[55] Not supposing something is the Tathagata (from The Shodoka)

by Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

English version by Robert Aitken
Original Language Chinese

Not supposing something is the Tathagata.
This is truly called Kwan-Yin, the Bodhisattva who sees freely.
When awakened we find karmic hindrances fundamentally empty.
But when not awakened, we must repay all our debts.

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This is a powerful stanza of the Shodoka.

The term Tathagata is a name often applied to the Buddha. It can be translated as "one who comes and goes into thusness, one who naturally flows within original being." And Kwan Yin is the Bodhisattva usually associated with pure compassion and vision. So rereading those first two lines, the Shodoka is saying that to not suppose something, that is to not project meaning, is the only way to see clearly. This state is Tathagata. This state is "truly called Kwan-Yin." Why? Because the only way to genuinely see anything without "supposing something" is to remove the filter of the false self. When the false self or ego is removed, one sees freely, one flows within original being.

The next two lines especially interesting.

In states of radical awakening, you discover something fascinating: The weight of karma falls away. Karmas are felt as an exhaustingly heavy burden upon the subtle body and a limit upon awareness, like wearing a heavy hooded cloak on a summer day. When it falls away, you'll be amazed at how easy it is to breathe, and dance, and sing!

But to say these "karmic hindrances" are "fundamentally empty" does not mean we can ignore them or pretend they are not there. So long as its burden is still felt, then the proper work is to lighten its load -- to correct karmic imbalances through compassionate action and spiritual practice, to "repay all our debts." This is the work that slowly loosens the garment until it can fall away naturally... and then we are surprised to see it was empty!

The weight of karmas pertain to the ego, the little self, so freedom from the ego is the same as freedom from karmas. But this does not mean one can take any action without consequence. Even when the ego and its karmas are seen to be empty, action still draws ghost karmas to the ghost ego -- they are simply not 'real' or a "hindrance" any more. And beware, even at this stage, it is possible to slowly, without noticing, slip back into the boundaries of the ego. It is possible to drift back to sleep while dreaming we remain awake. The difference? The returning weight of karma. No matter how deep the transformation or blissful the freedom experienced, never assume that the work is 'done' or awakening is 'complete.' Think of it this way: Original nature has been discovered, but only by the most enlightened part of yourself. Now you must compassionately work to carry that truth to every lost part of your being, until even that ghost ego fades into thusness.

Recommended Books: Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

Buddhism and Zen

55] Not supposing