Two poems6 min read

EARLY in the sixth century A.D., Bodhidharma carried Zen to China, where he became the First Patriarch. His successors handed it on to chosen disciples. There is a tradition, not found before the time of Shumitsu, that the Fifth Patriarch invited his hundreds of disciples to submit poems from which he could judge their attainment. The head monk Jinshu wrote a verse expressing the view of gradual progress and gradual realization. Against this Eno, an obscure servant in the monastery, composed a poem on sudden realization without stages. The Fifth Patriarch approved the first poem but gave the succession to Eno, who became the Sixth Patriarch. Jinshu’s school continued in the North for many years. Eno (637-713) moved to the South. The Northern school was not attacked by any of Eno’s disciples except Kataku Jinne, whose own line stressed sudden realization almost to the exclusion of the traditional zazen meditation sitting. Jinne,s school became purely philosophical, and with Shumitsu (779-641) became absorbed into the Kegon philosophical sect. The line of Jinne, called Kataku Zen, died out before the last remnants of the Northern school of Jinshu, which he had so bitterly attacked.

The reader is already familiar with the concept of original realization,” but an example will illustrate this difficult point. A nervous man, addicted to ghost stories, reads a well-written one late at night. He gets the notion that the ghost he has been reading about is in the house. He barricades the door; he trembles with fear and is in danger of a heart attack. In a way he knows it is all illusion, only something he has been reading about—this is his “original realizationwhich is never quite lost. But in practice he accepts the ghost, and this affects him physically. Every creak of the furniture and gust of wind reinforces his belief in the ghost. From the point of view of original realization there is nothing which needs to be done, as the ghost has no existence; from the point of view of practical reality, to free himself from the fear which oppresses him, he must adopt a discipline of restraining his mind from thoughts based on acceptance of the ghost’s existence, and return to his original realization. But if he should regard this regimen as a sort of spell to kill the ghost, he is again asserting its existence and obscuring original realization. Even to say that the object of the practice is to free him from the ghost is not to the point; there never has been a ghost. The practice of realization is its own end. The furniture creaks and the wind blows, but the house is ever at peace.

What follows is a sermon delivered in 1930 by the famous Oka Kyugaku, late abbot of the Soto temple of Shuzenji. He was well known as an artist, and two pictures by him appear in this book.

IT IS SAID that the poem of the head monk Jinshu was this:

The body is the bodhi tree,

The heart as it were bright on the mirror-stand.

Often and often labour to wipe it clean That it do not collect the dust.

It is a very fine verse. Against this, the verse of the Sixth Patriarch was:

Bodhi is not a tree;

The bright mirror is not on a stand.

From the very beginning not a single thing—

On what could the dust collect?

This verse too is very fine. Still, beginners must not think that the verse of Jinshu is bad. Of course to cling only to his idea of progress by stages is righdy condemned as a limited view, but equally to incline too much to the Sixth Patriarch’s “sudden realization” will inevitably lead to spiritual pride. The Sixth Patriarch’s verse is from the higher level, but spiritual students do have to polish and polish just as the verse of holy Jinshu says. An ordinary man, if he polishes enough, becomes a Buddha. It does not mean only spiritual students, but each and every one.

If a jewel is not polished, it does not shine. Even a diamond, with its innate quality of sparkling, glitters only after it has been polished. There are no ready-made Shakyamunis, no natural Mirokus. The patriarch Dogen explains: “When it is said the mind is the Buddha, it implies the quest, practice, realization, and Nirvana of all the Buddhas. Without that quest, practice, realization, and Nirvana, it is not true that the mind is the Buddha ”

The practice he speaks of is zazen. Its merits are well known, but in the Zen sect zazen is itself the Buddha state. It is not that zazen is practised because we are unenlightened and that after satori zazen is not necessary. It is zazen when unenlightened and zazen also after enlightenment. Zazen is never in the expectation of satori; it is not a means with something else as an end.

If zazen is considered a means, the student may suppose that realization is somewhere else. The patriarch Dogen says on this: “Practice and realization are not different. Practice is a matter of realization. In the practice of even a novice, the original realization is fully present. It is taught that practice is to be done with care, but we are never to look for some realization apart from the practice, for practice is merely directing attention to the original realization.”

Zazen itself is Buddhahood and Buddha action, and there is no point in thinking about seeking for anything else. One who is always healthy never thinks about health as such. Zazen transcends illusion and enlightenment. The patriarch says in the Zazen-gi meditation classic: “Do not try to make a Buddha.” Real zazen transcends Buddha-making, and so it is said that the perfection of zazen is to manifest the light of the Buddhas and patriarchs. Simple people fancy this to be a light like that of the sun or moon, but he explains: “The light of sun and moon is merely an appearance in Sansara, caused by karma. The Buddha light is nothing like that. The Buddha light means receiving a text through the sense of hearing, and holding that truth by the traditional zazen. Without the Buddha light there is no holding or receiving/ * A phrase or a poem which contains the light of the Buddha wisdom is heard and received, and zazen means holding that Buddha light.

It is an elevating theory, yet without practice it remains only a theory. “What we must know is not the dialectics of Buddhism; instead of making distinctions in the truth, we should simply know whether our practice is real or an imitation.” The real practice, namely Zen meditation, is the great life of the Buddha. Experience does not come from theorizing. When often and often we labour to polish, so that the dust does not collect, in other words when we are practising zazen, the Buddha light is seen shining.