What is Buddha? You are Echo.

Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?

What is the highest meaning of Buddhism (or the Noble Truths of Buddhism)?

What is the Way (or Tao)?

What is Buddha?

These inquiries, and a multitude of their equivalents fill the classic Zen records. Whenever we see them, it behooves us to pay special attention; some Zen master is about to express something to direct someone to the ultimate matter of life and death. Don’t think that remaining silent or simply raising a finger is not an expression, a direct response to the question–many Zen masters have offered non-verbal expressions.

More often, however, the classic masters respond with verbal expressions. These responses are legion and include such “explanations” as, “Three pounds of flax!” “Flowering hedge.” “The cypress in the garden.” And the perenial favorite, “Dried $h1t Stick!”

One of the most direct, and one of my own favorites is Hogen’s response to Echo, recorded as a koan in the Blue Cliff Record:

Blue Cliff Record (Hekiganroku) – Case 7: Hogen’s You Are Echo

Echo said to Hogen, “My name is Echo. What is Buddha?”

Hogen said, “You are Echo.”

Even those of us that have not worked with koans can see Hogen is somehow directing Echo not to look “outside” for Buddha. Some of the expressions by the great Zen masters often sound strange or perplexing to those of us that have not had an opportunity to work with a good teacher on koans. At the same time, nearly all of the classic masters offered us some extremely accessible pointers. Here are some of my favorites. Please feel free to add some of your own:

Through endless kalpas without beginning, whatever you do, wherever you are, that’s your real mind, that’s your real buddha. This mind is buddha says the same thing. Beyond this mind you’ll never find another buddha. To search for enlightenment or nirvana beyond this mind is impossible. The reality of your own self-nature, the absence of cause and effect, is what’s meant by mind. Your mind is nirvana. You might think you can find a buddha or enlightenment somewhere beyond the mind, but such a place doesn’t exist.

Trying to find a buddha or enlightenment is like trying to grab space. Space has a name but no form. It’s not something you can pick up or put down. And you certainly can’t grab it. Beyond this mind you’ll never see a buddha. The buddha is a product of your mind.

Buddhas of the past and future only talk about this mind. The mind is the buddha, and the buddha is the mind. Beyond the mind there’s no buddha, and beyond the buddha there’s no mind. If you think there’s a buddha beyond the mind, where is he? There’s no buddha beyond the mind, so why envision one? You can’t know your real mind as long as you deceive yourself. As long as you’re enthralled by a lifeless form, you’re not free. If you don’t believe me, deceiving yourself won’t help. It’s not the buddha’s fault. People, though, are deluded. They’re unaware that their own mind is the buddha. Otherwise they wouldn’t look for a buddha outside the mind.
~Bodhidharma [First Ancestor of Zen in China], The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, Red Pine

On the third day of the eighth moon of the year of Kuei-chou, the second year of Hsien-t’ien era [713 C.E.], after taking food at the Kuo-en monastery, the patriarch addressed his disciples as follows: “Please sit down, for I am going to say good-bye.”

Thereupon Fa-hai spoke to the patriarch, “Sir, will you please leave to posterity definite instructions whereby people under delusion may realize the buddha-nature.”

“It is not impossible,” replied the patriarch, “for these men to realize the buddha-nature, provided they acquaint themselves with the nature of ordinary sentient beings. But to seek buddhahood without such knowledge would be in vain even if one shall spend aeons of time in the search.

“Now, let me show you how to get acquainted with the nature of the sentient beings within your mind, and thereby realize the buddha-nature latent in you. Knowing Buddha means nothing else than knowing sentient beings, for the latter ignore that they are potential buddhas, whereas a buddha sees no difference between himself and other beings.”
~Huineng [the Sixth Ancestor of Zen in China] The Diamond Sutra & The Sutra of Hui-Neng, A. F. Price & Wong Mou-lam

Your true nature is something never lost to you even in moments of delusion, nor is it gained at the moment of Enlightenment. It is the Nature of the Bhutatathata. In it is neither delusion nor right understanding. It fills the Void everywhere and is intrinsically of the substance of the One Mind. How, then, can your mind-created objects exist outside the Void? The Void is fundamentally without spatial dimensions, passions, activities, delusions or right understanding. You must clearly understand that in it there are no things, no man and no Buddhas; for this Void contains not the smallest hairsbreadth of anything that can be viewed spatially; it depends on nothing and is attached to nothing. It is all-pervading, spotless beauty; it is the self-existent and uncreated Absolute. Then how can it even be a matter for discussion that the REAL Buddha has no mouth and preaches no Dharma, or that the REAL hearing requires no ears, for who could hear it? Ah, it is a jewel beyond all price!
~Huang Po, The Zen Teaching of Huang Po, John Blofeld

If you want to be no different from the patriarchs and buddhas, then never look for something outside yourselves. The clean pure light in a moment of your mind—that is the Essence-body of the Buddha lodged in you. The undifferentiated light in a moment of your mind—that is the Bliss-body of the Buddha lodged in you. The undiscriminating light in a moment of your mind—that is the Transformation-body of the Buddha lodged in you. These three types of bodies are you, the person who stands before me now listening to this lecture on the Dharma! And simply because you do not rush around seeking anything outside yourselves, you can command these fine faculties.
~Lin-chi (Rinzai), The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi, Burton Watson

In reality, there is not the slightest thing that could be the source of understanding or doubt for you.  Rather, you have the one thing that matters, each and every one of you!  Its great function manifests without the slightest effort on your part; you are no different from the patriarch-buddhas!
~Yunmen, Master Yunmen, Urs App
Fundamentally, this great light is there with each and every person right where they stand—empty clear through, spiritually aware, all-pervasive, it is called the scenery of the fundamental ground.

Sentient beings and buddhas are both inherently equipped with it. It is perfectly fluid and boundless, fusing everything within it. It is within your own heart and is the basis of your physical body and of the five clusters of form, sensation, conception, motivational synthesis, and consciousness. It has never been defiled or stained, and its fundamental nature is still and silent.
~Yuanwu [Editor of The Blue Cliff Record], Zen Letters, Thomas Cleary

It is tragic. People have been deluded for so long. They do not recognize that their own minds are the true Buddhas. They want to search for the dharma, yet they still look far away for holy ones. They want to search for the Buddha, yet they will not observe their own minds… As the World Honored One said, “I see that all sentient beings everywhere are endowed with a tathagata’s wisdom and virtue.” He also said, “All the illusory guises in which sentient beings appear take shape in the sublime mind of the tathagata’s complete enlightenment.” Consequently, you should know that outside this mind there is no Buddhahood which can be attained. All the Buddhas of the past were merely persons who understood their minds. All the sages and saints of the present are likewise merely persons who have cultivated their minds. All future meditators should rely on this dharma as well.

I hope that you who cultivate the path will never search outside. The nature of the mind is unstained; it is originally whole and complete in itself. If you will only leave behind false conditioning, you will be “such” like the Buddha.
~Chinul [Korean Zen Ancestor], Tracing Back the Radiance, Robert Buswell

What the Buddhas and Ancestors, without exception, have traditionally maintained and entrusted to us is, simply, that this very mind of ours is Buddha…

We may thoroughly examine these terms in the form, for instance, of “Your very mind is Buddha,” or in the form of “Your mind, at this very moment, is Buddha,” or “Buddha, right now, is your mind,” or “Your very mind is what ‘Buddha’ is,” or “This ‘Buddha’ is your mind right now.” To thoroughly explore the meaning in this manner is precisely an instance of one’s very mind being Buddha. In promoting the meaning, the Ancestors passed it on in a straightforward manner as “Your very mind is Buddha,” and it has come down to us today,
accurately transmitted in this form.

The so-called ‘mind which has been correctly Transmitted’ refers to the whole mind being synonymous with ‘all thoughts and things’, and all thoughts and things are what constitute ‘the whole mind’.
~Dogen, Shobogenzo, Soku Shin Ze Butsu, Hubert Nearman

The subtle path of buddhas and Zen masters is not an irrational creation of knotty problems, nor is it eccentricity or weirdery.  And it is not something that is very lofty and hard to practice: it is just what you presently use all the time in your everyday activities.  If we have to give it a name, we might call it the natural real Buddha in you own nature, or the master within your own self.

In everyday terms, at all times and in all places, you see and hear with Shakyamuni Buddha’s eyes and ears, you speak and breathe with Zen founder Bodhidharma’s tongue and nose. In ultimate terms, the individual lives of all the buddhas and Zen masters of the ten directions are all in your grip—whether to gather them together or let them disperse is all up to you.
~Wei-tse, Zen Teachings, Thomas Cleary

To exert yourselves in religious practice, trying to produce enlightenment by doing religious practices and zazen, is all wrong too. There’s no difference between the mind of all the buddhas and the Buddha Mind of each one of you. But by wanting to realize enlightenment, you create a duality between the one who realizes enlightenment and what it is that’s being realized.  When you cherish even the smallest desire to realize enlightenment, right away you leave behind the realm of the Unborn and go against the Buddha Mind. This Buddha Mind you have from your parents innately is one alone—not two, not three!
~Bankei, Bankei Zen, Yoshito S. Hakeda, Peter Haskel

Buddha means “one who is awakened.” Once you have awakened, your own mind itself is buddha.  By seeking outside yourself for a buddha invested with form, you set yourself forward as a foolish, misguided man.  It is like a person who wants to catch a fish.  He must start by looking in the water, because fish live in water and are not found apart from it.  If a person wants to find buddha, he must look into his own mind, because it is there, and nowhere else, that buddha exists.
~Hakuin, The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin, Norman Waddell

When you realize the fundamental, you perceive the mind; when you perceive the mind, you see Buddha. This mind is Buddha; the Buddha is mind. Keeping mindful of the buddha mind, the buddha mind is mindful of Buddha…

People who seek the way, observe your own mind yourself. When you know the Buddha is within, and do not seek outside, then mind itself is Buddha, and Buddha is the mind. When the mind is clear, you perceive Buddha and understand the perceiving mind. Apart from mind is not Buddha; apart from Buddha is not mind.
~Fu Shan-Hui, Teachings of Zen, Thomas Cleary

Of course, contemporary Zen teachers have something to offer also–even fictional ones!

Ultimately, there is not a trace of delusion to escape or any realization to be attained. Each one of you has always been, is now, and always will be the one true essence. Awakened or deluded, your clear, pure, luminous awareness functions perfectly.

~The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing 


Ted Biringer

4 thoughts on “What is Buddha? You are Echo.”

  1. The teachers are clear about the work we must do. But nearly all people – including most of us who sit on a cushion every day – refuse to do this work. It’s like wading into a cesspool – without rubber gloves, safety goggles, and hip-waders!

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