Berkeley Zen Center

Lecture by Sojun Roshi

This lecture is reprinted from the November 2003 Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter.

Honoring Peace

Today we face a crisis of monumental significance which involves the entire world and causes each nation and each individual to look deeply within their own conscience and decide whether or not war is a just or viable way to settle conflicts or whether any one nation has the right to dominate other nations or peoples. Buddha is believed to have said that the law of the fishes is that the big fish eat the smaller fish, which eat the smaller fish, which eat the smaller fish and so forth. This is the way of "the world," but it is not the way of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Katigiri Roshi told this story about the difference between heaven and hell: In hell there is a long table and all the guests are sitting around it. On the table is a sumptuous feast, and the guests are issued a pair of long chopsticks. In fact, the chopsticks are so long that although the guests can reach the food to pick it up, they can't get it into their own mouths. That is hell. Heaven looks exactly the same; same table, same chopsticks, same arrangement. But when each person on either side of the table picks up a morsel with the long chopsticks, they put that into the mouth of the person on the other side of the table. Heaven and hell are realms of our own making.

It's like our body/mind which has many co-operating streams: the bloodstream, the water stream, the heat, the breath, the limbs, the brain, the organs, all working together harmoniously. When they don't, the body gets sick. Our body/mind is a microcosm of the world. A city or country is like our body. When goods and services and money don't flow, the body or the country gets sick and the world as well. The result is pain, trauma, and imbalance. We say, "the whole world is our true human body." We have to think about how we take care of the world as one whole body. Compassion and identification with others are qualities that sustain the world.

It is said that to be a bodhisattva is to be a mature human being. As a bodhisattva in the midst of fighting demons we can offer the precepts of thought and conduct. In the midst of so-called animal behavior we can offer the teaching of Prajna Paramita. For hungry ghosts we can teach generosity, and as humans we can transform desire into Way-seeking Mind. We can also teach patience in the midst of hellish conditions. Wisdom, generosity, goodwill, and practice/enlightenment are the basis of a harmonious sangha, and a harmonious sangha is the basis of a harmonious world. Traditionally a monastic community is supported by people who see it as an example of pure living, free from greed, ill will, and delusion.

In Dogen's time, and throughout history, most countries have been monarchies of one kind or another. There has not always been access for the populace to effect changes in society except through revolution. In this country we have the vote, and less than half of us use it. We have the privilege of being able to influence what happens here. This is a valuable tool, a gift which it is incumbent upon us to use. Otherwise change will not happen. This is the option that Buddhists in the past did not have. Therefore Dogen could tell the monks not to be concerned with worldly affairs. The rights and privileges we have here must not be taken for granted and are constantly being challenged. If they are not protected they will be lost before we know it.

I gave a talk at Green Gulch two weeks after 9/11. Someone asked, "What can we as a monastic community do to help people in this time of crisis?" I said that through zazen and monastic practice we are showing people that there is a way. By being an example of frugality, honesty, wisdom, compassion and peaceful harmony, we are making a vital contribution to the world. A guest at the talk said, "I can't tell you how much I appreciate this community being here and, for what it offers. When I come here from the world outside, its like a place of sanity and refuge. I feel that I can take a deep breath and let go."

This practice is our offering to the sanity and stability of the world. There is no way to measure the far-reaching effect of the radiant light of zazen throughout the ten directions.

This lecture previously appeared in Wind Bell spring/summer 2003

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Last revised 11/3/03. Copyright 2000 Berkeley Zen Center.
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