Punyamitra said, “Do you remember events of the past?” Prajnatara said, “I remember in a distant eon I was living in the same place as you.” Keizan commented, “Even if you seem to be a beginner, if in a single moment the mind is turned around to reveal its originally inherent qualities, nothing is lacking at all; together with the realized ones, you will commune with the buddhas. Though it is not a matter of one appearing and one disappearing, it is not a matter of together putting forth a single hand; there is no multiplicity, no different lineage.” In a single moment when you turn the mind around, your originally inherent qualities—the natural virtues of a buddha—are revealed. Nothing is lacking. In that moment, you are communing with the buddhas, walking hand-in-hand, exchanging breaths, touching eyebrows.

All Buddhas throughout space and time
All Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas

Prajnaparamita is turning the mind around. It is completely accepting. Nothing outside. In that moment of the mind being turned, you realize no mind, no turning. You can’t turn towards it; you can’t turn away from it. At that moment, All Buddhas throughout space and time, right there. Prajnatara said, “You were expounding the great wisdom and I was reciting the most profound scripture.” In that moment, you’ve realized your own nature, the nature of a buddha. Chanting the sutras—teachings of the Buddha—you hear your own voice issue forth from your own body, these profound teachings which are speaking about you, who you are, what your life is. It’s your voice, but not yet your words. What does that do? At the moment when the mind turns, it’s now your sutra, your words, it’s your understanding. The voice is still familiar, but now it’s no longer your voice, it’s the voice of all beings.


photo by Andrew Mogridge


How is it that we come to be here? This event today, this here and now, this moment, is in conformity with past cause. When we understand the nature of cause and effect, it makes sense. What kind of accord is that? It’s not two. There is no past. It’s over. Yet in this very moment, past and present and future are all in perfect accord, because they’re not two. Cause and effect are in perfect accord because they’re not two. What we understand and what we do are in accord because they’re not two. How we behave towards ourselves and others is in accord because they’re not two. They may be in accord with anger, self-centeredness, fear. But when they’re in accord with selflessness, with generosity, with compassion, then that’s what we offer the world.

To understand the past, the only place you can look is here, now. To understand delusion, the only place you can look is here, now. To understand life and death, the only place you can look is here, now. That’s why zazen is the practice of now, and the breath is such a perfect vehicle. You can’t breathe yesterday, you can’t breathe tomorrow. The breath is never confused about where it is. To see clearly into the present is to see into all time and all directions—throughout space and time. Keizan said, “Therefore seeing today is seeing all of time; looking over the ages is guarding the present.” This is to understand karma.

Prajnatara said, “This event today is in conformity with past cause.” Keizan commented on this saying, “The enlightened ones are born together with you and live together with me, without the slightest separation, accompanying us at all times. When you manage to arrive at this state, it is not something of past, present, or future, it is not a matter of sense, objects, or sense consciousnesses. This is why it is said that succession to the reality of Buddhism transcends time, that realization continuously pervades time. Because it is so, the golden needle and jade thread pass through finely. When you look closely, which is other, which is self? Neither the frame nor the point shows. Here everyone gets a seat, and it is always shared.”

To arrive at that place where you find that there’s a seat for you is to realize your true nature. Isn’t it wonderful that when you arrive there, it’s shared; everyone and everything is there, nothing is left out? Isn’t it marvelous? That’s our inheritance. That’s what this incredible dharma is offering us. It takes courage to look into these events of the past, which are not past at all. “I remember in a distant eon I was living in the same place as you.” Prajnatara’s talking about now. He’s talking about you and me. It’s miraculous to consider all of the choices we’ve made in our lives along with all of the choices we could have made. If you had taken a different turn, who knows where you would be right at this moment. But that didn’t happen. Somehow, something in you led you to this very spot. This event today is in perfect accord with past events

Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei is vice-abbot and resident teacher of Zen Center of New York City: Fire Lotus Temple and head of the National Buddhist Prison Sangha. He received dharma transmission from Daido Roshi in 1997.