In an evening talk Dogen said,
In the tradition of the patriarchs, the true way of understanding dharma-talks
[on Zen practice] is to gradually reform what you have known and
thought by following your teacher’s instruction.
Even if up to now, you have thought that a buddha has excellent characteristics
1 like Shakyamuni 2 or Amitaba 3 , radiates a halo, has the virtue
of preaching the dharma and benefiting living beings, you should believe
your teacher if he says that buddha is nothing but a toad or an earthworm,
and throw your former ideas away. However, if you look for some excellent
characteristics, a halo, or other virtues of a buddha on the toad or
the earthworm, you still have not reformed your discriminating mind.
Just understand what you see right now is buddha. If you continually
reform your discriminating mind and fundamental attachment in this
way according to your teacher’s instruction, you will naturally become
one with the Way.
Students today, however, cling to their own discriminating minds. Their
thinking is based on their own personal views that buddha must be such
and such; if it goes against their ideas, they say that buddha cannot
be that way.
Having such an attitude and wandering here and there in delusion, searching
after what conforms to their preconceptions, few of them ever make
any progress in the Buddha-Way.
Suppose that you have climbed to the top of a hundred-foot pole 4 ,
and are told to let go and advance one step further without holding
bodily life dear. In such a situation if you say that you can practice
the Buddha-Way only when you are alive, you are not really following
your teacher. Consider this carefully.
- According to various Buddhist legends, the Buddha had thirty-two
major physical characteristics and eighty marks of physical excellence.
- Shakyamuni (the sage of the Shaka clan), the founder of Buddhism.
Born to King Suddhodana and Queen Maya in Kapilavastsu, in central
India, he was called Siddhartha and also Gautama. He married and
had a son, but abandoned his family to seek the Way of salvation
when he was twenty-nine years old (nineteen years old, according
to another tradition). After nine years of practice, he attained
enlightenment and was called Buddha (the Awakened One). He preached
the Way to many people and thus the Buddhist order (sangha) was formed.
He died at the age of eighty. There are different opinions as to
his dates; e.g. 565–486 B.C. according to J. Takakusu, 463–383 B.C.
according to H. Nakamura. Theravada has a different tradition, according
to which the Buddha’s dates are 624–544 B.C.
- Amitaba is one of the most popular buddhas in Mahayana Buddhism.
According to the Muryoju-kyo (Sukhavati Vyuha),
Amitaba was previously a king. When he met a buddha called Sejizaio
(Lokesvararaja), he too wished to become a buddha. He then renounced
the world and became a monk, his Buddhist name becoming Hozo (Darmakara).
He took forty eight vows and performed various bodhisattva practices
to fulfill them. After many aeons of time, he fulfilled them, and
became the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life. His land in the West,
which derived from his vows and practices, is called Gokuraku (Skt.
Sukhavati) or paradise. The eighteenth vow was that anyone who had
sincere faith in him (Amitaba) and recited his name, that is, chanted
the nenbutsu, would be reborn in the Western paradise through
his power. Amitaba is a transcendental buddha, as opposed to the
historical Buddha Shakyamuni, and is generally regarded as the reward-body
(J., hojin Skt., sambhogakaya). The school of Buddhism
centering around Amitaba is known as Pure Land Buddhism (jodokyo).
It arose in India, grew in China, and developed more fully in Japan.
- This was taken from a verse of the Chinese Zen Master Chosa Keishin
The immovable person at the top of the hundred-foot pole,
Although he has entered [the Way], he is not truly [a man of the Way],
[He should] advance one step further from the top of the hundred-foot
The ten-direction world is the whole body [of the person].