Transmission of the Lamp

16. Ragorata

Ragorata was attending on Kanadaiba when, upon hearing about karmic cause from a past life, he experienced his ORIGINAL NATURE.

Ragorata was a man from Kapilavastu; the issue of the karmic cause from a past life arose in the following manner. Kanadaiba, after realizing enlightenment, was travelling about converting others when he arrived at Kapilavastu. In the city there resided a prosperous elder citizen named Bomma Játoku (S. Brahmasuddhaguna, ‘He Who Is the Pure Virtue of Brahma’) in whose garden, one day, a tree had sprouted a large, ear-shaped mushroom with an exceedingly fine flavour; only he and his second son, Ragorata (S. Rahulata, ‘He Who Has Been Seized’) by name, picked and tasted it. From wherever they picked a piece, the mushroom would regrow; after they had picked it all, it sprouted anew; no others in the household were able to see it. Kanadaiba called on the family because of his awareness of the karmic cause of this mushroom from their past lives and, when the old man asked the reason for the mushroom’s appearance, Kanadaiba replied, “Long ago your family gave alms to a monk but the monk vainly consumed the alms from the faithful without having succeeded in opening his Enlightenment-seeking Eye and, because of this, he became a tree mushroom in his next life as recompense. Since only you and your son have given alms with untainted sincerity, only the two of you have succeeded in acquiring this mushroom; the rest of your family have not.” Kanadaiba then asked the old man his age and the latter replied that he was seventy-nine. Thereupon Kanadaiba preached in verse,

“Having entered the Way
but failing to pierce through to the PRINCIPLE ,
The monk was reborn
to return the alms from the faithful.
When you are eighty-one years old
The tree will cease to put forth its ear mushroom.”

Hearing this poem only increased the old man’s respect and admiration for Kanadaiba and he said, “Your disciple is too feeble and old to be able to take you as his teacher; I vow to give up my second son so that he may follow after you and become a monk.” Kanadaiba said, “Long ago the Tathagata predicted that this son of yours would become a great spiritual leader and teacher during the second five-hundred years of the Law. Our encounter today is the result of karmic causes from a past life.” He then shaved the head of Ragorata who, in time, became the Sixteenth Ancestor.

Many of past and present, who have awakened to their enlightenment, have drawn upon what is happening in this story to admonish those who vainly enter the pure stream of monastic life whilst lacking a sense of shame or embarrassment when idly accepting alms from the faithful without any sense of awareness, or comprehension, of what they are doing. Such persons should truly be ashamed of themselves. As monks you have given up your families to enter the Way; where you dwell is not your own nor is any of the food that you eat. The robes you wear are not yours; not a single drop of water, not a single blade of grass can be accepted and used as though your own. The reason for this is that all of you were born nationals of this country: there is no water or land under the heavens, or upon the earth, that does not totally belong to the ruler of this country. Whilst living at home you should make yourself useful to your parents; whilst in the service of your country you should respectfully serve your sovereign. At such times heaven and earth offer their divine protection and you naturally receive the benevolent blessings of yin and yang, however, if you rashly claim that you aspire to the Buddha’s Teaching and do not serve your parents who ought to be served, or do not respectfully give service to your sovereign who ought to be served with respect, how will you recompense your father and mother for their kindness in giving birth to you and how will you repay the country’s ruler for his blessings of water and land? Were you to enter the Way without having your Enlightenment- seeking Eye, it would be just the same as being a traitor to your country. As the ordination verse says, “Now that I have discarded worldly attachments and have entered the immaculacy of nothingness, I have left behind the Three Worlds.”

Now that you have left home to become a monk, you no longer pay homage to your father and mother or to your nation’s ruler for you have exchanged your worldly form for that of a Child of Buddha and lodged yourself within the pure stream of the Sangha. Even though you may receive alms from a former spouse or child, they are in no wise the same as some- thing that you received from such a person whilst you were in lay life; in no way can you say that these are not alms from the faithful. As someone of old said, “If your Enlightenment-seeking Eye is not yet bright, even a single grain of rice is difficult to bite through, but, when your Enlightenment-seeking Eye has brightened, even though the vault of heaven were your begging bowl and Sumeru your mountain of rice which you came to accept day after day and night after night, you will never be caught up by these alms from the faithful.” Without examining yourselves as to whether your Enlightenment- seeking Eye is completely perfect or not, were you so reckless as to think “Now that I have become a monk I am entitled to receive the offerings of others,” then, were these offerings to become scarce, you would seek them in vain from your fellow humans. You must keep in mind that, since the time when you gave up your families and separated yourselves from the places where you were born, you have wandered about alone, as exposed as a dewdrop, without a single grain of rice or even a shred of clothing to call your own.

Simply give yourself over completely for the sake of your Enlightenment-seeking Eye; give up your life for the sake of the Teaching. How could you possibly arouse your will to realize enlightenment in the vain cause of fame and gain or for the sake of food and clothing? It is pointless to ask others; just call to mind your own original intention to realize enlightenment and reflect upon whether this is what you are now concerned with or not. It has been said, “Restraining yourself later on is far harder to do than at the beginning.” If you truly keep to your first intention, how can you not become one who has realized the TRUTH? Even though all of you, male and female, may have become monks, you will have done so in vain and become traitors if you forget your original intention. Why is this so? Although the Enlightenment-seeking Eye of the monk of long ago was not yet bright, he did not regress from his religious training so, in recompense for the alms, he became a tree mushroom. When the lives of monks such as this have finally come to an end, Yama will not be able to exonerate them. The rice gruel they eat today will become a broth of molten iron or red-hot iron pellets; when they swallow these, their bodies and hearts will glow crimson with searing inflammation.

Meditation Master Umpá Bun’etsu (C. Yu ̈n-feng Wen- yu ̈eh) said, “Do you not see? The Ancestors and Masters have said that when you enter the Way, but do not pierce through to the PRINCIPLE, you are then reborn to return the alms from the faithful. This sort of thing is a foregone conclusion so do not doubt it. All you senior monks must be frugal with your days; time waits for no one. Do not wait for the morning when the light in your eyes fails. If you do not do a single winnowing fan’s worth of work in the fields of monastic training, you will sink into the sufferings that come from a hundred penalties and be within the hellish ring of iron mountains. Do not say that no one told you!” O monks, thanks to your good fortune, you have met with the Tathagata’s Wheel of the True Law which is surely rarer to encounter than a tiger in the market place or a glimpse of an udumbara tree in bloom. Strive meticulously, carefully meditate and learn the Way until your Enlightenment- seeking Eye is clear and bright!

Do you not see? Today’s story is not about sentient and non-sentient beings; do not separate things into inner karmic tendencies and outer karmic conditions. A monk in a previous life duly became a tree mushroom in a present life. Whilst a tree mushroom, he did not know that he had been a monk and, whilst a monk, he did not know that he had manifested as a myriad things so, even though you are now sentient and have a bit of awareness and comprehension of what you are doing and can distinguish somewhat between a pain and an itch, you have never been in any way different from a tree mushroom. The reason for this is that the tree’s not knowing you is, beyond doubt, dark ignorance, and your not knowing the tree mushroom is exactly the same thing; this is why people make distinctions between the sentient and the non-sentient as well as between outer karmic conditions and inner karmic tendencies. When you clarify what TRUE SELF is, what is there to call sentient, what is there to call non-sentient? IT is not past, present or future nor is IT the sense organs, their fields of perception or their types of perceptual consciousness and IT neither cuts itself off from these nor can IT be cut off from them. IT is neither self- made nor made by others. You will see by training thoroughly, probing deeply and dropping off body and mind.

Do not vainly brag about your having the appearance of a monk or, in confusion, stop your training once you have left mundane life. Even supposing you do evade the calamity of flood, you will be afflicted with the calamity of fire: although you may have broken away from the turmoils of everyday living, they are still difficult to avoid even for a Buddha so how much more is this so for those who are not like this but chase after things and become infatuated with others? Such people are like threads of gossamer or drifting dust; they gallop off hither and thither, rising and falling in and out of favour with the court and public opinion, their feet never treading the TRUE GROUND, their hearts never reaching their TRUE PLACE. Not only do they cheat themselves in this life, they also vainly pass through life after life. Do you not realize that, from the far past to the very present, you have never done wrong, you have never been separated from your ORIGINAL NATURE ? Because you have not realized IT directly, you are like drifting motes of dust. If you do not do your utmost today, when will you do it?

Here are my humble words that try to express what is happening in the preceding story. Do you wish to hear them?

How sad that his Enlightenment-seeking Eye
was not clear and bright!
Deluded as to TRUE SELF, he sought to repay others
and, in recompense, is ceaselessly born
again and again.

(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.)