The true character of the Self

What then is our life of endless circling? It may be the mind arising beautiful as heaven, it may be the mind springing up as a hungry ghost; but both equally uncertain, because we have still to circle in the worlds of good and evil.

I am asked to speak before a congregation. I make my address just like a Jizo Bodhisattva, with the feeling that there is nothing in my hears. By the power of the knowledge of ultimate Emptiness, I speak in the Nirvana state, with nothing in the heart. And those who listen also are in the Nirvana state with noting in the heart. They are like Kannon Bodhisattvas.

And yet—this Jizo of mine, and those Kannons of theirs, are surprisingly unreliable. One day, when roused by some association, this Jizo becomes furious and looks like a hell-mask, and those Kannons put on the face of hungry ghosts. Life is so uncertain: where can we find a firm footing? Human life is always quivering with uncertainty. When the circumstances are good we do a little good, and when they are bad we may do anything . . . painfully the uncertainty of life is borne in upon one.

For some three weeks out of each month I am away from the temple. I am not often home, and so when I do come back I send a postcard two or three days beforehand, saying exactly what time, to the minute, I shall be at the tram-stop. Then I anticipate that I shall be met. The day comes. In the train I have a pleasant feeling, with nothing on my mind. And in the tramcar too there is the feeling of emptiness, my mind clear. Someone will be meeting me. I descend at the stop and look around, look everywhere, but no one has come to meet me. Not a soul . . . and where has gone the pleasant feeling, where has Jizo gone, where has faith gone, where has satori gone? I hardly ever get home, and I told them the exact time, and however busy they may be surely someone could meet me? These ignoble hell-feelings arise. This is the simple truth. However I try to suppress them they will not be suppressed. Such is the truth of one’s delusion of self. Why didn’t they meet me? I try to suppress it but I cannot, and that is the manifestation of what we are. Having done a little spiritual trailing in my life, I scold myself at making all this fuss in my heart over nothing at all, and pick up my bag and walk back to the temple. As I come up to the gate someone comes out. ‘I was just coming to meet Your Reverence, we got your postcard with the time, but there was an emergency suddenly, so please excuse us . . .’ And greeted by his smiling face this abbot’s hell-heart disappears. Why, of course, how natural it was! And I feel completely happy and content. The heart revolves endlessly. Suddenly angry, suddenly at peace, where can one find a firm foothold?

Going in I call: ‘A cup of tea, please.’ ‘Why yes, we have been expecting you and the water is on the boil!’ I feel more and more pleased. Nowhere like home.

But perhaps it isn’t like that. When I get to the gate, no one comes out. More and more annoyed I go in. ‘Bring a cup of tea’—my voice is as yet quietish. When there is no answer I call again, my voice a bit louder. Still no answer. Now I am shouting: ‘Aren’t you bringing that tea?’ Isn’t it pathetic? As I have shouted, so now there is a shout back: ‘Coming!’ It is a row already. In that ‘Coming!’ are a million shades of meaning. While the cat’s away we were getting on nicely and now the old man’s suddenly come back and as usual there’ll be a fuss over every little thing, he’s so crotchety. It’s all in the ‘Coming!’ I have caught it and cannot take that one word calmly. Suppose the tone was bad, yet is not the relationship of teacher and pupil most close, a relationship that cannot be severed?

And in the homes of the world, isn’t the parent-child relationship similarly close? Though the children answer rudely, though the disciple answers rudely, ought we not to be unmoved by it? I preach about human conduct, and I am supposed to be practising spiritual training, am I then so pitiable I cannot swallow one word without an upsurge of anger? When I am brought to penetrate to the truth of that I which is the truth of my self, when I realize what the self really is, then renunciation appears of itself and there is already freedom from the body and heart.

By the profound Prajna Paramita we penetrate to the bottom of life and know the truth of our selves, and then we cannot help renouncing. When the discipline has been done, crossing into the world of Nirvana by that renunciation, I see the world of liberation is already here.

by Abbot Obora of the Soto Zen sect

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