by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Chapter 7
The Five Laws of the Universe

There is no need to change the present body and mind; all one has to do is follow in the enlightened Way of a fine Zen master for this is the receiving of the teaching directly: to follow a Zen master is not to follow in old ways nor to create new ones, it is simply just to receive the teaching.

--Great Master Dogen, Gyakudo-yojinshu ("Aspects of Meditation")

The Traditional Formulation

The niyamas, or "five types of natural processes," are traditionally expressed as follows: the laws of the physical inorganic world; the laws of the organic world; the law of karma; the laws of Dharma; laws of the mind.

I am a living being, and my existence as a living being has a context. The niyamas are a way of looking at my existence within its total context. In other words, the niyamas identify five aspects of the world, and of my life as part of the world in which I live.

I am a living being who is a human being who does Buddhist training. What special meaning does each of the niyamas have for me as a human being who trains in Buddhism? Rev. Master's explanation of the niyamas provides an answer to this question.

Respect the Limits

The first niyama is uta niyama--physical inorganic processes. Think of a rock. Its existence expresses physical inorganic processes. Another example: the weather.

What is my relationship to a rock and to the weather? The answer to this question might prove rather lengthy, so let us refine the question: What is my relationship to a rock and to the weather as a Buddhist trainee?

I can love a pretty rock, and curse a rock that I stub my toe on. I can rejoice in the sunshine and soft air of a lovely spring day, and resent the cold winter drizzle that soaks me to the skin.--If I am not careful, I will end up setting my will against the real limits that the physical world imposes on me. If I do that, I create a great deal of suffering for myself.

Rev. Master expressed the first nimaya as "The physical world is not answerable to my personal will." In other words, the limits that the physical world imposes are a constant reminder that I am not God. The first law of the universe thus becomes a reminder of the importance of all-acceptance--endless bowing.

Let Go

The second niyama is bija niyama--organic processes. The seed of a plant is an example of a tiny piece of the world that contains within itself a whole little universe of complex processes that make possible the development of a mature plant from the tiny seed. In other words, living beings grow--and eventually decay.

I am a living being. My body and mind grew to maturity and are now growing old. One day I will die. My life has been one of constant change, as is the life of every other living being.

Rev. Master called the second niyama "the law of change"--Interestingly, in her explanation of this niyama, she strongly emphasized a Buddhist teaching that I have repeatedly stressed in the Reflections: the teaching of no-self. And the basic point of this teaching is that there is no real separation from the Eternal.

Rev. Master also expressed this second niyama as "All things flow." This is the "Flow of Immaculacy," which is the same as "no-self." The seeming opposites of that which changes and That which is eternal are in fact complementary aspects of one Flow of Immaculacy.

Body and mind are a rug that is constantly being pulled out from under our expectations. We can accept this fact, look up, and let go.--The unborn, undying Life of Buddha is unscrolling within and around us at this very moment. The details change; the Life of Buddha is.

Pay Attention to Cause and Effect

The third niyama is kamma niyama--the law of moral cause and effect. If I lose my temper, I feel lousy later: cause and effect. If someone loses their temper at me and I respond with compassion rather than resentment, I feel peaceful later: cause and effect.

Rev. Master expressed this third niyama as, "The law of karma is inevitable and inexorable."

The "inevitable and inexorable" fact that every volitional action has consequences that find ultimate expression in pure states of feeling means that we are all enrolled in the School of Moral Cause and Effect from birth. We cannot get out of this school. So the question is whether or not we will be attentive students. There is no better teacher than the consequences of our own actions.

Entrust the Future to the Eternal

The fourth niyama is Dhamma niyama--phenomena associated with the Dharma. Traditionally, this seems to refer to events that accompany the coming to fruition of merit. In her expression of this niyama, Rev. Master focuses on the underlying merit of existence that is rooted in the Buddha Nature Itself.

Rev. Master often said, "God writes straight with crooked lines." In other words, the Eternal makes use of everything: all paths lead to enlightenment, though some paths (those in which greed, hate and delusion are wantonly indulged) are much longer and more full of suffering than others. All of this is contained within Rev. Master's expression of the fourth niyama: "Without fail, evil is vanquished and good prevails."

It is never too late to look up. Rev. Master puts it very clearly: "No matter what a being has done, either in this life or in a past one, if he truly repents, or so much as even doubts, the wisdom of his evil acts as late in life as the moment of death, he opens the door to freedom." (The Book of Life, p. 7)

Infinite Love does not "vanquish evil" by wreaking vengeance. Evil actions create more spiritual need, and the painful consequences of evil actions reveal the extent of the need. Cosmic Compassion forever holds out its Help to all need. One day, someone looks up and reaches for that Help. Whenever the conversion of karma happens in any degree whatsoever, evil is vanquished and good prevails.

Guard and Nurture Faith

The fifth niyama is citta niyama--laws of mind. This niyama includes many kinds of mental phenomena, some of which science tends to disregard.

In her expression of this fifth niyama, Rev. Master focused on the very root of genuine spiritual intuition: "All beings possess intuitive knowledge of the Buddha Nature."

Every being carries a spiritual beacon within its own body and mind--a beacon provided by the Eternal to guide beings back into full harmony with Itself. As Rev. Master says, this beacon is what prompts us in "the creation of religions and Precepts down the centuries." This beacon is faith--the intuitive knowledge of the Buddha Nature.

The religions of human beings bear the marks of our humanity. Many modern people despair about religion because they see only the marks of our humanity in it. To such despair I say, "Find the spiritual path that works for you, find your true teacher, and do not worry about the paths and teachers of others. Above all, always guard and nurture the beacon of faith within yourself."

Capital "L"

When I contemplate Rev. Master's way of expressing the five laws of the universe, I think, "What a majestic, sobering and profoundly positive view of life this is." Indeed, it is a view within which Life with a capital "L" can be glimpsed.


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