28th Chapter of
The Bodhisattvas Four Embracing Actions
Soto Zen Buddhism International Center
by Rev. Zenshin Bradley)
means not being greedy. Not to be greedy means not to covet.
Not to covet commonly means not to flatter. Even if we rule
the four continents, in order to offer teachings of the true
Way, we must simply and unfailingly not be greedy. It is like
offering treasures we are about to discard to those we do
not know. We give flowers blooming on the distant mountains
to the Tathagata and offer treasures accumulated in past lives
to living beings. Whether our gifts are of the Dharma or of
material objects, each gift is truly endowed with the virtue
of offering, or dana. Even if this gift is not our personal
possession, nothing hinders our practice of offering. No gift
is too small, but our effort should be genuine.
I discussed Dogen Zenjis definition of offering, or
dana, as a practice of paramita. Dana
is an offering made and received without greed. When we are
truly free from the three poisonous minds of greed, anger/hatred,
and ignorance, our activities of either giving or receiving
are dana. If we act based on the three poisonous minds,
even charity, an act of justice, or act of love can create
twisted karma. Dana is a practice that allows us to
be free from self-clinging based on the three poisonous minds.
This practice benefits both giver and re ceiver, and the gift
is also free from the three poisonous minds. Thus, our activities
simply become one with the circulation of the myriad dharmas
that are always coming and going within the Dharma world.
We simply refrain from blocking such a circulation by ceasing
to create a wall between ourselves and all others.
why Dogen says, Even if we rule the four continents,
in order to offer teachings of the true Way we must simply
and unfailingly not be greedy. The ideal king in
Buddhism, Chakravarti-raja (the Wheel Turning King
with the golden wheel), governs the four continents located
in the four directions around Mt. Sumeru. Everything in the
world belongs to the king. If the king wishes to give, he
can give anything he wants. But Dogen said that not
being greedy is the best and greatest offering to give
as a teaching of the true Way. This Way is the Way of true
Dharma, the Buddha Way or the Bodhisattva Way. Here the word
Way also has a connotation of awakening or enlightenment
inherited from the Chinese Buddhist use of Dao (Way)
as a translation of the Sanskrit word bodhi. So, to
give a gift to someone we love or to someone in need is, of
course, a good thing. Yet such a gift does not necessarily
help us to wake up to the reality of emptiness and impermanence
but may rather strengthen our ego clinging and make us arrogant.
In such a case the gift is not an offering of the true Way.
is like offering treasures we are about to discard to those
we do not know. Here Dogen Zenji shows us a concrete
example of the kind of attitude we should maintain if we wish
practice dana as a paramita. I hope this doesnt
seem strange but I will offer here an example of this practice
from my own life. When my family and I moved to Minneapolis
from Japan, my daughter was five years old and my son was
one-and-a- half years old. Since we could not bring lot of
things from Japan, members of the sangha gave us many things
as gifts. One of the sangha members gave us a rocking horse
for our children. The rocking horse stayed in our home for
ten years while our children became too big for riding it.
During those ten years the horse experienced many difficulties
as a result of the childrens playing and two family
moves. Some parts of it were broken, and when we moved from
Minneapolis to Bloomington last year, we felt that it was
not worth giving to someone else. So, we decided to put the
rocking horse on the sidewalk in front of our apartment, and
within 10 minutes someone had taken it. We did not need the
horse and we did not think it was even worth giving away.
We just put it on the sidewalk by a street in order to discard
it. We had no attachment to it and we did not expect anything
in return from the unknown person who took it. The person
who took it did not know who put the horse on the street,
and there was no need for the person to pay us or even say
thank you. Still, the rocking horse moved from
one family to another and served other children.
not so difficult to offer with such an attitude of nonattachment
and non-expectation in the case of a broken rocking horse
or something we dont really need. But Dogen Zenji urges
us not to offer only unimportant things with such an attitude.
He says that all activities of offering, giving, or donation,
whether of the Dharma or of material things, should be made
in this way. If we closely examine our minds, we see that
when we make some offering we almost always find we have some
expectation of return from the action. This expectation might
be of a material return, some gratitude from the person who
receives, a good reputation from other people, or a better
image of oneself.
of this point, takuhatsu (Buddhist begging) is a very
precious practice. The people who give donations to monks
dont really know who they are or whether they are
really sincere practitioners of Buddhas teachings.
Although there are some fake monks practicing begging in Japan
simply to make money, people on the street, many of them merchants
who are making money to support themselves, make donations
without making such judgments. They simply trust the monks
robes. When I practiced takuhatsu, my fellow monks and I felt
people were giving to the Buddha rather than to us as individuals.
give flowers blooming on the distant mountains to the Tathagata.
Those flowers blooming on the distant mountains are not ours.
We have no sense of possession of those flowers. They grow
by themselves and by blooming they decorate the mountains
and make us feel good. The beauty of the flowers on the distant
mountains is a generous gift from nature. Yet we dont
cling to the flowers or their beauty. If we keep the same
attitude towards the flowers inside our garden that have received
a lot of our time and energy, our time and effort spent helping
those flowers grow can be true dana. But it is very difficult
to practice in this way. We usually want to enjoy the flowers
we help to grow by ourselves, or we want to share our joy
in them with only our loved ones.
a woman asked Ryokan to give her a poem as a keepsake, he
wrote this verse:
have I to leave as a keepsake?
In spring, the cherry blossoms
In summer, the warblers song
In autumn, the maples crimson leaves.
is another of Ryokans poem about takuhatsu:
skies are clear
I go out to beg
And receive heavens gifts.
(Translations from Great Fool by Ryuichi Abe and
Peter Haskel, University of Hawaii Press, 1996)
was living truly without greed and therefore he was one with
everything within the entire world. He had nothing to attach
to and nothing to covet. He lived within the network of the
offerings of heaven and earth. The flowers in the distant
mountains are keepsakes of Ryokan and he offers them to those
of us who appreciate his poems and his way of life. He received
the gifts of heaven and earth, and his poems as well as his
way of life are his gifts to us.
gate at Eiheiji
offer treasures accumulated in past lives to living beings.
Bodhisattvas arouse bodhi-mind to attain buddhahood
and to save all living beings. They practice throughout many
life times. Because of the power of their vows and the practices
on which they base those vows, we can practice this life time.
Our lives are the result of our efforts in past lives. Even
if one doesnt believe the reincarnation of individuals,
she knows that the air was created by primitive living beings,
that soil is a mixture of sand and the residue of living beings,
and that petroleum and coal are also gifts from living beings
that lived billions of years ago. Languages we study and use
in our cultures are gifts from people who previously lived
in our societies. Various rich cultures are also legacies
of people of the past. We cannot live without all these gifts
from the first most primitive living beings on the earth,
and if we awaken to this reality we cannot avoid trying to
offer something to benefit other beings. Dana as a practice
of paramita comes from such an awakening.
our gifts are of the Dharma or of material objects, each gift
is truly endowed with the virtue of offering, or dana.
Each and every thing in the universe is within the network
of interdependent origination. Each being is connected with
all other beings. Therefore by simply being as it is, each
thing is participating in the network of offering. But for
some reason human beings try to take only good things into
my territory and make them my
possession. We use all beings in nature as resources to satisfy
our desires and make us happy. Even when we try to help others,
our intention may have some subtle defilement created by some
underlying selfcenteredness. But even when we live in such
an egocentered way we are still one of the knots in Indras
net of interdependent origination. Awakening to interconnectedness
and making efforts to live peacefully with other beings allow
us to live in harmony with others. Such awakening allows us
to take the bodhisattva vow, Beings are numberless,
we vow to free them. In order to free other beings
we need to free ourselves, and the practice of dana
(offering) is a practice that frees us and other beings simultaneously.
traditionally it is said that there are three kinds of offerings.
The first is the offering of material things, the second is
the offering of Dharma, and the third is the offering of fearlessness.
Within the Buddhist sangha, laypeople usually offer material
things to support the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and the practice
of offering to people in need has been encouraged in order
to benefit society. The Buddha and monks offer Dharma in order
to benefit peoples practices and cultivate their spirituality.
Also, Buddhists practice offering fearlessness by avoiding
harming others and by taking good care of others with a compassionate
if this gift is not our personal possession, nothing hinders
our practice of offering. In the very beginning
of the Heart Sutra it says, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva
when deeply practicing prajna paramita, clearly saw
that all five aggregates are empty and thus relieved all suffering.
Dana paramita is a practice of offering that is based
on the insight or wisdom (prajna) that the five aggregates
are empty. The five aggregates are form (rupa, or material),
sensation, perception, formation and consciousness. These
five aggregates are the elements of all beings. Avalokiteshvara
saw that there is nothing that exists other than the five
aggregates, and he also clearly saw that even those five aggregates
are empty. Empty means there is no inherent
nature that makes things fixed, substantial, or permanent.
Things are only collections of the five aggregates that are
coming and going, arising and perishing, and gathering and
scattering. But the five aggregates themselves are also empty
and have no self nature. When we see the reality of the emptiness
of the five aggregates, that is (in the case of human beings),
of our bodies and minds, we can be free from attachment to
them. The body is composed of rupa and the other four
elements constitute the functioning of our minds. Nothing
exists other than the body and mind that are conditioned and
that there is something that does not change within or outside
of our bodies and minds. Since I was born my physical condition
has been always changing, and my mental condition is also
always changing. But we assume there is something that is
not changing and we call it identity. When I was a baby, my
body was much smaller than it is now, and in my twenties,
my body was much stronger. Now I am in the middle of my fifties
and my body is losing strength. Some of the things I could
once do easily are now difficult for me. Still, when I was
a baby, when I was a teenager, when I was in my twenties,
when I was in my thirties, and when I was in my forties, Shohaku
was always Shohaku, as he will be when I reach my seventies
and my eighties. Although both my physical and mental conditions
are changing, it seems there is something that continues without
change as I age. In Buddhism this something that does not
change is called atman, and the Buddha taught that
there is no such thing. He said that the atman is merely
a product of our minds, that is, a concept. If we see ourselves
and all other beings thoroughly in light of this prajna
(wisdom) paramita, we cannot say that there is an I
that possess this thing. We therefore cannot
say that because I am the owner of this
thing, I have authority to give it
to that person. In reality there is no such
thing called I, my possession,
and that person, but still we can make our
offerings. In fact it is precisely because we possess nothing
that things can be endowed with the virtue of offering.
gift is too small, but our effort should be genuine.
The worldly value of things has no significance when we practice
dana. Whether or not our intention to offer is sincerely
for the benefit of others is most important. For example,
Ryokan and his child playmates picked spring flowers such
as violets and dandelions and placed them in his begging bowl.
In the same way that Ryokan made this offering to the Buddhas
of the past, present, and future, a babys smile can
sometimes be the most precious dana.
book Awakening to Prayer (ICS Publications,
Washington DC, 1993), a Japanese Catholic priest, Father Ichiro
Okumura, introduces a story he found in a newspaper about
a four year-old-girl. The heading of the article, written
by the little girls aunt, was Kami sama,
gomen-ne; Dear God, pardon me.
day my little four-year-old niece came to visit me. Since
there were only boys in my family, the visit of this little
girl was like a ray of sunshine, or the opening of a flower.
The public gardens are nearby, so I brought her there, and
when the time came to return home I took her by the hand
and showed her how to cross the park, in which there is
a small temple in honor of Jizo Bodhisattva, protector of
children and the poor. My niece noticed it and led me there
saying, Lets go and pray. Since
the door was closed, I thought we would pass by, but to
my shame, the little girl opened it herself and began to
pray fervently. I prayed too, and then asked her, What
did you say? I said, Kami sama,
pardon me; I have nothing to offer. I was
deeply moved, since all I think of saying to the God or
the Buddha is, Give me this; do that….
Happily, I did not tell this child to ask Jizo Bodhisattva
to make her good, or other such things. If I had been that
clumsy I would never have felt the purity of the innocent
heart. I just squeezed her little hand.
(Translated by Theresa Kazue Hiraki and Albert Masaru Yamato,
with minor changes)
Okumura comments on this story:
you change and become like children, you will
never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 18:3). A
story like this should awaken the hearts of adults who
no longer know the meaning of pure prayer. Pardon
me, I have nothing to offer. As St. John of the
said, This awareness of our nothingness (nada),
our poverty, at the very moment we come emptyhanded
before God who is all (todo), is possible only if
we take time out for reflection during the day.
people bring some offerings to an enshrined Buddha or Bodhisattva
of a temple and pray for their wishes to be fulfilled. Such
an offering is a kind of trade or give-and-take
offering. The person offering says, I give offerings
to the Buddha and then the Buddha will give me something I
want in return. But the girl in this story had nothing
to offer and she just apologized instead of asking God to
give her something she wanted. The little girls prayer
was her precious offering to her aunt and all other people
who read this story. Father Okumura interprets her prayer
as expressing her awareness of the nothingness of the self
is the same spirit of Ryokans offering to the Buddhas
of wildflowers in his begging bowl. He and the children had
nothing to offer except those wildflowers that were not theirs.
Ryokans empty begging bowl that was made to receive
offerings from other people became a bowl for him to make
an offering to the Buddhas.
the Way is entrusted to the Way, we attain the Way. When we
attain the Way, the Way unfailingly continues to be entrusted
to the Way. When material things are treasured, these treasures
actually become dana. We offer ourselves to ourselves, and
we offer others to others. The karma of giving pervades the
heavens above and our human world alike. It even reaches the
realm of those sages who have attained the fruits of realization.
Whether we give or receive, we connect ourselves with all
beings throughout the world.
the Way is entrusted to the Way, we attain the Way. When we
attain the Way, the Way unfailingly continues to be entrusted
to the Way. I think this is the same thing that
Dogen said in the Genjokoan; Conveying oneself
toward all things to carry out practice/enlightenment is delusion.
All things coming and carrying out practice/ enlightenment
through the self is realization. When the Way is entrusted
to the Way, the person refrains from making judgments and
controlling all things according to his personal view and
system of values. This is what we do in our zazen by letting
go of thought, or to use Uchiyama Roshis expression,
by opening the hand of thought. When we try
not to deal with all things based on our personal views and
desires, the reality of all things as they are is made manifest.
This is the same as the four-year-old girl saying, I
am sorry I have nothing to offer. When we practice
with an empty hand, the Way manifests itself. This is what
Dogen meant when he said, we attain the Way.
But actually when the Way is attained, we hold nothing. We
simply continue to entrust all things, including ourselves,
to the Way. In this sense, Ryokans practice of offering,
the little girls prayer, Dogen Zenjis zazen,
and John of the Crosss awareness of the nothingness
of the self, are all the same thing. Only with an awareness
of the reality that we have nothing to offer, or even more
radically, that there is nothing to grasp as me,
can we practice dana, or offering, as a paramita.
material things are treasured, these treasures actually become
Dana. A more literal translation of this sentence
is, When material treasures are entrusted to the material
treasures, the material treasures without fail become dana.
As is so with the Way that is awakening or enlightenment,
when material things are entrusted to themselves, that is,
when we do not deal with them with our personal and selfish
views and desires, all things become dana. Air as it
is an offering. Water as it is an offering. Trees
being as they are is an offering. Flowers being as
they are is an offering. Butterflies being as they
are is an offering.
expresses this truth, I think, in another poem about begging:
no mind, the flower invites the butterfly.
With no mind, the butterfly visits the flower.
When the flower opens, the butterfly visits.
When the butterfly visits, the flower opens.
I also dont know him.
And also he does not know me.
Without knowing we follow the principle of the Emperor [of
we dont deal with things according to our personal
desires and try not to use things only for fulfilling these
desires, all things appear as they are. Otherwise, we only
see the image created in our minds by our own conditioned
thoughts and desires. That realm of letting go of thoughts
and desires is the common ground of interdependent origination
in which all things are sustaining each other. Simply being
a knot in the network of interdependence is already an offering.
offer ourselves to ourselves, and we offer others to others.
This means we entrust ourselves to ourselves and entrust others
to others. We refrain even from controlling ourselves as well
as others. This is what we do in our zazen. In zazen, the
self settles down within the self and others become as they
are. This is much different from our usual way of seeing ourselves
with greed and anger or hatred. Zazen allows us to give up
our usual struggle between whom we are and who we want to
be, and it frees us from our expectations of how others should
karma of giving pervades the heavens above and our human world
alike. It even reaches the realm of those sages who have attained
the fruits of realization. Whether we give or receive, we
connect ourselves with all beings throughout the world.
karma of giving is a translation of in-nen-riki,
or dana. In is cause and en
is conditions. Riki is power. So in-nen-riki
literally means the power of causes and conditions.
Causes and conditions in this case is one
of the ten suchnesses mentioned in the second
chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The ten suchnesses are: (1) the
suchness of form, (2) the suchness of nature, (3) the suchness
of body, (4) the suchness of power, (5) the suchness of function,
(6) the suchness of primary cause, (7) the suchness of secondary
cause (conditions), (8) the suchness of effect, (9) the suchness
of recompense, and (10) the suchness of the complete fundamental
whole. Each and every thing is endowed with these ten suchnesses.
My understanding is that the first five suchnesses comprise
the uniqueness of each thing. The next four show us that each
and every thing occurs and exists within relationship to everything
else in both time and space. The suchness of primary cause
(6) and the suchness of effect (8) are relationships within
time. Cause (6) is a relationship with the past. Effect or
result (8) is a relationship with the future. For example,
a flower has a relationship in the past with its parents
seed as the flowers cause, and its
own fruits or seeds give it a relationship in the future with
the next generation of flowers. The suchness of secondary
cause (7) and the suchness of recompense (9) are relationships
within space at the present time. Flowers can bloom because
of numberless conditions that sustain it such as moisture,
sunlight, and insects like butterflies and bees. The recompense
or secondary result (9) in this illustration may be, for example,
that the flower gives butterflies or bees nectar and brings
joy to human beings. Finally, the suchness of the complete
fundamental whole (10) expresses the truth that all of the
previous nine elements in this list are actually one unified
whole rather than nine independent items. Thus, each and every
thing is connected with everything else within time and space
and within a network of causes and conditions.
Sutra does not discuss the ten suchnesses in order to teach
principles of nature, but rather it aims to teach us the principles
of bodhisattva practice. Each and every action we perform
as a practice of the bodhisattva vows is connected to everything
in the past, present and future. Therefore, even our small
offerings given with sincere hearts have a connection with
all beings in all the six realms, including heaven realms,
human realms, and the realms of all sages such as buddhas
and bodhisattvas. Each and every action, no matter how small,
resonates with all beings in the past, present and future.
This is what Dogen means when he says, Whether we
give or receive, we connect ourselves with all beings throughout
the world. When either giving or receiving, by letting
go of egocentricity and being giving or receiving, we go beyond
the separation of self and all other beings. We then actively
participate in the network of interdependent origination.