Earth Soup

Each morning we say the Four Great Vows at the beginning of practice:

Sentient beings are numberless; we vow to save them all.
Passions are endless; we vow to extinguish them all.
The teachings are infinite; we vow to learn them all.
The Buddha Way is inconceivable; we vow to attain it.

As Zen practitioners we start each day by together stating this clear intention. One interesting aspect of these vows is that in our school we use the pronoun “we”: “we vow. . . ” The cornerstone of our practice is together action. When we act in complete harmony with others and become one with them, at that moment there is no “I, my, me.” This is great love, great compassion, the great Bodhisattva way.

A student once wrote to Zen Master Seung Sahn in a state of near frenzy because Rajneesh, an Indian Guru, had just predicted that a large earthquake would soon cause California to sink into the ocean. She wanted to know where to move to best avoid this catastrophe. He wrote back advising that she stay in California, help the people there and die with them if necessary.

In Zen we many times speak of the three poisons: desire, anger and ignorance. Usually the focus is on the first two but ignorance is also a root problem for human beings. Each of us is utterly enmeshed with everything else in this universe. From the bacteria in our bowels, to our next door neighbor, to the ozone layer, we are all in this earth soup together. It is only our thinking which allows us to “think” that we are separate in some way. Thinking creates the ego’s idea that this is a “one man (or woman) show.” This illusion of separateness is ignorance.

Buddhism uses the metaphor of Indra’s Net to express our essential connectedness with everything else. Here, every thing and event in the universe is portrayed as a brilliant jewel which lies at the intersection of the lines in the net. In addition, each jewel is many-faceted, reflecting each of the others. This is a wonderful poetic image which I’m sure we can all relate to and understand, but how can we attain it?

Zen means when you are doing something just do it. “Do it mind” has no subject and no object, no inside or outside. Inside and outside become one. Already, you and the whole universe have become one. Zen Master Ko Bong’s third gate is very interesting in this regard: “The whole universe is on fire. Through what kind of samadhi can you escape being burned?” If you hesitate for even an instant, you are lost.

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