Transmission of the Lamp

25. Bashashita

Shishibodai said to Bashashita, “I am now Transmitting the EYE AND TREASURY OF THE TATHAGATA’S TRUE LAW to you; guard IT well that you may be able to make IT flourish everywhere in the future.” Having had his inherent karmic cause from a past life revealed to him, Bashashita received, unseen, the SEAL.

Bashashita was a Brahman from Kashmir; his father was Jakká which means ‘He Whose Deeds Are Silent’ and his mother was Jáanraku which means ‘Always at Ease’; she became pregnant after having had a dream in which she received a divine sword. When Shishibodai arrived in Kashmir to preach, there was a man called Barika (S. Parikara, ‘He Who Assists’) who had already been practising meditation and contemplation. As a consequence he had five groups of followers: those who practised meditation, those who sought after knowledge, those who were attached to appearances, those who rejected appearances and those who said nothing. Once Shishibodai had undertaken to assist the five groups, his reputation spread far and wide. 

Whilst he was still searching for a Dharma heir, he was approached by a householder, holding his son by the hand, who said, “My son’s name is Shita (S. Sita, ‘The Pure, Bright One’). He was born with his left hand clenched in a fist and even now, when he has grown to boyhood, he still cannot open it. I beg you to reveal the karmic cause of this.” Shishibodai looked at the boy, then taking hold of his hand, said, “Give me back the jewel!” The boy immediately opened his fist and presented him with a jewel. The whole assembly were astonished. Shishibodai then said, “When I was a monk in a previous life I had a youthful attendant named Basha (S. Vasya, ‘The Dutiful One’). Once, whilst paying a visit to the Feast of the Western Sea, I received, as an alms gift, a pearl which I entrusted to him. Now he has returned the jewel to me, which is only right.” The householder then gave up his son, allowing him to leave home and become a monk. Shishibodai then gave the boy the Precepts and named him Bashashita (S. Vasyasita) because of their karmic connection. Finally, when making him his Dharma heir, Shishibodai said to him, “I am now Transmitting the EYE AND TREASURY OF THE TATHAGATA’S TRUE LAW to you; guard IT well that you may be able to make IT flourish in the future.” 

‘His having had his inherent karmic cause from a past life revealed to him’ refers to his having already been the child called Basha in a previous life and having been entrusted with Shishibodai’s jewel; then, having entered a womb to be born into the family of a householder, he still guarded the jewel and finally presented it to Shishibodai. This account is not necessarily saying that, with the disintegration of the fleshly body, just the TRUE BODY remains. If his physical body were perishable, how could he still have held on to the jewel? Thus, we should understand that ‘abandoning life and receiving life’ is not fundamentally a matter of the body perishing. 

At this point we should not say that the physical body breaks up and scatters whilst something tranquilly continues on as an eternal spirit. What kind of thing could such an ‘eternal spirit’ possibly be? It is only a matter of manifesting the abandonment of one body and the receipt of another, therefore we should say that ‘before’ and ‘after’ are not two separate things for past and present are not different. Thus, IT should not be called the body nor should IT be called the mind. Since IT is not divided into body and mind, we should not divide IT into past and present. Therefore, IT is THAT WHICH IS . 

Not only was Basha like this, every single, solitary person, without exception, in reality, is like this, hence there is nothing that is born, nothing that dies; it is simply a matter of changing heads and faces over time, and it does not necessarily involve a changing of the four basic elements or a remaking of the five skandhas. There is not something that comes wrapped in a piece of flesh or something that arrives supported by even the tiniest bit of bone. Even though IT comes in thousands of forms and has tens of thousands of types, all are the ORIGINAL LIGHT ; not realizing this, we consider one person young and another old. There is no ‘old body’ whatsoever nor any ‘youth’ to begin with. If this is the way things are, how do we determine birth and death or distinguish before from after? Accordingly we might point out that the Basha of a past age and Shita of the present are not two separate bodies; what is involved is nothing but an inherent karmic cause from a past life, therefore the EYE AND TREASURY OF THE TATHAGATA’S TRUE LAW was Transmitted to Bashashita and he made IT flourish in the future. 

What we should understand from this is that all the Buddhas and all the Ancestors, from the first, have never been enlightened and all ignorant people have ultimately never been deluded. Sometimes we cultivate spiritual practices, sometimes we awaken the will for enlightenment; enlightenment and awakening the will are, basically, neither the end nor the beginning. Sentient beings and Buddhas are fundamentally neither inferior nor superior, so, from the beginning of time, it has always been a matter of guarding well in this way and not ignoring past karmic causes. 

Now, as usual, here are my humble words to point up what is happening here. 

Whilst blossoming flowers and falling leaves
may display themselves directly,
The LORD of healing herbs and trees
ultimately possesses no particular flavour or aroma.

(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.)