Louie Wing on Dogen and the Question
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. 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 was 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, ‘Body and mind are cast off!’ Tendo Nyojo replied, ‘Body and mind are cast off, cast off are Body and mind.’ Dogen said, do not affirm me lightly teacher.’ Tendo Nyojo said, ‘I do not.’ Dogen said, ‘What is not affirmed lightly?’ Tendo Nyojo said, ‘Casting off is cast off.’ This is how Tendo Nyojo testified to Dogen’s great enlightenment.
After such a powerful experience, it is only natural that the non-dual nature of practice and enlightenment became such a central theme in Dogen’s teaching. By ‘non-dual’ I mean, empty of duality, I do not mean that practice and enlightenment are one, as is propagated by some. Practice and enlightenment in Zen are two aspects of one reality. It is important to understand that though they always go together, they each maintain their distinctive aspects.
Dogen’s earliest teachings are full of wonderful expressions that convey this principle. The very first paragraph of his very first teaching, Fukanzazengi, is constructed of four lines—each variations of this fundamental truth.
"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 & Mike Cross
Learned audience, this is not simply a series of rhetorical statements, but an expression of spiritual realization, urging us to deep contemplation. Dogen is not saying, ‘the truth is all around: we do not need to rely upon practice, put forth great effort, etc.’ Rather, he is saying, ‘the truth is all around: why do we need to practice, who could believe in the means, of what use, and so on.’ His statements are neither rhetorical, nor are they conventional questions wanting answers. Master Dogen is indicating, at once, the revelation of a spiritual truth and giving an indication of the appropriate attitude for Zen practitioners to employ in their efforts.
Learned audience, Dogen taught what all the true Buddhas and Zen ancestors taught; enlightenment is the essence of authentic practice, practice is the function of authentic enlightenment. The duality of practice and enlightenment is actualized and transcended, not eradicated or annihilated. Dogen frequently uses the term ‘Zazen’ in reference to the non-dual nature of practice and enlightenment, not just as a reference to sitting meditation.
by Ted Biringer