by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Part IV
Original Enlightenment

Surely I should not seek the Truth from others,
For then It will be far from me.
I am going alone now;
Everywhere I am able to meet Him.
I am not Him;
He is all of me.
When we understand this,
We are one instantaneously with the Truth.

--Great Master Tozan

The Great Inversion

A Great Inversion in point of view happens in the course of training and enlightenment. When I think of this Great Inversion, I think of an hourglass containing sand. We begin with all the sand at the top. As the sand trickles through the narrow "waist" of the hourglass, it begins to collect in a little pile on the floor of the bottom compartment. Think of the hourglass in its original position with all the sand at the top. We can call the top compartment of the hourglass "belief in a separate self," and the bottom compartment "certainty that the Eternal is". The amount of sand in each compartment represents the degree of conviction. In the beginning of training, there is a strong conviction of the reality of a separate self. As training deepens conviction trickles (mostly imperceptibly) from belief in a separate self to certainty of the Eternal.

What is meant by "belief in a separate self"?--It must be stressed that the "belief" referred to here is a deeply rooted, stubborn and slippery conviction. It is imbued with darkest ignorance--and always at the heart of that ignorance, self-judgment. And what is a "separate self"?--I have often called it "the non-existent focal point of karma." Here "non-existent" means that, just as the focal point of a telescope is not a thing in itself, but rather a point in space at which rays of light converge, so the separate self has no reality in itself, but is just a spiritual junction of confused belief, craving and spiritual pain. As soon as belief is invested in the idea of a separate self, suffering is inevitable. For the separation referred to is separation from the Eternal. The conviction that one is separate from infinite Love causes a fierce craving for love: craving is rooted in ignorance.

The belief in a separate self and acts of self-judgment are mutually reinforcing. The more we judge ourselves, the more separate from the Eternal we believe ourselves to be; and the more separate we believe ourselves to be, the more unworthy we feel, and the more prone we are to drop the thought-hammer of self-judgment.

Of course, each being has an individuality separate from other beings. Each human being is a different person from every other human being. However, no being--and no human being--is separate from the Buddha Nature. One of the most common ways in which human confusion and suffering are deepened is by mistaking the seeming withdrawal of love by other people as the withdrawal of Love Itself. Human beings may feel love and hate, and they may manifest love and hate in their actions. The Love of the Eternal is in no way affected by, increased, or decreased by human feelings or actions of love and hate: It is.

There are those who seek to kill the selfish self through religious practice. This is like trying to strangle a shadow. Thus the Buddha, after years of trying to kill the selfish self realized that such effort is futile. After showing kindness to his tormented body (he had been starving himself in a vain attempt to destroy desire), he "turned the stream of Compassion within [in pure meditation] and was enlightened."

As the "sand" of belief piles up in the "certainty that the Eternal is" compartment of the "hourglass", the top compartment--"belief in the separate self"--gets emptier and emptier. As more and more "sand" moves from top to bottom--as delusion converts to wisdom--we begin to see the separate self as illusion and unreality, and the tendency to identify body and mind with such an illusion is greatly weakened.

Think of the implications of such a point of view. If there is no separate self, there is no deluded self, nor can there be an enlightened self. There is no self that accumulates vices or virtues. There is no good self and no bad self. There is the flow of choice (action) and consequence, but there is no separate self within this flow. Rather, this flow is itself within the Eternal. Even the dark and confused belief in separation from Love exists right within Love Itself. The separate self is an illusion, but even illusion is not apart from the Eternal. In fact, even the most deluded and horrific actions, as well as the suffering that inexorably accompanies and follows them, occur within that all-embracing Love: they are not It, and they are not apart from It.

The Great Inversion is the transition from the belief in the separate self to the certainty that this Immaculate, all-embracing, Compassionate Oneness is: "I am not Him; He is all of me."

No-Self and the True Self

If there is no separate self, who or what is it that "awakens to our True Nature"?-- "Awakening to our True Nature" happens as part of the flow of cause and effect: there is no need for a shadowy separate self underlying this flow. It is said in Buddhism, "Only volition is the doer of karma; only feeling is the reaper of karma." And again, "No doer is there who does the deed, nor is there one who feels the fruit." Both the deepening of suffering and the lessening of suffering happen in accordance with "causes and conditions" within the Great Immaculacy.

The conviction that there is a self separate from the Eternal is a spiritual prison. The Buddhist teaching of "no-self" is neither an abstract concept of existential philosophy, nor a ruse devised by masters for the purpose of boggling the minds of their disciples: it is a finger pointing to liberation from that prison of delusion and anguish. What does that liberation look like? What does someone who experiences it understand? Look at Plate LXIV of the second edition of How to Grow a Lotus Blossom (Plate XLIII of the first edition) and read the accompanying text. It is important to read the entire text, but here are some of its threads:

"The Light of the Lord of the House, the Heart-Mind, irradiates the infinity of space--within Its centre I may not say that It is empty; I may not say that It is not empty. It is unstained, immaculate; I am not It, It is all of me . . . Nothing is born, nothing dies. We shape our fears from emptiness and unto emptiness they return. The only seeming real emptiness is fear; the Lord enfolds emptiness and is not empty nor is it not not empty. Within the Lord all senses, form, thought, all things cease and nothing ceases; there are neither old age nor death and there is no ceasing of old age and death as the world understands them.. . .Life and death, body and mind fall away naturally for they no longer apply. . . . All-acceptance is the key that unlocks the gateless gate. Within this place there is no suffering, no coming, no going, no ceasing, no Way. There is only endless training, appearing here, disappearing there, going in and out, always BECOMING Buddha."

One of the great Mahayana Buddhist scriptures, the Mahaparinirvana Sutra says, very simply, "To fully penetrate the truth of no-self is to realize the True Self." The metaphor of the hourglass conveys this very well, for it represents the conversion of deluded belief in self into true conviction--the certainty that the Eternal is. Again, I recommend reading the full text accompanying Plate LXIV of How to Grow a Lotus Blossom (first edition: Plate XLIII). "Nothing is born, nothing dies" equals "there is no separate self". "Within the Lord all senses, form, thought, all things cease and nothing ceases . . . " equals "there is the True Self--the Eternal."

"Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream;
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream."
--from The Diamond Sutra, translation by K. Saunders

Magnificent Faith

"To truly study the Way is to try to penetrate it and, in order to do so, one must forget even the slightest trace of enlightenment. One who would train in Buddhism must first believe completely therein and, in order to do so, one must believe that one has already found the Way, never having been lost, deluded, upside-down, increasing, decreasing or mistaken in the first place . . .."

This passage is from Great Master Dogen's "Lecture on Training" (Bendowa). He first tells the trainee to let go of all opinions about, and attachment to enlightenment. In this context, he is thinking particularly of attachment to any progress that we have made in training and any realization that we have had in the past. He then advises the same with regard to dwelling upon past and present delusions and mistakes: let it go. We need to bow to both complacency and self-doubt and move on past them. Complacency says, "I'm fine. There is nothing I need to do." Self-doubt says, "I can't do it."--If we let them have the upper hand, both prevent us from doing the things that are truly good to do. The cure for both is to go forward in magnificent faith--faith in Original Enlightenment.

What is "Original Enlightenment"? And why is faith in Original Enlightenment vitally important?

Since there is no such thing as a self separate from the Eternal, there can be no such thing as an enlightened separate self. Yet people have kensho experience--they awaken to their True Nature. This happens when a grudge held against oneself dissolves, and the Immaculate True Nature of ourselves and all existence is experienced with our entire being. "Original Enlightenment" refers to the fact that That to which we awaken in the experience of enlightenment never was, is, or will be confused and deluded. That which is not confused or deluded is enlightened. And this is our True Nature, not something external to us. Therefore, this Original Freedom from Ignorance--Original Enlightenment--is our very own Original Enlightenment, even though we do not own It: we belong to It; It does not belong to us.

At the beginning of How to Grow a Lotus Blossom we see why it is vitally important to trust in Original Enlightenment. Rev. Master writes (Plate II):

"How do I climb that which is sheer and glassy? By going straight up, by not thinking whether I will live or die, by not thinking I am inadequate or adequate, male or female. . . . [I] will not listen to the voice that whispers, "Go back. You are too weak, you cannot do it. You have not been good enough to climb this mountain; you have not done enough to train yourself--you do not know how to climb." And I say, "Quiet. I can climb and I will."

The illusion of self is a prison. We can climb out of that prison, but to do so we need to stop doing the things that keep us locked up. We can have a focus other than that of the virtues and vices, enlightenment and delusion of an illusory separate self. We can reach toward, open our heart to, the True Self, letting go of the running tally of good and evil, right and wrong, success and failure. To drop the score-keeping and walk with childlike trust into the great Unknown is magnificent faith--faith in Original Enlightenment. To quote Great Master Dogen once again:

"They who believe that they are already within the Way are truly rare but, if you can truly believe it, the opening and closing of the Great Way are understood quite naturally and the root of delusion and enlightenment is seen as it is."

There is no more eloquent, accurate portrayal of faith in Original Enlightenment than How to Grow a Lotus Blossom.


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