Friday, August 24, 2012

Who Determines What Buddha Dharma Is?

A person asked, "Who determines what Buddha Dharma is?

I responded:

As Donovan sang the haiku:

"The lock upon my garden gate,
a snail,
that's what it is."

A person then asked

So if everyone can determine what Buddhism is ... then how do we know which is the real one??
They can contradict each other even when they are trying to say the same thing.
Can a layman give advice on meditation? Or should it be a respected teacher?
Would the advice be the same or would it be so vastly different??
Who do we trust for the correct information??

This is a great question.  Now I ask, how can you tell whether the lock on the gate is a lock or a snail? You have to see, touch, work the function of the lock, etc.   This is not as simple as it may seem.  If one thinks this is a  simple matter theo one is missing the profound meaning of Zen.

We've gone over this question many times, and will continue to do so in the next 2500 years of Zen. Why? Because the interplay of delusion and awakening is unborn and undying.

So, is it a lock or a snail? 

Wŏnhyo (元曉 617-686) was the great Korean master who espoused and popularized the Buddhist ecumenical syncretism of the Ekayana (One Vehicle) based primarily on the [i]Flower Garland Sutra [/i](Avatamsaka, Huayan) and the [i]Treatise on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana[/i].  As the legend of Wonhyo's great awakening goes, it came when he was traveling from Korea to China to meet with the great masters of the Tang to ask exactly this sort of question about determining the basis of Buddha Dharma.  He specifically wanted to study the new translations by Xuanzang of the Yogacara sutras and shastras.  When he and his close friend and travelling companion arrived at the seaport they discovered their ship had been delayed by bad weather and they themselves had no place to stay as the storm was hitting the town. They found a cave in the dark and got out of the rain but became very thirsty. They groped in the dark and discovered gourd bowls filling with rainwater. They drank and their thirst was greatfully quenched and they slept peacefully. However, in the light of morning they discovered they had slept in a roadside tomb and that their bowls were actually skull caps and what they took for fresh rain water was the water collected in the skulls that still had bits of brain and flesh attached. Due to the storm they had to stay there a second night and again became thirsty.  Remembering his thirst quenched from the night before, Wonhyo attempted to drink from the same bowl but this time he reched in the attempt, and his sleep was disturbed by ghosts and nightmares.  As he pondered the difference between the two nights' experiences he had a great awakening to the meaning of mind-only (心量) knew the answer to the question "Who determines what is Buddha Dharma?"  Wonhyo composed a comemorative verse:


My translation:
“Because of the birth of mind,  every kind of thing is born;,
because of the extinguishing of mind, a shrine room and a tomb are not two.”

[There are several puns here in addition to describing his experience: first, the word 龕 for “shrine-room” or “stupa room” has the secondary meaning “to win, be victorious,” so “winning and the tomb (i.e., losing in death)” are not two; second the shrine-room when it is a stupa room is a place for the veneration of Buddha reclics and the regular tomb is the place for the corpses of common people, thus the meaning that the resting place of the Buddha and of common people are not two, i.e., the inherent nature of Buddhas and common people are not two.]

After this awakening, Wonhyo decided he no longer needed to vist "the Great Tang" and he returned home.

Likewise, the lock and the snail are not two.

Here's another story in the same vein:

Once there was a monk who specialized in the Buddhist precepts, and he kept to them all his life. Once when he was walking at night, he stepped on something. It made a squishing sound, and he imagined he had stepped on an egg-bearing frog. This caused him no end of alarm and regret, in view of the Buddhist precept against taking life, and when he finally went to sleep that night he dreamed that hundreds of frogs came demanding his life. The monk was terribly upset, but when morning came he looked and found that what he stepped on was a overripe eggplant. At that moment his feeling of uncertainty suddenly stopped, and for the first time he realized the meaning of the saying that there is no objective world. Then he finally knew how to practice Zen.
~ From the book: Zen Essence

The deeper we identify with the question, the more certain it is that no amount of thinking will resolve this question.  Only a direct experience that shows us the actual living meaning of the Diamond Sutra's admonition to "see all the world as a dream" and the Lankavatara Sutra's teaching that "everything is a discrimination of mind" can resolve this question to our heart's satisfaction.


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