Buddhas And Bodhisattvas Are Intimate Communication

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Bodhisattvas vow to teach. Lay bodhisatta and priest bodhisattvas are both students and teachers of the dharma. 


Transcribed by Karen Mueller

Samdhinirmochana Sutra Chapter 8

Auto-Generated Transcript

(lightly edited)

As I said this morning, I would like to say a little bit more about lay bodhisattva and priest bodhisattva practice.  Lay bodhisattva practice is sometimes described as depending on the unshakeable vow to realize maturity in Buddha’s wisdom, to realize unsurpassed, correct awakening and to teach the Dharma.  That’s the beginning o chapter 8 of the Samdhinirmochana Sutra.  Maitreya asked the Buddha, “On what is the bodhisattva’s practice of tranquility and insight based?” And the Buddha says, “On a unshakeable vow to realize enlightenment and to teach the Dharma.”  

There are lay bodhisattvas and priest bodhisattvas, or monastics and lay. Male and female and maybe some other genders too.  Undecided. 

But the bodhisattvas vow to teach. So if you’re a layperson, being a layperson means to consider whether you are vowing to teach.  Last night I was at a dinner honoring a friend of mine and I was sitting next to a very nice lady. She was very nice to me and very wise and she said something like either we can’t be a master but we can be a student or we shouldn’t be a master, we should be a student.  Being a student is where it’s it. I said that I agree but we can be a master.   But we continue to be a student.  So this great teacher, Torei, the Zen Master Torei, says, “I a student of Dharma” so the bodhisattva teacher is a student of the Dharma and a teacher of the Dharma.  


Someone said to me, a lay bodhisattva said to me, “sometimes, my teaching/my offering seems to be not well received by some priests.  I feel like some priests are trying to, are not encouraging me to offer a teaching.”  But also some priests when they offer teachings, some laypeople actually just encourage them to not offer teaching.  Can you imagine such a situation?  Sometimes priests don't encourage other priests, sometimes-lay people don’t encourage priests, and sometimes other laypeople don’t encourage laypeople.  Such things occur. If you’re a teacher, then maybe you ask questions, like, “Tell me more about..”  “Are you receiving my offering of Dharma happily? If not please tell me about the situation.”  


So bodhisattvas are not always asking questions, but asking questions is one of their modes of practice And they questions Buddha’s, they question teachers, they question students. In our Zen history we see many examples of teachers questioning students, students questioning teachers, teachers questioning teachers. This is part of the story. Questioning. It’s one of the ways to teach is to question.  


Some time ago when Bert was a young man, he had a job and his job was to help me.  During one retreat, we were studying a text called, “The Heroic Stride of the Bodhisattva.”  The heroic stride of the bodhisattva. The Heroic Stride Samadhi of the Bodhisattva.

The Sutra starts out with, I think this bodhisattvas name is Drdhamati.   And this bodhisattva was with the Buddha and this bodhisattva thought to himself, “I would like to ask the Buddha a question. A really good one. One that would liberate all beings from suffering. One that would bring peace and happiness to all beings. One that would please the Buddha. One that would be fun for the Buddha to hear. One that a joy for Buddha to respond to.  And it goes on and on about the kind of question he would ask that would bring all of these benefits.


Bodhisattvas ask questions and they don’t ask to get something. They ask for the benefit of all beings, all sentient beings, all bodhisattvas, all demons, all humans. They ask it for the benefit of all beings.  They want the question to be really helpful.

Now the Buddha, being there with Drdhamati, of course had a feeling about what Drdhamati was thinking about. Buddha has these powers so she knows what you’re thinking so you better be good. Don’t be cross.   


Anyway, the Buddha saw that Drdhamati was thinking about asking this really good question and then the Buddha said, “Drdhamati, good daughter of the Dharma, I can see that you have this question, that you want to ask a question to bring all this benefit. Then he repeats all the benefits that Drdhamati wants and then he says, “And you can ask this question because you are..”  And then he launches on this outrageous praise of this bodhisattva’s questioning activity.  Then he tells Drdhamati what the question could be and it’s this magnificent question comes up. It’s a long complicated, more or less endless, question. That’s the beginning of, it’ s only a few dozen pages. 

So Bert and I were studying that with some other people. And usually during sesshin we don’t talk on the telephone or check emails unless necessary. But he thought that maybe, because he was helping me that he should check to see if anybody needed my help. So he checked the answering machine… No, no, he went home and the telephone was ringing and he usually wouldn’t answer the telephone during sesshin but he thought, “Ok, I will answer it.”


After I tell this story, we can ask Bert if he remembers this story. I think he does because I have re-told it in his presence, but maybe he forgot. So now he’s going to remember a story about himself, probably. If he forgets, you younger people can remind him.  


So he thought, “Maybe I should answer it.”  So he picks it up and this woman is offering him the opportunity to get a new credit card.  So he’s listening to her praise the virtues of the credit card.  She’s going on and on and Bert is listening, like a sweet bodhisattva, he is listening to the lady tell him about this great credit card. And after he listens for some time, he thinks to himself, “Maybe it would be good if I asked a question.”  He didn’t say, “A question that will liberate all beings and so on.”  He just thought, “Maybe I will ask a question.”  


But he probably did want to help the lady and he definitely wanted to help me. So he said to her, “Do you have to have a certain income to have this credit card?”  She said, “Well, yes you do. How much do you make?”   And he said some figure which was how much he made living at Zen Center being a priest. So he told her and she said, “Where do you live?” Then he described where he lived in this place where he got this tiny amount of income which would not be enough to have this credit card, by the way.  But then he told her about this place and after he had been explaining it to her for a while she said… Remember what she said?  (I think she said, “I’d like to live there.”)  Yeah, she said, “I’d like to live there. Can I live there?”  And Bert said, “Yeah. You can.”  Then she said, “Can you smoke?”  And he said, “Well, not really. There is smoking area but you can’t smoke in most places.”  So (as far as we know) she hasn’t come yet, but maybe after she quits smoking, she will come.  


At Green Gulch you can’t smoke in the Zendo.  You can’t smoke in your room or in the kitchen. But you can smoke in the outer parking lot.  We tell guests that too.  And a couple of days ago, I was driving out of Green Gulch and I saw one guest who was standing at the road but not at the outer parking lot. Just a few feet away from the other people, surreptitiously smoking an electronic cigarette. I’ve never seen people smoke before.  


Do you have any questions?


q. I was dying to know what Drdhamati’s question is.


A. You’re dying?


Q. Slowly. 


A. Ok. Go upstairs to the library and see if you can find The Heroic Stride Samadhi Sutra.  


Q. Is that the title of the book?


A. Another title is Suramgama Samadhi Sutra. I think it’s up there so we’ll see you later. If you by any chance find it, bring it down and we’ll hear what it was.


Any other questions?


Q I was wondering gif you could talk about a story I heard. It’s more about what we talked abou this morning. The story intrigued me and I wanted to ask about it. IT’s about Suzuki Roshi and I think you were there when someone rang the wake-up bell early.


A. I was there!  The person who rang the wake-up bell rang it by my room too.


Q. Was it Mel?


A. Yes. That’s who it was. It was a person who had that name but he’s not around anymore. The Mel you know is a different Mel. But a Mel 45 years ago rang the bell early, about one hour early.  Now tell me the rest of the story.


Q.   Well, you know it. 


A. I know but I'm only going to be around for 20-30-33-35-37 years so somebody else has to know these stories so let’s see if you can do it.


Q.  Oh God.  So someone rang the wake-up bell early and some people woke up


A. I don’t know if people woke up. 


Q. Ok.  They went down to the zendo and then..


A. No…. We can do it like warmer, closer, colder.  They didn’t go to the zendo so what did people do? They got up and then what’s the next thing that happened?  


Q.  They looked at the clock and then they went back to bed. 


A. Some people did that. But also then the person who rang the wake-up bell realized that it was early and he went around and told people that it was early and I think he told them to go back to bed and they followed that instruction.


Q.  But Suzuki Roshi went down to the zendo.


A. Suzuki Roshi went to the zendo.   And he went down there and he sat and he had an attendant who went with him and was helping him.  And was questioning him.   


Anyway, he went to the zendo and sat and there was only one person with him and he sat and sat and the students didn’t come.  So then he went back to his room. And the wake-up bell was rung again and then he came down. 


Q. But then he got upset.


A. I don’t know about upset. Maybe he because a great ball of fire.  He became this very energetic and fiery Suzuki Roshi. I don’t know if he was upset but he was definitely on fire.  And he shouted. HE said various things but the main thing I remember is that he said, “What do you think we are doing here!” 


And then he got up with his stick and he hit me first because I was sitting in the first seat near him and when he hit me it was like he was trying to hit a homerun.  He really put all of it into it. And I was a young man and it was fine.  But he went “EWW!” Then he hit the next person and so on.  By the time he finished he was pretty soft.  But he really put himself into it and I think many of us kind of had tears of gratitude for how much he loved us that he asked us, “What are we doing? What do you think? What do you think we are doing here?” 


Maybe somebody wasn’t grateful. I don’t know. I never heard anybody say they weren’t.  We really felt like he was saying to us, “What do you think we’re doing here?  The wake-up bell rings and somebody says go back to bed, you go back to bed because somebody told you to go back to bed?  You’re awake! You’re awake! Go sit.” Some people say him going to the Zendo.  And I might have been one of those people, but I didn’t go sit with my teacher. And so he gave me a big encouragement.  That’s one version of the story.  Please remember it and transmit it to future generations. I don’t think he was upset. I think he was “cooking.”   Zen Master, Zen student cooking.


Q. Thinking back to what you were saying this morning, what if somebody had said, “Roshi, I don’t know”.


A. That would have been a different story. Nobody said anything.  But if somebody had, he might have.. We might have a different story which might have been just as good.


Q. Do you think that would have been an acceptable question at that time?


A. I think it would have been an acceptable question at that time. Matter of fact, I think just about any question is acceptable at pretty much anytime. However I don’t know what’s going to happen after you ask the question. The Buddha may praise you and say, “thank you so much.  You’re such a great student to ask this question for the welfare and happiness of many beings.”  In that sutra, every time the bodhisattvas ask a question, they all ask different questions in the Samdhinirmochana Sutra. So in Chapter 8, Maitreya says, “On what does the bodhisattvas practice of tranquility and insight based?” And the Buddha says, “On the unshakeable vow to realize awakening and to teach the Dharma.”  Of course to liberate beings but to liberate them by teaching Dharma.   That’s Chapter 8.   But he also says.. The other chapters also start with bodhisattvas asking questions and the Buddha says, “It’s such a good question. And you asked this question not to get anything for yourself. You asked this question for the welfare and happiness of many people.” He says that in each chapter.  


So a bodhisattva could have asked that question at that time and we would have a different story.     


Q. I have a question for the benefit of all beings.  Do you think J may be wasting time (looking for the book)?


A.  You can bring it. You don’t have to find the page too.  Well, this is wonderful but it is not the Suramgama Samadhi Sutra. This is the Suramgama Sutra, The Heroic Stride Sutra.  Suramgama means Heroic Stride of bodhisattvas.  This is one scripture gut there is another one. Do you want to go back? There is another one called Suramgama Samadhi Sutra. That’s the one were Drdhamati does the big question for the welfare… I think J is having a great time p there in his Dharma research. This may be one of the few times when J has been sent by the sangha to find a sacred text. Is that right? Congratulations.  Also by the way there’s a picture of a great monk on that wall. His name is Srinzan.  He traveled from China to India and back and one of them is this one. He traveled from China to India and back just to bring this teaching back. 


Q. So J. it could be worse.


Q.  What is the difference between the two Sutras?


A. One is written in India and the other, I think, is written in China, even thought it’s called a Sutra. And one is about this Samadhi of bodhisattvas and the other one is a somewhat different treatment of the Great Vehicle teachings. So they are quite different. One starts with the story of Drdhamati asking the Buddha a question about this.  And the question he winds up asking is about the Samadhi.  And the other one starts with a story about Ananda.  So they are quite different but they share the expression “heroic stride’.


28 min.


Suramgama Samadhi Sutra. “Thus I have heard.  At one time the Buddha was at Rajagriha in Gudhrakuta with a great assembly of bhikusus (32,000 bhikusus) and mahasattva bodhisattvas numbering seventy-two thousand. These last, the bodhisattvas, were universally known.”  Then it tells you who they are and it tells you about their virtues. After all that description of the great assembly of bodhisattvas, it says, “Then the bodhisattva Drdhamati, present in the Great Assembly had this thought, “I would like to ask the Buddha a question which would be such as to protect the lineage of the Buddha, the lineage of the Dharma and the lineage of the Community.  That would be able to obscure and eclipse the dwellings of Mara and confound proud people.”  He wants to ask a question that would confound proud people.  Proud people think they know something and this would be a question that would make them go hmmm and understand they are not so clear.  They are proud, right?  He doesn’t want to confound humble people.  He’s going to confound the proud. “Thus those who have not yet planted good roots will plant them immediately.  Those who have already planted good roots will add to them Those that have not yet aroused the thought of the supreme and perfect enlightenment, will arouse the thought of complete, perfect enlightenment.”  I’ll just stop there for a second. He wants to ask a question so that anybody who has not given rise to this thought for supreme awakening, when they hear this question, they will.  And it goes on with all the things he wished his question would accomplish.  It goes on, “Having this thought, Dhrdhamati rose from his seat and arranged his upper robe on one shoulder and placed his right knee on the ground and his left knee up and extending his joined palms”..  His got this knee down and this knee up, facing the Buddha and extends his joined palms towards the Buddha and said to him, “Bhagavan, I would like to question the Tathagatha on a small point, if the Tathagatha gives me leave to ask a question.” The Buddha said to Drdhamati, “Question the Tathagatha on whatever you wish and I will, in answering these questions will delight your mind.”  So then the bodhisattva Drdhamati said to the Buddha, “What is the Samadhi through which the bodhisattvas completely obtain unsurpassed, complete perfect enlightenment?”  What is that Samadhi.  What is the Samadhi in which the bodhisattva is never apart from intimacy with the Buddhas.  What is the Samadhi that illumines with its own light all regions, acquires a wondrous wisdom so as to destroy all delusion, obtain mastery of knowledge, obtain untaught and does not depend on others.”  And he goes on and on about what Samadhi does this. Then the Buddha finishes says to Drdhamati, “Excellent!  Excellent! Oh Drdhamati, you question the Tathagatha on this subject for the welfare and happiness of many beings.  Through pity for the world, for the benefit welfare and happiness of the great body of beings, humans and gods, for the protection of present and future bodhisattvas. Know this.  You have planted good roots. You have honored and served innumerable Buddhas of thousands of kotas of nayutas of Buddhas of the past. You have trodden the paths. You have overcome all delusion and adversaries.”  He goes on and on about all he has done so that he can ask this questions and then he starts the answer which is the rest of the sutra.  


Q.  Samadhi, the word is used slightly different from the Sanskrit which is like the final state of attainment. Feels like his question is what is the quickest path to enlightenment.  IS that how you would interpret that. 


A.  Yes, but the quickest path to enlightenment also could be understood as the final attainment. That’s very quick. You don’t have to think that this is going to take any time. 

So the path is like.. The Chinese use the word path.  There was the path for the Tao before Buddhism came, which kind of meant the way. But they used the character which meant the way or the path for the goal  or the fruit of the path.  So the character for the Tao in Buddhism means the path AND enlightenment.  You can also, which I’ll be talking about this fall, see enlightenment as a path. But you can also see every moment of the path as enlightenment. So there’s that play on that. The path, in a sense, is a paradox because it seems like you’re going somewhere but where you’re going is where you are. You’re going on a path to where you really are.


Q Is that like you can’t see yourself?


A. Yeah. It’s just like that.  


So one of the ways to teach is by asking questions.  


Q.  I’m asking the question not from the perspective of the Sutras, I am asking the question from my seat. I see my seat as not as that pure seat.  When I hear you reading the Sutras, I can see the question and the answer is so ready so ripe so here that it is just right here in it. 


A. Uh-huh. 


Q. Whereas my seat when I question, I still am trying to say what is it, how is it, where is it? 


A.  We don’t have a video on her but she’s going (back and forth gesturing).  So the purity, one way to understand purity or purifying is that it’s a process by which you come to be at your seat. You say “my seat” but actually it sounds like you have not yet arrived at your seat.


Q.  Exactly!


A So when you really arrive at your seat, the purification process is complete. When you arrive at  your seat, that’s where this path unfolds.  The way unfolds when we arrive at our seat so our training process is to arrive where we are. And we are purified of being anything other than what we are.  And what we are is not something by itself. But we are purified of everything that is not us that makes us be ourself.  Everything that’s not us, makes us be just the way we are and when we’re just the way we are we realize how everything makes us just the way we are. That’s where the way unfolds. So the purification process is giving up all of our going away from where we are. Which is a huge challenge to remember to be here where we are.  I think that can be called a purification process.


Q. I would also like to express myself because this happened today for me when I was sitting in the room waiting to see you and what I could see is exactly my inability of sitting where I am. IF I could even just accomplish that in this life, that’s all I want.


A. That would be great. And so what you just said.. you said you were seeing the inability to be where you are and in other words you are seeing a transgression, aggression away from where you are.  There seems to be a going away from here. That’s a transgression from where you are.  The principle that we chant in the morning is that there is a practice of confessing that you’re going away from yourself and saying, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t at my place. I wasn’t being authentic about being me and I’m sorry about that.”  And by confessing and repenting our transgressions from being ourself, that process melts away the root of going away.  And in this way, we can finally be where we are completely. But it takes a lot of training and once we arrive that’s not the end. It’s really the beginning. Now we can act from here. Now it’s not us anymore. It’s us being where we are that unfolds the path.


Q. Is that related to, I can’t remember the proper term for it, not the jukai but priest ordination is referred to as returning home. The priest ordination is called leaving home and the lay ordination is called staying home. But it both cases, the first precept is to return to Buddha which means to be yourself so completely that you realize that you are not yourself by yourself, which is Buddha. That realization is Buddha. Returning to yourself completely, you realize that you are not yourself by yourself. That’s also the same as returning to Buddha. So the first bodhisattva precept is to be yourself so completely that you realize you are not yourself by yourself.  Just like Buddha.  That’s the first precept. And one thing it’s saying is leave your household and go live in a monastery. The other is saying stay at home and practice the bodhisattva way in the family.


Q.  In both cases the intent is to be yourself?

A. In both cases the intent is to be yourself completely and to purify all running away from here and now as you are. Human beings need training at this. Children don’t know how to do this because the nervous system has a long history of running away from here and thinking someplace else is better than here and being some other way is better than this. This is our animal nature. In order to mature as human beings, we have to spend a lot of time running around. Otherwise our muscles don’t develop and our nervous system doesn’t develop. 


I tell the story about my grandson. I was hanging  out with him and he said, “Granddad I got an idea for something that would really be fun. Let’s take all my toys downstairs and put them in a tub and fill the tub with water.” And he thought that would really be fun.  So he got moving. He got going. He didn't say, “Granddad lets sit here and be ourselves. That would really be fun.” “Let’s take all the toys downstairs, put them in a tub and fill it with water.” He thought that would be fun.  So we took all the toys down, put them in the tub and I’m filling the tub with water and he sees something else that would really be fun. Before I'm finished filling it, he’s found something else that would really be fun.   And children have to do that otherwise they don’t develop.  Maybe some kid could sit there and not move and develop. I don’t know. But I think they need a little running around.  So we come by our tendency to run around honestly, as they say.


Q Some of us still need that when we’re adults.


A. We need it till we’ve done all the things we think would be fun and after they’re all done.. I’ve had all the fun I need to have, now I guess I'm willing to just be me.  I could have been earlier but there were some things I wanted to do before I could just be me.  So I say sometimes to people who want to get ordained as priests, “Is there anything else you’d like to accomplish in this life before getting ordained? Or period?  Like do you want to get a PhD or build a house or build an empire, have ten kids?  Anything else you want to do? Why don’t you do that and when you finish, come back and then you’ll just be you.”  So sometimes they do. They go off and do those things and then they come back and when they get back they say, “thanks for waiting for 30 years for me to come back.”  They do. They say, “Thank you. I’m glad you’re’ still here.”  I said, “I am too. Welcome back. I'm glad you took care of all that stuff.”   It’s good stuff. Let’s say it’s all wholesome, you know.  And now for the boring work of being you and Zen center is hear to help you be you so fully that you realize enlightenment.   


I would like to keep talking to you longer but I have to go wash dishes at Green Gulch. Also we promised to end at 5:30 and now it’s 5:35.  So thank you for another wonderful day of practice together.