The Way before Buddhism


(Bath November 1983)

You know about Buddhism and rather than the canter over a lot of the ground which is familiar, I try and say some things which aren’t in all the books.  One of the things Buddhists ought to know is something of the Indian background of Buddhism. Just as Christians ought to know something of the background to Christ’s teaching.  People are liable to say, “Oh, Christ says…”,  “What he really taught…”, and “The new teaching was love thy neighbour as thy self”. This is from Leviticus. Many of Christ’s most famous teachings are in fact quotations from the Old Testament, but he did bring entirely new and original things. One of them, that was strange to a Buddhist, was that if you commit a sin in your heart, you commit that sin. Whereas in Buddhism, no, the thoughts you may have in your heart are not sins, provided you don’t actualize them. Well in the same way, Buddhists ought to know something of the India in which Buddhism arose.

It was a very successful civilization, the so-called Aryan civilization, and from perhaps 700 or 800 BC, this civilization flourished. They achieved peaks of intellectual achievement, which have never been rivalled in any other country. For instance, the grammar of the Sanskrit language was formalized brilliantly. Even today, our modern students of grammar still use this. It’s so scientific and so perfect. The Greeks were highly intelligent people, but they never thought of a grammar of Greek.  The Chinese and the Japanese, most literary people – the Japanese are a nation of poets – they never thought of a grammar of their own language. You might as well analyse how to walk. No, you just learn how to walk, and you learn how to dance. You don’t analyse it.  But the Indian mind is brilliantly intellectual and responds to an intellectual challenge and the wonderful grammar of Panini was 300 BC at least.

We know about this society from observers from outside. The Greeks had an ambassador there in 300 BC and he reports that there were hardly ever any cases of dishonesty. Assassinations, yes, but not dishonesty. Assassinations are a few people. The emperor used to have a palace of 300 rooms and the room where he slept was not fixed until just before he slept to foil the assassins.  But he said there were hardly any cases of theft that came to his notice while he was there. Well, this is a remarkable thing for 300 BC. When the Chinese pilgrim, Xuanzang, came in 700 AD, a thousand years later, he found the same point.

This civilization was based on the Vedic religion.  It was a religion, as so many of the early religions were, where the priesthood held a monopoly of the sacred rights.  By practising these rights, by making the sacrifices – and all the sacrifices included feeding the poor in India – the morality was upheld.  Most of the Vedic hymns are hymns to the gods of nature and the creator, and on the various names and gods of morality. I just read one:

“The mighty Varuna, who rules about, looks down upon these worlds, his kingdom, as if he were close at hand.  When men imagine they do anything by stealth, he knows it.  No one can stand, or walk, or softly glide along, or hide in dark recess, or lurk in secret cell, but Varuna detects him and spies his movements. Two persons may devise some plot, sitting together in private and alone, but he, the King is there and sees it all. This boundless earth, his; his, the vast sky, who’s depth no mortal can fathom.  Oceans find a place within him, and yet in that small pool, he lies contained.”

This was a God who sees everything, sees the secret plots, knows them and frustrates them and punishes them.  It’s quite clear from reading these hymns, not only that they had this faith and conviction of the gods, but that it was this belief which held society together.  The people felt always that there was one watching, and this it was, which kept up the standard of morality to a very high level among the ordinary citizens.  The Brahmin caste held a monopoly of this knowledge – how to perform the rituals, ritual worship of Varuna, how to ensure success on this earth and later on in heaven. But even in the earliest Vedic texts, there is a current which is quite different, which is not a faith in some named god.  There’s a very early hymn, it’s called, ‘Who’:

“He was the Lord of all that was.  He established the earth and this heaven.  Who, to what God, shall we do homage? Who is the life-giver, the strength-giver, whose command all attend, even the gods of whom immortality and death are the reflection?  Who, to what God, shall we do homage?”  There are a number of these verses. This is not a faith in some named god with a personality and a form and definite role; but it’s pure inquiry.  The same text echoed in a later upanishad says, “He whom the mind can’t think, but by whose power the mind thinks, know that to be the One; not what people here worship.”

This is long before Buddhism, but we can see in this strain of transcendental inquiry, something quite different from the sacrificing and right-performing Brahmins, whose aim was to secure success on this earth and heaven afterwards. It’s not sceptical, but it’s an inquiry.  The Buddha was one of a number of great Seers, some of whom founded separate movements like Buddhism, and Jainism almost at the same time, and others who remained in this tradition.

I’m only going to quote from the texts before the Buddha. In one of the earliest upanishads – these are the secret teachings, as they were called, of the Veda – Yajnavalkya, a great Sage, is asked in a public debate, “How many gods are there?” He quotes one of the Vedic texts, “There are 3,033.”  And the great Brahmin who’s asking the question says, “Yes”.  He recognizes the text. Then he says, “How many gods are there, really?” Yajnavalkya says, “33”, quoting another text. “How many are there, really?” He says, “Three.”  “But how many really, Yajnavalkya?”  He says, “One and half.” “What is this half?” “It is his glory.”  Then he says, “How many really Yajnavalkya” He says, “One.”  Then the opponent says, “Where is that one?”  He wants the finger to point and the finger points at his own heart and Yajnavalkya says, “In your own heart,” and the other man says, “Oh! Ridiculous!”

This is a Zen phrase – a finger direct to the human heart.  How can it be ridiculous? The upanishads were separate texts themselves on the essence of the Lord or Reality or Truth. They were handed down by the Brahmin caste; but it’s a very remarkable fact that some of the most important teachings in the upanishads are given by Kings to Brahmins who don’t know.  This is remarkable, something very remarkable. I’ll just quote two or three of the examples go:

There are five learned Brahmins and they want to know about the Self – not about the gods whom they worship and get success – but about the Self.  Well, the Orthodox view was quite simple. Man was a self, and when he died, if he had performed good deeds, he would be born in the divine body in heaven, and he would enjoy the pleasures of the heaven of Indra.  But they wanted something different. What is this Self?  ‘Well, it’s obvious.’ ‘No, they’ve heard there’s something to be known about It.’  So they, the five of them, go together to [a wise man], but he said, “I’m not sure.”  He’s a Brahmin.  So he said, “But I have heard there’s a king who knows.” This was Kaikeya, a king, and he lived about 700 BC, and his territory was in the northwest of India somewhere near Afghanistan now. They came to him and said, “Can you teach us about the Self?” He said, “Oh, but it is unheard of that a king should give instruction to Brahmins.”  So they humbled themselves and said, “No.  We come to you as pupils,” and he said, “No.”  But they insisted and he said, “Well, I will not accept presents from you, but I will tell you.”

On another occasion, a Brahmin goes to a King and says, “I’ll teach you.”  He begins to teach, and the King is able to say, “No, no, no!” and the Brahmin is humbled. He says, “What is it you know?” The King says, “The Brahmins are not taught by Kings.” So the Brahmin humbles himself, and then the King teaches him.”

Now, there are five or six of these passages in the most important parts of the upanishads, and it’s remarkable that the Brahmins preserved them, because the Brahmin comes out so badly. He’s ignorant and it’s the King who knows.  It’s very remarkable that they should remain in the holy scriptures; and it’s a great testimony to the integrity and uprightness of the Brahmins that they’ve preserved these passages, which show them up so badly.  In the same way, in the Christian gospel, Peter, and the disciples generally, come out so badly.  But it’s remarkable that, for instance, after Peter’s betrayal of Christ he wept bitterly by himself when he heard the cock crow, that is reported – it must have come from Peter himself.  It was a sign of his great spiritual elevation that he insisted that it should be preserved; and that his disciples, who made up the gospel, preserved it – although it showed him so badly and was against their whole interest.

The Brahmin had a love of Truth, and he was willing to preserve that in the holy scriptures. There is an upanishad which has been lost, we don’t have it now, but it’s quoted by one of the great commentators.  In this, a disciple comes and asks the teacher, “Tell me about this universal Self of which I’ve heard.”   He expects to hear some hymn, like the hymn to Varuna: ‘He it was who created heaven and earth, he fills the oceans, he’s contained in the smallest pool…’  But he asks his question, and the teacher sits still. Then he asks the question again, and the teacher sits still.  He says, “Sir, I’ve asked you the question. Why don’t you teach me?” The other replies, “I do teach you, but you don’t understand.  Silent is this Self.”

We recognize the silence of the Buddha – not that the Buddha said, “There is no Self”, but that he was silent.  It’s believed now that this was originally: no statement about the Self. Over the centuries, it became changed into a statement of, ‘No Self’; but he did not actually make that statement, he was just silent. “Whom the mind cannot think, but by whose power the mind thinks.”  Again, in a very old upanishad, long before the Buddha, the Self is described as, “Not this. Not this.”  We think, “Oh, it’s great – ‘Not this’.  It’s small; it’s within the man – ‘Not this, not this’.  You recognize this doctrine which came to its full glory in Buddhism.

There is something in the teaching by the kings which is not about heavens and gods, but it’s something they point to in our own experience. We can say, “Well, we know our own experience, we have it. What we want to know is something beyond it.” There’s something which we haven’t noticed. We could say, “Well, how can that be? We see things clearly; we know our own experience. Sometimes we suffer intensely, sometimes we are very happy, but at least we know what’s happening.” The Romans used to experiment with the natural magnet, and they hung it on threads to experiment with it.  But they never noticed that when the thread had stopped untwisting, that the load stone was always pointing in the same direction. They never noticed that. We thought that when they experimented, they thought, “Oh, well the thread has become untwisted and, as it happens it’s in that direction.” They didn’t notice there was something there, which was telling them the north (or as the Chinese said, the south).  The Chinese discovered it, they noticed it. The Romans didn’t, they didn’t come to Europe until the crusades.

We know they performed these experiments – there was something there.  They experimented with attraction, but they never noticed that important fact. No examples are exact, but there is something in our own experience, which we see so clearly, but which we don’t notice.  And the doctrine of the Kings, and later of the Buddhists, was a much more concentrated form, because it was not mixed up with the doctrine of the sacrifice. There’s something in our own experience, which we don’t notice now, which has to be brought out.

The Holy texts and the lectures and perhaps the life of our community can be different ways of trying to stimulate a vision to notice something, but it can also become an obstacle.  For instance, in the early Buddhist accounts, they’re warned against taking people into the Buddhist community who come in for the sake of a comfortable life. In general, the monasteries were better fed than the peasants outside and you could join. Originally it was a total sacrifice of everything. The early disciples of the Buddha were not the underprivileged, as one would think, as in Christianity and Islam where the early converts were mostly the underprivileged slaves and women.  But, in Buddhism, they were mostly Brahmins.

In some of the histories of the early southerners, the profession, and in some cases the caste, of the new entrants to Buddhism were preserved – and something like 80% were Brahmins. That’s to say, they gave up all their privilege, all their advantages and they became Buddhists. They were men of great integrity, not joining for any advantage, but a total sacrifice and a disadvantage.  But as time goes on, what was originally a sacrifice can become an advantage.

The monks say, “Yes, the man gives up his home.” He’s struck off from the register and he enters the monastery. He’s a dead man for the world outside. He enters the monastery. Before you know where you are after four or five years, he’s setting himself up quite nicely. He’s got a minor role in some authority in the monastery and he’s just as overbearing and nagging and quarrelsome as anybody outside, except that he’s quarrelling over different things.  The very thing, in setting up the order, which was meant to focus attention, instead can simply become a new form of the barriers and obstacles that he’s left behind. The concentration on the texts, is essential for directing the attention onto this one point.  And yet, one can become absorbed in learning and become aggressive and quarrelsome over learning, and devote one’s whole life to learning, never doing the practices. Then the learning becomes an obstacle.

I thought I would bring a few of these Zen stories and read them because they haven’t been translated. Zen first went to Japan in the 13th century. Now in this one, an influential man, very arrogant, was feared by others for his strong self-will. He comes to a great teacher, and he asks about learning in Buddhism. He says, “I’m going to retire, and I thought of giving myself to learning,” and he asked for some recommendations on what he should study and master.  The teacher said, “First of all, get rid of yourself self-will.”

(Now, these examples don’t seem very elegant to us, but they’re very telling. If a man is infected with worms in the intestines, he may take in nourishment, but it simply nourishes the worms, not the man and he often dies. With human nature itself, it’s just the same. If there’s a worm of self-will in one’s breast, though he may take in learning to give nourishment to his spirit, it simply increases the self-will and is of no use in the way.)

“The way of the superior man is, rather than seeking a claim for intellectual knowledge, to strive to increase his virtue. The feudal Lord said, “But without self-will, one could not raise one’s standing or bring success to the family. All great achievements are based on pride.” The teacher said, “You have not released yourself from self-will.  Getting rid of self-will means clearing away the pride of your heart. In ancient times and in later there were those who made themselves and their families illustrious as sages and saints. How would they have had pride in heart?  If your honour believes that self-will is so important, I have three questions to ask. Do you reply to them. This Self of which you are so proud, where did it come from before it put out its head into the world? Second, right now in the body, where is this Self? Third, when the body perishes, where will this Self go to?” The warrior could not find any reply and took his leave.”

Learning is essential, but rather than learning many books, we should learn one small text.  Learn it very well and finally incorporate it into oneself.  By learning, by joining an order, by doing benevolence, we can deflect ourselves from the actual quest. These things are meant to be aids, but they can be a deflection. How can that be? Yes, it can be.  There’s a famous illustration, which everybody knows: a man asked the teacher about the texts and about going to hear sermons. The teacher said, “These things are pointers.” The man said, “I know what you’re going to say. It’s the finger pointing to the moon, isn’t it? It’s the finger pointing to the moon and all that.” The teacher said, “And all that? What is that ‘all’? The finger pointing to the moon and all that? What is that ‘all’?”  “I don’t know what you mean.” The teacher said, “Have you ever tried it?” “No.”  So the teacher said, “Well, next time there’s a full moon, go out and point your finger at it.”

Generally, these things, they’re never actually tried. The experiments are not actually made, but we can [try pointing the finger at the moon].   If you look hard at the finger, very hard at focusing on the finger, you’ll see two vague moons. The finger will be solid, but there will be two moons.  Then if you can jump and take the focus of your eye to the moon, you will see two transparent fingers. People don’t try these things. There’s something hidden in these obvious things. You can write a book about the finger in the moon, as a man who’s done so and never noticed this, which means he’d never tried it.

The teachings point to something, and we need those teachings for the direction.  But if we focus very, very intently on the texture of the skin and the fingernail, then what is beyond will appear as double, and it will be vague and out of focus. The more intently we concentrate on the details of the finger, the more vague that will appear. We have two eyes, not one eye. But if we can get the general direction and then make a jump, then the learning, the fingers, will become transparent. We’ll see the moon clearly and in focus. It’s possible, by one’s reasoning, to make a complete U-turn.  Each step seems logical, but you turn round completely. This happened in the early history of Buddhism.

Buddha was born in eastern India, the heart land of Brahmanism of the North West. Buddha was born part of the East in a new up-and-coming brash environment, rich where minerals have been discovered.  But they lacked a certain refinement and they spoke with a terrible accent.  Just like the Galileans spoke with a terrible accent. Peter was recognized by a woman who said, “You were one of them, the Galilean.  I recognize you by your accent.” They used to drop their ‘h’s, unlike the cultivated people of Jerusalem. In the same way, some of the great Brahmin disciples of the Buddha said, “Lord would it not be better if Buddhism were preached in Sanskrit, the Holy tongue, which is universally understood in India; whereas in different areas dialects are spoken.” But the Buddha said, “No. I want people to understand what is being taught, not only the learned.  It should be preached in the language of the people of that area.” This was agreed. Buddha spoke a Magadha dialect and some traces of it remain.

The main missionary centre was in the West of India. Buddhism came to the Western India to the heartland of Brahmanism. Great Brahmins joined and from there it spread south and across and went north.  Now the dialect of that area was Pāli. It was a dialect and, in accordance with the words of the Buddha, it was preached there. Buddhism was preached there in Pāli, not in Sanskrit. Then when the missionaries went south and went north, by this time Pāli had become the sacred language of Buddhism.  “Actually, he wanted to keep the sacred language, did he not?” Buddhism was preached in Pāli, and this is an example of a U-turn. It seemed to follow the Buddha’s direction.  He said, “… in the language of the people”; well, Pāli was the language of the people of western India, so we preach it in Pāli. They forgot exactly what it was, that was said.  “Pāli.  Yes that’s the sacred language; we preach in Pāli.”

Now this is another example, a modern example.  A great Zen teacher told his pupils, “Don’t take notes when I’m speaking.” This was the Zen method.  He said, “Don’t take notes” and one of his disciples was telling this to a friend. The friend said, “Why didn’t he want you to take notes?” The disciple said, “Well, we didn’t know, but we were scared to ask him.  He’s not one to permit questions of that kind. The friend said, “Oh, so you don’t know?” He said, “Well, actually, we do know.” “How do you know?”

“Well, on certain occasions in the year outsiders can come to the service, they’re invited in. On one occasion, when the outsiders were coming in to hear, we saw a keen looking chap, so we took a pencil and a notebook and we simply handed it to him.  We didn’t say anything, we just handed it to him.  And, sure enough, when the teacher began speaking [he was scribbling away.  Then the teacher stopped.  He said to him, “Don’t take notes when I’m speaking. You think you’ll take these notes, then you’ll go home and a week later or fortnight later you’ll read them. You’ll get an enlightenment.  But don’t do that. If you’re going to have enlightenment, get it here. You’re like a man who goes to a restaurant where there’s a very good cook.  He takes the food as it’s served, wraps it up very carefully and takes it home. After a week or a fortnight, he puts it in the oven, heats it up and, ‘Oh, that’s terrible’. You should have the food when it’s served hot.

The friend said, “That’s a wonderful teaching, isn’t it? But that is what he said?”  The disciple said, “Oh yes – those were his exact words.” He said, “Well, you must have a marvellous memory.  But the disciple replied, “Oh no – I learnt it by heart.”  So the man said, “What? How did you learn it by heart?” He said, “From the script. We had someone behind the pillar. We knew this teaching would never be repeated and we felt it must not be lost; so we had someone behind the pillar. We knew he’d give the explanation and we wrote it all down.”  Well, it seems logical enough, but it’s become a U-turn.  It’s very easy to lose the spiritual intuition and what is actually happening in terms of learning, in terms of service, in terms of devotion. “He, by whose power the mind thinks, but which the mind cannot think.”

I’ll give one or two of these examples. There’s a famous story in Zen that a Brahmin or a great god had brought some golden flowers to the Buddha. Then he asked him to declare the Truth.  The Buddha picked up the flowers and [held up one in his hand.  In the audience, Mahakasyapa smiled.].  The Buddha then said, “Now the communication has taken place. He’s my successor, he can go through.”  The story in fact isn’t found before about 600 AD, in China. It’s in a sutra, not in the Sanskrit or the Pāli canon at all. The sutra was called ‘The resolution of the Brahma-king’s doubt’. The Brahma-king had some doubts. He brought golden flowers and he asked Buddha to declare a reality to clear his doubt.  Atsushige, a warrior who was a student of one of the ritual sects, came and asked the priest, Jikusen, about the Indian Zen. The teacher gave him some examples.

He said when the Buddha had just been born it is said that he declared above heaven or under heaven, “I alone am the world, all at one.” He took seven steps.  This is a riddle – why seven? [Why not] six, five or twelve? Then before his entry into Nirvana, there was an incident where he held up and twisted a flower in his fingers. There was a smile from one of the disciples.

In this last case, the meaning of Zen was being presented without any involvement with words at all. The scholar said, “That incident of the smile comes in the sutra that is called ‘The resolution of the Brahma-king’s doubt’.” That is not in the canon of authentic scriptures. Probably it was made up by some Zen man of the Tang dynasty in China. These were Atsushige’s words. The teacher cried, ” Atsushige!” “Yes.” “Who was it who made up this, ‘Yes’?” Atsushige made a bow and went out. After three days, he had a realization. He came back and said to the teacher, “The Sutra of the resolution of the Brahma-king’s doubt has now been put in the canon.”  Now this is a koan, a riddle. The teacher calls, something answers, ‘Yes’. The [finger’s pointing].  Well, it takes him three days to think what that might be.

A mountain hermit made a visit to Enko-ji and had an interview with the priest, who said, “I have been living on Mount Mitake for 20 years, practising the arts of the mountain hermits, the magical arts and now I can boil sand and turn it into rice.”  The teacher said, “I have been living here in this temple for 20 years, practising the secret way of the alchemists of India and now I can easily take up iron and turn it into gold.” The hermit picked up one of the iron rods used as tongs in the stove and handed it to the teacher saying, “Let’s see you turn this into gold.” The teacher took the hermit’s hand, pulled it on to the iron pot on the stoves saying, “Let’s boil you and turn you to rice. Your narrow obstinacy is harder than iron. If we don’t boil you first, I won’t be able to turn it to gold.”

The hermit was impressed and went on, but came back the next day to say, “I have noticed, in looking over your Buddhist Sutra, that there are six supernormal powers in Buddhism. Can you yourself exercise these powers? ” Well, one of the powers is flying.  It happened that a pheasant in the garden gave a cry and the teacher pointed at it and said, “Even this pheasant is exercising them every time he flies.”  The hermit said, “I don’t mean that sort of power.  Do you for instance, have the power to read the mind of others?” The teacher said, “You should first find out about reading your own mind. If you can’t read your own mind, how will you ever be able to read the minds of others?”

We think, “Oh, we know our own mind.” We always think we have power.  I knew the head of one of the great sects, which controls 10,000 temples, quite well.  I remember there was a newspaper interview which was reported.  The journalist said, “Power, I suppose, is very difficult thing.” The teacher said, “Yes, to have power is something very difficult for a Buddhist to meet.” The journalist said, “But you yourself, you are the head of this tremendous organization of 10,000 temples. Do you find it difficult?”  “Of course, I have to be careful, but you see, being at the head of this whole sect, I’m watched like a hawk by the press among others. Of course, I have to do things properly, otherwise the temples will become very dissatisfied. I’m not really likely to go very far astray without being pulled back very quickly.”

He said, “But that’s not real power.  I had power once, real power. In my first temple, it was a temple in the country, I was the cook.  I was a good cook because my mother had often been sick and I’d had to learn. Then when I’d been there, three or four years, they had a new novice come in from the country.  He was in the kitchen under me to learn how to cook and he was clumsy. I gave him hell.”  He said, “There was no one to know, but he got pale and finally, the head monk realized there was something wrong.  So he transferred him to the garden and he soon got better.” He said, “Now that was real power.” Those are situations of real power. He said, “I didn’t do very well. It’s been a lesson to me all my life.” Well, this is one example he gave and he added, to the reporter, that we all think that we would do very well in these situations of power, or perhaps of the possibility of bribery, because we have no chance.  But if we have the chance to say whether we can read our own mind, it is something different.

Now they don’t give answers to these questions. We are expected to work them out for ourselves – not by some clever answer.  If even one of these riddles is solved, our whole life will be changed. We can feel this in a small way. If we go to meet some great spiritual figure, he may say nothing – but when we come away, we are able to do things that we were frightened of doing. We’re able to have sympathy where before we were just contemptuous.  Our life changes just a little bit and to work on these riddles there has to be a change of life. The answer is not, “Oh, that.  Oh yes.”  No. It goes much deeper than that. These are fingers, but there’s something beyond the finger. There has to be a jump into the moon, so to say.  The hope with these examples is that one of them will catch our mind; and if it catches our mind and remains in it, so that we want and need to find what there is in it, then it can, so to speak, strike.  Otherwise the riddle will just pass away.  The stories have a special fascination about them.

Now another one – they had a fire at Kencho-ji, one of the old monasteries.  They had some very rare texts there, which had been brought by the Chinese founder when he came from China.  Some of the learned scholars and priests from the whole neighbourhood came to console the abbot. They saw him and expressed their regrets. He said, “Thank you for your sympathy, but the texts have not been lost.”  “Oh,” they said, “Well could you show us?” One of them asked for a particular translation of an Indian Sutra.  The teacher said, “Yes,” and he held up his hand. It was a question. Somebody else asked for another one and the teacher said, ‘Yes, it’s here.”

After three or four of them, one of the priests said, “We’ve asked you about these texts. We came to sympathize and you’re saying that they haven’t been burnt; but when we ask you about them, you just hold up your hand.” The teacher said, “Well, the covers were burnt, but the texts themselves are not something read. They’re something which is grasped in the heart. I wanted to show this to those who had eyes to see.”

Many of these stories turn on this point. A man goes to a temple, which is supposed to have very efficacious ambience for charms against fire, against illness and all things. He was a student of Zen and he went to get one of these things to protect the family and life. You take the charm and you paste it up on the pillar of the house.  He saw the teacher, who said, “You don’t want to mess about with these charms. They are for people who need support, but you’re studying Zen.  You must find your support here (pointing finger at himself), not go around.”  Again – the finger, not there or there. He said, “But I should like a charm.” The teacher said, “Go on and get one.”

He went and got one and then on the way back, the teacher said, “I’ve heard that you are camping here – you have no house, have you?”  The man said, “No.  What do I do?  I’ve got the tent under the trees – should I post this up on the tree?” The teacher said, “No.”  He said, “Well, should I put it on the tent?”   “No.” “Where do I paste it then?” The teacher said, “Paste it on your heart.”  The warrior was bewildered and went away.

Now this is another one: in Kencho-ji, the altar is of Jizo, who’s one of the bodhisattvas – the Jizo of a thousand forms. There are a thousand images there and it’s a considerable impact going into this big hall – it looks like a vast assemblage of people sitting still. The man goes in there to worship, and he says, “There are a thousand Jizo’s here.  Which is the real one?” The priest in charge of the hall says, “You’ve got a thousand thoughts in your mind, haven’t you? Which is the real one?”  He said, “I don’t know – but which is the real Jizo?” The attendant said, “The real Jizo is the Buddha who controls all these Jizo forms as if they were the fingers of the hand.” “Oh,” he said.  Then the attendant says, “Now find the Buddha who controls all your one thousand, and 10,000 imaginings and hopes and fears as if they were the fingers of the hand.”  The man said, “I don’t know, where is this Buddha”?

Well, it’s dangerous question to ask of a Zen. There’s something in our experience, which we don’t notice. We think we see everything, but there’s something we don’t see.  In time of crisis, the teacher said, “If any of you can make the seated Jizo, stand up. You will relieve. The crisis will pass.”  It said one of the very sincere among his listeners, Munikatsu, confined himself in the great hall. He had a position as a temple official. He was a samurai, but he had job as a temple official in his spare time. He confined himself in the great hall where the image was a wooden Jizo seated on the Lotus altar, for 21 days vowing to make the Gizo stand up. He was reciting continuously the mantra of Jizo: “Om kakaka bisanmaei sowaka”. On the last night of the vow, he was running around the hall like a madman shouting, “Stand up Holy Jizo.”  At two o’clock in the morning, the monk who was making the rounds, struck the single blow on the sounding board, which hangs in front of the hall. Munikatsu suddenly had a realization and cried,  “Holy Jizo – he’s not sitting down, he’s not standing up. He has a life apart from standing or sitting.”

Now the riddle, or the first riddle, is ‘There’s a Jizo sitting, make him stand up’.



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