The job of the dharma teacher, says Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, is to help students see deeply into the nature of things. But what happens when the teacher gets lost along the way?
One day Guishan sat in zazen, and after sitting, he pointed at the straw sandals and said to Yangshan, “All hours of the day, we receive people’s support. Don’t betray them.”
Old masters throughout time have always looked to the guiding and aiding of all living beings. They set up their shops according to their capacities and in response to the imperative of time, place, position, and degree. Appearing and disappearing in harmony with the occasion, they create countless kinds of expedient means to alleviate suffering.
Pure jeweled eyes, virtuous arms—
formless and selfless, they enter the fray.
The great function works in all ways—
these hands and eyes are the whole thing.
(From The True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koans, translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi and John Daido Loori. Case 47: Guishan’s “Do Not Betray Others” with commentary and capping verse by John Daido Loori.)
In our training, the monastic’s entire life depends on the support of the lay sangha; the lay sangha’s training depends on the support of the monastics. It’s a perfectly interdependent, living system. Everywhere it is like this: there’s parent and child, public servant and the public person, bees and flowers, trees and soil. Each creature on this earth and the earth itself are always giving and receiving. The student depends on the support of the teacher; the teacher depends on the sincerity and trust of the student. Try to find one moment, one situation where this is not completely true.
When a fish swims in the ocean, there is no limit to the water no matter how far it swims. When a bird flies in the sky, there is no limit to the air no matter how far it flies. However, no fish or bird has ever left its element since the beginning. If a bird leaves the air it dies. If the fish leaves the water, it will die. Know then that water is life, that air is life, the bird is life, the fish is life. Life is the bird and life is the fish.
If a creature tries to leave its element, to turn away from it, to act apart from or betray it, that creature begins to die. Why? Because it is turning away from the very truth of its life and the way things are. This is what the Buddha realized and that’s why every form of separation leads to suffering. But if that’s true, why do we betray our element? Why do we turn away from ourselves? Why do we betray each other?
You whom I’ve given this instruction to have now dedicated yourselves to attaining great awakening, the supreme and wondrous enlightenment. You have the right method for practice but you may still not be aware of the subtle demonic events that can occur when you undertake these practices. If you do not purify your mind, you will not be able to recognize these states as they arise. You will not find the right path and you will fall into the error of wrong views. If your mind is not clear when this happens, you may well take a burglar to be your own child, or you may feel satisfied with a small accomplishment.
Geoffrey Shugen Arnold is the head of the Mountains and Rivers Order and abbot of the Zen Center of New York City. He entered into full-time residential training at Zen Mountain Monastery in 1986 and received dharma transmission from John Daido Loori Roshi in 1997.