by Katherine Daiki Senshin Griffith
“When one takes the Seat of Head Teacher, one enters the Thus Come One’s room, puts on the Thus Come One’s robe, sits in the Thus Come One’s seat, faces the assembly without fear and reveals the teachings. A heart as vast as the world is the room, gentleness and patience are the robe, the emptiness of all phenomena is the seat. From this position beyond position, one should expound the Law throughout the day and night, and care for the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.”
When I became Head Teacher in April, I took this beautiful pledge and it has stayed deep in my heart ever since. And because my vow is to you and we are each the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, engaged in Collective Awakening as Bodhisattvas – I’d like to share it and transform it into another Bodhisattva Vow for us all.
Tathagata is the Pali word for Thus Come One and is one of the ten honorable titles of a Buddha, meaning one who has come from the realm of truth. Sometimes it is translated as “Thus Gone One,” indicating one who has gone to the world of enlightenment. This title indi- cates that a Buddha embodies the fundamental truth of all phenomena and has grasped the law of causality spanning past, present, and future. The general meaning is connect- ed to how the previous Buddhas came and went, but also how they understood and explained the suchness of all moments of existence.
The Thus Come One perceives the true aspect of the threefold world exactly as it is, with no ebb or flow of
birth and death. It is neither substantial nor empty, neither consistent nor diverse. And it’s not what we who dwell in the threefold world perceive it to be. Sitting in this seat, we find it’s so much bigger than in person, on Zoom, masked or unmasked. It is beyond our usual perception and is what we are cultivating in our Zazen.
When we look closely, we find sprinkled throughout our practice forms, opportunities to align with the perspective of the Tathagata. In the Gatha on Opening the Sutra, we chant:
The Dharma, incomparably profound and infinitely subtle,
Is always encountered but rarely perceived, even in millions of ages.
Now we see it, hear it, receive and maintain it.
May we completely realize the Tathagata’s true meaning.
Before we put on our rakusu, we chant:
Vast is the robe of liberation, A formless field of benefaction. I wear the Tathagata-teaching, Serving all sentient beings
In the Gate of Sweet Nectar dharanis, we chant:
Being one with the Unconditioned Tathagata. Being one with the Boundless Tathagata.
Being one with all Tathagatas and Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, please nourish and sustain us.
Being one with the Inconceivable Body Tathagata, let the nectar of Dharma spring forth.
In our noon service, we chant “Lifespan of the Thus Come One” from the Lotus Sutra, which includes this passage:
At all times I think to myself: How can I cause living beings to gain entry into the unsurpassed way and quickly acquire the body of a buddha?
It’s easy to miss the power of these great invocations. I’m constantly amazed when I hear them freshly. Don’t glaze over these familiar texts but continually align yourself with this spacious unsurpassable perspective. Imagine sitting in the Thus Come One’s room every time you sit Zazen. Can our hearts be as vast as the world? Can we wear a robe of gentleness and patience? Can we realize and sit in the emptiness of all phenomena? When asked to orient to the whole, what comes to mind? Is even your sense of expansion still stuck in too small a view? How vast is your Robe of Liberation?
We talk a lot about the Three Tenets: Not Knowing, Bearing Witness, Appropriate Action. But I don’t think we remember the Not Knowing enough. I know I don’t Not Know enough. And I don’t mean I don’t know what to do, or don’t know how to solve this problem. Not Knowing is the grounded return to the formless field of non-conceptual openness.
We drop for a second, then impatiently get whisked away and caught up in all that’s going on because it’s so noisy, so vivid, so endlessly covered in the news. Then we either feel fired up and wanting to do something – or hopeless because everything seems so stuck. We may loop in our minds with anger or anxiety. Before we can do anything, we need to truly root ourselves in boundless Not Knowing, the very seat of the Tathagata.
“The Thus Come One perceives the true aspect of the threefold world exactly as it is.”
The Head Teacher rests in the Study Sphere of our Mandala. The responsibility of the Teaching Sphere is the care and development of training paths, developing teachers, presenting the teachings, the spiritual training of students both individually and collectively, and the trans- mission of the lineage.
I bow with deepest gratitude to Roshi Egyoku for her years of dedication to the Zen Center and her personal guidance to me, and vow to do my best. I’ve often said the Sangha makes me better than I am and I will continue to rise to the challenges of this new role. With deep appreciation for our lineage, I vow to not let the Dharma Seed die.
The practice here at ZCLA is a great combination of rigor and creativity – wonderfully embodied by Roshi Egyoku. We will continue being rigorous with the forms that make our practice strong and deep while being open and creative to new forms that might need to arise. This Three Seat model is one of our creative experiments. I already enjoy working with Abbot Sensei Faith-Mind and Rev. Dharma-Joy. It really is wonderful to see new angles and blind spots pointed out and this grows out of our having spent decades practicing together.
This transition is coming at a very interesting time. We are slowly emerging from over two years of a global pandemic. We all feel the reverberations from the world threatening war, exacerbated divisions of hatred, increased mass shootings, harmful court rulings and dire effects of climate change. The Three Poisons of Greed, Anger and Ignorance are institutionalized in our culture. Our Bodhisattva Practice is needed more than ever to help change the paradigm.
When Buddhism moves to a new country, it often takes on elements of that culture. Since I first started my Zen Practice over 35 years ago, I’ve felt part of this newly rooted potential. The United States is itself a young experiment, currently in peril, with its conflicting aspirations for equal justice and power hungry greed. This Mother Temple is just a little over 50 years old. How can our practice deepen for the benefit of ourselves, the world, and the planet? Shall we find that together, using our collective wisdom and awakening, grounding ourselves deeply in the Three Tenets, especially in the Not Knowing perspective of the Tathagata.
Let’s sit together in Thus Come One’s room, with hearts as vast as the world, gentleness and patience, realizing the emptiness of all phenomena. I deeply wish us all to awaken to our true nature and freely access each of our unique gifts to serve what is needed.
Bowing forwards and back, I share this poem I offered quietly on the day of the installation:
Profound and Subtle
Eluding even the name
Laughter echoes in the Empty Sky.
Sensei Daiki Senshin is the new ZCLA Head Teacher.