Whether this instance will be understood or not I don’t know, but it is something from a good many years ago, concerning Zen master Kitano Gempo. When he went to the inaugural ceremony of Joanji temple, some of us were in attendance on him On arrival, a young monk brought tea for him He had at one time been an acquaintance of the master, and so as he presented the tea he said in a familiar way: ‘Welcome, master,’ and just nodded his head in a half-bow. Zen master Kitano made no move to drink the tea: ‘What is that head doing? To learn how to lower the head is the first thing in spiritual training; one who cannot perform the practice can never give spiritual help to others. When you lower your head, bring it right down and apply it to the mat. Why can’t you make your bow with the whole heart?’
It is great teaching. When we have failed to do things with the whole heart, we must be profoundly grateful for a reprimand. One who has tasted even a little of the state of Emptiness—his teachings, his every word, are manifestations of the wisdom of ultimate Emptiness.
In the poem about the bell in the wind, the Ti-ting-tung-liang, ti-ting-tung is the sound of the bell. So an ancient said: ‘His tongue covers the thousand universes, His words reach to Samadhi.’ Unless the tongue is so great it hides the universe, he cannot really say anything at all. The point of view is that the holy teaching is limitless. The body has no limits, the voice has no limits. Life is limitless. It is in the Lotus Sutra. From the state of Emptiness, each man’s body is a body pervading the universe, his voice is a voice filling the universe, his life is a life which is without limit.
The voice when there is no hearer or heard is the great voice which is pervading the innumerable universes. This is our own voice when there is no opposition of hearer and heard. It is limitless, but not in some abstract way; it is the condition in which subject and object cease to be.
Dogen quotes from Nagarjuna the story of one of the Buddha’s ten great disciples, holy Maudgalyayana, who excelled all in psychic powers, and who once wished to measure the power of
the voice of the Buddha. But the Buddha’s voice was heard clearly by all the 84,000 to whom he preached. Nevertheless, the disciple felt that it must have some limit, so he projected himself through space by his psychic power, crossing countless thousands of millions of regions. He paused to rest on the shore of a place which faced a serene ocean. At this time the Buddha of that world was being served by a disciple with soup in a vessel which was called Adaptable. An insect flew to the lip of Adaptable and settled there, its head being like that of a man. All the disciples wondered what sort of an insect it could be, with its human head, but none of them could give it a name.
They took the bowl with the insect on it to the Buddha of that region and he said: ‘This is no insect. Countless thousands of millions of regions away, a Buddha named Shakyamuni has appeared and is teaching many people. One of his disciples named Maudgalyayana wished to find the limit of his voice and by magic power he has come here; believing that the Buddha’s voice will now be inaudible, he has settled on the edge of the bowl.’
The ocean was the soup in the bowl Adaptable. The Buddha admonished the insect- Maudgalyayana: ‘You thought to calculate the limit of the Buddha’s voice, relying on your magical powers, but you did not allow for the limit of those your powers. The voice of the Budddha fills the whole universe.’
So it is that there can be a power in our everyday speech which is not limited. When we can speak without anything in the heart, when from the bottom of the heart it is only unity, when there is neither hearer nor heard, then the words penetrate to the hearts of all. And when there is neither hearer nor heard, we can listen to that voice all day and there be no track left behind. In fact, when we can really throw ourselves into listening to anyone’s voice, we shall do so without its leaving a trace. Seeing but without a trace of seeing, hearing but without a trace of hearing; when with the sixth sense- organ consciousness we think but without a trace of thinking, we can live unburdened and no track of sin behind us. May all experience it.
by Abbot Obora of the Soto Zen sect