Transmission of the Lamp

4. Ubakikuta

Ubakikuta attended Shōnawashu for three years before he shaved his head and became a mendicant monk. One day, Shōnawashu asked him, “Did you leave home to become a monk in body or in mind?” Ubakikuta answered, “I truly left home to become a monk in body.” Shōnawashu said, “What does the wondrous LAW of the Buddhas possibly have to do with body or mind?” whereupon Ubakikuta had a great awakening to his TRUE SELF.

Ubakikuta (S. Upagupta, ‘The Concealed One’) was from the kingdom of Dali (S. Pātaliputra) and was a member of the serving caste; he came to train under Shōnawashu when he was fifteen and, at seventeen, became a monk. When he was twenty-two, he showed the fruit of enlightenment. Whilst travelling about converting others, he arrived at Mathura and the number that he led into monastic life was extremely large; as a result, the demon palace so trembled and quaked that Mara, The One Who Delights in Destruction, became anxious and fearful. Each time that someone realized the TRUTH Ubakikuta would throw a bamboo tally, that was a hand’s span in length, into his stone hut which was eighteen ells deep and twelve ells wide, one ell being equal to one forearm. At his cremation these tallies, which he had accumulated during his lifetime of leading others into monastic life, were burned along with his body. The number of those that he had so led was just as great as that when the Tathagata was in the world, therefore everyone called him ‘The Excellent Buddha Who Shows Not One of the Major or Minor Marks’.

Mara, moved by resentment, watched and waited for some occasion when Ubakikuta was in samadhi so that he, Mara, could exercise all his destructive powers and thereby interfere with the True Law, but Ubakikuta, whilst in samadhi, observed what he was up to. When Mara espied his chance and, stealthily carrying a jewelled necklace, placed it around Ubakikuta’s neck, the saintly one conceived of a way to subdue him. Rising from his samadhi, he chose the corpses of a human, a dog and a snake and transformed them into a flowering wreath. Speaking gently, he pacified Mara, saying, “You have presented me with a jewelled necklace which is truly singular and wondrous; I have a flower wreath which I wish to give you in recompense.” Mara was greatly pleased and stretched forth his head to receive it whereupon it reverted to the three foul-smelling corpses which festered with crawling vermin and maggots. Terribly distressed by this, Mara was filled with loathing and disgust but, though he employed all his destructive powers, he could not get rid of it by either disentangling himself from it or shifting it onto Ubakikuta.

Seeking release from it, he rose up through the six heavens of the realm of desire telling all the various celestial lords what had happened as well as calling on the Celestial Lord of Purity, Brahma himself. One after the other, the celestial lords told him,“This is a spiritual transformation done by one of the Buddha’s disciples who has his Lord’s ten powers. Since we are ordinary and humble beings, how can we remove it?” When Mara said,“Then what, pray, am I to do?” Brahma replied, “You must take refuge with, and surrender your heart to, Ubakikuta; then you will be able to rid yourself of it.” Brahma then spoke this verse, offering its merit for Mara’s benefit,

“If, due to the mundane, you fall,
Then, by means of the mundane, must you rise;
Were you to seek to rise by keeping aloof
from the mundane,
This would ultimately be contrary to TRUTH.

Return and seek your deliverance from the disciple with the ten powers.” Having received these instructions, Mara departed from the celestial palace and, filled with remorse and repentance, prostrated himself at Ubakikuta’s feet. The saintly one said, “From this time forward will you ever again try to make sport of, or interfere with, the True Law of the Tathagata?” Mara replied,“I vow not to. I offer the merit of this vow to the Buddha’s Way and, for evermore, I will cease from doing what is not good.” Ubakikuta said, “If this is so, you must, on your own, say openly that you take refuge in the Three Treasures.” The demon king, hands in gasshō, chanted the Three Refuges thrice and the wreath completely went away. This is how Ubakikuta showed the awesome effects of the Buddha Dharma just as the Tathagata had done during His earthly sojourn.

When, at seventeen, Ubakikuta shaved his head, Shōnawashu asked him, “Did you leave home to become a monk in body or in mind?” For Buddhist monks there have always been two ways of leaving home, in body and in mind. ‘Leaving home in body’ means that they have cast off feelings of obligatory ties and affectionate cravings, separated themselves from home and native place, shaved their heads, dyed their robes, refrained from keeping male or female servants, have become either a male or female monk and thereafter continue to persevere in their practice of the Way twenty-four hours a day. As a result of this, whatever the time, they do not pass it in idleness nor do they wish for anything other than what they have; they do not take satisfaction in being alive or fear death for their minds are as pure and innocent as the autumn moon, their eyes as clear and undimmed as a bright mirror. They do not seek after the ETERNAL or hanker for their BUDDHA NATURE; they neither sanctify TRUTH nor attach themselves to worldly matters. Behaving in this way, they do not abide in the states that ordinary people stay in or embroil themselves with those of clever and worldly-wise ranks but, indeed, are followers of the Way that goes beyond the human mind. These are the ones who have left home in body.

Those who have ‘left home in mind’ do not shave their heads or dye their robes; even though they reside at home and remain with their worldly toils, they are like lotuses unsullied by the dirt of life or jewels undulled by worldly dust. Even though they may have karmic ties, such as a spouse and children, they look upon them as if they were refuse or dust; they do not give way to a lustful heart even for a moment nor are they ever covetous. Seeing what is tranquil, whilst living within the clamour of the market-place, they are as the moon hanging in space or a ball rolling around on a tray. Whilst being in the midst of the three worlds, they have a clear understanding of THAT which is beyond time. They have realized that attempting to cut themselves off from, or do away with, defiling passions is what sickness is and see clearly that trying to devise an idea of what ULTIMATE REALITY is is a perversion; nirvana, as well as birth and death, are, for them, but empty flowers of the mind and they are not controlled by attachment to either enlightenment or defiling passions. Such are those who have left home in mind.

It was this understanding that lay behind Shōnawashu’s asking Ubakikuta whether he had left home in body or in mind for, if it were not the one or the other, then his leaving home would not be a true ‘leaving home to become a monk’, hence Shōnawashu’s question however, Ubakikuta replied, “I truly left home in body.” In saying this he was not thinking about ‘Mind’ or expounding on ‘the Buddha Nature’ or talking about ‘That Which Is Profound and Mysterious’; he just knew that what left home to become a monk was a body composed of the four elements and the five skandhas. Without carrying anything around with him, he was able to arrive at the TRUTH and, therefore, clarify for himself what ‘absolute freedom’ (J. nyoi soku; S. ṛddi-pāda) really is; he had realized IT without seeking for IT and therefore was clear about THAT WHICH IS BEYOND ATTAINING which is why he said that he had left home in body.

An explanation is needed, however, from the stand-point of the wondrous LAW of the Buddhas, which is why, in order to point to the TRUTH, Shōnawashu had said that none of the Buddhas had left home in body or in mind nor, in fact, should they be viewed or attested to thus; they were, are and will be liberated along with the holy and the mundane, the wise and the foolish. Having dropped off body and mind alike, they are like empty space which has no inside or outside, they resemble the water in the ocean which has neither surface nor interior. Even though the innumerable wondrous principles and the untold Dharma-gates come in a thousand different ways with ten thousand variations, Shōnawashu expounded only this one issue.

Do not say that the words spoken by Siddhartha at his birth, “Only I alone am honoured,” refers to His becoming a Buddha since the phrase actually means “Only the ‘I’ alone is honoured.” Do not say that there is no coming or going. Who can speak of the time ‘before “father and mother” were invented’ or of the time ‘before the period of cosmic emptiness’? When you reach this state, you transcend both birth and no-birth and are liberated from both mind and no-mind.

IT is like water conforming to the shape of a vessel, like space following the contours of an object: though you may grasp at IT, your hand will never be filled with IT, though you may search for IT, you will find no trace of IT—this is the wondrous LAW of the Buddhas. When you reach this stage, Ubakikuta has never existed and Shōnawashu has never come about so there is nothing to discuss in terms of movement or stillness, coming or going. Even though there is an ‘is’ and an ‘is not’ as well as an ‘other’ and a ‘self’, they are as sounds at the bottom of the ocean or resemble the unboundedness within space. If you do not personally experience this at least once, then even the millions of Dharma Gates and the incalculable number of wondrous principles will be nothing more useful than the streaming of past life karma into consciousness.

When Shōnawashu thus spoke about this, Ubakikuta immediately awoke to his TRUE SELF just like a raging fire spewing forth from the great earth. Once the thunderclap had resounded, not only were the roots of Ubakikuta’s hearing severed but the roots of his very life were instantly forfeit. The raging fire suddenly blazed up and the Dharma-gate of the Buddhas, along with the true countenance of the Ancestors and Masters, was completely reduced to ashes. When these ashes appeared, they were given the name of the Sainted Ubakikuta; they were as hard as a rock and as black as lacquer. In ridding so many people of their ‘true’ self, smashing their whole bodies to bits, he idly calculated emptiness by tossing the tallies into his stone hut, and left behind traces of emptiness by incinerating emptiness.

Today this descendant of the Mahayana tradition of Daijō Monastery feels that he would like to search beyond the clouds for those traces and paste up some words on the azure sky. Would you all like to hear them?

With the house demolished and the self o’erthrown,
no inside or outside remains
So where, pray, are body and mind
to conceal their forms?

(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.)