Direct expression of Zen enlightenment

The gate opens, and cause and effect are one;

Straight runs the way—not two, not three.

THESE two lines are a direct expression of Zen enlightenment, the peace that comes from realization that cause and effect are one. The ancients spoke of a universal net from which nothing escapes, and indeed there is nothing in the world so rigid as the law of cause and effect, or karma. If there is a cause, an effect is inevitable; where there is an effect, there must also be a cause. The proverb says that seeds which are not sown don’t sprout, and you don’t get eggplant from a melon vine. The Buddha teaches in the sutra: “If you wish to know the past, then look at the present which is the result of it. If you wish to know the future, then look at the present which is the cause of it.” In the Kegon Sutra it is said that in each and every thing karma is clear to see.

When in this way distinguishing cause and effect, when speaking in the ordinary way about karma from the point of view of distinctions, Buddhism has the doctrine of the Six Causes, Four Associations, and Five Effects. The most important thing to note is that besides cause and effect, Buddhism also teaches association. With three principles: cause, association, and effect, the notion of karma is made more complete. From the same shoots, the blossoms will differ according to how they are manured and looked after. In this example the shoots would be the cause, the manuring and tending the association, and the blossoms the effect.

Generally association is included under cause, and so we speak of karma as cause-and-effect. Normally when we distinguish cause and effect we think of it vertically, as a question of time, just that they come at different times. But from the Zen point of view they can be viewed on the same level, under the light of Emptiness, of Sameness. They are seen as the same, without distinctions. In the Zen view absolutely everything has its root in mind, and all the phenomena are manifested by mind; when seen in this way, everything in the world has in fact a temporary illusory existence only; it is a momentary appearance. On this illusory temporary existence is imposed the pattern of cause-and-effect, but in fact cause and effect are one and the same. When the Zen Samadhi is practised, the universality of the truth-body is experienced and the oneness of cause and effect; the way is not two, not three, just one. The eye opens which can see cause and effect as the same. From the very beginning this oneness of cause and effect, namely the world of enlightenment, has been there, but with the ordinary eyes one cannot ever see it, and of course it is beyond the sphere of either science or philosophy. The phrase in the text, “Straight runs the way—not two, not three,” comes from the Lotus Sutra: “There is only one way, not two nor yet three.” The sutra extols the one peerless way of the Lotus, and the Buddha here teaches the one path as the final doctrine. Here “one” is not used in the mathematical sense as opposed to “two” or “three”; it is just that there is no “two,” no “three”—cause and effect are all one Sameness,

When the wind blows hard on the sea, the waves rise, but once the wind drops, where are the waves? The body of water becomes the waves, and the body of the waves is only water. Cause and effect may be separated by a long time, but they are not divided into two. When cause is effect and effect is cause, when cause and effect are all one Sameness, it is proof that enlightenment is attained. It is the world of satori. It sounds as if cause and effect are negated or disappear, but that is not so. In principle, the three states of time exist as last year, this year, and next year; as yesterday, today, and tomorrow; or in an hour, in a minute, in a second—down to the tiniest fraction of time. What happens today is the result of yesterday and the cause of tomorrow. Here is a seed which is the result of last year’s flowering and the cause of next year’s flowering. The one thing is at the same time cause and effect. One mail is at the same time a son and a father. Parent and child are distinguished according to the relation of cause and effect. Most people would smile if asked which came first, parent or child, but it could be argued that before anyone could be a parent he would have to have been a child; therefore the child must be the cause and the parent the effect. So in theory also we can see the oneness of cause and effect.

The oneness of cause and effect is not a mere theory, but something actually experienced. Cause is effect: effect is cause; they are not two! When we can know that enlightenment and delusion are one, when we experience the nondifference of cause and effect, then to our sight there is nothing obscure and to our action nothing impossible. Straight runs the way, not two, not three; no obscuring of cause-and-effect and no being obscured by cause-and-effect —truly, infinite freedom is clear before us.

No longer controlled and caught by cause-and-effect, not now a slave to it, instead of fearing it a man goes with it and can use it. They say that when the law is known it is feared, but the one who penetrates to the truth of cause and effect, to whom they are one, begins to worship the profundity and beauty of the law. The more we realize the great truth that karma is in all the worlds, the more we realize how unswerving it is, the more we are filled with reverence. The gate opens, and now we see the absolute, all-pervading, and undeviating nature of karma. In ordering our daily life, there is nothing better than a realization of the law of karma. In the No play Aoi-no-ue (Lady Aoi), by Zeami Motokiyo, the ghost of Princess Rokujo sings: “In this world transient as a flash of lightning, there is none to hate, nor need any pity me. Oh, when did I first become a ghost? Did I not know that the kindness done is not for the sake of the others, and if I suffer harm from another, surely I shall be recompensed?’’

If we look at society tody we can see how few people have an understanding of the law of karma. If good infallibly produced good, and evil always was followed by evil, then the law would be admitted by all. But how about it when we see the opposite happening? Everyone knows of bad people who do only bad actions, and yet are they not prosperous, do not things go well for them? And are there not good people, always engaged in righteous actions, who have nothing but bad luck? Is it not a matter of chance, after all? These facts are bound to give one pause. To resolve the question, first we have to think what we mean by good and bad luck. What people normally call good luck may not be so at all. Even where it brings a temporary happiness, how long is it before the happiness changes to sorrow? If we look at the working of karma in the infinity of worlds, we find it never wavers: good produces good, evil produces evil. We see an evil-doer flourish for an hour and ask ourselves whether wrong-doing is not, after all, bringing him a good result. But the water always flows downwards. Though when we see a mountain stream striking a rock and leaping up, we might say to ourselves: “Well, is not the water going upwards?” it is only for a moment, and in the end it falls down and down and never stops till it reaches the sea.

People who doubt the law of karma always say that the facts do not support it and that it is not justified by experience. The old verse says about this:

Speak not about ice and frost to the insect which lives but a summer day,

Nor tell of the ocean to the frog in the well.

Insects like the fireflies, born in the hot summer morning and dying in the evening, will not believe if they are told about how the snow falls and the water hardens into ice in winter. The frog bom in the well, growing up there and dying there, will not listen to stories about the distant ocean. Their actual experience does not justify such beliefs, does it? They cannot accept them because that would not be in accord with experience. And this attitude is not unreasonable. Their experience, the facts before them, do not justify such beliefs. So one should not speak of winter to the summer insects, or of the ocean to the frog in the well, but only pity their ignorance.

It may be suspected that the modem ignorance of the law of karma, especially in regard to its role in daily conduct, is like this. The old verse says:

The artisans cannot make afire-chariot like those of hell,

Yet I have constructed this self, and I ride in it.

Cause-and-effect is all-pervading; one acts oneself and reaps the results oneself, tying oneself and binding oneself. There is no escape from it. As in the line from Aoi-no-ue, “If I suffer harm from another, surely I shall be recompensed,” we must understand that the changes of circumstance are all governed by karma. Zen master Sengai, warning against egoity as the great human failing, says:

“As to that, now I. …”

Yes, but put not the emphasis on self—

Emphasize the others, O emphatic man!

People like to talk emphatically: “If it were I. . . .” “Now I should. …” Instead let them try asking: “If it were you, how would you. . . ?” When there is this spirit, things will go well in the family and in society.

Sengai teaches the secret of serenity in life:

When I regard them as good and myself as bad,

My very faults become virtues in their eyes.

But when, as nowadays, people take themselves as the standard and must have it that they are in the right,

Because I am regarding myself as good and them as bad,

My very virtues become hateful to them!

And life becomes a series of clashes.

The scripture says that the world is the shadow of our own mind, and before railing at our shadow for being bent, let us correct ourselves. Takuan has a poem:

Good and bad are not in them but in my own self;

When the form is straight, the shadow will not be crooked.

The Sutra of the Layman tells us: “If you are reviled, contain yourself in patience; if you are praised, humble yourself inwardly. When treading the way, do not feel proud. When you see divisions, make peace between them. Reveal the good points of others and conceal their weakness; do not proclaim the shame of others.” These are the important things in daily life.

The peak of spiritual living must be a life of gratitude, going with the law of karma. It means satisfaction with the past, gratitude for the present, and spiritual energy for the future. Past and future here do not necessarily refer to past or future births. As to the past, of course we must not fail to learn from our failures or forget to repay a debt of kindness. But in general, past is past; there is no point in grieving, and we should stop going over it again and again in our mind. We should accept the law of karma as right, and be content, not complaining about whether our present condition is deserved or not, but feeling gratitude. It seems rather negative, but there is happiness in living content with the circumstances. Here are one or two old poems:

If we look up, this way or that, everywhere it is star- spangled.

If we only look down, there will never he stars.

Rain is well and wind too is well, when we realize

That in this life there is nothing completely good.

The mountain stream will at the very end become the sea;

For a time it passes beneath the fallen leaves.

Each of the three verses is in its own way instructive.

When people are told they ought to live in gratitude as a part of spiritual life, they assent so long as things are going favourably, but when things keep going against them, they complain that it is unreasonable to expect them to feel grateful. But of course a man who has material prosperity, a healthy body, and who gets what he wants, feels grateful. That is natural, and it does not need any spirituality or discipline. The real spirituality is to live in gratitude when circumstances and things go against us. The nun Rengetsu when on pilgrimage came to a village sunset and begged for lodging for the night, but the villagers slammed their doors. She had to make a cherry tree in the fields her shelter. At midnight she awoke and saw, as it were in the spring night sky, the fully opened cherry blossoms laughing to the misty moon. Overcome with the beauty, she got up and made a reverence in the direction of the village: Through their kindness in refusing me lodging,

I found myself beneath the blossoms on the night of the misty moon.

As human beings we cannot avoid sorrow and hostility sometimes. But if we can change our thinking and feel gratitude, these things become blessings and increase our faith. When we can be satisfied with the past and rejoice in the present, then we get the spiritual energy to labour for others, as a return for blessings received. Spiritual effort becomes natural. This is the life of satisfaction in the three worlds; in other words, living contented with what happens.

When we realize that everything in the world has its limits,

Then there is contentment in the humblest cottage.

The same thought, that all is limited, teaches us the spiritual courage for the battles of life, as in the verse of Kumazawa Banzan:

Let misfortunes pile up even more,

And I will test the limits of my strength against them.

As to the future, we are to go in serenity and a spirit of gratitude:

We do not know, this autumn, what rain and storm may come—

The task for today is to weed the rice field.

He who can live like this is in the Pure Land paradise already. Good luck and ill luck, prosperity and misfortune— after all the mind is one only. As it is said, there is still grief even in the imperial palace; there is yet happiness with no bed but the earth.

Once Lord Yasushina, head of the Aizu clan, asked the teacher Yamazaki Ansai what had been his blessings in life, and he replied: “There have been three. First to have been bom as a man, and second to have been born among educated people where I could learn to read the sacred books.” As to the third, he paused but then went on bluntly: “The third, which is the greatest, is that I was born in poverty and not as a noble.” The lord thought this strange and asking further was told that to be bom in a noble household meant to be brought up by women, to have one’s opinions flattered by servile retainers, and to end up as a fool. The lord smoothed his robe and looked down.

Vimalakirti, in the sutra named after him, speaks of the ideal life in metaphors taken from the family. “Wisdomis the mother; action is the father. The mother gives birth to the light-child; the father brings him up. All the Bodhisattvas are bom of these two parents. With rejoicing in the Law as the wife, sincerity the son, compassion the daughter, and worldly passions as the servants, the six perfections of giving, good conduct, endurance, energy, meditation, and prajna as friends, he lives in the house of inner serenity. In the garden of the Absolute the trees of the holy doctrine produce the blossoms of satori and the fruit of enlightenment. The lake of liberation is unbroken by waves, and the water of meditation is pure; the fragrance of the lotus of the Buddha heart reaches afar. With relatives and friends, all rejoice in the holy hymns. …” and so on.

We should make our daily life in this way. Teachers and spiritual leaders in particular cannot lead others without themselves awakening to the truth of the oneness of cause and effect and acquiring enlightenment and spiritual energy. Everyone talks about this as the age of civilization, and this thing or that thing is hailed as a triumph of civilization. But in fact, civilization and education and religion are all a matter of the mind of the people. Real civilization means seeing rightly, hearing rightly, and thinking rightly.

It is not a question of waiting first till we understand all about the Noble Eightfold Path, and then hoping righteousness will develop; the fact is that an impulse towards righteousness is already a manifestation of the Noble Eightfold Path. All human beings have the capacity for seeing, hearing, and thinking aright. All beings are from the very beginning Buddhas, and truth and sincerity are a manifestation of their Buddha nature. The truth and sincerity which pervade the whole universe, when manifesting in humanity, appear as reverence for gods and Budhhas, as universal compassion, and in daily life as faith. Goethe divides respect into four: in relation to superiors, in relation to equals, in relation to inferiors, and in relation to self—in other words, self-respect. He bases his system of education on these four. Goethe further says that faith is the consummation of knowledge, not the beginning. Kant says that honour is a word used only in relation to human beings. But from the spiritual standpoint it can have a meaning in relation to the supernatural as well as the natural. In the Lotus Sutra the example is given of the Bodhisattva who saw the Buddha nature everywhere, and so in whatever direction he faced he used to join his palms and worship.

Saint Gyokai sings:

I pick up and cherish as jewels in my sleeve

The stones and tiles thrown at me.

Reverence brings illumination into human life; love brings blessings; and faith brings power. Reverence, love, and faith—these three become real morality and afterwards manifest as real spirituality. From that alone can a real civilization arise. Education today is in a most tragic state because the connection with religion is not understood. We pray the gate may open and the oneness of cause and effect be realized, and straight may run the path, not two, not three. Then the world will manifest as light.

© Trevor Leggett

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