Monday, April 07, 2008

Dogen's Buddha Nature of Enlightenment in Nonduality

Now where were we… Ah yes, the nonduality of delusion and enlightenment in Dogen’s Zen…

Dogen’s teaching on the nonduality of delusion and enlightenment is in sync with his teachings about nonduality in just about every aspect of the Buddha-Dharma. His writings testify to the profound depths that his exploration of nonduality went. It seems to me that this exploration of the reason (dori) of nonduality goes all the way back to his earliest quest (if what his biographers say is true) concerning the nature of practice and enlightenment.

According to those who are supposed to know such things, for Dogen, the apparent contradiction between ‘original’ enlightenment and ‘acquired’ enlightenment became the barrier to and eventually the catalyst of his own great awakening. Resolving this conflict became the central focus of his spiritual quest. If so, then it would seem that it was through his personal resolution of the seeming contradiction between the doctrine of original enlightenment and the need for spiritual practice that allowed him to—in his own words from Shobogenzo, Bendowa—"complete the task of a lifetime."

What happened in Dogen’s case (according to the experts) was something like this: A monk fell asleep in the meditation hall. Tendo Nyojo, Dogen’s teacher, shouted at the sleeping monk, ‘True Zazen demands that we cast off body and mind. Why are you sleeping!’ These were the turning words that opened Dogen’s heart. He went to Tendo Nyojo’s room, burned incense and made bows. Tendo Nyojo asked, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Dogen said, ‘My body and mind are cast off!’ Tendo Nyojo replied, ‘Body and mind are cast off, cast off are Body and mind.’ This is how Tendo Nyojo is supposed to have testified to Dogen’s great enlightenment.

After such a powerful experience, it is only natural that nonduality holds such a central, urgent theme in Dogen’s teaching.

(It is important to remember of course that Dogen always explicates nonduality within the context emptiness. That is, when he talks of anything being ‘non-dual’ he (like all Mahayanists) means, empty of duality, which does not mean that delusion and enlightenment are one (undifferentiated), as is propagated by some scholars. Delusion and enlightenment in Dogen’s Zen are always two aspects of one reality. It is important to understand that though they always go together, they each maintain their distinctive aspects.)

In order to understand Dogen’s meaning regarding nonduality, it seems rational to look a little deeper into his view on the nonduality of practice and enlightenment (in the context of emptiness). For, if our assumptions are true, then it was when he hit upon this insight that he finally resolved the problem that sent him all the way to China; original (or sudden) enlightenment and its relation to spiritual practice.

The very first lines of his very first teaching (which he continuously revised and refined throughout his life), Fukanzazengi, is constructed of a number of variations of this fundamental question. To rule out the notion of a "mistranslation" I will post two different translations:

The Way is originally perfect and all-pervading. How could it be contingent upon practice and realization? The Dharma-vehicle is utterly free and untrammeled. What need is there for our concerted effort? Indeed the whole body is far beyond the world’s dust. Who could believe in a means to brush it clean? It is never apart from you right where you are. What use is there going off here and there to practice?
Norman Waddell and Masao Abe

Now, when we research it, the truth originally is all around: why should we rely upon practice and experience? The real vehicle exists naturally: why should we put forth great effort? Furthermore, the whole body far transcends dust and dirt: who could believe in the means of sweeping and polishing? In general, we do not stray from the right state: of what use, then, are the tip-toes of training?
Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross

If we are at all familiar with Dogen’s work we know right away that this is not simply a series of rhetorical statements, but an expression of spiritual realization, urging us to deep contemplation. In the context of our earlier discussion we can see that Dogen is not simply saying, "the truth is all around: What need is there for our concerted effort?." Rather, he is saying, "the truth is all around: What need is there for our concerted effort?"

As Hee-Jin Kim (and others) have noted Dogen’s radical and enlightening use of interrogatives. Dogen often uses "what," "how," "why," and so on in a manner that is referential to that "great matter" the "inconceivable" or "the ultimate mystery" of life and death. Hence his statements it seems, are neither rhetorical, nor are they conventional questions wanting answers. It seems clear to me that what Dogen is indicating is at once, the revelation of a spiritual truth and an indication of the appropriate attitude for Zen practitioners to employ in their efforts.

Recall that Dogen did not view himself as teaching something outside the authentic Buddha-Dharma. Though his expressions may have exceeded many of his predecessors, he taught what all the true Buddhas and Zen ancestors taught; enlightenment is the essence of authentic practice, practice is the function of authentic enlightenment. Again, it is important to point out that the duality of practice and enlightenment is transcended, not annihilated or eradicated.

In a close reading of the Shobogenzo, it seems clear that Dogen often uses the term ‘Zazen’ as a reference to the nonduality of practice and enlightenment, not simply as sitting meditation, as some (especially in the Soto orthodoxy) claim. Dogen uses many Buddhist terms in a variety of contexts and meanings, it would be an anomaly to find that one of his favorite terms (Zazen) was excluded from this insightful treatment.

In Shobogenzo, Genjokoan,, Dogen outlines the fundamental teaching of the nonduality practice and enlightenment with a wonderful koan:

Zen Master Hotetsu of Mayoku-zan mountain is using a fan. A monk comes by and asks, "The nature of air is to be ever-present, and there is no place that [air] cannot reach. Why does the Master use a fan?"

The Master says, "You have only understood that the nature of air is to be ever-present, but you do not yet know the truth that there is no place [air] cannot reach."

The monk says, "What is the truth of there being no place [air] cannot reach?"

At this, the Master just [carries on] using the fan. The monk does prostrations.
Nishijima and Cross

It is interesting to note that this is one of the few instances where Dogen chooses not to elaborate on, turn inside out, or otherwise draw unseen meanings and hidden implications from a koan in one of his essays. He lets the koan stand as it is, with all its traditional implications intact.
His words indicate that this koan is just the right fit for his meaning. He says, "The real experience of the Buddha Dharma, the vigorous road of the authentic transmission, is like this."

It may also be worth noting that in this essay (Genjokoan), which is often heralded as the very essence of Dogen's teaching, the word "Zazen" does not appear even once. Moreover, the two Zen persons (the master and the monk) that Dogen chooses for illustrating "The real experience of the Buddha Dharma, the vigorous road of the authentic transmission" are not engaged in any kind of "solitary" practice, but in a dialogue about Buddha nature.

See you all soon. All comments are most welcome!

Ted Biringer - email > <

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Copyright Ted Biringer 2008


Jordan said...

Completing the task of a lifetime…
Is to me just beginning a task of a lifetime.
I suspect it will be that way until I am dead.

In gassho,

Ted Biringer said...

Ah yes!!

And so also was it for Dogen. When he wrote Bendowa (where he said he had "accomplished the task of a liftime.") he was only about 30 years old. He spent the rest of his accomplishing on the basis of accomplishing.

Even though he died pretty young (53), I am grateful for his accomplishment. Here we are 800 year later still trying to catch up! Ha!

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