Questioner: Like the parable of the rich man in the Lotus Sutra, ordinary people delude themselves and search for the Buddha and dharma outside their own minds. This was so in the example of the rich man’s son who ran away from home, leaving his father and breaking off all relations with his family, finally having to beg others for food and clothing. And again, in the ‘Universal Gate’ chapter it is said: ‘If you just think earnestly about the power of the bodhisattva Kannon, you will attain emancipation.’ And again: ‘When you meet all kinds of misfortune, if you contemplate the power of Kannon even a burning pit will be transformed into a pool.’ Still the houses of the believers in Kannon are sometimes burned down, and temples enshrining his image have been burnt down too. There are also cases of people contemplating Kannon who meet with misfortune. Looking at things from this point of view, even the words of the World Honoured One become lies.
In each of the many sutras it says: ‘All who receive and obey, read, recite, and copy this sutra will attain Buddhahood.’ And with regard to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas: ‘Each Buddha and bodhisattva says there is nothing higher than the recitation of the sutra.’ Believers in these various sutras all become arrogant and proud because of this, saying what they believe is the truth and that others’ beliefs are inferior. When I see this I wonder whether it is the Buddha who is fooling people, instilling pride in them and sending them to hell, or whether the hearts of ordinary people are wicked. Which is the correct interpretation?
Bassui: The Tathagata is he who speaks that which is true, he who speaks that which is fundamental, he who speaks that which is ultimate. He does not speak that which is deceitful, nor does he speak that which is alien. There is no mistake in even one phrase or line of the discourses of the World Honoured One. It is simply that when ordinary people hear a true discourse, because of their ignorance, there are a thousand variations and ten thousand distinctions. It’s like squinting your eyes to make one moon appear as two. Once you see, after clarifying your true nature, all words return to the self like waves by the thousands returning to the sea. It is said in a sutra: ‘In the hundred thousand Buddha lands, with the exception of discourses of expedient means, there is only the dharma of One Vehicle, not a second, nor a third.’ This One Vehicle is the One Mind. Those who seek the Buddha and dharma outside of mind are all children of rich men who have forgotten where their homes are. When you awaken to the unique and wonderful dharma of your true nature, it is as if the lost child had come home.
All of you! If you want to return to your homes, simply wake up to your true nature. This mind-nature is the original source of all Buddhas. It is the names of all the sutras. Sometimes it is referred to as the Unique and Wonderful Dharma, sometimes as Perfect Awakening, sometimes as Dharani, sometimes as the Realm, sometimes as the World, sometimes as the Pure Land, sometimes as the Dharma World of the Avatamsaka Manifold, sometimes as the Storehouse of the Tathagata, sometimes as the Eastern Buddha King of Mount Sumeru, sometimes as the Tathagata of the Land of Fragrance, sometimes as Amida, and sometimes as Yakushi, Fugen, Monju, Kannon, and Jizo. All of these names simply point to the One Mind. Though there are ten thousand different names, there are not even two dharma realities. For that reason it is written in a sutra: ‘The teachings in the sutras are fingers pointing to the moon. When you see the moon yourself, you realise there is no moon to point to after all.’ The enlightenment in which you see your true mind and realise your true nature is transmitted outside of the scriptures; it is not based on names and words. That is why it is said: ‘When you see the moon, you know there is no moon to point at.’
If you don’t realise that all the discourses of the Buddhas and patriarchs are words pointing to the mind, you become attached to names and words. Then you belittle others and give rise to personal vanity. What was once medicine becomes poison, and you acquire the karma that leads to hell. It is like the moon shining on a thousand houses. Though a person lecturing on the moon says this moon is the only one, the listener’s misinterpretation makes him reason that the moon over his house is the only true one, while that over another’s house is a false one. Now how could any land in the ten directions have a separate moon? One may say, for example, that ten billion Mount Sumeru’s have ten billion suns and moons; originally, however, there were not even two. The dharma of the Buddha’s discourses is also like this.
Since there is no Buddha or dharma outside of the One Mind inherent in all people, in accordance with the student’s capacity and the occasion, and when speaking of the nature of ordinary people, if the teacher is lecturing on Amida he will say there is no mind or dharma outside of Amida. If he is lecturing on the Wonderful Law, he will say there is no dharma outside the Wonderful Law. If he is lecturing on Kannon, he will say that everything and everyone is Kannon. If he is lecturing on mind, he will say there is no dharma outside of mind. You should realise that all lectures are given with this intention. Don’t you see? Though arhats say there are three poisons [covetousness, anger and foolishness], to the Tathagata there aren’t even two kinds of names. Arhats are those who have extinguished eighty-four thousand delusions. But even if there are arhats who still have deluded thoughts, the Tathagata does not have two kinds of names for them. If you say there are two dharmas, you slander the Tathagata. But even though according to this there aren’t two dharmas, there are, depending on the karma of ordinary people, the sharp and the dull, and thus sudden and gradual realisations of the Way, and shallow and deep journeys from delusion to satori. And depending on the depth of the journey, there are lofty and feeble degrees of attainment. Thus it is written in a sutra: ‘All great sages, despite understanding the formless dharma, still made distinctions.’
Not having attained enlightenment, however, a person holds onto name and form, praising himself and claiming his dharma to be the One Dharma. He says that certain teachings are to be revered while the rest are inferior. Though insisting on the One at the source, in trying to bring his thoughts into harmony with the One he divides it into two. Though ice and boiling water, for example, were both originally cool water, ice remains hard if it is not melted, and hot water remains so if not cooled down, and neither can be used in the place of cool water. Or take the example of people tasting the same fragrant tea. If one swallows something foul-smelling, it will interfere with the taste of the tea and he won’t be able to smell its fragrance. Whatever the sect, if he clings to its dharma he will never be in harmony with the Way, not even in his dreams. If you have cataracts in your eyes, flowers seem to fall from the sky in disarray. Hence it is said in a sutra: ‘If even the dharma must be discarded, how much more so will that which contradicts the dharma.’
Reprinted with the kind permission of Arthur Braverman.
Book extract from: Mud and Water: A Collection of Talks by the Zen Master Bassui, translated by Arthur Braverman
2007 © Arthur Braverman, All rights reserved
ISBN: 0-86171-320-6 Wisdom Publications
Arthur’s other books include: Living and Dying in Zazen, Warrior of Zen: The Teachings of Suzuki Shosan, and A Quiet Room: The Poetry of Zen Master Jakushitsu.
Arthur lives in Ojai, CA. He has just published a novel Dharma Brothers.
Dharma Brothers: Kodo and Tokujoo is based on the lives of two Japanese Zen Masters, how they grew from two ordinary boys, walking very different paths to become extraordinary men, and the deep spiritual bond between them. It is also the story of Japan from 1880 to 1965, of two personal accounts of Zen journeys to enlightenment, and of love and friendship. The story follows the lives of these two Dharma brothers, set against a backdrop of the Japanese-Russian War of 1905, and the rise of fascism in Japan in the 1930s. Kodo was an orphan, brought up in a harsh environment, while Tokujoo was the son of a well-to-do businessman. They both spent years studying in the most stringent Zen monasteries and became life-long friends. Each struggled to find his way clear of the circumstances in which he had been reared. Each sought a way of life offering more meaning and truth, ultimately becoming a different exemplar of Zen practice and living Buddhism.
Find more articles by Arthur Braverman here.