The "emptiness" in question is not the "emptiness" of "form and emptiness." [The true meaning of] "form is emptiness" is not that you forcibly make "form" into "emptiness" or that you split "emptiness" so as to fabricate "form"; it is the "emptiness" of "emptiness is emptiness." This "emptiness" of "emptiness is emptiness" is a single piece of rock in emptiness.
Hee-Jin Kim, DOMT p.71
This elucidation on how the realization of emptiness illumines the true significance of all particular things (dharmas), also serves as an illustration of Dogen’s guidance to us students/practitioners on how to apply ourselves in study and practice in order to achieve what he often refers to as "right understanding." The Shobogenzo is packed with examples of this kind of systematic breakdown on methodology. (It makes me wonder if it was the method he himself used to come to his own understanding.) Anyone that has applied him or herself to koan-introspection will quickly notice the similarity of Dogen’s language with the kind of stream of consciousness "nonthinking" that often occurs during intense koan-introspection.
One point I think is clear is that Dogen wrote his record with one eye to posterity. For Dogen, the Shobogenzo was much more than some kind of personal journal or simple textbook on Zen. I think the Shobogenzo was intended to be a complete, self-contained soteriological device.
Before continuing, allow me to briefly digress. This last paragraph would no doubt be denounced as, in the least, an outrageous distortion by most "authorities" within the Soto orthodoxy. They have good reasons to denounce it; if such were the case, it could threaten their very livelihood as the "spiritual authorities" of powerful institutions. If students/practitioners could realize liberation through their own independent practice and study, what need would there be for professional priests?
Of course, the difficulties of the relations between institutional power and spiritual authority have existed in all times, and in all the great religions. For instance, in the chaotic early Kamakura period of Dogen’s own time (when armed monastics were common), a position in the right "spiritual" institution was often the fastest way to personal and familial advancement.
As for interference by "authorities" of institutions regarding the case of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, scholarship has shown that the Shobogenzo itself was largely neglected, and nearly forgotten for centuries by the Soto orthodoxy. As it began to resurface and fall under the public eye, it was discovered that much of its teaching seemed to directly contradict institutional Soto dogma. The first reaction by the Soto institution was to try to keep it away from the public. When it was clear that would fail, they tried to claim that many of its teachings were "fraudulently" attributed to Dogen. When more copies were discovered, some in Dogen’s own hand, some followed the only option left to discredit the Shobogenzo; interpretation, by which of course I mean, "misinterpretation." (For details of these incidents see the works of James W. Heisig, Steven Heine, Dale Wright, John McRae, and others)
The saddest part is that it did not need to turn out that way. When it became clear that the Shobogenzo was under the public eye, and that its Zen teaching was different than what the Soto School had been claiming for centuries, they faced a choice, and unfortunately took the easy way out. They could either have chosen to raise themselves up to Dogen’s true teaching, or reduced Dogen’s true teaching to their own view. Sadly, they opted for the latter.
Some will denounce my assertion for reasons other than self-protection; many of which will, no doubt, be well intended. Nevertheless, I make my claims, not on my own authority or the authority of any teacher or institution, spiritual or otherwise. I make my claim based on a 21 year dialogue with the writer of the Shobogenzo itself; Eihei Dogen. Of which the following is simply a sample out of hundreds within his own records…
"I decided to compile a record of the customs and standards that I experienced first-hand in the Zen monasteries of the great Kingdom of Sung, together with a record of profound instruction from a [good] counselor which I have received and maintained. I will leave this record to people who learn in practice and are easy in the truth, so that they can know the right Dharma of the Buddha’s lineage."
~Eihei Dogen, Shobogenzo, Bendowa, Nishijima & Cross
This statement by Dogen about his intentions for writing his record is not ambiguous, "I will leave this record … so that they can know the right Dharma of the Buddha’s lineage." He does not say, "I will transmit my Dharma to a disciple or two so they can pass it on to students will be able to know the right Dharma." Of course it needs to be taken in the overall context of his work, but it does not need to be "interpreted" for its meaning to be discerned—unless, that is, we are trying to reduce it to fit into our own preconceived notions as to what Dogen taught.
Regardless of our own personal disdain for intellectual and/or verbal activity, of which everyone has a right to cling, we should not drag Dogen down to our own level. Forcing convoluted interpretations upon Dogen’s masterpiece in order to make it agree with our own view is not only vulgar; it is pointless. Not only does such treatment cut us (and maybe others) off from his message, his record will always come to its own defense. For example, no matter how much one insists that Dogen believed that words and letters were insignificant to the authentic practice and enlightenment of the Buddha-Dharma, his own record will not "sit down and shut up."
For example, we can say, "Dogen did not believe that people could come to understand ichimizen (non discriminatory Zen) based simply on words and letters." But we can’t eradicate it from his record:
The monastics of future generations will be able to understand one-taste Zen (ichimizen) based on words and letters, if they devote their efforts to spiritual practice by seeing the universe through words and letters, and words and letters through the universe.
~Eihei Dogen, Tenzo Kyokun
We could try to say things like, "Dogen meant the words and letters of a true master with a certificate from a Soto institution." And sure, there will always be students who prefer the "authorities" to tell them what to believe, rather than check it out for themselves. Nevertheless, there will always be some free thinker who will have to find his or her own certitude. Dogen himself was unable to merely swallow the teachings of the highest certified teachers in his own time. He undertook a dangerous journey to China to get to the bottom of it himself. If he had not found Tendo Nyojo, I would not have been surprised if went to India!
Of course, many modern institutions would chide him if he tried to pull that off today. The audacity of using his own thinking mind! Yes, his THINKING mind. For it is only that mind, that discriminatory, analyzing, judging, mind that can establish the bodhi-mind (Enlightened Mind). As Dogen points out in that darn record of his:
In general there are three kinds of mind. The first, citta, is here called thinking mind. The second, hridaya, is here called the mind of grass and trees. The third, vriddha, is here called experienced and concentrated mind. Among these, the bodhi-mind is inevitably established relying upon thinking mind. Bodhi is the sound of an Indian word; here it is called "the truth." Citta is the sound of an Indian word; here it is called "thinking mind." Without this thinking mind it is impossible to establish the bodhi-mind. That is not to say that this thinking mind is the bodhi mind itself, but we establish the bodhi-mind with this thinking mind.
~Eihei Dogen, Shobogenzo, Hotsu-Bodaishin, Nishijima & Cross
We may personally choose not to exercise our own "thinking mind" and simply believe, act, or submit to whatever spiritual authorities we like, but we should avoid slandering Dogen’s work by making claims that we have not personally experienced. If, after years of careful study and practice, we happen to gain some insight into his life’s work, and that insight seems to be corroborated by Dogen’s own record, that is one thing. If, however, we presume to expound on what Dogen taught or believed based only on what we have heard second hand, that is something else entirely.
When I stated that I believed the Shobogenzo was intended as a complete, self-contained soteriological device, I meant it literally (pun intended). Besides the predictable denunciation by the Soto orthodoxy discussed above, this claim is bound to raise the eyebrows of even those more liberal, and open minded within the Zen community. Such a statement does seem to contradict some of the most traditional views of language in Mahayana Buddhism, especially Zen.
I would not deny that the bulk of Zen literature concerning language is directed toward emphasizing its limitations and provisional status, and often portrays it as a hindrance to the authentic truth of Zen. For the most part, the Zen records only grudgingly recognize language as a useful function in the practical aspects of everyday life, and generally deny its value in any meaningful way concerning the ultimate truth of Buddhism. According to this view, when it comes to the highest realizations of Zen, language is at best a provisional tool that can be disregarded when one finally realizes the "authentic" truth.
Nevertheless, his own record clearly shows that Dogen did not conform to this view any more than the most prominent Rinzai master of Japanese Zen history did. Hakuin Ekaku wrote in his autobiography that he took a text "as my master" (Wild Ivy, Waddell, p.24) and declared near the end of his life that, "This book has meant more to me than anything else—even my teachers." (Wild Ivy, Waddell, p.132)
In fact, both of these great Zen Masters regarded the notion that the authentic practice of Zen could dispense with verbal teachings and written words as grossly negligent.
Listen as these two Dragons lament with one voice this pernicious misunderstanding about Zen being "a special transmission outside words and letters, and direct-pointing":
"How sad is the aridity of contemporary Zen schools! They laud unintelligent ignorance as transcendental direct-pointing Zen. Considering unsurpassed spiritual treasures like Focusing the Precious Mirror and the Five Ranks to be worn-out utensils of an antiquated house, they pay no attention to them. They are like blind people throwing away their canes, saying they are useless, then getting themselves stuck in the mud of the view of elementary realization, never able to get out all their lives."
~Hakuin, Kensho, Thomas Cleary, p.68-69
"How sad; how sad! Evil demons and spirits, wild beasts, and domesticated animals now call themselves the Zen School… we should know that within Buddha Dharma there are the Lotus and Huayan and other [teachings]; and it is not that within each of the Lotus and Huayan and so on there are various different buddha dharmas. Therefore, the eighty-four thousand Dharma treasures within the Lotus, Huayan, and so on are all without exception what is simply transmitted by buddha ancestors. It is not that outside of the Lotus and Huayan there is the way of ancestral teachers."
~Dogen, Eihei Koroku, Volume 7, Dharma Hall Discourse 491, Leighton & Okumura
While Dogen recognized and preached the necessity of authentic intellectual and verbal (and by extension, literary) activity in the practice of Zen, he also warned of the dangers of inauthentic intellectual and verbal activity. For Dogen, authentic intellectual and verbal activity consists of illumining and discerning the practice and enlightenment of the Buddha-Dharma, which is illumining and discerning the practice and enlightenment of the self. Inauthentic intellectual and verbal activity consists of blind allegiance to authority, imitation, passivity, detachment, and rigid adherence to particular forms of practice and proscribed systems of thought.
Authentic intellectual activity functions as a creative and transformative process which manifests as an intense curiosity, playfully and energetically engaged in discerning and investigating life, the world, and the Buddha-Dharma. It is marked by the continuous polishing and deepening of realization and wisdom, and the refinement of personal conduct within the Buddha-Dharma. People choosing this mode describe Zen with terms like, "challenging, fascinating, rich, and unpredictable." This is the enactment of the life of prajna (wisdom) and karuna (compassion), the life of the Bodhisattva of the Mahayana.
Inauthentic intellectual activity is the willing acquiescence to formal doctrine, an adoption of static, submissive passivity that is manifested as a sterile, resignation to a "things are as they are" type of naturalism. It is marked by the cultivation of detachment and disengagement from the world of thought, ideas, and emotion. People choosing this mode often describe Zen as "boring, nothing special, ordinary, and everyday." This is the life of arya-marga (no-more-learning) and the extinguishment of klesha (passions), the life of the Arhat of the Hinayana.
Okay, good enough for tonight. Please share your own ideas, insights and comments. Thank you!
Copyright Ted Biringer 2008