Saturday, June 27, 2015

Soyen Shaku on Non-Ego

Soyen Shaku ( 宗演, 1860 – 1919) 

A favorite parable used by Buddhists to illustrate the unreality of soul or self (I take these two meaning the same thing), is that of the house. The house is composed of the roof, walls, posts, floor, windows, and so forth. Now, take each one of these apart, and we have no such thing as a house, which appeared to have a permanent actuality a while ago. The house did not have any independent existence outside the material whose combination only in a certain form makes it possible. From the beginning there was no house-soul or house-ego, which willed according to its own will to manifest itself in such and such way by combining the roofs, walls, et cetera. The house came into existence only after all these component parts were brought together. If the house-soul insisted that "I am a thing by itself, distinct from any of you, members of my being, and therefore I shall abide here forever even when you, component parts, are disorganized. I will go up to heaven and enjoy my reward there, for I have sheltered so many worthy people under my roof,” this soul would be the most appropriate object of laughter and derision. But are we not standing in a similar situation when we speak of our eternal self dwelling within us and departing after death in its heavenward course?
According to Buddhism, the question why we must not discriminate between friends and foes is answered by the doctrine of non-ego, as above explained at some length. Therefore, the Buddhists declare: Regulate your thoughts and deeds according to the feeling of oneness, and you will find a most wondrous spiritual truth driven home to your hearts. You are not necessarily thinking of the welfare and interest of others, much less of your own; but, singularly enough, what you aspire and practise is naturally conducive to the promotion of the general happiness, of others as well as of yourselves. In such an enlightened mind as has realized this most homely and yet most ennobling truth, there is no distinction to be made between friend and enemy, lover and hater. He is filled with loving-kindness and brotherly-heartedness. And such a one is called by Buddhists a Bodhisattva, which translated means "intelligence-being," or "one who has realized wisdom."

Soyen Shaku was a Zen master well known for his efforts in bringing Zen to the West, and was abbot of both Kenchō-ji and Engaku-ji temples in KamakuraJapan. He taught both Nyogen Senzaki and D.T. Suzuki, also famous for promoting Zen abroad. The above is an extract from ‘Sermons of a Buddhist Abbot’ translated into English by D.T. Suzuki, which can be freely downloaded from here.
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