One object of Zen is to see one’s nature and be enlightened


One object of Zen is of course to see one’s nature and be enlightened, but that is not the final resting-place. Zen embraces Buddhism and it is the practice of the Buddha way. What is Buddhism then, and what is the Buddha way? Many people have an idea that Buddhism is just tales about heaven and hell, and how to lay out the body for a funeral, or maybe some little old man talking about resignation. So young people especially tend to turn away as from something that has not any value for them. They do not understand what real Buddhism is. It is the truth of the universe; it is grasping the absolute; it is the great enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha. That truth is universal—so fine it can be contained on the tip of a cormorant’s feather, so vast that it transcends space into infinity. Truth absolute is the life of Buddhism, and the question is how to grasp it.

The Diamond Sutra teaches: “What is called Buddhism is no Buddhism.” What Shakyamuni taught for forty-nine years as his doctrine was only explanation to help people come to direct knowledge. The real life of Buddhism is not there. As he said: “Know that my teachings are metaphors, as it were a raft.” A raft or boat is only used until the objective, the far shore, is reached.

Where is the real Buddhism which is the objective? When it has been sought and reached, we come to rest in the everyday, in the ordinary, without anything abnormal about it. The ordinary man suffers because he cannot be at rest in ordinariness. “I went, but after all it was nothing special”—human life is full of such disappointments, things not turning out as expected. From the viewpoint of enightenment, truth is the normal. It is not something special. The willow is green, the flower red, the fire hot, and the wind ever moving. Zen master Dogen in the Zazen-shiti gives the conclusion of Zen: “The bird flying as a bird, the fish going as a fish.” So it means the normal state of things. If we think of Buddhism as just a wonderful philosophy, it is because we do not see that it is normality, ordinariness, the daily life of eating and drinking. The truth is not outside daily life.

In Zen, while a man feels unable to approach the upward- looking koan which is given him by the teacher, he fights with the tongue-sword and brandishes the spear. But when he reaches the perfectly unfettered Zen-in-action, he sees into the koan which appears of itself naturally before him, and then the real life begins.

A monk asked Joshu: “What is this Buddhism?’’Immediately he replied: “The tree in the courtyard.” There happened to be a tree in the court in front of the master’s room, and without a hair of hesitation he made use of it. This is living Buddhism.

Again, a monk asked Abbot Seigen: “What is the great principle of Buddhism?” Having heard that this monk had just come from a place called Roryo, the abbot answered: “What is the price of rice in the Roryo market?” In his Zen-in-action the rice-market is taken to show the great principle of Buddhism.

A lay disciple who was a follower of Zen master Yakusan asked: “What is the truth?” Yakusan pointed up and down. “Have you got it?” But the disciple could not understand: “No.” Then Yakusan added: “Cloud in the blue sky, water in the jar.” The disciple was suddenly enlightened. The truth is just this cloud in the blue sky, water in the jar; not some abnormal phenomenon but the natural splendour of the mountains, rivers, and plains. Truly this is a level and simple Way.

There is one more of these tales from China, an interesting one about Joshu, to whom a monk came for the first time and said: “I have just entered the monastery. Please give me some instruction.” In a monastery the monks take rice-gruel in the morning and evening for their meal. Joshu asked: “Have you had your rice-gruel?” He meant: have you had the morning meal? The monk answered directly: “Yes, I have had it,” and Joshu said: “Then wash your bowl.” All this has a meaning, and it is one of the koan. Bansho says about it: “When it is meal-time, open your mouth; when it is bed-time, shut your eyes; when you wash your face, clean the nostrils; when you put on sandals, fit them on to the feet.” When washing the face, we become aware if our nose is dirty; when putting on sandals, we have to slip them properly over our toes.

The final resting-place of Zen, the life of Buddhism, is Zen-in-action, not going astray from the natural activity in ordinary everyday life. So, even unknowingly, day and night we are in the Buddha law and applying it. Then what need for enlightenment and training? “Going is Zen, sitting too is Zen.” But no. Water that has been first boiled and then allowed to cool is certainly different from ordinary water, though both are equally cool. There must be a difference too between the ordinary man and the disciple who has undergone a long training. If there were not, admittedly Zen realization would be useless. They are alike as equally within the Buddha law, but the point of difference is that one follows the way with delight and the other does not. Though swimming in the same water, the man who has his clothes on is hampered because his body does not move freely through the water. Again, just as two people facing but separated by a pane of glass cannot talk to each other, so we are immersed in the holy truth but as it were cut off by glass. Somehow the glass has to be got away; somehow the swimmer has to discard the clothes—this is the absolute necessity for seeing the nature and being enlightened. To put it more concretely: the unenlightened has not realized his self. Because he lacks self-realization, his ideas are at the mercy of every fluctuating fashion, and he is swayed by every rumour. His object in life never goes a step beyond pleasure, wealth, fame, and profit. But the disciple who earnestly seeks truth steps outside that routine and realizes the self; then the immortal truth arises in what is mortal. This is the real life, when practice and realization are one. Finally he reaches the ultimate goal of Zen, to adapt freely to the world. Now the parents are like parents, the children like children, the husband like a husband, and the wife like a wife. The willow is green and the flower red, the bird flying as a bird and the fish going as a fish.

When each is at peace in his own part, he can contribute to the real glory of the nation and then there is the power to create a lasting culture. We call it ordinary life, and it is, but this is also the Truth unchanged throughout the ages. See! When it is cold the bird perches on the tree, the duck takes to the water. Each repairs only to its own refuge. The truth is the truth in each. Neither is better—there is no better or worse because there is no inequality. Where there is no inequality, the heart is tranquil and the world radiates the light of peace. This is our Soto Zen, and it is the final resting-place of Zen.

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