Compassion & Satori – Ryoo Zan An 龍山庵

Compassion & Satori.

“Go down on your silly knees,

Pray for what?

Tomorrow is yesterday.”

Master Ikkyu

So many people use words in hopes that words alone will give them enlightened or some divine grace. Others use prayer to make themselves appears righteous or in the opposite lowly and poor. Ikkyu as did many other great Zen Masters have pointed away from the use of semi useless murmuring to using true action and few words. This is the complexity and paradox of Chan Buddhism, but there again it is the beauty in the simplicity of the paradox that makes it so effective upon the body and mind. As Buddhists we all understand and have studies the Four Noble Truths, but for those of you unfamiliar with these essence teachings of the Buddha I will give a short explanation of them and my understanding. Then we will begin by diving deeply into two topics. First, I hear people, whether Christian, Atheist, Buddhist or whatever, talk about how we should be compassionate and mindful, but while observing these people it turns out that it is for the most part only lip service. Second is the topic of the path to Satori (Enlightenment) and how in Natural Chan we practice the path.

Four Noble Truths.


I am alive right?

Don’t we say that?

We don’t see the bones we walk on.”

Master Ikkyu

The Four Noble Truths are as follows; Life in and of itself is comprised of Suffering, the Causes of Suffering for the most part are due to our Ego Mind (anger, jealousy, envy, etc) some is seeded in negative action of countless eons, and other sufferings are nature born due to the impermanence of the cosmos, the End of Suffering that comes from acceptance of non-permanence, and lastly is liberation from Suffering where our original mind has bloomed and refused with the cosmic consciousness.

“All composite things are impermanent,

They are subject to birth and death;

Put an end to birth and death,

And there is a blissful tranquillity.”

The Gatha of Impermanence

Compassion and Mindfulness.

“My dying teacher could not wipe himself.

Unlike you disciples who use bamboo.

I cleaned his lovely ass with my bare hands.”

Master Ikkyu

How can we be compassionate toward other people and beings? How do we become mindful of the causes of their sufferings or their situations? As a young man preparing myself to enter the Franciscan monastic order (OFM), I believed that observation and contemplation was the key to understanding the unfortunate circumstances of the people. So I followed this path of training for many years, even after leaving the church. In Japan wandering here and there seeking my own understanding, I found only disillusionment. Meditation combined with contemplation and observation allowed deeper understanding of the sufferings and illusions of this thing we call life, yet it was not a complete understanding.

Now I have come to the realization of the tools to allow myself to be released from this suffering, even though I am still a work in progress. Yet how do we help others escape suffering and illusion? Well, we have two way, passive and engaged. With passiveness we sit on our cushions and dedicate our positive energy to all sentient beings. Engaged means we get down and get our hands dirty. This has become my path. How have I come to realize that by taking on another’s suffering that I can alleviate theirs’ to a greater degree? Around April 1st one of my Aunts passed away, my parents attended the funeral. Two days after the funeral my mother became extremely weak in both mind and body, forcing my father to care for her in all things; from dressing to getting into bed and using the toilet. Both my parents are in their eighties, thus it has wore down my father. This is where I have been thrown into the mix. As a Buddhist and a priest I am looked upon to have utmost compassion. This continuing adventure has sometimes pushed me to limits in which I never realized my compassion could go. Ikkyu as mentioned in the quote above hit the nail on the head. When you are wiping your own dieing master’s, mother’s, father’s, etc ass with full compassion and mindfulness that is when the Gateless Gate shines open and the understanding that impermanence illuminates in the core of your being. But you say nurses and doctors go through this. Maybe so, but only when they have a deep and long connection to the person does this deep understanding begin to blossom as a plum flower opens in the snowy depths of March.

The only way we can truly understand suffering in its totality is by personally experiencing and survive the various forms of suffering is to deeply experience them. That does not mean we need to search out and experience these different forms of sufferings. Rather, if we wish to work with the homeless we should for a time become homeless, if we want to feed the hungry then become hungry. We must understand what it is we are trying to heal. Yes, like Ikkyu I have wiped my sick mother’s ass. This should humble us and give us the energy to practice our discipline full-heartedly.

There are many ways to view and act upon the action of Compassion. I have come to an understanding of three forms of Compassion, they sometimes may seem to overlap or be similar, but are determined upon the practice of the Eightfold Path. If none or just two of the Eightfold Path is connected with one’s compassion then this could be considered as Conceptual Compassion. Should three to six elements of the Eightfold Path be connected to one’s compassion it can be considered as Intellectual Compassion. Now when we use the full Eightfold Path in our practice of compassion and mindfulness we will experience the full joys and reward of Experiential Compassion. Attachment or the yearning for status will reduce your practice to dust in the winds. They are very general in a sense, but they are as followed. Conceptual Compassion, Intellectual Compassion and Experiential Compassion.

Conceptual Compassion is when we hear or read that we should be compassionate toward others (whether it is human, animals, plants, etc), yet we have no image of what that compassion would look like or understanding of the being compassionate means. “Pray to God.” “Let me pray for you.” These are just words and words are hollow if the intentions and actions are not correct. Another form of this Conceptual Compassion is that where a person may act in a compassionate fashion and yet use the act of compassion to further their own image, this too is hollow. This form of compassion is the lowest form of compassion.

Intellectual Compassion is the knowledge that is gain through study of the various conditions of suffering, should that be through lectures, scholarship or observation, that a deeper sense of concern grows in the mind and the heart. Yet, Right Attitude, Right Thinking and or Right Action has not yet been fully developed. We see this in many religious people (including Buddhists) and University students who have yet to gain the true experience of suffering.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’”

Matthew 25: 41-45

I thought the passage above from Matthew is a good example of Experiential Compassion. We should place ourselves in the shoes of the suffering, this come about through the realization of how real the Four Noble Truths are through fully contemplation of such sufferings and experiencing them. Meditation and Contemplation upon suffering and of the Four Noble Truths will give rise to Mindfulness and the blossoming of Eight Fold Path. This continuous growth allows one to reach Satori.

Experiential Compassion this is the deepest form of compassion and yet the hardest to explain exactly how it work. It is the full presence of mindfulness, the Eightfold Path, experience of suffering and the understanding through experience of why such suffering has arisen in one’s own life. Everyone’s suffering arises from different causes. It is due to fruition of our practice in mindfulness, the Eightfold Path, and diving deep into our original mind (Buddha-mind), releasing it that we can be the medicine and not just the doctor.

“However innumerable beings are, I vow to save them;

However inexhaustible the passions are, I vow to extinguish them;

However immeasurable the Dharmas are, I vow to master them;

However incomparable the Buddha-truth is, I vow to attain it.”

The Four Great Vows.

Path to Satori (Enlightenment).

“Not to commit evils,

But to do all that is good,

And to keep one’s thoughts pure—

This is the Teachings of all the Buddhas.”

The Teachings of the Seven Buddha’s.

Let us not be so foolish as to think that if we follow the guidelines that we will reach Satori. This is why Mumon is such an important theme in Chan/Zen Buddhism. Now how do we hope to enter the Gateless Gate? That is the beauty of it, the simplicity and yet the challenge of it is exciting and thus leads to further practice and a deeper faith. I love the way the Bible explains it in two sections for those who get annoyed or confused by Chan/Zen paradoxical common sense.

“At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?’ He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.”

Matthew 18:1-4

It is in this way that we my enter into the Gateless Gate. It is comical to some degree, the truth is there. As children did we not have an awe for how a butterfly went through its metamorphosis? Did we not feel sadness we an animal or person become sick or passed away. Was it not the crazed logic of the adult world that dulled us to the sufferings and hurts of the world around us and our own suffering. Causing us to lose our compassion for that which is around us. It is as children that we still have the ability to rawly tap into our original mind and why the practice of Chan is so hard for many adults to maintain.

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

Luke 13:24

Yes, it is true well all struggle with our practice and discipline. Nonetheless, by our community(sangha) we can find the support to preserve in our practice. Through the teachings (dharma) we can find the little hidden guidelines to grow. From the teachers, ancients and Buddhas we find inspiration to continue our faith and practice. This is why Refuge and the Precepts are so important and why the Sangha is the community that holds us together. Through our practice of Compassion and Mindfulness we may enter into the Gateless Gate.

Namu Daishi Henjo Kongo



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