Passions are the Bodhi
In his Discourses at Eihei Temple, Zen master Dogen says: ‘When the clay is plentiful the Buddha is big.’ By clay he means the raw passions. The mental operations in the mind within us which seethe and rage unbridled—these are the clay. And the more abundant it is, the greater the Buddha into which it comes to be moulded. The stronger the force of attachment, the greater the Buddha which is made.
‘Do you ever get angry?’ ‘No, I’m never angry’—such people have nothing to them. When the time of anger comes, when the whole body is ablaze with it, then it is that the form of the Buddha must
be seen. By coming to the taste of Emptiness in the midst of illusion of the five skandhas, we really grasp the meaning of what Emptiness is. In the Vimalakirti Sutra is the phrase:
In the soil of the high meadows, the lotus never grows; In base slime and mire does the lotus grow.
These are the words of Vimalakirti expressing the truth that the passions are the Bodhi. He is saying that the passions are the Bodhi, that birth-and-death is Nirvana. The lotus of course is the sense of having entered into faith, of having realization. On the high ground we cannot find that lotuslike state of satori. The lotus is a beautiful flower, and surely should grow in the dry clean soil. But as a matter of fact it does not grow high and dry in the pure soil of the meadow.
What is the mental state symbolized by the meadow? I suggest the following for consideration: In the heart of a man of elevated views and penetrating intellect, there is hardly either entry into faith or satori. As a rule in what they call their study and so on, it is all simply thinking as an intellectual operation. By means of intellect, the Buddhist ideals of no-I and Sameness are built up just as concepts, and people who think they fulfil themselves through these artificial concepts never have faith or realization. I believe that a world of concepts, where the no-I or Sameness are only things thought in the head, and where there is no effort at spiritual practice, is an empty ideal. It is only something thought about, and so it is an empty ideal which has no content. It must be admitted that those who think themselves fulfilled through the ideal of a void like that, have in fact no passions. They do not suffer from the passions of life. But since there are no passions, naturally there is no bodhi-awakening. Believing their nature fulfilled by mere pictured concepts, they have of course none of the sufferings of life. And as they have no sufferings, they cannot experience the real bodhi- awakening.
by Abbot Obora of the Soto Zen sect