In Western philosophy and theology there are various theories about the existence of God, and attempts are made to prove His existence. Leaving aside the rightness or wrongness of the arguments and the whole question of whether there is a God-in-heaven, what is certain is that He has not been seen with any physical eyes. In Buddhism, when the eye of the heart is opened and the universe viewed, the Buddha is everywhere. To Shakyamuni at the moment of enlightenment, things animate and inanimate, all together became the Truth: grass, trees, and earth—all, all, became Buddhas. In all the phenomena of the world the Buddha spirit is active. The courses of the sun, the moon, and the other heavenly bodies, the cycle of the seasons, in the spring the willows and flowers and in the autumn the red maple leaves and the clear moon—every year it is so and will doubtless go on for ten million years unchanged. In that regularity there is no disorder, and we cannot suppose that a universe which displays such regularity can be just in movement to no purpose. We can observe a purpose to which the spiritual activity is moving. There is a progress, there is a development, and it is the process by which all become Buddhas. This supreme goal the philosophers call truth, call the Absolute, call reality. Because its being is a mystery it is also called God, but different from the God- in-heaven worshipped by Christians and others. We can indicate it as the spiritual essence of the universe, the great Life of all. This is what Buddhism means by Buddha. It is not the manifest physical body which came to birth in India and passed away at the age of eighty, but the Buddha of the truth-body, truth without form, the Absolute, the spirit that pervades the whole universe. The Kegon Sutra says:
The Buddha pure and like space,
Without shape or form pervades all.
The Buddha body eternally fills all the worlds; it is the spiritual force in all phenomena everywhere. In plants and animals and minerals the Buddha light is shining forth, from the worlds countless as the sands, from every speck of dust, from all beings and things.
The Buddhist doctrine of the Buddha body teaches that it has three aspects: the dharma body or body of truth, the body of bliss, and the manifest physical body. The body of truth, as has been said, is the formless spiritual essence of all things. It is consciousness absolute, filling the universes with beginningless, endless, and infinite life. Its wonder is called God, and the word God means that wonder.
Next the body of bliss, which has a beginning but no end. When Shakyamuni on December 8th saw the morning star, his satori began, and the life of the satori never ends. It is distinct from the life of his physical body. Shakyamuni Buddha (we leave for the moment the question of his predecessors) handed it on to Kashyapa, he to Ananda, and he to Shanavasu, and I stand as ninety-third in the line of transmission through Bodhidharma, Nyojo, and Dogen. Hereafter the succession will continue unbroken without end. The form of this Buddha body is not the physical form of Shakyamuni. It has no form but is the life of the transmission of Shakyamuni, Bodhidharma, and Rosen. What is transmitted is a current by virtue of which is handed on the living realization, the fruit of the spiritual practices of Shakyamuni, and it cannot be seen by the physical eye as it is without colour or form. In other words, receiving the spiritual practices as the spirit of Shakyamuni’s satori, the patriarchs and teachers, generation after generation, live the life of Zen, practising zazen. This is the bliss-body of Shakyamuni the Enlightened One. The idea of the Western Paradise of Amitabha Buddha expresses the same truth.
The life and action in which flowed that spirit of Buddha produced Buddhist culture and passed it on. In the Japanese No drama, for instance, there was an actor called Hosho Kuro, and as is the custom, his chief pupil and successor took his name, which has been passed on for ten generations. The spirit of Hosho Kuro had a beginning but did not end with the first generation, being passed on to the second and third generations of pupils and so on, and they were each called Hosho Kuro. But the physical form of the present- day Hosho Kuro is not that of the first one.
So the life is transmitted. Now as to the manifest body of Buddha, this is a physical body, like that of Shakyamuni in India, which appears in a form appropriate to the natures of the people. In the Shushogi classic of Dogen, it is said that this was a human being in India like other human beings, whose satori was at thirty and whose passing away was at eighty.
There are, then, these three—the body of truth, the body of bliss, and the manifest physical body. In Japanese religious history the central role has been accorded to the bliss- body, which, manifesting through physical bodies all through human history, helps humanity and is revered as the living Buddha of the time. This is the beauty of the tradition as transmitted in Japan. The glory of Japanese culture has been based on the fact that it could show that Shakyamuni was not simply a man who lived and died, but that there was a handing on from one generation to the next and then to the next.
As to the supreme truth of the dharma body at the centre, it is the life essence pervading conscious and unconscious, and is instanced by Tozan’s famous answer to the monk who asked him about the Buddha: “three pounds of linen/* In this reply of Tozan we see how the Buddha of the Truth is ever manifest, radiating the Buddha light and in activity, whereas when the monk says “Buddha” he takes it as something glorious and set apart from ordinary living beings which are inglorious. He forgets that the self is from the beginning the Buddha of the Truth, and seeks a Buddha in another. But to forget self and seek Buddha in others is after all to attempt the impossible, as readers will already have understood. If we take the point of view of the questioner, Tozan’s “three pounds of linen” is something absolutely inconceivable. Tozan points the way by thrusting his finger into the eye itself. Three pounds of linen was the same centuries ago as now. There is no difference in Buddhahood between the one who has realized it and the one who has yet to realize it. From the standpoint of the dharma body all beings are Buddhas. But Buddhas who instead of regarding themselves go round to others and ask about Buddha are no good, and Tozan’s lion-roar of “three pounds of linen” cuts through with one stroke.
The self is Buddha, and there is not a fraction of distinction in their nature between any of the things of the world. Day and night the ever fresh spiritual activity goes on in the world, and in the little world of the self its Buddha acts all the time without eclipse. But living beings, especially human beings, have numerous cravings which obstruct the true spiritual activity. From one point of view, then, it is true that in so far as a man in his life resists cravings, he is showing progress and development.
The Buddha nature, as the truth in all, is certainly there from the beginning, but as regards its action we must know that spiritual practice is necessary. Shakyamuni, up to the time when he declared his attainment of Buddhahood, performed the great spiritual practices, and there has never been a Buddha or patriarch who did not do them. Just as the crude ore is refined in the furnace and then alone becomes real gold, and the jewel only when polished reveals its radiance, so we have to exert ourselves every day and night in the practices, that the Buddha nature may be manifest. In the Shobo Gettzo classic of Dogenit is explained*. “Every man is an instrument of the Buddha law. Never once think yourself not so. By practice you will assuredly have direct experience of it.” Conversion means coming to know that the self is Buddha; thereafter the path is the advancing and relapsing of such an aspirant. It is not a manifestation of some peculiar knowledge, or of a special state; it is awakening to our fundamental nature. The path must be followed faithfully. In the pilgrim and in the woodcutter, the Buddha is acting. In bed or going about, eating or washing, a Buddha is there too. To say “too” does not mean that the Buddha is separate from self, a distinct entity. The self is the Buddha. The Buddha work and Buddha action is the working of the Buddha heart. The Shobo Genzo says:
“When the Bodhisattva heart stirs, there is an impulse to practise the way of the Buddhas. When this is being done with partial devotion, it is found that in a hundred attempts there is not one success. But in the end the passions come under the sway of wisdom, or of the scriptural injunctions, and then there can be success. And that success now is the hundred failures of the past; it is the culmination of those hundred failures.”
When we turn the light and shine it within, we reverse the current, and there is only the supreme Buddha heart, only the Buddha’s spiritual action, and the individual self ceases to be. There are those who contemplate suicide in the bitterness of failure in life. But for a Buddhist this is pointless. When we fail, it is already progress to understand that we have failed. We train ourselves by making that failure a stepping-stone for a pace forward. The practice of Buddhism is to realize that the present success is the hundred failures of the past. When we understand that, no confusions or disturbances will arise.
In Japan in ancient times there was a man called Kisuke who looked after his aged parents with great devotion.
Often loose-living acquaintances used to tempt him with invitations to parties and wineshops, but he steadfastly refused. His reason was a very remarkable one. As a child he had received his physical body from his mother, and his mind (as it was thought) from his father. He used to decline the invitations by saying that he could not take his father and mother to the drinking parties. To the way of thinking of young people nowadays this may seem comical, but if we can get a hint from the story as to how to meet temptation we shall not fall into bad ways and later have nothing but regrets. Kisuke’s sincerity, which would not conceal anything from his parents, is a manifestation in conduct of the pure Buddha heart. There are “modern” people who say that loyalty and devotion to parents are old-fashioned and not in the spirit of the times, but in regard to loyalty and devotion we do not have to think of new or old. They are the fundamental basis of human conduct. What a great mistake to listen to the erroneous spiritual teachings of the new sects which have sprung up after the war, and think that loyalty and love of parents can be lightly brushed aside! The spirit of tradition and the practice of compassion are manifested in this life, in accordance with the karma of past lives, as the relationship of parent and child. As it says in the poem by Sanetomo:
Even birds and beasts which do not speak a word
Have compassion, and the parent thinks of the child.
And true parents and children express loyalty and devotion to the full by their conduct, without talking about it.
At the beginning of the Tokugawa era there was a Zen priest named Suzuki Shosan, who at the end of his life came to live in the capital Edo (now Tokyo). Once several young hatamoto samurai came up and said to the old man: “The other day we were strolling and talking, and someone said that the gods and Buddhas do curse people. Some of us thought it was true, and some of us thought it was a he. Everyone agreed we should try and see, so we turned our backs on the guardian god at the temple gate and made water there. Still nothing happened, so that the fact is the gods and Buddhas do not curse.” As though he had not heard, Shosan was glaring fixedly in front of him, and then he shouted: “Brutes, brutes, brutes!” The bewildered samurai looked round stupidly, but could not see anything. Those accursed brutes who insulted the gods and Buddhas, the curse had been that they were reduced to bestial behaviour, that they became mere animals acting so. Thinking over his repeated shout of “Brutes!” we may also remember that a man who bows and prays to God or Buddha in order to get something for himself is only a vulgar beggar, and one who prays thinking himself great is a heretic. True virtue and the mind of faith are no more than the manifestation of the Buddha heart in conduct.
“This day let life be a noble life, even if it be a noble ruin. If we act in this spirit, body and mind will naturally be lovable, naturally honorable. Through our action the Buddha action becomes manifest, and we have attained the great way of the Buddhas.” So the Shushogi classic explains to us on the basis of practical reality.
When we realize that our life today is the Buddha life, then we do not pass the day vainly. There will not arise the restlessness for pleasure and the constant disappointment. When a man no longer passes his days in vain, the Buddha action manifests and he can attain the Way. That day’s action is the body of bliss. It is Buddha action alone and not what is called individual self. Where there is the egoity which says “I,” the Buddha action does not appear. Those who perform bestial actions may be human in form but in conduct conform to animals. If we perform devilish actions, we have fallen to the state of demons. Those who follow the Buddha law and become without egoity, can perform the Buddha action. If we do the practice without relapsing, our daily life will bring the deep and direct experience of the grace of the Buddhas and patriarchs.