Transmitting Light

Zen Masters sometimes talk about ways in which the present moment can be accessed or clarified.  One of the ways Zen Master Dogen refers to this process is by using the concept “connecting pivot.”  In other words, the present moment is a pivot point.  We can move in a thousand different directions from right here.  Which way do we want to go?  This movement is not only referring to our body, but also our mind/thoughts. 

For Buddhist practitioners the “pivot place” is that which moves us away from delusion and towards Enlightenment.  It’s not that we get rid of delusion, but there is a tendency among human beings to lean towards it.  The same is true of Enlightenment.  It’s not that Enlightenment isn’t there, but there is a tendency to want to grasp at it.  Neither is good.  But the pivot point needs to be recognized and, in a sense, settled on.  When we find it it’s like we become a spinning top.  Lean too far one way or the other and balance is lost.

In his Eihei Koroku, Zen Master Dogen says:

If someone asked [me Dogen], “What is the connecting pivot right now?”  I would say to him:  One person transmits emptiness, and then ten thousand people transmit reality.”

What we do influences others around us beyond our comprehension.  The Lotus Sutra says,

Those who abide in meditation,

Attain transcendent powers,

Listen to the teaching regarding the emptiness

Of every existence with great joy,

And save sentient beings

By emitting innumerable rays of light,

Are just like the flourishing large trees.[1]

Both the Lotus Sutra and Zen Master Dogen are saying something very similar, that what we do matters and has an effect on those around us, perhaps beyond what we are willing or prepared to notice.

To give a modern example, cosmologist Brian Swimme, co-writer and star of the Emmy award winning “Journey of the Universe” film puts this in scientific terms.  Classical physics, he says, sees photons emanating from the sun as tiny pellets.  When these photons hit an object like the moon, they bounce off it.   We’re used to thinking of the light that we see coming off the moon as the light or photons from the sun bouncing off it, like tiny pellets, and then hitting our eyes.

Swimme says that it’s much more interesting than that, however.  We now know that photons from the sun interact with substances on or near the surface of the moon in such a way that these substances generate their own light.  Moonlight, then, is not simply sunlight bouncing off it, but the moon is generating its own light.

In the same way, in taking refuge in Buddha we are allowing the “light” (or Dharma) of the Buddha to interact with our own heart/mind.  Something changes in us when we practice the Dharma, and we then emit our own “light.”  The light that comes from us is uniquely our own but was born thanks to our allowing the light from the Buddha to penetrate us. 

Just as the actions of the Buddha cross centuries of time and have influenced billions of people living and dead, so too, our actions do the same.  One person transmits emptiness, and ten thousand people transmit reality.  What you do matters.


[1] The Lotus Sutra, translated from the Chinese of Kumarajiva by Tsugunari Kubo and Akira Yuyama.  Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai and Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2007.  Page 102.

Published by Daishin

Daishin Eric McCabe is a Buddhist monk. He teaches Soto Zen philosophy, mindfulness meditation, yoga, and calligraphy to people of all walks of life and spiritual paths. He was ordained in 2004 and given permission to teach in 2009. He is fully ordained in the Soto Zen tradition and is a recognized teacher both in the Association of Soto Zen Buddhists and in the Soto Zen Buddhist Association. Daishin undertook a 15 year mentorship with Abbess Dai-En Bennage of Mount Equity Zendo, located in rural central Pennsylvania. During this time he trained at various Soto Zen Monasteries in Japan. In France he trained with Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, practiced in California at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, and with Rev. Nonin Chowaney at the Nebraska Zen Center. He is a certified hatha Yoga teacher through Integral Yoga. Daishin has four years experience attending the spiritual and emotional needs of patients, family, and staff in a hospital setting, and three years experience giving spiritual direction and counsel to clients with mental health and substance abuse issues. He has ten years experience as a Guest Teacher and speaker at Buddhist meditation retreats, yoga centers, colleges, and multi-faith gatherings. Daishin studied at Bucknell University where he received a BA in Religion and Biology in 1995. He completed 5 units of Clinical Pastoral Education at Wellspan York Hospital in August of 2014, where he worked as a Chaplain in Behavioral Health, and in 2015 was granted by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification Incorporated the equivalent of a Master of Divinity. Prior to chaplaincy he taught meditation and yoga for two years to clients at White Deer Run, a drug and alcohol rehab in central PA. He presently teaches yoga at Broadlawns Medical Center to patients receiving mental health care. Daishin presently resides in Ames, Iowa with his wife and family.

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