Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Face-To-Face Transmission - Zen & Buddha Dharma

Zen, Face-To-Face Transmission & Buddha Dharma
Just investigate in practice and realize in physical experience the eyes which are the eye of meeting buddha.
Shobogenzo, Kenbutsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

“Nirvana” literally means extinguishment, but it in Zen it is used in a way similar to the word “apocalypse,” which means “revelation.” Dogen frequently refers to “good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good at the end,” in his recognition of a beginning, middle, and end (or arising, abiding, vanishing). Variations of these same symbols are found in the all the great spiritual traditions, for they are the central archetypal symbols of the end (or goal) of religion; the symbols of salvation, liberation, renewal and rebirth. In Zen, this is most extensively treated in the doctrine of sudden realization. In Zen, the first, or initial great experience of realization is sometimes called “the great death.”

One thing this means is that the reality of Buddhahood, nirvana, or original enlightenment is only revealed with the experience of “the great death,” in which the whole (known, or preconceived) universe is utterly destroyed (the body-mind of self-and-other are completely cast-off), and the whole universe is exerted anew. This is sometimes symbolized in Zen literature with images of the double-edged sword – the two edges are described as “the sword that kills” and “the sword that gives life.” Just as it is one and the same sword that kills and gives life, our great death and great life is experienced by the same being within the same world; only the quality of experience is transformed – the ceaseless experience of the world and the self is seen as it is; the ceaseless creation of the world and the self.

In the classic Zen literature, as in the literature of all the great traditions, this experience (awakening, realization, nirvana, Buddhahood, satori, etc.) is described in terms of “seeing” and “vision” (rather than “hearing” and “listening”). To hear the Buddha Dharma is to learn about it and to study it, to see the Buddha Dharma is to experience it directly; to see it face to face — to see Shakyamuni Buddha’s face with our eyes, to see our face with Shakyamuni Buddha’s eyes. In Dogen’s words:

By bowing down in respect to the Face of Shakyamuni Buddha and by transferring the Eye of Shakyamuni Buddha to our own eyes, we will have transferred our eyes to the Eye of Buddha. Ours will be the very Eye and Face of Buddha. Without even one generation’s break, that which has been conferred face-to-face right up to the present by the mutual Transmission of this Buddha Eye and Buddha Face is this very Face-to-Face Transmission. These successive heirs over some dozens of generations are instances of face after face being the Face of Buddha, for they have received the Face-to-Face Transmission from the original Buddha Face. Their bowing down in respect to this conferring of the Face as the genuine Transmission is their respectful bowing down to the Seven Buddhas, including Shakyamuni Buddha, and it is their bowing in respect and making venerative offerings to the twenty-eight Indian Ancestors of the Buddha from Makakasho on down. This is what the Face and Eye of an Ancestor of the Buddha is like. To encounter this Ancestor of the Buddha is to meet Shakyamuni Buddha along with the other Seven Buddhas. It is the very instant when an Ancestor of the Buddha personally confers the Face-to-Face Transmission upon himself: it is a Buddha of the Face-to-Face Transmission conferring the Face-to-Face Transmission upon a Buddha of the Face-to-Face Transmission.
Shobogenzo, Menju, Hubert Nearman

Here we meet a boldness of expression that is liable to be dismissed as hyperbole by abstract thinkers, or glossed by pseudo-Zen teachers as too subtle, profound, or esoteric for ordinary (deluded) beings to appreciate. Despite the striking intensity of this expression, Dogen is not using hyperbole, nor is he expounding upon some mysterious enigma; he is merely stating the central tenet of Zen in a forthright manner; this very mind is Buddha.

The very possibility for liberation according to Zen, and most other schools of Mahayana Buddhism, is based on the notion that we are Buddha. Accordingly, liberation is said to be achieved by awakening to our identity, to see our true nature. Zen masters say the activation of this “seeing” is opening the Dharma eye or the Buddha eye (also called the eye to read scriptures). This is what Dogen means when he talks about “gouging out the Buddha’s eye,” or “gouging out the ancestor’s eye,” or, as in the present instance, “transferring the eye of Shakyamuni to our own eyes.”

So, while Dogen’s manner of expression may be arresting, its meaning is certainly not obscure, it is basic Zen. Seeing true nature (kensho), or Dogen’s preferred term, seeing Buddha (kenbutsu) is the goal of Zen. According to Bodhidharma, the traditional first ancestor of Zen in China:

“Seeing your nature is Zen. If you don’t see your nature it’s not Zen.”
The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, Red Pine

Thus, Dogen agrees with all the classic masters: seeing true nature (or seeing Buddha; kenbutsu) is the transmission of truth, which we realize “face-to-face” with the Buddhas and ancestors.

As we have observed in recent posts, expression is the medium through which the transmission of truth is realized, and the Buddha Dharma is the vehicle of that transmission. The Buddha Dharma, which to Dogen means the concrete form of the corpus of Buddhist sutras (scriptures), is the vehicle we should make as “our standard for pursuing the truth (as in his assertion of the unity of a thing and its nature).

In conclusion, we should know that in the Buddha’s truth there are inevitably Buddhist sutras; we should learn in practice, as the mountains and the oceans, their universal text and their profound meaning; and we should make them our standard for pursuing the truth.
Shobogenzo, Bukkyo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

The Buddhist sutras, being real existent things (dharmas), are constituents of Buddha nature which is “total existence” (one mind). As real elements of total existence (all time and space) Buddhist sutras contain and are contained by the whole universe all the myriad things (dharmas). In light of the Buddhist doctrine on the unity of appearance (form, image) and nature (essence, significance), each Buddhist sutra, as a real, particular element of the universe, is what it appears to be – the truth (Dharma) expressed by Shakyamuni Buddha.

In general, when we follow and practice “the sutras,” “the sutras” truly come forth. The meaning of “the sutras” is the whole universe in ten directions, mountains, rivers, and the earth, grass and trees, self and others; it is eating meals and putting on clothes, instantaneous movements and demeanors. When we pursue the truth following these texts, each of which is a sutra, countless thousand-myriad volumes of totally unprecedented sutras manifest themselves in reality and exist before us. They have lines of characters of affirmation that are conspicuous as they are; and their verses of characters of negation are unmistakably clear.
Shobogenzo, Jisho-zanmai, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

For Dogen, there can be no general “things” (dharmas) but only specific, actual “things.” And all actual things are the constituents of the one actual Buddha. Each real, particulat thing then, really contains and is contained by every other particular thing, and all particular things; and the “form” of each thing is one (nondual) with its “nature” – the nature, meaning, or significance of a thing (like a sutra) is nowhere else but in its actual, particular form, shape, or appearance. Therefore, each thing (dharma) that we encounter, is a real, particular thing that is a real constituent of the one Buddha, and it is what it appears to be. Thus, if we encounter sutras, we must contain and be contained by all Buddhas and Buddha ancestors. In Dogen’s words:

In sum, reading sutras means reading sutras with eyes into which we have drawn together all the Buddhist patriarchs. At just this moment, the Buddhist patriarchs instantly become buddha, preach Dharma, preach buddha, and do buddha-action. Without this moment in reading sutras, the brains and faces of Buddhist patriarchs could never exist.
Shobogenzo, Kankin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Buddha is total existence (it is not an entity behind all things, or an essence permeating all things) and each particular dharma is a real form (nondual with its nature) of Buddha. Our true nature is the true nature of total existence (Buddha) which is nondual with our true form. Each human being is a particular dharma which is, inevitably, a constituent of total existence (Buddha), and each constituent of total existence is, inevitably, a particular constituent of each human being’s total existence.

Socrates is a real element of Buddha (totality) and Benjamin Franklin is a real element of Socrates (true self). Thus Dogen contends that each human being (each individual self) is Bodhidharma or Linji, etc. (a real particular Buddha ancestor), and each human being is the Heart sutra or the Lotus sutra (an actual concrete sutra), and therefore when a human being learns from an ancestor that human being is learning from herself, and when a human being learns from a sutra, that human being is learning from himself – thus, we each learn only and always from our self.

The practice-and-experience of anuttara samyaksambodhi sometimes relies on [good] counselors and sometimes relies on the sutras. “[Good] counselors” means Buddhist patriarchs who are totally themselves. “Sutras” means sutras that are totally themselves. Because the self is totally a Buddhist patriarch and because the self is totally a sutra, it is like this. Even though we call it self, it is not restricted by “me and you.” It is vivid eyes, and a vivid fist.

At the same time, there is the consideration of sutras, the reading of sutras, the reciting of sutras, the copying of sutras, the receiving of sutras, and the retaining of sutras: they are all the practice-and-experience of Buddhist patriarchs. Yet it is not easy to meet the Buddha’s sutras: “Throughout innumerable realms, even the name cannot be heard.” Among Buddhist patriarchs, “even the name cannot be heard.” Amid the lifeblood, “even the name cannot be heard.” Unless we are Buddhist patriarchs we do not see, hear, read, recite, or understand the meaning of sutras. After learning in practice as Buddhist patriarchs, we are barely able to learn sutras in practice. At this time the reality of hearing [sutras], retaining [sutras], receiving [sutras], preaching sutras, and so on, exists in the ears, eyes, tongue, nose, and organs of body and mind, and in the places where we go, hear, and speak. The sort who “because they seek fame, preach non-Buddhist doctrines” cannot practice the Buddha’s sutras. The reason is that the sutras are transmitted and retained on trees and on rocks, are spread through fields and through villages, are expounded by lands of dust, and are lectured by space.
Shobogenzo, Kankin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Once we know the ancient sutras and read the ancient texts, then we have the will to venerate the ancients. When we have the will to venerate the ancients, the ancient sutras come to the present and manifest themselves before us.
Shobogenzo, Gyoji, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross
All the myriad beings constitute the one Buddha (total existence), the one Buddha (total existence) is the aggregate of all the myriad beings. All beings are, inevitably, a real constituent of total existence. Beings that know this (that see Buddha face-to-face) are called Buddhas (or ancestors); beings that do not know this (that do not receive face-to-face transmission) are ordinary (unawakened) beings.

The reason they say that [buddhas] authentically transmit only the one mind, without authentically transmitting the Buddha’s teaching, is that they do not know the Buddha- Dharma. Not knowing the one mind as the Buddha’s teaching and not hearing the Buddha’s teaching as the one mind, they say that there is the Buddha’s teaching outside of the one mind. Their “one mind” never having become the one mind, they say that there is a “one mind” outside of the Buddha’s teachings. It may be that their “Buddha’s teachings” have never become the Buddha’s teaching. Although they have transmitted and received the fallacy of “a separate transmission outside the teachings,” because they have never known “inside” and “outside,” the logic of their words is not consistent. How could the Buddhist patriarchs who receive the one-to-one transmission of the Buddha’s right-Dharma-eye treasury fail to receive the one-to-one transmission of the Buddha’s teaching? Still more, why would Old Man Sakyamuni have instituted teachings and methods that could have no place in the everyday conduct of Buddhists?
Bukkyo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Progressing further, through dying a complete death we realize the vivid state of coming alive. Remember, from the Tang dynasty until today, there have been many pitiable people who have not clarified the fact that “expounding the mind and expounding the nature” is the Buddha’s truth… If I put it in words, “expounding the mind and expounding the nature” is the pivotal essence of the Seven Buddhas and the ancestral masters.
Shobogenzo, Sesshin-sessho, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Because this principle [of reading sutras] exists, a man of old has said, “To read sutras we must be equipped with the eyes of reading sutras.” Remember, if there had been no sutras from ancient times till today, there could be no expression like this.

Nevertheless, for the last two hundred years or so in the great kingdom of Song, certain unreliable stinking skinbags have said, “We must not keep in mind even the sayings of ancestral masters. Still less should we ever read or rely upon the teaching of the sutras. We should only make our bodies and minds like withered trees and dead ash, or like broken wooden dippers and bottomless tubs.” People like this have vainly become a species of non-Buddhist or celestial demon. They seek to rely on what cannot be relied on, and as a result they have idly turned the Dharma of the Buddhist patriarchs into a mad and perverse teaching. It is pitiful and regrettable.

There is no mystery in the authentic transmission from the ancestral Master that differs from the Buddhist sutras, or even from a single word or half a word therein. Both the Buddhist sutras and the Patriarch’s truth have been authentically transmitted and have spread from Sakyamuni Buddha. The Patriarch’s transmission has been received only by rightful successors from rightful successors, but how could [rightful successors] not know, how could they not clarify, and how could they not read and recite the Buddhist sutras? A past master says, “You delude yourself with the sutras. The sutras do not delude you.” There are many stories about past masters reading sutras. I would like to say to the unreliable as follows: If, as you say, the Buddhist sutras should be discarded, then the Buddha’s mind should be discarded and the Buddha’s body should be discarded. If the Buddha’s body-mind should be discarded, the Buddha’s disciples should be discarded. If the Buddha’s disciples should be discarded, the Buddha’s truth should be discarded. If the Buddha’s truth should be discarded, how could the Patriarch’s truth not be discarded? If you discard both the Buddha’s truth and the Patriarch’s truth, you might become one person with a shaved head among a hundred secular people. Who could deny that you deserved to taste the stick? Not only would you be at the beck and call of kings and their retainers; you might also be answerable to Yamaraja.
Shobogenzo, Bukkyo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Because they are too stupid to understand the meaning of the Buddhist sutras for themselves, they randomly insult the Buddhist sutras and neglect to practice and learn them. We should call them flotsam in the stream of non-Buddhism.
Shobogenzo, Kenbutsu, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Be very clear about it: when someone Transmits face-to-face the Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching by saying, “You have realized what my Marrow is,” this is plainly an instance of conferring the Face-to-Face Transmission. At that very moment when you let go of your everyday notions of what ‘bones and marrow’ means, there will be the Face-to-Face Transmission of the Buddhas and Ancestors. The Face-to-Face Transmission of the great Full Enlightenment and the Mind seal will involve a particular moment in a definite place. Even though it may not be the Transmission of everything, do not probe into your training with the assumption that something is still lacking.
Shobogenzo, Menju, Hubert Nearman

Shakyamuni Buddha, in addressing His great assembly, once said in verse:

When those who wholeheartedly yearn to see the Buddha,
Do not begrudge even their own lives,
Then I, with all the Sangha,
Will appear together on the Divine Vulture Peak.

The wholeheartedness spoken of here is not the wholeheartedness, say, of ordinary folk or of those who follow lesser courses: it is the wholeheartedness derived from yearning to encounter Buddha. ‘The wholeheartedness derived from yearning to encounter Buddha’ refers to the Divine Vulture Peak, along with all the Sangha. When each individual, in private, arouses the desire to see Buddha, that person desires to see Buddha through devotion to the Heart of the Divine Vulture Peak. Thus, wholeheartedness is already the Divine Vulture Peak, so how could one’s whole being not appear together with that Heart? How could it not be body and mind together as one? Our body and mind are already like this, just as are the years of our life and our life itself. Thus, we entrust our own regrets, which are merely our regrets, to the unsurpassed Way of the Divine Vulture Peak. Therefore, Shakyamuni Buddha said that His appearing on the Divine Vulture Peak, along with all His Sangha, is brought about by our wholehearted desire to see Buddha.
Shobogenzo, Kembutsu, Hubert Nearman

The Old Buddha, Meditation Master Chosa, once said in verse:

The whole of the great earth is the Body of a True Human Being,
The whole of the great earth is the gateway to liberation,
The whole of the great earth is the Solitary Eye of Vairochana,
The whole of the great earth is our own Dharma Body.

In other words, what we are calling real is, in essence, our True Being. You need to realize that ‘the whole of the great earth’ is not some provisional term, for our being is its true form.

Also, you need to hear that the whole of the great earth is your own Dharma Body. That which seeks to know what we truly are is the resolute heart of someone who is truly alive. Even so, those who see what their True Self is are few. Only a Buddha alone knows this Self. Others who are off the Path, such as non-Buddhists, vainly take their unreal, false self to be their True Self. The Self that Buddhas speak of is synonymous with the whole of the great earth. Thus, whether we know or do not know our True Self, in either case, there is no ‘whole of the great earth’ that is other than our True Self.

How, then, are we to understand this notion of the Buddhas being the same as us? Well, first off, we need to understand what the practice of a Buddha is. The practice of a Buddha is done in the same manner as the practice of the whole earth, and it is done together with all sentient beings. If it were not so, all the practices of the Buddhas would not yet exist. Therefore, from the first arising of one’s intention up to the attainment of its realization, beyond any question, both the realizing and the practice are done together with the whole of the great earth and with every single sentient being.
Shobogenzo, Yui Butsu Yo Butsu, Hubert Nearman


Fugen said...


Thank you.

I will remember this one today.


Ted Biringer said...

Hello Fugen,

You are welcome. Thank you!