“I ask you, ‘Isn’t this nature itself? Isn’t this nothing other than the manifestation of the Diamond Net of Indra?’” The Diamond Net of Indra is a description of the universe in which all things have a mutual identity, an interdependent origination. When one thing arises, all things arise simultaneously. Everything in this net has a mutual causality—what happens to one thing, happens to the entire universe. It’s a self-creating, self-maintaining, and a self-defining organism—a universe in which all of its parts and the totality are a single entity.

This is not some kind of holistic hypothesis or an idealistic dream. It’s your life. It’s my life, the life of the mountain, the river, a blade of grass. These things are not related to each other. They’re not part of the same thing. They’re not similar. They’re identical. What kind of world would this be if our appreciation and activity were based on this kind of non-duality?

“Buddha nature is all-inclusive—sentient as well as insentient. Indeed, if we examine this teaching carefully, we see that all phenomena of this great earth are constantly expressing the truth of the universe—the buddha nature. It’s the natural order of things.” How can we separate humanity and human consciousness from the buddha nature—or from nature itself, for that matter? When we see ourselves as separate from nature, we abdicate our responsibility to it. We are nature—just as much as a tree or a wolf or a fish is nature. The spider web and the Brooklyn Bridge are both works of nature. We must learn how the delicate dynamics of this unlikely relationship really work.

The common understanding of nature, in its broadest sense, is that it is made up of phenomena in the physical world. Generally it doesn’t include manufactured objects and human interaction. But how can the activities of human beings not be considered our natural environment? How can we discount our role in creating this earth the way it is? We’ve altered it—irreversibly altered it. That’s a work of nature. If the cause of global warming was a number of volcanoes spewing greenhouse gases into the ozone layer, we would call it an act of nature. Well, we created automobiles and they spew. We created diesel fuel and it spews. We’ve created global warming and it’s a work of nature—human nature.

Most of the disasters we face are human-created. Tsunamis and volcanoes and earthquakes kill tens of thousands, but we kill millions, and we do it for profit. Yet most of the killing is hidden. When we include the human element in our understanding of nature, we become conscious of the fact that we are responsible, not only for our own bag of skin, but for the totality of existence.

 

Photo by Emilliano Spado

 

“[Buddha nature is] the natural order of things. Do you hear it? Can you see it? If not, then heed the instructions of the great Master Dongshan and see with the ear and listen with the eye.” When we listen with the ear, we hear the insentient speaking our language. And in doing so, we usurp the real voice of the insentient. When, we listen with the eye and see with the ear, the insentient speak insentient, and they teach endlessly. How can we hear with the eye and see with the ear? Get out of the way. “Only then will you understand this ineffable reality.” Nothing I’ve said so far has anything to do with reality.

These are just words that point to where you have to go to find the truth. But don’t take my word for it, or the Buddha’s word, or anybody’s word. Realize and actualize it for yourself.

“This is a truth that is not to be found in metaphors, images, or thoughts. Indeed, it’s not like anything.” There’s no reference system. There’s nothing to allude or compare it to. There’s nothing out there. “And yet, it’s not hidden. It is nothing other than what you do morning and night.” It’s just this. It reaches everywhere. It’s all-pervading. We just need to shift our way of seeing and experiencing in order to make contact with it. The question is—where do you find yourself? Who are you really? That’s what this koan is addressing.

The capping verse:

Bright day, blue sky—
        in a dream he tries to explain his dream.
See! The myriad forms arising and vanishing,
        constantly reveal the buddha nature.

Bright day, blue sky—in a dream he tries to explain his dream. The bright day, blue sky are clear, boundless, reaching everywhere. There’s nothing lacking, nothing extra. In a dream, he tries to explain his dream. The whole thing is a dream. The teachings, the buddhadharma, our ideas and notions—all a dream. What I’m doing right now is speaking of a dream within a dream. So forget all of that and see the myriad forms arising and vanishing, and know that they’re constantly revealing their buddha nature


Koans of the Way of Reality is a collection of koans complied at Zen Mountain Monasery over the last twenty-five years. It includes both koans that appear in the traditional collections as well as pieces taken from other sources and treated as koans because of their relevance for modern Western practitioners.

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.