(Things to look out for in your Buddhist training)
By Zen Master Dōgen
Original Translation by Yuho Yokoi, New English Paraphrased Translation by The New Heretics
This short, independent work of Dōgen was written for his disciples in 1234 CE, seven years after his return from China. Although it can be said that the content of Dōgen’s Shobogenzo is more profound philosophically, the Gakudo Yojin-shu has become highly esteemed as an essential training guide by the Sōtō Zen sect of Buddhism, as well as many others Zen practitioners. For those studying or practicing the Way this particular work of Dōgen deserves a regular and repeated reading, in conjunction with the deepening of one’s own daily practice; for although it may be relatively short in length, within it is nothing short than the blueprint to Zen and enlightenment.
I. The Need to Awaken to the Bodhi-Mind
The Bodhi-mind is known by many names, but they all point to the One Mind of the Buddha. As Nagarjuna said, “The mind that sees into the flux of arising and decaying and recognizes the transient nature of the world is also known as the Bodhi-mind.” Why, or how, then, can we call this transient mind Bodhi-mind? When the transient nature of this world is finally recognized, the ordinary selfish mind ceases to arise; as well as the mind that seeks after its own fame and profit – this is Bodhi-mind.
Aware that time is short, train as though you were attempting to save your own life—saving your head from being engulfed in flames. Mindful of the transient nature of this body and of life, exert yourself just even as the founder of Buddhism Gautama Buddha had to.
Even though you hear the enticing songs of the Siren or of the Angel’s themselves, pay them no mind, do not let them distract you, regarding them as merely an evening breeze blowing in your ears. Even though you see a face as beautiful as a goddess or of the Angel’s themselves, think of them as merely the morning sleep in your eyes that needs to be wiped away, clearing your blocked vision.
When freed from the bondage of sound, color, and shape, you will naturally become one with true Bodhi-mind. Since ancient times there has been very few have seen this true Buddhism, and few who heard the scriptures. Not knowing true Buddhism, most have fallen, into pitfalls like fame and profit, losing the essence of the Way. What a pity! How regrettable!
Understand this well: even though you have read the true teachings of the scriptures or received the transmission of the esoteric and exoteric, unless you forsake fame and profit you cannot be said to have awakened, to have the Bodhi-mind.
There are some who say that the Bodhi-mind is the highest state of enlightenment, free from fame and profit. Others say that it is that which embraces the one billion worlds in a single moment of thought, or that it is the teaching that not a single delusion can arise from. Still others, that it is the mind which has entered directly into the realm of the Buddha. Those who say that they are followers of the Way, but have no understanding of Bodhi-mind wantonly slander it. They are indeed far from the Way.
Reflect on your ordinary mind, how selfishly it is attached to fame and profit. Is it endowed with the essence and appearance of the three thousand worlds in a single moment of thought? Has it experienced the teaching in which not a single delusion arises? No, there is nothing there but the delusion of fame and profit, nothing worthy of being called the Bodhi-mind.
Although there have been patriarchs since ancient times who have used unorthodox or even secular means to realize their enlightenment, not one of them were attached to fame and profit. They did not let themselves become attached to even Buddhism itself, let alone to such ordinary and common things of this world.
The Bodhi-mind is, as mentioned before, that which recognizes the transient nature of the world—one of the four insights. It is totally different from that referred to by madmen passing themselves off as knowing what Bodhi-mind is.
The non-arising mind and the appearance of the one billion worlds are fine things to practice after having awakened to the Bodhi-mind. Do not confuse the “before” with the “after”. Simply forget the self and quietly practice the Way. This is truly the Bodhi-mind.
The sixty-two viewpoints are all based on self; so when ego arises with its views simply do zazen and quietly observe them. What is the basis of your body, your inner and your outer possessions? You received your body, hair, and skin from your parents. You were made of your parents, all that you have your have received, there is no self here. Mind, discriminating consciousness, knowledge, and dualistic thought bind life. What, ultimately, is breathing—inhaling and exhaling? They are not self. There is no self to be attached to. The deluded, however, are still attached to self, while the enlightened are no longer. But still you seek to measure the self that is no self, and attach yourselves to arisings that are non-arisings, neglecting to practice the Way. By failing to cut off your ties to this world, you turn your back on the true teaching and run to embrace the false. How dare you say you are not demonstrating poor judgment?
II. The Need for Training upon Encountering the True Law
A king’s mind sometimes changes due to the good advice given by an advisor. If the Buddha and patriarchs offer even a single word to someone, that someone could help but to be converted. Only wise kings, however, listen to the advice given to them by others, and only good trainees of the Way hear the Buddha’s words being spoken to them.
It is impossible to sever the source of transmigration without casting away the delusions in our minds. In the same way, in a king fails to listen to the advice of advisors, good and just policies will never be made, and the country will not be governed well.
III. The Need to Realize the Way through Constant Training
Lay people believe that government office can be acquired as a result of hard work and study. Gautama Buddha teaches that training encompasses enlightenment. I have never heard of anyone who became a government official without study, and I have never heard of anyone realizing enlightenment without training.
Although it is true that different training methods exist—some based on faith or the Law, the sudden or the gradual realization of enlightenment—still one always realizes enlightenment as a result of training. In the same way, although the depth or people’s learning differs, as does their speed on comprehension, government office is acquired through accumulated work and study. None of these things depends on who is superior or not, or whether one’s luck is good or bad.
If government office could be acquired without study, who could transmit the method by which a former leader successfully ruled the nation? If enlightenment could be realized without training, who could understand the teaching of the Buddha, since it distinguishes the difference between delusion and enlightenment? Understand that even though you train in the world of delusion, enlightenment is already there. Then, for the first time, you will realize that boats and rafts (scriptures, sutras) are but yesterday’s dream and will be able to sever forever the old views that bound you to them.
The Buddha does not force this understanding on you. Rather it comes naturally from your own training in the Way, for training invites enlightenment. Your own treasure does not come from anything outside of you. Since enlightenment is the same as training, the action of enlightenment will leave no trace. Therefore, when looking back on your training with enlightened eyes, you will find that it all looks the same to you; there is no illusion to see, just as white clouds can cover an entire sky.
When enlightenment is harmonized with training, you cannot step on even a single spec of duct. Should you be able to do so, you are far removed from enlightenment—as far as heaven is removed from earth. If you return to your true Self, you can transcend all, even the status of the Buddha.
IV. The Need for Selfless Practice of the Way
In the practice of the Way it is necessary to accept the true teachings of our predecessors, setting aside our own preconceived notions. The Way cannot be realized with mind or without it. Unless the mind of constant practice is one with the Way, neither body nor mind will find peace. When the body and mind are not at peace, they become just another obstacle to finding enlightenment.
How are constant practice and the Way to be harmonized? To do so the mind must neither be attached to nor reject anything; it must be completely free from fame and profit. One does not undergo Buddhist training for the sake of others. The minds of Buddhist trainees, like those of most people these days, however, are far from understanding the Way. They do that which gains the praises of others, even though they know it to be false, to be delusion. On the other hand, they neglect to do that which others scorn even though they know it to be the truth, the true Way. How regrettable!
Reflect quietly on whether your mind and actions are one with Buddhism or not. If you do this, you will realize how shameful they are. The penetrating eyes of the Buddhas and patriarchs are constantly shining on the entire universe.
Since Buddhist trainees do not do anything for the sake of themselves, how could they do anything for the sake of fame or profit? You should train for the sake of Buddhism alone. The various Buddhas do not show deep compassion for all sentient beings for either their own or another’s sake. This is the tradition of Buddhism.
Even animals and insects are capable of giving to, caring for, and nurturing their young, enduring various hardships in the process – standing to gain nothing for their actions, even after their offspring have reached maturity. Even these small creatures, animals, are capable of deep compassion. How much more do the Buddhas have compassion for all sentient beings? The excellent teachings of the Buddhas are not even limited to compassion; rather, they appear in countless ways throughout the universe. This is the essence of Buddhism.
We are already the children of the Buddha; therefore we should follow in his footsteps. Trainees, do not practice Buddhism for your own benefit, for fame and profit, or for rewards or in seeking miracles and powers. Simply practice Buddhism for the sake of Buddhism; this is the true Way.
V. The Need to Seek a True Master
A former patriarch once said, “If the Bodhi-mind is untrue, all one’s training will come to nothing.” This saying is true indeed. In the same way, know that the quality of a disciple’s training depends on the quality of his master—on the truth or falsity of their enlightenment. The Buddhist trainee can be compared to a fine piece of timber, and a true master to a good carpenter. Even quality wood will not show its find grain unless it is worked on by a good carpenter. Even a poor piece of wood will, if handled by a good carpenter, soon show the results of good craftsmanship. The truth or falsity of one’s enlightenment depends on whether or not one has a true master. This should be well understood.
In our country, however, there have not been any true masters in a long time. We can tell this by looking at their words, just as you can tell the quality of a river by scooping up some if its water down-stream. For centuries, masters in this country have compiled books, taught disciples, and have led both human and celestial beings. Their words, however, were still green, unripe, for they had not yet reached maturity in their own training. They had not yet reached the sphere of enlightenment. Instead, they merely transmitted words and made others recite names and empty letters. Day and night they counted, were surrounded by, the treasure of knowledge of others, but they failed to gain anything for themselves.
These masters must be held accountable for this state of affairs. Some of them taught that enlightenment should be looked for outside of ourselves, outside of the mind; others that rebirth in the Pure Land was to be the goal. In this lies the source of some of your confusion and delusion about Buddhism.
Even if good medicine is given to someone, unless that person has also been given the proper directions for taking it matters may simply be made worse. In fact, it may harm you like taking poison if your take it without direction. There have not been any good doctors in our country who were capable of making the correct prescription or to properly distinguish between medicine and poison. For this reason it has been extremely difficult to eliminate life’s suffering and disease. How, then, can we expect to escape from the sufferings of old age and death?
This current situation is entirely the fault of the masters, not of the disciples. Why? Because they guide their disciples. They have taken care of the branches of the tree but have neglected, even destroyed its roots. Before they fully understand the Way themselves, they devote themselves to their own egotistic minds, luring others into the world of delusion. How regrettable is it that even these masters are un-aware of their own delusion. How can their disciples be expected to do any better?
Unfortunately, true Buddhism has not yet spread to this peripheral little country, and true masters have yet to be born. If you want to study the supreme Way, you would have to visit masters in faraway China, and reflect there on the true road that is far beyond the delusive mind. If you are unable to find a true master, it is best not to study Buddhism at all.
True masters are those who are fully realized and who have received the seal of a genuine master. It has nothing to do with their age. For them neither learning nor knowledge is of primary importance. Possessing extraordinary self-discipline and influence, they do not rely on selfish views or cling to any obsessions, for they have perfectly harmonized knowledge with practice. These are the characteristics of a true master.
VI. Advice for the Practice of Zen
The study of the Way through the practice of zazen is of vital importance. You should not neglect it or treat it lightly. In China there are legends (urban legend) of former Zen masters who even cut off their arms or fingers for the practice of zazen. Long ago Gautama Buddha renounced his home and the kingdom he would inherit—another fine example of how important the practice of the Way is. Men of the present day, however, say that one should only practice that which can be easily practiced. Know that their words are mistakes and that they are far removed from the Way. If you devote yourself to one thing exclusively and consider it to be training, even lying down can become tedious. If one thing becomes tedious, all things become tedious. You should know that those who like things easy are unworthy of the practice of the Way.
Our great teacher, Gautama Buddha, was unable to gain the teaching of the Way until he had undergone severe training and years of hardships. Consider how dedicated the founder of Buddhism was, can his students be any less so? Those who seek the Way should not look for easy training. Should you do so, you will never reach true enlightenment. Even the most gifted of the former patriarchs told us that they Way is difficult to practice. You need to realize how deep and immense Buddhism is.
If the Way were, originally, so easy to practice and understand, our former patriarchs would have not stressed to us so much how difficult it is. Compared to the former patriarchs, people of today do not amount to a single grain of sand on the seashore. That is to say, that modern people have added resources, materials, and years of former patriarchs to draw from; therefore, even if one today was to exert themselves to the utmost, their imagined difficult practice would still be nothing compared to that of the former patriarchs.
What is the easily practiced and easily understood teaching of which present-day people seem to be so fond? It is nothing. It is neither a great secular teaching nor a Buddhist one. Even a great secular teaching requires effort in practice. No, this easy practice is inferior—inferior even to those who still worship devils and evil spirits, as well inferior to any non-Buddhist religion and the two vehicles (those who strive for enlightenment but have no desire or compassion to help others–for selfish reasons alone). The promise of easy practice may be the greatest delusion out there for men and women. For, although they imaging that they have escaped the delusive world, they have, on the contrary, merely subjected themselves to a greater delusion, and endless transmigration.
Breaking one’s bones and crushing the marrow to be a Buddhist would seem like a difficult practice, would it not? It is still more difficult, however, to control the mind, let alone undergo prolonged meditation and real training–controlling one’s physical actions is the most difficult of all.
Gautama Buddha said, “Turning the sound-perceiving stream of the mind inward, forsake knowing and being known.” What does this mean? The two qualities of movement and nonmovement have not appeared at all; this is true harmony.
If it were possible to enter the Way on the basis of having a brilliant mind and a wide range of knowledge, high-ranking Shen-hsiu should have been able to do so. If common birth were an obstacle to entering the Way, then how did Hui-neng become one of the great Chinese patriarchs? Know from these and other examples that the process of transmitting the Way does not depend on either a brilliant mind or a noble birth. In seeking the Way, simply reflect on yourselves and train diligently.
Neither youth nor age are obsticles to entering the Way. Chao-chou was more than sixty years old when he first began to practice, yet he became an outstanding patriarch. Cheng’s daughter was only thirteen years old when she attained her deep understanding of the Way, so much so that she became one of the finest trainees in her monastery.
The majesty of Buddhism appears according to whether or not the effort is made, and differs according to whether or not training is involved.
Those who have long devoted themselves to the study of the sutras (scriptures), as well as those who are well versed in secular learning, should visit a Zen monastery. There are many examples of those who have done so. Hui-ssu of Mount Nan-yueh was a man of many talents, yet he still submitted himself to train under Bodhidharma. Hsuan-chueh of Mount Yung-chia was the finest of men; still he trained under Ta-chien. The understanding of the Law and the realization of the Way are dependent upon what you gain from training under Zen masters.
When visiting a Zen master to seek instruction, listen to his teaching without trying to make it conform to your own self-centered views; otherwise you will never be able to understand what they are saying. Purifying you own body and mind, eyes and ears, and simply listen to what is being said. Purifying you own body and mind, eyes and ears, and simply listen to the teaching, expelling any other thought. Unify your body and mind and receive the master’s teaching as though water is being poured from one jar into another. If you do so, you will be able to understand a master’s teaching, for the first time.
At present, there are some foolish people who devote themselves to memorizing the words and phrases of the sutras (scriptures) or they attach themselves to that which they have heard before. Having done this, they compare their “knowledge” with the teachings of a master. In this case though, there is no “knowledge” in their heads—only their own views on the words of old dead men. Because of this, the words of the master will be left unheard and not understood.
Others, attaching much importance to their own self-centered thinking, open up the scriptures and decide for themselves what it says, imagining this to be Buddhism. Later when they are taught by an enlightened Zen master, they only regard the master’s teaching as true if it corresponds with their own views on the matter; otherwise they regard it as false. Not knowing how to give up their mistaken way of thinking, they are unable to return to the true Way. They are to be pitied, for they will be subjected to delusion for an eternity. How regrettable!
Buddhist trainees should realize that Buddhism is beyond thought, beyond discrimination, beyond imagination, beyond insight, beyond perception, and intellectual understanding. If it were not so, then why is it that having been endowed with all these faculties since birth, you have still not realized the Way?
Thought, discrimination, and so on, should be avoided in the practice of the Way. This will become clear if using thought, and so on, you examine yourself carefully. The gateway to the Truth is known only to enlightened Zen masters, not to their learned counterparts.
VII. The Need for Zen Training in Buddhist Practice and Enlightenment
Buddhism is superior to any other teaching. It is for this reason that many people pursue it. During Gautama Buddha’s lifetime there was only one teaching and there was only one teacher (Buddha). The Great Master alone led all beings with his supreme Wisdom. Since then it has been passed down, unbroken, through twenty-eight generations in India, six generations in China, and to the various patriarchs of the five Zen schools who have transmitted it without interruption. Since 520 CE (the P’t-t’ung era) in the Chinese state of Liang all truly superior individuals—from monks to royals—have taken refuge in Zen Buddhism.
Truly, excellence should be loved because of its excellence. One should not love false dragons such as Yeh-kung; who spent his whole life carving and painting toy dragons, but when a real one finally appeared to him, he fainted, not knowing what to do. In the various countries east of China the net of scholastic-Buddhism has been casted over the seas and the mountains. It is spread over the mountains, but it does not contain the heart of the clouds; it is spread over the seas, but it lacks the heart of the waves. The foolish are fond of this false Buddhism. They are delighted by it like those who mistake a fish-eye for a pearl, or those who treasure a common stone, in the false belief that it is a precious jewel. Such people are only heading for a fall—into the pitfall of demons, losing their true Self.
The situation in remote countries like this one is truly regrettable; for here, where the winds of false teachings blows freely, it is hard to spread the true Law. China, however, has already taken refuge in the true Law of the Buddha. Why is it then that it has yet to spread to this country or to Korea? Although in Korea at least the true Law can be heard, in our country even this is impossible. This is because many of our teachers who went to study Buddhism clung to the net of scholastic-Buddhism. Although they successfully transmitted various Buddhist texts, they had forgotten the spirit of Buddhism. So of what value is this then? In the end it amounts to nothing. This all happened because they did not know what it means to study the Way. How regrettable it is that they worked so hard their whole lives, accomplishing nothing.
When you first begin to follow the path of Buddhism as a Bodhi-seeker and begin to study the Way, simply listen to the teaching of a Zen master and train accordingly. At this time you should know the following: that the Law can turn the self, and that the self can turn the Law. When the Law turns the self, the Law in you is strong and the self is weak. When the self turns the Law, the self in you is strong and the Law in you has become weak. Although Buddhism has known this truth since long ago, it can only be understood by those who have received a true transmission. Without a true master, it is impossible to hear even the names of these two aspects and understand them.
Unless one knows the essence of studying the Way, it is impossible to practice it; for how else can one determine what is right and what is wrong? Those who now study the Way through the practice of zazen naturally transmit this essence. This is why there have been no mistakes made in the transmission, something that cannot be said of the other Buddhist sects. Those who seek Buddhism cannot realize the true Way without zazen.
VIII. The Conduct of Zen Monks
Since the time of the Buddha the twenty-eight patriarchs in India and the six in China have directly transmitted the true Law, adding nothing new to it, not even as much as a thread or hair, nor allowing anything to corrupt it, not even a single particle of dust. With the transmission from the Buddha to Hui-neng, Buddhism spread throughout the world. Right now Buddha’s Law is flourishing in China. It is impossible to know what the Law is by blindly searching for it in the dark. Those who have seen the Way forget the Way, transcending relative consciousness.
Hui-neng lost his deluded self while training on the mountain. Hui-k’o showed his earnestness by cutting off his arm in front of Bodhidharma’s cave, realizing through this action his delusion and finding enlightenment. After this he prostrated himself before Bodhidharma, in thanks for being returned to his former Self—finding absolute freedom, dwelling in neither body nor mind, unattached and unlimited.
A monk once asked Chao-chou, “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?” Chao-chou replied, “Wu.” This word wu cannot be measured or grasped, for there is nothing to it to grab a hold of. I suggest that you try letting go! Then ask yourself these questions: What are body and mind? What is Zen conduct? What are birth and death? What is Buddhism? What is secular (worldly affairs)? And what, ultimately, are mountains, rivers, and earth—or men, animals, and houses?
If you continue to ask these questions, the two aspects—movement and non-movement—will clearly not appear. This non-appearance, however, does not mean inflexibility. Ultimately very few people realize this, while many are deluded by it. Zen trainees can realize this after they have trained for some time. It is my sincere hope, however, that you never stop training—even after you become fully enlightened.
IX. The Need to Practice in Accordance with the Way
Buddhist trainees should first take time to determine if their practice is headed towards the Way or not. Gautama Buddha was able to harmonize and control his entire body, speech, mind, and sat beneath a tree doing zazen. Upon seeing the morning star, he became enlightened, realizing the highest Way, which is far beyond that of the Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas (two vehicles). The enlightenment that the Buddha realized came from his own efforts, and has been transmitted from Buddha to Buddha without interruption to this very day. How, then, can those who have realized this enlightenment not be Buddhas? To be headed toward the Way is to know its appearance and how far it extends. The Way lies under the foot of every human. When you become one with the Way you find that it is right where you are, then realizing perfect enlightenment. If, however, you take pride in your enlightenment, even though it may feel quite deep, it will be no more than a mere partial enlightenment. These are the essential elements of being headed towards the Way.
Present-day trainees strongly desire to see supernatural things, even though do not understand how the Way functions. Who of these is not gravely mistaken? They are like a child who has a very wealthy father but forsakes him to run away from home and find riches somewhere else where they are not. Even though his father is rich, and they, as an only child, would inherit it all, they live as a beggar seeking out their own fortune in all the wrong places. This is truly the case.
To study the Way is to try to become one with it—to forget even a trace of enlightenment. Those who would practice the Way must first whole-heartedly believe in it. Those who believe in it should also believe that they have been in the Way from the very beginning—they should be subject to delusion, illusive thoughts, confused ideas, increase or decrease, and mistaken understandings. Bring into existence belief like this, clarify the Way and practice it accordingly—this is the essence of studying the Way.
The second method of Buddhist training is to cut off the function of discriminating thought and turn away from the road of intellectual understanding. This is the manner in which novices should be guided. Then they will be able to let body and mind fall away, freeing themselves from the dualistic ideas of delusion and enlightenment.
In general there are only a very few who really believe that they are in the Way. If you truly believe it, then you will naturally be able to understand how it functions, as well as the true meaning of delusion and enlightenment. Make an attempt at cutting off your discriminating thoughts; then you will have almost realized the Way.
X. The Direct Realization of the Way
There are many ways to realize enlightenment. One is to train under a true Zen master, listening to their teaching; the other is to do zazen whole-heartedly (with single-mindedness). In the former case you give full play to the discriminating mind, while in the latter, practice and enlightenment are unified. To enter the Way neither of these two methods can be dispensed with—both are necessary.
Everyone is given the same equal gift of body and mind at birth, although their actions in life inevitably vary; some being either weak or strong, some brave, and others cowards. It is through our daily actions of body and mind that we directly become enlightenment. This is known as the realization of the Way.
There is no need to change our existing body and mind, for the direct realization of the Way simply means to become enlightened through training under a true Zen master. To do this is neither to be bound by old views nor is it to create new ones; it is simply realizing the Way.
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