Transmission of the Lamp

Shakyamuni Buddha

Upon seeing the morning star, Gautama became Shakyamuni Buddha when He was, is and will be awakened to His TRUE SELF and said, says and will say, “I was, am and will be enlightened, together with the whole of the great earth and all its sentient beings, simultaneously.”

Gautama belonged to the Indian Nisshu (S. Sūryavamśa) line which traced its lineage to the sun; in His nineteenth year He escaped over the palace wall at midnight and fled to Mount Dandoku (S. Dandaka) where He shaved His head and spent the next six years engaging in harsh ascetic practices. Ultimately He sat upon the Diamond Throne, which is for realizing enlightenment, whilst spiders spun their webs between His eyebrows and jackdaws took up residence in a nest atop His head; reeds grew about His sitting place as, in tranquillity, He sat erect and immovably still for six years. In His thirtieth year, on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, the month of the winter sacrifice, He suddenly realized enlightenment and gave forth the words above like a lion thundering forth its first roar.

From then on, for the next forty-nine years, He was never alone even for a single day; with His Kesa and His begging bowl always accompanying Him, He never ceased from expounding the Teaching for the benefit of those who gathered about Him and preached the Dharma at more than three hundred and sixty assemblies. In time, He Transmitted the EYE AND TREASURY OF THE TRUE LAW to Makakashō (S. Mahākāśyapa, ‘The Great One of the Tortoise Clan’), ITS Transmission flowing down to us even today. Indeed, our practice of the True Teaching, which has poured out through India, China and Japan, is founded upon IT.

His lifelong conduct is the standard for His spiritual heirs, heiresses and descendants. Even though He possessed the thirty-two major marks and the eighty secondary signs of a Buddha, He had, beyond question, the appearance of a dear and venerable monk who in no way differed from other people therefore, from the time when He dwelt on earth through the three periods of the Teaching, the true, the counterfeit and the final, those for whom His Dharma is precious model themselves upon His behaviour, experiencing what He experienced without, even for a moment, giving a thought to themselves whilst moving, standing, sitting or reclining. Buddha after Buddha, Ancestor after Ancestor, have Transmitted the TRUE LAW directly from person to person without interruption as His life, as recounted above, clearly indicates. Over forty-nine years, at the more than three hundred and sixty assemblies, His methods for pointing out the matter varied, yet none of His stories, metaphors and turns of phrase strayed from this principle.

This ‘I’ of which He spoke is not Gautama; Shakyamuni Buddha has come forth from this ‘I’ and it is not only Shakyamuni Buddha who has come forth, the whole of the great earth and all its sentient beings have come forth from IT as well. When a great net is hauled up from the sea, all the openings in the net are hauled up with it so, likewise, when Gautama became Shakyamuni and realized, realizes and will realize enlightenment, the whole of the great earth and all its sentient beings also realized, realize and will realize enlightenment. Further, not only did, does and will the whole of the great earth and all its sentient beings realize enlightenment, all the Buddhas in the three worlds of past, present and future also did, do and will realize enlightenment.

Since this is so, do not hold to a false notion of Gautama becoming Shakyamuni and realizing enlightenment; do not see Shakyamuni Buddha as apart from the whole of the great earth and all its sentient beings. Even though the great earth with its mountains and rivers may flourish luxuriantly in its myriad forms, nothing is excluded from the EYE of Gautama. All of you, too, arise within the EYE of Gautama. Not only do you arise there, you are interchanging with everyone else existing at this very moment, all within all: the EYE of Gautama becomes your very body of flesh, the whole body of each person being a sheer cliff wall that rises straight up for eighty thousand feet. Do not imagine, therefore, that from of old until now there was His bright EYE with people distinct and separate from IT. All of you were, are and will be the EYE of Gautama and Gautama’s EYE is the whole body of every one of you.

As this is how it is, what shall we call the principle that underlies realizing enlightenment? Let me put the matter to you this way, did, does and will Gautama become Shakyamuni Buddha and realize enlightenment together with you, the community of monks, or did, do and will you all realize enlightenment together with Gautama when he becomes Shakyamuni Buddha? If you were to say that you all did, do and will realize enlightenment together with Gautama when he became Shakyamuni Buddha or that Gautama, on becoming Buddha, did, does and will realize enlightenment together with all of you, either answer would in no way be ‘Gautama’s realizing enlightenment’ and you cannot make either be the principle that underlies ‘realizing enlightenment’. If what you want is a direct understanding of the principle of realizing enlightenment, you should rid yourself at once of ‘you’ and ‘Gautama’ and quickly grasp what the ‘I’ is. What is together with the ‘I’ is the whole of the great earth and all its sentient beings. The ‘I’ of the ‘I’ and ‘with’ is not that venerable One Gautama. Examine this point carefully, consider it in detail so that you may clarify what the ‘I’ is and grasp what ‘with’ means. Even though you may clarify what the ‘I’ is, if you fail to clarify what ‘with’ means, you will be seeing with only one eye.

The ‘I’ and ‘with’ are neither the same nor different. Indisputably, the skin, flesh, bones and marrow of all of you is entirely ‘with’ whilst THAT which dwells within as the Lord of the House is the ‘I’. HE does not take on skin, flesh, bones and marrow nor is HE bound to the four elements or to the five skandhas. In short, if you wish to make the acquaintance of THE UNDYING ONE WITHIN THE HERMIT’S HUT, how can you possibly separate HIM from this bag of skin? Do not construct some intellectual understanding of ‘the great earth and all its sentient beings’.

Even though the seasons change and the great earth with its mountains and rivers differs over time, you must realize that this is nothing but ‘the venerable One Gautama raising His eyebrows and blinking His eyes’; it is a matter of ‘a body as exposed as a dewdrop amidst the myriad phenomena’ which discards all things worldly and does not discard them. As Meditation Master Hōgen (C. Fa-yen) said, “What is there to discard or not discard?” and as Meditation Master Jizō (C. Ti-ts’ang) said, “And what, pray, would you make ‘the myriad phenomena’ to be?” Practise broadly and deeply, therefore, never give up, keep persisting until you succeed. To be sure, you must clarify what ‘Gautama, upon becoming Shakyamuni and realizing enlightenment,’ really means and grasp what your own realization of enlightenment is. Take a careful look at this case as presented at the beginning and, one by one, let your response to it flow forth from your heart without borrowing words from the Ancestors or from anyone of the present day. At our next meeting, express its principle with words that show you have made it to the turning point.

This mountain monk feels that he would like to add his own humble words to what is happening in this story. Would you all like to hear them?

Unsurpassed in the beauty of its graceful form is the old Plum Tree;
Its spiny branches, when the season is ripe, will burst forth in bloom.

(from The DENKOROKU: The Record of the Transmission of the Light by Zen Master Keizan Jokin. Translated by Reverend Hubert Nearman, Shasta Abbey Press, 2001.)