Posted inDogen, Henry's Messages

Message from Henry: The Mongol Longsword

January 7, 2015

Just as we receive power and help (tariki) in our sitting, so our own sitting actively offers help throughout the universe. The interconnection is actual, not conceptual. 

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…our meditation is not merely shared with all beings and the whole universe. When we sit we are sitting not just with, but as everything. –From Zen Master Dogen

To be on a path of practice is basically to trust that that path knows more about what a human being is than we do. It knows who we are more fully than we do. Therefore we follow it. This is not in any way to devalue our own experience; rather it is to learn to embrace it all from a wider perspective.

What is serenity? Before long, we may be opening up a new book of koans in the teisho at Mountain Cloud — this time the “Book of Serenity.” The Zen view of serenity does not involve placating, gratifying or satisfying our unease – not exactly. It’s not enough to address the leaves and branches. Rather, it seeks out the root of tribulation. Zen’s serenity in other words is found at a deeper level than its converse, tribulation. It doesn’t deny trials and woes but underlies and includes them. Otherwise Zen would have no real power to help us.

We might think of it this way…

Just as we receive power and help (tariki) in our sitting, so our own sitting actively offers help throughout the universe.

The interconnection is actual, not conceptual. Just like a single organism with a trillion cells, so all this universe is one organism with a centillion centillion centillion cells.

In our normal lives of “getting and spending” we aren’t aware of this. Yet on a conceptual level we may somehow accept this to be true. We may have some vague layperson’s sense, for example, of quantum mechanics, and a quantum “field” that all matter consists of. Or simply by thinking things through along the lines that the Vietnamese master Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, we can see that the paper in our hands comes from trees, which have grown from sun, rain and soil, which in turn needed rivers and oceans to exist, as well as organic matter from other life-forms; and for the paper to have reached us required the work of countless people, all of whom in turn needed food, clothing and shelter, all of which were also engendered through the work of others, and other nutrients, and so on. All things “inter-are,” as Thich Nhat Hanh puts it. Everything not only interconnects, but inter-supports and inter-serves, and inter-is.

Or from a little reading in Zen or other Mahayana schools of Buddhism we may have come across some mention of shunyata: the Dharma-body; the great fact; reality; the single reality expressed in “form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” Because of this reality, the Japanese master Dogen was able to say that our meditation is not merely shared with all beings and the whole universe. When we sit we are sitting not just with, but as everything.

Master Bukko knew this so well that when his temple came under attack from the invading Mongols he simply sat on in meditation while the other monks fled. As the marauders approached him he spontaneously composed this verse:

In heaven and earth, there is no gap to be hidden.
What joy to know the person is void and things too are void.
How splendid, the Mongol longsword!
a lightning flash that cuts the spring breeze.

Bukko’s own neck nothing more than a spring breeze. That mighty sword no more substantial than a flash of lightning. What does that make of death itself?

This is a glimpse of the “serenity” of Zen, available to each and every one of us, simply by virtue of our being human. And that too may be the real gift of Zen: that it restores our full humanity to us. Maybe that is why a path such as Zen has endured as long as it has.

Image: Digital Art Landscape, by bngdesigns, CC0 Public Domain, from pixabay.com

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