March 13th, 2005, Serial No. 04378

Audio loading...

Welcome! You can log in or create an account to save favorites, edit keywords, transcripts, and more.


Good morning. So I would like to speak this morning about the teaching and the practice of Buddha nature. Can you hear me okay in the back? Raise your hands if you can. And so Buddha nature or the teaching of Buddha nature is one way of talking about the content and meaning of our Zazen practice and also of the awakening of the Buddha, the awakened one. So historically the Buddha awakened 2,500 years ago, more or less, in northern India. And one story is that when he did that, when he was awakened, he said, ah, now I see. All sentient beings in the entire universe are completely endowed with the wisdom and


virtue of the awakened ones. Only because of their false conceptions and attachments they do not realize it. And then he thought, I should teach them the right path to abandon illusion and attachment so they can perceive the vast wisdom of the awakened ones and be no different than Buddhists. So this is what he saw when he was awakened, that all beings are completely endowed with these qualities, this wisdom and kindness of awakening, of the awakened ones. And so in some ways our practice is just to, not to get something new, not to become some new person, but in this body and mind, in this situation, to see and express this fullness of wisdom and kindness and virtue of the Buddhas, of the awakened ones.


So I want to talk about that today in a few ways. And I'll start from a teaching on Buddha nature by Ehe Dogen, who lived in the 13th century. He was a Japanese monk and considered the founder of the Soto Zen branch that we follow here. And in his long essay about Buddha nature, he starts with a quote from the Buddha, from the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. And traditionally this quote is read, all sentient beings, without exception, have the Buddha nature. So this is kind of like the version of what the Buddha said when he awakened that I had just said. Dogen took that though and moved around the Chinese characters and the words and re-read


it as all sentient beings, whole being, Buddha nature. Or we could say all sentient beings completely are Buddha nature. Or we could say all sentient beings in our wholeness, in our completeness, when we are expressing ourselves completely, then this is the Buddha nature. This is the wisdom and virtues of the awakened one. So first of all, he changed it from that they have a Buddha nature to that their complete being is Buddha nature. So Buddha nature is not some thing that we can have. It's very difficult in our language made of subjects and predicates and nouns and verbs and objects to get untangled from the way in which we think based on that language.


So we hear Buddha nature or suchness or awakening and we think those are things that we can get, that they're commodities or consumer goods. And if we find the best teaching and the best teacher, we can get it quickly and get the best version of it. So this is how our culture teaches us to think and how our language teaches us to think. But really Buddha nature is this potential for awakening that we all, all already are in our completeness. And of course the other side is that we do have conditioning, we do have habits, we do have preconceptions and notions that prevent us from seeing this and from expressing it. We have attachments and we have ways of thinking that get in the way of our expressing our Buddha nature. So our practice, just sitting facing the wall, being upright, following our breath, aware


of the sounds of the birds and the thoughts and feelings around us, is just to settle into that space where we can connect with this Buddha nature, where we can let go of all the things that get in the way of expressing Buddha nature. And it's something that all of you are. It's something that is immediately available all the time. This is the point of this teaching. It's so close. It's so close that we don't see it, we get confused, we put ourselves down and we think the world is the wrong world to awaken in or whatever. We ignore this Buddha nature because it's so close that we can't see it. It's like trying to see our own eyeballs. It's so close. Anyway, this teaching of Buddha nature is that it's everywhere.


And this isn't even just about people, although as people maybe we need to focus on the human varieties of attachments and conditioning and expression of Buddha nature. But this is a quality of being and of nature itself. So I'll come back to that. But in early Buddhism, in early China, there was this idea that Buddha nature was this potential for awakening that some people had. And there were some beings who could never awaken, just did not. There was just no way they'd ever express or realize the wisdom and kindness of Buddha's of awakening, of this Buddha nature. And so there was a theory about this. And these people, these beings who were just incapable of ever getting it, were called achantikas in Sanskrit. And so there's a story from early China, before Zen came to China. In the 5th century, there was a teacher, a venerable teacher named Daosheng, who wrote


many commentaries. He wrote commentaries on the Lotus Sutra and other sutras. And he was a very senior, elder, respected monk. But he didn't believe that there were some beings who could not realize this wisdom and virtue. And he said so. He said, no, I think all beings have this capacity for awakening. And this was considered heretical then, because they had this theory of the achantikas. So even though he was a senior, elder monk, they defrocked him and excommunicated him and sent him out of the temple. He was 68 at the time. And fortunately, just two or three years later, the full translation of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the last sutra of the Buddha, which has still not been translated into English completely. But anyway, it arrived. And it said there very clearly, this sentence that I read in the beginning, all sentient


beings, without exception, have the Buddha nature. So they all apologized and went to Daosheng and said, please come back. You were right. We were wrong. So this is, in a way, the heart of our Bodhisattva vow, to be in the world and recognize this capacity of all beings, of everyone, to have this potential for awakening and for kindness and for virtue. So all of us are Buddhas in process. All of us have some relationship to awakening. And I deeply believe that just the fact that you're in this room right now proves that you have some, you have had some glimmer, some taste, some, you know, some little sense of this possibility, or you never would have bothered to wander into a place that does


this Buddha nature practice. So it's something that, this is about all of us. And so I want to talk a little bit about how do we practice this, because the point of this is not some nice theory or idea, or some fancy teaching, some abstract teaching. So one practice that I would recommend is to try and see others as potential Buddhas, to try and see the Buddha nature in the people around you. So the people that you like and respect, maybe you can see, for start with them, and see qualities that feel like Buddha nature to you. Maybe we don't know what Buddha nature is. But just to see, to respect, to appreciate the good qualities of those around us is part of the practice of Buddha nature.


And then you might stretch a little and think of the people in your life who are a little difficult for you, the people who give you a hard time, that neighbor who's always playing their music too loud, or the person at work who is a jerk, or somebody in your family who is hard to talk to. Think of those people. Now you don't have to say that they're Buddhas, but look and see qualities of Buddha nature there. See if you can, even really difficult people. In some ways, there being really difficult people for you is part of their Buddha nature. They're helping you to expand and widen your capacity to see Buddha nature. It doesn't mean you have to agree with them, or that you shouldn't try to stop someone from harming someone else. But see that there are qualities there of insight or of kindness, of thoughtfulness, sometimes.


And that this is a place to start relating to such people. And just your seeing of these qualities of Buddha nature and others changes the relationship, changes the potentials, changes your own ability to express Buddha nature. So again, this is not some abstract teaching. This is a real practice that we can do in our world, in our life. So there's another quote from Buddha that Dogen also kind of turns around, and which I want to focus on today. He quotes Buddha saying, if you wish to know the Buddha nature's meaning, you must contemplate temporal conditions. If the time arrives, Buddha nature will manifest itself. So Dogen also rereads that saying from the sutras. He says, if you wish to know the Buddha nature's meaning, it's not merely a question of knowing.


It means also if you wish to practice it. So again, it's not just a matter of knowing. It also means if you wish to realize it, if you wish to express it, if you wish to forget it. So we don't have to go around thinking about Buddha nature to express our Buddha nature. In fact, sometimes that gets in the way. So the point here, though, is that you must contemplate temporal conditions. And Dogen says the way to contemplate temporal conditions is through temporal conditions. So Buddha nature, again, is not some abstraction. It doesn't happen somewhere else in Tassajara or Tibet. It's right here now, Sunday morning in West Marin. Buddha nature. And yet we have to look at this temporal condition. Here now is our situation of Buddha nature, each of us. So when he says that, it reminds me of a saying by Rumi,


the cure for pain is in the pain. In this temporal condition, there is the joy of a beautiful day. And there's also sadness and pain and that which is dissatisfying for each of us in our own way. And right in there, in that temporal condition, there's an opportunity to see Buddha nature. This is what Dogen is saying. This is the practice that we do here. To be willing to face this temporal condition, here and now. To consider it, to contemplate it, to not run away from it. To be completely Buddha nature in this body and this mind, with all of its frailties and failings. He also changes the last part of this, which says, if the time arrives, Buddha nature will manifest itself. And he re-reads it as, right now, you know the Buddha nature's meaning.


If the time arrives means the time is already here and there can be no room to doubt it. So this temporal condition, this situation is an opportunity. It's a possibility for seeing and expressing Buddha nature. And again, it's not some abstract idea and it's not even about just seeing it. I want to say something that might be a little controversial, but there's a branch of Zen which emphasizes seeing Buddha nature. In Japanese it's called Kensho. And there are some branches of Zen where they really emphasize having some experience of Kensho. Really seeing, not just intellectually, but deeply seeing and realizing this Buddha nature. And, you know, that's fine. All those stories, all those Zen stories that end with the monk got enlightened. That's really translating. The monk had some seeing of Buddha nature.


So there are many, many stories about this seeing Buddha nature. But in our practice here, we emphasize something else. In Japanese, Genjo, to manifest and express Buddha nature. So maybe we need to see Buddha nature first. I'm not so sure. I think we can just get a tiny glimpse and already work at expressing, practice at expressing Buddha nature, making it real, actualizing it, finding ways to share Buddha nature in our own way, in our own life, with the people that we are engaged with. So this expression of Buddha nature, seeing Buddha nature is always available. How do we express it? One way we talk about that is in terms of the precepts. That we turn towards awakening. That we try to speak the truth and encourage the truth. That we try not to kill and instead try to support and encourage life.


So we have guidelines about various kinds, various systems of guidelines of how to express Buddha nature. This is what our practice is about. And maybe seeing it is part of that. And by expressing it, we start to see it. And again, it's good to see it in our own body and mind if you think you don't have it. It's also good to see it in bodies and minds all around you. So even though the Buddha nature is always here, it's not always being expressed perfectly. And yet, again, this Buddha nature is about completeness, about expressing our wholeness. So there's a poem about Buddha nature that Dogen has in his extensive record. And it's about these temporal conditions. He says the Buddha nature of time and season, causes and conditions,


is perfectly complete in past and future. And in each moment, despite differences between merits gathered or layers of virtue, milk and cheese completely earn their names in their own times. So cheese is made from milk. And there is transformation and development and unfolding in our ability to see and express Buddha nature. But each is complete right now. Despite differences between merits gathered or layers of virtue, milk and cheese completely earn their names in their own times. So this awareness of the completeness of Buddha nature for all beings right now doesn't mean that we can't also see differences between merits gathered or layers of virtue. We don't have to get rid of our human intellect and comparative mind.


We can use that in the expression of Buddha nature. But also, fundamentally, each expression of Buddha nature is completely the expression of Buddha nature. So this wholeness is always here. And yet, we might feel like somebody we know is only half-heartedly expressing their Buddha nature. Or we might feel that about ourselves. Well, I could have done better if I had only said such and such. And yet, even a half-hearted expression of Buddha nature is completely a half-hearted expression of Buddha nature. So we don't have to, even though in things in the world we might discern and discriminate layers of merit and so forth, we can just be as we are and do our best to express Buddha nature.


Or even if it's not our best. What's that old saying, anything worth doing is worth doing badly? So we sit upright and maybe our minds aren't so clear and maybe our kindness is limited in certain ways. We contemplate these temporal conditions. We look at them. We see our own, the limitations of our own ability to express our own gift of Buddha nature. And yet, it's there. We can express this. It's available. So the actual practice of Buddha nature often is to see how we think there's not so much Buddha nature here. To actually look at the ways in which our conditioning and our attachments and our habits are getting in the way of


just enjoying the Buddha nature that's here in this temporal condition. So a big part of our practice is that. That's what's actually difficult about Zen practice, not bending your legs in some funny position, but just to be willing to continue to contemplate temporal conditions and to day after day be willing to not run away from ourselves and our own expressions of the temporal condition of Buddha nature right now and its limitations. So in some ways, thinking about Buddha nature is not the point. But actually looking at the ways in which we're not expressing Buddha nature is the practice of Buddha nature. Dogen says that deluded people have delusions about enlightenment. Enlightened people are enlightened about their delusions. So we don't have to have some idea of Buddha nature


that we're trying to see or follow or express. But what is it right now? So again, this temporal condition, this time and place, here and now, this body and mind. How can I enact my own piece of Buddha nature? How can I express that? So this practice we do, this upright sitting that we do, sometimes for 40 minutes, sometimes all day, or for five days or seven days, is not ultimately some technique to get some Buddha nature that exists out there. Again, Buddha nature is not something we can have. But this practice, this zazen, is a kind of ceremony and a celebration and ultimately a kind of creative act to learn how we express our Buddha nature.


It's a kind of performance art. So we do this dance and we do various bows and walk in various ways and sit still and contemplate temporal conditions and the temporal conditions here and now. And part of that is to, again, see our own attachments and preconceptions and become familiar and intimate with them so that we don't have to act them out, that we can say, oh yeah, there's that one. And we don't have to inflict it on anyone. We don't have to act out our anger. We can look at it and consider it and feel how it feels and let it go. And it may come back again. But it's just temporal condition. It's just Buddha nature expressing. And maybe sometimes there's something to do about some situation. So this isn't about being passive, but it's about a kind of consideration of how we can express Buddha nature right now. So this is really very natural.


And there's a kind of bilingual pun. We call it Buddha nature. And this word nature, when I say Buddha nature, it means the nature of a thing. But we also have a word nature in English that means the world of nature. They didn't have such a word back in Dogen's time or traditionally in China and Japan because the world of nature, trees and birds and forests and so forth, was just where they lived. They wouldn't have had to have a word for it. But in a way, for us, nature, in that sense of nature, can be a kind of way to see and express Buddha nature and see our own expression right now of Buddha nature. So one expression of that from a teacher in China who was a predecessor of Dogen named Hongzhe. Oops, wrong book. No wonder I couldn't find it. Talking about how the Buddha nature is expressed in what we call nature,


he said, people of the way journey through the world responding to conditions, carefree and without restraint, like clouds finally raining, like moonlight following the current, like orchids growing in shade, like spring arising in everything. They act without mind. They respond with certainty. This is how perfected people behave. Then they must resume their travels and follow the ancestors, walking ahead with steadiness and letting go of themselves with innocence. So this image of the clouds finally raining, it's just so natural. It's just the way things are. Or spring arising in everything. So it's been warm and we've had rain and things are blooming and we can feel spring arising in everything, here and now in this temporal condition. In the blossoms on the trees and in the birds and in our own hearts,


we may see spring arising. So this Buddha nature is like that. It's kind of in the background. It's just the natural order of things. This basic kindness, this basic fundamental clarity, seeing just this in this temporal condition. And again, another way to see this in terms, to see our own Buddha nature in terms of the world of nature, I want to recommend a movie about Buddha nature, a really wonderful movie called Rivers and Tides. Has anybody seen it? A number of people. It's a movie about the work of a Scots artist named Andy Goldsworthy. But he goes out and does, creates things in nature. And a lot of what he creates are, you know, really about temporal conditions. So he takes icicles and puts them together in this beautiful little curves and going in and through a rock.


And of course, as the sun comes up, watches it all melt. And he builds structures on the sand on the beach at low tide and watches as they get carried away as the tide comes in. So he's looking at temporal conditions. There's another one where he strings leaves together, beautiful colored leaves, and puts them in a river and watches how the river really is as this coil of leaves uncoils and floats down the river. So if we stop and sit and watch the temporal conditions of the natural world around us or within us, we can see the unfolding of this nature of clarity and presence and beauty and kindness. And of course, it's always changing. So there's another part of this essay on Buddha nature where Dogen says, Buddha nature is impermanence itself.


We might think that Buddha nature would be that which is permanent, which is the absolute ultimate fundamental nature of enlightenment and all of that stuff. But actually, it only happens in impermanence. Buddha nature can't happen somewhere else. Buddha nature happens in temporal conditions, right in the changes, right in the midst of the difficulties and challenges of the situations we're in. So our practice of Buddha nature may be like the practice of the icicle, the beautifully sculpted icicles melting or the beautiful round structure on the beach as the tide comes in. It's to just watch and see the temporal conditions and see the impermanence that is Buddha nature and be willing to meet that. So each of us has our own way.


I can't tell you how to express Buddha nature. I can't tell you how to see Buddha nature. Each of us has our own particular gifts and our own particular expressions and our own particular ways of expressing temporal conditions and seeing and expressing clarity and kindness right now. And we must face the difficulty of it. So it's kind of cued in that movie. Andy Goldsworthy is making these kind of round dome-shaped, dome shapes on the sand, sometimes out of rocks, sometimes out of pieces of wood. And sometimes because he doesn't yet know the stones well enough, is how he says it, they collapse into him and just fall apart.


And you can see his frustration with that. And you can see that he doesn't always like the temporal conditions. And yet he keeps going back and trying again to express something that reveals the temporal conditions and that then helps us to see our temporal conditions thanks to his temporary artwork and the cameraman who's filming it and then are putting it in the DVD machine or whatever. And some of his works are about temporal conditions but they're very long temporal conditions. So some things take a long time. So in upstate New York he was commissioned to do something and he saw these stone walls and he built these. He looked at the land and he walked around and looked at the trees and finally he built these stone walls that are very weird. They go in.


He likes these kind of spiral or curvy lines and he built these stone walls that go in and out around trees like this. It's very funny. I can imagine somebody in 50 or 100 years when they've forgotten who was there and coming and trying to figure out some anthropologist. Maybe it will only be then that the stone walls are starting to fall apart. So each temporal condition has its own impermanence, its own quality of impermanence. Some things take a long time. Some things take a short time. Time itself moves around. So the practice of Buddha nature again is just to watch this, to see what's happening now. I can just see the sun come out from a cloud in the eaves over there and I didn't realize it was behind a cloud until I saw a little light, extra light there. These kinds of things happen and they happen in our own hearts too and they happen in our world. So how do we see Buddha nature in all beings?


And then how do we see that in the temporal conditions of our society and of our world? So I feel I have to say something about that. So Dogen lived in a society in the 13th century that was a feudal society ruled by warlords and so do we. His response was to move up to the mountains, out of the capital, really out of the country in effect. He went to the far north and lived up in the mountains and forgot about all of the politics of the capital and trained a bunch of monks to share this teaching and continue it and he succeeded in that because they did. So what is our response to the temporal conditions of our society? I don't know. I have a friend who's a former priest here who left the country and is now wandering around the mountains and monasteries of South Asia


with no intention to come back. So some people may do that. So some of you may remember when our government, some of you may be old enough to remember when we at least thought we might have a government that was of, for the people, by the people and for the people rather than by and for the corporate sponsors of our politicians and mass media. How do we express our own wholeness and our own connectedness in such difficult temporal conditions? This is a big koan for us. How do we encourage clarity and truth and kindness and caring for people who are less fortunate in our world, in our temporal conditions? And what I've been feeling mostly is that we should not succumb


to going back to the Achantaka theory. We should not think that there are some beings with no Buddha nature because it damages us and our ability to respond. So if our ability to love, our ability to express Buddha nature has to do with not seeing anyone as without Buddha nature or as some evil other. And then again, we need to find our own way, each of us, to look at the truth and to express the truth and to support life instead of killing. But if we think that some beings have no Buddha nature or have no possibility of expressing Buddha nature, it damages our own ability to express our Buddha nature. So we must see that perhaps even Muslims,


even people from Iraq, even people from Korea, North Korea, even Syrians might express Buddha nature. We should see that even Democrats and Republicans might express Buddha nature. So our wholeness, our own wholeness in responding to the world around us and in responding to the individuals around us has to do with this ability to respect others. Again, we can look for what is the truth of what is happening. We can look for how we can express kindness and clarity and truth in this temporal condition. But if we make it into us against them, whatever them we think is them, then we're diminishing our own possibility of wholeness. We're not complete. So this wholeness of Buddha nature has to do with


the ways in which we're all connected in the world, that we're all living together, that we all enjoy breathing the same oxygen and the one sun that we have and on this planet the one moon that we have. So it's not separate, the level of the world around us and the level of our own personal circle of life. And we each can find ways to find wholeness and completeness and not turning away from harm when it's happening, responding when we can, but responding from this place of whole being Buddha nature. All beings whole being Buddha nature. All beings completely are Buddha nature. So please continue to look for the wholeness, even in the difficulties. Look for the possibilities for seeing respect and practicing respect


and practicing connectedness. Even when we have to say to our friend, you know, I didn't feel good about what you said to me. I had a problem with it. It hurt. I felt hurt. Or I feel like I see this hurt happening and I need to respond in some way. So this happens in our personal life too. This happens with our friends and family. And it happens in our society. And it can happen just sitting on your cushion facing the wall looking at yourself. How can you accept the parts of you that maybe you don't feel so good about? How can you forgive yourself for being the human being you are? How can you see the wholeness of this body and mind sitting on your chair or cushion right now? So this is all the practice of Buddha nature. And maybe that's all I have to say this morning. But I look forward to our discussion and any comments that you have.


So thank you all very much for your Buddha natures.