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Seven from Rohatsu - Talk 6

Talk 6 of 7

By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | Dec 07, 1996
Location: Green Gulch Farm
A Series of Seven Talks from Green Gulch Farm Rohatsu Sessin, 1996


Talk Six

7 December 1996 Green Gulch Rohatsu Sesshin Lecture

The story we think of as the story of the Buddha's life comes to us through the Theravadan tradition, from a particular recension of the Pali literature. But actually there are lots of other versions. Maybe in the West in the modern period we've chosen to emphasize a particular version of the story of Buddha's life because it fits our preconceptions of the heroic individual. Now one of the things about this story that often rankles people is the fact that Buddha walks out on his wife and child without a word in the middle of the night. And if you read the story in the Theravadan canon it's even worse than that because not only does he walk out on his wife and child, but he walks through a room with all of his many concubines who have passed out after having been to a great big party. And they're all lying there in their party dresses and he looks at them and he says, Ugh, how disgusting. They're drooling and ugh, the female form is truly revolting, you know. I'm getting out of here. But that's just one version of the story. In another version Buddha's not married. Did you know that? In fact, in the oldest versions he's not a married person. He leaves home and it's his mother and father who grieve over him, not his wife. And there's a Tantric version of the story in which Buddha reveals that he only made a magic depiction of leaving his wife and child because he knew that there were people who needed to hear that story in order to be encouraged to practice in the beginning stages of practice. According to this version he didn't leave his wife and family at all, but remained with his wife and practiced and attained the way with her, using the energy of their relationship to do it. Really. There's one Tantric version that says that.

There's another version that I like to tell because I think it's really a shame that we don't know it. This version is also a very early version and it's found in the Mulasarvastivardan Vinaya, which is one of the major schools of Buddhism that happened not to have survived-- they didn't win the wars of patronage and so on -- although a lot of their philosophy survived. In this version Buddha has a wife but no child. He does leave his wife, but here's how he leaves her. The night of his departure, rather than sneaking out on his wife, he makes love to her and they conceive a child. Then she falls asleep and has troubling dreams of being abandoned. She wakes and tells the prince these dreams and he says, Don't worry, I promise I will never abandon you. And then he leaves. I think when you read the story and when you hear what happens next, you get the idea that it's not a lie when he says he will never leave her, that his quest for enlightenment is a way of more deeply embracing their connection. So here's what happens in this version of the story. When Buddha goes out to seek his way of enlightenment his father hears about it and sends out five hundred spies, to watch and see what's going on and send back word. So every single move that the Buddha makes is known back in the palace. And Buddha's wife, Yasodhara, is completely in tune with everything that the Buddha does. Her path of pregnancy is exactly the same as Buddha's path to seek enlightenment. It takes Buddha six years, and she's pregnant for six years in the story. Really. I won't go into all the details about it, but clearly a six-year pregnancy is very long, and maybe somebody else was the father. But there are all these elaborate ways in which it is proved that Buddha really was the father and it really was a six-year pregnancy. Anyway, when Buddha gets rid of his fine clothes and puts on funky clothes, she takes off her fine clothes and puts on funky clothes. When Buddha lets his hair grow long she lets her hair grow long. Everything that Buddha does, she does in the path of her pregnancy. And when the Buddha starts doing austerities, eating one grain of rice a day and so on, she does the same thing. And of course everybody in the palace is getting really upset. She's getting skinny and they're worried about the baby. And that's when Buddha's father says, No more spies. We don't want to have any more information here, you know. But nevertheless she remains totally in tune with him. When he eats the rice pudding she also eats. And when he sits down under the bodhi tree on a nice zafu of soft grass ready to undertake his labors, she goes into labor. And the whole time that he's sitting under the tree she's in labor. And when he attains enlightenment she gives birth to their son, Rahula. So I think that the sense of this particular version of the story is not that there are two paths, that the Buddha and Yasodhara are on two paths. But rather that it's one story and one enlightenment and that somehow the whole family is achieving enlightenment and that the birth of Rahula and the awakening of the Buddha are two sides of a single picture and that the picture isn't complete without both sides. So there are all these versions of the story of the life of the Buddha and of course I don't think anyone knows which is the true version or whether there is a true version. And I would suspect that they're all true. They all express different aspects of our mind, of our heart, of our aspirations. And that each one of us has to bring the story to life in our own practice.

Dogen, I think, takes this idea of the communal aspects of the story of Buddha one step further, and I would just quote a little bit for you from his fascicle called Only a Buddha and a Buddha. He says:

'Buddha-dharma cannot be known by a person. For this reason, since olden times no...person has realized Buddha-dharma.. Because it is realized by buddhas alone, it is said, 'Only a buddha and a buddha can thoroughly master it.' [In other words only in relation--no individual person can do it. Only in relation--only a buddha and a buddha can thoroughly master it.]

'When you realize buddha-dharma, you do not think, 'This is realization just as I expected.' [It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it-- Ahh, this is realization just as I expected.] Even if you think so, realization invariably differs from your expectation. Realization is not like your conception of it. Accordingly, realization cannot take place as previously conceived. When you realize buddha-dharma, you do not consider how realization came about. You should reflect on this: What you think one way or another before realization is not a help for realization.

'Although realization is not like any of the thoughts preceding it, this is not because such thoughts were actually... [stupid] and could not be realization....[Those thoughts] were already realization. But since you were seeking elsewhere, you thought...[that those were stupid thoughts and they couldn't be realization].

'However, it is worth noticing that what you think one way or another is not a help.... Then you are cautious not to be small-minded. [Right?] If realization came forth by the power of your prior thoughts, it would ...be [very untrustworthy. Right? I mean how--what kind of realization could that be? You thought of it.] Realization does not depend on thoughts, but comes forth far beyond them; realization is helped only by the power of realization itself.... [Therefore, he concludes] there is no delusion and there is no realization.'

Logical, right? Because the realization is just a thought that we have in our mind of realization. So only a buddha and a buddha. Only when we touch each other do we find realization. It's not a thought in my mind or a thought in your mind.

OK. Back to the story. Under the tree, remember? Under the tree, sitting on a zafu. It's quiet. The night gets deeper and deeper and he begins to enter the concentration states one after the other. And with each state of concentration he feels a marvelous, blissful feeling, but he never allows the blissful feeling to gain power over him. That's what it says in the text, that it did not gain power over him. So he just goes straight ahead into the next state and the next state, deeper and deeper and deeper into concentration until he finally sees a vision of his own life from the present moment of sitting under the bodhi tree, moment by moment by moment back into the past, all the way to his childhood and beyond his childhood to his birth and beyond his birth to his past lives. Life after life after life he saw the swirling panorama of causes and conditions that were his personal karmic trajectory. And he understood how it was that such and such had happened and that caused such and such to happen and so on and so on and so on and so on, back and back and back and back to beginningless time. And seeing all of that he could forgive himself and each and every thing that had happened for being what it was.

And after that he could see the lives of others, all others, all other creatures. He could see all their past lives in the swirling panorama of causes and conditions that were the karmic trajectories of all of those things and beings. And he understood how it was that such and such had happened and that caused such and such to happen and so on and so on and so on and so on back and back to beginningless time. And he could forgive every one and every thing for being what it was.

And seeing all of that he understood how the world was. He understood that the nature of all conditioned things is suffering, and that the root cause of this suffering is mistaken, misplaced desire based on the foundation of ignorance about who we really are. And he saw that once this foundation crumbled suffering would end and there could be peace in the warmth of awakening. And he saw stretching before him the path that led to this awakening. He could see all its byways and bends and twists. And after that he could see the pattern of causation--how things came to be the way they are and how people mistook the freedom that is the nature of our real life for the binding quality of attachment and ignorance and how this went on and on and on and on and how it could be undone and undone and undone. And this is what the Buddha saw the night of his awakening. And he looked up and saw the morning star and his path was complete. And this is what the great Sanskrit poet, Ashvaghosa, writes about that moment:
' At that moment of the fourth watch when the dawn came up and all that moves was not stilled, the great seer reached the stage that knows no alteration, the sovereign leader, the state of omniscience. When as the Buddha he knew this truth the earth swayed like a person drunk with wine. The four quarters shone bright with crowds of siddhas and mighty drums resounded in the sky. Pleasant breezes blew softly and heaven rained moisture from a cloudless sky and from the trees there dropped flowers and fruit out of due season as if to do him honor. At that time, just as in paradise, the mandarala flowers, lotuses and water lilies of gold and beryl fell from the sky and bestrewed the place of the Shakya sage. At that moment none gave way to anger, no one was ill or experienced any discomfort, none resorted to sinful ways or indulged in intoxication of mind. The world became tranquil as though it had reached perfection. The companies of deities who are devoted to salvation rejoiced. Even the beings in the hells felt joy. Through the prosperity of the party who favored virtue, the Dharma spread abroad and the world rose above passion and the darkness of ignorance. Then for seven days, free from discomfort of body, he sat looking into his own mind, his eyes never winking.

'Then he roused himself and, filled with great compassion, he gazed on the world with his Buddha Eye for the sake of its tranquility. Seeing that the world was lost in false views and vain efforts and that its passions were gross, seeing too that the law of salvation was exceedingly subtle, he set his mind on remaining immobile. [In other words, forget it--I'm having a blissful time.I'm not going to worry about this crazy world.] But then, remembering his former promise, he formed a resolution for the preaching of tranquility. And thereon he reflected in his mind how there are some persons of great passions and others with little passion. Then when the two chiefs of the heavenly dwellings knew that the Sughata's mind had taken the decision to preach tranquility, they were filled with desire for the world's benefit and, shining brightly, approached him. [And then they tell him, Please teach the Dharma and then they return to the celestial realms and then the decision for the Buddha to answer them--the Call-and teach ripened in him.]'

So this reminded me a little bit of the case that I brought up yesterday. What is Buddha? You are Hui Ch'ao. Remember that? What is Buddha--you are Hui Ch'ao. It's one thing when you live within the small circle of your self-concern. When you're in that circle and can't see anything beyond it, then you have a particular kind of a sense of who you are. But when you open up to the big circle of concern that the Buddha saw, the vastness of causality, then your small circle of concern takes on a whole different meaning. So when it's I am Jordan, that's one thing. But when the whole universe steps forward and says You are Jordan, You are Shakyamuni Buddha, then it's a whole different story. It's got a whole different meaning. The universe calls to us as it called to Buddha and we answer. And then we see that we need to use our life. And Call is an old word, you know, in Western religious tradition. Vocation. The universe calls to us and that call is our vocation. We hear that call and we get up and go forward.

So that's the end of my talk, except now I have to tell you about the schedule, because tomorrow we'll have a little different schedule. So I want to explain how that's going to go. We'll sit as we have been the rest of today, making as smooth and vigorous an effort as we can. I think that now it's easy for us, huh? Just keep making effort. No problem, right? And then at the end of the day, after we take take refuge in the triple treasure, that will be the beginning of the sitting. For those of you who can and are inspired to, please come back to the zendo and bow and sit and sit and sit. Throw away all notions of time and space. Maybe some of you will sit all night. Then in the morning, the wake-up bell-- are you ready?-- will be at three-thirty instead of whatever time it's been. I knew you'd like that. Three-thirty. But we won't have the two hits on the han and we won't have the two hits on the bell and all this stuff. We'll abandon everything. Forget about it. Just whenever you feel like it walk into the zendo. The lights will be out and it will still be the night sitting, and you'll join the night sitting whenever you come. You don't have to come at three-thirty if you don't want to. Come any time you feel like it. You're Buddha, right? You can do whatever you want. So, the wake-up bell will ring for those of you who don't have an alarm clock and want to come. But that's it. You won't hear anything after that. Just the wake-up bell. And whenever you're ready for it come to the zendo and we'll be sitting here in the shadows, in the dark. And we'll just sit that way. No periods of zazen, no kinhin, no nothing. Just sitting there in the dark. Then at five-thirty there will be three giant hits on the bonsho bell outside and that will be the signal for everybody to go out on the lawn. And those of you who have rakasu and okesa-- we won't put them on. We'll just go out on the lawn without our rakasu and okesa and we will gather on the lawn and then we'll go on a middle-of-the-night stroll, here and there wandering around, looking for the morning star. Maybe-Suki, will you lead us in a walk? We'll wander around through the gardens and everywhere--up the hills and goodness knows where.

Now usually there's a Soto Zen morning star. And Green Gulch is the perfect Soto Zen temple. And usually we're fortunate and see the Soto Zen morning star. Do you know what the Soto Zen morning star is like? No? It is the morning star that you can't see. All you see is fog. So usually we're lucky and this is what the morning star looks like. So we wander and we look for it and we never see it. And this would be perfect. This is usually what happens. One year it was just amazing. We walked out there and, of course, we saw the typical morning star, which was no morning star, and all of a sudden--this is the truth-- the fog lifted. You were there, right? And we saw the morning star for like three seconds. And then the fog came back. And there was something about it-- it was the funniest thing that we ever saw. And everybody, sixty people, burst out laughing. How the morning star could make a joke, you know like that, I don't know. But it was really funny and everybody started laughing. We were hysterical. Such things don't happen twice, but it did happen that day.

Last year it wasn't fog, it was a brilliant storm--Linda reminded me, it was a brilliant storm-- and it stormed the next day, gathered and gathered and stormed the next day, so that during the Shuso ceremony you could barely hear the questions and answers, so strong was the wind. And it blew--the wind was so strong it blew-- down the oak tree. That's when the oak tree blew down. And then, I remember, the next morning was the closing day of the practice period and I wanted my big staff and I forgot to bring it, so in the middle of the storm I went up to my house to get my staff. I had my umbrella, you know, but the storm was so furious that my umbrella was like nothing--it just blew away. And I walked in the pouring rain and I got totally soaked to the bone and it blew off my zagu--it disappeared whhsst gone- really. And then I got my staff and I came down back to the zendo. And I come to go over the bridge, over the creek, and I'm--Where am I? I didn't know where I was. Where's the bridge? The bridge is usually there. Where is it? I was totally disoriented. And it turned out that the storm blew the bridge away. Really. Between the time that I went up and came down the bridge was gone. It was amazing. And I mean I never, and my okesa was drenched. I never was so wet in my life, you know. And then I came in and we did the ceremony. I had to go around, I couldn't walk across the stream. We did the ceremony in my soaking wet robes and that was really-- that was a storm, that was a really big storm. Anyway, such things don't happen twice. So we'll see what happens. We don't know what will happen tomorrow morning, but we will venture forth and seek our destiny tomorrow morning at five-thirty.

Back to the schedule. So then at six o'clock, as we're out there walking, we'll hear another three big hits on the bonsho bell and that will mean time to come back. And then we'll come back to the zendo and that's when, individually and chanting silently to ourselves, those of us who have rakasu and okesa can put them on in preparation for the ceremony, because we're going to have a big ceremony to celebrate our enlightenment. You don't get enlightened without a celebration. So we're going to have a big ceremony to celebrate the fact that we all were enlightened by the invisible morning star and so we'll have the ceremony and Jordan will explain everything at the time. It's very simple. We will march around and chant about how great we are over and over again. And we just do that until we become totally intoxicated with our enlightenment. So we march up and down and on and on and on and on for a really long time until we really lose track of who we are and everything. And after that the ceremony is over. After the Buddha was enlightened he just enjoyed himself. He walked up and down beside the river. So that's what we'll do after the ceremony. We'll go outside. And the schedule says kinhin outside. What it really means is we're going to stroll up and down. So we'll all go outside on the lawn or wherever we go and stroll up and down just enjoying ourselves. And after we're finished enjoying ourselves we'll be hungry, because getting enlightened and marching around and enjoying yourself works up a little appetite. So then we'll come in and have breakfast at seven o'clock. And after breakfast there'll be a work meeting and we'll set up for Sunday, and the schedule goes on from there. There'll be a dharma talk and people will come for the talk--but you'll see. The schedule will be posted. I wanted especially to tell you about the morning part, because it is a little different from what we've been doing. And then if everything goes according to plan the schedule will end tomorrow at four o'clock and we'll have a party after that.

So I think that probably we should just continue our practice. Coming back to our breath is easy now, isn't it? Just come back. Whatever else is in our mind, we can just forget about it and come back to our breath. If we have aches and pains we can just forget about them and come back to our breath. Deeper and deeper. Entering into the concentrations, one after another without any end.