Had we wisdom deep enough to know ourselves, single-handed,
No benefits would result from the works of ancient saints.
And there are benefits but how they come about point to the truth of no separate self.
As I understand it taking refuge in the teaching (Dharma); doctrine, scriptures and sayings and the like can be ‘educational’. On a basic level that’s learning something you didn’t know. During the monastic retreat, I took refuge in Living by Vow by Shohaku Okumura reading a bit now and then when there was time. I learned a lot I didn’t know about, for example, the references made in our formal mealtime scriptures are explained in chapter five. And the chapter titled Awakening to Incompleteness, The Verse of Repentance (sange) confirmed something I’ve often repeated when introducing meditation. ‘Meditation is a natural spiritual cleansing process’. Here quoting directly from this chapter, ‘Sitting in zazen and letting go of thoughts is formless repentance. This kind of repentance has been emphasized in the Soto tradition since the Edo period (seventeenth-nineteenth centuries).’ There is much to say about sange but that will have to be at another time.
So the benefits flowing from the works of ancient saints are ‘educational’. However on a non-information gathering level education, at it’s best, draws out what one already knows. We do not lack wisdom we are identical with the ancients, how could it be otherwise since there are no Buddhas alone. No lone Buddhas locked in time. The ancient saints are not bound by conventional time or space any more than we are. Thus it is said (somewhere), Always we are sitting on Vulture Peak listening to the Buddha preaching his first sermon.
That’s how I understand this part of Ryokan’s poem anyway.