The Mind of Buddha

Dharma Talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei
Book of Serenity, Case 1
The World Honored One Ascends the Seat

Featured in Mountain Record 24.3, Spring 2006

The Pointer

Closing the door and sleeping is the way to receive those of highest potential; looking, reflecting and stretching is a roundabout way for the middling and lesser. How can it bear sitting on the carved wood seat sporting devil eyes? If there is any bystander who doesn’t agree, come forward. You can’t blame him either.

The Main Case

One day the World Honored One ascended the seat. Manjushri struck the gavel and said, “Clearly observe the Dharma of the King of Dharma; the Dharma of the King of Dharma is thus.” The World Honored One then got down from the seat.

The Capping Verse

The unique breeze of reality—do you see?
Continuously creation runs her loom and shuttle,
Weaving the ancient brocade, incorporating the forms of spring,
But nothing can be done about Manjushri’s leaking.

It’s not an accident that in most schools of Buddhism in general, and in Zen in particular, the Buddha—although clearly holding a special place within the tradition—does not assume a central role as an object of worship, as would be the case in other religions. This is, in fact the legacy of the Buddha himself. He was adamant that the purpose of his teaching was the alleviation of suffering, and he constantly challenged his own students to realize it for themselves, to prove or disprove it, and to make it their own. Ultimately, it wasn’t about him. He was a pointer to the dharma, an embodiment of the enlightened mind, an example of great wisdom and compassion, but not the source itself.

It was perhaps due to his understanding of our human propensity to deify people and things that he was so very clear about his own humanity. This is why it’s important to appreciate that even while the notion of the cosmic Buddha, the timeless, universal Buddha of Mahayana Buddhism is described in very vivid, elaborate language, the humanity of Shakyamuni is not lost. It’s this very humanity that we are to be enlightend to, both in its vast boundlessness and its ordinary characteristics. Although it’s difficult to know with certainty certain details of the Buddha’s life, reflecting on what is known can be instructive.




The young Shakyumuni had a deeply reflective nature. There’s the well known story of him sitting under a tree as a young boy while his father and people from the village harvested the fields during an annual festival. Without trying, or any self-conscious attempt, he entered into a deep experience of concentration. Many years later, when he decided to reject his ascetic practices, that same experience came to mind and guided him to look deep within himself.