Transmission of the Lamp

17. Ságyanandai

One day Ragorata gave instruction to Ságyanandai in verse,
“Because I am already beyond self,
You should see the WE
For, if you take me as your master,
You will know that ‘I’ is not this WE .”
As a result of hearing this, Ságyanandai’s heart suddenly opened to a determination to be liberated and he sought to cross to the Other Shore.


Ságyanandai was the son of King Háságon (S. Ratnavyâha, ‘He Whose Treasures Are Magnificent’), ruler of the castled city of Shravasti; being able to talk from birth, he continually eulogized the activities of the Buddha. By the age of seven he so despised worldly pleasures that, in verse, he announced to his father and mother,

“I humbly bow to you,
my most compassionate father,
And reverently make gasshá to you, mother of my blood and bones;
I would now leave home to become a monk
And pray that, from your pity, you will so permit me.”

His father and mother were so adamant in their refusal that he finally stopped eating; they relented but permitted him to be a monk only on the condition that he remain within the palace. He was given the name of Ságyanandai (S. Sanghanandi, ‘Friend of the Sangha’) and the monk Zenrita (‘He Whose Profits from Meditation Are Many’) was assigned to him as a teacher. He had still not given up nineteen years later and continually reminded himself that he could not truly be one who had left home as long as he was living in the palace. One evening, as the glow of the setting sun was fading, he saw, to his surprise, a level road which he felt drawn to travel down. After walking a few miles he arrived before a massive cliff in which there was a cavern; he rested peacefully in its interior. The king, discovering that his son was missing, banished Zenrita and went out into the countryside in search of the young man but did not learn of his whereabouts.

Ten years later Ragorata, whilst travelling about converting others, arrived at the city of Shravasti. There was a river there named Kinsui (S. Hiranyavati, ‘Golden Waters’); he found the flavour of its water to be most delicious and saw, in mid-stream, the outline of five Buddhas. Ragorata reported this to his followers and added, “The source of this river lies about a hundred and fifty miles from here; a holy person, Ságyanandai by name, resides there. The Buddha predicted that, a thousand years after His parinirvana, this person would undoubtedly become a sage.” After relating this he led his followers upstream and, upon their arrival at the source, they saw Ságyanandai sitting serenely in deep meditation. Ragorata, along with his retinue, waited for him. Three weeks later Ságyanandai emerged from meditation and Ragorata asked him, “Is your samadhi one of body or one of mind?” Ságyanandai replied, “Both my body and mind are in samadhi.” Ragorata said, “If both your body and mind are in samadhi, how do you manage to go into, and come out of, it?” To be sure, if you say that both your body and mind are one with samadhi, how can there be anything to enter or leave? It is not yet TRUE SAMADHI if you pursue it with an eye to body and mind. If it is not TRUE SAMADHI then, of course, there will be a going into, and a coming out of, samadhi; if there is a going into, and a coming out of, samadhi then it must be said that such a state is not TRUE SAMADHI. Do not seek after body or mind when facing the place of stillness. To practise meditation has always been to drop off body and mind so what is there to be called body, what is there to be called mind?

Ságyanandai said, “There is, to be sure, a going into, and a coming out of, samadhi but the characteristic of samadhi is not lost; it resembles a bucket in a well, the intrinsic quality of such a bucket being its stillness and immutability.” Ragorata said, “Apart from whether this bucket of yours is in the well or outside it, since the bucket itself does not move, what is it that goes into, or comes out of, the well?” If there is any ‘going in’ or ‘going out’ this is not the TRUE BUCKET whether the ‘bucket’ moves or not.

Still not grasping this principle Ságyanandai said, “By saying, ‘Since the bucket can both move or be still, what is it that goes in and comes out?’ you are admitting to the bucket’s going in and coming out, however, the bucket itself is not affected by either its moving or not moving.” The bucket has no movement or stillness. If you say that there is any ‘going into’ and ‘coming out of’, you still have a dualistic view of the situation and this is why Ragorata then said, “If that bucket of yours is in the well you cannot maintain that what has come out is the bucket; on the other hand, if you maintain that the bucket has come out of the well, what is it that is in the well?” The outside is not ultimately turned loose within and the inside is not discharged without. When out, it is completely out, when in, it is completely in, so how can it be in the well and at the same time outside it? This is why Ragorata said, “You cannot maintain that what has come out is the bucket. What is it that is in the well?” Missing this point, Ságyanandai answered, “Were the bucket to come out of the well, whatever remained inside would not be the bucket; were it to stay in the well, it would not be what comes out.” What he said reveals that he did not truly understand the REAL NATURE of ‘the bucket’, therefore Ragorata said, “These assertions of yours are not right.”

Although it had seemed as if Ságyanandai were in TRUE SAMADHI and had grasped what its PRINCIPLE is, he still held to a dualistic view of ‘objects’ and ‘I’, therefore he said, “Your point is not clear.” Ságyanandai’s assertions do lack TRUTH; they are like threads of gossamer floating wherever the winds may blow them. Because they lacked TRUTH, Ragorata responded, “Beyond question, your assertions miss the point.” Ságyanandai replied, “Your reasoning is inconclusive.” Ragorata, from the depths of his great benevolence and compassion, added emphatically, “Your saying that my reasoning is inconclusive is evidence that my reasoning is conclusive!” Because Ságyanandai’s understanding of ‘No-self’ lacked foundation in experience, he replied, “You may say that your reasoning is conclusive but the Dharma teaches that all things lack a self, so….” Ragorata said, “My assertion is already conclusive because the ‘my’ has no self.” Although Ságyanandai truly comprehended intellectually that each and every thing is without a self, he did not know the REAL TRUTH so he said, “What assertion is made conclusive because the ‘my’ has no self?” To make Ságyanandai understand on a deeper level, Ragorata said, “Because the ‘my’ has no self, the assertion of ‘you’ is brought to a conclusion.”
Truly, the four great elements are completely without a self and the five skandhas, from the first, do not exist. It is in this sense that Ságyanandai had some intellectual comprehension that there is Real Self where there is no self so he asked Ragorata, “With what sage as your teacher did you, sir, obtain this knowledge of No-self?” In order to get Ságyanandai to understand that the Way of master and disciple is not arbitrary, Ragorata said, “It was with the great Noble One, Kanadaiba, as my master, that I attested to this NO-SELF.” Ságyanandai said in verse,

“I humbly bow before your master Kanadaiba
And would go forth, sir, as your disciple.
Because you, sir, have no self,
I desire you for my master.”

Ragorata replied in verse,

“Because I am already beyond self,
You should see the WE
For, if you take me as your master,
You will know that ‘I’ is not this WE .”

The person who can see TRUE SELF has no ‘own self’ so how can any of the myriad things possibly disturb his vision? Seeing, hearing, perceiving and knowing are ultimately not separate from each other nor is any single event or thing separate from all others; this is why there is no division into the wise and the ordinary and why the Way of master and disciple unites as one. When you can grasp this point, you know what is meant by meeting the Buddhas and Ancestors face to face; you will make your TRUE SELF the master and make the master your TRUE SELF; not even a sword or an axe will be able to sunder the two. Because Ságyanandai was able to open up suddenly to this very principle he sought to cross to the Other Shore.

Ragorata said, “Your heart, as well as mind, is free; it is not bound by ‘I’.” Having spoken thus, Ragorata then raised a golden bowl in his right hand and brought it to the heavenly palace of Brahma where he received an offering of fragrant food. Just as he was about to offer it, in turn, to the great assembly of monks, a feeling of distaste arose in their hearts. Ragorata said, “Your distaste is not due to some fault in me but to your own karma;” he then had Ságyanandai sit beside him and share the food. The assembly were surprised at this so Ragorata told them, “The reason why none of you can partake of this food is this: he who shares this seat with me was formerly the Tathagata Sharajuo (S. Salaraja, ‘Lord of the Shala Trees’); he has been reborn out of his pity for all things. You, my companions, had already reached the third stage of non-returner during the preceding Glorious Era of the Thousand Buddhas but have not yet realized the UNDEFILED.” The assembly of monks murmured, “Whilst we trust our master’s spiritual powers, we venture into doubt when you say that Ságyanandai was a Buddha in the past.” Ságyanandai, realizing that the assembly was filled with pride, said, “In the World-honoured One’s day the world was flat for there were no hills; the water in rivers and canals was completely sweet and delicious, vegetation grew luxuriantly, the land waxed fruitful, the eight kinds of suffering did not exist and people practised the ten good deeds. In the eight hundred years or so since the Buddha’s parinirvana between the twin sala trees the world has become a burial mound, the trees have withered, arhants no longer appear among the people, right mindfulness is sneered at or belittled and trust in TRUE BEING has been replaced by greed for spiritual powers.” He ceased speaking and, little by little, pushed his right hand down into the ground until it reached the diamond sphere at the very bottom of the earth where he then gathered up the Water of the Sweet Dew in a porcelain bowl and, holding it aloft, offered it to the Sangha. All in the great assembly, seeing this, took refuge and submitted themselves in repentance.

How pitiful that things had come to such a state eight hundred years after the worldly life of the Tathagata and more is the pity that, in these present final centuries of the Law when the words ‘Buddha Dharma’ are rarely heard, people are unaware of what their PRINCIPLE is. Because they have no bodies or minds that have realized IT, no one even asks what IT is. Even when THIS is realized no one comes to guard and preserve IT. Although there are intelligent people who have some slight awareness and understanding because of great, compassionate and benevolent teaching, some are invaded by laziness and procrastination whilst others lack faith in, and understanding of, the TRUTH. As a result, genuine seekers of enlightenment are lacking and there is also no one to awaken in the hearts of others the resolve to realize TRUTH. Truly, we have encountered such times as these as a result of the decadence of the last days of the Law and, due to past life karma, our own ineptitude which surpasses shame and regret. What a pity that you were not born during the period of the True Law, or even that of the counterfeit law, be it as a master or as a disciple. Nevertheless, you should keep in mind that the Buddha’s Dharma did come east and has reached Its final days; it is a mere fifty or sixty years that the True Law of the Tathagata has been heard in our own country so think of this as just a beginning and never say that there is any place where the Buddha’s Teaching has reached that It has not flourished. You have all given rise to your intention with bravery and devotion without confusing your self with REAL SELF. If you directly attest to NO-SELF, quickly realize THAT which is beyond mind, not get caught up in the machinations of body and mind, not get bound up in thoughts of delusion and enlightenment, not remain in the cave of life and death and not be ensnared in the net of sentient beings versus Buddha, you will then know the REAL SELF which has been unchanging for the incalculable eons of the past and will continue so into the future forever.

I say these words to cap this story:

The mind machine persuasively
calls itself the way mind is
And, as a result, how many times
has the WE come forth
wearing a different face?

(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.)