Practical experience tells us that some aspects of our experience (hence, our existence) are subject to our control while others are not. We feel that 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 the point we want to get at here concerns a frequent target of Dogen’s criticism: the presupposition that the “natural” or “unintentional” processes of experience are inclusive of our thoughts, speech, and actions. The worshiper of emptiness presupposes that hearing, for instance, occurs unconsciously as random sounds impress themselves upon the mind through the ear, rather than, as Dogen contends, that hearing is actualized by the mind conducting itself through the ear to the “objects” of sound. The former (false) view is based on the same principle that divides “appearance” from “reality” or “form” from “emptiness” – such a view “presupposes” that the mind is uniform, passive, pure, unmoving “consciousness” or “essential nature,” and that hearing (and seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and thinking) are automatic, involuntary processes. Such distorted views lead to dead end doctrines and practices advocating “having no goals,” “letting things be as they are,” “just sitting in pure awareness,” etc. – of such notions 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
Here Dogen clearly illustrates the ordinary (unawakened) inactive mind of “letting things be.” Realizing the reality of Buddha nature is not something that just happens. Authentic liberation requires wholehearted, accurately directed, intentional effort. Those that “just sit” and passively experience whatever happens to “spontaneously manifests” before their eyes cannot even see the true nature of grass and trees, much less Buddhas. Truly, it is immediately accessible to all, but none access it without informing themselves of the details concerning how to access it – and wholeheartedly applying themselves to it. On the significance of this Dogen quotes the Buddha’s words, then comments 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 Mujō Shin, Hubert Nearman