Mud and Water
Q: "What does it mean when it is said in a sutra, 'If we perform the five practices- receiving and obeying; reading; reciting; expounding; and transcribing the sutra-we will obtain immeasurable merit'?"
Bassui: "It implies seeing into your own nature and obtaining Buddhahood right now. Receiving and obeying refers to the nature of one's mind. This nature is part of the experience of saints and sinners alike. Each and every one of us is in possession of it in its perfection. Believing and understanding the significance of this nature of one's mind is what is meant by reading and reciting the sutra. Having cut off definitions and explanations and exhausted all thoughts, seeing into one's own nature and becoming enlightened is what is meant by expounding the sutra. Receiving the transmission when one is ripe for realization is what is meant by transcribing the sutra."
Q: "If, as you say, these five practices are only the one mind and hence not dependent on words, what is the reason for the numerous sutras that resulted form the Buddha's discourses?"
Bassui: "If they didn't exist, how would those attached to form ever learn that there is no dharma outside of the one mind?
Q: "If the five practices are the same no matter which sutra we choose, why do most people adopt the Lotus Sutra?"
Bassui: "The five ideograms which make up the Lotus Flower Sutra of the Wonderful Law contain within them the five practices:
Receiving the teaching is expressed in the character Wonderful
Obeying it is expressed in the character Law.
Reading and reciting it denote the Lotus.
Expounding it is the Flower.
Transcribing it is the Sutra."
Q: "How does 'receive' come to mean Wonderful?"
Bassui: "Wonderful is the inherent nature of all people. It is the master of the six senses. This inherent nature receives sensations of all dharmas, while there is no such thing as a receiver or something which is received. This is the fundamental principle of the character Wonderful. Hence 'receive' comes to mean Wonderful."
Q: "How do you equate the meanings of Law and 'obey'?"
Bassui waited a moment and then said: "Have you understood what I just said?"
Q: "No, I haven't."
Bassui: "The law as it is always manifests itself; nothing is hidden. All form is interconnected. When a person aspires to liberation and looks penetratingly into his own nature, the cloud of emotions will disappear, waves of discrimination will cease, and knowledge will become strikingly clear. At this point you should realize this Wonderful Law is the inherent nature of all Buddhas and ordinary beings. It is pure in itself.
"Though it exists in ignorance and delusion, it is not stained by them. Similarly the lotus living in the mud remains pure in its essence. Hence it is called 'reading and reciting.' The flower is liberation. This wondrous nature, the heart of original awakening, is said to be beyond ranking and classification. But for a period after a student's first awakening there will be a shallow as well as a deep understanding.
"When knowledge becomes strikingly clear and the essence of this reasoning is understood, you have still not entered the realm of true enlightenment. It is only the shadow of reflected light, a guest outside the entrance gate. When knowledge is exhausted, when discriminating views are forgotten, when the lotus of awakening has for the first time been opened, the ten stages of bodhisattvahood can be completed and the two awakenings penetrated. Views through Buddha wisdom will become clear.
"The buds of the lotus flower will open up and fall away like objects which disappear and appear in the course of being. When students of the Way come this far, they will, for the first time, be fit to discourse on the Buddha dharma and liberate others. For this reason expounding dharma is equated to the lotus flower. When this truth is understood, the seal of the ancient Buddhas is transmitted to your mind, just as transcribing an old sutra onto a new piece of paper will produce, when completed, the same thing. Hence, 'transcribing' can be equated with Sutra. Sutra is another name for mind, carrying with it innumerable uncommon meanings.
From this we can see that these five practices are nothing more than metaphors used as a teaching method. The Buddha used this method to clarify this uniquely precious mind in order to point out to ordinary people that seeing into their own nature is Buddhahood.
Ordinary people, who mistakenly seek the dharma outside their own minds, not knowing that their own selves are the true Buddha, are like deluded children who have forgotten their mother. That's why, in seeking to realize the five practices, you will perceive the one mind. Don't covet the leftovers of others while losing the precious jewel which hangs around your own neck.
Q: "What is this precious jewel which hangs around one's neck?"
Bassui: "When the dragon calls, clouds appear. When the tiger roars, the wind begins to blow."
- Taken from "Mud And Water-A Collection of Talks by the Zen Master Bassui trans by Arthur Braverman (1989) North Point Press
The image of the lotus rising from the mud and blooming in its splendor, unhampered or disturbed by the mud below is a powerful metaphor for the awakening mind. Often times the stories passed down with the evocative images communicate more directly than the many words used to get a message across. Sometimes the words can be confusing, but the imagery always cuts through to a wordless awareness. When reading older works of Buddhism and Zen it helps to read with a "soft" mind allowing the images to make contact with us in a more subtle manner.
In the last question asked above Bassui answers in the only way he can to help the student let go of trying to understand with the left side of the brain. It seems to take some of us a while to let go and trust that part of us that already knows….
Poetry speaks easily also to this more receptive part of our minds. It resonates with an inner source of wisdom that is present when we allow the dust to settle. When we return to receptivity and confidence in the Way, many things that at one time seemed confusing open to us with clarity.
Brambles should be cut away,
Removing even the sprouts.
Within essence there naturally blooms
A beautiful lotus blossom.
One day there will suddenly appear
An image of light;
When you know that,
You yourself are it.
Sun Bu-er (1124-?)
- Taken from "Immortal Sisters-Secret Teachings of Taoist Women trans by Thomas Cleary (1996) North Atlantic Books
Contemplating the Lotus,