13 July 2010

Contemplation: Torei Zenji on the Bodhisattva Vow

Here is a contemplation that drives home the considerations on real wisdom and skillful means I have been reviewing here. It is particularly appropriate to carry into everyday life in moments when you are facing someone in full-on meltdown mode, but the logic of the teaching applies in all situations and can bring benefit at all times. I think right now is an opportune moment in our sangha's development to put this one into practice.

So, please reflect on Torei Zenji's affirmation of the vow of the bodhisattva (text courtesy of A Buddhist Library):

I am only a simple disciple, but I offer these respectful words:

When I regard the true nature of the many dharmas, I find them all to be sacred forms of the Tathagata's never-failing essence. Each particle of matter, each moment, is no other than the Tathagata's inexpressible radiance.

With this realization, our virtuous ancestors gave tender care to beasts and birds with compassionate minds and hearts. Among us, in our own daily lives, who is not reverently grateful for the protections of life: food, drink, and clothing! Though they are inanimate things, they are nonetheless the warm flesh and blood, the merciful incarnations of Buddha.

All the more, we can be especially sympathetic and affectionate with foolish people, particularly with someone who becomes a sworn enemy and persecutes us with abusive language. That very abuse conveys the Buddha's boundless loving-kindness. It is a compassionate device to liberate us entirely from the mean-spirited delusions we have built up with our wrongful conduct from the beginningless past.

With our open response to such abuse we completely relinquish ourselves, and the most profound and pure faith arises. At the peak of each thought a lotus flower opens, and on each flower there is revealed a Buddha. Everywhere is the Pure Land in its beauty. We see fully the Tathagata's radiant light right where we are.

May we retain this mind and extend it throughout the world so that we and all beings become mature in Buddha's wisdom.

Please take this in, mindfully turn it over in your head, affirm it, commit to it without reservation, and come back to it in the morning and evening. Once settled, be a mountain: do not waver. Then, watch what happens when you bring this recognition into your interactions with others.

* * *

To the best of my knowledge, Torei Zenji was a great master of the Rinzai Zen school, one of Tendai's daughter traditions (meaning that Rinzai developed in a certain way from Tendai institutions and people, arguably starting out as a form of Tendai that included koan practice, and over time established itself as a potent Dharma stream in its own right). So it should be no surprise that this Rinzai teaching expresses very clearly and beautifully a view that has its roots in Tendai. Let us remember Torei Zenji with gratitude.


  1. I love Torei Zenji's Bodhisattva's Vow! I was first exposed to it in the Zen tradition where it was a daily recitation in our sangha. Thanks for reminding me of this wonderful contemplation.

  2. Excellent! This is a teaching that can really transform a situation.