Berkeley Zen Center

Lecture by Sojun Roshi

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

On the Metta Sutra, Part Six

(Continued from last month)

The next line is:"Suffusing love over the entire world, in the ten directions, without limit, let one cultivate an infinite goodwill toward the whole world," I think that's Buddha's practice. This is Dai Shin, magnanimous mind, big mind; letting go of the hindrance of narrow, one sided thinking and allowing big mind to fulfill our entire being.

"Abandoning vague discussions, not falling into wrong views, having a clear vision. freed from sense appetites."

I think the sutra is talking about vain or idle talk based on one-sided opinions, which are a substitute for and a barrier to practice. To abandon is to let go of thought coverings and partial views, sometimes called "Eye disease," and allow magnanimous mind to arise unhindered.

The thing about sense appetites is that once we start craving, we start using, and once we start using, we tend to rationalize getting. We tend to rationalize the harming of other beings as okay, in order to get what we want. This has now grown to monstrous proportions in the world. The so-called Third World is feeding the so-called first world and the greed of the first world is absorbing and sucking up all the nourishment from the Third World without giving anything back. Addressing the problem of sense appetite has to start with us--each individual. When I think of how much we exploit, and how much suffering we create in order to have our satisfactions, it is overwhelming. The three roots of evil: greed, ill will and delusion, are promoted in our society, and in order to let go of our habits and attachments to them we have to go against the current. This is nothing more than Buddha's original practice.

Then it says "One who is made perfect will never be reborn." I do not like this line. I would rather say "One who achieves the way will never be reborn." This refers to a non-returning arhat. Being reborn has a number of different meanings. One meaning is that one will become extinct, never to be reborn in the world, and to accomplish nirvana, completely freed from samsara to escape from this impure place. Another is: no rebirth in the cycle of suffering, or no rebirth of a self through attachment in the midst of samsara. We can also realize rebirth as something that is going on constantly, every moment, and if one wants to find nirvana, the norm, one must free oneself of greed, ill will, and delusion without leaving the world. That we continue to perpetuate our delusions is due to our actions based on ignorance. This is the cause of a constant series of so-called rebirths. Through these karmic activities, results arise according to kind. Through the creation of karmic formations we create more karma which keeps the ball rolling.

A Boddhisattva purposefully allows him/herself to be reborn over and over again, to suffer with others and enjoy their joys until everyone has reached enlightenment. This is identity action. We don't have to be so concerned about being born into the world again. We should be reborn into the muck of the world after practicing in the purity of the monastery. But it's a different kind of entering. It's entering into the world to help people, and at the same time not being submerged by it. " With purity like a lotus in muddy water."

Student: We think of perfection as being without fault, but it also means to make complete in all its parts, whole.

Sojun: Yes, so "One who is made complete will never again know rebirth in the cycle of the creation of suffering for ourselves or others." That was my first modification of the ending. Don't create a problem for yourself or others. Don't continue to be reborn by repeating your conditioned reactions over and over again. We get to be forty years old and say, " Here I am doing the same habitual things over and over again." The retribution, the result, the pain and suffering keep arising over and over again until we stop the causes.

Student: It's not that pain and pleasure end, but the suffering it causes ends. The hell realms are not places of punishment, but of purification; that by experiencing the whole of suffering, there is just experiencing pain and pleasure, rather than, how do I get out of this.

Sojun:That is a good point. It is said that for a zen student, hell is just another place to practice. Suffering is often something extra. Pain is pain. Pleasure is pleasure. Suffering can arise when not wanting to accept them. As soon as we don't like it, the suffering arises. So just let go of attachment to like and dislike. That's what the Hsin Hsin Ming, "The Song of Trust in the Mind/Heart," of the third ancestor says. "The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When freed from [ the duality of ] love and hate it reveals itself clearly and undisguised."

So, what I have finally settled on is a mahayana kind of ending to this song of metta: "Not holding to fixed views, endowed with insight, freed from sense appetites, one who achieves the way, will be freed from the duality of birth and death."

(The sixth of several parts.)

Tassajara, Spring 1995 

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