On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

May 09, 2009

Divine Light

 Dogen (1200-1253)

Great Master Chosa Shoken in the Sung Dynasty once told his followers:  “The entire world is reflected in an eye; the entire world is contained in everyday conversation; the entire world is throughout your body; the entire world is your own Divine Light; the entire world is within your Divine Light and inseparable from yourself.”

Everyone who is seeking the Buddhist Way should study this teaching diligently and never become slack.  If they do not persist, there will be very few Zen students with the Divine Light of enlightenment.

The Divine Light of Buddha’s teaching has been handed down continuously by each successive Patriarch.  Before Bodhidharma’s time the Divine Light of Buddha was not seen or heard in China; no one was able to perceive his own Divine Light.  Even though everyone inherently possesses Divine Light, no one can discover it by only using their own judgments.  Therefore, no one in China was able to clarify the form and original nature of Divine Light or experience its virtues until Bodhidharma.  They did not understand that Divine Light is their very essence.

They thought that the Divine Light was completely separate from themselves.  Their mind was clouded by this false idea of separation, and they could not perceive that everything is Divine Light.

People who think that they are separate from Divine Light also believe that Divine Light is red, white, blue, or yellow, similar to the light from a fire, or the reflected light of water, or the sparkle of gems of jewels, or the light of a  dragon or like the sun and moon light.

Do not study under masters who only teach letters.  Many teachers are like Chosa who taught that Divine Light is like the light of a firefly and did not emphasize the Divine Light should be studied through enlightenment. From the Han Dynasty to the present time most people have thought like this.  Even though you may study under a master with a famous name you should not accept any distorted explanations.

The Divine Light of Buddha fills the entire universe; everything is Buddha, everything is the Patriarchs.  This is the transmission from Buddha to Buddha.  The Buddhas and Patriarchs constitute Divine Light.  Through the practice and enlightenment of Divine Light we can become a Buddha and do zazen as he did; then we will be able to discover the actualization of enlightenment.  There is a koan, “Divine Light illuminates the Eastern World of 18,000 Buddhas.”  Here, “East” means the center of the universe; that is, ourselves.  It does not mean direction as most people think.  There is an “East” in this world, in other worlds, even an “East” in east.  18,000 means that which in ourselves is beyond number, in other words, unlimited mind.  It is not the 18,000 of mathematics and has nothing to do with numbers like 20,000 or 80,000.  The “World of Buddhas” means the land of enlightenment; it is within ourselves–there is no light beam that travels to the Eastern world.

If you comprehend “The entire world is the East itself; the East itself is the entire world” you will have some idea how to understand the world.  It is nothing but the Divine Light of Buddha.  The ten quarters of the world are the same as the Buddha Land of 18,000.

Divine Light is found even in countless grasses.  The harmonization of all the different functions of a plant, roots, stalk, branches, leaves, flowers, fruit, color, are expresses as Divine Light.  Not only this world, but also in the other worlds of celestial beings, human beings, hell, the animals, and asuras can Divine Light be seen.  If we understand Divine Light then mountains, rivers and land are secondary.  Study Chosa’s saying in the sense that the entire world is suffused with our own Divine Light.  The changing of life and death are, the changing of Divine Light.  The change from ordinary person to saint is like the changing of different colors in Divine Light.  To become a Buddha or Patriarch is like the colors of black and yellow.

Practice and enlightenment are one form of Divine Light.  Grasses, trees, a mud fence, skin, flesh, bones and marrow are colors of Divine Light.  Smoke, mist, water, stones, sky, flying birds, the Way of enlightenment—all these are the changing form of Divine Light.  To understand our Divine Light is to meet and experience the real Buddha.  The entire world is ourselves; we ourselves are the entire world. We cannot escape from this fact.

Even if there is a place to escape, it can only be enlightenment.  Our body is in the form of the entire world.  Indeed, the Way of enlightenment and practice of Buddhism can only be grasped by the realization that our skin, flesh, bones, and marrow contain the entire world.

Great Master Daijiun Kyshin of Mt. Ummon was the 39th Patriarch from Buddha; he received the Buddhist Way from Great Master Seppo Shingaku.  Although he began to study Buddhism when already quite old, he studied earnestly, and we can see that he was truly one of the great men of Buddhism.  He was the one who transmitted the Mt. Ummon school of teaching and was a shining example of their doctrine.  Such a Patriarch has never been seen before or since.

One day, at the Dharma Hall, he asked the monks, “Divine Light shines in everyone, but if we try to look for it we cannot find it. Where is the Divine Light?”  No one answered. Then Ummon said, “In the monastery, in the Buddha Hall, in the administration building, and in the main gates.”

Ummon did not mean that Divine Light will come in the future, or was in the past, or can be produced by others; he meant that we ourselves possess Divine Light.  Ummon taught that the entire world is Ummon. Ummon did not explain Divine Light; rather each one’s Divine Light explains itself.  Divine Light shines in everyone, the entire body of people is Divine Light.   Divine Light means people; Divine Light is both inside and outside of human beings.  Divine Light is people, people are people, Divine Light is Divine Light, Being is Being.

We can see now that Divine Light possesses everyone; everyone possesses Divine Light within themselves.  Everything about Divine Light is everything about ourselves.  What did Ummon mean by “people” and “Divine Light?”  He asked, “Where is the Divine Light?”  This question surpasses any questions about Divine Light.  He meant that “people” and “Divine Light” are inseparable, they form one body.  The monks did not answer; but sometimes no answer is the correct answer.  No answer is the Eye and Treasury of the True Law and the Serene Mind of Nirvana transmitted from the correct teaching of Buddhas.

Ummon answered his own question, “In the monastery, in the Buddha Hall, in the administration building, and in the main gates.”  Why did he answer like this?  What he meant by these was very different from what monks and laypeople think about them. Did he mean himself or the six Buddhas who preceded Shakyamuni or the twenty-eight Indian Patriarchs or the six Chinese Patriarchs or the Zen Masters of all ages and countries?  Whatever he meant it is nothing other than Divine Light.  His expression not only means people but also Divine Light.

After Ummon’s explanation of Divine Light many different teachings arose:  “No Buddha in the Buddha Hall,” “No Buddha Hall, no Buddha,” “There is Buddha in Divine Light,” “Buddha does not have Divine Light,” “Divine Light surpasses ‘Buddha’”, “Buddha is Divine Light itself” and so on.

Great Master Shingaku of Mt. Seppo once told his monks, “I met you in front of the monastery.”  This was the expression of his enlightenment and the true expression of himself.  He wanted to teach the monks the real meaning of the word “monastery.”  Once Seppo’s disciple Hofuku asked Gako, another disciple, “Our master insists on only using the expression ‘I met you in front of the monastery’ to explain his teaching but never mentions Boshutei or Usekirei.”  Then Gako quickly returned to the master’s quarters and Hofuku to the monastery.  They understood the meaning and purpose of their master’s teaching.  By returning to their respective dwellings they showed that enlightenment is only to meet our real selves.  This is the real meaning of meeting in front of the monastery.  Similarly, great Master Shino of Jizo-in said, “The monk in charge of the kitchen enters the kitchen.”  This expression surpasses the meaning of time.

Delivered to the monks June 2, 1243 at Kannon-dori –

Dogen (1200-1253)

Excerpted from Shobogenzo The Eye and Treasury of the True Law Volume 1-Translated by Kosen Nishiyama and John Stevens out of print

In the beginning I was seeking that one essential point to connect with, to focus on, which would allow me a foundation which didn’t clutter up the mind with too many concepts or formulas or rules.  Something I wouldn’t have to strain to remember in the moment; a touchstone that would always be there to return to.  In reality, however, there is such a tapestry of life experience and such varied turns of thought that occur in any one day that it seems simplistic to think there could be such a point.  Dogen’s address on Divine Light seems to cut through all confusions that attempt to distract us.  It has that universal ring that resonates in the deepest part of any spiritual tradition.

It is true we balance ourselves in practice and at some point, patience seems to be the quality to master.  At other times, strength needs to be developed.  We can all think of paramitas we could spend a lifetime developing, however, we also need to stay connected with the biggest perspective of why we even train at all. 

For some maybe it’s a story that symbolizes Everything; for others a personal experience of breakthrough; even a close call with death can be a teacher.  For those of us desiring to wake up, we want to find a way to breathe life into the teachings, so that they become alive on a daily basis.  So for those who can feel a connection with Divine Light as Dogen is expressing, this is one of those primary insights that for the person who can actualize this point, the whole of practice is realized.

“When Ummon was about to die, he admonished his students in these terms: ‘I have four statements. First is to cut through all mental entanglements, to rely on universal truth.  Second is to let go of the body and mind, to shed birth and death. Third is to transcend the absolute, to establish an individual life.  Fourth is to haul rocks and carry earth, to perpetuate the life of wisdom.’”

With care,


Recent Journals

Journal Archives