January 26, 2013

Dharma Transmission - 2018 version

I wrote the following article several years ago and later decided to rename it from Dharma Transmission to Dharma Flowing, as Mike, my teacher, warned me not to write about something I haven't experienced. This year, I decided to have a look at what I'd written about dharma transmission in the past and made a few changes, especially the ending is different. You could say that the article is almost the same, so it seems I knew what dharma transmission is even a few years ago. But what I wrote then was a kind of intellectual exercise rather than something I experienced. Today I can say that what I wrote makes sense and I think it is true, but now I can add that "little" detail - I have that experience now. You can notice that someone who has never been to Slovakia may study history of the country, study maps, observe photographs, take notes, memorize facts, learn fluent Slovak, but still have no experience of Slovakia. Such a person may know really a lot about the country, whereas a simple peasant living far away in the mountains may have never heard of the capital and may have never been anywhere else except two or three mountains and a valley near his cottage. Who knows more about Slovakia? The simple fact is that the peasant has experience, true experience, even if he cannot say much about the country. The educated person interested in Slovakia may have amazing knowledge about the country, but still absolutely nothing of true experience. It is the same with Buddhism. You may have studied a lot and you may understand a lot, but if you lack experience, you cannot compare to a simple little known teacher living far away in the mountains, who has not read much about Buddhism, but has had true experience practicing zazen and learning about Buddhism from a true master.   Now I can say that I had studied and practiced quite diligently before writing this article, but to see the country is still something different. I remember how much I'd loved France before I finally visited the country in 1987 or so. I'd studied French and knew a lot about the geography, but to cross the border in Menton and see real French people talking to me in French, their smiles and funny intonation and the glittering waves of the Mediterranean... nothing compared to that. And I was over the moon! I still remember that feeling.  

When Buddha Gautama confirmed Mahakasyapa’s smile on the Vulture Peak, it was called “Buddha-mind-seal”. That is Buddha certifying Mahakasyapa’s understanding as if with a stamp. For master Dogen, this confirmation is not just a matter of Gautama’s flower and Mahakasyapa’s smile and their mutual connection in dharma, but also the posture of zazen itself. So I’ll try to explain now how zazen can be the actual “Buddha-mind-seal” and what is confirmed in zazen.   

What does “Buddha-mind-seal” mean? It is the confirmation of the Buddha state directly from Gautama Buddha. When we sit in zazen, we may feel lonely or lacking understanding or being ignored by the master or buddhas, but in fact as we sit in zazen sincerely, we receive the confirmation of dharma from Gautama Buddha himself. Receiving confirmation of dharma from Gautama Buddha means receiving confirmation from mountains, rivers, trees, birds and pots. 

When we sit in zazen, we may ask: Is this Buddha-mind-seal? Is this Buddha Dharma confirmed? And immediately we receive the confirmation from Buddha Gautama: “Yes, this is Buddha-mind-seal, Buddha himself talking to you, don’t worry, I, Buddha Gautama confirm that this zazen is Buddha Dharma realized here and now completely”. So we receive confirmation from Buddha Gautama whenever we sit in zazen, as long as we not only hope to receive the confirmation, but when we also accept the confirmation from Buddha Gautama himself.  

Some people only wait for something to happen – will I ever attain enlightenment? Will I ever receive peaceful mind, will I ever receive dharma transmission from my teacher? But when we are seated wholeheartedly and firmly in the Buddha posture, we can stop asking one-sidedly and stop hoping one-sidedly and rather complete one half with the other half. And in our everyday life we can complete half an action with the other half. So when we ask, it's right there - the answer from Buddha Gautama appears within the instantaneous action in the real world. When we have doubts about pouring tea, we should just pour the tea and accept that as the actual answer from Gautama himself. When the tea is poured, it is dharma flowing and dharma affirmed. When we ask: “Is this pouring tea dharma flowing?”, we should just pour the tea and receive the positive reply from Buddha immediately. When we sit in zazen and only ask: “Is this Buddha dharma?”, then we may notice how quickly there is a person sitting in zazen, asking nothing. So the person sitting in zazen is affirming the person sitting in zazen, which is not different from buddha affirming buddha. This is what master Dogen calls the Buddha-mind-seal, affirmation. So when we let the Buddha-mind-seal complete our body and mind, this posture here and now as we just sit,  dharma has filled our body and mind. 

Buddhist teachers, after receiving a dharma transmission from Buddhist teachers, don't say: “Now I am a complete person, a complete buddha and now I know what to do and what to say”. Instead, they go back  and sit in zazen and maybe ask: "Is this Buddha-mind-seal?" Kodo Sawaki denied being a perfect person and my teacher denies being a perfect person. These teachers go back and sit in zazen and let dharma fill their bodies and minds, over and over again, every day. Practicing zazen, they are neither arrogant, nor too shy and through this balance attain the buddha state again. When I asked my teacher about dharma transmission, how it is decided, he gave me a very realistic answer and explanation. And when I later wrote about dharma transmission, he gave me a very realistic comment again: "It is not very wise to write about things we have not experienced." There are Buddhist teachers who do not compromise the truth and kindly correct and advise their students. How can we know about things we have not experienced? Even if master Dogen wrote about gods, celestial beings, buddhas and ancient patriarchs, which seems far from reality of his life, when we carefully observe and study what he actually wrote, we may come to the conclusion that he only wrote about his own experience, his experience of reality and used all kinds of images and concepts to point to the reality beyond images and concepts.     

We can notice that when we get stuck in dreams or only hope to get something without doing something concrete, we may speak or write about things we have never experienced. Have we experienced Buddha-mind-seal in zazen? Have we experienced transmission of dharma from mountains, rivers, trees and birds? We receive the confirmation of the truth from real things every day, in every instant. This is what master Dogen sometimes calls transmission or sometimes affirmation. So whether we accept such affirmation or not, we can sit in zazen and see what happens. We are encouraged by ancient masters to accept the truth, accept Dharma in zazen, we are assured that sitting in zazen is not different from being a buddha. But what we actually experience is beyond words, description, categories. We can let go of categories and concepts in zazen. Then what happens is not being void, empty, or hopeless.  Even if we feel strange or disturbed, what  happens is dharma flowing. So when we ask in zazen: “What is this?”, we can freely receive the answer: “This is Buddha”. How is zazen different from dharma coming and being received completely? How is zazen different from Gautama’s turning a flower and Mahakasyapa’s smiling? That’s why it is called Buddha-mind-seal and why master Dogen taught that zazen is not different from Buddha-mind-seal. So when we ask in the kitchen: “What is this?”, we can just pour the tea while letting dharma flow, letting buddhas affirm reality and leaving concepts in the closets and cabinets. In that moment there is nothing lacking and the great unselfish satisfaction of buddhas may freely come into our hearts and freely leave our hearts. We can be free to ask and doubt what Buddha is and we can be free to receive confirmation from buddhas, which is not different from our real life.  When we open the door, somebody may come and somebody may go.

"Before dharma transmission" is only an idea, "after dharma transmission", is also only an idea, yet it is important to realize that we can learn something valuable and we can have experience, be it experience traveling to Slovakia or experience learning from a teacher or experience obtaining dharma transmission from a teacher or experience teaching others about our true experience.


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