Radical Transformation

Radical Transformation


Tesshin used this week’s talk to discuss Linji’s 15th case.  An excerpt is provided below…  


Someone asked, “What is true insight?”

The master said, “You have only to enter the secular, enter the sacred, enter the defiled, enter the pure, enter the lands of all the buddhas, enter the Tower of Maitreya, enter the dharma realm of Vairocana and all of the lands everywhere that manifest and come into being, exist, decay, and disappear.

The Buddha appeared in the world, turned the Wheel of the Great Dharma, then entered nirvana, yet no trace of his coming and going can be seen.  Though you seek his birth and death, you will never find it.

Then, having entered the dharma realm of no-birth and traveled throughout every country, you enter the realm of the lotus-womb, and there see through and through that all dharmas are characterized by emptiness and that there are no real dharmas whatsoever.

There is only the man of the Way who depends upon nothing, here listening to my discourse – it is he who is the mother of all buddhas.  Therefore, buddhas are born from nondependence.  Awaken to the nondependence, then there is no Buddha to be obtained.  Insight such as that is true insight.


What is this Koan trying to convey to us?  According to Tesshin, nothing more than radical transformation!  What does that mean and how do we know when this happens?  Tesshin mentioned to us that there is a lot of talk about being “radical” in today’s culture, but most of it is nothing more than simple “protest.”  It is done to make a statement while looking enlightened to other people.  Here the koan is explicit – transformation can never come from the outside!  “There is only the man of the Way who depends upon nothing”  Transformation must come from within us – it is never in reference to anything external to us.


To elaborate, Tesshin recounted how as a graduate student, he was required to present his thesis to the president of the university in order to get a diploma.  Tesshin and a group of students burned their thesis instead of presenting as they disagreed with the university in its support of military research.  Due to this action they did not receive a diploma and did not walk in graduation.  (However, he did note that he was awarded the degree)  So is this radical transformation or simply making a statement?  It is clear that while this action is laudable it is NOT radical transformation.  The university may have slightly changed its actions regarding the military, but the students went on and worked in the current society and implicitly accepted its norms and requirements.     


Another example Tesshin gave is when the Pope washes the feet of inmates?  Is this radical transformation?  It is a beautiful ceremony and serves as a great teaching moment for church followers – but it does not break through any real barriers of belief – it only reinforces the message of the church.  This action is relative to and for the follows of the church.  It makes them believe that their leader is “good and just.”  What if the Pope washed the feet of Putin or Kim Jong-un?  What would the followers think then?  What assumptions or cherished beliefs would that action break?  Now we may be getting somewhere!!


Finally, Tesshin mused about our own Buddhist community.  Just this past week, he received a phone call from another teacher who asked about the forms and ceremony of “Dharma Transmission.”  Transmission is the ceremony where a teacher chooses a student to carry on the message of the Dharma.  Teachers have been choosing successors for thousands of years, and these teaching lineages are a big part of Zen.  What became clear in the conversation, however, is that the caller was more interested in ensuring that all the forms and ceremonies were being followed properly.  Again, the concern was about which actions relative to observers were correct.  Instead of asking about the student’s mastery of the forms, Tesshin wanted to know …


Is this student “true and real?”

Do they really understand the message of the Dharma?

Do they have a burning desire to save all beings by teaching?


These are the correct questions!!  Has the student undergone radical transformation or are they simply looking for an accolade from someone outside of themselves?  If the student WANTS transmission, then they have completely missed the whole point and really could never receive “real” transmission.  


It is the same thing with any type of radical change.  Your reputation is beside the point!  Radical transformation is not a 1st place ribbon.  It is not “virtue-signaling.”  It is a commitment to save all beings.  It is teaching the way.  It is delivering 100% of yourself everyday knowing full well that your efforts are only a drop in the ocean, but you are still willing to do it day in and day out.


In temples at night after a day of meditation, the group commonly chants the “Four Vows.”

Beings are numberless

I vow to free them

Delusions are inexhaustible

I vow to end them

Dharma gates are boundless

I vow to master them

The Buddha way is unsurpassable

I vow to realize it 


Radical transformation is applying yourself to this hopeless goal with everything you have.  Tesshin closed by reminding us that the koan is clearly pointing to this foundational truth in our practice.