Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Perceiving the Buddhas Expressions of Truth

Perceiving the Buddhas Expressions of Truth

If we can manage to see through and beyond our own presuppositions (or those espoused by popular Zen books and teachers) about the nature of Zen and the significance of the Buddha Dharma, the Mahayana sutras and shastras (treatises, or commentaries) as well as the classic records of Zen can be seen in the clarity with which they are expressed. When Shakyamuni Buddha saw the morning star (which he had seen many, many times before) and realized enlightenment he said, “How wonderful, all beings are the Tathagata (Buddha), it is only their delusions and preoccupations that keep them from testifying to the fact.” The moment before, the moment of, and the moment after his enlightenment, the human being Shakyamuni was the human being Shakyamuni, and the morning star was the morning star; yet each of these three moments present some vastly distinct differences. How was Shakyamuni’s experience of the morning star on this instance so different from all his many previous experiences?

Just as seeing through his delusions and preoccupations allowed Shakyamuni to experience the true nature of the morning star (and himself) for the first time, when we manage to see through our own conditioned views, beliefs, and presuppositions we will find his teachings (and those of his authentic heirs) to be clear, accessible reliable guides along the ancient Way. The nature, dynamics, and nondual interaction (inclusive of and transcendent to both nonduality and duality) of Buddha and human beings is profoundly and clearly elucidated by Dogen in many direct expressions of truth throughout Shobogenzo. Shakyamuni truly saw the morning star when he forgot everything he already “knew” about it; we will truly see his expressions of truth (the Buddha Dharma) only when we forget everything we know about Zen and Buddhism. Cast off all your pre-occupations and pre-conceptions and consider this passage from Shobogenzo, Sangai Yuishin:

The threefold world of the here and now is what we see as the threefold world. ‘What we see’ means our seeing the threefold world as a threefold world. ‘Seeing it as a threefold world’ refers to the threefold world as it manifests right before us, as we manifest it right before us, and as our spiritual question manifests right before our very eyes. We all innately have the ability to make the threefold world be the vehicle for the arising of our spiritual intention, our practice and training, our realizing enlightenment, and our experiencing nirvana. This is why our Great Master Shakyamuni once said in verse:

These three worlds, right now,
Are what we all innately have,
And all sentient beings within them,
Without exception, are My children.

Because these three worlds here and now are what the Tathagata innately had, the whole universe was His threefold world, because the threefold world is the whole universe. ‘Here and now’ encompasses the past, present, and future. The occurring of past, present, and future does not obstruct the here and now, but the occurring of the here and now does obstruct past, present, and future from arising.

That which ‘we innately have’ refers to the whole universe in all ten directions being our real, true Body. It refers to the whole universe in all ten directions being a mendicant monk’s Eye. ‘Sentient beings’ are real, true bodies of the whole universe in all ten directions. Because each and every sentient being is born sentient, they are called ‘sentient beings’.

‘Without exception, they are My children’ means that children are also manifestations of the ceaseless operation of Buddha Nature. Even so, of necessity, children receive their bodies, along with their hair and skin, all unharmed and unbroken, from a compassionate parent. Parents regard this as the child’s fully manifesting. Yet, at this present moment, since there is no parent who is before and no child who is after, nor a child who is before and a parent who is after, nor a parent and child being lined up beside each other, we call this the principle of ‘My children’. Although the body is not something that is given, we receive it; although it is not something that we snatch, we acquire it. It is beyond the characteristics of coming and going, beyond the measure of large and small, beyond discussions of old and young. We should hold to it like the ‘old’ and ‘young’ of the Buddhas and Ancestors. Sometimes there is a parent who is ‘young’ and a child who is ‘old’, or a parent who is ‘old’ and a child who is ‘young’, or a parent who is ‘old’ and a child who is ‘old’, or a parent who is ‘young’ and a child who is ‘young’. One who makes a study of his parent’s ‘agedness’ would not be a child; one who has not seen through the ‘youthfulness’ of his child would not be a parent. The ‘age’ and ‘youth’ of a child, as well as the ‘age’ and ‘youth’ of a parent, must be fully explored, in detail, and without haste.
Shobogenzo, Sangai Yuishin, Hubert Nearman

Zen or Buddhist teachings don’t get much more straightforward than this. The truth expressed here is as obvious as the morning star in the sky. The only confusion we might experience here would be that confusion concocted by our own efforts to try to force this teaching into our previously constructed conceptual notions. As soon as we try to make Dogen (or other Buddhas) say what we mean, rather than what they are expressing, we inevitably subvert truth to falsity. The unity of Buddha and human beings revealed in Dogen’s expressions on practice and enlightenment and Buddha nature and no-Buddha nature are as lucid and straightforward as the parent-child relationship is to parents and children. For those still unclear about his meaning, immediately following his elucidation Dogen breaks it down even further and expresses the truth in terms we cannot fail to understand (provided we drop our presuppositions).

There are parents and children for whom the parent-child relationship emerges at the same time, and there are those for whom the parent-child relationship disappears at the same time, and there are those for whom the parent child relationship emerges at different times, and there are those for whom the parent-child relationship disappears at different times. Without standing against the compassionate parent, one has brought forth ‘my child’, and without standing against ‘my child’, one has brought forth the compassionate parent. There are sentient beings who are mindful, and there are sentient beings who are not mindful; there is my child who is mindful, and there is my child who is not mindful. In this manner, my child and I —and I am also a child—are both the true heirs of our Compassionate Parent Shakyamuni. All beings of the past, present, and future in the whole universe—every last one of them—are the Buddhas of past, present, and future in the whole universe. The children of all Buddhas are sentient beings, and the Compassionate Parents of all sentient beings are Buddhas. Consequently, the flowering and fruiting of the hundreds of things that arise are what all Buddhas have as Their own, and the rocks and stones, large and small, are what all Buddhas have as Their own as well. Their peaceful places are the forests and fields, for They are already free of attachment to forests and fields. Be that as it may, the main point of what the Tathagata said was simply the phrase ‘My children’. You need to thoroughly explore that He never spoke of His being their parent.
Shobogenzo, Sangai Yuishin, Hubert Nearman

Finally, as Buddha is all existence everything we can possibly experience is Buddha. Moreover, the only possible experiencer must also be Buddha. And indeed, this exactly corresponds to Dogen’s teaching about Buddha nature, no-Buddha nature, and the unity of practice and enlightenment. These are only a few examples of the many ways that Dogen illumines that the significance of expressions of truth (the Buddha Dharma) are the significance of the dynamic interaction of Buddha and human beings. Every expression of truth is an expression of the one mind (Buddha, existence-time, the true self, etc.), while every instance of experience is a wholly unique, real, particular thing, being, or event (dharma). Buddha is the universal expression, the total existence of/as human beings; each individual human being is a real, particular instance of Buddha...



David H-T said...

Thanks, Ted. I especially enjoyed the parent-child comparison. Reminds me a bit of dana, how the giver-gift-gifted are both completely distinct and separate yet completely intimate and indistinguishable. Form emptiness, emptiness form. Gassho, David

Ted Biringer said...

Hello David H-T,

Thank you for your comments.

Ah! Perhaps that is why "dana" is the first of the Six Paramitas. You may enjoy this quote from Dogen if you are not yet familiar with it:

Providing a ferry or building a bridge as an alms offering creates a way to the Other Shore. When we have learned well what the offering of alms means, then we can see that accepting oneself and letting go of oneself are both offerings of alms. Earning a living and doing productive work have never been anything other than an offering of alms. Leaving flowers to float upon the wind and leaving birds to sing in their season will also be meritorious training in almsgiving. Upon his deathbed, the great King Ashoka offered half of a mango to several hundred monks as alms. As persons who are capable of accepting alms, we need to explore well the principle that this great alms gift points to. Not only should we make physical efforts to give alms, but we should also not overlook opportunities to do so. Truly, because we have inherited the merit from having given alms in past lives, we have obtained the human body that we now have. “Even if you give alms to yourselves, there can be merit, and how much more so were you to give alms to your parents, spouse, or children!” As a consequence of this statement, I have realized that even giving to oneself is a part of almsgiving, and giving to one’s parents, spouse, or children will be almsgiving as well. Should we let go of a single dust mote of defiling passion as an alms offering, even though it is done for our own sake, we will feel a quiet, heartfelt gratitude because we will have had one of the meritorious deeds of Buddhas genuinely Transmitted to us, and because, for the first time, we will be practicing one of the methods of bodhisattvas.

What is truly hard to turn around is the heart and mind of sentient beings. By making one offering, we begin to turn their mental state around, after which we hope to keep turning it around until they realize the Way. From this beginning, we should by all means continue to assist them by making alms offerings. This is why the first of the Six Paramitas is the Almsgiving Paramita. The size of any mind is beyond measure: the size of anything is also beyond measure. Be that as it may, there are times when the mind turns things around and there is also the practice of almsgiving, whereby things turn the mind around.
Shobogenzo, Bodaisatta Shishobo, Hubert Nearman

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