The peak of realization20 min read

What remains to be sought?

Nirvana is clear before him,

This very place the Lotus paradise,

this very body the Buddha.

THESE lines expressing the peak of realization conclude the Song of Meditation. After attaining the great freedom of limitless Samadhi and the wisdom of Buddhahood, there is nothing more to seek. Before Nirvana was revealed, while the view of illusory distinctions was not abandoned, there was the Buddha to seek and the passions to be repulsed. But after realization, there is no bodhi to be sought and no passions to be cut off. The three thousand universes become his own; he need not get out of Sansara; he need not pray for bodhi. Rinzai in a sermon says: “So long as the man intent on doing the practices still has any aims at all, he becomes bound again by those aims, and in the end cannot attain what is in fact easily attainable. In my own view, there is nothing at all to be sought. Once seated above the Buddhahood of the bliss-body and the body of manifestation, the completion of the Bodhisattva’s ten stages is only an imposture, and attainment of the rank of enlight- enment-of-sameness or enlightenment-of-holiness is an iron fetter. Those who long for such states cannot attain Buddhahood. As for the eminence of the arhat and Pratyeka Buddha (who seek enlightenment for themselves alone), it is like a dunghill/* In such extreme language he expresses his view. As the Song says, when Nirvana is revealed the world is the Lotus Paradise, and when it is not revealed all kinds of obstacles appear. He who seeks Buddha is caught by that Buddha and does not attain realization; he who seeks realization is caught by that realization and cannot attain Buddhahood. But if he is a true follower of the Way, by virtue of his Zen meditation Nirvana is revealed to him then and there. Now as the current takes him he wears out the old karma, putting on whatever garments come to him, when he is to go just going and when he is to sit just sitting, with never a thought in his mind of hope for Buddhahood or looking for anything. In the natural course, he is in Buddhahood. Indeed there is nothing so great as this taking of not-taking, nothing so noble as the seeking of not- seeking.

Long ago in China, Zen master Obaku, who had reached the highest peak of spiritual attainment, was yet seen constantly worshipping the Buddha with great devotion. Struck by a doubt, a disciple asked: “Are you asking something of the Buddha, or seeking something concerned with the Truth?’*

The master replied: “I have nothing to ask of the Buddha or to seek about the Truth.”

The disciple asked again: “Then why do you worship?” The master said: “I simply worship.”

Such is the high worship. To bow the head before another, the head in which there is a hidden motive, is nothing. Again, the bow when one meets an acquaintance has no meaning. But “simply to worship.” It is seeing truth! The culmination of greatness is the action based on seeing truth. There is a poem by Gudo Kokushi:

From the very beginning, the Buddha truth is nothing strange to us:

Drinking tea, eating rice, and putting on clothes.

To the great one whose action is without seeking anything, going and staying, sitting and lying all become the Buddha truth, the Buddha activity, and the Buddha conduct. So an ancient says: “If he performs action in order to get the Buddha, the Buddha himself becomes the badge of this San- sara.” The foolish Yajnadatta thought he had lost his head, it is said, when he turned away from the mirror and could no longer see it reflected. When the mind rests from its seeking, that is peace, that is the serenity of Nirvana. When the eye of realization is opened and there is real conviction, this very earth is the Lotus Paradise, this very body the Buddha, and there is no need to go anywhere else at all. Without moving a step towards a heaven beyond, he finds the Lotus Paradise, the heaven of the Pure Land, here and now. It is a world of light. The existence of the Pure Land paradise in the West is not thereby denied. The Pure Land is all-pervading and universal; it is here and it is there. With the revelation of Nirvana, the place where one is becomes the Pure Land, and the body the Buddha. The old song is interesting:

No paradise of the East, no paradise of the West—

Seek along the way you have come. They are all within you.

The Pure Land is not different from this body, and its Buddha is not other than this mind. When we attain what is called the Pure Land of consciousness only, the Amitabha Buddha of the self, we see the nature and become Buddha. Zen master Munan has in one of his sermons: “The great resolve to go into a mountain retreat is a noble aspiration. Do not fall away from it. But even if one does go far into the mountains, he is not outside the transient world, and if he still has his mind unchanged, what will it serve to change the residence?’’

Outside of the mind there are no mountains

Wherein to build your solitary hermitage.

There are two old verses:

He escapes from the world into the mountains, but there too

Sorrows still come, and now where is he to go?

O plover birds, let not your minds be disturbed,

For whatever beach you visit, there too the waves and wind will rise.

Outside the mind there is no place to go. It is the mind itself that is the first object of our quest, and also the last.

Milton says that by the mind heaven is made into hell, and hell made into heaven. But the mind is a rogue, and we cannot be negligent. An old song of the Way tells us:

It is the mind itself which is bewildering the mind.

Do not set free the mind to the mind!

When Eka, the second Zen patriarch in China, was still in the stage of spiritual seeking with its attendant pain and suffering, he made a long journey to see the great teacher Bodhidharma. He was not granted admittance, and stayed several days outside in the snow. Finally he cut off one arm as proof of his sincerity, and with the blood running down cried: “I pray the teacher to pacify my mind for me.” Bodhidharma said: “Bring your mind here, and I will pacify it for you.”

Eka said: “I seek it, but I cannot grasp it.”

The teacher said: ‘ ‘Then I have pacified the mind for you.” The other immediately had a realization and later was invested with the succession as Second Patriarch.

We must understand for ourselves the great truth contained in the phrase, “I cannot grasp it.” Zen makes penetration into the mind its central principle, and to rest quiet on the mind its aim. The life of Zen attainment is not like standing on a river bank watching the current and appreciating the water or the landscape as a witness; it is jumping into the current and becoming one with it, but without being drowned in it. It is to ride the current and be united with it. There is a Zen verse:

On the swift current is impelled a ball,

Freely turning and turning, freely rolling and rolling.

When we are one with the current driving the ball, heaven and earth and self become one, and changing with them we help the evolution of the universe.

This is the main point of the Song of Meditation. It begins with the great premise that all beings are from the very beginning Buddhas. Then there is the winding course from the six paths of ignorance up to the peak of attainment; and finally there is nothing more to seek, for Nirvana is revealed; this very spot is the Lotus Paradise and this very body the Buddha. The language of the Song is simple, but the more we go into it the more profound and mystical are its depths. We must not stop at just thinking about the ideas of the Zen master, but must study them, practise them, and at last attain direct experience. The Zen taught by the master with such great energy in his life was an outstanding contribution to the spiritual culture of his country.

Always in history those who love fighting are destroyed, but those who are not able to fight are also destroyed. Virtue and strength together, such alone lasts and can lead others aright.

In our daily life we should remember three things: joining the palms as in prayer, bowing as in worship, and charity. Joining the palms is the best posture for bringing the body and mind into a state of unity; the bow means honour and respect for others; charity is the basis of peace in society. If we practise them, it is certain that we shall in turn receive.

Again there is a phrase most important for daily life: “For the ideal, seek the high; for the practice, honour the low.” It is an old Zen saying: “His will treads the head of Vairochana; his practice is to prostrate himself at the feet of a child.” It should be pondered deeply. The ideal must be as high and noble as possible, namely a consciousness which would set its shoe on the head of the truth-body of Vairochana Buddha. But the practice must honour the lowly; in practice he must bow his head at the feet of a runningnosed youngster. In humility he puts himself among the meanest.

What the Mahayana teaches is to destroy the wrong and reveal the right. Virtue and power, being and non-being— the true middle way of the Mahayana does not incline to either side. Such must be the aim of our culture. In the world today (1034) is the propaganda of extreme internationalism, with the slogan of class warfare, leading to the error of Marxism, and on the other side is raised the banner of extreme nationalism, with the slogan of race purity, leading to errors like fascism. To incline to the left or to the right is equally dangerous. The essential thing is to lean to neither, to keep to the middle way. The true middle path of justice is the basis of Mahayana world outlook and view of human life.

Arguing about things is tedious, but Buddhism is not about anything strange to us. Its essence is simple; the perfect realization of man’s ‘ ‘true face/ ’ The great Hideyoshi once asked Kuroda Josui: “What is the commonest thing in the world?” He replied: “A man.” Then he asked him: “What is the rarest thing in the world?” He replied again: “A man.” The old verse says:

Many men, but not a man among them.

O man, be a man! O man, make yourself a man!

Men can be divided into three classes: those who are necessary, those whose existence or non-existence is immaterial, and those who are better dead. Into which category do we ourselves fall, at home, in society, in the nation? For the life of Mahayana, we must do our utmost to be the first kind of man.

Then there are four types of human nature: the good, the bad, the wise, and the stupid. Those “necessary” men follow the Bodhisattva path of doing good to others and to the self also, and such are ideally wise.

He who drives the thieving sparrows onto his neighbour’s field …. The wicked man.

He who drives the thieving sparrows from his neighbor’s field …. The good man.

Sparrows? What sparrows? . . . The stupid man.

He who drives the sparrows from both fields…. The wise man.

When Zen master Hakuin speaks of Nirvana, he does not mean an emptiness or annihilation. It is eternal bliss, the state of satori. The pure sage rests in his own home. He whose life is worth while, a necessary man, who does his duty to others and to himself on the Bodhisattva path, is an embodiment of the ideal and has the right to Nirvana and paradise. Ah, he who has crossed beyond life-and- death, who dwells in the great bliss, how can his joy in life be told? The life of Hakuin displays it. When we see things rightly, we too can enter real life, and we have to do it.

A master has said: “When I came to pick them up, the broken tiles were gold.” When the eye of the heart is opened and we see rightly, the broken stones on the road gleam with golden light. The thing is to realize the true value of the smallest fragment, the tiniest thing, that comes to us in our daily life. In Zen everything should be as far as possible simple, exact, and elegantly austere, and at all times we should treat things with reverence and not lightly. We must avoid misuse, evil use, and wrong use, and learn first advantageous use (and it is interesting how nowadays they are finding advantageous use even for scrap), then loving use, and so to living use, pure use, and finally spiritual use. This means to spiritualize the things as they are used. They are no longer merely things, but they are spiritual, radiating light, and then when we pick up the broken tiles they are gold. Each thing comes as a blessing, not to be wasted, and involuntarily there arise feelings of worship and reverence. This is the real religious life.

Towards the end of the last century, Tenryuji temple in Saga had for abbot the great Tekisui. When he was a young student under Abbot Gisan, he was told to bring water for the abbot’s bath. He picked up the bucket and threw away a little water at the bottom before refilling it from the well.

The abbot scolded him severely for wasting life-giving water. It had such a deep effect on him that he adopted the name Tekisui, which means a drop of water, and thenceforward he did his spiritual practices in the spirit of reverence for even a drop of water. Again, Zen master Dogen, the founder of the famous Eiheiji temple, never wasted even half a cupful of water, though there was a small waterfall pouring endlessly just by the temple. From the modern point of view it seems incomprehensible, but such things had deep meaning for the spiritual training of the masters. It means not just to look at things as useful or harmful, profitable or unprofitable in the economic sense, but to penetrate into their essence and discover their spiritual use and secret virtue, to revere them for the light hidden in them. It has nothing to do with “economizing” in the worldly sense; it is recognition that the blessing must not be wasted.

When I was a child, I remember how if I spilt any rice my mother used to say: “What waste! Heaven will punish you; you will go blind!” It may be rather strong to frighten children with blindness, but anyway it is important to make them understand they should not waste even a grain of rice. Nowadays questions of education and religion are hotly debated, but the educators should first themselves realize how to use things spiritually; when in the classrooms they cease to treat a pencil simply according to its money value, but appreciate its spiritual essence, it will have a big effect on our education.

Before the Meiji Restoration, Zen master Kendo, a great spiritual figure, was abbot of the Yokenji temple of Saheki, in Kyushu. This was the temple of the Mori family, and one of their chief retainers had taken to unbridled extravagance and luxury and was sunk in a life of dissolution. The abbot, thinking it a pity, remonstrated with him a few times but instead of listening he resented the interference, and began to search for some pretext to have the abbot disgraced. The priest, however, was one of very holy life, inwardly and outwardly pure, without a single opening for criticism. But a rumour arose that every night the abbot, when the rest had gone to sleep, used to have a sumptuous repast in the privacy of his room. The retainer seized on this, and when all was dark crept into the temple garden and up to the abbot’s room. He confirmed that the other was eating with apparent relish. Full of joy at having caught his enemy, he presented himself the next morning at the court of the feudal lord. The head of the Mori family was Lord Taka- yasu, a man of intelligence and furthermore a devout follower of the abbot, but when he heard the story he was taken aback, and thinking it must be true, concealed himself in the garden the next night. When he peeped into the abbot’s room, sure enough the priest was eating away. Without more ado Lord Takayasu burst through the window into the room. The surprised abbot quickly covered the bowl from which he was eating and put it out of sight, then inquired: “To what urgent affair do we owe the honour of a visit at this unusual hour? Please pardon the absence of ceremony in receiving Your Grace.” The Lord replied sternly: “There is no room for pardoning here. What have you just hidden away?” The abbot earnestly asked that the matter be overlooked, repeatedly excusing himself and bowing to the ground. The nobleman refused to listen and made to seize the bowl by force, upon which the abbot reluctantly showed him its contents.

He said: “I am ashamed that this should have come to the notice of Your Grace. There are many student monks who come here from different parts of the country, and though I am always impressing on them not to waste even a drop of water or throw away lightly a scrap of vegetable or grain of rice, there are so many of them, and most of them young, that in spite of all I say the cut-off ends of vegetables and rice leavings still get thrown away down the kitchen waste-pipe. To stop this waste I fixed a small sieve at the end, and when they are all asleep I collect what is in it, boil it, and have it for my own evening meal. I have been doing this now for many years. I very much regret that such a sordid story should trouble your august ears.’

Hearing this, the lord was profoundly moved, and with tears in his eyes begged that his own conduct be excused. As the abbot was making his apologies, the nobleman was joining his palms and bowing before him. When I think of those two, at dead of night when the world was at rest, each bowing to the one before him and excusing his own shortcomings, I cannot restrain my tears. Today when individuals and groups and countries confront each other, they do not cast a glance at their own lack of virtue and wrong-doing, but compete in ruthlessly exposing the inadequacies and weak points of the others. How different from the picture of those two, the one great in worldly rank and the other in spiritual eminence, in mutual salutation with palms joined! Lord Takayasu took a little of the contents of the bowl, and next morning called his retainer to show it to him, relating what had happened. The latter was overcome by repentance and reformed his way of life. The change began to affect all the other members of the clan, and there arose a wave of self-imposed economy and thrift; there was a spiritual renaissance, and soon also an increase in material savings. When the Meiji Restoration came, nearly all the clans were in dire straits and did not know where to turn to meet the exigencies of the time, but this Saheki clan, though small, had the reserves to meet the emergency.

I am not urging that today we begin eating thrown away food. What we must attain is the spirit as displayed by the great abbot. This is the beginning of being able to make spiritual use of each thing. When we do not waste a drop of water or a grain of rice, we can make right use of a million gallons of water or tons of rice. When everything is spiritualized and spiritually used, the heaven of Samadhi is wide, the moon of the fourfold wisdom brilliant, and a world of infinity and light manifests.

The teaching began with “All beings are from the very beginning Buddhas/’ and ends with “This very body is the Buddha.” After even thousands and millions of words, what after all is gained? We have to answer that nothing is gained. Shakyamuni, at the end of his forty-nine years of preaching, said that he had never uttered a word, and conversely Hakuin’s sermon of no sermon, words of no words, however often repeated, are never exhausted. It is natural that in the end nothing should have been gained. But if the reader has caught even a glimpse of Hakuin’s true face, he will know the meaning of the poem of the Chinese Zen poet Sotoba:

Mount Ro and the misty rain, and the waves in the Setsu River—

Before I had been there my thousand longings never ceased.

Then I went, and came hack. Nothing special—

Mount Ro and the misty rain, and the waves in the Setsu River!

The misty rain on Mount Ro and the waves of the Setsu River are famous. Wishing to see them just once, after endless hopes and unbearable longing for many years, I made the journey. I saw them and returned, and—nothing special. The misty rain on Mount Ro and the river waves have not changed. The misty rain and the waves do not change, and yet before seeing and after seeing, there is a great difference. The time of longing and dreaming endlessly of them, and the time of “nothing special,” when they have become part of me, are quite different.

What do we gain from seeing the true nature and attaining realization? There cannot be anything gained. As it is said: “The eyes at the sides and the nose straight in the middle; the flowers red and the willow green.” No special change or marvel has come about. But the purpose of life is different. The madman runs to the east, and his keeper runs after him to the east. Equally to the east, but their purposes are different. The lunatic and the keeper look alike in that they run in the same direction, but the point of the running is quite distinct. The change in what has not changed is the real change. The real change is to change in unchanged circumstances.

The great scholar saying the same thing as an ignorant man, an expert fencer and an ordinary man walking together along a flat road—this is it. Profound is the saying that great wisdom is like stupidity, that great value is hidden deeply and looks worthless.

In search of flowers I went so deep into the mountains

That I found myself coming out again beside a mountain village.

When he presses on deeper and deeper, he comes out again near a human habitation. Still, the one who has gone right through the depths of the mountains and come out again is different from the one who has never gone into the deep mountains at all.

The great warrior Kumagai, after he had become a priest, was insulted and spat upon by Utsunomiya Shiro. He looked down at his priest’s robe. When the other had gone, he joined his palms and made a poem:

The mountain is the mountain, and the path unchanged since the old days.

Verily what has changed is my own heart.

Just as the supreme good transcends good and evil, and highest beauty transcends the ugly and beautiful both, so the great realization is to transcend illusion and realization, and supreme bliss is to transcend sorrow and happiness. The great realization is that all beings are from the very beginning Buddhas, and its fulfilment is when this very place is the Lotus Paradise.

© Trevor Leggett