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 the Bodhisattva.

The life of desire and clinging is: that all the time, though I think I will not get angry, anger arises. I think I will not say stupid things, yet they come out. It is possible for us to see every moment, in the deep passions which are the basis of life, our own true form. The deeper the desire and grasping, the more deeply can be experienced the absolutely unconditioned.

The spirit of the Bodhisattva is to find life at the heart of desire and grasping. Not for himself alone; he jumps into the bloodstained wheel of clinging to life in order to rescue all living beings.

Unlike the shallow Shravakas and Pratyeka Buddhas, the Bodhisattva seeks the true meaning of life. Contemplating in silence, this is the conviction I have reached. If I may be forgiven the personal reference, I may say that I find there is a meaning in the lowliest station.

Whether it is the true spirit of the Bodhisattva I know not, but I find that so long as there is security and health, and the environment is not too disturbed, I have attained peace. My present state is secure. There is no great disturbing passion. There do not seem to be karma-actions inspired by passion. And yet—the desire and clutching for life is a terrible thing. I catch a bit of a cold and go to bed. Someone says: ‘Come now, you are in bed with a cold, how about thinking of the grace of the Buddha?’ But my head is throbbing with pain— ‘What do you mean? This is no time for thinking about the Buddha; my head hurts and I’ve nothing left to think with!’ When we face the moment of death, with the convulsions and clutching for air, can we then sweep away the desire and hanging on to life?

It is said that a certain Zen priest at the moment of death gave the traditional cry of Zen illumination: ‘Katsu!’ But then another one is reported to have said: ‘I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die!’ Someone has well said on this: ‘I suppose it is all right for a Zen priest to go on playing his part right to death, but for myself I find the “I don’t want to die” has more human flavour about it.’ One may be able to die wish a ‘Katsu!’ or one may not. But after all, in the ‘I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die!’, in the very thought realizing that the character of the desire is the character of one’s self also, in that last thought I verily believe there is the world of release.

by Abbot Obora of the Soto Zen sect

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