DHARMA GRETCHEN SAIYO SENSEI AUG 18 2021
There’s a Buddhist concept that our teachers are all around us. A little while ago I received a Dharma lesson from one of my brothers, although he didn’t know it and is very Christian. He lives in Michigan and we had been catching up on the phone. It was a lengthy conversation and after we hung up, I realized one of the reasons why it had been so pleasant; it was because he saw so much more of me than most people. When we meet in person or talk, he doesn’t just observe the person in front of him right then. He’s not only seeing the person with grey hair whose bones ache, or the mistakes I’ve made. He remembers me a child at 10 and him seven as we tear into our Christmas presents. He sees me at his wedding 42 years ago when I was young and pretty; and he was wearing a powder-blue tux with a ruffled shirt. I’m the bossy older sister and the one who gets his jokes. He sees more than my regrets and burdens. He gets the big picture.
This was a lesson to me. I got bogged down this last year with arthritis, getting older and all of our adjustments to Covid. It’s not that those things don’t matter, but they’re still not all of me, not my totality. My brother reminded me of that.
I look at all those different people I have been; that add up to who I am now. That in itself is a lesson in impermanence. But it’s also something else; a pointer to look at the broader picture. I’m all these little pieces that add up to me, even if no one else knows every separate element. I wondered; what do I not so easily detect? Something connected to, and greater than this ever-becoming self? Buddhism does ask me to examine ‘who I am.’
About the time of the conversation with my brother, I’d come across the well-known Song Of Zazen by Japanese Zen Master Hakuin. It’s mostly about meditation, but I noticed several other thoughts on identity. The first was:
All beings by nature are Buddha, as ice by nature is water;
apart from water there is no ice, apart from beings no Buddha.
This is what we’re talking about when we recite together: All Beings, One Buddha Nature. It doesn’t mean we’re all identical or one gigantic organism. Thinking that doesn’t relieve individual suffering. But we do live dependent on other beings – for food, water, air – and interconnected. Each form of life is one piece of an infinite unity that includes absolutely everything. Our one piece – these bodies and minds – are accidental, wonderful and unique.
Hakuin also wrote; Singing and dancing are the voice of the Law. I love that! We care, we laugh, we have sorrows. All these things are part of our human identity, and it’s ok to really feel them. Our bodies – healthy or not, and feelings – happy or sad – are reality, and also teachers in the present moment; that voice of the Law. Shunryu Suzuki said; When you suffer you should suffer. When you feel good you should feel good. Sometimes you should be a suffering buddha. Sometimes you should be a crying buddha. And sometimes you should be a very happy buddha. Our feelings are all human – and Buddha.
The last line in Song Of Zazen says; This very body, the body of Buddha. This very body; I’m really struck by that. In his commentary on Hakuin, Shodo Harada Roshi wrote: It seems that all is moving in the universe to become Buddha – and the universe is already Buddha – and all beings are already endowed with Buddha life. Sentient beings and Buddhas exist simultaneously. He’s saying; just as we are – we are already endowed with the potential wisdom, compassion and actions of a Buddha.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying “Look at me, I’m Buddha!” I’m pretty sure I don’t have that enlightened understanding. But I like the idea of this trajectory towards Buddha-nature. It’s a beautiful concept.
I’m sure I don’t understand everything about these ideas, I’m not a scholar. I’m just someone looking for hope in my little corner of the world. And these teachings give me hope for several things; interconnection to all beings, a better understanding of my essential nature and even for accepting the limitations of my body. But I’m learning the teachers are everywhere; even my 65-year-old ‘little’ brother George.
As our practice manual says; May all awaken to the light of their own true nature.
Namu Amida Butsu
By Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768) translation by Robert Aitken Roshi
P.13 Salt Lake Buddhist Fellowship Practice book 2020.
Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971) From Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness