The Buddha’s way is unsurpassable
I vow to become it.
This seems clear, but how can we become the Buddha way and not just follow the Buddha way. The first three Bodhisattva vows are a shortened version of the Buddha way; help other beings, eliminate selfish desires and embrace each moment, but as long as we self-consciously follow this path we are not quite fulfilling the Buddha Way. This last vow is to push us to the completion of this path we call Buddhism. But then to believe that we can ever as individuals complete the path is a mistake. This is a lifetime commitment.
I had just formally finished my training and been given the authority to teach Zen at the previous meditation retreat. And though all these years of practice had changed me and given me a completely different view of the world and my self this did not mean that I was beyond selfishness or being upset at times. After returning from the retreat, after the samadhi wore off I returned to a more normal state of mind, I found that I was not beyond an occasional fight with my wife and being upset by certain events, and I certainly was thinking a lot again. I did not feel that my need to practice had ended so I went to the next sesshin. At sanzen during the next sesshin Harada maybe a little surprised I was there says to me, "A single lifetime is too short to completely polish the mind." Even though I have had several dramatic Zen experiences while sitting and not sitting I still feel a need to practice an awful lot. There is no conclusion to this practice.
I have changed in some very important ways and this leads me to another interpretation of this vow. If you read this blog and my essays you will notice some repeated themes. I write a lot about experience in meditation, I write a lot about dropping the concept of self. And I also write a lot about what is sometimes called the True Self or the Large Self. If in our practice we are successful in dropping our concept of self and our dualistic way of thinking then, a whole new non-dual way of seeing opens up. We call this way of seeing the world, the True Dharma Eye, the eye of non-duality. With this eye we see the whole Universe as a single thing, a single being, a single life. Zen and Buddhism is not about dropping our thoughts and dropping our concept of self and entering a sort of zombie existence of total absorption in some object of concentration. Sometime we Buddhist teachers teach our students to do just that, enter total absorption, but that is just a means to an end, the end being the opening of the Eye of Non-Duality. Once this eye is open, instead of not thinking about our self at all a new understanding of the self opens. We identify with the single life of the Non-Dual, the Whole Universe. This also doesn't mean that we completely forget about ourselves as individuals. Again, it just opens up a new understanding of ourselves as individuals.
Early Buddhist philosophers said there were three ways a Buddha thought of him/herself. This was expressed in the idea of the Trikaya, the three bodies of the Buddha. You can look it up but here is its essence. The first is the Buddha as an individual person. This is the Sambhogakaya, which translates as "bliss body", which refers to the individual's happiness that results from enlightenment Yes Buddhas are supposed to be happy this is the individual result of their realization. I think it is important to remember that Buddhas are also people, with personality and individual quirks, and quite capable of making mistakes. In some sense we are all Buddhas, just some of us are an experience and realization away from understanding this and actualizing as a Buddha.
The second way a Buddha thinks of him/herself is to identify him/herself with other beings. This is the source of a Buddha's compassion, to not only think of himself as an individual being but to understand and experience the deep connection between all beings. This is a deeply experienced understanding and I am using the word beings in the broadest sense. In Zen we frequently say, become one with this or that. Become one with the breath. Become one with our pain. Become one with the sound of the river. Become one with other people. This experience allows us to become one with other beings as well as other things. This goes back to the third vow of mastering all dharmas. With this experience and the resulting understanding we now identify ourselves with all other beings whether saint or sinner. All beings exist within my True Self. Knowing this I can truthfully say that I manifest as all teachers of Buddhism as well as all mass murders. We all share the same body. This is called the Nirmanakaya translated as the "transformation body".
In reading the Paranirvana Sutra, Shakyamuni tells his disciples not to grieve over his imminent death because he will still be with them through his teachings, thus we know he identified with his teachings. This is also a way we can understand the Nirmanakaya
The third body of the Buddha is the Absolute Body the Dharmakaya This is the Body which contains everything and is the True Self. From this absolute perspective not an individual thing exists. There is no division, no eyes, no ears, no nose, no sound, no smell, no body, no mind. This is the experience and understanding presented in the Heart Sutra. Yet we humans naturally divide the world into a multiplicity of things. We may have an experience of the Absolute but this cannot be where we live our lives. We can understand the Dharmakaya as the deeper truth and thereby it can form the background for our experience and understanding. Thus we live in duality experienced through the the eye of non-duality.
This practice of ours is not just about ending any concept of our individual selves. Yes, we are asked to do this temporarily in meditation. Ultimately we transform our understanding of ourselves as individuals, so that we see ourselves through the eye of non-duality. We may view this as fulfilling the fourth vow and become the Buddha Way.
Realizing the thought of no thought as thought,
whether singing or dancing, we are the
voice of the Dharma.*
* From Hakuin's Song of Zazen