(The Meaning of Practice-Enlightenment)
New English Paraphrased Translation
By the late 1800’s a revolution had taken place in Japanese Zen—The Soto Zen practice had spread outside of the monasteries, becoming the popular home-practice of most of the commoners in the region. Many of the other schools of Japanese Buddhism, thinking Zen to be a thing for monks alone, not commoners, began referring to Soto as “farmer Zen” (as derogatory term) due to its mass appeal. In 1888, an editor of Buddhist books and a devout Zen practitioner published the very first version of the Shusho-gi in the hopes of putting concise and highly readable literature into the hands of the lay workers; since up until this time most teaching resources were for monastery monks only. The idea of taking passages from Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo and regrouping them in order to offer a simple, basic but authentic digest of the Soto Zen teaching was so successful with lay practitioners that the Zenjis of both founding temples, Takushu Takiya Zenji for Eiheiji and Baisen Azegami Zenji for Sojiji, decided to take up the idea and rework it, thus creating the definitive version of the Shusho-gi that we have today. This reworking also served to further unify the Soto school in teaching and in, clarifying its official representation and a shared core of teaching to its ever-growing and diverse community.
1. General Introduction
The thorough understanding of what birth and death is—this is the most important question facing all Buddhists. If the Buddha lives both within birth (enlightenment) and death (delusion), then death (delusion) does not exist. Simply understand that birth and death are in themselves Nirvana; there being neither birth-death to be hated nor Nirvana to be desired. Then, for the first time, you will be freed from birth and death. Realize that this understanding is of the utmost importance.
It is rare to be born as a human being, and even more rare to find Buddhism in this lifetime. It is because of our good merit in the past that we have been able not only to be born as human beings but to encounter Buddhism as well. Within the realm of birth-death, enlightenment and delusion, then, our present life should be considered to be the best and most excellent gift of all. There is a purpose for your human body, do not waste it meaninglessly, being tossed to and fro by the winds of impermanence.
Impermanence can never be relied upon. We don’t know when or where this transient life will end. What happens to this body is already beyond our control; and life, is at the mercy of time, moving on without stopping for even an instant. Once the face of your youth has disappeared, it is impossible to find even its traces. When we think about time carefully, we see that time, once lost, never returns. When you are suddenly faced with the prospect of death, kings, state ministers, relatives, servants, spouse, and children, and all the money in the world are of no use. We all enter the realm of death alone, bringing nothing with us except our good and bad karma. You should avoid associating with deluded people in the present world who are ignorant of the law of causality and karmic retribution. They are unaware of the three stages of time and unable to distinguish right from wrong.
The law of causality is clear and impersonal: those who do harm inevitably fall; those who do good inevitably ascend. If this were not true, the various Buddhas would not have appeared in this world, nor would Bodhidharma have come to China. Karmic retribution occurs at three different periods of time: 1. In one’s present life; 2. In one’s next life; 3. In one’s subsequent lives. This is the first thing that needs to be studied and understood when practicing the Way. Otherwise many of you will make mistakes and come to hold wrong views. Not only that, but you may also fall into evil worlds, undergoing long periods of suffering. Understand that in this life you have only one life, not two or three. How regrettable it would be if not knowing the truth—thinking that you are not doing wrong, when, in fact you are. You cannot avoid the karmic retribution of your evil acts even if you did not know any better; even if you don’t recognize karma’s existence you subject to it.
2. Release through Repentence
The Buddhas and patriarchs, because of their great mercy, have gone before us—opening up a vast gate of compassion so that all beings—both human and celestial alike—may realize enlightenment. Although karmic retribution for harmful acts must, repentance lessens the effects, bringing release and purification. Therefore, let us repent in all sincerity. The power of repentance not only saves and purifies us; it also encourages growth within us of pure, doubt-free faith and earnest effort. When pure faith appears it changes others just as it changes us, its benefits extend to all things, both animate and inanimate.
The following contains the essence of the act of repentance: “Even though the accumulation of our past bad karma is so great that it forms an obstacle to practicing the Way. We beseech the various enlightened and compassionate Buddhas and Ancestors to free us from karmic retribution, eliminate all obstacles to the practice of the Way, and share with us their compassion, for it is through this compassion that their merit and teachings fill the entire universe. In the past the Buddhas and Ancestors were originally just like us; in the future we shall become like them. All our past evil deeds were the result of beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance: products of our body, speech, and mind. Of all these do we now repent.”
If we repent in this way, we will certainly receive the help of the Buddhas and patriarchs. Keeping this in mind and acting in this proper manner, make your repentance. The power of repentance can wipe out your wrongdoings at their roots.
3. Ordination and Enlightenment
Next, you should deeply revere the Three Treasures. They deserve our reverence and respect no matter what changes happen in our lives or to our bodies. The Buddhas and patriarchs in both India and China, and various other countries, correctly transmitted to us the knowledge of the need for reverence for the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
The unfortunate and the immoral are unable to even hear the names (comprehend) of the Three Treasures, let alone take refuge in them. Do not act like those who vainly take refuge in gods and ghosts or worship at non-Buddhist shrines, for it is impossible to gain release from suffering in this way. Instead, quickly take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha—seeking not only release from suffering but complete enlightenment as well.
Firstly, taking refuge in the Three Treasures means to come with a pure faith. Whether during the Gautama Buddha’s lifetime or after it, people should place their hands together in gassho (praying hands, bow), and with lowered heads recite the following: “We take refuge in the Buddha. We take refuge in the Dharma, We take refuge in the Sangha. We take refuge in the Buddha because the Buddha is our great teacher. We take refuge in the Dharma because it is good medicine. We take refuge in the Sangha because it is composed of excellent friends.”
It is only by taking refuge in the Three Treasures that one can become a disciple of the Buddha and become qualified to receive all the other precepts. The merit of having taken refuge in the Three Treasures inevitably appears when there is spiritual communion between the trainee and the Buddha. Those who experience this communion inevitably take this refuge whether they find themselves existing as celestial or human beings, dwellers in hell, hungry ghosts, or animals. As a result, the merit that is accumulated thereby inevitably increases through the various realms of existence, leading to the highest supreme enlightenment. Know that the Buddha has already given witness to the fact that this merit is of unsurpassed value and unfathomable profundity. Therefore all sentient beings should take this refuge.
Next, we should receive the Three Pure Precepts. The first of them is to refrain from all evil, the second is to do good, and the third is to keep the mind pure. We should then accept the Ten Grave Prohibitions: 1. Do not kill. 2. Do not steal. 3. Do not engage in improper sexual conduct. 4. Do not lie. 5. Do not indulge in intoxicating substances. 6. Do not speak of the faults of others. 7. Do not be too proud to praise others. 8. Do not covet. 9. Do not give way to anger. 10. Do not disparage the Three Treasures.
All Buddhas have received and observed the Three Refuges, the Three Pure Precepts, and the Ten Grave Prohibitions. By receiving these precepts one realizes the supreme Bodhi-wisdom, the unbreakable metal, the indestructible enlightenment of all the Buddhas in the three stages of time. Is there any wise person who would not gladly seek this goal? The Buddha has clearly shown to all sentient beings that when they receive the precepts, they enter into the realm of the Buddhas—truly becoming their children and realizing the same enlightenment. All the Buddhas dwell in this realm, perceiving everything clearly without leaving any traces. When ordinary beings make this their dwelling place, they no longer distinguish between subject and object. At that time everything in the universe –whether earth, grass, tree, fence, tile, pebble—functions as a manifestation of enlightenment; and those who receive the effects of this manifestation realize enlightenment without being aware of it. This is the merit of Nirvana, the merit of non-discrimination, and awakening to the Bodhi-mind.
4. Making the Altruistic Vow
To awaken to the Bodhi-mind means to vow not to cross over to the other shore before all sentient beings have found the Way. Every layperson, nun or monk, living in the world of celestial beings or of humans, subject to pain or pleasure, all should quickly make this vow. Even if they be a person of humble appearance, any person who has awakened to the Bodhi-mind is already the teacher to all mankind. A little girl of the age of seven can become the teacher of the four classes of Buddhists and the compassionate mother of all beings; for in Buddhism men and women are equal. This is one of the highest principles of the Way. After having awakened to the Bodhi-mind, even wandering in the six realms of existence and the four forms of life becomes an opportunity to practice the altruistic vow. Even though up to now you may have wasted your time in vain, you should quickly make this vow while there is still time. Though you have acquired sufficient merit to realize Buddhahood, you should place it at the disposal of all beings in order that they may realize the Way. From time beginning there have been those who have sacrificed their own enlightenment in order that they might be of benefit to all beings, helping them to cross over first to the other shore.
There are four kinds of wisdom that benefit others: Offerings, Loving words, Benevolence, and Identification, all of which are the practices of a Bodhisattva. Giving offerings means not to covet. Although it is true that, in essence, nothing belongs to self, this should not prevent us from giving offerings. The size of the offering is not the point; it is the sincerity with which it is given that is important. Therefore, even if one has nothing, one should be willing to give even a single verse or a phrase from the Dharma, for it becomes a seed of good in both present life and future life. This is also the case when giving of ones material posessions, whether it be a single coin or a blade of grass, for the Dharma is the treasure and the treasure is the Dharma. There have been those who, seeking no reward, willingly gave their help to others. Supplying a ferry and building a bridge are both acts of giving offerings as are earning a living and producing goods.
The meaning of loving words is that which comes from seeing that you and all beings are one—filled with compassion for them, talking with them affectionately. You could also say, one regards them as if they were ones own children. When full of Loving words the virtuous will be praised and the virtueless will be shown mercy. Loving words are the source of overcoming your bitter enemy’s hatred and establishing friendship with others. Directly hearing loving words spoken brightens the countenance and warms the heart. An even deeper impression is made, however, by hearing about loving words spoken about oneself in ones absence. You should know that loving words have a life-changing impact on others.
Benevolence means to purposefully come up with ways of benefiting others, no matter what their social position. Those who aided a helpless turtle or and injured sparrow do not expect any reward for their assistance; they simply acted out of their feelings of benevolence. The foolish believe that their own interests will suffer if they put the benefit of others first. They are wrong however. Benevolence is all-encompassing equally benefiting oneself and others.
Identification means nondifferentiation— to make no distinction between oneself and others. For example, Gautama Buddha led the same life as that of all other human beings. Others can be identified with self, and thereafter, self with others. With the passage of time both self and others become one. Identification is like the sea, which does not decline any water no matter what its source, all waters gathering, therefore, to form the sea.
Quietly reflect on the fact that the preceding teachings are the practices of a Bodhisattva. Do not treat them light. Honor and respect their merit, which is able to save all beings, enabling them to cross over to the other shore.
5. Constant Practice and Gratitude
The opportunity to awaken to the Bodhi-mind is reserved only for human beings living in this world. Now that we have had the good fortune not only to be born in this world but also to come into contact with Gautama Buddha, how can we be anything but overjoyed!
Quietly consider the fact that if this were a time when the true Dharma had not yet spread throughout the world, it would not have been possible for us to come into contact with it, even if we were willing to sacrifice our lives to do so. How fortunate to have been born in the present day, when we are able to find and hear the Dharma. Listen to what the Buddha said: “When you meet a master who expounds the supreme Bodhi-wisdom, do not consider the masters birth, look at the master’s appearance, dislike the master’s faults, or worry about the master’s behavior. Rather, out of respect for the master’s great wisdom, kneel before the master reverently three times a day— morning, noon, and evening–giving the master no cause for worry.”
We are now able to come into contact with the Buddha and hear the Dharma due to the compassionate kindness that has resulted from the constant practice of all the Buddhas and patriarchs. If the Buddhas and patriarchs had not directly transmitted the Dharma, how could it have come down to us today? We should be grateful for even a single phrase or portion of the Dharma, still more for the great benefit accruing from the highest supreme teaching— Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma (the Shobogenzo). The injured sparrow does never forget the kindness shown to it. If even animals show their gratitude for kindness rendered to them, how can human beings fail to do the same? The true way of expressing this gratitude is not to be found in anything other than our daily Buddhist practice itself. That is to say, we should practice selflessly, esteeming each day of life.
Time flies faster than an arrow: life is more transient than the dew. No matter how skillful you may be, it is impossible to bring back even a single day of the past. To have lived to be a hundred years old to no purpose is to eat of the bitter fruit of time, to become a pitiable bag of bones for nothing. Even though you have allowed yourself to be a slave to your senses for a hundred years, if you give yourself over to Buddhist training for even one day, you will gain a hundred years of life in the present life as well as in future life. Each day’s life should be esteemed; the body should be respected. It is because of our body and mind that we are even able to practice the Way and find enlightenment; that is why they should be loved and respected. It is through our own practice that the practice of all the Buddhas appears and their way teaches us. Therefore each day of our practice is the same as theirs, the seed of realizing Buddhahood. All the various Buddhas are none other than the first Buddha. The Buddha is nothing other than the fact that the mind itself is the Buddha. When the Buddhas of the past, present, and future realize enlightenment, they never fail to become the first Buddha. This is the meaning of the mind itself being the Buddha. Study this question carefully, for it is in this way that you can express your gratitude to the Buddhas.
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