Berkeley Zen Center [an error occurred while processing this directive]

Lecture by Sojun Roshi on Gakudo Vojinshu

Fifth Day of Rohatsu Sesshin, 1995

This lecture is reprinted from the November 2000 Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter.

(Note: Gakudo Yojinshu is a compilation of Dogen's writings by the Soto school.)


In Gakudo Yojinshu, the second point is "release through repentance."

Dogen says," The Buddhas and Ancestors, because of their great mercy, have left open the vast gates of compassion in order that all beings, both human and celestial, may thereby realize enlightenment. Although karmic retribution for evil acts must come, repentance lessens the effects, bringing release and purity. Therefore, let us repent before the Buddha in all sincerity."

Once a month on the full moon, we perform the Bodhisattva Ceremony. In the traditional Buddhist Ceremony, the monks all get together and recite the Patimokkha, the 250 rules of behavior that the monks follow in the vinaya. When a rule is read, any monk who has transgressed that rule stands up and acknowledges the transgression. Four of the rules, if transgressed, lead to expulsion, while the rest have other consequences. The full moon ceremony we do is related to this ceremony, but it's abbreviated because we don't follow the 150 precepts. Instead, we follow a set of precepts for both monks and lay people. Traditionally, lay people take only five precepts. Saicho, who brought the Tendai teaching to Japan, developed the sixteen precepts which may have influenced Dogen.

The sixteen precepts contain all the other precepts. They consist of the three refuges, the three pure precepts, and the ten prohibitory precepts. These are called "major" precepts. The rest are "minor" precepts. Major precepts are universal, and do not depend on time and place, while minor precepts are related to a particular time and place. For example, people in India eat with their fingers, so there are many rules there about eating with your fingers.

When Shakyamuni Buddha was on his deathbed, Ananda asked him, "Should we still keep the precepts?" Some of the monks thought that when Buddha passed away, they wouldn't have to keep the precepts anymore. Buddha said, "Yes, you should still keep the precepts. If you keep the precepts, it's the same as my teaching." Ananda forgot to ask him about the minor precepts, so Mahakashapa said, "We should follow the minor precepts, rather than make a mistake." That's why many monks still practice 250 precepts for men and 350 for women.

It doesn't really make sense to follow all those precepts just because that's what they did in India. Suzuki Roshi used to talk about a monk from India who came to China in the winter. He couldn't wear Chinese clothes or eat their food, so he had to go back to India. Buddhists have to adapt themselves to time and circumstances. Suzuki Roshi said that we should develop our own minor precepts that are relevant to our time and place.

Now I want to read a short piece from the Platform Sutra, by the Sixth Ancestor, Daikon Eno whose Chinese name was Hui Neng. All Zen lineages come through the Sixth Ancestor of China. Scholars think this sutra was originally developed around an ordination ceremony. Repentance always precedes an ordination ceremony, and this part preceded the ceremony Daikon Eno describes. Here he is talking about samadhi:

"If we are attached to outer objects, our mind will be perturbed. When we are free from attachment to all outer objects, the mind will be at peace and tranquil. Our essence of mind is intrinsically pure, and the reason why we are perturbed is because we allow ourselves to be carried away by the circumstances we are in. One who is able to keep the mind unperturbed irrespective of circumstances has attained samadhi."

Samadhi means calmness of mind. To have calm mind even though you are upset is samadhi. The more deeply we are upset, the more stable we have to become. This is what we learn in sesshin. There are two things to do when we have a barrier and there's no place to go. One is to try to escape and the other is to go deeper. We have this choice in each moment. Shall I escape or shall I go more deeply?

In the Platform Sutra, the patriarch offers five sticks of incense, one for each aspect of repentance. The first stick is for the precepts. The second is for samadhi. The third is for prajna, which means that we refrain from doing evil deeds and that even when we do good deeds we do not become attached to them.

The fourth stick is for liberation, the absolutely free state in which our mind clings to nothing and concerns itself with neither good nor evil. The fifth stick is for the knowledge obtained at the moment of liberation. When you have realization, and you're completely free, don't stop there. Enlightenment is the beginning of practice, as well as the end.

Then the Sixth Ancestor says, "Learned audience, please follow and repeat together what I say: 'May we disciples be always free from the taints of ignorance and delusion. We repent of all our sins and evil deeds committed under delusion or in ignorance. May they be expiated at once, and may they never rise again.

"'May we always be free from the taints of arrogance and dishonesty. We repent of all our arrogant behavior and dishonest dealings in the past. May they be expiated at once, and may they never arise again.

"'May we always be free from the taints of envy and jealousy. We repent of all our sins and evil deeds committed in an envious or jealous spirit. May they be expiated at once, and may they never arise again.'"

In order to maintain purity of mind, it's necessary to acknowledge our mistakes and make some effort to turn around. There is no need to beat ourselves up, but rather to acknowledge that we're off-course, and vow to turn around and get back on track. That's true repentance. It's important to feel the pain caused by our mistakes. If we don't feel the pain, then we don't have anything to guide us. Our pain is our guide, it helps us remember not to do something again.

There are many forms of transgression. There are transgressions against people, against animals, and against nature. There are also transgressions against our own nature: how we hold ourselves back, how we violate our own true nature. When we stop violating our own nature, then we can or will stop violating the nature around us.

Zazen is a kind of purification. In this human world, we find realization through our pain and suffering. The main purpose of Buddhism is to overcome suffering. In order to overcome suffering, we have to go all the way through it. We have to bump smack into it and become it. To accept our own pain completely is to be free of it. Sometimes we wish that our life wasn't so painful. But the more we wish our life wasn't so painful, the more painful it becomes. When we deal with our pain directly, we become sensitive to the pain all around us. We try to make things a little easier for people.

It's important to acknowledge our transgressions. Repentance is not simply a ceremony once a month; it should be happening all the time. We should acknowledge each problem as it comes up, admitting where we're wrong, and doing something about it. It's also important to relinquish what we are holding onto. I see people, wandering around, hanging onto stuff, carrying big burdens, clutching resentment and anger for dear life. Once I saw a cartoon which showed an airport baggage claim area. The cartoon was titled, "Mental Baggage," and the people in the cartoon were pointing to the baggage and saying, "Oh, there's my resentment at my ex-husband" and things like that.

It's hard to let go of resentment and anger. We cling to them and then we become imprisoned by them. We have something, but the something we have has us as well.

We think, "If I let go of my resentment, I will lose something. I have to keep my resentment in order to maintain my dignity." There are other ways though. There is forgiveness, which is so hard. "If I forgive, then I'm being weak." Actually, it's being strong. It takes strength of character to forgive when you feel resentment or anger.

Anger thrives on anger, resentment thrives on resentment. What state of mind do you want? Do you want to maintain a state of samadhi? Of imperturbability and kindness? Or do you want anger and resentment? We have that choice, even though we may think we don't. When we follow the path of samadhi, even though anger, resentment, and all the rest arise, through compassion and forgiveness, we can let them go. We can make an effort not be hooked by them, even though we do get hooked. We may be hooked for the rest of our life by some thing which will cause us a lot of anguish and pain. That anguish and pain is our vehicle for purification, just as the pain you have in zazen is a vehicle for purification.

The way we can forgive people is to treat everyone as Buddha, even our worst enemy. "How can I ever forgive him?" If we see everyone as Buddha, then we can. It's not easy, and we will always have problems, but we can do it.

• • •

Student: I have a very hard time forgiving people who abuse kids. I read a newspaper article about a man who put his girlfriend's three-year old boy in a pot and put the pot on the stove, and the boy went to the hospital with third-degree burns. How do we deal with people like this?

Sojun Roshi: One of the problems is that usually those people have suffered from so much cruelty themselves that they don't know what to do with it. They project it on someone else. There are a lot of reasons.

Student: I'm not talking about the reasons, not "How could somebody do that?" I'm asking, How can we relate to people like that?"

Sojun Roshi: With compassion.

Student: We can't let them go around killing people!

Sojun Roshi: Compassion has many forms. The compassionate thing may be to lock somebody up. The compassionate thing may be to hit someone. But no matter how you're dealing with somebody, don't lose sight of their Buddha nature. Whatever punishment or restriction you impose should be done with compassion. That's the only way we can deal with our anger, our retribution, our resentment, or our feeling for justice.

When someone does something like that, we think, "I'll show them! I'll do to them what they did to so-and-so!" But what you're doing is bringing the same rationale into play. You may have some personal satisfaction, but you're being caught by your own emotional response. How do you avoid that? We have to practice peace all the time. It has to be a constant practice.

Student: How do I decide that the most compassionate thing is to hit somebody? How do I know that I'm acting out something other than my own ego?

Sojun Roshi: Well, suppose someone is choking your baby. There may be nothing you can do except pick up a stick and hit him over the head. Compassion takes many forms. Buddha has compassion for everyone. Avalokiteshvara has compassion for everyone. If you're a Christian, Christ has compassion for everyone, not just for people you like.

Last revised November 9, 2000. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

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