‘Buddhas and ancestors of old were as we; we in the future shall be buddhas and ancestors. Revering buddhas and ancestors, we are one buddha and one ancestor; awakening bodhi-mind, we are one bodhi-mind. Because they extend their compassion to us freely and without limit, we are able to attain buddhahood and let go of the attainment.’ (Eihei Koso Hotsuganmon)
The Eihei Koso is a chant that is often used for short lunch-time services and quite easy to memorise. It is taken from the Keisei Sanshiki fascicle that I have been quoting from recently, and it was good to think about it again. The idea that we are the same as buddhas and ancestors probably doesn’t sit so easily. I remember how Blanche told of how she used to dismiss Suzuki Roshi’s affirmation of everyone as buddha by thinking to herself, well, he doesn’t mean me – I’m not good enough.
Understanding that this is indeed the case does not mean we have impunity from our unskillful actions – and as usual, I lean towards an instinctual, felt understanding rather than an intellectual one. It seems that this point always needs to be underlined, as we (or other, more sceptical people) can easily make the connection that if we think we are buddha, then everything we do must be correct (Brad Warner had a good reflection on this recently).
As I was reflecting on this prior to posting, it dawned on me that it is no accident that the lines quoted above are surrounded by sentences on confession and repentance – language that sometimes makes people uncomfortable from their use in other religious traditions. In this case Dogen underlines that the essential request of practice is not to pretend that we don’t get things wrong to keep trying, to keep investigating, and to acknowledge fully when we fall short.