“The sounds of the river valley sing the eighty-four thousand hymns of suchness. Have you heard them?” The sounds don’t just say Om, as they did in Siddhartha’s river. They sing the eighty-four thousand hymns, the eighty-four thousand gathas, the sermon of rock and water. “Pervading throughout these sounds and forms is a trail far from words and ideas. Have you found it?” If you wish to enter it, simply look and listen. But look with the whole body and mind. See with the whole body and mind. Listen and hear with the whole body and mind. Then you’ll understand them intimately. That’s the entry. If you go chasing it, you won’t find it. “To carry the self forward and realize the ten thousand things is delusion,” as Master Dogen said. “That the ten thousand things advance and realize the self is enlightenment.” The other shore arrives.

What does it mean that the river practices and verifies the river? It means that you practice and verify yourself, and in so doing, this practice and verification become the practice and verification of all buddhas, past, present and future.




It is said that Buddha predicted that there would be a time when Buddhism would disappear from the face of the earth. He defined that period as a time in which there would be no living masters, no realized beings, nobody sitting zazen, and no sutras, no teachings available. Let’s say that that time of great darkness has appeared. Let’s say it goes on for five hundred years. In such a case one would have to wonder about the mind-to-mind transmission.

And indeed, there are historical gaps in the mind-to-mind transmission. We chant the lineage list of the Zen ancestors as though it was a continuum. In Chinese culture there was a great value placed on ancestral continuity. If there was no legitimate ancestor, someone would take a likely name and splice it in just to assure the appearance of the seamlessness of the lineage. Today, Buddhist historians discover that these inserted names are not the proper successors. And the scholars say. “Aha! Mind-to-mind transmission is bogus. This teacher died and a hundred years later this other teacher, who supposedly received direct mind-to-mind transmission from him, was just born. There is no such thing as mind-to-mind transmission.” That’s a scholarly appreciation. From the point of view of the dharma, if mind-to-mind transmission disappeared from the face of the earth for a million years, one person doing zazen, realizing his or her true self, would have the same realization as the buddhas of the past. The gap of a million years would be filled in an instant, mind-to-mind.

If electricity disappeared from the face of the earth and someone, a billion years from now, created a generator, coiled a wire around it and began to turn it, the more they turned, the hotter the wire would get until finally it would glow and light would appear. It would be the same light as the light produced by the bulbs today. All that has to be done is to produce the electricity. In the case of the buddhadharma, all that needs to be done is to realize our buddha nature. And what is that realization? You realize that buddha mind has always been there. You do not attain it; you were born with it. Zen did not come to America from Japan; it has always been here, and it will always be here. But like the light bulb, electricity itself is not enough. You need to plug in the bulb to see the light. In the dharma you plug in people; the buddhadharma shines through humans, through buddhas. Only a buddha can realize buddha. Dogen said, “We must bring to realization the path on which the self encounters the self. We must move back and forth along, and spring off from, the vital path on which the other studies and fully comprehends the other.”

One of the characteristics of the third rank of Dongshan is reaching a certain level of maturity of practice, as well as having emptiness function as the basis of our daily activity. This functioning is none other than the ten thousand hands and eyes of great compassion—Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. She always manifests according to circumstances. In her manifestations there is no sense of separateness. Clearly seeing our own face everywhere we look becomes the source of our actions. Not just seeing or knowing our own faces, our true selves, but acting on the basis of this knowledge. This is called the action of non-action. Compassion is not the same as doing good, or being nice. Compassion functions freely, with no hesitation, no limitation. It happens with no effort, the way you grow your hair, the way your heart beats, the way you breathe, the way your blood circulates, or the way you do all the ten thousand other things you do moment to moment. It does not take any conscious effort. Someone falls, you pick them up. There is no sense of doer, or what is being done.

The capping verse:

The mind empty of all activity embraces all that appears.
Like gazing into the jewel mirror, form and reflection see each other.
No coming or going, no arising or vanishing, no abiding.
The ten thousand hands and eyes manifest of themselves each in accord to circumstances, and yet never forget their way.

This comes from Dongshan’s “Jewel Mirror of Samadhi.” It points to the realm of no coming or going, no arising or vanishing, no abiding. No holding onto any one place. The ten thousand hands and eyes manifest themselves in accord with circumstances, yet never forget their way. Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva always acts in accord with circumstances, and appears in a form that is appropriate to each time and place. The great blue heron that resides in the wetlands comes and goes everyday like clockwork, yet it knows how to go its own way. It knows how to step outside of that pattern. It never forgets its own way.

If you want your practice to manifest in the world, if you want to help heal this great earth of ours which is groaning with sickness, you need to realize what Dogen speaks of, what countless realized men and women have spoken of. All you need to do is to listen with the whole body and mind, and through the hum of the distant highway, you’ll hear the voice of the river. Can you hear it? That’s it! Is that the third thing?

John Daido Loori, Roshi is the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery. A successor to Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi, Roshi, Daido Roshi trained in rigorous koan Zen and in the subtle teachings of Master Dogen, and is a lineage holder in the Soto and Rinzai schools of Zen.