bodhisattva's ten powers

Sunday Morning, August 25, 19681
San Francisco

This morning I want to continue the explanation of the bodhisattva's ten powers.2

One is the devotion to the Buddha's teaching and no attachment to anything else. The second one is increasing one's devotion. The third is the expedient ability to instruct people and alter their conduct. The fourth one is understanding what people think. And fifth is satisfying people with what they want. And sixth is no cessation of exertion. The seventh one includes all vehicles or all teachings without giving up the Mahayana way. The eighth one is the mysterious power of showing the appearance of the Buddha in every world in each pore of the body. The ninth is making people turn towards Buddhism and leading people to perfection. The last one is satisfying all kinds of men with even a single phrase. Those are the ten powers.

I explained yesterday the first one and the second one, and the last one—satisfying all kinds of men with even a single phrase. The eighth one, the mysterious power of showing the appearance of the Buddha in each world, in each pore of the body. And the second one, yeah—and the first one, devotion to the Buddha's teaching and no attachment to anything. This is our practice, which cannot compare with any other activities we have or any other effort we make.

All that we do or all that we think is not absolute itself. So there is no reason why we should attach to it. The only thing we should observe as an absolute is emptiness, which is absolute in its true sense, which is quite different from somethingness [laughs]. All you do is somethingness [laughs], and you cannot understand emptiness. So, that is why it is called emptiness.

And emptiness, in usual activity, is not the goal of practice or the purpose or aim of activity. This much I explained. The only way to realize the absolute is through our practice in its true sense.

I explained the eighth one: the mysterious power of showing the appearance of the Buddha in each world in each pore of the body. That is actually zazen practice. This is actually the explanation of our shikantaza. When you practice zazen in its true sense, actually you are Buddha himself, and in each pore of your body you have so many worlds [laughs]. And in each of the worlds, there is Shakyamuni Buddha. This is the explanation of our shikantaza.

And, when you practice our way is as one unified activity, mind and body, each part of your body from the end of your nails to the [laughs] top of your head. And, I always explain how you do it: That is to have the right posture. Having some strength here [probably pointing to hara], and having a perfect mudra here, like this, and you feel as if you are trying to open your arms a little bit. This way. And when you do this, you open your arms, and you pull your chin and stretch your neck as if you are supporting something on your head. And you have strength here, especially when you inhale. In other words, your inhaling comes to the bottom of your tummy. At that time, you feel as if you are opening your arms. Actually, they shouldn't move,  and you should pull your neck. And when you exhale, without losing your power here in your tummy, or putting some more power in your tummy, you exhale.

So, your mind pervades all over your body. And all the parts of your body are participating in one activity. Dogen Zenji says in his instruction, Gotsugotsu toishite zajo.3 Gotsugotsu toishite means “like a mountain,” which your body should be, like one big mountain. And, he said, “think non-thinking—think non-thinking.” When you do this, you cannot think.  But, your mind is pervading every part of your body. So that is “think non-thinking,” not usual thinking in terms of good or bad. Your mind is everything and is every part of your body. When you practice zazen in that way, figuratively speaking, you are manifesting the Buddha in each world, in every pore of your body.  That much I explained yesterday.

[Aside.] Would you bring me that blackboard? The other side.

[Speaking from blackboard. Sounds like he is writing or drawing on it.] At that stage, you are assuming your zazen practice is perfect [laughs, laughter]. That stage is definitely [taps blackboard].4 [3-5 words unclear] white—white is relative. Each part of your body or mind—or you say “mind or body.” That is relative, and the relative unified with the absolute.  You have one soul or unity of practice. This is blackboard [laughs, laughter]. This is black, this is white, as you see [laughs, laughter]. But, for me [laughs], this is white and this is black [laughter]. Black signifies the absolute and white signifies the relative. This is nighttime. This is daytime. Nighttime you cannot see anything, you know, but daytime you will see everything in its relative sense. But, the absolute—you don't see, you don't hear, you don't think. That is the absolute.

So, when you are one with your practice, one is black, or here. When your everyday activity becomes one with black, then that is the stage [returns from blackboard] when manifestation of black or the absolute is the realization of black. [Returns to blackboard.] Although there is black and white, those are two sides of one coin. If you see from the front, it may be the black, here. It should be all black, but to make some distinction from here, we use this symbol. But this is actually black, and this is white. And this is the absolute, and this is the relative. And those things is the stage you [returns from blackboard] acquire by the practice of shikantaza. [Returns to blackboard.]

And, there is also some difference in the way of practice in Rinzai and Soto. Soto puts emphasis on this one [white, relative] [taps blackboard], rather [?], and Rinzai puts emphasis on this one [black, absolute]. Rinzai puts emphasis on enlightenment, black, and we put emphasis on [returns from blackboard] each part of the body which participates with the practice of the absolute. So, that is why we are concerned about the mudra or posture or every form or manner of your activity.

We put emphasis on white in everyday activity or each part of your body or mind. Rinzai puts emphasis on the black, which is perfect enlightenment. But, realization of perfect enlightenment is possible when each part of your body works together and attains oneness of every part. Actually, there is no difference when you attain it.

And now—here I must explain the third power: the expedient ability to instruct people and alter their conduct. This is this stage [returns to blackboard and points]—especially this one. [Returns from blackboard.] Expedient ability. In Mahayana Buddhism, the expedient is more important, rather than the original way, or black, or the absolute. Without the relative, the absolute does not mean anything [laughs] —emptiness, just emptiness. And actually, when you say “just emptiness,” that is the idea of emptiness, not actual emptiness. When we attain emptiness by all parts of our body, that is real emptiness, actual emptiness. When everything exists in its own way and expresses the absolute, we call it true emptiness.

So, because of somethingness, emptiness makes sense. We rather put emphasis on somethingness or everyday activity without sticking to some idea of emptiness. But it is interesting to talk about emptiness, [laughs, laughter]. Whatever you say, that is emptiness [laughs]. If you have a good friend to talk about emptiness, you can say about the emptiness whatever you like [laughs]. Whatever you say, that is emptiness [laughs, laughter]. And you can enjoy the discussion of emptiness [laughs, laughter]. But, that is not the emptiness we mean [laughs, laughter]. This kind of understanding helps our study, of course. And, we should not say you should not write anything about Buddhism or talk about Buddhism.

Whatever you say, that is not emptiness itself, but it is a good expedient or a good device—expedient ability to instruct people and alter their conduct. If someone is too rigid, or someone is too [partial?] to some idea of emptiness, or relative, or some kind of teaching, we can correct their understanding by expedience. So, whatever the teachings are, those teachings are just good devices.  Good devices are very important. To have the power of good devices is one of the important points for us. So whatever you do, that activity should be good devices to instruct people [laughs]. You should be a good example for people.

So, expedient ability. You have expedient ability because you do not think that what you are doing is the absolute itself. You know this is expedient. But this is something which you should do with kindness—with the same mercy as Buddha's mercy. That is the actual power we have as a Zen student.

But, this expedient or good device is not a usual device. This is all activity. Each activity which we do moment after moment, all you do is good devices. And, to express realization of the absolute. When you understand the third power in this way, this is nothing different from the eighth mysterious power of showing the appearance of the buddha in every world in each pore of the body. The meaning is the same.

I think I explained the fourth one, which is understanding what people think. Or, satisfying the fifth one is satisfying people with what they want. When you are doing something with calmness of your mind, with good concentration, without being involved in any prejudice, or without sticking to your own viewpoint, then you see things as it is.  You know what people want, like Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. So satisfying people with what they want, this power naturally will appear.

And the sixth one: no cessation of exertion. No cessation of exertion takes place when you obtain the tenth power, which is satisfying all kinds of men with even a single phrase. And, devotion to the Buddha's teaching, and no attachment to anything. When you devote yourself to your practice, you will have the power of understanding through everything and through various verbal teachings and non-verbal teachings.

So, you will have incessant practice because you observe the truth through verbal and non-verbal things. You increase your devotion, and because you in this way strengthen your devotion, you will hear everything as Buddha's teaching. So, in this way, back and forth, you will practice our way endlessly. As Dogen Zenji said, without any trace of it, this kind of practice will continue. This kind of pure practice will continue forever, endlessly. This is the power we obtain through our practice.

The seventh is including all the teachings without abandoning the Mahayana. The Mahayana teaching, our teaching in its wide sense, is everything in its wide sense. In its narrow sense, the teaching is something which was told by some sage. That is the teaching in its narrow sense. But in its wide sense, everything is the teaching for us: the color of the mountain, the sound of the river, or the sound of a motorcar [laughs] even, is a teaching of Buddha. We understand in this way.

So, include all teaching, without abandoning the Mahayana. When we understand our way, and when we practice our way, whatever teaching you observe, that is our Mahayana teaching. So, you cannot, [laughs], abandon the Mahayana way—our way. When you have true understanding of our practice, that includes all vehicles, without abandoning the Mahayana vehicle.

Those are the ten powers.

When we understand our teaching or our practice in this way, actually there is no teaching or no Buddhism [laughs] because whatever you do, that is Buddhism itself. But it does not mean, if everything is Buddhism, there is no need to practice our way [laughs]. That is wrong understanding.  Only when we get through those practices can we teach this understanding.

At first, this one [apparently moves toward a blackboard away from the mike] is a kind of belief. For the beginner this is a kind of belief. And for the people who get through all those stages, it is an actual accomplishment. And so, to some extent, when you want to practice zazen it is necessary to have some belief or understanding of our way—complete understanding so that you can believe in it. When there is no doubt in those explanations of the teaching, you can believe in it, even though the understanding is not perfect. I mean, not “perfect,” you understand completely, but when you understand it completely, you will find out this is just intellectual understanding. So, I have to actually obtain those teachings in their true sense—not only an intellectual understanding, but also emotionally, and until I have no doubt with it—until I can have the intuition to know what is our way. Then, in this way, you will extend your way until it comes to here [starts to write or point with chalk]. So, starting from here, then you start practice and attain this attainment in its true sense, where there is no Buddhism [laughs]—no Buddhism. Because you completely have it. No nose, no ears, no nose, no eyes—because you have it. You are not aware of your ears. Even though you are not aware of your ears, you hear something. When you see something, that which you see is something which exists outside. But [laughs] you cannot see your own eye.

So, our practice should be like this. You should not be aware of your practice.  In the Hinayana school, that is the fourth stage you will attain, where there is no feeling of practice—no feeling of your body or mind, no feeling of suffering, and no feeling of joy. You are just practicing without any problems [laughs]—without any pain. That is the fifth stage.5

And, all those ten powers could be this one [points to blackboard], could be this one, and so on. But, to make our understanding clear, or so that we can devote ourselves to true practice, this kind of analysis is helpful.

We have been studying the same thing [laughs], over and over again—sometimes by Prajnaparamita Sutra, sometimes by the five ranks, sometimes by the ten powers. But actually, those are various explanations of zazen power. And, if you extend our understanding, you will understand everything in the most meaningful way—the most adequate way. That adequate way is called the “middle way.” The most appropriate way. You will do something which is necessary, when it is necessary, in the most adequate, appropriate way [laughs]. This is very difficult. This is very difficult practice. Someone who can do this kind of activity, who can do things in this way is a good priest [laughs], a good student.

But, when you do not understand this kind of teaching, you will not find a good teacher. You will ignore him [laughs], even if the very best teacher is right here, like me [laughs, laughter]. No—I don't think so [laughing]. You will ignore it: “He is saying the same thing over and over.”

No- [Noiri?-DC]6— he is now sick, and several of our students met him when they went to Japan. And, he doesn't speak English. So it was rather hard to communicate.  Students could not acknowledge his practice. But, I thought they would find something from him. I don't know whether they found some valuable teaching from him or not. But unfortunately he is sick now. And there are many good well-known and unknown teachers who understand this kind of secret.

It takes time until you actually practice our way and extend our way in your everyday life. There is no reason why you should try to attain something. Anyway, to continue our practice without giving up [laughs], that is the most important thing for you.

Thank you very much.
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1 This date is probably incorrect. Earlier (July 21, 1968), Suzuki mentioned that he had already explained the ten powers of a bodhisattva. So this lecture was probably given sometime earlier in July of 1968.

2 This version of the ten bodhisattva powers follows very closely the Japanese-English Buddhist Dictionary, Daitō Shuppansha, 1965 (p. 153, under jūriki, Section II).

3 Gotsu is repeated for emphasis. It means "high and level," "lofty," or" motionless." Its original connotation was to a table mountain—i.e., something imposing and balanced (Nishijima and Cross, Shōbōgenzō, Vol. 2, p. 91). Gotsu is a key term in the exchange between Yakusan and a monk on thinking non-thinking, which Dōgen cites in Shōbōgenzō "Zazenshin" as well as Fukan Zazen-gi.

4 Suzuki-rōshi appears to be referring to Tōzan's five ranks or degrees of enlightenment (go-i). The first stage is concerned with the absolute and the relative.

5 Tōzan's fifth rank: ken-chu-to, in which form and emptiness fully inter-penetrate, and self-evident, intentionless activity arises.

6 Suzuki-rōshi is probably referring to (Kojun) Noiri-rōshi, a fellow disciple of Kishizawa Ian-rōshi.


Source: City Center original tape. Verbatim transcript by Adam Tinkham and Bill Redican (10/18/01). Lightly edited for readability by Wendy Pirsig and Peter Ford (11/2020).