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Buddhadharma : Spring 2006
buddhadharma| 53 |spring 2006 Someone once asked the Buddha why so many of his students seemed not to have changed at all. In response, the Buddha asked the questioner where he was from, to which the questioner responded, “I am from Gaya.” “Do people ever ask you the way to Gaya?” the Buddha inquired. “Of course they do, and I tell them. It’s no secret,” he replied. “Do they all reach Gaya?” the Buddha asked. “It depends. Those who actually go there, reach there. Others do not,” he answered. “Just so with me,” the Buddha said, “I have attained enlightenment and I understand the way there. People ask me and I tell them everything. But those who actually travel there, reach there. Others do not.” We all try to practice, but we find it very hard to work on our deep-seated attachments. And yet I see students who make lots of progress, and there are even some extraordinary stories. Very recently, a woman of about thirty who was dying of cancer practiced very intently until she was too weak to do formal practice anymore. In the hospital, in the presence of her mother and friends, even though she was very weak, she was lighthearted and cheerful, and she said, “I am not afraid. I have complete confidence in the prac- tice.” She died with a clear smile on her face. Everybody was impressed, including her mother, who is not a Buddhist. I see many such incidents that demonstrate the effects of practice. Guy ArmstronG: We can look at ordinary people in daily life, people who don’t have strong spiritual practices, and find that there are beautiful people in many walks of life. I assume their good conduct causes them to have many lovely qualities, and it’s a beautiful thing to see. But rather than compare myself to them, I would rather ask the question, where would I be today if I hadn’t taken up this practice thirty years ago? An old dharma buddy of mine and I were talking the other day about this, and he said, “Oh, I think I’d be a very angry and disaffected political radical.” And I said, “Yeah, I think I’d be a cynical person working in the com- puter industry somewhere.” Looking at who we are and where we might have been is maybe a better comparison to draw. blAnche hArtmAn: I agree. I find it most valuable to compare myself to the person who came to practice. When I met Suzuki Roshi, he’d been practicing for fifty years and that’s why he was all are the great way the kleshas and other marks of human life, says Dogen, are not obstructions but manifestations of the one great way. Don’t you see that long ago old man shakyamuni looked to the west and saw the east, climbed to the heavens and descended to earth, took seven steps in ten directions, and said, “only i alone am the honored one.” this is because he had been going through the way. moreover, he had departed his palace and plunged into the mountains, sat at the seat of awakening, and proceeded to the Deer Park also because he had reached the way. later he repaired to Vulture Peak in rajagrha, and eventually went to Crane forest in Kusinagara. without the way, how could he have gone through this? we should know that from birth to death we think of eating and drinking, we avoid cold and love warmth; from infancy to adulthood we are either angry or joyful as we leave and return through gain and loss. all of these are not obstructions thanks to the one great way. from “traveling through the great way,” in Volume 8 of Dogen’s Extensive Record: A Translation of the Eihei Koroku. translated by taigen Dan leighton and shohaku okumura, and published by wisdom Publications. Our basic nature is the enlightened state of our mind, and its natural quality is wisdom. Kleshas occur when we are not able to understand or express our pure wisdom mind, and yet they are also not other than that wisdom mind. — Ringu Tulku so very attractive to me. He seemed to be able to accept everyone completely, without any reserva- tion, including me – and I was quite a mess when I came to practice. My best friend had died suddenly of a brain tumor. She was fine, then she had a headache, then she was diagnosed with an inop- erable brain tumor, went into a coma, and died very quickly. I myself fell quite ill with a severe infection and almost died. After those two events, I was absolutely terrified, because I realized my own impermanence. That’s when I turned to practice. Twenty years later I had a heart attack and almost died, and my response was altogether different. When I walked out of the hospital, I thought, “Wow, I’m alive. I could be dead. The rest of my life is a gift.” My life has always been a gift; it’s just too bad I didn’t notice it until then. And the only way I can account for those two very different responses to recognizing my own mortality is that in between I had been sitting zazen for twenty years. That was a very dramatic kind of verification that something had happened over those years of practice. Guy ArmstronG: It’s also true that some of the fruits of practice may not be visible on the surface for years, or possibly lifetimes. buddhAdhArmA: If measuring the taming of the kle- shas through the outer actions of students is diffi-