A VERSE FROM HAKUIN’S `SONG OF MEDITATION WITH A COMMENTARY BY A MODERN ZEN MASTER, AMAKUKI SESSAN (Translated from the Japanese by T. L. )
How much more he who turns within And confirms directly his own nature, That his own nature is no-nature, Such has transcended vain words.
These four phrases make clear the confirmatory experience of one’s own nature which is the aim of Zen meditation. The phrase ” turn within ” means turning the light so that it shines back. If the light of self-consciousness is turned and shone back on to the nature of one’s own mind, then can be perceived one’s absolute nature; the self-nature suddenly becomes something absolute-it is in fact no-nature. Even the word no-nature is not really right. The distinction of nature and no-nature is at an end; discussion of self-nature and othernature is extinguished. This is the stage of actual experience, truth transcending the stage of discussion and absolutely beyond vain words. All words have become mere prattling and nonsense-talk. Hearing about the great truth of the meditation of the Mahayana, praising it and rejoicing in it, even that brings wide and great merit. How much more to turn within and confirm directly one’s own nature, namely, to turn the light and shine it back, back into one’s very self, to experience directly what one’s own nature is. This is not mere listening but tasting directly; nay, not mere tasting but grasping it oneself, not explanation that all beings are from the very beginning Buddhas but knowing from direct experience how they are from the very beginning Buddhas. It is entering the realm of experience, knowing for oneself that self-nature is no-nature.
When we understand that there is no ice apart from water, or in other words that water and ice are not two things but one thing, then we do not need to make the distinction that this is water and that is ice. It is as if it has all become water. Similarly, while we stick to distinctions and cannot see their sameness and non-duality, there are Buddhas and there are demons, but once we confirm by experience what our self-nature is, there is no hell and there is no paradise. It has all become absolutely the same. This is called the real awakening. When we awaken to this state of absolute sameness, we see the distinctions between mountains and rivers, grass and trees, the earth and men and beasts, but seeing the distinctions for the first time, we do not stick to them. We have for ourselves the great experience of infinite freedom, that the distinctions themselves are Sameness, and the Sameness is the distinctions.
We can understand the method of turning within with the help of a passage from Zen master Daikaku: Turning round his light which lights all the outer things, he focuses it within on the inner self. Mind is bright like the sun and moon; their light is unlimited and infinite, and illumines all regions within and without. A place where light does not reach is dark, and such is the demon-cave of the Black Mountain. There live all devils. The devils harm man greatly. It is like this with mind also. The wisdom-light of mind, unlimited and infinite, illumines all states within and without.
The place where it does not reach is dark. We call it the shadow-world of ignorance. There live all passions. The passions harm man greatly. Wisdom is bright; the illusory ideas are shadow. Light illumines things. Turning the light so that it shines back means not letting the light of our thought wander here and there, but directing it at our own original nature. This is also called universal illumination, which means the state where error and enlightenment are still unmanifested. People today think that the illusory ideas are their essential mind, and want to reach happiness through their passions. When should they ever get free from the cycle of ‘birth and death ? These wise words are worthy of our special attention. As to the state attained by turning the light back, once reached it is not a question of analogies about ice and water or other explanations, but like knowing for oneself whether a thing is hot or cold. It is the gate of real experience, transcending the gate of discussion, and quite beyond vain words. Academic study is only talk; religion is real experience. One who understands religion theoretically is merely a sort of professor of theology. Now just as a professor of economics is not necessarily able to become rich, so the man who by taking his stand on intellect alone hopes to have the religious experience is like one hoping to get water by digging in sand. Religion must aim at actual experience for oneself. If not, then like the blind men who investigated the elephant, we shall learn no more than a single surface or corner of the outer skin of life and the universe. Long ago there was a king named Mirror-bright. He invited a number of blind men to examine an elephant. They were afterwards to tell him about the form of the elephant.
The blind men stretched out their hands and felt the elephant to ascertain its shape. The one who touched its foot reported that it was like a bucket. Then the one who felt the tip of its tail said that the elephant was like a bamboo broom. The one who touched the tail itself said it was like a stick.
He who touched the belly said: ” The elephant is like a great drum,” while another who touched the spine said it was like a great stake. He who handled the ear said it was like a winnowingbasket, while the man who felt its side said, ” Like a wall “, and the one who touched the tusk said, ” Like a great horn “. Each being sure it was as he said wrangled endlessly with the others. ” Blind, are they not blind ? ” marvelled the great king, ” yet they stick to their views as if they had sight.” The story is told in the Classic of the Six Perfections.
In this way all they said was just a kind of vain talk. It is no more than an illustration, but the man who has not found what his own nature is, who has no light of knowledge, is the same as a blind man. Those today who judge religion by everyday experience, or discuss faith under the light of science and philosophy, are in a way blind men examining an elephant. They get some idea of one surface or one edge, but it cannot be said they are close to the real truth. And their world is not the reality of confirming directly their own nature, that their own nature is no-nature, transcending vain words.
We have to enter the region of the absolute Sameness, where one’s own nature is no-nature, and confirm the meaning of becoming Buddha in this very body.
We are always opening our mouths and howling for the realization of some ideal. But when that ideal is realized, then what ? To put it in religious terms, we trudge along one of the traditional paths and make progress by our practices, some of us dreaming of Heaven and others praying to be re-born in some Paradise. Neither of these things is bad. But the question is: having got up to Heaven or arrived in Paradise, what after all do we do then ?