The Text of the Month No 5

By Jos Slabbert

Do you understand?

When you truly awaken,
You have no formal merit.
In the multiplicity of the relative world,
You cannot find such freedom.
Self-centred merit brings the joy of heaven itself,
But it is like shooting an arrow at the sky;
When the force is exhausted, it falls to the earth,
And then everything goes wrong.
Why should this be better
Than the true way of the absolute,
Directly penetrating the ground of Tathagata?
Just take hold of the source
And never mind the branches.
It is like a treasure-moon
Enclosed in a beautiful emerald.
Now I understand this Mani-jewel
And my gain is the gain of everyone endlessly.
The moon shines on the river,
The wind blows through the pines, -
Whose providence is this long beautiful evening?
The Buddha-nature of morality
Is impressed on my mind,
And my robe is the dew, the fog, the cloud, and the mist.

(Shodoka)

Explanation and comment

What I find astounding about this extract is that it encourages us to give up our self-centred preoccupation with our own personal merit in an effort to escape the inevitable forces of karma.

When you have come into total harmony with the Tao, you live beyond the "multiplicity of the relative world". You are truly free, for you have eliminated your preoccupation with your own merit and salvation. You have realized that serving your own merit is just serving your own self in a religious guise.

Even though achieving merit brings you "the joy of heaven itself", it is futile, even harmful, in the final analysis, for then, the poet warns us, "everything goes wrong."

It is easy to see why. The religious preoccupation with the self is selfish. It is just another way of inflating the ego. It must go wrong.

The "true self" has no ego. You will only come into harmony with it if you get rid of the ego and your longing for personal merit. The "true way of the absolute" lies beyond ego and merit; beyond the idea of "I" and "me" and "mine".

The passage now calls on you to be more direct in your approach and to penetrate "the ground of the Tathagata", the true nature of a Buddha. There should be no selfish fooling around. You should "take hold of the source". This act, however, can only be a selfless one where the false self has been eliminated. Gone are your preoccupation with yourself: your "gain is the gain of everyone endlessly."

The person in harmony with the Tao does not really care about his own salvation. He is too busy caring about other beings. Being good in order to go to heaven or to achieve Nirvana, as so many religious people do, is selfish, not good. The truly good person does good even if there is no reward at all. He would do good even if it means that he has to suffer for it.

The truly good person does good because he is truly good, because he is in total harmony with his own Buddha-nature. He does good because he cannot do anything else. When you "take hold of the source", you will discover that Buddha-nature is part of you. This incredible jewel is impressed on "the ground" of your mind, where it will grow and blossom as you become one with the universe, your robe being "the dew, the fog, the cloud, and the mist."

This passage is full of profound beauty.

It gives someone as imperfect as me courage, hope and faith.