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Buddhadharma : Spring 2016
they were quite important, sometimes perceptible and sometimes imperceptible call and response. There are many metaphors for this mystical com- munion in the Mahayana sutras and stories about it in the Zen lineage. For example, in the Lotus Sutra’s “Life Span of the Tathagata” chapter, the Buddha says, “When living beings have become sincerely faithful, honest and upright, with gentle intentions, wholeheartedly wishing to behold the Buddha, not holding back at all, then I and the awakened sangha appear here on sacred vulture Peak... and every other dwelling place.” We must be wholehearted, and yet at the same time, we are only able to be wholehearted because of buddha. Thus the work- ings of mystical communion are truly inconceivable. One of the Chinese Zen ancestors, Caoshan, once asked his friend De, “Buddha’s inconceiv- able reality body, the dharmakaya, is like space, yet it manifests form in response to beings as the rupakaya, like the moon reflected in water. How do you explain this principle of response?” De said, “Like a donkey looking into a well.” Caoshan responded, “That’s a great answer, but you only said eighty percent.” De asked, “How would you say it?” Caoshan replied, “Like the well looking at the donkey.” A sentient being has to look in order to see buddha, but buddha is already looking back; the principle of response is always available, but it only manifests in such a meeting. The response of the buddha’s rupakaya is also called “blessings” (adhisthana), which is like buddha’s true nature resonating in harmony with a sentient being’s bud- dhanature when it is called forth with devotion. These blessings naturally relieve discontent, which is always based on a limited, constricted view of self and others. Therefore what we call compassion is not something other than the boundless awareness of buddhanature, free from the illusion of separa- tion and duality. When open awareness sees sentient beings, including our own body and mind, suffering from the illusion of separation, it naturally wishes to bring them across to the peaceful shore of awak- ened peace. Dogen’s teacher, Rujing, taught him a verse to silently recite when prostrating to the Buddha: “Bower and bowed to are both naturally empty and still; mystical communion is inconceivable.” Then he said to Dogen, “Please understand the sig- nificance of mystical communion. If there were no mystical communion, the buddhas would not have appeared in the world and Bodhidharma would not have come from the West.” Buddha can’t just magically zap us with awaken- ing, and we can’t just wake up by the power of our small individual self. Some people think of Pure Land practice in a limited way, as simply relying on the “other-power” of Amitabha Buddha to save them, but that’s giving too much responsibility to buddha. Others believe in “self-power,” relying only on their own individual practice effort, but that’s putting too much emphasis on the illusory separate self. As Dogen says, “Just cast body and mind into the house of buddha, then all is done by buddha. When you do so, you are free from birth and death and become a buddha without effort or calculation.” When a person aspires to drop away self-centered attachments to body and mind, bud- dha responds. When we think of what brought us to spiritual practice, we can trace our experience to various turning points in our life. These can all be seen as aspects of mystical communion. spring 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 57