See, Hear, Understand, and Sit On

The huge body of Chinese Buddhist scriptures, which include not only translations of many Indian texts which have disappeared in India but also many texts which originated in China, are sometimes put together in the form of an enormous revolving book-case, in the form...

I have felt a strength holding me, and peace within.

An old lady in a country village brought up her little grandson, both of whose parents had died. She had little money and had a hard time doing it; the village were made aware of the extent of her sacrifices, and she did not have many friends. Living near by was a...

Primate of the Soto Zen Sect on controlling the Mind

Zen in China and Japan is divided into two main sects, Soto and Rinzai. Though they agree on fundamentals, the training differs a little, the Soto practising what may be called the original Zen, deriving from Buddha’s own meditation practice, whereas the Rinzai stress...

From a commentary on Rinzai-Roku

Translator’s Note: Omori Sogen is a well-known Zen Roshi, who was formerly a master of Kendo, Japanese fencing. He is also an expert calligrapher. This commentary is on the recorded sayings and doings of the Chinese Zen Master Rinzai, who taught in the middle of the...

Stillness in action

Stillness in the midst of action is the fundamental principle of Zazen (sitting in meditation). Some people think of Zazen as a sort of monopoly of the Zen sect, but the sect certainly has no monopoly of it. Zazen is the basis of the universe. Heaven and earth sit in...

The sermon of no words

There is an ancient saying: ‘Better an inch of practice than a foot of preaching.’ It refers to the sermon preached by the body itself, through action and without speaking. The sermon of words and phrases is the finger pointing to the moon, the fist knocking at the...

The dance of the Sennin

In China and Japan there is a tradition that certain spiritually enlightened sages live in the mountains, enjoying unbroken freedom and delight. They do not encourage disciples or give formal instruction, but their mere existence purifies the soul of the world. There...

The lotus in the mire

In times of famine, daughters of farmers allowed themselves to be sold to brothels in order to save the family. They took it as a sacrifice and did not lose their self-respect. Prostitutes were known as ‘lotuses in the mire’. Takuan was asked to write a poem on the...

Pieces in the Tigers Cave

The Shogun Iemitsu in early seventeenth-century Japan, was very interested in fencing, and kept several fencing masters at his court. Also in favour was the Zen master Takuan, from whom many of these masters took lessons in meditation and Zen. A wild tiger was sent...

The story of Sokko Konin

Here is an instance from the old records of Zen. A monk named Sokko enrolled as a pupil under the famous Master Hogen, but for a long time he never seemed to want to hear about Buddhism and never asked the master any questions about it. Then the teacher said to him:...

The great radiant mantra

Now the great radiant mantra. Without a speck of dust, bright like a mirror, the state of ultimate Emptiness reflects everything. A mirror leaves nothing unreflected. If a beggar comes it reflects a beggar, if a nobleman, then the noble. Whatever the form it reflects...

The power of Prajna

‘Know then that the Prajna Paramita is the great spiritual mantra, the great radiant mantra, the supreme mantra, the peerless mantra, which removes all suffering, the true, the unfailing. The mantra of the Prajna Paramita is taught and it is taught thus: Gone, gone,...

The Parent Heart

  I had a boy student in my temple whom we had brought up from childhood. He had a peculiar nervousness which made him unable to stand out in front of people and speak properly. There is a ceremony at which one who wishes to take a particular rank has to answer...

The experience of contradictions

The Bodhisattva path is this: My I is not just the I which is being pulled along by karma. I struggle not to be drawn along by it. There is a faint experience of joy as I begin to realize the true character of that self which is still being pulled along In spite of...

The highest life

In Buddhism there are the Six Paths, which are worlds. And among them the world of humans alone is the noble one. These are the words of Master Dogen: ‘A human body is hard to attain, the holy doctrine is rarely to be met with. Now, by our accumulated merit we have...

The experience of Nirvana

‘The Bodhisattva, since he is not gaining anything, by the Prajna Paramita has his heart free from the net of hindrances, and with no hindrances in the heart there is no fear. Far from all perverted dream thoughts, he has reached ultimate Nirvana. By the Prajna...

Clinging to life

Among the congregation of a country temple was a wife who contracted a very serious illness. She had to go to hospital in a town some distance away and her husband wrote me that his was very ill and wanted to see me. He asked me to visit her. So I made the trip and...

The Bodhisattva spirit

The Bodhisattva spirit is different. In the midst of desire and grasping, which we cannot do away with however much we try, in the midst of our deluded thoughts and ideas, we are to try to discover the world of release. Day and night our desire and clinging make us...

The view of the Shravakas

Those called Shravakas see into the four Truths to obtain Nirvana of nothingness. These four Truths are said to be what is certain and without error. In the Sutra of the Last Teachings it is said: ‘The moon may become hot and the sun cold, but the four Truths taught...

The Pratyeka Buddhist view

The fact that however much we try to act rightly we are unable to act absolutely rightly is the result of the karma of our past delusion and action. However we try to give up evil we cannot altogether give it up, and this is the effect of the karma-energy from our...

Prajna-paramita Sutra: English version with commentary

Of all the noble utterances attributed to the World- Honoured One, Shakyamuni, Prajna-paramita Sutra is held to be the greatest. Other Sutras like Vajrachhedika or Diamond-cutter, Saddharma-Pundarika or Lotus, and The Questions of King Milinda, contain deep...

The Bodhisattva spirit and the Hinayana ideal

The bodhisattva spirit No ignorance and no extinction of ignorance, nor any of the rest including age-and-death and extinction of age-and-death; no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path; no wisdom and no attainment. ’ The Hinayana ideal Hitherto we have been...

The Eighteen Elements

We have spoken of the five skandhas and the twelve entrances. Now there is another analysis—into eighteen ‘distinctions’. As previously explained, there are six roots—eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind—and six fields—form, sound, smell, taste, touch and...

The voice pilling heaven and earth

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...

Living without leaving a track

When the opposition of subject and object disappears, that is the condition of the real Emptiness. They have become one. Hitherto at each step in life a great imprint was left behind. While there are hearer and heard, at every sound arise the three passions of greed,...

The experience of emptiness and meditation with the whole body

The experience of emptiness ‘So in Emptiness there is neither form nor sensation, thinking, impulse nor consciousness; no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body nor mind; no form, sound, smell, taste, touch nor object of mind; no element of eye, nor any of the other elements,...

The world without increase or lessening

If as the Sutra says it is neither increased nor lessened, then we may suppose that it must be an amount. In such case, is it large or small? But no. Long and short, square and round, these are the qualities of relative size, but the world of Emptiness transcends the...

The world transcending values

In one of his sermons, Zen master Dogen speaks of realization as knowing that the eyes are at each side with the nose straight down in the middle. No longer deceived by others, he returns with nothing in the hands, without one hair of Buddhism ‘Realizing the eyes at...

Living hand-to-mouth

‘Neither defiled nor pure.’ These are clearcut words. In the world of Emptiness there is neither the so-called impure ordinary man nor what is called the pure Buddha. It transcends values, goes beyond price-setting. When we say ordinary man and sage, we are in the...

The world beyond birth-and-death

When Bodhidharma first saw the Emperor Bu of the Ryo dynasty, the latter was such a devout Buddhist that he was called the Buddha-heart Emperor, who would surely be the one to hear the true tradition. The Emperor asked: ‘Since ascending the throne I have built and...

Transcendence

All these things, Shariputra, have the character of Emptiness, neither born nor dying, neither defiled nor pure, neither increased nor lesssened. ’ These phrases addressed to Shariputra teach the character of Emptiness. As Emptiness, it have no characteristic form. We...

Power to condemn, power to condone

The world of Emptiness is not some world without crying and without laughing. Emptiness in the tears themselves, Emptiness in the smiles themselves—this is the real Emptiness. Then the phrase is turned round: ‘Emptiness is not different from form’ When with all my...

The world of liberation

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...

The non-egoity of the child

Someone has said: ‘The heart of God is the heart of a child.’ In a way it is true that a child’s heart is pure and free from malice, and we can also call him Mu-ga or without-I. But we cannot say that this no-I of the child is the Mu-ga of the Buddha; it has to be...

The concept monster

The so-called no-I of people like this, which is built on concepts, is no more than the no-I of a child. In an ironical sense one could call them good quiet people. Happy people! It is a widespread aberration in our thought today that many think self-completion is...

Passions are the bodhi

In his Discourses at Eihei Temple, Zen master Dogen says: ‘When the clay is plentiful the Buddha is big.’ By clay he means the raw passions. The mental operations in the mind within us which seethe and rage unbridled—these are the clay. And the more abundant it is,...

The true character of the human Self

The Buddha did not have the loneliness of being deserted; he knew the loneliness of having a million friends. It is said that he renounced his home when he was twenty-nine—in one tradition, nineteen. Before that he rejoiced in his beautiful queen and his lovely child....

The inward lonliness

THE INWARD LONELINESS My prayer is for no great thing. I always pray just that, with the hundred-and-fifty-odd families to which I minister, I should live in peace in a state of no-I. But it does not turn out so. One family who were very hospitable to me—I say...

The five skandhas have no fixed real nature

Delusive attachment to Self Consider for example a madman. He does not know he is mad: when he realizes it is madness, soon he recovers. These days there is an increase of the madness which affirms its own sanity. To be saying one is sane is already madness. He who...

Awakening to the character of our individuality

He saw all the five aggregates to be Emptiness, and passed beyond suffering. This is illumined vision, seeing things as they really are. Satori is when the real character of everything is seen. When renunciation of self is complete, the absolute, the state free from...

Human life is always quivering with uncertainty

The true character of the Self What then is our life of endless circling? It may be the mind arising beautiful as heaven, it may be the mind springing up as a hungry ghost; but both equally uncertain, because we have still to circle in the worlds of good and evil. I...

The spirit of Mahayana Buddhism is to discover life’s real meaning

The real meaning of negation The Heart Sutra teaches us the method of training by which we can see Emptiness in each one of the steps which, whatever our attitude to life, we are being forced to make. At present we keep doing the same things over and over again in the...

The true world of Nirvana in the midst of life

The Life-Wheel The Bodhisattva Kannon, having practised the profound Prajna Paramita, penetrated to the true world of Nirvana in the midst of life, the life which cannot be evaded however we try. In Buddhism another word for life is the wheel of birth-and-death. A...

He saw all the five aggregates to be Emptiness

THE CIRCLE OF LIFE When the Bodhisattva Kannon was practising the profound Prajna Paramita wisdom, he saw all the five aggregates to be Emptiness, and passed beyond suffering. Now we begin the text. The Bodhisattva mentioned is generally known as Kannon, though...

Introduction on the Heart Sutra

  The load of ignorance makes footsteps of evil When the Bodhisattva Kannon was practising the profound Prajna Paramita wisdom he saw all the five aggregates to be Emptiness, and passed beyond suffering. ‘O disciple Shariputra, form is not different from Emptiness,...

Zen is a Japanese approximation to the Sanskrit dhyana

Zen is a Japanese approximation to the Sanskrit dhyana, which has in Yoga the technical meaning of stilling and focussing the mind. When after long practice all associations have dropped away and the mind is identified with the subtle constituents of the object, the...

Two poems

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...

The perfection of the fourfold wisdom

Wide is the heaven of boundless Samadhi, Radiant the full moon of the fourfold wisdom. THESE two lines express enlightenment and the perfection of the fourfold wisdom. There is the phrase “boundless Samadhi’ The word Samadhi is Sanskrit, and can be translated as...

The peak of realization

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...

Jump beyond realization

Taking as form the form of no-form,  Going or returning, he is ever at home. Taking as thought the thought of no-thought, Singing and dancing, all is the voice of truth. LIKE THE previous lines, these describe the state of realization. It is perhaps comparatively easy...

Direct expression of Zen enlightenment

The gate opens, and cause and effect are one; Straight runs the way—not two, not three. THESE two lines are a direct expression of Zen enlightenment, the peace that comes from realization that cause and effect are one. The ancients spoke of a universal net from which...

Turning the light so it shines back

How much more he who turns within And confirms directly his own nature, That his own nature is no-nature— Such has transcended vain words. THESE four phrases make clear the confirmatory experience of one’s own nature, which is the aim of Zen meditation. The phrase...

The merit of Hearing the Law

When in reverence this truth is heard even once, He who praises it and gladly embraces it has merit without end. THESE lines are still concerned with the virtue of the practice of zazen, but here, in particular, the merit of Hearing the Law. In the writings of Zen...

Repentance and the destruction of sins

By the merit of a single sitting He destroys innumerable accumulated sins. How should there be wrong paths for him? The Pure Land paradise is not far, THESE lines speak of the virtue of sitting-in-meditation, and especially in regard to repentance and the destruction...

Zen meditation of the Mahayana

Giving and morality and the other perfections, Taking of the Name, repentance, discipline, And the many other right actions, All come back to the practice of meditation. IN THESE lines the right actions are reviewed, and it is taught that the Zen meditation of the...

The direct pointing to the heart of man

The Zen meditation of the Mahayana Is beyond all our praise. These two lines are the central pivot of the Song of Meditation. Mahayana is a Sanskrit word meaning “great vehicle’ Hakuin here refers to meditation, which is the peak of the Mahayana, or Buddhism of the...

The path of liberation, of ascension, must be sought

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...

All living beings are from the very beginning Buddhas

Not knowing it is near, they seek it afar. What a pity! It is like one in the water who cries out for thirst; It is like the child of a rich house who has strayed away among the poor. These three lines explain further the great declaration that all living beings are...

Hakuin’s Song of Meditation

  ZEN MASTER HAKUIN.This self-portrait, painted in 1768, shortly before Hakuin’s death at eighty-three, shows the master in ceremonial robes and carrying a hossu. ABBOT AMAKUKI delivered these lectures over the Kyoto Radio early in the 1930's, and soon afterwards...

Zen is the practice of the Buddha way

One objectof Zen is of course to see one's nature and be enlightened, but that is not the final resting-place. Zen embraces Buddhism and it is the practice of the Buddha way. What is Buddhism then, and what is the Buddha way? Many people have an idea that Buddhism is...

Zen has a totally unrestricted and universal outlook

As Zen has a totally unrestricted and universal outlook, among the "cases" or koan, reputedly seventeen hundred in number, there are stories about kittens and dogs, about turtles, and about water buffaloes. The fifty-sixth case of the Chinese anthology of Abbot...

Awakening people to themselves

Since the war the state of the Japanese people has changed. Under the new Constitution, the attitude to the family, which before was the centre of Japanese life, has been altered, and the Emperor, previously regarded as supremely sacred, has become a symbol. It is...

The Buddha is everywhere

IN WESTERN philosophy and theology there are various theories about the existence of God, and attempts are made to prove His existence. Leaving aside the rightness or wrongness of the arguments and the whole question of whether there is a God-in-heaven, what is...

What is the aim of religion?

WHAT IS the aim of religion, and what is its raison d'être? People with a modern education clearly seem to be in doubt as to the answers. The trend of religion most obvious in society (particularly that of the so-called Revivalist sects) is chiefly towards healing,...

Posture is the first step in Zazen

FOR THE serious student, posture is the first step in zazen or sitting in meditation. It is a peculiar fact that for spiritual practice, first of all the posture of the body must be made just right, whereas in physical training we always have to make sure that it is...

A tounge tip taste of Zen

TAKASHINA Rosen  is kancho or primate of the Soto Zen sect in Japan. He is reverenced not only by the followers oj this sect; as president of the Japan Buddhist Association he is looked up to by the other sects as one of the great Buddhist figures of present-day...

The Original Face

“THE ORIGINAL FACE” is a sermon delivered to the Empress Hanazono by Zen master Myocho, who is best known under the name bestowed upon him by the emperor: Daito Koku- shi. Kokushi means literally " teacher of the nation ”. Daito (1281-1337) was one of the great lights...

WHAT WAS it that Buddha wished to teach?

Was it sagacity? Was it brilliant academic understanding? Was his aim to encourage the reading of the sutras, or asceticism or austerities? In reality it was none of these. He simply wished to show all living beings how to set in right order the body and mind. The...

The Seller of Pears

An Abbot of the Buddha-Heart sect was preaching in the open air to a large crowd. The Abbot spoke of making life harmonious by mutual aid and concession, but added that the aim of life is to realize the Buddha-Heart within man, without which life has no real meaning....

The case of the White Hare

AS Zen has a totally unrestricted and universal outlook, among the ` cases ', reputedly seventeen hundred in number, there are stories about kittens and puppies, about turtles and about water-buffaloes. The 56th Case of the Ju-Yo-Roku (of Wanshi) is the story called...

The Essentials for Entering the Way

Extract from The Spur, by Torei, chief disciple of the Japanese Zen Master Hakuin (1685-1768). IN WHAT is called in Zen the ascent from the state of the ordinary vulgar man to the state of Buddha, there are five requirements. First is the principle that they have the...

Life in a Zen Training Temple

There are many thousands of Zen temples in Japan, where there is a priest who ministers to his parish, consisting of the local families which are registered as belonging to the Zen sect. It is families which are registered, not individuals, and this illustrates that...

A Visit to a Zen Temple

HALF an hour from Tokyo, in the suburb of Tsurumi, is a wooded hill on which stands the Zen monastery of Sojiji.    It is the headquarters of the Soto branch of the Zen sect of Buddhism, and has numbered some famous Zen masters among its Abbots.    The Soto branch is...

Unsteadiness

IN HER last work, Interior Castle, St. Teresa remarks that instability of spiritual states is often a cause of bewilderment to spiritual aspirants. They felt sure that what they experienced at times of devotion in favourable circumstances would be with them for ever;...

THE KOAN OF ONE HAND

THE Zen sect of Buddhism developed in China and still flourishes in Japan. It is a path of knowledge (prajna) rather than devotion, and the goal is realization (Satori in Japanese). Before Satori can be attained, the deep-seated convictions of the absolute reality of...

The Enlightenment of Zen Master Hakuin

IN the spring of 1704, when he was nineteen and already a monk, Hakuin went to the Zen community at Aomizu. The master was discoursing to the public on the history of Buddhism in China, and mentioned Gen-Tao, a famous master of the Tang Dynasty, in whose time Buddhism...

THE ENLIGHTENMENT OF ZEN MASTER DAITO

HIS teacher gave him as a text for meditation an answer made by an ancient Chinese teacher named the Master of the Cloud-gate.        This was a single word meaning a frontier-gate or mountain-pass. He told him "Throw your whole spirit into the word 'Pass'. You should...

Zen master Hakuin on the Lotus Mantra

The Sutra called "The Lotus of the Wonderful Law " (Sad Dharma Pundarika) is one of the fundamental scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism. A commentary on it was written by Prince Shotoku, who used it to introduce Buddhism into Japan in the sixth century. Since his time,...

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