This is my second commentary on the first chapter of the 14th century Zen master Keizan’s book The Transmission of the Lamp. I ended the last one with the quote, “If you want an intimate understanding of enlightenment, you should get rid of you and Buddha.”
Every morning at Zen centers throughout the world, there’s one chant that’s invariably recited, the Heart Sutra. This sutra does such a good job of getting rid of you and Buddha that sometimes its called the Heart Attack Sutra. It denies the validity of all the beliefs that span the previous five hundred years of Buddhist teaching.
This sutra ends with a declaration similar to Keizan’s: get rid of attachment to any concepts about Buddhism or the world in general and you will enter “Nirvana,” Nirvana not being a highfalutin state but merely one in which we have “blown out” the arbitrary boundary between self and other or ourselves and the world. When we do this, we are able to authentically be alive in this moment.
This blowing out of a self which is continually judging, evaluating and comparing leads to a realization, according to Keizan, that “I” is the Great Earth and all beings as “and.” You are the Buddha’s eye; the Buddha’s eye is the entirety of each of you. Or as Jesus said, when asked whether he had seen Abraham, the most ancient and honored ancestor of his Judaic tradition, “before Abraham was, I am!”
But then Keizan reverses himself, as do many Zen masters when he states “’And’ is not ‘I’ as the old fellow Shakyamuni Buddha.” He is reminding us not to get caught by the grandiosity of feeling one with all life. This can, ironically, turn into a type of narcissism. Yes, we are undivided, you are me, but also you are not me. You can never know what’s going on in my head, nor can I know what’s going on in yours.
Then Keizan concludes this part of the chapter by first warning us not to get caught by either difference or identity. This being so, “I” and “and” are neither identical nor different. When we are not caught by attachment to either identity or difference, Keizan continues, we realize that human life includes both. Truthfully, your skin, flesh, bones, and marrow are totally “and.” The host inside the house is “I.” The more I am completely myself, the more I realize and live from a sense of deep connection with all life. Another way of saying this is that I honor my small self while feeling connected to all life beyond its perimeter, what my root teacher called Big Mind.
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher