On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

May 09, 2008

Five Points in Buddhist practice

Suzuki Shosan (1579 –1655)

One day the Master said to the assembly:  “Nowadays, methods of applying the Buddhist practice are very poor.  As a result, everyone says that Buddhism is of no use in the secular world. This is not so.  The main point of what I refer to as ‘Society’s Three Jewels’ is Buddhism’s usefulness to society.  Were it not, I would be wrong to call it that.  In order to make people aware of its meritorious function, I wrote the Meritorious Use of the Three Holy Treasures.

In connection with this, the Master said:  “Buddhist practice means subjugation of the six rebellious delusions.  This cannot be done with a weak mind.  With a firm Dharma-kaya mind, you send forth the soldier of pure faith.  And with the sword of the original void, you sever delusions, self-attachment, and greed, wholeheartedly making advances throughout the day. 

“Provided you dwell in this diamond mind, applying it even in sleep, it will ripen thoroughly.  You will no longer discriminate between inner and outer, and you will fully rout the karmic-generated knowledge-ridden demon soldier.  Suddenly you will wake from your dream, destroying the citadel of reality.  You will cut down the enemy, birth and death, and residing in the capital of wisdom, protect the peace.   This diamond mind is the jewel that functions when a warrior displays valor.

“A second point is that Buddhist practice firmly upholds the precepts and does not act contrary to the teachings of the Buddhas and the patriarchs.  It controls the tendency to twist things and corrupt them; therefore, the mind becomes virtuous.  Clearly understanding the true Way and the false and transcending the true, you make special use of a meaning beyond discrimination, saving all beings uprightly and with compassion.  This Mind, the jewel that makes use of the laws of the realm, practices justice and reason, yet transcends them, clearly distinguishing the true Way from the false.  Simply entrust yourself to the manifestations of this Mind and all its actions will be in accordance with the law.

“Third, in Buddhist practice you divorce yourself from personal views and refuse to distinguish between self and others, while making use of the six harmonies.  Arriving at the true Mind, you repay the four favors from above and save ordinary beings in the three realms of existence below.

“I wrote about this mind and called it, ‘the mind that makes correct use of the five relationships’ because people were saying that Buddhism did not include these relationships.  Can you say that a Buddhism that discards the personal self attains a non-discriminating mind, repays the four favors from above, and saves all ordinary beings from below fails to include the five Confucian relationships?  All ordinary people, moreover, are considered to be the children of the Buddha.  Confucianism, on the other hand, stops at the five relationships.

“As the fourth point in Buddhist practice, you discard the mind that analyzes knowledge, free yourself from attachment to objects, and, arriving at a mind of selflessness, let things happen as they will without any personal intention to be free.  This mind is the jewel used by all performing artists.  Artists skilled in their trade should know this.  Strategists in the art of combat, in particular, should be keenly aware of it.

“The fifth point in Buddhist practice is the destruction of evil passions.  Here, the luxury-seeking mind, the flattery-seeking mind, greed, and the fame-and-profit-seeking mind all disappear.  I wrote about this mind and called it ‘the jewel used to pass through this life’ because people today mistakenly think that Buddhism is of no use to society.

“Buddhism destroys all evil passions.  Insofar as evil thoughts disappear, you will continue unobstructed on your journey through this world.  People are carelessly extravagant.  Thinking they deserve more, they become greedy and destroy themselves.  Wherever they go, they find it difficult to survive.

The Master spoke again:  “Although I’ve written about these five stages, it means nothing.  I wrote about them because I will die soon, and I wanted to have people understand these teachings thoroughly.  But they cannot be applied in this way all at once.  It takes many lifetimes of continual practice before you can understand them and make a true vow to apply them in your life.  Don’t think you will make full use of them in one lifetime or even two.  Even though I have thoroughly understood these teachings and clearly grasped the seed, I’m still not able to use it freely.  You may discover gold, but if you don’t actually take it from the ground, you can’t make any use of it.”

Shosan’s deepest wishes regarding practice

“The Buddha is infinite grace and perfection.  If you practice without aiming at infinite grace, you are not a disciple of the Buddha.  Now, without the ripening of your fearless mind, you won’t be able to make use of this infinite grace.  Infinite grace can be used to the degree that your fearless mind has matured.  That’s why I hope you will practice with this aim in mind.  Using this infinite grace involves detaching yourself from ego.”

Suzuki Shosan (1579 –1655)

Excerpted from Warrior Zen – The Diamond-hard Wisdom Mind of Suzuki Shosan Edited and trans by Arthur Braverman

Shosan was born into a warrior family in 1579 and lived through one of the most war torn times of Japanese history.  At the age of 12 he was adopted by a member of a seventy-man horse troop and thus began his life as a samurai.  During these years, he had opportunities to visit teachers and developed a growing interest in Zen.  He had a keen ability to ask pointed questions and to cut to the heart of things. 

He became a Zen monk at age 41 and evolved a highly original teaching style imbued with the warrior spirit.  The warrior’s life, Shosan believed, was particularly suited to Zen study because it demanded vitality, courage, and “death energy,” the readiness to confront death at any moment.  Emphasizing dynamic activity over quiet contemplation, Shosan urged students to realize enlightenment in the midst of their daily tasks.

With this background it is easier to understand much of Shosan’s teaching.  Perhaps because of his background on the battlefield, he emphasized practice that kept one aware of death.  Enlightenment for Shosan is a “mind that contemplates impermanence” which takes a tremendous amount of energy.  And it is not a practice that one can simply master and get on with it.  

“A recluse came and asked:  ‘What is the primary concern in religious practice?”

“The Master responded:  ‘Put everything aside and only study death.  Always study death, free yourself from death, and when death really comes you will not be flustered. In order to save others, knowledge is necessary.  For your own salvation, however, whatever knowledge you have grasped becomes your enemy.  Just be mindless as earth; recite the nenbutsu (praise to Amida Buddha) and study death.’”

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