Thursday, February 03, 2011

Joshu's Stone Bridge & Dogen's Objectless Zazen

Joshu's Stone Bridge, Dogen, and the Only Buddha There is...
According to Zen tradition, when he was 40 years old the great Master Joshu awakened to enlightenment under Master Nansen. After awakening he stayed and trained with Nansen for another 20 years, then he went out and visited all the great teachers in China, refining his realization for another 20 years, and finally he settled down to teach at the age of 80. Living until the age of 120, Joshu taught for 40 years – the amazing clarity and intimacy of the recorded teachings of Joshu suggest there may be some truth to the legend. In any case, as a teacher he was renowned throughout China and monks travelled from all over to meet and train with him. Once, late in his life, perhaps after 70 years of honing his knowledge and skill, a monk came to meet him:

The monk said, “I have long heard of the great stone bridge of Joshu, but now I am here and I don’t see the stone bridge, I see only a single-log bridge.”

Joshu said, “You don’t see the stone bridge; you see only a single-log bridge.”

The monk said, “What is the great stone bridge of Joshu?”

Joshu said, “Horses cross, donkeys cross.”

To clarify, “Joshu” was the name of the area where Master Joshu settled down to teach, which was where he took his name from, as was customary for Zen masters. The “stone bridge of Joshu” was an actual bridge in the area that was renowned throughout China as an engineering marvel. The monk in this case used the bridge as a (somewhat) polite way to speak about the Master himself, and Joshu adeptly responded in kind. “I have long heard of the great Joshu,” the monk indicates, “but I don’t see any marvel here, I see only a frail old spindly bridge.” Joshu’s response is characteristically mellow, even grandmotherly, “You don’t see the stone bridge; you see only a single-log bridge.” The monk can’t help but show his colors under Joshu’s illumination; the monk asks, “What is the stone bridge?” You are just an ordinary old man, aren’t you; am I missing something? “Horses cross, donkeys cross.” Yes, the ordinary one-log bridge you see easily accommodates horses, donkeys, oxen, elephants, and finally all beings in the ten directions.

As existence is individual experience, the reality of the experienced bridge is greater, truer, and more existent for Joshu than the reality of the experienced bridge of the monk. Seeing is fashioning; actualizing (making actual); the clearer one sees, the greater the actualization.

When someone with the perspective of the secular world encounters a mountain, and when someone with the perspective of one amongst mountains meets this mountain, how their minds think of this mountain or how their eyes see this mountain will be vastly different.
Shobogenzo, Sansuikyo, Hubert Nearman

The clear seeing (prajna) of Zen practice is wholehearted intentional seeing; it is actively utilizing the entire experiential capacity of the whole body-mind (konshin). It is simply not possible to actualize this clear seeing when one is restraining or attempting to eradicate particular aspects of experience; simply letting go, letting things be as they are, having no-goals, detaching from thoughts, etc. are exactly the opposite of authentic Zen practice. To understand Dogen’s teaching of “objectless” meditation as meaning cutting off, or turning away from “objects” (e.g. koans, the breath, scriptures, etc.) in the practice of sole-sitting (shikantaza) is to misunderstand Dogen’s teaching. “Objectless meditation” does not mean detaching, or turning away from objects, it means utilizing the Dharma-Eye; “clear seeing” (prajna) is seeing that there are no “objects” in the whole universe; the breath, koans, scriptures, and even bridges do not exist objectively. Those that make a concept of “objectless meditation” and set out to realize it are, to use a Zen phrase, trying to go south while facing north.

The whole universe is utterly without objective molecules: here and now there is no second person at all.
Shobogenzo, Bussho, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

The bridge lets horses and donkeys cross because Joshu, clearly seeing with his whole body-mind, actualizes the whole body-mind of the bridge. While such are the innate capacities of all human beings, this kind of fullness of life experience does not just happen automatically, and it certainly cannot be actualized by detaching or letting go. Joshu wholeheartedly and continuously cultivated, developed, and refined his human capacities for decades.

The single-log bridge is not a reality separate from the great stone bridge; it is simply that reality as experienced by the masses of unawakened beings living single-log lives. Little children can see the great stone bridge, they can and do travel to the far reaches of the universe in cardboard boxes, but they are unable to see the single-log bridge until they mature into a world of community. In this transition the stone-bridge becomes all but lost to sight; for most the process of maturity is arrested here. In Zen the next step in the process is called the “great death” – like all the great mythologies, Zen recognizes the truth that achieving the fullness of humanity requires us to experience a second birth. The great death is the experience of seeing through the ego that Dogen calls “casting off the body-mind of ‘self and other than self.’” Undergoing the experience of the great death can be a daunting, even terrifying experience; thus Zen records are full of references to “the few” that are “aware of this,” “have this skill,” etc. For “the many” prefer the easier path of obedience, submission and acceptance; forfeiting the liberation of full actualization for a false sense of security.

Failing to clearly see (prajna) that the “gaps” between dharmas are joints that unify as well as distinguish, the world is perceived as dissected rather than diverse. Repelled by the hideousness common to all jumbled heaps of indefinite parts, people are naturally drawn to the stability of normalcy that comes with full maturity. Attracted by promises of ease and immediate gratification, many are led to abandon personal verification for the pseudo-security of obedience to an ideology. Convinced of their own inferior authority, some devote themselves to the views asserted by the masses. Averaging out and blurring distinctions the mob arrives at a “common” world of manageable abstract categories and generalizations. Assuring one another that they too perceive only the single-log bridge, they rest convinced of their own normalcy.

Dogen, however, reminds us that being typical, common, or average does not equate with being “normal” or “ordinary.” The single-log bridge in the absence of the great stone bridge is the abstract, impersonal, generalized experience of mundane mediocrity.

You cannot really perceive what a mountain is by means of the standards used by those who wander in ignorance.
Shobogenzo, Sansuikyo, Hubert Nearman

Joshu’s eye does not add anything to the bridge; it perceives more of it. The great stone-bridge and the beings crossing over are not an intellectual, emotional, or instinctual experience, but the experience of one with the mind of an old grandmother wherein all such divisions have long been abandoned. Joshu, unlike the child, can see the single-log bridge too; thus, he can communicate with “others,” guiding them to maturity.

In Zen, the perception and experience of Buddhas is the measure of the “ordinary mind,” the normality of being human. The monk not seeing the great stone bridge is no more normal than blindness or confusion; it is a lack of normality or a condition of abnormality. The Zen axiom that “the ordinary mind is Buddha” does not mean the “Buddha is the ordinary mind,” as is often wrongly interpreted, it means “the ordinary mind is Buddha.” The single-log bridge is the great stone-bridge, but the great stone-bridge is not the single log bridge.

Practical experience tells us that some aspects of our experience are subject to our control while others are not. We feel we can choose to sit, stand, walk, or lie down, but not that we can choose to breathe, digest our food, circulate our blood, or grow new skin cells. In fact, the real “us,” that is, our “true self” does actually manage all of this and more; but that is not the point we want to get at here; Dogen’s criticism is targeted at presuppositions that the natural, unintentional processes of experience are inclusive of our thoughts, speech, and actions. The idolaters of emptiness and the “Senika heresy” of naturalism, suppose that hearing, for instance, occurs unconsciously as random, uncontrollable sounds assail the mind through the ear. But for Dogen hearing is actualized by the mind conducting itself through the ear to the “objects” of sound; in Zen Master Linchi terms, “Here in this lump of red flesh (the body-mind) there is a true person of no rank directing itself in and out of the gates of your face (the sense organs).”

For those that divide appearance from reality or form from emptiness, the mind (true person) is uniform, passive, pure consciousness, or inactive essential nature; hearing (as well as seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and thinking) are all automatic, involuntary processes – life “just happens.” Of those promoting views about “having no goals and simply letting things be as they are” or that “just sitting in pure awareness is itself enlightenment” Dogen says:

As to the phrase ‘when the right moment arrives’, folks in both the past and the present have frequently held the view that this means one simply waits for some future time when Buddha Nature will manifest before one’s eyes. They believe that while doing their training and practice in this way, the time will arrive when Buddha Nature will spontaneously manifest before their eyes. They say that until that time comes, It will not manifest even by visiting one’s Master and inquiring into the Dharma or even by doing one’s best to practice the Way. Looking at the Matter in this manner, they uselessly return to worldly ways, vainly waiting for It to fall down upon them from the heavens. Folks like this, I fear, are that type of non-Buddhist who believes that things just happen to happen, independent of any cause.
Shobogenzo, Bussho, Hubert Nearman

The single-log bridge is the experience of the common, inactive mind of “letting things be.” The great stone bridge of Joshu is only seen and experienced with wholehearted, accurately directed, intentional effort. Those that “just sit” and passively experience whatever happens to “spontaneously manifest” will never see the great stone bridge. That bridge is only seen by those willing to inform themselves of the whereabouts, known dangers, and means of travelling the path leading to it – and wholeheartedly following it until it is personally realized (made real). In Mahayana Buddhism, such aspiration is called giving rise to the intention to realize enlightenment; literally “bodhicitta” (or “bodhishin”) the thought or mind (citta, shin) of enlightenment (bodhi). In portraying the significance of this in Shobogenzo, Dogen cites the Buddha’s words from a passage of the Avatamsaka Sutra which he follows up with a comment that we “need to be clear” that to give rise to this intention is to “wholeheartedly seek enlightened wisdom.”

The Tathagata said in the Avatamsaka Scripture:

When Bodhisattvas give rise to the intention to realize Buddhahood and make birth-and-death the foremost issue, they wholeheartedly seek enlightened Wisdom and, being steadfast, they will not waver. The meritorious functioning of that single-mindedness is deep and vast, knowing no bounds. If I were to analyze and explain it, I would be unable to exhaust the topic, even if I had eons to do it.

You need to be clear about this: using the issue of birth-and-death to give rise to your intention to realize Buddhahood is to wholeheartedly seek enlightened Wisdom.
Shobogenzo, Hotsu Mujo Shin, Hubert Nearman

The Buddhist practitioner that genuinely arouses such aspiration will be unable to rest satisfied in the blankness of detachment and quietism that Zen calls the “the cave of inky darkness,” much less will they accept the authority of anything less than personal verification. Having opened the Dharma-Eye and seen the great stone bridge is to have realized the liberating truth that “clear seeing” (i.e. prajna itself) is actualizing the universe (genjokoan), and that actualizing the universe is actualizing the true self.

Throughout Shobogenzo, Dogen reminds practitioner to recall and maintain their initial desire to seek the Dharma; this initial desire is the initial spark of bodhi that can be brought to full flame or wane and sputter away. Zen Buddhism is grounded on the principle that the highest authority of the sincere practitioner can only be the Buddha wisdom inherent in their own body-mind; scriptures, teachings, and teachers are necessary guides and helpers, but they cannot give experiential verification.

Teachings, like all dharmas, are only real insofar as they are experienced; even a teaching of the Buddha himself cannot be real if it is not personally experienced. A Buddhist teaching is only true for one that receives it; “receiving” is a process inclusive of, (1) learning it (hearing/reading), (2) understanding it (study/clarification), (3) putting it into practice (practical application/real world testing), (4) verifying it (experiential proof/disproof). In the absence of the 4th aspect of “receiving” no truth exists.

Those that forfeit the authority of their own inherent Buddha to another demonstrate the self-doubt that is a barrier to all truth. Those that adopt views and practices by “authorities” that advocate detaching, cutting out, or eradicating particular aspects of the world or the body-mind not only blind themselves, they diminish the life of their own true self – which is the only Buddha there is.

At the same time, whether people are following a good spiritual teacher or following the Scriptures, all such persons are following their True Self. The Scriptural texts are, naturally, the Scriptural texts of Self, and good spiritual teachers are, naturally, good spiritual teachers of Self. Thus, you should investigate through your training that thorough training means thoroughly training oneself, that studying the hundreds of things which sprout up like grass means studying oneself, that studying the myriad things that take root and branch out like trees means studying oneself, and that this self is, of necessity, synonymous with making such an effort. By exploring like this through your training, you drop off self and you promise enlightenment to yourself.

Accordingly, in the Great Way of the Buddhas and Ancestors there are tools for awakening to one’s True Self and for realizing what that Self truly is. If there were no Buddhas or Ancestors who were genuine Dharma heirs, there would be no genuine Transmission. But there are tools that Dharma heir after Dharma heir has received, for were there not the Bones and Marrow of the Buddhas and Ancestors, there would not be a genuine Transmission.

Because we explore the Matter in this way, when we pass on the Transmission for the sake of others, we confer it by saying such things as “You have gotten what my Marrow is” and “I have the Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching which I confer on Makakasho.” Expressing It for someone’s sake does not necessarily depend on self and others. To express It for the sake of others is to express It for one’s own sake. It is one’s Self and another’s Self harmoniously hearing and expressing the same thing. One ear is hearing and one ear is expressing: one tongue is expressing and one tongue is hearing. The same holds true for the sense organs of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind, as well as for their forms of consciousness and their sense objects. Further, there is one Body and there is one Mind, and there is enlightenment and there is training. It is the hearing and expressing of one’s ears, and it is the hearing and expressing of one’s tongue.
Shobogenzo, Jisho Zammai, Hubert Nearman


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