These are the eight awakenings. Each awakening contains all eight, thus there are sixty-four awakenings. When awakenings are practiced thoroughly, their number is countless. When they are practiced in summary, there are sixty-four.
These are the last words of Great Teacher Shakyamuni Buddha, the ultimate admonition of the Mahayana teaching. He said at midnight of the fifteen day of the second month, “Monks, you should always endeavor wholeheartedly to search for the way of liberation. All things in the world, whether they are in motion or not, are insecure and bound to decay. Now, all of you be quiet and do not speak. Time is passing and I am going to cross over. This is my last admonition to you.” Without expounding dharma any further, the Buddha entered pari-nirvana.
All disciples of the Buddha should study this teaching. Those who don’t learn or know about it are not his disciples. Indeed this is the Tathagata’s treasury of the true dharma eye, the wondrous heart of nirvana. However, there are many who do not know about this teaching, as there are few who have studied it. Many may have been confused by demons, and those who have few wholesome conditions from the past do not have the opportunity to see or hear about this teaching. In the Ages of True Dharma and Imitation Dharma, all disciples of the Buddha knew about this teaching and practiced it. But nowadays, less than one or two out of a thousand monks seem to know about it. How regrettable! The world has declined since those times. While the true dharma prevails in the billion worlds and the Buddha’s pure teaching is still intact, you should immediately practice it without negligence.
It is rare to encounter the buddha-dharma even in the span of countless eons. A human body is difficult to attain. A human body in the Three Continents of the world is preferable. A human body in the Southern Continent, Jambudvipa, is particularly so, as one can have the chance to see the Buddha, hear the dharma, leave the household, and attain the way. But those who entered nirvana and died before the pari-nirvana of the Tathagata could not learn and practice these eight awakenings of great beings.
Now we can learn and practice these awakenings because of the merit of our wholesome conditions from the past. By practicing and nurturing these awakenings, you can certainly arrive at unsurpassable enlightenment and expound them to all beings, just as Shakyamuni Buddha did.
On the sixth day, the first month, the fifth year of the Kencho Era . Written at Eihei Monastery
Eihei Dogen (1200-1253) was the author of the Shobogenzo and founder of the Japanese Soto School of Zen Buddhism.
Kazuaki Tanahashi is a translator, calligrapher, and peace and environmental activist.
From Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dogen, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi. Copyright © 1999 San Francisco Zen Center. Reprinted by permission of Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, MA, www.shambhala.com.