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Aspiration and Search
“Aspiration for enlightenment” is called “hotsu bodai shin” in Japanese, or in short, “hosshin.” It is sometimes translated as “beginner’s mind.” “Way-seeking mind” (doshin) is another name for it (in this case, way means enlightenment). Dogen describes his motivation for seeking authentic buddha dharma and offers his insightful views on aspiration—one of the central elements of Buddhist practice.
I wrote to master Rujing shortly before I met him: “When I was young I aroused the aspiration for enlightenment and visited various monasteries in my country. I had some understanding of the principle of cause and effect; however I was not able to clarify the real source of buddha, dharma, and sangha. I was only seeing the outer forms, the marks, and the names. Later I entered the chamber of Eisai,* Zen master Senko, and for the first time heard the teaching of the Linji School.
“Now I have accompanied monk myozen to the flourishing kingdom of Song China. After a voyage of many miles, during which I entrusted my phantom body to the billowing waves, I have finally arrived and have entered your dharma assembly. This is the fortunate result of my wholesome roots from the past.
“Great compassionate teacher, even though I am only a humble person from a remote country, I am asking permission to be a room-entering student, able to come to ask questions freely and informally. Impermanent and swift, birth-and-death is the issue of utmost urgency. Time does not wait for us. Once a moment is gone, it will never come back again, and we’re bound to be full of regret.
“Great compassionate reverend abbot, grant me permission to ask you about the way, about the dharma. Please, I bow to you one hundred times with my forehead humbly touching the floor.”
Rujing wrote back: “Yes, you can come informally to ask questions any time, day or night, from now on. Do not worry about formality; we can be like father and son.” and he signed it, “Old man at mount Taibo.”
· The aspiration for enlightenment arouses itself. This arousing is the aspiration for enlightenment. The aspiration for enlightenment is neither existent nor nonexistent, neither wholesome, unwholesome, nor neutral. It is not the result of past actions. Even beings in the blissful realms can arouse it. The aspiration for enlightenment arises just at the time of arising; it is not limited by conditions.
· From the moment of arousing the aspiration for enlightenment, you take steps on the journey in the endeavor of the way. merging with realization and thorough understanding are all the vital eye, bones, and marrow that dash into seeing the buddha. This being so, the total world of self, the total direction of other, this and that are all the practice of seeing the buddha.
· You should stop searching for phrases and chasing after words. Take the backward step and turn the light inward. Your body-mind of itself will drop off and your original face will appear. If you want to attain just this, immediately practice just this.
· Endeavor wholeheartedly to follow the path of earlier sages. You may have to climb mountains and cross oceans when you look for a teacher to inquire about the way. Look for a teacher and search for understanding with all-encompassing effort as if you were coming down from heaven or emerging from the ground. When you encounter the teacher, you invoke sentient beings as well as insentient beings. You hear with the body, you hear with the mind.
· To arouse the aspiration for enlightenment is to make an offering of sand or rice water to the buddha. It is to make an offering of a handful of food to sentient beings. It is to make an offering of a bouquet of flowers to the buddha. To practice a small virtuous act with the encouragement of someone else, or to bow to the buddha following a demon’s deceptive advice, is also arousing the aspiration for enlightenment.
· In general, when you are a beginner, you cannot fathom the buddha way. Your assumptions do not hit the mark. The fact that you cannot fathom the buddha way as a beginner means not that you lack ultimate understanding but that you do not recognize the deepest point.
· Eighty thousand skandhas [all phenomena] become the causes and conditions for arousing the aspiration for enlightenment. There are those who arouse the aspiration for enlightenment in a dream and attain the way. There are those who arouse the aspiration for enlightenment and attain the way while intoxicated. There are those who attain the way when they see flowers flying or leaves falling. Others attain the way among peach blossoms or green bamboo. Some attain the way in a deva realm or in the ocean. They all attain the way.
· As soon as you arouse aspiration for enlightenment, even if you transmigrate in the six realms and four forms of birth, transmigration itself will be your practice of enlightenment. although you may have wasted time so far, you should vow immediately, before this present life ends: “Together with all sentient beings, may I hear the true dharma from this birth on throughout future births.”
· To study with mind means to study with various aspects of mind, such as consciousness, emotion, and intellect. after resonating with the way and arousing the aspiration for enlightenment, take refuge in the great way of buddha ancestors and devote yourself to the practice of way-seeking mind. Even if you have not yet aroused the way-seeking mind, follow the examples of buddha ancestors who did arouse the way-seeking mind in former times.
Awake or Asleep
Awake or asleep in a grass hut,
I pray to bring others across before myself.