I have been a Zen student/practitioner since 1986
I am the author of The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing: The Second Ancestor of Zen in the West. It is a fictional account of a modern day Zen master written in the style of the Sutra of Huineng.
I am a father, husband, merchant marine officer, and first class pilot. I work as a captain for the Washington State Ferries.
on the role of “intellectual concepts” in the authentic Dharma:
principle of momentarily opening the Gate of Skillful Means involves opening It
by opening the whole universe. At the very moment when you catch sight of the
opening of the whole universe, it will be something that you have never
encountered before. By our grasping once or twice at an intellectual concept of
what opening of whole universe is and then grasping at it for a third or fourth
time as something real, we cause the Gate of Skillful Means to open.
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
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
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.
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 Dogen, mind was at once
knowledge and reality, at once the knowing subject and the known object, yet it
transcended them both at the same time. In this nondual conception of mind,
what one knew was what one was—and ontology, epistemology, and soteriology were
inseparably united. This was also his interpretation of the Hua-yen tenet “The
triple world is mind-only.” From this vantage point, Dogen guarded himself
against the inherent weaknesses of the two strands of Buddhist idealism: the
advocacy of the functions of mind (shinso)
by the school of consciousness-only and the advocacy of the essence of mind (shinsho) by the school of tathagata-garbha—both of which were
vulnerable to a dualism between phenomena and essence. Thus, philosophically
speaking, Dogen maneuvered between monistic pantheism and reductionistic
Hee-Jin Kim, Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist, p.117
The obvious (surface) meaning of this is clear enough; for Dogen, to exist
is to know (to sense, feel, perceive, experience, etc.), to know
is to exist, and to know Buddha (enlightenment, liberation,
nirvana, etc.) is to exist as Buddha. While this is profound in its own
right, I would like to suggest there may be some subtler clues we might come away with.
Consider closely the implications of Kim’s assertion about Dogen making
no division between existence, knowledge, or the Buddha Way (ontology,
epistemology, and soteriology). If Dogen
does not regard ontology, epistemology, and soteriology, as being three
different things, as Kim contends, then clearly, Dogen’s expressions on any one
of these must also apply to the other two.
It is this, that I would like to suggest can serve as a kind of key in
approaching Shobogenzo. That is, it serves as a key insofar as it neutralizes
Dogen’s obligation to confine his expressions to the specific terms and doctrines
appropriate to any one of these three, as would be necessary if the three were
treated as different things. This means, for example, that if Dogen could not
accurately transmit some Buddhist truth on knowledge within the terms and
teachings of Buddhist epistemology he could appeal to the terms and teachings
available within Buddhist ontology or soteriology – he could even combine terms
and teachings from these “three” realms of Buddhist thought, thus vastly increase
the degree of subtlety with which his expressions could be refined.
In other words, Dogen’s view of the inseparability of ontology,
epistemology, and soteriology vastly increases Dogen’s capacity to transmit
wisdom by increasing the terms and teaching available for so doing. The
possibilities available to a painter limited to a single color are not simply
doubled with the addition of one more color, but pushed to the brink of
infinity – a third color and the brink is transcended; this same reasoning
applies to musicians, poets, and Zen masters.
If you have followed the significance of this, you will also be able to
appreciate that, just as Hee-Jin Kim provides these clues to Dogen’s teachings
on “ontology, epistemology, and soteriology,” Kim points similarly to “language,
thinking, and reason,” as well as “activity, expression, and understanding.”
By assimilating the significance of these clues, we rid ourselves of
obstacles by dispensing with limitations imposed by arbitrary divisions, thus
expanding our capacity for receiving Dogen’s transmission.
into Dogen’s treasury and enjoy its profound richness…