Step Ten – Returning to the Marketplace

The First Dharma Realm

Barefooted and naked of breast, I mingle with the people of the world. My clothes are ragged and dust-laden, and I am ever blissful. I use no magic to extend my life; Now, before me, the dead trees become alive.


Returning to the Marketplace

The first dharma realm is the dharma realm of the Buddhas. The central practice of this dharma realm is teaching the Buddha Dharma but that practice does not lift us to a higher dharma realm because there is no higher dharma realm.

Here is a recap of the central practices of all ten dharma realms.

Those of us who work on this course every day may not have attained the status of awakened masters, but as the tenth step of our program, we teach by example.

We become awakened masters if we master Tranquil Wisdom meditation and our teacher certifies that we have passed all assigned koans.

images dharma wheel

The Dharmacakra (wheel of dharma)

If we are traditional Rinzai Zen students working on teacher-assigned koans, in step nine we harness the super power mindfulness created by Tranquil Wisdom meditation to penetrate those koans and in step ten we teach other individuals on a one-to-one basis if we become sanctioned teachers.

Until we pass all our koans, we let our daily practices and our daily activities be our teachings.

If a Theravada practitioner masters Tranquil Wisdom meditation, he or she will have no problem with Zen koans.

An awakened master spreads enlightenment by mingling with humankind. Maybe even with animals, insects, and dull rocks as well.

How do dead trees become alive? We are the dead trees of whom the Master speaks. An enlightened Master works to awaken the dead trees – those of us who are asleep.

Many of us will not reach the stages of Reaching the Source and Returning To The Marketplace in this lifetime. But Returning To The Marketplace is the goal we reach without striving to reach it, without leaving home, without embarking on a self-improvement project.

We just practice, because the journey is the destination.

The Buddha maintained his practice for forty five years, i.e., from his enlightenment at age 35 until his parinirvana at age 80.

This is what an awakened Zen Master does: He or she lives in the world, teaching by example.

This is the highest, the first of the ten dharma realms – the realm of the Buddhas. It is “attained” only by the fully awakened.

I practiced with Roshi Aitken and other members of the Honolulu Diamond Sangha at the Palolo Valley Zen Center on the last Sunday of his life, August 1, 2010. He was unable to sit at the mid-week Wednesday sitting and passed away that Thursday the 5th of August. So the Sunday sitting, my first and last with him, was his last group sitting. He was 93.

He practiced every day and inspired thousands of others to practice as well. We too can inspire others.

Robert Aitken Roshi was the first American who received full dharma transmission from the lineage of Japanese Zen masters Harada and Yasutani. During his lifetime, he passed that same dharma transmission to a small number of practitioners who are identified in the hyperlink associated with his name.


Robert Aitken, Roshi, Founder of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and the Honolulu Diamond Sangha


Some members of the Diamond Sangha advised me that Philip Kapleau Roshi had completed about one-third to one-half of the koan course provided by masters Harada and Yasutani before he left Japan. However, he received permission to teach in a formal ceremony, a photograph of which appears in The Three Pillars of Zen, so there was no requirement that he demonstrate penetration of all of the Harada-Yasutani koans. He had reached the point where further koan study was worthless.

Teachers in the Soto sect are more numerous than Rinzai sect teachers since authority to teach is given after ten years of sustained practice in a Soto Zen community such as the San Francisco Zen Center. However, there are still very few people who have completed such a rigorous requirement.

In a nation of over three hundred million people, we have less than three hundred certified Zen teachers. That’s less than one per million.

So whether we follow the Rinzai or the Soto/shikantaza route, the tenth practice is to teach upon being given the authority to do so or to encourage others to practice if we are not yet sanctioned teachers. We can become a Zen Practice Foundation Certified Lay Teacher if we meet certain rigorous requirements.

We really shouldn’t say Rinzai or Soto. Rinzai masters assign shikantaza to their students who have passed all koans, and modern day shikantaza masters assign koans to their students just as Master Eihei Dogen did.



(Replica temple in Hawaii; the original is in Japan)

The term “teach” in the Zen sect refers to individual instruction of the type that occurs during dokusan (that’s the Soto Zen term; in Rinzai Zen it’s called daisan). The teacher determines what needs to be done or said at that moment in dokusan or daisan to guide the student toward enlightenment. Sometimes no words are exchanged.

Books or websites about Buddhism are directed to a broad audience for the benefit of all sentient beings and are not the kind of individual, customized teaching that requires formal Dharma Transmission. For example, a koan should be assigned to a student only by a sanctioned teacher and the student and teacher need to work together in person until the koan is “solved.” And that may lead to another koan, or another practice entirely…


The Student Bell

But the rest of us can refer others to this and other Buddhist websites or blogs and we can start sitting groups. We can rent or buy a house and convert it into a zendo, we can start a Buddhadharma talk show on local radio or TV, we can write articles for our local newspaper, write magazine articles or a book, and so on.

We can also enroll in and complete the Dedicated Practitioners Program or the Community Dharma Leaders Program at Spirit Rock, a Theravada practice center about thirty five miles north of San Francisco.


Spirit Rock

(The practitioner on the right is in the Burmese position; note the support under the left knee. It is important that both knees touch the ground or other support such as shown here. The practitioner on the left is in either full or half lotus with hands in the classic Zen position, left hand on top, thumbs touching lightly.)

But the most important teaching we can provide to fulfill this tenth step is to carry our Zen practices into the marketplace every day.

Our classmates, customers, patients, clients, co-workers and everyone else we deal with are our teachers and they are in the dokusan room we enter every day.

The traditional commentary says that this tenth and final stage is the step of attaining full Buddhahood. We may therefore conclude, without speculation, that it corresponds to whatever it is that lies beyond the four jhanas and the four immaterial attainments, i.e., Nirvana.

The Buddha never referred to Nirvana as the ninth jhana or the fifth immaterial attainment. He said there were four jhanas, four immaterial attainments, and Nirvana. And that until we experience dependent origination, both forward and backward, we can’t know Nirvana.

Although memorization is far from realization, memorization has value. For certification as a lay teacher, we recommend memorization of:

The Repentance Gatha

The Three General Resolutions

The Three Refuges

The Four Vows

The Four Brahma Viharas

The Four Noble Truths

The Five Hindrances

The Six Paramitas

The Seven Factors of Enlightenment

The Eight Steps of the Eightfold Path

The Ten Vows of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra;

The Ten Precepts

The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination

The title and verse of each of the ten ox-herding pictures; and

All of the chants.

The concept of ten dharma realms is a Mahayana concept not held by the Theravada school; as mentioned earlier, thirty one dharma realms are described in the Pali canon and Nibbana is not considered one of them. Nor does the Theravada school subscribe to the ten ox-herding pictures – the pictures are from the Zen sect of the Mahayana school.

By the same token, the Mahayana school and the Zen sect ignore the four jhanas and the four immaterial attainments as described by the Buddha so there is no direct correlation between the ten dharma realms and the stages of meditation as taught by the Buddha.

The word jhana is the Pali word for the Sanskrit word dhyana that was transliterated into Chinese as Ch’an and into Japanese as Zen. So it is ironic that the jhana sect ignores the Buddha’s teachings about the jhanas!

(My wife once asked a well-known Zen sensei what he thought of jhana meditation. He had never heard of it).

Nor is it traditional to correlate the ten dharma realms and the ten Ox-herding pictures. We have conflated them merely as a teaching tool; it helps us learn about both when we visualize them in matching pairs, i.e., leaving the tenth dharma realm of the sad but impermanent hell worlds by practicing the cultivation of happiness when we begin our search for the ox, leaving the ninth dharma realm of the hateful hungry ghosts by cultivating Loving Kindness as we find the footprints, and so on.

The jhanas are not indispensable, however. As the Buddha made clear in the Satipatthana Sutta, practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and awareness of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment also provide a “direct path” to Nibbana, without experiencing the jhanas. This is known as “dry insight.” See Breathing Through The Whole Body by Will Johnson.

As Jack Kornfield points out in his introduction to Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond, there are many practices that lead to awakening, not just the tranquil wisdom meditation taught in the Anapanasati Sutta. He mentions the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, Tibetan master the Dalai Lama, Venerable Ajahn Buddhadasa, and Venerable Sunyun Sayadaw who offer “different and equally liberating perspectives.”


Jack Kornfield

Theravada teachers often instruct students to begin a sitting with samatha (calmness) meditation, and when the mind is calm, to begin vipassana (insight) practice. Others argue that a practitioner should do either samatha or vipassana but not both.

Some works on Theravada Buddhism contend that samatha practice cannot lead to Buddhahood and that vipassana is the only practice that is valid.

Other books on the same subject hold that the Buddha himself practiced samatha, not vipassana.

Still other writers argue that the practices of samatha and vippasana are not really different meditations at all, that deep samatha practice naturally leads to vipassana practice. Ajhan Brahm, in Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond, is one of the teachers who argues that the practices are not distinct from one another.

Ajahn Brahm in robes

Venerable Ajahn Brahm

If it is true that the Buddha performed only jhana practice, then it is obvious that those who announce that jhana practice cannot lead to enlightenment must be mistaken.

Koan practice, favored by the Rinzai sect of Zen, is not mentioned in the original Buddhist writings. However, many Zen practitioners have attained enlightenment through koan practice and Zen teachers assure us that koan practice is the most effective meditation technique.

Jhana, vipassana, and koan practices are all authentic; they are just different and none of them should be ignored.

Zen master Robert Zenrin Lewis, of the Jacksonville Zen Sangha, like Jack Kornfield, also agrees that there are many paths to awakening. “Choose one!” he exhorts.

But in this course we have chosen two methods and combined them. We develop “super power” mindfulness by following the Theravada Tranquil Wisdom meditation and we harness that super power mindfulness to enable us to demonstrate to our Sensei or Roshi (a Sensei for many years) that we have penetrated the koans assigned to us.

Practitioners of Zen koans, shikantaza, counting the exhalations meditation, and other forms of meditation may attain enlightenment while ignoring the sixteen steps of Tranquil Wisdom meditation, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and the Seven Factors of Enlightenment.

But most Zen students spend their entire lifetime trying to penetrate a single koan or sitting in shikantaza to little or no effect. With super power mindfulness generated by following the Buddha’s instructions, koan and shikantaza practice will bear more fruit.

I have never heard any Theravada teacher suggest that the super power mindfulness generated by a jhana experience could be harnessed to penetrate a koan.

Nor have I heard of a Zen teacher instructing a student to develop super power mindfulness by following the Buddha’s sixteen step meditation so that a koan could be penetrated.


Kiyomizu (Clear Water) Tera, Kyoto

So it seems that the Theravada school has developed a tool of which Zen teachers are unaware, and the Zen school is unaware that the Theravada has a tool that the Zen school could use.

The Buddha said that true liberation requires experience of dependent origination, both forward and backwards. A practitioner who follows the precepts will see – someday – dependent origination, forward and backward, upon diligent practice of vipassana/insight meditation, samatha/samadhi or calming meditation such as tranquil wisdom meditation, koan practice, counting the breath, loving kindness meditation, or shikantaza.

But by harnessing super power mindfulness and using it for koan practice, that someday becomes now. Working without the proper tool makes the work much harder.

In the first nine steps of this course, each step has a central practice that takes us to the next level. The central practice is an antidote to the causes and conditions that take us to and bind us to that particular dharma realm.

But as mentioned above, there is no central practice to lift us from the first dharma realm because it is the Buddha dharma realm and nothing lies above it.

If Nibbana is outside of all dharma realms as taught by the Theravada school, then reality has a split formed in it, i.e., there is a dichotomy.

If Nirvana is the first dharma realm and the beings who attain it are no longer beings at all and cannot re-enter the evil dharma realms, as taught by the Mahayana school, the dichotomy again appears.

So we can look at the dharma/dhamma realms as not being clearly defined and as extending infinitely in both directions from the crude to the subtle. No hottest hell, no best heaven. No bottom at one end and no top at the other.

Or we can take the position of The Heart Sutra, the ultimate Zen sutra, and see the emptiness of all dharmas, all dharma realms.

Nor is there pain,

Or cause of pain,

Nor noble path to lead from pain,

Not even wisdom to attain.

“Nor is there pain” denies the First Noble Truth, the truth of dukkha.

“Or cause of pain” is a denial of the Second Noble Truth, that dukkha is caused by desire (tanha) conditioned by ignorance (avijja).

“Nor noble path to lead from pain” is denial of the Third Noble Truth that suffering/pain (dukkha) can be brought to cessation (nirodha).

“Not even wisdom to attain” is denial of the Fourth Noble Truth that wisdom is attainable by following the Noble Eightfold Path.

Here we see another difference between classic Buddhism and Zen. The former says we have to do the work, i.e., follow the eightfold path until we attain wisdom/enlightenment, and the latter says: No, our inherent nature is Buddha nature, we already have wisdom, we merely have to uncover it.

But we uncover it by following the eightfold path.

So all we really have is just a play on words, discursive thinking creating a chasm where none exists.

So if we sit in tranquil wisdom and reach the realm of neither perception nor non perception, and then fade away into Nibbana, never to be re-born into “existence” again, what if that final cessation, that liberation from existence is merely entry into the lowest Nibbana…

But the Mahayana teaching is that no independent self exists so there is no one to enter into Nibanna. Anuttara samyak sambodhi is extinction of self as taught by the Theravada, but neither extinction of self nor eternal existence of self as taught by the Mahayana.

The Mahayana explanation is understood if we accept the Mahayana premise that nothing is independent of anything else, that reality is indivisible and empty of individual entities who stand outside of reality.

If reality is indivisible/empty of independent individuals, then no independent individual can enter reality at birth or depart it at death. Nor can an enlightened Buddha leave reality because even Buddhahood is empty of self – nothing stands alone, outside of reality. There are no two things.

That’s why Zen masters tell us we are whole and complete just as we are. From the very beginning, all beings are Buddhas.

But we have to cultivate/practice Zen to realize the truth of that statement. Otherwise, it’s nothing but a belief and our Buddhism has the stench of blind belief religion.

Every time I hear a newborn baby cry, or touch a leaf, or see the sky, then I know why I believe!

–Lyrics written by an incredibly stupid person in a popular song of the 1960s

With practice comes the awareness of Buddhahood but that awareness is not owned or experienced by an independent being.

There are several important Buddhist practices that support our central practices, even though none of the auxiliary practices, standing alone, can lift us from one level of realization to another.

So we reserve discussion of these auxiliary practices for this tenth and final step of the How To Practice Zen program. Buddhists all over the world practice these auxiliary steps. They are non-meditation steps but they support our meditation practice.

Moreover, if performed mindfully, these steps can become meditation steps as well. We begin with chanting.