Mind of Enlightenment

Meaning of Life


Roshi continued our discussion this week on Hakuin.  He opened the talk by reciting a famous koan ascribed to Hakuin.


“You know the sound of two hands clapping, what sound does one hand make.” 


This koan is usually misquoted as asking what is the sound of one hand clapping, but we all know that it is impossible to clap with one hand.  The real question is what sound can one hand make.  It is said that Hakuin commented on this koan by saying, “The sound of one hand saved my life!”  So perhaps this sound, echoing through all time and space, can save us as well.


Roshi next mentioned that Hakuin was not particularly impressed by the monks and priests of his day.  He thought students residing in a zendo “just sitting” were no better than rocks gathered into a pile.  It is said that Hakuin preferred workers and old women.  Workers face the reality of the world everyday and old women have “seen it all” and have deep wisdom.


There is a story about Hakuin where an old lay woman comes to the temple to share her deep enlightenment with the great teacher.  As the teacher respected old women, he ushered her right into a personal interview and invited her to demonstrate her understanding.  The woman states that the Dharma shines everywhere.  Hakuin asks, “Does the Dharma shine up your butt?”  The old woman immediately slaps him and then Hakuin slaps the woman back.  After this exchange they both laugh deeply and share a cup of tea.


Tesshin Roshi asked us to think about this exchange.  What was going on?  Did the woman slap Hakuin because he crossed the line by asking such a “vulgar” question?  “Does the Dharma shine up your butt?”  What kind of question is this?  Also, why did Hakuin slap the woman back?  Was he upset by the initial assault?  Roshi reminded us that in these stories there is always something going on beneath mere surface appearances.  Roshi first noted that the woman stated that the Dharma is everywhere.  Hakuin asks a pretty simple question – everywhere – even up your butt?  We know the answer is yes because there is nothing outside of “it” – even the old lady’s butt!  The woman could have given a long-winded explanation, but instead slapped Hakuin.  This slap was not anger.  The very action of slapping is also in the Dharma!  She passed the “test.”  Hakuin recognizes the successful answer by slapping her back.  This is a deep gift.  If she was not accomplished, he would never consider doing this.  A good teacher can recognize where a student is by what they say and more importantly, what they do.  However, this is yet another test.  You can say and do the “right things”, but how deep is your understanding in a moment of crisis?  The old woman showed her understanding by laughing when Hakuin slapped her.  There is no thinking when you are suddenly slapped.  If she had even the slightest doubt or if she was “playing the Zen role” she would have reacted very differently.  She recognized him and he recognized her.  At that point, the work was done and they had a nice cup of tea.


Roshi continued by sharing a piece Hakuin wrote late in his life called the “Mind of Enlightenment.”


What is to be valued above all else is the practice that comes after satori is achieved. What is that practice? It is the practice that puts the Mind of Enlightenment first and foremost.

Many years ago, the great deity of the Kasuga Shrine appeared to Gedatsu Shōnin of Kasagi. “Since the time of the Buddha Kuruson,” he told him, “every wise and eminent priest who has lacked the Mind of Enlightenment has without exception fallen into the paths of evil.”

For years, these words weighed on my mind, greatly troubling me. I couldn’t understand it. Wasn’t a shaven head and monk’s robe the Mind of Enlightenment? Wasn’t reciting sutras, mantras, and dharanis the Mind of Enlightenment? Not to mention all those wise and eminent priests throughout the past: the idea that such men could have lacked the Mind of Enlightenment seemed incomprehensible to me. Yet here was a sacred utterance from the august lips of the great deity of Kasuga. It certainly could not be dismissed lightly.

I first began to have these doubts when I was twenty-five. They remained with me until my forty-first year, when I at long last penetrated into the heart of this great matter. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I saw it — it was as clear as if it were right there in the hollow of my hand. What is the Mind of Enlightenment? It is, I realized, a matter of doing good — benefiting others by giving them the gift of the Dharma teaching.

I pledged that I would from that moment forth drive forward the wheel of the Four Great Universal Vows. Now I am more than eighty years of age, but I have never been remiss in my effort to fulfill that pledge. I go wherever I am asked. Fifty, a hundred leagues — it doesn’t faze me in the least. I do everything I possibly can to impart the Dharma to people. How strange it is that nowhere in the Buddhist teachings or in the records of the Zen patriarchs have I seen any clarification of the Mind of Enlightenment. How fortunate it was for me that the great deity of Kasuga, in an oracle of a few short sentences, succeeded so wonderfully in transcending all the sutras and commentaries. My joy could not have been greater.


Tesshin Roshi noted that it can be as simple as this.  Doing good for all sentient beings!  This phrase sounds simple, but it has deeper message.  Consider people concerned by topics like Social Justice.  What guides their actions?  Some people may do actions to signal their virtue.  This is not the mind of enlightenment.  Some people may want to always do the “right thing.”  However, what is right and wrong in the ultimate sense of non-duality.  The true mind of enlightenment puts all of this thinking and confusion aside.  Our actions are dictated by what is helpful to others.  Anything beyond this is nothing but our ego deluding us!  This is Hakuin’s mind of enlightenment! 


Roshi wrapped up by reminding us that Hakuin’s message also extends to our Zazen practice.  Why are we really on the cushion?  What are we trying to accomplish?  What good will it be?  Yes, we meditate, and we study the Sutras, but what is the key?  We practice in order to reduce suffering.  We train to change ourselves first and then the entire world.  We strive for the “Mind of Enlightenment” in order to serve the entire realm of sentient beings!