I was reading through a translation of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi, a Zen text done by the Soto translation project. What snatched my attention was a table of the Five Buddhas (the diagram known as the Five Wheels), as the Soto Zen Lineage had Kirigami Records which show a formula wherein Five Buddhas = One Mind (and that Mind is Buddha). As I’ve done a post on the Five Dhyani Buddhas, also known as the Five Tathagathas, I wanted to do a post on the Soto Five Wheel table as it is quite excellent as a package and base for approaching the writings of Zen Masters, and it, like the Dhyani Buddhas will likely be referred to in future posts.
Following the theme of the last few posts, we’re talking about the Eighth Consciousnesses in Buddhist thought, which the eighth is ‘Emptiness’ (clear mirror free from dust), and in models such as the Five Dhyani Buddhas, and the Five Wheels, the Eighth Consciousness is usually assigned to the Fourth Wisdom (which is the Wisdom of Perfect Reflection, Mirror Wisdom, as in Zen, the Mind is commonly referred to as a Mirror reflecting Cosmic Space, which is the Space element). This release into the ‘space’ element is ‘Samadhi’. In the Yogacara Sutras the Eight Limbs of Yoga have the 7th limb as Dhyana (a word meaning ‘Meditation’, which Zen is the Japanese rendition of the word), and the Eighth limb of yoga is Samadhi. Mystics and Zen Masters are striving to establish an understanding of this Samadhi, and for people en masse to enter it and live a life free of unneeded suffering.
Soto Buddhism is best known for its association to Zen Master Dogen. It’s only appropriate that provided here is a quote on the act of “sitting” meditation, known as Zazen which Dogen set as the method and teaching of the Soto school. Dogen had taught: “All ancestors and all buddhas who uphold buddha dharma have made it the true path of unfolding enlightenment to sit upright, practicing in the midst of receptive samadhi. Those who attained enlightenment in India and China followed this way. Thus teachers and disciples intimately transmitted this excellent art as the essence of the teaching.”
While the act of sitting meditation, Zazen, is a vital aspect of Zen practice, one needs to hold their “nirvana” and move with retaining their non-dual “attainment”. Dogen’s writing provided a wealth of material to free us from illusory views, and offered much elucidation on Zen thought, and he offered fantastic essays, speeches, and work like ‘The Ocean Seal Samadhi’ (which I’ll write about in the future), along with highlighting some of his other pieces. Dogen’s most effective given he used straight forward and concise language, as Zen Master Bankei instructed, ordinary plain language, our own words, are the most beneficial.
There’s a great little compilation of Dogen’s writing available on Audible for $2! The Essential Dogen is excellent, and I offer this short passage to sum up Dogen if this is your introduction to him: “Dogen’s use of what he called “intimate language,” like the words and turning phrases of the buddha ancestors who came before him, is rooted in the nondual experience of realization. It is intended to help students yield the grip of linear, discriminative thinking and turn the mind toward an understanding of things as they truly are. Creative and virtuosic in this regard, he may be Zen’s greatest precontemporary postmodern deconstructionist elucidator of the way.”
Like every Zen Master or teacher, Dogen says we are inherently enlightened, however need to cultivate awareness of our purity and to cut through delusion by the method of Zazen. (Other Zen Masters prefer the use of Koans, or other devices). “Know that fundamentally you do not lack unsurpassed enlightenment; you are replete with it continuously. But you may not realize it and may be in the habit of arousing discriminatory views and regarding them as real.” – Dogen
Okay, so the important thing is entering into the trance state of ‘receptive samadhi’. The following is the Five Wheels diagram from the translation project, I’ll break it down below.
The column on the far left side are symbolic of what are known in Zen as the Five Ranks. These are different levels of Realization formulated by Zen master Tozan Ryokai, known as Tung-shan Liang-chieh in Chinese (806-869). These are The Apparent within the Real: Coming within the Absolute [sho-chu-hen]; The Arrival at Mutual Integration: The Absolute within the Relative [ken-chu-shi]; The Real within the Apparent: Arriving within the Relative [hen-chu-sho]; Unity Attained: Arrival within Both at the Once [ken-chu-to]; The Coming from within the Real: The Relative within the Absolute [sho-chu-rai]. (I changed their order as to match the visual chart layout in descending order, if you look to the right side of the table however, the numbers go I, IV, II, V, III).
The second column are the Five Elements. The third column with the fancy looking tower of shapes is the “Five Wheel Stupa”, or a “Gorin Sotoba”. This structure is broken down in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Zen Buddhism by Helen Josephine Baroni: “Stupas are dome-shaped structures used to enshrine relics or mark historically important places. Each section of the Gorin sotoba forms a different shape, which symbolizes one of the five great elements: earth, water, fire, wind, and space (or emptiness). Originally the stupas were intended to house Buddhist relics, but in later practice they were used as gravestones. Gorin sotoba were first introduced in Japan during the Heian period (794-1185) and are commonly associated with the esoteric schools of Buddhism, the Tendai sect, and the Shingon sect. […] In the esoteric schools of Buddhism, the five sections of the stupa are also said to represent the Five Buddhas; the cube is associated with Ashuku (Akshobhya), the sphere with Amiba buddha (Amitabha), the triangle with Hodo (Ratnasambhava), the half-sphere with Fukujoju (Amoghasiddhi), the mani jewel with Dainichi Nonin (Mahavairochana Buddha).”
The top shape with the Kha inside it is the Mani Jewel, which is symbolic of “Buddha Nature Emptiness”. It appears in Dogen and other Zen writings as the “Bright Pearl”. Holding it is to hold a piece of that “void nature” (I’ll touch on this in a future post).
The fourth column is the process of the Five Ranks, the words appear in the brackets of my Five Ranks description for the first column’s breakdown.
The fifth column are the Five Wisdoms. (See the Five Dhyani Buddhas post for elaboration on these). Though, they are apparent from simply looking at them, “Samadhi, Nirvana, etc.”
The sixth column are the sites, which is just for convenience sake, an assignment of the Five Buddhas, or Five elements to the four cardinal points with Emptiness in the center. However, unlike in the Five Dhyani Buddhas, the embodiment of ‘Mirror Wisdom’ is absent, and in his place is Bhaiṣajyaguru, which is the medicine Buddha. From Wikipedia: “Bhaiṣajyaguru, formally Bhaiṣajya-guru-vaiḍūrya-prabhā-rāja (“King of Medicine Master and Lapis Lazuli Light”), is the Buddha of healing and medicine in Mahāyāna Buddhism. Commonly referred to as the “Medicine Buddha”, he is described as a doctor who cures dukkha (suffering) using the medicine of his teachings.” Bhaiṣajyaguru is described in the eponymous Bhaiṣajya-guru-vaiḍūrya-prabhā-rāja Sūtra, commonly called the Medicine Buddha Sutra, as a bodhisattva who made 12 great vows. On achieving Buddhahood, he became the Buddha of the eastern pure land of Vaiḍūryanirbhāsa “Pure Lapis Lazuli”. There, he is attended to by two bodhisattvas symbolizing the light of the sun and the light of the moon respectively.
The final column in the table, the seventh column lists several sutras which are assigned to each direction. This general information taken from Wikipedia: The Āgamas are the earliest writings which made the Buddhist schools. The aipulya, as a number of important Mahāyāna works, including the Lotus Sūtra, Aṣṭasāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā, and Laṅkāvatāra-sūtra and so on. The Vaipulya is a number of important Mahāyāna works, including the Lotus Sūtra, Aṣṭasāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā, and Laṅkāvatāra-sūtra and so on. The Avataṃsaka Sūtra is one of the most influential Mahayana sutras of East Asian Buddhism, also known as the Flower Garland Sutra, Flower Adornment Sutra, or Flower Ornament Scripture. The Avataṃsaka Sūtra describes a cosmos of infinite realms upon realms, mutually containing one another. Prajñāpāramitā means “the Perfection of (Transcendent) Wisdom” in Mahāyāna Buddhism. Prajñāpāramitā refers to this perfected way of seeing the nature of reality, as well as to a particular body of sutras and to the personification of the concept in the Bodhisattva known as the “Great Mother”. The word Prajñāpāramitā combines the Sanskrit words prajñā “wisdom” with pāramitā “perfection”. Prajñāpāramitā is a central concept in Mahāyāna Buddhism and is generally associated with the doctrine of emptiness (Shunyata) or ‘lack of Svabhava’ (essence) and the works of Nagarjuna. Its practice and understanding are taken to be indispensable elements of the Bodhisattva path. (The Unborn concept comes from the Prajñāpāramitā sutras). Lastly, there’s the Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra, which translates to Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma.
Meditating on the Five Dhyani Buddhas, or on the Five Wheels is definitely beneficial and most useful to serve as a base to establish in your studies of Zen literature and poetry, it will serve indispensable to your understanding.