Sunday, June 01, 2008

Dogen's ongoing practice and enlightenment in genjokoan

Zen master Dogen offers this insight in Shobogenzo, Genjokoan. Dogen says:

"When the Dharma has not yet filled the whole body-and-mind people feel already replete with Dharma."

Dogen starts by pointing out the fact that when we are deluded we do not feel as if we are in "delusion." In fact, Dogen pointed out, if we realized our delusion we would be Buddhas, enlightened beings. One sure sign of delusion is thinking that we know who and what we are. Dogen points this out in an earlier section of Genjokoan, saying, "Buddhas do not know they are Buddhas." Now, the Genjokoan says:

"When the Dharma fills the body-and-mind people feel something is lacking."

Is Dogen saying that whent we realize our identity with the universe, we sense a lack? There is nothing lacking in all of space and time (Being Time), yet Dogen says we feel something to be lacking. If we realize our oneness with all of space and time, how can this be?

He gave us a clue earlier when he explained that "whatever the length or shortness of its duration the whole sky and the whole moon are discerned in each body of water." In the following paragraphs of Genjokoan, Dogen explains his reasoning in detail:

"For example, when a person sails out beyond the mountains into the ocean, and looks around in the four directions, the ocean appears only to be round; it does not appear to have any other characteristics at all."

Clear enough; if we sail out beyond the sight of land, no matter how keen our eyesight is, the ocean appears to be round. The Genjokoan continues:

"Nevertheless, this great ocean is not round, and it is not square."

Though the ocean appears round to us, and there is nothing wrong with our vision, the ocean is not round. Obviously, if we adjust our position (our perspective) so that we can see the shoreline, we will realize that it is not round. As we sail along the shoreline, the shape of the ocean will appear to change with our perspective. In the words of the Genjokoan:

"There are an infinite number or qualities to the ocean: to fish it is like a palace; to gods it is like a string of pearls."

Indeed, the qualities of the ocean are inexhaustibly many. To fish, the ocean is like a palace: to gods it is like a string of pearls. To a jet skier, it is like a playground. From the perspective of a diver, the very same ocean we see as round, is quite different. From the perspective of a person on the shore, other qualities are seen, from the perspective of a bird flying overhead other qualities are apparent. Yet, as the Genjokoan says:

"Nevertheless, as far as someone’s eyes can see, it just appears to be round."

Though all of these qualities exist at the same time, for the time and place where we are (here and now) it just seems round. The Genjokoan continues:

"As it is for the ocean, so it is for the many things."

As the ocean has a multitude of qualities beyond what you can see at any particular place and time, so it is with all things and times (Being-Time). The Genjokoan explains:

"There are a multitude of qualities in the world of form and the world of the void, but you see and understand only as far as your eyes of practice and realization are able to reach."

Both the individual (relative, particular, etc.) perspective of the world ("of form") and the universal (empty, equal, etc.) perspective of the world ("of the void") encompass numerous qualities. However, we only see and understand what our "eyes of practice and realization are able to reach." In other words, when we glimpse—even for the fraction of a second—the true nature of reality, we are seeing all of reality from one perspective, therefore we do not see all the multitudinous qualities and details of that reality. When we look at a mountain from an airplane, we may see the whole mountain in a single glance; however, we could spend lifetimes exploring its many dimensions.

This is why we "feel that something is lacking"; the universe is full of an infinite variety of qualities and possibilities. It is also in a constant condition of flux and unfolding so that even if we were able to take it all in at once, the next moment it would be entirely new. The Zen path of practice and enlightenment is the ongoing exploration, discovery, and embodiment of the universe, which is our own true self. As Dogen indicated earlier, enlightenment about delusion is not the eradication of delusion but the realization of it.

All comments welcome!


Copyright Ted Biringer 2008

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