A Higher Understanding

Tozan said to his monks, "You monks should know there is an even higher understanding in Buddhism." A monk stepped forward and asked, "What is the higher Buddhism?" Tozan answered, "It is not Buddha."

Tozan lived during the Tang dynasty in China, the golden age of Buddhism, and studied under many Masters such as Nansen, Isan, and Ungan. Later, Tozan established the foundations of Soto Zen. Some Zen Masters were rough, raining blows and driving students from the monasteries. But Tozan was kind and understanding. Tozan's remark to his monks (that one should know there is always higher understanding in Buddhism) was meant to counter stagnation. Many people hearing such phrases as "Zen is a way of life," "see things as they are," and "Samsara is Nirvana; Nirvana is Samsara" think they understand Zen and do not study or seek anymore.

A monk stood up and asked what is the higher understanding. Tozan answered "not Buddha." To all Zen students who look for enlightenment and attainment, Tozan will say "not Buddha." But to beginners, Tozan will say "it is the Buddha." There are always two ways in learning. One is going forward the other is coming back. We seek enlightenment, Buddhahood, equality, universal oneness, but we always come back to this worldly life of man, particulars, the concrete. We see the Buddha in man, the universal in particulars, oneness in differences, equality in inequality, balance in inbalance. They are two, but they are one. Do not attach to the ideal Buddha or to the worldly man is the advice of Tozan.


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