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[This version: 5 July 1994]
REALIZING OUR TRUE NATURE - Questions and Answers
Taizan Maezumi Roshi
An un-dated lecture, most likely delivered in the mid- or late 1970s,
made available to Sydney Zen Center in a xeroxed form.
This text addresses some of the most fundamental and delicate religious
issues. Therefore, it should be read, quoted and analysed in a mindful
All copyrights to this document belong to Taizan Maezumi Roshi, Zen Center
of Los Angeles, 923 South Normandie Ave., Los Angeles, California USA
REALIZING OUR TRUE NATURE
Questions and Answers with Taizan Maezumi Roshi
Q: Roshi, what do we mean by one's "true nature?"
A: Let us think about what one's "true nature" means. In our case,
practicing together, we may say it is a synonym of "Buddha nature." And
this "Buddha nature" or "true nature" of oneself is explained using such
terms as: "original self," "original face" or "Mind;" sometimes as "Muji,"
"the cypress tree in the garden," "thusness" or "reality;" each according
to the context of the doctrine or the teachings.
When we consider this true nature as the Buddha nature, it will clarify
our understanding to observe the Buddha nature from three different
standpoints: The first one is called 'Shoin Ryoin', the Buddha nature
inherent in all beings, whether enlightened or not, The next one is 'Ryoin
Bussho', the Buddha nature which is manifested when one begins to practice
the Dharma. And the last one is 'Enin Bussho', the Buddha nature of one
who has attained enlightenment.
Making a simple analogy, the 'Shoin Ryoin' is like gold which is in the
ground. Regardless of whether or not people realize it, there is gold
underground. The second one,'Ryoin Bussho', is the Buddha nature by virtue
of which we are able to recognize where and how to extract the gold. The
third one, 'Enin Bussho', is like whatever tools you use to take the gold
out and get it into your hands.
Q: Can everyone realize this "true nature?"
A: In connection with this analogy, we may understand that all of us have
the Buddha nature, or rather, we are nothing but the Buddha nature. Yet,
if we don't become aware that we already have the gold in our hands, we
cannot be satisfied until we do have it. In order to have it, we have to
do something to get it. If anyone wants to have gold in his hands without
making any effort to get it, he simply can't have it. In order to realize
one's Buddha nature, if one doesn't do anything in order to realize it, it
will be impossible to have it. On the contrary, if someone really wishes
to do it, s/he will get it done sooner or later.
Q: How is it that some people won't realize it?
A: Using the analogy, everybody knows that gold is someplace in the
ground; in some places there is gold, and in other places there is not. If
we dig in the wrong place, it's in vain, regardless of how hard we try. So
in order to realize this Buddha nature, we have to have the right means
and the right direction in which to pursue our efforts to find the gold.
Q: What would be the right direction?
A: Let's reflect upon the words of Dogen Zenji: "It is not a matter of
being smart or dull, well-learned or foolish, but if one practices
wholeheartedly to find out what the Way is, that is nothing but the
accomplishment of the Way."
The point is this: straight-forward whole-heartedness in accord with one's
practice. These famous words of Dogen Zenji, "Isshiki ino bendo", mean "To
practice the Way with whole-heartedness," or "To become one with whatever
you do." In other words, 'to become one is the key. When you really become
one with whatever you do, that is the realization of the Way.'
So that whether everyone realizes his true nature or not is dependent on
the individual. Even being lazy and not doing anything still is nothing
but the Buddha nature. That is to say, one has gold and yet he does not
think so. So he simply does not realize his own nature.
There is a famous analogy by the Buddha: A very poor man had a friend who
was very rich. One time they met together, had a few drinks, and
eventually the poor man fell asleep. Looking at this poor man, the rich
man felt sorry for him, and, without letting him know, slipped a precious
jewel into his garment. After parting from his rich friend, the poor man
returned to his life as a beggar without knowing he had that precious
jewel. After some time, they met again, and the rich man was surprised and
asked him, "I gave you that jewel. Why did you not use it to make your
life comfortable. And the poor man said, "No, you never gave me anything!"
So the rich friend reached into the garment where he put the jewel, took
it out, and showed it to him.
Q: Roshi, how can we strengthen our faith in order to practice better?
A: This is a very fundamental thing. Faith is a very fundamental, very
important matter in life. To strengthen our faith is almost always a
synonym for bettering our practice.
When we have faith, it is necessary to examine in what we put our faith.
We have a proverb, "To believe in the head of a dried, dead sardine has
power to chase away evil spirits." As a matter of fact, we believe in all
sorts of different things: such as money, fame, ideas, thoughts,
ideologies, emotions and feelings. In order to practice better, we must
have our faith in the right way. What is the right way? It is to put our
faith in whatever the Buddha and the Patriarchs say, to put ourselves
wholeheartedly into it and practice diligently. So, regarding the right
direction, have strong faith in yourself, in the fact that your life is
itself nothing but Buddha nature. To have strong faith in this fact and to
practice in accordance with what the Buddha and the Patriarchs say, leads
us to better practice and strengthens our faith.
It is also important to renew our vows from time to time and to encourage
ourselves to accomplish further. By doing so, we can strengthen our faith,
and this faith, again, strengthens our practice.
It is like a circle. First, 'Hosshin', raise the Bodhi-mind or seek for
realization; second, 'Shugyo', practice; third, 'Bodhi', attainment of
realization; fourth, 'Nehan', Nirvana. In the state of Nirvana lies the
Bodhi-mind, then again practice, then attainment, then Nirvana, spiraling
ever upward. Dogen Zenji said that our practice is like a spiral
comprising these four strands.
So let us practice well together and strengthen our faith.
[end of file].