A commentary on Shobogenzo, Gabyo, (A Picture of a Rice Cake), Part 1Based on the translation by Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
[TEXT] Buddhas are the state of experience itself, and so things are the state of experience itself. But [buddhas and things] are beyond a single essence and beyond a single state of mind. Although [buddhas and things] are beyond a single essence and beyond a single state of mind, in the moment of experience the experience of each—without hindering the other—is realized. And in the moment of realization, the real manifestation of each—without impinging on the other—is realized. This is the very state of the ancestral founders. We must not confuse intellectual speculation about unity and diversity with their power of learning in practice. Therefore they say that “Barely to penetrate one dharma is to penetrate myriad dharmas.” “The penetration of one dharma” that they describe is not to rip away the features that one dharma has so far retained, is not to make one dharma relative to another, and is not to make one dharma absolute—to make [something] absolute is to hinder it and be hindered by it. When penetration is freed from the hindrance of “penetration,” one instance of penetration is myriad instances of penetration. One instance of penetration is one dharma, and penetration of one dharma is penetration of myriad dharmas.
[COMMENTARY] Dogen begins by first highlighting some familiar Zen axioms on the nature of nonduality in a creatively (very Dogen-like) way. The classic Zen masters assert that, "Buddhas" and "Buddhahood" (the state of experience itself) are nondual, and that, "things and Buddha" are nondual; therefore, Dogen infers, "things are the the state of experience itself" (Buddhahood).
He then clarifies for beginners (and reminds old-timers) that because of emptiness and interdependence, "nonduality" does not mean "one" or "oneness", it means "not-two." It is basic doctrine (common to all Mahayana schools) that, although two (or more) foci in a nondual relationship are co-extensive and co-eternal they are not "merged" together as a single thing, which would amount to annihlation (as Dogen indicates with his comments about "hindering"). Rather, the two foci go "beyond a single essence" by retaining their tension (and thus, their liberating potential) by maintaining their differing aspects--A snake's tail and a snake's head are not the same, yet not seperate. Therefore, "things", "Buddhas", and "the state of experience" are "beyond a single essence... beyond a single state of mind."
While every Buddhist can "understand" these fundamental teachings, Zen requires us to actually embody this state. That is to say, this is fairly straightforward, easy to "learn", and "intellectually" satisfying (in its rationality), but the authentic "power of learning in practice" goes beyond "intellectual speculation" to "the very state" itself, which is of course, "the very state of the ancestral founders."
In that state of "actualizing the fundamental point" (Genjokoan) beyond "a single essence", where "things, Buddhas, and the state of experience" are truly realized (made real) in nonduality, “to penetrate one dharma is to penetrate myriad dharmas.” Furthermore, because in nonduality "things" are not annhilated, "penetrating" them does not "rip away the features of that one dharma" (which maintains its differing aspects).
Dogen's sheer mastery of expression is nowhere more evident than in this amazingly illuminating paragraph. A Zen masters Zen master, he skillfully draws the inherent wisdom from the depths of our true nature and leads us to the inevitible truth summed up as, "When penetration is freed from the hindrance of “penetration,” one instance of penetration is myriad instances of penetration. One instance of penetration is one dharma, and penetration of one dharma is penetration of myriad dharmas."
[TEXT] An eternal buddha says, “A picture of a rice cake does not satisfy hunger.”
The patch-robed mountain monks from the present ten directions who study this expression do not form uniform ranks of bodhisattvas and sravakas. Beings with the heads of gods and faces of demons, from other [worlds in] ten directions, have skin and flesh that are [in some cases] thick and [in other cases] thin. This [expression] is past buddhas’ and present buddhas’ learning of the truth. At the same time, it is a vigorous livelihood under a tree or in a thatched hut. For this reason, in order to transmit the authentic traditions of practice, some say that the practice of studying sutras and commentaries does not instill true wisdom, and so [eternal buddhas] speak like this; and some have understood that [eternal buddhas] speak like this to assert that philosophical study of the three vehicles and the One Vehicle is never the way of saṃbodhi. In general, those who understand that an expression like this exists to assert that abstract teaching is utterly useless are making a great mistake. They have not received the authentic transmission of the ancestral founders’ virtuous conduct, and they are blind to the Buddhist patriarchs’ words. If they have not clarified this one saying, who could affirm that they have mastered the words of other buddhas? Saying “a picture of rice cake does not satisfy hunger” is like saying “the non-doing of wrong, the practice of the many kinds of right. . .” or like saying “This is something having come like this,” or like saying “I am always keen at this concrete place.” For the present, let us learn [the expression] in practice, like this. Few people have ever repeatedly looked at the words “a picture of a rice cake,” and no one at all has recognized their full extent. How do I know it? In the past, when I tested one or two stinking skinbags, they were incapable of doubt and incapable of close association. They simply seemed uninterested, as if refusing to lend an ear to a neighbor’s chatter.
[COMMENTARY] Here, Dogen brings up the saying about "a picture of a rice cake" which had long been used as a proverbial refrence to the fact that "learning the teachings" was not enough for Zen realization (Zen, of course does require one to "learn the teachings" but then it demands that the teachings be put into practice and actualized [made actual]).
He first emphasizes the perenial wisdom of this saying by indicating that it is such a fundamental expression of truth that practitioners of all ranks, in all directions "study this expression." This expression, Dogen insists, is itself "past Buddhas' and present Buddhas' learning of the truth", and simultaneously it is the actual practice of people here and now ("under a tree" and "in a thatched hut" are traditionally considered good places for Zazen). Thus, viewed in light of the previous paragraph, our present practice, the expression, the picture of a rice cake, past and present Buddhas' learning, are not-two, not one.
Dogen then lists two methods, or techniques for transmitting the "authentic traditions of practice." These authentic methods include, "the practice of studying sutras and commentaries", and "philosophical study of the three vehicles and the One Vehicle." Dogen not only advocates sutra study, and philosophical study, he goes further and says that anyone who asserts these methods are useless for teaching the "abstract teaching" (Zen) is "making a great mistake", and have not "received the authentic transmission."
Then he makes a very insightful comment, "If they have not clarified this one saying, who could affirm that they have mastered the words of other buddhas?"
Next, Dogen gives us late-coming beginners a clue about where or how we might apply ourselves to resolving and assimilating the wisdom of this saying. Moreover, he offers us some encouraging words, "no one at all has recognized" the "full extent" of this expression! In other words, it is one of those Zen expressions that continues to yeild its treasure for a lifetime (or more).
What clues does he offer about this expression? He says it "is like" three other Zen expressions. How is it like them? Does he mean that they too are bottomless? Does he mean that all past and present Buddhas study them? Or does he mean something else? Perhaps he is suggesting that we look at all four of these sayings to see if they have anything in common...
Here are the cases Dogen refers to as, "the non-doing of wrong, the practice of the many kinds of right. . .” “This is something having come like this,” and, “I am always keen at this concrete place.”
Rakuten once asked Dorin, “Just what is the major intention of the Buddha Dharma?”Dorin replied, “Refrain from all evil whatsoever; uphold and practice all that is good.”Rakuten remarked, “If that’s all there is to it, even a child of three knows how to say that!”Dorin replied, “Though a three-year-old child can say it, there are old men in their eighties who still cannot put it into practice.”Upon hearing the matter put this way, Rakuten then bowed in gratitude."Translated by Hubert Nearman
Bhikkhu Huai Jang, a Dhyana Master, was born of a Tu family in Chin Chou. Upon his first visit to 'National Teacher' Hui An of Sung-Shan Mountain, he was directed by the latter to go to Ts'ao Ch'i to interview the Patriarch. Upon his arrival, and after the usual salutation, he was asked by the Patriarch whence he came. "From Sung Shan," replied he. "What thing is it (that comes)? How did it come?" asked the Patriarch."To say that it is similar to a certain thing is wrong," he retorted."Is it attainable by training?" asked the Patriarch. "It is not impossible to attain it by training; but it is quite impossible to pollute it," he replied. Thereupon, the Patriarch exclaimed, "It is exactly this unpolluted thing that all Buddhas take good care of. It is so for you, and it is so for me as well."The Sutra of the 6 th Patriarch, Hui Neng, (Translated by A.F.Price and Wong Mou-Lam)
Note: Although I am unfamiliar with the above translation, I think it is the same case that I know as:
A monk asked Tozan, "Among the three bodies [of Buddha] , what body does not degenerate into numbers?"Tozan said, "I am always most intimate with it." (Translated above as "I am always keen at this concrete place.")
To Be Continued (I hope)...