Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Normal Mind is the Tao (ken-sho, ken-butsu)

The Normal Mind is the Tao (ken-sho, ken-butsu)
Enlightenment – discerning the true nature of the self – is an experiential activity, not a static condition or state of attainment. Enlightenment does not bestow Zen mastery (or teaching credentials), supernatural power, superior intelligence, or sainthood, much less freedom from moral obligation, causation, or delusion. The initial experience of enlightenment (ken-sho; seeing true nature) reveals, for the first time, the normal perspective. Ongoing practice-enlightenment (shusho) means to be continuously attentive to that perspective (ken-butsu; seeing Buddha) and thereby foster the actualization of normality in the here and now of existence-time.


An accurate view is not in itself an accurate understanding, but rather a view from which an accurate understanding becomes possible. Upon a mountaintop surrounded by clouds, one’s perspective is naturally limited by the clouds. When the clouds clear, one’s perspective naturally expands, increasing the possibility for understanding one’s true location in the world. Similarly, practice-enlightenment, being unhindered by the clouds of literalism and conceptualization (presuppositions, fixations, and biases), simply means being provided with a normal perspective, a perspective from which one can think, speak, and act in a manner appropriate to one’s actual situation.


One of the many things accounted for by the Zen doctrine of “Dharma transmission” is the Buddha-Dharma’s intrinsic capacity of eternal endurance and infinite elaboration. In harmony with the continuous self-generation inherent to the metaphorical nature of the self, the “Dharma” (i.e. the enlightened wisdom initially realized by Shakyamuni Buddha) is metaphorically portrayed as a “transmission” from the self to the self with traditional images of master and apprentice. As a master craftsman passes on his knowledge and skills to an apprentice, so the (universal) Buddha mind transmits the wisdom of enlightenment to the (individual) Buddha mind. Presenting this activity of “Buddhas alone together with Buddhas” in metaphorical images of “master and apprentice” reveals the nature of transmission with a clarity that is much easier to envision than that of more abstract expressions like “mind to mind,” “self and self,” etc.


[Note: Metaphorical expressions of “Dharma transmission” have long been distorted into objects of literalism and idolatry based on vulgar misunderstanding. While superficial (literal) interpretations of transmission have a long history, the true metaphorical significance of the Zen doctrine has never been as absent as now – contemporary discussion is almost exclusively limited to formal ceremonies, certificates, and rituals related to institutional succession, i.e. the official sanction or establishment of sectarian teachers.]


The Zen doctrine of transmission portrays the “self-generating” aspect of the metaphorical nature of the self as a process in which new metaphors (expressions of truth) are actualized by the ceaseless interaction of expression (self-expression) and response (self-response) among “Buddhas alone together with Buddhas.” The “response” (self-response) of the Buddha-mind to the expression of the Buddha-mind is the natural functioning of normal hearing (i.e. enlightened hearing, seeing, feeling, etc.; the experience of dharmas as they are). In this sense, then, “seeing” with the Dharma-eye (or Dharma-ear, nose, body, etc.) is “fashioning” or “making.” In other words, when dharmas (expressions of Buddha) are experienced as they are, the self that sees resonates with the self that is seen in a manner that rings out through space and time as the ceaseless actualization of the universe (genjokoan).


Thus, language becomes ascesis, instead of gnosis or logos—‘seeing things as they are’ now means ‘making things as they are.’ In this light the indexical analogy of ‘the finger pointing to the moon’ is highly misleading, if not altogether wrong, because it draws on a salvifically inefficacious conception of language.

~Hee-Jin Kim, Dogen on Meditation and Thinking, p.64


Zen practice-enlightenment is the self seeing its true nature – its all-inclusiveness and its fathomless infinity. The totality of existence-time, then, is seen as only and always a particular form here and now (this dharma here and no other). Moreover, in seeing particular forms (this cup, that flower here and now) as a specific instance of total existence-time the self recognizes its fathomless infinity as infinite delusion.
Guts and blood...


Faceless Writer said...

Master and disciple,
meeting in harmony,
realize the transmission of the Eternal,
where the disciple and Master disappear.
Actualization of that giftless gift,
there is no master to lead,
no disciple to learn.
Evolutionary effort to actualize
that seed of every moment,
is wisdom, called forth, refined and returned.
Gifting that never gives and unopened,
yet totally appreciated and used
in the instance of becoming a student.
Whole clouds impart the sunlight,
sunlight blinds and makes the truth hidden.
Master is never the sun
only the moonless moon for the
diligent students to see at night of their minds.

Ted Biringer said...

Greetings Faceless Writer,

Thank you.

Nine Full Bows


Faceless Writer said...


Thank you for the posting. It inspired me to write that poem. It was especially refreshing after reading so many Absolute oriented postings. Thanks to your blog, I am slowly beginning to see why Dogen is held is such a high esteem.


Ted Biringer said...

Thank you Bob,

Your comments are encouraging and greatly appreciated.

Yes. Dogen certainly merits great esteem - and, in my view, the more familiar one becomes with him the greater esteem one feels for him - and the clearer one's vision becomes.

The only drawback to becoming more familiar with (thus respectful of) Dogen, is its apparently unavoidable side-effect of transforming certain "Zen masters" and "Dogen specialists" into fakers, posers, quacksalvers, and sometimes into animals and even inanimate objects (often propped up on round cushions).

I am not exactly sure how this happens, but if not for its compensating effect of transforming certain "ordinary mortals," "animals," and even "inanimate objects" into genuinely wise beings, real Zen practitioners, truly compassionate Bodhisattvas, and authentic Buddhas I might be tempted to think it was something worth worrying about...

...Or maybe not.

Thanks again.

Yours in the Dharma,