The experience of emptiness and meditation with the whole body

The experience of emptiness ‘So in Emptiness there is neither form nor sensation, thinking, impulse nor consciousness; no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body nor mind; no form, sound, smell, taste, touch nor object of mind; no element of eye, nor any of the other elements, including that of mind-consciousness. ’ Meditation with the whole body This is the Emptiness of actual experience, the Emptiness of entering faith and attaining realization, not something just thought about in the head. It is not a concept; the meaning is Emptiness of actual experience. Master Dogen says in his Bendowa classic: ‘All are fully endowed with it, but while there is no practice it is not manifest and while it is not realized there is no attainment.’ All have the potentiality but the fact is that, unless it is practised and realized, it does not become real. Now I set forth the essential points of the practice of Zazen or sitting-in-meditation, strictly following the exposition of Dogen. The monk must always begin Zazen by sitting in the correct posture. After that he regulates the breath and controls the mind. In the Mahayana there is also a method of observing the breath, whether the breath …

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The world without increase or lessening

If as the Sutra says it is neither increased nor lessened, then we may suppose that it must be an amount. In such case, is it large or small? But no. Long and short, square and round, these are the qualities of relative size, but the world of Emptiness transcends the relational amounts. So Zen master Dogen says: ‘Turning in the fingers a vegetable stalk, he establishes the temple of the Lord of Dharma; in every grain of dust entering, he revolves the wheel of the Law.’ In the monastery there is the Tenzo or one who is in charge of the food, and this is in the instructions for the Tenzo. Those in charge of the food, when they pick up the stalks in their fingers, must do it with the same firmness as establishing the temple of the Dharma-Lord, who is the Buddha. When the cook takes up the vegetable stem, it must be with the same power as building a mighty temple for the installation of the Buddha. Sweeping an almost invisible grain of dust, he must express the power by which the Buddha turned the wheel of the Law by his preaching. From the world of …

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The world transcending values

In one of his sermons, Zen master Dogen speaks of realization as knowing that the eyes are at each side with the nose straight down in the middle. No longer deceived by others, he returns with nothing in the hands, without one hair of Buddhism ‘Realizing the eyes at the sides and the nose straight down, I was not deceived by others.’ Though a hundred, a thousand people come to cheat him, this sort of life is one which is not taken in. With us it is not so; when they whisper behind my back: ‘What nonsense the abbot is talking!’ I get the disturbing thought: ‘Am I?’ But Dogen, who has realized the eyes on each side and the nose in the middle, is never deceived by them The state of experience is expressed by the phrase ‘returning empty-handed’. I came back from China without anything in my hands, without bringing one scroll of the scriptures or any other kind of holy learning. I have not one hair of Buddhism Great Dogen says he has not one hair of Buddhism From this returning empty-handed came the great Soto sect with its 14,000 temples. In empty-handedness is there distinction of …

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Living hand-to-mouth

‘Neither defiled nor pure.’ These are clearcut words. In the world of Emptiness there is neither the so-called impure ordinary man nor what is called the pure Buddha. It transcends values, goes beyond price-setting. When we say ordinary man and sage, we are in the world of values where there are ordinary men and there are sages. Our life is all comparative values. What is his standing? What is he worth?—always on the basis of status. People are accorded standing on the basis of their value. That one has the standing of cabinet minister, that one of prefectural governor. This is the world of values. Zen master Dogen warns us: ‘He who is truly called a teacher must not lack the power to stand apart from rank, and must have the spirit of transcending distinctions.’ He must abandon considerations of rank and distinction, and unless he has the power and spirit to do that, he cannot be a true teacher. Caught in the toils of values, no one can be a true teacher. The ranks from which he must be able to stand apart include the ranks of ordinary man and Buddha. So it is that Emptiness is called holding …

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The world beyond birth-and-death

When Bodhidharma first saw the Emperor Bu of the Ryo dynasty, the latter was such a devout Buddhist that he was called the Buddha-heart Emperor, who would surely be the one to hear the true tradition. The Emperor asked: ‘Since ascending the throne I have built and endowed temples, distributed the sutras and supported monks and nuns; what has been the merit?’ He inquires what merit there is in these things. Bodhidharrna answered: ‘No merit.’ There is no merit in them—what a bleak reply! Buddhist priests nowadays don’t say such things. When the people contribute their tiny coins and ask: ‘Your Reverence, is it meritorious?’ we only say: ‘Merit without end!’ But Bodhidharma did not say that. No merit, was his reply, and the Emperor now asked: ‘How so, no merit!’ The great teacher, feeling the pathos of the question, told him that there was a little something—‘There are small fruits on earth and in heaven resulting from impure seeds, but it is like the pursuit of shadows and in reality nothing.’ ‘What you have done has some merit, but it is no more than chasing a shadow. It is not the real merit of true Suchness. For building temples …

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All these things, Shariputra, have the character of Emptiness, neither born nor dying, neither defiled nor pure, neither increased nor lesssened. ’ These phrases addressed to Shariputra teach the character of Emptiness. As Emptiness, it have no characteristic form. We may that even in Emptiness some form must remain, but there is no need for it to be so. The form is no-form The form of the true Suchness is the form which is negation. True form is spoken of as the form of no-form, and only so it be expressed. That form is nothing visible to the eye. It is the life of truth. The whole spirit of the Heart Sutra is that the real form, the form of Suchness, is no-form, and so it is said here. ‘All these things’ means the five skandha-aggregates. We are to discover the satori of Emptiness in these illusory forms, to awaken to the fact that the forms are at the same time Emptiness, and then there is no more the form of birth-and-death. The standpoint here is that the world of birth-and-death is just illusory sticking to self. By the time we have the thought that something has come, it has …

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Power to condemn, power to condone

The world of Emptiness is not some world without crying and without laughing. Emptiness in the tears themselves, Emptiness in the smiles themselves—this is the real Emptiness. Then the phrase is turned round: ‘Emptiness is not different from form’ When with all my might I plunge what is called my self into the heart of Kannon Bodhisattva and in that heart become completely naughted, then the laughter and weeping called form can for the first time have a meaning. Only as Emptiness have the forms their great meaning. ‘Now, just for today let me try.’ And then at the time when I wanted to burst forth like a thunderstorm, when I wanted to rage with the anger erupting in me, ‘just for today’ —and somehow I realized this blazing up for what it is, something which is blazing up, and then there was a taste of the state of liberation. That I was enabled to speak for that moment with the ill-feeling vanished from my heart was no power of mine. It is the power of Kannon. Through Kannon’s grace there comes a breath from the absolute: Emptiness is no different from form. Form and Emptiness cannot be separated however …

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