Buddha The Universal Life


Zen conceives Buddha as a Being, who moves, stirs, inspires,

enlivens, and vitalizes everything. Accordingly, we may call Him the

Universal Life in the sense that He is the source of all lives in the

universe. This Universal Life, according to Zen, pillars the heaven,

supports the earth, glorifies the sun and moon, gives voice to

thunder, tinges clouds, adorns the pasture with flowers, enriches the

field with harvest
gives animals beauty and strength. Therefore,

Zen declares even a dead clod of earth to be imbued with the divine

life, just as Lowell expresses a similar idea when he says:

Every clod feels a stir of might,

An instinct within it that reaches and towers,

And groping blindly above it for light,

Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers.

One of our contemporary Zenists wittily observed that 'vegetables are

the children of earth, that animals which feed on vegetables are the

grand-children of earth, and that men who subsist on animals are the

great-grand-children of earth.' If there be no life in earth, how

could life come out of it? If there be no life, the same as the

animal's life in the vegetables, how could animals sustain their

lives feeding on vegetables? If there be no life similar to ours in

animals, how could we sustain our life by subsisting on them? The

poet must be in the right, not only in his esthetic, but in his

scientific point of view, in saying-

I must

Confess that I am only dust.

But once a rose within me grew;

Its rootlets shot, its flowerets flew;

And all rose's sweetness rolled

Throughout the texture of my mould;

And so it is that I impart

Perfume to them, whoever thou art.

As we men live and act, so do our arteries; so does blood; so do

corpuscles. As cells and protoplasm live and act, so do elements,

molecules, and atoms. As elements and atoms live and act, so do

clouds; so does the earth; so does the ocean, the Milky Way, and the

Solar System. What is this life which pervades the grandest as well

as the minutest works of Nature, and which may fitly be said 'greater

than the greatest and smaller than the smallest?' It cannot be

defined. It cannot be subjected to exact analysis. But it is

directly experienced and recognized within us, just as the beauty of

the rose is to be perceived and enjoyed, but not reduced to exact

analysis. At any rate, it is something stirring, moving, acting and

reacting continually. This something which can be experienced and

felt and enjoyed directly by every one of us. This life of living

principle in the microcosmos is identical with that of the

macrocosmos, and the Universal Life of the macrocosmos is the common

source of all lives. Therefore, the Mahaparinirvana-sutra says:

Tathagata (another name for Buddha) gives life to all beings, just

as the lake Anavatapta gives rise to the four great rivers.

Tathagata, says the same sutra, divides his own body into

innumerable bodies, and also restores an infinite number of bodies to

one body. Now be becomes cities, villages, houses, mountains,

rivers, and trees; now he has a large body; now he has a small body;

now he becomes men, women, boys, and girls.