A monk asked Changsha, "What is a dharani?" 1
Changsha pointed to the left of his meditation seat 2and said, 3"This monk is reciting a dharani." 4
The monk asked, "Is there anyone else who can recite it?" 5
Changsha pointed to the right of his meditation seat 6and said, 7"That monk is reciting it too." 8
The monk asked, "Then why can't I hear it?" 9
Changsha said, "This is its great virtue. How can it not be seen and heard? 10 It's real chanting that makes no sound, 11 and in really listening to it there's no hearing." 12
The monk asked, 13 "Doesn't sound enter into the nature of the Dharma realms?" 14
Changsha said, "Leaving form to observe form isn't a correct view. Leaving sound seeking to listen is a debased hearing." 15
In ceremony there are forms and there are sounds, there is understanding and there is believing. In liturgy there is only intimacy. Haven't you heard the ancient master's teaching: Seeing forms with the whole body-and-mind, hearing sounds with the whole body-and-mind one understands them intimately. Intimate understanding is not like ordinary understanding. Ordinary understanding is seeing with the eye and hearing with the ear; intimacy is seeing with the ear and hearing with the eye. How do you see with the ear and hear with the eye? Let go of the eye, and the whole body-and-mind are nothing but the eye; let go of the ear, and the whole universe is nothing but the ear.
Though it fills the eyes,
he doesn't see form.
Though it fills the ears,
she doesn't hear sounds.
Manjushri is always covering his eyes;
Avalokitesvara is always covering her ears.
1. The question and answer are both water from the same spring.
2. Thank you for your answer.
3. His eyebrows have dropped to the ground.
4. His kindness smothers the monk to death.
5. He still doesn't see it.
6. Thank you for your answer.
7. His tongue is six fathoms long. He should shut up.
8. Both these monks suffer from the same sickness.
9. The monk stumbles along not knowing that hearing is not about the ear and seeing is not about the eye.
10. When the wolf howls, everything in the valley is aware.
11. Utterly beyond sound.
12. Utterly beyond hearing.
13. Carrying three arrows in the back of his head he requests still another.
14. What are you calling the Dharma realms?
15. Changsha is a competent master of our school. Why does he talk so much?
People entering Zen practice have many inquiries about liturgy. One of the frequently asked questions has to do with dharanis. Because dharanis are not chanted in English, people often assume they are Japanese. But the dharanis we chant are mostly, though not always, just sounds. Sometimes the sounds are lightly interspersed with words, but the essential focus is on pure sound. There are dharanis which are used by officiants in certain liturgies and some dharanis which are transmitted as part of the oral teachings at the end of formal training.
The obvious questions that follow are: "Why do we chant sounds? What does this have to do with the Dharma? What does this have to do with me and my life? Why am I hanging out with people who make incomprehensible sounds together?" In order to appreciate the function of sound and its relationship to consciousness, we need to see how certain sounds create a particular state of consciousness. The best way to understand this is to recall that when you are in pain and your whole body is aching, to simply groan -oooh -feels good. Making that sound releases the tension and relieves the pain. Similarly, when you are feeling great, you want to shout with joy - ;yipee!The shout expresses the feeling that has built up inside you.
Another question intimately pertaining to liturgy concerns the effect of thoughts on the creation of karma. If what you manifest with your body creates karma, and how you express yourself in words creates karma, what you do with your mind also creates karma. How does this happen? Whether we realize it or not we are constantly communicating with others and the whole universe with our thoughts. If you have a big smile on your face but hate someone's guts, that message will still get across. Most of the time we are very preoccupied and our minds are busy, so we don't pick up on a conscious level what someone may be actually communicating with their thoughts, be it fear, anger or resentment. Children tend to be very conscious of these underlying thoughts. The younger we are, the more intuitive we are. Animals also have this uncanny ability to "read" others accurately. I don't know what the scientific explanation for this communication of thoughts is, but the reality of my experience is that we are always communicating on this level.
A dharani is composed of sounds and those sounds create a state of consciousness. It is like the seed syllable Om which creates a state of mind that is very quiet, still, and expansive. In fact, not just sounds, but all the senses are brought fully into liturgy. Liturgy is a constant reaffirmation of the experience of a group of people. There is not only sacred liturgy, there is the liturgy of everyday life: brushing our teeth, taking a shower and going to work. There is the liturgy of a football game -when the band plays, the players all run onto the field, and the crowd gets whipped up into a frenzy. That is a liturgy that creates a particular kind of consciousness -football liturgy. So it is with baseball and with the Supreme Court. Almost everything we do collectively contains a ritual which expresses the common experience of the group.
There is a visual aspect to liturgy. In Christianity, for example, the religious experiences have to do with God, Jesus, the soul, and heaven. Churches and cathedrals are designed to communicate these notions; they are vast, beautiful, extending upward. Christian chanting reflects this other-worldliness. Gregorian chants lift you out of yourself into heaven. Buddhist chants, on the other hand, particularly in Zen, tend to be very grounded, driven by a steady rhythm, like a heart beat, very much in the here-and-now. Zen altars strive for a similar effect of simplicity and directness. The sounds and forms of Zen liturgy are a direct expression of an appreciation of the nature of reality arising in Zen practice.
When the monk in this koan asked Changsha about dharanis, Changsha didn't go into a long explanation. He simply: pointed to the left of his meditation seat and said, "This monk is reciting a dharani." The monk continued, "Is there anyone else who can recite it?" Changsha pointed to the right of his meditation seat and said, "That monk is reciting it too." The monk asked, "Then why can't I hear it?" Changsha said, "This is its great virtue. How can it not be seen and heard?" This answer doesn't seem to make sense. The monk cannot hear it but how can it not be seen or heard? Changsha continued. "It's real chanting that makes no sound and in really listening to it, there is no hearing." The monk completely missed this point and asked, "Doesn't sound enter into the nature of the Dharma realms?" Changsha clarified his point further. He said, "Leaving form to observe form isn't a correct view. Leaving sound seeking to listen is a debased hearing." In other words, to separate yourself from sound in order to hear it, is not what liturgy is about. It is about intimacy. Intimacy goes beyond sight and sound.
There is a similar koan in our collection of Koans of the Way of Reality taken from the writings of Henry David Thoreau. The koan says: The teacher addressing the assembly said, The poet Thoreau wrote, ÔI hear beyond the range of sound. I see beyond the verge of sight".'Then he asked the assembly: "What kind of seeing and hearing is this?" After a while he answered for them, "In the multitude of forms, in the myriad sounds, there is not a single thing." It swallows the whole universe. It is not perceived from the outside.
The quote that contains this statement of Thoreau's is quite beautiful. I stop my habitual thinking as if the plow had suddenly run deeper in its furrow through the crust of the world. How can I go on? Who had just stepped over such a bottomless skylight in the bog of my life? Suddenly all time winked at me, "Ah, you know me, you rogue." And the news had come that it was well. That ancient universe is in such capital health, I think undoubtedly it will never die. Heal yourselves, doctors. By God, I live. Then idle time ran gadding by and left me with eternity alone. I hear beyond the range of sound, I see beyond the verge of sight. I see, smell, taste, hear, feel that everlasting something to which we are all allied at once: our maker, our abode, our destiny, our very selves, the one historic truth and the most remarkable fact that can become the distinct and uninvited subject of our thought, the actual glory of the universe, the only fact which a human being cannot avoid recognizing or in some way forget or dispense with. He concludes the passage with a line that says, It doth expand my privacies to all and leave me single in the crowd.
That is a powerful statement. His privacy expands to include everything and as a result leaves him alone -all one -in the crowd. When you expand and include the whole universe, in a sense, there is only you. You can only nod to yourself. That is what Thoreau is saying. That is what the Buddha said.
The commentary states: In ceremony there are forms and there are sounds; there is understanding, and there is believing. In liturgy there is only intimacy. Haven't you heard the ancient master's teaching: "Seeing forms with the whole body-and-mind, hearing sounds with the whole body-and-mind one understands them intimately." Intimacy means no gaps, no separation, not two. The commentary continues: Intimate understanding is not like ordinary understanding. Ordinary understanding is seeing with the eye and hearing with the ear; intimacy is seeing with the ear and hearing with the eye. That is a statement of Master Dongshan (Jap., Tozan) offered upon his own enlightenment. Dongshan finally got the teachings of the insentients by hearing with the eye and seeing with the ear. The commentary goes on to say: How do you see with the ear and hear with the eye? Let go of the eye, and the whole body-and-mind is nothing but the eye; let go of the ear, and the whole universe is nothing but the ear. Again, intimacy. You will never grasp this by seeing it dualistically, by seeing yourself and "it" as two separate things.
It is interesting the way the senses work, and how whole body-and-mind intimacy happens continuously at a very subtle level, even when we don't appreciate and don't understand it. People who are handicapped in any of the senses need to deal more intensely with whole body-and-mind perceptions. It is remarkable how that happens. Some of my best teachers throughout the years have been the various handicapped people I have encountered who are interested in the Dharma. How can I teach them?
In fact, there is a koan dealing with this challenge. The koan involves Master Xuansha (Jap., Gensha) and is titled "Guiding All Beings." In it Xuansha asks the question: When you encounter a blind person, how will you teach them? If you hold up the fly whisk they won't see it. Holding up a fly whisk is a standard Zen response. Someone asks a question and the teacher answers by holding up a fly whisk. The fly whisk is a long horsehair whisk attached to a handle which is one of the accoutrements of a Zen teacher. Likewise, if you use sounds, a discourse, a shout, and the person is deaf, they are not going to hear. How will you teach someone who is blind, deaf, and mute? The monk to whom Xuansha posed the question could not answer. Dejected, he went to Master Yunmen (Jap., Ummon). When he asked Yunmen the question, Yunmen took his stick and made a motion as though to poke the monk. The monk recoiled. Yunmen said, "You can see." Then Yunmen said, "Come a little closer." The monk came forward. Yunmen said, "You can hear." Then Yunmen asked, "Do you understand?" The monk said, "No, I don't understand." Yunmen said, "You're not mute."
I gave this koan to one of our monks who went off to a chaplaincy training program in New York City, to learn to do hospice work. I wanted her to deal with Xuansha's question: How do you aid someone who is blind, deaf, and mute? More importantly for her, how will she deal with someone when all the senses simultaneously are gone -a person on the edge of death, unconscious, doped up with drugs so they are numb and confused. How will she communicate? How will she teach? She left here without the answer, but she will spend a year working at the bedsides of people who are dying, and she will learn. These dying people are going to teach her. I guarantee she will be back in a year and will understand the answer to Xuansha's question in a way that can't be reached through words, or even through pointing. You can only get a true answer through intimacy. That is the case with liturgy as well.
Bodhidharma said that invocation is not about chanting words or sounds. You invoke with the mind. You do liturgy with the mind. You do zazen with the mind. When you enter the mind of zazen you enter a sacred space. It doesn't matter whether you are sitting on top of a mountain, in a zendo, or in the middle of 42nd Street and Broadway. It doesn't matter what activity you are doing. The mind of zazen always opens a sacred space. It is in that sacred space that the dharani and the Dharma exist. That is the meaning of the passage in the commentary which says: Let go of the eye, and the whole body-and-mind is nothing but the eye; let go of the ear, and the whole universe is nothing but the ear.
I have added footnotes to clarify the main case of this koan. These comments come from the point of view of the truth of this koan, and along with the commentary can help you appreciate the koan further. The koan begins: A monk asked Changsha, "What is a dharani?" The footnote comments: The question and the answer are both water from the same spring. That is, the question and the answer are always the same thing. That is why Zen teaching is not about dispensing answers to questions. It is about turning things so the student sees the answer. To be effective the answer must come from the same place the question comes from; otherwise, the answer doesn't belong to you.
The next line says: Changsha pointed to the left of his meditation seat... The footnote says: Thank you for your answer. What does that mean? In that pointing is the totality of what this whole koan is getting at. The line continues: ...and said. The footnote says, His eyebrows have dropped to the ground. This refers to the belief in Zen circles that if a teacher explains the Dharma too much they are stealing from the student the precious possibility of discovery, and as a result, the teacher's eyebrows drop off and fall to the ground.
The koan continues, "This monk is reciting a dharani." The footnote says: His kindness smothers the monk to death. The monk asked, "Is there anyone else who can recite it?" The footnote says, He still doesn't see it. Changsha presses on.
The koan says, Changsha pointed to the right of his meditation seat. The footnote says Thank you for your answer. Again, right there in the pointing is the totality. The footnote says: His tongue is six fathoms long. He should shut up. The line continues: That monk is reciting it too. The footnote says: Both these monks suffer the same sickness. That sickness is "understanding." How can we create a dharani beyond sight and sound?
The koan goes on: The monk asked, "Then why can't I hear it?" The monk stumbles along not knowing that hearing is not about the ear and seeing is not about the eye. Changsha said, "This is its great virtue. How can it not be seen and heard?" The footnote says, When the wolf howls everything in the valley is aware.
A wolf's howl communicates not just by the sound but by awareness. Awareness is much more than the functioning of a single organ of perception, and even beyond all the organs of perception added together. There is a group of blind people who are studying karate and it is pretty remarkable. These students are totally blind, but they are able to sense a person coming toward them and to respond with an appropriate karate move. Another example of this awareness was shown to me in a film about a group of blind people who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. At one point during the expedition, all the group's flashlight batteries ran down and people were caught in the dark. All the porters and trip leaders with sight made a big deal out of the problem and the blind people had to take over and keep the group going. In true perception, all the senses converge: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. They are one reality and that reality fills the universe.
Changsha goes on to say, "It's real chanting that makes no sound..." The footnote says, Utterly beyond sound. The line continues "...and in really listening to it there's no hearing." The footnote says, Utterly beyond hearing. The next line begins, "Doesn't sound enter..." The footnote says, Carrying three arrows in the back of his head he requests still another. "...into the nature of the Dharma realms?" The footnote says: What are you calling the Dharma realms? Changsha said, "Leaving form to observe form isn't a correct view. Leaving sound seeking to listen is a debased hearing." The footnote says: Changsha is a competent master of our school. Why does he talk so much? How could his point be communicated beyond holding up the fly whisk, the shout, the explanation? How could the truth we are speaking of be shown?
The capping verse:
The first two lines refer to Manjushri and the third and forth lines refer to Avalokitesvara. In our Buddha Hall there are three figures on the altar. In the middle sits the Buddha. On one side is Manjushri Bodhisattva. He rides a lion and carries a sword. It is a double-edged sword. One side kills the ego and the other side gives life. Manjushri is the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. In other words, Manjushri has a clear eye of wisdom. That is why the verse says Manjushri is always covering his eyes. Avalokitesvara is also called Kannon or Kwan Yin. Usually depicted in the female form, she is the Goddess of Compassion. What the word Avalokitesvara literally means is "the hearer of the cries of the world." The Bodhisattva of Compassion responds to the needs of people through sound. When there is a cry for help, she responds. She takes the form that is appropriate to the situation.
The verse says: Avalokitesvara is always covering her ears. In intimacy there is no separation; in complete hearing, there is no separation. The kind of hearing that Avalokitesvara does is the hearing of whole body-and-mind intimacy. No gaps. The kind of seeing Manjushri does is whole body-and-mind seeing. No gaps.
We are the first generation of American practitioners. We are involved in a very important process: the coming of Buddhism to the West, manifesting in a western form. Buddhism was in India and China and other Asian countries for hundreds of years. When it first came to Asia it was very fresh, vibrant and vital. That is the way it is here in the West right now -very exciting. In fact our Dharma brothers and sisters in Japan, China, Korea and Viet Nam look at us with awe and envy, the way we practice here. They admire the way that both monastics and lay students practice with the same vigor that was prevalent in the Golden Age of Zen. But after an initial period of vitality, Buddhism declined tremendously in Asian countries in the same way that other religions tended to decline in their original settings.
That is why it is really important for us to appreciate what is going on in the different areas of our training. Otherwise practice is going to decline here as well. We can't take it for granted. When I was quite young and studied religion with Jesuits and nuns, I was truly interested in how they were seeing the nature of the universe, how they understood it, and how they manifested their understanding. I believed everything I was told and did the practices I was taught with my whole heart. But I began to notice that everybody didn't take it seriously. The priest didn't take things seriously. He would be talking a mile a minute as he walked past a church, then make the sign of the cross in the midst of his conversation without dropping a word. It was only a reflex action. It didn't mean anything. It wasn't with the whole body-and-mind. It wasn't even conscious. It was no different than scratching his head.
The danger of irrelevance is always lurking in our inattention. Buddhism in this country can easily go the route of empty forms if we are not dedicated to making every moment of our lives count. At the Monastery, we are involved in liturgy every morning, noon, and night. These practices are repetitious and it is easy to lose touch with whole body-and-mind intimacy. If there is no whole body-and-mind intimacy, there is no zazen, no liturgy, no dokusan, no work practice, no art practice, no body practice. All we have without whole body-and-mind intimacy is the form, and that is not worth a thing when it comes to living your life. Please don't take this practice lightly. Know that in every single aspect of it there are multiple levels of depth to be seen, appreciated, realized and actualized. It is only then that we give life to the Buddha.
©2003 Zen Mountain
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