Monday, June 28, 2010

Creating Circumstance-- and Not creating circumstances

Investigating the circumstances you create- and the circumstances you don't
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By relying on the principle of ‘turning to the next’, you should, by all means, thoroughly investigate both your creating circumstances and your not creating circumstances. And by relying on the principle of ‘turning to the next’, you should thoroughly investigate both what you are concocting and what you are not concocting.
Shobogenzo, Juki, Hubert Nearman
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Peace,
Ted

Sunday, June 27, 2010

True Nature - The Reality of the Self and the World

True Nature - The Reality of the Self and the Universe

Continued from the previous post: The Self - As Experienced, and As Experiencer

Before proceeding we need to clarify something that should go without saying but often doesn’t: in Buddhism, both “self” and “true self” are (tacitly) inclusive of and in each other, as well as the whole of existence and time.
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At this point we have seen that Dogen distinguishes between a self that experiences and a self that is experienced, and discussed some of the terms he uses to do so. Now we will look at how these two aspects interact according to Shobogenzo.
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For the sake of clarity, the “self as experienced” and the “self that experiences” will be referred to hereafter as “the self” and “the true self,” respectively.
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As previously discussed, Shobogenzo portrays the self (and all particular dharmas) as the experiential or perceptible form, shape, or image of the true self. The true self of human beings is portrayed as the sole experiencer of each individual; the master, so to speak, of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking (the traditional “five senses” of western thought plus the cognitive faculties). By identifying “thinking” as one of the “senses,” Buddhism decreased the propensity to identify the “self” (mind) with the “brain.” As a sense, “thinking” is only one of six faculties of a single being (our true self). Thus, for Dogen, beings with more or fewer senses than humans are of equal status in regard to the true self. This is supported by Buddhist doctrines that ascribe additional senses to certain advanced beings of (e.g. to see past lives, others’ minds, remote events, etc.) and affirm the inherent Buddha nature of beings with fewer senses (e.g. earthworms) and even beings without sense (i.e. the non-sentient).
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What this means in the context of Dogen’s teachings is that our senses (including the cognitive faculties of the brain) do not sense—the true self senses. Our eyes, ears, and brain do not see, hear, and think; the true self sees, hears, and thinks. Each of our sense organs (including the brain) is simply one of the myriad dharmas that facilitate the true self in “fashioning a universe,” and “fashioning a self.” Our experience (of universe and self) is not actualized by our senses, but by our true self; more precisely, our experience is the actualization of the true self. Please note that this “actualization” is all-inclusive; every factor of our experience is the actualization of the true self. The lungs do not breathe, the heart does beat, nor does the brain breathe or beat the heart—the true self breathes and beats the heart. Insofar as the brain is involved with the lungs, heart, or anything else, it is only as the facilitator of the true self. Nor is this limited to so-called “involuntary” functions; the legs do not walk us to the mailbox, the true self uses the legs to go to the mailbox. The hand does not raise a flower, the true self raises a flower; the face does not crack a smile, the true self cracks a smile.
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Thus, as the self is a shape, form, or image in Dogen’s works, the true self is a shaper, former, or imager. To be a self is to be experienced by the true self, that is, to be shaped, formed, or imaged by the true self. Insofar as this concerns the realm of human beings, to be experienced as a self that we call “myself” is to be shaped, formed, imaged, or in Dogen’s terms, to be “pictured” or “fashioned” by the true self of another being (or our own true self). This is something that those inclined to speculation can use to build grand linguistic schemes with almost infinite potential to convolute and obscure. If the true self is the “one true self,” how can the true self of one person “fashion” the self of another person? If the “self” that is fashioned by the true self of one person is not the same as the “self” fashioned by the true self of another, how can it be the same “true self?” And on, and on it goes…

For those that are not interested in delving into the exacting but unrewarding realm of “sawing bb’s,” there is an easier way: personal verification through experiential realization. This can be accomplished by first, as Dogen puts it, “ferreting out the meaning” of the words (rather than delving into linguistic “facts”), and then verifying whether or not it is true in actual practice (the real practical world). To clarify exactly what “meaning” needs to be “ferreted out,” let’s look again at Dogen’s words from Shobogenzo, Shoaku Makusa:
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When speaking of consciousness of self and other, there is a self and an other in what is known; there is a self and an other in what is seen.
Shobogenzo, Shoaku Makusa, Hubert Nearman
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This should be fairly clear to those familiar with Shobogenzo (as well as those that have been following this blog for awhile). Dogen is pointing out that anything that can possibly be regarded as “experience” must include at least two components, something that is experienced and something that experiences. Without an experiencer there can be no experience, without an experience there can be no experiencer. In other words, “consciousness,” by definition is two-fold (i.e. there must be something to be conscious of and something that is conscious of it). Thus, “consciousness” (or experience) means “a self and an other.” Likewise, without a self there could be no true self at all. This is the first point.
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Next, let’s consider the interaction of self and true self in light of Dogen’s view on the nature and dynamics of the one mind and the myriad dharmas. First, recall Dogen’s explanation of the mutual interpenetration and non-obstruction of each dharma and all dharmas; each particular thing contains and is contained by every other particular thing (as well as all other particular things). Second, consider the reasoning Dogen used to describe how the true nature of the “one mind” consisted of nothing other than the myriad dharmas, as they are; the “one mind” is not something that permeates or underlies all things—it is all things, as they are. Similarly, the true self is not something that permeates or underlies the individual self of all the many beings—it is the individual self of all the many beings. That is the second point.
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Finally, there is Dogen’s assertion that the nature of something and the form in which it appears are not two different things. The very form of a thing, that is, the way it appears (the way it is perceived or experienced) is one with its true nature; if the form of any particular thing was somehow eradicated, its true nature would also be eradicated. In the same way, the very form of a self, that is, the way it actually appears (is perceived or experienced) is one with its true nature (i.e. the true self). That is the third and final point.

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In light of these three points, it should be a fairly straightforward task to “ferret out” the meaning of Dogen’s expressions about how the mutual interaction of the self and the true self “fashion the whole universe,” and “fashion a self.” Now we are ready to consider the profound implication of this.
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We are now at a point from which we may be able to glimpse Dogen’s view about what reality is and how reality and human beings interact. As we just recalled, according to Dogen there is no “true” or “essential” nature apart from particular things. This is clearly illustrated in his frequent critique of “naturalism” in which he refutes all forms of essentialism (which posit a true [or essential] nature apart from the forms or appearance of particular things). Therefore, when Dogen says that we “fashion a universe,” and “fashion a self,” he means that the reality “fashioned” by sentient beings is the only reality. In other words, there is no reality apart from the individual shapes, forms, and images “fashioned” by our own true self and experienced as the universe and the self we call “myself.”
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While this is actually pretty simple and straightforward, it goes against just about everything we are conditioned to believe and can seem complicated, so let’s break it down and restate it once more. First: sentient beings (like humans) are by definition, “sentient” (conscious [of something]). Second: consciousness (awareness, experience) is by definition, “two-fold” (consciousness/conscious of something). Third: the “one mind” and the “myriad things” are nondual (coessential and coextensive). Fourth: the form, shape, or image that we experience as the world and as “our” self is formed, shaped, or imaged (pictured) by our “true” self (which also serves as our capacity to experience). Fifth: the form, shape, or image of things is one with their true nature, thus the form, shape, or image that we experience as the world and as our “self” is our “true” self. Sixth: no “essential nature” exists apart from the forms of particular things, and particular things only exist insofar as they are experienced by sentient beings (in two-fold consciousness).

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Conclusion: The reality of the world and the self consists only of the “arrangements” we (as individuals) “fashion” from the “bits and pieces” (instances of existence-time) of our experience; no “other” reality can possibly exist outside of this.
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(Some of you may have concluded [accurately] that this implies a different reality for each and every individual sentient being—exactly! This aspect will be taken up in the next post.)
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To be continued…
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Peace,
Ted

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Self - As Experienced, and As Experiencer

If anything possessed ‘being a sentient being’, then ultimately such a thing would not be Buddha Nature. This is why Hyakuj┼Ź said, “To assert that a sentient being possesses Buddha Nature slanders Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. And to assert that a sentient being lacks Buddha Nature slanders Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.” Accordingly, to say that one possesses a Buddha Nature and to say that one lacks Buddha Nature both become slander. Even though they become slander, it does not mean that one cannot say anything about It.
Shobogenzo, Bussho, Hubert Nearman
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Generally speaking, the saintly all devise some method of training whereby they sever the roots of whatever vines are entangling them. But they might not explore how to cut off entangling vines by using the very vines themselves, for they may not have used these embracing vines as the means to understand their being entangled. So how could they possibly understand the inheriting of vines and the succession of vines by means of these embracing vines? It is rare for any to recognize that the inheritance of the Dharma is synonymous with embracing vines, and, since none of them have heard about it, none have yet expressed it this way. Surely, there could not possibly be many who have experienced it!

My former Master, an Old Buddha, once said, “The vines of the bottle gourd embrace the bottle gourd itself.” This teaching that he gave to his assembly is something that had never been encountered or heard of anywhere in the past or present. The vines of the bottle gourd intertwining with the vines of the bottle gourd is the Buddhas and Ancestors thoroughly exploring what Buddhas and Ancestors are. It is the Buddhas and Ancestors realizing that there is no difference between the awakening of a Buddha and the awakening of an Ancestor. It has been referred to as the direct Transmission of the Dharma from Mind to Mind.
Shobogenzo, Katto, Hubert Nearman
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“She is an artist.”
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When we don’t know “she” is “Rachelle,” we can understand these words, but we can’t understand the meaning of these words, therefore we can’t verify them in practice and be enlightened to the reality these words convey. When we know “she” is “Rachelle,” we understand the words and their meaning, thus we can verify them in practice and be enlightened to the reality these words convey, in this case that “Rachelle is an artist.”
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Similarly, when we don’t know “the one mind” is “the myriad dharmas,” we can’t understand the meaning of words about mind or dharmas, thus we can’t verify them in practice and be enlightened to the reality the words convey. When we know “the one mind” is “the myriad dharmas,” we can understand words about mind and dharmas, verify them in practice and be enlightened to the reality they convey.
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One thing that all the classic Zen masters seem to emphasize, in one way or another, is that there is a crucial difference between understanding words and understanding the meaning of words. Dogen frequently makes assertions about the importance of digging into expressions to ferret out their true significance. In doing so, he often stresses the point by “qualifying” the Buddhist terms and Zen expressions he uses by saying, “this does not mean what people ordinarily think it means,” or similar statements. For instance, more than once in his writings Dogen declares that although many people have heard the Zen sayings and teachings about the “ordinary mind” (normal, or everyday mind), but few understand what it really means.
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The state like this is called “the normal mind,” but [people] are prone to misunderstand it to be a class of common miscellany.
Shobogenzo 28, Butsu-kojo-no-ji, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross
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Since everyone should be able to understand the words “the normal mind,” the misunderstanding Dogen is referring to is in regard to the meaning of the words. The bad news is that if we fail to understand what the words truly mean, we can’t possibly verify them, thus they will remain utterly insignificant in our lives here and now. The good news is that if we do understand what the words truly mean we can verify them and actually assimilate their wisdom. In other words, when we understand its true meaning, we can read or hear the word, “dharma” and associate it with the experiential reality of “dharma/mind,” rather than with its literal meaning, or our preconceived notion of its meaning. For Dogen, it is because of the true nature of dharmas and mind (i.e. the unity of the appearance and the meaning of dharmas), that allows language (a dharma) to convey truth about reality. When he says “dharmas,” he does not mean, “in contrast to mind,” he means, “in context with mind.”
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In an earlier post it was observed that in Dogen’s worldview human beings (along with all forms, i.e. dharmas) are real insofar as they are experienced. That is, the reality of human beings is actualized by being experienced (by oneself or others) as a form (the body-mind; shinjin). Yes, this means that, according to Dogen, the falling tree makes no sound if no one experiences it, and a human being (or any dharma) is not real if no one (itself or another) experiences it. The most obvious implication here is that whatever (or whoever) does experience human beings (or other dharmas) must also be real. This aspect of reality is one of the central topics of Shobogenzo.
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When speaking of consciousness of self and other, there is a self and an other in what is known; there is a self and an other in what is seen.
Shobogenzo, Shoaku Makusa, Hubert Nearman
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If in Dogen’s view, a human being as experienced (by self or other) is a form or dharma (body-mind), what is a human being as an experiencer of forms (dharmas)? By reason of common sense we know that experience and experiencer are nondual, and also that each is (like all dharmas) one with the whole universe. But Dogen certainly does not let matters rest there; he constantly exhorts us to look deeply and come to understand how these two aspects differ, relate, and interact with each other and the rest of the world. Shobogenzo itself is one demonstrations of how Dogen himself accomplished doing just that.
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In Shobogenzo, the experienced and experiencing self is illumined from a variety of perspectives. The “self as experienced,” is viewed as a body-mind (shinjin) and is most often treated in terms of human beings (un-awakened beings), forms, images, thoughts, things, and pictures (or paintings). The “experiencing self” is viewed as all inclusive existence (i.e. uji; existence-time) and is usually dealt with in terms of Buddhas (awakened beings), Buddha-nature, true nature, the one mind, the whole universe (or world), and the true self.
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To be continued...
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Peace,
Ted

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dogen's Cosmology - Dogen's Perspective

Dogen's Cosmology - The Gateway to Dogen's Perspective
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He who knows but a single mote of dust knows the whole world: he who fully comprehends one thing comprehends all the myriad things that comprise the universe. He who fails to comprehend all the myriad things will not comprehend even one of them. When someone has fully trained himself in this principle of comprehending and has reached full comprehension, he will not only see the myriad things that comprise the universe but will also see each one of them. This is why the person who studies one mote of dust will undoubtedly be studying the whole universe.
Shobogenzo, Shoaku Makusa, Hubert Nearman
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Dogen’s cosmology (as well as all the Zen masters) is one of unceasing creation in which nothing remains fixed. It is one in which the self, the world, and all the myriad things and beings participate in mutual interdependent actualization. In Dogen’s universe, the one is the one and does not interfere with the many or the particular; a dust mote is as significant as a Buddha. All things are participants in a dance of simultaneous interpenetration and non-obstruction, in which each thing at once creates the whole and creates itself. Advancing with an infinite variety of possibilities, at every instance the whole universe is totally refreshed, sparklingly new, only to be immediately cast off as the next instance of the whole universe is exerted in its place, to be cast off too in the next instance.
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In such a cosmology seeing the world “as it is” can only be done on the fly, can only be done by being the world as it is. In Buddhism (thus Dogen), those that awaken to the truth of being the world as it is, are called Buddhas, and Buddhas are the only ones that can truly see the world as it is. Until we ourselves are Buddhas, Dogen advises us to learn what the Buddhas say about their experience of the world as it is. To give what they say the benefit of the doubt, to put it into practice, and to verify it for ourselves. Constructing a conceptual image of the “world as it is” can never lead to seeing the world as it is, even if that image is built from words of Buddhas. Again, if we want to see the world as it is, Dogen advises learning what those who know the world as it is (Buddhas) say it is, putting what they say it is into practice, and verifying what they say it is in personal experience.
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So, just what do the Buddhas say about their experience of the world as it is? What does the universe consist of? How is it fashioned? Are there actual things or beings that inhabit it, if so what are they and how do they relate to each other? What is it that we human beings experience as a “self” which we sense as being “myself?”
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According to Dogen, they say that the universe is fashioned by human beings who arrange it with bits and pieces of their experience. This universe is inhabited by a welter of things and beings which are instances of existence-time that do not obstruct or hinder each other’s existence. The “self” experienced by human beings as “myself” is fashioned in the exact same way the universe is fashioned, and this “self” is also an instance of existence-time. To be more precise, here is how Dogen puts it:
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Since we human beings are continually arranging the bits and pieces of what we experience in order to fashion ‘a whole universe’, we must take care to look upon this welter of living beings and physical objects as ‘sometime’ things. Things do not go about hindering each other’s existence any more than moments of time get in each other’s way. As a consequence, the intention to train arises at the same time in different beings, and this same intention may also arise at different times. And the same applies to training and practice, as well as to realizing the Way. In a similar manner, we are continually arranging bits and pieces of what we experience in order to fashion them into what we call ‘a self ’, which we treat as ‘myself ’: this is the same as the principle of ‘we ourselves are just for a time’.
Shobogenzo, Uji, Rev. Hubert Nearman
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As someone that viewed the world from a perspective wherein each of us is the fashioner of a universe and a self, we can understand Dogen’s vigilant insistence on the ultimate significance of each individual’s activity. From the position that momentary instances of existence-time form the fabric of the universe and the self, we can see the reason of his constant urgency for sincerity, effort, thoroughness, and precision. From Dogen’s point of view, time is literally of the essence, and each thought, word, and act, no matter how seemingly insignificant, has an ultimate effect on our reality here (existence) and now (time).
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Therefore, I would like to propose this suggestion: getting a grasp on the structure of Dogen’s cosmology is the most effective way to improve our ability to understand his symbolism, thus accessing his vast storehouse of wisdom on the nature of life and death, delusion and enlightenment, mind, Buddha nature, existence, time, and fulfilling our obligation to save all the many beings.
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How to do this?
Active, sincere, wholehearted practice, study and verification. Try supplamenting your current practice routine with a careful, intensive daily study of Shobogenzo. Make a commitment to listen closely to everything Dogen has to say, before reaching a conclusion as to the merit of his instruction. This may take a half dozen or more close readings, but what better do you have to do?
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A Final Note: Despite the evident popularity of trying to decipher Shobogenzo word by word, Dogen did not write in a secret code--he wanted people to be able to understand it. It is far easier (and much more effective) to get the "big picture" by letting him finish what he has to say before jumping to your own conclusions. Besides, carefully reading the whole Shobogenzo half dozen times, or even ten dozen times will not require near as much effort as trying to twist it into our own conceptual images.
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Peace,
Ted

Friday, June 18, 2010

Appearance and True Nature - Not Two

Dogen on the non-difference of the appearance of a thing and its true nature
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You should understand that, in Buddhism, we have always spoken not only of body and mind as being inseparable, but also of the nature of something and the form it takes as not being two different things.
~Shobogenzo, Bendowa, Hubert Nearman
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Peace,
Ted

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Smelly Skinbag to Smelly Skinbag - Transmitting the Inaccurate to the Inaccurate

Dogen Lamenting the Decline of the Buddha Dharma in the 13th Century --- And describing causes and conditions all too familiar to the 21st Century...
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But first, two short quotes on some excellent basic instruction:
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When students are beginners, whether they have the mind of the Way or not, they should carefully read and study the Sagely Teachings of the sutras and shastras.
~Dogen, Record of Things Heard, Col. Trans. of Thomas Cleary, Vol. 4, p.796
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When Students of the Way are looking at sayings, you must exert your power to the utmost and examine them very very closely.
~Dogen, Record of Things Heard, Col. Trans. of Thomas Cleary, Vol.4 p.825
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To thank Dogen for so freely giving me this treasure I offer this vow (anyone that would like to join me, please feel welcome):
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I vow: to carefully read and study the sutras and shastras; and when I look at the sayings of Zen masters I will exert my power to the utmost and examine them very very closely.
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I dedicate this vow to fields and streets, oceans and forests, homes and schools, and to all our many guides along the ancient Way: All Buddhas throughout space and time, all Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas, the Great Prajna Paramita!
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Now, onto the main selection. (If you like, as you read see if Dogen's language seems difficult to understand, esoteric, or anything besides straightforward---If the meaning is clear (as I think), and you believe Dogen is sincere in his attempt to provide wise counsel (as I do), why does there seem to be so little on the importance of studying scriptures, treatises, and koans from contemporary teachers and writers? Seriously?)
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Just because you cannot be expert in all the Buddhist Scriptures, do not be rash and say that the Buddhist Scriptures are not the Buddha Dharma. Even though you may hear others call themselves the very bones and marrow of the Buddhas and Ancestors, when we look with straightforward eyes at those who speak this way, we see that they are simply present-day trainees who are stuck on words. While some of them may be as good as those who accept and keep to a single phrase or a single verse, there may also be those who do not measure up to them. Do not insult the Buddha’s True Teaching by relying on this superficial understanding of theirs. Nothing in the world of sound and form is more spiritually meritorious than the Buddhist Scriptures. Sounds and forms may delude you if you are still greedily chasing after them. However, the Buddhist Scriptures will never delude you, so do not mistrust or slander Them.
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Even so, over the last couple of centuries or so in Great Sung China, certain mistaken, smelly skin bags have said, “There’s no need for you to keep the sayings of the Ancestral Masters in mind, much less is there any need for long study of Scriptural Teachings or for your trying to make use of Them. Simply, make your body and mind like a dead tree or cold ashes, like a broken wooden ladle or a bottomless tub.” Folks like these have become a type of non-Buddhist or celestial demon, and to no good purpose. They seek to make use of things that are useless, and accordingly, they twist the Teachings of the Buddhas and Ancestors into wild and perverted teaching. What a pity! How terribly sad! Even ‘broken ladles’ and ‘bottomless tubs’ have been ancient Scriptures for some Ancestors of the Buddha. Rare has been the Ancestor of the Buddha who has completely tallied the number of texts of these Scriptures. Those who say that the Buddhist Scriptures are not the Buddha Dharma have not studied the occasions when Ancestors of the Buddha have made use of Scriptures, nor have they explored through their training the occasions when Ancestors of the Buddha have revealed their True Nature through their reliance on Scriptures, nor do they know how to gauge the level of intimacy between the Buddha’s Ancestors and the Buddhist Scriptures. Careless folks like these are as common as rice and flax seeds, bamboo canes and reeds. They ascend the Lion Throne and establish monasteries everywhere, passing themselves off as teachers of gods and humans. Because the inaccurate have studied with the inaccurate, their principles are likewise inaccurate, and because they are ignorant, they fail to seek what is reliable, but simply pass from darkness into darkness. How pitiful!
~Dogen, Shobogenzo, Bukkyo, Hubert Nearman
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From Our Sister Site: Flatbed Sutra Zen Blog
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Peace Friends...
Ted Biringer

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Ultimate Reality of Expedient Means - Dogen

The Ultimate Reality of Expedients Means
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Sakyamuni Buddha says, “Buddhas alone, together with buddhas, are directly able to perfectly realize that all dharmas are real form…

all dharmas are the real nature...
all dharmas are real body...
all dharmas are real energy...
all dharmas are real action...
all dharmas are real causes...
all dharmas are real conditions...
all dharmas are real effects...
all dharmas are real results...
all dharmas are the real ultimate state of equality of substance and detail...

Sakyamuni Buddha says, “The anuttarasamyaksambodhi of all bodhisattvas totally belongs to this sutra. This sutra opens the gate of expedient methods and reveals true real form…”

The gate of expedient methods is not a temporary artifice; it is the learning in practice of the whole universe in ten directions, and it is learning in practice that exploits the real form of all dharmas.
Shobogenzo, Shoho-jisso, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

(Alternative translation of the last line: "The Gate of Skillful Means does not refer to some momentary skill. Trainees take up the Real Form of all thoughts and things, and explore It thoroughly through their training with a Master." ~Hubert Nearman)

Here we see the reason for Dogen’s repeated assertions on the “real existence of all dharmas,” and “nothing is concealed in the whole universe.” According to Dogen: “…expedient methods is not a temporary artifice…” !!!

This is quite an astonishing statement. If it was anyone other than Dogen, the assertion that “expedient means” are ultimately real might be immediately denied by a number of Zen students and teachers I know. But since Dogen had to go and write it down, some concession will have to be made—usually a “creative interpretation” explaining what Dogen really “meant,” perhaps, “just sitting is itself full enlightenment,“ or something similar. I will stick with his words for now.

In the context of Dogen's writings, one implication of this is that the form (or, appearance) of a thing (dharma) and the content (or, meaning) of the thing are nondual. In short, a thing is and means precisely as it appears. Thus, every particular thing is an expression of Buddha nature, and each expression means what it says. This is why Dogen stresses, “nothing is concealed in the whole universe.”

This also explains Dogen’s scorn for “scholars that count words and letters,” and abstract notions inferred, or deduced from generalized systems of classification. If the significance (meaning, reason, content) of real things is not apart from the form of their appearance, then accurate understanding depends on clear perception. In order to “classify” things according to their “inherent qualities” (e.g. “right” speech, “expedient” means, “pure” sitting, etc.), those things must first be attributed with qualities—in other words, “qualities” would have to be considered independently of the things they were supposed to qualify (Buddhism 101 informs us that “independent” entities are untenable).
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It is impossible even to imagine qualities, like “right,” “provisional,” “false,” etc., as existing apart from real things. Qualities apart from things are as illusory as “general perceptions.” To accept Dogen’s position of the nonduality of “things” and “our experience of them” is to accept the unity the self and the world; to classify things according to separate qualities divides the self and the world. This is “counting words and letters,” this is being attached to theoretical conceptualization—inferences and deductions about things, are substituted for things as they are.

Now, as all things are real to Dogen, this includes concepts, theories, abstraction, etc. And it is for this very reason that Dogen warns of real danger in misusing them. There is no problem with concepts, abstract ideas, etc. in themselves; according to Dogen, they are both real and necessary (expedient means) to authentic practice-enlightenment. It is careless or unskillful use that Dogen disparages.

For Dogen, there are mountains, mountains, and mountains—"experienced mountains” directly perceived, "word mountains” used to intelligently communicate, and "concept “mountains” used to think intelligently. These three types of real mountains, experiential, verbal, and conceptual respectively are certainly interconnected, but they are not equivalent or interchangeable. Nor are they qualitatively superior or inferior—each is a real dharma and a real expression of Buddha nature. Zen practitioners are not to dispense with words and concepts, but to use them skillfully (expediently). Expedient usage begins with study to achieve an accurate understanding of the distinctions between experience, word, and concept. Once understood, practitioners use them expediently by keeping in mind, or “remembering” these distinctions. As Dogen says:

Remember, mountains are not “mountains,” mountains are mountains.

In sum, Dogen’s view about the unity of a thing and its content, or reason, implies that the more precisely we discern a thing, the more accurately we understand it.
Dogen never tires of disparaging views that divide reality into “mind” (envisioned as a kind of eternal “divine essence”) and “matter” (envisioned as the dead, passive material “stuff” of the world). Such views commonly posits a division between “things” and our “experience” of them.
The division of subject and object also occurs in doctrines that take an opposite approach. Rather than dividing reality up, some doctrines simply merge the myriad things into a kind of pernicious oneness.

Unlike the Buddhist doctrine of nonduality, wherein the creative dynamic tension of differences are maintained, the effect of either dividing or merging is equalization and neutralization, logically concluding by reducing all dharmas to identical and interchangeable nothings.
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Can you hear Dogen spitting venom? Me too!
Peace,
Ted

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Dogen and the Nonduality of Nonduality

One of the first things to get clear about Dogen’s cosmology is that all things exist only within our mind, or more specifically, our “body-mind” (shinjin; for Dogen “body” and “mind” are a unity). Some astonishing implications of this can be highlighted by using a different expression to say the same thing; all things are our mind.

Understanding this aspect of the nature of (Dogen’s) reality helps clarify the reasoning (dori) that informs a number of Dogen’s characteristic doctrines, including, “untainted practice-enlightenment,” “nothing concealed in the universe,” “existence-time,” “self-fulfilling samadhi,” “body-mind cast off,” “nonthinking,” and others. For now let’s examine just what it is that Dogen means by “things” and “mind.”

First, “things” (dharmas), for Dogen, mean real things—things that actually exist. Second, for Dogen “things” mean each and every particular thing that has ever been perceived, conceived, experienced, known, or imagined, and everything that could be perceived, conceived, experienced, known, or imagined.

Dogen stresses the authenticity of this view with frequent references and allusions to the Lotus sutra’s teaching on the “ultimate reality of all thoughts and things.” His insistence that “all things” means all things is made clear with frequent elucidations on the ultimate reality of dreams, optical illusions, words and letters, and other things traditionally regarded as illusory, provisional, non-existent, or unreal. For example Dogen expounds on the virtues of “putting a ‘second head’ on top of our head,” and Shobogenzo, Kuge is an extensive treatise on the ultimate reality and efficacy of “sky flowers” (a term for “imaginary spots in the air” caused by diseased eyes). In traditional Buddhism both “sky-flowers” and a “second head” were used as references for deluded, unreal, or illusory views.

So then, all things exist within our mind, and all things are real things. What then, is mind? Mind is all things—all real things. But if all things are mind, and mind is all things, what is the point of using different terms? From one perspective, it is perfectly accurate to say that there is no difference between mind and things; from other perspectives, however, it misses the mark by millions of miles. This is the hard part. Hard but, fortunately, not complicated, and nowhere near impossible. Investigating Dogen’s teachings on nonduality can clarify how things and mind can be “not two” and “not one.” For now, a traditional Buddhist analogy should be enough to follow the issue at hand. The analogy asks us to investigate the sameness and the difference of waves and water; it is accurate to say, “Waves are water,” but it is not a very thorough description. Sometimes it is accurate to say, “Water is waves,” and sometimes it is not.

There are three points about Dogen’s view of reality to keep in mind here; first: “The whole of existence-and-time is our real body-mind, our ‘true self;’” second: “Every particular thing, in all space and time, that could—in any way, shape, or form—be known (experienced in any way) is, and by Dogen’s definition, must be, a real thing,” and third: “The only real things are mind (or, mental) things.”

Thus, according to Dogen’s logic, “Since all real things are mind, all mind things are real.” One major implication of this view is that the universe and the self are coexistent, coextensive, and coeternal. To utilize one of Dogen’s favorite modes of expression, “Sentient beings fashion the universe, the universe fashions sentient beings, the universe fashion the universe, the universe universes the universe.”

Now, Dogen refers to these “mind” things with a variety of semi-synonymous terms, depending on the context and the implications he wants to stress. Some of the more common terms he uses are, “thoughts,” “things,”“forms,” “images,” and “bits and pieces.” Probably, Dogen’s most creative and illuminating terms are those he uses to illuminate the “mind nature” of things; namely, “pictures” (or paintings). Sprinkled throughout Shobogenzo are passages in which Dogen refers to various things of the world as pictures, and describes our “being aware” of these things as picturing. According to this view, seeing a flower (an image, or picture, in our mind/world), for example, is fashioning (painting, or picturing) a flower. The same basic truth holds for the other sense-gates (hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling, and thinking), for example, tasting tea is picturing tea-taste, and imagining (or remembering) a poem is picturing a poem. Dogen devotes the entire fascicle, Shobogenzo, Gabyo, to this evocative mode of expression. As a perfect example of Dogen’s affinity for illustrating ultimate reality using traditionally “provisional” terms, he cites a Zen saying traditionally understood to assert the futility of language, “A painting of a rice-cake cannot satisfy hunger.” We hope to have the opportunity to return to this fascicle sometime soon, suffice it to say that by the end of the Gabyo fascicle Dogen manages to convincingly demonstrate that a “painting of a rice-cake” is the only thing in the universe that can satisfy hunger.

We are now in a position to understand why Dogen was extremely critical of vague, hazy, or obscure expressions, as well as systematic formulations, classification, and all forms of generalization. Dogen’s era (early 13th century) was a heyday for Buddhist classification. In both China and Japan, individuals and institutions were engaged in massive efforts to classify and categorize Buddhist doctrines, practices, and literature into various schemes. There were many reasons for this, some good, some not; the point here concerns one of the results of this, not the causes.

One thing that is consistent throughout Shobogenzo is that all “things” (dharmas) always have the attributes we mentioned above; they are real, they are mind (or mental), they are us (our true self). Most Buddhist schools make distinctions between perceptions and thoughts. Usually, perceptions are regarded in relation to knowledge (awareness) of “outside” objects; thoughts, in relation to knowledge of “inside” objects. From there, thoughts and perceptions are subjected to further distinctions and classifications. For example, perceptions might be distinguished as “direct,” “biased,” “distorted,” “pure,” etc. Thoughts might be classified as “illusory,” “right,” “evil,” “kind,” etc. This process often leads to confusion and unnecessary complications that Dogen sometimes calls, “old nests.” The fact that real thoughts and perceptions are always specific gets lost in the process. A real perception, for example, is always a perception of some specific thing; a “general perception” does not exist.

Thus for Dogen, systematic classifications are generalizations, and generalizations mean ambiguity. The deceptive potential of such schemes is even further increased if they are designed from dualistic viewpoints. Dogen’s radical adherence to the Buddhist principles of emptiness, nonduality, and interdependence is obvious in his outspoken contempt for anything with the slightest scent of dualism; not just systems either, any expression that hints at a division between the self and the ordinary world is fair game to Dogen, not even Buddhas and ancestors are exempt.

Due to distorted notions of the Buddhist doctrine of nonduality, Dogen’s teachings are sometimes misrepresented as denying the value of duality. Distorted notions about nonduality are commonly due to confusing “duality” with “dualism.” Buddhist literature is permeated with warnings about the hindrances and misleading effects of dualism, and rightly so. In fact, dualism is at the heart of the views disputed by Dogen that we have been discussing. Dualism (or dualistic views) presupposes real divisions between subject and object, self and other, inside and outside, etc. “Duality,” on the other hand, is one of the two aspects, or foci of the nonduality of “nonduality” (i.e. nonduality and duality). Duality and nonduality are interdependent; each defines and depends on the other.
Peace,
Ted