by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Purification of the Heart

Without purification, the seed of Buddhahood does not mature.
After purification, he who becomes Buddha
Manifests the True Nature of a Buddha.

Innumerable Beings

Every trainee has the potential to save innumerable beings, thus fulfilling the first of the Four Bodhisattva Vows: "However innumerable beings may be, I vow to save them all." And this is accomplished by doing one's own training thoroughly.

The following diagram shows the way this "salvation of innumerable beings" works.



The two blue lines encompass the karmic past, present and possible future of the trainee. The lines intersect in the trainee's present life. The arrow near the bottom of the diagram shows the direction in which time is moving, from past to future.

The area enclosed by the lines to the left of the intersection represents the spiritual need inherited from previous lives that is getting the Help of the Eternal through the vehicle of the trainee's present training. This is salvation of living beings of the past.

The light at the point of intersection of the lines represents the fact that the trainee's present training is saving the "beings" of greed, hate and delusion in his own mind. This is salvation of beings in the present.

The area enclosed by the lines to the right of the intersection represents the merit of the trainee's training as it will continue to manifest in the future after his death. This is saving innumerable living beings in the future. Note that this area is larger than the area enclosed by the lines to the left of the intersection: the merit of genuine spiritual conversion flows on and on into the future, leaving the darkness of ignorance behind in the same way that a rocket leaves its boosters behind as it escapes the hold of earth's gravity.

The light of merit is not entirely enclosed by the lines. This represents the fact that the merit of one person's training extends naturally to others, especially those with whom there is a close karmic connection. Note that this sharing of merit continues on into the future.

Sentient Beings of the Mind

This understanding of the meaning of "saving living beings" was strongly emphasized in the teachings of the first Zen masters, as can be seen in the following passage from the The Platform Sutra:

"When we declare that we vow to save an infinite number of sentient beings, what does that mean? It does not mean that I, Hui-Neng, am going to save them. And who are these sentient beings? They are the delusive mind, the deceitful mind, the evil mind, and such like minds--all these are sentient beings. Each of them has to liberate himself by means of his own True Heart. Then the liberation is genuine. Now, what does it mean to liberate oneself by one's own True Heart? It means the liberation of the ignorant, the delusive and the vexatious beings within our own mind by means of right views. With the aid of right views and wisdom (prajna) the barriers raised by these ignorant and delusive beings may be broken down so that each of them is in a position to liberate himself through his own efforts. Let the fallacious be liberated by truth, the deluded by enlightenment, the ignorant by wisdom, and the malevolent by benevolence. Such is genuine liberation."
--translated by Wong Mou-Lam, slightly paraphrased

This wonderful passage from a classic text of early Zen interprets the best known of the Bodhisattva Vows in a way that keeps the focus on doing one's own training, thus hearkening back to the historical roots of Buddhism. It is remarkable in three additional ways: first, it clearly states that the wisdom of our own True Nature, which is innate within us and not externally acquired, is the source of spiritual liberation; second, it implies that all forms of ignorance contain within themselves the potential for corresponding forms of enlightenment, which is the secret of conversion; and, third, it expresses the understanding of no-self. (With regard to this last point, note that the sentence, "It does not mean that I, Hui-Neng am going to save them" might also have been rendered, "It does not mean that there is an 'I', Hui-Neng, who is going to save them." This would be wholly in accord with the Sixth Patriarch's thinking.)

The Third Pure Precept

Rev. Master's explanation of the Three Pure Precepts in How to Grow a Lotus Blossom (Plate XII; first edition, Plate VIII) not only shows how to train in such a way as to set the stage for this spiritual liberation of the multitudinous "sentient beings" within one's own mind, but adds another dimension.

This added dimension is revealed in Rev. Master's explanation of the Third Pure Precept, "Do good for others." Rev. Master considers the possibility that her actions might unintentionally "set up a chain of causation that will cause others to do wrong." She adds, "I cannot stop him [another being] doing harm, for each man his karma makes and must carry for himself, but I can do that about myself which will prevent me from accidentally starting the course of karma. I must think carefully of my every act. I may not cause another to make a mistake in Buddhism."

Note that nowhere does Rev. Master mention the kinds of activities that are commonly thought of as "helping activities." Yet paradoxically, by resolutely keeping her focus on her own training, and thereby rooting herself firmly in the Eternal, Rev. Master provided a true Sangha Refuge for many people.


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