Happy Spring OHigan Everyone,
I would like to say a few words about OHigan and its significance in our Zen Practice.
OHigan comes twice each year at the spring and fall equinox. At OHigan there is great balance in nature. The sun is directly above the equator causing the days and nights to be of nearly equal length, thus influencing the overall earth climate to be more moderate and balanced. There is significant balance in nature on a planetary scale. When compared with the extremes of winter and summer, OHigan is a strong image and influence for moderation and balance. This reminds us of the Buddha’s Middle Way teaching, living life in moderation from extremes with meditation at its foundation. As Zen practitioners, we reflect on this balance and reaffirm the balance we have in our own lives by rededicating ourselves to our Zen practice.
The observance of OHigan is unique to Japanese Buddhism, where it has been observed for hundreds of years. Emperor Shomu in the mid-8th Century began this Buddhist observance and festival. Higan, in Japanese, literally means the "other shore gathering." This "other shore" means the other shore of nirvana or enlightenment. That is, awakening to our own true nature, in contrast to this shore of samsara or self-centered delusion. It is a time for followers of the Buddha to gather together and rededicate ourselves to our meditation practice and to the practice of the Six Paramitas, which aid us in reaching and awakening to the other shore, which is inherent within all beings.
Our lineage founder, Matsuoka Roshi, was especially fond of OHigan and its deep significance. I want to share an excerpt from one of his OHigan talks from 1963, which further helps illuminate the original importance and meaning of OHigan.
"Throughout Japan, this is the time of year for the observance of OHigan. OHigan is the Japanese Buddhist holy day, which is held in the spring and in the fall. It is said that at these times, the weather is best for crossing over from the shore of this world to the shore of Enlightenment. On OHigan, we renew our determination to enter into the enlightened world, and especially by following the Six Paramitas, or spiritual virtues, of charity, perseverance, diligence, patience, meditation, and wisdom. They are also called the six Nobel Deeds of Zen. On OHigan, we especially think of our intention to live enlightened lives in imitation of the Historical Buddha. Then we can see things as they really are. We can see through the illusion of this world and enter the world of enlightenment."
I especially appreciate the line, "at these times, the weather is best for crossing over from the shore of this world to the shore of Enlightenment." It is as if we are getting a report on the weather and an indication that this is a good time for our trip. Weather both evokes images of favorable conditions in nature, in the macrocosm, and the influence on favorable personal emotional states in each of us, the microcosm. These are favorable states of being for awakening to the other shore. Not the extremes of summer or winter. Not the extremes of greed, hate and other delusive conditions. Of course, we bring these states of being to ourselves through our self-grasping habits. And, we get hung up on our own illusions.
I am reminded of the Zen dialog between Nobushige and Hakuin from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.
A soldier named Nobushige came to Hakuin, and asked: "Is there really a paradise and a hell?"
"Who are you?" inquired Hakuin.
"I am a samurai," the warrior replied.
"You a soldier!" exclaimed Hakuin, "What kind of a ruler would have you as a guard? Your face looks like a beggar."
Nobushige became so angry that he began to drew his sword, but Hakuin continued:
"So, you have a sword! Your weapon is probably much too dull to cut off my head."
As Nobushige drew his sword Hakuin remarked: "Here opens the gates of hell!"
At these words the samurai, perceiving the master’s discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed.
"Here opens the gates of paradise," said Hakuin.