Sunday, November 21, 2010

Shobogenzo: Ch 12 (I) - Kesa-kudoku - Summary

At that time, there arose in me a feeling I had never before experienced. [My] body was overwhelmed with joy. The tears of gratitude secretly fell and soaked my lapels.”

Dogen had practiced for several years in Japan, but the ritual of placing the kasaya, the Sanskrit term for robe or kesa, on top of one’s head and reciting the robe verse was something he only witnessed once in China. The above quote is his description of how seeing this ritual practiced made him feelWhy did this ritual move Dogen so deeply? One way to answer that is to ask the question: What is the kesa (or in Sanskrit, kasaya)?

In short the kesa is a symbol of authentic transmission, a robe worn by monks and nuns following Sakyamuni Buddha, protection and transformation for the person wearing it, and finally, the Buddha-Dharma itself. Quotes from Kesa-kudoku that suggest this include:

1) The kesa is a symbol of authentic transmission:

When Sakyamuni Tathagata passed to Mahakasyapa the right Dharma-eye treasury and the supreme state of bodhi, he transmitted them together with a kasaya...

The ancestral masters who have authentically transmitted the right Dharma-eye treasury have, without exception, authentically transmitted the kasaya.

Such rags and [cloth] obtained from a pure livelihood are not silk, not cotton, and not gold, silver, pearls, patterned cloth, sheer silk, brocade, embroidery, and so on; they are just rags. These rags are neither for a humble robe nor for a beautiful garment; they are just for the Buddha-Dharma. To wear them is just to have received the authentic transmission of the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of the buddhas of the three times, and to have received the authentic transmission of the right Dharma-eye treasury. We should never ask human beings and gods about the merit of this [transmission]. We should learn it in practice from Buddhist patriarchs.

2) The kesa is a robe (or, more precisely, three robes) worn by monks and nuns following Sakyamuni Buddha. Instructions for the material for, making, wearing, care, and honoring of the robe also are discussed in this chapter. E.g.,

The kasaya is said to include three robes. They are the five-stripe robe, the seven-stripe robe, and the large robe of nine or more stripes. Excellent practitioners receive only these three robes, and do not keep other robes. To use just the three robes serves the body well enough.

The method of washing [the kasaya] and the method of receiving and retaining [the kasaya] cannot be known without learning in practice in the inner sanctum of the legitimate face-to-face transmission of those methods.

 3) The kesa is protection and transformation for the person wearing it. The merits of the kesa are numberless, but Dogen quotes the Karuna-pundarika-sutra, words spoken by the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the Buddha, presenting five and ten fundamental merits of the kesa, respectively (I’m planning on putting these merits in a separate post). In addition, there are sections in this chapter that indicate even a single instance of honoring the robe or wearing it as a joke are sufficient to receive and retain these merits.

The kasaya has been called, since ancient time, “the clothing of liberation.” It can liberate us from all hindrances such as karmic hindrances, hindrances of affliction, and hindrances of retribution.

Clearly, once we have shaved the head and put on the kasaya, we are protected by all the buddhas. Relying on this protection of the buddhas, [a person] can roundly realize the virtues of the supreme state of bodhi.

Even if [the people who receive and retain the kasaya] are ourselves, we should venerate them, and we should rejoice.

Having been born to meet the spread of this Dharma, if we cover our body with the kasaya only once, receiving it and retaining it...that [experience] will surely serve as a talisman to protect us in the realization of the supreme state of bodhi.

We should throw away the view [that discriminates between] silk and cotton, and study rags in practice. …Some teachers of the Small Vehicle have a theory about transformed thread, which also may be without foundation. People of the Great Vehicle might laugh at it. What kind [of thread] is not transformed thread? When those teachers hear of “transformation” they believe their ears, but when they see the transformation itself they doubt their eyes. Remember, in picking up rags, there may be cotton that looks like silk and there may be silk that looks like cotton. There being myriad differences in local customs it is hard to fathom [nature’s] creation—eyes of flesh cannot know it. Having obtained such material, we should not discuss whether it is silk or cotton but should call it rags. Even if there are human beings or gods in heaven who have survived as rags, they are never sentient beings, they are just rags.

 4) The kesa is the Buddha-Dharma itself:

This [transmission] may be the Buddha-Dharma itself; the proof in due course will become evident. We should not liken [the transmission] to the dilution of milk with water. It is like a crown prince succeeding to the throne. …the authentic transmission from Buddha to buddha and from patriarch to patriarch is like the succession of a crown prince.

…the authentic transmission to the present of the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of the World-honored One, is the kasaya robe.

When we dye the body and mind with a single phrase or a single verse, it becomes a seed of everlasting brightness which finally leads us to the supreme state of bodhi. When we dye the body and mind with one real dharma or one good deed, it may be also like this. Mental images arise and vanish instantaneously; they are without an abode. The physical body also arises and vanishes instantaneously; it too is without an abode. Nevertheless, the merit that we practice always has its time of ripening and shedding. The kasaya, similarly, is beyond elaboration and beyond non-elaboration, it is beyond having an abode and beyond having no abode: it is that which “buddhas alone, together with buddhas, perfectly realize.

Receiving the robe
We become Buddha-Dharma --
Old rags patterned fresh.


Matt said...

Wonderful post which I read about halfway through, then my eyes gave out.

Any chance you could increase the font size or change from italics to a different font for the quotes?

Never mind. I'll just copy and paste, then adjust it myself :)

Happi said...

Done and thanks for the suggestion! (Its a bit hard to tell with the new Macs which resize the text with a swipe of the mouse.)