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TEISHO for study.
TEISHO Joshu Sasaki
…when we define what Buddhism is, we say very clearly that Buddhism
is the manifestation of the heart of compassion.
Then we are faced with the problem of what compassion actually is. All
of you love to say that we can’t live without love, and Buddhism also
says that. Buddhism says of itself that there is no Buddhism other than
the activity of true love.
Then what is the activity of true love? If we very carefully analyze the
activity of love, we see that it is comprised of two activities. In
Buddhism we use the word ji-hi to describe the activity of love.
Each of those syllables represents a separate activity, so we can speak
of the ji activity of love and the hi activity of love.
The Chinese character pronounced ji corresponds to the Sanskrit word
karuna. Karuna is the activity of love within the process of living. It
is the living activity of love. As we do our living activity, we meet up
with all sorts of hardships and troubles and problems. Our struggles and
hardships obstruct our doing of the living activity. The karuna love,
the ji love, this kind of activity of love is the activity of love which
removes those obstructions from our living activity.
What kind of activity can obstruct our living activity? It’s, of course,
the dying activity that gets in the way of the living activity. Who is
it that can help us overcome the dying activity that we encounter as we
strive to do living? Who is it who can help us overcome our obstructions
so that we can complete the living activity? Although the answer is very
startling, we say that it is the dying activity itself that helps the
living activity in order to complete the living activity.
It is death that obstructs life, and yet we also say that it is the dying
activity who is the helper, who helps the living activity complete
itself. It isn’t easy to truly manifest the wisdom that can grasp this
What about the hi love? What about the love of the dying activity? In
just the same way as we encounter difficulties when we strive to do the
living activity, we also encounter difficulties when we must do dying.
We dislike dying. And yet, it is said in Buddhism that undoubtedly we
will do the dying activity until we don’t need to do dying anymore. It
should go without saying that that which obstructs the dying activity is
the living activity.
However, according to Tathagata Zen, inevitably the dying activity will
be led to the condition in which dying doesn’t need to be done anymore.
And who is it who leads the dying activity to the state of complete
death? That is the living activity. The living activity transforms
itself and leads dying to the condition where dying doesn’t need to be
The two fundamental opposing activities of tatha-gata and tatha-agata do
seem to get in each other’s way, do seem to obstruct each other. But
they also mutually help each other, and through helping each other, the
conditions of completed life and completed death are arrived at. The
teaching of Buddhism concludes that whenever both tatha-gata (“thus come”)
and tatha-agata (“thus gone”) are completely made content, that being who
has made them completely its content is in a state of neither needing to live nor
needing to die.
Buddhism says that when it comes to these conditions of not needing to
either live or die, there are two: There’s the condition in which the
living activity is leading, being aided by the dying activity, which
culminates in the condition of complete life; and there’s also the
condition where the dying activity leads, being helped by the living
activity which ends in the condition of completed dying.
Tathagata Zen implores you to sit firmly in your zazen and contemplate
without mistake that the condition of perfect living. Completed living is
the condition in which living has been done to the extent that it doesn’t
need to be done anymore. And the state of perfect death is the state
that has been reached when dying doesn’t need to be done anymore.
Buddhism further teaches that it is these very same two activities of
tatha-gata and tatha-agata who are always acting together. Whether it’s
on the side of the process of living or on the side of the process of
dying, they always are bringing into being both the perfect self, the
self that is the complete self, and the imperfect self over and over
To study these two activities of tathagata and tatha-agata from the point
of view of knowing, from the point of view of conceptualizing, is what’s
called Zen Studies. Tathagata Zen very sternly and strictly reminds us
that it’s not possible to do this kind of studying without an ‘I am’
self. The self who lives inevitably will manifest a condition where
living doesn’t need to be done anymore. The self who dies will
undoubtedly manifest the state where dying doesn’t need to be done
anymore. To learn and study this principle is Zen study.
Buddhism calls the activity of tatha-gata and tatha-agata together when
it bundles them together into one activity, it calls that activity the
Dharma activity, Dharma nature, Dharma-ta
All of you don’t know that this is the point of view of what’s called
Buddhist studies or Zen studies because you haven’t done Buddhist or Zen
studies. You’ve been brought up in a so-called religious atmosphere, in
a religious culture, not a Buddhist one. Without first doing any
Buddhist studies or Zen studies and simply directly entering into trying
to practice Zen, of course that’s difficult.
If you study Buddhism or Zen first, and then enter Zen practice, it
becomes a little bit more interesting, a little bit easier. But without
doing any study and just jumping right into Zen which is the practice of
Buddhist principles, which is the doing of Buddhist principles, it’s
natural that that is very difficult for you.
However, Tathagata Zen also says that it’s difficult to study the
principles of Buddhism or Zen from the point of view of the ‘I am’ self,
and actually, oppositely, to practice first, to try to experience first,
is easier. Why?
The reason why it’s so difficult to grasp Zen or Buddhism from the point
of view of studying it, from the ‘I am’ perspective is that, no matter
how much you study, no matter how much you learn from the point of view
of the ‘I am’ self, you will not be able to experience the dissolution of
that ‘I am’ self. You will not be able to truly understand the origin of
that ‘I am’ self, where it comes from and where it goes to. You won’t
truly be able to know that your original self is absolute space, is the
great cosmos itself. Even if you learn the idea that your origin is
absolute space, is the great cosmos, it is only by appealing to practice
itself, to experience itself, that you can really know that.
Tathagata Zen names the original condition your “original face.” That
original self means that originally there is no ‘I am’. It isn’t that
there is no original self, it is simply that if you’re attached to your
‘I am’ self, you will never be able to know the original condition. What
we say in Tathagata Zen is that if you unquestioningly, unconditionally,
uncritically affirm your ‘I am’, and then from that point of view study,
no matter how much you study Zen or Buddhism, you will never be able to
truly grasp the wisdom that knows your origin.
All of you, when you encounter a talk or a teaching that affirms the
self, at once you think, “Oh, that’s a good teacher. That’s a wonderful
teaching.” And you’re very impressed. However, teachings that negate
the self immediately cause you to respond, “What a stupid guy.
He doesn’t know anything. What a dumb and boring and uninteresting
talk.” You reject teachings that negate the self.
The teaching of Tathagata Zen takes as its subject of investigation, what
is the true self and what is the nature of the ‘I am’ self. You all have
already experienced that every single thing, every single existence does
both the activity of being born and the activity or dying. Every single
existence does both the activity of appearing and the activity of being
hidden. The teaching of Tathagata Zen asserts that there certainly is no
activity other than those two fundamental opposing activities. There is
no existence apart from those activities.
When I speak, I often just use the simple expressions ‘plus’ and
‘minus’ to express these two mutually opposing fundamental activities.
Buddhism says that both the plus activity and the minus activity are
acting without will. To act will-lessly means that these two activities
are not doing the function of knowing as they act. The teaching of
Tathagata Zen says that the world of pure plus and minus is a world in
which the self who does knowing, the self who has concepts, has not yet
appeared. Therefore it is a world that has no knowing.
Therefore, the point of view in which the function of knowing has
appeared is the world of the ‘I am’. Why is it that this strange and
mysterious existence which calls itself ‘I am’ has been manifest from the
pure world of plus and minus that has no knowing? Tathagata Zen says
that you must make this your personal problem, your question.
…You can’t say that you’ve studied my Zen until youÕve manifested the
wisdom for yourselves that really understands the principle of birth and the
principle of disappearance. Listen carefully to this teaching which teaches
about this great being that we call “the great cosmos!” This great cosmic being i
s brought into being through the activities of plus and minus and it also
dissolves through those same two activities.
The first person who taught about the nature of the cosmos in this way
was the founder of Buddhism, the young man Siddhartha. He taught that
the very nature of this cosmos is to have two opposing activities of plus
and minus as its content, doing a repetitive functioning of on the one
hand, totally unifying with each other, and on the other hand, separating
from each other.
The enlightened one, the one who was enlightened into the very way of
being of this universe taught that when plus and minus separate from each
other, in between them, when man and woman separate from each other, in
between them is born imperfect space. English is a very inadequate
language to express this. I’m told often that German is a much better
language to express this idea of imperfect space. In Buddhism we have
two words for space. ‘Kukan’ expresses imperfect space.
‘Koku’ means perfect, complete space, the condition which is beyond all
comparison, the one and only place that there is. That means the perfect
universe. We also call it the manifestation of zero.
You can say that the plus world is the world of brightness and light.
The minus world is the world of utter blackness or darkness. When those
two worlds, the world of brightness and light and the world of utter
blackness become one, thatÕs the world that can be neither called light
nor dark. That’s the world that is completely inexpressible.
All of you live in the daytime in the world of light, and at night you
enter the world of darkness, but the great cosmos itself is always
manifesting itself in the condition which is neither darkness nor light.
The very nature of the condition of the origin, the condition of the
origin of light and darkness, is an activity, in which tatha-gata and
tatha-agata are repeating over and over again, on the one hand, being
completely one with each other and, on the other, being distinct from each
other but not separate from each other.
Buddhism calls this the original condition of space. So, in fact, the
original condition is acting. It is an activity. Brightness and
darkness are acting with each other, but they never separate within
absolute, perfect space.
However, there will undoubtedly be a time, as I’ve told you, where
brightness and darkness do separate from each other. When plus and minus
do separate, that is when imperfect space is manifest in between them.
And as I always tell you, Buddhism teaches that that imperfect space is
the very foundation of any existence. Where did the imperfect space come
from? Buddhism very kindly and carefully teaches that the minus activity
who forms the world of minus and the plus activity who forms the world of
plus give a part of themselves in order to form that imperfect space.
…Carefully contemplate that the foundation of the ‘I am’ self is imperfect
space. It has plus and minus imperfectly, incompletely as its content,
and therefore there are plus and minus outside of itself that is not its
content. At the same time as the birth of the ‘I am’ self, plus and
minus also appear. This is a frightening situation. The moment the self
is born, right then plus and minus also are manifest. But you must very
carefully contemplate that the plus and minus who are manifest, the plus
and minus that appear are not the perfect, complete activities of plus
and minus because they have given part of themselves away in order to
birth the ‘I am’ self.
Do you understand?
You have to carefully contemplate that the activity that plus and minus
do in order to birth the ‘I am’ self is to give of themselves to make
imperfect states, and in that activity of giving of themselves, they
themselves become imperfect as well. What is the nature of the self who
is manifest in between plus and minus. This self has exactly equal
portions of plus and minus as its content. We can say that it’s received
1/100,000,000 of both plus and minus. And therefore, having both equal
amounts of plus and minus, it is zero. But it isn’t the perfect,
complete activity or condition of zero because it doesn’t have all of
plus and minus as its content. This is what you should be clearly and
firmly contemplating in your zazen. I don’t know what you’re doing in
your zazen besides complaining about your legs hurting, but this is what
you should be doing.
The world in which the plus activity is imperfect and the minus activity
and the manifest self in between is also imperfect is the human world, is
the material world, is the world of form. If you don’t even understand
the principle behind what the material world is and what the spiritual
world is, and you simply want to find peace of mind, want to get
enlightenment, and you do zazen with that attitude, it’s impossible.
The world that is not the material world is the world of the origin. And
I suppose we can call that the spiritual world. Without even
understanding the difference between the true spiritual world and the
material world, in Tathagata Zen we say, “DonÕt blabber and jabber on and
on. Shut up!”
The translator has a lot of energy. He makes me want to
be young again. It’s better to be young than to be old.
But it isn’t enough just to think, “It’s better to be young,” to
complain, “I can’t work like I could when I was young,” because actually,
young and old are equal.
The teaching of Tathagata Zen says that, because imperfect plus and minus
are manifest together with the self, that means that your mother and
father are born simultaneously with you. Even some of you here are
attached to the idea that your mother and father were born before you, so
of course Zen practice is impossible for you. But actually it’s much
easier to really manifest the wisdom that knows that mother and father
are born simultaneously with you. To try to know that mother and father
were born before you is really difficult.
There are many Buddhist scholars these days who think in this way: They
go searching for their origin backwards into the past to their mother and
father who were born before them they think, and then their mothers and
fathers, and their mothers and fathers, on and on. Thinking in this way,
they come to the conclusion that everybody is our ancestor. They come
to the conclusion that we never meet anybody who is not our self.
There’s really nothing wrong with that kind of thinking, but if you think
in that way, you can’t really grab on to your origin.
The reason why people end up thinking in that way is because they affirm
the standpoint of the ‘I am’ and they affirm and fixate the positions of
mother and father. You first appear when the activities of plus and minus
separate. Your mother and father also appeared when plus and minus
separated in between them.
…Buddhism, however, further teaches that the ‘I am’ self is never fixated.
Again it will disappear, and again the world of only the two fundamental
opposing activities appears. When you mature, again you will meet the
world that has no child in it, that is only mother and father alone. You
must, in order to do this, manifest the wisdom that knows the principle
of the dissolution of the self.
People love to say ‘I am!’ I suppose there’s nothing wrong with it. But
unless you can dissolve that ‘I am’, true growing up, true maturing, even
one step of maturation cannot occur. In order to grow and develop,
although this might seem surprising to you, you must dissolve that ‘I am’
self. The first step in growth or development is to manifest the world
of no ‘I am’, the world where it’s only plus and minus.
If you always insist on saying, ‘I am’ and insist on depending on your
mother and father, then of course you will never become mother and father
yourself. But when you dissolve the self, then the world appears that’s
only plus and minus, that’s only man and woman alone. When plus and
minus find themselves alone together, then for the first time, plus
really knows, “I must make minus my self” and minus likewise knows, “I
must make plus my self.” This is why Buddhism concludes that love means
the activity of the true self.
When it comes to the activity that forms the self, for plus, the minus
activity is necessary. For minus, the plus activity is necessary. We
also call the Dharma activity, the time activity. And naming the Dharma
activity the time activity, we call the material world the world in which
past, present and future are separate and have been manifest.
But when the imperfect, present moment vanishes, then only plus and minus
are left. In other words, when the imperfect present is gone, then the
only activities that are left are the pure activities of plus and minus,
the pure activities of past and future.
…Buddhism says that if you practice and manifest the wisdom that knows the
nature of your self and the nature of this world, then naturally this
part which vows will arise, and the sort of vow that will arise will be a
vow that says, “Although I am very inadequate, although there is almost
nothing I can do, I should at least do this. If I can just do this to
help the people of the world, that will be enough.”
If you live your whole life as a carpenter, then become the carpenter
Bodhisattva. If you live your life as a cake maker, then become the cake
maker Buddha. If you work at it, we say that inevitably you will become the
carpenter Buddha, the farmer Buddha, the candy maker Buddha.
The problem is that no matter how you look at it, it is difficult to do
the activity of dissolving the self. If you’re attached to the ‘I am’
self, if you can’t dissolve your self, then even if you’re a farmer or a
carpenter, you won’t truly become the farmer or the carpenter
Transmission of the Lamp
THich Nhat Hanh
Third Precept, Sexual Responsibility
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