Sunday, August 31, 2008

Dogen's Shobogenzo - State of, and barriers to assimilation in the West

What is the significance of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, and is it truly possible to discern its authentic message?

I offer here, as objectively as possible, the current state of progress on, and the basic barriers to, the assimilation of Shobogenzo in the West. Corrections and/or alternative suggestions are welcome (please abstain from simple criticism which does not offer reasoning beyond personal opinions, thanks).

In spite of frequent references to the "boom" of Dogen studies in modern Zen literature, comprehensive examinations of his magnum opus are sparse. Outside the propagation of sectarian assertions, most of the English language publications concerning Dogen have focused on specific aspects of his thought or teaching, much without due regard to its context within the Buddhist tradition from which it springs, or even its context within the whole of his own works. Omitting sectarian popagation, specialized, scholarly analysis, the specious, and the trivial, leaves a veritable dearth of study considering the significance that such a masterpiece warrants.

English readers seeking to discern Dogen’s teaching face a number of difficulties and ambiguities, not the least of which arise from dogmatic bias and abstract philosophical speculation. Most explications of Dogen’s Zen approach it from one of two extremes: sectarianism, or scholarly specialization. Both, sectarian authorities and secular scholarship tend to focus on the unique or singular qualities of Dogen’s genius. Regardless of intentions, this has resulted in presenting Dogen and his work as an anomaly within the history of Buddhism. The popular view of Dogen seems to be one of a tragic hero isolated from his world and contemporaries by the sheer magnitude of his realization. While secular scholarship warrants a degree of justification due to the nature of its role, sectarianism does not. Dogmatic sectarian assertions appear to be aimed only at the retention, acquisition, or usurpation of authoritarian power.

Those sectarians seeking to appropriate (or undermine) Dogen’s authority primarily base their views of ‘Dogen’s Zen’ on the uniqueness of his ‘central’ teaching regarding the method of zazen (seated meditation). Aside from the question of why Dogen would devote such a minimal effort on his ‘central’ teaching (of the hundreds of texts written by Dogen, only eight short fascicles address zazen as a primary topic [See Carl Bielefeldt, Dogen’s Manuals of Zen Meditation, pp.5-6]), his writings on zazen do not appear to present anything radically unique from traditional sources. Some of his instructions and exhortations are exceptionally inspiring and provocative, yet none present any obvious demarcation from the traditional teachings in the records of Zen. When confronted with the apparent discrepancies between institutional dogma and textual evidence, the religious authorities often offer some "creative" interpretations or fall back on esotericism (only the enlightened or initiated can grasp it), thus leading a number of people to dismiss Dogen out of hand.

Competing schools use the scarcity and apparent lack of originality of Dogen’s zazen texts, coupled with their own interpretation of Dogen’s zazen as a form of quietism, as the basis for their denial of his authority. Such assertions and counter assertions have fostered rigid adherence to positions in a viscous-circle of one-upmanship. The impossibility of substantiating sectarian positions based on nefarious interpretations of cherry-picked texts can only result in the continued hardening of views that is necessary to sustain positions defying rational explanation or appeals to reason.

While religious authorities emphasize Dogen’s uniqueness to assert claims of sectarian superiority (or inferiority when from competing sects), secular scholarship contributes to his isolation simply through the nature of its work (categorizing, verifying, specifying, identifying unique and/or modifying elements, etc.). Not only have these factors, and others, combined to isolate Dogen’s work from the tradition that inspires and supports it, they effectively destroy its integrity.

Dogen’s writings (especially Shobogenzo) have been mined, cherry-picked, cited, published, and propagated out of context more than any other work in literary history except the bible (and perhaps the works of William Blake and Thomas Jefferson). A handful of his more accessible essays appear in a multitude of works ranging from eclectically selected translations to exhaustive philosophical analysis of single fascicles. Nevertheless, the bulk of his work is, for the most part, neglected, relegating it to the very kind of obscurity that many scholars enthusiastically deride the Soto orthodoxy for allowing.

Achieving an accurate grasp of Shobogenzo presents some enormous challenges. Even discerning what Dogen actually said is a formidable task, to say nothing of what he meant. It was written in the language of 13th century Japanese (with a smattering of Chinese) by a creative genius that challenged every limitation of verbal expression in a style undaunted by grammatical rules. Simply rendering the original fascicles of Shobogenzo into modern Japanese requires great effort, how much more so to achieve a reliable English translation. Of his readers, Dogen assumes a solid grasp of traditional Buddhist history and doctrine, familiarity with Zen and Buddhist literature (including the koan literature), as well as a certain degree of spiritual maturity, experience, and insight.

The difficulties involved in achieving a reasonable understanding of Shobogenzo, are often evoked to rationalize approaches that sacrifice extensive investigation to intensive investigation. Nevertheless, it would be absurd to accept an interpretation of ‘Dogen’s Zen’ based on a handful of texts cherry-picked from a veritable corpus of fascicles. Clearly, any demand to accept Dogen’s writings as authoritative to the authentic teaching of Zen requires an accurate grasp on what those writings mean, which requires taking a reasonable account of the entirety of his work.

To deny that the wisdom inspiring and informing his work was not unique or anomalous to Dogen, is not to deny that the man himself was an isolated, lone individual. It is impossible to read Dogen’s work without acknowledging a certain degree of the loneliness one often senses in the works of the extraordinarily gifted. Dogen openly acknowledges feeling "as if a weight had been placed upon my shoulders" (See Shobogenzo, Bendowa). His activities during the first years of his return from China suggest that he may have entertained notions of popular or authoritative recognition. There is no doubt that he, like all genuine spiritual leaders, was driven by an overwhelming need to communicate his realization. Nor can one deny a sense that Dogen may have suffered a certain amount of frustration by the indifference of all but a few, as well as the neglect of those in power. While his comments are rarely directed to specific religious authorities and traditions in his own country, his harshest condemnations of certain "views and practices of ignoramuses he witnessed in China" are often suspiciously similar to the views and practices being propagated by the religious authorities and traditions of Japan in his own time.

Any disdain for his lack of recognition, however, cannot be taken as a sign of desire for personal glory, or fame. Born into an aristocratic family with wealth and connections, combined with his obvious charisma and intellectual genius, Dogen’s opportunities to achieve high status, religious or secular had always been within his reach—provided he had been willing to submit to the rules of fame and power. If one can ascribe a sense of disappointment to Dogen for the indifferent reception of his message, which he regarded as the first authentic transmission of the Buddha-Dharma to Japan, it must be attributed to a sense of personal responsibility, or obligation to the Buddha-Dharma, not personal ambition.

The proof of his commitment to the Buddha-Dharma alone is made clear by his unyielding defiance of institutional (and popular) views of enlightenment as being utterly beyond verbal expression. For Dogen, as is clear in his writings throughout his entire career, authentic realization of Buddha-Dharma inevitably includes the activity of expressing Buddha-Dharma. Consistent throughout his writings, both implicitly and explicitly is the assertion that "one has not resolved the great matter until they can put it into words." In Dogen’s Buddha-Dharma, realization without verbal (and by extension, literary) expression is not authentic realization.
The implication of this simple recognition is profound; if authentic expression is inherent in authentic realization, authentic realization must be inherent in authentic expression. This, combined with Dogen’s apparent intention for compiling Shobogenzo, suggests some possible motivations behind Soto authorities to conceal Shobogenzo for centuries; and, finally unable to sustain concealment, the concerted efforts apparently aimed at obscuring it through creative "interpretation."

Dogen’s work has long been regarded by the major Soto institutions as the authentic expression of the founder of Soto Zen in Japan, and hence, as the ultimate authority of Soto doctrine. While this hierarchical arrangement is already a strain on reason (in that realization is not considered authentic without the confirmation of institutionally recognized "Dharma heirs") it has not practically effected the concentration of institutional power. However, if it were shown that the teachings of Shobogenzo suggested that authentic realization could be transmitted through expression, hence, through Shobogenzo itself, the potential consequences to the powers of institutional authority are obvious. While there would be a number of legitimate roles for an institution to fulfil, none of them would include the retention of the level of power they have come to enjoy. In view of the history of institutional powers, it is reasonable to assume that efforts to circumvent such a revelation might be enacted.

It is not within the scope of this post to analyze the various methods that may have been employed to maintain power within the Soto Zen institutions, but it is worth noting that the most effective method would be to retain exclusive authority of "Dharma Transmission" (which has been thus far achieved). Because the doctrine of Dharma Transmission is inherently resistant (nearly invincible) to any form of criticism it has been plagued by individual and institutional appropriation and distortion throughout the history of Zen. This doctrine is still the most effective trump card held, and played, by individual and institutional "Zen authorities" that are challenged by major discrepancies within their doctrines or reasoning.

Ironically, the notion that Dogen acknowledged that textual authority could supercede that of certified "Dharma heirs" is denounced by Soto authorities based on the authority of (specially selected passages) Dogen’s texts. In spite of the irony, the vigor of their persistence to maintain this position (and its inherent power) has resulted in the popular view (including many in the scholarly community) that "text as authority" is oxymoronic, heretical, or even blasphemous to Zen Buddhism. Notwithstanding this institutional distortion of Zen, however, the traditional role of texts as legitimate vessels (containers and transmitters) of Buddha-Dharma is not as radical as contemporary notions might suggest. There have been Zen ancestors who have credited their own realization to texts in nearly every school, house, and lineage of Zen Buddhism.

Desperate efforts to minimize the significance of Dogen’s acknowledgement of textual authority by claiming his assertions apply only to fully "enlightened" masters are hollow. Dogen admits that even before undergoing his journey to China in search of his own spiritual resolution he viewed written expressions as more reliable than living teachers, certified Dharma-heirs or not. Confronted with the contradictions between the teachings of his, own greatly "recognized" teachers and the written Buddhist records, Dogen did not hesitate to dismiss the authenticity of his teachers (See Shobogenzo, Zuimonki).

The fact that he admitted recognizing the superiority of texts in a time before his own resolution infers that Dogen believed so-called "unenlightened" individuals could discern the authenticity of truth through reading a text. In this light, Dogen’s method of choice for words in Bendowa, while difficult to reconcile with contemporary notions of Zen as "a direct transmission outside words and letters," can be understood as the most obvious and rational decision:

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. This may be a true mission.
Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Alternative Translation:

Because of my feelings of pity for these persons, I have undertaken here to write down what I saw and learned of the customs and practices in Chinese Zen monasteries, as well as to preserve the Transmission of what my spiritual teacher understood to be the most profound Purpose, and thereby to propagate the true Dharma of Buddhism. I trust that what follows is the genuine inner meaning of this.
Hubert Nearman

Clearly, if we are to take Dogen at his word, it will be necessary to examine the whole of what his records say.

Gassho to all,
Ted Biringer
Author of The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing

12 comments:

Mike H said...

When I read the SBZ from time to time I'm conscious of just how full it is of references to previous texts and short-hand notes to koans and so on that means that he assumed the reader had a very firm grasp of contemporary monastic buddhism. The SBZ strikes me more as an explanation of Buddhism than a new strand of it.

I've also noticed that even some of his most-quoted stuff is often stuff that he has in fact quoted that pre-dates him.

My guess is that Dogen had very few peers in his time and was looking for a way to leave something behind so that his teachings of Buddhism would continue without him.

Anonymous said...

Ted,

I think its unfortunate that you criticize so broadly and on such general terms.

Your arguments are presented against a seemingly very vague 'other'. I have no real sense of just who you are actually arguing against.

What could be very valid comment from a knowledgable source just seems like limp internet griping/venting when it is not validated by being addressed to a specific target. Your presumption that 'we know what you do and generally feel the same way about things' is not a good basis on which to criticize anything other than in a very ineffective, and biased, way.

For e.g. Who are 'those sectarians'?:

"Those sectarians seeking to appropriate (or undermine) Dogen’s authority primarily base their views of ‘Dogen’s Zen’ on the uniqueness of his ‘central’ teaching regarding the method of zazen (seated meditation)."

Aren't there some sectarians who 'appropriate' Dogen's authority with some validity? Wasn't Dogen a sectarian himself?

Which religious authorities do you speak of here?:

"When confronted with the apparent discrepancies between institutional dogma and textual evidence, the religious authorities often offer some "creative" interpretations or fall back on esotericism (only the enlightened or initiated can grasp it), thus leading a number of people to dismiss Dogen out of hand."

Which schools do you mean here? All schools in their entirety!?:

"Competing schools use the scarcity and apparent lack of originality of Dogen’s zazen texts, coupled with their own interpretation of Dogen’s zazen as a form of quietism, as the basis for their denial of his authority."

"...Dogen’s writings (especially Shobogenzo) have been mined, cherry-picked, cited, published, and propagated out of context more than any other work in literary history except the bible (and perhaps the works of William Blake and Thomas Jefferson)."

By whom exactly? We've all done it haven't we?

We're sort of getting a picture here:

"Ironically, the notion that Dogen acknowledged that textual authority could supercede that of certified "Dharma heirs" is denounced by Soto authorities based on the authority of (specially selected passages) Dogen’s texts."...

...but its all a bit 'conspiracy theory' don't you think?

Regards,

Harry.

Harry said...

ooops, posted that as Anon by mistake. Its me.

Cheers,

H.

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Mike,

Thank you for your comments.

After about 20 years of studying everything I could get my hands on concerning Dogen, doing my best at practicing his teachings as described in his various records, personally working with 2 Soto, 1 Soto/Rinzai teachers, and corrosponding with half a dozen Soto teachers and a handful of scholars, discussions with a multitude of fellow students, etc., etc, concerning Dogen's teaching, it seems to me that your "time to time" readings, the things you have "noticed" and your final "guess" are pretty much along the same lines as my understanding...!! How did you do that??!!

I should have just asked you in the beginning... Ha!

Just kidding about that last--really, all the "work" I have done has been one of the most sustained, marvelous experiences of my life. While it seems I may be doomed to a "life sentence" of pondering, studying, and trying to practice "Dogen's Zen", it is one sentence to which I have no regrets.

Thanks again!

Gassho,
Ted Biringer

Mike H said...

Ted,

how?????

I wonder the same thing myself at times. I'm not sure I always like the answers.

Ha!

Ted Biringer said...

Ha!

That is for sure! I know I don't always like the answers.

But somehow, I keep on asking...

Thanks!

Gassho,
Ted

Harry said...

"...While it seems I may be doomed to a "life sentence" of pondering, studying, and trying to practice "Dogen's Zen", it is one sentence to which I have no regrets."

Hi Ted,

I'd be interested to hear what you feel constitutes practicing "Dogen's Zen" at this stage of your studies/practice.

Regards,

Harry.

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Harry,

Good to hear from you. Thank you for your comment.

Harry (quoting Ted) wrote:

"...While it seems I may be doomed to a "life sentence" of pondering, studying, and trying to practice "Dogen's Zen", it is one sentence to which I have no regrets."

Then Harry wrote:

"I'd be interested to hear what you feel constitutes practicing "Dogen's Zen" at this stage of your studies/practice."

Haha! Good question! Actually, when I wrote that I was making an (adimittedly poor) attempt at light-hearted humor concerning my unschooled approach to Dogen's monumental masterpiece (sometime I feel like the proverbial mosquito trying to bite an iron ox).

Nevertheless, your question cuts right to the core. It is a question that I have continued to carry with me for a long time (although it seems to have gradually become lighter and more comfortable).

While it would probably be best to leave it at that, since this is a place for sharing our experience, insights, ideas, and understandings, I will attempt to give some kind of reasonable response.

As Dogen's work has proven to be my most reliable written teacher, I will attempt to respond to the question by offering my (present) understanding of his answer, then offer my own:

Even setting aside the question of what Dogen actually meant, it is clear that he personally approached life with great zeal and intensity. Setting aside the uncertainties concerning his biography, the little that is known clearly testifies to the fact that he himself acted in accord with his repeated, energetic exhortations to “master in practice” and “examine sideways and upside down” and “apply yourselves as if your head was on fire” etc.

His own life was an eternal quest; committing to the path at 8 years old, running away at 13 to avoid the barriers of secular life, reading the entire Tripitaka twice by his early 20s, mastering Tendai, the exoteric and esoteric teachings. Not yet satisfied, he set about mastering Rinzai Zen under Myozan, then accompanied him on a journey to China. There, he traveled around and sought wise counsel wherever he could. Then, finding Tendo Nyojo, he intensified his practice and study, realized a profound awakening, then spent a couple more years “entering the room” deepening and refining his realization under the guidance of his teacher.

When he finally returned to Japan, he spent the rest of his life continuously exploring and developing all manner of methods, techniques, and activities to effectively transmit the Buddha-Dharma to his fellow countrymen. To this end he produced hundreds of fascicles which he continuously re-worked, edited, and refined many times, right up to his final illness, and established Eihei-ji (still regarded as one of the greatest temples in the world), and offered instruction to monks, nuns, and secular people from all classes. The energy that Dogen applied in those monumental efforts can still be felt on a visceral level through reading and (trying) to apply his teachings as outlined in some of the most creative expressions in Buddhist history.

Dogen’s life was clearly engaged in actively creating, exploring, and expressing the meaning, function, and experience of the Buddha-Dharma. When we see how vibrantly he speaks of discovering whole worlds in each moment, and in each drop of water, we come to understand his outspoken disdain for the distorted ‘nothing to realize’ and ‘everything is it’ notions of Zen that had taken root in his own time. We are (at least I am) inspired by Dogen’s constant earnestness on the necessity to focus our aspiration and effort that he asserts are essential to genuine practice and enlightenment.

His repeated exhortations to “those who have already attained enlightenment” to continue to go ever-deeper attaining enlightenment upon enlightenment, are reinforced by his own example. His constant refrain reminds us that enlightenment without practice is not authentic enlightenment, and practice without enlightenment is not authentic practice.

We don’t need to prove Dogen’s meaning to understand that the necessity of wholehearted effort and focused, dedicated practice is a basic teaching of Buddhism, and a hallmark of Zen. And even those that have not researched much in the Zen records realize that the teachings of “practice and enlightenment” have always been susceptible to misunderstanding and misappropriation. Obvious to even the most casual of readers among Zen students is that some of the most pernicious divisions in the history of Buddhism have been caused by arguments around what this teaching means. The confusion between sudden realization (original enlightenment) and gradual cultivation (acquired enlightenment), has been the most visible and persistent manifestation of this argument in the Zen tradition.

According to his biographers, the apparent contradiction between original enlightenment and acquired enlightenment was the barrier to and eventually the catalyst of Dogen’s 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.”

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. I think that Dogen is clear on the fact that though they always go together, they each maintain their distinctive aspects.

This brings me to, what I think is one of the best passages in Shobogenzo that takes up question raised, “What constitutes practicing Dogen’s Zen?”

The very first paragraph of Dogen’s very first teaching, Fukanzazengi, is constructed of four lines—each variations expressing the fundamental point.

“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 & Chodo Cross, Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Book 1, p. 279

Coming from Dogen we know this is not a simplistic series of rhetorical statements, but an expression of spiritual realization, urging us to deep contemplation. It seems clear that 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. Here he not only respond to the question posed, Dogen indicates, at once, the revelation of the truth of Zen and illustrates the appropriate attitude for Zen practitioners to employ.

While his expressions were unique, and may even transcend those of his predecessors, what Dogen actually taught was 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. It seems obvious in this light, that Dogen frequently used the term zazen in reference to the non-dual nature of practice and enlightenment, not just as a reference to sitting meditation.

In Shobogenzo, Genjokoan,, Dogen outlines this fundamental teaching of Zen. Near the end of this essay, he uses a Zen koan to illustrate the non-dual nature of practice and enlightenment. The koan runs,

Zen Master Hotetsu, of Mount Mayu is using a fan.
A monk comes up and says, “The nature of air is ever-present, and there is no place it does not reach. Why then does the Master use a fan?”
The master says, “You understand that the nature of air is ever-present, but you do not understand the truth that there is no place it does not reach.”
The monk says, “What is the truth of there being no place it does not reach?”
At this, the master just continues to use the fan.
The monk does prostra-tions.


Dogen goes on to say, “The actualization of the buddha-dharma, the living way of authentic transmission, is like this.”

Because of the universal significance that is applied by all Dogen admirers to Genjokoan, combined with the widely held notion that all Dogen’s teaching can be summed up by “zazen”, it is worth noting that the word “zazen” does not appear even once in this vastly popular fascicle.

The term zazen, like dharma, buddha, bodhi, and the like, has different meanings depending on the speaker, audience, and context of its expression. Just as the most common use of the term “Buddha” is as a reference to the historical Shakyamuni Buddha, so the most common use of the term “zazen” is as a reference to sitting meditation. By developing a working knowledge of the records and koans of Zen, it becomes obvious when Dogen is using the term zazen strictly in reference to sitting meditation, and when he is using it in its higher sense: the non-dual nature of practice and enlightenment.

It is truly regrettable that Dogen’s profound expressions on practice and enlightenment are often twisted into shallow, naturalistic views. When this is allowed to occur, Dogen’s wonderful teaching that practice is practice-and-enlightenment, and enlightenment is practice-and-enlightenment, is reduced into practice is enlightenment, and enlightenment is practice.

If we were to revise the koan about the master using a fan and the ever-present nature of air to illustrate the false notion foisted upon Dogen’s teaching, it would read:

Zen “Master” Contemporary so-and-so, founder of Zen Center such-and-such is using a fan. A student 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 wrongly understood that the nature of air is something real, and you do not yet know the truth that there is no enlightenment.”
The student says, “What is the truth that there is no enlightenment?”
At this, the “master” puts a glare in his eye and continues using the fan. The student does prostrations and donates money to the Zen Center. --Blind Dharma-Eye Treasury, Roshi so-and-so, pages, 1 through 5000

From what I understand of Dogen’s teaching on practice and enlightenment, he regarded any teaching that posited practice as a term indicating something other than the enactment of enlightenment, as in practice-and-enlightenment, or as a term synonymous with enlightenment, as false teaching.

Perhaps this is why so many contemporary “Zen” books avoid the word “enlightenment,” altogether—except as something to be challenged, and the word “practice,” is so profuse. Rambling on about Zen practice this and Zen practice that, it often seems as if practice has become totally divorced from enlightenment—diminished to a simple catchphrase, a kind of pseudo-Zen.

Worse, when this misrepresentation of practice is married to a strictly literalist interpretation of zazen, it reduces great enlightenment to ordinary sitting meditation. If the true creed of Dogen’s teaching is; “there is no enlightenment to seek, have no goal except to only sit which is itself full and perfect enlightenment, then I would rather just have some toast.

As for my own personal answer to your question, the long descriptive one goes:

I practice zazen daily, when alone I usually sit about 40 minutes to an hour - with a local group (once a week) for about 2 hours (with kinhin, some basic chanting, bowing, and dedications) - with my teacher (and his group) depending on my work schedule, anywere from once every couple of months to four times a month.

I read (sutras, Zen records, etc.) just about every work day, unless there is fog (when I get stuck without any breaks).

I write, read, and share here, and on a number of other blogs when I have some time.

I practice a variety of Zen methods or techniques to maintain awareness in my everyday activities (for instance, while mowing the lawn I might rest in the koan "who hears?")

I seek opportunities to fulfill the 4 great vows and to be of service to my family, friends, community, country, world, and universe while remaining cognizant that the other is no-other.

Blah, blah, blah...

The short answer:

I brush my teeth in the morning, I take the garbage cans to the curb on Thursday.

Thank you Harry!

Gassho,
Ted Biringer

Harry said...

Thank-you, Ted. Very interesting.

To positively phrase the above in a practical sense can you explain to me exactly what you feel is the difference between enlightenment-sitting (or enlightenment-action in general) and just sitting down cross leggéd with a straight back?

How does one type of sitting/action enact enlightenment while the other does not?

Just to clarify/essentialize the above with our own direct experience.

Regards,

Harry.

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Harry,

Thank you for your comments.

Once again, your words have jolted me into new perspectives; thanks for that!

You wrote:
"...can you explain to me exactly what you feel is the difference between enlightenment-sitting (or enlightenment-action in general) and just sitting down cross leggéd with a straight back?"

I have to admit, I doubt I am talented enough to offer much of an explanation...but you know I'm gonna try. Ha!

I would say it could be something like this:

When sitting (or acting) is no-sitting (or no-acting) it is true sitting (or true acting).

Gassho,
Ted Biringer

Harry said...

"When sitting (or acting) is no-sitting (or no-acting) it is true sitting (or true acting)."

Hi Ted,

In this context (i.e. real action) does "true" exist in contrast/opposition to some 'untruth'?

Try this one on and tell me what you think: Practice isn't enacting enlightenment, its realising that practice is, and always was, enlightenment enacted already. And so, in action, its not a question of truth or untruth, or any such values, but of just acting.

Striving for 'true practice' is not practicing reality directly, but clarifying action through action is the process of the universe revealing itself to itself directly.

Regards,

Harry.

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Harry,

Thank you for your comments. It is good to hear from you.

You wrote:

"Try this one on and tell me what you think: Practice isn't enacting enlightenment, its realising that practice is, and always was, enlightenment enacted already. And so, in action, its not a question of truth or untruth, or any such values, but of just acting.

Striving for 'true practice' is not practicing reality directly, but clarifying action through action is the process of the universe revealing itself to itself directly."

If I follow you accurately, I don't find anything I would disagree with here.

I do, however, think that in the present context (of using terms like "just action", "enlightenment enacted already", "striving is not", etc..) it is important to acknowledge the role of authentic striving, and the necessity of authentic awakening.

Otherwise (as you have reminded me about the importance of "balance") your words could be taken one-sidedly. What I mean is that while our notions, ideas, views, etc. about enlightenment or awakening are bound to be off the mark prior to awakening it does not mean that we should dismiss them as "wrong" views etc. before we actually experience awakening.

As Dogen points out, if, before we actually awaken, we think that our pre-awakening views are wrong, or somehow "useless" it means that we are "afraid that an awakening will be overpowering."

Dogen explains it like this:

"When you have your awakening, you will not know why it has come about as it has. Should you reflect upon this, you will see that, prior to your awakening, whatever you thought it would be like is neither here nor there when actually experiencing an awakening. And even though it will be different from all the various ways that you may have previously thought, this does not mean that those views are fundamentally wrong and have played no part in your awakening. Even your past views comprised an awakening of sorts. However, because your thinking has been topsy-turvy, you may think that such views have been useless, and you may speak of them as being so. Whenever you think that your views are useless, there is something that you need to recognize: namely, that you are afraid that an awakening will be overpowering."
Shobogenzo, Yui Butsu Yo Butsu (Trans. Rev. Hubert Nearman)

The Zen masters (including Dogen) also repeatedly insist that once we have actually experienced awakening, it is vital to continue our practice in earnest--at least until we, as Huineng puts it, "become adept in the discrimination of various dharmalakshana [things and phenomena]" at which time he indicates we "will be immovably installed in the first principle." According to Dogen (and the classic Zen records) failing to follow through with post-awakening practice would result in stagnation, causing us to, at best, remain stuck at the threshold of awakening. As Dogen says:

"Students of the Way, even if you attain enlightenment, do not think that this is now the ultimate and thus abandon your practice of the Way. The Way is endless. Even if you are enlightened, you should still practice the Way. Consider the ancient story of the lecturer Liang Sui calling upon Ma Yu."
Dogen, Record of Things Heard, Thomas Cleary, Col. Trans. Vol.4, p. 840

Once we have actually awakened, the classic records indicate that we need to continuously deepen and refine our realization until we have developed the capacity (sometimes called "observing cognitions", "dharma-eye", "eye to read scriptures", and other similar terms) to receive the wisdom from those who have awakened before us (i.e. transmission). In addition to recieving transmission, we are of course free to (and encouraged to) explore realms not yet discovered, and make efforts to "express what has not been expressed." For now we will be walking the same world as the ancestors and even they have left some leaves unturned. As Dogen points out:

"If we wish to hear how the myriad dharmas naturally are, we should remember that besides their appearance of squareness or roundness, the qualities of the oceans and qualities of the mountains are numerous and endless; and that there are worlds in the four directions. Not only the periphery is like this: remember, the immediate present, and a single drop [of water] are also like this."
Genjokoan, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

After all, the arising of ideas and views are functions Buddha, or suchness, or thusness (tathata) --- hence, 'striving', 'thinking', 'practicing', etc. are as you said in your comment, "the process of the universe revealing itself to itself directly."

Huineng presents a lucid illustration in the passage from which I quoted a moment ago:

"It is the positive essence of tathata—not the sense organs—which gives rise to idea. Tathata bears its own attribute, and therefore it can give rise to idea. Without tathata the sense organs and the sense objects would perish immediately. Learned Audience, because it is the attribute of tathata which gives rise to idea, our sense organs—in spite of their functioning in seeing, hearing, touching, knowing, and so on—need not be tainted or defiled in all circumstances, and our true nature may be self-manifested all the time. Therefore the sutra says, “He who is an adept in the discrimination of various dharmalakshana [things and phenomena] will be immovably installed in the first principle [i.e., the blissful abiding place of the holy, or nirvana].”
The Diamond Sutra & The Sutra of Hui-Neng, A. F. Price & Wong Mou-lam

Yet, even to be "immovably installed in the first principle" does not seem to be enough for those die-hard Zen masters! As we see in their records and in doctrines like the ""Four Wisdoms", "Five Ranks", "Four Shouts", etc., there always seems to be something further---As in the terms of the Four Great Vows about "...endlessly. ...numberless. ...countless. ...unsurpassed. etc. This is echoed in the Zen saying, "Shakyamuni is still practicing, and he is only halfway there." Perhaps the clearest articulation of this principle that I know of is that of Zen Master Yunmen:

“Though you may have attained freedom from being obstructed by anything you encounter and managed to reach the emptiness of words, phrases, and all entities—the realization that mountains, rivers, and the earth are but concepts, and that concepts cannot be grasped either—and [even if] you are equipped with so-called samadhi and the ‘sea of [original] nature’: it still is nothing but waves churning round and round without any wind. Even if you forget [dualistic] knowledge in awakening—awakening is nothing other than buddha-nature—and are called ‘a man without concern,’ you still must realize that everything hinges on a single thing: going beyond!”
Master Yunmen, Urs App

Thanks again for your thought provoking comments. I look forward to our future discussions.

Warmly,

Ted Biringer