The Shit Paper
A monk asked: "To be holy, what is it like?"
Joshu said: "To dump a mountain of shit on the clean plain."
The monk said: "Master, make this clear for me."
Joshu said: "Stop fucking with my head."
In Japan, it is customary to congratulate each other at New Year's. In the west, we wish each other a happy New Year, but in Japan we say: "Congratulations!" Last year was the Year of the Horse, this year is the Year of the Sheep.
Anyway, many people ask, what do we congratulate ourselves for in the first place. Isn't it just the date that changed?
Last month I was writing about heaven as one of the six Buddhist worlds in which we transmigrate. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but shouldn't we as bodhisattvas (Buddhist practioners who try to save all living beings) be prepared to fall in to hell or be reborn as an animal, so that we can save even more suffering beings, rather than accumulating virtue through our religuous practice and going to heaven all by ourselves, without caring for all the other beings? As Dogen Zenji says, a bodhisattva has to vow to save all beings before he himself is saved. That means that he has to continue to migrate in this world of suffering until the last living being is saved.
I think we should not make the mistake to think that transmigration in the six worlds (of heaven, human beings, fighting demons, animals, hungry ghost and hell) is something that happens after death. These six worlds are all aspects of this life here and now. To live means to transmigrate in these six worlds - if we realize it or not, if we like it or not. Or, rather than saying that "we" transmigrate, it is this activity of transmigration - or "flowing and turning" as the term translates literally - that unfolds itself each moment in reality.
In Buddhism, there are four basic teachings called the four Dharma seals. First: All is suffering - we are really never completely satisfied. Being not satisfied is our nature. Second: Everything changes - this is what is meant by transmigration, everything is in flow, is literally tumbling and turning. Third: Things have no substance - there is no "I" or "you", no self which we could cling to. Fourth: Resting quietly in Nirvana - Nirvana is not somewhere outside the six flowing worlds of suffering. No: Nirvana means to penetrate and settle firmly in this continually changing reality of unsatisfactoriness.
When we think about this, it makes no sense to say that "I" or "you" transmigrate in the six worlds after death. Because there is no "I" and "you" that could do so. And rather than worrying what happens with "us" after death, isn't the real problem what happens in this life right now? Right now, aren't "we" already transmigrating in a continual flow - tumbling and turning each moment of "our" lifes?
I think that many people use New Year's as an opportunity to reflect on their lifes and make plans for the coming year, possibly trying to change themselves and their lifes. To have such an opportunity is reason enough to say "Congatulations!" - too often we lack the time and freedom to reflect on and relate to our life.
But, it is not only New Year's when we can change ourselves. If we want it or not, we change every single day, every single moment. And if we do not possess a firm resolution, a firm vow to live as bodhisattvas, the good intentions that we had on New Year's Day will soon be forgotten and we will be swept away by our karma.
To be swept away by karma is one way to tumble and turn in this world.
To live by the vow of a bodhisattva and turn the wheel of the dharma is another.
We are tumbling and turning in a world of flow and change. Which way do we tumble and turn? That is the question that each single one of us has to face and give an answer to.