September, 2005 NUMBER 16
 

The 28th Chapter of
Shobogenzo: Bodaisatta-Shishobo
The Bodhisattva’s Four Embracing Actions

Lecture (5)

Shohaku Okumura
Director, Soto Zen Buddhism International Center

The Buddha said, "One may offer a gift to oneself and use one's own gift; even more, one can pass it to one's parents, wife, and children." Therefore we should know that giving to ourselves is a kind of offering. To give to parents, wife, and children is also an offering.

Dogen Zenji says that offering a gift to oneself and one's family and to use it for oneself and for one's family can also be dana. I had difficulty to understand what he is saying.

On December 20th, 1975, I came to the US for the first time with my dharma brother and a few American friends. I was twenty six years old. We stayed with our friend John in Los Angeles. Then another friend from San Francisco, Michael came to pick us up to take us to San Francisco. On our way, we stopped in Santa Barbara to visit another friend, Paul who practiced at Antaiji, and then went to UC Santa Barbara. That was on New Year's Eve. We talked with Paul and his roommates regarding our trip to Massachusetts.

Another dharma brother who went to Massachusetts one year before us had bought a piece of land in the woods in western Massachusetts to build a zendo. Speaking among ourselves, we noted that they had nothing other than a small house built by practitioners in the previous summer. It was going to take a lot of work to establish a practice center. When he heard of the talk, a roommate of our friend whose name was Michael, gave me a pair of working boots. He said, "I am happy if these boots are useful for you." The pair of boots did fit my feet quite well. My English was very poor. I could only say, "Thank you," and received his offering. But in my mind, I felt something uncomfortable. I appreciated his kindness and generosity to a stranger came from Japan, but some deeper part of my mind said, "I don't want to receive it." I did not really understand what this feeling was.

Next day was New Year's Day, 1976. Taking a walk by myself early in the morning along the nearby streets that had big beautiful trees on both sides, I tried to figure out what that feeling was. The sky was so blue, a color that was rare in Japan. After for a while, I found that the feeling had something to do with the teaching of Sawaki Roshi, "Gaining is delusion, losing is enlightenment."

My teacher, Kosho Uchiyama Roshi retired from Antaiji in the winter of 1975. Right before he left the temple, he gave his last lecture as the abbot on February 23. In the lecture, he talked on the seven points he kept in mind in order to educate his disciples and maintain sincere practice while he was the abbot. His wish was that his disciples would observe these points and continue his vow in our activities.

The third of those seven points was "Zazen must work concretely in our daily lives as the two practices (vow and repentance), the three minds (magnanimous mind, nurturing mind, and joyful mind), and as the realization of the saying 'Gaining is delusion, losing is enlightenment.'"

Uchiyama Roshi talked about the saying "Gaining is delusion, losing is enlightenment" as an essential point of practice based on buddhadharma as follows:

To recognize true zazen, we have to look at our practice from an absolute perspective. If you are caught up in one of the limited kinds of Zen of the six realms, you can no longer see the essential point of buddhadharma. And what is that? As I said before, Buddhism teaches impermanence and the quality of non-ego. Letting go and opening the hand of thought is the foundation of Zen based on the buddhadharma.

The saying "gaining is delusion, losing is enlightenment" has very practical value. In our ordinary human life, we are always trying to fulfill our desires. We're satisfied only when all our desires are met. In Buddhism, though, it's just the opposite: it is important for us to leave our desire alone, without trying to fulfill them. If we push this one step further - gaining is delusion, losing is enlightenment - we're talking about active participation in loss.

Let me be clear that I am not saying, "Losing is important, so go help people out by collecting what you can from them." That just makes you the "someone" who gains. Rather, apply this saying just to yourself and give something up. For breaking the ego's grip, nothing is more effective than giving something up. (Opening the Hand of Thought, 2004, P. 153)

Originally this saying was Sawaki Kodo Roshi's unique expression in colloquial Japanese terms of Dogen Zenji's teaching, mushotoku (); no gaining, which came from the Mahayana teaching of emptiness of subject and object: there is no one to gain and nothing to be gained.

In the Heart Sutra, we find the expression, "There is neither ignorance nor extinction of ignorance--- neither old age and death, nor extinction of old age and death; no suffering, no cause, no cessation, no path; no knowledge and no attainment (, mutoku). With nothing to attain (, mushotoku), a bodhisattva relies on prajnaparamita, and thus the mind is without hindrance.---."

Uchiyama Roshi said that someone criticized Sawaki Roshi saying, "Neither gaining nor losing, neither enlightenment nor delusion is in accord with buddhadharma. 'Gaining is delusion and losing is enlightenment' is still incomplete." What Uchiyama Roshi said in the last paragraph of the above quote was his refutation against that criticism. Because we all have a tendency to gain something desirable and not to lose anything we possess, we need to actively practice not to gain and to lose. This was a very important teaching to me since from the beginning, I studied and practiced following Sawaki Roshi and Uchiyama Roshi's teachings.

Since Uchiyama Roshi retired and I began to make preparations to come to the US to work on establishing the zendo in Massachusetts, many people including my teacher, parents, dharma brothers, and various friends, helped and supported me. Some of them were so generous that they made offerings of money to help me buy the necessary things to travel and to live in the US. Without their help, I could not have moved to the US. I was almost overwhelmed by those offerings. Although I was very grateful with all such gifts, in part of myself, I felt as if they had some expectation from me and I had an obligation to them. I did not think that I had some desire to gain something for my own from my practice and going to the US as a means to get some benefit. But when I received so many offerings from so many people, I felt uncomfortable. And yet, I could not reject them. That was the feeling I had had when Michael gave me the pair of working boots in Santa Barbara.

The teaching of "gaining is delusion, losing is enlightenment" is about being free from the ego-centered mind that is always calculating how much we gain and how much we lose. And when incoming is larger than outgoing, we think our life is in a good shape. It is very difficult for us to be free from this kind of basic desire for gaining even when we practice buddhadharma. We always ask, "What I can get from this?" Our expectation from Buddhist practice is usually so-called enlightenment. We practice if we can expect some kind of benefit that makes us better, or makes our lives easier and more comfortable. Basic Mahayana teaching of egolessness and no-gaining is warning against this kind of mental framework.

However, if we take this kind of teaching against our ego-centered calculating mind with a more twisted calculating mind, we will have a rather complicated problem. Because gaining is delusion, I don't want to gain. Because losing is enlightenment, I want to lose. When I am offered something from others or when I don't have anything to lose (offer), I feel small and guilty. When I can offer something, I feel good. When we understand this teaching in this way, we simply create another standard to measure gaining and losing. We are still in the framework of gaining and losing. That was what was happening in my mind on the New Year Day of 1976. I did not want to gain, because gaining was losing.

At the time, I made up my mind to receive the working boots with gratitude and use it not for the sake of my desire but for the sake of Dharma. After arriving at Pioneer Valley Zendo, I put on the pair of working boots when I worked on cutting trees, clearing land to make a vegetable garden, chopping wood to make firewood, etc. The pair of working boots was really helpful both in the summer and winter. It protected my feet. People taught me how to take care of the leather. The pair of boots was a very good friend of mine. After two years of lots of hard work in the woods of western Massachusetts, the pair of boots was completely broken. In Japanese colloquial expression, we say that they had become Buddha.

In Shobogenzo Gyoji (Continuous Practice), Dogen Zenji wrote,

"Now that we today have become people who see and hear the true Dharma, we should unfailingly repay our debt of gratitude to the (Second) Ancestor. Extraneous methods of repayment will not do: bodies and lives are not sufficient, and nations and cities are not important. Nations and cities can be plundered by others, and bequeathed to relatives and children. Bodies and lives can be given over to the impermanent; they can be committed to a lord, or entrusted to false ways. Therefore, to intend to repay our gratitude through such means is not the way.
Simply to maintain the practice day by day: only this is the right way to repay our gratitude. The principle here is to maintain the practice so that the life of every day is not neglected, and not wasted on private pursuits. For what reason? [Because] this life of ours is a blessing left over from past maintenance of the practice; it is a great favor bestowed by maintenance of the practice, which we should hasten to repay." (translated by Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross, with small changes, Master Dogen's Shobogenzo Book 1, Windbell Publications, 1996, P165.)

Here Dogen Zenji discussed his debt of gratitude to the Second Ancestor of China for having succeeded Bodhidharma's teachings and enabling the Dharma to survive in China through successive generations of the tradition. I believe we can include not only our ancestors but also all other people who support and help our practice as the source of our debt of gratitude. How can we repay the debt of gratitude? Since the number of people who support us is literally numberless, we cannot do something good for them in return one by one. We cannot even say thank you to them. The only way we can repay the debt of gratitude is to live an unselfish way and try to be helpful to other people we encounter. That is, we offer the same support as we received to others. In the case of Buddhist practitioners, we practice buddhadharma for the sake of buddhadharma. This is what Dogen Zenji means when he says, "The principle here is to maintain the practice so that the life of every day is not neglected, and not wasted on private pursuits."

As Dogen Zenji said in the beginning of the section of offering (dana) in Shishobo, "Offering means not being greedy." We are born, live and die within the network of interdependent origination. Within this network, things are interconnected, moving and changing, giving and receiving, supporting and helping. To be greedy means to make a wall between ourselves and other beings and trying to make desirable things our possessions and keep them inside the wall and undesirable things outside the wall. This is done by the three poisonous minds; greed, anger/hatred, and ignorance. To be free from these three poisonous minds, especially greed, is the actual practice of offering (dana) as a paramita. Within this network, each and every one of us is included. Unless we take good care of ourselves and our family, we cannot help others. This is why Dogen Zenji quotes the Buddha's saying, "One may offer a gift to oneself and use one's own gift; even more, one can pass it to one's parents, wife, and children."

Bodhisattva practice is not the way of self-sacrifice. The goal of our practice is to find a way we and other beings can live together without causing suffering to each other. This is the middle way between pursuing only one's own interests and sacrificing oneself. Offering (dana) is a practice of not disturbing the movement of all beings in the network in which ourselves and our families are included.

Whenever we can give up even one speck of dust for the practice of dana we should quietly rejoice. This is because we have already correctly transmitted a virtue of the buddhas, and because we practice one dharma of a bodhisattva for the first time.

Because of our self-centered tendency influenced by the three poisonous minds, it is difficult to give up even small things. We would like to make our life secure not only today but also for the rest of our lives. We cannot be completely satisfied even when our stomach is full now, because we can think of the future. We want to accumulate wealth not only for ourselves but also our children. Living with such a principle of social life, if we give up even one speck of dust for the practice of dana, we transmit and manifest one of the virtues of the buddhas. This is the first step of entering into the way of a bodhisattva. Even if our offering is as small as a glass of water when we see someone is thirsty, or giving directions when someone is lost, our small gift can be the first practice of dana paramita. We can quietly rejoice for that.

The mind of a sentient being is difficult to change. We begin to transform the mind of beings by offering material things, and we resolve to continue to transform them until they attain the Way. From the beginning we should make use of offering. This is the reason why dana-paramita is the first of the Six Perfections.

Both giving and receiving without attachment to either objects or our own actions is the manifestation of the virtue of dana paramita through which the wheel of dharma is turning. Although the mind of a living being is difficult to change, active offering (dana) is the most powerful way to change living beings and create a friendly, harmonious condition. Common sense tells us that offering material things might be easier, offering kind and friendly sympathy might be more difficult, and offering Dharma might be the most difficult. We should offer whatever we can offer. The action of offering changes the mind of our own and the mind of the people who receive the offering. Dogen Zenji encourages us to continue this practice until both we and others attain the Way (awakening to the reality of all beings) together.

Offering (dana) is the first of the six paramitas: offering (dana), precepts (sila), patience (kshanti), diligence (virya), meditation (dhyana), and wisdom (prajna). These six paramita are a bodhisattva's practice to help all living beings to ferry from this shore of samsara to the other shore of nirvana. One of the English translations of this Sanskrit word is "perfection." Another translation is "reaching [from this shore of samsara] to the other shore [of nirvana]." Dogen Zenji says that dana paramita is the first of the six paramitas because this is most powerful in terms of changing the mind of living beings.

The vastness or narrowness of mind cannot be measured, and the greatness or smallness of material things cannot be weighed. But there are times when our mind turns things, and there is offering, in which things turn our mind.

This is the conclusion of Dogen Zenji's comments on the practice of offering. He discusses the relation between our mind and things as the objects of our mind. Depending upon how the mind and its objects interact, we create either samsara or nirvana. Dogen Zenji wrote in Shobogenzo 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." According to him, delusion and enlightenment lies within relation between oneself and myriad things. It is not that there is delusion as a part of ourselves and if we take that part off from ourselves, like removing a cancer by means of surgery, we become enlightened.

In one of the oldest Buddhist scriptures named Sutta- Nipata, we find the older version of the Buddha's teaching about dependent origination that was one of the materials from which the teaching of twelve links of causation was formed. Sutta-Nipata is a collection of short sutta (sutta is a Pali word for sutra in Sanskrit). In this collection there is a sutta called Kalahavivada Sutta (Disputes and Contention). This Sutta begins with a question to the Buddha by someone:

"Sir, whenever there are arguments and quarrels there are tears and anguish, arrogance and pride and grudges and insults to go with them. Can you explain how these things come about? Where do they all come from?"

The Buddha replied, "The tears and anguish that follow arguments and quarrels, the arrogance and pride and grudges and insults that go with them are all the result of one thing. They come from having preferences, from holding things precious and dear. Insults are born out of arguments and grudges are inseparable from quarrels." (The Sutta-Nipata, translated by H. Saddhatissa, Curzon Press, 1994)

The question and answer sequence continued. The Buddha points to the causes of the problems we have in our daily lives at the source. That is, preferences -> impulse of desire -> pleasant and unpleasant sensation -> action of contact -> the compound of mind and matter. These are number eight and number four of the Twelve Links of Causation. Finally the Buddha said, "There is a state where suffering ceases to exist. It is a state without ordinary perception and without disordered perception and without any perception and without any annihilation of perception. It is perception, consciousness, that is the source of all the basic obstacles."

Consciousness is No. 3 of the Twelve Links of Causation. In this short sutta, six of the twelve links are mentioned although the words are different from the final version that appears in various part of the Nikaya.

I believe that what Dogen Zenji says in Genjo-koan, what we actually practice in our zazen, and what the Buddha said are the same things. By letting go of thoughts coming up from our karmic (conditioned) consciousness, and refraining from any action based on our thoughts, we are illuminated and verified by all beings. All beings cease to be the objects of our consciousness (namarupa, compound of name and form) and appear as they are. In Dogen Zenji's teachings, zazen itself is awakening.

The practice of offering (dana) in its true sense as paramita comes from this liberation and awakening. This is what Uchiyama Roshi meant when he said, "Zazen must work concretely in our daily lives as the two practices (vow and repentance), the three minds (magnanimous mind, nurturing mind, and joyful mind), and as the realization of the saying 'Gaining is delusion, losing is enlightenment.'"

 

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