The Vow of Humankind:

Talks by Shin'ichi Hisamatsu

FAS Society Journal, Spring 1986, pp.2-5
Translated by Chris Ives from Hisamatsu Shin'ichi Chosakushû, Vol. III, pp.207-217. Originally presented as talks (teikô) at the April Sesshin (betsuji gakudô) of 195l at Reiun'in temple on the grounds of the Myôshinji Rinzai Zen monastery compound.

Keeping Calm and Composed, Let Us Awake to Our True Self


In the seven years since the establishment of the FAS Society, we have been studying and practicing the way to Awakening, the ultimate great Way mentioned in the first section of the Principles of the Society. Our work has now matured and resulted in the Vow of Humankind. Perhaps we individual members were not clearly aware of the Vow, but it matured in the depths, of our hearts in a nebulous form. During those long years it fermented in a condition not unlike chaos or obscurity; now it has been realized in a clear form by our organization. Although the Vow was obscure, when it reached completion, we ascertained in our society that it was the ultimate great Way we had been searching for. This is, so to speak, the Awakening of the FAS Society.

It is said that Shakyamuni practiced asceticism for six years in the Himalayas and then experienced a Great Awakening. In this way, Shakyamuni awakened to the Way as an individual. In our organization, however, awakening is not an individual's awakening, but rather the awakening of the whole group. It is realized through the mutual diligence of numerous members of the FAS Society. We thus must conceive of the establishment of the Vow of Humankind as a social phenomenon, as a matter of the society of humanity we are representing, never a society composed of merely a few people. This is why it is called the "Vow of Humankind."

The vow of the FAS Society must be the Vow of Humankind. Given the character of the Vow, our Society must make the Vow its own vow. And at the same time we clearly assimilate the Vow of Humankind, we must have all human beings make this Vow with us. In this way, the eternal influence of the Vow comes to be the mission of our organization.

For these reasons, this betsuji-gakudô (or sesshin), occurring at such an important turning point of our organization as this, must be highly significant retreat. Aware of this, we should consider this betsuji a most important, epoch-making event. In this frame of mind we come to the Vow of Humankind and must discern the depths of its foundation.

We first must grasp the opening phrase of the Vow: "Keeping calm and composed." How far along the path must we go to be able to say that we are "calm and composed"? There seem to be various types and levels of ''Keeping calm and composed." But what kind of composure is involved in awakening to the True Self? It must be such that when we truly become composed, we can awaken to the True Self, and that when we awaken to the True Self, we can truly become composed. Simultaneously, we must become the True Self with "fully compassionate" functioning. Precisely this is the Absolute Way. We must become the Absolute way, or, expressed in Buddhist terminology I like, we must become the "compassionately functioning awakened Self" (chitaihiyû). The goal of our sitting (za) lies in this. The ultimate great Way must be that which is conveyed by the Buddhist expression, ''creating without parting from Awakening."


At this time, I would like to delve further into the expression I mentioned earlier, "Keeping calm and composed." It is the important task of us FAS members to dig down to and grasp the source of these words rather than to look merely at their surface meaning. I want to consider "Keeping calm and composed" in terms of a metaphor, the metaphor of a bottomless abyss filled with water. When one exists as the waves as the agitated surface, as opposed to the bottomless abyss, one cannot become calm and composed. No true "composure" emerges when waves merely collide from opposite directions and settle down. Afterwards waves once again arise. All that has happened is that colliding waves have settled and resulted in new waves. As long as one exists as a wave, one does not become "calm and composed." The collision of waves and the progressive settling into new waves results in a temporary composure, but this cannot be said to be true composure; it is merely a particular instance of composure in a given time and place.

Yet there is not only composure in the horizontal direction, but also composure in the vertical direction in which waves become water. The horizontal composure in the transition from waves to waves corresponds to a so-called dialectical synthesis. In Buddhist terminology, this amounts to karma. This synthesis becomes a new thesis which awaits its anti-thesis and then forms a new synthesis. This kind of synthesis can be a temporary state of security, but no matter how much of an ordinary way of being this is, it is not true security. The direction of this kind of security, involving the progression from security to insecurity, insecurity to security, constancy to inconstancy, inconstancy to constancy, is the "composure of actual history. True security cannot be found in that direction. Rather, it is found in the vertical direction of the shift from waves to their source. In this, the self, heretofore existing as waves, quiets down and becomes bottomless water. The self-awakening of the bottomless abyss itself is the "highly composed True Self." The self that exists as waves is the actual self, but the self-awakening of the fundamental water is the "awakening to the True Self."

In Buddhism we encounter the expression, "Tathagata Treasury." 1 The "Treasury" (garbha) is a womb, a "mother body," and its self-awakening must be the Self, the True Self. In this there is no longer any beginning or end as in waves. And yet, as the functioning of that which has neither beginning nor end, waves arise. From infinite silence, infinite stability, and bottomless depth appear countless waves. In certain cases these waves may become raging billows. Silence bears absolute activity within itself, and infinite waves, large and small, arise as a functioning without beginning or end.

The dimension of only the condition of the waves is the world of history. Our actuality is the mere self-realization of waves, and to shift from these waves to the self-awakening of their source, water, is to become "calm and composed." Such words as formless or nothingness refer to the difference between waves and water: waves have form, water does not.

Waves and water constitute a metaphor here, but as this is a metaphorical expression of my way of being, it is no mere metaphor. If something is a mere metaphor, it is empty. The metaphor spoken of here is no mere metaphor, for it includes the fundamental concrete elements that make a metaphor a living metaphor. This concrete element must be embodied by us. In other words the statement, "Keeping calm and composed, let us awake to our True Self," must become something living and concrete, not simply words.

We do not become highly composed if there is a place of composure and a place lacking in composure. We must realize the composure that encompasses every time and every place. But, in what kind of condition are we when we become the composure encompassing time and space? As long as we have not become totally unlimited selves, we have not become such composure. As completely unlimited selves we exist as the source of all our limitations, free from all limitations. The composed self is determining and not determined. When we become this self we realize our True Self. This self-realization is to "awaken."

When the "True Self" is discussed, people are apt to think of it as an object of research. When it is studied and some kind of conclusion is reached, the Self is considered objectively. This constitutes knowledge about one self, but this knowledge is entirely objective; it is the concept or idea of the self, not the True Self itself. More than the word "self," such words as "I" or "we" seem appropriate for expressing the True Self. I, the True I, am not the I which is studied objectively; the True I is the I which can never be objectified. It is the unobjectified Self. This kind of self is True Life.

This life is beyond all limitation and at the same time is the I which is the source of all limitation. Ordinarily, what we refer to as "I" is a limited I. The unlimited I is unknown to us. (In this case, "known" does not mean objectively known, but awakened unto.) The usual "we" is our existing as a limited "we". The development from the limited "we" to the unlimited "we" is the absolute negation of the former. This is not a logical negation, but an absolute existential negation, an absolute subjective negation. That is to say, it is an absolute negation of the limited I itself.

In Christianity it is said, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever on my account loses his life will find it." From the standpoint of our organization, "whoever finds his life will lose it" means that as long as one is concerned with, attached to, and dwelling in the limited I without discarding that perspective, one loses True Life. In our organization, the I of "whoever loses his or her life for 'I' will find it" is nothing other than True Life, the True I. The unlimited I is never an objective Buddha or God; it is the closest and most intimate thing to us. "Intimate" does not mean that I am something and the "I" is close to what I am. I am "I." Further, the "for 'I'" means "for the establishment of True I," "for the awakening unto the True Self." To that end, the actual ego-self is negated and lost. Subjectively speaking, this amounts to losing one's life for the true "I." For this reason, one who does not lose one's life cannot find it. Again, from the standpoint of the FAS society, the "I" of "for 'I'" is the True Self. No Buddha or God is found outside of this I. The objective Buddha and objective God are neither True Buddha nor True God. In this respect, Buddha and God are never absolute "otherly" entities.

In Buddhist terminology, the limited "we" is referred to as "ordinary humans" (bonpu). The True I is the negation of that kind of ordinary being. At the same time, the True I is the negation of the objective Buddha. Herein we meet the expression, "Worldly passions fallen away, I am empty of all holy intent." The True I is the I which has reached this point. In our organization, the True Self is the simultaneous negation of the human and God, of "ordinary humans" and Buddha.

We usually turn to God or Buddha, but this must be stopped. To be "empty of all holy intent" is essential here. Nevertheless, usually people strip away worldly passions and turn toward that which is sacred or holy. This is because the holy is absolute and other than oneself. In such situations, one faces Buddha and discards oneself. One becomes nothing in the face of Buddha and through this obtains one's life. Herein, Buddha and God become, in all respects, something other than us, standing in opposition to us. In the FAS Society, however, it is not a matter of discarding oneself and thereby becoming nothing in the face of God or Buddha. In our organization, "becoming nothing" is the change from the limited I to the unlimited I. This unlimited I is in no way an "otherly" entity; rather, it is the most closest thing to us (mottomo ji-naru mono). There is nothing which is more my True "I" than this. Herein there is no self/other polarity. If I possess something other than and external to myself, that thing is not the True I. Therefore, no-self or selflessness here does not refer to selflessness resulting from the normal I becoming nothing, but is the selflessness in which there is no other. This very selflessness is the True Self. Because it is "I," it is called "Self," and because it is unlimited, we say "no-" "-lessness" (mu). Therefore, selflessness is absolute independent existence. This is the "I" that is reborn after death.

It goes without saying that the actual I must be negated, but the transcendent Buddha and God must be negated as well. Therein, for the first time, we "awake to our True Self," realize the highly composed self, and become the Self which is the water of the bottomless abyss. To the extent that I am "I," there is no separation from the Self. Where l am not "I," there is separation. The True I exists constantly throughout time and space. The following phrases all express it: "Creating without parting from awakening"; "Without abiding anywhere, the Mind arises"; "Becoming master of every situation"; "Without parting from the Dharma, one manifests oneself as an ordinary being."

We can all arrive at this True Self, become truly composed, and in a real sense attain security. Security is not a state of consciousness, nor emotion, will, or thought. Real security must be existential and Subject-ive (shutaiteki). Ordinary security is merely a feeling of relief, an emotion, or a state of consciousness. But this is not the security I am speaking of. True security is constantly acting while not acting, constantly moving without moving. If composure is separate from free action, it is not composure but a type of feeling. Composure is neither a composed mind nor composed consciousness. That which is composed must be me. Standing, sitting, walking, running, sleeping, rising, crying, laughing, thinking, desiring -- all of these must be composure. True Composure is never lost. True Composure and the True Self are not two different things. Such is true zazen. There is no zazen other than this. Zazen seems to be something which does not involve movement, but the four cardinal behaviors 2 and the acts of perception and cognition must be our sitting practice (za). At the point where our practice becomes this zazen, we can speak of "Zazen of the Greater Vehicle." What is not so is not true zazen. We must obtain this true zazen. We must sit this zazen. Should we fail to achieve the way of being where we "kill Buddha, kill the Patriarchs" and where "worldly passions (have) fallen away, (and we are) empty of holy intent," we will not realize True Composure.

***To be continued***

1. Nyoraizô: Tathagata-garbha, the true face of Tathagata before birth.
2. Going, abiding, sitting, lying
November 8, 1996