The Pure Land of Amitābha

In China and Japan many millions of Buddhists have been – and in Japan still are – devotees of the Pure Land doctrine. According to this a bodhisattva made a great vow which in time fulfilled itself as the manifestation of the Buddha Amitabha (infinite light), who created a Pure Land paradise in the West for those who would take his name with faith. From this Pure Land it was easy to attain final Nirvana. An old lady of this faith was walking along the road when she met a Zen master, who said to her, ‘On your way to the Pure Land, eh, Granny?’ She nodded. ‘Holy Amitabha’s there, waiting for you, I expect.’ She shook her head. ‘Not there ? The Buddha’s not in his Pure Land ? Where is he then ?’ She tapped twice over her heart, and went on her way. The Zen master opened …

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He knew a tremendous lot of Vedanta

A lecturer on Vedanta made a tour of the towns of northern India, dazzling the audiences with his erudition. He had a phenomenal memory, and his replies to questions were a revelation. The disciple of a traditional teacher went to one of these lectures, and was much impressed. On his return he asked his teacher about the lecturer: Ts he really as good as he seems? How much does he really know about Vedanta ?’ ‘Oh, a tremendous lot was the answer, ‘in fact, everything. And that’s all.’   © Trevor Leggett – A Tremendous Lot

The Buddha-nature in all is always perfect

‘You’ve often told us in your sermons that the Buddha-nature in all is always perfect, and their nature loses nothing even if the mind is disturbed, and gains nothing when the mind is calm. Why then do you tell people to control their passions and acquire peace of mind? On your own showing, nothing real is lost, for the true nature can never be lost or even diminished.’ ‘They think that they lose something, and that causes distress.’ ‘Then simply tell them nothing has been lost, It is wrong to treat it as if they did lose something by letting their mind run wild, and then tell them how to control it.’ ‘Let me tell you something that happened to me once. I was passing one of those fried eel shops; you know what a delicious smell there is when they are cooking. I didn’t want any eels, but without …

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Making amusing but biting comments at the expense of others

A teacher was having a meal with two pupils of some years standing, a man and a woman. The man knew that the woman, who had a witty tongue, occasionally used to make amusing but biting comments at the expense of others, and he suspected that she was not above inventing some details to give an extra edge to her little aggressions. Though generally likeable and kind-hearted, she could not resist taking an occasional opening which presented itself. During the meal, the teacher suddenly launched into a stream of vicious criticisms of someone well-known to all of them, producing wild slanders and accusations which they knew must be untrue. After a little, the two pupils cried out in protest, ‘Oh teacher, you can’t say that!’ The teacher’s flow stopped as if a tap had been turned off; after a little silence he began calmly to speak of something else. The …

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He never again lost his temper in public

A young and able businessman was hampered in his career by sudden outbursts of fury when he was contradicted in front of others – at a board meeting, for instance. He was making some attempts at spiritual training, and he consulted one of the senior members of the group. ‘I know you’re going to tell me to count backwards from twenty- nine or something like that, but the fact is that it’s so strong that all that just gets blown away. I see a sort of red mist coming in front of my eyes. Isn’t there something a bit more positive for people like me ?’ The senior looked at him, smartly dressed and clearly very careful about his appearance. ‘There might be, for someone like you as you say,’ he replied, ‘but you have to be willing to get a bit of a shock. Keep a little mirror in …

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And how do you think you have done?

A famous preacher of Vedanta had a pupil of sixteen years who, under his instruction, acquired a very fine knowledge of the philosophy. He did not teach him rhetoric, as he did not consider that the boy would make a good speaker. One day however the master suddenly became ill just before he had to address a gathering. On an impulse, he sent the boy to speak in his place, telling him to explain the circumstances, and then try to give a plain exposition of the fundamentals, as he had been taught. To his surprise, it was reported to him that the speech by his pupil had been a great success. A little later, kindly friends hinted that it had even been said that the pupil was a better speaker than his master. (‘Absurd, of course, but we felt you ought to know.’) The preacher pondered for a little while, …

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Samsara is Nirvana, the passions are enlightenment

The final word of Mahayana Buddhism, as expressed in the Garland Sutra of China, is that Samsara, this world of suffering, is Nirvana, and the passions are enlightenment, bodhi. It is only illusion that causes us to see differences between them. ‘Samsara is Nirvana, the passions are enlightenment.’ This formula has sometimes been taken as a sort of slogan, in isolation from the spirituality of the rest of the Sutra, like the remark of St Paul, ‘To the pure, all things are pure.’ A man who set himself up as a Buddhist teacher began preaching the slogan that passions are enlightenment, claiming to exemplify it by himself drinking heavily and frequenting brothels. This was reported to a real saint who remarked briefly, ‘No one who is a slave to passions can claim to see them as enlightenment.’ The teacher came storming round to the home of the saint and shouted, …

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Adhyatma Yoga is not Escapism

“Escapism” is one of the most damning terms in use to-day. It implies the shirking of moral and physical responsibilities, the lack of courage and fortitude to face life and its complexities—often self-made—and the building up of a mental world which does not correspond to actual fact. Men abhor cowardice, and although they may themselves be cowards, they hide it as best they may, and will not telerate it in others. Escapism is a form of mental cowardice, a psychological condition subconsciously resorted to by the mind. Thus to describe a philosophy or an ideal as ‘ escapist ’ is to bring it into disrepute. It is nevertheless a term often levelled at the man who becomes a follower of Adhyatma Yoga, and moulds his life in accordance with its philosophy, through practice, without which no philosophy is of any value. Before such an accusation can be proved or disproved, …

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Primate of the Soto Zen Sect on controlling the Mind

Zen in China and Japan is divided into two main sects, Soto and Rinzai. Though they agree on fundamentals, the training differs a little, the Soto practising what may be called the original Zen, deriving from Buddha’s own meditation practice, whereas the Rinzai stress the importance of wrestling with certain riddles, technically called Koan. A famous one is the Sound of One Hand: ‘Two hands are clapped and there is a sound ; what is the sound of one hand ?’ When the riddle is solved—and it cannot be solved by the intellect—the disciple is enlightened, and not till then. The Soto practice is nearer to that of Vedanta ; the Buddha heart is already in man, and he has only to realise it. So also Shri Shankara teaches the doctrine of ‘ nitya-mukta’, ever enlightened ; the veiling and bondage of the Self are only apparent, not real. What …

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It was thought that human society was evolving from lower to higher forms

In a long period of increasing prosperity, the Victorians enjoyed the first substantial benefits of the advancements of science and saw no reason to doubt that these would: multiply ever more abundantly, until all men would share in the riches and culture of an enlightened age. The’ Darwinian theory of biological evolution, suggested by’ analogy that human society was evolving from lower to higher forms, and it seemed that man, becoming aware of this, could consciously stimulate and hasten the process. Progress was the spirit of the age and science was her handmaiden. After a century of continuous expansion in science andf industry, we are not so sure of the infallible blessings of progress and we find that science, whilst conferring many; boons, is also capable of inflicting widespread destruction. The chemist produces the lethal gases of war as well as life-saving drugs. Sub-atomic investigation yields the hydrogen bomb as …

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Wisdom for Kings from the Vishnu Purana

Shri Parashara said :— Being infatuated by their attachment to their mortal bodies, how many kings have lived blindly, thinking of conquest only ! They never pause to think that this world belongs to no human being, and that God alone is the Lord of all. They have all died in despair, filled with anxiety and often assailed by ingratitude. How many of them have come and gone, how many are dying every year, and yet the present ones do not give up their greed for conquest. O Maitreya, listen to the following verses spoken by the Earth, which in ancient times the Muni Asit gave to King Janaka :— “ These kings think they are wise and yet they are blind to Truth ! They are convinced of the immortality of their body and the permanence of their power and glory, which is comparable to the bubbles on the …

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From a commentary on Rinzai-Roku

Translator’s Note: Omori Sogen is a well-known Zen Roshi, who was formerly a master of Kendo, Japanese fencing. He is also an expert calligrapher. This commentary is on the recorded sayings and doings of the Chinese Zen Master Rinzai, who taught in the middle of the ninth century A.D. Chinese words and names are rendered as the Japanese pronounce them. The old Zen master’s name is rendered in modem Chinese Lin-chi, but this is no nearer to how he himself would have pronounced it than the Japanese approximation Rinzai. In this translation I have omitted some Chinese places and names, and some references to Japanese works, which mean nothing to a modem Western reader. It is a peculiarity of Zen style, ancient and modern, that they deliberately juxtapose classical phrases with colloquialisms and even slang; the reader has to be prepared for this.) RINZAI TEXT The Governor and his officers …

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Categories Zen

Stillness in action

Stillness in the midst of action is the fundamental principle of Zazen (sitting in meditation). Some people think of Zazen as a sort of monopoly of the Zen sect, but the sect certainly has no monopoly of it. Zazen is the basis of the universe. Heaven and earth sit in meditation, every object sits in meditation. Knowing nothing of the Zen sect, all things are performing their meditation. What is called Zazen means to live at peace in the true basis of the universe, which is stillness. Movement is a secondary attribution: stillness is the real condition. Out of stillness comes all activity. For instance, the water of the ocean, when disturbance of wind ceases, at once goes back to the state of calm; the grass and trees, when the cause of agitation dies away, become as it were calm These things always return to rest in the stillness which …

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The sermon of no words

There is an ancient saying: ‘Better an inch of practice than a foot of preaching.’ It refers to the sermon preached by the body itself, through action and without speaking. The sermon of words and phrases is the finger pointing to the moon, the fist knocking at the door. The object is to see the moon not the finger, to get the door open and not the knocking itself; so far as these things do achieve their objects they are well. The object of the Buddha’s life of preaching was not to turn words and phrases. The Diamond Sutra compares his sermons to a raft, which is only an instrument for reaching the far shore. The sermon which is an instrument can be discarded after a time, but the real preaching—which is not discarded—is the preaching by the body itself. As to what that preaching may be, the truth of …

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Categories Zen

The dance of the Sennin

In China and Japan there is a tradition that certain spiritually enlightened sages live in the mountains, enjoying unbroken freedom and delight. They do not encourage disciples or give formal instruction, but their mere existence purifies the soul of the world. There is a traditional dance sometimes performed on the Kabuki stage in Japan, which expresses something of the inner life of two famous Sennin or mountain sages. The accompanying song was written by a Buddhist priest. Kanzan and his friend Jittoku were spiritual ‘lunatics’ who lived in China in the Tang dynasty well over a thousand years ago; the former was a well-known poet, and some of his poems still survive. In many paintings he is shown with a scroll. Jittoku (the name means ‘foundling’) was found abandoned at the gate of a monastery. He lived on scraps of food, and used to carry a broom with which he …

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The lotus in the mire

In times of famine, daughters of farmers allowed themselves to be sold to brothels in order to save the family. They took it as a sacrifice and did not lose their self-respect. Prostitutes were known as ‘lotuses in the mire’. Takuan was asked to write a poem on the picture of a prostitute. He wrote: The Buddha sells the doctrine; The patriarchs sell the Buddha; The great priests sell the patriarchs; She sells her body,— That the passions of all beings may be quieted. Form is Emptiness, the passions are the Bodhi. On another picture, of Bodhidharma facing a prostitute, was written: Against your sagehood what can I put except sincerity? *           *          * Zen master Mokudo when passing through the capital Edo was hailed by a prostitute from a second-storey window. He asked how she knew his name and she replied: ‘When you were a boy on the farm …

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Pieces in the Tigers Cave

The Shogun Iemitsu in early seventeenth-century Japan, was very interested in fencing, and kept several fencing masters at his court. Also in favour was the Zen master Takuan, from whom many of these masters took lessons in meditation and Zen. A wild tiger was sent from Korea to the Shogun as a present, and when the caged animal was being admired, the Shogun suggested to the renowned fencer Yagiu that he enter the cage and use the arts of fencing to approach the tiger and stroke its head. In spite of the warnings of the tiger’s keeper, Yagiu went into the cage with only a fan. Holding the fan before him he fixed his gaze on the tiger and slowly advanced. In face of the animal’s threatening growls he managed to hold it under a psychological dominance and just to touch its head. Then he slowly retreated and escaped from …

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The story of Sokko Konin

Here is an instance from the old records of Zen. A monk named Sokko enrolled as a pupil under the famous Master Hogen, but for a long time he never seemed to want to hear about Buddhism and never asked the master any questions about it. Then the teacher said to him: ‘You have been my disciple for three years now, but you have never inquired of me about Buddhism.’ In other words: Why is it that you ask nothing? The disciple replied: ‘Before I was with Master Seiho and I heard the doctrine and attained peace and bliss.’ He declares that under Seiho he obtained satisfaction, that he attained realization. Then the teacher said: ‘Through what words did you get what you sought?’ He inquires what was the phrase which brought peace to him Then Sokko related the passage of question and answer with his former teacher: ‘I faced …

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The great radiant mantra

Now the great radiant mantra. Without a speck of dust, bright like a mirror, the state of ultimate Emptiness reflects everything. A mirror leaves nothing unreflected. If a beggar comes it reflects a beggar, if a nobleman, then the noble. Whatever the form it reflects it, and this accommodation to any form is what is termed the bright mirror. Long ago Zen master Seppo asked: ‘What if you suddenly come upon a mirror?’ To which his disciple Gensha replied: ‘Into a hundred fragments!’ Smash it to pieces was his reply. For while the heart is caught by something called a bright mirror; it is no real mirror, no mirror at all. It happened a little time ago that a cabinet minister resigned, and he spoke of himself in the Chinese phrase: ‘Bright mirror, still water.’ Perhaps you will remember the incident. The meaning was that his heart was unmoved, that …

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The power of Prajna

‘Know then that the Prajna Paramita is the great spiritual mantra, the great radiant mantra, the supreme mantra, the peerless mantra, which removes all suffering, the true, the unfailing. The mantra of the Prajna Paramita is taught and it is taught thus: Gone, gone, gone beyond, altogether beyond; Awakeningfulfilled!!’ (Gate, gate, paragate, parasangate, bodhi, svaha!) This section we shall take in one. What is the wonderful power of the Prajna wisdom? It is the great spiritual mantra, the radiant, uttermost, the peerless mantra. Mantra is a Sanskrit word, which is usually translated ‘spell’. In a spell there is the feeling of something over and above the words, and so it is that the term was used for the words of the Buddha which have inexhaustible depths of meaning in them. In each word of Buddha there is a depth of meaning, and hence they felt them to be untranslatable. It …

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The Parent Heart

  I had a boy student in my temple whom we had brought up from childhood. He had a peculiar nervousness which made him unable to stand out in front of people and speak properly. There is a ceremony at which one who wishes to take a particular rank has to answer questions from a good number of questioners. Along with many other youngsters, this boy was to take the role of asking some of these questions. I say that questions are asked, but in fact the whole thing is rehearsed; questions and answers both are fixed. You say this, then he says that, and now you say this, and so on. We wrote it all down for him on a sheet of paper and told him he must learn it by heart, that he absolutely must know it by heart for the day. When the time came he went …

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The experience of contradictions

The Bodhisattva path is this: My I is not just the I which is being pulled along by karma. I struggle not to be drawn along by it. There is a faint experience of joy as I begin to realize the true character of that self which is still being pulled along In spite of all struggles. When one is told: ‘You’re angry today,’ he says: ‘No I’m not!’ In this world of contradictions, there is a joy in finding a certain flavour in those very contradictions. ‘Why you’re crying . . .’ and even though the tears are falling, she says: ‘No, I’m not crying.’ There is a flavour in this self-control, and it is the spirit of a baby Bodhisattva. Perhaps I am biassed, but it seems to me that after over a thousand years of Buddhism there is in the Japanese people something of a like spirit. …

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For the wise man, all is pain.

For the wise man,” says the Sutra, “ all is pain”. This may seem a stern statement, yet if it be examined and found true, the narrow path of detachment leading to the peak of discrimination will be more easily trod. ‘The wise man’ says Vyasa, in his commentary on the Sutras of Patanjali, is somewhat like an eye-ball: the minute spider’s web, when put in the eye causes pain by its touch, but it does not cause any sensation when put upon the other limbs of the body.” The wise man not only has a far more sensitive instrument than the average man, but has, in his interpretation of experience, the light of spiritual understanding. Not only is he more acutely aware of the aggregate of human pain, he is conscious of its significance. And it is because he understands (stands under, as it were) the sufferings of men, …

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The highest life

In Buddhism there are the Six Paths, which are worlds. And among them the world of humans alone is the noble one. These are the words of Master Dogen: ‘A human body is hard to attain, the holy doctrine is rarely to be met with. Now, by our accumulated merit we have attained human form which is hard to attain, and met the holy doctrine which is hard to meet with—in all the worlds this is the best life, this must be the supreme life.’ We must rejoice exceedingly at having been born in the world of men. For the Bodhisattva path of incalculable glory is only among men. Again he says: ‘In the heavens taken up with pleasure, in the four lower worlds sunk in suffering, there is no opportunity for spiritual practice, and the aspiration of the heart is not fulfilled.’ In the world of heaven they are …

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The experience of Nirvana

‘The Bodhisattva, since he is not gaining anything, by the Prajna Paramita has his heart free from the net of hindrances, and with no hindrances in the heart there is no fear. Far from all perverted dream thoughts, he has reached ultimate Nirvana. By the Prajna Paramita all the Buddhas of the three worlds have the utmost, right and perfect enlightenment. ’ As explained before, it is only by the power of the wisdom of ultimate Emptiness that we come to see that the inescapable clinging to life is what we are. Through that power comes the awakening to Emptiness. Now the phrase ‘he is not gaining anything’. If there is no life which has to be reduced,to nothingness then there is no Nirvana which has to be gained; if there is nothing to be thrown away, there is nothing to be grasped. Then what to do? For baby Bodhisattvas …

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Clinging to life

Among the congregation of a country temple was a wife who contracted a very serious illness. She had to go to hospital in a town some distance away and her husband wrote me that his was very ill and wanted to see me. He asked me to visit her. So I made the trip and went in. She said: ‘It’s so kind of you to have come. I had thought I might never see you again, and I wanted to tell you something. I’ve been listening to your sermons in ordinary times and heard your teachings, and I believed that I really had faith in the world of release. But since I have been ill and come into hospital, my usual faith has been killed. I’ve got this illness which they don’t seem to know what it is, and so all the more I ought to be remembering the Buddha …

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The Bodhisattva spirit

The Bodhisattva spirit is different. In the midst of desire and grasping, which we cannot do away with however much we try, in the midst of our deluded thoughts and ideas, we are to try to discover the world of release. Day and night our desire and clinging make us alternate between joy and sorrow, laughter and tears. If there is something within reach I want to get it, but for all my efforts I cannot—in this state of desire and clutching let me discover the true world of release. It is through the existence of this very desire and grasping, or rather through the gradual coming to see that the character of this desire and grasping is the character of my self also, that I can come to discover release, and having discovered it to taste it and then to continue practice in faith. This is the spirit of …

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The view of the Shravakas

Those called Shravakas see into the four Truths to obtain Nirvana of nothingness. These four Truths are said to be what is certain and without error. In the Sutra of the Last Teachings it is said: ‘The moon may become hot and the sun cold, but the four Truths taught by the Buddha will never change.’ Heaven and earth may be overturned but the principle of the four Truths will not be shaken. The four Truths stand on the doctrine of delusion, action and suffering already discussed. It comes down to this: Everything is delusion, action and pain. The present life is a result which has been incurred by delusion and action in past lives, and the doctrine of a power which brings about the result is the second Truth. The second Truth is that delusion and action in the past are, taken together, the fundamental cause of pain. They …

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The Pratyeka Buddhist view

The fact that however much we try to act rightly we are unable to act absolutely rightly is the result of the karma of our past delusion and action. However we try to give up evil we cannot altogether give it up, and this is the effect of the karma-energy from our past. Our life of fifty or sixty years’ suffering —and it must be called suffering—is just living all the time driven by karma through smiles and tears on the wheel of birth-and-death. Delusion and karma-action, considered as the Causes of suffering in life, are again analysed into twelve, and the method of practice of the Pratyeka Buddhas is to perceive them in tranquillity, concentrated in the centre of the heart. The Pratyeka Buddhas meditate on the twelve channels through which delusion, karma-action and suffering are the causes of human life. Here is the list: Ignorance, impulse (to live), …

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Categories Zen

Have mercy on yourself

Whenever you are discovering the mote in your brother’s eye, you are putting the beam in your own. In order to have mercy on yourself, you must give up this fault-finding and this denouncing of others. —Swami Rama Tirtha The kingdom of heaven is within you : and whosoever knoweth himself shall find it,—A saying of Jesus, from a Greek papyrus, discovered in 1903

Saubhari and Samnada from the Vishnu Purana

A Sage by the name of Saubhari meditated for twelve years in the water. There lived a big fish by the name of Samnada who had a large number of children and grandchildren, all obedient and affectionate to him. This fish was the sovereign of the water. Accompanied by his progeny, the king fish sported in the water of his own free will, in perfect freedom and delight. The attention of the Sage was attracted by the king fish and he began to envy his delight, freedom and sovereignty. Hegaveuphisww^A/ and began to contemplate the sportive movements of the happy fish. One day he said to himself :—“ Blessed, blessed is this king fish ! He has so many children and grandchildren, and moves about freely in complete happiness. Why should I not be like him ? ” He came forth from the water and applied to the great King …

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The Bodhisattva spirit and the Hinayana ideal

The bodhisattva spirit No ignorance and no extinction of ignorance, nor any of the rest including age-and-death and extinction of age-and-death; no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path; no wisdom and no attainment. ’ The Hinayana ideal Hitherto we have been speaking from the standpoint of the ordinary man under illusion. Even in the midst of the illusions it is possible to discover the world of Emptiness. It has been said that even while we are being pulled along by life we can experience that lightness of life when seeing leaves no trace and hearing leaves no trace and there is absolutely nothing in the heart. That experience is the joy of the wisdom of ultimate Emptiness. Now we pass on to the attempt to experience the true world of Emptiness in the twelve Causes and four Truths: it is the attempt of those of the Hinayana path who …

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The Eighteen Elements

We have spoken of the five skandhas and the twelve entrances. Now there is another analysis—into eighteen ‘distinctions’. As previously explained, there are six roots—eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind—and six fields—form, sound, smell, taste, touch and dharma-object—and six consciousnesses —eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body- consciousness and mind-consciousness. It is the interaction of these three sets—roots, fields and consciousnesses—which manifests the world of illusion at every moment. A full explanation is technical and may seem a bit complicated, but here it is: The twelve entrances were the six roots and the six fields. Now we can also take as subject the six roots and six consciousnesses, the object being just the six fields. We have in fact analysed the mind-root out into six consciousnesses, from eye-consciousness to mind-consciousness. At first it was the six roots which were the subject and the six fields the object, but in the classification …

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Categories Zen

The voice pilling heaven and earth

Whether this instance will be understood or not I don’t know, but it is something from a good many years ago, concerning Zen master Kitano Gempo. When he went to the inaugural ceremony of Joanji temple, some of us were in attendance on him On arrival, a young monk brought tea for him He had at one time been an acquaintance of the master, and so as he presented the tea he said in a familiar way: ‘Welcome, master,’ and just nodded his head in a half-bow. Zen master Kitano made no move to drink the tea: ‘What is that head doing? To learn how to lower the head is the first thing in spiritual training; one who cannot perform the practice can never give spiritual help to others. When you lower your head, bring it right down and apply it to the mat. Why can’t you make your bow …

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Living without leaving a track

When the opposition of subject and object disappears, that is the condition of the real Emptiness. They have become one. Hitherto at each step in life a great imprint was left behind. While there are hearer and heard, at every sound arise the three passions of greed, anger and folly. While there are seer and seen, our mind sets them in opposition, and the different passions arise. While the two confront each other, while they have not become completely one, we are always leaving at each step a track which is the root of evil. But for one who has actually realized Emptiness, both seer and seen, hearer and heard, disappear, and he can walk in life without his tread leaving any trace. To leave no trace is ‘nothingness’. So often is mentioned this ‘nothing, nothing’, and we have to understand what it really means. To laugh without leaving behind …

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