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Seeing the essential similarity

by Reiryu Philippe Coupey


If you consider all existences with equanimity,
You will return to true freedom.
- Master Sosan, the Shinjinmei (Verse No. 50)


If we consider all beings exactly as they are (and it’s not easy), then we return to authentic freedom: in other words, to our original nature, our Buddha nature. To put it another way: if we consider all things as equal, then we return to things as they are. Which also means seeing the essential similarity in all things.

The bodhisattva Samantabhadra(1) is one of the most important bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism, representing wisdom and essential similarity. We often see illustrations of him on an elephant with six tusks (symbolizing the six senses). In Buddhist mythology, Samantabhadra comes to the aid of those who make the ten vows of the bodhisattva, for example, to rejoice in the merits of others, to always harmonize with all human beings, and to transfer all of one’s merits to others.(2)


Samantabhadra says, “If someone in difficulty cannot see because of his karmic hindrances, I place my hand secretly on his head to protect and comfort him, so that he may succeed.” So, if you can’t easily rejoice in the happiness or merits of others, Samantabhadra will come put his hand on your head to protect you and help you go in the right direction.


This bodhisattva is introduced in the Surangama Sutra (“Sutra of the Heroic One”), which is one of the later Indian Mahayana sutras, written around the 1st century CE and translated into Chinese by Paramiti in 705. Ch’an was becoming quite strong in China at that time, and the expressions used in this sutra are very familiar to those who practice in the Deshimaru lineage.


For example, the Sanskrit “rupam sunyata, sunyata rupam,” which means “shiki sokuze ku, ku sokuze shiki” (form is emptiness, emptiness is form). There are also phrases that Master Deshimaru often repeated, such as “don’t run after things, don’t run away from them.”


It’s interesting to observe and realize that everything we learn, everything we hear, is not new. It was not created by Master Deshimaru, or by Kodo Sawaki, but comes from much further back. Even though the language of ancient India is not the same as that of Zen today, masters such as Bodhidharma, in the 500s, and Master Sosan, who wrote the Shinjinmei at the end of the 500s, certainly had an influence on the translation of this sutra.


The Surangama Sutra tells of 25 kinds of “perfect penetrations.” These are entryways or gates, representing every way imaginable to find our original nature. It is said several times in the sutra that if you go through one of these gates, it is not necessary to go through the others. If you go through one gate, you go through them all. The gates are all different, just as human beings are different from each other.


For example, the Samantabhadra went through the ear gate. His penetration occurred through the awareness of the ear. Buddha explains that even though, in this case, awakening occurred through the awareness of the ear, it has nothing to do with the sense organ called “ear”; it has to do with mind. Of course, it’s always mind: non-discriminating mind. So, the bodhisattva Samantabhadra experienced awakening by listening to the thoughts of all sentient beings.


This brings us back to Strophe 50 of the Shinjinmei:


If you consider all existences with equanimity,
You will return to true freedom.


If we consider, if we hear: this is about essential similarity. Samantabhadra explains to Buddha, “I always use my mind to listen; that way, I can distinguish the myriad viewpoints of human beings.”


Even though we are all different from each other, in Buddhism and in every Way of wisdom, we must embrace differences. Because the original foundation is equality. This doesn’t mean that difference equals equality. Our deep nature is to see all beings as simply equal. This is what Samantabhadra represents to me.


Jung had a phrase that I often repeat: in the end, there is no “particular identity.” If you manage to see that in yourself, many barriers fall, between yourself and others, and within yourself. It really works.



(1)In Japanese: Fugen Bosatsu. He teaches that action is equally important as mind and meditation; protects everyone who teaches the Dharma; and symbolizes the power of wisdom in overcoming obstacles. He also appears at the end of the Lotus Sutra.


(2) The others are: to respect all buddhas; to praise the Tathagatas; to practice giving (fuse); to cut karmic hindrances; to seek the Dharma; to request that buddhas remain in this world; to always follow Buddha’s teaching.



Excerpts from a kusen given in the Halluin Dojo, January 25, 1998.


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