The Vow of Humankind:

Talks by Shin'ichi Hisamatsu

FAS Society Journal, Winter 1986-87, pp.24-30
Translated by Chris Ives from Hisamatsu Shin'ichi Chosakushû, Vol. III, pp. 217-234. Originally presented as talks (teikô) at the April Sesshin (betsuji gakudô) of 195l at Reiun'in temple on the grounds of the Myôshinji Rinzai Zen monastery compound.

Keeping Calm and Composed, Let Us Awake to Our True Self


In the relationship between "keeping calm and composed" and "awaken to our True Self," keeping highly composed stands as the direction leading to the awakening of the True self. The True Self is the "I" arrived at through becoming composed. In fact, there is no True I lying outside of the truly composed I. You may view the expression, "keeping calm and composed" as expressing the way to the True Self, but that view does not yet get at true composure. Keeping highly composed is itself the goal, for as I have said, there is no True I existing apart from the composed I.

In other words, zazen usually appears to be a way of composing oneself. True zazen, however, is not the method but the goal. When zazen is true zazen, it is the True I, for true zazen and the True I are completely one and never two. In such zazen we become the undivided Self, the "I" which truly is absolute oneness in full concreteness. Ordinarily, however, this I does not readily present itself concretely; it is usually something inferred or an abstract object, not a concrete living thing.

We saw before in the metaphor of the waves that when the self exists as waves, to search for the unification of the self in the direction of the waves, that is, to search for a true unification of waves, is to arrive at a disassociated unification on the basis of the split self. Accordingly, we can hope for a true unification of the waves only in the infinite future. In the final analysis, however, that future, concrete unification will never arrive. When the subject existing as waves looks at water, the water is objectified water and hence not yet my Self. It is water seen, inferred, or imagined inside waves as the source of waves, never true water. As long as you exist as the I that is split apart as a wave, you cannot become one in the direction either of the emergence of waves, of the source of the waves. Because you exist as the split I, your efforts do not bring about a resolution of the disassociation. The move from the split to true oneness or true unity necessitates the split self's dissolving of the very split. In other words, the I of waves must become the I of water; the I that emerges as a swelling wave must settle and return to the oneness of water.

In this case, water is not something external to or transcendent of waves but the source that waves themselves settle back into. Through the return of waves to water, we return to our original nature, which isn't something external to waves. We do not return to our source by thinking with our heads; the return must be the existential negation of the entire wave. This is a return to unity through the negation of existence, the absolute negation of the wave. Since we do not return to something transcendent, the direction of becoming calm and composed is the direction leading inward.

The I which has become one, the I which has returned to water, is in no way empty or suffering from ennui. Sitting silently may be felt to he extremely tedious or empty. I have experienced this. Zazen may contain such ideas as, "I sat for a whole week, wasting seven days," "I didn't gain anything," and "In boredom, I felt that the week passed quite slowly," but this is not true zazen.

Zazen must be eternal. If our zazen leads to an experience of boredom, it is not true zazen. In true zazen, no matter how long one sits, one does not tire of sitting. There is nothing resembling boredom. In fact, true zazen is vigorously fulfilled. No other way of being contains less boredom. In contrast, all other ways of being are, surprisingly, quite tedious. Functioning in our usual ways, we are split, and this is what is tedious. There is no I more tedious than the bifurcated I.

Of course, this viewpoint runs contrary to our normal ideas about boredom. Usually, staying perfectly still is exceedingly boring. The reason for this is that we aren't yet, in the true sense, doing nothing or sitting perfectly still. Because we aren't the unified I, sitting still and doing nothing are boring. Should we do such zazen, perhaps doing something, anything, is somewhat better. If your zazen is a mere negation of doing something, it is empty and tedious, for it amounts to laxity in life, to mere negation. At no point must we be like this. We have to do something. And yet, the zazen of truly remaining motionless, of truly doing nothing, is the completeness of life which is most tense with no relaxation, or, more exactly put, an absolute tension in which there is no duality of tension and relaxation.

At that point we first attain true life. In this zazen we experience infinite pleasure, tranquillity, and comfort. Even if we don't reach this point, through the composure achieved in sitting we feel pleasure while sitting. We desire to remain in this condition and continue sitting even when time is up, for this condition lies in the direction of absolute comfort and pleasure. Our breaking through in this direction is the attainment of "Great Peace of Mind" (Dai-ani). There is no peace of mind outside of the I which breaks through in this direction. Peace of mind, salvation, and emancipation all refer to this breakthrough.

Meister Eckhart states, "Love God as non-God, non-spirit, non-person, non-form." Ordinarily we love God as God, so what does it mean to love God as that which is not God? We can love God as that which is not God only by obliterating the split between God and the self. We cannot love God as something without form if God is an object, for an object has a form. Through the loving in which God cannot be spirit, a person, or personality, the antinomy [between God and us] disappears. In this loving, one can become a completely pure, untainted whole. According to Eckhart, in this oneness we sink (versinken) from being (Sein) into non-being (Nichts). If God exists externally in an objectified manner, we will dwell in being but not in non-being or nothingness. Speaking from our standpoint, this nothingness is the True I. Sinking into this is true composure. Sinking here means becoming composed, sedimenting: it indicates that, so to speak, muddy, agitated water settles and becomes clear. This crystal-clear water is nothingness (Nichts); it is me. It no longer possesses form, for it is formless. Only in this formlessness can I be emancipated from all things and thereby be saved. If Buddha still exists externally, it is not the true Buddha. There is no Buddha outside of me. The "I" in which there is no Buddha, no human being, and no unawakened being is the I which has sunk into unity, the I which truly loves God and Buddha.

At this point, not a trace of duality remains between the loving and the loved. This is a total oneness, so it is completely pure. If we call this oneness heart, only when we become pure in heart can we see the True I, apart from which there is no God. As this is a oneness, it is not rich, but something destitute and impoverished. That which possesses much, that which is split and not one, is rich, and a rich entity cannot awaken to the True Self. Oneness is simple and pure; there isn't even a speck of dust. It is complete oneness. Since there is nothing this impoverished, it should be called absolute poverty. For this reason it is often likened to "empty nothingness." It is complete nothingness: there is nothing outside or inside of it, nothing at all. Again, this is true poverty (Armut), expressed by the Sixth Patriarch, "Originally, not-a-single-thing." When it is said that that which is not poor cannot be born in heaven, no God or heaven exists apart from the poor. There is no God and no heaven outside of this Self, no heaven to be called heaven and no god to be called God.

To engage in true practice or zazen is to link up with one another and talk at our source. There is no talking greater than the talking at the point of oneness. Communication based on talking with words or actions is truly tedious. Sitting perfectly still without talking is the true way of talking. I think we all want to talk in this manner. Precisely this way of talking, without speaking with one's mouth, body, or mind, without doing anything, is the dialogue of buddha' with buddha. Only when this original dialogue comes forth through the mouth, body, or mind, does talking become true talking. Our usual way of talking must come from this talking. But since this original way of talking is usually nonexistent, while sitting in silence you feel uncomfortable tedium. This is because you do not understand being silent. True silence must be the True Self. If I am constantly this true silence, being silent is the liveliest thing. While still formless, all liveliness exists as a unified whole in me. Liveliness manifest as form is mere noisiness. One will feel the bitterness of disillusionment, because insofar as this is liveliness, it is loneliness.

In contrast, true liveliness exists inside unified silence, inside nothingness. When I exist in this nothingness there is nothing livelier than my solitude. Ordinarily, loneliness and solitude seek liveliness. Such solitude is boredom. It is despair. However, true solitariness contains everything unmanifest. In the statement, "I am the only person in the heavens and on earth," the person is me, the True Self.

There is an expression, "unlimited treasury in not-a-single-thing." If you look at this contemplatively or passively, you will be mistaken. This expression is not pantheistic; the formless I, the I which, before becoming form, is expressed, "one, just as it is, is the many" (ichi-soku-ta), is the unlimited treasury. It is one and many. This I is "not a single thing" and the "unlimited Treasury." As this constantly is me, I never separate from it. If there is separation, it is not the True Self. Such is the nature of True Self: it is invariably me in all of its functioning. At this point, one's action becomes truly autonomous for the first time. This can be expressed as "movement in stillness," "emptiness, just as it is, is form," or "Nirvana, just as it is, is life-and-death." There is unity in multiplicity, multiplicity in unity. Here, "the one, just as it is, is the many," becomes a true expression. As long as we have not become this oneness, our oneness is not true oneness. And as long as we have not become this oneness, we cannot become truly composed.

True oneness is the composure human beings are fundamentally searching for. As human beings, we seek this, and this search is our original desire. We do not usually realize this, but when we reflect on our actual way of being, this desire naturally arises. In this we find true religion. What we in this organization think of as religion is found in the place where we awaken to that Self. Therefore, our religion is found in these words: "Keeping calm and composed, let us awaken to our True Self."


Up to this point I have dealt mainly with "Keeping calm and composed," part of the first line of the Vow of Human kind: "Keeping calm and composed, let us awaken to our True Self." I will now concentrate on "awaken to our True Self." "Keeping calm and composed" and "awaken(ing) to our True Self" have a very close relationship in the Vow of Humankind. As mentioned earlier, becoming calm and composed can be thought of as the method of awakening to our True Self, the goal we must arrive at.

There are three distinguishable stages in becoming highly composed. The first stage is "composure with form." This is composure of mind and body, a "composure of mind" and a "composure of body." This composure with form must develop into "formless composure," the second stage, where mind and body have fallen away, for if it doesn't, it won't become true composure. In other words, because true composure is neither physical nor mental, it does not exist where mind and body have yet to fall away. Ultimately, however, the composure in which mind and body have merely dropped off is not yet ultimate composure. In the third stage, though there is mind and body, composure is unobstructed by mind and body. Until formless composure is composed and unobstructed within form, there is no third-stage composure, no ultimate composure. Again, this is formless composure within all forms. If composure is not this kind of composure, it isn't true composure. There must be "quiet in the midst of action," "not moving even when the eight winds blow." This immovability exists in the midst of the "eight winds," not outside. Ultimate composure is such immovability, such composed quiet.

This discussion of the third stage of "keeping calm and composed" holds true for the True Self, too. No matter what the self with form is like, it isn't the True Self. The formless self is closer to True Self. And yet, a mere formless self is not the ultimate True Self, for the True Self is formless within all forms. Any self not formless while within all forms falls short of the ultimate True Self. Accordingly, "keeping calm and composed" and "Self" coincide in their three stages.

"Form" (shiki) in the Heart Sutra (Shingyô) is the self with form. Actual human beings as members of humankind are also the self with form. The point where the psychophysical self is shaken off, where form becomes emptiness, where one dies as from and lives in emptiness is the place where we say, "Form just as it is, is Emptiness." Though we must advance in this direction where the self with form becomes emptiness, emptiness is usually viewed as transcending the actual self, and thereby becomes "otherly" in a theistic form.

When emptiness is thought of as transcendent, it can be internally transcendent or externally transcendent. The emptiness of Buddhism is usually though of as being internally transcendent. However, when we conceive of it as internally transcendent, it becomes pantheistic. This results in thinking that it is in the relationship between that kind of emptiness and actuality that religion, or Buddhism, emerges. But this way of thinking does not accord with the essential mode of Buddhism. The essential mode of Buddhism is that that which is internally transcendent becomes present and actual. This is what is involved in "Form as it is, is Emptiness." Speaking from the standpoint of form (shiki), form is transformed into emptiness, changes into emptiness, extricates and emancipates itself into emptiness. In other words, human beings become Buddha. The "dropping off of mind and body" is the same: mind and body drop off and became empty. Dropping off becomes the emptiness of "Form just as it is, is Emptiness." This is emancipation.

It is generally thought that, in the search for Buddha, the admonition not to seek Buddha outside of one's mind reflects the truth that Buddha is immanent and must be sought internally. Thinking that Buddha is internally transcendent, we assume we mustn't seek Buddha externally. To many people, then, external transcendence is not the direction of Buddha; Buddha is immanent, the direction of searching is inward, and this internal transcendence is actually the True Self. To express Buddha's internal transcendence, people often use the expression, "Buddha Nature." Buddha nature exists in all members of humankind. Buddha exists in all people, so, speaking from the usual human standpoint, Buddha is internally transcendent.

An internally transcendent Buddha, however, is completely transcendent of actuality and diverges from the essential standpoint of Buddhism. True Buddhism comes forth when the transcendent becomes non-transcendent. In this respect, neither an eternally transcendent Buddha (or God) nor an internally transcendent Buddha is the true way of being of Buddha. Buddha's true way of being is when Buddha is not transcendent but actual. That Buddha is actuality means that Buddha is emptiness. Shinnyo (Tathata, suchness) and Hosshin (Dharmakaya, the True Self) express this. Buddha is not transcendent; Buddha is actuality, here and now. True Buddha is here in the present without form; mind and body have fallen away. No Buddha exists outside of the self where mind and body have fallen away. Emancipation, Nirvana, and the Return Aspect or gensô as a return to the source -- here the reverse of gensô as understood in Pure Land Buddhism -- are established therein.

True zazen must be the zazen of the falling away of mind and body. It is emptiness. Of course, neither the body's sitting nor the mind's sitting is true zazen. We must penetrate the zazen which is neither body zazen nor mind zazen. Only then does Nirvana becomes manifest.

The Pure Land Buddhist expression, "the body that is self-effected and void, the self that is boundless" (jinen kyomu-no-shin, mugoku-no-tai) expresses the body that is spontaneity, nothingness, complete emptiness. Self-effected spontaneity (jinen) indicates our original way of being. The self where mind and body have fallen away is what Buddhism calls jinen, and this is empty. "Body" in "the body that is self-effected and void" is neither physical nor mental. It is an "original body." This can be expressed by the modern word "existence," although this is quite different from what is designated as existence in existentialism.

"The body that is self-effected and void" becomes manifest and corresponds to the second stage of composure. People often refer to this as the "falling away of worldly passions." Upon the falling away of worldly passions, Nirvana and the True Self (hosshin) emerge. But if the falling away of worldly passions is merely a state of possessing neither mind nor body, it is not yet the "True Self." The True self, in terms of one and many, returns to one, becomes the one in "All things return to one." This is the one where "many" is one, where "many" returns to one. If we view this one as a mere one, it becomes a one outside of many. This one must not lose oneness in the midst of many. In short, it must be the one never lost inside of many, not a one separate from many. A one that stands outside of many would also become many, and hence, isn't the true one. In other words, one is not merely one; one just as it is, is many (ichi-soku-ta), signifying that many is in one and one is in many.

This corresponds to "All things return to one and the one is not preserved." If the one is preserved, it is called "attached emptiness" (gankû) or "empty emptiness" (tankû). Expressed in technical terminology like Tathata and Dharmakaya, this is "Holy Intent." But, Buddhism discusses two kinds of holiness. Holiness seen as either internal or external transcendence must be negated. "High" holiness, which is neither transcendent nor immanent but present, is Tathata, Nirvanas, One. This "high-dimension" holiness is established at the point where "low-dimension" holiness is negated. But, if this high holiness dwells there, it is not true holiness.

At this point, we say, "The dropping off of worldly passions, the negation of all holy intent" and "All things returning to one, the one is not preserved." In regard to this, Zen, especially Rinzai Zen, has much to say. Rinzai Zen criticizes Sôtô Zen, maintaining that Sôtô Zen tends to dwell in this one, sit still in this one, sit in emptiness and become passive. Herein lie the evils of zazen: zazen becomes mere zazen, in that some people stop at the place of one and take it for something ultimate. Such people believe that sitting still at that point is the ultimate stage. To them, moving from this point results in a backward movement. If an individual thinks, "Despite the fact I arrived at this one, I have to go back if I move," the one will be something lost on returning to the actuality. This is an extremely important point.

It is said that Plotinus experienced the ecstasy of "One" four times in his life. But if the one is merely this sort of thing, it is momentary and passing, an experience of only one time and one place. This experience does not constitute eternal subjectivity, for the true one is never just one particular experience. The falling away of mind and body is eternal, and we never separate from this place. That which never separates is the Self, the True Self. The True Self is the eternal Self, a Self unrestricted by time and space. Accordingly, it is the unborn-undying Self, the Self without life-and-death, the Self existing as Nirvana. Therefore, this is never something one becomes and then separates from. As indicated in the expression "Ordinary Mind is the Way," the True Self is the ordinary, constant mind, which never changes or is parted from. The condition in zazen wherein a person experiences a good feeling that disappears at the end of sitting is a mere illusion. True zazen must be unborn-undying zazen functioning in the midst of life-and-death. This becomes the "One" or "Self" corresponding to the third stage of becoming highly composed. Whether standing, sitting, lying, thinking living, or dying, this always is the Self. Only this kind of Self can be designated the True Self. A self differing from this cannot even be called a "self."

Accordingly, "the falling away of worldly passions, the negation of all holy intent" is highly significant here. Pure Land Buddhism contends that one-way entering into the Pure Land does not constitute true rebirth in the Pure Land, for if an individual stops in that one, it is not the true one. Rinzai Zen decries stopping at the standpoint of emptiness and becoming entangled in oneness, describing this in such ways as "Zen person in a demonic cave," "attached, degenerating in dark cave," and "the evil Zen of silent illumination [mokushô]." Indeed, the emptiness of Mokushô Zen is not true emptiness; true emptiness encounters no obstacles: "between thing and thing, no obstruction." In Pure Land Buddhist terms, the genso self, the self returning from Nirvana, is the "True Self."

"Self" refers to the Self which is "One," the unborn-undying Self, the Self which is emptiness, the True Self. This Self does not change into something else. It is never what is commonly referred to as "the one eternal Lord," for Buddhism differs from the theistic view preceding it. That the True Self is empty does not imply "the one eternal Lord." The Self that is empty must be Self-Realization. This Self is always awakened. It never exists as a believed, "otherly," and transcendent Buddha or a Buddha embraced as the goal we must arrive at. The True Buddha must be that which functions free and unhindered as "I." This is true Self-Realization. Of course, such realization differs from ordinary individual self-realization. In true Self-Realization, ordinary human self- realization dies and becomes non-realization, or rather, becomes realization of no-self. People say non-realization is true Realization; here, non-realization signifies that ordinary self-realization disappears. Such expressions as "Non-realization is True Realization," "No-self is the True Self," and "No-mind is True Mind" come to have their true meaning at this point.

We must penetrate true zazen, the zazen in which mind and body fall away. When we do so, the path with no separation, "the path one cannot wander from for even an instant," becomes manifest. The religion of our society differs greatly from ordinary religions involving belief in God or Buddha. We can safely assert that our religion is a new kind of humanism. "New" indicates that old and new no longer exist, and in this sense it is truly new.

To this point, I have merely explained awakening, and no one can "awaken to our True Self" by a mere intellectual understanding of what I have discussed. Therefore, I sincerely hope that you will push on in practice to the point where you awaken to the True Self.

***To be continued***

November 9, 1996