“The Spur” is the title of an essay by Torei


The Spur” is the title of an essay by Torei who was a disciple of Hakuin in Japan in the eighteenth century. He wrote the essay “The Spur” in about 1755 and it is addressed to a samurai who has faith. Torei got it approved by Hakuin and then it was published. The samurai by this time had become the administrators of the country. They weren’t just warriors although they still carried the two swords. The word, the Chinese character for ‘samurai’ which is used by him, also means a scholar and the character, for instance, is used today as the last character of an academic distinction, like a doctorate, a hakusei, and ‘sei’ is this word for what originally meant a samurai, a warrior and came to mean a man of culture and learning.

It’s called “The Spur for the good horse”, and this is the fundamental point of the presentation. The good horse – it is not a question of creating – the horse is a good horse already but for some reason it’s that morning, it’s feeling a bit dull or a bit obstinate or it doesn’t grasp what it’s supposed to do and then just the touch of the spur and it goes. This example is given for the Buddha nature in man. It’s a good horse but somehow it’s become darkened or dull or obstinate or destructively minded and now it needs a touch of the spur and then it will become the Buddha nature.

The first thing is that it’s lost in delusions, in passions and in fantasies. I’ve made a draft translation of this essay but I don’t propose to read it. I’ll just read a few of the things.

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, furious effort. Fourth, the principle of training. Fifth, the principle of returning to the Origin. These five are taught as the main elements of the path”.

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”.

Though the fundamental nature of all the Buddhas and of living beings is the same and not separate, their minds are looking in 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’s what he doesn’t like, aversion arises and he becomes a demon. And if he gets dull and resentful, he turns into an animal. And if the Three Poisons are all equally present in him, he falls into hell. In all the cases it’s suffering, only. Now, the word he (Torei ) uses for poisons is a Chinese character which has got two meanings. There is the basic meaning and then a meaning which became to be attached to it. The meaning that became to be attached to it is the various paths of hell. There is a pathway and you end up in a mire and can’t get out of it and there’s another one where you’re climbing across swords and you never get to the end of it and there are flames and so on.

But the original, the basic meaning is something like ‘grease’ or a smear and he uses this, it’s a characteristic of the text that the mind gets greasy, it gets smeared. One teacher used to illustrate this by saying in the kitchen you’ve got to handle something very, very hot and just put it from here to here. Now, if your hand is perfectly clean and dry you can pick it up and put it down and you won’t get burned, but if there’s any smear or grease on your hands, any stickiness, then you’ll get badly burned because you won’t be able to just pick it up and let go. There’ll be a little clinging and then you’ll get badly burned. In his presentation, Torei uses this word quite often and when he talks about purity he means clearing off this grease – the grease of attachment, of aversion, of stupidity. It is one of the special uses of the character in the text. He says, first of all we must get rid of our clinging, sticking attachment. It doesn’t mean not to pick up things and put them there but it means not have this clinging thing so they stick to you and can’t be let go.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: The Spur is addressed to a samurai who has faith

Part 2: The doctrine that everything is transient

Part 3: The facing inward of the Buddhas

Part 4: Keep up the right line of the meditation

Part 5: You practise with courage and sincerity

Part 6: The Cat and the Krait

Part 7: The Confucian and Bertrand Russell

Part 8: Picture of Bodhidharma


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