Awakening to the character of our individuality

He saw all the five aggregates to be Emptiness, and passed beyond suffering.

This is illumined vision, seeing things as they really are. Satori is when the real character of everything is seen. When renunciation of self is complete, the absolute, the state free from all conditions, in which at present we are putting our faith, will actually be realized. The world of faith is to act entrusting all to Kannon. Religion is not logic and all that. To entrust all to Kannon means to have merged self in the state of Kannon. By the power of my self I can do nothing, not even check one tear or one impulse to anger, but when I have pierced to the truth at the bottom of that self, the holy form of the Bodhisattva Kannon appears, which rescues the I into the absolute unconditioned. Surely this is the true world of faith also.

Faith is not just worshipping Buddha, but rather realization of the truth of one’s self, Zen master Dogen is always telling us to learn how to withdraw by turning the light and shining it back. This light, this illumination, is the radiating mind, the mind released towards objects. When a sound is heard, the mind is released to that sound, we are attracted by the sound. Or, when a form is seen, the mind transfers to it and we are attracted by the form. The light, the mind which is attracted to objective things, we are to pull back, and the training of the Zen school is this withdrawing a step and considering. What after all is this anger, this impulse to greed? The first condition of spiritual training is to withdraw and come to realize the truth of one’s self. He speaks of with-drawing, not of advancing; it is the meditation of withdrawal which is important. There are different currents in the one Zen sect, but the doctrine of the Master Dogen is indeed a true doctrine. To go charging headlong to another place cannot be called training. Today people are apt to be hotheaded in rushing around. Perhaps some of them that life is an arena of competition and this charging about is the thing to do. They have the impression that they need only discard all human illusions and charge forward to conquer everything, and so sweep all before them in the human arena.

But the method of Buddhism is not like that, not just rushing out to objects. Its basis is at every step to withdraw and realize fully the truth of what is called self The trick of withdrawal is the basis of the Buddhist training.

When the truth of selfhood is known, the world of faith manifests clearly, that faith which entrusts everything to Kannon. It is illumined vision, and with it comes the entering into faith, namely realization. When the life of faith manifests, it is the life of satori. He who enters into the state of faith is one who verily has entered the state of satori. He is awakened. And then, the I who was saved soon becomes the I who saves. I who was saved by Kannon, who was merged in the world of liberation, am now no different from Kannon. Saved by Kannon, that one becomes holy Kannon, and must now be active for the salvation of all. Saved by Kannon, merged in Kannon, being Kannon, is the state of satori and awakening. The state of entering faith and the state of satori cannot be different. The meaning of illumined vision is that the saved must soon become the saviour; the state of awakening is that the self saved by Kannon must become Kannon. It is in this that satori must reveal itself. The condition of entering faith, of enlightenment, of awakening to the truth about one’s body and mind, is the realization that the five aggregates are all Emptiness. Enlightenment is fully grasping this. Hitherto the five have not been Emptiness, but now there is a clear understanding of what they are.

The nature of individuality

Now what are these five aggregates? Roughly speaking, our body and mind. In Sanskrit the aggregates are called skandha, which means a heap or bundle or collection. According to associations of karma, form (Rupa in Sanskrit), sensation (Vedana), thinking (Sanjna), impulse (Sanskara), and consciousness (Vijnana), these five collect and integrate to make a body and mind. Our body and mind come out of them In other words, they stand for our individuality, and to awaken to what that individuality is, is illumined vision. When the nature of our individuality is clearly seen by us, that is awakening and that is illumined vision.

First of the aggregates is Rupa, and the sense is solidity, in other words materiality. The whole material world is in Buddhism called Rupa or form Form thus means substance characterized by impenetrability; substances cannot be in the same place at the same time. They mutually obstruct each other and are impenetrable to each other. Our body is material and impenetrable and so it is called the form-body, and this is the technical Buddhist term for the body of flesh.

Second is Vedana—sensation. This can be treated as an operation of the mind, though technically it is not classed under the mental functions. (The next one, Sanjna or thinking, is a mental function. In the Hinayana doctrine there are forty-six such functions of the mind, and of them the strongest are listed separately.) Vedana is represented in Chinese by a character which literally means receiving, and it is the function of the mind by which everything is taken in. The function which takes in the things, whether they be long or short, however they may be, is this Vedana.

Sanjna means thinking, in notions, in ideas. As Sanjna, things that have been taken in are recollected, and this is the function by which there is attachment to them Such is the function called thinking. The strongest factors in deepening illusory attachment are these two, Vedana and Sanjna.

Fourth is Sanskara which has the meaning of construction and changing, but these are used in a technical sense and the general meaning of the Chinese character is action. Here however it is action of the mind, the character having in Buddhism the significance of mental action, with no question of speech or outer activity. This one word takes in the whole condition of the mind.

So construction and changing means from one thought to the next, thought by thought, constructing the varied karma in the wheel of birth-and-death. In the mind we are creating the various karmas and constructing distinctions: ‘I try this’ and ‘I try that’. Such discriminating is the way the mind works, and this is what Sanskara-impulse means. Under it are included the remaining forty-four out of the forty-six mental functions.

Fifth is Vijnana, with the meaning of the consciousness which determines things. It is also called the mind-lord, and as such determines right and wrong, good and bad consciousness, the mind-lord, has the function of determining as right or wrong, good or bad, everything that has been taken in.

Form then is the physical body, and the other four are mental functions and the mind-lord. This body and this mind, one skandha-aggregate and four skandha-aggregates, which by the power of karma have temporarily come together, we call individuality. Now a temporary combination of form and mind, namely the five skandhas of Rupa and the others, is not a definite real entity to be acknowledged as ‘I’. It is something which has only temporary life, and so is nothing actual and real to be taken as I. Yet by the force of beginning-less illusory attachment, attachment from long long ago, it is taken as a definite self. Clinging tenaciously to this is called the condition of the delusion of the five skandhas—it is thinking something to be which is not, considering what has arisen from temporary association of the five aggregates to be somehow a self. This empty fancying is just like creating in a dream the various forms which rejoice and grieve.

Yoka Daishi says: ‘In dream clearly are the six worlds seen.’ When we see a dream clearly there are the six worlds, with their sufferings and joys. While seeing the dream we do not think aside that it is a dream, and so we are pursued and sweat in agony. When we know what the dream really is, there are no six worlds, but while seeing the dream there are for me the opposed sets of good and bad. The five skandhas are all delusion. The five are not something definite and real, but our delusion is that we hold tenaciously to them as being an actual and real self.

For this reason in the old translations the Sanskrit word skandha was translated by a Chinese character which means to conceal by covering. The skandhas are the delusion which covers the true nature, the absolute, and does not reveal it. The form of the absolute is, in a word, no-form. The real form of everything is obviously not in fact any definite form, but by the force of the delusive form of the five aggregates, our absolute no-form appears as a form. The doctrine of the five skandha- aggregates indicates self-delusion.

by Abbot Obora of the Soto Zen sect

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