Lecture by Sojun Roshi
This lecture is reprinted from the January 2003 Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter.
Commentary on the Enmei Jukko Kannon Gyo
Enmei in the title means something like “eternal,” but eternal is not such an accurate word in Buddhism. Something like endless dimensions without beginning or end may be more accurate. Or we could say, unlimited life, eternal life, boundless life. Jukku (or jikku) means “ten phrases.” Kannon is Japanese for Avalokiteshvara or Kwan-yin, which is Chinese. Gyo is “sutra.” So, the title is “Endless dimension, ten phrases, Avalokiteshvara sutra.” Endless dimension also has the meaning of endless dimensions in the moment. If there is no beginning or no end, then this moment has, as Dogen says, its own past and future, its own endless dimension. We tend to think of this moment as one speck of time, one fleeting moment of time, but we also have to understand this moment as covering or including all time and all space. Extending life is the same as when we talk about no-birth, no-death – birth, death and no-birth, no-death in endless dimensions.
Here are explanations of the ten phrases:
1) Kanzeon: To evoke Kanzeon is to call forth the spirit of compassion. Each one of the ten phrases expresses our compassionate practice from a particular standpoint. Kanzeon, one might say, is our compassionate heart. It’s our unlimited, universal, compassionate heart. Kan has the feeling of penetrating, illuminating, piercing through or totally understanding. Ze means “world” and on is “sound.” So, Kanzeon is the one who hears the sounds of the world or the cries of the world and doesn’t ignore the suffering of the world. Sound here also can stand for sight or touch or taste or any sense. Avalokiteshvara is probably the most popular Bodhisattva and is given many human qualities. I think Kanzeon personifies what I like to think of as our humaneness, as distinct from our wisdom, which is Manjushri. Manjushri sees with a clear, cold eye, and Avalokiteshvara sees with a vast, warm heart. The balance or synthesis of the two is Buddha. So on one side of the altar we have Manjushri who personifies wisdom beyond wisdom, seeing everything just as it is without any distortion, and on the other side, we have Avalokiteshvara who personifies compassion. In between we have Buddha. Each one is a Bodhisattva who represents a different aspect of our nature. Since these are not idols but personifications, having these figures on our altar is a way we respect aspects of our own nature. Similarly, when we bow, we don’t worship something in particular, but we greatly respect these aspects of our nature. When we offer incense and chant the sutra, we invite the spirit of Kanzeon to join our practice. We evoke something from within ourselves. So the sutra is dedicated to Kanzeon.
2) Namu Butsu: Namu is sometimes translated as “Homage.” Butsu is Buddha. So, the phrase is “Homage to Buddha.” When we say, “pay homage,” it may seem like a vassal paying homage to a lord, and to see ourselves and Buddha in that way may be okay, but to translate Namu as “at one with” is another way of expressing that feeling. Not “Buddha is over there and I’m over here,” but “one with Buddha.” We use the word “atone” sometimes, and we think of atonement as penitence. The word has taken on that meaning. But atonement means to be at one, to return to oneness, or return to completion. It is what we do to be at one with “wholeness” or “holiness.” Whatever is necessary to be at one with Buddha is what we have to do. We can call it “at-one-ment” or atonement. Actually, zazen is atonement. You don’t have to make a fuss, just sit. So Namu Butsu really means at one with Buddha.
3) Yo Butsu u in: Yo means “with,” and Butsu is Buddha, and in means “direct cause,” or “fundamental cause,” or “seed cause.” In this phrase, we have in and in the next phrase, en. In means “direct” and en means “indirect” or “supporting.” This third phrase has the meaning of, “this very nature is Buddha, directly Buddha.” There are three ways of talking about Buddha nature. One is called Ryo in Bussho. Ryo means to realize; it means the capacity to realize our Buddha nature. Bussho means fundamentally, Buddha nature, Dharmakaya or, we are that. En means through participating, or cooperating cause we can realize it. The seed is a direct cause for a plant. This is in. Sun, water, air, heat and so forth are cooperating causes, or en. Direct cause, or in, is the absolute fundamental factor of what we are, and en, or indirect cause, is what we have to manifest to realize it. In is kind of like your original face.
4) Yo Butsu u en: As I said, en means “indirect cause.” So the third and fourth phrase go together. We have a direct cause for Buddhahood and also an indirect cause. The contributory cause is like a catalyst. Practice is like the water and the sun that causes the seed to sprout. En is rubbing the flint to create a spark or we can also call it the condition. In en is another term. Inen as the combination of in and en means “karma.” When we have a volitional action which causes something to move, that’s called karmic activity. That karmic activity is activity within emptiness or ku. Inen is constantly creating forms in emptiness. So, how we direct our effort is important. The basis of Buddhist morality is that you reap the fruit of your own action. If you do something unwholesome, then unwholesomeness follows. And if you do something wholesome, unwholesomeness follows. We’re responsible for whatever we do and we share responsibility for the world. Some people think of Buddhism as fatalism because we don’t talk about God or God’s judgment. But instead of judgment, we understand the results of our actions as a kind of retribution according to the laws of karma.
5) Bu po so en: This phrase uses the same en as before, meaning indirect or cooperating cause. Bu is “Buddha.” Po is “Dharma.” So is “Sangha.” Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, the Three Treasures are also a cooperating cause for understanding our Buddha nature, or for being one with our Buddha nature. The Three Treasures evoke our Buddha nature and cause us to remember our original face.
6) Jo raku ga jo: Johere is another word for “permanent,” or “eternal,” or “endless dimension.” Raku is “happiness” or “joy.” Ga is “self” and jo is “purity.” This has the feeling of, “in purity we have eternal joy of ourselves, or endless dimensions of enjoying our self-nature.” I would say, “self-joyous samadhi.” When we are one with our original nature, when we let drop body and mind and become one with truth, no matter what happens to us, we have joy and purity. So the sixth phrase has the sense of pure joy, self-joyous samadhi, which extends to everyone, and is not separate from anyone.
7) Cho nen Kanzeon: Cho is “morning.” Nen is an important word. It means “mind,” or individual consciousness, or our conscious thought. This phrase has the meaning of, “in the morning put your thought on Kanzeon.” That is, put your undistracted thought on Kanzeon, or evoke Kanzeon. Bring Kanzeon to life. Don’t neglect Kanzeon. Nen is like the conscious thought of this moment. There are different kinds or degrees of nen. There is the nen of this moment and there is the nen, which takes a step back and contemplates. The first nen is one with activity, without reflection, just direct perception. The second nen is when we reflect on something and try to identify it by thought or think about it. And the third nen is taking another step back and developing what the second nen has thought about the first nen. All these nen thoughts are important, but when we sit zazen, we are concentrated in the first nen, just direct perception moment by moment. So in the morning, just let your nen thought become completely with Kanzeon.
8) Bo nen Kanzeon: Bo means “evening.“ In the evening, let your nen thought be on Kanzeon. Together, these last two phrases mean, “moment by moment, be one with Kanzeon.”
9) Nen nen ju shin ki: Thought after thought, conscious thought after conscious thought. Ju means “follow.” Thought following thought. Shin is “mind” and ki is “arrived.” Each thought which follows upon the last is no other than shin, which is big mind, all-inclusive mind. We can say Buddha nature, or universal mind. In this sense, shin is used to complement thought. So sometimes we call Buddha nature mind only. There are many ways of expressing it. Here our individual small mind is not separate from Big Mind and is actually an expression of Big Mind.
10) Nen nen fu ri shin: This complements the previous phrase. Again, it’s nen nen. Fu means “not,” and ri is “separate,” and shin is “mind” again. This is just saying it in a different way. These two phrases go together. Thought after thought arises from Big Mind; thought after thought is not separate from this Mind, meaning Kanzeon is not separate from you or I or Big Mind -- the mind of the universe.
Student: Where does the sutra come from?
Sojun: Sutras are supposed to come from India.
Student: What does the word “sutra” mean?
Sojun: Sutra means the word of Buddha. It comes from the Sanskrit root “suture,” which means to sew or string together. Buddha’s words strung together is the meaning. In Buddhism, a sutra is Buddha’s very own words, but that has a very broad meaning because Shakyamuni Buddha’s words were not written down until four hundred years after his parinirvana. It was a kind of oral tradition. In Buddhism what people recognize as being authentic is not necessarily something from Shakyamuni’s mouth. We talk about Dharmakaya Buddha, Sambhogakaya Buddha, Nirmanakaya Buddha. Nirmanakaya Buddha is a person like Shakyamuni Buddha, a person who is a personification of Buddha. Sambhogakaya is more the spirit of Buddha. That’s not a complete explanation. But sutras can be an expression of Sambhogakaya, the spirit of Buddha. It’s Buddha, but it’s not the Nirmanakaya, the person. And Dharmakaya covers everything both manifest and un-manifest. So people come to accept some sutras as authentic, not from Buddha’s mouth, but authentic in that they arise from the spirit of truth.
Kannon manifests in many forms to help people. Sometimes as a prostitute, sometimes as a bartender or a taxi driver, a minister or statesman. If you try to pin Avalokiteshvara down to one form, you can’t do it. Avalokiteshvara is always being called forth from emptiness. So you can say that Kannon or compassionate nature has no beginning or end. That’s endless dimension.
Student: Is it ever appropriate to withhold compassion?
Sojun: I hesitate to say never about anything. What is necessary is to do the appropriate thing, and we don’t always know what that is beforehand. If you have some rule and try to stick to it, you’re creating inflexibility. So I would say that sometimes it’s appropriate to withhold it. I don’t know when. Don’t ask me when. It’s like, “should you never tell a lie?” Sometimes you have to tell an untruth. Don’t ask me when. But you’ll know when.
February 20, 1982
Last revised 1/20/03. [an error occurred while processing this directive][an error occurred while processing this directive]