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Zen for Americans, by Soyen Shaku, [1906], at

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BUDDHISM is so deep and comprehensive--and, we might say, even unfathomable--that scholars are sometimes at a loss how and where to begin its measurement. In some respects it appears to be a chaotic mass of superstitions, while in others it is a systematic and thoroughgoing application of an idealistic pantheistic theory. The present discourse does not propose, however, to clear up all these difficulties, but only to give a certain clue with which students of Buddhism may be guided in their exploration. Buddhism, then, will be treated here broadly under two headings, Faith and Discipline.

First, of Buddhist faith, which is summed up in this gâthâ:

"The Buddha-Body fills the world,
Being immanent universally in all things;
It will make itself manifest wherever and whenever conditions are matured,
Though it never leaves this Seat of Bodhi."

Generally speaking, faith means trusting--trusting in something external to oneself. When religion is defined as a faith, it is considered to imply that there is a being or power which has created this world and presides over it, directing

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its course and shaping its destiny; and that religion teaches to trust or believe in this being or power, which is thus proved to be greater and wiser than human beings. Therefore, Christians believe in a God who is a personal reality and who is supposed to exist above and outside of us poor mortals; and some Buddhists believe in Amitâbha Buddha, who resides in Pure Land or Western Paradise (Sukhâvatî); and for this reason religion has come to be identified with a belief in an external object, whatever this be, particularly by Occidental scholars. But Buddhist faith does not belong to this category, for Buddhism rejects the existence of a personal God as he is ordinarily understood by some religionists. What, then, is the faith that keeps Buddhists together?

Briefly, Buddhists believe in three most fundamental facts which are universally observable about us and which cannot be refuted by any amount of argument. They believe first in the sameness of things (samatâ). By sameness is understood the presence of a unifying principle in all phenomena. However diversified and differentiated may appear those particular existences with which we come in contact in this world of the senses, they universally partake of one nature, of one essence; and it is on account of this presence of a supra-individual reason that life becomes possible, that existence, this phenomenal world, becomes possible,

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Secondly, Buddhists believe in the difference between things (nânâtva), in their manifoldness, in their particularity, in their. individuality; for it is an undeniable fact that things are all separate and distinct, that each has its own individuality, that each moves according to its own inherent necessity.

Thirdly, Buddhists believe in the fact that all things move or work. For there is nothing in this world that is not endowed with the possibility of motion, the power of doing something, the capacity of accomplishing a work; and in exercising this power everything works upon another and is at the same time worked upon by another. The universe is a network of all these particular forces mutually acting and mutually being acted upon. This is called the principle of karma, and Buddhists apply it not only to the physical world but to the moral and spiritual realm.

This threefold faith constitutes the cornerstone of Buddhism, which makes it appear somewhat too metaphysical to be a religion of the masses, but the fact is that Buddhism is far from being a system of philosophy. Those who take Buddhists for speculative thinkers will lose sight of the inner life of the religion in which its followers are living. It must never be supposed that Buddhists try to get us entangled in the endless maze of sophistic reasoning. Anything that is to be designated at all as a religion

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never proposes to argue with us after the fashion of a philosopher; for religion is not to analyze, to demonstrate, or to argue with logical thoroughness, but to see facts directly and to believe and to live them accordingly.

In the gâthâ recited in the beginning, the idea of sameness is rather dogmatically expressed: "The Buddha-Body fills the world." In this the content of sameness is called Buddha-Body or in Sanskrit Buddhakâya. The Buddhakâya, which is also often called Dharmakâya, is the reason, life, and norm of all particular existences. When we penetrate through the diversity of all these individual phenomena, we encounter everywhere this indwelling Body and therein find the unity or sameness (samatâ) of things.

The principle of diversity is declared in the second line of the gâthâ, which makes the Buddha-Body universally immanent in all things. The Buddha-Body, the essence of existence, though absolutely one in itself, allows itself to be diversified as the lilies of the field, as the fowls of the air, as the creatures of the water, or as the inhabitants of the woods. For it is in the inherent nature of the Buddha-Body that it individualizes itself in the manifoldness of the phenomenal world. It does not stand alone outside particular existences, but it abides in them and animates them and makes them move freely. By thus abandoning its absolute transcendentality, it

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has subjected itself to certain conditions such as space, time, and causation '. Its essence is infinite, but its manifestations are finite and limited. Therefore, the Buddha-Body has to wait to express itself in this relative world till all the necessary conditions are matured. This creation, so called, is no more than a manifestation of the self-limiting Buddha-Body.

Suppose here stands a mirror--the mirror of Buddha-Body. Anything that comes in front of it is reflected therein, and this without any premeditation on the part of the mirror. If there comes a man, he is reflected there; if a woman, she finds herself reflected in it; if it is a beautiful flower now which presents itself before the mirror, it is immediately and instantly reflected with all its magnificence. It is even so with things unsightly or even repugnant, for the mirror does not refuse its illuminating power to anything, high or low, rich or poor, ugly or beautiful, good or evil. Wherever and whenever conditions are ripe, all particular things will be reflected in the supra-natural mirror of Buddha-Body, without hesitation, without reasoning, without demonstration. This is the way in which the principle of karma works.

The fourth line of the gâthâ is more or less a continuation of the third and expresses the same sentiment from another point of view. Things are many, and are subject to constant transformation as regulated by their karma, but the

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[paragraph continues] Buddha-Body eternally abides in the Seat of Bodhi, which is our inmost being.

The moon is one and serenely shines in the sky, but she will cast her shadow, wherever the conditions are mature, in ever so many different places. Do we not see her image wherever there is the least trace of water? It may be filthy, or it may be clean; it may consist of only a few drops, or it may be a vast expanse, such as the ocean; but they all reflect one and the same moon as best suited to their inherent nature. The shadows are as many as different bodies of water, but we cannot say that one shadow is different from another. However small the moon may appear when there is only a drop of water, she is essentially the same as the one in the boundless sheet of water, where its heavenly serenity inspires awe and reverence. So many, and yet one in all; so diverse, and yet essentially the same; we see it reflected everywhere, and yet is not the Buddha-Body sitting, all alone, in the Seat of Bodhi?

Several questions present themselves here: How can we attain a spiritual insight into the -Sameness of things, and have our minds so transparent as to reflect one eternal truth? How can we understand the principle of sameness in its phenomenal aspect and recognize it in the diversity of desires, feelings, passions, instincts, motives, etc.? How can we see the Buddha-Body in its manifold activities and recognize it

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at once without abstraction and premeditation and elaboration?

The most practical way to solve these problems is not through mere intellection. We must first acquire mental tranquillity, we must be purified spiritually, we must be freed from all disturbing passions, prejudices, and superstitions. Buddhism is a religion first and last, and its aim is always practical and spiritual. Philosophers and scientists will endeavor to come to a definite solution of the problems here cited logically, intellectually, metaphysically, analytically, relying on their demonstrative knowledge. But the way that leads us practical religionists most effectively to the satisfactory adjustment of the puzzling world-riddles which so greatly disturb all deep, serious souls is the practice of meditation, called Dhyâna 1 by Buddhists.

As to the practical part of Buddhism, or Discipline, it will be treated under "Buddhist Ethics," which follows.


68:1 See the article "Practice of Dhyâna." (See p. 146).

Next: Buddhist Ethics