Dharma Talk: October 21, 2012 (retreat)

Center at WestwoodsMajushri

Good afternoon. Please feel free to sit comfortably.

Today I would like to briefly speak about our friend who sitting on top of the butsudan (仏壇) here. He looks rather fierce; he has a sword in his hand: it is the image of the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī, Monju Bosatsu (文殊菩薩), that’s what his name is in Japanese. In many Japanese Zen monasteries inside the Zen Hall, the zendō (禅堂), there often is a statue of Monju Bosatsu as the main image. There is a Japanese version of the statue which is a little different than the one we have here: Monju is standing up, he stands versus being seated, and he holds his sort straight up.
Monju BosatsuSo what is that sword business about? What kind of image is that? You may remember that Monju Bosatsu is the bodhisattva who uses the sword to cut off illusion, to cut through delusion. He personifies the awakening from the dream state into the state of being awake – discriminating wisdom. If you ever heard a little bit about the teachings of Tathagata Zen, the Zen that Jōshū Rōshi teaches, you know about aitairitsu no hataraki (相対立の働き), about the two mutually opposing forces, mutually opposing activities. We can name them plus and minus, we can name them male and female. And what comes into existence from the working of these activities is what we experience as time and what creates past, present, and future. Mañjuśrī is deeply involved in all of this because it is his sword that cuts every “now” off and turns it into past, that cuts each moment of the future off and turns it into now. We are dealing with Mañjuśrī, that means we’re dealing with impermanence (anitya, 無常 mujō), the activity that always changes, that does not fixate, and that does not leave traces: it is just happening at this very moment. Impermanence often makes people feel in a way that is associated with the feelings of loss, but through understanding of the activity of impermanence we realize that loss and gain both are fueled and driven by the activity of impermanence, the activity of change, the activity of time, or even as Rōshi sometimes says “the activity of nature”. Without holding on, without will and desire this activity moves on: clear-cut, no traces. The sword of Mañjuśrī is so thin that it is undetectable, it is so sharp that it constantly cuts the new emerging now.

Today is a wonderful day of the manifestation of impermanence. We all sit here, we experience our activity of breathing, inhalation and exhalation, we experience the activity of thinking “Ah, what am I doing here? I should be somewhere else…”  We experience the activity of future, hoping for being somewhere else than where we are; the activity of past by recollecting a better place where we had been in the past. But what Mañjuśrī tells us is that you have to cut through the illusion of past and future and to become able to be in touch with the very cutting edge of his sword. The moment before future turns to present, the moment before present turns into past: that is the true dynamic of anitya, of impermanence. Without impermanence, without the separation into the three realms of past, present, and future, there would be no experience. Some people try to teach what others hope for: a state where we have the experience of completeness. But the Buddhist teachings and the teachings of Zen, and Tathagata Zen in particular assert that such an experience is not the true state of completeness. As long as there is separation, as long as there is discrimination between past, present, and future, between subject and object, it is only an illusion.

Zen practice tries to teach us how to break through that delusion, that is where all the wonderful Zen actions come from. [loudly:]“Hello! Where are you?” Where are you, that is the question. When you hear this sound, the Rōshi always says, and then he makes some kind of sound, “where are you?”  That is the tame version – the really fierce version is Mañjuśrī, swinging his sword; you will find it nowhere else than in your own life, every day. Every day you will encounter the sword [makes cutting sound through the air], cutting through your ideas, slashing your hopes, turning the present into the past. The more you attach to the ideas of the future and the past, the more you will actually miss the sword and not be at the cutting edge. “Cutting” sounds so fierce, it sounds very cold, but truly as a bodhisattva Mañjuśrī is the bodhisattva of wisdom. If we want to be a bodhisattva just like Majushri, it is our calling to gain that understanding. To be able to share it with others, to be able to go out to those who are suffering and to help them, not by telling them that it’s all an illusion, but by helping to facilitate that they are able to cut through the delusion themselves. Introduce them to the sword of Mañjuśrī, introduce them through your being, through your being able to go from moment to moment without leaving any trace. When there is no delusion to cut off, when there are no illusions left, the sword of Mañjuśrī rests and he sleeps. But in the next moment he wakes up again.

This is the activity of our consciousness, the activity of nature, of time, the activity of Dharma, without discrimination. On the han (板), the wooden board, which we don’t have here unfortunately, it says “time does not wait for humans” (時人不待). The sword will move; illusions, delusions will be cut. With each breath, in every moment of our lives as a Zen practitioner we are called to not get stuck, to stay here and now, at the very edge of Mañjuśrī sword.