September 1967 ±
Zen Mountain Center
SR: Tonight my talk will be quite informal. You are, of course, interested in Zen. But Zen is also Buddhism. So it is necessary for you to understand Buddhism in general. Although my talk will not help you immediately—it is necessary for you to have some understanding of the original teaching of Buddha, and, at the same time, various understandings of the original teaching of Buddha, or else, I am afraid, you will miss the point.
Tonight I want to talk about the three-fold body of Buddha. The other day, Bishop Sumi explained the various understandings of Buddha, like historical Buddha, buddha as the truth, and buddha as a teaching or dharma. This concept originated from, of course, historical Buddha, who was so great. And he was so great that Hinayana Buddhism—Buddhists who are direct disciples of Buddha—had an idea of a supernatural being like Buddha who had 32 marks or eight holy figures. Those concepts already formed Buddha as an embodiment of the truth—of Buddha who attained buddhahood after unusual practice. Hinayana Buddhists had no such elaborate aspects of Buddha, but Mahayana Buddhists had three aspects of Buddha. And, these three aspects form a trinity, like a pre-Buddhistic religion.
The three forms are, Buddha as a historical being who had his own body. The teaching told by the historical Buddha was the truth itself. So, here we have the idea of truth and the idea of teaching. The idea of teaching and the idea of truth form the idea of Dharmakaya Buddha. The Buddha who had an image of character forms the idea of Sambhogakaya Buddha. So we have Buddha as an embodiment of the truth, and Buddha as a truth, and Buddha who attained buddhahood after his long practice. Here we have the three aspects of Buddha.
And these three aspects of Buddha were necessary for Mahayana Buddhists to become buddha or have the possibility of attaining buddhahood. For Hinayana Buddhists, it was not possible to attain buddhahood because Buddha was so great that they didn't even imagine the possibility of being Buddha.
But Mahayana Buddhists put emphasis on buddhahood which is possible for them to attain. Here Buddha became more religious. The Buddha for a Hinayana Buddhist is some unusual person, something quite different from a human being. But Buddha for a Mahayana Buddhist is someone who is like every one of us. So they put emphasis on buddha-nature. Dharmakaya Buddha actually expresses the essential nature of every one of us. That is Dharmakaya Buddha. Because we have potentiality, after long practice it is possible for us to attain buddhahood. And every one of us is nothing but the embodiment of the Buddha. Here Buddhism becomes more popular—took the form of a religion rather than some special teaching.
This was very important for the development of Buddhism because Hinayana Buddhism became more and more formal, and their teaching became more and more philosophical or verbal. They had a strict distinction between laymen and priesthood. But in Mahayana Buddhism, there was not much difference between Buddhism for laymen and Buddhism for priests or monks because the potentiality to be buddha for everyone was emphasized. Whether they are man or woman, whether they are priest or layman, they get together in Buddha's pagoda, and recite sutras, and practice various formal practices.
Although Buddha's body or ashes were divided in six and enshrined in various places, they did not worship Buddha's ashes. It was a time when Mahayana Buddhism became more and more powerful. But, we started to enshrine Buddha's relics, building pagodas, and various religious activities were observed by people. So they had to have this kind of definition for aspects or understanding of Buddha: buddha as truth, buddha as our true nature, or buddha as in every one of us, or buddha as a historical Buddha. They had already a clear distinction between buddha as our own nature and historical Buddha. And yet, those three bodies of Buddha is one. One includes the others.
Although Buddhism became very common, philosophically Buddhism became more and more deep. In this way, Buddhism was developed as a religion and as a philosophy too. This is how Buddhism developed, and why we have the three aspects of Buddha.
In Hinayana Buddhism, their sutras were not so philosophical—the teaching was not so philosophical. But in Mahayana Buddhism we call them three kinds of [laughs] scriptures: a philosophical one, something told by Buddha as a teaching and scriptures about precepts observation, and philosophical aspects of understanding of teaching developed in the Mahayana school.
There are many “three” numbers in our teaching: three kinds of scriptures, three-fold body, or three fields of the teaching. As a Buddhist, we should know those. We must have this kind of knowledge, just as knowledge. Those aspects of our teaching were the background of Zen. So it is necessary for us to have those understandings or background of Zen, as well as our practice.
If you have some questions, please ask. We have not much dokusan, so if you have any questions, you are welcome. Please ask questions.
Student A: Is Mahayana Buddhism also known as the second way?
SR: Mahayana Buddhism?
Student A: Is it known as the second way?
SR: Second way. Oh, excuse me. What do you mean--the sec- ?
Student A: I was reading someplace about the second way as being the way of total alienation of life as a goal, rather than going into life.
SR: Mahayana Buddhism? No. We say “Mahayana Buddhism,” but there are many teachings in Mahayana Buddhism. And the Kegon school classifies our teaching in three. The Kegon school has three aspects in understanding of teaching. So, if the understanding is poor, that is the second way—not perfect understanding. And if the understanding is good, that is perfect understanding. That perfect understanding cannot be attained by just intellectual understanding. That is the Tendai's canon. You see? Of course this is true with Zen too. Maybe I must explain some other time the understanding from three aspects.
If you study the various canons of various schools, you will understand why it is necessary to practice zazen [laughs]. The various schools suggest to us to practice zazen. That is why we practice zazen [laughs]. Do you understand? Our practice is based on the canons of various schools. So, Zen is based on all of Buddhism, all the teachings of many schools. Zen is the result of the efforts of many scholars of many schools. Do you understand? Zen is not something special. In other words, Zen is not one of thirteen schools. Zen includes the thirteen schools of Buddhism. If you understand Zen, you will understand other schools. The gist of the teaching is Zen, but not teaching—but you can say “teaching” in its wide sense. Hai.
Student B: Now that the weather is cold, how can we concentrate when we're chilled in the morning?
SR: Chilled? Oh—
Student B: How can we get our meditation back and our concentration through the tenseness of being cold?
SR: [Laughing.] I understand how you feel [laughter], but nevertheless, we say, “Sickness or cold will not kill you, but wrong practice will kill you.” [Laughter.] Even though it is cold, you should do that. You see, it will be a chance or occasion to realize the truth. The cold weather or some difficulty in your practice will give you some chance to attain enlightenment or to practice real practice. When it is cold, you should practice because it is a good chance to practice. This is rather, I think, the traditional way of realizing our true nature.
We have various desires. But, by taking a negative attitude towards your desire, you will realize your true nature, rather than to have a positive attitude towards your desires. It does not mean to annihilate your desires, but by stopping it—to take a negative attitude towards your desire.
That negative attitude results in true understanding of the desire itself, or human nature itself, or buddha-nature itself. So, if it is cold, you shouldn't wear too much [laughs]. I think when you sit you wear too warm clothing. It is not that cold, so it's much better not to wear too much clothing.
Some other questions?
Student C: Around here it's very easy not to get too attached to food and sit around thinking about when's it time to eat and all this sort of thing, because your mind just isn't going in that direction. But at home, if you are in the kitchen a lot, and all the life centers around the kitchen, what do you do if you have this problem: Since I've been sitting, all my senses have gotten sharp, and food tastes better now. If I just have something to eat that ordinarily I wouldn't even care about—that simple thing tastes so marvelous now, that I'm looking for some more where that came from [laughter].
SR: Yeah [laughter].
Student C: Pretty soon I'm sitting in the kitchen, and eating and eating and eating, you know? Well what do you do?
SR: Ohhh. [Laughter.] You soon will realize your nature by negative practice. For all religions, negative practice is necessary. We should not pick a positive attitude only. Positive and negative—both attitudes are necessary, but the negative one is the most important practice. This is very true.
Student D: I'm a little confused. What is a negative attitude?
SR: Negative attitude is to eat your food and to practice under some difficult circumstances, and to refrain from some behaviors—various activities, like sexual activity. Or, a negative attitude towards various desires [laughs] [1 word unclear] [laughs] which something aroused. We have to think more on this point, at least. Hai.
Student E: You don't mean “suppress” desires, do you, by “thinking negative” about them?
Student E: You don't mean “feel guilty about it,” do you, Sensei, or—[?] [Laughs, laughter.] Or say that it's bad, or something like that, or do you mean just not to do it?
SR: If you feel guilty about it, it will help you [laughs, laughter]. “Don't feel guilty.” If I say, “Don't feel guilty,” it looks like I'm [laughs], making some excuse for something. That is not a matter of discussion. It is rather a matter of practice or experience. You should not be blind in what you do, even though it is a fundamental instinct. You must open your eyes to those activities. You should not ignore it. At least you should have positive and negative attitudes. And, as it is difficult to have negative attitudes, we should try to be negative.
Student F: The word “negative” leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. It has very bad associations with me, and I think it does with a lot of people.
Student F: I don't really quite understand what you mean when you say “negative.”
SR: If the word “negative” creates bad feelings, it's all the better [laughs, laughter]. It is not a matter of you like it or not—liking the teaching or not. But what I mean is actual experience. It is not a matter of you like our teaching or not. It is necessary for you to open your mind to your true nature. You see, as long as you are trying to ignore one side, I don't think you can understand our true nature. What will happen if you die? That is the most negative experience [laughs]. But, whether you like it or not, you will die someday [laughs]. Just remember what I said, and open your eyes, be more and more careful or more alert. And more careful with — [Sentence not finished. Gap in tape of unknown interval.]
— feel your desires more, and you will attain freedom from various desires, and you can change one desire to another. It is like a blind man can hear better than the usual person.
Student F: What you're saying is that you should put the snake in the small can.
SR: Uh-huh. Put the snake in straight [laughter]—Nagarjuna said, “How will you put a snake straight in?” He asked someone, “How can you make a snake straight?” [Laughs.] As no one could answer, he said, “Put it in straight bamboo or a pipe” [laughs]. That is a way to make a snake straight, and the snake will know what is his nature. If he is like this [presumably making a waving gesture], he doesn't know his own nature.
Negative and positive is very important, like a rope. If you twist rope in two, like this [gestures], that is negative and positive. With just one material we cannot make a rope, we say.
Student G: Sensei, didn't Buddha do that? Didn't he get down to one grain of rice a day? Didn't he deny himself a whole bunch of things when he talked about the middle way?
SR: That was not his practice. The difference between asceticism and Buddha's way was, that asceticism—limiting their food or sleep to attain something, or to be born in some heaven—they had some purpose. They practiced it for some purpose. But Buddha found the truth in that practice. The practice itself is the goal. This is very, I think—
Student H: Do you think fasting is good practice?
SR: Good practice for what?
Student H: For mastering desire or thinking negatively about desire, whatever is troubling the spirit?
SR: Oh. There will be no need to fast for many days, for instance. That is a kind of practice, but that is not our practice. Even though you do not fast, you can practice in the most usual way.
This is a very important point. We have to think more about this point. I think you already have some doubt, or you may wonder why I talk about negative or positive attitude towards our desires. But I myself have no answer to it.
Student I: Is there a difference between negative desires and positive desires?
SR: No, that is one.
Student I: It's the same thing to kill someone and to love someone?
SR: Yeah. Two aspects or two kinds of attitude we take.
Student I: Does that mean that we should suppress both these desires, to love and to hate?
SR: Yeah, sometimes it is necessary. And it is necessary, and you are doing it [laughs].
Student J: Well, what about sincerity, Sensei?
Student J: That's a very positive thing. If you suppress it, what do you have?
SR: That is not sincerity, do you think?
Student J: I don't know. I get confused on things like sincerity and compassion.
SR: Sincerity or compassion—if I say “sincerity” or “compassion,” you may think that is a very positive statement, but it is not actually so. Just positive sincerity or positive compassion is not true compassion. When you want to say to someone—sometimes you will hate it if you are sincere. If you know what it will mean—what does it mean by some statement, you will be very careful. That is already negative. Even though you want to eat more, sometimes you will hesitate to eat as much as you want. Without this kind of attitude, you cannot live.
The positive one is not always positive in its true sense. Which is the stronger person? A man who beats you or a man who is being beaten?
Which is stronger? It is easy to beat someone, but it is not so easy to be beaten without any difficulty, or to be patient in being beaten by someone. Hai.
Student K: Is it ever all right to be positive? I mean, is it ever all right to say yes to your desires?
Is it all supposed to cease? Or—I don't know.
SR: No, I don't think so [laughs, laughter]. Actual experience will tell you. But if we say “religion,” you think religion will give you some advantage in taking some pleasure, or in having some excuse in doing some positive things always. That is not true.
Student K: It seems to me, though, that it is nothing wrong with enjoying eating or sex or sleeping—just in being attached—
SR: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Student K: and in wanting it when it's not there. So, is there some way that you can just really enjoy eating as long as the food is in front of you, and then when it's gone—not think about it?
Student K: And then is it all right to say yes and eat?
SR: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yes, if it is so, it is all right. Nothing wrong with it. But it is not always so [laughs, laughter].
Student L: This teaching sounds as if we're supposed to fight with ourselves, from the time we're born to the time we die. I would like to get to the point where I wouldn't be continually fighting with myself.
SR: Fighting. [Laughs.] That is your understanding of your life, you know. That is not actually fighting—rather, it is developing your desires—how to develop your desires. The different understandings of one's practice. If you say you are fighting with your desires, it may be so [laughs]. I cannot deny the statement, “I am fighting with myself.” But that is not a perfect expression of our way.
Oh [probably sees the time]. [Laughs.] Let's, [laughs], study more about this. I am so glad that you are concerned about my talk [laughs, laughter] so much. That is not my problem [laughs]—your problems are to study more—not a problem of Buddhism or [laughs] buddhas or Zen.
Actually there are no rules. There are rules, but the rules are not always observed in the same way [laughs]. Your practice mostly will be right when the practice is forced on you—mostly it is pure. But, if you practice by your own choice, there are many dangers of having some wrong element in your motives. “I have to do it because someone told me. As long as I am here in this monastery, I have to observe in this way. So I do it.” This kind of practice will result in more, rather than practicing by your own choice. This is very true. If you become more sincere about your practice, and if you become more conscientious about your practice, you will find it very true.
Thank you very much.
Source: City Center transcript originally transcribed by Brian Fikes and checked by Mel Weitsman. Entered onto disk by Jose Escobar, 1997. Transcript checked against tape and made verbatim by Adam Tinkham and Bill Redican (4/6/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (10/2020).