Tuesday, July 11, 2006


The mind of the great sage of India is                                               intimately transmitted from west to east.
These words form the opening line of the poem Sandokai, known also as Harmony of Difference and Equality. What do these words mean?
If you are familiar with Buddhism, or with Zen, the metaphorical expressions of Sandokai may be a bit puzzling. If you are not acquainted with Buddhism, or Zen, the words of Sandokai may be utterly baffling.
Don’t worry. Opacity is the nature of Zen.
So, who is the great sage of India?
Is it Bodhidharma? He was the Buddhist monk who reputedly conveyed Zen from India to China because he disagreed with the way Buddhism was being manipulated in his own country.
India was also the home of the Buddha. It was where Guatama Siddhartha was born, became awakened, and taught for 45 years. Unfortunately, even during his lifetime, instead of his teachings remaining a simple practice and a tradition of self awakening, they were fuzzed over by so-called holy men to fit the esoteric practices of Hinduism.
That is, Buddhism as a way of life had taken on trappings of a religion, including elaborate ritual, ceremony, and doctrine.
To get back to our question, was, or is, the great sage of India Bodhidharma?
In a word, no.
The notion of the great sage of India reaches further back than Bodhidharma. The great sage is the Buddha himself.
The Buddha was not a god, a prophet, or a saint. When asked if he was not any of these things, then what was he, he replied, “I am awakened.”
In his time, the Buddha was known as a sage, a perceptive, insightful, discerning human being who didn’t hoard his insights but shared them with anyone who would listen.
In his time, the Buddha renounced the way his simple teachings were being embroidered with ecclesiastical notions that included Vishnu, Shiva, Shakti, Ganesha, Hanuman, Kali, and other gods and supernatural beings, each one representing something outside of oneself.
In the Sandokai, the mind of the great sage of India is Buddha mind. It’s the mind of zazen.
Zazen, or shikantaza, or just sitting, may seem like sleeping, and some people do nod off when they do zazen because their mind is on something other than nothing. Zazen is also termed no-mind because the zazen mind is empty, but it is attentive.
When you are sitting in zazen, you may hear the sound of a car tearing down the street, or a motorcycle starting up with a roar. You may hear thunder rumbling, or rain falling on the roof. You may hear people talking or laughing. You may feel heat or cold.
The world goes on all around you. You are part of the world, and you are aware of what is taking place, but your mind does not become caught up with what goes on.
This is Zen mind. This is great mind. This is mind that is passed down from the great sage. From the Buddha himself.
Knowing great mind and accepting it as true does not require an act of faith. You don’t have to acknowledge an almighty or any sort of divinity.
Great mind is like breathing. It’s part of you. In practicing zazen you are aware of great mind, and you are aware of your own true self.
Great mind is not restricted to when you’re sitting in zazen, though it is often identified with that practice. Great mind is present in you all of the time. You live by great mind.
It’s what lets you see the unique but interrelated character of a tree, or a raindrop, or another human being.
Who was the very first to think of not-thinking, or to not think about thinking? Was it the Buddha? Was it Christ? Was it someone thousands of years before either of these two? A Harappān in Mohenjo-Daro? An Ubaidian in Sumer?
It doesn’t matter who or when. What does matter is your not-thinking, and not thinking about not-thinking, when you do zazen, but just being in the moment.
And, remember, zazen isn’t only when you’re sitting with folded legs, facing the wall on Monday evening, or during some other scheduled period. Zazen is all the time.
As Suzuki Roshi said (Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness), “That is the mind transmitted from Buddha. And that is the way we practice zazen.”
That is what Master Dogen was talking about when he said time is being.
That is the mind transmitted by the great sage.


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