The Room, the Seat, and the Robe 

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The Room, the Seat and the Robe
No Abode 4/14/12


(Edited by KM, approx. 3000 words)


If I asked you if you wished to live this day for the welfare of all beings would you say that you do? Being devoted to the welfare of all beings and also wishing to understand the Dharma so that you can help them understand the Dharma which will bring them great welfare - this way of living is called the Great Vehicle. In this boundless Great Vehicle, one of the traditions is called “Zen” or “Chan” and within Zen there are many family styles. Different teachers teach different ways and different teachers have different ways of teaching for different students. All this teaching is in order to help beings understand the Dharma and be benefited and be happy and at ease in this challenging situation of being alive. One of the ancestors in this tradition called Zen was Yangshan. “Yangshan” means “Venerating Mountains” or “Bowing to the Mountains”. Yangshan also had a nicknamewhich was was Little Shakyamuni Buddha, or Little Shakyamuni for short. And there are many stories about him. When I was a young boy, there was a TV show called “The Naked City” , referring to New York City. At the end of the show, they would say, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them”. The city is naked but the people in the city have stories. Moment by moment, they have stories. Now today I would say, in the naked world there are even more than seven billion, because there are also stories of people who have lived before. This is one of the stories of the more-than-seven billion. Of the infinite stories, in the ocean of beings, this is one of them. It’s about Yangshan and how he worked with one of his students. I have spent many, many evenings studying this story with others. This story appears in the Book of Serenity case number thirty-two. This story that I want to tell is about Yangshan teaching a monk who came to visit him. Yangshan himself had entered the room of great compassion and there he welcomed the monk. He allowed the monk to come into the room of great compassion. He asked the monk where he was from. The monk told him. He asked the monk if he thinks about where he comes from and the monk honestly said, ‘I always think about where I come from.” He meant, “Whenever I see anything, basically I’m looking at where I come from. I can’t see anything new. All I see is where I come from. I look in your face and I see my history, my old stories about you.” The monk confessed that he doesn’t see anything new. He just sees his mind. She just see her stories which are where she comes from. Yangshan then said, ‘That which thinks is the mind; that which is thought of is the environment.’ Or you could also say, that which thinks is mind and that which is thought of are objects of mind. Please notice that he didn’t say that the objects of mind are also mind. That which thinks is mind and that which is thought of is mind, but when you look at that which is thought of it doesn’t look like mind. It looks like people, or trees. But, it’s actually mind. You are looking at your mind. The mind is looking at itself. The mind is looking at the objective version of itself, but looking at the objective version of itself, the mind says, ‘I’m not you” I am not that object I see. The mind is deceptive. It misrepresents itself. The mind says, ‘I’m not the mind. I’m an object that is outside of the mind.’ Yangshan, seeing that this person gets that a little bit, says, ‘Look at the part of the mind that you usually think is the mind.’ The monk does it and when it gets to that place, he doesn’t see any objects. He doesn’t see anything existing. He followed the instruction. He realized that there is nothing existing outside of mind. Therefore he can’t see anything existing outside mind. Yangshan says this is a good insight. ‘You understand you have insight that there’s nothing outside of mind for you. You understand that. Very good! But you telling me that you don’t see any existence at all is not complete’. Now I want to focus on the part of the story that follows, when Yangshan said to the monk, “After this, based on your insight, you can take the seat and wear the robe.” I want to talk about that part with you. Recently when we were sitting together, I said that if people want to teach the Inconceivably Wonderful Dharma Flower for the welfare of beings, let them enter the room of the Buddha, let them wear the robe of the Buddha and let them sit on the seat of the Buddha. The room of the Buddha is the heart of great compassion for all living beings. The robe of the Buddha is the mind of gentleness and flexibility and patience. The seat of the Buddha is the emptiness of all phenomena. Being in the room, wearing the robe and sitting on the seat like this, the Dharma Flower of the Wondrous Dharma can be taught. The Lotus Flower Sutra says, “To enter the room of the Tatagatha is to have great compassion for all living beings. To wear the robe of the Tatagatha is to be gentle and patient. To sit on the seat of the Tatagatha is to contemplate the emptiness of all things. When one dwells in peace with the room and the robe and the seat, never becoming lazy or careless, one teaches this Dharma Flower Sutra everywhere to the bodhisattvas of the four groups.” (LS p 231) When we sit in this seat with this robe in this room, teaching comes forth from this practice. We need to enter the room of the Buddha. This means that we need to enter the heart of compassion for all beings if we want to teach the Dharma for the welfare of all beings. Another way to translate the room is to say it is the Great Heart of Compassion within all living beings. It may be translated as “the room of the Tathagatha is Great Heart of Compassion for all living beings” or “the room of the Tatagatha is the Great Compassionate Heart within all sentient beings”. So this heart is the Great Compassionate Heart for all beings and in all beings. We must enter this heart. Further, we must put on the Buddha’s robe, which is the mind of gentleness, and patience. And we must sit on the seat of emptiness. We must seat on the seat which is the insubstantiality of all things. We must sit on the insubstantiality of all things. Then the Dharma can be taught. From that place, wearing the robe of gentleness and patience, we can offer the heart of great compassion. Then other beings can enter the room, can enter that heart, can put on that robe, can enter that mind of patience and gentleness and can also sit on the seat. Then they too can enter and join the process of teaching the Dharma. Teaching the Dharma for the welfare of all beings is also for the welfare of the teaching of the Dharma. Teaching the Dharma means bodhisattvas help people by teaching them Dharma. In the Lotus Sutra chapter it says “My Sutras (my scriptures) are innumerable tens of millions of billions. Whether already taught, now being taught, or to be taught in the future, among all of them (these Scriptures) this Dharma Flower Sutra (the Lotus Scripture) is the most difficult to believe and the most difficult to understand”. ( LS p229) Now, it doesn’t seem too difficult to believe the Lotus Sutra when it says if you want to teach the Dharma, you’re allowed to enter the room of the Buddha, you’re allowed to wear the robe of Buddha and you’re allowed to sit on the seat of the Buddha. That doesn’t seem difficult to understand. In other words, it is instructing us is saying to enter compassion and gentleness and patience and sit on the seat of emptiness. Oh! That last point IS difficult though. It is hard to understand how you sit on the seat. How do you sit in the insubstantiality of all things. Maybe it is a difficult Sutra after all. I am trying to carefully give this Sutra to you. I’m trying to teach it to you in a way that is not open, in other words, in a way that you can open it. I’m offering it to you for you to open. I am not doing all the work. That would not be appropriate. This is a teaching which I am offering to you in a not-open way, carefully. One of the reasons I wanted to offer it is that I think it’s worth offering. I think it is a very good offering. Now back to the story of Yangshan. Yangshan gave the monk an instruction to reverse thinking and think of the mind that thinks. The monk did that and when he did he couldn’t find any existence at all. In other words he couldn’t find anything substantial. All he could see was the insubstantiality of everything. And then Yangshan said, “Based on this insight, you have the robe and the seat”. He didn’t say it this way, but I am adding, ‘But you don’t have the room.’ You have the robe and the seat.’ With Yangshan’s instruction, the monk realized the seat. And then when Yangshan asked him, now that you’ve done this instruction, what do you see? The student told Yangshan what he saw from the seat. And the student was still wearing the robe. The student was gentle and patient with this robe that he was sitting in. But Yangshan didn’t say that he had the room. In other words, the student achieved the stage of faith. He followed the instructions and he realized the ultimate truth. He sat on the Buddha’s seat. He received this instruction of looking at his mind that thinks and he couldn’t find any existence. He got to the point that he could see that everything was insubstantial. The teacher says this IS insight. So given this insight, you have the seat and the robe. Yangshan also had the room. He had the room that this monk could enter. The student entered the room and Yangshan showed him the room. The student received the room and enjoyed the room. He joined this great compassion. He received it and joined it. Then the student received the Buddha’s robe and was gentle and patient. Because he accepted this great compassion for all living beings and this gentleness and patience the student was able to reach the seat. He heard the teachings in this compassionate room. He was gentle and patient and he realized the teachings to the point that he realized that he couldn’t find any existence at all. But even though he had received and entered the room, when he expressed his understanding, his understanding did not have the room. The way he said, “When I get here I don’t find any existence at all”, Yangshan said to him, “You don’t have the room, but you’ve got the robe and you’ve got the seat’. And then the monk says, “Do you have any further instruction?” And the Yangshan says, “To say that I do or that I don’t would not be accurate”. In other words, you should not teach the Lotus Sutra openly. When Yangshan said, “To say that I do or that I don’t would not be accurate”, he was teaching the Lotus Sutra but not openly. And then Yangshan says, “From now on, see on your own.” You have to find the room. You have to find a way to express your understanding of what you see, which is correct. It is correct not to see any existences, but you have to not be stuck in that so you have a room. This teaching is for everybody who wants to teach the Dharma for the welfare of all beingsIt’s not just only for those who are already teaching it. The question is, do you wish to benefit beings and do you wish to receive the teaching, which will help you benefit all beings? If you wish to, this teaching is for you. If you have entered, this teaching is for you. If you have put the robe on, it’s for you. If you’re sitting in the seat, it’s for you and if you’re sitting in the seat, it’s for you to tell you to put the robe on again and open the door of the room. It’s for the whole process from the beginning wish to benefit beings, to entering in and accepting Buddha’s compassion, and doing Buddha’s practice, and realizing Buddha’s truth. Then, teaching from there. Once you get on the seat, teaching from there. And this monk did teach from there but he only taught as far as the seat and the robe. He couldn’t take the next step. We’re not in a fixed position but some of us may feel sometimes, ‘Well I aspire to be a bodhisattva but I’m really not much of a bodhisattva at all. I aspire but I don’t do any of the bodhisattva practices. I want to do them. I almost never do them though. Is this teaching for me?’ The answer is ”Yes”. This teaching is for beginning bodhisattvas, intermediate and advanced bodhisattvas. Don’t worry about where you are. Just be compassionate to your opinion about where you are. If you’re compassionate to your opinion you will be on the path. I just want to say this again. Bodhisattvas do not necessarily like everybody, and bodhisattvas do not necessarily hate everybody. However it is possible that some bodhisattvas dislike. It is possible that some bodhisattvas like everybody. If are such bodhisattvas, they are welcome. There are creatures like that that like almost everybody. It’s amazing but there could be. There are some people who dislike almost everybody, who find everybody extremely irritating… at least all humans. Some people find all mosquitoes irritating. Maybe that’s more familiar to you. Perhaps some people like all mosquitoes. You don’t have to like all mosquitoes to be a bodhisattva! And you don’t have to hate all mosquitoes to be bodhisattvas. To be on the path of a bodhisattva, what you need is to aspire to be compassionate to all mosquitoes and all humans and all dogs and all cats. You need to aspire to that. You need to aspire to enter the room. If people are being cruel to themselves or others, you don’t have to like it. Some people are cruel and you don’t have to like it. You don’t have to like foul smells. You don’t have to like extreme pain. Youdon’t have to dislike those thingseither to be a bodhisattva. But you have to love all that. In order to love it all, you’re going to have to aspire to love it, because most people do not naturally love, do not naturally have compassion for all varieties of irritation and discomfort and stress. Most people do not have compassion for all that. You have to train at it. You have to aspire to it in order to train at it. And if you aspire to it and train at it, you will be able to enter the room and let everybody else in there, including all the people you don’t like and all the people you do like. So, I’d like to make clear that’s my view is that bodhisattvas don’t have to like everybody and lotta people who want to be bodhisattvas thought they were supposed to like everybody but fortunately you don’t have to. Fortunately, what you do have to do is more effective. You have to be compassionate to everybody. We’re not compassionate to everybody all the time but bodhisattvas aspire to that. Because that is the kind of compassion that let’s you sit on the seat and from the seat to teach the Dharma. To be compassionate to a few people is GREAT! When our great ancestor Dogen was dying, he named the room he was in Lotus Sutra Hermitage. When he could still walk, he walked around the room reciting the part of the Lotus Sutra where it says whenever anybody says the Lotus Sutra, that is the place where that Buddha is being born. That is the place the Buddha leaves home. That is the place the Buddha attains the way. That is the place where the Buddha teaches.
The Lotus Sutra says if you want to practice the Buddha way and realize the path of supreme enlightenment, respect the people who read the Lotus Sutra. And if you read the Lotus Sutra, then you should respect and venerate the practice that you’re doing and the person that’s practicing. So when you read this Sutra, venerate the person who’s reading it and that will be the Buddha way That’s what I want to offer you today. I want to offer you the story of the great Yangshan and his excellent. And I want to offer you the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, the scripture which teaches you that all language is empty. I want to teach you language which can guide you to the emptiness of language.