TPL BS talks

On Attitudes – Views – Mind 26-8-1997 Poem – On the Sea Shore of Endless World 26-8-1990 Robes of Honour 11-12-1996 Short Stories & Teachings 28-9-1996 Smacking Down the Waves 14-6-1989 Songs & Stories of the Ways Sparks from the Heart Flint 1-9-1982 Stars and Comets Study Class – Fragments of Stories 19-9-1989 The Breeze Hammering at the Door 25-8-1999 The Five Hindrances 15-8-1987 The Flower of the Heart 11-9-1986 The Mind Twitches 2-9-1997 The Obstacles Created by the Intellect in Understanding the Teachings – Mindfulness 26-8-1990 The Soft and the Hard 28-8-1980 The Spur 10-10-1990 The Stone Sermon 11-8-1985 The Ways 1974 Thus I Have Heard 28-10-1998 Time for Listening, Time for Learning Aug 1990 Tips and Icebergs 3-9-1983 Tokusal on Sword and Mind 15-3-1993 Tradition of the Ways 3-9-1976 Traditions of the Ways Zen and the Ways Zen Buddhism (4) A Hundred Hearings Not like One Seeing 22-1-1990 …

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Categories Zen

Zen master Hakuin on the Lotus Mantra

The Sutra called “The Lotus of the Wonderful Law “ (Sad Dharma Pundarika) is one of the fundamental scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism. A commentary on it was written by Prince Shotoku, who used it to introduce Buddhism into Japan in the sixth century. Since his time, the chief Buddhist teachers of Japan have given this text an important place. Dengyo Taishi, founder of the Tendai Sect in Japan, made it the centre of his doctrine ; his great contemporary Kobo Daishi, of the Shingon or Mantra Sect, wrote his own commentary on the Lotus Sutra. There are introductions to the sutra by Honen, founder of the Pure Land sect, by the famous Zen master Dogen, and many others. Then in the thirteenth century, the saint Nichiren began to teach his followers the practice of repetition of the mantra of the Lotus, which runs: ” Namu Myoho Ren ge-kyo “, ” …

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Categories Zen

The Buddha can write a masterpiece and since then I felt a strength holding me and peace within

 A Japanese master of calligraphy retired to the country and he took an interest in the schoolchildren in their education and there was one boy there who was being brought up by his grandmother because both his parents had died and the teacher of calligraphy saw this boy and saw his schoolwork and he told the grandmother, he said: ‘when the time comes he ought to go to college in the capital and sure enough the grandmother made great sacrifices for bringing up the boy and made it clear that she was making great sacrifices and that she did not have very many friends. People complain a lot if they don’t have many friends. When the time came, the teacher said: well now, he should go to the capital to study, and the president of one of the main universities is a friend of mine and I can write you …

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Categories Zen

What is your true face, your original face which you had before your parents were born

The original face is a well-known Zen riddle where the pupil is asked, when you were born, just when you were born, your face was covered with little wrinkles. When you were young your skin was smooth. When you get old your skin is covered with wrinkles again. Now what is your true face, your original face which you had before your parents were born? It’s quite easy to work out a philosophical answer to this. We can say, well, of course the true self has no attributes. These wrinkles or absence of wrinkles, they are all attributes. True self, they aren’t attributes, and so the original face is the true self. The teacher never accepts such things. If the pupil persists in them he hits him quite hard. Now he has to go and find the original face. He can think well, I know it, Hakuin quite easily said. …

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Categories Zen

Life is the teacher: if we do not waste time in complaining, but try to learn from it

In the 1950’s it was difficult for Japanese to get the foreign currency to travel. Japanese travellers sometimes helped each other out, and sometimes they were helped by acquaintances in the foreign countries. I did a little service to the head of a big Tokyo hospital, who was a Judo man like myself. He himself on another occasion had done a similar service to the travelling Primate of the Soto Zen sect, the largest of the Japanese Zen sects, with well over 10,000 temples affiliated to it at that time. (There are now more.) The Tokyo doctor wanted a chance to re-pay my own little service, and similarly the Primate had told the doctor to ask freely if there was anything the Zen priest could do for him. When I was in Tokyo a bit later, I looked up the doctor who took me out to lunch. In the course …

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Categories Zen

Taoist thought gives warnings against trying to teach the unteachable

There are certain rules for the transmission of the Holy Truth. One set of traditions is concerned with the passing on from teacher to pupil in a face-to-face relation, and another set is concerned with what might be called broadcasting it to groups. The face-to-face relationship was in India called Upanishad, which means literally “sitting near”. The implication is that the teachings were passed on to one person only, in privacy where no one else could hear. The passing on of the secrets often took place without any formality, and was not dependent on outward circumstances. This meant that there were no fixed centres where alone the instruction could be given. It could be given in ceremonial form but that was not essential. In times of persecution under some fanatical ruler such as the blood thirsty Aurangzeb of 17th century India, it was not possible for the ruler to find …

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Categories Zen

See, Hear, Understand, and Sit On

The huge body of Chinese Buddhist scriptures, which include not only translations of many Indian texts which have disappeared in India but also many texts which originated in China, are sometimes put together in the form of an enormous revolving book-case, in the form of a great drum. There is a belief that modern man – beginning presumably with the modern men in China of the first century AD when Buddhism arrived there – cannot be expected to study them all. Or even half, or even a quarter, or even a fraction of them. But if he has the faith, and stands before that great drum of the scriptures, and simply turns it round a complete revolution – why then, he will get the same merit as if he had studied them. It is a bit like the Tibetan prayer-wheel, though that has only one scripture, or sentence from a …

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Categories Zen

I have felt a strength holding me, and peace within.

An old lady in a country village brought up her little grandson, both of whose parents had died. She had little money and had a hard time doing it; the village were made aware of the extent of her sacrifices, and she did not have many friends. Living near by was a retired master of calligraphy, a man far advanced on the Way. He took an interest in the education of the village children, and told the old lady that her grandson was bright and should go on to a university. When the time came he said, ‘If you and he are willing, I will give you an introduction to the head of a university in the capital whom I know well, where they have a hostel for country students.’ The grandmother told him, ‘Of course I shall be very lonely, but for the boy’s sake I agree.’ As the …

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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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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Categories Zen

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 …

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Categories Zen

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 …

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Categories Zen

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, …

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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 …

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Categories Zen

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 …

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Categories Zen


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 …

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Categories Zen

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. …

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Categories Zen

The world of liberation

To be brought to the full realization that this form of clay is the form of what I call my self, is a great blessing. My tears are born of sticking attachment to self, my laughter is based on sticking attachment to self, all my passions are on the same basis. This form is of clay. I have accepted the burden of taking that form as my true form, but then there dimly comes the perception of dropping of self, a sense of the grace of the Kannon of self-submergence, a state of emptiness with no burdens. The joy of it is not that a lotus has grown out of the mud, but that the mud as it stands has become a lotus. From the mud of sticking attachment there is experienced indescribable bliss; from the five skandhas of illusion arises the state of awakening called Emptiness, where there is …

Read moreThe world of liberation

Categories Zen

The non-egoity of the child

Someone has said: ‘The heart of God is the heart of a child.’ In a way it is true that a child’s heart is pure and free from malice, and we can also call him Mu-ga or without-I. But we cannot say that this no-I of the child is the Mu-ga of the Buddha; it has to be admitted that it is not the non-egoity and freedom from malice of the Buddha. We must be clear on the point. Take for instance this poem: The infant step by step is attaining wisdom: Alas that he is also moving away from the Buddha! The child is indeed free from malice and he seems pure, but gradually with the years he advances in the wisdom of all the goods and bads and rights and wrongs. Sad it is that through this he becomes estranged from the Buddha. And so—he must return to …

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Categories Zen

The concept monster

The so-called no-I of people like this, which is built on concepts, is no more than the no-I of a child. In an ironical sense one could call them good quiet people. Happy people! It is a widespread aberration in our thought today that many think self-completion is attained by concept-building, and fail to make any efforts towards the ideal. Even among Zen aspirants are numbers who fall into the same error. ‘Lying on the face or sleeping on the side, I have freedom . . .’ they quote, and think that getting up just when one likes is enlightenment there and then, and that the state of satori is to express everything just as it comes. ‘Oneself a Buddha and all others Buddhas’; so thinking, he is sure he is already a Buddha. There are some middle schools which profess adherence to the sect of Buddhism of which I …

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Categories Zen
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