The parent heart
I had a boy student in my temple whom we had brought up from childhood. He had a peculiar nervousness which made him unable to stand out in front of people and speak properly. There is a ceremony at which one who wishes to take a particular rank has to answer questions from a good number of questioners. Along with many other youngsters, this boy was to take the role of asking some of these questions. I say that questions are asked, but in fact the whole thing is rehearsed; questions and answers both are fixed. You say this, then he says that, and now you say this, and so on. We wrote it all down for him on a sheet of paper and told him he must learn it by heart, that he absolutely must know it by heart for the day.
When the time came he went along with the party to the ceremony. All the others did well, and slowly it came round to his turn. His heart was like a big drum in his chest. When it came to he was as if in a dream, hardly conscious of himself at all. All passed off well almost to the end, when he had to say the Chinese syllables Chin-Cho, which means literally ‘precious and venerable’, but which is simply the ritual formula used on these occasions to indicate that the answers have been correct. He got these syllables turned round in his head so that they became Cho-Chin, which is the ordinary colloquial Japanese word for a paper lantern. Till then he had been perfect, but when it came to the end he could remember only that there was some short phrase he had to say. He hesitated and then suddenly thought he remembered it and cried out: The spectators could hardly contain their laughter; he alone did not realize what had happened.
After the ceremony the youngsters were coming back together and some of the spectators said to him: ‘Why, you’re the lantern boy!’ and he found out what he had done. I had not been at the ceremony, but the senior boy came and told me that one of them had made a terrible blunder. Then the boy came in, very downcast, and I said: ‘Did something happen?’ ‘Nothing happened.’ I asked again: ‘Surely something happened, didn’t it?’ and he repeated in a tearful voice: ‘No, nothing.’ I could not bear to pursue it—‘Well, if nothing happened, good; have your meal and go to bed.’ ‘I don’t want to have anything.’ He was about to break down, so I said: ‘Then just go to bed,’ and he made his bow and went.
The worry was left to me. This boy who was so gentle he would not harm an insect, he had done his best, had been overcome and now had gone to bed. I stole round to see how he was. He was like a baby asleep, everything forgotten, like a sleeping Buddha. I was held by that face. He had done his very best and then failed, and of all the people who knew what had happened, could there not be just one who did not laugh, who could sympathize? As I watched his sleeping form I had a strange feeling: though all the world laughs at you, there is one here who will never laugh at you.
This is the relation of pupil and teacher. And for our whole life there is One who does not laugh, who will weep with us without any reservations, a power which will receive us unconditionally, in all our struggles and failures. The Bodhisattva spirit gives meaning to every step in our lives, and even I have had a faint glimpse of it.
Look at the text once again. The heart is to be free from the net of hindrances. If we try to find the meaning when we are pulled by karma, soon we are no longer pulled by karma. We are free. When in each step of life we can find meaning, there is no more fear of the six worlds. In the midst of the flaring up of the passions, the world of release appears, and we can live a life which is not of the nature of passion.
The Bodhisattva drops the self by the power of the wisdom of ultimate Emptiness. Knowing the true nature of his self, he is freed from the character of delusion, karma and suffering.
It is going on with this our human life of frustration that is the form of the supreme Nirvana. It is the Nirvana of exertion; rest, even if attained, would not be the supreme Nirvana. Passing on and on without rest, experiencing Nirvana at each step—that is the true Nirvana.
‘By the Prajna Paramita all the Buddhas of the three worlds have the utmost, right and perfect enlightenment. ’ The three worlds are past, present and future, and by the power of wisdom of ultimate Emptiness they attain perfection. The original phrase, which is almost untranslatable, is here rendered utmost right and perfect enlightenment. It means realizing an experience which is unequalled, which is truth, which has no flaw.
Experience of the peerless and all-pervading is what is called wisdom or awakening. When the term ‘true path’ is used, it indicates the principle which is itself experience. So that sometimes the translation refers to the state of the experiencer, sometimes to the truth which is experienced, sometimes just to experiencing. It is called Sameness and universality; the Buddha-experience of the true form of everything is not something which here he experiences and there he does not. The meaning is that he experiences the true form of all beings and things.
The Buddhist doctrine is to see the Suchness of things. To come to see the true form of all is satori or Buddha-experience, and it is the same everywhere. What is the true form of Suchness? It is that the true form is formless, is no form. The form of the Buddha-experience is that all things are formless. In other words it is the knowledge of ultimate Emptiness. The Buddha’s forgetting of the Buddha-form is the true state of no-form.
Since the Buddha is formless, there is no definite form in his heart, and so the Buddha becomes the heart of all. Master Dogen says: ‘The Buddha is transforming himself in the three thousand worlds and never withdraws.’ in all the spheres he manifests his form, he brings reconciliation to the tortured hearts of all and never withdraws from them. In truth the Buddha is not something at rest.
by Abbot Obora of the Soto Zen sect