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Berkeley Zen Center

Lecture by Sojun Roshi

This lecture is reprinted from the May 2004 Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter.

A Response to a Question from the Previous Lecture

Student: One of the most important questions of my life in the past couple years has been: If my nose is vertical and my eyes are horizontal, then why Buddhism?

Sojun: That's a good question, that's exactly the question that Dogen carried with him to China. He said that if we all have Buddha-nature, if everything is Buddha-nature, why do we have to do something like practice? Why sit zazen, or do anything special, if Buddha-nature is our natural endowment? What Dogen woke up to was that although Buddha-nature is our essential nature, if we don't do something to bring it forth, it doesn't manifest as realization. Even though electricity is everywhere, if we don't induce it, we can't make use of it. It's all around us. But we have to channel it somehow so we can use it. Once we realize our nature, everything will open to us. Since Buddha-nature is the fundamental nature of all things, we realize that all things are essentially aspects of my true self. For us humans Buddha-nature manifests as Human Nature.

Even though we're born with the ability to be truly human, it doesn't necessarily follow that we will turn out to be completely realized human beings. We may manifest the characteristics of an animal, while having the outward appearance of a human. It's also true that some animals are more compassionate and loving than many humans. That's why many people prefer the company of animals. We may become a fighting demon, a hungry ghost or a hell dweller. What world do we live in? We may think that we live in the human world, but do we really know what a human being is?

What does it mean to be born, live our lives, and die, as human beings? If we look around us we may wonder. Although we think of ourselves as complete human beings, we are also evolving into being or becoming human. The theory of evolution is, I think, correct. We started out as something, and we're evolving into something, very slowly. And at the same time we are complete human beings. Each one is in a unique stage of development. We're human beings evolving into human beings; myself becoming myself. But very few of us have reached that completeness.

Although we all have Human Nature, each one of us has the Buddha-nature as well. But we don't necessarily realize that we're Buddha. We haven't become the Buddha that we are; a fully evolved human being. As Buddha-nature and Human Nature are not two things, we are both Buddhas and ordinary human beings.

So when we raise the thought of enlightenment and enter into and turn the practice, the Buddha comes forth, Human Nature and Buddha-nature merge, and an evolving bodhisattva is born, one who arrives with every step and never stops arriving. This is why we are drawn to practice, in faith that we are Buddha.

Dogen understood that realization stimulates practice and practice sustains realization. Eyes are horizontal and nose is vertical. A moment of practice is a moment of awakening.

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