The Essentials for Entering the Way
Extract from The Spur, by Torei, chief disciple of the Japanese Zen Master Hakuin (1685-1768).
In what is called in Zen the ascent from the state of the ordinary vulgar man to the state of Buddha, there are five requirements. First is the principle that they have the same nature. Second is the teaching that they are dyed different colours. Third is furious effort. Fourth is the principle of training. Fifth is the principle of returning to the origin. These five are taught as the main elements of the path.
1. The principle of Same-nature
The true nature with which the people are endowed, and the fundamental nature of the Buddhas of the three worlds, are not two. They are equal in their virtue and majesty; the same light and glory are there. The wisdom and wonderful powers are the same. It is like the radiance of the sun illumining mountains and rivers and the whole wide earth, lighting up the despised manure just as much as gold and jewels. But a blind man may stand pathetically within that very light, without seeing it or knowing of it.
2. The Teaching of Different Dyes
Though the fundamental nature of all the Buddhas and living beings is the same and not separate, their minds are looking in quite different directions. The Buddha faces inward, and makes the true heart shine forth. The ordinary man faces out, and is concerned with the ten thousand things. When he sees what he likes, strong desires are aroused; when it is what he does not like, aversion arises, and he becomes a demon. If he becomes dull and resentful, he turns into an animal. If the three poisons are all equally present in him, he falls into hell. In any case he suffers intensely.
In all the cases, these worlds come to be through a heart sunk deep in passions of greed, anger and stupidity, and the body feels them. And so, if passions are not lessened, there is no escape from the six worlds of suffering. If they are not escaped, there can never be real peace and happiness. If one wants to get out of the worlds of suffering, first of all one has to realize how they constantly pass away: what is born inevitably dies, youth cannot be depended upon, power too is precarious, wealth and honour crumble away. High rank requires constant vigilance to defend it; the longest life hardly gets beyond eighty years. Since therefore it is all transient, there is nothing enjoyable about it. The badly off suffer from not having things: the rich suffer from having them. The high suffer from being high, and the despised suffer from being lowly. There is suffering about clothes and food, suffering with the family, suffering of wealth and possessions, suffering from official status.
In every case, while the. nature is not freed from passions and the path of the seeker of liberation has not been found, then even though the King and his ministers become like gods and living sages, it is all insubstantial as a lightning flash or a drop of the morning dew, gone in a moment. When the karma happens to be favourable, these things appear solid enough, but as it dissipates, it turns out to have been nothing there at all. By favour of the karma of our parents, we have got this body; and by favour of the earth, the skin and flesh and sinew and bone grow. By favour of water, the blood and the body fluids come; and by favour of fire, warmth, harmony, softness and order come about. By favour of winds, vitality, breath, movement and change come. If these four favourable karmas suddenly become exhausted, then breathing ceases in the cold body, and there is nothing to call `I`. At that time this body is no true `I`. It was only ever a rented accommodation.
However clingingly attached to this temporary abode, one cannot expect it to last for ever. To realize the four noble truths that this is all passing, painful, empty, and without a self, and to seek the way of bodhi-intelligence, is what is called the dharma of hearing the four truths.
3. Furious Effort
If you would grasp the nature of the universal body of all the Buddhas, first you must make clear, and then enlighten, the root of ignorance in you. How is it to be made clear? You must search after your true nature. How to search? In the eyes the seeing of colours, in the ear hearing of sound, in the body distinctions of heat and cold are felt, in consciousness feeling wrong and right, must be made out clearly. This seeing and hearing and knowing are the root of the practice. The ordinary man sees colours and is deluded by colours, hears voices and is deluded by voices, feels heat and cold and is deluded by heat and cold, knows right and wrong and is deluded by them. This is what is meant by the phrase: `the ordinary man looks outwards.’
The training of the bodhisattva is, when looking at some colour, to inquire what it is that he is seeing; when hearing some sound, to inquire what it is that is heard; when feeling hot or cold, to inquire what it is that is felt. When knowing wrong from right, to inquire what it is that is known. This is called the facing inwards of the Buddhas. Practising this is different from facing the direction in which the ordinary man looks. At first, though facing the same way as the Buddha, the Buddha-wisdom and power are not manifest. But still he is a baby bodhisattva and he must know that he has come into their company. If he always keeps to his great Vow to the Buddhas, praying to the spiritual lights and being loyal to the teacher, then one day the Great Thing comes about, and he is free in the ocean of. Own-good is Others’-good.
When one gets up in the morning, however much business there may be waiting, first let one affirm this one thought, first turn to this meditation on seeing and hearing. Afterwards let one engage in the activities of the day. When going to have a meal or a drink, first of all you must try to bring this one thought to the fore and make a meditation on it. When you go to wash your hands, first you should try to bring this thought forward in your mind and meditate on it. When last thing at night you are going to lie down, sit for a little bit on the bedclothes and try to bring this thought to the fore and meditate on it, and then lie down to sleep. This is practising the true path of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Whip up your enthusiasm for it by realizing how if you fail to grasp your true nature as one with the nature of Buddha, you will be lost in the wheel of transmigration, circling endlessly in the four births and six worlds.
4. Pursuing the Practice
First of all you must learn to devote your heart to this basic meditation, going ahead with each thought and practising on each occasion as it comes up. Keep up the right line of the meditation; then when you walk, practise on the walking, when you sit practise sitting, when talking to people practise in talking; when there is no talking and things are quiet then you can meditate more intensely. When you look at things, inquire what it is that you see; when you hear things, inquire what it is that you hear. When things get very rushed so that you easily get swept away by them, inquire what this is that you should get swept away by it. And even if you do get swept away, don’t give up your meditation. Getting ill, use the pain as a seed for meditation.
In every case, the meditation must go forward in a straight line, however much business there may be. It must not be that the meditation is vivid and clear only when ordinary surroundings are quiet. Unless the meditation is bright and clear at all times, it cannot be said to have power. To control armed strife in a country, at the crisis it is a question of taking the field, confronting the dangers, and fighting fearlessly without ever turning back-this is the way to win. The meditation-fight is the same. It is just when one is caught up in the circumstances, when all one’s thoughts are disturbed, that there is a good opportunity to win a decisive victory.
Examine this heart of yours. See that it does not weaken, and so go forward. When things are quiet, this indeed is the time when warriors are in the safety of the castle and must exercise themselves in tactics and strategy. They practise with courage and sincerity. When things are disturbed, realize that now is the time to go to the field of battle and decide things. You must meditate with this strong resolve. You may not have the power of the Buddhas yet, but you are one of those who are on the Way of all Buddhas.
Little enlightenment in fact obstructs great enlightenment. If you give up little enlightenment and do not clutch it to yourself, then you are sure to get great enlightenment.
Translated by Trevor Leggett
For a talk on The Spur please see