The way out of life-and-death is not some special technique; the essential thing is to see through to the root of life-and-death. That root is not something that fell from heaven or sprang up from earth; it is at the centre of the functioning of every man, living with his life, dying with his death, becoming a Buddha, making a patriarch. These are all in dependence on it, and one who goes into Zen has to pierce and break through to this thing.
What is called Zen sitting is not some sort of operation to be performed, and to take it so is wrong. In our line, it is simply realizing what one’s own true heart really is, and it is necessary to pledge oneself to the true heart.
Going into Zen is seeing one’s original nature, and the main thing is to make out what one was before even father or mother were born. For this he must concentrate his feeling and purify it, then eliminating all that weighs on his thought and feeling, he must go to grasp the self. We are saying that the self seeks to grasp the self, but in fact it is already the self, so why should it go to grasp the self? It is because in the mass of knowings and perceivings and judgments, the true self is always so wrapped up in the distinctions and exclusivities that it does not get out to show itself as it is.
It may be asked, how is the self to be approached? By looking into it through this sort of inquiry: forty years ago where did it come from, and a hundred years hence where will it have gone to? and right now, who is the person who is making the inquiry? that true face which was before father and mother were born, where is it right now? when suddenly one day the light of life, now so brilliant, will be withdrawn, where does it go to? In this sort of way look into the self. Look when you sleep, look when you sit, look when you walk. When you find you cannot look any more, then you must look and see how that inability to look appears and disappears ; as you are looking how the sight comes and the sight goes, satori-realization will arise of itself.
At the beginning, you have to take up a koan. The koan is some deep saying of a patriarch; its effect in this world of distinctions is to make a man’s gaze straight, and to give him strength as he stands on the brink of the river bank. For the past two or three years I have been giving in my interviews three koans: ‘the true face before father and mother were born’, ‘the heart, the Buddha,’ and ‘no heart, no Buddha’. For one facing the turbulence of life-and-death, these koans clear away the sandy soil of worldly concerns and open up the golden treasure which was there from the beginning, the ageless root of all things.
1 fowever, if after grappling with a koan for three or five years there is still no satori, then the koan should be dropped, otherwise it may become an invisible chain round him. Even these traditional methods can become a medicine which poisons. In general, meditation has to be done with urgency, but if after three or five years the urgency is still maintained forcibly, the tension becomes a wrong one and it is a serious condition. Many lose heart and give up as a result. An ancient has said, ‘Sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, sometimes hot on the trail and sometimes resting at a distance.’ So this mountain priest now makes people at this stage throw down their koan. When it is dropped and there is a cooling down, in due time they hit on what their own true nature is, as the solution of the koan.
This mountain priest himself formerly went through all these states, and as it is said, the man who has had a serious illness knows well the treatment which saved him; it is what one knows by experience that can be communicated to others. In concentration on a koan, there is a time of rousing the spirit of inquiry, there is a time of breaking the clinging attachments, there is a time of furious dashing forward, and there is a time of damping the fuel and stopping the boiling. Since coming to Japan this mountain priest has been making the pupils look into a koan, but when they have done this for a good time, he tells them to throw it down. The point is that many people come to success if they first have the exj>erience of wrestling with a koan and later reduce the effort, but few come to success at the time when they are putting out exceptional effort. So the instruction is that those who have not yet looked into a koan absolutely must do so, but those who have had one for a good time must throw it down. At the time of zazen they throw it all away. They sleep when it is time to sleep, go when it is time to go, sit when it is time to sit, and so on as if they were not doing Zen at all. Taking things easily and without forcing, after some time the rush of thought, outward and inward, subsides naturally, and the true face shows itself as the solution to the koan without any labouring to see it. Now body and mind, free from all motivations, always appear as void and absolute sameness, shining like the brightness of heaven, at the centre of the vast expanse of phenomenal things, and needing no polishing or cleaning. This is beyond all concepts, beyond being and non-being.
Leave your innumerable knowings and seeings and understandings, and go to that greatness of space. When you come to that vastness, there is no speck of Buddhism in your heart, and when there is no speck of knowledge about you, you will have the true sight of Buddhas and patriarchs. The true nature is like the immensity of space which contains all things. When you can go and come in all regions equally, when there is nothing specially yours, no within and no without, when you conform to high and conform to low, conform to the square and conform to the round, that is it. The emptiness of the sea allows waves to rise, the emptiness of the mountain valley makes the voice echo, the emptiness of the heart makes the Buddha. When you empty the heart, things appear as in a mirror, shining there without differences between them. Life and death an illusion, all the Buddhas one’s own body.
Zen is not something mysterious; it is just hitting and piercing through. If you cut off all doubts, the course of life-and-death is cut off naturally. I ask you all: Do you see it or don’t you? how in June the snow melts from the top of Mount Fuji.
Two one-minute sermons by Bukko
The dharma is different from seeing, hearing, perceiving, knowing-
seeing, hearing, perceiving, knowing are all dharma.
This mountain priest makes a home for the people of the wide earth,
without the dust being raised, they enter the realm of Paradise.
Lifting high his staff, he said:
Om, Om, Om! haste, haste, haste! quick, quick, quick!
bow (as you enter), bow, bow!
Throwing high, not reaching the sky;
Laying down, not reaching the earth.
All the Buddhas and patriarchs find no hold at all.
Hold, no hold.
Om! Soro, soro, shiri, shiri – divine streams rushing, rushing!
(This was a mantra of the Rig Veda adopted into Buddhism.)