Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Genjokoan - Dogen's bottomless Zen text

Dogen's Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, is one of those rare Zen texts that seem to be bottomless sources of wisdom and insight. One of the phrases in Dogen's wonderful Genjokoan that has been melting into my mind recently is this:

When a person is experiencing the practice and enlightenment of the buddha-dharma, each practice is complete practice, and meeting each thing is mastering it.

What do we make of such a bold statement? While I am sure that this line (like most of Dogen's work) is much wiser than I can discern, it has come to mean something to me. For me, it seems to be saying that when a person is “experiencing the practice and enlightenment of the buddha-dharma,” each particular practice (moment, thing, or event) is the complete practice of that particular practice. That is to say, when a human being stands up, the whole universe stands up as that particular human being.
Next, the Genjokoan states:

Here, the place exists and the way unfolds, and therefore the area of enlightenment is not conspicuous. For this enlightenment and the buddha-dharma manifest simultaneously and are experienced simultaneously.

This too seems to point out some marvelous implications. Would anyone like to share their ideas, insights, thoughts, etc. on their experience with it?

Peace!

Ted Biringer

19 comments:

Barry said...

What do I know of Dogen....

But this is what came up for me around the second passage. I note frequently how I fail to come forward with my whole being. The place exists, but I don't unfold. Those times are conspicuous for my lack of presence.

But in those times when I can unfold my full (messy) self, then everything completes itself.

This is not to say that the situation goes smoothly, or that I get what I want :-)

Only that when I bring my complete self, then everything is complete.

This generally requires more honesty than I want to give and more commitment than I'm willing to offer. That's why it's called practice.

Uku said...

Genjokoan, ah, one of my favourite parts. I don't even try to write anything intellectual or so called wise comment. Genjokoan is truly wonderful. Like Dogen wrote in it:

"When fish move through water, however they move, there is no end to the water. When birds fly through the sky, however they fly, there is no end to the sky. At the same time, fish and birds have never, since antiquity, left the water or the sky."

Thank you Ted for your wonderful post.

noa said...

Reminds me of a phrase from Nisargadatta Maharaj:

"..nothing can happen unless
the entire universe makes it happen.."
-I Am That

So, there really is no individual thing that doesn't arise from pure consciousness, and all the seemingly individual elements of our living are already lost in the midst of absolute reality, whether we seem to make use of them in that guise or not. Does the functioning of buddha-dharma depend on whether or not we experience it? Do Buddhas know when they're liberating sentient beings (defined by the Buddha as non-sentient non-beings)? I am the Buddha and before I forgot that fact already all beings were liberated.

Taru Sharma said...

Dogen is tough to understand, I have to say this..I only started reading him recently after reading a lot of tipitaka. One thing that does come to mind after reading this post is that probably Dogen is saying that once you have enlightenment, you become the moment you are in. You are not rushing to the next errand, to the next task, to the next meeting or engagement because neither you hang over in past nor do you desire anything in future. You understand that future will be dependent on conditions that are being created in present and you have no desire to change anything or manifest a certain outcome. You understand the impermanence and really do not care running after things that are going to rise and fall. Hence, you enjoy the moment, become one with it and manifest the buddha nature.

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Barry,

Thank you for your comments.

As usually, it is easy for me to personally relate to the experience you shared here.

Although I too often "don't unfold" either, sometimes I am able to allow my "lack of presence" to be totally a "lack of presence." At such times it seems that there is nothing but a "lack of presence" in the whole universe. Have you ever experienced anything like that?

Thanks again.

Peace,

Ted Biringer

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Uku,

It is always a pleasure to read your comments. Thank you!

Your observation about not trying "...to write anything intellectual or so called wise comment..." is, in my view, true wisdom.

Thanks again.

Peace,
Ted

Ted Biringer said...

Hello noa,

Thank you for this thought provoking comment.

Especially intriguing for me was your comment that "...all the seemingly individual elements of our living are already lost in the midst of absolute reality, whether we seem to make use of them in that guise or not..."

In your understanding would it also be accurate to say that, "...the absolute reality of our living is already lost in the midst of all the seemingly individual elements..."? If not, why not?

I will continue to chew this over. Thanks again!

Peace,
Ted Biringer

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Taru Sharma,

Thank you for sharing your comments.

I agree with you, and I especially like your phrase, "...you become the moment you are in..."

Yes, yes! Do you think it would also be true to say, "...you become what you truly are, always have been, and always will be; the moment you are in..."?

Thanks again!

Peace,
Ted

NYC Monk said...

Since genjo-koan is actuality-instruction – understanding Buddha-dharma in and through the events/teachings of the here and now – "enlightenment and the buddha-dharma manifest simultaneously and are experienced simultaneously" in the here and now.

NYC monk

ZazenLover said...

Thanks for sharing. Isn't this similar to being completely/fully with whatever is/what is? If one is completely with things as they are in each moment, [and as one just put it]...here and now...isn't that "practice-enlightenment" as they say? It sounds like he's saying that in one step there's practice-enlightenment..."the first step is the last step" as they might say. Thanks again!!

Ted Biringer said...

Hello NYC Monk,

Thank you very much for your comment.

I fully agree with your observation here - and I admire your direct and succinct expression concerning the vital point of 'here and now.'

I must confess, however, that my personal experience-understanding of 'the here and now' is often vague and has been considerably altered over time. I have found it even more difficult to explain, or describe what I mean by 'here and now' when asked by others.

How about you? Have you found any good descriptions of what 'here and now' truly is?

Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

Peace,

Ted Biringer

Ted Biringer said...

Hello ZazenLover,

Thank you for your thoughtful comment, and your kind words.

You wrote:

"If one is completely with things as they are in each moment, [and as one just put it]...here and now...isn't that "practice-enlightenment" as they say?"

I think that putting it that way is an accurate statement. I only wonder how we could accurately gage the validity of "things as they are."

There must be a number of people in prisons, asylums, etc. who believe they understand "things as they are." It seems, to me anyway, that we must first come to some kind of an authentic realization what "things" are, and "how" they are before we can truly "be" with them...

I don't know. What do you think?

Thanks again!

Peace,

Ted Biringer

ZazenLover said...

btw, I'm no teacher, I study on my own, there are no teachers close by. I started "seeking" answers because of personal pain that I live with.

I'm not sure about how to really accept one's own realization(s) as authentic, I could be absolutely crazy and just not know it. I've not had some big experience that took over my entire life like some of the stories I've heard...however I've had many "moments"(especially with psychedelics-which I do NOT encourage the use of, for safety/health reasons). My life still has ups and downs/challenges,..even the Buddha said, "there will be problems in life." "The first arrow life throws at you," then we have to learn not to throw the "second arrow" by beating ourselves up, judging our selves for not "becoming,"etc. There are many old teachers that say, "if you have realization, don't stick to it." So, is the goal to stick to some insight/experience/memory of experiences without ever being upset...or is it to be with your life as it is in each moment and to accept things as they already are and act from there? I question what the goal might be because to me, practice enlightenment is being fully with whatever is in your mind, in your life with full acceptance without resistance and judgment. If I do judge my life, then I don't judge myself for judging myself for judging myself...that's like an echo/feedback. The gauge could be how much resistance to things in life, thoughts,etc. one has [in that moment.] Even resistance is natural. "Acceptance of things," might be a better gauge for folks. I'd say one would have to be aware of both. I could be on incorrect. My sugar is low, I need to eat now...lol. Thank you, I appreciate you allowing this conversation. :)

Ted Biringer said...

Hello ZazenLover,

Thank you for your comments.

If I understand you accurately then I have to say I pretty much agree with your points. I am not a teacher either and can only share my own understanding and experience.

You wrote:

"So, is the goal to stick to some insight/experience/memory of experiences without ever being upset...or is it to be with your life as it is in each moment and to accept things as they already are and act from there?"

I would suggest that it is possible that other alternatives exists--I don't think it needs to be an either/or kind of situation.

It is certainly true that the classic masters urge their students (and us) not to get 'stuck' to some experience or condition. Yet, it is also true that they do seem to insist on realizing something in the first place--without which, of course, there would not be anything to become 'stuck' to. Dogen for instance constantly says things like:

"Clearly remember: in the Buddhist patriarchs’ learning of the truth, to awaken the bodhi-mind is inevitably seen as foremost. This is the eternal rule of the Buddhist patriarchs."
Shobogenzo, Hotsu-Bodaishin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross, v3, p.271

And:

"Those who have not yet attained the mind of enlightenment should pray to the Buddhas of former ages, and should also dedicate their good works to the quest for the mind of enlightenment."
Eihei Koroku, 4, Thomas Cleary

The constant exhortations to "attain" (or realize, awaken to, etc.) the Bodhi mind, is of course not unique to Dogen; the great masters of all schools speak of this. What then, do they mean by not getting 'stuck' here?

In my study and practice I have come to see such teachings as expounding the importance of continuing, ongoing practice-realization. That is, it is does not seem to be so much a matter of 'letting go' of our experiences, insights, or realizations, but more of a 'refining' and 'deepening' of them.

In other words, the practice-realization of Zen is not something that is ever fully 'attained', it is never-ending and potentially unlimited--a process rather than a condition.

This, it seems to me, is what Dogen means when he says things like:

"Once you attain this state of suchness and attain the harmonious unity of activity and understanding possessed by the Buddha-patriarchs, you examine exhaustively all the thoughts and views of this attainment."
Shobogenzo, Sammai-O-Zammai, Waddell & Abe, p.101

Perhaps?

I doubt I will ever be absolutely certain about anything the Zen masters meant--but for now, that is the best understanding I have been able to achieve. I will keep trying for more clarity, hopefully for the rest of this strange and marvelous experience that we call life.

Thanks again!

Peace,
Ted

ZazenLover said...

Sounds good to me, sir. I appreciate your time and thoughts. Life is definitely a wild ride. I'll be looking forward to more of your blogs. Peace & Best Wishes -j.

NYC Monk said...

Thanks for your probing question on "here and now." Hee-Jin Kim works with Dogen so perfectly in allowing expression to spring-board us into being the truth we speak. Dogen says, "Make three prostrations and stand at your place."

NYC Monk

Harry said...

"Here, the place exists and the way unfolds, and therefore the area of enlightenment is not conspicuous. For this enlightenment and the buddha-dharma manifest simultaneously and are experienced simultaneously."

Hello, Ted.

Hope you're well.

'Here' is real and is ineffably unfolding therefore the present moment and place realised/realising is experienced as the ineffable.

The 'area of enlightenment' is beyond our human condition and our human way which is here.

Even so, human enlightenment and the buddha-dharma (all enlightenment) function in mutual accord.

Just a few thoughts.

Regards,

Harry.

Harry said...

p.s.

Reminiscent of the moon reflecting in that dewdrop: big moon's still big moon, little dewdrop's still little dewdrop...

Regards,

H.

Ted Biringer said...

Hi Harry,

Thanks for your comments.

Good to hear from you!

Peace,
Ted