June 2022 Sesshin, Day 6: Mumonkan # 9, "Daitsu Chisho Buddha"
4:28PM Jun 16, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is day six of this June 2022, seven day sesshin. We'll take up a koan today. This is from the Mumonkan, the Gateless Barrier, and it's number nine, it's called Daitsu Chisho Buddha. Read the case and later get to the commentary in the verse. Once a monk asked, Master Seijo, of Koyo, "Daitsu Chisho Buddha, did zazen on the Bodhi seat for 10 kalpas, but could neither manifest the Dharma nor attain Buddhahood. Why was this?" The master said, your question is exactly the point. The monk persisted. Why did he not attain Buddhahood by doing Zazen on the Bodhi seat? Master replied, Because he didn't attain Buddhahood.
We know nothing much about this master Seijo, except that he was he taught in the 10th century in China. Seijo is his japanized name.
The monk's question. First of all, we have to put aside the, the the logical contradiction of someone called Daitsu Chisho Buddha doing Zazen all this time and not attaining Buddhahood. It's got to leave that out. There's plenty in koans that are not logical or the point is more the this this is this monk's problem. Daitsu Chisho Buddha which by the way is one of the harder parts of the student working on this koan is to pronounce that Daitus Chisho Buddha. I usually decide to say die, just don't worry about it. This Daitsu Chisho means the Buddha of supremely pervading surpassing wisdom. That's a literal translation of it. So this is a truly magnificent, profoundly enlightened Buddha who did Zazen on the Bodhi seat for 10 kalpas. A kalpa is this immeasurably long period of time. It's an Indian word. A couple other different ways that the it's defined in the old texts. One is that if you had a huge container of cubic container at some a mile in each dimension full of poppy seeds, and you remove just one poppy seed every three years from this immense container, it would, it would it would take all that time, before the container before one kalpa had passed before you've empty the container. The one I remember from Roshi Kapleau giving this teisho was it's like a heavenly being coming down once every three years and brushing ever so lightly brushing the edge of its wing against a mountain, a mile high made of iron, and the kalpa would be how long it takes to wear down that mountain.
In the Buddhist tradition, there is this love of, of describing immeasurable numbers in this way in concrete, physical ways. Rather than just saying a kalpa is an immeasurable length of time. What does that do for you? No, just but then these other things can take hold of the mind and give us a sense. Here's here's one that just popped in my mind. What's a billion a billion is if a if the propeller of a plane is rotating at 2500 revolutions rotations per minute, second, it would take a year before had gone around a billion times. So we have our own versions of that.
And then the monk asked, Why was this alright? So here's, here's how I can imagine this monk. I knew this monk. He joined the monastery because he sincerely wanted to come to enlightenment. And he was the type who could work toward a goal once he had that goal spelled out and he wanted it badly enough, he would really put himself in a harness and give it everything he had. So he had he had read enough to hear about enlightenment. He he knew that all of the pleasures and the successes of the world couldn't compare to that for him. Anyway, and this is what he had to do. He hadn't read the Three Pillars of Zen hadn't been around then. But he had other sources of course. And so he went to town, comes to the monastery and he sets about to accomplish this goal. And he goes to sesshin after sesshin determined to come to awakening. The years pass. He steps up his efforts in sesshin, does lots of Yaza even sometimes sits during break periods, skips a meal now and then.
He says ma'am a strong faith but every once in a while way in the back of his mind comes this little voice. Are you sure? Are you sure you can do this? Yes others Yes, I'll give you that others have done I have no doubt in my mind. But how do I know I've I can do this. and they push those doubts out of his mind and just go on sitting around the clock. Years pass and
one day he's up in the library the monastery library in his afterall needs to take a break from the sitting now and then and he's leave leafing through this Lotus Sutra and he sees that this Daitsu Chisho Buddha does Zen for 10 kalpas without attaining Buddhahood and he sits back thunderstruck. Wait a minute, wait just a minute. All that time, all that effort 10 kalpa is not just one or five,10 kalpas and didn't attain Buddhahood. How can this be? What the hell? And then first chance he gets he goes to this master, Seijo. And he spells this out and ends by saying, Why was this? How could this be?
His faith now, getting a little wobbly.
There's a short story I marked from a book of stories called "Soul Food: Stories to Nourish the Spirit and the Heart". And it's edited by Jack Kornfield and Christina Feldman. One of the devotees in the temple was well known for his ardor zealousness and effort day and night he would sit in meditation not stopping even to eat or sleep. Now he grew thinner exhausted. Master of the temple urged him to slow down, take take better care of himself. He introduced him to the idea of self care which can make such a difference in the long run. But this guy refused to heed his advice. The master said why are you rushing so what's what's your hurry? time after enlightenment the devil to your PI there is no time to waste. To which the master said and how do you know that? How do you know how do you know that enlightenment is running on before you so that you have to rush after it. Perhaps it's behind you and all you need to do to encounter it is to stand still but you're running away from it. Stand still.
And this master he could see that no explanation would would work in this case. So he just said Your question is exactly to the point. Yeah, good question. Monk and a Miko he couldn't I couldn't let it go at that. He pressed him Why did he not attain Buddhahood by doing Zazen on the Bodhi seat and then the master because he didn't attain Buddhahood.
Like one in water crying I thirst.
One of the
best known stories about this whole matter of practice and enlightenment effort exertion appears in Three Pillars among other books. I'm sure many of you have read this. Maybe in Three Pillars. I'll read through it. It's about a monk at the time who went on to become a great great one of the greatest of the Chinese masters Matsu. He's supposed to have had 139 enlightened disciples. But this was long before that. And he was doing Zan every day in his hut on the mountain. And his master noticed and said, he will become he said to himself, he will become a great monk. And then went to him and asked, "O worthy one, why are you? What are you trying to attain by sitting?" Matsu said I'm trying to become a Buddha, I become enlightened. And then the master picked up a piece of roof tile and began grinding it on a rock in front of him.
What are you doing master? Matsu asked. Why I'm polishing it to make a mirror out of this roof tile. Matsu said how could polishing a tile make a mirror? And matsu are the master said how could sitting Zen make a Buddha?
Roshi Kapleau includes this story in his book, to to point out that this should not be taken to mean that sitting there's no need for sitting. Rather, sitting Zen practice Zen practice is not limited to sitting.
There's no doubt that the more sitting we do in sesshin or outsets, I'd say outside sesshin more sitting we do in a day the more sitting we do in a week, the more likely we are going to empty the mind of obstructive thoughts.
That's why we have sesshin. So people who are ordinarily so busy in their lives can come and drop all those tasks and be able to really sit around the clock.
But the this young Matsu his his impediment was the same as this monk in today's koan, mental of course.
Like water and ice without water, no ice outside us no Buddhas.
Let's move on to the commentary. Mumon's commentary says I approve the old barbarian's realization, but I don't approve his understanding. If an ordinary person realizes, she is a sage, if a sage understands, she is an ordinary person. So here Mumon is distinguishing between what he calls realization and understanding. Usually we use these interchangeably, realization understanding. But then, why does he distinguish between them? Well, this is just one of the skills one learns and working on koans is not to get hung up on the words, but to see what's behind the words. The whole koan system can be appreciated as a way to to learn to see through words and concepts. It is great practical value. To train in that way, and just in our daily lives, among every kind of person in every walk of life, people talking to us, or our family or kids or spouse when they're saying whatever they're saying, what are they really saying? What's behind that? So then let's make this commentary on its own terms where realization is different from understanding.
I approve the old barbarian's realization. Well, where did how did the barbarian get into this all of a sudden, barbarian would refer to Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma sometimes represents our true nature, in koans. A true self. I approved the old barbarian's realization, but I don't approve his understanding.
This monk, I was imagining, who came to the master with this question, he may have spent plenty of time before that in the library, studying, thinking that would be his route before he got serious about the meditation. For untold numbers of people this is this is their, their way. Their way is to read and read and read and try to learn. They think learning is going to satisfy their longings, their spiritual aspirations, reading, studying. Many of the greatest of the Chinese masters did plenty of time as studying the sutras before they switched to this a school that is beyond words and letters without reliance on the Sutras, the Zen school.
And then the commentary continues. If an ordinary person realizes, he is a sage. If a sage understands, he's an ordinary person.
This last line particularly for sage understands, he is an ordinary person. An ordinary person caught in the world of dualities self and other, us and them, good and bad, right and wrong, this and that. future and past. How, how can then a sage become an ordinary person?
There are people in the seven day sesshin who on the last day of sesshin, don't succumb to thoughts about after sesshin. They work right to the last bell. And even if they haven't come to awakening, even if they haven't passed on their koan, let's say it's very common to see such people come out of the Zendo when the music comes on, just glowing. Radiant.
An ordinary person
is free of thoughts in the mind. There is there is that essential nature that buddha mind, completely luminous and bright. But if someone who has been passed on their first koan spends time in the last day, sorting out arrangements for after sesshin, what they're going to say to whom and how and when, and how, and, and so forth. And they come out of that sesshin, an ordinary person.
Rather than speaking of an enlightened person, it's much better to speak of enlightened activity, enlightened conduct, enlightened action. Because anyone who has experienced a degree of awakening needs to confirm that to prove that moment by moment day after day. What does it matter what's happened to you in the past?
The fundamental, the natural koan of the great Japanese Zen master Dogen was if I'm already enlightened in my true nature why don't I know it? And why do I have to go through all this training on the sitting, pain, the struggle if I'm essentially in my true nature enlightened?
government official must have had plenty of Chan practice said an ordinary person is someone who is enlightened the whole day long without knowing it.
In the Three Pillars also, Roshi Kapleau warns about buji zen. Buji zen is this idea that okay, so gotcha we're all fundamentally enlightened, I'm enlightened. So, Okay done. Nothing I need to do, right?
Everyone here in this Zendo knows better and so to those who are sitting at home in this participating in the sesshin. There's so many ways to, forms of avoidance of doing the work that we knew know we have to do, ways to to try to get around the need to confirm our true nature.
This monk in the koan, maybe if he was in the library, reading about Daitsu Chisho Buddha, maybe that was a way for him to kind of tell himself that he was still working for the Dharma even though he wasn't sitting.
A saying in Zen, a menu doesn't satisfy hunger.
Now the verse, the Mumon's verse, rather than giving the body relief, give relief to the mind. When the mind is at peace, the body is not distressed. If body and mind are both set free, why would a holy hermit seek to become a lord
rather than giving the body relief give relief to the mind.
So many millions of people focus on the body, its fitness, its diet, its flexibility, its strength, its endurance
in hopes that they'll find some kind of freedom that way. And there's no doubt that it's only smart to take care of the body, to be aware of one's diet and one's flexibility and strength and cardiovascular of course, of course.
But ultimately, it's not going to get the job done.
It's a stage for many people to stage before coming to authentic practice. It's, it's a way of it's a first step toward practice. It is kind of praying it is practice. It's not just studying it's, it's activity, it's discipline. It's good.
But mind rules giving the body relief. And wonder how many people have spent time in sesshin hours trying and trying and trying to find the perfect posture, tweaking this, tweaking that, trying different cushions and, and still not finding any real ease relief. But then as a last resort, really bearing down the practice one is working on the mental practice one is working on and finding that everything can change. It's really quite marvelous how that works.
It's so confirming that, that when the mind is at peace, the body is not distressed. Don't, not suggesting that this is black and white things. Absolutely. All you have to do is get deeper into your practice and you won't have any physical pain. But it can make such a difference. It can transcend physical, one can it can enable one to transcend physical pain. So that even though it's still there, one can work with it one it isn't oppressive. It isn't the same obstacle that it was. One's relationship to it changes through absorption in the practice.
can also see body here as being the body mind, the psychological. Same thing. Psychotherapy and other forms of psychological exploration and development can only be good. How can those hurt?
But I would I would say that the realm of psychology addresses personal suffering, the realm of spirituality, Zen addresses the nature of suffering. Suffering that is universal
and the former can be very good for the latter, the psychological pull out some wedges in the psychotherapy room can make a real difference in one's practice it didn't mind. If body and mind are both set free, why would a holy hermit seek to become a lord? Referring back to the case
why would this monk be anxious and striving about becoming a Buddha body and mind are both set free