The Sandokai is the work of Master Sekito Kisen (in Chinese: Shítóu Xīqiān) who was born in in southern China in 700 AD and died in 790 AD. This was an era in which Zen grew in popularity and began to emerge as a distinct school with many strong, dynamic personalities like Bodhidharma and Eno.
Transcription of Talk given at Crosby Hall Sesshin 2010
I’m going to speak a little about the origins of Mahayana Buddhism -how it relates to our practice and Dogen’s thinking. I’m going to focus on the ideas that are most relevant to us.
The ideal of Mahayana Buddhism is the bodhisattva. Bodhi means awakening while sattva means existence. The bodhisattva is therefore an awakening being, awakening existence. Awakening is at the heart of all existence.
Often, when I give a talk, somebody asks: “Zen, Buddhism … are they a religion?” And I often reply, “As you like.” You can practise zazen as a technique for well-being, to feel better, to have a more interesting life, to be happier. That’s possible. It is also possible that you will achieve those goals to a greater or lesser extent.
Buddha said “Even if you have committed errors, if for just one single moment you sincerely venerate the kesa, you can become Buddha”. Before we put the kesa on for the first time in the day we place it on our head, making it physically higher than ourselves, and chant this sutra:
The four great vows of the Boddhisattva are a commitment to practise with compassion, awareness and determination.
This little verse was in the newsletter a while ago as part of the Ghohatsu Nenju – Formal Meal Verses. It is chanted at the end of the meal by the Ino. I have also heard it chanted in the dojo at the end of a teaching or a mondo or a short zazen. I think it is a beautiful verse in both English and Sino-Japanese.
Someone from the British sangha has asked the question that a godo does not really want to answer. It is very difficult, in fact, to explain in a few lines what is covered by this word that refers to the foundation of the universe, the essence of each thing, ultimate reality…
The question of life and death 1 is a fundamental one for us who practise the Way. To understand and above all to resolve the problem of life and death is in fact the koan of Buddhism. What is death? What is birth or rather what is it that appears when there is a birth, what is it that disappears when someone dies?
It may not seem necessary, but it’s a reality. Remember that the first thing the Buddha said, when he started teaching, was that all is suffering. So suffering is a fundamental truth.We talked about suffering during a zazen day we held recently in Bristol;
The knees press the earth, the head the sky. The lower back is stretched and erect, the head is straight on the shoulders, which fall naturally, as does the gaze. And the breathing: the exhalation is deep and long, the inhalation is short and vital. If you can manage to concentrate on, say, the position of the thumbs, or on the exhalation of air, for any length of time – and all of this while thinking-not-thinking
In all the dojos of our sangha, after zazen the practitioners chant the Shigu seigan mon, the four vows of the bodhisattva. The first of these vows expresses the desire and commitment of practitioners of Buddhism, lay practitioners as well as monks and nuns, to ‘save all beings’