Sermon of Muso Kokushi Upon the Dedication of Tenryu-ji Monastery in Kyoto, 1339
From the Taisho Daizokyo, Vol 80, pp. 460c-61a
In the tenth month of the second year of the Ryakuo period (1339), an imperial decree ordered the conversion of the detached palace of the ex-emperor Kameyama into a monastery dedicated to the memory of the ex-emperor Go-Daigo, and also nominated the Master [Muso] to be its founding abbot. In the fourth year of Koei (1345), 4th month, 8th day, the meditation hall was opened for the first time [with their lordships Ashikaga Takauji and Ashikaga Tadayoshi in attendance]. At the hall the Master first performed the ceremony in commemoration of the Buddha’s birth and then proceeded to say:
The appearance in this world of all Buddhas, past, present, and future, is solely for the purpose of preaching the Dharma and helping all creatures cross over to the shore of liberation. The arts of oratory and types of intonation employed by Shakya were all meant to serve as a guide to the preaching of the Dharma, while the Deer Park and Vulture Peak served as places of spiritual instruction. The school of Patriarch Bodhidharma stressed the method of individual instruction directed toward the essential nature, thus setting themselves off from the schools which stressed the teaching of doctrine. But closer examination of their aims reveals that Bodhidharma’s followers likewise sought to transmit the Dharma and rescue men from the confusions of this world. Thus, all of the patriarchs, forty-seven in India and twenty-three in China, each signalized his succession to the patriarchate by making a statement on the transmission of the Dharma. The great patriarch Bodhidharma said, “I came here primarily to transmit the Dharma and save men from their blinding passions.” So it is clear that Hui-k’o’s cutting off his arm in the snow and the conferring of the robe at midnight upon Hui-neng were both meant to signify transmission of the true Dharma from one patriarch to another. In all circumstances, whether under a tree, upon a rock, in the darkness of a cave or deep in a glen, the Dharma has been set forth and transmitted by such signs to whoever possessed the right qualifications...
What is that which we call the “Dharma”? It is the truth inherent in all its perfection in every living creature. The sage possesses it in no greater amount than does the ordinary man. Enlarge it and it will fill the universe; restrict it and it can be contained in a fraction of an inch. Yesterday or today, it undergoes no change or variation. All that the Buddhas have taught, whether as the Mahayana, the Hinayana, the pseudo or the authentic, the partial or the complete – all are embraced in it. This is the meaning of the “Dharma”.
Everything the world contains – grass and trees, bricks and tile, all creatures, all actions and activities – are nothing but manifestations of this Dharma. Therefore, it is said that all phenomena in the universe bear the mark of this Dharma. If the significance of this were only grasped, then even without the appearance in this world of a Tathagata, the enlightenment of man would be complete, and even without the construction of this hall the propagation of the Dharma would have achieved realization.
As for myself, appearing before you today on this platform, I have nothing special to offer as my own interpretation of the Dharma. I merely join myself with all others – from the founder Shakya Tathagata, the other Buddhas, bodhisattvas, saints and arhants, to all those here present, including patrons and officials, the very eaves and columns of this hall, lanterns and posts, as well as all the men, animals, plants and seeds in the boundless ocean of existence – to keep the wheel of the Dharma in motion.
On such an occasion as this, you may say, “What can we do?” [Holding out his staff, the Master exclaimed:] Look here, Look here! Don’t you see Shakyamuni right here walking around on the top of my staff? He points to heaven and then to earth, announcing to the entire audience, “Today I am born again here with the completion of this new hall. All saints and sages are assembling here to bring man and heaven together. Every single person here is precious in himself, and everything here – plaques, paintings, square eaves and round pillars – every single thing is preaching the Dharma. Wonderful, wonderful it is, that the true Dharma lives on and never dies. At Vulture Peak, indeed, this Dharma was passed on to the right man!”
It is thus that Shakya, the most venerable, instructs us here. It is the teaching which comes down to men in response to the needs of their situation. But perhaps, gentlemen, you wish to know the state of things before Shakya ever appeared in his mother’s womb?
[The Master tapped his staff on the floor:] Listen, Listen!