Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Zazen: Polishing a Tile to Make a Mirror - Becoming Buddha

Zazen-Only - Polishing Tiles, Making Buddhas
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The perfection of each person is unique; a particular human becomes a Buddha when that human wholly becomes that particular human. The Buddhahood of an individual being is the perfection of the “integral character” of that particular being “as it is.” Zazen-only is the perfection of the “normal mind,” that is, a particular body-mind that is fully seated in and as the wholeness of its particular existence ceaselessly advancing in harmony with the true nature of its own integral character. One of the clearest of Dogen’s numerous presentations of this aspect of the Buddha Dharma is revealed in one of his masterly commentaries on a classic Zen koan.

One day when Nangaku came to Baso’s hut, Baso stood up to receive him. Nangaku asked him, “What have you been doing recently?”

Baso replied, “Recently I have been doing the practice of seated meditation exclusively.”

Nangaku asked, “And what is the aim of your seated meditation?”

Baso replied, “The aim of my seated meditation is to achieve Buddhahood.”

Thereupon, Nangaku took a roof tile and began rubbing it on a rock near Baso’s hut.

Baso, upon seeing this, asked him, “Reverend monk, what are you doing?”

Nangaku replied, “I am polishing a roof tile.”

Baso then asked, “What are you going to make by polishing a roof tile?”

Nangaku replied, “I am polishing it to make a mirror.”

Baso said, “How can you possibly make a mirror by rubbing a tile?”

Nangaku replied, “How can you possibly make yourself into a Buddha by doing seated meditation?”

For hundreds of years now, many people have held the view that, in this story, Nangaku is earnestly endeavoring to encourage Baso in his practice. This is not necessarily so, for, quite simply, the daily activities of the great saintly teacher were far removed from the realm of ordinary people. If great saintly teachers did not have the Dharma of polishing a tile, how could they possibly have the skillful means to guide people? Having the strength to guide people is the Bones and Marrow of an Ancestor of the Buddha. Even though the tile was the thing that came to hand, still, it was just an everyday, household object. If it were not an everyday object or some household utensil, then it would not have been passed on by the Buddha’s family. What is more, its impact on Baso was immediate. Be very clear about it, the functioning of the True Transmission of Buddhas and Ancestors involves a direct pointing. We should truly comprehend that when the polished tile became a mirror, Baso became Buddha. And when Baso became Buddha, Baso immediately became the real Baso. And when Baso became the real Baso, his sitting in meditation immediately became real seated meditation. This is why the saying ‘polishing a tile to make a mirror’ has been preserved in the Bones and Marrow of former Buddhas.

Thus it is that the Ancient Mirror was made from a roof tile. Even though the mirror was being polished, it was already without blemish in its unpolished state. The tile was not something that was dirty; it was polished simply because it was a tile. On that occasion, the virtue of making a Mirror was made manifest, for it was the diligent effort of an Ancestor of the Buddha. If polishing a tile did not make a Mirror, then even polishing a mirror could not have made a Mirror. Who can surmise that in this act of making, there is the making of a Buddha and there is the making of a Mirror?

Further, some may wonder, “When the Ancient Mirror is polished, can It ever be polished into a tile?” Your state of being—your breathing in and breathing out—when you are engaged in polishing is not something that you can gauge at other times. And Nangaku’s words, to be sure, express what is expressible. As a result, in the final analysis, he was able to polish a tile and make a Mirror. Even we people of the present time should try to pick up today’s ‘tile’ and give it a polish, for ultimately it will become a Mirror. If a tile could not become a Mirror, people could not become Buddha. If we belittle tiles as being lumps of clay, we will also belittle people as being lumps of clay. If people have a Heart, then tiles too will have a Heart. Who can recognize that there is a Mirror in which, when a tile comes, the Tile appears? And who can recognize that there is a Mirror in which, when a mirror comes, the Mirror appears?
Shobogenzo, Kokyo, Hubert Nearman


The "ancient mirror" is the Buddha mind; more specifically, it is an aspect or quality of the Buddha mind that is traditionally referred to as the "universal mirror prajna." The “universal mirror prajna” is the first of the “four prajna's (or “cognitions”) of Buddhahood.” This prajna is described as the aspect of mind that, like a mirror, perfectly reflects the world as it is in the immediate present – the world in its ‘thusness.’ Unlike an ordinary mirror, this prajna is not only reflective, it is also luminescent. It is the initial realization of this “prajna” (or “cognition”) that is traditionally regarded as the practitioners entrance into awakening (often called "kensho" in Zen).

Dogen’s commentary on the koan illumines the same principle informing his teaching that “clear seeing is prajna itself” – here the principle is formulated as “when the polished tile became a mirror Baso became Buddha.”

A “tile” is only a tile by virtue of being experienced as a mind-form unity (dharma) as it is. In the koan, “Baso” is only Baso (his true self; Buddha) by virtue of experiencing mind-forms as they are. When “the tile became a mirror Baso became Baso” – Baso became Baso (his true self; Buddha) when the tile became a mirror (its true self; a mind-form). Moreover, because the mirror (that which verifies) is never separate from the tile (that which is verified), the mirror (Baso) was actualized as a real mirror (the real Baso) by virtue of experiencing the tile.

In terms of the prajna paramita literature, tile and mirror (forms) is emptiness, Baso is Buddha, emptiness is tile and mirror, Buddha is Baso; therefore, emptiness is emptiness, tile is tile, mirror is mirror, Buddha is Buddha, Baso is Baso. When Baso is Baso the whole universe is solely Baso; when zazen is zazen, the whole universe is solely sitting.

In Dogen’s view, the only reality is reality that is actually experienced as particular things at specific times. There is no “tile nature” apart from actual “tile forms,” there is no “essential Baso” apart from actual instances of “Baso experience.” When Baso sits in zazen, “zazen” becomes zazen, and “Baso” becomes Baso. Real instances of Baso sitting in zazen is real instances of Baso and real instances of zazen – when Baso eats rice, Baso is really Baso and eating rice is really eating rice.
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Peace,
Ted

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