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Buddhadharma : Winter 2010
25 winter 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly The Mind of Clover robert Aitken roshi, a much-loved and respected pioneer of Zen and engaged Buddhism in America, passed away on August 5 at the age of 93. In his honor we present one of his favorite teachings, in which he reminds us that enlightenment is not an individual matter. It is only possible when we fulfill our commitment to helping each other. The Hermit of Lotus Peak held forth his staff before his assembly and asked, “When the Ancient Ones reached this, why didn’t they stay there?” The assembly was silent. Answering for his listeners, he said, “Because it has no power for guidance.” The original says, “Because it has no power for the path of others.” This case, number twenty-five in the Blue Cliff Record, is one of many in our koan study that illustrate the importance of emerging from beneath the bodhi tree and responding to others. When the Hermit held forth his staff, what was that? Just that! Like Fu Ta-shih striking the lectern to expound the Diamond Sutra, the Hermit of Lotus Peak was showing the dharma, the pure and clear law-body that comes forth as all things. His question was, “When the Ancient Ones attained real- ization of pure and clear dharma, why didn’t they just stay in that beautiful place of complete, all-penetrating peace until they passed on to parinirvana?” When the Buddha was con- firmed by the morning star, why did he then seek out his five disciples? When Mahakasyapa was confirmed by the Buddha’s teaching at Mt. Grdhrakuta, why did he feel compelled to become a teacher himself? And when Dogen Zenji found his body and mind fallen away, why did he bother to return to Japan? Realizing “just this!” liberated these worthies, freeing them from self-concern and revealing their unity with all beings, but one can’t stop there. The fulfillment of your experience of suffering, your compassion, is a matter of engaging with all beings in their travail. So the Hermit continues his teisho, still holding out his staff, and asks, “After all, what is it?” Nobody answers, and he says, “Holding my staff across the back of my neck, going to the thousand, the ten thousand peaks.” The myriad peaks are not mountains of isolation, but the peaks and valleys of our lives. The Hermit sauntered among these peaks quite at ease with himself, and we can be sure that he guided everyone he met as freely and generously as he guided his assembly in this case. Our task, too, is to respond generously to others. We can take as our models not only Shakyamuni, the Hermit, and our other great dharma ancestors, but also such humble beings as bushes and grasses. With every fiber, beings of the plant world are guiding others, perpetuating their species, beginning new species as circumstances permit, conveying their vitality to soil, waters, air, insects, animals, and people. This is Mother Nature, we say in Western culture. This is the Sambhogakaya, we say in Buddhism, the body of Indra’s Net, the harmony of universal symbiosis. The Sambhogakaya is also our own way of realizing and actualizing that unity. How do we actualize the oneness of all beings? Through responsibility, the ability to respond—like that of the clover. When the clover is cut, its roots die and release their nitrogen, and the soil is enriched. Earthworms flourish in the rich soil and deposit more nutrients. New seeds fall, take root, mature, and feed other organisms. Clover does not think about responsibility, and neither did Shakyamuni. He simply arose from his seat and went looking for his friends. The clover simply puts down its roots, and puts up its leaves and flowers. photo KAthy hAll