Transmission of the Lamp

6. Mishaka

One day, Daitaka said, “The Buddha said, ‘When one pursues the supernormal powers of a rishi or devotes himself to the study of the Lesser Vehicle, he becomes like someone entangled in, and dragged along by, a rope.’ Know for yourself that, when you leave such rivulets behind, you immediately arrive at the GREAT OCEAN; by all means, confirm the UNBORN for yourself.” Mishaka, as a result, had a great awakening to his TRUE SELF.

Mishaka (S. Micchaka, ‘He Who Knows Pain’) came from Central India and was the leader of eight thousand rishis, that is, Indian ‘holy men’ who live as hermits and cultivate supernormal powers. One day, with his followers in tow, he came to pay his respects to Daitaka, saying, “Long ago in a previous life we two were born in Brahma’s heaven. Upon meeting the rishi Ashita (S. Asita), I received his training in supernormal powers whilst you came in contact with one of the Buddha’s disciples who had the ten powers and learned how to practise meditation; after that, our karmic paths diverged and six aeons have now passed since we went our separate ways.” Daitaka said, “So many aeons have we indeed withstood our separation! How true your words; no falsehood in them. Now you can abandon your pursuit of supernormal powers and return to the Upright Way thereby entering the Buddha’s Vehicle.” Mishaka replied, “In that distant past Ashita made a prediction that after six aeons I would meet a former fellow student and realize the fruits of immaculacy. Now, indeed, we have met face to face, surely this is a karmic connection from our past lives. I humbly pray that you, Reverend Monk, out of your compassion and benevolence, will liberate me.” Daitaka ordained him as a monk, giving him the full Precepts. At first the rest of the band of rishis were haughty and filled with conceit but, when Daitaka displayed his great spiritual faculties, they all gave rise to the intention of realizing enlightenment and the desire to become monks; thus the eight thousand rishis became eight thousand mendicant monks. It was on the occasion of their becoming monks and followers of Daitaka that he spoke the words quoted above and, as a result of hearing this, Mishaka realized his TRUE SELF.

Even though, through a study of the way of the rishi, you may succeed in prolonging your life and acquire astounding uses of spiritual powers, you will only attain a thorough knowledge of the past eighty thousand aeons and the future eighty thousand but you will never be able to consider anything more remote either before or after then. Even if you train yourself to abide in a state where there are no intentional discriminations and only naturally arising thoughts, or enter into the samadhi that goes beyond all mental thoughts, alas, you will simply be reborn in the celestial world of no perception and become a long-lived heavenly being; although you may have been able to dispose of your corporeal body, you will still be subject to an influx into your consciousness of past life karma and will not be able to come in contact with a Buddha or persevere in the Way. When the effects of this past life karma are exhausted you will fall into the Avichi Hell of incessant suffering, therefore you will be as one entangled in, and dragged along by, a rope, a state which is decidedly not liberation.

Those who study the Lesser Vehicle may realize the first, second, third and fourth fruits as well as the self-enlightenment of a pratyekabuddha but this is still training within body and mind, practice of the Way within the duality of delusion and enlightenment. Saintly ones who realize the first fruits become Bodhisattvas who arouse their first intention to realize enlightenment once eighty thousand aeons have passed; those who realize the second fruits become such Bodhisattvas once sixty thousand aeons have passed; those who realize the third fruits become such Bodhisattvas once forty thousand aeons have passed. Pratyekabuddhas enter the Way of the Bodhisattvas once ten thousand aeons have passed; although they return as Bodhisattvas due to good conditions from their past lives, their turning of the wheel of karma has, unfortunately, not ended. This, too, resembles being entangled in, and dragged along by, a rope for they are not a genuinely liberated persons.

Even though you actually destroy not only the eighty-eight defilements which arise from opinions and personal concepts but also the subtler defilements as well as untold delusions so that not a speck of dust finds a place to perch or a shred of delusion remains, this is an effort that is tied to phenomena and does not constitute the immaculate fruit of Buddhahood; such spiritual practices as ‘going back to the Root’, ‘returning to the Source’, ‘waiting for enlightenment’ and ‘keeping to the rules’ are all completely akin to this kind of effort. O monks, do not long for emptiness or else, sad to say, you will be like those non-Buddhists who fall into the bottomless void of nihilism. Do not tarry in the beginningless past before the period of cosmic emptiness for this is like being a dead person whose vital spirit has still not completely departed. Do not contemplate bringing to a halt the empty flowers of illusory phenomena in order to reach ‘the True Nature of Reality’ for this is akin to the saintly person who would annihilate ignorance in order to realize enlightenment thereby giving rise to clouds where none exist, creating flaws in that which is flawless; such a one is no different than the person who, having left home to wander in foreign lands, becomes a penniless outsider drunk on the wine of his own ignorance and delusion.

Do you believe that, because you are a ‘somebody’, there is any need to speak of ‘before birth’ and ‘after death’? What past, present and future exists? For vast aeons there has never, not even for a second, been any disparity; from birth to death there is only THAT WHICH IS; nevertheless, if you do not personally experience IT at least once, you will be led by your senses and their objects into vain delusion without your ever knowing the TRUE SELF; you will be alienated from THAT which is right before your eyes; you will not know from whence arises body and mind or understand from whence flow out the myriad phenomena; for no apparent reason you will decide to sweep away one thing and desire to seek after another. As a result, you have kept the Buddha busy appearing in the world and have induced the Ancestors and Masters to obligingly confer the Precepts on you but, even though they hand you the Precepts, you remain deluded by your own personal views, replying that you did not know or do not understand. Actually, you are neither in the real darkness of ignorance nor, like a box with its lid, are you in real contact with the TRUTH but idly reside within your own opinions and judgments, discriminating between right and wrong.

Do you not realize that all of you respond when called to and go where you are pointed toward? This is not something that arises from discriminative thought or from the natural responses of consciousness for, beyond question, the ‘you’ is THE LORD OF THE HOUSE. That LORD has neither countenance nor bodily features yet there is no time when HE ceases to move. As a result, this LORD comes forth and is given the name of ‘body’. After this ‘body’ has appeared, the four elements and the five skandhas, the eighty-four thousand pores and the three hundred and sixty bones join together and the ‘you’ is a body just as a jewel has its sparkle or a sound is armed with its echo. Therefore, from the coming into birth to the going into death, there is never a moment when you lack anything, never a moment when you have any excess. With such ‘birth and death’ as this, though you are born, your birth has no beginning, though you die, your death leaves no traces; you are no different from waves in the ocean which rise and fall, leave behind no mark yet never cease in their rising and falling: they subside yet, in their subsiding, they go to no special place; such is the ocean, large and small waves arise ceaselessly.

THE LORD OF THE HOUSE is no different; never does HE cease in HIS moving. HE manifests HIMSELF as skin, flesh, bones and marrow and uses HIMSELF as the four elements and the five skandhas. HE manifests as peach blossoms and green bamboo as well as the apprehension of TRUTH and the clarification of what ORIGINAL NATURE is. HE works in all sorts of sounds, colours and forms and is apprehended in different ways through seeing and hearing. HE functions as ‘wearing clothes’ and ‘eating food’ and operates as speech and action. HE divides and, though divided, is not separated from HIMSELF; HE appears and, though visible, is not limited to any physical form or by any characteristic. HE resembles a stage illusionist performing his various illusory arts or as someone giving rise to divers images in a dream. Within a mirror ten thousand forms may go through a thousand changes and a myriad transformations but, if you do not know that it is still only a mirror and therefore vainly pursue supernormal powers or devote yourself to the study of the Lesser Vehicle, you have no chance of being liberated.

O monks, nothing fetters you, so what need is there to be released? From the first there has been no delusion or enlightenment, no bondage or liberation. Is this not what the UNBORN is? Is this not what the GREAT OCEAN is? Where are there any ‘rivulets’? All lands, countless as the particles of dust or as the atoms in those particles, are the OCEAN OF THE DHARMA- REALM. The flowing forth of valley streams, the cascading of waterfalls, the snaking of rivers are all but lively shifts on the surface of this OCEAN. There is no rivulet to abandon, no GREAT OCEAN that need be gained. As this is the way it is, all of Mishaka’s misunderstandings straightened out on their own and his former opinions, all at once, changed; he abandoned his pursuit of supernormal powers and became a monk which is nothing more than an emergence of his past life karma.

If you practise in this way, come what may, so that what is in your mind corresponds with what you say, it will truly be like old and dear friends meeting face to face, SELF nodding to SELF. All of you will swim together in the OCEAN OF ORIGINAL NATURE without ever, not even for an instant, being separated or estranged from each other. If you are, in truth, so deeply moved that you explode into awareness, then this must be your past life karma manifesting itself. Do you not see this? As Great Master Baso (C. Ma-tsu) said, “No sentient being has, for untold aeons, ever left the samadhi of DHARMA NATURE. Since we are always in the samadhi of DHARMA NATURE, we wear clothes and eat food, converse and make respectful replies, for the functioning of the six sense organs and the carrying out of all activities are, without exception, nothing but the DHARMA NATURE.” Hearing what he is saying, do not take it to mean that ‘sentient beings’ have an existence within a ‘Dharma Nature’. To distinguish between ‘Dharma Nature’ and ‘sentient beings’ is like distinguishing between water and waves; we may use the words ‘water’ and ‘waves’ in our speech but, really, how much difference is there between the two?

This morning, in order to explain what is happening in this story here are, once more, my humble words. Do you in the community wish to hear them?

“Even though there may be an everyday purity, silt-clear as a river’s water in autumn,
How can it possibly compare with a luminous spring night, the moon softened by haze?”
Many are the houses where people thus speak, yearning for a spotlessly clean life
But, however much they sweep this way and that, their hearts are still not emptied and clear.

(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.)