Monday, December 1, 2014

Mumonkan - Case 9: Daitsu Chisho Buddha

The Case: 

A monk asked Kõyõ Seijõ, "Daitsû Chishõ Buddha sat in zazen for ten kalpas and still could not attain Buddhahood.  He did not become a Buddha.  How could this be?"

Seijõ said, "Your question is quite self-explanatory." 

The monk asked, "He meditated so long; why could he not attain Buddhahood?"  

Seijõ said, "Because he did not become a Buddha."

Mumon's Comment:  

I allow the barbarian's realization, but I do not allow his understanding. When an ignorant man realizes it, he is a sage. When a sage understands it, he is ignorant.

Mumon's Verse:  

Better emancipate your mind than your body;
When the mind is emancipated, the body is free,
When both body and mind are emancipated,
Even gods and spirits ignore worldly power.

My Analysis:  

We're presented with a difficulty.  Daitsu Chisho Buddha sat in meditation for an incalculably long time (ten kalpas is a mythical measurement of time), and despite this did not become a Buddha.  However he is identified as a Buddha.  What's more, Seijo says that this is entirely obvious.  He's correct, and it's a fairly simple process of understanding, or rather, eliminating a misunderstanding.

In many schools of thought, there is the belief that through meditation, a person improves him or herself, and becomes an enlightened individual, that they attain Buddhahood.  This is not the teaching of Zen.  Zen teaches that the Buddha essence is present in all things.  An individual cannot attain Buddhahood anymore than you can attain personhood.  You were born that way.  You have always had it.  Daitsu Chisho Buddha didn't become a Buddha; he, like every being, and thing and thought and action, was Buddha to begin with, whether he sat for ten kalpas or not.  

But let's not just leave it as a simple play on words.  There is more here to realize.  I said above that everything, Daitsu Chisho Buddha included, are Buddha, or the absolute.  While this is, in one sense, true, it is a tangentially a product of delusion.  I used the term that way as a means of explaining the wordplay piece of the koan.  However, the greater delusion is the view of a self apart from others, of individual apart from whole.  Daitsu Chisho Buddha is not a Buddha, because "Buddha" is not individualized, or personified.  "Buddha" in Zen is a term for the absolute.  The all-inclusive one totality.  A pebble is not the absolute, but the absolute is manifest in the pebble.  Daitsu Chisho Buddha is not the absolute, but the absolute is manifest in his being.  

Here is what Mumon points to with "Better to emancipate your mind than your body."  If you free yourself from the concept of self, then there is not a "you" to possess your body; thus your mind and body are both free from the burden of the self, and are free to manifest the absolute without the delusion that it is lacking. 

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