On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

December 12, 2020

Since I became Buddha – Part 1

Song-chol (1912-1993)

The period of time since I became Buddha is an incomprehensible number of eons.

This quote from the Lotus Sutra is the crux of the entire Sutra. This is difficult to understand at first. We tend to think that it has only been 2,500 years or so since the historical Buddha became enlightened, taught, and entered nirvana. So how could he have said at the time after his enlightenment that it had already been an incomprehensible period since he had been enlightened?

I think we have to look at his life 2,500 years ago as an expedient, and that in fact, it had been an unfathomable period of time since he had become Buddha. And you have to understand this to have a basic understanding of Buddhism.

When asked the purpose or goal of Buddhism, most people would reply with something like, “To achieve Buddhahood.” However, this in fact is not the case. Why? Because all sentient beings are already fundamentally Buddha. Thus the goal is not to achieve Buddhahood, but to discover that we are already Buddha.

Before enlightenment, of course, one doesn’t know that. But after enlightenment, one realizes that we all have been Buddhas for a fathomless period of time. But if we have been Buddhas for incomprehensible eons, why do we have to discover Buddhahood again?

So that we all may come to learn our fundamental nature. Consequently, we use such terms as “discover Buddha nature” over and over as an expedient towards this goal.

It is not just the Buddha who has been enlightened for a fathomless period of time, but all sentient beings, all forms of life, all rocks and boulders, all that exists and all that doesn’t exist—everything has been enlightened for this incomprehensible period.

We usually call the world in which we currently live the world of hardship, suffering, and illusion. But once you really look beneath the surface, you will discover that this is, and has been for a fathomless period of time, the world of paradise. So the purpose of Buddhism is not to turn you into a Buddha, but to have you become awakened to the fact that you have been Buddha for an incomprehensible time.

That is what you must realize. And at the same time, you must come to the realization that there is no place in the ten directions that is not a Buddhafield, that is not the Pure Land, that is not paradise.

In other religions, people talk quite a bit about “saving” and “being saved.” But in Buddhism, such concepts are irrelevant. In Buddhism, all you have to do is make the realization that you are fundamentally Buddha, and that every place is a Buddhafield, the Pure Land.

Therefore, why would you have to have someone else save you? So in Buddhism, the concept of saving is absolutely irrelevant. This is what makes Buddhism unique from all other religions and philosophies in the world. No other system of thought has ever made such a claim.

The meaning of “Buddha” extends to “non-producing, non-extinguishing.” To say that everything has been enlightened for an incomprehensible period is the same as saying that there is nothing that is not this “non-producing, non-extinguishing”–it applies to people, to animals, to plants, to minerals, to the sky, to everything that is, to everything that isn’t, and to every place in the universe and beyond.

Every thing and every place is “non-producing, non-extinguishing.” So fundamentally every thing is Buddha, and every place a Buddhafield.

If so, then, why are we sentient beings in a world of suffering?

A person who closes his eyes cannot see the rising sun, no matter how brilliant it may be. To him, everything is dark at the time. It’s the same thing. If we open the Eye of the Mind, we see the daylight, we see the entire universe. We see that there is nothing that is not Buddha and no place that is not paradise. If we just open the Eye!

But it is those who do not know this, those who have not opened this Eye, who think, “I am a sentient being” and “This is the world of hardship and suffering.”

So the basic issue is this one of an open Eye or a closed Eye. If the Eye is open, you see the brilliant Light; but if the Eye is closed, there is nothing but darkness. And who wants to live in a world of darkness? I would think that everyone would like to live in the world of Light, the world of Buddha, the Pure Land.

So you must try as hard as you can to open this Eye of the Mind. Then you will have solved everything. The big issue is not whether you’re going to heaven or paradise. That’s nonsense. The issue is to open the Eye of the Mind and to resolve everything here and now.

The Lotus Sutra continues:

     For the sake of instructing all sentient beings, I say as an expedient that I shall pass into nirvana, even though I never die and always remain here to explain the Dharma.

What the Buddha was saying is that just as it had been a fathomless period since he was enlightened, he will remain enlightened for fathomless periods to come. He is eternal in his presence among us to explain the Dharma.

By “here” he did not mean India or Korea or any one place in particular. By “here” he meant everywhere in the universe. Buddha takes endless forms, and there is no place where he does not manifest himself. And that is why he called this the “infinite universe,” “the eternally abiding.” There is nothing being produced and there is nothing being extinguished.

The past, present, and future are all eternally abiding, and so everything is non-producing, non-extinguishing. Call it whatever you want—the Pure Land Paradise, the Sea of Garlands, the Inexhaustible Dharma. But the Buddha speaks the Dharma through the past, the present, and the future, eternally.

Are we talking about the historical Buddha Shakyamuni? No, of course not. We are talking about everything in the universe, past, present, and future as well as about every place in the universe. Everything speaks of the inexhaustible Dharma, and everything is in inexhaustible transformation.

Even the boulder at the top of a peak is constantly speaking of this in a manner hundreds of times greater than the Buddha in the Buddha Hall. You may think it sounds funny to say that a boulder speaks the Dharma. What could the boulder possibly be saying?

But when you open the Eye of the Mind, you are also opening the Ear of the Mind. And you will be able to hear the inexhaustible Dharma explanations of the boulder which seems to be just sitting there. In Buddhism, this is called “inanimate Dharma talk.”

Animate things can move and make noise, so you may regard them as having the potential of expounding the Dharma. But an inanimate rock, a boulder, a handful of earth—none of these moves or speaks, so you wonder how they can speak of the Dharma. If you come to understand Buddhism, however, you will come to listen to the boulder which expounds the eternal Dharma. Even all that which is invisible speaks incessantly of the Dharma.

So you see, everything in the universe speaks of the Dharma. Everything is in itself a Sutra, everything is a dimension of the Dharma. You have to understand this to understand Buddhism. And then you realize how futile it is to try to teach others, to try to “save” others.

So you have only to discover that the basis of everything, your original face, the fundamental landscape is the Pure Land, a Buddhafield, paradise. If you come to realize this Truth, then your search is over.  There is nothing else to look for.

Song-chol (1912-1993)

Excerpted from Echoes from Mt Kaya: Selections on Korean Buddhism

         “Something hidden.
          Go and find it.
          Go and look behind the Ranges
         Something lost behind the Ranges.
         Lost and waiting for you. Go!”

               Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936)

Many have felt the call to go deeper, no matter what the time or place; the invitation to the search has been felt and not abandoned. And while the obstacles feel insurmountable and so distant we feel like giving up, we persevere despite the pulls and disappointments.

It is a journey begun with faith in the Way, and a faith that is tested over years. Fortunately for us, something keeps calling us back. Faith in the Way involves trust in the teachers that have passed this on to us over generations.  Also a sense of  “if they could do this, then so can we!”

So while the conditioned and relative mind brings up all the reasons opening the Eye of the Mind is a useless pursuit because there are causes we need to take up, it doesn’t have to be met with an either/or consciousness.

There is room for “both/and” and while this instills a sense of controlled folly, “maybe good/maybe bad,” to our actions, we still need to act in the here and now. We aim for our actions to come from a sense of non-attachment along with compassion, and the wonderful part of practice is that when we do get caught up we have a way to return to emptiness.

There will always be a sense of “something hidden,” and that is the clarion call for those who want to look further, beyond appearances.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”
― Juliana of Norwich

Returning together,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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