One Dharma A Thousand Words

Priest Horin, mediaeval Master of Kenchoji temple was asked by one of the Kenchoji gardeners who worked on the lands there, “Is there any virtue in the recitation, or listening to the recitation, of the sutras if you don’t understand the real meaning?” The priest said: “If someone takes a medicine, even though he may not know its virtues, still when he takes it there will be a good effect. And in the case of a poisonous drug, then though he may not know from the taste that it is harmful if he takes it that drug may kill him. Again it is like taking passage on a ship. You may not know anything of the rigging and fittings of the ship but still if you board it, it will take you to a far destination. And so, recitation of the sutras is like that. Their spiritual meaning may not be understood but when the recitation is heard with faith, reverence and obedience, there is endless good. Today the autumn harvest is ripening in our Kenchoji fields and you gardeners are busy with much to do. In your situation as farmers it’s not necessary for you to come to the …

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Sake Wine and Samadhi

Gudo was the Master at the Myoshinji Zen temple in Kyoto. He was famous as the teacher of the 17th century many-talented Emperor Gomizu-no-o, who was also a devout Buddhist. Gudo occasionally had cause to visit Yedo, the capital, about 300 miles from Kyoto along the great Nakasendo highway. Gudo sometimes walked the whole way incognito as a humble travelling monk with nothing but his staff and his bundle of things. On a long journey the custom was for the monk to ask for lodging for the night in some village, and it was an act of Buddhist merit to give it. On one occasion Gudo made such a request at an unpretentious house, and the wife and grandmother welcomed him in, saying that the husband would be back soon from the shop. He noticed a certain anxiety in them, however, and in conversation learned that the husband had become hopelessly addicted to sake (rice wine). ” It’s ruining our little business, because he’s in such a bad temper all the time. Our two young cousins could easily take it over and run it for us, but he won’t let them touch it”. He’ll be back soon and I hope …

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Satan

Quite often in our lives we are going to meet Satan, either in other people or in ourselves. We don’t realize it because we often fail to recognise him. Here is an example from a time when smoking was just a social habit and not yet known to be a killer: A certain heavy smoker did find some adverse symptoms and he recognised quickly that it was due to smoking. He resolved to give it up and managed to maintain this for several months. His cigarette-smoking colleagues at first tried to break his resolution; failing to do so they began to respect him. But then he made the fatal mistake of beginning to preach to them. “Why can’t you give up the filthy habit, you know it is bad for you, it’s disgusting and it only wants a strong will, haven’t you got the will-power to give it up?” His hearers’ mild resentment began to seethe. One of them, or something in one of them, devised a plan. The next time the lecture began he said: “You haven’t given up”. “What do you mean, I haven’t touched it for nearly six months in spite of great temptation.” “No, you haven’t …

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Two Zen Stories

(1) TESSHU Tesshu was asked by a brilliant young fencer: “What is the inmost secret of the Way of Fencing?” He said: “Go to the Kannon temple at Asakusa and pray to be enlightened about it.” After a week the young man came back and said: “I went every day and prayed there a long time. Nothing came to me. On the last day as I was coming away disappointed, I noticed the inscription above the shrine: The Gift of Fearlessness. Was that what you meant?” “Yes,” repiled Tesshu. “Complete fearlessness is the secret of fencing. It must be complete. There are those who are not afraid when they face an enemy with a sword, but who are cowards when they confront the assaults of passions like greed, and delusions like fame. Complete fearlessness in the face of the inner as well as the outer enemies is the end of our Way of Fencing.” (2) THE BELL This was when Ekido was abbot of the Zen temple Tentoku-in, in the nineteenth century. One morning he heard the dawn bell being rung and after a little he called his attendant from the next room and asked: “Who is ringing the bell …

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Help, No Help

SOMETIMES a new idea can change the whole landscape of endeavour, so to say: everything appears in quite a different light. This applies to most fields of human activity, but in the case of spiritual endeavours it has some special overtones. Take the case of doing certain jobs for the spiritual group. Naturally everyone would like to choose their job; someone good at adding would like to do the accounts, and someone good at gardening would like to help in the garden. But as the Christian saying has it, a cross selected is no true cross. To do what one can do well where others can see it, is an assertion of personality, and it has not much value as a discipline, though the community may get some benefit from it. (Even that benefit is usually offset by the unconscious arrogance of the expert, perpetually putting others right, or taking things off their hands to do them better.) Reason‑in‑the‑service‑of‑the‑ego, or Mephistopheles, argues that it must be best to offer one’s service in a field where one can make a really significant contribution. But while there is the‑ feeling ‘I am making a really significant contribution’ training has not begun. If …

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Leaves and Moss

Leaves and Moss by Trevor Leggett In some Japanese Temples, moss is cultivated as a symbol of inner realization. Its progress cannot be forced, and the cultivation in fact amounts to removing the obstacles to the natural growth. If they are patiently and continuously got rid of, however, it makes a surprisingly rapid advance. Moss, like realization, has a great inner strength against even extremes of change in the environment; under very warm or very dry conditions, mosses can become dormant, and quickly revive and grow again when conditions improve. If they feel like it, some of them can keep on growing even on hot, dry and exposed rocks. Most of them, however, grow best in shady and moist environments, and so in the temple gardens where they are cultivated, small trees are planted which shed their leaves at different times of year, thus providing a certain amount of shade almost all the time. A huge training temple like Eiheiji of the Soto Zen sect has a good number of courtyards covered with moss, and one of the daily jobs is to do some weeding out of competitors, and then to sweep the moss clear of fallen leaves. This is …

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Stories

One of the great means of instruction is telling tales. The Sufi classic Mathnavi, and the Zen writings, are full of them. The stories are not fully explained; we are expected to find the inner meaning by our own efforts. Pondering on a story is compared to churning milk; it has to be turned and revolved again and again without interruption for a good time till quite suddenly butter begins to appear. Sometimes disciples try to insulate themselves by simply naming some of the characters-this one represents the lower mind` and that one the teacher, and so on. Such facile identifications can be made in hundreds of ways, and they do not help in finding the secret. They are attempts to seek safety` to avoid the implication of the story. “The world”, says the Mathnavi, “resembles the great big city which you may hear of from children’s tales. In their tales is enfolded many a mystery. Though they tell many ridiculous things` yet do thou ever seek the treasure that is hidden in the ruins”. We must find the treasure for ourselves` because it is in us. “Do not pass over the story as of no account` for it is …

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