Genjokoan: A Skeleton Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo
A Study of Genjokoan and the Commentary in The Flatbed Sutra of LouieWing by Ted Biringer
Throughout his works, Dogen consistently affirms the vital position of verbal expression in the buddha-dharma (the authentic teaching of Buddhism), and at the same time, clearly defines its limitations. The next line of Genjokoan is one of the finest examples of this.
And though it is like this, it is simply that flowers, while loved, fall; and weeds, while hated, flourish.
This line may be the most direct expression in the whole Shobogenzo. It may also be the most misunderstood. It is often interpreted as a simile, which completely misses, and even subverts the point Dogen is making. In fact, Dogen points out that the previous three points are similes with the words, “And though it is like this.” In this line, he points out that reality is not like anything: it is simply reality; that is, “flowers fall…weeds flourish.”
This teaching corresponds with the true meaning of the often-quoted Zen dictum “a separate transmission outside the scriptures, not dependent on words and letters.” This does not mean that Zen disregards scriptures and texts, but that the reality the scriptures indicate is separate from the scriptures themselves, and not dependent on the words and letters that are used to indicate it.
Zen teachings require you to see into and through the words, while avoiding becoming attached to the words. You cannot “learn” Zen through reading and study, but you cannot disregard reading and study either. To use an analogy: reading a recipe for chocolate cake will not result in producing a chocolate cake–you must possess the ingredients and follow the instructions. At the same time, simply possessing the ingredients without the knowledge provided by the recipe will not do either.
In the first three statements, Dogen illustrates what reality is like; in this line, he presents it more directly, “and though it is like this, it is only that flowers, while loved, fall; and weeds while hated, flourish.” This kind of expression, common in Zen literature, is meant to convey the truth that reality or enlightenment is not produced by words, knowledge or even spiritual practice; reality is reality, as it is here and now.
To be continued...