Roshi begins this week with a reminder that we have been talking for several weeks about the sixth patriarch, the Platform Sutra. He tells us he could spend an entire year on this easily and never get bored since he was such a radical and rebel and you could see in his teachings why so many people were upset with him his whole life. His life was always threatened because his teachings were so profound and so simple that it really disturbed a lot of people in their preconceptions about what Zen is and what Buddhism is.
Roshi reiterates for us that the structure of the Platform Sutra is jukai, the precepts. We are told the sutra starts off with his background on how he came to his path with the Diamond Sutra being very big for him, that he gained his enlightenment through the Diamond Sutra, and so he was a big proponent of it.
We learn that he does his version of jukai in a very different and radical way compared to the way we do it. He then finishes with a fairly long lecture on practice, so we will take out one section to look at, section/paragraph 30. (In the Red Pine translation of the Platform Sutra)
“All the sutras and texts, all 12 divisions of the Hinayana and Mahayana Canons, were arranged by people. And it was because the nature of wisdom that they could do so. Moreover if there were no people in the world, none of the 10,000 teachings would have happened. Hence the 10,000 teachings have arisen because of people. And the sutras all exist because somebody spoke them. Some people in the world are foolish. Some are wise. The foolish are narrow-minded and the wise are open-minded.”
“So the foolish ask the wise and the wise teach the foolish until the foolish understand and open their minds. But once people foolish people understand and their minds are open, they are no different from the wisest of the wise. Hence, until they understand, buddhas are ordinary beings. But the moment they understand, ordinary beings are buddhas.”
“Thus the 10,000 teachings are all present within your very own mind. So, why don’t you use your own mind and see the nature of reality right now? The Bodhisattva Precept Sutra says, “Our original nature is pure. When you know your mind and see your nature, you complete the path to buddhahood.'”
The Vimalakirti Sutra says, “Suddenly all at once you discover your original mind.” This tradition of sudden awareness, of sudden awakening, is something he pushed hard on compared to slow awakening. Roshi points out that we can see in this one little section that the emphasis is on people.
We are reminded that this is not new to all of us. We know everyone’s the same. Everyone is born with buddha nature, everyone is enlightened. Some of us know it, some of us don’t. But what makes this teaching kind of radical is he’s saying, “You’re enlightened now! You’re buddha now. You might not know it, but now! Now now now now now now.”
And people always think this is absurd. How can we be buddhas now? Every one of us this in this room is Buddha? We are given an example of a neighbor that took their trash out, spilled all over the road, and didn’t clean up, and are taught to believe that they too are buddha. That we can go through a long list of people that we feel are clearly not Buddhas. How can you say they’re Buddhas?
Roshi teaches us that there is a simple explanation, easy to understand, and a little bit more nuanced explanation about how everyone is a Buddha right now. So, the simple explanation is: our nature is our nature is our nature. Sometimes we’re blind to the nature, but it never changes. It’s just like the sun.
The sun is the sun is the sun. It’s always shining. Even when it’s night, it’s still shining. Even when it’s stormy, it’s still shining. So we’re all buddhas whether we see it or not. Sometimes we’re just clouded to that. It’s a beautiful day. Today we see the sun, but often we can’t. It may be in ancient times we thought, “Oh the sun goes away and comes back.” No, it’s it’s always there.
So Roshi teaches us that it is a matter of whether we are able to perceive it or not. And this is the whole explanation for our buddhahood. Are we able to see it or not? What kind of training do we have to do? What kind of practice do we have to do to get rid of the attachments and clouds and delusions that prohibit us from seeing our own buddha nature?
We are told that this is the easier explanation, that the only difference between those who are enlightened and those are not–the foolish and the wise–is the foolish aren’t wise yet. It’s just a matter of time.
The more nuanced explanation to this uses the scope or the lens of Paramita, of wisdom of enlightenment. We are reminded that we have learned before that the Paramita meaning is to cross the shore, to go to the other side. So, we’re on this shore, the shore is the shore, it’s all the same thing. We just haven’t crossed over yet.
So, we still on our side perceive life and death and goodness and badness, we still perceive all those differences. When we are wise, those differences go away. So if you look at the scope of humanity, and evolution, we all know and we accept that nothing is permanent. Things are in transition all the time. Every single moment things are moving and changing. We can all accept that; we all know that.
So then when we look at ourselves in that scope of humanity, if we’re here, we’re either moving in one direction in another direction. We’re either getting more stupid or smarter. We’re becoming more foolish or more wise.
You can’t stay the same. You’re moving in one direction or the other, always. So even for the folks that are moving in the more foolish direction, that’s good! Because it is the foolishness that brings the pain and suffering and brings all the negative karma that eventually becomes the fuel, the mud, out of which the lotus grows.
So that’s good because it’ll keep going toward more and more foolish, and then it has no other choice but to bounce to the other direction. And if you are really wise or if you are in that direction, maybe you feel like right now I can be so much better and be so much happier. I can be so much more enlightened and at one with everything and less judge-y and just in bliss all the time. I’m not there yet.
When the Huineng says, “You’re wise right now, you’re enlightened!” we feel that’s not true. That we know our own life. “I’m not there yet, I just know it.” “I don’t know what ‘mu’ is!” we think. “I’m still working on ‘mu’! I’m still working on emptiness and nothingness. I’m not there yet so don’t tell me I’m Buddha and enlightened right now, that’s crazy.” That is what set off a lot of people at that time. People resisted claiming that this is not what all the teachers have been teaching us for years. He said no, you’re wise right now. That people felt it makes no sense.
Roshi tells us that with further examination, basically he’s looking at it from the view of Paramita, of wisdom, there is no delineation between life and death. It is one continuum. So if you look at your lives right now and you say, “Where am I?” you have to recognize that through the embodiment of where you are right now, this incarnation through your conditioning, where do you find yourself? On a Saturday morning, on a cushion.
Roshi shows us that when we look at this continuum, it is pretty clear where the continuum is going. We all, because of our condition or where we are, find ourselves on a cushion having made a value judgment, having made bodhisattva vows, having engaged whether we think that we’re good at it or not. We are clearly engaged in this process of enlightenment and awareness and consciousness. We are on that path.
We are directed to just look around the room, and see that everyone is very clearly on that path. And for that we have got to be incredibly thankful. We are asked to think of all the people in the world who don’t have a path. Who don’t have the dharma. Who don’t have any consciousness of their actions, and become victimized by their decisions every single moment of their life.
Roshi tells us a story of when he recently witnessed someone having a hard time assisting someone who was clearly and publicly not receiving instruction well at all, and that with permission he gently conveyed that we need to remember that there is no break for that person, that you have to have some empathy, some compassion for that.
That we have the majority of humanity that is just constantly doing things and making decisions that are hurting themselves and hurting others, they have no path. So you feel bad, and you feel empathy or sympathy.
But then you look at us and look how privileged we are, which is one reason we want to do this outreach. How privileged we are to be able to have the cushion, have a place to come to, to listen to these incredible teachers that reach out over 12 centuries. Can you believe that, Roshi asks, like after 12 centuries, they reach into our heart right now and go, “Wake up! This is what’s happening in your life!”
Like we’re on this continuum and very blessed. We just have to continue that practice. So if you take away the life and death, the reincarnation part of it, we’re there already. That’s what the sixth patriarch means by we’re already there.
Just take away the time element, we’re already enlightened. We’re already buddha. We’re on the path. We’re on the cushion. Let’s get the practice going. So it’s a little bit nuanced.
Roshi tells us if we like the sun metaphor, it’s a little bit easier. But in terms of the practicality of our practice and how we judge ourselves, it’s really just a matter of: relax, it’s okay, it’s practice, you’re on the path. You’re on the path, you have everything you need. Just keep sitting. Just keep going back to the dharma.
When we feel off, at least we can observe it and go, “Wow, that was a really crummy thing I just did. I kind of regret that.” Okay great! We have a practice that allows us to be self-reflective enough to make those adjustments and keep us on the path.
We are encouraged to just feel the flow of the moment, and the sixth patriarch talks a lot about how it is just this flow, to be in the breath, to be in the moment, you’re buddha now, just keep opening your eyes, keep watching your thoughts, keep to your vows, it’s all good. It’s all good.
A lot of people were upset with the patriarch in essentially saying, “With buddhas there is all this architecture, there are all these images, and there are all these forms we have to do,” and he says, “No.” That is what he says over and over again. “You may have this image of what an enlightened person is.”
It may have been Suzuki Roshi who said, “You have no idea how disappointed people are going to be when they finally meet Buddha. He’s just a dude. It will be really disappointing for those people.”
Roshi reminds us that the sixth patriarch says all sutras, all texts, all 12 divisions of Mahayana were arranged by people. People. If there were no people in the world, none of the teachings would have appeared. It’s just all about just being a real person! Just be a human being. You’re already human beings, we’re already people, that’s what makes us do this. So, just enjoy your life, enjoy being a human being, a person. That’s what it is to be a Buddha.