One of the regular Sunday Services at the Priory is chanting of the Shushogi ~ What is Truly Meant by Training and Enlightenment ~ a writing by Great Zen Master Dōgen. At this time of “Shelter in Place” due to the pandemic, may this teaching of Dōgen Zenji (1200-1253) inspire you and guide your spiritual practice at home. (Recordings are chanting of the Shasta Abbey choir.)
The most important question for all Buddhists
Is how to understand birth and death completely
For then, should you be able to find the Buddha within birth and death,
They both vanish.
All you have to do is realize that birth and death, as such, should not be avoided
And they will cease to exist for then, if you can understand
That birth and death are Nirvana itself, there is not only no necessity to avoid them
But also nothing to search for that is called Nirvana.
The understanding of the above
Breaks the chains that bind one to birth and death
Therefore this problem, which is the greatest in all Buddhism,
Must be completely understood.
It is very difficult to be born as a human being and equally difficult to find Buddhism
However, because of the good karma that we have accumulated,
We have received the exceptional gift of a human body
And are able to hear the Truths of Buddhism.
We therefore have greatest possibility of a full life within the limits of birth and death
It would be criminal to waste such an opportunity
By leaving this weak life of ours exposed to impermanence
Through lack of faith and commitment.
Impermanence offers no permanent succor.
On what weeds by the road-side will the dew of our life fall?
At this very minute this body is not my own.
Life, which is controlled by time, never ceases even for an instant.
Youth vanishes forever once it is gone.
It is impossible to bring back the past
When one suddenly comes face to face
And it is impossible to look for assistance from kings, statesmen, relatives, servants,
wife or children, let alone wealth and treasure.
The kingdom of death must be entered by oneself alone
With nothing for company but our own good and bad karma.
Avoid he company of those who are deluded and ignorant
With regard to the Truth of karmic consequences,
The three states of existence
And good and evil.
It is obvious that the law of cause and effect is not answerable to my personal will
For, without fail, evil is vanished and good prevails;
If it were not so, Buddhism would never have appeared
And Bodhidharma would never have come to the west.
There are three periods into which the karmic consequences of good and evil fall;
One is the consequence experienced in this present world,
The second is consequences experienced in the next world
And the third consequence experienced in a world after the next one;
One must understand this very clearly
Before undertaking any training in the way of the Buddhas and Ancestors,
Otherwise mistakes will be made by many and they will fall into heresy;
In addition to this, their lives will become evil and their suffering will be prolonged.
None of us have more than one body during this lifetime,
Therefore it is indeed tragic to lead a life of evil as a result of heresy
For it is impossible to escape from karmic consequence if we do evil
On the assumption that, by not recognizing an act as evil, no bad karma can accrue to us.
Because of their limitless compassion
The Buddhas and Ancestors have flung wide
The gates of compassion
To both gods and men
And, although karmic consequences for evil acts is inevitable
At some time during the three periods,
Contrition makes it easier to bear by bringing freedom and immaculacy
As this is so, let us be utterly contrite before the Buddhas.
Contrition before the Buddhas brings
Purification and salvation, true conviction and earnest endeavor
Once aroused, true conviction changes all beings, in addition to ourselves,
With benefits extending to everything including that which is animate and inanimate.
Here is the way in which to make an act of perfect contrition.
“May all Buddhas and Ancestors,
Who have become enlightened,
Have compassion upon us,
Free us from the obstacles of suffering
Which we have inherited from our past existence
And lead us in such a way
That we may share the merit that fills the universe
For they, in the past,
Were as we are now,
And we will be
As they in the future.
All the evil committed by me
Is caused by beginningless greed, hate and delusion
All the evil is committed by my body, in my speech and in my thoughts;
I now confess everything wholeheartedly.”
By this act of recognition of our past behavior, and our contrition therefor,
We open the way for the Buddhas and ancestors to help us naturally.
Bearing this in mind, we should sit up straight in the presence of the Buddha
And repeat the above act of contrition, thereby cutting the root of our evil doing.
After recognising our evil acts and being contrite therefor,
We should make an act of deep respect to the Three Treasures of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
For they deserve our offerings and respect in whatever life we may be wandering
The Buddhas and Ancestors Transmitted respect for the Buddhas, Dharma and Sangha from India to China.
If they who are unfortunate and lacking virtue are unable to hear of these Three Treasures,
How is it possible for them to take refuge therein?
One must not go for refuge to mountain spirits and ghosts,
Nor must one worship in places of heresy, for such things are contrary to the Truth.
One must, instead, take refuge quickly
In the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
For therein is it to be found
Utter enlightenment as well as freedom from suffering.
A pure heart is necessary if one would take refuge in the Three Treasures.
At any time, whether during the Buddha’s lifetime or after His demise,
We should repeat the following with bowed heads,
“I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha.”
We take refuge in the Buddha since He is our true Teacher;
We take refuge in the Dharma since it is the medicine for all suffering;
We take refuge in the Sangha since its members are wise and compassionate.
If we would follow the Buddhist teachings,
We must honor the Three Treasures;
This foundation is absolutely essential
Before receiving the Precepts.
The merit of the Three Treasures bears fruit
Whenever a trainee and the Buddha are one:
Whoever experiences this communion
Will invariably take refuge in the Three Treasures,
Irrespective of whether he is god,
A demon or an animal.
As one goes from one stage of existence to another,
The above-mentioned merit increases,
Leading eventually to the most perfect enlightenment.
The Buddha Himself gave certification to the great merit of the Three Treasures
Because of their extreme value unbelievable profundity
It is essential that all living things shall take refuge therein.
The Three Pure, Collective Precepts must be accepted after the Three Treasures.
These are: Cease from evil,
Do only good,
Do good for others.
The following ten Precepts should be accepted next:
Do not kill. Do not steal.
Do not covet.
Do not say that which is untrue.
Do not sell the wine of delusion.
Do not speak against others.
Do not be proud of yourself and devalue others.
Do not be mean in giving either Dharma or wealth.
Do not be angry.
Do not debase the Three Treasures.
All the Buddhas have received, and carefully preserved,
The above Three Treasures, the Three Pure Collective Precepts and the ten Precepts.
If you accept these Precepts wholeheartedly the highest enlightenment will be yours
And this is the undestroyable Buddhahood
Which was understood, is understood and will be understood
In the past, present and future.
Is it possible that any truly wise person would refuse the opportunity to attain such heights?
The Buddha has clearly pointed out to all living beings
That, whenever these Precepts are Truly accepted, Buddhahood is reached,
Every person who accepts them becoming the True Child of the Buddha.
Within these Precepts dwell the Buddhas,
Enfolding all things within their unparalleled wisdom
There is no distinction between subject and object
For any who dwell herein.
All things, earth, trees, wooden posts, bricks and stones,
Become Buddhas once this refuge is taken.
From these Precepts come forth such a wind and fire
That all are driven into enlightenment.
When the flames are fanned
By the Buddha’s influence
This is the merit of non-action and non-seeking
The awakening to True Wisdom.
When one awakens to True Wisdom it means that one is willing to save all living things
Before one has actually saved oneself
Whether a being is a layman, priest, god or man, enjoying pleasure or suffering pain,
He should awaken this desire as quickly as possible.
However humble a person may appear to be,
If this desire has been awakened, he is already the teacher of all mankind
A little girl of seven even may be the teacher of the four classes of Buddhists
And the mother of True compassion to all living things.
One of the greatest teachings
Is its insistence upon
The complete equality of the sexes.
However much one may drift in the six worlds and the four existences,
Even they become a means
For realizing the desire for Buddhahood
Once it has been awakened.
However much time we may have wasted up to now,
There is still time to awaken this desire.
Although our own merit
For Buddhahood may be full ripe,
It is our bounden duty to use all this merit
For the purpose of enlightening every living thing.
At all times, there have been those who put their own Buddhahood second
To the necessity of working for the good of all other living beings.
The Four Wisdoms,
Charity, tenderness, benevolence and sympathy,
Are the means we have of helping others
And represent the Bodhisattva’s aspirations.
Charity is the opposite of convetousness;
We make offerings although we ourselves get nothing whatsoever.
There is no need to be concerned about how small the gift may be
So long as it brings true results
For even if it is only a single phrase
Or verse of teaching,
It may be a seed to bring forth good fruit
Both now and hereafter.
Similarly, the offering of only one coin or a blade of grass
Can cause the arising of good,
For the teaching itself is the True Treasure
And the True Treasure is the very teaching.
We must never desire any reward
And we must always share everything we have with others.
It is an act of charity to build a ferry or a bridge
And all forms of industry are charity if they benefit others.
To behold all beings with the eyes of compassion
And to speak kindly to them, is the meaning of tenderness.
If one would understand tenderness, one must speak to others
Whilst thinking that one loves all living things as if they were one’s own children.
By praising those who exhibit virtue,
And feeling sorry for those who do not,
Our enemies become our friends
And they who are our friends have their friendship strengthened.
This is all through the power of tenderness
Whenever one speaks kindly to another his face brightens and his heart is warmed;
If a kind word be spoken in his absence, the impression will be a deep one;
Tenderness can have a revolutionary impact upon the mind of man.
If one creates wise ways of helping beings, whether they be in high places or lowly stations,
One exhibits benevolence.
No reward was sought by those who rescued the helpless tortoise and the sick sparrow,
These acts beings utterly benevolent.
The stupid believe that they will lose something if they give help to others,
But this is completely untrue
For benevolence helps everyone, including oneself,
Being a law of the universe.
If one can identify oneself with that which is not oneself,
One can understand the true meaning of sympathy.
Take, for example, the fact
That the Buddha appeared in the human world in the form of a human being.
Sympathy does not distinguish between oneself and others.
There are times when self is infinite and times when this is true of others.
Sympathy is as the sea in that it never refuses water from whatsoever source it may come,
All waters may gather and form only one sea.
Oh you seekers of enlightenment,
Meditate deeply upon these teachings and do not make light of them;
Give respect and reverence to their merit which brings blessings to all living things,
Help all beings to cross over to the other shore.
The Buddha Nature should be thus simply awakened
In all living things within this world
For their desire to be born herein has been fulfilled,
As this is so, why should they not be grateful to Shakyamuni Buddha?
If the Truth had not spread throughout the entire world
It would have been impossible for us to have found it,
Even should we have been willing to give our very lives for it
We should think deeply upon this:
How fortunate have we been to be born now when it is possible to see the Truth.
Remember the Buddha’s words,
“When you meet a Zen Master who teaches the Truth
Do not consider his caste, his appearance, shortcomings or behavior.
Bow before him
Out of respect for his great wisdom
And do nothing whatsoever
To worry him.
Because of consideration for others on the part of the Buddhas and Ancestors,
We are enabled to see the Buddha even now and hear His teachings.
Had the Buddha and Ancestors not truly Transmitted the Truth
It could never have been heard at this particular time.
Even only so much as a short phrase or section of the teaching
Should be deeply appreciated.
What alternative have we but to be utterly grateful
For the great compassion exhibited in this highest of all teachings
Which is the very eye and treasury of the truth?
The sick sparrow never forgot the kindness shown to it,
Rewarding it with the ring belonging to the three great ministers,
And the unfortunate tortoise remembered too, showing its gratitude with the seal of Yofu.
If animals can show gratitude surely man can do the same?
You need no further teachings than the above in order to show gratitude,
And you must show it truly, in the only real way, in your daily life.
Our daily life should be spent constantly in selfless activity
With no waste of time whatsoever.
Time flies quicker than an arrow
And life passes with greater transience than dew.
However skillful you may be,
How can you ever recall a single day of the past?
Should you live for a hundred years just wasting your time,
Every day and month will be filled with sorrow.
Should you drift as the slave of your senses for a hundred years
And yet live truly for only so much as a single day,
You will, in that one day, not only live a hundred years of life
But also save a hundred years of your future life.
The life of this one day, to-day, is absolutely vital life
Your body is deeply significant.
Both your life and your body deserve love and respect
For it is by their agency that Truth is practiced and the Buddha’s power exhibited.
The seed of all Buddhist activity, and of all Buddhahood,
Is the true practice of Preceptual Truth.
All the Buddhas are within the one Buddha Shakyamuni
And all the Buddhas of past, present and future
Become Shakyamuni Buddha
When they reach Buddhahood.
This Buddha Nature is itself the Buddha
And, should you awaken to a complete understanding thereof,
Your gratitude to the Buddhas
Will know no bounds.
We offer the merit of this chanting to ALL:
May they be well, happy, and peaceful.
May no harm come to them.
May they always meet with spiritual success.
May they also have patience, courage, understanding and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.
May they always rise above them with morality, integrity, forgiveness, compassion, mindfulness, and wisdom.
Homage to all the Buddhas in all worlds
Homage to all the Bodhisattvas in all worlds
Homage to the Scriptures of Great Wisdom