Bodhidharma The First Zen Patriarch in China

There is a Buddhist tradition that when the Worldhonoured One was at the assembly on the Vulture Mount a man offered him a golden flower and asked him to preach the holy Doctrine. The Buddha twisted the flower in his fingers, showing it to the people in perfect silence. All were bewildered and at a loss for his meaning except the disciple Kashyapa who quietly smiled at the teacher. The Buddha then said there had been a transmission of the inmost spirit of his teaching to Kashyapa who was to be his successor and to whom he gave his robe and begging-bowl. Kashyapa, having thus become the First Patriarch, later transmitted the secret in the same way ” from mind to mind ” to Ananda, and so the succession continued. The patriarchs of the Buddha-mind transmission (now generally known by its Japanese name Zen) include some of the greatest names …

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The Seller of Pears

An Abbot of the Buddha-Heart sect was preaching in the open air to a large crowd. The Abbot spoke of making life harmonious by mutual aid and concession, but added that the aim of life is to realize the Buddha-Heart within man, without which life has no real meaning. A seller of pears,` pushing his cart by its two long wooden handles, drew near and interrupted: `What will it bring us? These are only words!’ The Abbot explained that realization would bring an end of all sufferings and a new life beyond life-and-death, but the pearseller shouted: `Big talk! Big talk! But you have to show us something!’ The Abbot said that gains in the world of dreams were themselves illusory; they were no true gains but had to be paid for somehow. The pear-seller only shouted again and again: `Show us something! You have to show us something!’ Others …

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Short text of the Heart Sutra

When the Bodhisattva Kannon was practising the profound Prajna Paramita wisdom he saw all the five aggregates to be Emptiness, and passed beyond suffering. ‘O disciple Shariputra, form is not different from Emptiness, Emptiness is not different from form; form is Emptiness and Emptiness is form; and so also with sensation, thinking, impulse and consciousness. All these things, Shariputra, have the character of Emptiness, neither born nor dying, neither defiled nor pure, neither increased nor lessened. ‘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; 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 …

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The Load of Ignorance

Consider our life as it is with its crying and laughing. There is in each case a trace left; of crying it is a trace of crying, and of laughing the trace of that laughter. Our living leaves these traces. What I emphasize always is that even when it is laughter, we should laugh with a truly empty heart. But we never do so. ‘Cold today!’ and ‘Well, how are you?’—remarks which have no point, poured out like oil and accompanied with a little laugh. No real laughter of pure enjoyment, because even in our laughter the heart does not become empty of its burdens. The thing called the I is in the breast and the laughter is centred round that I. It is laughing because things seem well for the I. And the crying is of the same sort. With each step the track is left, and this way …

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The Cirle of Life

When the Bodhisattva Kannon was practising the profound Prajna Paramita wisdom, he saw all the five aggregates to be Emptiness, and passed beyond suffering. Now we begin the text. The Bodhisattva mentioned is generally known as Kannon, though sometimes as Kanjizai. In either case the first character of the name, Kan, is seeing, and it means to see things as they really are. To see things as they are gives freedom, and so the Bodhisattva is called Kanjizai, the one whose sight is freedom. If asked what Buddhism is, I say: ‘Buddhism is seeing everything as it really is.’ Seeing the real form of everything is Buddhism. We don’t see the real forms; we think we do, but in fact we don’t. When we consider the I, whether it is something lasting or not, outside Buddhism they always presume that the self must have a form. They make it something …

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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 …

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The true character of the human Self

The Buddha did not have the loneliness of being deserted; he knew the loneliness of having a million friends. It is said that he renounced his home when he was twenty-nine—in one tradition, nineteen. Before that he rejoiced in his beautiful queen and his lovely child. He excelled in learning and wisdom and was a master of all the sciences and arts. As the heir to the throne of the emperor, he was held in great honour. At no time were the circumstances ever lonely. He was one who had satisfaction in all the desires of human life. There was no outward isolation. Inwardly it was that he felt extreme loneliness. In spite of all the wealth and talents and accomplishments, when he considered that the self could rely on none of these things, he was overwhelmed by unspeakable loneliness, and this was the loneliness of the Buddha. So his …

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Passions are the Bodhi

In his Discourses at Eihei Temple, Zen master Dogen says: ‘When the clay is plentiful the Buddha is big.’ By clay he means the raw passions. The mental operations in the mind within us which seethe and rage unbridled—these are the clay. And the more abundant it is, the greater the Buddha into which it comes to be moulded. The stronger the force of attachment, the greater the Buddha which is made. ‘Do you ever get angry?’ ‘No, I’m never angry’—such people have nothing to them. When the time of anger comes, when the whole body is ablaze with it, then it is that the form of the Buddha must be seen. By coming to the taste of Emptiness in the midst of illusion of the five skandhas, we really grasp the meaning of what Emptiness is. In the Vimalakirti Sutra is the phrase: In the soil of the high …

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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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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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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 …

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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. …

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Transcendence

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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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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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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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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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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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 is long or whether it …

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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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Making the Heart empty

In what follows I am taking the ear and hearing as representative of the whole set of six, and when it is said for instance that the opposition of hearing and hearer disappears, it must be understood to apply to the others also. Now the sounds we make in the form of speech—there are two alternatives: either they issue from the state of Emptiness or they issue from the state of holding things. If we are not holding anything in the bottom of the heart and we can speak from the state of Emptiness, then in regard to those sounds there is neither hearer nor heard. When I first came to my present temple I found I was getting a bad reputation as uncivil and unsociable. I tried to think what it might be, but I could not see that I was uncivil. I took a lot of trouble over …

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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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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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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 are called Shravakas and Pratyeka Buddhas. Whereas the Mahayana Bodhisattva spirit would find the true form in the ordinary man’s delusions, the practice of those of the Hinayana who are called Pratyeka Buddhas is to annihilate completely all …

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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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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 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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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 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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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 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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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 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 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 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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Hakuin was the greatest light of Rinzai Zen in Japan

HAKUIN (1685-1768) was the greatest light of Rinzai Zen in Japan. He universalized it and brought its flavour into the lives of ordinary people, and all the present lines of transmission run through him. The pattern of his spiritual life is thus of great importance in understanding Rinzai Zen. Yasenkanna (which can mean literally ‘idle talk in a boat at night’) is an account of a spiritual crisis and its solution, and a most illuminating Zen text. This and several other important works of Hakuin are in Japanese, accessible to the general public, whereas most Zen works of the time are in Chinese. Hakuin left his home when he was fifteen in order to take up a religious life. At the time he had a great fear of the Buddhist hells. He studied the Lotus Sutra, the most important one for Japanese Buddhism, and his doubts crystallized round the Sutra, …

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Yashenkanna preface by a Cold Starveling, Master of Poverty Temple

In the year 1757, from a certain bookseller in the capital came to us a letter addressed to the personal attendants of Master Hakuin. After the usual greetings it said: ‘I have heard that among the Master’s papers there is a manuscript called Yasenkanna or some such title. In it is gathered together the lore of training Ki-energy, invigorating the spirit and fortifying the citadel, and in particular the alchemy of the Tan-elixir of the Sennin. To us dabblers in the world without, such news is a rainbow in a drought. We know that occasionally a copy is given privately to a student disciple, but they keep it as a secret treasure and never show it to others. So it is wasted, heavenly nectar locked away in the bookchest. What I now ask is new life to those bent with age, and relief to those that thirst. I have always …

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Yasenkanna an autobiographical narrative by Zen Master Hakuin

When as a beginner I entered on the Way, I vowed to practise with heroic faith and indomitable spirit. After a mere three years of strenuous effort, suddenly one night the moment came, when all my old doubts melted away down to their very roots. The age-old Karma-root of birth-and-death was erased utterly. I thought to myself: ‘The way is never distant. Strange that the ancients spoke of twenty or thirty years, whereas I …’ After some months lost in dancing joy, I looked at my life. The spheres of activity and stillness were not at all in harmony; I found I was not free to either take up a thing or leave it. I thought: ‘Let me boldly plunge again into spiritual practice and once more throw away my life in it.’ Teeth clenched and eyes aglare, I sought to free myself from food and sleep. Before a month …

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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 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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