On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

September 07, 2012

Sermon of Zen Master Bassui

Bassui Tokusho (1327-1387)

This mind is originally pure: when the body is born, it shows no sign of birth; and when the body dies, it has no sign of death. Neither is it marked as male or female, nor has it any form, good or bad. Because no simile can reach it, it is called enlightened nature, or Buddha nature.

Furthermore, all thoughts arise from this inherent nature like waves on the ocean, like images reflecting in a mirror. For this reason, if you want to realize your inner mind, first you must see the source of thoughts arising.

Whether awake or asleep, standing or sitting, deeply questioning what thing is your inner mind with the profound desire for enlightenment, is called practice, meditation, will, and the spirit of the way. Questioning the inner mind like this is also called zazen.

One moment seeing your own mind is better than reading ten thousand volumes of scriptures and incantations a day for ten thousand years; these formal practices form only causal conditions for a day of blessings, but when those blessings are exhausted again, you suffer the pains of miserable forms of existence. A moment of meditational effort, however, because it leads eventually to enlightenment, becomes a cause for the attainment of buddhahood.

Even someone who has committed the worst crime is a buddha if he instantly transforms and becomes enlightened, but that doesn’t mean that you should do wrong on the pretext that you should become enlightened; when you delude yourself and degenerate into evil ways, even the buddhas and patriarchs can’t help you.

It’s like the case of a child sleeping next to its father, having a bad dream about being beaten or falling sick; though he calls to his parents to help him in his distress, since they can’t go into his dreams, even his father and mother cannot help him. Even if they are going to give him medicine, they have to wake him up.

If one can awake on his own, he can avoid suffering in dreams without the help of others; in the same way, if you realize that your own mind is Buddha, you can suddenly avoid repeated involvement in routines of birth and death. If the buddhas could help us, how could anyone go to hell? You must realize the truth of this yourself. 

Bassui Tokusho (1327-1387)

Excerpted from The Original Face: An Anthology of Rinzai Zen trans by Thomas Cleary 1978

There are sutras like the Heart Sutra that are chanted in temples and are a part of practice handed down from long years ago.  For those of us who don’t have a temple to attend or a teacher to train with, we seek out forms and practices which sustain us. 

The teaching above could easily serve that purpose.  This sermon also reaches back hundreds of years and shines a clear light on our own, at times, misguided side trips we find ourselves enmeshed in.

One of the very real keys of practice is not to give up or give into the distractions of our imagination and illusions.  Those of us who are responsible for our own training need to keep the fires of enthusiasm burning bright. 

Keep your spirit intact; there is no teacher or teaching who can do that for us.

 “…your inherent nature will become clear just as a jewel becomes more lustrous with polishing; eventually it will illuminate the worlds in all directions. Don't doubt this…”

Shining together,


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