Diamond snowflakes everywhere refracting
The great Bodhisattva’s boundless light
From nation to nation in endless succession
Receiving and transmitting the Dharma lamp
Hekigan-roku Case 86
Ummon’s “Each of You Has Your Own Light”
Teisho by Shinge Roko Sherry Chayat Roshi
ENGO’S INTRODUCTION: Master of circumstances, he allows not the least speck of dust to escape. He cuts off deluded streams of thought, leaving not a drop behind. If you open your mouth, you are mistaken. A moment’s doubt, and you have missed the way. Tell me, what is the eye that has pierced the barriers? See the following.
MAIN SUBJECT: Ummon spoke to the assembly and said, “Each of you has your own light. If you try to see it, everything is darkness. What is your own light?” Later, in place of the disciples, he said, “The halls and the gate.” And later still he said, “Blessing things can never be better than nothing.”
It illuminates itself,
He gives a clue to the secret.
Flowers have fallen, trees cast no shadows;
How can you not see, if you look?
Seeing is non-seeing, non-seeing is seeing.
Facing backward on the ox,
You ride into the Buddha hall.
Let us begin by chanting together Attha Dipa.
You are the light. Do not doubt. You are the refuge. There is no other refuge. Light of the Dharma; refuge of the Dharma. No other refuge.
When I was composing the verse that I recited a few moments ago, I didn’t know which scrolls Eido Roshi would select for the tokonomo at either side of the altar here. But the Dai Bosatsu Mandala took care of it. On the left is Kongo Shin—Diamond Mind. On the right is Soen Roshi’s haiku, “Snow of each nation melting into Namu Dai Bosa.”
It was Soen Roshi who brought Attha Dipa to us, having returned from a trip to India, where he saw this inscription in the stupa containing Shakyamuni Buddha’s relics; it was the Buddha’s final teaching to his disciples as they gathered round in anguish at the thought of his departure. What shall we do without you? How can we practice without your guidance? Be a light unto yourself, he said. You have your own light. When we sing Attha Dipa together, we are embued with the conviction that it is true—or at least with the faith that it can one day feel true. Yet if we look at our daily comings and goings, our adversarial views and self-righteous opinions, we quickly find ourselves doubting. We don’t feel the light within—rather than trusting in the lamp of wisdom, we fall into the darkness of ignorance, and nestle in the familiar cocoon of self-preoccupation, self-absorption. Then we wonder why we’re so miserable, why we feel so cut off and isolated, gripped by fear and insecurity. But remember, Ummon, Rinzai, Joshu, Hakuin—all the great Zen masters of old, as well as the Zen masters of our own time, had to contend with their own doubts, their own struggles. Only through strenuous and uncompromising effort could they realize their own light.
Ummon Bunen Zenji is one of the greatest of all these masters, founder of the Ummon School. Even though his lineage did not continue, Ummon’s teachings are very much alive today. They appear in five cases of the Mumonkan and 18 cases of the Hekigan-roku, such as, Every Day is a Good Day; Golden Wind; Particle after Particle Samadhi; Staff Becoming a Dragon; Medicine and Sickness Cure Each Other. His poetic expression is powerful, abrupt, sharp and direct, not flowery, not refined—his words are few. He was a genius for laying bare the pure facticity of This. One of his most famous responses was just one word: “Kan!” (Barrier), which has resounded through the ages, as has Joshu’s “Mu.”
Ummon was born in 864, late in the Tang dynasty, at a time of great political turbulence in China—from 842 to 845, there was government persecution of Buddhism and other “foreign” religions. Hundreds of thousands of monks and nuns were forced to return to secular life, thousands of monasteries and temples were destroyed. Gradually that government became weaker, and Buddhism had a resurgence. History repeats itself— we can see a similar resurgence beginning in contemporary China.
During Ummon’s early monastic training with a Vinaya master, a rebellion took place and new leaders emerged. One of them became Ummon’s sponsor.
At the age of 25, Ummon went to Bokushu’s place. Bokushu had been a disciple of Obaku, but left monastic life, returned home to take care of his mother, became a sandal-maker, and lived as a recluse. He rarely allowed anyone to see him.
When Ummon went to Bokushu, he was in the grips of his own struggle—Who am I? What is this seemingly separate self that keeps rearing up and bossing me around, bringing suffering to me and others? Perhaps he felt as though he had no hope of breaking through. The story goes that Bokushu always kept his door shut; whenever he heard footsteps, if he discerned something worthwhile, some vigor and readiness, he would say, “Come in!” Then as soon as the student entered he’d grab him and shout, “Speak!” At the slightest hesitation, he’d push him out and slam the door behind him. This is true dokusan— most of us are too kind. Even so, people fear dokusan; fear being exposed. Senju wrote generously and humorously about his dokusan performance anxiety in this issue of the Dharma Connection, Hoen-ji’s journal. Our fear of being exposed— it’s funny, because the fear leads to amassing layers of crud, while what’s being covered up is the real deal. Without the willingness to be exposed, how can the light shine through?
It’s just like that story about the huge concrete Buddha in a war-torn part of Thailand, being moved on a flatbed truck to a temple in a safer part of the country; when they reached their destination at night, and tried to get the Buddha off the truck, it slipped and cracked. Later that night one of the monks took a flashlight to see how bad the damage was. He was shocked to find light shining back at him. In the morning, the monks examined it and discovered that the concrete was actually just a shell, which had evidently been used to conceal the real treasure within: a beautiful golden Buddha. I often quote Leonard Cohen’s poem, “So ring the bell that still can ring; forget your perfect offering; there is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” The self we have so diligently constructed, and feel we must protect at any cost, is just a false shell— but we fear the cracking of that exterior. We want to control what others see, due to our lack of confidence in the golden light within. There is a crack in everything— the ancient Mimbres people of the Southwestern United States were famous for their beautiful pottery— but they always left a crack, some kind of opening in each piece, so that the spirit— the light —could flow through freely. Seeking to make of ourselves a perfect offering, we seal ourselves in, creating something static, rigid, lifeless. It’s through our imperfections that we grow, develop compassion, deepen our understanding, until one day something takes us by surprise and suddenly that outer husk is shucked off.
This is what happened to Ummon. On his first two attempts to have dokusan with Bokushu, each time, he knocked on the door, and Bokushu said, “Who is it?” “It’s Ummon.” “What do you want?” Ummon said, “I’m not clear about myself. Please give me your instruction.” Bokushu opened the door, took one look, and shut it again. On the third day, Ummon knocked, and when Bokushu opened the door, Ummon stuck his foot in the doorway. Bokushu grabbed Ummon and shouted, “Speak!” Ummon began to speak. Bokushu gave him a shove: “Too late!” and slammed the door, breaking Ummon’s foot. With that sudden Wham! --At that moment, Ummon had a great realization. He was cracked open; he saw the light of his true Self. Any iota of hesitation was gone.
Ummon stayed with Bokushu for some time, but Bokushu was quite elderly, and he told Ummon to go see Seppo, for training after enlightenment, a very important matter for anyone who shows promise as a Zen teacher. Seppo was renowned, and had about 1,000 monks training under him. From the beginning, Seppo and Ummon had a deep affinity, and Ummon spent many years there, and became Seppo’s Dharma heir. After a period of further pilgrimage, he became the head monk at another monastery and then was appointed abbot there by the imperial ruler. Some years later, yearning for a more secluded life, he received permission to found a temple on a remote mountain. He was 64 when he settled on Mt. Ummon, and taught there until his death at the age of 85.
In all of his teachings, Ummon held fast— he gave out no story line to hang onto, no metaphysical analysis, no theoretical explanation. He just pointed students back to their own light, cutting off their dependence on his or any others’ insights— we can see many similarities to Rinzai’s way of teaching. Here is a good example:
One day Ummon entered the Dharma Hall and said, “If, in bringing up a case I cause you to accept it instantly, I am already spreading shit on top of your heads. Even if you could understand the whole world when I hold up a single hair, I’d still be operating on healthy flesh. You must first truly attain this level of realization. If you’re not there, you must not pretend that you are. Rather, you ought to take a step back, seek under your very feet, and see what there is to what I’m saying! In reality, there is not the slightest thing that could be the source of understanding or doubt for you. Rather, you have the one thing that matters, each and every one of you! . . . You must neither fall for the tricks of others nor simply accept their directives. The instant you see an old monk open his mouth, you tend to stuff those big rocks right into yours, and when you cluster in little groups to discuss his words, you’re exactly like those green flies on shit that struggle back to back to gobble it up! The old masters could not help using up their whole life-times for the sake of you all. So they dropped a word here and half a phrase there to give you a hint. You may have understood these things; put them aside and make some effort for yourselves, and you will certainly become a bit familiar with it. Hurry up! Hurry up! Time does not wait for anyone, and breathing out is no guarantee of breathing in again! Or do you have a spare body and mind to fritter away? You absolutely must pay close attention. Take care!”
So, not wanting to spread shit on top of your heads, nevertheless let’s take a look at this case. Engo, in his Introduction, says, “Master of circumstances,” this is Ummon, “he allows not the least speck of dust to escape.” He holds fast, replying to his own statement (“Each of you has your own light”) with half a phrase (“the halls and the gate”) that can’t be adopted as our own; there’s nothing to gobble up. He demands our effort, our close attention. “He cuts off the deluded stream of thought, leaving not a drop behind.” Instead of giving us a toehold, he pulls the rug out from under us. “If you open your mouth, you are mistaken.” Speak, speak! Too late! “If you doubt for a moment, you have missed the way.” A moment’s hesitation— a tenth of an inch’s difference, and heaven and earth are set apart. “Tell me, what is the eye that has pierced the barriers?” When you see into— experience kensho with —these cases, they are not the leavings of ancient worthies, but have become your own flesh and blood— your own light.
Main Subject: Ummon spoke to his assembly and said, “Each of you has your own light.” Of course no one owns this light. It is the same light, the same source, the one suchness. Yet each of us has our own awakening to this light, and our own vital expression, which no one else can experience, just as we cannot have someone else’s experience.
Rabbi Susya said, a short while before his death: “In the world to come I shall not be asked, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ I shall be asked, ‘Why were you not Susya?’”
Today I have taken the high seat for the first time, and today, the first day of the first month, is the first day of my role as abbot. My gratitude to Eido Roshi is far beyond any words. I have learned so much from him, and continue to do so; our minds are as one. Yet if I were to take this position with some idea that I should try to be like him, I would be doomed from the start. In the world to come— from this day forward —I shall not be asked, “Why are you not Eido Roshi?” I shall be judged according to whether or not I am Shinge. Some of you may be disappointed; I won’t blame you. I intend to uphold the profound and dynamic practice here as it has been conveyed in our Dharma lineage, from Shakyamuni Buddha, Bodhidharma Daishi Dai Osho, Rinzai Gigen Zenji, Hakuin Ekaku Zenji, Takuju Kosen Zenji, on down to Soen Shaku Roshi, Yamamoto Gempo Roshi, Nakagawa Soen Roshi, and Eido Roshi. Equally firm is my vow to uphold and adhere to the ethical principles of our Buddhist precepts. As we go along there may be changes you don’t agree with, but as we know, there is nothing that does not change. I invite you to work with me in a relational and open way. As we know, always there are some who leave and others who come. All I can do is to act according to my own light, which means acting in accordance with Dharma.
Ummon then said to his assembly, “If you try to see it, everything is darkness.” When young Joshu went to Nansen and asked, “What is the Way,” Nansen replied, “Ordinary mind is the Way.” Joshu asked, “Shall I try to seek after it?” Shall I try to see it? Nansen said, “If you try for it, you will become separated from it.” Joshu asked, “How can I know the Way unless I try for it?” to which Nansen said, “The Way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion; not knowing is confusion. When you have really reached the true Way beyond doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space. How can it be talked about on the level of right and wrong?”
“If you try to see it, everything is darkness”—How can you see your own light? As Meister Eckhart put it, “The eye cannot see itself.” If you try to capture it, if you try to characterize, define, or categorize it, then your own light is sealed up again, encrusted in concrete. In his Preface to the Hekigan-roku, Engo gives this verse:
Boundless wind and moon— the eye within the eyes.
Inexhaustible heaven and earth— the light beyond light.
The willow dark, the flower bright— 10,000 houses;
Knock at any door— there’s one who will respond.
Ummon asks us, “What is your own light?” What is this light beyond light? Everyone has this light— knock at any door. The one who responds— the one who is ready, who has realized the eye within the eyes, is that one shining alone.
For some twenty years, Ummon kept telling his students, “Each of you has your own light.” But no one could respond; no one could speak when he asked, “What is your own light,” so as he often did, he answered for them: “The halls and the gate.” How wonderful! Just ordinary mind. Nothing special; no garnishment, no embroidery, no flowery metaphors. This light is shining everywhere, if we have eyes to see—in the Dharma Hall, the zendo, the tenzo, the sleeping quarters, the toilet rooms, the office—we are sheltered, given refuge by none other than this, Dhamma sarana— the refuge of the Dharma. And the gate— passing freely through, with no impediment, no obstacle, no encrustation, nothing extra— this gate to the One and Only, as Vimalakirti put it; this opening to boundless wind and moon.
And then Ummon said, “Blessing things is never better than nothing.” Whatever lofty praises we can give it, however fervent our homage, it is just adding legs to a snake—superfluous, and therefore suspect. Something, no matter how wonderful, can never be better than nothing.
Setcho’s Verse: “It illuminates itself, Absolutely bright.” Have no dependence on anyone else’s light; your own light is none other than the great bodhisattva’s boundless light. But you must find out for yourself, not take anyone’s words for it.
“He gives a clue to the secret.” Ummon tells us, “The halls and the gate.” Here it is—we’re surrounded by it, we’re permeated by it, through and through, wherever we go.
“Flowers have fallen, trees cast no shadows.” Nothing obscures this state of absolute clarity; it’s all revealed. There’s nothing extra. The halls and the gate— the bare presence, illuminating everywhere.
“How can you not see, if you look?” When you try to see it, you’re lost in the darkness of ignorance; when you simply look, without looking for anything outside, you become a seeing eye. A seeing eye dog for the blind— your compassion freely flows outward to whomever and whatever is seen; your vow in activity. With your Dharma eye open to This, This, This, then indeed, the halls and the gate are alive. It could not be otherwise.
“Seeing is non-seeing; non-seeing is seeing.” Your usual way of seeing, scrutinizing and searching for what will benefit you, seeking outside for some useful thing, some informative saying, leads you right back into blindness. When you enter into MU, all the conceptual clinging of the discriminating intellect drops away, and then you can truly see.
“Facing backward on the ox, you ride into the Buddha hall.” When you give up seeking after logic and direction, and give yourself over to absolute trust in Dharma— when you throw yourself into the house of Buddha— you are none other than a buddha, at this very time, in this very place; free, and completely at home wherever you may go.
On this first day of the year 2011, let us go forth together, giving ourselves away and finding refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Let us forge ahead boldly, guided by the lamp of our own light.