Some Talks by Hakuin
A sample from Talks by Hakuin Introductory to Lectures On the Records of Old Sokko (Sokko-roku kaien fusetsu)
Translated by Norman Waddel
When the resolve to seek the Way first began to burn in me, I was drawn by the spirits of the hills and streams among the high peaks of Liyama. Deep in the forests of Narasawa, I came upon a decrepit old teacher in a mountain hermitage. His name was Shoju Rojin. His style was Etan. His Dharma grandfather was National Master Daien. His Dharma-father was Shido Munan. He was a blind old bonze filled with deadly venom - true and authentic to the core. He was always telling students:
"This Zen school of ours began to decline at the end of the Southern Sung. By the time it had reached the Ming the transmission had fallen to earth, all petered out. Now, what remains of its real poison is found in Japan alone. But even here there's not much. It's like scanning the midday sky for stars. As for you, you smelly blind shavepates, you ragtag little lackwits, you haven't stumbled upon it even in your dreams."
Another time, he said:
"You're imposters, the whole lot of you. You look like Zen monks, but you don't understand Zen. You remind me of the monks in the teaching schools - but you haven't mastered the teachings. Some of you resemble precepts monks, yet their precepts are beyond you. There is a resemblance to the Confucians - but you haven't grasped Confucianism either. What, then, are you really like? I'll tell you. Large rice- bags, fitted all out in black robes."
Here is a story he told us:
"There is a Barrier of crucial importance. In front of it sit a row of stern officials, each of whom is there to test the ability of those who wish to negotiate the Barrier. Unless you pass their muster, you don't get through.He intones loud invocations of the Nembutsu - 'Namu-amida-butsu,' 'Namu-amida- butsu.' The gates swing open and he proceeds on his way.
"At this point, another man clothed in black robes appears. He says that he is a Zen monk. One of the guardians of the Barrier remarks that 'Zen is the crowning pinnacle of all the Buddhas.' He then asks: 'What is Zen?'
"All the monk can do is stand there, in a blank daze, looking like a pile of brushwood. The officials take one look at the nervous sweat pouring from under his arms and write him off as a rank imposter. A highly suspicious and totally undesirable character. So he winds up as a poor devil of an outcast, condemned to a wretched existence outside the Barrier. What a pitiful turn of events."
Shoju also told us:
"Suppose at some future day you men have temples of your own. You receive an invitation from one of your parishioners, asking you to visit him at his home. When you arrive with your head monk and some of your students, you are ushered into a large room, where you find layers of thick, soft cushions to sit upon. Dishes filled with rare delicacies are arranged before you. You sit there in high spirits, partaking of the food without a single qualm, regarding it as your due. When you finish eating, as you are enjoying yourself amid the loud talk and boisterous laughter, one of the people present addresses you, and brings up a difficult point of Zen - the kind that furrows the brows of Zen monks. He suggests casually that you explain it. At that moment, what kind of response will you make? Your heart will probably start to thump wildly in your chest. Your body will break out in a muck of sweat. Your distress will cast a black pall over the entire room. "So inasmuch as you are members of the Zen school, you should concentrate diligently on your training. If you don't, you will be unwittingly sowing the seeds of your own shame and disgrace. There's no telling when you'll find yourself in such a harrowing situation. It's too terrifying to contemplate."
I know a wealthy family in the province of Shinano. They have a large inherited fortune, and the influence they wield rivals that of the provincial daimyo himself. The family is so large that they must ring a dinner bell to call them all together. The great and powerful are frequent visitors. Although they have no family business as such, they have been able to maintain a quiet and comfortable existence.
But recently they started brewing sake. They added male and female servants to the staff. The water mill now grinds away day and night hulling rice. A continuous procession of grain carts thunders heavily in through the gates. Their prosperity has increased tenfold over what it was before. Ten thousand bushels of rice are said to be consumed daily in the brewing of sake. An old man living nearby and witnessing these events, said: "Those folks are finished. Their prosperity cannot continue much longer. What you now see is really a symptom of serious trouble. When the inner workings decay, the outer aspect always swells like that. They will probably try their hand at selling grain. Or open a shop to sell medicinal herbs. But before long they will have to dispose of them too."
When my teacher Shoju Rojin heard the old man's prediction, he heaved a heavy sigh.
"I know just what he means. Since the Sung period, our patriarchal school has been in constant decline. Zen monks have extended their interests into a variety of different fields. It's just like the family in that story." As he finished speaking, his eyes were swimming in tears. I have recorded as I remember them a few brief examples of Old Shoju's instructions. I thought that they would give you an idea of the anger, the scoldings and verbal abuse, that shouts of encouragement, that he used in his daily teaching, as well as of the deep concern and sad regrets he often voiced about the present state of the Zen school.
At present, we are infested in this country with a race of smooth-tongued, worldly-wise Zen teachers who feed their students a ration of utter nonsense. "Why do you suppose Buddha-patriarchs through the ages were so mortally afraid of words and letters?" they ask you. "It is," they answer, "because words and letters are a coast of rocky cliffs washed constantly by vast oceans of poison ready to swallow your wisdom and drown the life from it.
Giving students stories and episodes from the Zen past and having them penetrate their meaning is a practice that did not start until after the Zen school had already branched out into the Five Houses, and they were developing into the Seven Schools. Koan study represents a provisional teaching aid which teachers have devised to bring students up to the threshold of the house of Zen so as to enable them to enter the dwelling itself. It has nothing directly to do with the profound meaning of the Buddha-patriarchs' inner chambers." An incorrigible pack of skinheaded mules has ridden this teaching into a position of dominance in the world of Zen. You cannot distinguish master from disciple, jades from common stones. They gather and sit - rows of sleepy inanimate lumps. They hug themselves, self-satisfied, imagining they are the paragons of the Zen tradition. They belittle the Buddha- patriarchs of the past. While celestial phoenixes linger in the shadows, starving away, this hateful flock of owls and crows rule the roost, sleeping and stuffing their bellies to their hearts' content.
If you don't have the eye of kensho, it is impossible for you to use a single drop of the Buddha's wisdom. These men are heading straight for the realms of hell. That is why I say: if upon becoming a Buddhist monk you do not penetrate the Buddha's truth, you should turn in your black robe, give back all the donations you have received, and revert to being a layman. Don't you realize that every syllable contained in the Buddhist canon - all five thousand and forty-eight scrolls of scripture - is a rocky cliff jutting into deadly, poison-filled seas? Don't you know that each of the twenty-eight Buddhas and six Buddhist saints is a body of virulent poison? It rises up in monstrous waves that blacken the skies, swallow the radiance of the sun and moon, and extinguishes the light of the stars and planets.
It is there as clear and stark as could be. It is staring you right in the face. But none of you is awake to see it. You are like owls that venture out into the light of day, their eyes wide open, yet they couldn't even see a mountain were it towering in front of them. The mountain doesn't have a grudge against owls that makes it want to hide. The fault is with the owls alone.
You might cover your ears with your hands. You might put a blindfold over your eyes. Try anything you can think of to avoid these poisonous fumes. But you can't escape the clouds sailing in the sky, the streams tumbling down the hillsides. You can't evade the falling autumn leaves scattering spring flowers.
You might wish to enlist the aid of the fleetest winged demon you can find. If you plied him with the best of food and drink and crossed his paw with gold, you might get him to take you on his back for a couple of circumnavigations of the earth. But you would still not find so much as a thimbleful of ground where you could hide.
I am eagerly awaiting the appearance of some dimwit of a monk (or barring that, half such a monk) richly endowed with a natural stock of spiritual power and kindled within by a raging religious fire, who will fling himself unhesitatingly into the midst of this poison and instantly die the Great Death. Rising from that Death, he will arm himself with a calabash of gigantic size and roam the great earth seeking true and genuine monks. Wherever he encounters one, he will spit in his fists, flex his muscles, fill his calabash with deadly poison and fling a dipperful of it over him, drenching him head to foot, so that he too is forced to surrender his life. Ah! what a magnificent sight to behold! The Zen priests of today are busily imparting a teaching to their students that sounds something like this:
"Don't misdirect your efforts. Don't chase around looking for something apart from your own selves. All you have to do is to concentrate on being thoughtless, on doing nothing whatever. No practice. No realization. Doing nothing, the state of no-mind, is the direct path of sudden realization. No practice, no realization - that is the true principle, things as they really are. The enlightened ones themselves, those who possess every attribute of Buddhahood, have called this supreme, unparalleled, right awakening."
People here this teaching and try to follow it. Choking off their aspirations. Sweeping their minds clean of delusive thoughts. They dedicate themselves solely to doing nothing and to making their minds complete blanks, blissfully unaware that they are doing and thinking a great deal. When a person who has not had kensho reads the Buddhist scriptures, questions his teachers and fellow monks about Buddhism, or practices religious disciplines, he is merely creating the causes of his own illusion - a sure sign that he is still confined within samsara. He tries constantly to keep himself detached in thought and deed, and all the while his thoughts and deeds are attached. He endeavors to be doing nothing all day long, and all the while he is busily doing.
But if this same person experiences kensho, everything changes. Although he is constantly thinking and acting, it is totally free and unattached. Although he is engaged in activity around the clock, that activity is, as such, non-activity. This great change is the result of his kensho. It is like water that snakes and cows drink from the same cistern, which becomes deadly venom in one and milk in the other.
Bodhidharma spoke of this in his Essay on the Dharma Pulse:
If someone without kensho tries constantly to make his thoughts free and unattached, he commits a great transgression against the Dharma and is a great fool to boot. He winds up in the passive indifference of empty emptiness, no more able to distinguish good from bad than a drunken man. If you want to put the Dharma of non-activity into practice, you must bring an end to all your thought-attachments by breaking through into kensho. Unless you have kensho,you can never expect to achieve a state of non-doing.
Master Daie said:
Shogaku said that because for him, attaining the "Way" meant remaining as he was and doing nothing all the time --- keeping thoughts, views, and the like from arising in his mind, instead of seeking beyond that for wondrous enlightenment. He constructed a teaching out of the Dharma gate of kensho, the true sudden enlightenment of Buddha-patriarchs such as Tokusan, Rinzai, Tosan, Sozan, and Ummon. He took what the Ryogon Sutra says about mountains and rivers and the great earth all being manifestations that appear within the inconceivable clarity of the true mind, and rendered it into words devoid of substance --- constructions erected in the head. In fabricating his Zen from profound utterances and wondrous teachings of Zen masters of the past he blackened the good name of these Dharma ancestors - and he robbed later generations of students of their eyes and ears. Beneath his skin not a drop of blood flowed. In his eyes there was not a shred of strength. He and men like him infallibly get thing turned upside down. Then they forge on, blissfully unaware, into ever-increasing ignorance. How pitiful they are!
ln the Sutra on Perfect Enlightenment we read that
"In the latter day of the Dharma, sentient beings who aspire to attain the Buddha Way should not be made to seek enlightenment, for if they do they will just end up amassing large stores of knowledge and deepening their self-made delusions."
ln the same sutra:
"In the latter day, even sentient beings who seek out a good teacher encounter those who hold false views and they are thus never able to attain right enlightenment. This is a known pedigree for heresy. It is the fault of the false teachers. It is not the fault of the sentient beings who come to them for help.Could these statements from a sutra be merely empty words? It was this same problem that prompted priest Shinjo to declare in an informal talk to his monks:
Priest Maido told his students: "Go to Mount Lu [where Shogaku's temple was located] and plant yourselves firmly within the realm of non-doing." But Torin's descendants have now all disappeared. His line is deader than last night's ashes. For that we must feel intense regret.
Zen master Nando Genjo says that "you must see your own nature (kensho) us clearly as you see the palm of your hand. After kensho, each one of you must diligently continue to cultivate your own native ground." I want to fully impress all you patricians who probe the secret depths --- great men all --- with the need to put your innate powers to work for you as vigorously and relentlessly as you can. The moment your kensho is unmistakably clear, throw it aside. Dedicate yourself to boring through the difficult-to-pass koans. Once you are beyond those barriers, you are certain to understand exactly what the Buddha meant when he said in the Nirvana Sutra that a Buddha can see the Buddha-nature with his own eyes as distinctly as he sees a fruit lying in the palm of his hand. Upon penetrating to see the ultimate meaning of the patriarchal teachers, you will be armed for the first time with the fangs and claws of the Dharma Cave. You will sport the divine, life usurping talisman. You will pass into the realm of the Buddhas, stroll leisurely through the realms where evil demons dwell, pulling out nails and wrenching free chocks and dispersing great clouds of compassion as you go, practicing the great Dharma giving, and immensely benefitting the monks who come to you from the four quarters. But you will be the same worthless old duffer of a monk you were before, doing nothing at all with your time. Your eyes will stare out from your face from the same position as before. Your nose will be where it always was. At this point you will be the genuine article, an authentic descendant of the Buddhas and patriarchs, to whom you will have repaid in full that incalculable debt of gratitude you owe them.
You will be at liberty to spend your days free from the clutch of circumstances. Drinking tea when given it, eating rice when it comes. Doing and non-doing will be firmly in your grasp. Not even the Buddha-patriarchs will be able to touch you. You will now be ready to use millions in gold. (* An unenlightened priest would do harm with such wealth.
If, on the other hand, you follow the trend of the times, when you gain entry into the eighth consciousness's dark cave of unknowing you will begin crowing about what you have achieved. You will go around telling one and all how enlightened you are. You will proceed to accept, under false pretenses, the veneration and charity of others, and become one of those arrogant creatures who declares he has attained realization when he has not. If that is the course you follow, a horrifying future lies before you. Every grain of rice that you have received as a donation will turn into a red-hot particle of iron or a burning grain of sand. Every drop of water you have received will become a speck of molten bronze or boiling excrement. Each thread of the cloth you have accepted will become part of a flaming wire net or white-hot chain.
Ahh! Hoping to free yourseIves from the press of birth and death you men have your heads shaved. You put on a black robe. But then you make the mistake of falling under the spell of a false teacher. You live out the rest of your life like this as an irresponsible, no-account man of the Way. If you die with your eyes in this unopened state, you are destined for harrowing retribution. You will head straight back to your old home in the three evil paths - as though you had not suffered enough already! You, who have worn the surplice of a Buddhist priest, will sink to the bottom of a loathsome hellish mire and experience unending agonies. No more horrible fate is conceivable than to fall victim to the delusions these false teachers serve up to you.
Do you see what that wise young girl says! "If you can't give us such things, how do you expect to save others?" Compare that with the fellows today who quake with fear when they encounter a few touches of poison. How infinitely superior she is - the difference between a crown and an old shoe is not nearly so great.
You men set out on your religious quest with fire in your blood. You go through great difficulties, suffer untold hardship, as you bore into the secret depths. Isn't it all because you intend at some later date to do great work by bringing the benefits of salvation to your fellow beings? What about you? Don't you think you'd be lacking if you couldn't come up with these three things?
Why did the Buddha utter these words, instead of quaking and quivering with fear? Or do you think he was unaware of the deadly poison contained in the girl's utterance?
Try to fathom the Buddha's intent here. Don't you suppose he was hoping to make Taishaku realize the true meaning of the young girl's words? To enable him to leap directly beyond the gradual steps of the four attainments and three ranks and arrive at the stage of the great Bodhisattvas?
In the third section of the Platform Sutra, the one devoted to doubts and questions, the Sixth Patriarch makes the statement: "Considered as a manifestation in form, the Paradise in the West lies one hundred and eight thousand leagues from here, a distance created by the ten evils and eight false practices in ourselves." Shuko of Unsei, a Ming priest of recent times who lived in Hangchou during the Wan-li period (1573-1672), wrote in his commentary on the Amida Sutra:
The Platform Sutra mistakenly identifies India with the Pure Land of Bliss. India and China are both part of this defiled world in which we live. If India were the Pure Land, what need would there be for people to aspire toward the eastern quarter or yearn toward the west? "Amida's Pure Land of Bliss lies west of here, many millions of Buddha lands distant from this world." What we know as the Platform Sutra consists of records compiled by disciples of the Sixth Patriarch. We have no assurance that what they have compiled is free from error. We must be very careful to keep such a work from beginning students. If it falls into the hands of those who lack the capacity to understand it, it will turn them into wild demons of destruction. How deplorable!
Faugh! Who was this Shuko anyway? Some hidebound Confucian? An apologist for the Lesser Vehicle? Maybe a Buddhist of Pure Land persuasion who cast groundless aspersions on this sacred work because he was blind to the profound truth contained in the Meditation Sutra, [Which states that the Pure Land is "not far from here."] because he was simply not equipped with the eye which would enable him to read sutras? Or maybe he was a cohort of Mara the Destroyer manifesting himself in the guise of a priest, shaven-headed, black-robed, hiding beneath a mask of verbal prajna, bent on destroying with his slander the wondrously subtle, hard-to-encounter words of a true Buddhist saint?
Such ascriptions would seem to fit him all too well. Yet someone took exception to them. "There is no reason to wonder about Master Ko," he said. "Take a good look and you will see that he just lacked the eye of kensho. He didn't have the strength that comes from realizing the Buddha's truth. Not having the karma from previous existence to enable him to reach prajna wisdom if he continued forward and being afraid to retreat because of the terrible samsaric retribution he knew awaited him in the next life, he turned to Pure Land faith. He began to devote himself exclusively to calling Amida's Name, hoping that at his death he would see Amida and his attendant Bodhisattvas arriving to welcome him to birth in the Pure Land and thereby attain the fruit of Buddhahood.
So when he happened to open the Platform Sutra and read the golden utterances of the Sixth Patriarch expounding the authentic `direct pointing' of the Zen school, and he realized they were totally at odds with the aspirations he had been cherishing, it dashed all his hopes. Yet this also roused him into putting together the commentary we now see. It was his way of redeeming the worthless notions to which he had grown so attached. So he was no Confucian, Taoist, or ally of Mara either. He was just a blind priest with a tolerable facility for the written word. We should not be surprised at him. Beginning from the time of the Sung dynasty, people like him have been as numerous as flax seed.
If what this person says is in fact true, the course of action that Shuko took was extremely ill-advised. We are fortunate that we do have the compassionate instructions of the Sixth Patriarch. Shouldn't we just read them with veneration, believe in them with reverence, and enter into their sacred precincts? What are we to make of a person who would use his minimal literary talent to endeavor to belittle the lofty wisdom and great religious spirit of a man of the Sixth Patriarch's stature? Even granting that to be permissible as long as he is deluding only himself, it is a sad day indeed when he commits his misconceptions to paper and publishes them as a book which can subvert the Zen teaching for untold numbers of future students.
We generally regard the utterances of a sage as being at odds with the notions held by ordinary people, and people who are at variance with such utterances we regard as unenlightened. Now if the words of a sage are no different from the ideas the unenlightened hold to be right and proper, are not those words themselves ignorant and unenlightened, and unworthy of our respect? If the ignorant are not at variance with the words of an enlightened sage, doesn't that make them enlightened men, and as such truly worthy of our reverence?
To begin with, Sokei Daishi was a great master with an unsurpassed capacity for transmitting the Dharma. None of the seven hundred pupils who studied with the Fifth Patriarch at Mount Huang-mei could even approach him. His offspring cover the earth now from sea to sea, like the stones on a go board or the stars in the heavens. A common hedgerow monk like Shuko, whose arbitrary conjecture and wild surmise all comes from fossicking around in piles of old rubbish, does not even belong in the same category as Sokei. Are you not aware, Shuko, that Master Sokei is a timeless old mirror in which the realms of heaven and hell and the lands of purity and impurity are all reflected equally? Don't you know that they are, as such, the single eye of the Zen monk? A diamond hammer couldn't break it. The finest sword on earth couldn't penetrate it. This is a realm in which there is no coming and going, no birth and death.
The light emitted from the white hair between Amida Buddha's eyebrows, which contains five Sumerus, and his blue lotus eyes, which hold the four great oceans, as well as the trees of seven precious gems and pools of eight virtues that adorn his Pure Land, are all shining brilliantly in our minds right now - they are manifest with perfect clarity right before our eyes. The black cord hell, aggregate hell, shrieking hell, interminable hell and all the rest, are, as such, the entire body of the venerable Sage of Boundless Life (Amida) in all his golden radiance.
Whether it is called the Shining Land of Lapis Lazuli in the East or the Immaculate Land of Purity in the South, it makes no difference - originally, it is all a single ocean of perfect, unsurpassed awakening, and, as such, it is also the intrinsic nature in every human being.
Yet even while it is present in them all, the way each one of them views it is never the same, but varies according to the weight of individual karma and the amount of merit and good fortune they enjoy.
Those who suffer the terrible agonies of hell see seething cauldrons and white-hot furnaces. Craving ghosts see raging fires and pools of pus and blood. Fighting demons see a violent battleground of deadly strife. The unenlightened see a defiled world of ignorance and suffering - all thorns and briars, stones and worthless shards - from which they turn in loathing to seek the Land of Purity. Inhabitants of the deva realms see a wonderful land of brilliant lapis lazuli and transparent crystal. Adherents of the two vehicles see a realm of transition on the path to final attainment. Bodhisattvas see a land of true recompense filled with glorious adornments. Buddhas see a land of eternal tranquil light. How about you Zen monks. What do you see?
You must be aware that the jewelled nets of the heavenly realms and the white-hot iron grates in the realms of hell are themselves thousand-layed robes of finest silk; that the exquisite repasts of the Pure Land paradise and the molten bronze served up to hell-dwellers are, as such, banquets replete with a hundred rare tastes. Nowhere in heaven or on earth will you find a second moon. Yet there is no way for those of ordinary or inferior capacity to know it. Followers of the patriarch-teachers, you monks of superior capacity investigating the hidden depths, until you release your hold from the edge of the precipice to which you hang and perish into life anew, you can never enter this samadhi. But the moment you do, the distinction between Dharma principle and enlightened person disappears, differentiations between mind and environment vanish. This is what the coming of the old Buddha to welcome you to the Pure Land is really about. You are those superior religious seekers the sutra says are destined for "the highest rank of the highest rebirth in the Pure Land."
Master Ko, if you do not once gain entrance into the Pure Land in this way, you could pass through millions upon millions of Buddha lands, undergo rebirth eight thousand times over, but it would all be a mere shadow in a dream, no different from the imagined land conjured up in Kantan's slumbering brain.2 The Zen master Sokei stated unequivocally that the ten evils and eight false practices separate us from the Western Paradise. It is a perfectly justified, absolutely authentic teaching. Were the countless Tathagatas in the six directions all to manifest themselves in this world at one time, even they could not change a single syllable of it.
Furthermore, Master Ko, if I said to you, "The Western Paradise is eighteen leagues from here." "The Western Paradise is seven feet from here." "The Western Paradise is eighteen inches over there." these would be perfectly justified, absolutely authentic teachings. How can you lay a hand, or foot, on them! When I make those statements what village do you suppose I am referring to? And if you hesitate or speculate for even a split second, a broken vermilion staff seven feet long stands ready against the wall. Your resentment at finding the Sixth Patriarch's ideas different to your own led you to take a true teacher totally dedicated to the Buddhist goal of universal salvation and represent him as a dunce who does not even know the difference between the Pure Land and India --- do you think that is right? We can only suppose that some preconception of the Sixth Patriarch which had formed in Shuko's mind led him to think: "It's really a shame that the Sixth Patriarch, with that profound enlightenment of his, was originally a woodcutter from the uncivilized south. Being illiterate, he couldn't read the Buddhist scriptures. He was rude, completely ignorant, in fact, he was no different from those countrymen who tend cows and catch fish or work as menials."
But is it really possible that even such people wouldn't know the difference between the Pure Land and India? Even a tiny child believes in the Pure Land and worships it with a sense of reverence. And we are talking about a great Buddhist teacher - one of the "difficult-to-meet, hard-to-encounter" sages who rarely appears in this world. The venerable Sokei Daishi was a veritable udumbara flower who blossomed auspiciously in answer to the prophecies of the Buddhist sages. This genuinely enlightened man, endowed with the ten superhuman powers of Buddhahood, appeared in the world riding upon the vehicle of the universal vow and revealed a secret of religious attainment not preached by any Buddha-patriarch before him. It was like the Dragon god entering the world encompassing
ocean, turning its salt water to fresh and working with perfectly unobstructed freedom to make it fall over all the earth as pure, sweet manna, reviving parched wastelands from the ravages of great drought. It was like a rich man entering an immense treasure house, emerging with many articles rarely seen in the world and distributing them to the cold and hungry, giving them new life by relieving their need and suffering. Such activities have nothing to do with speculation or conjecture. They cannot be approached by ordinary human understanding.
Priests of today who have woven themselves into complicated webs of words and letters, who, after sucking and gnawing on this literary sewage until their mouths suppurate, proceed to spew out a tissue of irresponsible nonsense - should not even be mentioned in the same breath as the Sixth Patriarch. Shakyamuni Buddha tells us that the Pure Land lies many millions of Buddha-lands distant from here. The Zen patriarch Eno says the distance is one hundred and eight thousand leagues. Both utterances come from men whose power - strength derived from great wisdom - is awesomely vast. Their words reverberate like the earth-shaking stomp of the elephant king, resound like the roar of the lion monarch, bursting the brains of any jackal or other scavenger who stops to ponder them or shows so much as the slightest hesitation.
Yet Shuko glibly delivers the judgment that the "Platform Sutra mistakenly regards India as the Pure Land of Bliss." "What we know as the Platform Sutra," he says, "consists of records compiled by disciples of the Sixth Patriarch. We have no assurance that what they have compiled is free from error." Now maybe that sounds like he is trying to be helpful, but what he is really doing is disparaging the Sixth Patriarch.
In the Rokusodankyo Kokan, a commentary on the Platform Sutra, the author writes: "According to gazeteers and geographical works I have consulted, the distance from the west gate of Chang-an to the east gate of Kapilavastu in India is one hundred thousand leagues, so Shuko's criticism of the Platform Sutra for mistaking India for the Pure Land may well have a solid basis in fact."
Now that isn't even good rubbish. But even supposing (alas!) that the author's penchant for poking into old books is justified, I want him to tell me: What gazeteer or geography since the time of the Great Yu ever stated that India is distant from China by ten evils and eight wrong practices? It's a great shame, really. Instead of wasting his time nosing through reference books, why didn't he just read the Platform Sutra with care and respect, and devote himself attentively to investigating Shakyamuni Buddha's true meaning? If he had continued to contemplate it - both coming and going - he would suddenly have broken through and grasped that meaning. Then he would have that "solid basis" of his. He would be clapping his hands joyfully, howling with laughter - he couldn't have helped himself. How about those great roars of laughter? What would they mean?
It is absurd for someone in Master Ko's advanced state of spiritual myopia to be going around delivering wild judgments on the golden utterances of a genuine sage like the Sixth Patriarch. The author of the Rokusodankyo Kokan is another of those like Master Ko who spends his entire life entangled in a jungle of vines down inside a dark cave. They are like a midget in a crowded theatre trying to watch a play. Since he can't see anything, he jumps up and down and applauds when everyone else does. They also remind you of a troup of blind Persians who stumble upon a parchment leaf inscribed with Sanskrit words; they wander off into the middle of nowhere and secretly pool their knowledge trying to decipher the meaning of the text. But as they haven't the faintest idea what it says, they fail to get even a single word right, and they turn themselves into laughing stocks in the bargain.
Actually, such people do not even merit our attention, and yet since I am afraid of the harm they can do misleading even a few sincere seekers, I find it necessary to lay down a few entangling vines of my own like this. "The greatest care must be taken to keep such a work from beginning students," says Shuko's commentary. "If it does chance to fall into the hands of those who lack the capacity to understand it, it will turn them into wild demons of destruction. How deplorable!'
My answer to the gross irresponsibility of such a statement is: we must take the greatest care not to pass stupid, misinformed judgments on a work like the Platform Sutra. When people with unenlightened views judge such a work on the basis of their own ignorance, they immediately transform themselves into wild demons of destruction. It is that which I find deplorable.
To begin with, Tathagatas appear in the world one after another for the sole purpose of opening up paths to Buddha-wisdom for sentient beings. That has always been their primary aim in manifesting themselves. Although the sutras and commentaries contain a variety of Dharma "gates" - abrupt and gradual teachings, verbal and pre-verbal teachings, exoteric and esoteric teachings, first and last teachings - in the end they all come down to one teaching and one teaching alone: the fundamental self-nature inherent in each and every person.
It is no different in Sokei Daishi's case. While the Platform Sutra which contains his teaching has chapters devoted to his religious career, to his answers to questioners doubts, to meditation and wisdom, to repentance, and so on - they are in the end none other than the one teaching of kensho (seeing into the true self-nature). Wise sages for twenty-eight generations in India and six generations in China, as well as the venerable Zen teachers of the Five Houses and Seven Schools who descended from them, have every one of them transmitted this Dharma of kensho as they strove to lead people to awakening in Shakyamuni's place devoting themselves singlemindedly to achieving the fundamental aim for which all Buddhas appear in the world. None of them ever uttered one word about the Western Paradise, nor preached a single syllable about birth in the Pure Land. When the students who came after them began their study of the Way and took it upon themselves to read the Platform Sutra, none of them was ever reduced to becoming a wild demon. On the contrary, it matured their attainment and enabled them to grow into great Dharma vessels. So please, Master Ko, stop whining about the Platform Sutra. It is because of misguided men like you that Nankai Soho of the Yuan wrote:
The Platform Sutra is not mere words. It is the principle of Bodhidharma's `direct pointing' that has been transmitted from patriarch to patriarch. It is thanks to it that great, venerable masters in the past like Nangaku and Seigen cleared their minds. After them, it cleared the minds of their disciples Baso and Sekito. The spread of the Zen school today throughout the world is also firmly rooted in this same principle of direct pointing. Indeed, is it possible that anyone in the future could clear his mind and see into his own nature without recourse to this same direct pointing?
These words of Nankai Soho represent the accepted norm in Zen temples and monasteries everywhere. Yet there is Master Ko, ensconced in some remote temple, giving forth with those partisan hunches of his. The one is as different from the other as cloud from mud.
Since some people are naturally perceptive and some are not, and some have great ability while others have little, there is a correspondingly great variety in the teachings which Buddhas impart to them. Buddhas work in the same way that skilled physicians do. A physician does not set out when he examines patients with just one medical prescription already fixed in his mind; since the ailments from which they suffer vary greatly, he must be able to prescribe a wide variety of remedies for them.
Take, for example, the desire for rebirth found among followers of the Pure Land school. Shakyamuni, the Great Physician King who relieves the suffering of sentient beings, in order to save Queen Vaidehi from the misery of a cruel imprisonment, converted her to firm belief in the Pure Land of her own intrinsic mind- nature by using good and skillful means which he devised for her particular situation. It was a specific remedy prescribed for the occasion and imparted to Queen Vaidehi alone.
Men like Shuko, not having attained the truth of the Buddha's wonderful skillful means, cling mulishly to the deluded notion of a Pure Land and Buddhas which exist separately apart from the mind. They are incapable of truly grasping that there is no such thing as a Buddha with his own Buddha land, that the village right in front of them and the village behind them and everywhere else - it is all Buddha land. There is no such thing as a Buddha body either. South and north, east and west, all is the Buddha body in its entirety. Being incapable of truly grasping such truths, when Shuko heard a genuine Buddhist teaching which said, "you are separated from the Western Paradise by the ten evils and eight false practices in yourself," he was appalled because it did not agree with the conception of the Pure Land which he had erected in his own mind. He hoped that by roundly condemning it he could keep others from hearing or reading about it.
If we let Shuko have his way and keep beginners from reading the Platform Sutra on the grounds that it is unsuitable for them, then the Kegon Sutra, and the Lotus, Nirvana, and other Mahayana sutras in which the Buddha reveals the substance of his enlightenment, are not suitable for them either. I say this because the great master Eno, having penetrated the profoundest subtleties of the Buddha-mind, having broken decisively through the deep ground whence the ocean of Buddhist teaching finds its source, spoke with the same tongue, sang from the same mouth, as all the other Buddhas. Furthermore. the Kegon Goron states that "aspirants belonging to the first class recognize the Buddha's great power, observe his precepts, and by utilizing the power of the vow working in themselves, gain birth in his Pure Land. That Pure Land is a provisional manifestation, not a real Pure Land. The reason aspirants seek it is because they have not seen into their own true nature and hence do not know that ignorance is in itself the fundamental wisdom of the Tathagatas - and they are thus still subject to the working of causation. The preaching of a scripture such as the Amida Sutra is based upon such a principle."
We may be sure if Shuko had seen this passage, he would have grabbed his brush and dashed off some lines about the Kegon Goron being unfit for beginners. The Kegon Goron is fortunate indeed to have avoided the blindeyed gaze of the "Great Teacher of the Lotus Pond." It saves us having to listen to warnings about "giving it to people of small capacity," and "turning them into wild demons." Sohaku Daishi dwelling within the stillness of eternal samadhi, should be delighted at this stroke of good fortune. Seen by the light of the true Dharma eye, all people - the old and the young, the high and the low, priest and laymen, wise and otherwise - are endowed with the wonderful virtue of Buddha wisdom. It is present without any lack in them all. Not one among them - or even half of one - is to be cast aside and rejected because he is a beginner.
But if they are compelled to practice the Nembutsu along with all other students of whatever kind and capacity on the grounds that they are beginners, we will have all the redoubtable members of the younger generation - those Bodhidharma praised as being "native born to the Mahayana in this land," people gifted with outstanding talent, who have it in them to become great Dharma pillars worthy to stand in the future with Tokusan, Rinzai, Baso, and Sekito - traipsing along after half-dead old duffers, sitting in the shade next to the pond with listless old grannies, dropping their heads and closing their eyes in broad daylight and intoning endless choruses of Nembutsu. If that happens, whose children are we going to find to carry on the vital pulse of Buddha-wisdom?
Who will become the cool, refreshing shade trees to provide refuge for those in the latter day? All the true customs and traditions of the Zen school will fall right to earth. The seeds of Buddhahood will wither, die, and disappear forever.
I want these great and stalwart men to choose the right path. If, at a time like this, the golden words in the Tripitaka, all the Mahayana sutras which were compiled in the Pippali cave for beginners to use in after ages, if everything except the three Pure Land sutras is relegated to the back shelves of the bookcase and left there untouched, it will end up as bug-fodder, buried uselessly in the bellies of bookworms, no different from stacks of fake burial money left forgotten in an old shrine deep in the mountains - of absolutely no use to anyone. How deplorable!
Those people mentioned before whom the Meditation Sutra says are destined for the highest rank of the highest rebirth in the Pure Land, those suited to read the Mahayana sutras, have now bitten the dust as well - they no longer exist. Shuko's commentary, in slanderously rejecting anything counter to his own notions, may be compared to the infamous Ch'in emperor's book burning pit. The Ch'in emperor's tyrannical policies were totally at odds with the teachings in the Confucian classics and other Confucian writings. Resenting this, he had his Confucians buried alive and all their books consigned to the flames. What Shuko has done represents a catastrophy of similar proportions.
The three Wu emperors undertook openly to suppress Buddhism. Shuko attempted to do the same thing surreptitiously. The former went about it publicly, the latter did it on the sly - yet the crime is one. But Shuko is not really to blame for his transgressions. He did what he did because he never encountered an authentic master to guide him and was unable to attain the eye that would have enabled him to see through into the secret depths. He did not possess the wonderful spiritual power that comes from kensho. Yet Shuko is given as "an example for good teachers past, present, and future." People praise him as "foremost among the great priests of the Zen, Teaching, and Precepts schools." Can they be in their right minds! The Zen forests of today will be found upon inspection to be thickly infested with a race of bonzes just like Shuko. You find them everywhere, fastened with grips of death to the "silent tranquillity" of their "withered-tree" sitting - and imagining that to be the true practice of the Buddha's Way. They don't take kindly to views which are not in agreement with their own. The Buddha's sutras they regard as they would a mortal enemy and forbid students to read them. They fear them as an evil spirit fears a sacred amulet. Being foolishly wedded to ordinary perception and experience in the belief that it is Zen, they take offense at anything which differs from their own convictions. They view the records of the Zen masters as they would a deadly adversary and refuse to let students near them. They avoid them like the lame hare avoids the hungry tiger. When we have adherents of the Pure Land shunning and disparaging the sacred writings of the Buddhas, and followers of Zen out to slander them into disrepute, the danger to the Buddhist Way must be said to have reached a critical stage.
Don't get me wrong. I am not urging students to become masters of the classics and histories, to spend all their time exploring ancient writings, or to lose themselves in the pleasures of poetry and letters; I am not telling them to compete in these fields against others and win fame for themselves by proving their superiority. They could attain an eloquence equal to that of the Great Purna, possess knowledge so great they surpassed Shariputra, but if they are lacking in the basic stuff of enlightenment, if they do not have the right eye of kensho, false views bred of arrogance will inevitably find their way deep into their spiritual vitals, blasting the life from the seed of Buddhahood, and turning them into sentient beings destined for permanent residency in hell. lt is not like this with true followers of the Way. They must as an essentiaI first step see their own original nature as clearly as if they are looking at the palm of their hand. When from time to time they take and read through the writings that contain the words and teachings of the Buddha-patriarchs, they will illuminate those ancient teachings with their own minds. They will visit authentic teachers for guidance. They will pledge themselves with firm determination to work their way through the final koans of the patriarchal teachers and, before they die, to produce from their forge a descendent - one person or at least half a person - as a way of repaying their deep debt of thanks to their predecessors. It is such people who are worthy to be called "progeny of the house of Zen."
I respectfully submit to the `Great Teacher of the Lotus Pond': "If you wish to plant yourself in some hinterland where you are free to finger your lotus-bead rosary, droop your head, drop your eyelids, and intone the Buddha's Name because you want to be born in the Land of Lotus Flowers, that is no business of mine. It is entirely up to you. But when you start gazing elsewhere with that myopic look in your eyes and decide to divert yourself by writing commentaries that pass belittling judgment on a great saint and matchless Dharma-transmitter like the Sixth Patriarch, then I must ask you to take the words you have and shelve them away, far out of sight, where no one will ever lay eyes on them. Why do I say that? I say it because the great Dragon King, who controls the clouds in the heavens and the rains that fall over the earth, cannot be known or fathomed by a mud snail or a clam."
One of the teachers of the past said:
The `western quarter' refers to the original mind of sentient beings. `Passing beyond millions and millions of Buddha-lands [to attain rebirth in the Pure Land'] signifies sentient beings terminating the ten evil thoughts and abruptly transcending the ten stages of Bodhisattvahood. 'Amida,' signifying immeasurable life, stands for the Buddha-nature in sentient beings. `Kannon,' `Seishi,' and Amida's other attendant Bodhisattvas represent the incomprehensible working of the original self-nature. `Sentient being' is ignorance and the many thoughts, fears, discernments, and discriminations that result from it. `When life ends' refers to the time when discriminations and emotions cease to arise. `Cessation of intellection and discrimination' is the purifying of the original mind-ground and indicates the Pure Land in the West. It is to the west that sun, moon, and stars all return. In the same way, it is to the one universal mind that all the thoughts, fears, and discriminations of sentient beings return. It is thus one single mind, calm and undisturbed. And because Amida Buddha exists here, when you awaken to your self-nature the 84,000 evil passions transform instantly into 84,000 marvelous virtues. To the incomprehensible working which brings this about we give the names Kannon, Seishi, and so on. The uneasy mind you have while you are in a state of illusion is called the defiled land. When you awaken and your mind is clear and free of defilement, that is called the Pure Land.
Hence the Kechimyaku-ron says that "the Nembutsu practiced by Buddhist saints in the past was not directed toward an external Buddha; their Nembutsu practice was oriented solely toward the internal Buddha in their own minds. . . . If you want to discover Buddha, first you must see into your own true nature. Unless you have seen into your own nature, what good can come from doing Nembutsu or reciting sutras?'
"Buddha" means "one who is awakened." Once you have awakened, your own mind is itself Buddha. By seeking outside yourself for a Buddha invested with form, you are proclaiming yourself a foolish man. It is like a person who wants to catch a fish. He must start by looking in the water, because fish live in the water and are not found apart from it. If a person wants to find Buddha he must look into his own mind, because it is there and nowhere else that Buddha exists.
Question: "In that case, what can I do to become thoroughly awakened to my own mind?' What is that which asks such a question? Is it your mind? Is it your original nature? Is it some kind of spirit or demon? Is it inside you? Outside you? Is it somewhere intermediate? Is it blue, yellow, red, or white? This is something you must investigate and clarify for yourself. You must investigate it whether you are standing or sitting, when you are eating your rice or drinking your tea, when you are speaking and when you are silent. You must keep at it with total, singleminded devotion. And never, whatever you do, look in sutras or in commentaries for an answer, or seek it in the words you hear a teacher speak.
When all the effort you can muster has been exhausted, when you have reached a total impasse, and you have become like the cat at the rathole, like the mother hen warming her egg, it will suddenly come to you and you will break free. The phoenix will be through the golden net, the crane will fly clear of the cage.
But even if no breakthrough occurs until your dying day and you spend twenty or thirty years in vain without ever seeing into your true nature, I want your solemn pledge that you will never turn for spiritual support to those tales that you hear the down-and-out old men and washed-out old women peddling everywhere today. If you do, they will stick to your hide, they will cling to your bones, you will never be free of them. And as for your chances with the patriarchs' difficult-to-pass koans, the less said about them the better, because they will then be totally beyond your grasp.
Hence a priest of former times said, "A person who commits himself to the practice of Zen must be equipped with three essentials. A great root of faith. A great ball of doubt. A great tenacity of purpose. Lacking any one of them, he is like a tripod with only two legs."
By "great root of faith" is meant the belief that each and every person has an essential self-nature which he can see into; and the belief in a principle by which this self-nature can be fully penetrated. Even though you attain this belief, you cannot break through and penetrate to total awakening unless fundamental doubts arise as you tackle the difficult-to-pass koans. And even if these doubts crystallize so that you yourself become a great ball of doubt, you will still be unable to break it apart unless you constantly engage those koans with great burning tenacity of purpose.
Thus it has been said that it takes three long kalpas for lazy and inattentive sentient beings to attain nirvana, while for the fearless and stouthearted, Buddhahood comes in a single instant of thought. What you must do is to concentrate all your effort on bringing your fundamental potential into full play. The practice of Zen is like making a fire by friction. The essential thing as you rub wood against stone is to apply continuous, all-out effort. If you stop when you see the first trace of smoke, you will never get even a flicker of fire, even though you might rub away for three long kalpas.
Only a few hundred yards from here is a beach. Suppose that someone is bothered because he has never experienced the taste of sea water and decides to sample it for himself. He sets out for the beach but before he has gone a hundred paces he stops and comes back; then he starts out again but this time he returns after he has taken only ten steps. He will never know the taste of sea water that way, will he? But if he keeps going straight ahead without turning back, it doesn't even matter if he lives far inland in a landlocked province such as Shinano, Kai, Hida, or Mino, he will still eventually reach the sea. Then, by dipping his finger in the water and tasting it, he will know in an instant what sea water tastes like the world over, because it is of course the same everywhere, in India, China, the great southern sea or the great northern sea. Those Dharma patricians who explore the secret depths are like this too. They go straight forward, boring into their own minds with unbroken effort, never letting up or retreating. Then the breakthrough suddenly comes, and with that they penetrate their own nature, the natures of others, the nature of sentient beings, the nature of the evil passions and of enlightenment, the nature of the Buddha nature, the god nature, the Bodhisattva nature, the sentient being nature, the non-sentient being nature, the craving ghost nature, the contentious spirit nature, the beast nature - they are all of them seen in a single instant of thought. The great matter of their religious quest is thus completely and utterly resolved. There is nothing left. They are free of birth and death. What a thrilling moment it is!
With greatest respect and reverence, I encourage all you superior seekers in the secret depths to devote yourselves to penetrating and clarifying the self as earnestly as you would put out a fire on the top of your head. I urge you to keep boring your way through as assiduously as you would seek a lost article of incalculable worth. I enjoin you to regard the teachings left by the Buddha patriarchs with the same spirit of hostility you would show toward a person who had murdered both your parents. Anyone who belongs to the school of Zen and does not engage in the doubting and introspection of koan must be considered a deadbeat rascal of the lowest kind, someone who would throw aside his greatest asset. As a teacher of the past said, "At the bottom of great doubt lies great enlightenment. . . From a full measure of doubt comes a full measure of enlightenment."
Don't think the commitments and pressing duties of secular life leave you no time to go about forming a ball of doubt. Don't think your mind is so crowded with confused thoughts you are incapable of devoting yourself singlemindedly to Zen practice. Suppose a man was in a busy market place, pushing his way through the dense crowd, and some gold coins dropped out of his pocket into the dirt. Do you think he would just leave them there forget about them and continue on his way because of where he was? Do you think someone would leave the gold pieces behind because he was in a crowded place or because the coins were lying in the dirt? Of course not. He would be down there frantically pushing and shoving with tears in his eyes trying to find them. His mind wouldn't rest until he had recovered them. Yet what are a few pieces of gold when set against that priceless jewel found in the headdresses of kings - the way of inconceivable being that exists within your own mind? Could a jewel of such worth be attained easily, without effort?
There once was a denizen of the Eastern Sea, Redfin Carp by name. He was endowed with an indomitable spirit and unbending integrity, a figure of immense stature among his fellow fish. He was constantly bemoaning the fate of his comrades. "How many untold millions of my brethren proudly swim the vast ocean deeps. They entrust themselves to its boundless silver waves, glide up and down among the swells, sport in the seaweed and kelp. Yet countless of them are taken by baited hooks and caught in nets. They wind up on a chopping block where they are sliced and cooked to fill the bellies of those in the human world. Their bones are cast away and mingle in the dust and mire. Their heads are thrown to the stray dogs. Some are dried or salted for inland markets, to be exposed in stalls and shopfronts for all to see. Not a single one finishes out his natural span. How sad is the life of a fish!"
With these sad musings there came a great welling of spirit in Redfin Carp's breast. He pledged a solemn vow. "I shall swim beyond the Dragon Gates. I shall brave the perilous bolts of fire and lightning. I shall transcend the estate of ordinary fish and achieve a place among the sacred order of dragons, ridding myself forever of the terrible suffering to which my race is heir, expunging every trace of our shame and humiliation."
Waiting until the third day of the third month, when the peach blossoms are in flower and the river is full, he made his way to the entrance of the Yu Barrier. Then with a flick of his tail, Redfin Carp swam forth.
You men have never laid eyes on the awesome torrent of water that rolls through the Dragon Gates. It falls all the way from the summits of the far-off Kunlun Range with tremendous force. There are wild, thousand-foot waves that rush down through perpendicular gorges towering on either side, carrying away whole hillsides as they go. Angry thunderbolts beat down on all sides with a deafening roar. Moaning whirlwinds whip up poisonous mists. Funnels of noisome vapor spit flashing forks of lightning. Even the mountain spirits are stunned into senselessness; the river spirits are limp with fright. Just a drop of this water will shatter the carapace of a giant tortoise break the bones of a giant whale.
It was into this maelstrom that Redfin Carp, his splendid golden-red scales girded to the full, his steely teeth thrumming like drums, made a direct all-out assault. Ah! Golden Carp! Golden Carp! You might have chosen an ordinary life out in the boundless ocean. It teems with lesser fish. You would not have gone hungry. Then why? What made you embark on this wild and bitter struggle? What was waiting for you up beyond the Barrier?
After being seared by cliff-shattering bolts of lightning, after being battered by heaven-scorching blasts of thunderfire, his scaly armor burned from head to tail, his fins singed through, Redfin Carp suddenly died the Great Death, and rose again as a divine dragon - a supreme lord of the waters. Now, with the thunder god at his head and the fire god at his rear, flanked right and left by the gods of rain and wind, he moved at will with the clouds clutched in one hand and the mists in the other, bringing new life to the tender shoots withering in long-parched desert lands, keeping the true Dharma safe amid the defilements of the degenerate world.
Had he been content to pass his life like a lame turtle or blind tortoise, feeding on winkles and tiny shrimps, not even all the effort Vasuki, Manasvi and the other Dragon Kings might muster on his behalf could have done him any good. He could never have achieved the great success that he did. What do I mean by "blind tortoise"? One of the current crop of sightless, irresponsible bungler-priests who regard koan as nonessential and the Zen interview (sanzen) as expedient means on the part of the master. While even such men are not totally devoid of understanding, they are clearly standing outside the gates, whence they peer fecklessly in, mouthing words like, "The self-nature is naturally pure, the mind-source is deep as an ocean; there is no samsaric existence to be cast aside, there is no nirvana to be sought. It is a sheer and profound stillness, a transparent mass of boundless emptiness. It is here that is found the great treasure inherent in all people. How could anything be lacking?"
Ah, how plausible it sounds! All too plausible. Unfortunately, the words they speak do not possess even a shred of strength in practical application. These people are like snails. The moment anything approaches, they draw in their horns and come to a standstill. They are like lame turtles, pulling in their legs, heads, and tails at the slightest contact and hiding inside their shells. How can any spiritual energy emerge from such an attitude? If they happen to receive a sally from an authentic monk, they react like Master Yang's pet crane, who couldn't even move his neck. There's no difference between them and those fish who lie helpless on the chopping block, dying ten thousand deaths in their one life, their fate - whether they are to be sliced and served up raw or carved into fillets and roasted over hot coals - entirely in the hands of others. And throughout their ordeal they haven't the strength even to cry out. Can people of this kind be true descendents of the great Bodhidharma? They assure you that there is "nothing lacking." But are they happy? Are their minds free of care?
Genuine monks who negotiated the Way in the past flung themselves and everything they had into their masters' white-hot forges without a thought for their own lives or well-being. Once their minds were turned to the Way, they too, like Redfin Carp, gathered all their strength and courage and strove until they broke beyond the Dragon Gates. Thereafter, in whatever situation, under whatever circumstance, they functioned with total self-dependence and perfect, unattached freedom. What intense joy and gratification they must have felt. It is these people you must emulate, not the crane. Not those turtles and snails.
What is a "sacred dragon"? Those authentic patriarchs of the past with a strong and vigorous spirit who committed themselves singlemindedly to the practice of Zen. Ah, you are human beings, aren't you? If you let yourselves be outdone by a fish, you may as well be dead!
You often run up against obstructive demons of yet another type, ones who teach their followers:
In the Shurangama Sutra the Buddha says, "You have continued to undergo transmigration in the cycle of birth and death from the beginningless past right on up to your present existence because you have acknowledged a thief as your son and heir and thus have remained unaware of the fundamental and changeless truth of your own true nature."
This passage is explained in a commentary on the Shurangama Sutra: "The word `thief' is used to describe the way in which you have been deprived of the virtues and merits of the Dharma's priceless resources. Having been deluded and thus unaware of this situation, you have mistaken this `thief' for something changeless and true, believing it to be your legitimate heir to whom your most valuable possessions can be entrusted. Instead, you have brought on your own downfall, reduced yourself to endless kalpas of wretchedness and poverty, all because you have been separated from the Dharma treasure."
If you really want to empty your mind of birth and death, what you should do is to tackle one of the totally impregnable, hard- to-pass koan. When you suddenly merge with the basic root of life and everything ceases to exist, you will know for the first time the profound meaning contained in Yoka Daishi's words "do not brush illusions away, do not seek the truth of enlightenment."
The Zen master Daie said:
"At the present time, the evil one's influence is strong and the Dharma is weak. The great majority of people regard `reverting to tranquillity and living within it' as the ultimate attainment." He also said: "A race of sham Zennists has appeared in recent years who regard sitting with dropped eyelids and closed mouths letting illusory thoughts spin through their minds to be the attainment of a marvelous state that surpasses human understanding. They consider it to be the realm of primal Buddhahood `existing prior to the timeless beginning.' If they do open their mouths and utter so much as a syllable, they will immediately tell you that they have slipped out of that marvelous realm. They believe this to be the most fundamental state it is possible to attain. Satori is a mere side issue - `a twig or branch.' Such people are completely mistaken from the time they take their first step along the Way."
These people who ally themselves with the devil are present in great numbers today as well. To them I say, "Never mind for now about what you consider `nonessentials.' Tell me about your own fundamental matter, the one you are hiding away and treasuring so zealously. What is it like? Is it a solid piece of emptiness that you fix firmly in the ground like a post to fasten mules and horses to? Maybe it is a deep hole of sheer black silence? It is appalling, whatever it is."
It is also a good example of what is called falling into fixed views. It deceives a great many of the foolish and ignorant of the world. It's an ancient dwelling place of evil spirits, an old badger's den, a pitfall that traps people and buries them alive. Although you kept treasuring and defending it till the end of time, it would still be just a fragment from an old coin. It also goes by the name of "dark cave of the eighth Alaya consciousness." The ancients suffered through a great many hardships as they wandered in arduous pursuit of the truth. It was all for the sole purpose of getting themselves free of just such old nests as these.
Once a person is able to achieve true singlemindedness in his practice and smash apart the old nest of Alaya consciousness into which he has settled, the Great Perfect Mirror Wisdom immediately appears, the other three great Wisdoms start to function, and the all-discerning Fivefold Eye opens wide. If, on the other hand, he allows himself to be seduced by these latter-day devils into hunkering down inside an old nest and making himself at home there, turning it into a private treasure chamber and spending all his time dusting it, polishing it, sweeping and brushing it clean, what can he hope to achieve? Absolutely nothing. Basically, it is a piece of the eighth consciousness, the same eighth consciousness which enters the womb of a donkey and enters the belly of a horse. So I urgently exhort you to do everything you can, strive with all your strength, to strike down into that dark cave and destroy it.
On that day long ago when the World-Honored One attained his great awakening and clothed himself in the precious celestial robe to expound the true heart of the extensive Flower Garland, he preached for three whole weeks to an audience which listened, without comprehending, as though they were deaf and dumb. Therefore, in order to make salvation accessible to people of mediocre and inferior capacities, he erected a temporary resting place for them to use on the way to ultimate attainment, calling this provisional abode a "phantom dwelling." After that, Shakyamuni attempted to destroy this abode by preaching about it from within the Buddhist order; Layman Vimalakirti attempted to do the same by inveighing against it from without. They even likened those who attach to it, the adherents of the Two Vehicles (those content just to listen to the Buddha's teaching and those satisfied to enjoy their own private realization) to "suppurating old polecats." But in the end they were between them unable to eradicate that dwelling place at its source in the Alaya consciousness.
Gradually, foster children spawned by adherents of the Two Vehicles multiplied and slowly and imperceptibly spread throughout India and the Western Regions. In time, even China filled with them. There venerable masters like Sekiso, Shinjo, Bukka, and Myoki set their jaws, clenched their teeth and strove valiantly to root them out, but even for them it was like trying to drive off a big wily rat by clapping your hands. He disappears over here, but he reappears over there, always lurking somewhere, furtively disparaging the true, untransmittable style of the patriarchal teachers. How lamentable!
In Japan, during the Jokyu (1219-21), Katei (l235-37), Karyaku (1326- 28), and Kembu (1334-5) eras, twenty-four wise Zen sages entrusted their lives to the perilous whale-backed eastern seas, cast themselves bodily into the tiger's den, in order to transmit the difficult-to-believe methods of our authentic traditions. They fervently desired to fix the sun of wisdom permanently in the highest branches of the Divine Mulberry; to hang a previous Dharma lamp that would illuminate forever the dark hamlets of the Dragonfly Provinces. How could any of them have foreseen that their transmission would be slandered and maligned by these quietist psuedo-Zennists and that in less than three hundred years the Zen they had transmitted would be lying in the dust? Would have no more life in it than last night's ashes? Nothing could be more deplorable than to be witness to the wasting away of the true Dharma in a degenerate age like this.
On the other hand, if a single person of superior capacity commit himself to the authentic pursuit of the Way and through sustained effort under the guidance of a true teacher fills with the power of sheer singlemindedness so that his normal processes of thought, perception consciousness, and emotion cease, so that he comes to resemble an utter fool who has exhausted his stock of words and reason, and everything, including his erstwhile determination to pursue the Way disappears, his very breath itself hangs almost suspended - at that point, what a pity that a Buddhist teacher, one who is supposed to act as his "great and good friend," should be unaware that this is the occasion when the tortoise shell is about to crack, the phoenix about to break free of its egg; should not know that these are all favorable signs seen in those poised on the threshold of enlightenment, should be stirred by grandmotherly kindness to immediately give in to tender effeminate feelings of compassion for the student and begin straight on explaining to him the reason for this and the principle for that, dragging him down into the abode of delusory surmise, pushing him down into the cave of intellectual understanding, and then taking a phoney winter melon seal and certifying his enlightenment with the pronouncement, "You are like this. I am like this too. Preserve it carefully."
Ah! Ah! It's up to them if they want to preserve it. The trouble is they are still as far from the patriarchal groves as earth is from heaven. What are to all appearances acts of kindness on the part of a teacher helping a student are, in fact, doings which will bring about his doom. For his part, the student nods with satisfaction and, without an inkling of the mortal injury he has incurred, prances and frisks about wagging his tail, sure in the knowledge: "Now I have grasped the secret of Bodhidharma's coming from the West." How are such students to know they haven't made it past any of the patriarchs' Barriers? That the thorny forests of Zen are much much deeper than they can even conceive? What a terrible shame for people of marvelous gifts, unexcelled capacity, who have it in them to become great beams and pillars of the house of Zen, to succumb to these corrupting winds and to spend the rest of their lives in a half-waking, half-drunk state, no different from the dull and witless type of people who never get around to doubting their way through anything! Is it any wonder that the groves of Zen are so barren of real men? Anyone who attaches to half-truths of this kind believing them to be essential and ultimate will probably not even know that he has fallen into the unfortunate category of "scorched buds and shrivelled seeds."
Long ago, when Zen master Nangaku sat in front of Baso's hermitage and began polishing a tile, he did so because of his desire to make Baso grasp his true meaning. When teachers of the past left phrases behind them, difficult-to-penetrate koan that would strip students' minds of their chronic inclination to attach to things, they did it because they wanted to kick over that comfortable old nesting place in the Alaya consciousness. Hence a master of the past said, "I made the mistake of burrowing into an old jackal hole for over thirty years myself, it's no mystery to me why so many students do the same."
There's no doubt about it, the practice of Zen is a formidable undertaking.
In his later years, Zen master Hoen enjoyed strolling the south corridor of his temple on Mount Goso. One day he saw a visiting monk pass by reading a book. He took it from him and, glancing through it, came to a passage which caught his attention:
Hoen closed the book and raised his arms in a gesture of self- reproach. "Wonderful!" he exclaimed, "A true teacher! How well he expresses the essentials of the Dharma!"
He hurried to the quarters of his student Engo, who was serving as head monk, calling out to him, "It's extraordinary! I've come upon something really and truly extraordinary!" He placed the book in Engo's hands and had him read it too. Then Dharma father and Dharma son congratulated each other on their good fortune, and acclaimed the author with endless refrains of ecstatic praise. When Daie Soko went to study under Zen master Engo for the first time, he had already decided on a course of action. "By the end of the ninety-day summer retreat," he declared to himself, "if Engo has affirmed my understanding like all the other teachers I've been to, I'm going to write a treatise debunking Zen."
Daie, did you really think Engo wouldn't be able to see through the fundamental matter you secretly treasured? If you had persisted in clinging to it like that, revering it and cherishing it for the rest of your life, the great "Reviler of Heaven" would never have emerged. Fortunately, however, a poisonous breeze blowing from the south snuffed Daie's life out at its roots, cutting away past and future. When it happened, his teacher Engo said, "What you've accomplished is not easy. But you've merely finished killing yourself. You're incapable now of coming back to life and raising doubts about the words and phrases of the ancients. You have a serious ailment. You know the saying, `Release your hold on the edge of the precipice. Die, and then be reborn'? You must believe that there's truth in those words."
Later, upon hearing Engo say, "What happens when the tree falls and the wistaria withers? The same thing happens." Daie suddenly achieved great enlightenment. When Engo tested him with several koan, he passed them easily.
Daie rose to become abbot of the Kinzan monastery, the most important in the land with a thousand resident monks. As he supervised his sterling collection of dragons and elephants he was like a hungry eagle gazing over a covey of rabbits. We should feel honored to have a man of such profound attainment among the teachers of our school. Yet, as we have seen, there are some who consider such attainment unimportant - "nonessential." The matter they themselves regard as essential, and secretly cherish, is so worthless that even if you put it out together with a million pieces of gold, you would find no takers.
Engo said, "After the ancients had once achieved awakening, they went off and lived in thatched huts or caves, boiling wild vegetable roots in broken legged pots to sustain themselves. They weren't interested in making names for themselves or in rising to positions of power. Being perfectly free from all ties whatever, they left turning words for their descendents because they wanted to repay their profound debt to the Buddha- patriarchs."
The priest Mannan Dogan wrote a verse comment on the koan Nansen On The Mountain: 3 Lying on a pillow of coral, eyes filled with tears,
When these lines came to Daie's notice he immediately ordered his attendant to take down the practice-schedules [and gave his monks a day of rest], saying, "This single turning word amply requites Mannan's debt to the Buddhas."
Most people arrange their altars with lamps and incense holders; they set out offerings of tea, flowers and sweets; they prostrate themselves over and over, perform various other practices around the clock; they even inflict burns on their fingers, arms, and bodies. But none of that repays even a tenth of the debt they owe the Buddhas. How, then, is it possible for a single couplet from an old poem that cuts away entanglements and complications to immediately repay that debt - and repay it in full? This question is by no means an idle or trivial one. Daie was the Dragon Gate of his age, a towering shade tree who provided shelter to over 1700 students. Do you suppose a man of his stature would utter such words frivolously?
In the past, Haryo had his Three Turning Words. His teacher Ummon Daishi told his disciples, "When I die, I don't want you to hold funeral observances of any kind. I just want each of you to take these three turning words and work on them."
Now do you really think that a Zen patriarch like Ummon would be espousing "non-essentials" just because he preferred them over offerings of flowers, sweets and rare foods?
"If one of my monks came forward and said, 'Since there is essentially no moving up toward satori and no moving back toward the everyday world, what's the use of practicing Zen?' I'd just say, `I can see that you're living in a pitchdark hole with the other dead souls.' How sad! "Many people like to cite the sayings of the Buddhist sages, or some words from the sutras such as `ordinary speech, subtle speech, it all comes from the same ultimate source,' persuaded that they really understand their meaning. If any of you are operating under such an assumption, you'd better give up Zen. Devote your life to scholarship and become a great exegete." "Nowadays you often hear people say, `There's essentially no such thing as satori. The gate or teaching of satori was established as a way of making this fact known to people.' If that's the way you think, you're like a flea on the body of a lion, sustaining itself by drinking its lifeblood. Don't you know the ancient's words, `If the source is not deep, the stream is not long; if the wisdom is not real the discernment is not far-reaching'? If the Buddha Dharma was a teaching that had been created or fabricated as you say, how could it possibly have survived to the present day?"
Chosha Keijin sent a monk to the priest Tojin Nyoe, who belonged to the same lineage as his teacher Nansen. The monk asked him "What was it like after you saw Nansen?"
4 The Three Turning Words of Haryo Kokan, an heir of Ummon Bun'en (Yun-men Wen-yen, 862-949): 1. What is the Way? A clear- eyed man falls into a well. 2. What is the Blown Hair Sword? Each branch on the coral holds up the moon. 3. A monk asked Haryo, "What is the school of Devadatta?" "Filling a silver bowl with snow," Haryo replied.
Nyoe was silent. "What was it like before you saw Nansen?" he asked. "There wasn't any difference," said Nyoe. The monk returned to Chosha and reported Nyoe's response. Chosha set forth his own understanding in a verse:
Afterwards, Sansho Enen sent a monk named Shu Joza to ask Chosha some questions.
Now both Rinzai and Chosha are beyond question genuine dragons of the Buddha ocean. They are the celestial phoenix and auspicious unicorn that frequent the gardens of the patriarchs. There is no one comparable to them. Having far transcended all forms and appearances, they move slowly or move quickly in response to changing conditions like huge masses of blazing fire, like iron stakes burning at white heat. Neither gods nor demons can perceive their traces; neither devils nor non-Buddhists can discern their activity. Who could conceive their limits? Who could ascertain their differences? Yet when Sansho, who was himself a direct Dharma heir of Rinzai, heard what Chosha had said, he praised him as being superior to his own teacher! Can words be so awesomely difficult? You must understand, however, that within what is to you a mass of entangling verbal complications is contained a small but wonderful element which is able to work miracles. When Zen master Sekiso passed away and the brotherhood asked the head monk to succeed him as abbot, Zen master Kyuho, who had previously served as the master's attendant, came and addressed them. He posed a question to the head monk, "The master often told us to `cease all activity,' to `do nothing whatever,' to `become so cold and lifeless the spirits of the dead will come sighing around you,' to `become a bolt of fine white silk,' to `become the dead ashes in a censer left forgotten in an ancient graveyard,' to `become so that the present instant is ten thousand years.'
Often those who approach the end of their lives having devoted themselves single-mindedly to the practice of the Way will regard the solitude of their final hours, sitting in the light of a solitary lamp, as the last great and difficult barrier of their religious quest, and as the smoke from the incense burns down they will move quietly and calmly into death, without having made an authentic Zen utterance of any kind. It is them Kyuho is patting on the back when he says, "You haven't grasped your late master's meaning." We must reflect deeply on those words.
Once Zen master Ungo of Koshu had an attendant take a pair of trousers to a monk who was living by himself in a grass hut. The monk refused the trousers, saying he already had the pair that he was born with. When Ungo was informed of the monk's reply, he sent the attendant back to ask the question, "What did you wear prior to your birth?" The monk was unable to answer. Later, the monk died, and when his body was cremated, relics were found among his ashes. When these were brought to Ungo, he said "I'd much rather have had one phrase from him in response to that question I asked when he was living than ten bushels of relics from a dead man."
It is said that the relics found among the ashes of virtuous priests are produced as a natural result of meditation and wisdom they attained in their previous lives. Whenever a relic is discovered after a cremation even if it is only the size of a millet grain or mustard seed, there is a great rush of people, men and women, young and old, priests and laymen, crowding around to marvel at it and worship it with expressions of deep veneration. But doesn't Ungo say that ten bushels of such relics would not be worth a single phrase uttered while the monk was alive? What is this "one phrase" that it could it be more esteemed than genuine Buddhist relics which everyone venerates so deeply? This is a question that baffled me for a long time.
After the priest Hoan had retired to the Shifuku-in, he received an invitation to come to the monastery at Kinzan from the abbot Moan Genso, who appointed him to the post of senior priest. One of the monks at the monastery, Ho Joza, was a man of penetrating insight. He would always be there when the abbot or senior priest was receiving students and could invariably get the best of an opponent by seizing the slightest opening and turning his thrusts aside with a sudden and swift attack.
One day, as Hoan was teaching students, Ho Joza came into the room. Hoan was speaking and was midway through a passage he was quoting from the Hozo-ron, "amid heaven and earth, in all the universe, there is here . . ." when Ho looked as though he wanted to say something. Hoan suddenly slapped him and drove him out of the room.
Actually, Ho had planned to interject a comment the moment Hoan had finished the quotation, and Hoan had anticipated him. Ho was convinced that Hoan was deliberately out to humiliate him. After Ho left Hoan's room, he returned to his place in the meditation hall and expired. When his body was cremated, villagers from the neighboring areas found some relics among his ashes. They took them and presented them to Hoan. Hoan held them up and said, "Ho Joza. Even if there had been ten bushels of these among your ashes, I'd set them aside. I just want that one turning word while you were alive!" With that, he threw the relics to the ground. They turned out to be merely bits of pus and blood.
An ancient said that "of the seventeen hundred eminent masters included in the Records of the Lamp, relics were found among the ashes of only fourteen. Of the eighty monks who appear in the Biographies from the Groves of Zen, relies were recovered from the ashes of only a few. Moreover, there are just two things our school holds essential: thorough attainment of self-realization and thorough mastery in instructing others. That means being armed with the fangs and claws that spur students onward by dissolving their attachments and breaking off their chains. Buddhists also call this `transmitting the Dharma, ferrying people to the other shore.' Everything else is unimportant."
The teachers of our Zen school have in their possession moves and maneuvers which are hard to believe, hard to understand, hard to penetrate, and hard to realize. They can take someone whose mind seems dead, devoid of consciousness, and transform him into a bright-eyed monk of awesome vitality. We call these methods the fangs and claws of the Dharma cave. It is like when an old tiger gives a long, terrifying roar and emerges from the forest, throwing such fear into the rabbits, foxes, badgers and their kind that their livers petrify and their eyes fix in glassy stares and they wobble around on rubbery knees, piddling and shitting involuntarily. Why do they react that way? Because the tiger is armed with claws of steel and a shining set of golden fangs like razor sharp swords. Without those weapons, tigers would be no different from other animals.
Hence these words by a Zen master of the past: "In the first year of the Kien-chung era (1101), I obtained at the quarters of a now-deceased friend a copy of Zen master Tozan Shusho's recorded sayings compiled by his disciple Fukugon Ryoga. It contained words and phrases of great subtlety and profundity - the veritable claws and fangs of the Dharma cave."
What the ancients regarded as lonely and desolate would be considered thriving prosperity by people today, and what people today regard as thriving prosperity would have been considered lonely and desolate by the ancients. How can our school have fallen into such decline?
I haven't been telling you all this in hopes of impressing you with the originality of my ideas. All of the matters I have related here are ones that greatly concerned my teacher Shoju Rojin. He was constantly grieving and lamenting over them when I studied with him thirty years ago. I can never tell people about them without tears streaming down my old cheeks and dampening my robe. Now, recalling how earnestly old Shoju was in entrusting his teaching to me, the way he told me how much he was counting on me, I feel an immediate need to run off and hide my worthlessness somewhere. I am divulging my true sentiments to you like this only because I fervently desire that you will expend every effort to make the true, penetrating wind blow once again through the patriarchal gardens, breathing vigorous and enduring strength into the fundamental principles of our school.
Finally, I ask that you overlook once more an old man's foolish grumblings, and thank you all for listening so patiently and attentively during these long talks. Please take care of yourselves.
In the fifth year of Genbun , during the final third of the first month.