Friday, April 04, 2008

Dogen on the Nonduality of Delusion and Enlightenment

Every western student of Dogen’s Zen is familiar with Hee-Jin Kim’s landmark book, Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist, published over thirty years ago. Most of us would be quick to agree that, outside the translations of Dogen’s writings, Mystical Realist is the most important book on Dogen’s Zen available in English. In it, Dr. Kim illumined the heart of Dogen’s work in a way that forced all of us in the Zen community to reevaluate some of the most basic assumptions about Dogen’s teaching. In fact, Kim’s book went further, challenging us to question many of the fundamental assumptions concerning Zen itself—at least as it was represented in the West.

In his most recent book, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking: A Reflection on His View of Zen, Hee-Jin Kim again raises and illumines issues that most Zen teachers and scholars have ignored, avoided, or simply missed. These issues merit our utmost attention, for (to quote the ‘grand master’ himself) "an unexamined Zen is not worth living."

I would like to take up some of the topics Kim presents in his books and make an effort to give them some of the attention they deserve. In doing so, I will confine my comments as they relate to this project here at the Dogen Shobogenzo Blog. I will attempt to keep my focus primarily on Dogen’s teachings as presented in his writings, primarily in his Shobogenzo. My posts on other topics will continue to be posted at the Flatbed Sutra Zen Blog www.flatbedsutra.com as well as the other Blogs I participate in (see my blogroll).

Although Hee-Jin Kim offers many fascinating topics to choose from, I would like to begin with the one he takes up first in his latest book; the nonduality of delusion and enlightenment.
Of course, the nonduality of delusion and enlightenment has always been a fundamental teaching of Zen (and other Mahayana schools), but as Kim points out, enlightenment has "overshadowed delusion despite Zen’s insistence on their nonduality. This lopsided view has unwittingly led to the aggrandizement and indulgence in enlightenment one way or another." (Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, p.10)

Before delving into Dogen’s teachings on the subject, let us briefly review the basics of Zen’s teaching on the nonduality of delusion and enlightenment. In Zen, the nonduality of delusion and enlightenment is as basic as the nonduality of light and dark, inside and outside, up and down, and emptiness and form. Just as "up" depends on "down," so "enlightenment" depends on "delusion."

In the classic records of Zen, we often read things like; "nirvana is samsara," or "there is light right in the darkness," and "the defilements are themselves bodhi." As shocking as such statements might seem, they are often quickly forgotten or simply dismissed. Yet, the very fact that such statements sound shocking indicates the importance of examining them very closely and keeping them in mind in our overall understanding of the Buddha-dharma.

The true nature of reality is often surprising, and as Zen is concerned with reality, the expressions of Zen too are often surprising. True Zen masters do not make up "surprising" things to say, they simply express the truth which is often surprising. The fact that enlightenment is only possible because of delusion is obvious enough, but the fact that enlightenment cannot displace, or eradicate delusion might sound surprising. Yet the teaching of nonduality is clear; all such opposites (or as Kim calls them, "foci") equally depend upon and define one another. Light is neither greater, nor lesser than dark, up is exactly proportionate to down, form is exactly emptiness, and according to the fundamental teachings of Zen delusion is equal to enlightenment.

The classic Zen masters, while acknowledging this, have seldom elaborated on it. Dogen, on the other hand, not only elaborated on it, he deeply examined its implications and made regular use of it throughout his Zen teachings. Dogen was a master of expression and his teachings on the nonduality of delusion and enlightenment are often powerful catalysts to sudden insights. From his equation of "great enlightenment" with "great delusion," his teachings on "the nevertheless deluded" and the "ever deluded" to his famous, "one is further deluded beyond delusion," Dogen transformed unseen implications into profound explications of the Buddha-Dharma.

I will return to this topic soon-- I am looking forward to seeing where this might lead. Comments are most welcome!
See you soon, take care
Ted

3 comments:

Jordan said...

Ted,
In your poll about Zazen you could have an "all of the above" option, right under none of the above.

Take care,
Jordan

Ted Biringer said...

Jordan,
Thanks. Next time I will do just that.
Have a good one!
Ted

NYC monk said...

I have been studying Hee-Jin Kim, and quite recently, the section in Meditation & Thinking you mention - what came to mind was the (Hegel) doctrine:

Thesis
Antithesis
Synthesis

NYC monk