Monday, April 11, 2011

Zen and the Perfection of "As It Is-ness" - Dogen's take

The Perfection of Zen's "As It Is-ness"...


To see and hear that the living are inevitably mortal is the small view. To be of the opinion that the dead are without thinking and perception is small knowledge. In learning the truth, do not learn such shallow knowledge and small views. There may be those among the living who are immortal, and there may be those among the dead who have thinking and perception.
Shobogenzo, Gyoji, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

The timidity of those inflicted with self-doubt or attachment to dualistic views causes some to see teachings that refer of human “perfection” as irreverent. From the self-centered perspective perfection can only be envisioned as a kind of super-ego. In contrast, Buddhism views perfection as the authentic actualization of the whole body-mind rather than a particular aspect or specific quality of reality. A willow is perfect insofar as it is a willow “as it is” – that is the whole of space and time exerting itself as a particular willow here and now. Attempting to find the perfection of a willow by isolating and abstracting the “best,” “highest,” or “most essential” quality of willows only defiles the perfection of a willow “as it is.”

The same thing is true of trying to define the perfection of Buddha nature. From the ego-centric standpoint, reality is divided into "subject" and "object", "self" and "other than self." From such a dualistic perspective, perfection can only be envisioned in contrast to, and separate from imperfection, that is, as a conceptual abstraction.

As an abstract concept, perfection lacks reality - it cannot be pictured, experienced, or expressed (perceived, known, or communicated). Lacking real form (thus, real nature), perfection can only be discussed in negative terms such as “inconceivable,” “incommunicable,” “ineffable,” etc. Attempting to substantiate speculative notions theorists sometimes insinuate esoteric knowledge by substituting negative terms and obscure generalizations such as “undifferentiated-oneness,” “undefiled-goodness,” “pure-awareness,” etc. This kind of perfection only succeeds in eradicating the reality of particularity and differentiation – the “skull littered field” of Zen parlance. In contrast to this, Shobogenzo portrays perfection in a vision that harmonizes with the classic Zen records.

Thus it was that Shakyamuni Buddha once addressed His great assembly, saying, “I, on My own, have come to know how It appears, as every Buddha in the ten quarters has also done.” You need to know that the appearance referred to in His statement “I, on My own, have come to know how It appears” is the appearance of That which is fully perfected. The appearance of perfection is, as the saying goes, “This cane of bamboo is on the tall side whereas that cane of bamboo is on the short side.” The Way of the Buddhas in the ten quarters is synonymous with giving full expression to the saying, “I, on My own, have come to know how It appears, which was the same for Shakyamuni Buddha.” It is “I, on My own, have awakened to this appearance, and Buddhas in Their own domains are also like this.” It is the way ‘I’ appears, the way ‘knowing’ appears, the way ‘this’ appears, the way ‘all’ appears, the way ‘this ordinary worldly country of ours’ appears, the way ‘Shakyamuni Buddha’ appears.

The underlying principle of this is what the Buddhist Scriptures give voice to. The Buddhas, along with Their Buddha lands, are beyond duality, beyond being sentient or nonsentient, beyond being deluded or enlightened, beyond being good, bad, or neutral, beyond being pure or sullied, beyond being something created and beyond being something permanently abiding, beyond yearning for things and beyond there being nothing to yearn for, beyond permanence and impermanence, beyond existence and non-existence, and beyond self. They are apart from the four phrases—there is existence, there is no existence, there is both existence and nonexistence, and there is neither existence nor non-existence—as well as apart from the one hundred ways of negating. They are simply nothing other than the ten quarters, nothing other than the Buddha lands. Thus, the ten quarters are nothing other than what they are, just as we humans are: we have heads but no tails.
Shobogenzo, Jippo, Hubert Nearman

As humans “we have heads but no tails,” stones have color but no leaves, bamboo has joints but no legs; each is perfect “as it is.” Clear seeing “as it is” is perfect clear seeing, which Dogen calls “prajna itself.” To exist “as is” is to “exist as experienced.”

In sum, “perfection” in Buddhism has less to do with the quality of a thing (dharma) and more to do with the whole actuality of a thing; perfection is the measure to which a dharma is “as it is.” Perfection is not “purity,” “uniformity,” “cleanliness,” etc., “it is beyond being pure or sullied, good or bad,” the perfection of a thing is the total exertion of the “as it isness” of that thing.

In grateful thanks to Master Dogen once again - Nine Full Bows



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