Transmission of the Lamp

7. Bashumitsu

Bashumitsu placed his wine cup before Mishaka, prostrated himself and then arose where upon Mishaka asked him, “Is this VESSEL yours or mine?” Whilst Bashumitsu was reflecting on this, Mishaka said, “If you consider the cup to be mine, it is your Original Nature; if, on the other hand, the vessel is yours, it is fitting that you receive my Teaching.” Upon hearing this Bashumitsu awoke to his UNBORN ORIGINAL NATURE.

Bashumitsu (S. Vasumitra, ‘He Who Is an Excellent Friend’) was from Northern India, a member of the Harada clan (S. Bharadvaja, ‘Those as Swift as a Skylark’); always immaculately dressed and with a wine cup in hand, he would wander about the villages humming or whistling. As people were wont to call him bizarre, he did not tell them his name. When Mishaka was traveling about converting others, he arrived in Northern India where he saw an auspicious golden-hued cloud rising above the city’s parapets. Mishaka addressed his followers saying, “This is the aura of a man of the Way, undoubtedly the Noble One who will inherit my Teaching.” He had barely finished speaking when Bashumitsu arrived and asked him, “Do you know what I have in my hand?” Mishaka replied, “It is an unclean vessel since it stands against the ONE THAT IS IMMACULATE.” Bashumitsu placed his wine cup before Mishaka and what is related above happened up to the point where Bashumitsu awoke to his UNBORN ORIGINAL NATURE. At that moment the wine cup suddenly vanished.

Mishaka said, “If you tell me your name, I will undertake to describe the past life causes that lay at the root of our meeting.” Bashumitsu answered in verse,

“For aeons beyond reckoningUp to my present birth in this land,
My family name has been Harada,
My personal name Bashumitsu.”

Mishaka said by way of explanation, “My Master Daitaka told me that, when the World-honoured One was traveling through Northern India, He told Ananda, ‘Within this country, three hundred years after my parinirvana, there will be a saintly one whose family name is Harada and whose personal name will be Bashumitsu; he will become the Seventh Ancestor in the lineage of the Meditation tradition.’ As the World-honoured One deigned to predict this of you, you should, in response, leave home and become a monk.” Upon hearing this, Bashumitsu said, “I recollect that once, during a former aeon, I acted as a donor who presented a Tathagata with a jewel. That Buddha made me a prediction saying, ‘You will continue the saintly line within the Dharma of Shakyamuni Buddha during His fortunate aeon.’” Bashumitsu promptly took his place as the seventh in the line of Ancestors.

Before Bashumitsu had encountered Mishaka he had carried his wine cup around with him throughout the whole of the day without ever letting go of it. In truth, it was an expression of him for he felt he could not possibly do without this cup morning or night; he made liberal use of it: indeed, he was that cup! This is why, at the very start of his training under Mishaka, he asked, “Do you know what I have in my hand?” Even though you already comprehend what ‘mind is enlightenment’ really means and are clear about what ‘body is Buddha’ signifies, you are still ‘an unclean vessel’ and, therefore, as an unclean vessel, you are, without doubt, standing against the ONE THAT IS IMMACULATE. Even though you know for certain that IT has existed from the past to the present and have discovered for yourselves that, from the first, IT is sufficient, you are all unclean vessels so what is this ‘past’ you speak of or this ‘present’? What is this ‘beginning’ that you talk of or this ‘yet to come’? Such personal views, of necessity, stand against the ONE THAT IS IMMACULATE. Once Bashumitsu heard of, and realized, the superiority of this PRINCIPLE, he put down his wine cup as an expression of his return to the ONE THAT IS IMMACULATE. Because of this, Mishaka asked him, “Is this VESSEL yours or mine?” This is actually not a question about something being in the past or the present nor is it separate from a special perspective of something that comes and goes. At this moment can one say whether IT is ‘mine’ or ‘yours’? Whilst Bashumitsu was reflecting on its being neither ‘mine’ nor ‘yours’, Mishaka said, “If you consider the cup to be mine, then it is your Original Nature” (hence it is not Mishaka’s VESSEL), “if, on the other hand, the vessel is yours, then you shall receive my Teaching,” (therefore it is not Bashumitsu’s CUP). The VESSEL is neither ‘mine’ nor ‘yours’. This is why the cup is not the VESSEL and why it disappeared from their sight.

What is happening in this story, from beginning to end, is truly not something that people today can readily grasp. Even though you train and train until you arrive at that place where not even the Buddhas, Ancestors and Masters have the power to reach, you will still be an unclean vessel and, of necessity, will stand against the ONE THAT IS IMMACULATE.
When it comes to the truly PURE ONE, the term ‘immaculacy’ is inadequate as well as the word ‘vessel’. This is why the paths of Master and disciple coincided; the road they traversed was freed of obstacles. Because of this you shall receive my Teaching but, because your ORIGINAL NATURE is yours, there is not a single thing to receive from someone else, not a single thing to be accorded to another.

When you have meditated in this way and penetrated deeply into the matter, you can speak of ‘master’ and ‘disciple’; the disciple climbs up above the head of the master whilst the master descends to the disciple’s feet. At that moment there are not two separate beings and nothing to be differentiated between them. This is why it was nigh on impossible for them to speak of the cup since the cup had disappeared from their sight as an expression of their traversing this path.

Today, too, if you can reach this stage, there is no body or mind existing from the past, therefore it is difficult to talk of existing across time from the past to the present; how much less can we speak of ‘birth and death’, ‘coming and going’! How can there ever have existed skin, flesh, bones and marrow? Truly, this is the realm where emptiness congeals into a single mass without front or back, inside or outside.

Today again I wish to take up what is happening in the previous story by appending my humble words. Do you in the community want to hear them?

He is like the bell at the break of an August morning which, being struck, reverberates and echoes forth.
On such a ‘Festival for the Dead’ as this, who needs an empty wine cup?

(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.)