Turning the light so it shines back

How much more he who turns within

And confirms directly his own nature,

That his own nature is no-nature—

Such has transcended vain words.

THESE four phrases make clear the confirmatory experience of one’s own nature, which is the aim of Zen meditation. The phrase “turn within” means turning the light so that it shines back. If the fight of self-consciousness is turned and shone back onto the nature of one’s own mind, then can be perceived one’s absolute nature; the self-nature suddenly becomes something absolute—it is in fact nonature. Even the word “no-nature” is not really right. The distinction of nature and no-nature is at an end; discussion of self-nature and other-nature is extinguished. This is the stage of actual experience, truth transcending the stage of discussion and absolutely beyond vain words. All words have become mere prattling and nonsense talk. Hearing about the great truth of the meditation of the Mahayana, praising it and rejoicing in it—even that brings wide and great merit. How much more to turn within and confirm directly one’s own nature, namely to turn the light and shine it back into one’s very self, to experience what one’s own nature is! This is not mere listening but tasting directly; nay, not mere tasting but grasping it oneself; not explanation that all beings are from the very beginning Buddhas but knowing from direct experience how they are from the very beginning Buddhas. It is entering the realm of experience, knowing for oneself that self-nature is nonature.

When we understand that there is no ice apart from water, or in other words, that water and ice are not two things but one thing, then we do not need to make the distinction that this is water and that is ice. It is as if it has all become water. Similarly, while we stick to distinctions and cannot see their sameness and non-duality, there are Buddhas and there are demons, but once we confirm by experience what our self-nature is, there is no hell and there is no paradise. It has all become absolutely the same. This is called the real awakening. When we awaken to this state of absolute Sameness, we still see distinctions between mountains and rivers, grass and trees, the earth and men and beasts, but for the first time we do not stick to the distinctions we see. We have in ourselves the great experience of infinite freedom, that the distinctions themselves are Sameness, and the Sameness is the distinctions.

We can understand the method of turning within with the help of a passage from Zen master Daikaku: “Turning round his light which lights all the outer things, he focusses it within on the inner self. Mind is bright like the sun and moon; their light is unlimited and infinite, and illumines all regions within and without. Where light does not reach is dark, and such is the demon-cave of the Black Mountain. There live all demons. The demons harm man greatly. It is like this with mind also. The wisdom-light of mind, unlimited and infinite, illumines all states within and without. Where it does not reach is dark. We call it the shadow- world of ignorance. There live all passions. The passions harm men greatly. Wisdom is bright: the illusory ideas are shadow. Light illumines things. Turning the light so that it shines back means not letting the light of our thought wander here and there, but directing it at our own original nature. This is also called universal illumination, which means the state where error and enlightenment are still unmanifested. People today think that the illusory ideas are their essential mind, and want to reach happiness through their passions. When should they ever get free from the cycle of birth and death?” These wise words are worthy of our special attention. As to the state attained by turning the light back, once reached, it is not a question of analogies about ice and water or other explanations, but like knowing for oneself whether a thing is hot or cold. It is the gate of real experience, transcending the gate of discussion, and quite beyond vain words. Academic study is only talk; religion is real experience. One who understands religion theoretically is merely a sort of professor of theology. Now just as a professor of economics is not necessarily able to become rich, so the man who by taking his stand on intellect alone hopes to have the religious experience is like one hoping to get water by digging in sand. Religion must aim at actual experience for oneself. If not, then like the blind men who investigated the elephant, we shall learn no more than a single surface or corner of the outer skin of life and the universe.

Long ago there was a king named Mirror-bright. He invited a number of blind men to examine an elephant. They were afterwards to tell him about the form of the elephant. The blind men stretched out their hands and felt the elephant to ascertain its shape. The one who touched its foot reported that it was like a tree. Then the one who felt the tip of its tail said that the elephant was like a bamboo broom. The one who touched the tail itself said it was like a stick. He who touched the belly said: “The elephant is like a great drum,” while another who touched the trunk said it was like a great snake. He who handled the ear said it was like a winnowing-baskct, while the man who felt its side said: “Like a wall,” and the one who touched the tusk said: “Like a great horn.” Each, being sure it was as he said, wrangled endlessly with the others. “Blind, are they not blind?” marvelled the great king, “Yet they stick to their views as if they had sight.” The story is told in the Classic of the Six Perfections.

In this way all they said was just a kind of vain talk. It is no more than an illustration, but the man who has not found what his own nature is, who has no light of knowledge, is the same as a blind man. Those today who judge religion by everyday experience, or discuss faith under the light of science and philosophy, are in a way blind men examining an elephant. They get some idea of one surface or one edge, but it cannot be said they are close to the real truth. And their world is not the reality of confirming directly their own nature, that their own nature is no-nature, transcending vain words. We have to enter the region of the absolute Sameness, where one’s own nature is nonature, and confirm the meaning of becoming Buddha in this very body.

We are always opening our mouths and howling for the realization of some ideal. But when that ideal is realized, then what? To put it in religious terms, we trudge along one of the traditional paths and make progress by our practices, some of us dreaming of heaven and others praying to be reborn in some paradise. Neither of these things is bad. But the question is: having got up to heaven or arrived in paradise, what after all do we do then? There is a story about an old lady who every day used to take her little grandson to pray at a Buddhist altar. One day the boy noticed the candlesticks on the altar, which were in the form of a crane and a tortoise. He opened his eyes very wide and asked: “Granny, why are the crane and the tortoise there?” The grandmother replied: “Well you know, the crane is supposed to live for a thousand years and the tortoise for ten thousand, and they’re very lucky creatures, and here they are on the beautiful Buddha altar, like the Pure Land paradise.” The little boy asked: “When the crane’s thousand years are over, what happens to him then? And the tortoise, when his ten thousand years are gone, what happens to him?” She said: “What big questions for such a little boy! Surely you know that. After a thousand years, the crane dies, and the tortoise after ten thousand years dies.” The grandson opened his eyes wide again and asked: “After they die where do they go?” The old lady was getting out of her depth, but she couldn’t admit she didn’t know, so she said: “I’ll tell you. The crane and the tortoise are lucky creatures, and the moment they die they go to the Pure Land.” Her grandson’s eyes were like saucers as he asked: “Granny, when the crane and the tortoise go to the Pure Land, what happens then?” The old grandmother was now in deeper than ever, but she said firmly: “This little boy doesn’t know anything, it seems. Why, when they go to the Pure Land, they turn into candlesticks!” The boy innocently swallowed it and subsided. Nevertheless, his question was a penetrating one, and how is it to be answered? The question remains for us. Certainly it seems alright to say that when the crane and tortoise go to the Pure Land they become candlesticks, but after they become candlesticks, then what? And then what? It is not just the problem of the crane and tortoise. When we ourselves go to the Pure Land, then what? Are we to stand in rows there for ever, like dolls ranged on the shelves of the Pure Land? Do we just sit on the flowers of the lotus-lake there, rocked by the breeze? In short—then what? There is an old popular song:

Your whitting Then what? And then what?”

The more you ask, the stupider you get.

But the fact is that we have got to penetrate to the ultimate, beyond all words. The Chinese verse says:

By travelling, at last you will come to the end of the stream;

By sitting patiently, finally you can see a cloud forming.

What happens in the end? Unless we inquire: “Then what, then what?” in our coming and going, and finally rest in the ultimate, lasting peace will be hard to find. Our hopes are always like wanting to climb up a hundred-foot pole.

When we have climbed it we have the problem: then what?

Kusunoki Masashig, after his last great battle at Minato- gawa when all his resources were spent, was going to turn his sword on himself, but on an impulse rushed with his sword still bloody to Zen master Soshun at the nearby Kogonji temple, where he used to attend in times of peace, and asked: “At the meeting of life and death, what then?” Now the last moment has come. This instant when life and death meet, how am I to meet it? To which Master Soshun replied: “Cut off both the heads; the one sword gleams cold against the sky!” O Masashige, you are a monster with two heads, life and death, sprouting from your shoulders. With that sword you bear, quickly cut off both the heads of living and dying. Then that single brilliant sword will be glittering in the heavens. Masashigfe could not grasp the meaning, and asked again: “What is the end of it all?” and the Zen master gave a shout: “Katsu!”[* This is a shout traditionally used to give the pupil’s mind a shake] The hero broke into a sweat from head to toe as the realization came to him, and galloped back to the battlefield. The story is well known how after the last furious fight he and his younger brother, vowing to return to serve the loyalist cause for seven more lives, serenely ended their lives here and entered life eternal.

This great cry of “Katsu!” in answer to the “and then what?” is from the state transcending words. It is from the realm of realizing one’s own nature. Sho-ichi in one of his Zen sermons speaks of the living communication beyond words and phrases. “The sacred syllables of the scriptures are not mere letters, but the true mind of all living beings. For the sake of the one who has lost his true mind they present various similes and words so that the true mind may be realized and the delusion of birth-and-death may cease. But the one who awakens to the true mind, who returns to the source of his being, is able to read the real scripture. The words are not the real sutra. If we maintain that mere verbal recitation is all, well, are we able to keep warm in the cold weather by saying ‘ fire ’ or to keep cool in the heat by saying ‘ breeze ’? By shouting the word ‘ food * can we satisfy our hunger and be filled? In fact, we do not get warm by calling ‘ fire! * or find water in our mouth by saying the word. These words and phrases are like things in a painting. You can call your whole life long, but your hunger will not cease. Alas, the ordinary man is sunk in the delusions of life and death, and from the things of the world is ever eagerly hoping to get something. But it is the height of folly.” So he explains that the only way is direct realization of one’s nature.

In the sayings of an ancient master there is this: “The Way is not attained by mindfulness (yushin), nor will it be attained by mindlessness (mushin); it is not reached by purity and silence, and to be even a fraction involved in verbal concepts is to be a thousand, a million miles away.” Again it is said: ‘ ‘Zen is not words and phrases. Nor is there an exclusive creed to give people. Under this doctrine you cannot insert even a hair. It is direct grasping. The Buddhas of the three worlds draw in their tongues; the great patriarchs gulp back their words.” This is the real turning of the light within and directly experiencing one’s own nature. Zen master Muso has a verse on the Buddha’s sermon-without- a-sermon, and Kashyapa’s hearing-without-hearing:

The words which explain all without explaining—

Few are the ones who can hear them without hearing.

It is well known how the devout Emperor Go-mizuno-o always used to go to hear the Law from master Gudo at the Myoshinji temple. The room and the seat he used are now preserved as national treasures at the Shoso-in repository. There is a poem by this emperor which expresses the single essence of all things from the standpoint of direct realization:

Everything heard with the ear or seen with the eye Is that One, and not apart from the Law.

In these times you might say that we have reached a deadlock in everything. Deadlock in politics, deadlock in economics, in knowledge, in education, deadlock too in morals, virtue, and religion. The so-called slump is not just in our economy, but there is a slump appearing everywhere in our life. As a result of the deadlock we seem to be driven by restlessness, a kind of feverish frustration. How is the deadlock to be broken? How can we be rid of our fever and unrest? We have reached a point where modern man, with all his vain boastings of the marvels of science and his admiration of materialistic culture, has to stop and think. No amount of whining self-pity will avail. What matters is the present: what are we to do? Many people these days, however urgent a question may be, put it aside and think: “Well, let’s get on with earning our living.”

There is a verse by someone:

When hunger and cold are set against love,

I blush to say it, but hunger comes first.

True, one cannot set aside the stomach; its cry is keen and worthy of our sympathy. We must practise material benevolence and mutual help. But the great mistake is to think that by providing bread and jobs all our problems can be cleared up. The basic problem is that our present culture, concentrating solely on the conventional and material side and ignoring the mental and spiritual side, ends in tying ourselves in knots, and even in suicide. As a first step in the matter, let me ask: When you get your food and jobs, what then?

A normal man, when his character and intelligence are rightly and naturally developed, can never get satisfaction unless he attains spir’tual conviction. Take as an example the control of our actions. When small children stand naked, we tell them: “If you stand naked like that, the Thunder Man will come down and steal away your little tummy-button.” Then they snatch up their clothes and put them on. If they want to run out at night, we tell them about the goblins, and they get frightened and don’t go out. Though this sort of thing is of course only superstition, it does control the actions of little children. When they go to their first school, these things will not work. There aren’t such things as goblins, and they do not believe in a Thunder Man. But when they are scolded by the schoolmaster for something, that has a big effect on them. Then they come to middle school and lose their fear of the teacher. He is only an employee of the school, and if the students go on strike they can perhaps get rid of him, they feel. Still, though they are no longer afraid of the teacher, they know that a wrong action is against morality. They know that man’s duty is to act righteously, and they are guided by morality and ethics. Going on, they become high school or university students, and are dissatisfied until they have examined what we mean by the words “good” and “bad,” and the scientific and philosophic reasons why we should follow ethics and be controlled by morality. One more step and they question whether there is any scientific and philosophic reason at all; they cannot find satisfaction in ethics and become sceptical and critical of any ideal. Now they get worried and distressed and can easily lose all peace of mind.

When in this way we have gradually advanced from the instinctive to the superstitious, to the common-sense, the scientific, and to the philosophical, we must go on to transcend all these stages and stand finally in reverence before the unseen, in awe before the unheard. But since the Meiji Restoration towards the end of the last century, our culture has become estranged from this vital religious teaching. We feel today an inner unrest, and this, as it were, searching after something is really the religious desire. Clearly there are many defects in our culture. What is essential, whether in universal questions or personal questions, is to understand the spiritual secret of returning to the essence of the soul. We must press the inquiry “and then what?” right to the end, penetrate the ultimate, and then for the first time we can get the right answer.       ,

We human beings cannot be satisfied with the instinctive world, with the world of superstition or the world of common sense, nor can we rest in science or philosophy. We have to reach the world of conviction and reality. We must not be caught in the world of so-called name and fame, nor think that the world of learning is all, but must enter directly the world of freedom, the world of things as they really are. We must sport in the world of direct realization of our true nature. This is the world of truth transcending vain words, where words have been left behind, where, as it is said, the self-nature is no-nature. This is the ideal world, where all doubts whatsoever are resolved. Where shall we look for it? We must wait in the realization that self-nature is no-nature.

© Trevor Leggett

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