Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Shobogenzo Ch15 Busso - The Buddha Ancestors

In many ways Busso and the following chapter, Shisho, seem so obvious that I was tempted not to cover them. Because of that feeling though, skipping these chapters may be exactly the wrong thing to do.

Every Sunday at my Center we honor the buddhas with a chant containing a list of named similar to the list presented in Busso. As Dogen says, by paying homage to the Buddha ancestors, we cause, or at least assist in, their realization:

The realization of the Buddhist patriarchs is [our] taking up the Buddhist patriarchs and paying homage to them.

According to the introduction, Busso can be translated as Buddhist Patriarchs or Buddha Ancestors. Indeed, the list of names contains those patriarchs who have found their way into the lineage of Dogen's tradition, and is not that different from the ancestral line in our chant, so in this sense 'Buddhist Patriarchs' seems okay. However, Dogen also states:

This is not of only the past, the present, and the future; and it may be ascendant even to the ascendant [reality] of buddha. It is just to enumerate those who have maintained and relied upon the real features of Buddhist patriarchs, to do prostrations to them, and to meet them. Making the virtue of the Buddhist patriarchs manifest and uphold itself, we have dwelled in and maintained it, and have bowed to and experienced it.

In my view, the above quote conveys a broader intent to pay homage to all buddhas, not only patriarchs recognized by a given tradition, so in this sense at least 'Buddha Ancestors' seems more appropriate. Moreover, who are the buddhas of past, present, and future? They are just us in our buddhahood.

...it was [the realization of] buddhas alone, together with buddhas.

Haiku for Busso:

Honoring buddhas
Together with buddhas — past,
Present and future.

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