Arousing the Aspiration for the Unsurpassable

· Articles & Essays · ,

by Eihei Dogen, translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi

The high ancestor of India [Shakyamuni Buddha] said, “The Snow Mountains [the Himalayas] are like great nirvana.”

Know that this is a precise analogy, intimate and direct. To take up the Snow Mountains is to speak of the Snow Mountains. To take up great nirvana is to speak of great nirvana.

 

Bodhidharma, The First Ancestor of China, said, “Mind is like wood and stone.”

What is called mind here is the mind that is thusness, the mind of the entire earth, the mind of self and other. The mind of buddha ancestors in the ten directions, the mind of heavenly dragons, and the mind of other beings are like wood and stone. There is no mind other than this.

The mind of wood and stone is not bound to the realms of existence, nonexistence, emptiness, or form. With the mind of wood and the mind of stone, you arouse the aspiration for enlightenment, practice, and actualize realization because your mind is wood and your mind is stone.

With the dynamic capacity of the mind of wood and the mind of stone, “thinking not-thinking” is actualized right now. As soon as you see and hear the wind [teaching] in the mind of wood and the mind of stone, you surpass the realms outside the way. There is no buddha way other than this.

 

Huizhong, Great Master Dazheng, said, “Walls, tiles, and pebbles are the ancient buddha mind.”

Study and see through the whereabouts of these walls, tiles, and pebbles. Ask, “What has manifested in this way?” The ancient buddha mind is not bound to the realm of the King of the Empty Eon. It is being satisfied with each meal. It is being satisfied with grass and water. Investigating in this way and sitting as a buddha, being a buddha, is called arousing the aspiration for enlightenment.

 

Now, The Cause For The aspiration for enlightenment does not lie anywhere else. The aspiration for enlightenment is aroused by the aspiration for enlightenment itself. To arouse the aspiration for enlightenment is to pick up a blade of grass and manifest a buddha image, to take up a rootless tree and create a sutra.

To arouse the aspiration for enlightenment is to make an offering of sand or rice water to the Buddha. It is to make an offering of a handful of food to sentient beings. It is to make an offering of a bouquet of flowers to the Buddha. To practice a small virtuous act with the encouragement of someone else, or to bow to the Buddha following a demon’s deceptive advice, is also arousing the aspiration for enlightenment.

Further, you abandon the household by realizing that your house is not a true house. You enter the mountain and practice dharma. You create a buddha image and build a stupa. You chant a sutra and recite the Buddha’s name. You look for a teacher and inquire about the way. You sit in meditation posture. You bow to the three treasures. You recite homage to the Buddha.

Thus, eighty thousand skandhas [all phenomena] become the causes and conditions for arousing the aspiration for enlightenment. There are those who arouse the aspiration for enlightenment in a dream and attain the way. There are those who arouse the aspiration for enlightenment and attain the way while intoxicated. There are those who attain the way when they see flowers flying or leaves falling. Others attain the way among peach blossoms or green bamboo. Some attain the way in a deva realm or in the ocean. They all attain the way.

All these cases arouse the aspiration for enlightenment within arousing the aspiration for enlightenment, in body and mind, in the bodies and minds of all buddhas, in the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of all buddhas.

Photo by Jean-Francois Gornet

Photo by Jean-Francois Gornet

This being so, building stupas, creating buddha images, and other practices right now are exactly arousing the aspiration for enlightenment, the aspiration for directly becoming a buddha. This should not be abandoned along the way. Such practices are called merit beyond purpose, merit beyond making. This is visualizing true thusness, visualizing dharma nature. This is integrating the samadhis of all buddhas. This is attaining the dharani of all buddhas. This is the heart of unsurpassable, complete enlightenment. This is the fruit of an arhat. This is the actualizing of a buddha. Other than this, there is no dharma beyond purpose and beyond doing.

 

In The Great Way Of Buddha Dharma, there are thousands of sutras in one particle, there are countless buddhas in one particle. Both a blade of grass and a tree are the body and mind. Because myriad things are beyond birth, the one mind is beyond birth. Because all things are reality, one particle is reality. Thus, the one mind is all things. All things are the one mind, the entire body.

If building stupas and other practices were purposeful activity, then enlightenment, the fruit of awakening, and the buddha nature of true thusness would also be purposeful activity. Because the buddha nature of true thusness is not purposeful activity, building stupas and other practices are not purposeful activity. These activities are beyond purpose, beyond desire.

Hold up empty space to build a stupa and create a buddha image. Scoop up valley water to build a stupa and create a buddha image. This is arousing the aspiration for unsurpassable, complete enlightenment.

Know and trust that building stupas and related practices are no other than the aspiration for enlightenment. From this the vow of practice grows and does not decay for a billion eons. This is called seeing the Buddha and hearing the dharma. Know that creating buddha images and building stupas by assembling wood and stone, piling up dirt, collecting gold, silver, and the seven treasures, is no other than creating buddha images and building stupas by assembling the one mind, This is creating buddha images by collecting emptiness on top of emptiness. This is creating buddha images by taking up mind on top of mind. This is building stupas by laying stupas on top of stupas. This is creating buddha images by actualizing buddhas on top of buddhas.

This being so, a sutra [the Lotus Sutra] says, “When this is contemplated, all buddhas in the ten directions emerge.”

Know that when one contemplating buddha emerges, all contemplating buddhas in the ten directions emerge. When one thing becomes a buddha, all things become buddhas.

 

Shakyamuni Buddha Said, “When the morning star appeared, I attained the way simultaneously with all sentient beings and the great earth.”

Thus, aspiration, practice, enlightenment, and nirvana must be simultaneously aspiration, practice, enlightenment, and nirvana [with all sentient beings]. The body and mind of the buddha way is grass, trees, tiles, and pebbles, as well as wind, rain, water, and fire. To turn them around and make them the buddha way—this is the aspiration for enlightenment.

Hold up empty space to build a stupa and create a buddha image. Scoop up valley water to build a stupa and create a buddha image. This is arousing the aspiration for unsurpassable, complete enlightenment. This is arousing for enlightenment one aspiration one hundred times, one thousand times, myriad times. This is practice and realization.

This being so, those who think that arousing the aspiration only happens once, although practice for attaining one realization happens innumerable times, have not heard, known, or encountered buddha dharma.

Arousing the aspiration for enlightenment one thousand times, one billion times, is not other than arousing the aspiration for enlightenment one time. Arousing the aspiration for enlightenment by one thousand billion people is not other than arousing one aspiration. Arousing the aspiration for enlightenment one time is arousing the aspiration for enlightenment one thousand times, one billion times. Practice, realization, and the turning of the dharma are also like this.

If you are not grass and trees, how can you have body and mind? If you are not body and mind, how can you be grass and trees? It is so because you cannot be grass and trees without being grass and trees.

Zazen, the endeavor of the way, is arousing the aspiration for enlightenment. Arousing the aspiration is neither one nor many. Zazen is neither one nor many, neither two nor three. It cannot be divided, either. Thoroughly investigate each and every zazen in this way.

If the process of assembling grass, trees, and the seven treasures to build a stupa and create a buddha image were a purposeful activity and not attaining the way, then the thirty-seven wings of enlightenment would also be a purposeful activity; endeavoring in the practice with the bodies and minds of humans and devas of the three realms would also be a purposeful activity and would not enable you to arrive at the ultimate ground of enlightenment.

Grass, trees, tiles, and pebbles, as well as the four great elements and the five skandhas, are all equally inseparable mind, equally marks of reality. The entire world of the ten directions, the buddha nature of thusness, is equally things abiding in their conditions.

How can there be grass, trees, and so on within the buddha nature of thusness? How can grass, trees, and so on not be buddha nature? All things are neither created nor not created, but are reality. Reality is reality as it is.

Thusness is the body and mind right now. Arouse the aspiration with this body and mind. Do not avoid stepping on water and stepping on stones. To take up just one blade of grass and create a sixteen-foot golden body, or to take up a particle of dust and build a stupa shrine of an ancient buddha, arouses the aspiration for enlightenment. It is to see buddha and hear buddha. It is to see dharma and hear dharma. It is to become buddha and practice buddha.

 

Hongren, Who Would Later become the Fifth Chinese Ancestor, was once a practitioner who planted pine trees. Linji practiced planting pine and cedar trees on Mount Huangbo. Old Man Liu planted pine trees on Mount Dong. These practitioners took up the purity of pine and cypress and plucked out an eyeball of buddha ancestors. This is actualizing the power of playing with and opening the vital eyeball. Building a stupa and creating a buddha image are playing with an eyeball, tasting the aspiration, and letting the aspiration be aroused.

Without attaining the eyeball of building a stupa and so on, buddha ancestors would not attain the way. Only after attaining the eyeball of creating a buddha image do you become a buddha and become an ancestor.

To say, “Building a stupa and so on, which will turn into dust, is not true merit. On the other hand, to train to be beyond birth is a solid practice, which cannot be defiled by dust,” is not the Buddha’s words. If you say that a stupa will turn to dust, then what is beyond birth will also turn to dust. If what is beyond birth does not turn to dust, a stupa will not turn to dust. What is this place of dust? Do you call it purposefully made or not?

 

A Sutra [the Avatamsaka Sutra] says:

Upon first arousing the aspiration in birth and death,
the bodhisattva wholeheartedly seeks enlightenment solidly without being swayed.
The merit of this single intention is so deep and boundless
that even in countless eons the Tathagata cannot fully explain it.

Clearly know that taking up birth and death to arouse the aspiration is wholeheartedly seeks enlightenment. This single intention should be the same as one blade of grass and one tree; they are one birth and one death.

The merit of this single intention is deep without boundary, vast without boundary. Even if the Tathagata tries to comprehend it using countless eons as words, it cannot be fully exhausted. It is inexhaustible just as the bottom remains when the ocean dries up, or the heart remains after a person dies.

Just as the single intention is deep and boundless, one blade of grass, one tree, one stone, or one tile is deep and boundless. If a blade of grass or a stone is seven or eight feet, the single intention is seven or eight feet. Arousing the aspiration is also seven or eight feet.

Thus, going deeply into a mountain and contemplating the buddha way are easy. Building a stupa and creating a buddha image are very difficult. Both types of practice require endeavor without slack. But the practice of taking up mind [contemplation] and the practice taken up by the mind [building a stupa and so on] are far apart from each other. In this way, arousing the aspiration for enlightenment accumulates, actualizing buddha ancestors.

Photo by Bart Everson

Photo by Bart Everson


Eihei Dogen (1200-1253) founded the Soto school in Japan after traveling to China and meeting his teacher Rujing.

Kazuaki Tanahashi is an artist, peace activist and translator. He is also an old friend of the Monastery.

From Treasury of the True Dharma Eye. Copyright © 2010 by San Francisco Zen Center. Reprinted by arrangement with The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, MA.

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