Elihu Genmyo Smith
Enlightened while walking in the mountains, Su Tung-Po (a Sung Dynasty poet, 1036 - 1101 CE) wrote the following:
“The sounds of the valley stream are his long broad tongue,
the forms of the mountain are his pure body.
In the night, I heard the myriad sutras uttered.
How can I relate what they mean?”
Dogen Zenji says, “This insight enabled him to be enlightened when he heard the valley stream and his example is edifying. It is a pity that from ancient times up to the present, people do not realize that the universe is proclaiming the actual body of Buddha.”
One reason we may have difficulties with this is our narrow vision and comprehension. The first phrase of the Four Practice Principles is, “caught in self-centered dream.” This is attachment to me and not-me, to dualism. But many of us take the phrase “self-centered dream”, only in a narrow sense of “Oh, that is me in this body,” or this body-mind habits, as opposed to other people; but both of these are human-centric in perspective though we often don’t realize it. Not only are we human-centric, we are animate-centric. When Huangbo says, “Buddhas and beings are one mind. No other dharmas besides this,” we take it in terms of animate beings. Holding to a dualistic view of animate and inanimate is what blinds us to the life that we are. We add self to beings, to animate beings, to inanimate beings. And we privilege human, privilege animate, privilege self – with all that results from this privileging. The poet’s awakening occurred when he asked his teacher about the phrase, “inanimate objects proclaim the Dharma.” Struggling with this phrase, with this koan, walking in the mountains and hearing the sound of the valley stream, he awakened, realized this true nature.
Being self-absorbed, we think we walk through a universe, that we are walking through these “other” “things” that are all about us. On one level, it is definitely important to “see” other people; just don’t hold to ideas of “self” regarding others or self. Please “see” other animate beings; going beyond that, “see” so-called inanimate. Of course, these are just categories that we humans create – and then privilege some versus others. If we only see our practice in terms of one body, three treasures, then, Yasutani Roshi says, “Our practice descends to the level of mere philosophy and the study of mental delusion.” Practice, the Buddha Way, this awakened life, is much more than that; it is not limited by such things. And this is difficult to talk “about” since so many of the ordinary assumptions and presumptions of speech and human habits go “against” life as is, so that when we hear a poem like “the sounds of the valley stream…” we may think, “Oh, that is metaphorical.”
Master Zhaozhou (Joshu) is asked, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the west?” (What is Zen?) He responds, “Oak tree in the garden.” Maybe we take it as a metaphor of something, as a symbol of something. Or we may take it in a concrete, materialistic way. Do not be fooled! The questioner responded to Zhaozhou, “Master, do not teach using external objects.” Zhaozhou said, “I am not teaching using external objects.” The questioner asks again, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the west?” Zhaozhou responds, “Oak tree in the garden.” (The Chinese ideogram here translated as oak may also be translated as cypress or juniper)
Master Lingyun (Reiun) is awakened on seeing flowering peach blossoms. We think, “Oh, it is those peach blossoms out there that did something ‘inside’ him.” That is human-centric, that is self-centered. That is a delusion which limit us; we limit our functioning from morning to night in the midst of this body that is our life. Thus, when Master Yunmen (Ummon) is asked the straightforward question, “What is the pure body of the Buddha?,” he answers straightforwardly, “The flowering garden hedge.”
When we say Buddha was awakened on seeing the morning star, is the morning star separate from Buddha? If you think he saw the morning star and something happened “inside his head”, inside his mind, then that much we don’t see, that much our whole practice becomes as Yasutani said, mental delusions and philosophy. Nevertheless, we say Buddha was awakened. And this awakening is expressed in, “I and all beings of the great earth have together attained the way.” To say it another way, “All beings of the great earth are the wisdom and perfection of the Buddha.” These are pointers and encouragement. Nevertheless, if I use clumsy words, practice is whole body-mind-world, being just this.
This is not easy for us, especially us modern humans. Dogen says about the Buddha of Maintained Three Treasures, “Converting devas and liberating humans, appearing in vast space or in a speck of dust, this is the Buddha Treasure.” What does it mean that myriad worlds are in a speck of dust? Do we take it in a theoretical, conceptual way, and then miss all the specks of dust that we encounter from morning to night, miss the Buddha Treasure dust specks? Doing that, we disregard our life, miss the myriad aspects of our life, miss vast space.
When Su Tung Po says, “myriad verses are heard throughout the night,” what is this? These are sutras. What are sutras? They express this true nature that we are. How are these heard? He doesn’t mean it metaphorically. What are Buddhas in various forms? Buddhas here, Buddhas there; Buddhas are all our daily encounters, all over this world. If this were just metaphors, then maybe that is useful, but we have reduced much of life to symbols and we have missed the strength and essence of this moment.
Yunmen says, “The East Mountain walks across the water.” Dogen comments, “This essence of realization and actualization of the Way is that all mountains are East Mountain, and all those East Mountains walk across the water. Therefore, Nine Great Mountains and Mountains of India actualize themselves and attain practice and enlightenment. This is East Mountain.” That is why we can talk about the practice of the preaching of insentient beings, inanimate beings. What is that? Do we live in a world where there is us, animate beings, and other, inanimate things, all around us? Do we believe that privileging?
It is fine to speak of humans and non-humans. There is myself and someone else. Good. But if we get caught in that, then our life is that much limited by our preconceptions that close us off. Here in the zendo there is a wood floor – but if we get caught in that dualistically, that much our walking on this wood, sitting on this wood, is hindered and we imprison our self. Dogen continues, “We should know that the East Mountain walking across the water is the bones and marrow of the Buddhas and Ancestors. All types of water are actualized at the foot of the East Mountain. ..Water is not comprised of earth, water, fire, wind, space, consciousness, and so forth. It is not blue, yellow, red, white, black, and so forth. It has no form, sound, smell, taste, sensation, perception. Nevertheless, it is actualized in all these things. Consequently, it is very difficult to clarify the nature of this world. Correct interpretation depends on the meaning of wind and emptiness. It doesn’t depend on ideas of oneself and others, and is beyond superficial understanding. Do not limit your vision to some narrow range.” And yet we limit our vision.
There are myriad ways that we are encouraged and supported, if we are open to this. All sorts of koan enable us to be beyond our self-centric, human-centric, animate-centric vision. This is our practice all the time. That is why practice is being this moment. “Right now being no-mind,” says Huangbo. Being this moment isn’t just inside a bag of skin. It is being this moment, the whole universe. Time-space are all together just this moment. Everything in front of you is just this moment. When you breathe, it is not an isolated “you” breathing, it is the universe breathing you. Breathing reaches across space and time in a very immediate sense. Just this moment. That is why it may be hard for us to understand Huangbo saying, “Buddhas and our self being just this one mind, nothing besides that.” And if there is nothing besides that, this is only our self taking care of our self. But if we don’t appreciate this, then we perpetuate self-centered dreams – which is what we do when we are addicted to all sorts of self-centered privileging. And at times this privileging even seems natural to us.
Buddha of the Maintained Three Treasures is not something that we can grasp conceptually. And yet, we can chew it and see for ourselves - appear in vast space. There are two nice testing questions - “What kind of Buddhas appear in vast space? What kind of Buddhas appear in dust?”
This is an opportunity for us, when we are washing dishes, chopping vegetables, writing on a computer, driving down the road. And in walking in the mountains at night and listening to the sutras that the streams chant. This is our body. The sounds of the valley streams are Buddha’s long, broad tongue. The forms of the mountain are his pure body. Is the night star sky your pure body? If not, how not? If so, how so?
The Dharma of the Maintained Three Treasures, Dogen says, “Transformed into sutras and converted into oceanic storehouse, it delivers the animate and inanimate. This is the Dharma Treasure.” How do we deliver inanimate? This is practice. There are koan dealing with this, because that is how to broaden and expand our vision, capacity, practice and life. Because our life is broad, expanded – this is boundless. Boundless is not a metaphor for something else. That’s why Huangbo says all dharmas are nothing but this. How do we serve all beings, save all beings?
Our culture is human-centric. This is what we are born into and this is our opportunity to see when we caught in self-centered dream. The word self-centered is not just about a “self” inside a bag of skin.
Our practice is always this moment, nothing left over and nothing left out; both equality and differentiation, not one covering over the other. And yet, when it is equality, it is just this. When it is differentiation, it is emptiness is form. This form swallows up the whole universe. The peach blossoms are the body of the Buddha. Or the dish you are washing is the body of the Buddha, is your body - so take good care of it.
© 2013 Elihu Genmyo Smith