“I came to realize clearly that the mind is not other than mountains, rivers, the great wide earth, sun, moon, stars”. -Dogen
This is a passage from thirteenth century Zen Master Dōgen that triggered the awakening experience of my teacher, Koun Yamada. “I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains, rivers, the great wide earth and everything in it” “Mind” here refers to no other than the True Self, my true self, your true self.
One big question that launches us in our Zen practice is this: Who am I? This passage offers an immediate and simple answer. Seek no further, it tells us. “Your true self is no other than mountains, rivers, the great wide earth, sun, moon, stars.” That’s it. That’s the answer.
But it is one thing to hear it, read it, or even understand it, nod in agreement, and yet quite another thing to truly realize it. It may look like a simple answer, but it is by no means an easy one. To truly realize that my true self is that, is what Zen practice is all about. Real-ize it, that is, to make it real in my life, this moment, every moment, as long as I live, with every breath, every thought, every word, every act, with every atom and molecule of my being.
In the last few weeks, a couple of things have brought home to me this saying from Dōgen in a most direct, intimate, and personal way. One was the privilege of having attended an international Dharma teachers conference at Omega Center in upstate New York. Two to three hundred dharma teachers from different lineages attended, including Vipassana, Zen, Tibetan teachers, and also Pure Land Buddhists, Lotus Buddhists, nondenominational Buddhists, from around the world. These were Buddhist practitioners in the role of guiding others live the path of awakening, received from Shakyamuni Buddha and handed down from generation to generation up to our times. There were monastics from different Asian traditions, as well as lay teachers from North and South America, Europe, and Australia.
So what did I learn from having attended this gathering? One important message that got conveyed to me comes from the underlying theme of the conference, which one may rephrase with the double-edged question…
where is the world hurting, and how does our Buddhist practice relate to this?
In the United States, the pernicious heritage of racism still lives on among us, in a very painful way. Just look at what happened in South Carolina the other day. It is an issue in other parts of the world as well, manifesting its ugly head in various forms. The Dharma teachers gathered spent time considering this question together, sitting with this, learning more about its various angles, in plenaries as well as breakout groups, sharing ideas on how to continue addressing issues related to racism in our individual and our sangha practice.
Another major topic addressed was global climate change. We were presented with some eye-opening objective data based on collaborative research of scientists, from analyses by intellectual leaders, as well with perspectives by business leaders. In short, it came home to us in a very unequivocal way that our Earth community is on the brink of collapsing, and our way we live our individual and collective lives on this web of life that we call Earth has very much to do with having brought about, and aggravating this situation.
So then, what does our Zen, our insight meditation, visualization practice, our chanting, our observance of the precepts, all those things that pertain to us as a community of spiritual practitioners, have to do with these questions and these realities? That is what we addressed. For me, and I think I can safely say, for most, if not all of the participants, indeed it was a very rich, insightful, inspiring gathering of people serious about their Dharma practice, intent on living the Dharma fully, giving their whole lives to it.
Briefly, I would like to share an important point that came home most prominently to me, mainly through the presentation of and exchanges with a good friend and dharma brother who was also one of the presenters at the conference, David Loy. His message in the talk he gave, which summarized the content of a new book of his that came our recently (A New Buddhist Path, Wisdom 2015), is this:
Our practice can no longer remain just on the individual level, only focused on our individual lives, but it is now, more especially than ever, called to address the bigger Self that we are, that is, embracing the mountains, rivers and great wide earth, all sentient beings.
If we have realized that true self, and take our cue from Dogen’s words, then we can experience the fact that the mountains are being denuded, the rivers are heavily polluted, the great wide earth is wracked with pain. If we don’t get stuck in worrying only about how we will adjust the furniture in the little house of our individual selves, remaining confined such a small world, and really open our eyes and ears, our hearts and our minds, sitting and listening to that, then we may be able to hear the voices coming from all directions, from the heart of our great wide earth. We hear the cries, and receive the challenge, from the voices of all sentient beings with whom we live and with whom we are intimately connected in this web of life. Sentient beings are crying out – “Listen. I am hurting.”
Having attended the Dharma teachers’ conference brought that home to me in such a very very intimate, and so powerful way that I can no longer just set aside and continue to ignore or sidestep.
Another event that brought home Dogen’s saying cited above to me comes from having read the new encyclical letter by Pope Francis. It begins with a prayer inspired by Saint Francis, his namesake, and titled ‘Laudato Si’ – a Latin phrase that means “praise be to you.” He begins by beholding at the beauty of the earth and the beauty of creation that we are given as a gift from Divine Love, and then points by point he describes how and where the Earth is hurting. I encourage you to read it for yourself. It’s easily available online, and you will find many commentaries about it also.
There are some who are criticizing it, saying a religious leader should not meddle in politics, and stick to spiritual stuff, and so on. But such sideswipes are missing the point. This encyclical is a wakeup call, not just for the Catholics among us, but for all of us living on this Earth together at this important point of our collective history. What is this wakeup call about? That is what I am continuing to listen to in my practice.
By Ruben L.F. Habito, originally delivered at Maria Kannon Zen Center, Dallas, Texas, June 20, 2015