Bendowa (Negotiating the Way)
[The following translation and footnotes are taken from The Heart of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Translated and Annotated by Norman Waddell and Masao Abe, published by State University of New York Press, 2002.
Note: I have made some small changes to the translation and have shortened or eliminated many of the footnotes. Daigaku]
Bendowa, the second work Dogen wrote after his return from China (Fukan-zazengi being the first work he wrote), is a treatise on zazen practice as “the right entrance” to the Dharma. A colophon states that it was “written mid-autumn 1231 by Shamon Dogen, a Dharma transmitter who has traveled to China.” Bendowa seems to have been forgotten, and almost unknown, until it was rediscovered in manuscript in the Edo period [17th century]. Bendowa was not originally intended for the Shobogenzo; it does not appear in any of the original editions of that work. It was first included in the Shobogenzo in a manuscript dated 1684. Bendowa is often said to contain within it the essence of all 95 chapters of the Shobogenzo. It thus serves as an excellent introduction to that work. For this reason, modern editions include it as the first chapter of the Shobogenzo.
Bendowa is divided into two sections. In the first, roughly one-fourth of the whole, Dogen upholds the supremacy of zazen practice vis-à-vis other Buddhist practices. He gives a concise exposition of jijuyu samadhi, tells of his pilgrimage in search of the Dharma in Japan and China, and traces the transmission of this samadhi from Shakyamuni Buddha through the Chinese Zen masters of the Tang and Song dynasties.
The remaining three-quarters of the work is arranged as a series of questions and answers. Dogen uses this format to give and defend his reasons for advocating the merits of zazen, and at the same time he tries to counter such questions and doubts as might arise in the minds of Buddhist adherents of other schools of Buddhism.
Chapter Two of Dogen Zenji’s Shobogenzo
Buddha-tathagatas all have a wonderful means, unexcelled and free from human agency, for transmitting the wondrous Dharma and realizing supreme and complete awakening. That this means is only passed directly from buddha to buddha without deviation is due to the jijuyu samadhi [self-fulfilling awakening samadhi], which is its touchstone.1
To disport oneself freely in this samadhi, the right entrance is proper sitting in zazen. The Dharma is amply present in every person, but without practice, it isn’t manifested; without realization, it isn’t attained. It is not a question of one or many; let loose of it and it fills your hands. It is not bounded vertically or horizontally; speak it and it fills your mouth. Within this Dharma, buddhas dwell everlastingly, leaving no perceptions in any sphere or directions; all living beings use it unceasingly, with no sphere or direction appearing in their perceptions.
The negotiation of the Way with concentrated effort that I now teach makes myriad dharmas exist in realization and, in transcending realization, practices a total reality.2 Then, when you are over the barrier, with all bonds cast off, you are no longer affected by such segmented distinctions.
After the religious mind arose in me, awakening the desire to seek the Way, I visited many religious teachers throughout [Japan]. I chanced to encounter the priest Myozen of Kenninji. Swiftly passed the frosts and flowers of the nine years I studied with him. During that time, I learned something of the manner of the Rinzai school. As the chief disciple of the patriarch Eisai, it was Myozen alone who genuinely transmitted the supreme Buddhadharma. None of Eisai’s other followers could compare with him.
After that, I proceeded to great Song China, where I visited leading priests of the Liang-che region and learned of the characteristics of the Five Zen Gates. Finally, I practiced under Zen master Rujing at Mount Tai-pai, and there I resolved the one great matter of Zen practice for my entire life.3 Then, when I returned home, in the first year of the She-ting period of the Song , my thought immediately turned to preaching the Dharma for the salvation of my fellow beings – it was as though I had taken a heavy burden upon my shoulders. Nevertheless, in order to await the time when I can work vigorously to this end and unburden myself of the desire to spread the Dharma far and wide, I am for the time being living like a cloud or water plant, drifting without any fixed abode, attempting to transmit through my actions the way of life followed by outstanding Zen masters of the past.
But there will be those who have no concern for gain or glory, authentic religious seekers whose desire for the Way takes precedence over all else. They will be led vainly astray by mistaken teachers, and the right understanding will be arbitrarily obscured from them. They will become needlessly drunk with their own delusions and immersed forever in the world of illusion. How can the true seed of prajna be expected to quicken and grow within such seekers? How will they ever reach the moment of attainment? As I am now committed to a wandering life, to what mountain or river can they proceed to find me? It is a sense of pity for the plight of such people that now makes me write down for those who learn to practice the Way, the customs and standards of the Zen monasteries of great Song China that I saw with my own eyes and have learned, and the profound teachings of their masters that I have succeeded to and follow and transmit. I want such seekers to know the right Buddhadharma. Here are its true essentials.
At an assembly on Vulture Peak, the great teacher Shakyamuni Buddha imparted to Mahakashapa the Dharma that was subsequently transmitted from ancestral master to ancestral master down to Bodhidharma.4 Bodhidharma traveled to China and conveyed the Dharma to Hui-ke5, marking the initial transmission of the Buddhadharma to eastern lands. It then made its way in direct, personal transmission to the Sixth Great Ancestral Master, Daikan Eno. By that time, the genuine Buddhadharma had beyond doubt spread extensively in China. It appeared there with its essence unaffected by any ramifying doctrinal accretions. The Sixth Great Ancestral Master had two superior disciples, Huai-jang of Nan-yueh and Hsing-ssu of Ching-yuan. As possessors and transmitters of the Buddha-seal6, they were masters for men and devas alike. Their two schools spread and branched into Five Houses: the Fayen, Tsao-tung, Yunmen, and Linji schools. At present, the Linji alone is found throughout the country. Although among these Five Houses there are differences to be found, they are all equally based on the one Buddha-mind seal.
Scriptural writings were transmitted to China from the western lands during the Latter Han dynasty. They spread over the empire. But even in China, no determination was reached about which of the various teachings was superior. Following the arrival of Bodhidharma from the west, these entangling complications were cut away at their source, and the one Buddhadharma, free from all impurity, began to spread. We must pray that this will take place in our country as well.
All Ancestors and Buddhas who have maintained the Buddhadharma have considered practice based upon proper sitting in jijuyu samadhi as the right path to enlightenment. In India and China, those who have gained enlightenment have all followed in this way of practice. It is a matter of rightly transmitting the wonderful means in personal encounter from master to disciple, and on the disciple’s sustaining the true essence thus received.
According to the authentic tradition of Buddha, this Buddhadharma, transmitted rightly and directly from one to another is the supreme of the supreme. From the first time you meet your master and receive the teaching, you have no need for incense-offerings, homage-paying, nembutsu, repentance, or sutra reading. Just cast off body and mind in zazen.
When even for a short period of time you sit properly in samadhi, imprinting the Buddha-seal in your three activities of deeds, words, and thoughts, each and every thing excluding none is the Buddha-seal, and all space without exception is enlightenment. Accordingly, it makes the Buddha-tathagatas all increase the Dharma-joy of their original source, and renews the adornments of the Way of enlightenment. Then, when all classes of beings in the ten directions of the universe – the hell-dwellers, hungry ghosts, and animals; the fighting demons, humans, and devas – all together at one time being bright and pure in body and mind, realize the stage of absolute emancipation and reveal their original aspect, at that time all things together realize in themselves the true enlightenment of the Buddha. Utilizing the Buddha-body and immediately leaping beyond the confines of this personal enlightenment, they sit properly beneath the kingly tree of enlightenment, turning simultaneously the great and utterly incomparable Dharma-wheel, and expound the ultimate and profound prajna free from all human agency.
Since, moreover, these enlightened ones in their turn enter into the way of imperceptible mutual assistance,7 the person in zazen without fail casts off body and mind, severs the heretofore disordered and defiled thoughts and views emanating from discriminating consciousness, conforms totally with the genuine Buddhadharma, and assists universally in performing Buddha-work far and wide at each of the various places the Buddha-tathagatas teach, that are as infinitely numberless as the smallest atom particles – spreading universally its influence over those who have the ascendant markings of Buddha, vigorously uplifting the Dharma transcending Buddha. Then, the land, the trees and grasses, fences, walls, tiles and pebbles, all the various things in the ten directions, perform the work of Buddhas. Consequently, all persons who share in the benefits thus produced from this wind and water are imparted unperceived the wonderful and incomprehensible teaching and guidance of the Buddhas, and all manifest their own immediate and inherent enlightenment.
Since all who receive and employ this fire and water turn round and round the teaching of original enlightenment, all who dwell and talk together with them also join with one another in possessing inexhaustible Buddha-virtue, spreading it ever wider, circulating the inexhaustible, unceasing, incomprehensible, and immeasurable Buddhadharma, inside and outside throughout the universe.
Yet such things8 are not mingled in the perceptions of one sitting in zazen because, occurring in the stillness of samadhi beyond human artifice, they are, directly and immediately, realization. If practice and realization were two different stages, as ordinary people consider them to be, the one sitting in zazen and things should perceive each other. Any such mingling of perceptions is not the mark of realization, for the mark of true realization is to be altogether beyond such illusion.
Moreover, although both the mind of the person seated in zazen and its environment enter realization and leave realization within the stillness of samadhi, as it occurs in the sphere of jijuyu, it does not disturb a single mote of dust, or obstruct a single phenomenon, but performs great and wide-ranging Buddha-work and carries on the exceedingly profound activities of teaching and enlightening. The trees, grasses, and land involved in this all emit a bright and shining light, and preach the profound and incomprehensible Dharma – and it is endless. Trees and grasses, walls and fences expound and exalt the Dharma for the sake of ordinary people, sages, and all living beings. Ordinary people, sages, and all living beings in turn preach and exalt the Dharma for the sake of trees, grasses, walls and fences. The realm of “self-enlightenment as enlightening others” is originally filled with the characteristics of realization with no lack whatsoever, and the ways of realization continue unceasingly.
Because of this, when just one person does zazen even one time, he or she becomes, imperceptibly, one with each and all of the myriad things and permeates completely all time, so that within the limitless universe, throughout past, future, and present, they are performing the eternal and ceaseless work of guiding beings to enlightenment. It is, for each and every thing, one and the same undifferentiated practice and the same undifferentiated realization. Only this is not limited to the practice of sitting alone: the sound that issues from the striking of emptiness is an endless and wondrous voice that resounds before and after the striking of the hammer.9
And this is not limited to the side of the practitioner alone. Each and every thing is, in its original aspect, endowed with original practice – it cannot be measured or comprehended. You must understand that even if all the Buddhas in the ten directions, as countless as the sands of the Ganges, mustered all their might together and by means of Buddha-wisdom attempted to measure and totally know the merit of the zazen of a single person, they could not know the whole of its measure.
Questions and Answers
Question 1: You have told us all about the sublime merits of zazen. But an ordinary person might ask you this: “There are many entrances to the Buddhadharma. What is it that makes you advocate zazen alone?”
Answer 1: Because it is the right entrance to the Buddhadharma.
Question 2: By why single out zazen alone as the right entrance?
Answer 2: The great teacher Shakyamuni Buddha rightly transmitted zazen as the wonderful means for attaining the Way; all the tathagatas of the three periods attain the Way through zazen as well – which is why they transmit it from one to another as the true entrance. Besides, zazen is how all ancestral masters, from India in the west to China in the east, have gained the Way. That is why I now teach it to men and devas as the right entrance.
Question 3: The reason you give, that zazen transmits the Tathagata’s wonderful means, which you base upon evidence you trace to the patriarchal teachers, may well be correct – such matters are really beyond an ordinary person’s ability to ascertain. For all that, however, surely one can reach enlightenment by reciting sutras and repeating the nembutsu. How can you be certain that if you pass your time sitting idly in zazen, enlightenment will result?
Answer 3: When you characterize the unsurpassingly great Dharma and the samadhi of the buddhas as merely “sitting idly,” you are guilty of maligning the Great Vehicle. It is as profound an illusion as to declare there is no water when you are sitting in the midst of the ocean. Fortunately, the buddhas are already seated firmly established in jijuyu samadhi. Does that not produce immense merit? It is a pity that your eyes are not opened yet, that intoxication still befogs your mind.
The realm of buddhas is utterly incomprehensible, not to be reached by the workings of the mind. How could it ever be known to a person of disbelief or inferior intelligence? Only a person of great capacity and true faith is able to enter here. A person who does not believe, even if he or she is told about such a realm, will find it impossible to comprehend. Even on Vulture Peak, the Buddha told some in the assembly that they might leave.10 If right faith arises in your mind, you should practice under a master. If it does not, you should cease your efforts for the time being and reflect with regret that you have not been favored with Dharma benefits from the past.
Besides, what do you really know of the merits brought by such practices as sutra-recitation and nembutsu? It is utterly futile to imagine that merely moving your tongue or raising your voice has the merit of Buddha-work. Any attempt to equate those practices with the Buddhadharma only makes it more remote. Moreover, when you open a sutra to read, it should be for the purpose of clarifying the teachings the Buddha set forth about the rules and regulations for practicing sudden and gradual enlightenment, to convince you that you will attain realization if you follow them. It is not done in order to waste yourself in useless speculation and discrimination, and to suppose that you are thereby gaining merit that will bring you enlightenment. Intending to attain the Buddha Way by foolishly working your lips, repeating some words incessantly a thousand or ten thousand times, is like pointing the thills of a cart northward when you want to go south, or like trying to fit a square piece of wood into a round hole. To read the Buddha’s words while still unaware of the way of practice is as worthless a pastime as perusing a medical prescription and overlooking to mix the compounds for it. If you merely raise your voice in endless recitation, you are in no way different from a frog in a spring field – although you croak from morning to nightfall, it will bring you no benefit at all. Such practices are difficult to relinquish for those who are deeply deluded by fame or profit – this because of the depth of their covetousness. Such people were to be found in ancient times; there is no reason they shouldn’t be around today. They deserve our special pity.
Only make no mistake about this: if a student working under the constant guidance of a clear-minded, truly enlightened teacher realizes his original mind and rightly transmits his Dharma, the wondrous Dharma of the Seven Buddhas is then fully manifested and fully maintained. There is no way for this to be known or even to be approached by a priest who merely studies words. So, you should have done with all these uncertainties and illusions; instead, negotiate the Way in zazen under the guidance of a true teacher and gain complete realization of the Buddhas’ jijuyu samadhi.
Question 4: The teachings that are transmitted today in our own Hokke and Kegon schools represent the ultimate Mahayana teaching.11 Not to mention the teachings of Shingon, which were transmitted personally by Vairochana Buddha to Vajrasattva – they have not been handed down from master to disciple without good reason. Centered in the sayings “the mind itself is Buddha,” and “this very mind attains Buddhahood,” Shingon teaches that the genuine enlightenment of the Five Buddhas is attainable in a single sitting, without having to pass through long kalpas of religious practice. It could perhaps be termed the most sublime point the Buddhadharma has yet reached. In view of that, what are the advantages of the practice you advocate that you advance it alone and ignore all these others?
Answer 4: Be well assured that for a Buddhist the issue is not to debate the superiority or inferiority of one teaching or another, or to establish their respective depths. All he or she needs to know is whether the practice is authentic or not. Men have flowed into the Way drawn by grasses and flowers, mountains and running water. They have received the lasting impression of the Buddha-seal by holding soil, rocks, sand, and pebbles. Indeed, its vast and great signature is imprinted on all things in nature, and even then, remains in great abundance. A single mote of dust suffices to turn the great Dharma wheel. Because of this, words like “the mind itself is Buddha” are no more than the moon reflected on the water. The meaning of “sitting itself is attainment of Buddhahood” is a reflection in a mirror. Do not get caught up in skillfully turned words and phrases. In encouraging you now to practice the immediate realization of enlightenment, I am showing you the wondrous Way by which the Buddha-ancestors transmit the Dharma from one to another. I do this in the hope that you will become real persons of the Way.
Moreover, in receiving and transmitting the Buddhadharma, it is essential to have as a teacher a person who is stamped with realization. Word-counting scholars will not do – that would be a case of the blind leading the blind. Today, all who follow the right transmission of the Buddha-ancestors preserve and maintain the Buddhadharma by following with reverence a clear-sighted master who has attained the Way and is in accord with realization. Because of that, the spirits of the realms of light and darkness come to him and take refuge; enlightened Arhats also seek him out to beg his teaching. None are excluded from acquiring the means of illuminating the mind-ground. This is something unheard of in other teachings. Followers of Buddha should simply study the Buddhadharma.
You should also know that basically we lack nothing of highest enlightenment. We are fully furnished with it at all times. But because we are unable to come to complete agreement with it, we learn to give rise to random intellections and, by chasing them, supposing them to be real,12 we stumble vainly in the midst of the Great Way. From these mistaken views appear flowers in the air of various kinds: thought of a twelve-link chain of transmigration, realms of twenty-five forms of existence, notions of three vehicles, five vehicles, Buddha, no-Buddha – they are endless. You must not think that learning such notions is the proper path of Buddhist practice.
But now, when you cast everything aside by single-mindedly performing zazen in exact accordance with the Buddha-seal, at that moment you outstep the confines of illusion and enlightenment, sentiment and calculation and, unbothered by alternatives of unenlightened and enlightened, you stroll at easy beyond the world of forms and regulations enjoying the function of great enlightenment. How can those enmeshed in the traps and snares of words and letters begin to measure up to you?
Question 5: Samadhi is one of the three learnings.13 Dhyana is one of the six paramitas.14 Both are learned by all Bodhisattvas from the beginning of their religious life and practiced irrespective of a person’s mental capacity. The zazen you speak of would seem to be included in these categories. What grounds do you have for stating that the right Dharma of the Buddha is solely concentrated in zazen?
Answer 5: Your question arises because of the incomparable truth of the true Dharma eye that is the Buddha’s great and central concern15 has come to be called the “Zen sect.” Bear this well in mind: the appellation “Zen sect” is found in China and the lands east of China; it was unknown in India. During the nine years that the great teacher Bodhidharma performed zazen facing a wall at Shaolin monastery on Mt. Sung, the priests and laymen of the time did not yet know the true Dharma of the Buddha. They said Bodhidharma was an Indian monk whose religion consisted of doing zazen. In generations after that, all Buddhist ancestral masters invariably devoted themselves to zazen. Unthinking people outside of the priesthood, observing this and not knowing the true circumstances, began to speak loosely of a “Zazen sect.” At present the word “za” has been dropped, and people speak of the Zen sect. The essence of the school is made clear throughout the recorded sayings of the Zen patriarchs. It is not to be equated with the samadhi or Dhyana included among the six paramitas or three learnings.
Never has there been anything unclear or ambiguous about it. The Buddha himself wanted this Dharma to be his legitimate transmission. Some among the deva multitude now present in the heavens actually witnessed the ceremony that took place many years ago during the assembly on Vulture Peak, when the Tathagata entrusted his true Dharma eye, his wondrous mind of nirvana, to Mahakashapa alone. So, there is no reason for any doubt. Without ever ceasing or diminishing their efforts, those deva hosts devote themselves to protecting and maintaining the Buddhadharma throughout all eternity.
You should know without any doubt or uncertainty whatever that this Dharma [zazen] is, in its entirety, the all-inclusive Way of the Buddha’s Dharma. There is nothing else even to compare with it.
Question 6: What grounds are there for Buddhists to emphasize Zen meditation and place so much weight on sitting alone among the four attitudes (walking, standing, sitting, lying)? To say this is the path to entering realization?
Answer 6: It is not possible to exhaustively survey the way in which Buddhas, one after another from ages past, have practiced and entered realization. If you must have a reason, you should simply know that this is the way that Buddhists use. Further reasons are unnecessary. Haven’t ancestral masters extolled zazen as the “Dharma gate of repose and joy,” because among the four bodily attitudes it is sitting that affords repose and joy? Remember, this is the way of practice employed not by one Buddha or two, but by all Buddhas and all ancestral masters.
Question 7: So those who have not yet realized the Buddhadharma can, by negotiating the Way in the practice of zazen, attain that realization. But what about those who have already achieved realization – what can they expect to gain by doing zazen?
Answer 7: Proverbs caution against relating one’s dreams to the foolish, or placing boat poles in the hands of woodsmen. Nevertheless, I will try to explain matters once again.
To think practice and realization are not one is a non-Buddhist view. In the Buddhadharma, practice and realization are one and the same. As your present practice is practice within realization, your initial negotiation of the Way is in itself the whole of original realization. That is why from the time you are instructed in the way of practice, you are told not to anticipate realization apart from practice. It is because practice points directly to original realization. As it is from the very first realization in practice, realization is endless. As it is the practice of realization, practice is beginningless. Hence, both Shakyamuni Buddha and Mahakashapa were brought into the great functioning by practice within realization. Bodhidharma and ancestor Hui-neng were also drawn into the functioning by practice within realization. And it has been the same for all those who have maintained the Buddha’s Dharma.
It is practice inseparable from the outset from realization, and since fortunately we [practitioners] all transmit a portion of wondrous practice ourselves, even our negotiation of the Way as beginners obtains a portion of original realization at a ground that is utterly free of human agency. You should know that in order to keep from defiling this realization that is inseparable from practice Buddhas and ancestral master teach unceasingly that we must not allow our practice to diminish. When we cast off the wondrous practice, original realization fills our hands; when we transcend original realization, wondrous practice permeates our bodies.
When I was in Song China, everywhere I went I saw that the Zen monasteries were all built to include a special hall for zazen. Five hundred or 600 monks, sometimes even up to 2,000 monks, were housed in these halls and encouraged to devote themselves to zazen day and night. When I asked the head priests of thee monasteries, teachers who transmit the authentic seal of the Buddha-mind, about the essence of the Buddha’s Dharma, they told me that practice and realization are not two stages.
For that reason, I urge not only those who come here to practice with me, but all high-minded seekers who aspire to the truth that this is found in the Buddhadharma – whether beginners or experienced practitioners, wise sages or just ordinary people – to conform to the teachings of the Buddha-ancestors, to follow the Way of the true masters, and negotiate the Way in zazen.
Do you know the words of one of those Buddha-ancestors? “It is not that there is no practice or realization, only that we mustn’t contaminate them [by attaching to them].” Another said, “Those who are able to see the Way, practice the Way.” What you must understand is that your practice takes place within realization.
Question 8: In former times, when Japanese teachers traveled to China and returned as Dharma-transmitters to spread Buddhism in our country, why did they ignore zazen and transmit only the doctrines?
Answer 8: Teachers in the past did not transmit zazen because the circumstances were not yet ripe for it.
Question 9: Did the teachers of earlier times understand this Dharma [zazen]?
Answer 9: If they had, they would have made it known.
Question 10: Some have said, “Do not concern yourself about birth-and-death. There is a way to promptly rid yourself of birth-and-death. It is by grasping the reason for the eternal immutability of the ‘mind-nature.’ The gist of it is this: although once the body is born it proceeds inevitably to death, the mind-nature never perishes. Once you can realize that the mind-nature, which does not transmigrate in birth-and-death, exists in your own body, you make it your fundamental nature. Hence the body, being only a temporary form, dies here and is reborn there without end, yet the mind is immutable, unchanging throughout past, present, and future. To know this is to be free from birth-and-death. By realizing this truth, you put an end to the trnasmigratory cycle in which you have been turning. When your body dies, you enter the ocean of the original nature.16 When you return to your origin in this ocean, you become endowed with the wondrous virtue of the Buddha-ancestors. But even if you can grasp this in your present life, because your present physical existence embodies erroneous karma from prior lives, you are not the same as the sages.
“Those who fail to grasp this truth are destined to turn forever in the cycle of birth-and-death. What is necessary, then, is simply to know without delay the meaning of the mind-nature’s immutability. What can you expect to gain from idling your entire life away in purposeless sitting?”
What do you think of this statement? Is it essentially in accord with the Way of the Buddhas and ancestors?
Answer 10: You have just expounded the view of the Senika heresy. It is certainly not the Buddhadharma.17
According to this heresy, there is in the body a spiritual intelligence. As occasions arise this intelligence readily discriminates likes and dislikes and pros and cons, feels pain and irritation, and experiences suffering and pleasure – it is all owing to this spiritual intelligence. But when the body perishes, this spiritual intelligence separates from the body and is reborn in another place. While it seems to perish here, it has life elsewhere, and thus is immutable and imperishable. Such is the standpoint of the Senika heresy.
But to learn this view and try to pass it off as the Buddhadharma is more foolish than clutching a piece of broken roof tile supposing it be a golden jewel. Nothing could compare with such a foolish, lamentable delusion. Hui-chung of the Tang dynasty warned strongly against it. Is it not senseless to take this view – that the mind abides and the form perishes – and equate it to the wondrous Dharma of the Buddhas; to think, while thus creating the fundamental cause of birth-and-death, that you are freed from birth-and-death? How deplorable! Just know it for a false, non-Buddhist view, and do not lend an ear to it.
I am compelled by the nature of the matter, and more by a sense of compassion, to try to deliver you from this false view. You must know that the Buddhadharma preaches as a matter of course that the body and mind are one and the same, that the essence and the form are not two. This is understood both in India and in China, so there can be no doubt about it. Need I add that the Buddhist doctrine of immutability teaches that all things are immutable, without any differentiation between body and mind. The Buddhist teaching of mutability states that all things are mutable, without any differentiation between essence and form. In view of this, how can any one state that the body perishes, and the mind abides? It would be contrary to the true Dharma.
Beyond this, you must also come to fully realize that birth-and-death is in and of itself nirvana. Buddhism never speaks of nirvana apart from birth-and-death. Indeed, when someone thinks that the mind, apart from the body, is immutable, not only does he or she mistake it for the Buddha-wisdom, which is free from birth-and-death, but the very mind that makes such a discrimination is not immutable, is in fact even then turning in birth-and-death. A hopeless situation, is it not?
You should ponder this deeply: since the Buddhadharma has always maintained the oneness of body and mind, why, if the body is born and perishes, would the mind alone, separated from the body, not be born and die as well? If at one time body and mind were one, and at another time not one, the preachings of the Buddha would be empty and untrue. Moreover, in thinking that birth-and-death is something we should turn from, you make the mistake of rejecting the Buddhadharma itself. You must guard against such thinking.
Understand that what Buddhists call the Buddhist doctrine of the mind-nature, the great and universal aspect encompassing all phenomena, embraces the entire universe, without differentiating between essence and form, or concerning itself with birth or death. There is nothing – enlightenment and nirvana included – that is not the mind-nature. All dharmas – the “myriad forms dense and close” of the universe – are alike in being this one Mind. All are included without exception. All those dharmas, which serve as “gates” or entrances to the Way, are the same one Mind. For a Buddhist to preach that there is no disparity between these dharma-gates indicates that he understands the mind-nature.
In this one Dharma [one Mind], how could there be any differentiation between body and mind, any separation of birth-and-death and nirvana? We are all originally children of the Buddha, we should not listen to madmen who spout non-Buddhist views.
Question 11: Is it necessary for those who devote themselves to zazen to strictly observe the Buddhist precepts?
Answer 11: Observing precepts, pure conduct, is a standard of the Zen school and a characteristic of Buddhas and ancestors. However, those who have not received the precepts, and even those who break the precepts, are not deprived of the benefits that come from zazen.18
Question 12: May those who engage in the practice of zazen combine it with practices of mantra recitation and Tendai shikan?
Answer 12: When I was in China and had occasion to ask the masters there about the true principle of their schools, they told me they had never heard of any of the buddha-ancestors, those who have rightly transmitted the Buddha-seal throughout the past in India and China, engaging in such combined practices. It is true. Unless you concentrate on one practice, you cannot attain the one [true] wisdom.
Question 13: Can lay men and women engage in this practice? Or is it limited to priests alone?
Answer 13: The buddha-ancestors teach that when it comes to grasping the Buddhadharma, no distinction must be drawn between man and woman, high and low.
Question 14: Upon entering the priesthood a person immediately sheds the various ties to secular life so there will be nothing to hinder him or her in negotiating the Way in zazen. But how amid the pressures of secular life can he or she devote themselves to single-mindedly to such practice and bring oneself into accord with the Buddha Way that is beyond human agency?
Answer 14: Buddha-ancestors, moved by their great sense of pity for sentient beings, keep the vast gates of compassion open wide. They do this because they want to bring all living beings to realization. There is not a single being, either in the realm of the devas or among mankind, unable to enter. Throughout history we find much evidence to substantiate this. To mention just a few examples: Emperors Tai-tsung and Shun-tsung, though heavily burdened with the myriad affairs of state, negotiated the Way in zazen and penetrated to an understanding of the great Way of the buddhas and ancestral masters.
As imperial counselors serving at the emperor’s side, Prime Ministers Li and Fang negotiated the Way in zazen and realized the great Way. It is simply a question of whether the aspiration is there or not. It has nothing to with whether one is a layman or a priest. What is more, those who are able to discern the true merits of things come to have faith in the Buddhadharma naturally. Perhaps I should add that those who think mundane affairs hinder the practice of the Buddhadharma know only that there is no Buddhadharma in their daily life; they do not yet know that there is nothing “mundane” in the Buddhadharma.
A recent minister of the Song, named Feng, is another high official who excelled in the Way of the buddha-ancestors. In a verse he composed late in his life, he wrote:
When free from my duties, I practice zazen,
Rarely do I even lie down for sleep.
I may appear to be a minister of state,
But everyone calls me the “elder monk.”
Although he could have had little time to spare from the duties of his office, he was possessed of a strong aspiration in the Way, and he attained realization. So, you should consider your own situation in light of others. Look at the present with an eye to the past.
Today, in the land of the great Song, the emperor and his ministers, those in official positions and ordinary citizen as well, men and women alike, everyone has the Way of the buddha-ancestors constantly in their thoughts. Both soldiers and men of learning aspire to the study and practice of Zen. Many of those who so resolve are certain to awaken to an understanding of the mind-ground. Thus, you can readily see that worldly affairs are no hindrance to the Buddhadharma.
When the authentic Buddhadharma spreads and is at work throughout a country, it is under the constant protection of the Buddhas and devas. Hence the benevolent rule of the king will be felt by his subjects, and the country will be at peace. Under a benevolent reign, with the country at peace, the influence of the Buddhadharma is bound to increase.
Moreover, in the time of Gautama Buddha, even transgressors against the Dharma and those holding false views attained the Buddha Way. Among the followers of the Zen ancestral masters, there were hunters and fuel-gatherers who attained satori, so is it possible that others would be unable to? But you must seek the guidance of an authentic teacher.
Question 15: Is it possible to attain realization by practicing zazen even in this evil, degenerate age of the latter day?
Answer 15: While the doctrinal schools make much of names and forms, in authentic Mahayana teaching there is no differentiation between, right, semblance, and final Dharma. It preaches that all who practice attain the Way. In fact, in the right Dharma that has been passed down without deviation, you enjoy the precious treasure19 within your own home the same upon entering it as a beginner as you do when you attain deliverance. Those who practice are themselves aware of their attainment or non-attainment, just as a person knows without any doubt whether the water, he or she is using is warm or cold.
Question 16: Some say that if you penetrate fully the meaning of “the mind itself is Buddha,” even though you do not recite sutras or engage in religious practice, you are lacking nothing of the Buddhadharma. The mere knowledge that the Buddhadharma inheres within you is the perfect, total attainment of the Way. You should not seek it elsewhere, in any other person. Then what need is there to trouble yourself with negotiating the Way in zazen?
Answer 16: Such words are especially meaningless. Were things as you portray them, would not all spiritually perceptive persons be able to arrive at understanding merely by being taught such words?
Understand that the Buddhadharma consists above all in practice that strives to eliminate views that distinguish self and other. Were the Way attained by knowing your self is Buddha, Shakyamuni would not have troubled himself as he did long ago to lead others to enlightenment. Let me corroborate this with some examples of priests of the past.
A monk of former times named Hsuan-tse was temple steward in the brotherhood of Zen master Fayen. Fayen said to him, “Tse, how long is it that you’ve been with me?” “It’s been three years now,” he answered. “As a member of the next generation, why is it you never ask me about the Buddhadharma?” Tse replied, “I mustn’t deceive you. Formerly, when I was with Zen master Ching-feng, I attained the Dharma realm of blissful peace.” Fayen asked, “By what words did you attain that realm?” Tse replied, “I once asked Ching-feng, ‘What is the self of a Buddhist disciple?” He answered, ‘Ping-ting tung-tzu comes for fire.’” “Those are fine words,” said Fayen. “But you probably didn’t understand them.” Tse said, “I understand them to mean this: Pin-ting is associated with fire. To look for fire with fire is like looking for the self with the self.” “You see, “said the master, “you didn’t understand. If that were the extent of the Buddhadharma, it wouldn’t have been transmitted to the present day.”
Hsuan-tse, indignant, promptly left the monastery. As he was leaving, he reflected, “The master is known throughout the land. He is a great teacher with over 500 disciples. There must be some merit in his admonishment.”
He returned penitently to the monastery, performed his bows before Fayen, and asked, “What is the self of a Buddhist disciple?” “Ping-ting tung-tzu come for fire,” the master replied. On hearing these words, Hsuan-tse attained great enlightenment.
It is obvious the Buddhadharma cannot be realized by understanding that “the self is the Buddha.” If that were the extent of the Buddhadharma, the master would not have said what he did to guide Hsuan-tse. He would not have admonished him as he did.
When you encounter a good master for the first time, just inquire about the rules and regulations with regard to practice, and then devote yourself wholeheartedly to negotiating the Way in zazen. Do not let your mind dwell on superficial or partial knowledge. If you follow this advice, you will not find the Buddhadharma’s wonderful means unavailing.
Question 17: In scanning the past and present in India and China, we find that one person was enlightened upon hearing a pebble strike against a bamboo; another’s mind was cleared at the sight of blossoming flowers. Indeed, Shakyamuni himself realized the Way when he saw the morning star; and Ananda discerned the truth when a banner-pole fell. From the time of the Sixth Great Ancestral Master, a great many other people filiated to the Five Houses of Zen were enlightened by a single word or phrase. Yet did all of those people, to a person, negotiate the Way in zazen?
Answer 17: It should be clearly understood that those of the past and the present whose minds were enlightened by seeing things or hearing things all negotiated the Way without any preconceptions whatever; and that for each of them, right at that instant, no “other person” existed.
Question 18: In India and China people possess a natural intelligence and uprightness. When people in these centers of culture are taught the Buddhadharma they are unusually quick to reach understanding and realization. In our country of Japan, however, benevolence and wisdom have not existed in abundance. It has been difficult for the right seeds to accumulate. It is indeed regrettable that our backwardness has produced this state of affairs. The priests in our country are inferior to even the laymen in those great lands. A general obtuseness pervades our entire culture, and the minds of our countrymen are small and narrow. People are deeply attached to worldly, material gain, partial to goodness and virtue of a very superficial kind. Even were such people to engage in the practice of zazen, would it really be possible for them to realize the Buddhadharma?
Answer 18: As you say, benevolence and wisdom are still not widespread among our countrymen. Their dispositions are narrow and perverse. Even if the right Dharma, undistorted, were given to them, its ambrosial nectar would likely turn to poison. They are easily moved to seek fame and profit, and so they find it difficult to free themselves from attachment and delusion.
All that is true, and yet in entering into realization of the Buddhadharma, the ordinary commonsense knowledge of human beings and devas is not necessarily the vehicle by which the world of illusion is transcended. Even in the Buddha’s time, one man realized the four stages to sainthood because of a bouncing ball. The great Way was illuminated for another when she put on a monk’s robe. Both were ignorant, dull-witted people, no more enlightened than beasts, but by virtue of right faith the path of deliverance from illusion opened for them. A laywoman experienced satori while watching a foolish old monk sitting silently as she was serving his meal. It was not the result of wisdom or of culture, and it did not depend upon the spoken word or upon the relating of a story. It was right faith alone that saved her.
Moreover, the spread of Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching through the 3,000-world universe took only about 2,000 years. The lands making up this universe are diverse. Not all of them are countries of benevolence and wisdom. Certainly, their inhabitants are not all astute and sagacious. Yet the Tathagata’s Dharma is originally endowed with the strength of incomprehensively great merit and virtue. When the time comes, the Dharma will spread in a land. If people just practice with right faith, they will all attain the Way, irrespective of the amount of intelligence they possess. Do not think because ours is not a land of great benevolence and wisdom, or because the people’s knowledge is small and their understanding feeble, that the Buddha’s Dharma cannot be comprehended here. Besides, the right seed of prajna-wisdom exists in abundance in all people. In seems only that, having rarely been in accord with that wisdom, our countrymen have as yet been unable to enjoy its use.
The foregoing exchange of questions and answers is not altogether consistent. The standpoints of questioner and replier have sometimes interchanged. How many flowers have been made to blossom in the sky! But in Japan the essential principles of negotiating the Way in zazen have not yet been transmitted. We must pity those who aspire to know them. Therefore, I have collected something of what I saw and heard while I was in China. I have written down the true secrets of the enlightened masters I encountered there so that I could convey them to practitioners who might desire to know them. At this time, I have not had occasion to go beyond this and describe the standards of behavior in their monasteries, or the rules and regulations I observed in their temples. Such matters do not lend themselves to hurried or casual exposition.
It is true that Japan is a remote land, lying beyond the clouds and smoke to the east of the Dragon Seas. Yet from the time of the Emperors Kimmei and Yomei, we have been blessed by the gradual west-to-east movement of the Buddhadharma. However, a disorderly proliferation of doctrinal names and forms and ritual matters has taken place, and there have been difficulties regarding the place of practice as well.
Now as you fashion a hermitage among the blue cliffs and white rocks and with mended bowl and tattered robe begin your religious discipline on your own by properly sitting in zazen, the matter transcending Buddha is immediately manifested, and the great matter of a lifetime of practice is forthwith penetrated to ultimate fulfillment. This is the instruction left by Lung-ya, and the style of the teaching bequeathed by Mahakashapa. The manner and principles of the zazen you practice should be based on the Fukan-zazengi, which I compiled during the preceding Karoku period.
Although the spread of the Buddhadharma in a country should await the decree of the king, we need only remember the meaning of the message the Buddha delivered on Vulture Peak to recall that the kings, nobles, ministers, and generals presently ruling innumerable lands throughout the world all humbly received that message and were reborn in their present existence without forgetting the deep desire from their previous existence to protect and maintain the Buddhadharma. Are not all the regions in which their influence prevails Buddha lands? So, it does not necessarily follow that in order to propagate the Way of the Buddha-ancestors, you must choose a favorable place and wait for ideal circumstances to develop. And you must never think that you are starting new from today.
That is why I have gathered these words together to leave for the wise ones who aspire to the true Dharma, as well as for those true practitioners who seek the Way like floating clouds and drifting water-plants.
Written in mid-autumn 1231 by Shamon Dogen, a Dharma transmitter who has traveled to China.
By Rev. Daigaku Rummé
The object of Zen practice is to realize the Way of Buddha; i.e. liberation from our self-centered viewpoints. This can never be accomplished simply by reading books or through intellectual understanding. After all, Zen is “the transmission outside the teachings; one which isn’t based on words.” For that reason, I often say it’s best not to read too much. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to read.
I suggest reading books and sutras that encourage us to practice diligently. In particular, the original texts by Zen masters such as Dogen Zenji, Rinzai Zenji, and others. I also recommend reading and memorizing certain sutras, and yes, I also recommend the books of my teacher, Harada Sekkei.
Please see the list below, which I will update periodically.
- The Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra
- The Song of Zazen
- Dogen Zenji’s Gakudo Yojinshu and Tenzo Kyokun and Bendowa
- Rinzai Zenji’s Record of Lin-chi
- The Essence of Zen by Harada Sekkei. Wisdom Publications. (Please join us for our Study Group at which time we are reading and discussing this book.)
- Unfathomable Depths by Harada Sekkei. Wisdom Publications