Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Zazen, Shakyamuni & The Lotus Sutra in Dogen's Zen

The Lotus Sutra in Dogen's Zen
The Lotus Sutra, hailed by Dogen as the “Sutra of Sutras,” being the greatest (most complete) expression of truth (Dharma), forms the hub of his vision of existence-time (Buddha). The Lotus Sutra is thus qualified by Dogen because it presents (makes present) a lucid, definitive, and (most importantly) comprehensive picture (image, form, expression) of the whole Buddha Dharma, from “before the empty eon” to “after the kalpa ending conflagration.”
In its comprehensive treatment of Buddhas and Buddha realms, the nature and activities of Bodhisattvas, the significance of similes and parables, and graphic depictions of the meaning of expedient means, various vehicles and individual capacities, the Lotus Sutra achieves a vision that not only reconciles the many and various aspects of the Dharma, which otherwise might appear inconsistent, it reveals their interdependence. Being inclusive of the entire lifespan of Buddha (the totality of existence-time), the meaning, manner, and affirmation of “opening up, manifesting, awakening, and entering” into Buddhahood of all beings (i.e. the certain affirmation of universal salvation), the Lotus Sutra clearly and unequivocally illumines the eternal connection of “Buddhas” and “ordinary beings” that appears as a gap to the deluded eye, and is often depicted only vaguely in less complete expressions, thus making the connection seem hazy, obscure, or mysterious.

“The content of the buddha lands of the ten directions” is the “sole existence” of the “Flower of Dharma.” Herein, “all the buddhas of the ten directions and the three times,” and beings of anuttara samyaksaṃbodhi, have [times of] turning the Flower of Dharma, and have [times of] the Flower of Dharma turning. This is just the state in which “original practice of the bodhisattva way” neither regresses nor deviates. It is the “wisdom of the buddhas, profound and unfathomable.” It is the “calm and clear state of samadhi,” which is “difficult to understand and difficult to enter.” As Buddha Manjusrī, it has the “form as it is” of “buddhas alone, together with buddhas,” which is “the great ocean” or “the buddha land.” Or as Buddha Sakyamuni, it is “appearance in the world” in the state of “Only I know concrete form, and the buddhas of the ten directions are also like that.” It is the “one time” in which he “desires to cause living beings” to “disclose, to display, to realize, and to enter,” [saying] “I and buddhas of the ten directions are directly able to know these things.”
Shobogenzo, Hokke-ten-hokke, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

The inclusion in this passage of the symbolic images of the Lotus Sutra as “equivalents” with symbolic images common to the literature of Zen (most importantly Dogen’s own writings) is typical throughout the entire Shobogenzo. When he describes the Sutra’s symbolism as “form as it is,” “buddhas alone, together with buddhas,” “the great ocean,” “the buddha land,” etc. Dogen conveys a new significance to both symbols. For example, “as Buddha Shakyamuni, it is ‘appearance in the world,’” succeeds in expanding the connotations of both “Shakyamuni” and “appearance in the world.”

Here we want to stress two important points about Dogen’s use of the Lotus Sutra; first, all the fascicles of Dogen’s Shobogenzo are centered on a single myth (Buddhism); second, that single myth is most clearly portrayed (so far as Dogen is concerned) by the Lotus Sutra. The significance of this cannot be over emphasized; if we come to terms with Dogen’s understanding of the Lotus Sutra, that is, when we understand how he read it, the difficulty of the symbolism of Shobogenzo is enormously reduced.

Key to Dogen’s view is that, for him, the Lotus Sutra (hence, the Buddha Dharma) is a single unified vision; thus, is totally consistent. As the central and primary expression of the Buddha, it is the source of all the Buddhist sutras, shastras (treatises), Zen records, expressions of truth, and finally, all real dharmas (things, beings, events, instances, etc.).

While the Lotus Sutra is the “Sutra of Sutras” from which all arises, it would be a serious mistake to think that Dogen regarded the Lotus Sutra as a complete or even uniquely exclusive form of Buddha. Such an understanding would be as narrow and misguided as the vulgar interpretations of Zen as “a special transmission outside the sutras” that Dogen so vehemently criticized.
The Lotus Sutra is the hub of the total form of Shakyamuni Buddha, the axis mundi, the source of all true expression; it is not the totality of Buddha nature, and certainly not the totality of expressed truth.

The comprehensiveness of the Lotus Sutra means that it can and does accommodate the totality of Shakyamuni, the body or form of Buddha (the universe); the Lotus Sutra does not exhaust the form of Buddha. The significance of an expression of truth is experienced in its connection to the source of human existence. When we truly perceive (with the Dharma-eye) a real form (an expression of truth), subject and object are united; we make it what it is, it makes us what we are.
This is the nature and function of zazen, the authentic practice-enlightenment of Dogen’s Zen that “re-links” (religion) us with our source, or true nature. The true nature (Buddha nature) of an expression of truth has nothing to do with biographical or historical accuracy, nor is it concerned with ontological, epistemological, cosmological, psychological, physiological, or any other “ological” fact or even possibility. One of the “miscellaneous koans” assigned to students early on in the lineage where I underwent koan training runs:

“A man raised a goose inside a bottle; set it free without breaking the glass or hurting the goose.”

After several responses to this koan were rejected over the course of a couple of weeks, I exclaimed, “It is impossible!” My teacher calmly replied, “In Zen, nothing is impossible.” While I eventually arrived at a point where the truth of the koan allowed me to free the goose, the truth of my teacher’s calm reply has been an even more treasured companion for the nearly two decades since.

Zen starts at the heart of reality and thus accommodates new horizons of truth without needing to be reformed or revised. While the circumference of enlightened vision is capable of infinite expansion, the hub of truth is not and cannot be disrupted. Authentic zazen is being seated (based, centered) within the hub of true nature which allows us to clearly perceive when, where, and how any particular form can be – in truth – accommodated, even freeing geese from bottles. The Lotus Sutra, as the axis mundi of Dogen’s Zen, is the central perspective, the pivot point from which the true nature of the whole universe expands spherically outward in the ten directions. It is the bodhi-seat, the immovable spot where Shakyamuni realizes enlightenment; it is the eternal center point from which existence-time expands infinitely outward, and to which all things return.

That is to say, from today it passes through a series of moments to tomorrow; from today it passes through a series of moments to yesterday; from yesterday it passes through a series of moments to today; from today it passes through a series of moments to today; and from tomorrow it passes through a series of moments to tomorrow.
Shobogenzo, Uji, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

It is not the task of expressions of truth to convey knowledge or information, but to unite subject and object, to re-link us to our source. Expressions of truth do not instill wisdom, they evoke it. If we listen to a piece by Mozart with an ear to understand its meaning, we will not understand it nor truly hear it; we will fail just as surely if we attempt to not understand it. Only when we forget (cast off) our “self” as well as “Mozart” (the body-mind of self and other) will we truly hear and understand.

The true form (shape, body, appearance, sound) of a dharma (thing, being, event) and its true nature (essence, meaning, significance) are not two separate things. Expressions of truth are not signifiers of truths or realities apart from themselves; they are not simply “fingers pointing at the moon.” The meaning (nature, essence) of an expression of truth is not in its relation to the “real things” in the “external world” to which it “points.” Even in an actual instance of “a-finger-pointing-at-the-moon” the finger is as essential as the moon; the expression, “the-moon,” is an entirely different dharma (form, thing).

In fashioning expressions of truth, Buddhas and Buddha ancestors will readily use whatever “material” the world makes available, including philosophical concepts, historical facts, fictitious beings, and anything else they can appropriate; the final product however, may well have nothing to do with any of those materials. If it is an authentic expression of truth it will be a novel creation with intrinsic significance to the central truth of human life and death.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Many know about zazen - Few know zazen

All Zen Buddhists know about zazen, but few actually know zazen.

Near the end of Himitsu-shōbōgenzō, Butsu-kōjō-no-ji, Dogen says:

In the house of the Buddha there is Bodhisattva Regarder of the Sounds of the World. Few people have not seen her but very few people know her.
Himitsu-shōbōgenzō (Secret Shōbōgenzō), Butsu-kōjō-no-ji
, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

This Bodhisattva is, of course, Avalokitesvara, one of the most important Bodhisattvas in Buddhism and the great hero of the Heart Sutra.

Clearly, as Dogen says, “Few people have not seen her.” However, what does Dogen mean by, “but very few people know her”? The reason that millions know about her but very few know her is the same reason that all Zen Buddhists know about zazen, but few actually know zazen.

[Note: This failure to “know” has nothing to do with what Zen calls “not knowing” or “don’t know mind” – if we don’t know Avalokitesvara or zazen we certainly don’t know “not knowing.”]

"Zazen" is a term that is often taken for granted, glossed over, and misconstrued. We all know that the literal translation of, “zazen” is “seated meditation,” but what is that? That is the same as saying “2+2” is “4” - which is only saying the same thing in two ways; both of which are generalizations. We may understand the terms, but apart from "knowing" what they actually stand for (e.g. “4 apples,” “2 dogs plus 2 cats,” etc.) the terms are meaningless. There is no such thing as a “general” 2+2, or a “general” 4, 5, or 6; there are only particular, actual things that posses such qualities.

A general “seated meditation” is as non-existent as a general “zazen.” Defining zazen as “non-thinking,” “casting off body-mind,” etc. is no more meaningful than defining 4 as 1+1+1+1, or 7-3 Only particular, actual instances of zazen have actual significance.
So how do we “know” Avalokitesvara or zazen? We know them by becoming aware of their reality in actual experience. We come to know 4 (or 2+2) by experiencing its reality within actual, particular things of the world that possesses its quality; our hands are 2, Mommy’s hands are 2, together there are 4 hands, and on it goes. We come to know zazen and Avalokitesvara by experiencing its reality within actual, particular things of the world that possesses its quality; looking at forms with the whole body-mind, and listening to sounds with the whole body-mind we experience them directly – this is knowing zazen, knowing Avalokitesvara.
Dogen describes this condition as that in which the “body-mind” of “self and other than self” is cast off. The Zen masters tell us that this experience first occurs (kensho, or kenbutsu) when we actually awaken to our own true nature. The significance of this kind of knowing is demonstrated by the fact that all the great Zen masters are in agreement that it is essential to authentic Zen practice-enlightenment. Such an awakening is, in Dogen's terms, “that one experience that we cannot omit.”
To clarify, consider Dogen’s criticism of Zen Master Soko (Daie). There is a widespread misunderstanding among Zen students, especially those identified with the “Soto” tradition, that Dogen’s refutation of Soko’s teaching was based on his association with Zen koans. This claim is based on a simplistic grasp of the issue at best, at worst it is a blatant falsehood designed to detract us from the real issues. Dogen’s rejection of Soko’s teaching was based on the criteria he always used to verify or deny expressions of truth: authentic practice-enlightenment.
Regardless of the “Urban Legend” surrounding his view of Soko, Dogen’s rejection was due to the fact that Soko had failed to realize that one vital experience. Dogen’s own words on the matter are clear and straightforward:
Even though time and time again Tandō aimed at opening Sōkō up, the latter ultimately kept missing that one experience, and there is no way of compensating for that, for one cannot omit that experience.
Shobogenzo, Jishō Zammai, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

There are “certified Dharma heirs” that spend a lot of time and energy minimizing this experience, a few even suggest it might be “expendable” (some deny such an experience exists), but as we see, that is definitely not Dogen’s take. By why does Dogen (like the classic Zen masters) say that this is one experience that cannot be omitted? Because without it we can’t “know” zazen (and Avalokitesvara); zazen will simply be a general notion, a concept – and there is simply no way to practice a concept of zazen no matter how long we “just sit” in the lotus position.
In his criticism of Soko, Dogen not only criticizes his failure to experience kensho, he criticizes Soko’s failure to penetrate the sayings (koans) of the Buddha ancestors as well as the words and ways of Buddhas. Dogen was a Dharma-heir of both the Rinzai and Soto Zen traditions and his teachings demand authentic awakening as well as a thorough study of the sutras and koans. In his critique of Soko, he insists on the need to both, awaken or, “intuitively grasp what the Buddha Dharma is” and to study and learn, or, “to intellectually understand what the Buddha Dharma is.”

Sōkō did not thoroughly explore his own statement, “That is precisely what Sōkō is suspicious of,” nor did he drop it off, or break it open, or give rise to the Great Doubt, or break through that doubting.

It is so pitiful how he failed to understand what the Ancestors of the Buddha were saying to him in their talks and writings. He did not grasp that to study and train is to awaken to one’s True Self. He did not hear that to delve deeply into the writings of myriad generations is to come to realize what that Self truly is.

Without proper study, there are errors like these and there is self-deception like his.

Because this was the way ‘Meditation Master’ Sōkō was, in his assembly there was not a single disciple, or even half a one, who had a trustworthy nose ring, but there were many who were pretend monks.

Failure to intuitively grasp what the Buddha Dharma is and failure to intellectually understand what the Buddha Dharma is are both just like this. Beyond any question, novice trainees here and now should explore the Matter in detail with their Master. Do not be negligent out of pride.
Shobogenzo, Jishō Zammai, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Until we actually manage to cast off the body-mind of “self and other,” we do not know zazen, which means we do not know the “state of Buddha.” If we do not know the state of Buddha, we can certainly not know the “ascendant state of Buddha.” Here we come to the only point in Dogen’s Zen where we can in any way say that the experience of kensho, or kenbutsu (the initial experience of enlightenment) is of “minor” significance; it is minor insofar as it is only the beginning of authentic Zen practice-enlightenment. In short, it is “major” in that if we omit it we cannot truly realize Zen, it is “minor” in that it is only the true start of Zen.

Thus we come to the real blood and guts of a lifetime of Zen practice-enlightenment: the ascendant state of Buddha.

Great Master Gohon of Tōzan said, “You should know that there is the matter of the ascendant state of buddha. When you know of the matter of the ascendant state of buddha, you will truly possess the means to speak.”

“The means to speak” is the means to turn the wheel of Dharma. In truth, if we do not know the matter of the ascendant state of buddha, we idly stagnate without penetrating to and getting free of the state beyond buddha. If we do not penetrate it and get free, we do not transcend the worlds of demons. Once we find the Way that arrives at buddha, we leave the area of the common person immediately. The people who have mastered this Way are few. Still, just because we are unable to know it, we should not, so saying, leave it at that. If, with a true will, we learn in practice under good counselors who have truly illuminated [the Way], we will be able to attain it without fail.
Himitsu-shōbōgenzō (Secret Shōbōgenzō), Butsu-kōjō-no-ji, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Sunday, October 10, 2010

If Zazen is the Medium, What is the Vehicle?

If Zazen is the Medium, What is the Vehicle?
Because it furnishes effective, methodical training for the development and utilization of the Dharma-eye, zazen (and its synonyms) in Dogen’s writings, is the channel, or medium, through which religion (Dharma) is transmitted...
Because they contain and convey the “words and ways” of Buddhas and ancestors and have “carried” them “into nirvana” the Buddhist Sutras (scriptures) is the vehicle of religion (Dharma).

Practicing what the Buddha taught means making the words and ways of all the Buddhas manifest. Because this is what Buddhas and Ancestors have done for the sake of Buddhas and Ancestors, the Teachings have been accurately passed on for the sake of the Teachings. This is what the turning of the Wheel of the Dharma is. From within the Eye of this Wheel, these Teachings have caused all the Buddhas and Ancestors to manifest and to be carried into nirvana.
Shobogenzo, Bukkyo
, Hubert Nearman

The Buddhist Sutras, for Dogen, are “the entire universe itself,” which of course, includes the records and koans of Zen. Revelatory of the nondual (unified) reality of human existence, the Buddhist Sutras are the vehicle of the Buddha Dharma, and are the key to the authentic practice-enlightenment of Zen. So, authentic zazen is the channel, or medium of religion, the Sutras are the vehicle of religion, therefore, religion (the Buddha Dharma, in Dogen’s terms) is equally zazen and sutras. As always in Dogen's writings, this unity does not mean “undifferentiated oneness,” but nondual interdependence; authentic zazen is always inclusive of the sutras, the sutras are always inclusive of zazen.

“Practicing” (authentic zazen) “what the Buddha taught” (the sutras) “means making the words and ways of all the Buddhas manifest” (actualizing the enlightened vision expressed in the Sutras). Making the words and ways (contained and conveyed by the sutras) manifest in the world here and now is to actualize the Dharma. It is then, through the words and letters, which are never apart from the whole of existence-time, that Zen practitioners may come to know the “one-taste” reality of Zen. Thus Dogen wrote:

The monastics of future generations will be able to understand one-taste Zen (ichimizen) based on words and letters, if they devote their efforts to spiritual practice by seeing the universe through words and letters, and words and letters through the universe.
Tenzo kyokan
, trans. Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, p.60
For when we encounter the sutras we encounter the Buddhas and Ancestors.
The one who encounters the twelve divisions of the Scriptural Teachings encounters the Buddhas and Ancestors, and the one who speaks of the Buddhas and Ancestors speaks of the twelve divisions of the Scriptural Teachings.
Shobogenzo, Bukkyo
, Hubert Nearman

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Zazen, Enlightenment, and the one "Religion" of Dogen

As a young prince, Shakyamuni perceived all the various dharmas as existing separately from the rest of the universe, himself, and from each other. Some innate capacity drew him to believe in the possibility that there was something much grander to the myriad diversity of the world than he could see. This possibility culminated in sincere aspiration to discover the truth. After much time and various approaches, his endeavors came to fruition and he experiential realized the integration of the infinite variety of dharmas into the one body-mind of Buddha nature.

According to one account, following this realization Shakyamuni exclaimed, “How wonderful, all beings are the Tathagata (“thus come one,” Buddha), only their delusions and preoccupations keep them from testifying to this truth.” Technically, such an exclamation does not “say” anything that had not been said many times to Shakyamuni (who was thoroughly versed in the Upanishads) before; its meaning, however, was vastly different for Shakyamuni – it was an expression of personal verification. This is not to say that the teachings of Hinduism or the Upanishads is the same as (or different from) Buddhism; the point is that learning truth and verifying truth are two totally different processes with two vastly different results. As the Zen tradition eventually came to epitomize, there are two distinct forms of religion or spiritual wisdom, one that is communicated from institutions to individuals, and one that is communicated from Buddha to Buddha.

In Dogen’s Zen, no religion or spiritual wisdom is or can be communicated from an institution to an individual. Religious institutions would be instantly eradicated but for the innate human capacity for self-doubt and self-hindrance. As such institutions are keenly, if tacitly, aware of, their very existence is dependent on men who are unable or unwilling to recognize their own identity with the one mind. If suffering (delusion) exists, such men reason (with much encouragement from institutions and their agents), it is due to some inherent flaw in humanity and cannot be ascribed to Buddha. For Dogen, of course, such reasoning is literally non-sense, as it amounts to the generalized notions of abstract speculation which has no basis in actual sense experience. Dogen does not so much refute the various systems and views that purport to classify the relative depths and types of “good and evil” as much as he avoids them altogether by refusing to grant validity to the abstractions they are based on. For Dogen, “pure light” (or “good”) is as nonexistent as “pure” awareness, consciousness, blueness, sharpness, or any other general, abstract quality.

The only true religion or spiritual wisdom is that transmitted from Buddha to Buddha; existence is experience and any religion or wisdom that is not experienced does not exist. In Buddhism such experience is referred to as enlightenment and is described as an awareness or awakening to true nature. In the Zen tradition this experience is often described in terms of death or dying.

When expressing this experience in terms of death and dying, Zen often calls it the “great” death. The “greatness” of this death lies in the fact that with this experience not only the individual Zen practitioner dies, but the entire universe itself. This total destruction of the universe is symbolized by the Buddhist version of the “apocalypse,” called the “Aeonic Ending Conflagration” in which the entirety of space and time is destroyed by fire.

As in western versions, the Buddhist apocalypse is followed by the actualization of a new world in which peace, joy, and liberation abound. The great death of Zen then, is the expression of a vision in which the individual’s experiential world of ceaselessly streaming chaotic confusion is utterly destroyed, thereby making way for a new world of ceaselessly advancing enlightenment of ongoing creativity, freedom, joy, and peace.

In this sense, the “great death” is synonymous with “great enlightenment.” Contrary to popular notions and seemingly reasonable assumptions however, great enlightenment does not imply an eradication of delusion, at least as far as Dogen is concerned:

“We do not see “not being deluded” as great realization.”
Shobogenzo, Daigo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

While one of the names for the realm in which Buddhas dwell is the “pure land,” it would be a serious error to equate the reality of this realm with the usual notions of purity:

A monk asked Joshu, “What is the Pure Land?”
Joshu said, “A puddle of piss.”
The monk said, “Can you show it to me?”
Joshu said, “Don’t tempt me.”
(James Green)

Far from some kind of empty, undifferentiated realm of bliss, detachment, or quietude, the world in which Buddhas or Buddha ancestors dwell has nothing to do with “pure” awareness or consciousness, at least insofar as that implies an absence of delusion. To be a Buddha does not mean to be separate from delusion, it means to be enlightened about delusion.

“Buddhas are enlightened about delusion; ordinary beings are deluded about enlightenment.”
Shobogenzo, Genjokoan

It is common to misunderstand enlightenment as an experience that eradicates, or at least transcends, delusion. Buddhism professes to offer a way to realize liberation from suffering. Asserting that the anguish of old age, sickness, and death is due to our deluded notions of “self,” Buddhism asserts that the experience of enlightenment, that is, awakening to our true nature, can liberate us from suffering. If enlightenment does not mean an eradication of delusion (which is the cause of suffering), how does the experience liberate us from suffering? This question, which should be an obvious one, often seems to go unexplored in Buddhist study, as well as on the cushion (in meditation) by Zen practitioners. Needless to say, Dogen exhorts us to carefully examine this important issue thoroughly. For instance, here is a passage from Shobogenzo, Daigo [Note: in the following translation, “mei” is rendered as “illusion” rather than “delusion,” as we are doing].

Let us consider this for a moment. Is a person of great enlightenment who still suffers from illusion the same as a person who is not yet enlightened? When a person of great enlightenment still suffers from illusion, is s/he making illusion by means of great enlightenment? …when we say “A person of great enlightenment still suffers from illusion,” are we to construe the addition of great enlightenment as “still suffering from illusion”? We must investigate these issues in various ways.

…we must realize that hearing the statement “A person of great enlightenment still suffers from illusion” is the ultimate penetration of our inquiry. Note that “great enlightenment” is ever joined with “still suffering from illusion.”
Shobogenzo, Daigo, Hee-Jin Kim, Flowers of Emptiness, p.148

This is, undoubtedly, a complex issue, though it is not a complicated one; it demands serious investigation and consideration, but it is not paradoxical, esoteric, or enigmatic. Anyone that takes up the issue in serious study and meditation will find resolution without too much difficulty; anyone that does not take it up will not resolve it. We will meet with this issue again, for now the main point is that enlightenment and delusion are mutually interdependent and non-obstructive, that is, they are nondual, and as such are coessential and coextensive.

Before summarizing the main points of this discussion in Dogen’s terms let us briefly consider the etymology of the term “religion” which is the meaning applied to it here. “Religion” comes from the Latin; religio, which means “re-link” or “re-connect, to the source.” More specifically then, by “religion” we mean “re-linking to our source.” This should not, however, be read as implying a reconnection to some source of the past. Our source, in Buddhism, is not restricted to the past, present, or future but is inclusive of existence-time as a whole. In other words, our true source has always been, is now, and will always be our source.

Now then, for Dogen the one only true religion is communicated from Buddha to Buddha through practice-enlightenment which accompanies the casting-off (apocalypse, great death) of the body-mind of self and other (the world of chaos and confusion) which illuminates the true nature of the unity of the one mind (true self) with the myriad dharmas. Not a “stage” or “level,” but a dynamic, ongoing activity, enlightenment penetrates and illumines delusion in a continuously advancing creative process of actualization (becoming, manifestation). This “actualization” is the unified of practice-enlightenment wherein “practice” is enacted by and as “enlightenment” and “enlightenment” is realized in and through “practice.” Such is the transmission of wisdom to wisdom, of Buddhas alone together with Buddhas, face to face, mind to mind. This then, is the one and only religion recognized and advocated by Dogen, his favored term of which is, “genjokoan” (genjo; actualization, manifestation, expression, realization; koan; truth, public document or demonstration, the universe, yin-yang).

Enlightenment means illumination, that is, to illumine and be illumined by; thus illumination is seeing and being seen. This seeing and seen are activity of what Dogen calls, the Dharma-eye. The result of such illumination is not “belief” in the Dharma, or “faith” in the reality of nirvana, liberation, or a pure land, it is seeing reality directly, it is, in Zen terms, “face to face transmission,” which Dogen describes as directly “meeting Shakyamuni Buddha” (kenbutsu). This illumination (which is of course not limited to the visual sense) is actualization of true religion, the re-linking with our source which is not a static state but a ceaselessly advancing process. Although not static or fixed, it is nevertheless, the ultimate end of religion – the ever advancing casting-off of the “old world,” or the “false self” in the continuous clarification of the Dharma-eye’s ceaseless actualization of universe here and now.

There may be no human being who clearly understands this state; “it keenly avoids verbal expression.” If we express it with words, horns will appear on the head. It is simply illumination of the mind in seeing forms, and realization of the truth in hearing sounds. The mind described as “the mind to be illuminated” may be the mind of Buddha. The truth to be illuminated may be the truth of Buddha. In the truth of Buddha and in the house of Buddha, we just illuminate the mind by seeing forms and realize the truth by hearing sounds; there is nothing else at all. A state that is like this, being already in the Buddha’s truth, should preach, “To those who must be saved through this body, I will manifest at once this body and preach the Dharma.” Truly, there is no preaching of Dharma without manifestation of the body, and there can be no salvation that is not the preaching of Dharma.
Himitsu-shōbōgenzō (Secret Shōbōgenzō), Butsu-kōjō-no-ji, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Dogen uses a number of terms synonymously in referring to the authentic practice-enlightenment (shusho) of the Buddha Dharma. These include sanzen (the practice of Zen), shiryo fu-shiryo (thinking not-thinking), hi-shiryo (nonthinking), shikan-taza (sole sitting), and of course, his favorite, zazen (seated meditation). As “terms” these posses various and unique connotations, but his use of these terms are in reference to a reality that he regards as the one and only authentic activity of Buddhas and ancestors. Until the reality of zazen, sanzen, etc. are practically actualized in the everyday world they remain, at best, in a state of potential. To be practically actualized, of course, means to be actualized authentically (accurately verified and understood); Dogen’s writings are sprinkled with cautions about confusing authenticity with formality. He relates in Zazenshin, for instance, that while “everyone from the abbot to the monks” (in many temples) practice zazen and regard “sitting in zazen as the main task,” very few truly know zazen.

If [people] are not able to be illuminated by the brightness, they lack this state of maintenance and reliance and they lack this belief and acceptance. This being so, even since ancient times, few people have know that zazen is zazen. On the mountains of the great kingdom of Song today, leaders of top-ranking temples who do not know zazen and who do not learn of it are many; there are some who know [zazen] clearly, but they are few. In many temples, of course, times for zazen are laid down, and everyone from the abbot to the monks regards sitting in zazen as the main task. When recruiting students, too, they urge them to sit in zazen. Even so, those abbots who know [zazen] are rare.
Shobogenzo, Zazenshin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

Obviously, simply performing the physical activity of Zen practice (zazen, shikantaza, etc.), even if it is regarded as “the main task,” is nothing more than an exercise in futility as far as Dogen is concerned. To sit in zazen, regard it as the essential practice, and accurately perform the physical aspects of it (e.g. correct environment, posture, breathing, application of consciousness, etc.) is certainly not what Dogen means by authentic practice-enlightenment. In short, “sitting in zazen” is not what Dogen means by “zazen.” When Dogen uses the term “zazen” he does not mean the zazen of those that do not “know zazen.” Authentic zazen is not “sitting in meditation,” it is the “state of maintenance and reliance” that is “illuminated by the brightness” of Buddhas and ancestors. This is worth insisting on because cultists and charlatans have long been proclaiming simplistic and superstitious views about “zazen” in Dogen’s name. To this day, popular “teachers” and “Zen” books advocate simplistic and superstitious “Zen practices” (citing Dogen as their authority) professing that even the “first sitting of a rank beginner” is the “complete and perfect” actualization of Buddha, or “just sitting is itself enlightenment.” It is no wonder that the followers of such “teachers” (and even the teachers themselves) often speak of zazen as something that is dull or boring. While such an expression is a clear demonstration of not knowing that “zazen is zazen,” one can only wonder how those that make such (honest?) expressions manage to attract large flocks – it seems that one could find “less boring” ways of being bored. As I heard one (authentic) teacher say, “If you are bored, it is because you are boring.” Again, boredom is a sure sign that one has not yet come to know that zazen is zazen, at least not the zazen that Dogen recommends.

When we use [this state] it is totally vigorous.
Shobogenzo, Zazenshin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

The standard state of real experience, when activated, allows no idle moment. Zazen, even if it is only one human being sitting for one moment, thus enters into mystical cooperation with all dharmas, and completely penetrates all times; and it therefore performs, within the limitless universe, the eternal work of the Buddha’s guiding influence in the past, future, and present.
Bendowa, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross

This sitting in zazen is not learning Zen concentration. It is simply the peaceful and joyful gate of Dharma. It is the practice-and-experience which perfectly realizes the state of bodhi. The universe is conspicuously realized, and restrictions and hindrances never reach it. To grasp this meaning is to be like a dragon that has found water, or like a tiger in its mountain stronghold.
Fukanzazngi, Gudo Nishijima & Mike (Chodo) Cross