To be brought to the full realization that this form of clay is the form of what I call my self, is a great blessing. My tears are born of sticking attachment to self, my laughter is based on sticking attachment to self, all my passions are on the same basis. This form is of clay. I have accepted the burden of taking that form as my true form, but then there dimly comes the perception of dropping of self, a sense of the grace of the Kannon of self-submergence, a state of emptiness with no burdens. The joy of it is not that a lotus has grown out of the mud, but that the mud as it stands has become a lotus.

From the mud of sticking attachment there is experienced indescribable bliss; from the five skandhas of illusion arises the state of awakening called Emptiness, where there is no burden on the heart. The five are not different from Emptiness, and when we can see the false attachments as false attachments, more and more we experience the world of liberation called Emptiness. It is not that false attachments are swept away and then some world of Emptiness appears; nor is Emptiness the world of the I just as it stands. Emptiness is not the I which just cries and just laughs. Our human life is to want to laugh but to be unable to; gradually we come to realize that life is just this wanting to do something but being unable to do it.

I remember going to an anniversary day at a girls’ high school, whose headmistress knew me well and had asked me to speak. After the formal ceremony, I mounted the rostrum to address the four- hundred-odd pupils. Their united gaze fixed itself on me standing there. Some of them hardly knew what a Buddhist priest looked like, and now one stood before them, and they wondered, I suppose, what on earth I was going to say. As they stared at my face, one of them giggled. That alone would not have mattered, but her neighbour took it up, then a third and more and more till the whole hall burst into laughter. The most brazen-faced must have been taken aback—how could one make a speech?

I cried in a loud voice: ‘This is a happy time for you. It is the time of flowering! Your faces are beautiful like flowers, but that is not the only likeness. For now, when you want to laugh you can just laugh. When the thought just comes that I look funny, you can laugh. Whenever you want, you can just laugh as much as you like. And this is the time of being flowers. When you want to cry too you can cry —that is what it means, the time of flowering.

‘But as you grow up, see how it is. Wen you get married, though you would like to laugh, if your father-in-law is there you have to suppress it, and you have to hold it in in front of other relatives. The day come, won’t it, when you’ll want to laugh but must not.

‘Now is it happiness just to laugh and cry when you want, or is it happiness to want to cry and not be able? Is it happiness to express one’s feelings just as they come, or is it happiness to want to express them and be unable to? Which is happiness? For you that time is surely coming, and it is through that time, by experiencing that frustration of life when you want to laugh but cannot do so, that you come to know of the liberation taught by the Buddha, absolute freedom from conditions. That I, which in crying yet does not cry, in laughing yet does not laugh, is realized as one’s form and that is the state of liberation.’ And so my speech was made.

The abstract terms of the Heart Sutra are a little difficult. Twice is used the phrase ‘. . . not different’. The first instance was: ‘the forms are not different from Emptiness’. But the world in which the self of the five skandha-aggregates does not recognize its sticking attachment to self is not, as it stands, Emptiness. What brings us to see the false clinging attachment to egoity as a false clinging, and perceive in the depths our true character, is the state of liberation called Kannon. It is submerging the self in the emptiness in the depths of the heart. And so form is Emptiness, and through the existence of forms we come to give them their true meaning as Emptiness.

by Abbot Obora of the Soto Zen sect

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