The cause of our circling through the six worlds
Is that we are on the dark paths of ignorance.
Dark path upon dark path treading,
When shall we escape from birth-and-death?
These lines urge the necessity of thinking of liberation. We must not be satisfied with the present condition, living and dying, rising and falling. The path of liberation, of ascension, must be sought. In the Buddhist cosmology there are ten worlds, and the six worlds referred to in the text are the middle and lower ones, namely the worlds of hell, of hungry ghosts, of animals, of demons, of men, and of heaven. The demon world is well known in our folk tales as a place of endless fighting. The four upper worlds are those of Shravakas, Pratyeka Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas. The Buddha world is the peak of enlightenment, and our ideal is to reach that Buddha world. Thus the worlds of all the living beings in the universe are divided into ten; the ten sorts of world are called the ten worlds.
As to circling, just as a wheel turns endlessly, so we are circling in Sansara, now living, now dying, then born again. “Ignorance” is what is technically called in Sanskrit avidya, or in Japanese mumyo, and it is one of the twelve links in causation. The causes of being born and dying are in Buddhism classified into twelve, and they are the twelve causes of the wheel of life. When they are examined we find the root cause is ignorance, and therefore ignorance or darkness is the first of these causes.
We have here just touched on the formal Buddhist doctrine. Let us go into it a little deeper. Fundamentally the six worlds have no independent existence but are all constructed in one’s own mind. From the very beginning we have the Buddha nature, or at least the nature which can attain Buddhahood in the future. But when the black clouds of ignorance arise in the mind, straight away it is born as a demon, or in hell or as a hungry ghost. Good and bad are both what are called “perfumes” in our mind; that is to say, they build up a certain habitual nature. Hell and heaven both, though we do not see them because they are distant from this present world, actually do exist.
The mind is the substance, and the six worlds are the shadow of the mind. When we awaken to this fact and get rid of the karma-obstacles of passion, here and now is the radiant Pure Land world and this very body is the Buddha. Bodhidharma taught this as the first principle of his doctrine in the phrase: “Direct pointing to the heart of man: seeing the nature and becoming Buddha.”
Just to recognize these things as logical in theory does not disperse the black clouds in the mind. We have to throw our whole life into practice. The Buddha gave different methods on the principle of suiting the medicine to the disease and teaching according to the capacity of the hearer. Zen has its special methods of catching the mind, bringing under the hammer, living ways and means, and so on. Zen master Hakuin used to hold up one hand in front of the students who flocked to him and say: “Listen to the sound of the single hand!” or “What is the sound of the single hand?” With this he would catch the mind of the students. When the two hands are clapped anyone can hear the sound. But of the one hand, the great soundless sound of the one hand—this is what he forced them to wrestle with.
A form which is visible, a form which has form, can be seen by all, but we have to acquire the eye which can see the formless form. That is sometimes called the single eye; it is the eye of the mind apart from and transcending the physical eye. The eye of the mind must be opened, which can see the truth of heaven and earth, the real meaning of human life. Sometimes Hakuin says: “See your original face.” Our present face we can see in a mirror, though not perfectly. But his disciples were forced to try to see that true face, which was before father or mother was bom, before heaven and earth were separated. In their struggles they might shed tears of blood, but they were never let off. Nor is this a matter in which one should be easily let off.
Apparently at that time a verse became current which ran something like this:
Instead of listening for Hakuin’s sound of one hand,
Why not clap both hands and do some business!
The stall-holders in the street clap their hands to attract attention to their wares and so do trade. But just as Zen has its Zen intuition, has not business also its business intuition? That intuition is something living. The shop or the capital can easily be made over to the children, but the soundless voice, the business instinct—that cannot be explained to them. That secret cannot be handed on, and without it business does not prosper jtxst by shouting or clapping the hands. So let us amend the verse:
If you could do business just by clapping the two hands,
Then you need not listen for the sound of the one hand!
Once the sound of the single hand is heard, once we can see through to the original face, the riddle of the universe is solved then and there. Abbot Ikkyu sings of it:
That one who stands wearing the original face,
One glance and beloved for ever.
Hakuin has three mystical verses:
In the black night, when you hear the voice of the
black bird which does not sing—
A father beloved before ever you were born!
In the depths of the mountains, more remote than Yoshino,
The secret house of the sound of one hand.
Could I but make it heard! On the old temple in the wood of Shinoda
The sound of the snow falling, late at night.
A special point in Zen is the compassionate way masters like Hakuin demonstrate this wonderful and subtle doctrine, the way to the great peace and the great liberation. Liberation from birth-and-death may sound like a far-off and abstruse conception which does not touch us immediately. But in truth, to get out of birth-and-death, to solve this great problem, is the final object of human life. In Zen it is called the supreme problem, the most pressing of all problems. To resign ourselves to the life of heartbeat and breath, maintaining the body heat and nothing more, is to be merely animal, and no thoughtful human being can be satisfied with it. According to nature and upbringing, the great doubt and questioning will arise in varying forms: Where did we come from into this life, and where do we go after death? What is life? What is death? What after all is the meaning of life? Such questions will arise in some form in everyone. Without solving them we cannot live in peace, cannot sleep in peace, and life becomes agitation and danger. Most of the fever and agony and loneliness of modern life comes from this cause. Meaningless suffering, meaningless distress, fuddled living, and dream-dying. The great thing is to solve the problem of life and death by really living and really dying. To the one who really lives and really dies, life and death disappear. The life without life-and-death is the eternal life. An old verse says:
Having decided on this as the place to which I was finally bound,
I am happy to live on and on in this body!
But instead of that, people feel:
Oh this world!
Losing and winning and weeping and laughing,
This doing, that doing, and the end all confusion.
And Abbot Ikkyu caps it with a smile:
Oh this world!
Eating and throwing out, sleeping and waking,
And then at the end o f it all, only dying!
To transcend life-and-death, to enter the great peace, first it is necessary to get back to the source of the mind.
In the Sutra of Perfect Wisdom, the Buddha tells his disciple Ananda: “You lose sight of the original mind, and seeing the thinking, discriminating mind, take that as your own. But that is not your real mind.,, Ananda said doubtfully: “By this mind we circle in the six worlds, but by this mind also we attain Buddhahood. If this is not my mind, then how shall I ever attain Buddhahood? Except for this mind, how does one differ from earth and wood and stone?” The Buddha said: “It is not a question of forcibly negating the mind. Now this which you think to be your mind, if it exists, must have a location. Then where is it?” Ananda first said the mind must be inside the body, but the Buddha told him it was not so, and similarly when he said it was outside the body. Pressed further, Ananda suggested seven other locations, but they were not accepted, and finally there was no other place to choose. Then the Buddha said: “The reason that living beings wander beginninglessly in the wheel of birth and death is that they lose the original mind and, seeing the thinking, discriminating mind, take it as their own. Even if they should practise meditation occasionally, while it is on the wrong basis it is erroneous and leads only to lesser wisdom or to darker worlds. The right basis is that which is from the beginning awakened, holy, enlightened, and ever pure. But living beings lose sight of this, their true source. The wrong basis is that which is the beginningless cause of birth and death. As living beings, you all use this latter clinging mind and take it as your real nature; in other words, you believe thinking and discriminating to be the nature of your mind. But if you practise by means of thinking and discriminating you are merely creating new karma, and can no more reach the true source of your being than you can get rice by cooking sand, even for eons of time.”
We lose sight of our original mind and take the thinking, discriminating mind as the real mind. This error upon error means the round of the six worlds. If the original mind and original enlightenment are not manifest, then whatever practice we do with the discriminating mind of thoughts and fancies, there is no merit in our labour. The thing is to discard these thoughts and discriminations, and take our stand once more on the original mind of enlightenment. To return to that original enlightenment, the Zen methods are the nearest and quickest.
Modem men prate about rebuilding the world and reforming society. But rebuilding the world can only be done by men who have rebuilt themselves, and the first thing in reforming society is to awaken to one’s own self. How to awaken to the real self, how to rebuild the self? Modern men have no interest in “religion.” Still, faith in any ideal is a sort of religion, and so the life of idealism can be called a life of religion. Religion is to come out into the true world beyond the sense world, to find the source of human life and understand things from the transcendental standpoint, and live our daily life with that as a basis. Then for the first time as human beings, we can reach a state which the animals cannot reach. And if it is not done, then going forward or going back, we can never escape illusion.
A life of illusion and error is the ghost life. The great teacher who founded the Tendai sect said that we need eyes which can really see and feet by which we can really move. If to that we add a heart with the courage of faith, then we have the three things needed today: eyes which can see truth, feet which grip the ground, and a heart which has faith. One who has not these three is a sort of ghost. With our intellectual education we have increased our intellectual range, but while our heads get stuffed bigger and bigger, our legs wither till we cannot use them. We ignore religion, so we have no faith at heart and have no peace. At least, this is the tendency. People nowadays don’t believe in ghosts, but are they not themselves ghosts? “I caught the thief and found it was my own son.” What is a ghost? It is a being without seeing eyes, without feet which can move, without faith at heart. Look at the ghosts! Their eyes don’t see things as they are but glare fixedly. Their feet cannot grip the ground, and they never get anywhere. They have no faith and so are lost. These are the signs by which to know them:
They have no goal; they are at a loss where to go.
They are lost; their feet cannot hold the ground, and they drift about the world.
They are malignant; their voices are full of hate of themselves and others.
Isn’t this just the picture of modern man?
Religion is not only the key-note of spiritual life, but at the same time its source. Of the right mind it is not only the refuge and protection, but also the nourishment. It is only through this function of religion as an inspiration to the mind that our civilization, in politics, economics, ethics, education, and the rest, has reached its present stage. Religion has been the mainspring of all. It is beyond these things and yet is the principle of their growth. True religion is the height of human culture. A culture without it is only a lifeless shell. Modern man is not concerned with religion because he does not know what religion is, but the result is a whittling away of his life as an individual. Religion does not exist for its own sake, but to give light and meaning to our life. It is to light the dark paths, to transcend life-and- death, to give immortality.
That illumination, that life beyond life-and-death, does have compassion on those in the round of the six paths, with their darkness and suffering. But as Muso Kokushi says: 4‘When we look at people today, they are piling up wrong thinking day and night, and outwardly too doing only evil. Yet they pray of course to gods and Buddhas for good luck, and ask that their lives, just as they are, should be prolonged. When the prayer is made in such a spirit, how should it be answered? Day and night disobeying all gods and Buddhas, and then they resent it that their prayers are not granted.” The old verse runs:
When in the praying heart there is no sincerity,
The prayer gets the answer of no answer.
Contrary and clinging attachments born of folly are the cause of wandering in the worlds; from foolishness greed arises, from greed anger is born-—by these three we are tormented.
When one wish is met, then there is a second,
A third, fourth, fifth. . . . O sixfold difficult world!
In Buddhism there are what are called the four sufferings, and another classification of eight sufferings. The four sufferings are birth, old age, sickness, and death, and to them are added the second four: meeting with what is painful, seeking and not finding, separation from what is loved, and the sufferings arising at maturity. We can understand that age, sickness, and death should be sufferings, but it seems hard to see why birth should be accounted a suffering. Still, inasmuch as it gives rise to the other three, it can be regarded so. As to the sufferings from maturity of body and mind— well, most of the sufferings of our daily life are contained under this head.
This world is said to be a place of suffering. But in fact there are none in it who suffer as human beings suffer, and among human beings those who think and discriminate more suffer correspondingly. For instance, when a house is supposed to be haunted, however alarming the story may be, the dogs and cats and infants and half-wits who cannot understand are not upset by it. Nor of course is a Buddha or Bodhisattva. It is just the human beings in the middle who are frightened by the illusory creation of the mind. Still, the capacity to be deluded, to suffer, means also the capacity to be enlightened, to have bliss. The earth which gives rise to the weeds can also nourish the grain. A desert is not plagued by weeds, but that fact proves that wheat will not grow there either. So it can be said that to be deluded and to suffer is the prerogative of human beings. Then we have to seize the opportunity, whenever it comes, for a mental revolution which will knock away the block that impedes realization. Hakuin is urging us in the Song to use the chance. If we can take away the wedge that prevents the turning-over in the mind, then the four contrary views will immediately be converted into the four virtues of Nirvana. Sansara is Nirvana; the passions are the bodhi. Sansara is no longer an agony for us, and more than that, we can vivify Sansara and the world about us is changed.
Translated by Trevor Leggett