Monday, September 28, 2009

Dogen, Learning in Practice, Secret Talk, and Zazen

Shobogenzo, Mitsugo
Read the full fascicle here: Online Shobogenzo (Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross)

[3] When the great truth, “that which buddhas guard and desire,” is realized as the real universe, the state [expressed] “You are like this, I am like this,” and “each must guard it well,” is experienced exactly in the present.

[4] Great Master Kokaku of Ungozan, the story goes, is served offerings by a government official, who asks, “The World-honored One has secret talk; for Mahakasyapa nothing is concealed. What is the World-honored One’s secret talk?”

The great master calls out, “Minister!”

The man responds.

The great master says, “Do you understand or not?”

The official says, “I do not understand.”

The great master says, “If you do not understand, it is the World-honored One’s secret talk. If you understand, it is Mahakasyapa’s state of nothing being concealed.”

The great master, manifesting himself as the legitimate descendant, after five generations, of Seigen, is a master of gods and human beings and a great good counselor through the whole universe in the ten directions. He transforms the sentient and transforms the insentient. As the forty-sixth buddha in the legitimate succession of buddhas, he preaches the Dharma for Buddhist patriarchs. At his hermitage on Sanpo Mountain, he was sent offerings from the kitchens of gods. But after receiving the transmission of the Dharma and attaining the truth, he transcended the state which is sent [heavenly] offerings. The expression quoted now that “The World-honored One has secret talk; for Mahakasyapa nothing is concealed,” is the legacy of forty-six buddhas. At the same time, as the original features of the forty-six buddhas, “it is not got from others,” “it does not come from outside,” “it is not inherent,” and “it has never been something new.” With regard to the realization of this matter of secret talk, not only the World-honored Sakyamuni has secret talk: all the Buddhist patriarchs have secret talk. A World-honored One always has secret talk. And one who has secret talk inevitably has Mahakasyapa’s state of nothing being concealed. We should learn in practice and should not forget the truth that if there are a hundred thousand World-honored Ones there are a hundred thousand Mahakasyapas. “Learning in practice” means not intending to understand at once but striving painstakingly hundreds of times, or thousands of times, as if working to cut a hard object. We should not think that when a person has something to relate we will be able to understand at once. It may be that now, having already become the World-honored One, [the master of] Ungozan is equipped with secret talk and possesses the state of Mahakasyapa in which nothing is concealed. Do not learn that calling “Minister!” and the official’s response, are secret talk itself.
(Shobogenzo, Mitsugo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross)

[COMMENT]

Following Jordan’s suggestion, I will break this down into a series of smaller posts. This is the first part (about 1/5th) of the Shobogenzo fascicle, “Mitsugo” (Secret Talk).

Dogen, as usual, jumps right in:

When the great truth, “that which buddhas guard and desire,” is realized as the real universe, the state [expressed] “You are like this, I am like this,” and “each must guard it well,” is experienced exactly in the present.

Notice how the various phrases combine to define each other. For example:

“The great truth” is: “the real universe”, “desired by buddhas”, “a state that can be experienced”, etc.

And, “The real universe” is: “something that can be realized”, “can be experienced exactly in the present”, “the same state that is expressed as ‘each must guard it well’”, etc.

And, “You are like this, I am like this” is: “an expression of the great truth”, “the same as, ‘each must guard it well’”, “that which buddhas realize”, etc.

Next, Dogen cites a koan:

Great Master Kokaku of Ungozan, the story goes, is served offerings by a government official, who asks, “The World-honored One has secret talk; for Mahakasyapa nothing is concealed. What is the World-honored One’s secret talk?”

The great master calls out, “Minister!”

The man responds.

The great master says, “Do you understand or not?”

The official says, “I do not understand.”

The great master says, “If you do not understand, it is the World-honored One’s secret talk. If you understand, it is Mahakasyapa’s state of nothing being concealed.”

Before looking at Dogen’s comment I will just point out the similarity of the structure of this case and case 22 in the Mumonkan:

Ananda asked Mahakasyapa, “When the World Honored One transmitted the robe to you, did he transmit anything else?

Mahakasyapa calls out, “Ananda!”

Ananda responded, “Yes!”

Mahakasyapa said, “Knock down the flagpole!”

Okay, back to the Dogen:

The great master, manifesting himself as the legitimate descendant, after five generations, of Seigen, is a master of gods and human beings and a great good counselor through the whole universe in the ten directions. He transforms the sentient and transforms the insentient. As the forty-sixth buddha in the legitimate succession of buddhas, he preaches the Dharma for Buddhist patriarchs. At his hermitage on Sanpo Mountain, he was sent offerings from the kitchens of gods. But after receiving the transmission of the Dharma and attaining the truth, he transcended the state which is sent [heavenly] offerings.

While Dogen’s format here seems pretty typical of Zen masters introducing the ‘persons’ in a case (giving a brief bio/Dharma career overview), he does not waste the opportunity to offer some turning words. Couching some fantastic claims inside an ‘ordinary’ introduction precludes the listener’s distraction (or reader’s skimming) and forces us to look closely in an effort to get at the meaning. Not just a master revered throughout the whole world, “a master of gods and human beings and a great good counselor through the whole universe in the ten directions.” He does not simply transform all beings, “He transforms the sentient and transforms the insentient.” Etc. Furthermore, what is the state which is sent heavenly offerings?

Dogen continues:

The expression quoted now that “The World-honored One has secret talk; for Mahakasyapa nothing is concealed,” is the legacy of forty-six buddhas. At the same time, as the original features of the forty-six buddhas, “it is not got from others,” “it does not come from outside,” “it is not inherent,” and “it has never been something new.”

Here, Dogen reminds us of some of the facts of Being-Time (Uji), essential for getting to the heart of all the Shobogenzo fascicles, as well as resolving koans. This ‘expression’ is the legacy of ancestors (something passed on, or handed down), and, at the same time, it is the ‘original’ features of the ancestors (integral, particular, characteristics they had before they were born). This is beyond existence, beyond non-existence. He names four such features that each of these buddhas ‘originally’ have. The translators note says they could not trace the quotes, but I would be surprised if they did not come from Yuanwu’s commentary on case 22 of the Hekiganroku, where he relates Seppo’s enlightenment experience on Tortoise Mountain.

Dogen goes on:

With regard to the realization of this matter of secret talk, not only the World-honored Sakyamuni has secret talk: all the Buddhist patriarchs have secret talk. A World-honored One always has secret talk. And one who has secret talk inevitably has Mahakasyapa’s state of nothing being concealed. We should learn in practice and should not forget the truth that if there are a hundred thousand World-honored Ones there are a hundred thousand Mahakasyapas.

If all buddhas and ancestors have secret talk, AND, someone who has secret talk ‘inevitably’ has Mahakasyapas state of nothing being concealed, what does that tell us? Even if we follow this, we “should learn it in practice” – really and truly get to the bottom of it, more let it get to the bottom of us. It is possible. Just sit with it, examine it, let it sit, pick it up, get to know it intimately. Is there a gap between Mahakasyapa’s state and our state? Where could it possibly be ‘concealed’? Also, we should ‘not forget’ the truth spoken by secret talk.

Dogen says:

“Learning in practice” means not intending to understand at once but striving painstakingly hundreds of times, or thousands of times, as if working to cut a hard object. We should not think that when a person has something to relate we will be able to understand at once. It may be that now, having already become the World-honored One, [the master of] Ungozan is equipped with secret talk and possesses the state of Mahakasyapa in which nothing is concealed. Do not learn that calling “Minister!” and the official’s response, are secret talk itself.

Here, Dogen offers a particularly colorful description of how one is supposed to “learn in practice”, which is one of his standard demands. I have heard a number of ‘Soto Zen’ adherents insist that Dogen was opposed to koan-introspection during zazen.

Try this: imagine you are a monk in Dogen’s assembly. You left your home, your family, and gave up everything in hopes of resolving the great matter of life and death. You perform zazen daily, because you’re at Dogen’s monastery, you perform a LOT of zazen. Your teacher holds the keys to your greatest aspiration.

There he is, on the high-seat exhorting you to get to the bottom of this story about ‘Mahakasyapa’s state’, saying that you must “strive painstakingly hundreds, or thousands of times, as if trying to cut something hard.” Dogen finishes his teisho and the head monk rings the bell – time for three hours of zazen. What do you think is going to happen when you sit on the cushion?

I have never seen anything to indicate that Dogen opposed koan-introspection (just the opposite), but for arguments sake, let’s just say that the head monk, or even Dogen himself gives everyone a reminder as they enter the meditation hall, “Remember! Don’t contemplate that koan!”

If you make it for more than five minutes without wondering what the hell Dogen meant by saying, “Do not learn that calling ‘Minister!’ official’s response, are secret talk itself”, then you are either a fully enlightened Buddha, or a corpse…

Okay, more on this next time...

Remember, read the full fascicle here: Shobogenzo

Peace,
Ted

4 comments:

Jordan said...

You were rockin it until that last bit where you started setting planks against each other. If your trying to build a house, I recomend you not use rotted wood.

Barry said...

Well, you know how I continue to resist Dogen. But I do get something from Ted, so I continue to stick with the older fellow...

I totally get this: "striving painstakingly hundreds of times, or thousands of times, as if working to cut a hard object"

This is life's basic requirement - to strive painstakingly, no matter how long it takes. A lifetime of painstaking.

In the Korean Zen school (at least, as taught by ZM Seung Sahn), we use kong-ans extensively. And yet we don't "work" on them, in the sense of treating them as objects of meditation or contemplation. In fact, I've been encouraged to forget about my "homework" completely, until it comes up again in the interview room. Then we let it come completely alive.

Ted Biringer said...

Hi Barry, I thought you might find this excerpt from the so-called, "Secret" Shobogenzo of some interest.
A [monk] named Chokei asks Master Hofuku, “They say that to see form is to see the mind. But do you see the boat?”
Hofuku says, “I see it.”
Chokei says, “Let us set aside the boat for the moment. Just what is the mind?”
Hofuku points a finger at the boat.
So, even in our learning of the truth in the present age, we should know that discussion of the mind of the Buddhist patriarchs is like this. Having recognized that it is so, we are not drawn by non-Buddhists, the two vehicles, and the like. When buddha-tathagatas are always playing in samadhi, we call this the Buddha’s truth. In this state, there is abandonment of the body for the Dharma. In order to illuminate and study that boat, we need to know what the Buddha-Dharma is. “The Buddha-Dharma,” namely, is the myriad dharmas, the hundred weeds, all real dharmas, the triple world. No buddha has failed to perfectly realize this, and so there is nothing that is not perfectly realized as this by buddhas. That being so, when we inquire into life, there is none beyond real dharmas, and when we look for death, it is never separate from the myriad dharmas... to act in the interests of [life and death] also is this Dharma... We have been abiding in and retaining this life and this death for a long time, [but] we have not received them from others; they do not depend on anyone else. As exhalation and inhalation at this concrete place, life is the body, and the body is the Dharma here and now. So the inevitable abandonment of life is, from the outset, for the Dharma. When we do not forget that death [also] is abandonment, we are experienced in the present by the Dharma; ...the Dharma raises its own voice to proclaim itself, the expression “abandoning the Dharma for the body” is present; and when the body naturally raises its voice to announce itself, the expression “abandoning the body for the Dharma” is communicated: we should know that those to whom these buddha-actions, totally, have come, and those who have been learning them for long ages, are ourselves. Now and eternally, unable to regress or stray, we are put into practice by action in the present... Since ancient times it has been said that a person who attains the truth entrusts life and death to the mind... we should not doubt it. When this principle is apparent, we also know our own mind; and when we know our own mind, “this principle” also is apparent... In learning this we illuminate the way life is and the way death is. To illuminate this is not to have deviously thrown light upon what [otherwise] might not have been illuminated. We should understand that this kind of illumination takes place when we illuminate what is evident. To illuminate “this principle,” we should first know how the mind is and should learn how the mind is. To learn of its condition means... to know that “the myriad dharmas” are “the concrete mind,” and to understand that “the triple world” is “the mind alone.” Even what is called “knowing” and what is called “understanding” are the myriad dharmas and are the triple world... Thereafter we must exactly investigate what life is entrusted to, and what death is entrusted to. As we continue investigating, an evident truth is present; it is, namely, the vigorous activity of the mind alone. It has not been produced by anything else; it is the real state of the mind alone itself... Thus, the real state of life and death is just the mind alone having been entrusted to itself...
"Secret" Shobogenzo, Butsu-kojo-no-ji (Not to be confused with the chapter of the ‘95 Shobogenzo’ of the same name)Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross, bk.4
Peace,
Ted

Uku said...

Let our practice continues! *Star Wars theme playing*

Take care, my man!