Monday, November 07, 2011

Dogen vs. Dogen "interpreters"

 Dogen vs. Dogen "interpreters"

I thought I would spend a little time seeing what kind of online sources concerning Dogen’s teachings were becoming available in recent years – I was disappointed, but not too surprised…

It seems all too common to find “Zen teachers” that claim to be “interpreters” of Dogen’s teachings, who seem rather to be saying things in direct contradiction to Dogen’s own writings. For example:

Michael Eido Luetchford, Soto Zen Teacher at Dogen Sangha Buddhist Group, from the online transcript

There were Japanese teachers in the Rinzai tradition (not including Rinzai himself), who taught that if you practise Zazen, you can get something very special which they called enlightenment. This creates in the person who is practising Zazen a kind of hope and eagerness to get something better, to become special, to get to some special state. But according to the teachings of Dogen, the thirteenth century monk whose teachings I follow, Zazen is giving up all those kinds of hopes and all those kinds of beliefs, and all hope of becoming a better person.
Michael Eido Luetchford [emphasis added]

What is this? All of the Zen masters taught that awakening the bodhi mind (which “they called enlightenment”) is the foremost task of Zen practitioners. To claim that Dogen did not consider enlightenment as essential is to deny Dogen’s own constant exhortations to the contrary. Here are a few random examples:

Clearly remember: in the Buddhist patriarchs’ learning of the truth, to awaken the bodhi-mind is inevitably seen as foremost. This is the eternal rule of the Buddhist patriarchs.
Dogen, Shobogenzo, Hotsu-Bodaishin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross, [emphasis added]

The training that we undertake to directly experience supreme, fully perfected enlightenment sometimes makes use of our good spiritual friends and sometimes makes use of sutras.
Dogen, Shobogenzo, Kankin, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross [emphasis added]

In order to ultimately realize the prediction of Buddhahood, just as ever so many Ancestors of the Buddha have done, one trains in order to manifest one’s genuine enlightenment.
Dogen, Shobogenzo, Juki, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross [emphasis added]

Michael Eido Luetchford goes on to assert another typical sound-bit that simply seems to ignore Dogen’s own clear teachings to the contrary. Here is Michael Eido Luetchford on “Dogen”:

Then there are many other forms of meditation where people consciously have something in their mind or are consciously meditating on some kind of subject or some kind of image. But that kind of practice is completely different from Zazen.
Michael Eido Luetchford[emphasis added]

And here is Dogen on Dogen:

At the very time of your sitting, you should examine exhaustively whether the total world is vertical or horizontal. At that very time, what is the sitting itself? Is it wheeling about in perfect freedom? Is it like the spontaneous vigor of a leaping fish? Is it thinking? Or not thinking? Is it doing? Is it non-doing? Is it sitting within sitting? Is it sitting within body and mind? Or is it sitting that has cast off sitting within sitting, sitting within body and mind, and the like?
Dogen, Shobogenzo, Sammai-O-Zammai, Waddell & Abe [emphasis added]

[To research] this truth of moment-by-moment utter entrustment, we must research the mind. In the mountain-still state of such research, we discern and understand that ten thousand efforts are [each] the mind being evident, and the triple world is just that which is greatly removed from the mind. This discernment and understanding, while also of the myriad real dharmas, activate the home­land of the self. They make immediate and concrete the vigorous state of the human being in question.
Dogen, Shobogenzo, Gyobutsu Yuigi, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross [emphasis added]

People who arouse a true and genuine aspiration and engross themselves in study to the full extent of their capacity, do not fail to attain. As for the description of the essential point to be mindful of, what thing must be concentrated upon, what practice is to be considered most urgent, that is as follows.

First is only that the aspiration of joyful longing be earnest.

…while travelling, abiding, sitting and reclining, in the midst of affairs as the pass, though various different events come up, he goes along seeking an opening, his mind occupied [with his quest]. With his mind so forcefully earnest, there can be no failure of attainment.

In this way, when the aspiration to seek the Way has become sincere, either during the period of sole concentration on sitting, or when dealing with illustrative example of the people of olden times, or when meeting the teacher, when one acts with true aspiration

Unless you arouse a mind comparable to this, how will you accomplish the great task of the Buddha-Way, which cuts off the turning round of birth and death in a single instant of thought? If someone has such a mind … he will definitely attain enlightenment.
Dogen, Record of Things Heard (Shobogenzo-zuimonki), II:15, Thomas Cleary [emphasis added]

This Dharma is abundantly present in each human being, but if we do not practice it, it does not manifest itself, and if we do not experience it, it cannot be realized.
Dogen, Shobogenzo, Bendowa, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross [emphasis added]

Once you attain this state of suchness and attain the harmoni­ous unity of activity and understanding possessed by the Buddha-patriarchs, you examine exhaustively all the thoughts and views of this attainment.
Dogen, Shobogenzo, Sammai-O-Zammai, Waddell & Abe [emphasis added]

Again, here is Michael Eido Luetchford on “Dogen”:

Of course, in our minds we have lots of intentions all the time but in Buddhism our intention is to have no intention; my teacher often said “Our aim is no aim”.
Michael Eido Luetchford [emphasis added]

What kind of dreary Zen is this? Why would anyone pursue such a “practice”? The same thing could probably accomplished by sniffing glue… For those seeking something a bit more authentic, check out Dogen here:

You cannot realize the Buddha’s Way if you do not aim to practice the Way, and It will be ever more distant from you if you do not aim to study It. Meditation Master Nangaku Ejo once said, “It is not that your training and enlightenment are absent, but they must not be tainted with anything.”
Dogen, Shobogenzo, Shinjin Gakudo, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross [emphasis added]

Mr. Luetchford is certainly not alone in making assertions suggesting that zazen is some kind of trance or detachment wherein thoughts and images are to be “stopped” somehow. For example, here is an excerpt from an online text claiming to teach Dogen’s method of zazen by Gudo Nishijima Roshi:

We avoid intentionally following a train of thought during Zazen by concentrating on maintaining the posture. Of course spontaneous thoughts and images arise in our consciousness during Zazen, but they are not important. When we notice that we are thinking about something, we should simply stop.
Gudo Nishijima Roshi

Here Dogen offers a plausible explanation for such discrepencies:

There are people who, upon hearing the phrase ‘cannot be grasped’, have simply assumed that there is nothing to be attained in either case, for these people lack the living pathway of practice. Further, there are those who say that It cannot be grasped because it is said that we already possess It from the first. How does that hit the mark?
Dogen, Shobogenzo, Shin Fukatoku, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross [emphasis added]

Whatever the case, contrast Nishijima's comment on the “unimportance” of the “thinking” mind in zazen with Dogen’s comments in this passage:

Generally speaking, there are three types of mind. “The first is the mind of chitta, which we call the discriminative mind. The second is the mind of hridaya, which we call the mind of grass and trees. The third is the mind of vriddha, which we call the True Mind.” Among these, we invariably employ the discriminative mind to arouse bodhichitta, the enlightened Mind. Bodhi is an Indian word which we call the Way, or what is True. Chitta is an Indian word which we call the discriminative mind. Without this discriminative mind we could not give rise to the enlightened Mind. I am not saying that this discriminative mind is the enlightened Mind; rather, we give rise to the enlightened Mind by means of the discriminative mind.
Dogen, Shobogenzo, Hotsu Bodai Shin, Hubert Nearman

It is truly a mystery – not really that there are people that ascribe such strange “interpretations” to Dogen’s Zen – but that there are people that find such interpretations acceptable…




Pete said...

Is that so? Is that so?

Pete said...

Is that so Ted? Is that so?

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Pete,

So is that, Pete. So is that.


roman said...

Mike Luetchford definitely doesn't teach that there is nothing to attain. If he taught such a thing he would tell his students to stop making efforts and he would tell everyone that they realized the truth. But he is not like that at all. It is your lack of understanding what there is to attain in Buddhism that makes you think that some interpreters say there is no attainment or realization.

Ted Biringer said...

Dear roman,

Thank you for your comments. Please feel free to elaborate.


Unknown said...

You will always be able to find a statement in the Shobogenzo to contradict any assertion. This is because of the philosophical structure of the Shobogenzo. Because reality as it is, is ineffable and beyond views Dogen approaches reality from different viewpoints. He will make a subjective assertion for instance followed by and objective view about the same topic, these appear contadictory but are both valid. He will then follow with a third view that is a synthesis of the first two, and fourthly he will try to express, often poetically, reality as it is itself, using words to point at the ineffable. So selecting one viewpoint to make an argument is a basic misunderstanding if the Shobogenzo.
The teaching that there is nothing to attain is hardly controversial, yes it is one side of the coin, but it used is to emphasise that enlightenment is not something we need to get but that it is the original state that we return to when we stop dividing up the universe, thus it is the shedding of, letting go, relinquishing of all views not the getting of new ones.