in extreme cases your legs become and remain numb. In the end it becomes impossible even to do zazen. This happens because people don't put their legs up deeply and carefully into the correct position. When you tuck them in deeply you may feel pain at the beginning. Zazen is one form of yoga, and you must not go against your muscle structure. If you want to sit in a way in which your legs do not go against your muscle structure, you must tuck them in deeply. To put your legs up loosely will not work; they must be tucked as far up on your thighs as possible. Push out your lower abdomen (tanden) as far as possible and sit with your hands in front of your abdomen, one on top of the other and thumbs touching.
To sit in loose clothing is preferable. If you constrict your body in any way your breathing becomes difficult. People who wear tight belts or tight trousers should loosen them as much as possible. Straighten your backbone and stretch it up toward the sky. A line between your knees forms one side of an equilateral triangle. Put your pelvis at the opposite apex of the triangle and stretch your spine up from that point. In this way you make your spine erect and set your neck and head on top of the spine. Tuck in your chin and poke the top of your head straight up into the sky, and the heaviness of your head will decrease. If you do this your balance will improve. If you sit like this your abdomen will naturally be pushed forward, and also because your backbone is straight, your abdomen will move forward.
Hakuin further instructed, saying:
Make your spine straight and your posture erect but comfortable.
This is the best way to sit. People who see you sitting zazen should naturally feel a refreshed and bracing feeling. If you stretch up too much it looks uncomfortable. If the way you sit gives a person who is looking at you a messy and uncomfortable feeling, this is not the right posture. People who see you should get a refreshed and vibrant feeling.
Hakuin instructed his disciples saying:
Begin by doing susokkan, the best possible way for entering deep samadhi, focusing your ki in your tanden.
These words are from Hakuin's very own experience, and because Hakuin's susokkan is a way of breathing with the tanden, it is the same as the way of breathing taught by the Buddha. Of course Hakuin was not the first to discover this! In India from ancient times until today it has been continued. In the practice of Zen, susokkan was never given much emphasis. Considered as something obvious, it was not thought of as something that was needed to be taught.
From doing extreme training, Hakuin had problems with his sympathetic nervous system. His ki would rise to his shoulders and he would become emotionally unstable. He discovered that by doing susokkan he could settle his mind, and in this way he realized that susokkan could be practiced to develop ki. He taught susokkan to everyone from beginners to well-ripened people of longtime practice. This susokkan must be well developed. So, Hakuin instructed:
Begin by doing susokkan, the best possible way for entering deep samadhi, focusing your ki in your tanden.
He makes it sound simple, but there any many types of samadhi. In yoga there are many ways of entering samadhi, but among these the best way to enter samadhi is sussokan. Hakuin has taught us this from his own experience.
Everyone who comes to Sogenji is taught susokkan as the base of their practice, and for those who work with it using it in their daily life is a matter of course. One can easily forget the correct way to do susokkan, so it is best to review it constantly and thoroughly.
The way to begin doing susokkan is as I have just explained:
First check your zazen posture. Then if your body is in the correct posture remove all tension and stretch the spine toward the sky. Remove all tension from the neck muscles and release all tension in your arms as well.
When you do this you will just become like the skeleton hanging in the science classroom, tied from its head and with its body loosely dangling.
In this relaxed condition:
Quietly exhale, focusing your concentration on the exhalation from your tanden.
Your tanden is that place approximately one and a half inches below your navel which you can feel if you press there. Here is the main center of the sympathetic nervous system. The source of human's ki can also be found here. If you work with this place thoroughly your ki will become fully developed.
If you are not centered in your tanden, your energy level falls easily, and your ki goes high up into your shoulders. It may continue into the neck muscles and your head may begin to tighten and hurt. Finally you may become dizzy, excited, and start crying for no reason or become irritated, finding it difficult to settle down. If this happens, your whole body starts trembling. From a disturbance of the sympathetic nervous system you may become neurotic. susokkan is the best way to keep the ki down.
Having relaxed all the tension in your body:
Focus on the lower abdomen, as if you were steadily blowing your breath from this place and, pulling your belly in, quietly exhale.
Exhale for as long as possible, to the very end of the breath and until your belly becomes completely flat.
When you come to the very end of the breath, naturally, without thinking, the inhalation will follow and your belly will fill up and expand in front of you. As your belly expands the inhalation comes in naturally. There is no need to suck in an inhalation.
Focus on a complete exhalation.
As your belly expands in front of you:
It's just like an eyedropper. There is a rubber bulb on top of a hollow glass tube. When you press the bulb the air goes out, and when you put it into water and let go of it the water is sucked into the glass tube. This is how the eyedropper works. In the same way, flattening your belly completely is the way to exhale the breath, and the swelling out of your abdomen at inhalation is the same as letting go of the eyedropper's rubber bulb: air flows in naturally.
When you let go of your exhalation your abdomen naturally fills up again and with that action you inhale. Don't suck in air. If you do it naturally there should be almost no tension in the shoulders whatsoever and the air comes in easily. In a short time sufficient air will easily be inhaled.
If you become too tense or too self-conscious it becomes very difficult. If you are tense in your diaphragm your breath gets stopped there. Almost everyone stops his or her breath at the diaphragm and almost everyone tries to force his or her breath further from there. Getting rid of this forced power is one of the big problems at the beginning of learning susokkan.
At the beginning of zazen it helps to do this deep abdominal breathing up to ten times. To get rid of self-consciousness, you go out to the breath's final point as quietly as possible, and in doing this you work slowly on focusing and using your tanden.
As you breathe out:
Add the counting of one, two three, up to ten. One count on each breath.
As you breathe out, count:
Ooooooooooooooone . . .
Twoooooooooooooo . . .
Threeeeeeeeeeeeee . . .
Keep going until the count of ten and then return to one again. Thus is susokkan.
While counting your breaths you concentrate on the breaths constantly. It is important to follow these breaths with your concentration. By following these breaths carefully your concentration deepens, and because you are concentrating so totally, even when you look at the outside world you are no longer so attached to it—because your concentration is on your breath and counting, the external world doesn't interfere. Even if there are sounds around you, if your concentration is deep, you hardly notice them, or smells, flavors, and other external stimulations. It is the same with feelings, and especially the extraneous thoughts of this and that. These thoughts also decrease greatly.
Focus totally on the breath and the counting.
And, just as the Sixth Patriarch taught:
Detach oneself from all external stimulation and be undisturbed within.
This detachment happens in conjunction with the susokkan. You become separated from the external world and unattached to its sounds and sights. Then your mind becomes free of attachment to extraneous thoughts. Here you find a truly highly developed taut state of mind within.
Daruma Daishi said:
Not concerned with outer things, without having any troubles inside, if one's mind is like a wall he would at the same time be in the Tao (truth).
This does not mean to become tense and tight in the breathing. It means to go to the ultimate point of each breath and not to be swayed by external things. There is then no place for any extraneous thing to be found—no trace, no crack. This is the world of zazen, the world of the Buddha's samadhi.
Begin by doing susokkan, the best possible way for entering deep samadhi, focusing your ki in your tanden.
At the beginning, susokkan feels very undependable, but it's important not to stop and quit. Once you have begun your efforts you must go all the way to the final end. For this, osesshin is the best time.
If you do two or three osesshins almost anyone can master this susokkan. Anybody can do this much.
Seeing how far you can go in using this susokkan in your daily life is up to each person's individual efforts. But, if you are living out in society, sitting and then stopping again, it is very difficult to master susokkan. The practice is best when done on a regular basis.
susokkan is a point of practice that should be mastered in a short time. Once you have mastered it and made it your own, you won't forget it. Once it has ripened and you have tasted the flavor of its deep state you won't forget it.
Even though susokkan may feel unreliable and powerless at first, if you patiently and creatively work on it, little by little your breath will come thoroughly from your abdomen. After you exhale totally, you allow the abdomen to expand in front of you. Repeat this process over and over. At the beginning of zazen repeat it ten times. After that don't put any tension of self-conscious effort into it. Let it move naturally.
Although your breath may feel rather shallow when you first begin, in fact, if you look at it in comparison to the breath in usual daily life, it is much deeper. If you do this breathing over and over you develop it thoroughly. From that seemingly undeveloped abdomen a strong and energetic ki will come.
It is easy to be full of scattered ki that rises to the upper part of your body. But, with regular susokkan it can easily be gathered in the tanden and can then be felt as a strong and energetic ki. You can't make this strong ki through force. If you try to force it, it will get stopped in the diaphragm and your breath will become shorter and more difficult. You have to proceed with patient effort.
In the beginning it does not go well but, little by little, as you get used to doing it, not only while doing zazen, but also while doing your work and other activities, it will continue. Even when you are eating you are able to keep the concentration going. When you come to this point your ki becomes fuller and fuller. Finally, when you are exhaling and inhaling, the base of your tanden gives you a continuous strong supply of ki because you are breathing with your abdomen.
When your ki becomes truly well developed and is taut and full, your abdomen hardly moves at all. This is because you have nearly reached the ultimate point of your concentration. Especially at this point you must not let go of your efforts and must keep your concentration going, adding even more energy. If you do this your abdomen becomes fuller and more taut.
Here Hakuin instructs:
Begin by doing susokkan, the best possible way for entering deep samadhi, focusing your ki in your tanden. Next, concentrate intensely on your koan until you dig out the roots of your self-conscious awareness completely.
Your inner places, your deep mind, become totally fulfilled, and your abdomen also becomes full of active energy. When you are in this state of mind you can for the first time work on a koan. Working without a koan is also fine. People of old have taught us that without a koan you can reach enlightenment.
From deep within yourself focus carefully on the place where the breath arises. Watch that source point attentively.
That very point from which the breath is born, watch that point. Then with the question “What is this? What is this? What is this?” see it thoroughly. That ki which is constantly born anew from within us is never used up; it never runs out. Coming from that ki, one after another the breaths are born:
Grasping that source point firmly focus your concentration and consciousness on the question, “What is this?”
At the beginning you were counting numbers but finally, if the breath becomes taut and full, the counting does not matter. With that full flow of ki you ask the question, “What is this?” With this concentration you cut deeply within. You dig on constantly in the direction of the source of the breath. Keeping going in the direction of the source point of the breath, you cut away as you delve toward it. If you do this wholeheartedly you will almost completely lose track of the outside world. Your own centered mind will have no extraneous thoughts, only those breaths that come one after the other, until the place where there is even no consciousness of asking the question, “What is this?” It is as if you were glaring into it, never taking your eyes away.
Your state of mind truly changes into an expansive one. This fulfilled state of mind is like the deep, deep ocean, but it is not like a dark hole. In a state of clear transparency you are embraced in total illuminating brilliance. Even the awareness of this is almost completely gone and only the fulfilled taut feeling is left.
This state of mind deepens and deepens and finally that state of mind explodes, and it too falls off completely. This is called cutting away the deep roots. This is what Hakuin is talking about when he instructs:
Next, concentrate intensely on your koan until you dig out the roots of your self-conscious awareness completely.
Going through this cutting of the roots must be done first; only after that can you experience the same state of mind that the Buddha was able to realize and at that time know, for the first time, that place from which the Buddha's reborn consciousness arose. That very instant when he saw the morning star, that very world into which he jumped, is no different from the cutting away of those deepest roots.
At the ultimate point it is not death, but the fulfilled and transparent clarity that is truly sharp, and the life that is pure from within. In relating to the outside world it is like being completely reborn. That reborn energy is of great strength and expands throughout the external world as well. This is the experience that the Buddha described. This is the true mind, the original mind that he realized was born from within.
One's original mind is that clear ultimate point, the very source point of that true mind. That which was not yet functioning awakens to the external world, and in every single thing it meets, it is stimulated and works accordingly. That point where it begins to function is of the greatest importance. If that function doesn't arise, then the experience's meaning dies, and that zazen, done so carefully, becomes meaningless.
When that brand-new fresh consciousness is reborn from within, when you are awakened to the true life within, you become the same as the Buddha. This happens not only in the midst of samadhi, but it is the very substance of kensho. With it comes the most important point of Zen and the Buddhadharma.
Yet, only when this expands into the external world does this true world of understanding become meaningful. For this we cannot be in a hurry. It is a matter of how far we can go in developing our full and taut energy. This is the total of everything. Since we are realizing this in the context of the bustle and stimulations of the external world, if we are in a hurry it is proof that we have not yet thrown away all external things. To do this completely is of the greatest importance and to work with this point, no matter how far we have to go, is the ultimate point of zazen.
Hakuin concluded with:
If you then continue to practice zazen day after day, kensho will be realized as certainly as you hit the ground when you strike at it. Put everything you have into it.
He said this not meaning to say how many years we must make efforts, nor how many months or days are necessary. According to each person's efforts and energy it develops. According to each person's power of concentration it deepens. There is no calculation that can be made. It can't be said that because we worked this many hours we will have these results.
Our consciousness being totally reborn is our goal. Heading toward that goal and using our total energy in its pursuit is what has to be done. Even if we make efforts and our goal is not realized, if is as if we strike the ground with our hand. Without fail enlightenment can be realized. We can, without fail, realize enlightenment. Hakuin teaches this from his own experience. Everyone, all of us, can realize kensho. Anyone can realize this state of mind and anyone can be reborn from this state of mind. In this way Hakuin teaches us.
From Morning Dewdrops of the Mind by Shodo Harada Roshi, translated by Priscilla Daichi (Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books/Frog Ltd., 1993). Copyright (c) 1993 by Shodo Harada Roshi. Translation copyright (c) 1993 by Priscilla Storandt. Used with permission.
"Everyday is a good day." Calligraphy by 原田正道 Harada Shōdō
Dojo: A Place of Practice
by Shodo Harada Roshi
Prepared for the Occasion of the
Dedication of One Drop Zendo Tahoma Monastery
on Whidbey Island Saturday, September 14, 1996
One Drop Zendo was created in Seattle in 1989. Seven years have passed since then and now a monastery on Whidbey Island has been born. This is a new place that specializes in Zen training, a new dojo for practice. But the basic view that One Drop Zendo is made up of many dojos will not change. The central belief is that each and every person is, individually, “one drop,” which then becomes a dojo when joined with other drops. In the workshop, in the home, while walking, while traveling, while hiking; in the very midst of these we develop and realize our mind's true peace. Wherever we do this is a dojo: a place of practice. Each person's home and single zendo room is also a dojo. If there is one deepening person, there a zendo is raised; it develops even further with two people, and if there are three, five, or nine people gathered, it will be a zendo. We do not have to be in some special place in order to do this; but rather we can do it where we are, all of the time. In each place and moment where we find ourselves individually, our creative work continues, our deepening is always in process. Continuing without ceasing, this basic way of always living is the zendo.
However, the situation of the world today is not like that of the past when there was much more of a sense of spaciousness. More and more information is available, and the influence of the various media is growing. More and more, our own centered view is being overwhelmed; we seek to look within and see the essence but instead find that the thoughts in our head are only going around and around. It doesn't ever get beyond that. So, while living in society, working with our creative and inventive efforts, the essence thins out, and becomes vacant. Unsure of why this is so, we become melancholy and dissatisfied. This happens especially when our workload increases or when we become off balance or insecure. At these times we are most likely to wonder if what we are doing is really right or not. We only remember that sense of despair. At times like this, when our way of being, our cutting tool's edge is no longer able to cut, it begins to get rusty and we have to put it to the sharpening stone, shave off that rust, sharpen it, and return to it that sharp, cutting edge. We can then return to society with our essence sharp, clear and active. We return to that sharp, cutting edge and then, within society, our essence and creativity will also function sharply. This is what is most necessary. A dojo therefore is a place where we can sharpen our refined cutting edge, and revitalize ourselves. The clearest way of seeing a dojo and what it is, is to see it as a place where, in every part of everyday life, all day long, we work continuously on that creative and inventive functioning. We have to sharpen this rusted cutting tool until it is truly sharp. This is how we work on our mind's functioning in our everyday life.
With this meaning in mind, the zendo here on Whidbey Island will be a very sturdy and heartfelt sharpening stone for everyone. This is what is being born here. For a true place of practice there must also be a teacher, an example of how to continually work on function and essence. This quality must always be present. There must be an environment where this can be done well. In just this way, Whidbey Island One Drop Zendo is an excellent environment for this kind of zendo. For the dojo which is born here, its essence will have a deep purpose and meaning.
While teaching the young people who come to Sogenji from all over the world, seeing their character become fuller, more taut and more abundant, living with these people, I feel how they will become examples for young people all over the world. Without doubt, they will become refuges for people's minds. Beyond that, even right here, all the people gathered here and working creatively, for each of you to be able to leave your life in society behind, for even a short time, to cut away all information and external input, and return to that one great life energy-this is what is important. Seeing with sharp clarity that pure life energy which surges through everything, we may return to that clarity and seeing once again. This is how this place will be given life.
For this purpose, when this dojo is opened, there will always be from ten to twenty people who will be living here in a life of full-time training. People living in society will see from this an example for their daily life. They can come here to work on that necessary cutting edge, to work on that essence, and bring forth that vivid and vital energy. This is what will awaken us to that true nature which is within each of us. This One Drop Zendo is the place for living this.
This is not, of course, only a place for people who are specializing in this kind of practice. It is very important for people to be training here full-time, but it is also important that people who are in intensive training do not separate completely from society. To accept and embrace all people, without being moved away from the essence, then to offer energy and a positive influence with a full and taut, quiet and energetic mind is important. It is important to be able to share this kind of profound spiritual mind, to go into society with this kind of quality and touch others, embrace others, and together, to help each other. I believe that this is how it must also work: having a full-time internal life, specializing in practice, and at the same time help those who come for any length of time, at any time of day for deepening their zazen, and sharing the serenity here. To teach and guide others in sharpening their cutting edge so that they may once more be able to return to seeing their true self. To take those whom society has given up on, those who are unstable and insecure, and to become their support-to make a place for this is also important and necessary. It is one of our deep vows. This must be done from that place which each person is clarifying and purifying-their true mind-while not letting go of the needs of society. To bring both together, supporting and polishing each other; to nurture this way of being-this is the kind of place it must be.
With this meaning in mind, this One Drop Zendo here on Whidbey Island, this environment, this quiet place, is where we can center our breathing and still remain close to Seattle, close to those many people who have already begun this work. We can come and stay here, come to this profound, deeply touching spiritual dojo. We ask for everyone's support, and ask that this become an all-embracing home for everyone; a place of refuge for the young people of the 21st century. It is also our deep vow that it can also become the place for them. We celebrate the birth of this zendo with everyone, together. From here on as well, I ask for everyone's continued support and for your great efforts and activity.
For keeping these activities going, for keeping this functioning alive, teachers must also always be in the process of development. When there is a dojo without a teacher, it becomes only ground without a direction. Where there is a teacher, the dojo is no longer just a form, but a place where a clear direction is manifested, a true direction of the deepening of the mind's quality. For this, a teacher living there is very important. But a teacher's life span is limited in years. Therefore, during this one life, another's deep life energy must also be raised and developed. This needs to happen in many places, not only in America but all over the world; in all possible places, teachers need to be present. The dojo is a place for people of the coming century to come and gather for this purpose as well. It will be refuge of mind for these people and also a place for teachers to be trained. When this is happening here, people who come, even for a short time, will be able to support each other. With this, we become able to see what is of the deepest importance. To build a dojo where this can be realized, is what is most important, and I ask for your continued favor and support in doing this.
by Shodo Harada Roshi
In Buddhism, its often said that humans' Original Mind, that Mind we have at birth, is like a clear mirror, pure and uncluttered, without shape, form, or color, with nothing in it whatsoever. If something comes before it, the mirror reflects it exactly, but the mirror itself gives birth to nothing. If what has been reflected leaves, its image disappears, but the mirror itself loses nothing. Within the mirror there is no birth, no death. No matter how dirty a thing that is reflected might be, the mirror doesn't get dirty, nor does it become beautiful because something beautiful is reflected in it. Just because additional things are reflected, that doesn't mean anything increases in the mirror itself, nor does anything ever decrease when fewer objects are reflected. A mirror is without increase or decrease.
Humans' pure Original Nature is just this. Without shape, form, or color; without birth and death; not clean or dirty; not increasing or decreasing; not male or female; not young, not old; not intelligent, not stupid; not rich, not poor. There are no words, no explanation possible, no description that will apply here, only a pure mirror-like base. This is humans' true quality; this is an actual experience. From our zazen (sitting meditation), cut all nen (mind-instants), dig down completely to the source of those nen—dig, dig, dig until we reach the place where the human character has been totally cleared. When the source point is reached, this state of Mind can be touched.
This clear human character, which is like a mirror, can accept and receive everything, but nothing that is reflected can get stuck to this mirror. It reflects everything exactly as it is, but the mirror itself stays untouched. This mirror-like Mind has no sense of “that's me” or “that's him, not me.” It has no dualism; it makes no distinctions like that. At that true base, there actually is no differentiation between self and others. The world that is reflected in—reflected by—that mirror is not one of self and other; it has no such separation, it accepts everything as one unified whole. From the origin there is only one world, with no division into “my” world and “your” world.
To understand this as an actual fact with your own experience is the wisdom of the Buddha. From there arises the functioning of the human Mind that naturally feels another's pain as one's own pain, feels another's joy as one's own joy. A warm, encompassing Mind naturally arises from this wisdom and experience. That is what is called the compassion of the Buddha.
If we can realize the source point of our human character, then naturally all of the world becomes One. Not divided, it is encountered as one unified Whole, a great, expansive, and huge world of One. Wisdom works here and humans' joy, suffering, and sadness become our own joy, suffering, and sadness. It is not somebody else's joy; it is one's very own joy as well. This is how a warm, all-encompassing Mind becomes naturally revealed and serves as the source of our action. Simply put, this is what the Buddha meant when he said, “Seek the light within yourself.”
Sogen's One Drop of Water
by Shodo Harada Roshi
When the monk who would become the National Teacher Fukusho joined the monastery of the founder of the Hogen Line, Hogen Buneki Zenji (885-958), he had already been with Master Sozan for many years. Because he thought he had already realized enlightenment, Fukusho just lived at the monastery, without even doing sanzen.
One day a monk asked Master Hogen, “What is the one drop of water of Sogen?” The monk was asking: the great Dharma, the truth, the Zen that was transmitted from the Sixth Patriarch, what is it? He was asking about the essence of the teaching of the Dharma that flowed from the temple, Sogen, of the Sixth Patriarch. “The one drop of water of Sogen” was how he was referring to this great truth.
When he asked, “What is the one drop of water of Sogen,” Hogen answered without a pause, “THIS is the one drop of water of Sogen.” This is how Hogen answered, saying, “That which is asking is that one drop of water of Sogen!” But the monk who had begun this koan exchange did not understand the meaning of the answer he received. He prostrated and left.
When Fukusho, who was standing behind the monk, heard that exchange he was suddenly deeply enlightened. Although he had thought he was already enlightened at the monastery of Sozan Roshi, he now knew that there had been still further for him to realize. He had not yet fully understood. But now his state of mind was thoroughly ripened, and at that one expression by Hogen he was completely and totally awakened.
The words “Sogen's one drop of water” are about the flow of one drop of water—of the essence of the dharma—from the mountain of Sokeizan, the mountain where the Sixth Patriarch's temple stood. This is the ultimate point of Zen where words and phrases cannot reach. It is the truest place of Zen, the Sixth Patriarch's pulse of truth.
In Okayama, Japan, there was a master named Gisan Zenrai Zenji who made excellent use of these words. A monk training with him at Sogenji was deeply enlightened upon hearing these same words and even took the name of Tekisui Zenji, or One Drop of Water Zenji. This episode is passed along at Sogenji.
In the year 1837, when his teacher Taigen Shigen Zenji died, Gisan Zenrai Zenji became the abbot of Sogenji and raised disciples there. Many monks gathered at Sogenji to train, often more than one hundred at a time. Among them was one named Giboku Zenji. One day Giboku Zenji's job was to prepare the bath for Master Gisan; he was nineteen, old enough to believe he understood how to do things well. Giboku Zenji had first gone to Kyoto to train, but he could not find a good teacher there and had come to Okayama when he heard that Master Gisan was an excellent teacher. In those days there was no spending money for a poor monk, and while he had a great huge vow, he came to Okayama impoverished and walking in broken sandals. He did sanzen with the Roshi, but instead of being able to offer a gift of incense to the Roshi for the incense used in sanzen, he made do with a brush holder that someone had bought for him.
Giboku had been at Sogenji for only a short time when it became his turn to make the bath for the Roshi. The bathwater was a little too hot, so he brought buckets of water from the well and cooled the bath down. When it was sufficiently cool he set down the last bucket, in which a few drops of unused water remained. Then, before going to bring more water, he dumped those last few drops out onto the ground. Since he was going to get more water, he probably thought those last few drops weren't necessary.
Gisan Zenrai Zenji saw that and said to him, “What did you just do?”
“I went to draw some water.”
“Before you drew the water, what did you do?”
“I threw away some old water,” Giboku answered simply.
“If you do training with a mind like that, no matter how much training you do or how long you train, you will not awaken. That bit of remaining water, if you dump it out there—how can it be used? If you take it outside and put it on some plants, then the plants will be given life, and the water will also be given life. If you give it to the cucumbers in the garden, the cucumbers will be helped and the water will be satisfied too!”
It is the work of one who is ordained to give life to everything, but that cannot be done with such a lack of mindfulness. Giboku was reprimanded in that way. Since he was nineteen he had thought he understood already. When he was reprimanded he realized how little he actually understood and that something as simple as one drop of water, a single drop of water, had taught him that he had to start over again in his training. This he did, later becoming a great Zen Master.
Of course, today water is generally available, although there are still times and places where it is scarce. We often carelessly and thoughtlessly use water unnecessarily. As the raindrops fall from the sky, one after the next, they land on the leaves of the tree, or the trunk of the tree, or the stone wall, and only when all these drops come together can a small stream be born on the earth. These small streams meet and join, and with this gathering a river is born. When the waters of many rivers all join together, an ocean becomes possible. To put it another way, the source of the ocean is the drop of rain that falls from the sky. One drop of water. Each and every one of these drops has its own functioning. A small amount of water has its functioning, and a large amount of water has its functioning. To be able to use the potential of any amount of water, be it large or small—this is our deep wisdom. To be able to make the best use of the potential of the amount of water we have is humans' wisdom. Zen is the cultivation of the clear and deeply seeing eye that can know and appropriately act in each and every situation that comes along.
This is not a wisdom having to do with trivial and minute bits of information but instead one that can see all the way through to the essence of things. It allows us to make use of each thing, no matter what it might be, and give it life. This depth of Mind is Zen. In this way Gisan Zenrai Zenji was constantly enlightening his disciples. Tekisui Giboku Zenji, who received his teaching, used that wisdom and gave it further life.
Just before his death, Tekisui Zenji said,
The one drop of water of Sogen,
For seventy-four years
It was used, never exhausted,
Throughout the heavens and the earth.
Saying these words he died. For seventy-four years Tekisui used the splendid teaching he had received at Sogenji about the preciousness of water. He used it and thoroughly gave it life, but it was impossible to use it up.
If we use money, it gets used up. If we use things for a long time, they get worn out, but when teaching is used it becomes more and more radiant. For his entire life Tekisui gave this teaching the functioning that extended through the heavens and the earth. Thanks to this teaching that functioning was possible. Using water as a metaphor, he taught about Buddha Nature. This truth, this awakening of the true eye, is what he was teaching about.
In fact, from the line of Gisan Zenrai Zenji also came the head abbot of Engakuji in Kamakura, Imakita Kosen. Imakita Kosen's Dharma line was carried on by Shaku Soen, who, at the World Congress of Religions more than one hundred years ago, gave the first Buddhist teaching in America. Shaku Soen's disciple was D. T. Suzuki, who is one of today's foremost translators of Buddhist teachings into English. That one drop of water, one drop of teaching, that Dharma, is being given life all over the world today.
In Kyoto, Myoshinji monastery was opened by Gisan Zenrai's disciple Ekkei Shuken, and the monastery of Tenryuji was opened under Tekisui Zenji. In Osaka, in Sakae, Nanshuji monastery was opened. Gisan Zenrai also raised Shokokuji's Daisetsu Joen and Ogino Dokuen. When we look closely at this, we can see that more than one hundred years ago, that main stream of Zen came forth from the overflowing wisdom of that drop from Sogenji, and from Japan it has flowed into countries all over the world.
The Sixth Patriarch's teaching, with water as the metaphor for Buddha Nature, was given great respect by Gisan Zenji. He actualized it in his teaching of disciples. From that time and continuing through today as well, that teaching is being given great life.
Freshly Fallen Snow in a Newly Made Silver Bowl
by Shodo Harada Roshi
From talks given in Seattle and at Commonweal, September 1997
Sentient beings are numberless: I vow to liberate them.
Desires are inexhaustible: I vow to put an end to them.
The Dharmas are boundless: I vow to master them.
The Buddha's Way is unsurpassable: I vow to become it.
We are now at the turn of a new century, and the situation in the world is rapidly changing. At this time it is important to look back and see what things it is better not to continue, and to look forward to see what things do need to be continued. The population of the earth is growing into the many billions, and in the very near future there will be as many as 2 billion people in the world who will be starving, without enough food to survive. In addition to those billions of starving people throughout the world, there are also people all around us, nearby us, who are suffering miserably and having a difficult, challenging time. We cannot leave them behind and not give our attention and care to them; we cannot just go someplace to take care of our own personal inner needs.
As the world's population continues to grow rapidly, the number of those who have no food and who are living in desperate conditions will increase even more rapidly. There are so many problems we are facing and having to deal with now: the problem of no food, the problem of no water, the problem of pollution to our planet, and all of the other problems associated with the things that are being done to harm the world's ecology. Above and beyond this, with the population growing at such an incredible pace, the number of people around us, in our own neighborhoods, who are suffering, who are in great need, who are in pain and in conflict is going to continue to grow as well.
For all the people in the world who are suffering and are sick and are going through difficult times, there are many caregivers who have dedicated themselves to helping these people. And there are many people who are volunteers, people who work part-time or full-time in many different ways to help others in need. Yet there are so few caregivers compared to the number of people who need that care that those few have to work long and hard, going from patient to patient with no time for rest or recovery in between. It is a very difficult job to take care of someone. What can be so often felt and seen in these many volunteers who are working so hard and carrying such a great burden of work is their syndrome of burnout. The people who are there to do the job are so many fewer than what's required that they have no time, faced with one person after another needing to be taken care of, to restore their own energy.
Today, with so many people alive in the world, of course there are also many people who are dying. Although there are many hospice workers, anybody who has been involved in the actual doing of that work knows that in spite of all the hopes and the wishes for that work, the number of people who are available to do it are so few that they cannot possibly satisfy the need. And there is little or no support system available for those caregivers. We all have to ask ourselves: What is it that is most important for our mind and for our heart? What is it that we really need? Instead of asking these important questions today, we wait until death is right in front of us; we put these necessary questions aside and just keep on going about our daily business, never really considering them. That mind in pain, that burned-out mind of the caregiver, who is going to help that pain?
There are many different ways for people who have burnout to replenish their inner stores. One of the most frequently used and most helpful is to return to nature, to be in a natural environment. Of course, there are other ways too: listening to music, participating in various sports, even engaging in dangerous, risk-taking activities. These are all things you can do to help restore your own burned-out inner energy. Yet I feel very strongly that some kind of additional support system is necessary for these burned-out caregivers, some kind of answer to what their hearts and their minds really need, some way of going about giving them the help that will enable them to keep on giving to others.
The Buddha was an actual person who was born twenty-five hundred years ago. But we are not just nostalgic for some person who was born twenty-five hundred years ago. The deep wisdom to which this person was awakened is what we are still learning from today. What the Buddha taught to his disciples, in the first teaching he gave to them in the text called the Dhammapada, was, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the wagon.” The second verse that was given in the Dhammapada by the Buddha is, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. if a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.” Within these words there is a very precious truth.
This world is not some place that has been created by some absolute being. Neither is it a place that just came about naturally, or through some kind of fate or destiny. We are what we think, having become what we thought. We have this teaching from the Buddha of cause and effect. We ourselves bring about this world; we cannot put the responsibility for our own unhappiness on society, on anything that is external to us. We have always to return within and look to our own wisdom and our own ability to see things clearly. It is from this wisdom that we are able to let go of suffering and help others to let go of their suffering as well. To constantly see within and look forth from this place of wisdom is what we have to do.
There was one among the disciples of the Buddha named Sariputra Sonja; he became a disciple of such great wisdom that it is said that, even if there were a thousand people gathered, all of them put together would not have half the wisdom that this Sariputra Sonja had. One day, before he became a disciple of the Buddha, Sariputra was walking in town. He saw someone coming toward him who was dressed in very poor clothes, but those clothes were very clean and well-kept, and this person's way of walking was very brisk and energetic. Sariputra was struck by the presence of this person. He who was walking there with such a bright, full, abundant spirit was a monk named Asvajit, a disciple of the Buddha. Sariputra stopped him and asked, “Who are you training with to be able to have such huge, abundant energy and yet to be so still inside at the same time?”
When Asvajit was asked who his teacher was and what his teachings were, he replied, “I am training with Shakyamuni Sesson, who was recently deeply awakened. He teaches that all of our Dharma–all the great rules, the great laws–comes from karmic connection. And everything that fades away fades away according to these same karmic connections. It is all empty; there is no substance. Through karmic connections all things come forth and all things fall away, and there is no such thing as some kind of devil or some kind of good person or even an ego. Everything is just moving and changing and revolving according to cause and effect and the karmic connections between them.”
Nobody who is reading or hearing these words right now has probably been imagining doing so for the past six months. The fact that you are reading these words is the effect. Something, some chain of events has brought these words to you at exactly this moment. So those events, in whatever form they came, were the cause that through karmic connection led to the result that you are reading or listening to these words right now. I do not think there is anybody who one year ago was planning that at precisely this time and this place you would be reading or listening to exactly these words.
Within our essence we have this place where there are things that are fine if they happen, and fine if they don't happen. And within that, you are at this very moment reading or listening to these words. But if we ask why that is so, there is nothing that can be decided or fixed or planned or said to have created your life so that you came to be reading or listening to these words at precisely this moment. This is the law of cause and effect. There is the result that then becomes in turn the cause, which with further karmic connections again becomes a result, which again with further karmic connections becomes a cause. This is the way that everything moves in the whole great universe that was begun so many millions of years ago. This same cause and effect led to the creation, a few million years ago, of the Milky Way and then the planet Earth. Earth and all human beings will eventually in the same way that they came forth be destroyed and no longer exist.
Does that mean, then, that everything that was ever begun will be destroyed? It is not like that. Within this great universe, a cause, with karmic connections, again becomes an effect, and the karmic connections again become a cause. Everything is always changing, continually changing, and then again continually changing. There is no fixed substance, nothing that is real in that way. We have many different eras. We have many different things that are happening even on this planet Earth at the same time with the same cause and effect. This process of change is something that is eternal; it has had no beginning and will have no end. This is the way of looking at things from the eye of the Buddha.
It was often asked of the Buddha how these things work. He would always teach this law of cause and effect. This is how everything in the whole universe is affected and ruled. Maybe the closest thing we have today to how the Buddha was teaching about this is science. Within this continuing cause and effect, there is no such thing as an absolute “I,” an absolute center, as we consider ourselves. Just as science is teaching that there is no absolute universe that we can find in some shape and form, we likewise cannot find any shape and form for some absolute I, even though we refer to ourselves in that way. Even though we are always feeling that there is an I who is getting irritated, upset, and making people unhappy all the time, where do we find this thing called an absolute I?
We often hear in Buddhism about that wheel of death and birth. In fact, this was already a teaching being given in India before the birth of the Buddha. When we talk about this wheel, what is being referred to is this continuing cycle of cause and effect. This wheel of birth and death, in India in the ancient times, had six different stages that were always following each other in a cycle, repeating themselves. These six worlds or stages were the realm of hell, the realm of the hungry ghosts, the realm of the angry gods, the realm of the animals, the realm of humans, and the realm of the heavenly beings.
We hear especially in Tibetan Buddhism about reincarnation, about the cycle of rebirth, and about these six realms, and we often wonder how this works and what it means. But what I think the Buddha was teaching was that it is only a matter of whether in every single moment we are functioning from that awakened Mind or not functioning from that awakened Mind. This awakened Mind is not something that we must wait until our next life to be able to experience, depending on how we live this life; whether we live every moment from this awakened state of mind or whether we cloud it over is what the Buddha was talking about. It is not taught anyplace in the sutras that we will have a next life; these six realms are not something that we will experience when we are reborn in another life. They could apply to different parts of society; they could apply to different aspects of our current life; they could apply to our various states of mind.
People often think: “I can't believe what this person says”; “I can't trust this person who is sitting next to me”; “I can't believe in this person who lives next door to me”; “I can't really trust that person down the street, I really don't believe what they say”–there is no hell more horrible than not being able to believe in our fellow human beings or even in people whom we know well. And then there are times when, without knowing why, we become irritated and upset and angry, when for no reason at all many kinds of deep, irritated feelings come up and we hurt someone's feelings and make them feel bad, with no control over what we are doing–these are the feelings of the angry guardians. Sometimes, even though we have everything we need, even though we have had enough to eat, we want more, we just have to have more; we're not really hungry, we don't really need anything, we just want more–this kind of greediness is the realm of the hungry ghosts. Sometimes, we do something about which we are just so embarrassed, about which we become so deeply ashamed, that we are unable to tell anybody about it–this is the world of the animals. Sometimes we truly reflect on and regret the things we have done, reviewing our behavior and working to change ourselves, thinking, “I just really shouldn't have done that” or “I wish I hadn't said that”–this is the world of humans. And sometimes we forget ourselves completely while enjoying the pleasure of music, or sports, or some wonderful pastime in which we are so happy that we become absorbed in it totally–this is the world of heavenly beings.
The realm that is most central for us here is that of humans: we experience this realm when we know shame, when we know a feeling of wanting to better ourselves, when we want to make progress and develop within. We may think that the best way to be born is in the realm of the heavenly beings, but in fact heavenly beings are so busy having a good time satisfying themselves that they are unconcerned with the pain and suffering of the people around them. At the same time, they have no need to review and be concerned with their own behavior. For example, if we were only in the world of heavenly beings, when we heard that there are several billion people on this earth who do not have enough food, or that many billions of people are suffering, we would have no need, no reason, to pay attention to any of these great desperate needs of others. If we cannot realize this great value of being born as a human being and work from there and develop and deepen our consciousness, then we are not making full use of the worth of being born as humans.
One time when the Buddha was walking with his disciple Ananda, he stopped and put a little bit of sand on his fingernail. He said to his disciple, “Ananda, which do you think is greater, the amount of sand I have on my fingernail, or the amount of sand on the whole earth?” And Ananda said, “Well, obviously, there's far more sand on the whole earth than there is on your fingernail.” And the Buddha said, “Yes, that's true, and it is the same with the beings that have been able to have birth as a sentient being–they are as many as the grains of sand of the whole earth. While those that have been able to receive human birth are as few as the number of grains of sand on my fingernail.”
What the Buddha was talking about here is not just that there is something splendid and wonderful and special about being born as a human. He was talking about the need to understand the true value of being human. With that comes the responsibility not just of being something that is splendid and special, but of understanding the value of all other living things–not just to be able to know that they are there but to know their value and to give that value great life. The Buddha taught how, while being in this birth as a human, we can give life to all of those various possibilities for awakening to our own deep wisdom. And he gave six paths for the doing of that.
First, he said that you must become still and directly perceive all things that exist, from the very smallest, to all humans, to the planet Earth, to the whole universe. You must make your vision wide. We cannot look only at the small, narrow place where we ourselves are, where our small personal self is. We must widen our view to include all things that exist, all of society, all of the people there, everything that is. This is the mind of charity. This is that mind where we take what we have been offered and offer all of it to society. People who live in this state are always giving.
For us to be able to give, whether what we are giving is money, material things, or work, no matter what it is, to help develop things in society by giving–this is what enables us to let go of our own attachments. We are able to see the oneness of all beings in the doing of this. When we feel that we have to defend ourselves, we become tense and our thoughts become rigid, but when we are able to blend in to everyone else and see what is best for everybody, becoming one with them and filling everybody else's needs as well as our own, our mind becomes soft, our thoughts become easy, and we have an abundant and free feeling.
The Buddha said that even if you don't have money or material possessions, you can still give of your pure, bright mind. He listed seven things that can be given even by those without any money or material possessions. The first is kind eyes. It's often said that our eyes speak more than our mouths. If we are feeling difficult in our minds, then our eyes become very sharp and pointed-looking. If we have a clear mind, then our eyes are kind and easy and bright in looking at people and in being looked at. To give kind eyes to someone is free, and it is only up to your own creative and inventive efforts to find ways to go about doing that.
The second thing that can be given without money or material wealth is a kind, smiling face. You do not need any money or possessions in order to offer someone a kind, smiling face. The third thing is kind words and speech–not to speak to somebody as if you are rejecting them or pushing them aside but to offer kind words, words of support, words of love. Such words are also only up to your own creative and inventive ideas, and they are also free. The fourth is a kind, empathetic mind. When we have a kind, empathetic mind that really sees someone else's state, then all these other things come forth from it. But we have to be able to let go of our own small self-concerns and see clearly the concerns of someone else. That place where empathetic mind is expressed in words and expressions and in the way in which we encounter people, that is what is most important.
The next two are perhaps dated and of a particular context at the time of the Buddha. They are to give your seat and to give your home. These are things to do with kindness, at that time especially, because to give everything you possibly can in these ways is to contact society with kindness. The seventh is giving of your body, which means participating in things like volunteer work by providing your labor, by using your physical efforts to help someone else.
Of course, these are not all separate things. Your eyes, your face, your words, your mind, your body–all of these ways of being kind work as one, and you express being kind through the combination of them all. But of all these things, what is most important is that you do not have any sense left of “what a good thing I've done” or how much you did for someone else, or any remaining speck of self-satisfaction about having offered these things.
For the person who is giving, what is most important is to be able to be very thankful, not with a thought of having given something, but thankful for the chance to be able to move and function and offer and be in a position where it is possible to give something–to be thankful for the fact that you can function and offer whatever it is you give. If we think about that time in a person's life when they need to be taken care of, when they can only take and take without being able to give anything in return, then we see how fortunate we are when we are able to give something. To be able to give something without having any sense of how we have given or that something has been given is what is most important.
Likewise, for those who receive it is most important to be able to receive without any feeling of having been given to, with no trace left behind of how they received or what they received. If you have in the giving of something even one small thought of the fact that you are giving it, then the person who is receiving it bears a deep burden from that. When we are giving we need to, even when we are in the midst of functioning or helping, let go of even the smallest bit of thought of “I am doing this” or “I am doing this for someone.” The true mind of charity is that mind that is clear and fresh and clean and empty. The Buddha taught that to let go of ourselves completely, without any sense that we have given or of what we have given, is the basic, true root of charity. This mind of charity is the first path for giving life to our possibilities as humans.
The second path is to align our clarity of mind so that we do not take life unnecessarily, do not steal or own things in a way that is possessive, do not deceive people, do not lie, do not become intoxicated, and do not become misled. In aligning our mind, we have to not hold on to things that have passed, or dream about things that we are afraid are going to come, but always to live clearly and freshly in this present moment.
While we know that we should not hold on to previous things or dream about things to come, we also need in our lives to be able to review our behavior. Reviewing our behavior and planning how to live in the future are techniques of living. These are necessary things for everyone to do; they are not particular to clarity as a state of mind. We have to learn from our behavior, and therefore we have to look into our past. We have to make plans for things to come, and therefore we have to look toward our future. If we do not look at how we are behaving, what we are doing in terms of good and bad, we will not know what we should continue and what we should not do any more. Again, these are techniques for living; they are not states of our clear Mind, in which we are always in the present moment.
The third path, which is most frequently translated as patience, is not really patience, nor is it endurance or humility, as it is otherwise translated. Rather, the meaning is to receive everything exactly as it is, exactly as it comes. When we are told that we are about to die, when death is imminent, there are many emotions that we go through. The first one is that we do not want to believe it. The second one might be to become angry and even violent through not accepting it. And then we might try making a deal with God. And if this deal with God goes well, the state of mind we are able to realize is that state of mind of becoming completely accepting, of knowing something exactly as it is, facing it, taking it, and seeing clearly what is going on.
In fact, this is our basic and true nature. When we are born into this world we don't enter it saying, “I would prefer to be born to this house” or “I prefer to be living in this way.” When we are born we are all born exactly equal as babies. And we are accepting of everything that comes, not choosing and deciding how we want to be and how everything is going to go. Everything is equal and the same for each person at that time.
The fourth path is that of thorough efforts. How often we make efforts for a little while, and then when it gets too hard, instead of continuing we retreat and let go in the middle, giving up. Our efforts need to be until what we set out to do is fully actualized. It is like a teapot of water that you put on to boil. If you keep taking the pot off the heat before the water has reached the point of boiling, because you don't feel like keeping going with it, it will never get to a boil. If you put it on for a little while, take it off, put it on for a little while longer, and then take it off again, it will never get to the boiling point. When you are going to do something, you need to do it to the point where it is actualized and truly done.
The fifth and most important of all six of these teachings is that of samadhi, or deep quiet. The most important thing for us to be able to live well in this world is to know that stillness, that serenity of the quiet mind. In order to be able to see clearly, to know how to make the best decisions and how to function in the best possible way, we need to know a quiet place, that still mind.
The way to realize this quiet mind was taught to us in an excellent rule of Bodhidharma, who said to let go of all things, to cut all connections to things external to ourselves, and to let go of all concerns with things within our mind. To cut off all connections with the outside world does not mean to separate ourselves from everything–we cannot leave all physical things or all external things behind; we cannot live without having contact with things. What it does mean is that the problem arises when we become caught by and attached to everything we see or everything we hear. Because we do this all the time, we are not able to know that quiet place.
When we are caught and trapped by things, we lose track of our clear, pure nature. And at the same time within our minds we have so many varieties of thoughts: Is this right? Is this wrong? How should we do this? Should we do that? We judge what is good. We judge what is bad. All of these things are always going on, going around and around inside us. Yet, at the same time, we get to thinking that we are not to think anything. This isn't right either; if we didn't have thoughts, we couldn't do anything. We have to be able to make plans and observe schedules in order to function well in society. But the actual essence of being alive is what is happening at this very moment, in each moment, in each moment, in each moment, in each place, in each place, and in each place. To still have things around us, to still have thoughts going on within us, but at the same time not to be caught or attracted to any of it–this is what we need to do.
And we ask in wonder, how can you do such a paradoxical and contradictory thing as to see and then not be caught by what you see? As to hear and not be caught by what you hear? As to have thoughts and not be caught by them? It is a very mysterious thing, but it can be done, and how it is done is through zazen. People often think of the idea of zazen and think of the form of a person sitting in meditation. In fact, that sitting posture is just the doing of zazen in a greenhouse. That is the form of it, the posture of it, but it is not the essence of it.
Doing zazen is while having a body to forget one's body completely. People are doing this all the time in their daily lives. We could not function in our daily lives if we were thinking about things all the time. When you wake up in the morning and eat breakfast and go to work, you are not thinking about every single detail of what you are doing. Of course, if you're going to a job for the first time, you're considering how to go about doing it, but when you wake up and go to brush your teeth, do you have to think about how to go about brushing your teeth? What if every time you wanted to wash your face you had to first imagine whether to move the washcloth or to move your face? When you're eating you're not trying to figure out how to go about lifting the spoon or how to go about lifting the chopsticks. And when you're walking you're not thinking, “Is it my left foot that is going to go first or my right foot that is going to go first?” We do things in our daily lives all the time without thinking about how we do them–we do many, many things, naturally and spontaneously. This way of doing things without thinking about them is what zazen means.
We all have the capability of taking on new experiences and putting them within our way of doing things without having to think each time about whether something is a new experience or having to figure out again and again how we are supposed to go about doing each thing. That living energy is something that is always changing, always growing, always moving, not something that we have to stop and hesitate and consider in every moment of action. It is when our mind stops short and hesitates that all kinds of extraneous thinking, all kinds of delusions and confusions, can enter.
There is a story from old China about the man with the longest beard in the history of the country. His beard was so long, and he became so famous, that the emperor called the man to court so that he could see this very long beard for himself. So the man went, and the emperor said, “That truly is a great beard. I've never seen a beard so long. No wonder it is so famous. But could you tell me something? When you sleep, do you put that beard under your blankets or over your blankets?” And the man with the beard became very confused. He had never thought about what he did with his beard when he slept, but he didn't want to lie to the emperor by telling him something that wasn't true. He thought about it: did he put his beard over the blankets or under the blankets? He just could not figure it out. So he said to the emperor: “You know, I really must not lie to you. I cannot remember if I sleep with my beard over the blankets or under the blankets. I'll have to go home and find out.” And that night when he went to bed he tried putting the beard over the blankets, but it seemed to be tugging uncomfortably; he tried putting it under the blankets, but he felt suffocated by it. He was up all night long trying to figure out whether he had always slept with his beard over the blankets or under the blankets.
When we suddenly stop and try to figure out how we do things, when we become self-consciously aware of them, then we hesitate, and things are unable to flow; we stop their natural flow. To be able to move forward without being self-consciously aware of the things we are doing is what it means to be in deep samadhi. When people hear the words deep samadhi they always think that they refer to some kind of very still, quiet, unmoving state of mind that has no activity in it. In fact, what we are talking about here in this fifth teaching is that stillness which is in the midst of activity.
Finally, the sixth of these teachings by the Buddha is that when we are able to know that quiet, still mind, then our wisdom, our true, pure wisdom will be born. Wisdom and knowledge are two very different things. Wisdom is that with which we are born, while knowledge is something we acquire later. When we are using them, depending on which we are using, they have very different results. One way of putting it is that the vessel that holds knowledge is the vessel of wisdom. If we absolutely have wisdom, if we actually are expressing our wisdom, then there is no way that we can mistakenly make use of our knowledge. Wisdom arises when our eyes can see correctly, when our ears can hear correctly, and when we can use our bodies correctly. And what it means to do these things correctly is to do them without any sense of ego, without any filter of a small self or an egoistic you.
When we are making efforts to express ourselves, when we put a lot of ego into what we are doing and saying, it is impossible for our wisdom to come forth. When we become quiet in our mind and thus can see clearly, or hear clearly, then our wisdom can come forth. When we are able to see without preconceived ideas about things, without various filters, but to see with clarified eyes and hear with clarified ears, when we are using our senses in a clear way, then we can see what is true and our wisdom can come forth.
But among these six basic paths, the most important is that of deep samadhi, the deep, quiet mind. In this state of mind where we are quiet, then we naturally can see with a clear eye what is necessary, and from that quiet mind we spontaneously are able to give. We are able to align our mind well when it is quiet because when it is quiet it becomes aligned naturally. We are able to receive everything exactly as it is because in our quiet mind we are not resisting things, we are able to receive them clearly. So it is in this quiet mind that we are able to observe all of these various ways of being and these kinds of wisdom.
And to be living in this state of mind, with these various forms of expression, is what is called compassion in Buddhism. What it means to be able to volunteer and help people is to be compassionate. This word compassion is a very important word to understand clearly. In Buddhism the word love is not frequently used, because love can so easily be misinterpreted as a personal love–even an egoistic love–as opposed to a love for all beings. For that reason, the word that is popularly used in Buddhism is this word compassion. What this word means is that we put our entire life into what we do, that we throw ourselves away completely in the doing of what we are doing.
The word for compassion in Japanese has two parts. The first part of it means to give joy, to give the joy of living to all beings, to offer someone the possibility of realizing this joy of living. The second part of it means to take away the suffering of all beings, to take away their suffering completely so that they can know that joy of being alive. To give joy to everyone, to bring everyone joy that they can know, is the job of compassion. And to take away the suffering that prevents that joy from being known is the other half of it, the other face of it. What it is called when we give our life to the awakening of this deep mind of compassion, one name for it, is to awaken our Bodhisattva spirit. To help everyone realize the joy of being alive is what the word compassion means. And we vow to have to do this. Unless we are able to do this, there is no way that we will be able to bring liberation to all of the many people suffering in the world.
The manifestation of compassion that we are familiar with in Buddhism is that of Kwan Yin or Avalokiteshvara or Kannon. In understanding true compassion we have in our own time the amazing, miraculous example of Mother Theresa, who not only gave everything she had but in fact gave her whole life to caring for others. She is such an exemplary figure for us–someone who gave every single bit of her life, offering it up to society in order to care for others.
A year before her death Mother Theresa wrote a letter protesting the planned execution of Frankie Parker in the state of Arkansas. Unfortunately, those many letters written protesting his execution were not successful. But she had a great influence at that time by writing a letter on his behalf. Even though Frankie Parker was a person who had been convicted of murder and was scheduled to be executed, he, like everyone else who commits a crime, was also the child of a mother somewhere. To enable people to see the preciousness of this one person's human life, many letters were written; many people protested this execution, yet those voices were not heard, and he was still executed.
It could be said that everyone who ends up committing a crime as Frankie Parker did has met with bad circumstances; they have in their life had bad conditions. If any of us were to be in the same circumstances, for us to act in exactly the same way is possible. Each one of us could become someone who would kill another human being and also have to be executed. As the Buddha said, it is a very precious thing to have been given the gift of human life. Yet even though we have been given this precious gift of human life, sometimes we meet with circumstances in a particular human life that can even lead to us having to be executed. The Buddha, seeing through this, said, “It is a life of suffering to have the life of a human being.” All humans suffer. He saw through this well.
If we are someone who has experienced a lot of suffering, how very thankful we are for someone's kind words, for someone's warm heart. Someone who hasn't experienced a lot of suffering does not know the deep gratitude that can be felt for such simple gestures as a kind word or a kind smile. In the very first Dharma talk the Buddha ever gave, he taught that this world is suffering–as it is, to be in this world is to experience a life of suffering. The Buddha taught us that there are four great sufferings in life: to be born, to be sick, to get old, and to die. If we see life as suffering, then whatever comes to us during our life that is not suffering we can accept as great happiness. But if we decide at the beginning that life should be only happiness, our suffering will be even greater when it comes.
If we could actually say or know that we would live an entire lifetime without ever becoming ill or having the people around us become ill, that would be wonderful. But that's not how it is. We do get sick. The people we care for also become sick. As we get old, our body doesn't always do what we want it to do, our life doesn't always go as we wish it would; when we try to get along with people of the younger generations, the gears don't mesh so well. Many things that make us unhappy and are difficult come to us as we get older in life. And that pain and challenge and difficulty of dying–no matter how we try, there's no way to avoid that; we all will have to experience it in this lifetime.
All of this is great suffering. It has to be looked at straightforwardly. This is how our life is. If we are living a life, this is what also comes. And what is the cause of this pain and suffering? It is because we gather and collect and are attached to many things, many people, many possessions, much money–we are constantly wanting to collect and gather and hold onto and keep and possess. Within the many kinds of suffering there is one that involves having to separate from someone we love. No matter how much we love someone, no matter how dear they are to us, the time will come when we will have to separate from them. And there are also people who, although they are difficult or challenging or cause conflict, we end up having to be with all the time. And then there is the difficulty of trying and trying for something, really searching and seeking for it, but still not being able to attain it.
And then there are things that if we just hadn't seen them, or we just hadn't heard about them, or we just didn't know about them, we wouldn't have had to suffer. But we did see them, we did hear about them, we did know about them. In verse sixty-three of the Dhammapada the Buddha gave us the teaching that “The fool who knows his foolishness is wise at least so far. But a fool who thinks himself wise, he is called a fool indeed.” There was one philosopher who said that the deepest philosophy of any person is to know that human beings don't know anything. And scientists as well say that no matter how much they understand and research and realize, there are still many, many things that they cannot realize and still do not know anything about.
In the teachings of the Buddha there are many thousands of sutras with millions of words written there, and it could take you the rest of your lifetime to read all of them. There was someone who read all of them four times and said there was nothing there that can be called the truth, that can tell us exactly what is really happening. In the sixth-sixth stanza of the Dhammapada it says, “Fools of little understanding are their own greatest enemies, for they do evil deeds which must bear bitter fruits.” Humans are worse than poisonous snakes or wild animals or crazy gangs. Even the most poisonous snake or the wildest animal would never do something like putting human beings into oppressive prison cells and executing them. The Dhammapada continues that it is because we are so centered on ourselves, because we love our small selves so much, that human beings become like that. For Frankie Parker as well it was because of this self-centered concern that he did those things that cut off his rights as a human being. It was through his own behavior, even knowing what the results of it would be in our society, that those things happened. The Buddha said that in our hearts we have places like poisonous snakes, like wild animals, and like crazy gangs. In our own hearts we all have these places.
The third of these great four teachings–the first being that all human beings have a life of suffering; the second being that we have that suffering because we gather and accumulate and possess–is that to liberate ourselves from that suffering we have to let go of all of those extraneous thoughts and ideas and opinions of things that we hold so dear. To let go of all of those things, all of those thoughts and ideas, is the only way to gain liberation from suffering.
The fourth of these four basic truths is a teaching called the Eightfold Path, in which the Buddha taught how we can liberate ourselves from this deep suffering. When the Buddha gave this teaching, there were several monks who decided that in order to give life to and realize this teaching of the Buddha, they would have to leave society. They felt that they could not do it within society, so they went to live in an isolated place to follow his ways of teaching. At the same time, there were many who wanted to be able to do the same but could not leave their houses, they could not leave their families and their jobs, so they asked, “How is it possible? How can we go about realizing this true and actual happiness, this true deeper happiness while living in society”?
On the morning of December 8, the Buddha when he saw the morning star was deeply awakened to his True Nature and had a deep enlightenment experience. At that time he said, “How wondrous! How wondrous! This bright clear Mind to which I have just been awakened–every single living being is endowed with this same bright, clear Mind.” Everyone has this same Mind. There is no exception. But, because people are so full of extraneous thinking, so full of extraneous ideas and desires, they are not able to realize this clarity of mind, the deep, bright Mind, even though there is not one single person who has not always had it from the origin.
That which every single being is endowed with is what I am talking about. It is often called Buddha Nature. Another name for the Buddha Nature with which all beings are endowed, this clear nature, this clarified nature, is the great compassionate mind. This great compassionate mind is something that every single person already has. But because it is covered over with so much extraneous thinking, it is not always apparent and accessible.
To realize this true mind of compassion, the Buddha first had to pierce through that mind of ego. It is impossible, of course, for us to live our everyday life without our ego. The point is not to get rid of it. But unless we pierce through and go beyond the ego, we cannot realize this true mind of great compassion. The person who first awakened to that and taught us about it is the Buddha. If we can just once pierce through and go beyond that place where the ego is controlling us or where we are so attached to the ego, what we find is a mind of great serenity, great stillness, and great compassion.
First we need to believe that this clarified tool, original Mind, is the mind of compassion. And then, through these six paths that we have talked about, these six ways of expressing our wisdom as human beings, we can take this clarified mind and put it to use in our lives so that we can behave in that way, from that wisdom, with that compassion. When we have the deep realization that all beings in society are ourselves, that everything is just one unified whole, with that will come naturally a state of mind of being compassionate. And as we live in that deep compassion, which we need to believe in and have faith in, as we live from that point of deep compassion, things that happen and that we see will give us proof for that belief, and we will know how that mind of compassion works in this world in which we are all one.
That great, still mind of compassion is often explained in terms of the metaphor of a mirror, as a mirror-like transparency or clarity of mind. This does not mean that we have some kind of a mirror in our mind; rather, it is that our mind in its quality of clarity is just like a mirror. A mirror reflects everything exactly as it is, perfectly, because it does not have any choices of liking and disliking. It does not have any opinions; it does not have any special feelings about things. Because it does not have any egoistic clutter, it can reflect things exactly as it sees them, with complete clarity.
A mountain is reflected in the mirror as something that is tall and high, and a river is reflected as something that is low and flowing. At the same time a mirror also reflects each and every thing just as each individual thing is. Someone who is sick is reflected exactly as a sick person. A man is a man; a woman is a woman. All people are reflected exactly as they are without any modifications because nothing is being held onto by the mirror.
The mirror's ability to reflect is always the same, yet those things that it is reflecting are not the same; a mountain, a river, a sick person, or a healthy person is each reflected exactly as it is. But we are not just like that mirror. We have a function. We are able, while seeing things exactly as they are, to lend a hand, to put out our energy. If we see someone who needs a helping hand, we can put our hand out right away. We are able, while reflecting people exactly as we see them, also to extend our energy and act from that place of seeing them exactly as they are.
In our mirror-like mind, all of us have these four varieties of wisdom. We are endowed with them from the origin. One of these four kinds of wisdom is that our mind is mirror-like. The second is that we see everything equally. The third is that we see everything exactly as it is. And the fourth is that we are able to function according to each and every thing that we see. However, while every single person is endowed with these four wisdoms, because we have egoistic points of view–we think, “I want to do this, but I don't want to do that”; “I like this, but I don't like that”–because we clutter up our minds with those points of view, we are unable to use all of these four kinds of wisdom.
In order to use this mind of compassion to its fullest capacity, we need to bring forth that true spirit of the Bodhisattva. To do that we have to let go of that heaviness, let go of those burdens of the small self, of the ego; we need to give everything up, give it up for society, in order to give society all of our bright light. And what that mind of compassion, that spirit of the Bodhisattva, says is that even if I have not been liberated yet, I will do everything I possibly can to liberate those in society. Thus the first thing we have to do is throw ourselves away completely and give everything to society that we possibly can. To vow that we will do whatever we can in that way is the vow of the Bodhisattva, the spirit of the Bodhisattva.
With just the raising of this vow, the way in which we are going to live our whole life is already decided. What we do and how we live the life we are living are permeated by this vow. In this way, it is taught that just raising this vow is the same as already realizing deep enlightenment. When we are committed to this vow, it is the same as having the experience of deep enlightenment. It can be compared to getting on a ferry. When you get on a ferry, unless for some very unusual reason the ferry gets lost, then you are going to reach the other shore. When you make this deep vow, then without fail you will realize the ultimate goal. The making of the vow is the same thing as the realization of the goal. But the people who never get on the ferry will never get to the other side.
There is a very important teaching hidden here. With just that deeply committed vow, the full way of our life is decided. All of us like to be respected and loved and given lots of attention. Everybody likes that a lot. When things are going the way we like, we are all very easy with everything, and everything in our lives seems to be just fine. When we encounter people who are prejudiced against us, who insult us, who do things we dislike and treat us badly, then how difficult things become. But if the direction of our life is set, if our vow is deeply made, even when those things happen to us, we have a way to move through them. When we have a deep, firmly determined vow, it gives us a center point that enables us to move through those things that are unpleasant and usually difficult to handle. When we make such a vow we have fewer delusions and less confusion. We know what to do when we are with people, and no matter what happens to us, the way to move through it is shown to us by how this vow needs to be kept.
But first we have to give rise to this vow of the Bodhisattva spirit. And maintaining this vow may be far easier for someone who has been on this path for a long time, working for many years toward clarifying their mind and being able to practice toward the realization of that vow. For a person who is just deciding, “I'm going to give rise to a Bodhisattva vow,” it is not always so easy. Just because they have given rise to the desire for that vow, it does not mean that things will happen so simply. Somebody who has just been given their driver's license might say, “I have my license, and I'm not going to have any accidents now.” But when they go downtown where the traffic is so heavy and everything is so busy and all the cars are coming at them and turning every which way, they don't know what to do. Just because they have a license now, it does not mean they are not going to have any accidents. In the same way, just because we have decided to make the Bodhisattva vow, just because we know we should be doing it, that does not mean we are not going to have great disappointments and backslidings and have a hard time doing it. That is a part of it, and we have to work through that. And we can because we have this vow.
To help us be able to observe and live in terms of this Bodhisattva vow, we need to learn how to align our mind. For doing this, the Buddha has taught us how to let go of all of these extraneous thoughts and all of these various delusive ideas we are always holding onto. For being able to live in this vow of the Bodhisattva, we need to practice in a way in which we can maintain the alignment of our clear mind. To be able to practice, to apply ourselves to maintaining that clear mind, is also a very important part of this vow. People say very simply to do zazen, but for doing zazen we have to first align our physical body, then align our breathing, and finally align our state of mind. All three of these things have to be aligned and unified for it to be zazen.
What it means to align your body is to use your body correctly. What it means to use your body correctly is to maintain your balance and keep a full, taut feeling in the lower half of your body, while keeping the top half of your body very light and easy. Even if we do nothing but stand up, our ki wants to rise also. So in order to live in the healthiest, most correct way, we need to be always practicing so that our ki is kept low and balanced. One of the mains points of aligning your posture correctly in zazen is to feel that great pulse that moves from the bottoms of your feet, up your spine, and out the top of your head. We align our bodies in zazen by feeling the flow of the ki. What it means to straighten your back–for people who have a little bend in their back it doesn't mean to be only physically straight–is to sit so that the energy can go right up your spine in a straight way. When you can sit like that, the flow of your ki is free and unburdened, and that is what we mean when we talk about the proper alignment for the doing of zazen.
After we have our posture aligned, we next have to align our breathing. The way we align our breathing is by breathing so that we exhale completely and keep our center low. In everyday life especially, we can use this breathing in our work and in our other activities to keep ourselves settled and to keep our balance low. We have to learn to breathe in such a way that we keep our ki low, exhaling completely and inhaling naturally. First we exhale completely, all the way to the very final point of the exhalation, all the way down to the very bottoms of our feet. Then we let the inhalation happen naturally. Each day we should do this kind of exhalation many times, making the breath fully extended and bringing our ki down completely.
When we breathe in this way, we will naturally use the best posture for the doing of that. We had a famous pianist named Alexis Weisenberg who came and performed for us in the hondo, the great hall, at Sogenji–he even brought his own piano. He was sitting with such a straight back at the piano that I asked him, “Were you taught that posture when you were learning to play the piano, and do you teach it when you are teaching your students to play the piano?” He said no, that he had not been taught to sit with his back so straight. Everybody loves music; there are very few who do not like music. But those who are especially gifted at it, those who will be able to play music as their life's work, will discover for themselves what their best posture is for playing. If you try to tell them, “You should use this posture” or “You should use that posture,” they will just become resistant, and that resistance will get in the way of their being able to play well. When people are doing what they want most to do, with everything they have, then the most appropriate posture will naturally come out of their wanting to do whatever that is in the best possible way. When we are doing what we most want to do, no matter what it is, then our posture is always the correct posture for that thing which needs to be done. This is true of zazen as well.
In the same way, when we are doing something that we really want to be doing, that we really love to do, then our breath naturally becomes aligned in the doing of that thing. We do many, many things in our lives; when we are working from this true place of essence, when we love what we are doing, our posture and our breath will naturally be aligned in the doing of that. Again, it is the same with zazen. As human beings we always have everything that we already need; it is already within us.
Because I am always talking to people and showing them how to do zazen and teaching the way of zazen, naturally the way of breathing I have described has become what I do. In fact, I have never been taught about breathing, or learned how to do it from someone else. Because it was necessary, I learned how to do it myself. The zazen breathing is not something that you can be forced to do or learn to do by imitating what someone else does; you learn it because you need to do it to do zazen. That mind of zazen, that aligned mind of zazen, is the same as when you want to do something for someone, and without thinking you just do it, spontaneously, with no thought of a reward or of a self doing it. But because it is hard to know what it means to do zazen this naturally and this spontaneously, I give these pointers and guide people as I do in the way to do zazen.
When you do this breath, when you exhale completely, then suddenly your head becomes crisp and clear, fresh and renewed. With just that one complete exhalation you can think in a fresh way and your whole body becomes refreshed. As it says in the Dhammapada, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought.” When our mind is clarified and pure, then everywhere we are is clarified and pure in the same way that a shadow follows behind an object. In this way what it means to be clarified and pure is to be that mind which is free from any extra clutter. When we breathe out, exhaling completely, and align our posture and breathing, then we are able to let go of all of this clutter. That is what it means to be able to live in this clarified state of mind, in this great joy of the clear Mind.
We are always thinking, “Oh, I should have done it that way,” “Oh, it should be done this way,” “Oh, I have to do it this way.” We are always thinking about so many shoulds and coulds and about what had to be done that we didn't do. Our heads are full like that all the time. But when we exhale completely, we can let go of all of that. When we go on with those thoughts over and over again, we become impatient and frustrated and irritated; but just by exhaling completely we can let go of all of those things and return to our clarity of fresh mind. This deep breathing enables us to see that from the origin there has been nothing to be caught by, nothing to be stuck on whatsoever, not even once.
The mind of true compassion is a way of being. To be able to realize this place where it is not your ego that is functioning all the time, but where you have gone beyond that small-thinking process, is to function with true compassion. This is how we can live our daily lives when we are able to function in this clarified state of mind.
What I ask is for everyone to first give rise to this Bodhisattva vow. If we live in this vow, supported by this zazen, having this vow allows us to know which way our life is going. Having this vow decreases our delusions and our confusions. We know how to respond to each and every experience and occasion because of this vow. To be able to live in this vow gives our life clarity and purpose. There is no need at all to be without joy and without purpose when we have this vow clearly established. If we can live in this vow, with compassion clearly established and living through us, then we will be able to bring compassion to all of the people we encounter, to all of those many billions on this whole earth and those billions who are suffering as well. We will be able to bring them also the opportunity to realize this Bodhisattva vow. For that to be what we can do, in the twenty-first century, is the truth that will bring everyone to this place of love and harmony and compassion. That is my hope for that time.
All of us need to be able to realize that we are one in society and that each and every one of us has this same mind of deep compassion–that every single one of these many billions of people on earth also shares and is endowed with this mind of pure compassion. If we can know this and can believe in that pure mind of compassion of all these billions of people, then without fail in the twenty-first century there will be the true religion for all people. If we can all trust and believe in that mind in each other, then we will truly be able to find a world of peace. This is my greatest hope for the century to come.
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