On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

November 15, 2022

Selections from the Song of Awakening – Part 2

Yung-chia Hsuan-chueh (665-713)
Commentary by Koda Sawaki (1885-1965)

A Total View of the Pure Truth

Seize the root, don’t worry about the branches,
Just like the transparent jewel swallows the light of the moon.
I know now that this wish-fulfilling jewel
Is an inexhaustible treasure for myself and others.

This image symbolizes the one who seizes the root without worrying about the branches. Traveling back upstream within the poem, we reach the passage:

the gate of unconditioned reality that one clears at a leap, entering the land of the Buddha…the three bodies and four wisdoms are perfected in their body…

and we arrive at their source: This tranquil person of the Way who has attained awakening and ceased studying and acting.

What then is this transparent jewel whose breadth, height, and depth are without limit, within which the past, the present, and the future transpire? The Zen of the Buddha, of course. This pure jewel is our original body, our essence, the target of our quest.

For the Zen disciple, Ko and Kan are six of one and half a dozen of the other. When Ko-the-barbarian arrives, it’s Ko. When Kan-the-civilized arrives, it’s Kan. The disciple welcomes beauty just like ugliness, just as a mirror reflects the object before it with no intervening value judgment.

For the mirror, beauty is not beauty, ugliness is not ugliness.

“There are dwellings the ray of the moon does not reach, but it illumines the heart of the person who receives it,” says the poem.

It is our discriminations that stain the jewel. If we reflect for a moment on all our prejudices and value judgments about good and evil, our preferences and aversions, we perceive that fundamentally they have no intrinsic existence and are illusions.

In the Daijo kishin-ron the pure jewel signifies the essence of mind, the true reality. Each individual sees reality differently, according to their abilities and disposition. Because of our senses we have an erroneous view of reality.

The sutra tells us: “The original body of the true Dharma is neither produced nor destroyed. It manifests itself thanks to the power of the vows of great compassion. In our original mind there is neither coming nor going, whereas in our illusory body all is production and destruction.”

Just like the transparent jewel swallows the light of the moon. We understand this phrase with our intellect, but not in the depths of our heart. Mental constructions cloud the transparency of the crystal, just as tinted glasses intercept the rays of the sun.

The goal of our practice is to clean the jewel, to restore its original purity and transparency so that its tone, colorless and transparent, when placed on a green cloth radiates green, on a red cloth red, and on a white cloth white. In truth, this crystal, though colorless and without stain, always appears different.

Shigetsu Zenji wrote: “When the sea is agitated it’s difficult to recover a gem from the depths of the water.” If our mind is disturbed by the waves of illusion, we will not recover true reality. It is the role of religion to show us the existence of this eternal transparency.

“When my mind is at peace,
everything around is tranquil.
The day stretches out
with the innocence of a little child.
The calm of the mountain resembles the ancient days.”

To stretch the day gives a sense to life and makes us happy. The length of the day is of variable dimension. There are people of short days and people of long days. Some, although on a tight schedule all year long, realize a balance sheet of very positive activity. Others have no time for leisure and complain that the days are too short, yet when one looks at what they garnered over the preceding year, there’s nothing there.

To stretch out time is happiness, and time is extraordinarily long when one does zazen, while an hour, two hours, or even the entire night passed in chatting and drinking with friends are nothing. When the day stretches out like a little child, it’s because it’s filled with very rich content.

They say that during zazen illusions abound in the consciousness, but, in fact, these are not illusions. It’s our mind’s contents that are manifesting, and we have every reason to be astonished. “That’s me! How insignificant!”

There are all sorts of things within us, the devil and Buddha, lust and bestiality; in truth our substance is very rich. There’s no notion of time and space. There is paradise and hell. Just as the light of the moon penetrates the transparent jewel, we are perfectly reflected in the mirror of our mind.

Our mind contains billions of thoughts and not merely three thousand as the texts say. Like a kaleidoscope, the mind produces infinite combinations of images.

In the peace of zazen, one realizes that all the Buddhist philosophies, whether Tendai with its three thousand thoughts or Kusha with its seventy-five categories, are incapable of drawing up a list of the contents of the mind. The psychic phenomena are infinite.

Seated in zazen posture, we exhibit the calm of the mountain in ancient days. Zazen is the fundamental and eternal posture that, without discontinuity, traverses past, present, and future. It has not changed since Shakyamuni. The day stretching out like a little child is eternally new, and in the peace of the mountain, you become the eternal figure of the past.

Seated simply, you become a Buddha living just as the transparent jewel swallows the light of the moon. This single phrase contains the essence of Buddhism.

Yung-chia (665-713)

Commentary by Kodo Sawaki

Excerpted from Commentary on the Song of Awakening- Kodo Sawaki 2015

The Song of Awakening is a very long poem with 52 unique verses. This selection brings us into the center of its teaching:

This pure jewel is our original body, our essence, the target of our quest.

The simplicity and clarity of the commentary are delightful. In these lengthening nights, who can’t appreciate the ability to stretch out our experience of time, and for those in the Southern hemisphere, who cannot feel the expansive days of summer? No matter where we are, though, this relativity of time experience is an aspect of awareness and attachment.

When the day stretches out like a little child, it’s because it’s filled with very rich content.

Even when we get caught up in our reactions, there is this point in practice where we are aware, even in the moment, that we have strayed from our center. And there is the surety of return.

Like the murky water in a pond that has been stirred up, we know that the clarity will return once the particles have settled. That is a kind of meditation in action. Just allowing the emotions and mind to settle once again.

They say that during zazen illusions abound in the consciousness, but, in fact, these are not illusions. It’s our mind’s contents that are manifesting, and we have every reason to be astonished. “That’s me! How insignificant!”

Yes, how insignificant the drama can be, and yet due to karma, we all will see it arise and fall away. The difference noted is that with practice, the ability to return to center is not as painstaking, and the reactivity slows down until we reside more and more.

Seated simply, you become a Buddha,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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