Thursday, August 20, 2009


By Ikkyu (1394-1481)

These thin lines of India ink reveal all truth.

Students, sit earnestly in zazen, and you will realize that everything born in this world is ultimately empty, including oneself and the original face of existence. All things indeed emerge out of emptiness. This original formlessness is “Buddha,” and all other similar terms-Buddha-nature, Buddhahood, Buddha-mind, Awakened One, Patriarch, God—are merely different expressions for the same emptiness. Misunderstand this and you will end up distracted for eons.

Filled with disgust and longing to liberate myself from the realm of continual birth and death, I abandoned home and set off on a journey. One night, I came to a lonely little temple, looking for a place to rest. I was far off the main road, at the base of a mountain, seemingly lost in a vast Plain of Repose. The temple was in a field of graves, and suddenly a pitiful-looking skeleton appeared speaking these words:

A melancholy autumn wind
Blows through the world:
The pampas grass waves,
As we drift to the moor,
Drift to the sea.
What can be done
With the mind of a man,
That should be clear
But, dressed up in a monk’s robe,
He just lets life pass him by?

All things become naught by returning to their origin. Bodhidharma faced the wall in meditation, but none of the thoughts that arose in this mind had any reality. The same held true for Buddha’s fifty years of proclaiming the Dharma. The Mind is not bound by such conditioned things.

Such deep musings made me uneasy and I could not sleep. Toward dawn I dozed off, and in my dreams I found myself surrounded by a bunch of skeletons, acting as they did in life.
One skeleton came over to me and said:

Flee and
Are no more:
All are empty dreams
Devoid of meaning.

Violate the reality of things
And babble about
“God” and “Buddha”
And you will never find
The true Way.

Still breathing,
You feel animated,
So a corpse in a field
Seems to be something
Apart from you.

I got on well with this skeleton—he had renounced the world to seek the truth and had passed from the shallows to the depths. He saw things clearly, just the way they are. I lay there with the wind in the pines whispering in my ears and the autumnal moonlight dancing across my face.

What is not a dream? Who will not end up as a skeleton? We appear as skeletons covered with skin, male and female, and lust after each other. When the breath expires, though, the skin ruptures, sex disappears, and there is no more high or low. Underneath the skin of the person we fondle and caress right now is nothing more than a bare set of bones. Think about it—high and low, young and old, male and female, all the same. Awaken to this one great matter, and you will immediately comprehend the meaning of “unborn and undying.”

If chunks of rock
Can serve as a memento
To the dead,
A better headstone
Would be a tea mortar.

Humans are indeed frightful beings.

A single moon
Bright and clear
In an unclouded sky:
Yet still we stumble
In the world’s darkness

Have a good look—stop the breath, peel off the skin, and everybody ends up looking the same. No matter how long you live, the result is not altered. Cast off the notion the “I exist.” Entrust yourself to the windblown clouds, and do not wish to live forever.


Skeletons Part II

One night, I came to a lonely little temple, looking for a place to rest. I was far off the main road, at the base of a mountain, seemingly lost in a vast Plain of Repose. The temple was in a field of graves, and suddenly a pitiful-looking skeleton appeared speaking these words:

This world
Is but
A fleeting dream
So why be alarmed
At its evanescence?

Your span of life is set and entreaties to the gods to lengthen it are to no avail. Keep your mind fixed on the one great matter of life and death. Life ends in death, that’s the way things are.

The vagaries of life
Though painful,
Teach us
Not to cling
To this fleeting world.

Why do people
Lavish decoration
On this set of bones
Destined to disappear
Without a trace?

The original body
Must return to
Its original place:
Do not search
For what cannot be found.

No one really knows
The nature of birth
Nor the true dwelling place:
We return to the source,
And turn to dust.

We enjoyed ourselves together, the skeleton and I, and that illusive mind that generally separates us from others gradually left me. The skeleton that had accompanied me all this while possessed the mind that renounces the world and seeks for truth.

Many paths lead from
The foot of the mountain
But at the peak
We all gaze at the
Single bright moon.

If at the end of our journey
There is no final
Resting place
Then we need not fear
Losing our way.

No beginning
No end;
Our mind
Is born and dies:
The emptiness of emptiness!

Let up
And the mind
Runs wild:
Control the world
And you can cast it aside.

This is how the world is. Those who have not grasped the world’s impermanence are astonished and terrified by such change.

Rain, hail, snow, and ice:
All separate
But when they fall
They become the same water
Of the valley stream.

Without a bridge
Clouds climb effortlessly
To heaven:
No need to rely on
Anything Gotama Buddha taught.

Gotama Buddha proclaimed the Dharma for fifty years, and when his disciple Kashyapa asked him for the key to his teaching, Buddha said: “From beginning to end I have not proclaimed a single word,” and held up a flower.

Kashyapa smiled, and Buddha gave him the flower saying these words: “You possess the Wondrous mind of the True Law.” “What do you mean?” asked Kashyapa. “My fifty years of preaching,” Buddha told him, “has been beckoning to you all the while, just like attracting a child into one’s arms with the promise of a reward.”

This flower of the Dharma cannot be described in physical, mental, or verbal terms. It is not material or spiritual. It is not intellectual knowledge. Our Dharma is the Flower of the one Vehicle carrying all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future. It holds the twenty-eight Indian and six Chinese Patriarchs; it is the original ground of being—all there is.

All things are without beginning and thus all-inclusive. The eight senses, the four seasons, the four great elements (earth, water, fire, wind), all originate in emptiness, but few realize it. Wind is breath, fire is animation, water is blood; when the body is buried or burned it becomes earth. Yet these elements too are without beginning and never abide.

Excerpted from Wild Ways translated by John Stevens 2003- White Pines press

From: DailyZen 1 and DailyZen 2

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