The way of Zen began without the establishment of any sect. It is simply a religion which points to the one original mind of all Buddhas and ordinary people. This mind is nothing other than Buddha nature. To see this nature is what is meant by religious practice. When you realize your Buddha nature, wrong relationships will instantly disappear, words will be of no concern, and the dust of the dharma will not stain you. This is what is called Zen. Attaining Zen is becoming a Buddha. This real Buddha is none other than the heart of all beings, the master of seeing, hearing, and perceiving.
When one becomes enlightened in this way, body and mind are both Zen. For whom is it easy to obtain? For whom is it difficult to obtain? From ancient times up to the present there has not been a single person who has attained Buddhahood without seeing into their original nature. Of the seventeen hundred and one beings listed in the Transmission of the Lamp, all have pointed directly to people’s minds, making them see into their own nature solely and thus become Buddhas. Moreover, the virtuous priests who followed all taught the transmission of mind through the mind exclusively.
Enlightened beings earnestly point to the dharma of mind, while the unenlightened, seeking Buddha outside the mind, wholeheartedly practice the dharma of existent phenomena. They are different as black and white. Like fire and water they can never mix. Though the Buddha Way is for the purpose of realizing the important matter of cause and effect, when I see how a passing fancy can cause one to believe a teacher of false views, I realize how easily one’s karmic inclination can influence one’s beliefs.
But the karmic inclination people have toward the Buddha Way is far more intimate then their karmic inclination toward an individual. By dharma I mean dharma of mind. Can one be without karmic inclination toward his own mind? Realizing the Buddha mind with your own mind is like the sky realizing the sky. How then will you deal with a teacher of false views who sets up barriers where there are none?
Questioner: Even though one has the aspiration and practices the Way, if he meets a teacher of false views, he will surely enter the false path. How can one recognize the difference between a teacher of false views and a true teacher?
Bassui: If a practitioner wishes to distinguish a teacher of false views from a true teacher, he must first look into the true nature of his own mind carefully, and use this power of realization to make the distinction between the two types of teachers. Even then, trying to perceive the great dharma from one’s narrow viewpoint is like a mosquito trying to bite an iron cow. Clearly one who tries to discriminate between a teacher of false views and a true teacher through his own feelings is like one who tries to light up heaven with the light of a lightning bug. How can one every come close to proper discernment?
Questioner: In that case, many beginning practitioners who believed in teachers of false views would spend their lives in vain; isn’t there some sign to make them aware of their mistake?
Bassui: The true teacher is one who has seen into his own nature. One who gives sermons while not having seen into his own nature is a false teacher.
A good teacher is one who combines understanding and practice and has no lingering delusions. These lingering delusions are ones that persist as a result of old habits. The Zen Master Engo said: “If he hasn’t cut through to full function, attained great freedom, why live and die with such a one? Why do I say this? Because he has not eliminated lingering delusions of good and bad, right and wrong.” Tozan said, “If you want to distinguish between a truly superior person and a false one, there are three kinds of lingering delusions. They are the lingering delusions of opinion, emotion, and speech.
“With lingering delusions of opinions, one can’t separate himself from the domain of the thinking mind and hence falls into the poisonous ocean. With lingering delusions of emotion, one always looks at things from the standpoint of feelings, becoming narrow minded and biased. With lingering delusions of speech, one loses sight of the wonderful teaching of the true nature of things and becomes blinded to its true activity. Please consider these three lingering delusions carefully.”
One who has not yet exhausted these lingering delusions will be stained by the two aspects--existence and emptiness--and will not find freedom anywhere. This is because he will not have penetrated the truth of his own nature. The Great Master Bodhidharma said: “In ancient times there was a monk, Zensho, who could recite the twelve sections of the sutras, yet he still couldn’t avoid the fate of the world of transmigration because he didn’t realize his own true nature.” And again he said: “Entering water and fire, climbing the Mountain Ringed by Swords, eating only once a day, sitting long hours in meditation and not lying down, are all ways of a heretic—the dharma of perpetual change. If you are aware of the nature of spiritual awakening in your activities and movements, you will attain the mind of the Buddha.”
Bodhidharma said: “One who makes practice and theory one is a patriarch.” Meeting a great master who has coordinated body and mind, for whom meditation and precepts are equally understood, who forgets both mind and dharma, who is not moved by praise or blame, who has attained the true Buddha Way, and in whom gathering disciples as numerous as the sands does not arouse pride, is as rare as the udonge flower which blossoms only once in three thousands years. You should risk all, even your life, searching for such a teacher.”
Translated by Arthur Braverman 1989
We live in very different times compared to those of Japan in the 1300’s, but the search for a true teacher or master beckons to students of every century. Bassui’s quest began the way it does in any person strong enough to question for themselves. Long before he had met any teacher at the age of 4 during a memorial service for his father, he asked the priest how his father could eat the offerings on the altar. When told his soul would eat the offerings, he asked, “What is thing this called a soul?” Thus began a very early period of inquiry. At age nine a new question arose, “Who is this one who sees, hears, and understands?”
The heart of Bassui’s teaching is always to point the person back into the true nature of their own mind. In this selection Bassui is responding to a questioner asking about finding a true teacher. This is a timeless question, and very few people actually answer it straightforwardly. Ultimately on our deepest level we can see the truth in any situation or person if we choose to see clearly. The three lingering delusions that Tozan refers to are the very aspects that obscure true seeing.
In our times many are practicing without a teacher; most could not endure the 17 years of wandering that Bassui invested in seeking to deepen his understanding visiting the various Zen Masters of the times. For many the question goes even further than finding a true teacher, it edges into the very unknown waters of seeing into one’s own mind without a teacher. But for many that is just what will happen. That is the power of asking and staying with your questions throughout time.
Tokukei: Why don’t you wear
Bassui: I became a monk to understand the great matter of life and death, no to wear Buddhist robes.
Tokukei: Then are you looking into the koans of the old masters?
Bassui: Of course not. How can I appreciate the words of others when I don’t even know my own mind?
Tokukei: Well, then, how do you approach your religious practice?
Bassui: I want to clarify the source of the great Dharma handed down by the Buddhas and the patriarchs. After attaining enlightenment, I want to save the bright and the dull, teaching each one according to his capacity. My true desire is to relieve others of their pain though I myself may fall into hell.
Hearing this Tokukei simply put his palms together and bowed. A friendship grew between these two monks from that time.
May our minds be clear!