Commentary by Gendo (based on Zen Sunday, 4/9/23)
In Spring we celebrate Buddha’s birthday. Where is the Buddha? Where was Buddha born? The Buddha, the “Awakened One” in history was born 2500 years ago in Northern India; and is celebrated for insight into the nature of suffering and its resolution, insight that remains relevant in our time. But Zen, the practice of Buddhism, is very clear on this point: Buddha/God/Truth – does not exist as an object. We search in vain if we look for a Buddha removed in time and circumstance. We cannot stand detached from that which is ultimately true. If we are to know the birth of the awakened mind, we must know it for ourselves.
Zen teacher Rinzai (9th Century China) says: “Bring to rest the thoughts of the ceaselessly seeking mind and you’ll not differ from the Patriarch-Buddha. Do you want to know the Patriarch-Buddha? He is none other than you who stand before me listening to my discourse.”
To know Buddha’s birth we have to get involved. To ‘wake up’ to Spring is involvement. Ceremonies and ritual are established to feel in our bodies what words and ideas cannot express.
Today that ceremony starts with vulnerability, with repentance. Likewise, Spring’s glory is born from Winter fatigue. Our joy embraces the paradox that vulnerability, suffering, is its precondition. Rinzai says, “even though you have committed the most heinous of crimes, that is the ground of your enlightenment.”
Winter and vulnerability are a glimpse of death, death of who you might have liked to be. But the death of an ideal self, makes possible the birth of a real self, a self that knows both life and death as its contents. And all beings are like this. The death of a discriminating self and the rebirth of a non-judgmental, inclusive self is the dawning of compassion, of true love., free of fixation on life or death; the birth of awakened awareness.
Embracing the flavor of non-judgment, which is already our contents, we practice. We practice sitting quietly and still, without fixation on thoughts. We chant. Today we chant “sange,” a verse of repentance, bearing in mind that the chant itself means nothing without the conviction each of us brings to it, without the experience of unself-conscious engagement, that experience of ‘just doing’ what needs to be done.
Next we will engage in the ritual of washing the baby Buddha, while chanting the heart Sutra, recognizing that in doing so, we cleanse ourselves. Wash away jealousy, and conceit, deceitfulness and greed. Wash away addiction and anger. Wash away all that confounds the simplicity of a child; a child’s whole hearted embrace of the world. I will go first and others who wish may follow.
Now we take refuge, as Buddhists all over the world have done for thousands of years. Refuge is shelter from the storms of our human lives. Having enacted the principle, we take refuge in its truth, returning again and again to its shelter in times of confusion and distress.
The idealized self that clings to life and rejects death disappears in the awareness that both are who I am. Refuge in the Buddha is refuge in awakened awareness.
The selfish self that clings to material objects for affirmation disappears in the realization that truth is found in the unity of self and other. Refuge in the Dharma is refuge in the teachings of our true nature.
The self-absorbed self that clings to its own accomplishments, and judges the good and bad qualities of others, disappears in the realization that all beings of my perception are mirrors of myself. Refuge in the Sangha is refuge together with all beings.
Lets recite the three refuges together.