Zen Texts & Essays
the heart sutra
When practicing deeply the Perfection of Wisdom Perceived that all five skandhas are Empty
And was saved from all suff’ring and distress.
“O Shariputra, form does not differ from Emptiness; Emptiness does not differ from form.
That which is form is Emptiness;
That which is Emptiness, form.
The same is true of sensations, conceptions, inclinations, perception.
O Shariputra, all dharmas are marked with Emptiness; They do not appear nor disappear,
Are not tainted nor pure,
Do not increase nor decrease.
Therefore in Emptiness, no form,
No sensations, no conceptions, no inclinations, no
No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body,
No color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch,
no object of mind;
No realm of eyes and so forth until no realm of
No ignorance and also no extinction of it, and so
forth until no old age and death and also no extinction of them;
No suff’ring, no origination, no stopping, no path;
No cognition, also no attainment.
With nothing to attain,
The bodhisattva depends on the Perfection of Wisdom And the mind is no hindrance.
Without any hindrance, no fears exist;
Far apart from every perverted view the bodhisattva
dwells in Nirvana.
All Buddhas, past, present, and future, depend on the Perfection of Wisdom,
And attain unsurpassed, complete, perfect Enlightenment.
Therefore know the Perfection of Wisdom Is the great transcendent mantra,
Is the great bright mantra,
Is the utmost mantra,
Is the supreme mantra,
Which is able to relieve all suff’ring
And is true, not false.
So proclaim the Perfection of Wisdom mantra, Proclaim the mantra that says:
Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate! Bodhi! Svaha!”
the diamond sutra
Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha was staying in the garden of Anathapindika in Jeta Grove near Sravasti, with a community of 1,250 bhiksus and many Bodhisattvas.
That day, when it was time to make the round for alms, the Buddha put on his sanghati robe and, taking his bowl, went into the city of Sravasti to seek alms food, going from house to house. When the alms round was completed, he returned to the garden to eat the midday meal. Then he put away his sanghati robe and his bowl, washed his feet, arranged his cushion, and sat down, crossing his legs, holding his body upright, and mindfully fixing his attention in front of him.
At that time, the Venerable Subhuti stood up, bared his right shoulder, knelt on his right knee, and, raising his hands with palms joined respectfully, said to the Buddha, “It is wonderful, O Well-Gone, it is most precious how mindful the Tathagata is of all the Bodhisattvas, protecting and instructing them so well.
“World-Honored One, if good men and women want to give rise to the ultimate, most fulfilled, awakened mind (i.e., supreme enlightenment), how should they stand, how should they move, and how should they control their thoughts?”
The Buddha replied, “Well said, Subhuti! So it is as you say. The Tathagata is ever mindful of the Bodhisattvas, protecting and instructing them well. Therefore, listen and attend well, Subhuti. I will teach how good men and women who want to give rise to the ultimate, most fulfilled, awakened mind, should stand, should move, should control their thoughts.”
“So be it, Lord,” the Venerable Subhuti said, “We are happy to hear your teachings.”
The Buddha said to Subhuti, “This is how the bodhisattva mahasattvas master their thinking: ‘However many species of living beings there are—whether born from eggs, from the womb, from moisture, or spontaneously; whether they have form or do not have form; whether they have thought or do not have thought; or whether it cannot be said of them that they have thought or that they do not have thought, all these I must guide to nirvana—to that liberation which leaves nothing behind. Though the number of such beings thus liberated must be immeasurable, no being at all has been led to nirvana.’
“And why? If, Subhuti, a bodhisattva holds the idea of a self, a person, a being, or a separate existence, that bodhisattva could not be called a bodhisattva.”
“Moreover, Subhuti, when a bodhisattva practices generosity, it is done without regard to appearances, unsupported by sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, or mental attachments. That, Subhuti, is the spirit in which a bodhisattva should practice generosity, not relying on signs. And why? If a bodhisattva practices generosity without relying on signs, the happiness that results cannot be conceived of or easily measured. What do you think, Subhuti, is the extent of space to the East easily measured?”
“No, World-Honored One.”
“Is the extent of space to the West, South, North, Zenith, and Nadir easily measured?”
“No, World-Honored One.”
“Like so, Subhuti, the merit that results from one who gives without attachment is not easily measured. The Bodhisattvas, Subhuti, should fix their minds single-pointedly on this teaching.”
“What do you think, Subhuti? Is it possible to grasp the Tathagata by means of signs?”
“No, World-Honored One. When the Tathagata speaks of signs, there are no signs being talked about.”
The Buddha said to Subhuti, “In a place where there is something that can be distinguished by signs, in that place there is deception. If you can see the signless nature of signs, then you can see the Tathagata.”
The Venerable Subhuti said to the Buddha, “In times to come, in the last epoch, when these teachings become obscured, will there be people who, when they hear these teachings, understand the truth?”
The Buddha replied, “Do not speak that way, Subhuti. Yes, even then there will be those who, gifted with good conduct, virtuous qualities, and wisdom, when hearing these teachings, will understand the truth. Such Bodhisattvas will not have planted roots of merit under one Buddha alone, or even two, three, four, or five Buddhas, but under countless Buddhas. Those Bodhisattvas who give rise to a pure and serene confidence even upon hearing these words of the Tathagata, are seen and known by the Tathagata, and they will attain immeasurable happiness because of this understanding.
And why? “Because in these Bodhisattvas the idea of a self, a person, a being, or a separate existence does not take place. They are not caught up in the idea of a dharma or the idea of a no-dharma. They are not caught up in the notion that this is a sign and that is not a sign. And why? If these Bodhisattvas should have the idea of a dharma, or even a no-dharma, they would thereby seize upon a self, a person, a being, and a separate existence. That is why we should not get caught up in dharmas or in the idea that dharmas do not exist. Therefore this saying has been taught by the Tathagata with a subtle meaning: ‘All the teachings of the Tathagata are like a raft.’ As even these teachings must be abandoned, how much more so a no-teaching.”
“What do you think, Subhuti, does the Tathagata know any teaching as the ultimate, most fulfilled, awakened mind? Has the Tathagata even given such a teaching?”
The Venerable Subhuti replied, “No, not as I understand the teachings of the Tathagata. And why? The teachings that the Tathagata has realized and set forth cannot be conceived of as separate, independent existences and therefore cannot be described. Such teaching is neither self-existent nor non-self-existent. And why? Because the great teachers are only distinguished from others in terms of the unconditioned.”
“What do you think, Subhuti? If someone filled 3,000 galaxies with the seven precious things and gave it all away as an act of generosity, would that person gain much merit by that act?”
The Venerable Subhuti replied, “Very much, indeed, O Well-Gone. It would be beyond reckoning. And why? Because the Tathagata has taught that such merit is a no-merit.”
The Buddha said, “On the other hand, if someone else received and lived them, even only a stanza of four lines of these teachings, and explained them to others, the merit generated by such an act would exceed even that of the first. And why? Because from it has issued all the Buddhas and the teachings of the ultimate, most fulfilled, awakened mind of all the Buddhas. And why? Because, Subhuti, what is called Buddhadharma is all that is not Buddhadharma.”
“What do you think, Subhuti? Does one who has entered the stream which flows to enlightenment think, ‘I have attained the fruit of stream-entry.’?”
Subhuti replied, “No, World-Honored One. And why? Because nothing has been attained therefore such a one is called Stream Enterer. No sight-object has been attained, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touchable, no object of mind has been won. That is what is meant by ‘entering the stream.’ If even the thought ‘I have attained the fruit of stream entry’ should occur, this is to seize upon a self, a person, a being, a separate existence.”
“What do you think, Subhuti? Does a Once-Returner think, ‘I have attained the fruit of once-returning.’?”
Subhuti replied, “No, World-Honored One. And why? Because a Once-Returner must go and return again, but in truth there is no going or returning. To realize this is to be called a Once-Returner.”
“What do you think, Subhuti? Does a Non-Returner think like this, ‘I have attained the fruit of no-return.’?”
Subhuti replied, “No, World-Honored One. And why? Because in truth there is no real thing which does not return. This is what is meant by ‘Non-Returner’.”
“What do you think, Subhuti? Does an Arhat think like this, ‘I have attained the fruit of Arhatship.’?”
Subhuti replied, “No, World-Honored One. And why? There is no separately existing thing that can be called ‘Arhat.’ If an Arhat gives rise to the thought that he has attained the fruit of Arhatship, then he is still caught up in the idea of a self, a person, a being, or a separate existence. World-Honored One, you have often said that I have attained the concentration of peaceful abiding and that in the community, I am the Arhat who has most transformed need and desire. World-Honored One, if I were to think that I had attained the fruit of Arhatship, you certainly would not have said that I love to dwell in the concentration of peaceful abiding.”
The Buddha asked Subhuti, “In the past when the Tathagata was with Dipankara Buddha, did he attain anything?”
Subhuti answered, “No, World-Honored One. In the past when the Tathagata was practicing under Dipankara Buddha, he did not attain anything.”
The Buddha then said, “If a bodhisattva declared, ‘I create a serene and beautiful Buddha field,’ he would speak falsely. And why? As it is taught by the Tathagata, to create a serene and beautiful Buddha field is to create a no-Buddha field. That is why it is called creating a serene and beautiful Buddha field.
“Therefore, Subhuti, all the bodhisattva mahasattvas should give rise to an unsupported thought which is in no way dependent upon sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects, or objects of mind. They should give rise to a pure and clear intention with their minds not dwelling anywhere.”
“Suppose, Subhuti, a man had an enormous body, like Sumeru, the king of mountains. Would the sense of personal existence he had also be enormous?”
“Yes, indeed, O Lord,” Subhuti answered. “His sense of personal existence would be enormous. But the Tathagata has taught that personal existence is no existence, for it is in fact neither existence nor non-existence. So it is called ‘personal existence’.”
“Subhuti, if there were as many Ganges Rivers as the number of grains of sand in the Ganges, would you say that the number of sand grains in all those Ganges Rivers is very many?”
Subhuti answered, “Very many indeed, World-Honored One. Indeed, the number of Ganges Rivers would be innumerable, how much more so their sand grains.”
“Subhuti, now I want to ask you this: if a good woman or man filled as many galaxies as there are grains of sand in all those Ganges Rivers with the seven precious things, and gave it all away as an act of generosity, would that person gain much merit by that act?”
Subhuti replied, “Very much indeed, O Well-Gone.”
The Buddha said to Subhuti, “If a good man or woman receives, lives, and explains this sutra to others, even if only a stanza of four lines, the resulting merit would be far greater.”
“Furthermore, Subhuti, any place in which this sutra is studied or explained, even if only one stanza of four lines, will become like a shrine for the whole world with its gods, asuras and people. If even the place where this discourse is taught is like a shrine, how much more can be said for those who continuously remember this whole sutra, who recite, study, and illuminate it in full detail for others. Subhuti, you should know that such people attain the most wonderful and profound truth. Wherever this sutra is found you should conduct yourself as though in the presence of the Buddha or a sage worthy of the Buddha.”
After that, Subhuti asked the Buddha, “What should this sutra be called and how should it be remembered?”
The Buddha replied, “This sutra should be called The Diamond Cutter because it cuts through all illusions. You should remember it as such. And why? This very discourse which the Tathagata has taught as thePerfection of Wisdom is precisely a teaching which is not the perfection of wisdom, therefore it is called the Perfection of Wisdom.”
The Buddha asked, “What do you think, Subhuti? Is there any dharma which the Tathagata has taught?”
Subhuti replied, “No indeed, World-Honored One, there is not.”
“What do you think, Subhuti? Are there many particles of dust in 3,000 galaxies each containing billions of worlds?”
“Very many, World-Honored One, but what the Tathagata teaches as ‘particles of dust’ are no-particles. Therefore they are called ‘particles of dust.’ And what the Tathagata teaches as ‘galaxies’ are no-galaxies. Therefore they are called galaxies.”
“What do you think, Subhuti? Can the Tathagata be seen by the thirty-two marks of a great sage?”
The Venerable Subhuti replied, “No indeed, World-Honored One. And why? Because the Tathagata has taught that the thirty-two marks of a great sage are really no-marks. That is why they are called ‘the thirty-two marks’.”
“Subhuti, if a good woman or a man were to renounce all they own as many times as there are grains of sand in the Ganges and if another took from this teaching only one stanza of four lines and demonstrated it to others, the merit of the latter would be far greater.”
When he had heard this much and penetrated deeply into its significance, the Venerable Subhuti was moved to tears. He said, “World-Honored One, you are truly rare in this world. Since the day I attained the eyes of understanding, thanks to the guidance of the Buddha, I have never before heard teachings so deep and wonderful as these. World-Honored One, if someone hears this sutra, has pure and clear confidence in it, and arrives at insight into the truth, that person will realize the rarest kind of virtue. World-Honored One, that insight into the truth is essentially no-insight. That is what the Tathagata calls insight into the truth.
“World-Honored One, today is not difficult for me to hear this wonderful sutra, have confidence in it, understand it, accept it, and put it into practice. But in the future, in the last five hundred years, if there are those who can hear this sutra, have confidence in it, understand it, study it, and illuminate it in full detail for others, such as they will be of most remarkable achievement, for in them no idea of a self, a person, a being, or a separate existence takes place. And why? The concept of a self is in error, and the concepts of a person, a being, and a separate existence are in error as well. Thus the Buddhas have left all concepts behind.”
“The Buddha said, “It is as you say, Subhuti. Of remarkable achievement are those who do not tremble in fear or awe when they hear this teaching. And why? Subhuti, what the Tathagata calls parama-paramita, the ultimate perfection is the teaching of countless Buddhas. Therefore it is called the ultimate perfection.
“Subhuti, what the Tathagata teaches as the perfection of patience is no-perfection. That is why it is called the perfection of patience. And why? Subhuti, when the King of Kalinga mutilated my body, I possessed no concept of a self, a person, a being, or a separate existence. If, at that time, such ideas had arisen, anger and ill-will would have arisen.
“I also remember, long ago, that I led the life of a sage devoted to patience. Even then I was free from the idea of a self, a person, a being, and a separate existence. So, Subhuti, after a bodhisattva has given up all concepts, he must give rise to the unequaled mind of awakening. He cannot rely on sights when he gives rise to that mind, nor on sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects, or objects of mind, for all such supporting conditions are in reality no support at all. Thus the Tathagata teaches that the bodhisattva can only give rise to that mind that is not caught up in anything.
“The Tathagata teaches that charity should be practiced by a Bodhisattva who relies on no supporting conditions. For the welfare of all beings, charity should be practiced in this manner without regard to appearances. And why? The idea of a being is no idea. These beings of whom the Tathagata has spoken are not, in fact, beings. Subhuti, the Tathagata is one who speaks in accordance with reality, speaks what is true, and speaks of what is. He does not speak deceptively or to please people. Subhuti, if we say that the Tathagata has realized a teaching, that teaching is neither graspable nor deceptive.
“Subhuti, a bodhisattva who still depends on notions to practice generosity is like someone walking in the dark. But when a bodhisattva does not depend on notions to practice generosity, he is like someone with good eyesight walking under the bright light of the sun. He can see all shapes and colors.
“Subhuti, those good men or women who will take up the teaching, and receive, study, live and illuminate it in detail for others, they will be seen by the Tathagata by means of his Buddha-eye. The Tathagata will know them and they will bring to fruition measureless, limitless merit.”
“Subhuti, if on the one hand, a good woman or man were to give up all they own, and were they to repeat this act in the morning as many times as there are grains of sand in the Ganges, and if they should do likewise at noon and in the evening, and if in this way they continue doing so for countless ages; and if, on the other hand, someone else listens to this sutra with complete confidence and without contention, the latter would bring to fruition immeasurably greater merit. But no comparison can be made to one who writes this sutra down, receives, recites, and explains it in detail to others.
“In summary, Subhuti, this teaching is inconceivable and cannot be confined by comparison with anything else. If there are those capable of receiving, living, reciting, and explaining this teaching to others, the Tathagata will see and know them, and they will achieve a perfection of merit inconceivable, immeasurable, and incomparable. Such as these will bear the ultimate, most fulfilled, awakened career of the Tathagata. And why? Subhuti, if one is of inferior resolve and finds consolation in limited teachings, he or she is still caught up in the idea of a self, a person, a being, or a separate existence and will not be able to hear, receive, recite, and explain this teaching to others. Subhuti, any place this teaching is found is a place worthy of honor by the whole world with its people, gods, and asuras. Such a place is like a shrine and should be venerated with formal ceremony.”
“Furthermore, Subhuti, those good men and women who take up, remember, study, and recite this sutra will be humbled. Their misfortunes now are the effects of their past, yet by their present difficulty may they reach the enlightenment of a Buddha. Subhuti, in the remote past, long before I met the fully enlightened Dipankara Buddha, I faultlessly served millions of Buddhas throughout incalculable ages. Nevertheless, the merit gained by those who take up, remember, study, recite, and explain in full detail to others this discourse in the future, when this good teaching is on the decline, will surpass the merit gained in the service I rendered to those millions of Buddhas throughout incalculable ages. Their merit bears no number, comparison, or similarity.
“Subhuti, if I were to detail just how vast this merit of such good men and women would be, people would become frantic and confused. But since the Tathagata has taught that this discourse on Dharma is inconceivable, like so, the result of this teaching is also inconceivable.”
The Venerable Subhuti again asked the Buddha, “World-Honored One, if good women or men would give rise to the ultimate, most fulfilled, awakened mind, how should they stand, how should they move, and how should they control their thoughts?”
The Buddha replied, “Subhuti, a good woman or man who would give rise to the ultimate, most fulfilled, awakened mind should produce this thought: ‘I must lead all beings to nirvana, to that liberation which leaves nothing behind, yet when all beings have thus been liberated, no being has been liberated.’ And why? Subhuti, if in a bodhisattva the idea of a self, a person, a being, or a separate existence, should arise, that bodhisattva could not be called a bodhisattva. And why? A true bodhisattva is not an independently existing object of mind.
What do you think, Subhuti? In the past, when the Tathagata was with Dipankara Buddha, was there any dharma by which he came to know supreme enlightenment?”
“No, World-Honored One. As I understand the teachings of the Buddha, there was no dharma by which the Tathagata has known supreme enlightenment.”
The Buddha said, “Right you are, Subhuti. It is for this reason that the Buddha Dipankara predicted of me, ‘In the future you will be a Buddha, supremely enlightened, and you will be called Shakyamuni.’ And why? Tathagata is synonymous with true Suchness (of all dharmas). To say that the Tathagata has attained the ultimate, most fulfilled awakened mind would be to speak falsely since there is no one specific dharma by which the Tathagata has fully known supreme enlightenment. Subhuti, the ultimate, most fulfilled, awakened mind that the Tathagata has attained is neither graspable nor elusive. This is why the Tathagata has said, ‘All dharmas are Buddhadharma,’ for what the Tathagata teaches as all dharmas is no-dharma. That is why all dharmas are called Buddhadharma.
“Subhuti, consider a man of gigantic frame.”
Subhuti said, “What the Tathagata calls ‘gigantic frame’ has been taught by the Tathagata as no frame at all.”
“So it is, Subhuti. Thus the bodhisattva who thinks, ‘I will lead all beings to nirvana,’ cannot be called a bodhisattva. And why? Subhuti, is there any independently existing thing called ‘bodhisattva’?”
“No, World-Honored One, there is not.”
“Therefore,” the Buddha continued, “the Tathagata teaches that all dharmas are without a self, a person, a being, or a separate existence. Even if a bodhisattva wished to create a serene, harmonious, and tranquil Buddha field, that bodhisattva cannot be called a bodhisattva. And why? What is called a serene, harmonious, and tranquil Buddha field is a no-Buddha field, as taught by the Tathagata. Therefore the Tathagata speaks of a serene, harmonious, and tranquil Buddha field.
Subhuti, any bodhisattva who thoroughly understands that all dharmas are without self is called by the Tathagata a bodhisattva of great courage.”
“Subhuti, what do you think? Does the physical eye of the Tathagata exist?”
Subhuti replied, “So it is, O Well-Gone, the physical eye of the Tathagata exists.”
The Buddha asked, “Subhuti, what do you think? Does the Tathagata’s eye of enlightenment exist?”
Subhuti said, “Surely, Lord, it does exist.”
“Subhuti, what do you think? Does the wisdom eye of the Tathagata exist?”
Subhuti replied, “Indeed, Lord, it does exist.”
“Subhuti, what do you think? Does the Dharma eye of the Tathagata exist?”
“Yes, World-Honored One, the Dharma eye of the Tathagata exists.”
The Buddha asked, “Does the Buddha eye of the Tathagata exist?”
“Yes, Lord, it does exist.”
“Subhuti, what do you think? Has the Tathagata spoken of the grains of sand in the Ganges?”
Subhuti replied, “So it is, O Well-Gone, the Tathagata has done this.”
“Subhuti, if there were as many Ganges Rivers as the number of grains of sand of the Ganges and there was a galaxy of worlds for each grain of sand in all those Ganges Rivers, would those worlds be many?”
“Many indeed, World-Honored One.”
The Buddha said, “Subhuti, however many beings there are in all these worlds, though they each have a different mode of thought, the Tathagata understands them all. And why? Subhuti, what are called different modes of thought are taught by the Tathagata as no-thought. Thus they are called different modes of thought. And why? Subhuti, past thought cannot be retained, future thought cannot be grasped, present thought cannot be held.”
“What do you think, Subhuti? If a good man or woman filled this galaxy of billions of worlds with the seven precious things and gave it all away as an act of generosity, would they bring great merit by this act?”
“They would, indeed, O Well-Gone.”
“Subhuti, the merit gained would be immeasurably great. Yet, if there were such a thing as merit the Tathagata would not have said it to be great, but because it is ungraspable and without foundation, the Tathagata has called it great.”
“Subhuti, what do you think? Can the Tathagata be seen in the manifestation of his form?”
“No, World-Honored One, the Tathagata cannot be seen in the manifestation of his form. And why? Because the Tathagata has taught that the manifestation of his form is a no-manifestation. That is why it is called ‘the manifestation of his form’.”
“What do you think, Subhuti? Can the Tathagata be seen by his marks?”
“No, World-Honored One, the Tathagata cannot be seen by his marks. And why? Because the Tathagata has taught that these marks are in truth no-marks. That is why they are called marks.”
“Subhuti, do not think the Tathagata holds the idea ‘I have demonstrated Dharma.’ And why? If anyone says that the Tathagata demonstrates Dharma, that person speaks falsely, and misrepresents the Tathagata by seizing on what is not there. And why? There is no dharma that can be given as a demonstration of Dharma.”
Subhuti then asked, “World-Honored One, in the future, when this teaching declines, will there be any beings who will feel complete confidence when they hear these words?”
The Buddha said, “Subhuti, those beings are neither beings nor non-beings. And why? Subhuti, the Tathagata has taught that beings are no-beings, therefore he speaks of ‘all-beings’.”
“What do you think, Subhuti,” asked the Buddha, “is there any dharma by which the Buddha has known the ultimate, most fulfilled, awakened mind?”
“There is no such dharma, O Lord.”
“That is right, Subhuti. Not even the least dharma is to be found or acquired. That is why it is called the ultimate, most fulfilled, awakened mind.”
“Furthermore, Subhuti, this (this dharma, or this mind) is identical only with itself, and is undifferentiated, therefore it is called the ultimate, most fulfilled, awakened mind. Self-identical and undifferentiated through the absence of a self, a person, a being, or a separate identity, this supreme enlightenment is known as the totality of all wholesome dharmas. Yet what are called wholesome dharmas are no-dharmas. Therefore they are called wholesome dharmas.”
“Subhuti, if someone made a gift of the seven precious things, equal in amount to all the Sumerus in 3,000 galaxies of worlds, as an act of generosity, and if another were to demonstrate to others just one stanza of four lines from this Vajracchedika Prajñaparamita Sutra, the merit of the latter would be far greater than that of the former to the extent that no conceivable comparison could be made.”
“What do you think, Subhuti, does it even occur to the Tathagata, ‘I have set beings free.’? Do not think that way, Subhuti. And why? In truth there is no being to be liberated by the Tathagata. Were there a being the Tathagata set free, the Tathagata would be caught in the idea of a self, a person, a being, or a separate existence. Subhuti, seizing upon a self has been taught by the Tathagata as a no-seizing. Yet common people have seized upon it. ‘Common people,’ Subhuti, are really no-people, as taught by the Tathagata. Therefore they are called ‘common people.’”
“What do you think, Subhuti? Is the Tathagata to be seen by his marks?”
“Not at all, O Lord,” said Subhuti.
The Buddha said, “If the Tathagata could be seen by his marks, then any imperial ruler would be a Tathagata.”
Subhuti said, “World-Honored One, as I understand your teaching, the Tathagata cannot be seen by any marks whatsoever.”
On that occasion the World-Honored One spoke in verse:
Those who see me by form
Or seek me in sound,
Are on the wrong path;
They will not see me.
The Buddhas are seen through Dharma,
Thus, through Dharma their guidance comes;
Yet the nature of Dharma is never discerned,
For it cannot form as an object in the mind.
“What do you think, Subhuti, does the Tathagata realize the ultimate, most fulfilled, awakened mind through his perfect marks? Hold no such thought, Subhuti, for the Tathagata did not attain the ultimate, most fulfilled, awakened mind through his marks.
Nor should anyone say that those who have set out upon the bodhisattva path see all objects of mind as nonexistent, or that they presume the destruction or annihilation of any dharma. Please do not think in that way for it is not so. One who gives rise to the ultimate, most fulfilled, awakened mind does not contend that all objects of mind are nonexistent, removed or annihilated.”
“Subhuti, if a good man or woman filled with the seven precious things in as many galaxies as the number of sand grains in the Ganges and gave it all away as an act of generosity, and if, on the other hand, a bodhisattva who has understood and whole-heartedly accepted the truth that all dharmas are without self, and is able to live and bear fully this truth, the latter would bring immeasurably greater merit. And why? Because a bodhisattva gains no merit.”
Subhuti then said to the Buddha, “But surely, Lord, the bodhisattva should acquire a heap of merit!”
“Subhuti, a bodhisattva gives rise to virtue and happiness but does not seize upon virtue and happiness.
The Buddha continued, “If anyone says the Tathagata comes, goes, stands, sits, or reclines, that one fails to understand my teaching. And why? The meaning of Tathagata is ‘does not come from anywhere and does not go anywhere.’ That is why he is called a Tathagata.”
“Subhuti, if a good woman or man took a galaxy for every particle of dust in this vast galaxy and thoroughly ground each one until it was reduced to atoms, would the heap of atoms be great?”
“Indeed, O Lord,” Subhuti answered, “the heap of atoms would be immense.”
“Subhuti, If there were an enormous heap of atoms, the Tathagata would not have called them an enormous heap of atoms. And why? What is called ‘an enormous heap of atoms’ has been taught by the Tathagata as a no-heap. That is why it is called ‘an enormous heap of atoms.’
“Furthermore, though the Tathagata spoke of a ‘galaxy,’ that galaxy is in truth a no-galaxy, as taught by the Tathagata. Therefore it is called a ‘galaxy.’ Any why? If there were a galaxy, that would have been a case of seizing upon a material object, but the Tathagata teaches that the seizing upon a material object is really a no-seizing. Therefore it is called a ‘seizing upon a material object.’
“Subhuti, what is called a ‘seizing upon a material object’ is just a conventional way of speaking. It has no real basis. Yet common people have seized upon it foolishly.”
“Subhuti, if anyone says that the Tathagata has spoken of a self view, a person view, a being view, or a separate existence view, has that person understood my meaning?”
“No, World-Honored One. Such a person has not understood the Tathagata. And why? What is called a self view, a person view, a being view, or a separate existence view are all a no-view, as taught by the Tathagata. That is why they are called a self view, a person view, a being view, or a separate existence view.”
“Subhuti, anyone who would give rise to the ultimate, most fulfilled, awakened mind should know all dharmas, should see all dharmas, without use of any conception whatsoever. And why? Subhuti, what is called a conception of dharmas, the Tathagata has taught as a no-conception. That is why it is called ‘a conception of dharmas’.”
“Subhuti, if someone were to offer an immeasurable quantity of the seven precious things, enough to fill all space, and give it all away as an act of generosity, the merit of that one would not compare to the immeasurable merit of a good woman or man who gives rise to the mind of supreme enlightenment, and who reads, recites, studies, lives, and explains this discourse on Dharma in full detail to others, even if only a stanza of four lines. In what spirit is this explanation given? Without seizing upon signs or appearances, in accordance with reality, and without agitation. So I say to you:
As stars at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream--
So should you view what is conditioned.
When the Buddha finished this discourse, the Venerable Subhuti, the bhiksus and bhiksunis, and the whole gathering of people, gods, asuras and gandharvas were filled with joy and confidence. They vowed to put these teachings into practice and departed in peace.
song of the jewel mirror awareness
The teaching of Thusness
Has been intimately communicated by Buddhas and Ancestors;
Now you have it, so keep it well.
A silver bowl heaped with snow,
A heron fading into bright moonlight--
They look alike, but are not the same;
When placed side by side, you can see which is which.
Meaning is not in words,
Yet it yields to the inquiring spirit.
To discriminate becomes a pitfall;
To fall into hesitation is to let slip.
Turning away and touching are both wrong,
For it is like a mass of fire.
To express it in elegant words
Is to defile it.
It is bright at midnight;
At dawn there appears no light.
It acts as a guide for beings--
Its use removes all sorrow.
Although it is not fabricated,
It is not inexpressible.
It is like facing a jewel mirror;
Form and image behold each other--
You are not it.
It actually is you.
It is like a babe in the world,
In five aspects complete;
It does not go or come,
Nor rise, nor stand.
In saying “baba wawa,”
Using words that are not words,
Ultimately nothing is grasped,
Because speech is not precise.
It is like the six lines of the double split hexagram;
The relative and Absolute integrate--
Piled up, they make three;
The complete transformation makes five.
It is like the taste of the five-flavored herb,
Like the diamond thunderbolt.
Subtly included within the True,
Inquiry and response come together.
Communing with the Source and communing with the process,
It includes integration and includes the road.
Merging is auspicious; do not violate it.
Naturally Real, yet inconceivable,
It belongs neither to delusion nor enlightenment.
When the time is ripe and conditions are arranged,
In utter silence it shines brightly.
In its fineness it enters spacelessness;
In its greatness it has no location.
A hair’s breadth of deviation
Puts ev’rything out of tune.
Now there are sudden and gradual,
In connection with which are set up basic approaches.
Once basic approaches are distinguished,
Then there are guiding rules.
But even though the basic is reached and the approach comprehended,
Truth eternally flows.
Outwardly still while inwardly restless,
Like a tethered colt, a trapped rat--
The ancient teachers pitied them,
And transmitted the Dharma.
According to their delusions,
They called black as white--
When erroneous imaginations cease,
The acquiescent Mind realizes itself.
If you want to conform to the ancient Way,
Please observe the ancients of former times:
When about to fulfill the Way of Buddhahood,
One gazed at a tree for ten aeons,
Like a tiger leaving part of its prey,
Like a horse with hobbled hind legs.
Because there is the base, there are
Jewel pedestals, fine clothing;
Because there is the startlingly different,
There are house cat and cow.
Yi, with his archer’s skill,
Could hit a target at a hundred paces;
But when arrow points meet head on,
What has this to do with the power of skill?
When the wooden man begins to sing,
The stone woman gets up to dance;
It’s not within reach of feeling or discrimination--
How could it admit of consideration in thought?
Ministers serve their lord,
Children obey their father.
Not obeying is not filial,
And not serving is no help.
Practice secretly, working within,
As though a fool, like an idiot--
If you can achieve continuity,
This is called the host within the host.
trusting the heartmind
The Great Way is not difficult
There is nothing It prefers.
Only when you neither love nor hate
Does It appear clearly, without disguise.
A hair’s breadth of difference
And heaven and earth are set apart.
If you wish to see It,
Then hold no opinions either for or against.
To set what you like against what you dislike
Is the disease of the mind.
Not knowing the profound quality of the Way,
We disturb our original peace of mind to no purpose.
Perfect like great space,
The Way has nothing lacking, nothing extra.
By our accepting and rejecting,
We lose sight of the true nature of things.
Neither chase after outer entanglements,
Nor dwell in Emptiness.
Be serene in the Oneness of things
And confusion will vanish of its own accord.
When movement is stopped in order to get rest,
This rest will itself be restless.
If you linger in either extreme,
How can you realize that there are not two?
Without a thorough understanding of Oneness,
Both movement and rest will be insufficient.
Banish reality, and you fall into it;
Seek Emptiness, and you deny Its nature.
The more talking and thinking,
The further from the Truth.
Abandon wordiness and intellection,
And there is nothing you cannot penetrate.
Return to the root, and discover the essence;
Pursue illumination, and lose the Source.
The moment we reverse the light,
Appearance and Emptiness are transcended.
The recurring movement between apparent and
Empty Arises only because of our ignorance.
Do not seek after Truth;
Only cease to cherish opinions.
Do not remain in the relative view of things;
Avoid such pursuits carefully.
If there is the slightest trace of this and that,
The mind is lost in confusion.
The two exist because of the One,
But do not hold on to the One.
When the mind is not disturbed, T
here is neither offense nor blame.
When nothing offends,
The multitude of things vanish along with the mind.
When no discriminating thoughts arise,
The mind ceases to appear.
When mind vanishes, things follow it.
Object is object for the subject; subject is subject for the object.
The thoroughgoing relativity of these two
Is originally one Emptiness.
In Emptiness, mind and thing are indistinguishable,
And each contains within itself the whole world.
If you do not discriminate between coarse and fine,
How can you be for this and against that?
The Great Way is All-embracing;
It is neither easy nor difficult.
Limited views are flighty and insecure--
Now rushing head-long, now holding back.
In clinging to “this,” which is beyond measure,
The mind enters a path that leads it astray.
Let things take their own course,
And experience neither going nor staying.
Obeying the nature of things, we are in accord with the Way,
Wandering freely, without annoyance.
When our thought is fettered, it turns from Truth;
It is dark, heavy, unclear.
The burdensome practice of judging
Brings annoyance and weariness.
It is foolish to irritate the mind;
Why shun this to be friends with that?
If you wish to enter the One Vehicle,
Do not flee from the six dusts.
Indeed, not hating the world of the senses
Is identical with true enlightenment.
The wise have no motives;
Fools shackle themselves.
There is One Dharma, not many;
Distinctions arise from foolishly clinging to this and that.
Seeking Mind with discriminating mind--
Is not this the greatest mistake?
Ignorance begets motion and rest;
Wisdom neither loves nor hates.
All dualities derive from false inference.
They are like dreams, phantoms, flowers in air.
Why so anxiously pursue them?
Gain and loss, right and wrong—away with them once and for all!
If the eye does not sleep,
All dreaming will naturally cease.
If the mind makes no discrimination,
All things are as they are, of a single Essence.
In the deep mystery of this One Essence,
Entanglements drop away.
When all things are seen equally,
Timeless Thus-in-Itself is reached.
Forget the “why?” of things
When there can be no measuring or comparing.
When motion stops, there is no motion;
When rest is set in motion, there is no rest.
Since “two” cannot be established,
How can there be One?
Arriving where there is no further,
There can be no law or description to apply.
For the unified Mind in accord with the Way,
All self-centered striving ceases.
Doubts and irresolutions vanish;
Faith is confirmed.
There is nothing left behind,
Nothing to remember.
Empty, lucid, self-illuminated,
The Mind does not exert itself.
This is where thought is useless,
What sense or feeling cannot fathom.
In this world of Suchness,
There is neither self nor other.
To come directly into harmony with Truth,
All that can be said is “not two.”
In this “not two,” nothing is separate,
Nothing is excluded.
The Enlightened of all times and places
Have all entered into this Truth.
This Truth is not extended in time or space;
For in It, a moment and an eon are one.
There is neither here nor there,
Yet this Truth is manifest in all directions.
The infinitely small is as the infinitely great
When limits are forgotten.
The very large is as the very small
When outlines are dissolved.
Being is an aspect of nonbeing;
Nonbeing, an aspect of being.
Don’t waste time in doubts and arguments
That would not have it so.
The One is none other than the All,
The All is none other than the One.
If only this is realized,
The rest will follow of its own accord.
Trusting the Heartmind is the “not-two,”
For nonduality is one with Faith.
This is where words fail,
For the Way is neither yesterday, today, nor tomorrow.
the merging of difference and unity
The mind of the great sage of India
Is intimately communicated between east and west. While human faculties may be keen or dull,
The path has no southern or northern Ancestors. The subtle Source is clear and bright;
The branching streams flow through darkness. Grasping things is delusion;
According with Absolute is still not enlightenment. All objects of the senses
Interact yet do not interact.
When interacting, they merge--
Otherwise, they keep their own place.
Forms vary in material and appearance;
Sounds differ in pleasant or harsh quality.
The word “dark” is used to merge high and low; The word “light” is employed to distinguish pure
The four elements return to their natures
As a child to its mother.
Fire heats, wind moves,
Water wets, earth is solid.
Eye and form, ear and sound,
Nose and smell, tongue and taste--
Each is independent of the other,
But these diff’rent leaves spread from the same root. The whole process must return to the source;
The words “noble” and “base” are used relatively.
Within light there is darkness, But don’t take it as darkness. Within darkness there is light, But don’t see it as light.
Light and dark are relative to one another
Like forward and backward steps.
Each thing appears to have its own intrinsic value, Yet is related to ev’rything else in function and
Phenomena fit Absolute like box and cover joining; Absolute accords the relative like arrows meeting
Hearing these words, you should know the Source; Don’t set up standards of your own.
If you don’t see the path as it meets your eyes, How will you know the Way as you walk?
Practice is not a matter of “far” or “near,”
But if you are confused, mountains and rivers
block the way.
I humbly say to those who would awaken, Don’t waste time.
Writings by Dogen Zenji
THE WAY IS BASICALLY PERFECT AND ALL-PERVADING. How could it be contingent upon practice and realization? The Truth-vehicle is free and untrammeled. What need is there for one’s concentrated effort? Indeed, the Whole Body is far beyond the world’s dust. Who could believe in a means to brush it clean? It is never apart from one right where one is. What is the use in going off here and there to practice?
And yet, if there is the slightest discrepancy, the Way is as distant as heaven from earth. If the least like or dislike arises, the mind is lost in confusion. Suppose one gains pride of understanding and inflates one’s own enlightenment, glimpsing the wisdom that runs through all things, attaining the Way and clarifying the Mind, raising an aspiration to scale the very sky. One is making initial, partial excursions about the frontiers but is still somewhat deficient in the vital Way of total emancipation.
Need I mention the Buddha, who was possessed of inborn knowledge? The influence of his six years of upright sitting is noticeable still. Or Bodhidharma’s transmission of the Mind-seal? The fame of his nine years of wall-sitting is celebrated to this day. Since this was the case with the saints of old, how can people of today dispense with negotiation of the Way?
You should therefore cease from practice based on intellectual understanding, pursuing words and following after speech, and learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will be manifest. If you want to attain Suchness, you should practice Suchness without delay.
For sanzen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Cast aside all involvements and cease all affairs. Do not think good or bad. Do not administer pros and cons. Cease all movements of the conscious mind, the gauging of all thoughts and views. Have no designs on becoming a buddha. Sanzen has nothing whatever to do with sitting or lying down.
At the site of your regular sitting, spread out thick matting and place a cushion above it. Sit in a cross-legged position with your knees directly upon the mat. You should have your clothes and belt loosely bound and arranged in order. Then place your right hand on your left leg and your left palm facing upwards on your right palm, thumb tips touching. Thus sit upright in correct bodily posture, neither inclining to the left nor to the right, neither leaning forward nor backward. Be sure your ears are on a plane with your shoulders and your nose is in line with your navel. Place your tongue against the front roof of your mouth, with teeth and lips both shut. Your eyes should always remain open, and you should breathe gently through your nose.
Once you have adjusted your posture, take a deep breath, inhale and exhale, rock your body right and left and settle into a steady, immobile sitting position. Think of not-thinking. How do you think of not thinking? Non-thinking. This in itself is the essential art of zazen.
The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the Dharma-gate of repose and bliss, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the manifestation of ultimate Reality. Traps and snares can never reach it. Once its heart is grasped, you are like the dragon when he gains the water, like the tiger when she enters the mountain. For you must know that just there, in zazen, Truth is manifesting itself and from the first dullness and distraction are struck aside.
When you arise from sitting, move slowly and quietly, calmly and deliberately. Do not rise suddenly or abruptly. In surveying the past, we find that transcendence of both unenlightenment and enlightenment, and dying while either sitting or standing, have all depended entirely on the strength of zazen.
In addition, the bringing about of enlightenment by the opportunity provided by a finger, a banner, a needle, or a mallet, and the effecting of realization with the aid of a whisk, a fist, a staff, or a shout, cannot be fully understood by one’s discriminative thinking. Indeed, it cannot be known by the practicing or realizing of supernatural powers, either. It must be deportment beyond one’s hearing and seeing—is it not a principle that is prior to one’s knowledge and conceptions?
This being the case, intelligence or lack of it does not matter; between the dull and the sharp-witted there is no distinction. If you concentrate your effort single-mindedly, that in itself is negotiating the Way. Practice-realization is naturally undefiled. Going forward is a matter of everydayness.
In general, this world and other worlds as well, both in India and China, equally hold the Truth-seal, and over it all prevails the character of this school, which is simply total engagement in immobile sitting. Although it is said that there are as many minds as there are people, still all negotiate the Way solely in zazen. Why leave behind the seat that exists in your home and go aimlessly off to the dusty realms of other lands? If you make one misstep you go astray from the Way which is even now directly before you.
You have gained the pivotal opportunity of human form. Do not use your time in vain. You are maintaining the essential working of the Way. Who would take wasteful delight in the spark from the flintstone? Besides, form and substance are like the dew on the grass, destiny like the dart of lightning—emptied in an instant, vanished in a flash.
Please, honored followers of Zen, long accustomed to groping for the elephant, do not be suspicious of the true dragon. Devote your energies to a way that directly indicates the Absolute. Revere the person of complete attainment who is beyond all human agency. Gain accord with the enlightenment of the Buddhas; succeed to the legitimate lineage of the Ancestors’ samadhi. Constantly perform in such a manner and you are assured of being a person such as they. Your treasure-store will open of itself, and you will use it at will.
one bright pearl
The great master Gensha had the religious name Shibi; his lay surname was Sha. In lay life he enjoyed fishing and used to ply his boat on the Nandai river, following the ways of the fishermen. No doubt he did not expect the Golden Fish that comes of itself without fishing for it.
At the beginning of the Kantsu era of the Tang dynasty (860–873), he suddenly wished to leave the world; he left his boat and went into the mountains. He was then thirty years old. Having awakened to the uncertainty of the transient world, he realized the Buddha Way’s eminence and nobility. He finally climbed Snowy Peak Mountain, called on the great Zen master Seppo, and worked on the Way day and night.
One day, to visit masters widely in other areas and perfect his practice, he took up his traveling pouch and was leaving the mountain when he struck his toe on a rock. As it bled in intense pain, he had an abrupt self-realization and said, “This body is non-existent. Where does pain come from?” He immediately returned to Seppo.
Seppo asked him, “What is this ascetic Shibi?” Gensha answered, “I will never deceive others.” This answer greatly pleased Seppo, who then said, “There is no one who does not harbor those words. Yet no one could utter them.” He continued, “Ascetic Shibi, why aren’t you traveling to study?” Gensha replied, “Bodhidharma did not come to China, the second patriarch did not go to India.” This gained Seppo’s special praise.
Because he had up to then been a fisherman, he had never seen the various scriptures and treatises even in his dreams, yet nevertheless because the depth of his aspirations was paramount, a determined spirit beyond others had appeared. Seppo thought him outstanding in the community and praised him as being a standard among his disciples.
He dressed in plain muslin, and because he never replaced his one robe, it was all patched. He used paper for his underclothing, and also wore mugwort plants. He didn’t call on any teacher except Seppo. Nevertheless, he had attained the ability to inherit his teacher’s way.
After he had finally attained the Way, he would say, in order to instruct people, “All the universe is one bright pearl.”
Once, a monk asked him, “I hear you have said all the universe is one bright pearl. How can I gain understanding of this?” The master said, “All the universe is one bright pearl. What need is there to understand it?”
The next day the master himself asked the monk, “All the universe is one bright pearl. What is your understanding of it?” The monk answered, “All the universe is one bright pearl. What need is there to understand it?” “I know now,” replied Gensha, “that you are living in a ghost cave in the mountain of darkness.”
The saying of All the universe is one bright pearl first appeared with Gensha. Its essence is that the entire universe is not vast, not small, not square or round, not balanced and correct, not lively and active, not distinct or standing out. Moreover, because it is not birth and death, coming and going, it is birth and death, coming and going. This being so, it is the past gone from here; it is the present come from here. As for its ultimate negotiation, who can ascertain it as being fragmentary or immovable?
All the universe is the unceasing process of pursuing things and making them the self, pursuing the self and making it things. The utterance “separated” in response to “when sensations arise one is separated from wisdom,” is a turning of the head or a changing of the face, a laying open of things and a seizing of opportunity. Because of the pursuing of things and making them the self the universe in its entirety is unceasing. And because its own nature is prior to such activity, it is beyond grasp even through the essence of the activity.
One bright pearl is able to express Reality without naming it, and we can recognize this pearl as its name. One bright pearl communicates directly through all time; being through all the past unexhausted, it arrives through all the present. While there is a body now, a mind now, they are one bright pearl. That stalk of grass, this tree, is not a stalk of grass, is not a tree; the mountains and rivers of this world are not the mountains and rivers of this world. They are one bright pearl.
How can I gain an understanding of that? This utterance makes it seem as if this monk’s karmic consciousness is at play, yet it is the great function manifesting which is the great law. Proceeding, you can raise up steep foothigh water, foot-high waves; that is to say, a ten-foot pearl, a ten-foot brightness.
What Gensha says—a case of uttering an utterance— is, All the universe is one bright pearl. What need is there to understand it? This is an expression whereby buddha succeeds buddha, patriarch succeeds patriarch, Gensha succeeds Gensha. Were they to try to escape this succession, they would not be without places to escape. Yet even if they did clearly escape it for a while, the very fact of their utterance is the unmitigated occasion of one bright pearl’s manifestation.
The next day the master himself asked the monk, “All the universe is one bright pearl. What is your understanding of it?” This expresses “Yesterday I spoke the established Dharma. Today I breathe using two. Today, nodding and laughing, I speak the unestablished Dharma, thrusting aside yesterday.”
The monk said, “All the universe is one bright pearl. What need is there to understand it?” We could say this is mounting the robber’s horse to chase the robber. In the case of the old buddha [Gensha] preaching for his disciple’s sake, it is a matter of practicing within a different species. Just turn your light inward and reflect, how many “What need is there to understand it?” can there be? I might, provisionally, say seven pieces of cheese or five beancakes, but this is teaching and practice south of Sho and north of Tan.
Gensha said, “I know now that you are living in a ghost cave in the mountain of darkness.” You must be aware that sun face and moon face have not changed since remote antiquity. Since the sun’s face appears together with the sun’s face, and the moon’s face appears together with the moon’s face, if I say in the sixth month [my name is] “Right Now” that does not mean my name is “hot.”
Therefore, the reality and beginninglessness of one bright pearl are beyond grasp. All the universe is one bright pearl—we do not speak of two pearls or three pearls. The whole body is one right Dharma eye. The whole body is the Real body. The whole body is One Expression. The whole body is light. The whole body is Mind in its totality. When it is the whole body, the whole body knows no hindrance. Everywhere is perfectly round, turning over, rolling smoothly. Since one bright pearl’s quality is thus manifested, there is, here and now, Kannon and Miroku seeing forms and hearing sounds; there are old buddhas and new buddhas bodily appearing and expounding the Dharma.
Just when it is thus, it is suspended in emptiness, it is attached within the lining of your clothes, it is found under the chin, and in the topknot—in each case it is the universe-encompassing bright pearl. It is its character to be attached within clothing. Do not say you’ll have it on the outside. It is its character to be found within topknots and under chins. Do not attempt to sport it on the surface. When you are intoxicated, there is a close friend who will give one bright pearl to you, and you, without fail, must impart one bright pearl to a close friend. When one bright pearl is attached to someone, he is, without exception, intoxicated. Being thus, it is one bright pearl—all the universe.
Thus, though its face seems to keep on changing, turning, and stopping, it is one bright pearl. Knowing that one bright pearl is indeed like this—that is one bright pearl. The colorations and configurations of one bright pearl are encountered in this manner. When it is thus, there is no reason to worry that you are not one bright pearl because in confusion you think, “I am not the pearl.” Worrying and doubting, grasping and rejection, action and inaction are all but temporary views of small measure. Moreover, this is only one bright pearl appearing as small-scale notions.
Should we not cherish such infinite colorations and brilliance? Each of the many facets of its radiant variegations are the quality of the entire universe—who can take them away? There is no one casting a tile in the marketplace. Do not trouble yourself about not falling into or not being blind to the cause and effect of mundane existence. Being essentially unobscured from first to last, one bright pearl is the original face and the enlightened eye.
Yet both you and I, not knowing what one bright pearl is and what it is not, have had a great many thoughts and non-thoughts about it which have come to form positive notions. Yet, when thanks to Gensha’s words it is made known and clarified that even our bodies and minds are one bright pearl, then the mind is not I. Should anyone be troubled with accepting generation and extinction as being or not being one bright pearl? Even if there is worry and confusion, it is not apart from one bright pearl. It is not a deed or thought produced by something that is not one bright pearl. Therefore, both coming and going in the ghost cave in the mountain of darkness are themselves nothing but one bright pearl.
The Realization of Ultimate Reality
WHEN ALL DHARMAS ARE BUDDHA-DHARMA, there is delusion, enlightenment,
practice, birth, death, buddhas, sentient beings. When the ten thousand things are without
self, there is no delusion, no enlightenment, no buddhas, no sentient beings, no generation,
no extinction. Since the Buddha Way is originally beyond abundance and lack, there is
generation and extinction, delusion and enlightenment, sentient beings and buddhas. Even
so, flowers fall amid our longing, weeds flourish in our loathing.
To practice and confirm the ten thousand things by conveying one’s self to them is
delusion. For all dharmas to advance and confirm the self is enlightenment. Those who
realize delusion are buddhas; those who are deluded about realization are sentient beings.
There are also those enlightened beyond enlightenment, as well as those deluded in the
midst of delusion.
When buddhas are truly buddhas, it is not necessary that they see themselves as bud-
dhas. Nevertheless, they are realized buddhas, and they continue to realize buddha.
Seeing form and hearing sound with the whole body-mind, though one intimately per-
ceives, it is not like reflections in a mirror, or like the moon on the water—when one side
is illumined, the other side is dark.
To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be verified by all things. To be verified by all things is to let one’s
body and mind, and the bodies and minds of others drop off. All traces of enlightenment
come to rest, and this rest carries on without end.
When people begin to seek Dharma, they become [as if] far removed from its bound-
ary. When Dharma is rightly conveyed within oneself, one is immediately an original
A person riding in a boat, looking back at the shore, may mistakenly think the shore is
moving. By looking carefully at the boat, however, one can see it is the boat that is moving.
In like manner, when we conceive our body and mind in a confused way, grasping the ten
thousand things with a discriminating mind, we mistakenly think our own mind and nature
are permanent. Yet if we become intimate with our actions, and return to this moment,
that things are without self will be clear.
Once firewood turns to ash, the ash cannot turn back to firewood. We should not,
however, see ash as “after” and firewood as “before.” Know that firewood is at the dharma-
stage of firewood and has its own before and after—though firewood is beyond before and
after. Ash, at the dharma-stage of ash, has its own before and after. Just as firewood does
not revert to firewood once it has burned to ash, so a person does not return to life after
death. In light of this, not saying that life becomes death is an established custom within
Buddhadharma—therefore this is called unborn. That death does not become life is an es-
tablished teaching of the Buddha—therefore this is called inextinguishable. Like winter and
spring, life is a stage of time and death is a stage of time. Yet we do not suppose that winter
becomes spring, or say that spring becomes summer.
People attaining enlightenment is like the moon reflected in water. The moon does
not get wet, the water is not broken. For all the breadth and vastness of its light, it rests
upon a small patch of water. Both the whole moon and the sky in its entirety come to rest
in a single dewdrop upon the grass, in a mere drop of water. Enlightenment does not de-
stroy people any more than the moon breaks a hole in the water. People do not obstruct
enlightenment any more than a drop of dew obstructs the moon in the sky. The depth of one
is the measure of the other’s height. As for the length or brevity of time, examine the water’s
breadth or narrowness, and clearly discern the vastness or narrowness of the moon in the sky.
When Dharma has not yet fully penetrated our body and mind, we think we’re filled with Dharma.
When Dharma is fully realized in our body and mind, we know some insufficiency.
For example, when we sail out upon the mountainless sea, we see no other aspect but
the circle of the sea. Yet the great ocean is neither circular nor square. It has
other inexhaustible qualities besides. It is like a palace [to a fish], or a jeweled necklace [to
a bird]. Yet as far as our eyes can see, it only appears round. It is the same with all things--
the dusty world and the inconceivable world beyond it assume many aspects, but we can
see and understand only to the extent our eye is cultivated through seeing. To realize the
nature of all things we must know the qualities of seas and mountains, beyond seeming
square or round, are without end, and we should realize there are many worlds in all direc-
tions. This is not only so in worlds around us, it is so right under our feet, even within a
single drop of water.
When a fish swims through water, it finds no limit of water no matter how far it swims.
When a bird flies the sky, it finds no boundary of sky however high it flies. Therefore, no fish
or bird has ever left the water or the sky. When they need great space, they use great
space; when their need is small, their use is small. In this way each fish and bird exhausts
all space, and freely acts in each place. Yet if a bird leaves the sky, it immediately perishes;
if a fish leaves the water, it dies at once. We should understand that water is life and that
sky is life—that bird is life and that fish is life. Life is fish and life is bird. Beyond this there
are still more implications. There is enlightenment, and the realization that our little lives
are limitless in this way. If, however, a fish or bird wants to swim or fly only after thor-
oughly investigating water and sky, they would find neither a path nor a place [to live].
If one finds this path, if one finds this place, one’s daily life accordingly manifests ulti-
mate reality. This path, this place, is neither big nor small, neither self nor other, neither
preexistent, nor presently appearing—therefore is it thus. Thus, if one cultivates and realizes
the Buddha Way, when one attains one thing, one penetrates that one thing; when one takes one
action, one cultivates that one action. Here is the place and the way is all-pervading.
The boundary of the known is not clear because what is known is born and manifested
simultaneously with the complete permeation of the Buddhadharma. Do not think that attaining
this place will ever become your view or that it can become known to you by means of intellection.
Though complete enlightenment is immediately actualized, its intimate nature is such that it
does not necessarily form as a view. Viewing is not something fixed.
As Zen master Pao-ch’e of Ma-ku shan was fanning himself, a monk approached and
asked: “The nature of wind is permanent and all-pervading. Why must you use a fan?”
Pao-ch’e answered, “You only understand the nature of wind as permanence, but you do
not yet understand the meaning of it reaching everywhere.” The monk said: “What is the meaning?”
The master just continued to fan himself. The monk bowed deeply.
The verification of the Buddhadharma [i.e., enlightenment]—the vital Path’s authentic transmission--
is like this. To say one should not use a fan because the nature of wind is permanent, that
there will be a breeze even when we do not use a fan, is to know neither permanence nor the
nature of wind. It is because the nature of wind is permanent that thewind of Buddhadharma makes
manifest the gold of the great earth, and ripens the sweetmilk of the long rivers.
Essays by Steve Hagen
Not What You think (regarding koans)
When I first began practicing Zen under Dainin Katagiri Roshi, he asked me to comment on a Zen koan. I told him, in all honesty, that I found the koan puzzling. Immediately his face wrinkled up as if he had bitten into a lemon. “Not puzzle!” he shouted. He quickly made it clear to me that Zen teachings are not puzzles to which we students are expected to come up with clever answers.
People often think of koans as riddles or problems that need to be solved. But this is not the case at all. With every koan, the point is not to arrive at an answer through our ordinary, conceptualizing minds. Rather, the point is to see for ourselves that our concepts can never provide us with a satisfying answer. (This is not that satisfaction cannot be found. It can—but not through any concept or explanation.)
Unlike school exams, koans are not a matter of coming up with the right answer and thereby winning an endorsement or gaining the teacher’s approval. There is a great deal more at play in these exchanges between Zen teachers and their students. Indeed, if it were merely a matter of coming up with the right answer, you could simply look it up in one of several volumes that claim to provide answers to koans. But in an exchange with a true teacher, this isn’t going to do you much good. If you don’t understand the heart of a koan, it will be quite obvious the moment you’re asked a follow-up question—one that’s not in one of the books.
No concept, no idea, no piece of intellection will ever give you “the answer.” Whether we’re talking about life or koans (the same thing, really), there are no pat answers or solutions.
For this reason, koans have often been labeled anti-intellectual, or irrational, or as invitations for us to abandon ourselves to our impulses or our irrational minds. Indeed, some people unfamiliar with Zen think that Zen practice is about acting strange and silly, or making outlandish statements, or forgetting everything and just letting the flowers bloom. Some scholars and writers have even claimed that the purpose of koans is to break down and destroy the intellect. None of this, however, is true.
Though koans do reach beyond reason, they’re not a call to destroy or deny the intellect. They simply point out that Reality is not to be captured in a thought, or a phrase, or an explanation. Reality is the direct seeing of the world as it is, not as our intellects map it, describe it, or conceive it.
It’s not that human intellect is bad or that we must get rid of it; but we must bring ourselves back to the fact that the intellect can only construct models of Reality, never Reality itself. Our problem, however, is that we get taken in by our mental constructions, mistaking them for Reality. The fact is that Reality cannot be constructed, nor does it need to be. It’s already here—and we’re all inseparable from it. If we could only see this, we’d be freed from a great and painful burden. We’d no longer be confused or cowed by human life.
Another common misunderstanding of koans is that they are exercises of wit in which the teacher asks the question, and the student must immediately come back with an adroit response. In this erroneous view, koans are a jousting game in which teacher and student strike and counter-strike, each trying to best the other. Though some teacher/student exchanges may give this appearance, to use the model of a debate or contest is to miss the point entirely.
Koans also have a reputation for being paradoxical, enigmatic, and inscrutable—and, thus, Zen itself has gotten a reputation for being the same. But koans themselves are not paradoxes at all. Rather, they direct our attention to the sense of contradiction or paradox that naturally arises in any conception of the world. Koans help us to see that these apparent contradictions in fact occur only within our minds, not within the world itself.
Rather than serving up an idea or conceptual framework that will supposedly save us, koans help us to recognize how we constantly do indeed reach for prefabricated explanations and answers. They also help us to see that this never gets us anywhere. Indeed, it is this very grasping for conceptual solutions and explanations that causes us so many problems. Yet even as we grasp at concepts, we overlook the supreme treasure that is right at hand—Reality itself.
The term koan is generally translated as “public case.” But what, exactly, makes a koan public? Simply this: every koan is a finger pointing to Reality, to what is right now, right here. Reality is totally and immediately available to everyone all the time. It doesn’t have to be transmitted to you by a teacher. In fact, it can’t be. You can’t get it from a book, either. Nobody can hand it to you. It’s already right here. We’re inseparable from it. There’s nothing in our experience more public that Truth or Reality itself.
The koans presented in this volume were collected in the eighteenth century C.E by Genro, a Soto Zen master. This may seem somewhat unusual, since koans are thought to be more widely used by Rinzai Zen teachers. The Soto school generally does not use koans in one-to-one teacher/student interactions. This is probably due to Dogen Zenji, who transmitted Soto Zen from China to Japan in the thirteenth century C.E. Though he used koans as teaching stories, he frowned on their regular use as hoops for students to jump through. He found such graduated training to be wide of the mark and short on delivery.
Dogen defined the term ko as “sameness” or “ultimate equality.” According to Dogen, every thing, thought, or emotion we encounter or experience is an equal and necessary component of Reality. Nothing is superfluous. Nothing is left out. In fact, nothing can be left out. Whether we recognize it or not, we’re always dealing with Totality, which is utterly beyond our concepts of part or whole, equal or unequal.
The term an, according to Dogen, means that everything within Totality has its own natural territory or sphere. For Dogen, then, a true koan is an authentic expression of the merging of difference and unity, the thoroughgoing interpenetration of the Whole and its “parts.”
Related to the matter of Totality is non-duality. Our conceptualizing minds are highly dualistic. They keep themselves busy thinking, analyzing, controlling, and scheming. To such a mind, everything is either good or bad, right or wrong, friend or foe, this or that—or else off our personal radar altogether. But koans point beyond all this, to the immediate and first-hand non-duality of Reality. Koans are expressions of immediate awareness--before we categorize, label, arrange, or evaluate everything.
Koans also point to the freedom of non-attachment—a major theme in Zen. Non-attachment is the recognition that thoughts of “this is right and that is wrong,” “this we should do and that we shouldn’t do,” “it ought to be like this,” or “this is what I want, and that is what I don’t want,” only serve to make our lives complicated, contradictory, confusing, and ultimately unbearable. Such thinking fills our hearts and minds with longing and loathing—all of which drives us to anger, frustration, and despair. Koans cut through such confusion and draw our attention to things as they are, before we make judgments about them and create contradictions for ourselves.
Non-attachment is not the same as detachment. Detachment presumes the realness of the objects of our longing and loathing, then counsels us to turn away from them. It’s an attempt to escape from Reality. But there is no escape from Reality. Non-attachment, on the other hand, is to see the emptiness, the non-particularity, of every thing or thought we encounter.
Koans speak of genuineness and ordinariness—actual, True, Reality—without any need for explanation, embellishment, or improvement. They remind us that we don’t need to push the river, or add legs to the snake.
Reality is always right here, out in the open—a public case. Dealing with it is forever a matter of calming down, focussing, and noticing how we spend the greater portion of our time explaining everything to ourselves. Koans—like meditation—are a practical way of watching our own minds, paying careful attention to what is really going on, and perceiving Reality directly, free of our ideas about it, explanations for it, and habitual responses to it.
In short, koans are serious business. They’re about life and death, about all our deepest questions and concerns—the ones that are most immediate, urgent, and unavoidable. Life isn’t a matter of pleasing the teacher or getting the right answer or passing a test. Koans direct us to be present with what is going on now, and to notice how our minds respond to this.
Once this is seen, there’s no wasting of the day, or yourself, or the world. What binds you drops away, and you will let it go.
Merging with your object
How the World Can Be the Way It Is:
An Inquiry for the New Millennium Into Science, Philosophy and Perception
by Steve Hagen,
published September 1995, by Quest Books.
We must see, when we pick up any object of consciousness, whether it be mental or physical, that the “rest of all that exists”—i.e., Totality, Wholeness—must enter into the picture. As long as we operate with discriminating consciousness and see ourselves only as a fragment—a part of Reality which is divided off and intrinsically separate from everything else—we can know only uncertainty, fear, and the misery of that hollow, empty feeling of utter meaninglessness. It need not be this way for us.
I cannot give you the direct experience of knowing that aspect which remains hidden from our common-sense consciousness. I can, however, give an example that may remind you of this hidden aspect of consciousness as it works in our everyday life. Let me tell you about my mother and lefse. (Lefse, for those of you who don’t know, is a kind of Norwegian pancake or bread made from potatoes, cream, flour, butter and sugar.)
Like all real boundaries, the boundary between my mother and lefse is infinitely complex. I witnessed this complexity years ago as a child, though at the time I did not realize just what it was that I had witnessed. The occasion was when my eldest brother and his wife, newly married and inexperienced in the kitchen, tried to make lefse on their own. Once they had put all the ingredients together, they discovered that they could not work with the dough. When they tried to roll it out it would stick to the board. When they tried to pick it up it would fall apart. They thought they had ruined it and were about to throw it out when, in desperation, they put in a distress call to Mom. I went along to see if I could be of any help. I had a major interest in lefse in those days.
My mother appeared on the scene like a midwife approaching a distraught hus- band. Rolling up her sleeves and taking a sure command, she went to the huge lump of dough rising from the large mixing bowl in the center of the table. I can still see her as she put her hands upon that mound and in a soft but certain tone she said, “Oh, it’s just about right.” Giving us a nod and a smile, it was clear that this baby would be spared. Quickly she dispatched her orders. It needed just a little more of this, and just another touch of that—and in seconds she was rolling out lefse and frying them up. Lefse ap- peared one after another, until soon the stacks were piling up under steaming cloths.
My mother’s boundary was intimately connected with that of the lefse. The two merged, while nevertheless remaining separate. In fact, many things came together in that moment—not just my mother and the lefse. The dough had to be there, obviously. And though it was “just about right,” my mother had to be there as well or there would have been no lefse. With my mother came the know-how—which, in turn, revealed that many other, previous and unseen events were also entangled in this happening of my mother making lefse. And within the dough were those who produced the ingredients, and who trucked them to market. Within that dough were entangled the potato plant, and last year’s harvest.
Yet all the while these countless hidden things came together in this event, it was nevertheless quite evident which was my mother and which was the lefse.
There’s nothing mystical about what I’m trying to point to here. It’s not a poetic metaphor or a Zen-like analogy. It’s a simple, concrete example of that “other” aspect which must be accounted for if we would avoid contradictions. It’s an example of some- one actually becoming merged in an exchange of identity with her object.
How the World Can Be the Way It Is:
An Inquiry for the New Millennium Into Science, Philosophy and Perception
by Steve Hagen,
published September 1995, by Quest Books.
The subtlety with which we make many of our assumptions is profound indeed. In fact, there is a basic unwarranted (i.e., not found in experience) assumption that goes unidentified by nearly everyone all the time. The consequences of this assumption—this ignorance—are great. The best example of this unwarranted assumption appears in Descartes’ classic proposition, “I think, therefore, I am.”
Descartes wanted to get to some statement that could not be doubted. He wanted certitude. In his day, religious authority had fallen under attack. There had been a renewed interest in the ancient skeptics, most notably Sextus Empiricus, and the unsettling idea was about that all propositions could be rendered equally improbable. It was even being seriously questioned whether there could be any knowledge at all. This was a very troubling problem in Descartes’ time…it still is.
Descartes contemplated the possibility that all we commonly believe might be false. For him the question was, “What do I know?” He tried to find the answer by searching through the various beliefs he felt inclined to hold and, though he was not a skeptic himself, he used skeptical methods to bring himself to doubt all (or so he claimed)…even beliefs he had long held. He doubted all until he came upon his cogito—“I think”—which he regarded as a “primitive datum that the mind can recognize only when it encounters it.”
Descartes set down the assumption that “I think” is the ground that is beyond all doubt. But even in the simple statement “I think,” Descartes had already made an assumption—he assumed the existence of a self. Once he had done this, of course, it was not too difficult for him to “prove” the inevitable conclusion (“therefore I am”), since he had already arrived at that conclusion even before he stated his premise.
Such a tightly knit package is likely to appear as a truism to most of us—and, indeed Descartes’ cogito does appear as a truism to many. But Descartes clearly did not doubt enough. In saying, “I think, therefore I am,” we have already assumed the “I’s” existence even before we begin. This merely reflects our normal way of thinking—we all assume a self most of the time.
Descartes “proved” that he existed by simply positing the “I” prior to setting out on his proof. But this is no proof. Just as it is not difficult to discover “God” if we begin with the foregone conclusion that “God is,” so too it is not surprising that Descartes could discover “I am” after he had already posited the “I” in his thought. This isn’t the unshakable proof, the indubitable ground that Descartes was seeking. If he truly questioned his existence, how could he have gotten away with having already assumed it? He didn’t say, “Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that I do exist, now what would this entail?” He came right out, first thing, with “I.” In fact, what he said was:
I noticed that while I was trying to think everything false, it must needs be that I, who was thinking this, was something. And observing that this truth, I am thinking, therefore I exist [Je pense, donc je suis] was so solid and secure that the most extravagant suppositions of the sceptics could not overthrow it, I judged that I did not scruple to accept it as the first principle of [the] philosophy that I was seeking.
But where or what is this “I”? What does Descartes mean? Does he mean his mind is thinking? Does he mean his body is thinking? Notice how the “I” gets tossed into the picture from out of nowhere. What is doing the thinking here? What exactly is the “I” referring to?
The absurdity of this assertion becomes clearer once we switch subjects. We’ve all used the common expression “It’s raining.” But would we say, “It is raining, therefore it is”? What is raining? Do we suppose there is some entity corresponding to the word “it” which is doing the raining? No, of course not!
But how does this situation differ from “I am thinking”? What is raining? Who is thinking? Where are these hidden entities? What is this “I” we keep referring to? What thing corresponds to this word? What is this “I” that is doing the thinking?
You may say, “But, of course, when we use the expression ‘it is raining,’ there’s nothing out there which corresponds to the word ‘it’—it’s just that we cannot construct a proper sentence in English unless it has a subject. And so, by convention, we insert one. But this is obviously not the case with the ‘I’ in ‘I am thinking.’”
Oh? Then what is the “I” referring to? Where is it located? What are its properties? The more we try to grasp what “I” is, the more it slips away from us. As Ambrose Bierce put it, “I think I think, therefore, I think I am.” We’ve assumed and have locked our homuncular self at the end of an endless regression…and we can’t get to it. “I” seems to refer to something we tacitly assume is there, but which we can’t seem to find. The “I” is deeply, profoundly, yet quietly assumed…but it’s assumed without justification. Recall how difficult it is to answer a simple question such as, “Is that you in your baby picture?” We can’t find anything in experience which clearly corresponds to the word “you”—that is why we find it so difficult to answer this question.
So now, how does “I am thinking, therefore I am” differ from “it is raining, therefore it is”?
I is a most difficult thing to come to doubt—but we must go beyond Descartes and doubt it, for it is in fact no more than a mere construct, a concept, a belief, and it is nowhere to be found within direct experience (i.e., through perception). We do not find anything in our experience which corresponds to that word, “I.”
Let’s consider how Descartes might have constructed his “proof” in a manner that better reflects actual experience—i.e., which reflects perception rather than conception. Note that, short of its being demanded by the conventions of language, the “I” is absent. What Descartes was directly aware of was “thought” and not “I.” Whichever way we might put it—“thought,” “cognizance,” “awareness,” “mind,” “consciousness”—these words more closely refer to immediate experience than the word I.
The problem with Descartes’ cogito is that it admits of a self before it admits of other, and such is in direct violation of actual experience. (The old joke is that he put Descartes before de horse—but I hasten to add that putting Descartes after the horse doesn’t work either.) If it is “thought” and not “I” which is directly experienced, then Descartes should have said, “thought, therefore I am.” But, of course, such a proposition is clearly absurd, for now it is plain to see how the “I” just pops into the picture out of nowhere. The insertion of “I” follows neither logically nor experientially from the first statement.
To get his statement more in line with direct experience, Descartes might have said “cogitatio ergo esse”—“Thought, therefore to be.” Or, “Thought, therefore existence.” Thought, therefore something (without naming it) is. Something’s going on, in other words.*
We must come to doubt the common-sense idea that we experience an “I” antecedent to, separate and distinct from what is “not-I.” We must come to doubt the explanation that there can be a self (literally a “not-other”) that is separate from an other.
*But the word “esse”—“to be, to exist”—is still not quite reflective of actual experience, for it has a static quality about it. Since all our experience is in (or of) time, the phrase “thought is to be” does not quite hit the mark, for “to be” implies an abiding, unchanging thing. To get closer to actual experience, then, Descartes might have said “cogitatio ergo existere,” or better yet, “sensus ergo existere” (consciousness, therefore becoming).
What the buddha never taught (Regarding Reincarnation)
I have received more questions on reincarnation than any other topic I’ve written about, with the exception of the cow picture in Buddhism Plain and Simple. People are surprised when I point out, as I did in Buddhism Is Not What You Think, that the Buddha not only didn’t teach reincarnation, his message actually counters such belief. Since I have repeatedly been asked to say more on that topic, as I was in a recent online interview, I thought it might be helpful to expand on that point here.
For thousands of years, if we are to rely on the Vedas and archaeological evidence, people living in the region we now call India worshiped countless gods through the performance of meticulous rituals. Though their needs were simple, worldly, and direct, the people devoutly believed these rites had to be performed flawlessly to ensure that they would obtain what they were seeking—prosperity, abundant crops, health, and long life. What more could anyone want?
Yet at the start of the first millennium bce, this rapidly began to change. The Vedas had been written down by this time, but now a new kind of writing began to appear—the Upanishads. In these writings people began to ask what their former worldly concerns amounted to if, even after a life with prosperity, children, and longevity, all would be taken from them by death. Questions of death and the possibility of an afterlife became of increasing concern, discussion, and speculation. After death, they wondered, even if one ascended to heaven, how could one be sure of not dying yet again? Wasn’t life difficult enough? The prospect of dying over and over and over again seemed truly dreadful, devoutly to be avoided.
They began to speak of “redeath,” and the more that idea was tossed about, the more the people engaged in debates to find some solution to this new and dreaded prospect. Those who held sway in the debates competed for students and lay followers. Thus many teachers emerged at this time, all touting their own ways of defeating the dreaded prospect. Heated rivalries became common. Indeed, the idea of redeath had become a widespread and urgent problem for the populace at large. Evolving into various ideas of reincarnation over the next few centuries, these notions spread relatively quickly, taking firm hold even among the common people of the Gangetic plain. By the time of the Buddha belief in reincarnation had become deeply rooted and widely accepted.
It must be understood that, unlike many people living in our culture today who see the prospect of reincarnation as hopeful—as a continuation of “me,” the self—people of this ancient culture saw redeath as something to be dreaded, a problem to be overcome. Unlike those who entered into debates about what happens to the transmigrating soul—the atman—after death, the Buddha, as he said of his own teachings, “went against the stream.” His teachings not only went against the beliefs of those who still looked to various deities for help and against the masses who kept themselves bound to the dictates of the caste system, his teachings went against the many who believed in the dismal prospect of a transmigrating self and against those who diligently sought release from that prospect.
Central to the Buddha’s teaching is the profound and subtle insight that permanence is never to be grasped. In other words, if we settle the mind and look carefully, we do not find a self within human experience. Furthermore, he recognized this insight as the very release from the dreadful prospect of the transmigrating soul that people had been seeking. But it wasn’t release because it provided a way to deal with the dreadful prospect. It was release because it was to see thoroughly that the dreadful prospect itself was utter delusion. Simply seeing through the illusion of self is the release. There is no such prospect as redeath to be dreaded.
Though we don’t know precisely what the Buddha’s actual words were, it seems he may very well have spoken of rebirth, or more specifically, of rebirth consciousness. It is likely that, because the notion of reincarnation was so prevalent, and because his insight that we don’t find a self within human experience was so subtle and profound and difficult, many people down through the ages have construed his possible mention of rebirth consciousness as a reference to reincarnation—the very delusion for which his teaching, when properly understood, provides the antidote.
Consequently, over the centuries a great deal has been built upon this misinterpretation. This confused and incoherent understanding of the Buddha’s message has been widely propagated and handed down as if it were what the Buddha actually taught. Or, as the late Jiddu Krishnamurti aptly observed, “They didn’t listen to Buddha, that’s why we have Buddhism.”
It seems quite unlikely that the Buddha endorsed the notion of reincarnation, since it goes so strongly against his most powerful, subtle, and profound insight—namely, anatman, the unlocatability of a self.
If the Buddha was not speaking of reincarnation, what could he have meant by the term rebirth consciousness? Simply that the immediate experience of this moment does not appear as this moment but, rather, as continuous change. In other words, this moment appears as very like, but different from, what appears to have immediately preceded it. The world appears as reborn, over and over, moment after moment.
Reincarnation requires a speculative belief in a substantiated self that persists from moment to moment—precisely what the Buddha’s teaching of anatman rejects. In contrast, rebirth consciousness refers to nothing more than the awareness that this moment appears now, with its own unique before and after, without ever entailing any presumed entity that persists through time.
In other words, while reincarnation requires a self that persists through time—something that is not directly experienced and that was thus rejected by the Buddha—rebirth consciousness makes no reference to anything that is not directly experienced or observed. In short, it relies not on abstraction, speculation, or belief, but on immediate, direct experience alone.
The Buddha’s realization that a self is never found—let alone that such transmigrates—precludes the possibility that he ever taught reincarnation. He was simply trying to help people out of their confusion regarding that notion.
is there life after death?
Suppose that someone were to ask you this: does the great expanse of the Earth go on forever or does it have an edge? We might conclude that the person asking it is ignorant or confused. They’ve presumed something—a flat Earth—that’s not supported by actual experience.
So it is with this seemingly urgent question about life after death.
There were a number of questions the Buddha kept silent on, and this was one of them. He was not silent because he was perplexed by it, but because he knew the real need of the questioner was to get out of his or her confusion, rather than to grasp at an answer that would be unsupported by actual experience.
The vital question for us lies in how we live our lives now. When we fully attend to this, vain speculations about “life after death” lose their urgency.
Essay by Norm Randolph
You are buddha
Throughout his teaching career, Katagiri Roshi taught, “You are Buddha; all beings are Buddha.”
At first no one understood, but eventually, a few people did. At his last Dharma talk, before he died of cancer, he was very weak and had to be helped to sit down on his cushion. But when he spoke, he gave a very powerful lecture. He knew it was his last talk, so he gave it everything he had. And in this talk, he very strongly emphasized, “You are Buddha.”
The great Zen master, Suzuki Roshi, who founded the San Francisco Zen Center, also pointed this out. He would say to his students, “When I look at you, I see you all as perfect Buddhas.” However, he would go on to say, “I see you all as perfect Buddhas until you open your mouths to say something.”
He saw very clearly that our True Nature was the Buddha Nature. Yet, it was also clear to him that we were ignorant of our True Nature.
Buddha is the Reality of Awakeness, which is the True Self, the True Life, the True Nature of each being. It is the subjectless, objectless Awakeness which is being directly experienced by all beings now.
The historical Buddha, who lived in India approximately 2,500 years ago, was a person who profoundly realized the Reality of Awakeness. He clearly saw that this Reality was his True Self. He realized that the seemingly separate individual that he seemed to be was an empty, illusory manifestation of the True Self or Buddha. He realized this was true for all the seemingly separate beings and phenomena in the universe.
The Reality of Awakeness or Buddha is the boundless, all-inclusive Reality of here and now. Different terms are used to point to this Reality—Totality, Wholeness, the Universe, Dharma, Truth, Thusness, the True Self, Supreme Enlightenment, the One Buddha Mind, and other terms as well.
This Reality of Awakeness is sometimes described as being wondrous and inconceivable. It is described in this way because it cannot be objectified or conceptually grasped. No matter how much we speak about it or write about it, it cannot be pinned down or objectified, or explained or packaged into a conceptual description. Nevertheless, it is clear and obvious; it is being directly experienced now, and everything is a manifestation of it. It cannot be hidden. Dharma teaching is pointing to this Reality of Awakeness, which cannot be explained or objectified and yet, which cannot be hidden.
This Reality of Awakeness or Buddha, which is clear and obvious, is usually ignored or overlooked. It is ignored by getting caught up in the belief in separation of self and other and the belief in a dualistically structured Reality. Reality is ignored when we are caught up in these beliefs and respond and act based on these beliefs. We are profoundly taken in by these beliefs in many ways. We have many beliefs or assumptions about ourselves, others, and the nature of Reality, and we live our lives based on these beliefs. This is the ignorance by which our Buddhahood is ignored.
We don’t try to get rid of beliefs. We don’t try to get rid of the ignoring or ignorance. We don’t try to get rid of the emotional responses, desires, and patterns of behavior based on this ignorance. Instead, we are just aware of them. Eventually these can be seen as empty, illusory manifestations of the True Self or Buddha—then they cease to be problems. Then they can be seen as helpful pointers—showing us how we are interpreting Reality, how we are responding to it, how we are getting stuck, and how we can be released. In this practice of Awakeness the ways in which the True Self is ignored can eventually be seen through, and they drop away by themselves.
Suzuki Roshi used to say, “Since you are Buddha, you must be Buddha. That is our practice.” In a lecture he gave at the monastery at Tassajara in July 1968 he said, “When it is hot you should be hot Buddha. When it is cold you should be cold Buddha.”
He went on to say that each individual, each thing, each event, each situation, each experience is Buddha. Each thought, each feeling, each emotion, each desire, each perception, each state of consciousness is Buddha. When you realize that you are Buddha and understand everything as an unfolding of the Truth, then whatever you experience is the actual teaching of Buddha, and whatever you do is the actual practice of Buddha.
Usually people practice for a long time believing that it is a separate ego self who is carrying out this practice. With continued practice, with help from a teacher, this belief can eventually be seen through.
People usually begin practice with the belief that after a long time, they will eventually attain Enlightenment. But Supreme Enlightenment or Buddha is being directly experienced now. It is not a matter of practicing for a long time and eventually attaining Enlightenment.
Most people starting out in this practice believe that practice is a means to attain Enlightenment. They believe practice and Enlightenment have a dualistic, before-and-after, means-and-end relationship. But, with continued practice, this belief can eventually be seen through. It becomes clear that Enlightenment, Buddha, or Truth is what we are and that practice and Enlightenment are one.
Some questions might arise, such as, “Who practices?” “Who eventually sees?” “What is eventually seen?” and “How long is eventually?”
These are interesting questions, but don’t try to figure out or conceptually grasp particular answers. Whatever concepts or beliefs we have about Reality are just limited views. It is by holding to these beliefs and limited views about Reality that the actual Reality—Buddha—is overlooked.
So, just live a life of wide open Awakeness and curiosity as if we are discovering who we are and what our experience is for the first time. Just be Awake to directly-experienced Reality now. Just be Awake to directly-experienced Reality now without being taken in by beliefs and limited views. If we believe there is a separate self who practices and “eventually” sees and there is a separate reality that is “eventually” seen, then the directly-experienced True Self or Buddha is being ignored.
The True Self manifests itself in such a way as to bring about the appearance of separation of self and others and the appearance of duration in time and extension in space. There seem to be separate beings, times, places, and events to which names, labels, personal pronouns, and conceptual categories can be applied. In accordance with how things appear to be and in accordance with conventional speech, we use names, labels, personal pronouns, and conceptual categories. We need to function and communicate in the conventional, seemingly dualistic world where there seems to be separation of self and others, without being taken in by the belief that there actually is this separation. Then we can be truly helpful to ourselves and all the seemingly separate beings that we meet.
In this practice of Awakeness it can eventually be seen that all beings are mutually assisting each other. These are not separate beings. If they actually were separate beings, this life of mutual assistance would not be possible. When this is clearly seen, a life of compassion, joy, and fearlessness opens up to us, and we can live as the great Buddhas that we are.
Dharma Field Chant Book