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Lions Roar : January 2016
the suffering of all beings, was no longer necessary. Anyhow, I really appreciate Shohaku Okumura’s comments on death in his book Realizing Genjokoan: Firewood becomes ash. Ash cannot become firewood again. However, we should not view ash as after and fire- wood as before. We should know that firewood dwells in the dharma position of firewood and has its own before and after. Although before and after exist, past and future are cut off. Ash stays in the position of ash with its own before and after. As firewood never becomes firewood again after it has burned to ash, there is no return to liv- ing after a person dies. However, in buddha dharma, it is an unchanged tradition not to say that life becomes death. Therefore, we call it “no arising.” It is the established way of Buddha’s turning the dharma wheel not to say that death becomes life. Therefore, we call it “no perishing.” Life is a position in time. Death is also a position in time. This is like winter and spring. We don’t think that winter becomes spring. And we don’t say that spring becomes summer. The Great Matter of Life and Death Throughout Dogen Zenji’s teachings, the question of birth and death, or life and death, is called “the great matter.” On the han [a wooden board struck with a mallet] that calls us to the zendo, we have this quotation that’s often chanted every night in a monastery in Japan: “Great is the matter of birth and death. All is impermanent, quickly passing. Wake up! Wake up, each one! Don’t waste this life.” There’s a sense of urgency to understand about life and death, and that’s what Dogen Zenji is speaking to. Common parting words to someone who’s leaving is to say, “Odaiji ni”—please take care of the great matter. It’s very central in Buddhist teachings. “Life and death” is an English translation of the Japanese expression shoji. As a verb, the Japanese word sho (that is, the character that’s pronounced “sho”) means “to live” or “to be born.” And the second character, ji, is “to die” or “to be dead.” Thus, the expression can be translated into English as “birth and death” or “life and death.” Shoji is the process of life in which we are born, live, and die. It is equivalent to the Sanskrit word samsara. Practice is a matter of life and death. This life is our practice. This practice is our life—because it’s all about birth and death. And we’ve all been born, and we’re all going to die. ♦ Reprinted with permission of Shambhala Publications. 137 S. Easton Road Glenside, PA 19038 Master of Applied Meditation Studies Certificate in Contemplative Psychotherapy Certificate in Buddhist Pastoral Care WON INSTITUTE OF GRADUATE STUDIES Visit us online at www.woninstitute.edu SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2016 85